Here’s part two of my examination of Trump and his administrations impact over the past two months. At this point, it’s nearly 3 months but I’m not changing the title. Without further ado:
1. Environmental Impact
2. Science & Tech
6. National Security
7. Military Impact
8. Foreign Relations
9. What Can We Do?
Part of Trumps presidential campaign was based on bringing coal jobs back to America. Over his first two months as president Trump has taken steps he thinks will help reach that goal. These steps include blocking the Stream Protection Rule, signing an executive order to advance the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines and signing a bill that killed a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule that required oil companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. Trump seems to think that mass deregulation will bring the coal industry back, though experts have repeatedly disagreed with that assessment.
The problem isn’t regulations, it’s simple economics. Natural gas is cheaper to produce and consume as well as cleaner to burn, fairly obvious benefits. Plus, if you look to history it’s clear that coal viability started to decline as far back as Reagan’s administration. Incorrectly blaming Obama’s regulations for this decline does nothing and it’s unlikely that any degree of deregulation is going to sway the economy back to coal. Is that what Trump is trying to do though? Trump discovered a great way to fire up voters that have seen massive layoffs due to the declining viability of coal. If Trump really wants to put those people back to work there are a lot of opportunities in solar energy. In fact, renewable energy job growth is on the rise in general, employing 8.1 million people globally in 2015. This presents a fantastic opportunity to invest in creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, an opportunity that Trump has unfortunately ignored so far. Is Trumps current deregulation tactic an effective benefit to those that have lost their jobs?
Pipeline spills from 2010-2015.
All of this is to say that Trump seemingly has a noble goal but is going about trying to accomplish that goal in a completely backwards fashion. Why go back to allowing mine runoff to pollute water? Why threaten the Standing Rock Sioux water supply and ignore their pleas when we know that pipeline leaks and spills happen quite often. For instance, in December of 2016 the existing lines near Standing Rock Sioux lands spilled more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil. What do we stand to gain by doing away with a rule that encourages transparency and helps reveal corruption? Who is benefiting from this deregulation?
Is appointing Scott Pruitt, a move celebrated by the fossil fuel industry and feared by scientists, really a good move? Pruitt’s LinkedIn bio says he’s the “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda”, how will he help America curb climate change? Trump and Pruitt both want to destroy Obama’s Clean Power Plan along with the Clean Air Act. Pruitt has filed lawsuits against both of those pieces of legislation in the past. Does any of that sound like it qualifies Pruitt to advocate for the American people in regards to environmental issues?
This man is now in control of our environment.
Here’s the thing, we already know that climate change is happening, Exxon knew about this back in 1978 and covered it up. Yet for some reason Republican law makers still seem to think there isn’t a consensus, despite the fact that 97% of scientists agree that it’s happening and that humans are accelerating the rate at which the planet warms. Recently we’ve seen 2014 make it’s mark as the hottest year on record, only to be surpassed by 2015, and now 2016 holds the record. We’ve got a pretty good amount of historical data too as record keeping began at the Smithsonian in 1849. In light of those facts, it’s alarming that early February saw Republican law makers vote to roll back a methane flaring rule put in place by Obama.
Methane is a greenhouse gas with 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Let’s look at what will happen now that Republican law makers have voted to rolled back the methane flaring rule. That rule was set to keep an estimated 164,000 to 169,000 tons of methane emissions out of our air per year. Additionally, we will waste about $330 million a year in public money by venting gas that would have been captured and used. A further conservative estimate of $800 million in tax revenue will be lost over 10 years. There are health implications as well, this rule was predicted to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions by 250,000 to 267,000 tons per year. VOCs have been shown to be a public health hazard. Bearing all of that in mind, how does dismantling regulations that are aimed at reducing pollution help us? Republican law makers offered no answer, but we do know that it’s going to be disastrous for the environment.
Rick Perry has been selected as the Energy Secretary for Trumps Administration. Some have been cautiously optimistic about this as Perry was the governor of Texas from 2000-2015. Despite being a climate change denier, even going as far as having his reports censored to remove mention of climate change, he was in office during Texas’ boom in wind power. While that seems a good reason to be optimistic we should also make note that the main driving force for that change is a program adopted in 1999, before Perry took office. That’s not to say Perry himself didn’t make efforts to advance wind power generation in Texas. He’s previously suggested we do away with the Department of Energy in the past and also once forgot the Department of Energy existed. On top of that, Perry doesn’t have any experience with nuclear energy programs, which made up just over half of the Department of Energy budget in 2015. The aforementioned climate change denial is also a concern as the DOE runs ARPA-E. Can we trust this man to put climate research above his personal beliefs? Hopefully he can and hopefully he continues to push for renewable energy with his new found powers, once he figures out what they are.
Republican law makers are also pursuing methods of giving away national land to whichever state said land is in, a move that would result in lost jobs and tax revenue. Each year outdoor recreation is responsible for generating “$646 billion in consumer spending and 6.1 million direct jobs”. Republican law makers have already made it easier to sell federal land and stipulated that “the Congressional Budget Office cannot consider future revenues the federal government could have received from the land from energy production, recreation, grazing or other uses.” when considering the cost of disposing of federal land. That last bit is important as it means a land sale could be made to look like it would benefit the government $10 million immediately when it could actually make $20 million over the next 5 years if not sold. By baring the CBO from reporting that, they’ve effectively made federal lands sales an easier sell in the eyes of the public. In turning the land over to the state, public access would be restricted or eliminated and federally managed gas and oil production revenue would be eliminated. These are not insignificant amounts of money either, we’re talking about $2 billion in federal lease royalties and $39.9 billion in taxes on the outdoor recreation economy in 2012 alone.
