Political News in Brief: February 6-12

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People surrounding the new president are making almost as much news as Trump himself. This week I put a spotlight on a newsmaker whom Saturday Night Live (SNL) just wickedly lampooned. After that, I encapsulate several other news stories. Preview: In the future, I will spotlight other lampooned newsmakers.

KELLYANNE CONWAY & JAKE TAPPER

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Conway served as Trump’s campaign manager and now serves as Counselor to the President. In a bizarre SNL sketch last night (Feb 11), one that brings to mind the movie Fatal Attraction, Kate Mckinnon portrayed Conway as the sexy, murderous, spurned lover of Jake Tapper (Beck Bennett). Tapper is the CNN talk-show host who refused to have her on his Feb 5 Sunday show, State of the Nation, because of her loose connection to the truth.

Last Tuesday (Feb 7), however, Tapper conducted an extensive interview with Conway on his weekday show, The Lead, that, according to mediamatters.org, “only confirmed her credibility issues.” She ducked questions and continued to promote Trump administration misinformation. For example, when Tapper confronted her on Trump’s repeated claim that the murder rate is “at its highest level in 47 years,” which is provably false (in fact, the rate is among the lowest ever), Conway responded by complaining about her treatment in the media.

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Then Thursday (Feb 9), Conway seriously misstepped in a way that even Republican legislatures couldn’t ignore. She was on Fox & Friends defending Trump’s tweet that blasted the Nordstrom department store chain for dropping his daughter Ivanka’s fashion line. Conway told viewers, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff…. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.” Oops! That appears to be illegal!

“Federal ethics rules state that an employee of the government’s executive branch cannot use public office for personal gain or to endorse products or services on behalf of friends or relatives,” explained the New York Times. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee, and Elijah Cummings, the committee’s ranking Democrat, have jointly sent a letter to the Office of Governmental Ethics requesting an inquiry into the matter. Meanwhile, the White House says Conway has been “counseled,” whatever that means.

POLITICAL NEWS CAPSULES

Week’s Most Immediately Far-Reaching Story:  Federal appeals court rules 3 to 0 against Trump on travel ban – The judges wrote, “The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States. Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the Executive Order, the Government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all.” The Trump administration promises to fight the ruling; however, for now there is no travel ban on people legally entering the U.S. from anywhere. (WP)

In Close Votes, the Senate Confirms Three Highly Controversial Trump Cabinet Picks: First there was the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, a billionaire who donates thousands to Republicans and who has no experience in (nor, it seems, previous love for) public education (NYT). Then Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General, a former senator considered by many as no friend of civil rights or voting rights (NYT). Finally, there was Tom Price as secretary of Health and Human Services, a former legislature who opposes the Affordable Care Act and wants to overhaul Medicare, possibly making it a voucher program (The Hill).

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Deportation of Immigrants Stepped Up: She Showed Up Yearly to Meet Immigration Agents. Now They’ve Deported HerGuadalupe García de Rayos, 35, yearly checked in at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE), a requirement for being caught using a fake Social Security number so she could get a job at a water park to support her family. When she checked in on Wednesday (Feb 8), she was arrested and deported to Mexico. Ms. Rayos has lived in the U.S. since she was 14 and has a family – a husband and two children now in their teens. Her deportation, which led to protests, is the public face of the ICE “surge” that took place this week. (NYT)

That’s enough for now 🙂.

Photo Credits: McKinnon & Bennett portraying Conway and Tapper on SNL Feb 11, Daily Beast screengrabJake Tapper & Kellyanne Conway during a Feb 7 interview, CNN;  Guadalupe García de Rayos and her children, Yahoo news.

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Political News In Brief: January 30-February 5

And I thought Trump’s first week as president was tumultuous! This one, his second, is just as raucous, if not more so. News comes at a rapid-fire pace. I’m feeling overwhelmed. So I’ve decided to focus on news that affects our relations with people in other countries, Trump’s travel ban in particular, which continues to outrage. I keep thinking of the (apocryphal) Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”  But there are feel-good moments – and I end with an especially heart-warming one.

TRUMP’S TRAVEL BAN REMAINS BLOCKED – FOR NOW

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The Federal District Court in Seattle, led by Judge James Robart, temporarily blocked enforcement of Trump’s travel ban on Friday (Feb 3), one week after Trump signed an executive order that barred people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. – whether valid visa holders (like international students) or well-vetted refugees (like Syrian families with U.S. sponsors). 

As expected, the Justice Department quickly appealed Judge Robart’s decision. Early Sunday (Feb 5), the U.S. Ninth District Court of Appeals in San Francisco rejected the Trump administration’s appeal. This rejection means that “travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — as well as vetted refugees from all nations could, for now, continue to enter the country” (“Appeals Court,” NYT).

