Sunday, February 5, 2017

Stars and Stripes in Distress: week 2

My plan is to do these updates weekly, but I reserve the right to alter the pattern, timing, and topics over time. I may end up doing daily sometimes and broad stories at other times. Either way, the kakistocracy and kleptocracy (or kleptokakistocracy - "rule by the worst thieves") seems to be accelerating.

Day 8 (Friday, January 27, 2017): Donald J. Trump signs an executive order barring citizens of 7 predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US until the refugee vetting policies can be reviewed and strengthened. People on the right immediately came out and said, "he made good on his campaign promise" while on the left were calls of racism and Islamophobia and reminders that the US was built on immigration - give us your tired, your poor, your huddle masses. Where there was almost universal agreement, even if whispered among GOP politicians, was that the roll-out of the executive order was botched, badly. The timeline was immediate, which gave people actually in-flight from these countries no option but to arrive in the US and be denied entry. Further, instructions Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were unclear or confusing. Green card holders who had lived in the US for decades were not allowed to return to their homes, families, and careers.

Quietly as this was grabbing all of the headlines, chief political strategist Steve Bannon was appointed to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council while the director of national intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were told they do not need to attend the meetings except when issues involve them. This runs directly contrary to both the purpose of the NSC and precedent. President George W. Bush expressly did not want his chief political strategist, Karl Rove, present at NSC meetings, because he wanted to maintain a separation between domestic political decision-making and foreign policy - "politics stops at the water's edge" as it were - Trump clearly has no such compulsion. Most likely because he's in way of his head and his his primary counsel comes from ... Steve Bannon who now seems to be consolidating power in the White House.

Day 9 (Saturday, January 28, 2017): As word emerged that citizens of the 7 countries prohibited by the previous day's EO were being detained and denied entry into the US, spontaneous protests began to arise at airports all over the country. ACLU lawyers flocked to the airports offering to represent detained travelers while other ACLU lawyers immediately filed injunctions against the statute. Thousands of protestors showed up at New York's JFK airport and NY taxi drivers, who are predominantly Muslim, performed a one hour "sit down" in which they refused to drive to or from JFK.  A federal judge based in NY issued a temporary injunction on the EO, which was subsequently echoed by a judge in Massachusetts.

Day 10 (Sunday, January 29, 2017): Protests continued at airports around the country including American veterans coming to the aid of stranded immigrants and refugees. Two prominent GOP Senators who have long been critics of Donald Trump, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, released a joint statement claiming that Trump's Muslim ban was harmful to US interests overseas. They went on the weekend talk shows to make their case and did so compellingly. Some of those detained were actually former military interpreters that had bravely risked their live to help the US military communicate with local Islamic leaders. The further point is that the ban could easily serve as an ISIS recruitment tool. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were both consistent in their message that Islam was not the enemy. Donald Trump's Muslim Ban does the opposite - it makes Islam the enemy, which is exactly what ISIS and other extremist groups have been claiming for years.  Sunday, Trump took to twitter to defend his "ban" by claiming it was temporary and "not a ban" (he has subsequently called it a "ban" multiple times).

Perhaps the story that will have the longest legs from Sunday was Trump's first authorized military action since taking office. He authorized a raid in Yemen, which killed a US special forces soldier and at least 10 women and children including an infant and an 8 year old girl whose older brother had been killed by a US strike last year.  Reports have begun coming out of the White House that Trump was not fully involved in the decision, did not seek alternative options or opinions, and was not present in the situation room at the attack was under way. Turns out the site had been reinforced with al Qaeda soldiers, which repelled the attack. Critics are claiming this action was botched and could easily have been avoided. Trump, predictably, blames President Obama. President Obama had left this action unauthorized when he left office. Liberals are already referring to this as "Trump's Benghazi" ... I personally want to know more before casting judgment, but it's certainly an inauspicious start.

