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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 2/4/2017

Intentional Chaos:  It’s only the second week of Trump’s administration and he’s still doing exactly what he said he’d do. He’s keeping his campaign promises. He’s playing to his base. But he’s also limiting our constitutional construction of checks and balances to set up a self-serving, dangerous consolidation of power. The intentional inclusion of green card holders in the immigration order, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defiance of a federal judge, and the timing of the shake-up of the National Security Council all point to the power grab. This much is clear. But what’s less clear is the intentional chaos, because in chaos you can steal - whether it’s power or money - and no one will notice because they have their eyes on “that thing” over there. Thus, while everyone is outraged about one thing, he launches another - to which we all turn our attention. Then another - and we move on to that. And when the dust finally settles, he’ll still have his executive orders in place, federal departments will be capitulating, and Congress will be put on the sidelines. And he’ll be king. Jon Stewart visited Stephen Colbert and, in a humorous manner, tells you exactly what’s going on. Watch it at You Tube

 

Getting Ignored:  The intentional chaos keeps us from paying attention to other things, like Oleg Erovinkin, the Russian spy who helped Christopher Steele compile the dossier on Trump, being killed in Russia (see below) and the complete disaster in the hastily arranged raid in Yemen (see below). It keeps us from paying attention to what is going on in Europe: the fighting in Ukraine (see below); the fact that Russia has been moving new missiles into Eastern Europe (NPR); that U.S. troops are amassing in Poland, “part of the largest U.S. deployment to Europe since the Cold War” (Boston Globe); and that the “largest armed U.S. military brigade to be deployed to Europe since the Cold War” arrived in Germany. (UPI) It’s also keeping us from paying attention to the land grab by corporations (see National Land below) and the suspension of committee rules to push Trump’s appointments through (see New Rules below), as well as other things. The “shock and awe” is inuring us to Trump’s outrageous behavior - making it the new normal. We have to keep our eyes not only on the “shiny object” but also on everything else. Yes, we’ll get tired. But we can’t give in.

 

Disaster Capitalism:  If you’ve read Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine, you’ll love the piece she wrote for The Intercept. She wrote that Trump’s plans will generate “a tsunami of crises and shocks: economic shocks, as market bubbles burst; security shocks, as blowback from foreign belligerence comes home; weather shocks, as our climate is further destabilized; and industrial shocks, as oil pipelines spill and rigs collapse.” She points out that we can expect Trump to exploit these shocks.

 

National Security Council:  Trump issued another executive order “reshuffling the NSC.” His chief strategist, Steven Bannon, has been appointed and the Director of the National Intelligence (DNI) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will attend meetings only when they “pertain to their areas.” Previously the Joint Chiefs and the DNI attended all meetings with significant decision-making. Now Bannon will have more input than they will. (BBC)

 

Holocaust Remembrance:  On International National Holocaust Remembrance Day the White House issued a statement to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz “that did not mention Jews, Judaism, or antisemitism.” (Guardian)

 

2020 Election:  On inauguration day, Trump filed his papers with the FEC to be a candidate for the 2020 election. This gives him the opportunity to raise money during his entire term in office. But Trump emphasized that the paperwork “does not constitute a formal announcement of my candidacy for the 2020 election.” (Washington Post) He raised $11 million in December alone. (Politico)

 

Lawsuits:  Suits against Trump “run the gamut” with nearly 3,500 legal filings going back to the 1990s. “When you have reportedly made a career out of bilking contractors out of money, harassing women, and setting up fraudulent universities and other businesses, you can expect your name to end up in a lot of court papers.” Just since he won the election, Trump has been sued more than 34 times, “according to LawNewz, which analyzed court records to find Trump outpacing himself where lawsuits are concerned.” (AlterNet)

 

Federal Employees:  Some are worried that Trump will gut their agencies. So they’re “creating new email addresses, signing up for encrypted messaging apps, and looking for other, protected ways to push back against the new administration’s agenda.” (Politico)

 

Oleg Erovinkin:  This is a former KGB chief who has been suspected of helping British spy Christopher Steele compile the dossier on Trump’s connections to Putin. (TWW, Trump Ties to Russia, 1/14/17) His death last December “set off a firestorm of speculation” about the “possible Kremlin involvement and a cover-up.” (Kansas City Star)

 

Military Convoy:  A military convoy of 8 Humvees was spotted near Louisville Kentucky “flying a large Trump campaign flag on the lead vehicle.” The convoy was tied to an East Coast Navy SEAL unit and an inquiry has begun. Lt. Jacqui Maxwell said the Trump flag was not authorized. “Military regulations bar active-duty personnel from engaging in partisan political activities.” (Lexington Herald Leader)

 

