Weekly News Roundup & Sobriety

Trump had an active and troubling first week as President. Here is a list of 60 things that happened this week, with citations so you can read more, organized by category.  Pay attention.

The Inauguration Itself

  • The Trump team reportedly requested tanks, missiles, and other military accoutrement at the inaugural parade in order to create a spectacle a la North Korea. The military declined.
  • Trump’s inauguration was the least viewed on television in 40 years.
  • Trump named his inauguration a National Day of Patriotic Devotion, apparently drawing inspiration from Chinese propaganda.
  • A cake photographed at one of the inauguration parties was a direct rip off of a cake at an Obama inauguration party. The bakery announced this was intentional, and all proceeds from their inaugural catering will be donated to the Human Rights Campaign as a slight against the Trump administration.
  • Trump gave an inauguration speech with deeply disturbing imagery, including the term “American Carnage,” that painted a bleak picture of the current state of the nation.
  • The bottom line was the policy “America First,” which harkens back to the pre-WW2 policy of appeasing Hitler. This is not the first time Trump has been known to draw inspiration from Hitler.

Trump’s First Days

  • Trump deems his third day in office his first, after defying convention and deciding to take his first two days off in order to participate in inauguration celebrations.
  • Reports of how Trump spends his time in the White House indicate his habits from the campaign trail have changed little: he still devotes hours a day to watching cable TV news
  • Trump is still using an unsecured Android phone as President, leaving his communications open to hacking and eavesdropping, and defying government policy in a way similar to the way Trump criticized Clinton for doing during her time as Secretary of State, but worse
  • Large portions of Trump’s staff are reportedly using private email servers for government business, which, while technically legal, is also what Clinton was so criticized by Republicans for doing, indicating an extreme double standard among Republican ranks: it’s treason if she did it and she should be in jail, but it’s ok if we do it.
  • Trump signed Executive Orders in support of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Despite the questionable legality of the orders, which are being challenged, Trump claimed they would create many well paying American jobs. A state department report from 2014, however, notes that the Keystone XL pipeline will create a grand total of 35 (no, that’s not missing a digit) permanent positions.
  • Donald Trump tweets a threat to “send the feds into Chicago” after apparently hearing a segment on Bill O’Reilly’s show. Whether that meant martial law, national guard, or what is unclear.
  • The Administration indicated it wanted to eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for The Humanities, which fund NPR and PBS, and support 350 local public television channels
  • The administration confirmed it would keep on James Comey as head of the FBI. Comey has repeatedly violated ethics rules, if not the Hatch Act outright, on behalf of the Trump campaign.
  • Trump met with 12 CEOs at the White House to discuss job creation and his America First policy, while saying his administration would cut corporate taxes, decrease regulation, but impose a border tax.
  • Trump signed a swathe of Executive Orders after criticizing the Obama administration for governing unilaterally through executive orders and going so far as to suggest that this action was unconstitutional.
  • The president signed an executive order ending the US-EU Data Shield Agreement, in a move aimed at exempting non-citizens or permanent residents from privacy laws.

Foreign Policy Turbulence

  • Trump Tweets indicate that the US should keep the oil of countries in which it conducts military interventions, which would be a major shift in the nature of our diplomatic relations that would make all relations with countries that don’t support war profiteering difficult. Iraqi officials are on edge.
  • Trump plans to soon sign an executive order re-authorizing torture by the CIA  and reinstating black site prisons. McCain and the Senate Armed Services Committee strongly disagreed.
  • The entire senior leadership of the State Department resigned in protest.
  • The White House then misspelled Theresa May’s name three times in an official schedule of her visit beginning today (Friday). Unsurprising given State Department leadership who might have caught the blunder quit yesterday.
  • The Administration began preparing an executive order aimed at dramatically reducing US funding to and involvement in the United Nations and other international organizations, calling for a 40% reduction in US funding to such groups, as Trump signals he sees little value in trying to maintain international peace. Another order will call for a moratorium on new multilateral treaties, as Trump wants to exclusively negotiate one-to-one.