Jason Chaffetz is still championing a bill that would do this. His bill would see the end of the police forces in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service while leaving the local police to enforce law in those areas. For reference, “the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service administer more than 438 million acres of surface land entrusted to the American people”. That includes national forests, monuments, wildlife refuges and outdoor recreation areas. Aside from the economic effects, that seems like a lot of land to dump on police forces that aren’t asking for it. That would likely result in police forces being stretched much too thin to do any meaningful enforcement. If you’re curious how your state benefits from the outdoor recreation economy, you can view a breakdown of each state on the Outdoor Industry Association website.
Trump revealed his budget proposal recently and in it he shows his disdain for science & environmental programs. Again, it’s important to note that these are only proposed cuts and we may see funding returned to these programs as negotiations continue. For now, here are the science & environment related cuts according to Gizmodo.
- EPA losses $2.6 billion (31%)
Clean Power Plan is eliminated
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is eliminated
Energy Star program is cut
The Office of Research and Management has it’s funding reduced drastically
- Department of Energy losses $1.7 billion (5.6%)
Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is eliminated
Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program is eliminated
Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program is eliminated
State Energy Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program is eliminated
Office of Science has it’s funding reduced drastically
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration losses $250 million
Research grant program eliminated
- Department of Health and Human Services losses $15.1 billion (17.9%)
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) eliminated
National Institutes of Health has it’s funding cut by 20%
Nurse training programs lose $403 million in funding
- Department of Transportation losses $2.4 billion (13%)
Essential Air Service Program eliminated
TIGER grants eliminated
Federal Aviation Administration is turned into a non-governmental non-profit corporation
- Department of Agriculture losses $4.7 billion (21%)
Waste and Wastewater loan and grant program eliminated
- Department of State losses $10.1 billion (28%)
Global Climate Change Initiative eliminated
- Department of the Interior losses $1.5 billion (12%)
National Heritage Areas eliminated
Reducing land acquisition budget reduced by $120 million
National Wildlife Refuge Program eliminated
- NASA losses roughly $150 million (0.8%)
Office of Education eliminated
Earth Science has four missions cut (PACE, Orbiting Carbon Observatory – 3, Deep Space Climate Observatory & CLARREO Pathfinder)
It’s not hard to see why cutting NASA’s Office of Education is a bad idea but some of those other programs are likely ones that you and I wouldn’t recognize at first glance. For that reason the Gizmodo article I linked to at the beginning of the budget section has a short explanation of each, so head that way if you’re curious. What I really want to highlight here is the incredibly small amount of the overall budget that these programs actually take up. By and large, they hardly impact the overall budget but provide a lot for the money. For instance, NASA adds $10 to the economy for each dollar spent, which is a pretty damn good ROI. As another example, the EPA only makes up .22% of the total budget but has done a lot to make our vehicles more powerful and efficient. Are these really the best target for cuts as a way to bring down overall government spending?
Science & Tech
There’s a reason I included the science programs in the list above, other than it being easier to list and read. A lot of what I wrote about above is environmental science and I toyed with having science and environment as a single section. Ultimately, the impact of Trumps administration on both warranted a deeper dive so I split them off into two sections. So what are we looking at in terms of science and technology under the Trump administration?
As of the time of writing, Trump still hasn’t appointed a Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The two people Trump’s considering, William Happer and David Gelernter, are both skeptical of climate change. However, they are both strong advocates for science in general. Despite that consideration, many scientists (the author included) are worried about what science will look like under Trumps administration. Possibly because Trump and his administration have been flat out wrong about and hostile towards science and scientists in the past.
A prime example of this is the immigration ban Trump signed without fully comprehending. The ban resulted in scientists being withheld from entering or re-entering the US. With Trump signing his revised travel ban, which is currently not in effect, there is concern that a brain drain may not be far off. Inevitably, some of the people affected by the travel ban are scientists, scientists who will turn their talents to other countries. In fact, some scientists are thinking of moving because of Trump and his policies. Some scientists have decided not to attend association meetings in the US because of the confusion Trump has caused with his travel bans. If the proposed budget cuts above are any indication, Trump isn’t planning to invest much in retaining or attracting more scientists, which is odd since Trump has style himself as a businessman. A true businessman would know that what Trump is doing and proposing is bad for business and bad for our economy. Further, removing the incentive for scientists coming to the US will absolutely result in a slowdown of our scientific and technological progress.
Speaking of technology, how do you feel about allowing advertisers to buy your browsing history from your internet service provider (ISP)? Hopefully you like that idea, because that’s what Republican law makers just did. The argument they made is that they’re protecting consumers from confusion and that the proposed regulations, set to take effect early December 2017, did not protected consumers. This is a big deal as ISPs collect a ton of information on you and with the rollback of this regulation they will no longer have to notify you of what data they collect, where it goes, or whether or not that data gets compromised.
The arguments those lawmakers made don’t even make sense. Allowing consumers to say “no” when their ISP asks to sell their data is a pretty clear boon to privacy protection. The “confusion” argument stems from ISPs and some websites, such as Google or Facebook, being held to different privacy standards. The difference is pretty clear: you need an ISP to access the internet while you can choose whether or not you use sites like Google or Facebook. Regardless, Trump signed the bill into law which lead to a few crowdfunding campaigns to buy the browsing history of the legislators voted for this. It’s only fair really, look at how little it took for those legislators to sell you out. If you had any doubts as to where their loyalties lie, the American Association of Advertising Agencies wrote a letter to thank the law makers that introduced the bill, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). No surprise there, eliminating this regulation means those advertisers are now able to buy a gold mine of information about you from your ISP or data brokers. Now might be a good time to start using a VPN such as PIA (PIA is one of the VPNs that has proven it’s claim not to collect information) because as Thorin Klosowski puts it on Gizmodo :
Your ISP knows when you wake up and get on the internet. It knows what weird health ailments you might have searched for at 1am. It knows where you shop. It might also know what you’re listening to, where you’re listening to it, and how many times you’ve put “Blank Space” on repeat. It probably knows your sexual preferences, your fetishes, and your deepest worries. It knows your political leanings, the protests you’ve been to, and the books you’ve searched for.