First Family:  While Trump promised to keep government and business interests separate, the federal duty to protect the First Family is being exploited. Eric Trump took a trip to Uruguay for the Trump business but was accompanied by Secret Service to the tune of almost $100,000 - paid by us! (Washington Post)

 

Neil Gorsuch:  Trump nominated U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. (Roll Call) Did you like Antonin Scalia? You’ll love this guy. He’s far to the right of Scalia. And Gorsuch is only 49 years old so we’ll be stuck with him for a very long time. He was appointed to the 10th Circuit in Denver by Dubya. A member of the Federalist Society, he has a “long history of ruling against employees in cases involving federal race, sex, age, disability, and political discrimination and retaliation claims, as well as against women and regulations. (Democracy Now!) He’s the judge who wrote the opinion “that backed the retail chain Hobby Lobby over the Obama administration in a fight over the 2010 health care law mandate to provide contraceptive coverage for employees.” So, he not only believes in corporate personhood, he believes corporations can have religious beliefs. (Roll Call) He founded and led a student group called “Fascism Forever Club” in his freshman year at Georgetown Preparatory high school described as “an anti-faculty student group that battled against the ‘liberal’ views of the school administration.” (Daily Mail) Trump told Senate leaders to “go nuclear” if Democrats try to block his confirmation. (Washington Post)

 

Rex Tillerson:  He was confirmed as Secretary of State “amid record opposition.” (NY Times) 3 Democrats voted for him: Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), and Mark Warner (VA) and independent Angus King (ME). (Washington Post)

 

Jeff Sessions:  His nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary committee “after a bitter hearing.” (Washington Post)

 

Anthony Scaramucci:  A former campaign fundraiser for Trump, he’s been appointed the White House liaison to the business community. He’s on the job but has not yet been sworn in due to his agreement to sell his investment firm to a subsidiary of the Chinese conglomerate, HNA Group. “It is the second time a politically connected Chinese company has chased a business deal with an incoming White House official. And it is evidence of the unusual confluence of interests between superrich members of the new Trump administration who need to unwind complex financial portfolios to comply with government rules and international firms eager to buy American assets.” (NY Times)

 

Jeffrey H. Wood:  Trump has appointed Wood as the Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the environmental crimes department. Until last week Wood was a lobbyist for Southern Company, “a utility company that relies on coal-fueled power plants and has clashed with regulators.” (The Intercept)

 

Vincent Viola:  This billionaire, who made his fortune founding Virtu Financial, a high-frequency trading firm, was nominated by Trump for Army secretary. But he withdrew from consideration because his assets were too complicated to untangle “to meet the Pentagon’s conflict of interest requirements.” (Washington Post)

 

New Rules:  On Tuesday Democrats boycotted confirmation hearings in retaliation for the Muslim ban and for firing Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. They refused to attend the Senate Finance Committee hearings for Steve Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary and Rep. Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services because they lied to the committee, forcing Republicans to reschedule both votes. (Roll Call) And they boycotted the Environmental and Public Works Committee (EPW) voting to confirm Scott Pruitt as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator. So Senator Orrin Hatch (R, UT), chair of the Finance Committee, changed the rules in order to advance Mnuchin’s confirmation without any Democrats being present. His confirmation was passed out of the committee and now goes to the floor. (Washington Post) Then John Barrasso (R, WY), chair of the EPW, suspended the rules to approve Scott Pruitt. His nomination now goes to the floor. (American Progress)

 

Betsy DeVos:  Republicans are struggling to find the votes they need to confirm DeVos as Education Secretary after Lisa Murkowski (R, AK) and Susan Collins (R, ME) said they couldn’t support her. (Roll Call) Her confirmation was cleared to go to the floor and it’s expected that she’ll be confirmed on Monday. The vote will be 50 to 50 so VP Pence will have to step in and cast the deciding vote. (CNN) Call your senators, especially if they’re Republican. Calls work. If we can turn just 1 more Republican senator, DeVos won’t be confirmed.

 

