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Friday Trump & Politics Roundup - 12

Donald TrumpThis is my semi-regular feature to post links to articles about Donald Trump along with excerpts from those articles. Trump has the potential to cause so much damage to our country and the world that it's every citizen's responsibility to keep pressure on him and our other elected officials to try to minimize the damage. To read previous entries in this series and other Trump related posts, check out my Trump archives.

I know I'm quoting Vox a lot this time around. I'll try to be more diverse in sources for the next update. Also, if you're only going to look at one article, I recommend the Foreign Policy article, President Trump's Terrible One-Month Report Card.

I'll also note that I'm experiencing a bit of a problem in focus. My original intent for this series was to post just a handful of articles pointing out the worst things Trump and his administration have been up to, making sure to include concrete policy examples, not just embarrassing things like his undignified use of Twitter. The problem is, the administration has been doing so many bad things. Believe me, I have a bunch of other articles I think are worth pointing out to people, but even just limiting myself to what I have, this post is already on the long side.

Foreign Policy Article

I'm only pulling one excerpt from this article, but I highly, highly recommend reading the whole thing. If you've already used your allotted free monthly articles from Foreign Policy, you can find further excerpts at Quora.

Foreign Policy - President Trump's Terrible One-Month Report Card

"Has it really only been a month? We wish we could say that Trump surprised us, but from the minute he took the oath of office one month ago today, he hasn't: This has been the worst, most unsettling start of a new president in modern memory. ... While the drama has provided plenty of fodder for the readers (and writers) of Shadow Government, it has been very damaging to the country. But how much? It's important to step back and reflect on the top ten things we have learned in recent weeks -- and what this means for the future."

Actual Policies:

Washington Post - Justice Department will again use private prisons

"The Justice Department will once again use private prisons to house federal inmates, reversing an Obama-era directive to stop using the facilities, which officials had then deemed less safe and less effective than those run by the government. / In a one-paragraph memo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the previous directive to the Bureau of Prisons to either reduce or decline to renew private-prison contracts as they came due." ... "Private prisons have faced significant criticism in recent years from civil liberties advocates and others. Sally Yates, who served as deputy attorney general in the Obama administration, did not mince words in August when she ordered the Department of Justice -- of which the Bureau of Prisons is a part -- to end the use of private prisons entirely by phasing them out over time. / 'They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department's Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,' Yates wrote." ... "The private-prison industry is a formidable one, generating billions of dollars of revenue each year and giving significant amounts to politicians. The GEO Group and CoreCivic, for example, donated $250,000 to support Trump's inaugural festivities, spokesmen for the companies said. Management and Training Corp. did not, a spokesman said. Separately, the GEO Group, gave $275,00 to the pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now, according to FEC filings. One $100,000 donation came a day after the Justice Department announced it would no longer use the facilities."

Vox - Sean Spicer just said we should expect an anti-marijuana crackdown under Trump: If Spicer is right, the administration will take federal marijuana enforcement more seriously.

"On Thursday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer gave the clearest answer yet to this question: 'There's two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. I think medical marijuana, I've said before, that the president understands the pain and suffering that many people go through, who are facing especially terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them. And that's one that Congress, through a rider in [2014], put an appropriations bill saying that the Department of Justice wouldn't be funded to go after those folks. / There's a big difference between that and recreational marijuana. And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people. There's still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.' / Given all this, Spicer said, "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement of it." (For the record, though, the research increasingly shows that relaxing marijuana laws leads to fewer opioid overdose deaths.)"

Related: 2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 11, Crime & Drugs - I think Spicer has it backwards. Recreational marijuana should be legal. Medicinal marijuana should be treated like any other medicine, going through clinical trials and FDA approval.

Vox - "It's dead on arrival." Republicans in Congress are balking at Trump's sweeping budget cuts.

"President Trump is currently crafting a budget to send to Congress. His initial outline would boost military spending by 10 percent in fiscal year 2018. And to pay for that, he's proposing steep cuts to a bunch of other domestic agencies -- including, reportedly, a 24 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency and a 30 percent cut to the State Department. Suffice to say, those are wrenching changes. / But ultimately, Congress will have the final say over any budget. And key Senate Republicans are already skeptical of Trump's outline. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told NBC that the reported State Department cuts were 'dead on arrival.' " ... "It's worth noting that last year in the House, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), who chairs the committee overseeing the EPA's $8 billion budget, only wanted to cut the agency's funding by 6 percent and freeze staffing at current levels of 15,000. He told E&E that he'd have to wait for more details before weighing in on Trump's proposals."

