Trump Report: Week One

Just before the 2012 presidential election, Bill Maher said on his show Real Time that a Mitt Romney presidency would be bad for the country but great for comedy.  Fortunately, Barack Obama won re-election that year and Bill Maher stayed funny.  Well, here we are, one week into the Trump administration, and I have a feeling it’s going to be great for bloggers like me, albeit bad for the country.  I wish it were reversed.

In addition to other topics I cull from alternative media, I intend to each week chronicle the major legislation coming out the Trump Oval Office, good and bad.  Based on this first week, it is shaping up to be an extremely rough road ahead, putting it mildly.

Despite Republican cries of “government overreach” whenever President Obama decided to circumvent the obstructionist Congress and issue executive orders, President Trump has with great ostentation signed several executive orders every day of his nascent administration.  There hasn’t been any push back from Republicans, of course.  No screams of “Big government!  Overreach!”  With a Republican majority in Congress, why not let the democratic process play out the way the framers of the Constitution intended?  No, Trump would prefer to govern by decree, like a king or dictator.  These are the executive orders since swearing to “protect and defend the Constitution” last Friday:

  • “Minimizing the economic burden” of the Affordable Care Act.  This means the Secretary of Health and Human Services and heads of other departments and agencies are instructed to “waive or delay” ACA implementation or any provisions that would “impose a financial burden or any state or a regulatory burden on any individuals.”

Basically, it sets in motion the repeal of “Obamacare” without the replacement Republicans have had seven years to create.  Why?  The ACA is the Republican plan.  It originated in the Heritage Foundation. Bob Dole ran for President on it in 1996.  It’s “Romney-care” in Massachusetts.  There is no replacement unless it’s “Don’t get sick, and if you get sick, die quickly”.

This has been the overarching GOP threat since the ACA passed in 2010.  Now that they are on the precipice of having to actually act on something they never intended to, Republicans have to face the reality this ploy could scare health insurance carriers into pulling out of the ACA marketplaces, initiating market collapse.  Moreover, millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions could find themselves uninsured.  What many opposed to the ACA don’t realize is that the price protections and safeguards against arbitrary coverage loss extend to private insurance as well as public exchanges.  In other words, we’re all healthier and better covered because of the Affordable Care Act.  A repeal will be disastrous.

  • Freezing all pending regulations “until they are approved directly by his administration or by an agency led by Trump appointees.”  It delays all regulations except for health, safety, financial or national security matters allowed by the Office of Management and Budget director.

Rolling back regulations is “good for business”, say Republicans, because it “increases competition”.  Yes.  It also allows businesses to increase their profit potential unfettered. “Regulations kill jobs,” they also argue.  Not having them kills people, however, such as ones pertaining to inspecting airplane fuselages for cracks.

  • Reinstating the “Mexico City abortion policy”, also known as the “global gag rule”, which is the use of taxpayer dollars to fund foreign non-governmental organizations (NGO) that perform, promote, or even mention abortions as a method of family planning.

As Zoë Carpenter noted in The Nation, “Policy experts predict this will mean 6.5 million more unintended pregnancies, 2.2 million more abortions, 2.1 million more unsafe abortions, and the deaths of 21,700 pregnant women.”

In a rapidly warming, resources-strained world with over eight billion people, population control is crucial.  Also consider the increase of HIV and AIDS that will likely occur now.

  • Pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

This actually isn’t a bad thing, just an empty gesture.  A majority of Democrats and progressives have opposed our current trade deals for the past thirty years.  I’ve written about how Trump has capitalized on how trade deals like NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China, and the South Korean Free Trade Agreement have contributed to massive American manufacturing loss.  That’s a significant reason he won.  But here’s the thing: the TPP was already legislatively dead in Congress.  Most people who saw the signing performance on television, though, don’t know that, and were taken in by the show Trump was happy to put on for them.  Moreover, for someone who apparently has it in for China for “stealing our jobs”, leaving the TPP puts China in a more advantageous and commanding position on foreign trade.  Although he shouldn’t have supported it, President Obama justified his support stating that by being in the TPP, we keep China from writing the rules.

  • Freezing the federal workforce.  This  prohibits government agencies from hiring any new employees; no new positions will be created, with limited exceptions, and no vacant positions will be filled.  It does not, however, apply to military personnel, and heads of executive departments may exempt positions that include national security or public safety responsibilities.