In short, the Ninth District Court affirmed Judge Robart’s ruling, which stated that the travel ban “adversely affects the states’ residents in the areas of employment, education, business, family relations and freedom to travel,” including “the operations and missions of their public universities and other institutions of higher learning.” Indeed, it’s estimated that the travel ban affects over 23,000 students who hold visas to study in the U.S. (An article in USA Today gives a break down of foreign student enrollment country-by-country.) 

While the Trump administration lost the first two rounds, it will surely take its case to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has resumed using the same standard policies and procedures on travelers and refugees that existed prior to Trump’s executive order. And immigrant advocates are “encouraging travelers from the affected countries to get on planes as soon as possible” because of the legal battle isn’t over (“9th Circuit Court,” WP; State Dept. reverses,” WP).

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Travelers Previously Blocked from Entering the U.S. Begin Arriving at Boston’s Logan Airport. News of arrivals is beginning to trickle in. Using Twitter, a reporter wrote that a woman from Iraq was the first to pass through customs. Among other first arrivals were at least two Iranians: a college student and a research scientist (“Travelers,” WP). In another article, 40 Iranians were reported to have arrived in Boston on one flight, as well as at least one Syrian women at Dulles International, who reunited with her son and his wife, both doctors (“A race,” WP). 

More stories about arrivals from the previously banned countries are surely forthcoming. Including this one, just in from NPR: “Airport officials in Cairo say a total of 33 U.S.-bound migrants from Yemen, Syria and Iraq have boarded flights on their way to the United States.”

 INTERNATIONAL REACTIONS AND DEALINGS

International reaction to Trump’s travel ban was swift and varied. Many were highly critical: for example, Iran called the ban “insulting” and a “gift to extremists,” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was “against the core idea of international aid for refugees and international cooperation.” Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the high road and “defended the importance of welcoming refugees,” saying that “those fleeing persecution, terror and war were welcome in Canada.”

Others sided with Trump: for example, Saudi Arabia said it would cooperate. Britain’s far-right leaders cheered. And Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed that every nation should be able to control its own borders – but Turnbull still expects Trump to adhere to the Obama administration’s agreement to accept 1250 of the 3000 refugees Australia holds on island detention centers; Trump called this “the worst deal ever” (“World leaders react,” CNN; “worst call by far,” WP ).

Yet Trump embraces aspects of Obama’s foreign policy. Several surprising and welcome moves this week: Trump warned Israel “not to expand the construction of Jewish settlements beyond their current borders” because to do so could hamper “the goal of peace” with the Palestinians. Trump’s chosen ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, “declared that the United States would not lift sanctions against Russia until it stopped destabilizing Ukraine and pulled troops out of Crimea.” And Trump appears to have no plans to rip up Obama’s highly-successful (so far) deal with Iran to dismantle its nuclear program (“Trump embraces,” NYT).

In fact, on Friday (Feb 3), the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on Iran to punish Tehran for its “latest ballistic missile test.” The administration describe the sanctions as “the first in a series of efforts to confront Iran around the globe.” (“U.S. Imposes,” NYT).

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Protest Saturday” Around the World. On Saturday (Feb 4), peaceful rallies were held in major U.S. cities and in cities around the world like Berlin, Barcelona, Jakarta, London, Manila, and Paris. They protested Trump’s policies, particularly his travel ban. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported, “Nerves are especially raw in Germany, a country where fears of war are traditionally high as a result of the devastation the Nazi regime caused during World War II.”

There was even a rally in Janesville, WI, the hometown of Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (next in line for president should something befall both the president and vice president). On a cold, windy Saturday with snow falling in this relatively small city, a group of 500 to 700 protested Trump’s immigration and border security plans. And, according to the county newspaper’s GazetteXtra,  “they railed against what they believe is … Ryan’s solidarity with Trump’s stance on immigrants and border security.” One sign read: “Will swap 1 Donald Trump and 1 Paul Ryan for 20,000 refugees.”

FEEL-GOOD NEWS

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A mosque in the small city of Victoria, TX burned to the ground during last Saturday’s wee hours (Jan 28), just hours after Trump announced his travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries. Cause is unknown. But the outpouring of support has been overwhelming. As of Wednesday (Feb 1), almost a million dollars had been raised, in online contributions, for rebuilding.

And in a wonderfully heartwarming gesture, Jewish community members walked into the home of one of the mosque’s founders and gave him a key to the synagogue. The president of Temple Bnai Israel explained, “We have probably 25 to 30 Jewish people in Victoria, and they probably have 100 Muslims. We got a lot of building for a small amount of Jews” (Business Insider).

