Articles and Editorials:
There has been a blizzard of news this week as the new Administration appears to be trying to accomplish as many big goals as quickly as possible.
The major pieces of Trump news this week were:
- FSB intelligence officers arrested for treason in Russia
- Draft executive order proposes return of overseas “enhanced interrogation” sites
- Executive orders on environment, Dakota Access pipeline
- Executive orders on TPP, abortion, federal hiring
- Executive orders on Mexico wall, immigration
- Executive order banning refugees
- State Department senior staff resigns
- Kellyanne Conway : “no tax returns,” or not
- Voter fraud investigation
- Trump battles media, facts
- False Story: White House phone lines shut down
- Stephen Bannon gets key role on National Security Council
- Useful Guides
- More marches coming
- What’s expected this week
Four Arrested for Treason in Russia
During a recent FSB (formerly KGB) meeting, Russian officers entered the room, put a bag over the head of senior Russian intelligence officer Sergei Mikhailov and removed him. He was charged with treason, and imprisoned, along with another FSB officer, a top manager of Russia’s largest cyber-security firm, and a fourth unidentified individual. The arrests appear related to Russian intelligence information leaked to the United States during the 2016 Presidential campaign (Full Story – USA Today) (Full Video – Rachel Maddow/MSNBC).
Reinstatement of “Black Sites”
On Wednesday, a draft executive order made the rounds in Washington, calling for a reinstatement of “black sites” – secret locations outside of the United States where American intelligence officers had previously used “enhanced interrogation” tactics, like water boarding, during the Bush Administration (Full Article – Washington Post). Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis and Trump’s CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that they were “blindsided” by the draft, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the draft was “not a White House document” (Full Article – Politico).
Nonetheless, when asked in an interview with ABC News the same day if he believes that waterboarding works, Trump said “absolutely,” claiming that his opinion was based on conversations “as recently as 24 hours ago with people at the highest level of intelligence” (Full Transcript – ABC News).
This perspective contradicts statements made under oath to Congress by Pompeo, as well as a recent study involving interviews with members of “FBI, active duty military or reserves, state or local police, military criminal investigation, Department of Homeland Security, and the Defense Intelligence Agency” (Full Article – Psychology Today).
“I’ll not only take my share of blame, I’ll take extra”
Conservative Talk Show Host/Conspiracy Theorist
(Full Article – The Atlantic)
Executive Orders On Environment
Scientists and environmentalists became deeply concerned when federal agencies like the EPA and USDA were issued memos not to post new content to social media or agency web sites, and that all communications with the press must be approved by the Administration (Full Story – The New Yorker). While scientists and environmentalists likely have much to worry about from the Trump Administration, it is difficult to determine just how unusual this particular incident is: senior officials within the agencies say that this is similar to past transitions from one Presidency to the next, including when Obama took office, (Full Article – New York Times, Full Article – Scientific American) while others disagree and believe that it goes much farther (Full Article – Mother Jones).
Trump also put a temporary freeze on EPA grants and contracts, and signed an executive order speeding up approvals for the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines to move forward (Full Story – NPR). Native American and other activists had believed that they had scored a victory in December 2016 when their protests had appeared to halt the projects (Full Article – USA Today), which threaten to contaminate drinking water and violate sacred land.
Executive Orders on TPP, Abortion and Federal Hiring Freeze
On Monday, Donald Trump signed several executive orders.
One called for ending US involvement in talks to develop the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), a trade agreement that many progressives had felt would be worse for workers and the environment than NAFTA. Trump has been viewed by many as “anti-trade,” but the words that have come out of his mouth are that he merely wants better deals. What “better” means to him may make the now obsolete TPP look far more pro-labor and pro-environment.
Another executive order reinstated the “Mexico City Policy,” a measure that cuts federal funding for organizations providing abortion services, referrals or advocacy.
And another executive order on Monday put a freeze on new hiring for federal agencies (Full Article – CNN).
