Catching Up -- Lightning Round

Executive Orders

1. January 23 -- Reinstating the global gag rule (restricting international funding for organizations that provide abortions or information about abortion). Bad for the health, independence, and self-determination of women around the world.

2. January 23 -- Freezing the federal workforce (hiring freeze). Hard to see how the federal government can do all that it does effectively if it cannot hire people to do the work. Of course, dysfunction may be the goal. There is an exception for positions related to military, national security, and public safety. Some of our biggest and/or notable public safety threats are climate change, drinking water contamination (Flint, MI and other cities), and guns. So, naturally, I expect the hiring freeze does not apply to the EPA, NOAA, OSHA, HUD, USDA, HHS. And there will be new hires at the CDC to research gun violence.

3. January 24 -- Expediting environmental reviews on infrastructure projects. The opposite of a health-in-all-policies or kids-in-all-policies approach. Profit for crony capitalists now; environmental cleanup ... someday.

4. January 25-27 -- (1) The wall, (2) Pursuit of undocumented immigrants (includes defunding so-called sanctuary cities), (3) Visa and refugee program reforms (includes so-called Muslim ban). These actions hurt immigrant and refugee children and their families. They are unnecessary for increasing our security and improving our economy. They will instead worsen our security and decrease our economic growth potential. Children don't migrate, they flee. Here is an excellent article on the harms to children of Trump's immigration ban.

5. January 27 -- Strengthening the military. Already more than half of our discretionary spending goes to the military. Imagine if we spent just some of that money on foreign aid, education for women and girls around the world, climate change research, global renewable energy infrastructure, and diplomatic missions. If we did that, I think our need for military defense would be much less. And the world would be better off to boot.

6. January 30 -- Reducing regulation. An arbitrary mandate that for each new regulation, two are struck. This is premised the false notion that regulations, by definition, are bad. Robert Reich makes excellent arguments that refute this idea in his book, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and in abbreviated form in this blog post. Regulations are instrumental to a functioning democratic capitalist society. Regulations protect us from corporate abuses that privatize profits and socialize costs (see #7 below). Regulations protect our life savings, keep our food supply safe, and decrease water and air pollution. This is not to say that regulations should not be reviewed, or that some may be outdated or ill-conceived. But they are not inherently bad.

7. February 3 -- Financial system regulations and the fiduciary standard. This is likely to relax regulations that were put in place during the Great Recession to prevent future financial calamities. Steve Mnuchin, the new treasury secretary, profited from the housing bust. Imagine who might gain from the next preventable financial collapse?



January 13 -- Budget Resolution clearing the way to repeal the ACA. Since this passed, Republicans in Congress seem to be having difficulty replacing the ACA. That's because it is a good policy that helps millions of Americans.

January 24 (House) -- Permanent ban on the use of federal funds for abortions or health insurance that covers abortions. This will make health care less affordable and reproductive health care less attainable. Each year, hundreds of thousands of women make the heart-rending decision to have an abortion. That number is declining, probably due to increased access to contraception through the ACA. Instead of restricting access to legal abortion we should expand access to contraception and comprehensive sex education. When unintended pregnancies are carried to term, we should support moms and families with the social safety nets they need to thrive.

February 2 -- Repeal of the stream protection rule. Makes it easier to mine coal and pollute ground and surface water. No explanation needed here, except to say: If we want to decrease the impact of global warming, instead of burning more coal, we need to sprint in the opposite direction and invest heavily in renewable sources of energy. We cannot continue to support an industry that is contributing to our planet's demise. Clean coal isn't.

February 3 (House) -- Repeal of rule that addresses waste generated during oil and gas production. See above. Once again privatizing profit and socializing costs, spoiling our planet.

February 7 (Senate) -- Approval of nomination of Betsy DeVos to be Education Secretary. Belief in the value of public education is a prerequisite for this post. Fifty Republican Senators and VP Mike Pence thought otherwise. Of note, DeVos had donated $26,000 to Republicans on the Senate HELP committee from 2014 to 2015.

February 8 (Senate) -- Approval of nomination of Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General. The nation's top law enforcement official is now someone who has a sketchy history of racism, is a hardliner on immigration, and is a climate-science skeptic. He is also so close to President Trump that his independence cannot be trusted.

February 10 (Senate) -- Approval of nomination of Tom Price to be Secretary of HHS. A list of Price's qualifications to be HHS Secretary: he is a physician. All indications are that Price will be an instrument of destruction on the ACA and Medicaid, harming low-income children and children with special health care needs.

February 13 (Senate) -- Approval of nomination of David Shulkin to be Secretary of the VA. Shulkin is highly qualified for the job. The VA has very little impact on children. However, children of vets will benefit if and when their parents get improved access to mental and physical health care.

Immigration Ban

"... They see us [Americans] as having opportunities. But again, they're thinking of survival. They're not thinking of dreams like the American. You know -- how we think."  -- Kenia, speaking about her family in El Salvador, This American Life, episode 608, aired January 20, 2017

"The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war."  -- President George W. Bush, September 17, 2001

It is astonishing and disheartening to me that, fifteen years after 9/11, we have learned so little about terrorism -- and thought so little of our own values -- that we could elect a President who has called for a "total and complete" ban on Muslim immigration to the United States. It is not surprising to me that President Trump has acted to fulfill that promise. In doing so, he has caused confusion, heartbreak, and outrage.

In my view, the President's rash immigration ban constitutes two major wrongs. First, it is counterproductive. Every analysis I have seen concludes that this action will bolster recruitment to terrorist organizations more than it will prevent domestic terrorism (which is not at all). Second, and more grave, it is un-American. This immigration ban is anathema to American ideals of freedom and liberty and our identity as a nation of immigrants.

The "freedom" that Republicans pined for when Obama was president is awfully hard to identify under the Trump administration. Freedom of the press? The press is the "opposition party" and "should keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while." Freedom of religion? Not if you are a Muslim refugee. Land of opportunity? If you are lucky enough to work at a company that gets a bespoke $7 million tax break or have an extra $100,000 for your golf club membership. 

Fortunately, millions of Americans have loftier ideals and higher expectations than our president. Millions of us still believe that America can be both safe and open -- and that closing our borders, instead of making us stronger, makes us smaller and weaker and alone. We are exercising our rights to free speech and freedom of assembly to protest Trump's policies. Lawyers are volunteering time to defend immigrants. Business leaders are speaking out. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are donating to the ACLU. State Department officials are voicing dissent. The Acting Attorney General is defying Trump's executive order.

I hope that people around the world will see that our liberal democracy can thrive even after electing a president with paranoid thoughts and bigoted ideology.

Update: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by President Trump a few hours after defying him.