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Photo Credits: A family of Syrian refugees in Jordan limboed due to Trump’s travel ban, Jane Arraf/NPR; a Virginia Iraqi family welcomes their grandmother home at Dulles International Airport, Astrid Riecken/European Pressphoto Agency; protesters in Janesville, WI against Trump’s policies and Speaker Ryan’s likely complicity, photographer Angela Major; signs by supporters of the Muslim community in Victoria, TX whose mosque burned to the ground, REUTERS / Mohammad Khursheed.

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Political News In Brief: January 23-29

My head is spinning from the onslaught of troubling news this week, President Trump’s first full week in office: from his neediness to appear the greatest to his disregard for the truth, from his first attacks on the environment to his appalling executive order that is, in effect, a Muslim ban. Below I offer my take on the week’s top stories. I’ve tried to keep it brief – but do know there were a lot of other signals that our democracy, as we know it, is in danger. 

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AFTERMATH OF TRUMP’S ENTRY BAN: CHAOS REIGNS AS IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES ARE DETAINED AND DEPORTED AT U.S. AIRPORTS

President Trump on Friday (Jan 27) signed an executive order that immediately blocked refugees from any country and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. – including people holding legal visas and permanent residents holding green cards.The seven countries are Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen – none of which were involved in the 9/11 and San Bernardino attacks, although those attacks were cited as reasons for the ban.

By Saturday afternoon (Jan 28), the chaos that this poorly considered and abruptly implemented order created was apparent across the U.S. and the world: On arriving at U.S. airports, people from the banned countries – like international students, immigrants returning to their families, and business folk – were detained or promptly deported.

Word got out and large protests in support of immigrants and refugees erupted in airport terminals – in the U.S., as well as abroad where people from the travel-banned countries heading for the U.S. weren’t allowed to board planes. Protests continue.   

Meanwhile, lawyers are at work on behalf of the detained, deported, and those likely to be denied U.S. entry or deported despite their previously legal right to be here. As of this morning (Jan 29), several federal courts have temporarily blocked aspects of Trump’s order, allowing some of the detained to enter the country.

Expect much more media attention on this matter – it’s being covered as I write. Stay tuned. This is a very big deal!

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TRUMP’S “ALTERNATIVE FACTS” (as his counselor Conway put it)

Until the entry-ban news broke, Trump’s difficulty with accepting facts that negatively affect his grandiose self-image received a lot of media attention – particularly regarding two matters: (1) the fact that no evidence exists, none at all, to support Trump’s claim that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote with 2.9 million more votes than he did only because there were 3 to 5 million illegal votes – all of which went for her; and (2) he refused to accept the fact that the crowd at Obama’s 2009 inauguration was considerably larger than his, despite the ocular evidence in the side-by-side photo above. (See this linked NPR story for more details, including on several matters that suggest Trump has a serious fact-deficiency problem).

Why does Trump’s penchant for making up facts matter? Indeed, shouldn’t we count on our President to tell us the truth? If he’ll create media squabbles about trivial matters like crowd size, what else might he lie about and what important issues could the media be covering instead? Climate change and other environmental issues, for example, should receive a lot more attention than it has in the past.

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TRUMP AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Meeting with business men on Tuesday (Jan 24), Trump promised to cut regulations by 75% and told the group that he’s something of an environmentalist and has “received many, many environmental awards.” He first made this claim in 2011; since then reporters have looked for evidence, finding none. The Washington Post did, however, give Trump an award for this claim: Four Pinocchios – in other words, “whoppers.” Apparently he’ll lie about anything.

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The new administration’s disregard for the health of our planet was displayed in several other ways this week. For one thing, Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday (Jan 24) giving the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access oil pipelines the go-ahead for construction. But, as The Hill reported, these are not done deals due to lawsuits pending in Nebraska and by the Standing Rock Sioux. 

The day before that (Jan 23), ProPublica confirmed that the Trump administration had “imposed a freeze on grants and contracts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], a move that could affect a significant part of the agency’s budget allocations and even threaten to disrupt core operations ranging from toxic cleanups to water quality testing.” This freeze goes along with Trump’s executive order to institute a hiring freeze for all new federal workers. 

BEST NEWSY THING FOR ME THIS WEEK

hidden-figures-poster-405x600Hidden Figures received three nominations for an Academy Award, including Best Picture. The film is based on a true story about 3 African American women whose talents and courage led to holding crucial NASA positions during the early years of the space race. My husband and I enjoyed the film on Wednesday. In my view, it’s a must-see!

Photo/Image Credits: Demonstrators at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, G. Morty Ortega/Getty Images; on the National Mall comparing Obama 2009, left, and Trump 2017 inauguration crowds, Reuters; four Pinocchios, Washington Post graphic; signs of protest near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times; and Hidden Figures official poster, 20th Century Fox.

