Cover Image: 28 January protests against the Immigration Ban at JFK Airport © Beverly Yuen Thompson

It’s been a busy week. The developments, from both Congress and Presidential Executive Orders, have been fast and furious. There’s absolutely no way to keep up. I’m spending several hours a day, and I’m hopelessly behind.

Heath Care

Congress is moving ahead on many Health Care related issues, particularly items pertaining to reproductive rights; that will be covered below. At the moment, there is no clear consensus on what will happen next. The President pulled all advertising for Healthcare.gov enrollment (there are another couple of days left to enroll for 2017.) This advertising had already been paid for (reported cost $5 million) and was aimed at younger people who typically have waited until the last days of January to sign up. After a few days, some advertising was reinstated.

If you haven’t signed up for health insurance, do so immediately!

Several news sources including this article in the Washington Post reported that Republicans in Congress are nervous about repeal and/or defunding without any substitute policy in hand.

Immigration

This was the big news at the end of the week. Protesters gathered at major airports throughout the weekend to protest the President’s executive order late Friday afternoon, which

  • barred all Syrian refugees
  • blocked any refugee entry for 120 days, regardless of country of origin
  • Blocked citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the country, including those with visas and Green Cards (legal US residency). Naturalized Citizens were not included.

Read the full text here.

By Sunday, federal judges in several states issued rulings to prevent refugees and others with valid visas from being detained or sent back. Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, spoke Sunday and said that Green Card holders would be permitted to return to the US.

Protests against the policy were widespread at US airports in many cities.

The executive order mentioned the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks frequently, but the countries affected by the ban were not the countries where those hijackers hailed from. Critics were quick to point out that the countries with the bans were predominantly Muslim countries where the President does not have financial interests. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Government Affairs

National Security Council

The President rearranged the National Security council late Saturday, adding his chief adviser, Steve Bannon (formerly head of the white supremacist online magazine Breitbart). The President removed the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the organization, and said that they are to attend only when needed.  The Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (military) are statutory advisers to the council, that is their presence on the committee is mandated by the law creating the NSC.

Cabinet and Other Nominations

The Senate continued with hearings for various members of the Cabinet and other appointments.

Approved: James Mattis to be Secretary of Defense – Both the Senate and the House passed a waiver to allow him to take this position; members of the military are forbidden from taking Cabinet positions until they have been retired for seven years, in order that the civilian command of the military (with the President of Commander in Chief) is untainted by military ties.  Mattis retired from the Marine Corps in 2013.

Approved: John Kelly to be Secretary of Homeland Security
Approved: Mike Pompeo to be Director of the CIA
Approved: Nikki Haley to be the Ambassador to the United Nations

In general, there was not a lot of dissent from Senate Democrats; most nominees were approved by a wide margin. You can see how your Senators voted here: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/compare/1/trump-nominations

Election Ad Technology

A Swiss magazine Das Magazin, the weekly supplement for three newspapers (two centrist and one left of center) published an article about the company responsible for tweaking the ads you saw or didn’t see during the election. With their algorithm, they can accurately predict whether or not you’re likely to be a swing voter, and what particular ads will motivate you to either vote, or stay at home.  The article asserts that every adult voter in the US is profiled. Here’s an English translation in Antidotezine and here’s the original in German.

The same firm is now poised to work for the White House. This article in the British newspaper The Independent describes the business and reports that they have analytical profiles of 230 million Americans.

Inauguration Crowds

The President continued to insist that his crowds were larger than President Obama’s 2009 inauguration crowds. Press Secretary Spicer repeated the false claims to the press in a “press conference” where no questions were allowed.

Photographic evidence clearly shows that the crowds were much larger in 2009.

Numerous theories were floated as to why the President would persist in lying about this, without definitive answers. After Spicer reiterated the President’s statement, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway described them as being “Alternate Facts,” which was met with a flurry of jokes and disbelief.

FBI

FBI director James Comey will be staying on under the new administration. Comney released a statement days before the election that Presidential Candidate Clinton was still under investigation; a few days later, he issued a second statement saying that nothing had come of it. Clinton strongly believes this cost her the election. At the same time, Comey did not release information that Presidential Candidate Trump was under investigation for dealings with Russia.

CIA

The President indicated support of CIA “black sites” and torture. This was widely condemned, including from Republican Senator and 2008 Presidential Candidate John McCain, who was himself tortured during the Vietnam War. McCain issued a press release stating: “The President can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.”

