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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

It’s been just seven days since Donald Trump took office. While the media spent most of that time spilling digital ink over inauguration numbers, the new administration was diminishing women’s health and safety around the world, chipping away at health care for millions of Americans, and pouring money that could feed and insure children into a useless garbage heap along the border. It was a bad week for politics and decency, which have always been on frigid terms, but are now dead to each other.

There were other things, too. Trump threatened Chicago with martial law on what he thought was a double-dog dare from fellow racist Bill O’Reilly. He promised to install monitors—glorified tattletales, really—to oversee federal agencies and report back to brass at the White House. After again trotting out the lie about immigrants and dead people voting, Trump promised an investigation into the widely debunked issue of election fraud (though not into Russian election meddling), which should start with his own family and staff. Speaking of Steve Bannon, the grand wizard of the so-called alt-right and White House senior adviser continued the Trump team’s cynical campaign to keep their base paranoid, uninformed, and stupid by pretending their boss is a victim of the press. Newsweek discovered Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, and Jared Kushner all have email accounts on a private system. And as the final, delusional cherry on the poisonous cake, Trump compared himself to Abraham Lincoln.

He also signed a bunch of executive orders. Far more important than all the background noise is the authoritarian craziness that Trump is codifying into law. These plans and policies will wreak irreparable havoc and damage, causing suffering and pain to millions in the U.S. and beyond. Remember—this is just seven days’ worth of destruction. We’ve got four more years of this.

Here’s 9 terrible things Trump did in just seven days.

1. Greenlit the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines.

On Tuesday, Trump signed three executive orders to benefit oil pipelines and remove Obama environmental protections. The Dakota Access memorandum notes the pipeline is “90 percent complete,” and seeks to expedite approvals for permits to “construct and operate the DAPL, including easements or rights-of-way to cross Federal areas.” The Keystone order invites “TransCanada Keystone Pipeline to promptly re-submit its application to the Department of State” for fast-tracked approval within 60 days. Trump also signed an order demanding that the Secretary of Commerce devise a plan ensuring all pipelines are constructed using U.S. iron and steel. There are outstanding questions about what the orders will actually mean, since they mandate quick turnarounds on approvals but include no actual directives about resuming construction.

It’s worth pointing out here that Trump, who has refused to divest of his many business conflicts, has been an investor in one pipeline and may still have holdings in the other. As Huffington Post writer Michael McLaughlin notes:

In May 2015, according to campaign disclosure reports, Trump owned between $500,000 and $1 million worth of shares of Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s lead developer, but had less than $50,000 invested when he sold off the remainder of his shares this summer, according to The Washington Post. As of last May, Trump had at least $100,000 invested in Phillips 66, which owns a quarter of the oil line.

Kelcy Warren, head of DAPL builder Energy Transfer Partners, donated more than $100,000 to various Trump supporting entities over the course of the presidential campaign. Though Trump reportedly sold off his ETP holdings last year, other investors were surely heartened by the executive action. Fortune reports that one day after the memorandum was signed, shares of the company were moving precipitously upward.

2. Reinstated the anti-abortion global ‘gag rule,’ which will increase the number of unsafe abortions around the world.

The Helms Amendment has outlawed the use of U.S. foreign aid dollars to fund abortion services to women since the early 1970s. That is not enough to appease the rabid anti-reproductive justice movement in this country, which won’t be satisfied until it threatens the health of every woman around the world. Hence Trump’s signing of an order that brings back Ronald Reagan’s 1984 Mexico City Policy—last in effect during the Bush 43 era—which bans U.S. support to foreign organizations that offer abortion or abortion counseling to women. Essentially, the U.S. will now tell foreign organizations it helps support in even the smallest of ways how to spend their own money. As Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards explains:

This means that if a clinic receives even $1 of U.S. foreign assistance for family planning, its doctors and nurses are limited in what they can do to help their patients. They can’t counsel a woman on the full range of health options legally available to her, refer her to another provider for specialized care, or even give her a pamphlet with medically accurate information. That’s why we call it the global gag rule, because it prevents doctors from talking to their patients and providing services that are legal in their own countries—and in the U.S.—and it keeps people from participating in the democratic process of their own countries. This means clinics closing their doors, more unintended pregnancies, and more unsafe abortion.

It also means that potentially billions of dollars will be withheld with organizations doing lifesaving medical research and other work beyond U.S. borders. Vox notes that the Trump order expands on the amount of affected funding by 15 times:

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on health issues, the policy will now apply to aid money coming not just from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), as before, but also from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and even to Peace Corps volunteers working on family planning in the field.

3. Scrapped a money-saving fee cut for new homeowners.

The very first post-inaugural move Trump made was signing an executive order voiding President Obama’s mortgage cost reduction. The .25 percent cut to federal mortgage insurance, set to take effect today, would have saved new homeowners roughly $500 a year. The rate drop would have benefited first-time and lower-income home buyers with Federal Housing Authority-backed mortgage loans. For a self-proclaimed warrior for the middle class, it’s a seemingly contradictory first action to take, unless said warrior is also a pathological liar, in which case it makes total sense.

4. Froze federal hires.

On Monday, Trump ordered a hiring freeze on most government workers. The memorandum states that “no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created,” with exceptions for military, public safety, and national security personnel. The order cuts off positions for thousands of highly skilled scientists, engineers, and nurses—who are not exempt under the “public safety” clause—many of whom are actually indispensable to the stated goals of the Trump administration. The order also places a burden on job-seeking veterans, who represent 30 percent of federal workers and are given preferential treatment in government hiring, according to Military.com. Vets who were already in process toward being hired for a federal position will no longer be up for those roles. The site also notes, “the hiring freeze would apply to the VA, which had been seeking to bring on 2,000 new employees to help clear up appointment backlogs and improve care.” More than half a million veterans already endure month-long waits for attention at the agency.

