Originally Published: 1/21/2017
The Protests: Early Friday morning, social movements across the country converged on Washington, D.C. But Trump was having none of it. Credentialed news sources “were informed that they cannot cover demonstrations at the Navy Memorial.” This area was to be the largest location for protests. “According to attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the public interest legal group Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, reporters are even barred from taking footage of or interviewing individual protesters on the route. And credentialed outlets will only be allowed to cover the parade in specific areas.” (AlterNet) But reporters sure got plenty of footage of the violence “as protesters damaged storefronts, threw rocks and bricks at police officers, and lit a limousine on fire.” (NY Times) More than 200 people were arrested. (Washington Post) But protests went on all over the world. The Guardian has great photos.
Women’s March: It’s not just for women and it’s going on today. Washington, D.C. is expecting 200,000 women “and friends” and there are sister marches in all 50 states. And, according to march organizers, 60 different countries are holding one or more sister marches. “The rallies vary in size and scope, and they range from marches focused specifically on America to ones focused on more local issues.” (Vox)
Executive Orders: Trump’s first Executive Order was to give federal agencies “wide latitude to change, delay, or waive provisions” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “that they deemed overly costly for insurers, drug makers, doctors, patients, or states, suggesting that it could have wide-ranging impact, and essentially allowing the dismantling of the law to begin even before Congress moves to repeal it.” (NY Times) Trump also ordered “a new national day of patriotism.” (Guardian) Then he went and partied.
Administration Begins: Staff got going on revamping the White House website. A statement was added saying that Trump “intends to develop a ‘state of the art’ missile defense system to protect against attacks from Iran and North Korea.” And the site got lots of changes. Trump ordered it “stripped of all mention of Obama’s key policy agendas, including climate change and LGBT rights along with the civil rights history section. The various subsections . . . were replaced with just 6: energy, foreign policy, jobs and growth, military, law enforcement, and trade deals.” (Guardian) And his administration also started making changes. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reversed a scheduled 0.25% cut in mortgage insurance. “For a mortgage worth $200,000 this adds $500 to a homebuyer’s annual costs.” (The Intercept) And his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, issued a memo “directing an immediate ‘regulatory freeze’ to prevent federal agencies from issuing any new regulations.” (Guardian)
Election Conspiracy: Seth Abramson, an attorney and Associate Professor at the University of New Hampshire, wrote a piece for Huffington Post that I found interesting. He claims: “Information presently public and available confirms that Erik Prince [Betsy DeVos’s brother], Rudy Giuliani, and Donald Trump conspired to intimidate FBI Director James Comey into interfering in, and thus directly affecting, the 2016 presidential election.” He offers some pretty good evidence of this and claims that “the conspiracy was made possible with the assistance of officers in the New York Police Department and agents within the New York field office” of the FBI. “All of the major actors in the conspiracy have already confessed to its particulars either in word or in deed.” Jeremy Scahill from The Intercept revealed that Erik Prince “has been quietly advising Trump’s transition team, including helping vet Cabinet picks.” (Democracy Now!) That explains the nomination of DeVos for Education Secretary.
Russian Hacking: The counterintelligence investigation continues. Law enforcement (FBI) and intelligence agencies “are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates” of Donald Trump including Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair. (NY Times)
New Poll: According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, Donald Trump is the least popular incoming president in at least 40 years, with 52% saying he isn’t qualified to be president. Yet, a majority believe he will be able to fulfill his campaign pledges to boost the economy and deal with threats of terrorism. Most disapprove of his response to the Russian hacking and some other things, but they are divided on whether he’s too friendly with Russia. An overwhelming majority say he should release his federal tax returns. The poll gets real interesting when the numbers are broken down. White people are the only group that have a favorable view of Trump at anything near 50%.
Confirmations: General James “Mad Dog” Mattis was confirmed as Defense Secretary. (Washington Post) General John F. Kelly was confirmed as Secretary of Homeland Security. (Washington Post)
Nominees: Submission of paperwork to the ethics office by Trump nominees is slow in coming. As of last Monday, 14 or the current list of 21 nominees have had or will have Senate confirmation hearings. Yet only 5 of the 14 have had their paperwork finalized. (CNN) Interestingly, the list of nominees is unbelievably short. Jonathan Bernstein, writing at Bloomberg, noted that there are 690 positions requiring Senate confirmation, but Trump has only appointed 28 people so far.