Attacks on LGBT rights

  • Immediately after the inauguration, the refresh of whitehouse.gov removes all mention of LGBT policy, signaling that the Trump administration will take a negative view towards LGBT equality despite some indications from Trump that he would be an ally, enforcing his staff’s hardline anti-LGBT bias.
  • HIV AIDS prevention policy is also removed from whitehouse.gov
  • Trump pledges to sign “First Amendment Defense Act” if it comes to his desk, which would give blanket legalization nation-wide to any and all discrimination against LGBT people so long as the discriminator has a “sincerely held religious belief.” This includes discrimination in housing, employment, business, restaurants, healthcare, and more.
  • Trump administration removes apology to LGBT community issued by former Secretary of State John Kerry for history of discrimination against LGBT staff from the Department of State website.
  • Sean Spicer says he is unfamiliar with Obama-era order mandating equal protections and benefits for LGBT employees of federal contractors, cannot say whether or not the administration would keep it in place.
  • Kellyanne Conway wore a revolutionary-war inspired Gucci ensemble to Trump’s inauguration that caused a splash on the Internet. Jokes implied that this is what happens when you lose all of your gay friends. For the record, she never had any. If she did, they would have taught her about using conditioner and a hair straightener before appearing on national television over a decade ago.

Press Conferences & Public Outreach

  • Sean Spicer spends the first press conference of the Trump Presidency berating the press for accurately covering the size of the crowds at Trump’s inauguration, citing facts that have been proven false to support his argument (lying) and took no questions afterwards.
  • Kellyanne Conway describes the lies at Spicer’s conference as “Alternative Facts” on national television. Amazon sells out of copies of 1984. Ingsoc informed me these are unrelated.
  • Spicer’s second news conference details how Trump’s feelings are hurt from all the negative press coverage, and instead of addressing concerns the press has been raising, Spicer says the press should get in line with the Administration’s talking points and report what the Administration tells them to. Press declines.
  • The White House shut down its comments line, directing callers to use Facebook messenger. Whether to message Donald J Trump or the White House is unclear, as neither page accepts messages through the platform, meaning there is currently no way to contact the White House as a concerned citizen.
  • Six members of the press are facing felony charges for coverage of unrest during the inauguration in clearly trumped up charges.
  • Buzzfeed, an outlet Trump described as a “failing pile of garbage,” has hired a full-time reporter to cover Trump’s relationship with the press.
  • Steve Bannon said the “press should keep its mouth shut,” that the “media is the opposition party,” said the president was in a “running war with the media,” and that the press were “among the most dishonest people on earth,” again bringing Trump talking points closely in line with Hitler’s concept of the Luegenpresse.

Voter Fraud

  • Trump doubled down on his claim that millions of people voted illegally in the election, in an attempt to legitimize his victory in the electoral college while losing the popular vote by 3 million votes. This in fact undermines the legitimacy of his victory. Taking a new tac, news agencies demand that Trump begin an investigation into voter fraud if he does in fact have evidence of fraud. No evidence has been released because there is none, but Trump announced he would form an investigation. The independence of such an investigation, and what the scope of its findings and recommendations would be, is still unclear.
  • The White House announced that an investigation into voter fraud would only target states that had not voted for the President in the last election.
  • Meanwhile Steve Bannon, Ivanka Trump, Tiffany Trump, and other senior advisors are shown to be registered to vote in multiple states, a common situation as deregistering to vote in a state you’ve previously lived in or after you’ve died are both notoriously difficult to do, but points out the hypocrisy at the heart of the Trump organization. I mean administration. Or is there a difference?

Conflicts of Interest

  • Kellyanne Conway announced Trump would not release his tax returns, directly contravening campaign promises to do so once his “audit” was complete.
  • A team of former ethics advisors for Bush and Obama filed a lawsuit through a non-profit organization regarding Trump’s conflicts of interest, which Trump has thus far flat out refused to solve. Discovery in this case could lead to Trump’s tax returns, among other documents detailing his business entanglements and debts.
  • Trump Hotels is planning a massive US expansion, amid calls for Trump to divest from the chain.
  • The Trump Organization has begun lawyering up for expected conflict of interest legal battles.
  • Mar-a-lago, Trump’s Florida golf club he has indicated will be the “winter white house” doubled its initiation fees after the President made clear he will spend a lot of time there, a clear ethics violation.