The more data an ISP has, the better profile it builds of you, which they can then sell for more money to the data brokers who take that information and turn it over to advertisers.
Ajit Pai, Trumps pick for chairman of the FCC, doesn’t seem to be helping much either. So far Pai has killed a proposal to free consumers from cable box rentals, removed 9 companies from the LifeLine program (a program designed to provide low income households with a small credit to help pay for internet access) and has made it clear he doesn’t believe in net neutrality. In other words; despite promising to help those who are disadvantaged, this man is not your friend.
Jeff Sessions recently announced that the Department of Justice is disbanding the nonpartisan National Commission on Forensic Science. That probably doesn’t sound like a big deal but we’ve had massive problems with forensic data in the past, and now we’ll be returning to that reality.
Other cuts Trump has proposed deal more with the culture of our nation and include eliminating the budgets for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. These cuts total $1.87 billion, which Trump may have just moved towards his $2 billion initial down payment on the wall with Mexico. That’s a special kind of irony. What is a nation without arts and humanities? Why cut funding for all of these programs to fund a wall that likely won’t be effective? I’ll use the same example given in the article I linked at the beginning of this article. When asked on April 17, 1969 whether or not the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory would help defend our nation, Robert Wilson had some fantastic words:
Only from a long-range point of view, of a developing technology. Otherwise, it has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about.
In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.
Trump says he wants America to be great again, whatever he thinks that means. To be great we need to be competitive, which means we need great scientists. Countries attract great scientists by making it easy for them to immigrate, making it easy for them to get funding and research grants, and by being receptive to science in general. Scientists have fought this kind of rhetoric in the past, and we all need to step up to bat this time around. Trump and his administration are quite possibly the greatest threat to science that the United States have ever faced. Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it much better than I ever could.
One of the more visible impacts Trumps administration has had thus far is on immigration. We saw the confusion and outcry following the original travel ban and now we’ve got a revised travel ban. Let’s take a look at what the Trump administration has done and what they may yet do.
The original travel ban caused all sorts of chaos. I did a break down of that original ban shortly after it was signed, but Trump has since signed a revised ban. As noted above, the revised ban isn’t in effect right now but it would effectively stop all immigrants from applying for new visas for 120 days. That’s a substantial amount of time when you’re fleeing government prosecution. Those that already have visas will be exempt, Syrian refugees are no longer singled out, and Iraq has been taken off the list. Other than that, the new ban is more or less the same as the first ban. As Stephen Miller puts it: “Fundamentally you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country, but you’re going to be responsive to a lot of very technical issues that were brought up by the court, and those will be addressed.”. Contrary to what Stephen stated, some of the issues brought up in court previously have not been addressed and the result is the current round of court hearings. I mention Stephen Miller because he’s played a large roll in the immigration ban planning and Trumps America First policy. Stephen Miller also has a well documented history of intolerance, racism, xenophobia and sexism. Coupled with the fact that he believes the presidents power should not be questioned, you can see why people may be concerned about this administrations goals.
Trump has repeatedly demonized immigrants, possibly as a way to justify his “Make America Great Again” slogan and “America First” policy. He’s called Mexican immigrants bad hombres, asserted that immigrants can kill Americans without anyone covering it and literally created an office called VOICE to persecute undocumented immigrants. In particular, the creation of VOICE is such a blatantly racist move it completely boggles the mind. In doing so Trump is implying that there are so many immigrants committing crimes in such a unique way that we need an entire office specifically dedicated to handling it. Worse than that, he announced it in such a way that implied this racially motivated program is going to be popular with the American people. Perhaps worst of all, this is an old Nazi tactic. Is that what we’ve become, a people that Trump can sell a racist initiative to as a good thing? Are we a people that will ignore historic precedent and cheer Trump on as he follows in Hitler’s footsteps? Our criminal justice system already discriminates against minorities. We have evidence that immigrants commit violent crimes at a lower rate than native born Americans. How does creating an office dedicated to hurting immigrants help America?
Traveling abroad isn’t going to get any easier either due to Trump and his administrations insistence that all immigrants may be terrorists. You can expect to turn over and unlock your phone and tablet or laptop next time you travel outside the US, American citizen or no. Border device searches are on the rise and are completely legal. Sure you can back data up and wipe the device before traveling, but that’s likely to draw further scrutiny. Further exacerbating the issue is the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act which, among other things, established the border search exception. This resulted in what some people call the Constitution Free Zone, a 100 mile zone extending inwards from the border of the United States. The issue with this constitution free zone is that roughly two thirds of the US population lives within this zone and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have more or less free reign to trample our constitutional rights so long as they have “reasonable suspicion”. Obviously there are some rather large issues that arise from this. If you plan to travel internationally, take a look at the EFF’s printable guide to help try to keep your data secure when crossing the border.
The Constitution-Free Zone
Trump also kicked off his deportations of “bad hombres” in early February, going so far as to call it a military operation. One of the first deportees was Guadalupe García de Rayos, a 35-year-old mother of two American teenagers who has been in America since she was 14, missing the age limit for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) by only 4 months. Guadalupe had been meeting with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix, AZ for eight years as she was caught using a fake social security number in 2008. She was arrested and spent 6 months in ICE custody before an immigration judge found she had no legal standing to remain in the US. She was then ordered to voluntarily leave the US, appealed that ruling, and was instructed to check in with the ICE every 6 months. This worked fine as Obamas administration was reportedly focused on dealing with serious criminals rather than less serious offenders. Unfortunately, Trumps administration is much more lax in who it is targeting for deportation and has put rules in place to further broaden their scope. The ACLU didn’t mince words with their response.