This appears on the surface to be Trump exercising fiscal prudence.  Dig a little and we understand the jobs these federal employees did still have to be performed.  Now they’ll have to be done by federal contractors who are more expensive and do not have to adhere to the same government regulations as public entities.  (See bullet two.)

  • Re-starting the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline.  This instructs the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality to expedite procedures and deadlines for environmental reviews and approvals for high-priority infrastructure projects.

This sounds great, and for those not aware of these two pipeline projects, it sounds like good news.  But it’s not really.  For one thing, snaking oil pipelines through middle America encroaches on private property, natural resources, and, in the case of Dakota Access, sovereign Native American land.  Keystone XL is being hailed as a “jobs program” and something that will accelerate oil independence.  Not true.  In a 2014 study, the U.S. State Department estimated the pipeline would create just fifty jobs, thirty-five of which would remain permanent.  Transcanada, the company behind Keystone, simply needs the United States to act as a conduit to transport dirty, bitumen-laden tar sands oil down to the Gulf of Mexico, where it will be loaded onto freighters and shipped to China.  Yes, China.  Again, the country Trump talks tough about “stealing our jobs”.

As recently as a month ago, alternative media was reporting about the protests around the Dakota Access Pipeline where the private security force defending Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, unleashed on unarmed protestors rubber bullets, water cannon, sponge rounds, bean bag rounds, stinger rounds, teargas grenades, pepper spray, Mace, Tasers and a sound weapon.  Hundreds were arrested for acts of civil disobedience, including journalist Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! for simply reporting the event.  Goodman was charged with “inciting a riot”, which a judge later rejected.  Victory came December 5th when President Obama ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to withhold a permit to proceed with construction.

Surprise!  President Trump has a vested financial interest in both pipelines.  According to a piece in The Guardian, financial disclosure forms show Trump has a stake in Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, which will hold a share of the project.

“Trump’s investment in Energy Transfer Partners dropped from between $500,000 and $1 million in 2015 to between $1,500 and $50,000 last year. His stake in Phillips 66, however, rose from between $50,000 and $100,000 last year to between $250,000 and $500,000 this year, according to the forms.”

What’s more, pipelines leak.  Not they might–they do.  As a matter of fact, just Thursday–two days ago–Magellan Midstream Partners reported an estimated 138,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked from an underground pipeline in north central Worth County, Iowa.

“It’s a big one — it’s significant,” Jeff Vansteenburg of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources told the Des Moines Register.

Trump has already stated climate change is a Chinese hoax, so the environmental effects of these pipeline projects are of no concern to his administration.  These are tremendous steps backs from all the strides we’ve made, though.  Despite being a signatory to the Paris Climate Accords, America is woefully behind where is should be at this point regarding climate change legislation.  These two pipeline projects could kill the progress we’ve made–and possibly the environment.

This works part and parcel with another EO that requires “Made-in-the-USA pipelines”, which instructs the Secretary of Commerce to create a plan for pipelines created, repaired or expanded in the United States to use materials and equipment produced here.  All steel and metal used in such pipelines is to be  produced in the United States from “the initial melting stage to application of coatings”.    

  • Expediting Environmental Reviews on Infrastructure Projects.  This instructs the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality to create expedited procedures and deadlines for environmental reviews and approvals for high-priority infrastructure projects.
  • Reviewing domestic manufacturing regulation.  This instructs the Secretary of Commerce to contact stakeholders to review the impact of federal regulations on domestic manufacturing.  The Commerce Secretary will then create a streamlined federal permitting process for domestic manufacturers.

And now, the coup de grace…

  • Increasing border security measures.  Yup, this is the wall Trump has been promising, the very thing many of his supporters championed while simultaneously assuming is was only a bluff to get elected.  This EO instructs Congress to identify available funds for the wall’s construction.

Wait…what?

You didn’t really buy that line about Mexico paying for it, did you?  Nope.  It’s all on us.  Mexico, thankfully, is standing up to this threat, leading the administration to now start talking about a 20% tax on Mexican imports.  In case you’re wondering, we import a lot of goods from Mexico, cars and parts mostly, but also produce, industrial supplies, medical devices, computers, telecommunication devices like cell phones, and crude oil.