Activity in the Congress & Repealing the Affordable Care Act

  • The House GOP quietly closed its investigation into the Flint Water Crisis. The people of Flint still do not have clean drinking water as lead pipes remain in place.
  • Congress changed rules for selling federal land to say that land can now be sold if it costs money to keep up and provides no provable value to the people (how do you prove the value of nature? Through science, which is also being cut), paving the way for the potential sale of 640 million acres of federal land or transferral to the states, where rules on maintaining public access are lighter.
  • The House passed a law under which any rules created by a federal agency must be approved by congress within 70 days of being instated, a move which promises to increase gridlock in Washington.
  • The GOP has still not offered a replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act.

Muzzling the Scientific Community

Building The Wall

Women’s Rights and the Women’s March on Washington

  • Trump began to take steps to limit access to reproductive healthcare for women through executive orders reinstating a prohibition on companies funded by US taxpayers from discussing abortions. He signed the order surrounded by men, not good optics for someone who claims to be good at PR, and inciting fury online.
  • Between three and five million people participated in the Women’s March in US cities and around the world, but in DC alone there were more marchers than attendees of the inauguration,
  • National marches are now being planned by a group of concerned Scientists and by national LGBT rights groups.
  • Trump reinstates the global gag rule, preventing any group receiving U.S. healthcare aid not only from performing abortions – even if the funding for them comes from another source – but also from mentioning abortion in any form such as referrals, counseling, or information

 

Hostile Messages to the LGBT Community

As a gay man with supportive, but also Trump-supporting family members, something I heard frequently during the campaign process was that Trump was actually a friend to the LGBT community, despite the clearly hostile record most of his senior staffers have on LGBT rights, or even on basic LGBT decency.

But as a member of the LGBT community, and someone who has been following politics for years, I also know the power of small signs, and the policy positions they are designed to indicate. And while Trump himself may not understand these subtleties, his chief advisors are Washington insiders, and if they know better than to send a major signal unintentionally.

Immediately after the inauguration was complete on Friday, the White House website was refreshed to represent the incoming administration and its goals, and to remove the Obama administration’s messaging and language. All as it should be.

What was noticeably absent after the page refresh was the White House policy pages for LGBT rights and HIV policy. Whitehouse.gov/lgbt now yields a 404 error, and a search for LGBT yields a the message “Sorry, no results found for ‘LGBT’. Try entering fewer or broader query terms.”

I’m not sure how much more I can broaden “LGBT,” or how much clearer the message could be here, but if you’re a member of the LGBT community or an ally, this is a clear message from the Trump White House: the homophobia of Trump’s advisors has overruled his formerly-cosmopolitan views.

Booker falls to Big Pharma

Sen. Cory Booker (NJ) went from being a hero to a villain in 48 hours last week. He initially drew praise for being the first senator to testify against another sitting senator during the trial of Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions. But praise quickly turned to anger among Democratic circles when Booker and 12 other Democrats voted against the Sanders- Klobuchar amendment, which would have allowed Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada, where they are much cheaper. Especially agonizing to social media was that this amendment had attracted the support of several Republicans and so stood a chance of passing.

Booker defended his vote by saying he was looking after the interests of his constituents, many of whom work in the high-powered pharmaceutical corridor. Now, the reason this qualifies for the blue drink this week isn’t because arguably Booker and other Democrats have uncomfortably close ties with the pharmaceutical industry and/or this was a lost chance to actually make some positive headway in lowering prescription drug prices, an issue with bipartisan support.

The reason we’re writing about it is because this once again highlights the chaos running amok in the Democratic Party. The slew of articles that came out either in support or condemnation of Booker, often tinged with not-so-subtle ‘Berniecrat’ or ‘Hillary’ vibes, showcase the deep divisions that remain unresolved and to a large extent un-discussed. At a debate between the various individuals running for DNC chair hosted by Huffington Post Wednesday night the candidates made calls for ‘unity’ but didn’t make too much discussion of the genuine issues that divide the Democratic Party, much less have someone come out as a truly unifying figure. If the Democrats want to make any headway in gaining back ground, the party needs to decide where they stand, and then stand united.