These memos confirm that the Trump administration is willing to trample on due process, human decency, the well-being of our communities, and even protections for vulnerable children, in pursuit of a hyper-aggressive mass deportation policy. However, President Trump does not have the last word here — the courts and the public will not allow this un-American dream to become reality.
Deportation isn’t the Trump administrations only tool to harass immigrants, they’re also targeting H1B visas. H1B visas are temporary work visas that the US grants via lottery. 85,000 visas were granted last year and more than triple that number were requested. It’s important to note that desire for H1B reform existed before Trump was elected, but it’s equally as important to point out that Trump doesn’t seem to understand the program or what the effects of changing it would be. The current plan for change, as much as I can tell, is to raise the minimum salary of recipients to $130,000, remove the per country cap and set aside 20% of the annual allocation to small companies and startups. That sounds like surprisingly positive change, but there is the issue of whether or not small employers and startups would be able to afford the minimum salary requirement. That would certainly mean less individuals being awarded H1B visas if 30% of the entire pool is dedicated to companies that may not be able to afford it. As I mentioned previously, Trump hasn’t really made it clear what he’d like to do with the program other than “crack down on misuse”. Tech companies, who make extensive use of this program, are predictably nervous about what that means.
So all of that brings us to one simple question: why demonize immigrants in the first place? All six of Americas 2016 Nobel Prize winners are immigrants and immigration is clearly good for our economy. Trumps rhetoric is harmful, we’ve already seen hate crime instances rise since Trump started his presidential campaign. What will happen as Trump continues to demonize and push his rhetoric? What happens to our economy as low wage workers are deported? Who pays for the home, vehicle, or small business loans those people leave behind?
The GOP has been talking about repealing Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or ObamaCare) since the day it was sent to Obama to be signed. The ACA isn’t without it’s problems, the launch of the Healthcare.gov website had severe issues and there’s been a lot of back and forth over the years on whether the ACA has worked or not. Obama himself has acknowledged that the ACA has issues and that it was meant to be iterative so that it could be fine tuned as issues arose. As always, I’m going to put in another shameless plug for John Oliver and point you to his video on the matter. We know the ACA has had a rough path and the GOP wants to do something about it.
Trump made repeal of the ACA a part of his presidential campaign and spoke of replacing it with something better. After becoming president, Trump signed an executive order that outlines ways his administration can fight the ACA until it gets replaced, and with majority control of the Senate, House, and Presidency, Republican law makers are in the perfect position. That was followed up by the release of the Republican plan for health care, dubbed the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The backlash was nearly immediate because the bill was very specific in it’s targeting of low income and elderly Americans. Some Republicans saw this backlash and doubled down, like the now infamous statement made by Jason Chaffetz. Chaffetz was kind enough to remind all of us that we have choices to make in life, such as whether to pay for insurance or buy an iPhone. Sure, I can see how that could make sense from an accountability standpoint. However, the average American would have to forgo purchasing 3-12 iPhones a year to cover basic insurance, not including co-pays and the like. Additionally, there is a large number of households that can’t afford to own a smartphone in the first place. The real irony though is that Jason Chaffetz spent a suspicious amount of campaign donor money at the Apple store, and also doesn’t pay for his phone service. Us tax payers take care of that. It seems Mr. Chaffetz is, like seemingly all Republican law makers, hilariously out of touch with his voters. I’ll cover some of the more radical changes below, but if you’d like to watch a much better presentation of the proposed changes and what the effects would be, John Oliver released a fantastic overview.
Experts from all over the political spectrum warned that the healthcare bill was not going to work. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the number of uninsured Americans would increase to 24 million by 2026. Older people would have seen their insurance premiums rise exponentially. Medicaid expansion would have ended in 2020, the mandate that health coverage be maintained would have been dropped, and wealthy Americans would have benefited from incredible tax cuts. Disabled Americans would have seen their support programs devastated. Planned Parenthood would have lost it’s federal funding (which cannot be used for abortion or related expenses) which would have hurt the women that use their services. And yet, Trump and his administration promised us no one would be worse off under their plan.
The AHCA failed fantastically. It couldn’t attract enough support from Republicans let alone Democrats, though Trump tried threatening congress members in a private meeting. The bill had to be withdrawn which lead to Trump blaming Democrats and the far right rather than acknowledging the massive shortcomings of the bill. For reference, a Public Policy poll found that only 29% of those polled supported the AHCA while 49% were in favor of keeping the ACA. Keep in mind that Republican law makers had nearly 8 years to prepare for this and yet their best plan was a thinly veiled tax cut for the rich. If you are one of the wealthy few that would benefit from the AHCA then fret not, Paul Ryan let slip that they won’t give up and Republicans are actively working to revive the AHCA. Most recently, Trump is thinking about cutting people off from their healthcare as a way to make Democrats more willing to negotiate.
Republican law makers are advancing a few others ideas to change healthcare as we know it. For example, Republicans have suggested eliminating “essential benefits”. That’s a list of 10 general categories of medical care that, under the ACA, all insurance policies are required to cover. The result would be plans that don’t cover the pre-existing conditions you need covered, making the insurance you pay for essentially useless. Insurers could also choose to sell a basic package and then charge more for specific types of coverage. Basically we would see a regression to pre-ACA style discrimination, which seems like an odd way to protect people with pre-existing conditions as Republicans promised to do. In Wisconsin we’ve seen our Representative, Republican Glenn Grothman, propose kicking young people of their parent’s health care at 23 rather than 26.
