Originally Published: 1/20/2018
Fact or Fiction: Senator Jeff Flake (R, AZ), for the 2nd time in the last few months, took to the Senate floor to call out Trump. This time he talked about Trump’s war on the media, comparing him to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin “and warning his colleagues that nothing less than American democracy is at stake.” You can watch the video at the Washington Post or you can read the transcript at CBS. The Washington Post, which awards Pinocchios for lies, claims that Trump made more than 2,000 false or misleading statements in his first 365 days in office. But Jennifer Rubin noted: “What [Flake] did not say directly, and should have, is that his fellow Republicans don’t merely remain quiet in the face of lies - they add to the attacks on truth and also condemn the press for doing its job.” (Washington Post) The problem extends to the populace, too. A new poll from Gallup found that 40% of Republicans “consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be ‘fake news.’” The corresponding figure for Democrats is 17%. The Rand Corporation issued a report called Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life in which it describes the increasing disagreement about basic facts, a blurring of the line between opinion and fact, an increase in the relative volume of opinion over fact, and declining trust in previously respected sources of information. Rand’s report identifies many forces driving “truth decay” notably social media, cable news, and a declining emphasis on civics and critical thinking in K-12 curriculums. The report highlights 3 other eras of disruption: the 1880s-1890s, the 1920s-1930s, and the 1960s-1970s. But the authors believe this time it’s particularly virulent. “In these previous periods . . . we were unable to find evidence of disagreement about objective facts. We saw different types of polarization, but not to the extent that we see it now. . . What makes it really distinctive and damaging is that it’s not just political polarization, but it’s also social and demographic polarization. And those lines . . . are reinforcing, which means you end up with a very fragmented society.” Trump, of course, has leveraged “fake news” to a new level and this week released a list of “fake news” winners. (PolitiFact) Stephen Colbert had something to say about it. (You Tube)
Corrupt Presidency: Paul Waldman at the Washington Post did an amazing analysis of Trump’s business dealings while in the White House and believes that Trump on “on track” to become the most corrupt president in U.S. history. He goes through much of the stuff that I’ve covered before, but in greater detail, and also points out that “actions can be corrupt even if they’re legal.” He wrote: “Before Trump came along, the idea that any president of either party would use the presidency as a nonstop business opportunity was almost too absurd to contemplate. Now most people find it barely worthy of getting upset about, especially when there’s so much else going on.”
Warrantless Surveillance: The Senate passed the renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) 65 to 34. (Washington Post) The House passed it last week. (TWW, Warrantless Surveillance, 1/13/18) They couldn’t agree on DACA, or CHIPS, or even a budget for the year that began October 1st. But by golly they can agree on spying on U.S. citizens. The Intercept had a great piece on the Dems who joined with Republicans to “strengthen the government’s spying powers.”
Confidence in U.S.: A Gallup survey of 134 countries found that global confidence in U.S. leadership “has fallen to a new low, and the country now ranks below China in worldwide approval ratings.” Under President Obama the approval rating was 48%. Under President Trump it’s 30%, “the lowest level Gallup has recorded since beginning its global leadership poll over a decade ago.” A separate Gallup survey found that Trump’s approval rating is just 39%, the lowest average approval rating “of any elected president in his first year.” (Guardian)
China: It has banned imports of plastic waste which could mean “an end to collection of some plastic in the UK and increase the risk of environmental pollution.” China is “the world’s biggest market for household waste” and, without it, “will pose big challenges to the UK’s efforts to recycle more plastic.” (Guardian)
Haiti: Trump announced that “Haitians will no longer be eligible for U.S. visas given to low-skilled workers . . . bringing an end to a small-scale effort to employ Haitians in the United States after a catastrophic 2010 earthquake.” (Reuters)
Korea: North and South Korea agreed to have their athletes march together under a “unified Korea” flag at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. They will also field a joint women’s ice hockey team. “It was the most dramatic gesture of reconciliation between them in a decade.” (NY Times) However, this “budding détente” doesn’t please the White House as it “scrambles its strategy of pressuring the North, with sanctions and threats of military action, to give up its nuclear arsenal.” (NY Times)
Palestine: Trump is withholding more than half of the funding we usually provide to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that supports Palestinian refugees. Heather Nauert of the State Department said that “the decision was intended to encourage other countries to increase aid, as well as to promote reform at the relief agency - and that it was not intended to be a punitive move against Palestinians. But she refused to comment when asked if the funding shortfall was linked to [Trump’s] threat . . . to end the aid after Palestinian leaders said the United States should no longer play a role in peace talks with Israel.” (NY Times) Belgium pledged to donate $23 million to UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees. (Al Jazeera)
Syria: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that we will keep troops in Syria “long after their fight against the Islamic State” is over. (NY Times) He will be creating a 30,000 troop border force in northern Syria. (Al Jazeera) “Tillerson also made clear for the first time one of the objectives of a sustained military presence would be to disrupt what the U.S., Israel, and their allies see as an Iranian strategy to control a large swath of the Middle East, from Afghanistan to Lebanon, in which Syria is key.” (Guardian) I’m thinking we’re setting up a new outpost in the Middle East.