According to a piece in Mother Jones, “That means a Ford Focus will cost 20 percent more, flat-screen televisions will cost 20 percent more, and avocados will cost 20 percent more.  The problem, of course, is that Ford can’t increase the price of a Focus by 20 percent…Bottom line: in some cases, prices will go up, which will be bad for US consumers.  In other cases, importers who are stuck with Mexican factories will have to accept lower profits, which is bad for US companies.  In yet other cases, imports will just cease and plants will be shut down, which will be bad for Mexico.”

But the wall isn’t all.  To appear tough on illegal immigration at our southern border–despite it being net zero since 2008–Trump’s wall EO includes orders to construct and operate detention facilities, hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, and end the U.S. “catch and release” policy.

Yes, folks, the United States of America is planning to build detention centers.  How’s that grab you?  How are we supposed to hire 5,000 additional border patrol agents when there’s a federal hiring freeze?  This is supposed to operate in conjunction with another EO to pursue undocumented immigrants, for which we are expected to hire  10,000 additional immigration officers at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  This is supposed to prioritize “certain undocumented immigrants” for removal, including those with criminal convictions and who have been charged with crimes.  In addition, it prohibits federal funding to “sanctuary cities”, where local officials have declined to help enforce federal immigration laws; reinstates the Secure Communities program, and enables state and local law enforcement to effectively act as immigration agents (beyond the 15,000 new hires); sanctions countries that refuse to accept the return of deported undocumented immigrants; creates a weekly updated list of crimes undocumented immigrants supposedly commit in sanctuary locations; creates an “Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens” to “provide proactive, timely, adequate and professional services to victims of crimes committed by removable aliens and family members of such victims”.

So much for that “smaller government” Republicans love to tout.  Having flashbacks of World War Two yet?  Eastern Europe?

  • Building the military.  This EO directs Defense Secretary James Mattis to review the military’s readiness in the next month, and develop a budget for fiscal 2018 capable of improving “readiness conditions.” He also directed Mattis to complete a National Defense Strategy to review the country’s nuclear capabilities and missile-defense capabilities.

Suspending admissions for Syrian refugees and limiting the flow of other refugees into the country.  This is the “extreme vetting” of immigrants Trump spoke of during the campaign and debates with Secretary Clinton.  It bars immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia from entering the United States for 90 days, and suspends the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days until reinstated “only for nationals of countries for whom” members of Trump’s Cabinet deem can be properly vetted.  No European–or Christian–countries.  No Saudi Arabia, a country proven to be a state sponsor of terror.

But, wait.  These are just the executive orders.  Within minutes of taking the oath of office, the Trump administration removed all references to climate change from the White House website.  It also disabled the White House comment line.  This week we also saw the administration issue a gag order on scientists at the USDA and EPA, upon which there is now a freeze on all hiring and contracts.  As ProPublica notes, the move threatens “to disrupt core operations ranging from toxic cleanups to water quality testing.”  This includes funding for New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called off a major conference on the health impacts of climate change planned for February despite the new president stating, “I’m a very big person when it comes to the environment.  I have received awards on the environment.”
As we wrap up this first of many, many, many, many of what will likely prove to be very eventful weeks, let’s reflect on the fact that exactly one week after assuming the presidency, Trump has called for an investigation into non-existent voter fraud.  In his mind, the only conceivable way he could have lost the popular vote by over three million is through the “three to five million” people who “voted illegally”.  That claim Trump reinforced at a gathering of House and Senate leaders Monday when he reported a supposed account by German golfer Bernhard Langer who was denied the opportunity to cast his vote in Florida while ahead of him were people “who did not look as though they should be allowed to vote”.
It looks as though Trump also intends to eliminate or restrict net-neutrality rules, and opposes recent broadband privacy reforms and regulations on cable boxes.  This should come as no surprise after multiple federal agencies descended into a virtual blackout this week, as “Trump administration officials instructed employees at multiple agencies in recent days to cease communicating with the public through news releases, official social media accounts and correspondence.”
And, after all, why not?  In this administration, who has patience for anything but “alternative facts”?
Stay tuned for next week.  Word has it Trump is naming a Supreme Court nominee.  Oh boy!

 

 

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