After reading through what would have happened under the AHCA it may seem hard to see why Republican law makers thought it was a good plan. It may be helpful to look at the history of some of those lawmakers, like Mike Pence, to try understanding their mindset. Mike Pence is our current vice president but he was the governor of Indiana when he shut down the only remaining HIV testing facility in Scott County, a Planned Parenthood. The result was an HIV outbreak that Pence then failed to immediately address. In the past, Pence has advocated for conversion therapy and called condoms “too modern” while stating that they were a poor defense against STDs. Recently, Pence has advocated abstinence, which doesn’t work.
Shortly after taking office Trump asked an anti-vaccine activist to chair a committee on vaccine safety and scientific integrity. This stems from Trump deciding there has been a “big increase in the autism with children”. That seems like a dangerous and stupid thing to do when we’ve got so much evidence to the contrary. Around that same time Trump signed an executive order that is essentially a gag order on any health care provider that supplies information internationally about abortion. The led to Planned Parenthood giving up about $100 million in Federal funding so that it could continue to provide those services. Per the Hyde Amendment that funding was not used for abortion but was withdrawn because Planned Parenthood provides information about abortion. Trump went even further by signing a bill that allows states to withhold federal funding from facilities that perform abortion. Again, that money cannot be used for abortions or related services, so they are pulling funding away from other essential services offered to women.
Trump has also selected Tom Price to be the new Health and Human Services secretary. Tom Price supported defunding planned parenthood while promising that GOP legislation would “increase money for women’s health services.”. His support seemed to be based in part due to perceived concern that Planned Parenthood is using taxpayer funding for abortion, though the Hyde Amendment explicitly bars that. Of course, Price also seems to think that no woman struggles to pay for birth control. Price also has an 11 year record of not casting a single pro-choice vote. If you want a better feel for Price’s history of voting against women’s healthcare, there’s a nice list here and a more in depth review here. Luckily some people saw this coming and took action, which is likely why IUD’s saw a ten-fold increase in interest the week following the election. Trump isn’t letting others do all the destructive work, he’s focused on dismantling other laws meant to help women, such as the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Order. Obama signed an executive order in 2014 to demanded companies that accepted federal contracts comply with 14 laws intended to protect workers. Two of these rules affected women more than men, by making sure companies were transparent about what they paid their employees and putting an end to forced arbitration clauses. Trump decided women don’t need fair workplaces.
Trump recently nominated Scott Gottlieb to be the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As is the Trump Administrations style, their nominee would come into office with considerable conflicts of interest. We also saw this with the newly appointed head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Tom Price. Scott has said he’ll recuse himself where necessary but the question of whether or not he can truly advocate for patients after working for and with pharmaceutical companies still lingers. Republican law makers have put forth the idea that the FDA is a slow and overly regulated beast, though it’s likely more efficient than they realize and is markedly faster than it has been in the past. Nevertheless, Trump has promised to loosen regulations, regulations that were put in place for a reason.
Education doesn’t seem to be a strong point for Trumps administration. Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as the Secretary of Education, due to Mike Pence breaking an otherwise 50-50 vote. Betsy DeVos and her husband are incredibly wealthy, she has never taught in a public school, she has never attended a public school, and her children have never attended a public school. That’s pretty important because she is now in charge of the American education system.
DeVos has pushed for charter schools to take the place of public education. At first glance that sounds like it could be a good thing, more school choice should foster competition right? The problem with charter schools is that, though they’re tax payer funded, they’re privately run and there’s not enough regulation or oversight when compared to public schools. Often such schools end up being run by management companies on a for-profit basis, meaning they aren’t so much focused on making sure your kid gets a good education as they are on making sure they’re paid well to have your kid there. John Oliver does a great job of going over the biggest issues with charter schools.
DeVos has been working to expand charter schools in Michigan since around 1993. By working I mean donating around $8 million over 10 years to republican law makers and then later creating a 401(c) organization called the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP). Remember 401(c) organizations? Those let you accept and distribute money with no disclosure. DeVos continued to lobby in Michigan, first against the cap on charter schools and later to help defeat legislation that would have prohibited charter schools from expanding if they performed poorly. Yes you heard that right, she is actively trying to make sure that schools, whether charter or public, receive federal funding but are not held accountable to the same levels. The results speak for themselves and this is what Betsy Devos is going to start pushing nation wide. She doesn’t seem too sure on how she’ll do that though, when asked how she thought schools would change under her oversight she had this to say:
I expect there will be more public charter schools. I expect there will be more private schools. I expect there will be more virtual schools. I expect there will be more schools of any kind that haven’t even been invented yet
DeVos also told Axios that she’d be fine with the department of education going away and demonstrated that she doesn’t understand that schools today are just as racially segregated today as they were in the 1960’s, though Republicans are working on expanding school segregation even more. Betsy DeVos also recently made a horribly insulting comment about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) saying, “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”. Spoiler alert, they were the only option available to black students not some kind of school choice pioneer. Unfortunately that’s not even the most troubling mistake she’s made, DeVos has already demonstrated that she’ll vote against children’s best interests if it’s in her best interest.
National security has been a hot topic lately, what with all the questionable ties Trump and his administration have to Russia. We know that Russian hackers penetrated systems run by both the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Democratic National Committee (DNC). Oddly, only emails and information from the DNC hacks were leaked to the public. These leaks seem to have occurred at times when they would be most damaging to Hillary Clinton’s electability, and may have been coordinated with Trump administration officials. Reports suggest that the Russian government may have paid as many as 1,000 people to run fake news campaigns against Hillary Clinton. There are a lot of questions around current and former Trump aids, such as whether or not Paul Manafort knowingly laundered money from a former Ukrainian presidents slush fund. It seems that even after Manafort resigned there were some interesting dealings behind the scenes involving a shell company Manafort owns as well as businesses with ties to Trump. Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from taking part in the investigation after he lied to congress under oath about being in contact with Russia.
