There’s been A LOT that’s happened over the past 2 weeks. I meant to post this on Feb. 3; staying on top of the news and then blogging about it is taking a lot longer than I expected. Who would’ve thought, right?
I wanted to point out to y’all that I’ve added a page to my blog where I keep track of where the links I’m collecting take my readers.
I’d suggest starting with this post from FiveThirtyEight if you don’t have time to wade through everything else; they’ve collected lots of material on what actual policy stuff went down during Trump’s first full week in office. (Note for those unfamiliar with FiveThirtyEight: they are one of my favorite super nerdy websites and love data collection and statistical analysis of all sorts of trends, ranging from the rates of hate crime incidents to mentions of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in hip-hop lyrics over the years).
More in depth coverage of current events below, broken into subcategories because there’s just … so much.
- A Chaotic World: Trumpian Foreign Relations
Just days into his presidency, Trump has “burned a whole lot of his diplomatic capital,” to quote David Andelman. Andelman was speaking of the shocking phone call Trump held with Australia’s prime minister. (For the uninformed, Australia is one of America’s key allies, and now some analysts are questioning whether Trump could fracture this “great alliance.”) Key quote:
Trump was also skeptical because he did not see a specific advantage the United States would gain by honoring the deal, officials said.
Trump’s position appears to reflect the transactional view he takes of relationships, even when it comes to diplomatic ties with long-standing allies. [*clears throat* please read the quoted text from The Economist] Australian troops have fought alongside U.S. forces for decades, and the country maintains close cooperation with Washington on trade and economic issues.
Australia is seen as such a trusted ally that it is one of only four countries that the United States includes in the “Five Eyes” arrangement for cooperation on espionage matters. Members share extensively what their intelligence services gather and generally refrain from spying on one another.
“I think there will be long term consequences,” Australian National University School of Politics professor John Warhurst told CNN. “It may well be that Trump’s US and the rest of the world is fundamentally changed over the coming years.”
Elsewhere in the world, Trump has “put Iran on notice” over a ballistic missile test and threatened Mexico. The Monday after his inauguration, Trump said that the U.S. would prevent China from taking territory in international waters in the region; he had previously tweeted aggressively about the South China Sea. Chinese media is now talking about the increasing potential for a US-China war; British media agrees. For that matter, Trump’s advisor Steve Bannon also believes war with China is likely.
Meanwhile, eastern Europe is facing heightened tensions. NATO is deploying troops in eastern Europe. There’s been a whole bunch of thinkpieces making the argument that Russia is seeking to weaken NATO – and that Trump’s words thus far are helping Russia’s cause. As it stands, considering that NATO runs on the principle that “an attack on one is an attack on all,” it seems possible that large-scale conflict could break out in this region in the near-ish future.
Some further interesting reads about international relations & the global state of affairs during the Trump presidency:
- Trump Stands for War
- Isolationism is terrible for business
- The Economist Intelligence Unit has downgraded the U.S.’s democracy to “flawed”
- How the World’s Nations are Reacting to Trump
- Trump is engaged in a “diplomatic row” with the Prince of Wales
- Updates From the Swamp: Does Trump Have Any Idea What He’s Doing?
Let’s start with the fact that Trump’s Black History Month remarks are so ridiculous McSweeney’s put the full transcript on their website and … you can’t even tell at first if it’s satire … (spoiler alert: it’s not).
Then we can move on to these other gems:
- CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta tweeting from his verified account “Source familiar with Trump foreign leader calls says the POTUS convos are turning faces “white” inside the WH.”
- This Washington Post article has the kind of quote reporters wait their whole lives for: “Asked whether federal workers are dissenting in ways that go beyond previous party changes in the White House, Tom Malinowski, who was President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said, sarcastically: “Is it unusual? . . . There’s nothing unusual about the entire national security bureaucracy of the United States feeling like their commander in chief is a threat to U.S. national security. That happens all the time. It’s totally usual. Nothing to worry about.”
- Trump is using an unsecured android. The tech community has some things to say about that. Compare to this report on President Obama’s BlackBerry.
- Trump had, at least for a few days, tied the @POTUS twitter account to a private gmail account without two-factor authentication
- TRUMP IS ANSWERING COLD CALLS FROM UNKNOWN NUMBERS ON HIS UNSECURED ANDROID I’m dying here
- Trump white house senior staff members have – wait for it —
I will wait for the collective outrage that I’m SURE is coming.
