Originally Published: 1/13/2018
Authoritarianism: Encyclopedia Britannica defines authoritarianism as a “principle of blind submission to authority, as opposed to individual freedom of thought and action.” Ryan Sit, writing at Newsweek, reported that 2 political scientists from Harvard, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in their new book How Democracies Die, “have identified 4 warning signs that indicate if someone poses a dangerous authoritarian risk to a nation.” He noted that no U.S. politician, “at least dating back to the Civil War,” has even come close to matching those 4 signs - “until Donald Trump came along.” Levitsky said: “Trump was easily identifiable as someone who is not committed to the democratic rules of the game. There is real cause for concern for the health of our democratic institutions.” The 4 markers are: Rejecting or showing weak commitment to democratic rules. Denying the legitimacy of political opponents. Encouraging or tolerating violence. And a readiness to stifle or limit civil liberties of opponents, including media. Livitsky added that this checklist is meant to be a litmus test for candidates. “Once they’re in office, it’s too late.” Amanda Taub, at Vox, pointed out that a recent PPP poll found that a third of Trump voters support banning gays and lesbians from the country. 20% said Lincoln shouldn’t have freed the slaves. Another researcher, prior to the election, found that support for Trump correlated more reliably “than virtually any other indicator” with authoritarianism. The rise of authoritarianism not only explains much of Trump’s behavior, but also his support among the electorate. Taub noted that many researchers “have been laboring over a question, part political science and part psychology, that had captivated political scientists since the rise of the Nazis. How do people come to adopt, in such large numbers and so rapidly, extreme political views that seem to coincide with fear of minorities and with the desire for a strongman leader.” Taub has written an extensive piece citing lots of research and I highly recommend it. But the takeaway is that our democracy is in danger and, even if Trump leaves office, the electorate that supports him will still pose a danger.
Fusion GPS: Senator Dianne Feinstein (D, CA) released the transcript of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson’s interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee “over the objections” of the committee chair, Chuck Grassley (R, IA). “Feinstein’s action comes alongside an effort by Republicans to discredit the dossier as a politically motivated document that the FBI has relied too heavily upon in its investigation.” As we’ve already learned, the author of the dossier, Christopher Steele, was not told for whom it was being written and the FBI already had confirmation of his allegations when he turned his information over to them. (TWW, Fusion GPS, 1/6/18) (Washington Post) Simpson made an amazing claim - that the FBI informed him that they had a “human source” inside the Trump organization. (Washington Post)
P. Daniel Smith: He’s been appointed Deputy Director at the Interior Department. He’s a former National Park Service official “who improperly helped Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder cut down more than 130 trees to improve a river view at his Potomac, MD estate.” (Washington Post)
Kevin McIntyre: He was confirmed to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). McIntyre’s nomination is so problematic, as a partner in the Jones Day law firm where he worked for 30 years representing energy companies regulated by FERC, that his swearing-in ceremony was delayed to “give him more time to sever the relationships.” (Think Progress) More conflict of interest.