Weekly News Roundup & Mad Dog Shot

So… This week was a trainwreck. Republicans gutted congressional ethics oversight, Trump shouted at CNN I mean held a press conference, Sessions was the first of Trump’s cabinet nominees to get a hearing, and an anti-vaxer may be put in charge of vaccine safety… and he’s a Kennedy. At least Chris Christie may be back to doing something productive (we hope).

One Drink: If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Remember last week when we reported a successful instance of democracy in action, where concerned citizens called their representatives to voice their objections to a House rules change which would gut the Office of Congressional Ethics and said rule change was quickly withdrawn in response? If it sounded too good to be true, that’s because it was.

This public outcry may have saved the OCE itself, which would have been significantly hobbled in its ability to conduct independent investigations and communicate with the public through the original rules change. However, the newly sworn in Congress still managed to slip a one sentence change through in the midst of all the hubbub that may be just as obstructive. It states that, “Records created, generated, or received by the congressional office of a Member … are exclusively the personal property of the individual member … and such Member … has control over such records.”

More simply put, each member of Congress now owns any document that comes across their desk, and are under no obligation to release them, regardless of their relevance to a potential investigation or vested public interest. So, if you’re a Congressperson reading this, go ahead and buy that $5,000 chandelier you’ve had your eye on with taxpayer money! That receipt, and any other similarly incriminating documents, are now untouchable unless you hand them over. Which you would totally do if you had documented proof of your own unethical behavior, right?

Two Drink: One Doozy of a News Conference

If anyone believed that the office would make the man, I hope Wednesday’s press conference disabused them of that misconception.

What the Guardian described aptly as a “trainwreck of a press conference” started with a valid, bipartisan policy point: curbing prescription drug prices (the US is the only developed nation not to have a government body to negotiate prices with drug companies, resulting in absurd discrepancies between US and European or Canadian prices). But then it quickly spiraled out of control.

A highlight was Trump screaming at a CNN reporter and calling CNN “Fake News” (Quartz wrote a great piece after the press conference called “An obituary for fake news,” but I digress). Trump also used a pile of paperwork as a prop to show how hard he’s been working on handing over his business to his children, which the Director of the Office of Government Ethics immediately described as woefully inadequate. And then there’s Russia- even Trump’s law firm has significant ties to Russia.

TL;DR, nothing we didn’t know, everything we expected. Trump acted like a toddler, has no plans to meaningfully separate his business and the presidency, and continues to flatter Russia in a way that goes well beyond any reasonable explanation. Lawyers are going to have a field day over the next year tearing his conduct apart. It’s going to be Watergate but on steroids.

Red Drink: Not Too Racist for 2017

In the first of many confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees, prolific racist Jeff Sessions on Tuesday sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee. His mere presence there as nominee for US Attorney General was impressive, given that he was previously denied an appointment by the Senate for another, lesser judicial appointment (federal judge) due to his egregious record on race and voting rights.

But we’re in a bold new world! Voting rights are well enshrined and no longer contested by any political party or candidate for reasons like race. So clearly the leader of the DOJ, the federal agency responsible for promoting and defending voting rights can be excused for not believing in them. Right?

Proving that he has moved past his prior views on race, Sessions submitted an answer to a Senate Judicial questionnaire identifying four cases he “personally handled” as “significant litigated matters” backing up his “strong civil rights record”. Unfortunately, as it turns out, Sessions has a different definition of “personally handled’ than many of us, as after the questionnaire was made public those actually involved in the cases came out and clarified that Sessions had “zero involvement”. Oops.

These are simple mistakes though. In contrast to Kellyanne Conway’s preferred methods of communication, let’s listen to what he actually has to say to the committee. In response to a question about whether “a secular person has just as good a claim to understanding the truth” Sessions, in open session, replied “Well, I’m not sure”.