Muslim BanTrump’s order temporarily banning citizens from Muslim countries from entering the U.S. “sowed panic, confusion, and anguish in airports across the globe Saturday, as nationals of the affected countries were either barred by airlines from traveling or detained upon arrival in the United States.” (Washington Post) Hundreds of refugees, along with legal residents with green cards, were detained in airports across the country. Dozens were barred from flying out of Istanbul, Turkey. (Reuters) Even airlines in Egypt, not a targeted country, were asked to implement the ban. (Reuters) There was a “global backlash” as “governments from London and Berlin to Jakarta and Tehran spoke out against” the order. (Reuters) But Jihadist groups are applauding Trump’s order, “saying the new policy validates their claim that the United States is at war with Islam.” (Washington Post) Protests erupted at airports across the country over the weekend after Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents began enforcing the order. Much of the problems erupted from the detention of legal permanent residents who were returning from abroad. According to CNN, the mayhem could have been avoided if Trump had listened to his DHS lawyers. Steve Bannon personally overruled a decision by DHS not to include green card holders in the ban. But apparently no one consulted the State Department either. Hundreds of State Department officials signed a memo fiercely dissenting from the ban. (Guardian) Several courts issued temporary restraining orders or blocked detainees from being deported. But the DHS said it would continue to implement Trump’s ban. (Washington Post) And indeed they did. Despite court orders, people from the 7 banned countries are not being allowed to board planes overseas “because the State Department had already revoked their visas. . . The revocations were a direct result of the president’s executive order.” (Boston Globe) In fact, on Friday, the Washington Post reported that, to date, 100,000 visas have been revoked from the 7 targeted countries. However, U.S. District Judge James Robert in Seattle issued a temporary stay yesterday, blocking the immigration order from being enforced nationwide. “It is not unusual for district courts to issue nationwide injunctions blocking executive actions, and the federal government must obey such injunctions even when other district courts have declined to issue injunctions in similar cases.” Officials ordered airlines to allow travelers to board planes to the U.S. (NY TimesAnd the State Department reversed the visa revocations. (Washington Post)

 

Monday Night Massacre:  Acting Attorney General Sally Yates “ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend challenges” to Trump’s Muslim ban. (Washington Post) Trump immediately fired her (Guardian) saying: “The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States,” (Roll Call) The Guardian referred to this as the Monday Night Massacre, referring to the Saturday Night Massacre when Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was looking into the break-in at the Watergate. Richardson refused and resigned. Nixon ordered Solicitor General Robert Bork, as acting Attorney General, to fire Cox and he did. (Wikipedia) The Nation pointed out that it took Nixon almost 5 years to launch the massacre, but it took Trump only 10 days. Dana Boente was appointed to replace her. He’s a 33-year veteran of the Justice Department. (Washington Post)

 

Australia:  Trump had a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee swap with Australia that Obama had negotiated and to which Trump has agreed, calling the agreement “dumb.” He said the plan was “the worst deal ever” and “accused Australia of trying to export the ‘next Boston bombers.’” (Reuters) Trump “boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win” and then, “25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.” Trump told Turnbull that he had spoken with 4 other world leaders that day, including Putin, and that “this was the worst call by far.” According to the Washington Post, “Trump’s behavior suggests that he is capable of subjecting world leaders, including close allies, to a version of the vitriol he frequently employs against political adversaries and news organizations in speeches and on Twitter.”

 

Iran:  Trump is “officially putting Iran on notice” that it’s paying attention to what it called “defiance” of the nuclear agreements because of Iran’s test launch of a ballistic missile. (Washington Post) Trump’s Treasury Department announced sanctions on Iran “against 13 people and a dozen companies.” (BBC) Testing missiles is not a violation of our agreement with Iran. (al Jazeera)

 

Russia:  Trump loosened sanctions on Russia imposed by Obama (Independent) after a supposed congratulatory phone call with Putin last Saturday. While the Kremlin issued a “clearly sanitized” readout of the conversation, details from the White House have been scarce. “According to Ian Berman, vice president of the conservative-leaning American Foreign Policy Council,” Trump turned off the recording equipment. (Addicting Info)  

 

Ukraine:  “More than a dozen Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been killed this past week” by “vicious” shelling from Russia. Many think “Putin may be exploiting Trump’s apparent disinterest in Ukraine and testing whether he’ll stick to his campaign rhetoric of going easy on Russia.” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, referring to Putin’s telephone conversation last Saturday with Trump, said that it was “probably another occasion for the swift resumption of dialogue and cooperation between the United States and Russia.” (Global Post)

 

Yemen:  The U.S. Seal Team 6 raided al-Qaeda in Yemen on Sunday and the death toll has risen to 57, “including 41 suspected militants and 16 civilians.” 8 women and 8 children were among those killed. (Middle East Eye) Also, a Special Operations member was killed and 3 Navy SEALs were injured in the raid. (Washington Post) Press Secretary Sean Spicer “acknowledged that Trump’s first hand at Commander in Chief was not a complete success.” But insiders say the plan, approved by Trump, “flanked by his closest advisors, including son-in-law Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon,” and “Defense Secretary James Mattis, General Joseph Dunford, Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn” was a complete disaster. (District Sentinel)

 

California:  Fresno Superior Court Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan ruled against Monsanto “in its fight to prevent California regulators from listing” glyphosate, the key ingredient in its weed killer, Roundup, as a carcinogen. Monsanto sued the state environmental protection agency’s office of environmental health hazard assessment “after the agency issued a notice of intent to add glyphosate to its Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer.” (Fresno Bee)

 

Texas:  Just hours after Trump signed the Executive Order restricting migration from Muslim-majority countries (TWW, Refugees, 1/28/17) the Islamic Center of Victoria Texas was set on fire. (Victoria Advocate)

 

Legal Discrimination:  There’s a leaked document going around of another Executive Order called a “Religious Freedom Order” that would legalize discrimination. I’m not going into it much since it’s a draft. I’ll wait to see what comes out of this, but if you’re interested in what Trump and Pence have in mind, you can read about it at The Nation.