- waahhHHHH ok ok moving on before my head explodes, we have the unexpected early departures of the senior staff of the State Department. Key quote: “The White House usually asks career officials in such positions to stay on for a few months until their successors are confirmed. …The firings leave a huge management hole at the State Department, with a combined 150 years of institutional experience among all of the named officials.”
- Trump “approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations” according to U.S. military officials, and an 8-year-old American girl was killed in the process. (At some point soon we should probably have Benghazi-style 11-hour hearings, eh? Eh???)
- Nixon’s White House counsel tweeted “Donald Trump is in the process of trashing the American presidency. He is just getting started. He thinks he is bigger than the office.”
- Here we have Trump possibly threatening to impose martial law over Twitter?
- There are so many empty positions in the Trump administration. So many.
- Trump wanted to spend taxpayer money to investigate voter fraud (there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election, or, in fact, in any U.S. election)
- Well, maybe we just need to give him some affirmation…??
- The President Must Be Isolated From News To Prevent Self-Destructive Outbursts Ok, that’s not really the title of this piece but you guys. You guys! I just! Can’t! Even! *muffled screaming* “One person who frequently talks to Trump said aides have to push back privately against his worst impulses in the White House, like the news conference idea, and have to control information that may infuriate him. He gets bored and likes to watch TV, this person said, so it is important to minimize that.”
- The President is Sad. “Trump has been resentful, even furious, at what he views as the media’s failure to reflect the magnitude of his achievements, and he feels demoralized that the public’s perception of his presidency so far does not necessarily align with his own sense of accomplishment.”
- The President is Literally Consumed By Narcissism
- Ok, more seriously, let’s talk National Security Council
What exactly is the National Security Council? Good question. You can read some basic background here (you used to be able to find info on the White House website but that page is currently missing). In short, since its formation in 1947, the NSC has been “the principal forum used by the President of the United States for consideration of national security and foreign policy matters with senior national security advisors and Cabinet officials and is part of the Executive Office of the President of the United States.”
The NSC has been in the news this past week because of a very unusual move that President Trump made regarding who gets to sit on the council. From FiveThirtyEight:
“The public interest in the council centers on who Trump has chosen to be part of the NSC and its Principals Committee — a group of the most senior NSC members who can meet without the president — and who he has jettisoned. The director of national intelligence, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of energy are no longer regular members of the Principals Committee, who attend every meeting. The CIA director and the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy appear to no longer be members of either the Principals Committee or the NSC as a whole. And both committees will now include Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who has no foreign or domestic security experience — his background is in finance and media.
Experts are most concerned about the elevation of Bannon, a move that they say is out of step with what previous presidents have done and that risks crossing the streams of horse-race politics and international security (or at least appearing to).” [more on Steve Bannon below]
You can find more analysis on the NSC and Steve Bannon here (a retired US Navy Admiral who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff writes an opinion piece entitled “I Was on the National Security Council. Bannon Doesn’t Belong There.”); here; here; and here.
Note also this quote from the New York Times — “But for the moment, Mr. Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council, a greater source of frustration to the president than the fallout from the travel ban.” — which suggests that Trump has signed at least one executive order that he hasn’t actually read.
- More Nat Sec & Law Enforcement stuff in the news
Taking a brief detour here to highlight a big story from The Intercept on the FBI. There’s a lot to unpack in that series; I want to draw particular attention to this article where they talk about the FBI investigating white supremacist infiltration into law enforcement. Can you imagine if the FBI was as committed to letting US citizens know about the threats from our law enforcement as they were to letting us know about the threats posed by email servers?
Anyways, moving on. Trump and the CIA are not exactly getting along. Cool! Cool. Meanwhile, Trump told ABC that two people were shot and killed during Obama’s farewell speech in Chicago. That’s just plain false. It makes Trump’s twitter tirade about “sending in the feds” to clean up Chicago feel a little sinister.
- Speaking of sinister, here are some must-reads on Steve Bannon, the white-nationalist propagandist who is President Trump’s right-hand man
- “President Bannon?”
- Stephen Bannon and Breitbart News, in Their Words
- For the media, shutting up is not an option
- Is Donald Trump Just a Pawn in Steve Bannon’s Game?