All of this initially led to an investigation into whether Russia had been attempting to influence our election process. The CIA, NSA & FBI found that they had. We now know Trumps administration had contact with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign and then lied about it. A bipartisan investigation is supposed to be ongoing, but it’s a giant mess and some of the individuals, such as Devin Nunes, have put that investigation at risk by subverting the investigation committee and taking findings directly to Trump. Trump is under investigation for his ties to Russia and taking information directly to him rather than presenting it to the bipartisan investigation committee defeats the purpose of the investigation. As shown above, this is not an independent investigation and may not do the American people justice. If you want to dig deeper into who is connected to what, check out the chart of known ties between Trumps Administration and Russia. Besides all of that, the entire Trump administration seems to have no idea how to approach intelligence and in some cases has chosen to ignore expert advise.
Let’s go over that again. Russians hacked the two biggest political parties in our country and then, with encouragement from Trump, leaked documents in an attempt to influence our elections. Our own president is being investigated for ties to Russia. That investigation is being led by James Comey, who played a role in helping Trump get elected. That’s the same Comey that brought up Hillary Clinton’s email investigation 11 days before the election for literally no reason. To be fair, Comey has called Trump on his bullshit a time or two. It’s also recently come to light that Comey did want to reveal Russian hacking allegations during the election cycle but was shut down by the rest of congress. It’s a lot to take in.
You may be wondering though, why should we care if Trump is cozying up with Putin? Partly because Putin is already calling bullshit on Trumps strongman act (and Russia isn’t the only one posturing). Another acceptable answer is history.
Putin has been running influence campaigns in his neighbors domestic affairs for quite some time. Some recently examples are the cyber attacks Estonia saw in 2007, the hacking of Georgia’s government servers while it was at war with Russia in 2008, Russian hackers taking down Ukraine’s power grid in 2015, and just general Russian meddling in elections worldwide. Russia has become one of the best at using cyber attacks and fake new campaigns to get it’s way. There are additional issues we’ll explore in the military section below, but think about what we know they’ve done here in America and abroad so far. Is this really someone you want our president being friendly with? John McCain put it pretty succinctly:
“With the U.S. presidential transition underway, Vladimir Putin has said in recent days that he wants to improve relations with the United States. We should place as much faith in such statements as any other made by a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies, and attempted to undermine America’s elections.
What about issues not specifically concerning Russia? Trump was using an old and unsecured Android devices as his primary device, and may still be. That’s a major security concern. Trump isn’t the only one that may well be using unsecured technology to conduct his confidential duties. Mike Pence has previously used his private email for business and that account may have been hacked. It’s very likely Trump was using that unsecure device when a situation broke out during his bonding time with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. A situation in which he and other White House staff pointed their cell phones, with lights on, directly at what may have been confidential information. This all took place out in the open at Trumps Mar-a-Lago resort. Coincidentally, the NSA can turn on your cell phones camera remotely, and with the light on you’re essentially giving them a clear view of whatever your phone happens to be pointed at. The recent Vault 7 leak has demonstrated that it’s unlikely that the NSA are the only people with that capability. The White House has since released a statement saying there weren’t any classified documents present but keep in mind that the Trump administration has proven time and again that it will lie as it pleases.
Outside of that, we’ve seen Trump mistakenly add Steve Bannon to the National Security Council while removing the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Apparently this happened because Trump didn’t read an executive order he signed. Bannon has reportedly been removed from that position but putting him there in the first place is an extremely disconcerting mistake. Check out what kind of person Steven Bannon is, he wants to go to war and Trump put him on the council that can mark American citizens for assassination. Though he has reportedly been removed, his appointing mixed with the resignation of Micheal Flynn made things a bit dysfunctional at the National Security Council.
Another issue we’re likely to see is due to Trump wanting to cut $1.3 billion in funding from the Coast Guard, that’s about a 14% reduction. As mentioned previously, the budget is just a proposal so we may see that number move. The irony here is that Trump is likely making that cut to fuel his border wall, meanwhile the Coast Guard is our real border wall. The Coast Guard currently catches a whole lot of drugs before they cross our borders, like $5.9 billion worth of cocaine alone in 2016. The Coast Guard then takes those smugglers into custody if the country of origin OK’s it. Many of those countries don’t have the same justice system we do, so when the smuggler is brought to trial they can bribe or threaten their way out of it. Taking custody of those smugglers allows us to help the country of origin and helps stop smugglers from bringing drugs, weapons, and humans into the US. I fail to see how defunding these operations in lieu of a much more expensive and less useful wall is a good idea.
On April 6th Trump launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at Sharyat Air Base in central Syria. Trump ostensibly did this because he has a fixation with “beautiful babies” and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly attacked his own citizens with sarin gas, again. Trumps statements ring hollow, saying he cares about the death of others and especially Syrians when he’s still attempting to ban Syrian refugees from entering the US makes little sense. Trump tried to push through a healthcare act that would have seen millions lose their insurance. Do you think some of those people will die slow, brutal, completely preventable deaths? Do you think some of those deaths will be “beautiful babies”? Yes, the answer to both is yes. Additionally, many of the myriad US led air strikes kill women and children and in far greater numbers than the Syrian gas attack. It seems Trump and his administration are working on lifting rules of engagement put in place under Obama to help mitigate civilian casualties. Obviously that will result in a larger number of civilian deaths. You can see how Trump implying he spent around $49,088,000 on a strike because he wants to save babies or civilians is dubious at best. What other reasons might Trump have? For one, Trump knows his supporters will eat this kind of thing up, consequences be dammed. A tweet from 2012 by Trump himself may offer some insight.
Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin – watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.
Tomahawk missiles are a very versatile munition. They are a great long range option and can be launched at targets over 1,000 miles away. They’re good at many things, but the way they were used in this strike seems odd. It doesn’t seem that Trump targeted the runways at the base at all. Even if he did, Tomahawks would just leave a small crater that could be filled in relatively easily. Instead, the strike targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, fuel storage, radars, ammunition storage and air defense systems. That’s all well and good but Trump also warned Russia of the imminent strike, which means they warned Syria which means Syria only left whatever they didn’t mind losing. This again begs the question of why? Why risk starting another cold war with Russia or a full scale war for that matter when we’re going to do minimal damage to an airfield?
Maybe because Trumps approval ratings are at a historic low, maybe because Trump wants everyone to think he’s a moral person (spoiler, he’s not), or maybe because our president has no concept of how to think things through. Either way, this was a fairly useless and expensive display of incompetence to say nothing of the possible consequences. Trump himself may have put it best in 2013:
AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA – IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!
Let’s touch on the Coast Guard again. The Coast Guard patrols Americas borders and they’re quite effective in their role. Accordingly, cutting their funding will directly result in America being less safe. Part of cutting that funding includes deactivating Maritime Security Response Teams (MSRT). That means no more busting narco-subs with 5,600 pounds of cocaine on board. That wasn’t a one off incident either, 80% of all drugs entering the US came in through maritime routes in 2012. The Coast Guard is an overlooked and incredibly valuable arm of the military. I’m not the only one who thinks so either. Rick Nelson, a former Navy helicopter pilot and national security expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, had this to say in light of the proposed cut:
If they’re not there to do it, who is there to do it? We’re not going to put destroyers and frigates off the coast to protect those ports. That’s a Coast Guard mission and capability.
Next, let’s get the Yemen raid out of the way: It was a complete and utter fuck up on Trumps part. Obama considered a similar raid but decided against it as they didn’t have enough information and thought it best to let the incoming administration assess the situation. As is his style, Trump tried to blame the failure on Obama and then tried to blame his generals, but Trump is the one who ultimately gave the go ahead and bears the responsibility for the results. The result was the death of U.S. Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, the death of other non-combatants including children, and the loss of an MV-22 Osprey. A senior congressional official said the raid yielded no significant intelligence. Trump later capitalized on the suffering of Owen’s widow in quite possibly the least tasteful way imaginable. Trump also had something suitably stupid to say after a standing ovation for the widow:
He’s very happy, because I think he just broke a record.
There are plenty of other military issues Trump faces, like his Air Force secretary nomination having benefited from insider knowledge according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity. Russia has deployed SSC-X-8 (technically, SSC-8 as American intelligence officials consider the missile to be operational and no longer a system in development) cruise missiles, which are banned by a 1987 treaty between the US and Russia. Russian bombers have accidentally targeted US-backed anti-government fighters near Syria, and it’s likely to happen again. North Korea continues to test a new ballistic missile despite condemnation from several countries and being prohibited from doing so under UN Security Council resolutions. The US responded by stationing attack drones in South Korea and deploying a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system that, should North Korea point it’s missiles South, likely won’t be very effective. America is spending a lot of money building an aircraft carrier that isn’t suitable for warfare anymore and there’s also the possibility of an impending conflict over the South China Sea. To top it all off, Trump has stated he would like to reduce the US’ support for NATO. Not a great idea in the best of times, sure to make our allies nervous and play right into what Putin wants, but especially in light of recent events maybe sticking with NATO isn’t such a bad idea.
Let’s take a small breather and focus on America’s nuclear program. Trump has repeatedly criticized our current capacity, doesn’t understand it, and called for expansion. Trump wants the US to be the “top of the pack“. If he were paying attention, he’d know that we already are, and our nuclear triad ensures we’d have a means of counter-attack. For reference, it would only take detonation of about 100 nukes to make Earth uninhabitable, according to a 2014 study, and we’ve got a whole lot more than that. Given how humanity has nearly been completely decimated by accident in the past, I’d argue that we really don’t need to push for expansion of our unclear arsenal. Perhaps now is not such a good time to join the military.
An aggressive, belligerent, unpredictable man, sensitive to criticism, unafraid of consequences, operating with great power in a dangerous and complicated world. This man is now the commander in chief of the U.S. military. This is the man that you will hold your life in his hands when you join the armed services.
So far Trump hasn’t directly addressed North Korea, that didn’t work well for Obama and is something Trump needs to rectify. Trump has tried to pressure China, which isn’t a very workable tactic. China can’t do much about North Korea because of the potential collapse of the North Korean regime and the impact that would have on China. All of this is to say Trump needs to make North Korea a priority, and I don’t mean by thinking about a preemptive strike. It’s likely diplomacy is the best option we have at this point. North Korea is actively testing and improving it’s missile capabilities as well as it’s nuclear program and they’ve said they would have no problem using them on US forces, though it’s unlikely they currently have that capability.
As I previously covered, Trump also launched missiles into Syria. It was an empty gesture, but we need to acknowledge that Trump is woefully unprepared for this kind of situation. This is going to be an area to keep an eye on as Putin is backing Assad and before Trump “pushed the button”, Putin asked Trump what his response to the Syrian crisis would be. I doubt Putin expected missiles, and he was quick to denounce the strike. Trump went on to say that Putin is partly to blame for the Syrian crisis, which is not likely to sit well with the Russian president.