Turkey: It has begun operations against Kurdish militias in Syria, which are backed by the U.S. Turkey has long persecuted the Kurds in its country, referring to them as terrorists. Now it looks like they’re going after us for supporting Syrian Kurds. (NY Times)
Zambia: Zambiatourism posted an ad to spur tourism on its Facebook page. It starts with “Visit ****hole Zambia . . . Where the only stars and stripes you’ll have to see are in the sky and on a zebra!” It features stunning photos of the country and its wildlife. Pretty good sense of humor.
Florida: Apparently Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s purported exemption of Florida from offshore oil and gas drilling (TWW, Florida, 1/13/18) was not final, according to Walter Cruickshank, the acting director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which manages offshore leasing. The Bureau is “pushing ahead with the required review of resources off the nation’s shores, including Florida’s. . . A decision on whether to offer leases off Florida as part of the administration’s offshore program would come after that analysis.” (NY Times)
North Carolina: It appealed the Court of Appeals’ decision that the state’s congressional map was gerrymandered and needed to be redrawn by January 24th. (TWW, North Carolina, 1/13/18) The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the order, meaning that the state doesn’t need to redraw its map. So, the 2018 elections will be held in districts that a lower court found unconstitutional. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would not have granted the request. (Reuters)
Wisconsin: Patty Schachtner (D) “edged out” Adam Jarchow (R) for one of the state’s Senate seats which has been controlled by the GOP for almost 2 decades. Trump won this district by 17 points. (Washington Post) Wow. Has something happened?
Budget: House Republicans finally passed another Continuing Resolution (CR) bill. However, it needed 8 Democrats to vote for it to get it through the Senate and Dems said they were opposed to another CR and that they had enough votes to block it. The proposed bill would have extended funding to February 16th and included funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for 6 years but rolled back several taxes in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). There was nothing in it to address DACA which is the main sticking point for Dems. (NY Times) On Friday Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D, NY) met with Trump but they couldn’t get a deal done. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) called for a vote at 10:00 Friday evening, but couldn’t get the bill passed and the government shut down. The Washington Post noted that this was the first time we’ve shut down in more than 4 years, but I would point out that if we’re shutting down every 4 years or so there’s something terribly wrong. They will be meeting today to try to get something worked out. (Washington Post) Let me point out that it was Trump who caused the problem by choosing to end the DACA program, putting hundreds of thousands of people raised in the U.S. in danger and offering no solution to the problem. Legislation has been widely supported by the American public and even in congress support has been bipartisan. Everyone wanted it in this deal - except Trump. Much of Republicans’ consternation over the bill revolved around who would get the blame for a shutdown. (Roll Call) The Washington Post and ABC News answered that question with a poll that found that most blame Trump and the Republicans.
Travel Ban: The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take Trump’s appeal of the Hawaii Court of Appeals’ decision to dump his travel ban. (TWW, Travel Ban, 12/23/17) The appeal was filed by Solicitor General Noel Francisco who argued that “the high court must reestablish the vast authority the president wields when the nation’s security is at stake.” (Washington Post)
DACA: The Justice Department (DOJ) has appealed Judge William Alsup’s injunction to allow the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to continue while the legal challenge is going through the courts. (TWW, DACA, 1/13/18) The appeal has been filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit but DOJ is also filing a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking them to intervene in the case. (Washington Post)
Nuclear Weapons: The Pentagon is planning 2 new nuclear weapons. Maybe this is why Trump is revamping our nuclear policy. (TWW, Nuclear Policy, 1/13/18) One is a “low-yield warhead” that would be used with the Trident missile, a rocket deployed from submarines. It’s also planning to develop a new nuclear-armed cruise missile that would also be deployed at sea. (Wall Street Journal)
National Park Service: 9 of the 12 members of the NPS Advisory Board have quit “out of frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year.” This leaves Zinke (and us) without “a functioning body to designate national historic or natural landmarks.” Makes sense, since the Trump administration is destroying the landmarks that already have been designated. The Washington Post noted that this “underscores the extent to which federal advisory bodies have been marginalized under the Trump administration. In May 2017, Zinke suspended all outside committees while his staff reviewed their composition and work.”
Science: A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that, in the first year of the Trump administration, science advisory panels charged with advising government agencies have been whittled down or dissolved completely. Those still in existence met less often than they have over the last 20 years. What I found interesting is how the composition of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Advisory Board has changed. It’s gone from 79% being from academia to only 50% but members from industry went from 6% to 23%. That tells you a whole lot.
Civil Rights: The Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights has developed a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division (CRF). CRF “will protect doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who have moral or religious objections to providing certain services.” This accompanies “a broad policy aimed at abortions and treatment for transgender patients.” The move “advances an executive order that President Trump signed in May directing agencies to expand religious liberty under federal law.” (Washington Post)
Another Record: NASA ranked 2017 as the 2nd warmest year on record, after 2016. However, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which uses a different analytical method, ranked it the 3rd, behind 2016 and 2015. It all has to do with El Niño. “Though 2015 was not technically an El Niño year, the phenomenon contributed to heat records that year and in 2016.” 17 of the 18 warmest years since 1880 have occurred since 2001. (NY Times)