Sonny Perdue: Trump nominated former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue as Agriculture Secretary. A veterinarian, Perdue “took conservative stances on immigration and voting rights and drew national headlines for holding a public vigil to pray for rain in 2007.” (Washington Post)
Katy Talento: She has been appointed health care adviser for Trump’s Domestic Policy Council but she doesn’t seem to know how birth control works. (Federalist)
Betsy DeVos: Hearings were held this week for her confirmation as Education Secretary. The Guardian posted the key points. As I’ve told you before, DeVos is a Michigan billionaire who “has lobbied for decades to expand charter schools and taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools, but she has no professional experience in public schools, never attended public schools, or sent her own children to public schools. She also has not held public office.” (Washington Post) From 1995 to 2005 DeVos sat on the board of Action Institute and, according to tax filings from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, they have given Action Institute at least $1.28 million. Action Institute is a think tank “that advocates abolishing mandatory schooling and wants to see child labor laws loosened.” (International Business Times) Her confirmation hearings apparently didn’t go too well. (AlterNet) She appeared to have no understanding of standardized testing, she evaded a question on sexual assault on college and university campuses, and - as I’m sure you’ve heard - she stated that guns have a place in American schools because in rural schools you need them to shoot grizzlies. And while IRS filings show she was vice president of her mother’s charitable foundation which donated $10 million to that right-wing think tank Focus on the Family, she denied this and claimed it was a clerical error. There was lots more side-stepping. AlterNet also posted the “5 Shocking Moments” and has 3 clips. The best is the one on the grizzlies, but the others are good too. The Washington Post listed the “6 astonishing things” she said or refused to say as did 538. And the Nation said she “flunked.”
Steven Mnuchin: He had confirmation hearings for Treasury Secretary this week and the Guardian reminded us of the key points. He defended his ties to businesses in the Cayman Islands and Anguilla before the Senate Finance Committee, some of which were omitted from his financial disclosure documents. Also omitted was more than $100 million in personal assets. (Washington Post) The handling of foreclosures by his bank, OneWest, alleged by several whistleblowers (Washington Post), was also a hot topic. (Washington Post)
Scott Pruitt: Pruitt had hearings for confirmation as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Guardian posted the key points. The NY Times reported how he has backed industry donors over the years. Pruitt has sued the EPA multiple times as Oklahoma attorney general and some of those lawsuits are still pending. At his hearing he refused to say that he would recuse himself from those cases. (Washington Post) So, he’d be the plaintiff, the defendant, and the judge. How convenient. However, Pruitt stated that “he did not agree” with Trump’s suggestion that climate change is a hoax. He said: “Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change.” However, he added a qualifier, giving him wiggle room: “The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.” (CNBC) California is watching Pruitt as he may pose a challenge to California’s regulations. (LA Times) This is probably why they hired Eric Holder. (TWW, California, 1/7/17)
Tom Price: He, too, had hearings for his position of Secretary of Health and Human Services. He’s a sitting representative from Georgia yet faced quite a grilling by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Democrats asked about his massive stock holdings in health, biomedical, and pharmaceutical companies “while he was supporting legislation that could benefit them.” (Washington Post)
Rick Perry: Trump’s nominee for Energy Secretary had hearings this week. The Houston Press proudly announced that it “wasn’t a disaster.” I guess they expected one. Remember, Perry had called for the elimination of the department during his bid for the presidency, so he made sure to tell everyone he no longer feels that way. He also added that he’s no longer a climate change denier. (Syracuse.com) He also side-stepped questions about modernizing our nuclear arsenal. (CNBC)
Wilbur Ross: The billionaire investor went before the Senate Commerce Committee for his confirmation hearing as Commerce Secretary and, of course, the Guardian had the key points. He wants to make changes to NAFTA and stated the U.S. “should open its economic borders to countries that ‘play by the rules.’” Isn’t this a contradiction? He said he is “pro-trade” but wants trade that is advantageous to “the American worker and the American manufacturing community.” (Washington Post)
Nikki Haley: The South Carolina governor went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for her confirmation hearing as UN ambassador. Interestingly, she voiced her disagreement with Trump in a number of areas. Or, as the Washington Post noted, she “struggled at times to distance herself from some of Trump’s most controversial positions without openly contradicting him.” She expressed “heavy skepticism about Russia and optimism about NATO.” She “unequivocally shot down the idea of a Muslim registry or ban.” She won’t last long.
First Amendment: Republican state legislators are moving to curtail our First Amendment right of freedom of speech and “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In North Dakota House Bill 1203 gives drivers who unintentionally cause injury or death “to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway, is not guilty of an offense.” Yeah. Really. The bill will shift the burden of proof from the motorist to the pedestrian, hard to prove if the pedestrian is dead. Another bill would make it a crime to wear face masks. (RT) 4 other states - Minnesota, Washington, Michigan, and Iowa - have introduced legislation that would stifle protests. (The Intercept)
Gitmo: 10 Guantánamo Bay inmates have been sent to Oman. “The transfer is part of a last minute effort . . . to resettle as many as 19 inmates to Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and even Italy” before Obama leaves office. (Washington Post) On Obama’s last full day in office he arranged for a transfer of another 4 inmates, leaving 41 there. Trump will inherit the prisoners, “31 of whom are being held without charges or trial.” (NY Times)
China: It’s building the world’s largest solar farm in its “determination to transfer itself from climate change villain to a green energy colossus.” (Guardian)
European Union: It looks like Antonio Tajani, currently a VP of the European Parliament, will become its next President. Tajani is an “ally of the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.” (Guardian)
Germany: The Constitutional Court ruled that the far-right National Democratic Party “resembles Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party,” but ruled against banning it “because it presents no threat to democracy.” (Guardian)
North Dakota: Remember, the Supreme Court ruling that banning same-sex couples from marriage was unconstitutional? It’s the law of the land and Democrats in the state legislature sought to up-date state laws to comply. Republicans voted the changes down. (Pink News)
Wyoming: State Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would block the use of renewable energy in the state. If passed, utilities that use wind or solar to produce power would be penalized with a costly fine of $10 per megawatt hour. Under Senate File 71 only 6 resources - coal, hydroelectric, nuclear, oil, natural gas, and net metering systems - are considered “eligible” generating resources.