Speaking of, Trump had a call with Russian president Vladimir Putin in early February. During that meeting Putin brought up the potential of extending the New START Treaty, a treaty that limits the amount of nuclear devices the US and Russia can have at any one time. New START has been instrumental in the denuclearization of both countries and restricting nuclear proliferation. Trump completely fumbled that conversation because he didn’t know what New START was. Instead, he reportedly bragged to Putin about his popularity. Yes, really. Additionally, it seems Russian media is starting to turn against Trump rather than support him as his talk of easing sanctions has yet to materialize in any meaningful way. Whether or not this is the will of Putin, who controls most of the Russian media, is unclear at this point.
Throughout his campaign Trump complained time and again about China, even calling China our enemy and setting the scene for a very tense first meeting. For their part, Chinese leaders seem to be ready to work with Trump and Trump seems to be singing a different tune after his first meeting with the Chinese President, Xi Jinping. Trump seems to have thought that China could simply eliminate the North Korean nuclear program but later said “After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy”. As the article correctly points out, that displays a troubling level of naivety when it comes to foreign relations.
It seems that Trump has a quickly evolving view of foreign relations. After all, he did call NATO obsolete in early January, but is now saying NATO is no longer obsolete just 3 months later. Naturally, Trump is trying to take credit for this incredible turnaround but it’s more likely he is just now figuring out what NATO actually gets us. Let’s hope Trump makes a similar turn around on the United Nations, as he was previously a fan but is now trying to remove the US from the United Nations.
Perhaps his most worrying decision in foreign relation thus far, Trump has appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior White House adviser. Trump is expecting Kushner to solve a number of issues, including creating peace in the middle East, smoothing out relations with China and Mexico, innovating the government, and leading reform of Criminal Justice in the US. Kusher has little to no experience in any of these areas, and it may be impossible to complete his given tasks, even with more experienced resources. Kushner was also involved with Trumps presidential transition which lead to him having contact with a Russian ambassador and the head of a Russian state-owned bank, Vnesheconombank. Kushner seems to have accidentally forgotten to disclose those meetings when applying for top-secret security clearance. To be clear, Kushner is not a national security adviser or secretary of state but seems to be tasked with the challenges of those roles, experience or no.
What Can We Do?
Anything, everything. Tomorrow marks 3 months and it seems some of the anger and active opposition are tapering off, though the administration and it’s goals are no less offensive. American values are on the line and if our leaders won’t fight for those values then it falls to the American people to do it ourselves. This country flourishes when we make decisions based on truth and open mindedness, our current presidential administration is headed in the opposite direction. Trump has no regard for the truth and has forgone patriotism in favor of a nationalist view. He has dodged drafts and taxes while criticizing those that follow the rules, he does not know our Constitution, he does not know our history. He is more obsessed with how he is personally perceived than he is about taking care of how our country is run. He bullies individuals, companies, and countries then tries to take credit for things he didn’t do. He’s indicated, through his egregious use of executive orders, that laws don’t matter to him and neither does the will of the people he’s supposed to serve.
Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have.
Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.
As Eliot A Cohen puts it, this is a clarifying moment in American history and we all need to do our part. Some can fight this in courts, some have congressional power, others can leverage their social media presence to bring issues to the forefront. Trump has been a long time coming and now is the time to make sure congress gets the message loud and clear that this is not what we want. Attend marches, even if you don’t see immediate results, run for office if you don’t agree with your representatives. Now is the time to take action before it’s too late. I’ll be attending the Madison climate march and though I know I don’t have much reach, writing here is another way I can try to bring awareness. I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I stood on the sideline and did nothing. I’m doing what I can to resist, are you?
To Trump supporters, I don’t know what your reasons for supporting Trump are but it’s important to take a look at what he’s doing and question whether or not Trump is in your best interest at this point. Ben Mallicote has an incredibly succinct overview of previously given reasons and the reality.
You voted for Trump because Clinton was going to be in Wall Street’s pocket. Trump wants to repeal Dodd-Frank and eliminate the Fiduciary Rule, letting Wall Street return to its pre-2008 ways.
You voted for Trump because of Clinton’s emails. The Trump administration is running its own private email server.
You voted for Trump because you thought the Clinton Foundation was “pay for play.” Trump has refused to wall off his businesses from his administration, and personally profits from payments from foreign governments.
You voted for Trump because of Clinton’s role in Benghazi. Trump ordered the Yemen raid without adequate intel, and tweeted about “FAKE NEWS” while Americans died as a result of his carelessness.
You voted for Trump because Clinton didn’t care about “the little guy.” Trump’s cabinet is full of billionaires, and he took away your health insurance so he could give them a multi-million-dollar tax break.
You voted for Trump because he was going to build a wall and Mexico was going to pay for it. American consumers will pay for the wall via import tariffs.
You voted for Trump because Clinton was going to get us into a war. Trump has provoked our enemies, alienated our allies, and given ISIS a decade’s worth of recruiting material.
You voted for Trump because Clinton didn’t have the stamina to do the job. Trump hung up on the Australian Prime Minister during a 5pm phone call because “it was at the end of a long day and he was tired and fatigue was setting in.”
You voted for Trump because foreign leaders wouldn’t “respect” Clinton. Foreign leaders, both friendly and hostile, are openly mocking Trump.
You voted for Trump because Clinton lies and “he tells it like it is.” Trump and his administration lie with a regularity and brazenness that can only be described as shocking.
Let’s be honest about what really happened.
The reality is that you voted for Trump because you got conned. Trump is a grifter and the American people were the mark. Now that you know the score, quit insisting the con-man is on your side.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a video that’s been making the rounds lately. It’s an excerpt from Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator, a speech that seems to be more relevant than ever despite being released in 1940. If nothing else, it’s something to think on.