In what is truly a feat we never thought possible, Sessions with that line brought the Committee chambers to total silence for several seconds. Who says he can’t accomplish great things?

Blue Drink: Robert Kennedy & Vaccines: Fox In Charge of the Hen House

We got a rare pick this week across party lines by the incoming administration to snatch someone the Democrats are probably happy to be rid of. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, of the Kennedy dynasty and as blue as they come, is saying he was asked to head a commission on vaccine safety. He is also a prominent skeptic of vaccines. Trump has denied the appointment, saying he was exploring putting Kennedy in a committee on Autism, which, were it true, could easily be interpreted by an avid anti-vaccination critic like Kennedy as one and the same.

Somehow, it would be fitting for the president-elect who who won by denying cold hard facts to go to the original fact-denying movement for guidance.

For the record, Vaccines work, vaccines do not cause autism, and antivaxers caused a measles outbreak in California in 2015 because they weakened the herd immunity built by vaccines that protects all of us.

Silver Linings: Chris Christie to Focus on his Strengths

After falling from grace in the Trump circle, Chris Christie (still acting Governor of New Jersey) used his State of the State speech in New Jersey this week to return to the topic of the drug abuse and addiction epidemic occurring in the state (and, indeed, all over the northeast and midwest).

For anyone who hasn’t seen this powerful video, Chris Christie is a passionate defender of people who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction, and advocates sensible reform for minor drug offenders. If Christie could channel his national platform into addiction policy, he could make a serious positive impact on our country, and I wish him luck.

Drink of the Week: Mad Dog Shot

Because confirmation hearings. Get it?

  • 1oz Vodka
  • 1tsp raspberry syrup
  • 2-5 drops tabasco sauce

Shake ingredients with lots of ice. Down quickly. (From 1001 Cocktails)

 

Weekly News Roundup & Sparkling Pear and Cranberry Cocktail

We’re back from the holidays, and boy is there a lot of BS this week. We’re talking about Megyn Kelly bailing from Fox (good for her! May be bad for us…), Trump siding with Julian Assange against the CIA (living as a fugitive in the Ecuadorian Embassy really underscores Assange’s reputability), Republicans’ attempt to gut the congressional ethics committee and immediate backtrack, and the Obama administration’s Israel policy. All pretty light stuff.

One Drink: Sinking Ship? Megyn Kelly bails from Fox

Confirmed this week: Megyn Kelly is leaving Fox for NBC. What’s disheartening is that Megyn Kelly was a moderating voice at Fox, compared to the very reasonable and totally not shout-ey Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. With her gone, the future direction of the organization is even more unclear, and with millions of Americans using Fox as their primary or solitary news source, whether the channel pivots centrist as a balance to the conservative web, or whether it goes further right and becomes a TV outpost for the Breitbart viewership, has national consequences.

Also, quick reminder – TV presenters are reporters, and you should value them for their ability to conduct good interviews, not on their own personal views. I was struck by some articles I read about Kelly’s transition expressing concern that many of her personal views were conservative, and questioning how she could betray the left in such a way. Kelly is a conservative, and always has been. If you’re a far-left hippie, of course her personal views are not going to appeal to you. But that doesn’t mean she can’t do her job, as clearly demonstrated in her scathing questions for Trump during the presidential debate she moderated, and the grace with which she responded to all of the vitriol from Trump and his supporters afterwards.

Nobody should be looking to TV presenters as leaders of political movements, unless you consider Trump a TV presenter. Or Oprah. Oh wait…

Two Drink: Assange & Putin are totally trustworthy, right?

Despite initially disagreeing, the FBI, the CIA, and the rest of the 12 US Intelligence Agencies (why do we have that many?) are now uniting and doubling down on their accusations of Russian hacking and interference in the US elections.

And Trump? Wait for it… Trump is now praising Julian Assange, the head of Wikileaks and Russian puppet who is living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to escape child rape charges in Sweden and potential extradition to the United States. The swamp gets ever swampier. So now, on one side, you have Donald Trump, Julian Assange, and Vladimir Putin, who all seem to think that Russia had nothing to do with the DNC hacks or any other election interference, and on the other side, you have 12 US Intelligence agencies and Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate, who have evidence that Russia was behind the hack.