 

CRA:  The Congressional Review Act is a little-used rule that “empowers Congress to review, by means of an expedited legislative process, the federal regulations issued by government agencies and, by passage of a joint resolution, to overrule a regulation.” The House of Representatives, using this Act, has passed 2 bills that will “erase regulations targeting the coal industry and the oil and mining sector, launching Republicans’ offensive against a series of late-term rules put in place by former President Barack Obama.” It’s expected that the Senate will also pass the bills and, of course, Trump will sign them. (Politico)

 

Voice of America:  Buried in the National Defense Authorization Act passed a couple of weeks ago was a provision that disbands the bipartisan board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an independent U.S. agency that includes Voice of America and other broadcasting stations that broadcast to various parts of the world. Disbanding the board puts the agency in the control of a CEO appointed by the president. Until 2013 BBG had been banned from broadcasting within the U.S., but this was changed, so this new legislation “could pave the way for Trump-approved content created by the U.S. diplomacy arm, if he chooses to exploit the opportunity.” (Politico) This week Trump sent 2 aids to “scope out the studios of Voice of America.” (Politico) Remember, Trump wanted his own network? Well, he may have it now.

 

Sanctuary Cities:  San Francisco has become the first city to sue Trump over his order to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities, saying the order is unconstitutional. (NY Times)

 

Boy Scouts:  They will now allow transgender children who identify as boys to enroll in boys-only programs. (Washington Post)

 

Lead in Water:  Think the problem with water in Flint Michigan was bad? It’s not the worst in the country. According to an in-depth report from Reuters, “lead testing results across the country found almost 3,000 areas with poisoning rates far higher than in the tainted Michigan city. Yet many of these lead hotspots are receiving little attention or funding.”

 

Dakota Access:  Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer “has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the easement needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline. Senator John Hoeven (R, ND) gave the order to Speer. (CNN) Protesters were out but North Dakota police arrested 76 people. (Guardian) And then Trump ordered Bureau of Indian Affairs agents to clear out the protesters. (Washington Post)

 

National Land:  There’s been so much going on that no one is paying attention to the Republican move to sell off 640 million acres of national land. “In a single line of changes to the rules for the House of Representatives, Republicans have overwritten the value of federal lands, easing the path to disposing of federal property even if doing so loses money for the government and provides no demonstrable compensation to American citizens.” (Guardian) DC Report explains further: “Congress is preparing to give away millions of acres of public land worth hundreds of billions of dollars. The first move, transferring property owned by all Americans to individual states, was quietly adopted by the House in early January as part of a routine internal rules change.” And Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R, UT) introduced a bill ordering the Interior Department to immediately sell off 3.3 million acres of national land. However, he withdrew the bill after an outcry from citizens. (Guardian)

 

Unemployment:  The U.S. added 246,000 jobs in January, “above economists’ expectations.” (Reuters)

 

Dodd-Frank: After a meeting with Wall Street executives, Trump signed an Executive Order to reconsider regulations governing the financial services industry. The EO orders the Labor Department to reconsider what is called the “fiduciary rule,” which is designed to force retirement advisers to work in the best interest of their clients. We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of this, but with all the Goldman Sachs alumni in key administration positions, we can expect they’ll hand over everything. Hang onto your wallets. (Washington Post)

 

Transparency Rule:  Part of Dodd-Frank was the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) rule mandating that disclosures for payments to foreign governments made by oil, natural gas, coal, and mineral companies be disclosed. The House voted on Wednesday to repeal the Transparency Rule and the Senate passed it on Friday. It goes to Trump and he’ll sign it. (The Hill)

 

Deutsche Bank:  It has agreed to pay the New York Department of Financial Services $425 million for a “mirror trading” scheme that “moved $10 billion out of Russia between 2001 and 2015.” Also, Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority “is about to penalize the bank roughly $200 million for the suspicious trades.” A “mirror trade” is a scheme involving clients “buying stocks in Moscow in rubles and related parties selling the same stocks shortly thereafter through the bank’s London branch. . . The trade of a Russian blue chip stock, typically valued at between $2 million to $3 million an order, was cleared through the bank’s New York operations, with the sellers typically paid in U.S. dollars. (Reuters)

 

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