Earlier in the week, the President gave a speech at CIA offices. He put staffers into the crowd to make it appear as the CIA was applauding his every word.

The New Yorker published this article describing past CIA officials’ shocked reactions to the speech.

Threat of Martial Law?

The President tweeted that he would “Send in the Feds” to Chicago if they did not solve their crime problem.

International Relations

Mexico

The Wall on the Mexican border was in the news again. When Mexico reiterated that they would not pay for the wall, the President proposed a 20% tariff on goods imported into the US from Mexico; in other words, the American consumer would pay for the wall. The wall is expected to cost $25 billion.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a planned state visit to the US after the confrontation.

UK

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May paid the first state visit to the new administration.

Russia

Allegations of Russian interference in the US election drifted off the front page this week, but have yet to be resolved.

Black Lives Matter

The name Emmett Till was remembered this week. In 1955, Till, a fourteen-year-old African American boy, was tortured and murdered by two men who later confessed. They were acquitted by an all white-male jury.  Carolyn Bryant Donham had accused the boy of whistling at her and grabbing her arm; this week Ms. Donham admitted that the incident was untrue.

Activist Shawn King wrote a moving piece urging that Ms. Donham be prosecuted for her perjury, and that history books be revised to reflect this new information. Till’s brutal murder is often cited as one of the catalysts of the Civil Rights movement, and is often mentioned in schools. As King notes, he didn’t deserve his death, even if he had done the things she claimed, but his innocence of even that incident makes it all the more tragic.

Feminism

The Women’s March on Saturday 21 January, where millions of women marched in support of women’s rights, was criticized by some for being about and for white women. See Aurielle Marie Lucier’s essay in Essence, for example.

Most of the articles about the marchers included the important point that in many of the largest marches not a single person was arrested. The police where photographed wearing pink pussy cat hats. It was a marked contrast that 500,000 mostly white women were not perceived as a threat to police and the atmosphere was generally very cordial. A hundred African American men are enough to make them don riot gear and spray tear gas.

Dakota Access Pipeline

The President came out in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone IX Pipeline, both halted under the previous administration. The President used to have  investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline; it is unclear whether he still owns them or whether they were sold last summer.

Water Defenders are protesting through the brutal North Dakota winter. The North Dakota legislature is working on a bill to make hitting and killing the protesters with motor vehicles and free of legal consequence: in essence legal manslaughter.

Reproductive Rights

One of the President’s first acts was to reinstate the “Mexico City Policy” which prohibits NGOs who receive funds from the US even mentioning abortion. Although studies have shown this limits birth control access in developing countries and actually increases the abortion rate, this rule has been instituted by Republican presidents since Reagan. Reagan instated it, Clinton revoked it, Bush instated it, Obama revoked it. The Kaiser Family Foundation has a good briefing on the policy here.

Domestically, numerous bills were put forth in the House aimed at eroding reproductive rights, insurance coverage for women and so on. On a positive note, the House passed HR 315, Improving Access to Maternity Care Act, which may give women in rural communities more access to midwife services and prenatal care in regions under served by doctors. You can track the bill here. GovTrack gives the bill a 21% chance of success.

The Vice President marched with an anti-abortion march.

The issue of abortion is one of deep divide in the US. Twenty-five percent of Americans are evangelical Christians who deeply oppose abortion for any reason.

Although a minority of the country, their support was crucial for the Republicans’ electoral wins, and in order to win their favor, most Republican politicians are in favor of outlawing abortion completely. Eighty-one percent of evangelical Christians voted for Trump in the November election.

This is marked contrast with the rest of the country, which supports the right to abortion in an unusually bipartisan manner. Seventy percent of the country does not want to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme court decision that made abortion legal throughout the country in 1973.

Environmental Issues

Government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Parks Service, NASA, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) were banned from making any communications with the public without White House approval. Climate Change information was removed from government websites, and grant proposals and  contracts were frozen.

An excellent summary of Climate Change can be found here https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/climate-change-evidence-causes/ at the UK Royal Society – an independent science academy in England, whose website will be unaffected by the blackout.

Numerous agencies responded by making alternative Twitter accounts to continue to reach the public through non-sanctioned communications.

Scientists are planning a march on Washington.

 

Image Credit: © Beverly Yuen Thompson, snakegirlproductions https://www.flickr.com/photos/snakegirlproductions/ {Creative Commons license, non-commercial}

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