“President Trump’s action will disrupt government programs and services that benefit everyone, and actually increase taxpayer costs by forcing agencies to hire more expensive contractors to do work that civilian government employees are already doing for far less,” David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told the Washington Post. “This hiring freeze will mean longer lines at Social Security offices, fewer workplace safety inspections, less oversight of environmental polluters, and greater risk to our nation’s food supply and clean water systems.”

5. Began plans to build the big, stupid wall and other nods to his base of anti-immigrant hysterics.

Citing “alternative facts” not worth repeating about Mexican immigration, Trump’s “Border Security” executive order states that Congress will allot federal funds—that’s “taxpayer dollars” in plainspeak—for the “immediate construction” of a southern border wall. It includes plans to increase the number of border patrol agents by 5,000 and construct more detention facilities, and outlines a broad crackdown on immigrants who cross the southern border.

Paul Ryan, who is apparently confused about what the term “fiscal conservative” means, says Congress will pony up the $10-$15 billion it does not have for children and veterans’ health care or welfare to build Trump’s completely useless monstrosity. The entire Republican Party is still peddling the lie that Mexico will pay as soon as it receives the invoice for the wall order, though Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto again dismissed that insane, illogical idea on Wednesday. On Thursday, Nieto canceled a meeting with Trump.

6. Targeted sanctuary cities.

In a separate order, Trump takes aim at sanctuary cities, banning federal funds to jurisdictions that “willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States.” As activist and policy analyst Samuel Sinyangwe notes on Twitter, the State Homeland Security Program, Urban Area Security Initiative, and Department of Homeland Security collectively provide $275 million to New York City each year in federal anti-terrorism funds that would be cut under Trump’s new action.

For an added touch of useless pettiness, Trump’s order includes an attempt at public shaming in Section 8b, which states the administration will “make public a comprehensive [weekly] list of criminal actions committed by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens.” The next time you wonder how government is wasting time and money, remember that your tax dollars (but not Trump’s, because he reportedly doesn’t pay taxes) are funding junk like this.

7. Started dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

In an order purporting to “minimize the economic burden” of the ACA, Trump instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services and heads of other departments to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from [and] delay” requirements of the Obamacare law. Because of the lack of preciseness in the order, experts were unable to pin down precisely how and when changes would start to take effect. There’s also the fact that Republicans, despite dozens of attempts to repeal the plan and years of time to brainstorm, have offered neither a replacement plan nor concrete strategy for its implementation.

“The order could affect virtually anything in the law, provided it is couched as a delay in implementing the law,” Stuart Butler, of the Brookings Institution, told Reuters.

Robert Laszewski, head of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, has spoken and written about the problems with Obamacare over the years. Despite recognizing the plan’s imperfections, Laszewski believes Trump and the GOP’s actions on health care will harm millions of ACA subscribers.

“Instead of sending a signal that there’s going to be an orderly transition, they’ve sent a signal that it’s going to be a disorderly transition,” Laszewski told the Washington Post. “How does the Trump administration think this is not going to make the situation worse?”

8. Demanded half-assed environmental reviews so development can proceed, consequences be damned.

“Too often, infrastructure projects in the United States have been routinely and excessively delayed by agency processes and procedures,” the executive order expediting environmental reviews and approvals reads. “These delays have increased project costs and blocked the American people from the full benefits of increased infrastructure investments, which are important to allowing Americans to compete and win on the world economic stage.”

To keep pesky things like clean air and water quality concerns from getting in the way of quick and dirty major infrastructure developments, Trump’s executive order will “streamline and expedite…environmental reviews and approvals for all infrastructure projects.”

The order directs the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality to make a decision within 30 days on “high priority” projects such as “port facilities, airports, pipelines, bridges, and highways.” All things that are utterly useless if we all sicken and die from drinking polluted water or breathing toxic air.

Once again, predicting how this will all shake out is difficult. “It remained unclear how Trump’s order would expedite those environmental reviews,” Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin write at the Washington Post. “Many are statutory and the legislation that created them cannot be swept aside by an executive order.”

9. Put gag orders on multiple government agencies and removed vital internet content.

Staffers at the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, Interior Department, National Institutes of Health, Department of Agriculture, Health and Human Services (which includes the CDC and Food and Drug Administration), and other agencies were reportedly told not to speak to the press or provide information to the public for an indefinite period. New projects were also halted at a number of agencies.

The EPA was instructed by the Trump administration to take down its website page on climate change, according to a Reuters report. There were reports that the Trump team would be reviewing previous EPA studies and numbers, and also embargoing new studies pending review. Those steps follow the Trump transition team’s request that the Energy Department fork over the names of staff who worked on climate change issues. The team also asked the State Department for a list of positions and programs aimed at achieving gender equality.

That effectively muzzles agencies concerned with science, health, the environment, medicine and food. Essentially, everything critical to human survival.

Perhaps bowing to public outcry, USDA officials reportedly rescinded the gag order on Tuesday. There were reports of agencies going rogue, like these supposed unauthorized Twitter accounts of federal science workers, or the now offline but cached at the @WhiteHouseLeaks account. There was also the Badlands National Park Twitter, which for a few hours rebelliously tweeted climate change facts.

In the minutes after Trump’s inauguration, pages dedicated to civil rights, climate change, LGBT rights, and health care disappeared from the White House website. Spanish language pages were also removed, while a page titled “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community” was newly added. “The Trump Administration will be a law and order administration,” the page reads. “The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong.”

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump (L-R) is applauded by Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) as he arrives to speak at a congressional Republican retreat in Philadelphia, U.S. January 26, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

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