- Steve Bannon leads in nicely to these pieces on the rising tide of anti-semitism in the US
- Jewish Community Centers Face Third Wave of Bomb Threats Nationwide
- Nazi propaganda vandalism in New York City
The 2017 White House Holocaust Memorial statement also somehow happened to not … mention … Jews??? That’s weird! Like…really, really weird! What alternative universe are we living in that neo-Nazi Richard Spencer gets to celebrate the U.S. President’s Holocaust Memorial statement for “de-Judification’ of the Holocaust?????
(I’d like to point out here a bit of context for Trump’s mockery of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s tears over the executive order banning refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations: Chuck Schumer is Jewish and had family members die in the Holocaust. Donald Trump’s dad got arrested at a KKK riot in 1927. Just … let that sink in for a bit.)
- I’m trying to keep it brief, there’s just SO MUCH THAT’S HAPPENED. Take some time to read about the white nationalist who shot up a mosque in Quebec this week:
- the religious/ethnic/racial tensions in Quebec that preceded the shooting
- the attack suspect’s political views
- Public lands in the crosshairs
Republicans in Congress passed a rule change in January that set the value of all public lands held by the federal government at $0. “The new rule, authored by GOP Rep. Robert Bishop of Utah, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, codifies that any legislation to dispose of federal land and natural resources would have a net sum zero cost to taxpayers. As the rule applies only to the House legislative rules, it is not subject to approval by the Senate or a presidential signature and is effective immediately. … Since the House is required to account for any cost associated with any legislation it considers under Congressional Budget Office accounting rules and guidelines, legislation put forward now shall skip several steps in the normal legislative process, coming up for a vote without any discussion of the costs and benefits. This means that the House does not need to render an assessment or cost analysis of estimated financial losses resulting in legislation giving away public lands or buildings.”
Acreage totaling the size of Connecticut was targeted for sale by a later bill, but I am happy to say that this bill has since been withdrawn thanks to massive public outcry.
- Calling your Reps Works!!!
- Resistance Works
- “Since Obamacare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill no matter where I go,” Brat told a meeting of conservative groups on Saturday. He explained that they’re always pestering him about when his next town hall will be — “and believe me, it’s not to give positive input.”
Good work, ladies.
- Lessons From Around the World
- Lessons from Venezuela: How to let a populist beat you, over and over again.
- Russia: Life after Trust
- Reuters instructions for reporters on covering Trump (“practice skills learned” in hostile countries and warzones while reporting on the Trump administration.)
- EPA hit with gag order
I mentioned this one briefly in my last update. I’m running out of my ability to be snarky; luckily this USA Today headline really says it all: EPA ‘pause’ on public communications fuels wider alarm about openness. Further coverage by Politico, the National Law Review, Talking Points Memo (special notes on whistleblower protections), and ProPublica.
- Republican Congressional Staffer NDAs
I also brought this up in my last update; here’s a bit more info on how Hill Staffers Secretly Worked on Trump’s Immigration Order. Talking Points Memo points out that this is the big story: “To be clear, the executive works with Congress all the time to craft legislation. That’s the President working with members of Congress, though much of the actual work is delegated to staff. All normal. It’s congressional staff working for the executive without telling the members of Congress they work for which is the big deal.” More on this story by Politico.
- So, uh, what’s going on with Russia?
In short, a lot. Two recent things that happened that you should read about, though, are:
- The Mystery death of ex-KGB chief linked to MI6 spy’s dossier on Donald Trump
- Top Russian Cybercrimes Agent Arrested on Charges of Treason for allegedly spying for the US
- from MSNBC: treason arrest seen as corroboration of US intel
- from TPM: “…this immediately poses the question: if Mikhailov was a US asset, how was he compromised? Did the information put out by US intelligence somehow lead to his exposure? Without putting too fine a point on it, a number of close advisors to President Trump are being scrutinized for ties to Russia. Some of them participated in the intelligence briefings the President receives. Do we have a very big problem?”
I would also suggest familiarizing yourself with John McCain’s statement on Trump’s phone call with Vladimir Putin and this article on the connections between extremist European political parties (often funded by Russia) and Donald Trump.
- Trump breaks anti-trust norms
The president has flouted decades-old norms of antitrust by directly speaking with the executives of companies seeking to merge. What could go wrong?
I haven’t even touched on Trump’s immigration executive order. Expect some analysis of that on my next update. \o/