Day 11 (Monday, January 30, 2017):  In a full on obvious example of "kakistocracy", Donald Trump signed an executive order that requires that if any government agency proposes a new federal regulation, it needs to be accompanied by 2 existing regulations that can be removed. This evidence-free approach to government is emblematic of the long, slow "small government" Grover Nordquist type attack on our civil society in which you slowly bind the ability of the federal government to provide effective governance, which then allows you to demand further cuts to make a smaller, less effective government, eventually completely crippling the ability of the government to do anything at all that's substantive and meaningful in preventing corporate aggression or providing for a safe and secure environment for its citizens. That's not to say all government regulations are good or needed, but it is to say that we should be using best evidence and an evaluation of the cost-benefit of the regulation to determine if its needed - not require that 2 other regulations have to go in order to implement a new one. That's just foolish.

Day 12 (Tuesday, January 31, 2017): Donald Trump had his first, and perhaps only "The Apprentice" moment of the first month of his presidency when he made a live, prime-time announcement of his Supreme Court nominee, conservative Neil Gorsuch.The handshake between the men was supremely awkward in typical "bully" fashion for Mr. Trump, but Gorsuch stood his ground and then made a very grown up speech about the purpose of the courts. Given that he replaces Anonin Scalia and has similar philosophies, but without Scalia's acerbic side, I expect that should Gorsuch be confirmed he will continue the court's recent pro-business, anti-woman positions, but with much less animosity. While I was hoping for Thomas Hardiman, who would likely be a centrist, Gorsuch is likely who we will get.

Democratic Senators have promised to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination, but my personal position is that he may not be the time to use this approach. He's an accomplished judge and well respected. However, payback for Merrick Garland ought to play into the calculus and it will be fun to watch.

Day 13 (Wednesday, February 1, 2017): February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month and Donald Trump stuck his ignorance in it almost immediately, praising Frederick Douglass by saying, "Frederick Douglass is an example of someone who has done an amazing job." Mr. Douglass has been dead for 122 years. Donald Trump has no idea who he is. Nor does his press secretary Sean Spicer, who bumbled his way through a reply about Douglass, saying, in part, “I think he (Trump) wants to highlight the contributions that he (Douglas) has made, and I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s (Trump) going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.” "More and more" what exactly is not clear, but then again, nothing is clear with this bumbling administration.

Day 14 (Thursday, February 2, 2017): Congratulations, everyone. We've made it 2 weeks into the Trump administration without declaring war on anybody, though Trump's buddy Putin has begun military action in Ukraine, almost as if on cue. Without President Obama, a strong NATO supporter, Putin is now testing the resolve of NATO and Europe generally.

Locally, Donald Trump went to the National Prayer Breakfast and spent entirely too much time criticizing Arnold Schwarzenegger's "The Apprentice" reboot. It's really hard to imagine any president in near or distant memory who is this egomaniacal and unprepared for the job. News of his "hangry" spat with the Australian Prime Minister also echo this lack of character fit for the job.

Oh, and the Trump administration appeared to ease sanctions against Russia over the cyberattacks that helped him win the White House. The sanctions eased were specifically on the Russian spy agency that lead the cyberattacks. Big surprise there.

Day 15 (Friday, February 3, 2017): Adding an extra day to this post so I can get through the previous week's news and leave the weekend twitter storm to lead off next week's post.

Friday we learned Donald Trump is considering rolling back many of the financial regulations that were put into place in the wake of the mortgage backed securities crisis that lead to the global economic meltdown. This is no surprise as his "buddies" at the banks need some freedom so they can make money and all of that amazing wealth can trickle down (it won't).

Additionally, the Trump administration issued new sanctions against Iran, perhaps for their shady missile test, though of course, nothing is crystal clear with this administration.

And finally, a Seattle judge issued a nationwide injunction on the Muslim Ban, which had rescinded in the neighborhood of 60,000 to 100,000 previously issued visas to citizens from the 7 affected countries. We'll see how that ends up playing out in the weeks ahead.

During this week the GOP controlled Congress also passed many retrograde policies, such as rescinding rules requiring clean water standards near coal mines and requirements for energy companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. So things are are about to get much dirtier both physically and ethically in our energy industry, but that should be no surprise to anyone who actually pays attention to policies rather than just being right-left partisans.

Things are rolling down hill faster and faster.

Until next time, I remain ... a concerned citizen. 

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