Vox - It's official: the Trump administration will "pull back" from investigating police abuses: Obama's Justice Department uncovered horrible abuses at police departments. Trump's attorney general said they'll "pull back" from such investigations.

"Over the past several years, the US Department of Justice played a key role in exposing abuses from local police departments, exposing everything from unjustified shootings to a broader pattern of racism in a police force. But on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions confirmed that all of that work will come to an end -- saying that the Justice Department will "pull back" on civil rights lawsuits and investigations against police." ... "Trump argued that the administration's policies have fostered a broader anti-police sentiment, enabling more crime and violence against cops. And he suggested that he would allow police to be even more aggressive than they are today. " ... "These are only three of many more investigations by the Justice Department, ranging from Chicago to New Orleans. Time and time again, the Justice Department found big problems: a pattern of excessive use of force, racial bias, outright discrimination, and more. / These police departments were enormously troubled. The cities' residents were outright terrorized by police departments that were far more interested in looking "tough" with higher arrest numbers or collecting budget revenue for their local governments than improving public safety. Yet we would have never known about just how bad these problems were without the deep, months-long Justice Department investigations."

Scandals / Ethics / Big Picture

CNN - Trump rips media, repeats 'enemy of the people' line

[These attempts to discredit the media are actually one of my biggest immediate worries about Trump. It's one of the first steps of authoritarians - eroding faith in the very institutions that could hold them accountable.]

"President Trump mocked and disparaged the news media on Friday in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, repeating his attack that much of the press represents 'the enemy of the people.' / 'I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news,' Trump told attendees. / 'A few days ago, I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are,' he added, referring to a tweet last week. 'They are the enemy of the people because they have no sources. They just make them up when there are none.' / He also said reporters 'shouldn't be allowed' to use unnamed sources."

CNN - White House blocks news organizations from press briefing

"CNN and other news outlets were blocked on Friday from attending an off-camera White House press briefing that other reporters were hand-picked to attend, raising alarm among media organizations and First Amendment watchdogs. / The decision struck veteran White House journalists as unprecedented in the modern era, and escalated tensions in the already fraught relationship between the Trump administration and the press."

Vox - Bush ethics lawyer: Trump's Russia scandal so far is "much worse" than the early stages of Watergate

"The facts now in this investigation are much worse than the facts in the early stages of Watergate, which was a simple break-in ordered by midlevel campaign officials -- not by the president. Here we have facts that are much worse: We have a foreign power that has orchestrated a break-in. It's a much worse situation than the outset of Watergate." ... "I have been a Republican for decades, and the one thing that Republicans and Democrats should have in common is concern about our national security. And in particular the attempts by Russia over the decades -- going back to the 1920s -- to subvert our government by supporting extremist groups like the American Communist Party, or now white supremacist groups. / This is not a Democratic and Republican issue, and figuring out who in our government is cooperating with the Russians is of the utmost importance. We certainly don't need a McCarthy-type witch hunt, and this shouldn't be abused for political purposes, but it's a critically important issue, and Democrats and Republicans can be united on this. And I certainly don't think the Republican Party should become a pro-Putin party. If it is, we are going to have sort ourselves out."