Mexico President Responds to Wall Order, Cancels Meeting With Trump
On Wednesday, Donald Trump signed an executive order following through on his campaign promise to “build a wall” on the US-Mexican border, add detention centers near the border, and increase the requirements for release from detention. Contrary to Trump’s campaign promise/chant that “we will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it,” the wall will now be paid for with our American tax dollars, with assurance from President Trump and Congressional Republicans that Mexico will pay us for it later.
Trump also signed an executive order proposing increased cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration, penalties for US cities that don’t cooperate (“sanctuary cities”), increased deportations, penalties for countries who refuse to take back the immigrants that we deport, and publication of crimes committed in the US by illegal immigrants (Full Article – CNN).
In response, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a meeting with President Trump scheduled for this Tuesday (Full Article – USA Today). Peña Nieto has repeatedly and angrily asserted that Mexico will not pay for the wall.
Trump then floated the possibility of a 20% tax on all imports from Mexico to help pay for the wall. Ironically, starting a trade war with Mexico would have its biggest and most immediate negative impact on farmers – struggling families in economically afflicted rural communities who helped elect Trump. Mexico is the third largest purchaser of US agricultural exports, accounting for nearly $18 billion per year (More info – USDA).
After Executive Order Banning Refugees, First Evidence of “Checks and Balances”
On Friday, Donald Trump signed an executive order requiring “extreme vetting” of refugees (Full Article – Chicago Tribune). The order includes a 90-day ban on entry into the US from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, and a 120-day suspension of the US Refugee Admissions Program. According to the State Department, the ban also applies to US citizens who have dual citizenship (Full Article – Wall Street Journal).
The result of the executive order was immediate: on Saturday, people entering the United States from those countries began being turned away at airports nationwide (Full Article – The Independent). In New York, Los Angeles, and other major cities, protests erupted over the ban (Full Article – NPR). By Saturday evening, after a legal filing by the ACLU, a federal judge had issued a temporary stay on Trump’s executive order (Full Article – CNN).
“I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in.”
Former US Vice President/Dark Lord
(Full Article – Talking Points Memo)
State Department Departures
Former Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, whose appointment to Secretary of State was confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, may have a difficult job if he is confirmed for the job by the full Senate. As he toured the State Department on Wednesday, he learned that the entire senior management team at the State Department had resigned. Like the “gag orders” to the EPA, some resignations are common practice during a Presidential transition (Full Article – Washington Post). However, the loss of long cultivated international relationships and institutional memory that would result from what appears to be an unusually large mass departure of State Department leadership and staff may be troublesome for America’s future international relations (Full Article – Politico).
No Tax Returns – Ever?
Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd last Sunday that Donald Trump will not release his tax returns after all (Full Article – Huffington Post). Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, who repeatedly released damning Clinton e-mails throughout the 2016 Presidential campaign, responded by calling on hackers to get Trump’s tax returns for him (Full Article – CBS News).
Perhaps in response to Assange, perhaps in response to a continued nationwide petition (sign it here), or perhaps just correcting an error, Conway later returned to the stock message that Trump would release his tax returns after his “routine audit” is complete (Full Article – Politico). The IRS has made clear that Trump is welcome to release his tax returns whenever he wishes, regardless of the audit.
Voter Fraud Investigation
At a bipartisan meeting of Congressional leaders Monday, Trump reasserted his past unsubstantiated claim that he only lost the popular vote because 3-5 million people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton (Full Article – Washington Post). The next day, reporters pushed Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer for evidence of this alleged widespread voter fraud, and when his evidence proved insufficient, one reporter asked if there would be an investigation (Full Article – CBS News).
On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order for a federal investigation into voter fraud in the 2016 election (Full Article – New York Times). The investigation, paid for with US tax dollars, will focus on states like California and New York, which Hillary Clinton won. Some have concerns that this will be used as a pretext for voter suppression measures.