Warrantless Surveillance: The House voted 256 to 164 to extend the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program for 6 years “with minimal changes, rejecting a years-long effort by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to impose significant new privacy limits when it sweeps up Americans’ emails and other personal communications.” (NY Times)
Belize: It has ended all current, and forbidden all future, oil exploration in its ocean waters. This is to protect the Belize Barrier Reef System, “the largest in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and extends 900 km from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico all the way down to Honduras.” It’s home to almost 1,400 species, including the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, manatees, and 6 threatened species of shark.” (TeleSur)
Iran: Trump waived sanctions for a 3rd time (TWW, Iran, 10/14/17), “but he said he will not grant another reprieve unless the agreement is amended to permanently block a potential pathway for Iran to build nuclear weapons.” (Washington Post)
Israel: It published a list of 20 international groups whose members will be barred from entering the country due to their support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It’s an interesting list. (Al Jazeera) Texas was way ahead of Israel. (TWW, Texas, 10/28/17)
Panama: John Feeley, the U.S. Ambassador to Panama, has resigned, saying he no longer is able to serve Trump. He resigned December 27th but it’s just now hitting the news. (Reuters)
Arizona: Disgraced former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was pardoned by Trump (TWW, Arizona, 10/21/17), said he’s going to run for the senate seat vacated by Jeff Flake. He’s 85 years old. (NY Times)
Florida: After filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted that he was going to begin drilling off the coast of Mar-a-Lago, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke dropped Florida from oil and gas drilling off its coast (TWW, Drilling, 1/6/18). Of course, the decision was attributed to “strong opposition from the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott.” (NY Times) I’m putting my money on Moore’s tweet. But other states are also demanding to be exempted. So far, none have been. Critics claim that Trump is “blatantly” using the nation’s public lands and waters “as political bargaining chips.” (NY Times)
New Mexico: Governor Susana Martinez is going to introduce legislation “to grant law enforcement officers legal immunity for actions taken in the line of duty.” (Court House News)
New York: New York City has set a goal of divesting $189 billion in pension funds from fossil fuel companies within 5 years. It will also sue the most powerful oil companies “over their contribution to dangerous global warming.” (Guardian)
North Carolina: A 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit struck down North Carolina’s 2016 congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The ruling blocks the state from conducting any election under this map and orders the state General Assembly to redraw new districts by January 24th for the 2018 elections. The state will probably appeal the decision. (NY Times)
DACA: U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction blocking Trump from phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while a lawsuit is in process. (TWW, DACA, 12/9/17) And they must continue accepting applications for renewals. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had announced that the program would be terminated on March 5th. (TWW, DACA, 10/14/17) (Washington Post) At a White House meeting with lawmakers trying to make a deal on DACA, Trump was surprised to learn that immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and some nations in Africa were among those who would benefit. He asked, “Why do we want people from Haiti here?” According to people “with direct knowledge of the conversation,” he wanted to know why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than from places like Norway. (NY Times) Trump, of course, denied he said it. (Washington Post) I guess it’s lost on him that people from Norway don’t want to come here. Watch Stephen Colbert about it. (You Tube)
Deportations: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has finally decided what to do with those 200,000 Salvadorans. (TWW, Deportations, 11/11/17). It is not going to renew their Temporary Protected Status designation so they will be forced to leave the U.S. or face deportation. (Washington Post)
Net Neutrality: Senator Ed Markey (D, MA) introduced a “resolution of disapproval” which, if passed, would restore net neutrality. 28 Democrats and 1 Independent, Bernie Sanders (VT), have signed on. 19 Senate Democrats and Angus King (I, ME) have not signed on. Here’s the list. (Common Dreams)
Voter Suppression: U.S. District Judge John Vazquez of the District of New Jersey vacated, at the request of the Republican National Committee (RNC), a Consent Decree that has been in effect since 1982. (See DNC vs. RNC) The Consent Decree banned the RNC from engaging in voter caging. (See Vote Caging) So now the RNC can, once again, engage in this highly effective means of voter suppression. (Think Progress)
Tax Withholding: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released new guidelines for withholding based on the new tax law. (TWW, What’s in the Tax Cut Bill, 12/23/17) The guidelines are necessary for businesses to calculate how much to withhold beginning February 15th. “In rushing the process, the Treasury Department is asking companies to rely on outdated forms to help determine how much to withhold.” A senior IRS official said that Americans with simple tax situations are likely to get accurate paychecks next month. “But many Americans, including those who tend to itemize their tax returns, will need to use the online tool to ensure they are not dramatically overpaying or underpaying their taxes. The online calculator will not be available until sometime next month.” (Washington Post) Better be careful or you could end up owing the government money when you file next year.