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Political News In Brief: January 16-22

You may notice that my tone is different in this edition. Previously I strove for objectivity, but I couldn’t maintain it this week. Trump’s speech and the Women’s March, data on climate change and economic inequality – I couldn’t help but react. Perhaps you couldn’t either. In any case, I apologize upfront for my occasional editorial remarks.

TOP STORIES: From the Sublime to the Resisted Ridiculous

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Obama’s Farewell Press Conference

On Wednesday (Jan 18), Barack Obama – with grace and good humor, as well as warnings tempered with hope – told the White House press corps that he was looking forward to some quiet time and doesn’t plan to rush right back into the political fray. However, he did make it clear that he will speak out if he believes that America’s “core values” are at stake. Among the values he mentioned are freedom of the press, voting rights, absence of systematic discrimination, protection of children of undocumented parents, and the right to protest (quick read – NPR; detailed overview – NYT).

Trump’s Inaugural Speech

On Friday (Jan 20), Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. I enjoyed watching the usual pomp surrounding the ceremony but was appalled by Trump’s inaugural speech. It was dark, filled with negative exaggerations about the state of the nation, but thankfully short, running 16 minutes. Trump spoke as if he were at one of his rallies – the same divisive rhetoric and belligerent “strongman” tone. What should have been an uplifting celebration of the peaceful transition of power felt like a funeral for American values.

Perhaps the most chilling part of Trump’s speech was his repeated use of the phrase “America First,” the name of “the isolationist, defeatist, anti-Semitic national organization that urged the United States to appease Adolf Hitler” CNN. He put forth a warped image of America as having lost its greatness due, among other things, to “the ravages of other countries … destroying our jobs.” (Inaugural story told with photos – NPR; detailed story of the day – NYT.)

The next day (Jan 21) was much better

Turnout for Women’s Marches Greatly Exceeds Expectations

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Wonderfully diverse crowds of women, men, and children – with and without pink “pussy hats” – marched. Trump’s frightening “America First” inaugural speech may have helped swell the crowds. According to crowd scientists, “The women’s march in Washington was roughly three times the size of the audience at President Trump’s inauguration” (New York Times explains how experts arrived at this estimate.)

In the U.S. alone, it’s now estimated that up to three million marchers turned out, from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco and many places in between, including our own Madison, WI with its estimated 75,000 to 100,000. Estimates for other cities include over half a million in D.C., more than 400,000 in New York City, and hundreds of thousands more in Chicago and Los Angeles. There were also large marches abroad – in Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Berlin, Buenos Aires, and Sydney, to name a few, and even a small group in Paradise Bay, Antarctica (NYT, NPR, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).

The marchers were there “to express solidarity with the aims of the original march: opposition to President Trump’s agenda, and support of women’s rights and human rights in general,” wrote NPR. Not only was it an anti-inaugural march against a new president who lost the popular vote by almost 3 million, it was also a call to mobilize a national movement for action on progressive issues like abortion rights, sexual assault, and equal pay, as well as “immigrant rights, police brutality, mass incarceration, voter suppression and environmental protection” (NYT).

OTHER IMPORTANT NEWS

2016 Reported as Hottest Year on Record on same day Trump’s EPA Nominee Refuses to Attribute Global Warming to Human Activity

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USA Today reported, “The planet sizzled to its third straight record warm year in 2016, and human activity is to blame, federal scientists announced Wednesday” (Jan 18). According to paleoclimatic data, it’s been 125,000 years since the last time the earth was this hot.

“No leader can afford to ignore these results,” a leading economist told USA Today. And yet if the Senate confirms Trump’s nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, the results may be ignored.Not only has he sued the EPA 14 times in an effort to block clean air and water regulations, but also during his Senate hearing on Wednesday (Jan 18), Pruitt said that it’s debatable whether humans are part of the cause – a statement “not consistent with the scientific consensus on climate change” (NYT). Nevertheless, it’s likely that Pruitt will head the EPA.

Worth noting: “Less than an hour after taking the oath of office, the White House’s webpage on climate change disappeared” (The Hill)

Richest 8 Men Hold Half the World’s Wealth

Oxfam International, which annually releases data on the world’s wealth, announced on Monday (Jan 16) that 8 super rich men have as much wealth as the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people, half the world’s population. Oxfam’s executive director, Winnie Byanyima, called this disparity “obscene.” She said that economic inequality traps “hundreds of millions in poverty” and “is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.” Six of the men are Americans. (NPR)

BEST FEEL-GOOD MOMENTS OF THE WEEK: all those wonderful videos and photos of Women’s Marches around the globe

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Photo Credits: Trumps and Obamas on White House steps, Jim Watson/AFP/Getty; Women’s March in New York City, Nicole Craine for The New York Times; Ice in the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea region, Esther Horvath in The New York Times; Women’s March in Madison, WI, Amber Arnold for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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