“We can stop him. We can resist. But first we have to finally acknowledge that he’s every bit as dangerous as we feared. And that the give him a chance brigade has already been proven not just wrong but woefully naive.”
(Full Article – Huffington Post)
Spicer’s Password Tweets
On Wednesday and again on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tweeted what appeared to be passwords (Full Article – US UnCut).
Media (Or Facts) As Villain
Donald Trump’s relationship with the media (and the facts) is proving just as adversarial as it was during the campaign. In addition to petty public spats like the one over his Inaugural crowd size, there have been a few less visible developments.
At the Inauguration Day protests in Washington DC, six journalists were among the 200 people arrested. The reporters face felony charges, despite a lack of specifics in the police reports, all of which contain nearly identical vague wording (Full Article – The Guardian). The charges send a chilling message to other reporters about how this Administration views the First Amendment and journalism.
Another development has to do with a media resource that few Americans are aware of called Voice of America (VOA). Traditionally used as essentially a nonpartisan “public diplomacy” arm of the US abroad, it was retooled in 2013 to allow for broadcasting within the United States. This week, two Trump political operatives took over leadership of VOA (Full Video – Rachel Maddow). While VOA staff assert that they will not allow the network to be used as a domestic propaganda vehicle (Full Article – Washington Post), the new leadership may have other ideas.
There have been a couple notable responses to the “up is down, blue is red” messaging coming from the White House –a disorienting tactic referred to as “gaslighting” (Full Article – CNN). One is that former CBS News Anchor Dan Rather has come out of retirement (Full Article – Learn Progress). The other is that sales of George Orwell’s classic “1984” increased dramatically this week (Full Article – CNN): by Friday, the book had shot to Amazon’s #1 bestseller and became temporarily out of stock (Amazon). Duckspeak anyone? Keep it to 140 characters or fewer.
The White House (And Trump Hotel) Phone Lines Are NOT Shut Down
On Monday, the left-leaning web site Addicting Info published a false story that the Trump Administration had shut down that main White House phone line (Full Article – Snopes.com). Daily KOS ran with the story, but added the factual information that Bernie Sanders’ digital team had set up a web site to enable people to call various Trump Hotels, the logic being that because Trump has refused to completely divest from his business interests, the hotels could be viewed as satellite offices of the White House. Here’s the link.
An “Alt Right” Perspective is Added to National Security Council
On Saturday, the President issued a memo granting a seat on the principals committee of the National Security Council (NSC) to his Chief Strategist, “alt right” figurehead Stephen Bannon (Full Article – Washington Post). The NSC advises the President on foreign policy and national security. Before working on Trump’s Presidential campaign, Bannon was Executive Chair of Breitbart News, a news web site that white nationalists and white supremacists viewed as a main hub for disseminating information and ideas.
- How to Culture-Jam a Populist in Four Easy Steps (Full Article – Caracas Chronicles)
- How to Stay Outraged Without Losing Your Mind (Full Article – Medium.com)
- Autocracy: Rules for Survival (Full Article – NY Books)
More Marches Planned!
Another Women’s March is planned for Saturday, April 15, 2017 (Full Article – Huffington Post). There are also online rumblings about a future “Science March on Washington” (Full Article – The Guardian). You know that it’s bad when scientists want to march against you.
Coming Up This Week:
Trump will announce a nominee for the Supreme Court.
Cartoons, Images & Videos
Encyclopedia Britannica video on Despotism. It’s worth watching not just in light of current events, but also trying to view it through the eyes of a Trump supporter in 2016. Many on the right have felt “oppressed” by those on the left, and we need to start getting a better understanding of that.
Street art shown in Huffington Post:
Posted by Boing Boing:
Recent tweet by Neil deGrasse Tyson (science guy):
Street art shown in Huffington Post:
Image by Laura Keeling:
Thursday’s tweet from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer:
Posted by The Other 98%:
Next big day: Monday, February 20:
Momentum is building for a nationwide “Not My President’s Day” Rally!