Tax Enforcement: As I mentioned before, the tax cut bill didn’t provide any additional funding for the IRS to ramp up the new code. (TWW, Selling the Tax Cuts, 12/30/17) In fact, the Republican cuts to the budget and employees is going to make it very difficult for the IRS to police the new tax code. According to The Nation, “The revamped tax code will create a vast and easy game for accountants to play. The newest hide-the-money strategy will be to create a so-called pass-through business - a company whose income is passed through to the owner as profit.” We can expect that a lot of revenue will be lost due to the game-playing and the lack of IRS personnel to catch them.
Student Debt: The Education Department awarded a contract for the collection of student loans to Windham Professionals and Performant Financial Corp., “a company [Education Secretary Betsy] DeVos invested in before becoming secretary.” (Washington Post)
Arms Sales: Trump is “nearing completion” of his new “Buy American” plan. According to Reuters, he’ll be calling for the U.S. military attaches and diplomats “to help drum up billions of dollars more in business overseas for the American weapons industry, going beyond the assistance they currently provide.”
Nuclear Policy: Trump plans “to loosen constraints on the use of nuclear weapons and develop a new low-yield nuclear warhead for U.S. Trident missiles.” (Guardian)
Davos: Trump will be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this month. He’s the first U.S. leader since Bill Clinton to attend the conference. It is “a gathering synonymous with wealth and power” and it will bring him “face to ace with global elites” who have been his “fierce critics and frequent foils.” Apparently he’s going to use the forum to promote his “America First” worldview but “critics inside the United States and abroad” call this view “a retreat from an American global leadership based on democratic principles.” (Washington Post)
CHIP: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the effects of extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program for 10 years. They estimated that, after accounting for the effects of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate, funding CHIP would “yield a net savings” to the federal government “because the federal costs of the alternatives to providing coverage through CHIP (primarily Medicaid, subsidized coverage in the marketplaces, and employment-based insurance) are larger than the costs of providing coverage through CHIP.”
Medicaid: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) issued new guidance to states “that will allow them to compel people to work or prepare for jobs in order to receive Medicaid for the first time.” (Washington Post)
Climate Change: Extreme weather events last year cost the U.S. $306 billion in damages, “making 2017 the most expensive year on record for natural disasters in the country.” (NY Times)
Melting Glaciers: Of course the melting glaciers are raising sea levels. But the melting ice has added so much water to the world’s oceans that the seabed is now sinking under the increasing weight. “The bottom of the ocean is sinking, warping, and deforming because of the added water weight from melting glaciers.” What does this say about the estimated extent of sea level rise? According to research, this may mean that the estimated sea rise is being underestimated. (Tech Times)
Coal Plants: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) unanimously rejected Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s request to bolster coal and nuclear segments of the electric grid. According to Inside Climate News the plan would have rewarded electric companies “for keeping big stockpiles of fuel on hand” and “consumers would have paid billions in higher bills, and most of the benefits would have gone to a few big companies.”
Walmart: It announced that it would raise entry-level wages for hourly employees to $11 an hour. It will also expand maternity and parental leave benefits and is offering a one-time cash bonus of up to $1,000 for those with 20 years of service. This probably means that no hourly wage employee will get a bonus because they have a very high turnover rate. The bonuses will probably go primarily to management. (Guardian) Of course, they are claiming that the tax cut is what provides them with the cash to do this. However, one analyst calculated that the raise will cost them about $300 million (Washington Post) but another analyst figured that the tax cut will get them about $2.2 billion a year. (Washington Post) But what Walmart is being quiet about is the fact that it is closing 63 Sam’s Club stores and laying off thousands of workers. (Business Insider)
Deutsche Bank: Trump waived “part of the punishment for 5 megabanks whose affiliates were convicted and fined for manipulating global interest rates.” One of those waivers was for Deutsche Bank, “which is owed at least $130 million” by Trump and his businesses, “and has also been fined for its role in a Russian money laundering scheme.” (International Business Times)