Assange is now claiming that the Russian hacking is a smokescreen, and that the Obama administration is jumping on it to try to “delegitimize” the upcoming Trump administration. Poor Donald Trump, wouldn’t being delegitimized be so nasty? Karma sure is a bitch.

Trump’s continued ignorance on Russian hacking displays an alarming willingness to trust universally discredited arguments to get Russia off the hook. He’s either doing some bizarre negotiation tactic and doesn’t realize how much it’s backfiring (unlikely), or he’s compromised by debt or some other blackmail to the Russian state. At this rate, who knows? Wouldn’t you vote for a Putin Assange ticket in 2020 from the Fascist party for President.

Red Drink: Ethics Schmethics

The first action the newly sworn in Republican congress took on Monday, before even officially convening for the first time, was to vote in a closed-door meeting to approve rules changes that would gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog established in 2008 after ethics violations sent three congressmen to jail in one term. This joke writes itself. These people are so emboldened by their election win that they thought they could follow in the president elect’s footsteps and become petty kleptocrats themselves. If he does it, why can’t they?

Even Trump thought this was a step too far. You know you’ve made a serious mistake down the path of moral decay when the king of conflicts of interest says that your actions fly in the face of ethical decency (even if he was saying that just because it took the spotlight away from him for five unbearable seconds).

Well, the people were having none of it, and Americans called their representatives in such large numbers to express their outrage that within 24 hours the Republicans had backed down. All of this before the term even started. We’re in for a doozie.

Blue Drink: Obama’s Israel Move: Burning Bridges

What was initially pitched as one of the most hand-holding transitions of power between administrations has now turned into an all-out grudge match between Obama and Trump.

Last week, the US abstained from U.N. Resolution 2334, condemning Israeli settlement activity in a unanimous vote for the non-binding resolution aimed at calling Israel out for allegedly violating international law and stalling the peace process through settlement building (reminder: Israel and Palestine have both wrenched the peace process, and this is not new). Rumors from Israel seem to imply that the US was working behind the scenes to promote the resolution, a direct contradiction of US policy to date regarding Israel.

Whatever your thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and settlement growth are, this was bad form from the Obama administration. While Netanyahu and Obama have never had a good relationship, Obama appeared to put his personal beef with the Israeli government aside in favor of bilateral ties with the only stable democracy in the Middle East that are popular in the US and Israel. Indeed, the Obama administration conducted the largest arms deal with Israel to date last year, totaling $38bn over the next 10 years. So why is Obama ending his term with a petty slight against a long-time ally? It would seem Obama is stooping to Trump’s level just to spite him before leaving office.

Congress has already come out in bipartisan condemnation of the resolution, as have Trump and Netanyahu, who says he’s hoping for a more friendly administration under the new President, which he’ll no doubt get.

Silver Linings: Scraping the Barrel: Nobody Will Perform At The Inauguration

As we get closer to the inauguration, the epic b-list of celebrity performers planning to join the show begins to come to light, and an obvious theme has come forward: nobody who values their career will come anywhere near the inauguration roadshow. It’s heartening to see that celebrities realize that most fans in and outside of the US see an association with Trump as a major negative (except Kanye, but then, I said celebrities, so…).

If Trump doesn’t pay his taxes, happy January, ‘cause I’m not payin’ mine either!

The Bartender

 

Drink of the Week: Sparkling Pear & Cranberry Cocktail

Start the New Year off on a boozy note with the leftover Champagne from your New Year party (or, if you’re like us here at RDBD, go buy some more Champagne, because there’s none left).  You’ll need:

  • Cranberries
  • Pear Nectar
  • Champagne
  • Sprig of Rosemary for garnish

Soak the cranberries in a small amount of hot water until cool, then combine a couple of cranberries and a spoonful of pear nectar into a champagne flute. Fill with Champagne, and garnish with a rosemary sprig. From Martha Stewart.