Scientific American Blogs - How to Defeat Those Who are Waging War on Science

"President Trump's decision to constrain and muzzle scientific research signals an important milestone. The War on Science has shifted into high gear. This is a fight for our future, and scientists as well as citizens had better prepare for what is coming next. / At his confirmation hearings last week, the new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt unveiled the new language of this war--a subtle, yet potentially damaging form of science skepticism. Manmade climate change, he says, is 'subject to continuing debate.' There is reason to be concerned about methane released by fracking, but he's 'not deeply concerned.' And research on lead poisoning is 'not something [he has] looked into.' / These might sound like quibbles compared to the larger cultural and political upheavals happening in America today, but collectively, they add up to something big. / The systematic use of so-called 'uncertainty' surrounding well-established scientific ideas has proven to be a reliable method for manipulating public perception and stalling political action. And while certain private interests and their political allies may benefit from these tactics, the damages are something we will all have to face." ... "At its heart, the War on Science is often an attempt to de-regulate industry and weaken environmental laws. Stifling science--especially on topics like climate change, toxic pollution, unsustainable agriculture, and animal welfare--is part of a ploy to undermine these safeguards, and to cast doubt on inconvenient scientific truths, all in the service of profits and power. / It's time to call out this merciless greed and ignorance. The short-term gains of a few corporations and individuals must no longer rise above our national interests, our long-term economic competitiveness, and most importantly, our individual safety, health and wellbeing. / So, let's not be timid. Let's call things as they are. / America has a choice to make. A choice between advancing civilization or bringing it down. A choice between knowledge and chaos. / Now, everyone must choose which side they are on."

Vox - 3 winners and 2 losers from President Trump's first address to Congress

"But Trump is harder to pin down than his predecessor -- for better and for worse. He is infamously prone to repeating the opinion of whoever spoke to him last, and the public is forced to resort to Kremlinological interpretations of his statements and those of key aides like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, along with leaks of behind-the-scenes infighting. / Tuesday night's speech was Trump's chance to clarify what he stood for and issue clear directives for what Congress should do on Obamacare, tax reform, infrastructure, and immigration. It was his chance to bring his party in line behind a specific, common agenda. / And ... none of that happened. Instead, you got a repeat of his usual greatest rhetorical hits."

"A fair read of the evidence is that immigration probably doesn't hurt US workers at all, and that even if there is damage, restricting immigration further is a ham-handed and inefficient remedy. The fact that there's still strong opposition to immigration despite this is not surprising. It just indicates that the opposition to immigration has, as in Trump's case, traditionally been motivated mainly by a desire to preserve the majority culture and a fear of demographic change, and has little to do with economics. / But the shift to economics is important for what it portends for policy. Because all immigrants, legal or not, are supposed to have these negative effects on native workers, Trump is laying the groundwork for a crackdown not just on the undocumented population but on legal immigration in the future. That's been a longstanding priority of Bannon and Miller's, and this speech was a strong indication that it's now Trump's."

Vox - Donald Trump is dangerous when he's losing: Trump's failures at governing feed his illiberalism.

"A few weeks back, I wrote a piece about Donald Trump titled "How to stop an autocracy." The essay began with the premise that Trump has a will to power and a contempt for the basic norms and institutions of American democracy, and then explored how to limit the damage. The answer, basically, was that Congress needs to do its damn job. / But after I wrote it, smart people argued the piece was built atop a mistake. Trump might have the will to power, but he doesn't have the discipline for it. Grim scenarios suggesting his presidency would grow too strong missed the likelier scenario that it would be extremely weak." ... "And then I talked to Ron Klain." ... "Klain had a theory that combined Trump's authoritarian impulses and troubled White House management in a way I found hard to dismiss. In Klain's view, it's Trump's dysfunctional relationship with the government that catalyzes his illiberal tendencies -- the more he is frustrated by the system, the more he will turn on the system. / 'If Trump became a full-fledged autocrat, it will not be because he succeeds in running the state,' Klain said. 'It's not going to be like Julius Caesar, where we thank him and here's a crown. It'll be that he fails, and he has to find a narrative for that failure. And it will not be a narrative of self-criticism. It will not be that he let you down. He will figure out who the villains are, and he will focus the public's anger at them.' "

Vox - After a new wave of anti-Semitic attacks, White House appears skeptical about anti-Semitism

"President Trump spent weeks conspicuously staying quiet about a wave of anti-Semitic incidents across the US before finally describing them last week as 'horrible and painful.' / He should have stopped there. Instead, he is now hinting the attacks might be a "false flag" operation carried out by his political opponents to make the White House look bad." ... "Shapiro later told journalists that Trump called the bomb threats and desecrations 'reprehensible,' but then seemed to indicate the threats might not be exactly what they seemed. Trump continued his comments by noting that the threats and vandalism might instead be an attempt to 'make others look bad.' " ... "In a statement distributed to the press, Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said the president's comments were 'outrageous and irresponsible.' / Moline maintained that the president's comments and Scaramucci's tweet together represent an utter failure to comprehend the recent surge in violent rhetoric and attacks directed at Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities.' "

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