Budget Proposal: Trump has already put together a budget proposal. It’s similar to the one proposed by the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. It’s aimed at reducing spending by $10.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Where do you think the cuts will come from? According to The Hill, the departments of Commerce and Energy will get major reductions “with programs under their jurisdiction either being eliminated or transferred to other agencies.” Justice, State, and Transportation Departments will also see significant cuts “and program eliminations.” The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be profitized and the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities will be eliminated entirely.
Commutations: Obama commuted all but 4 months of the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning. She had received a 35-year sentence, “by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction,” and has served almost 7 years. But Obama pardoned James Cartwright, the retired Marine general and former vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with reporters to FBI agents investigating a leak of classified information about cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program.” He also commuted the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera who was part of a Puerto Rican nationalist group “that carried out a string of bombings in the late 1970s and early 1980s.” Democracy Now! has a great piece on Rivera. The other members of the group were freed long ago. Obama also granted 63 other pardons and 207 other commutations, mostly for drug offenders. (NY Times) And, on his last full day in office, Obama announced another 330 commutations for nonviolent drug offenders, “bringing his total number of clemencies to 1,715. He has granted commutations to more people than the past 12 presidents combined, including 568 inmates with life sentences. He has granted 212 pardons.” (Washington Post)
Inequality: The latest Oxfam report found that just 8 men own the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the world. Yes, just 8 men are worth $426 billion, the equivalent wealth of 3.6 billion people. “The very design of our economies and the principles of our economics have taken us to this extreme, unsustainable, and unjust point. Our economy must stop excessively rewarding those at the top and start working for all the people.” Oxfam blames the inequality on aggressive wage restraint, tax dodging, and the squeezing of producers by companies, adding that businesses are too focused on delivering ever-higher returns to wealthy owners and top executives.
SEAL Team 6: Matthew Cole at The Intercept spent 2 years investigating SEAL Team 6, officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group. He claims it is “the most celebrated of the U.S. military’s special mission units” but Cole found a “dark and troubling story of ‘revenge ops,’ unjustified killings, mutilations, and other war crimes - a pattern of criminal violence, tolerated and covered up by the command’s leadership, that began with the Afghan War and continued through the killing of Osama bin Laden.”
ACA: Last year the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimated the effects of gutting the Affordable Care Act by eliminating the mandate penalties and subsidies, but leaving all other reforms in place. At that time CBO and JCT did not estimate the “changes in coverage or premiums that would result.” The CBO and JCT have now estimated how gutting the ACA would “affect insurance coverage and premiums.” They found essentially 3 ways it would affect coverage: The number of uninsured would increase by 18 million in the first year. “Later, after the elimination of the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility and of subsidies for insurance purchase through the ACA marketplaces, that number would increase to 27 million, and then to 32 million in 2026.” Premiums for individual policies purchased through marketplaces or directly from insurers would increase by 20% to 25% in the first year. “The increase would reach about 50% in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and the marketplace subsidies, and premiums would about double by 2026.” Finally, the authors note: “The ways in which individuals, employers, states, insurers, doctors, hospitals, and other affected parties would respond to the changes. . . are all difficult to predict, so the estimates in this report are uncertain.” Watch what Stephen Colbert had to say about “repeal and erase.” (You Tube)
Green Climate Fund: Obama transferred - for a second time - $500 million to the Green Climate Fund. The fund is a “key aspect” of the Paris climate agreement. The Fund was established in 2010 “by wealthy countries” and it is “used to assist developing countries with adaptation and mitigation.” The U.S. has committed to transferring $3 billion to the fund but, even with this installment, $2 billion is still owing. (Guardian)
Solar Employment: According to the U.S. Energy and Employment Report, U.S. solar employs more workers than any other energy industry, including coal, oil, and natural gas combined.
Hottest Year: NASA and NOAA confirmed it. 2016 was the warmest year on record -- for the third year in a row. (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Larsen Ice Shelf: The rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf, one of the largest ice shelves in Antarctica, grew another 6 miles in a little more than 2 weeks this month. Last December it grew 11 miles in 2 weeks. Scientists believe that this will lead to the breaking off of a nearly Delaware-size piece of ice and “leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded; this even will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula.” The fear is that the break could speed up the flow of the ice seaward and potentially destabilize the shelf, which holds back enough ice above sea level to raise oceans by 4 inches. (Project Midas)