Wednesday 25 January 2017 – Trump’s early decisions causing concern and anger

1. Trump’s administration is redacting the official White House website

 

Since taking over the reigns of power on Friday, Donald Trump’s team has been hacking away at the official White House website, WhiteHouse.gov. Since Friday whole sections on the website on climate change, civil rights and LGBTQ rights have disappeared. The Spanish language version of the website has also been taken down. The removal of the sections related to LGBTQ rights includes a letter of apology from the former Secretary of State John Kerry. He had posted an apology through the State Department for the department’s  past discrimination based on sexual orientation.  The apology read:

 

“[T]he Department of State was among many public and private employers that discriminated against employees and job applicants on the basis of perceived sexual orientation, forcing some employees to resign or refusing to hire certain applicants in the first place,

 

“These actions were wrong then, just as they would be wrong today.”

 

New White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says that all removed content has been archived at State.gov, the website of the State Department and it would be reinstated on the White House website when the administration has “revamped its issues pages.” However, I did a quick search on the State Department’s website and, indeed found a link to the apology by Mr Kerry. However, clicking on the link produces an error message. It seems that the apology was only issued on January 9 this year and has now disappeared  somewhere into the archives. I find it extremely unlikely that it will see the light of day again on the current websites of the Trump administration.

 

The Human Rights Campaign has condemned the removal of the apology and that it was indicative of the Trump administrations regressive approach to LGBTQ rights The group’s President Chad Griffin said:

 

“With each passing hour, the Trump administration continues to show the extent of their contempt for the enormous progress made over the past eight years.

 

“Secretary Kerry’s apology to LGBTQ employees and their families who were targeted, harassed, and fired set the right tone for the State Department, even if it couldn’t undo the damage done decades ago.

 

“It is outrageous that the new administration would attempt to erase from the record this historic apology for witch hunts that destroyed the lives of innocent Americans.

 

“The apology, along with the other important LGBTQ content that has been removed, should immediately be restored, and President Trump should condemn such behaviour at all departments and agencies.”

 

The complete White House website from the administrations of President Obama has now been archived at obamawhitehouse.archives.go, but a search of that could not find mention of the LGTBQ apology.

 

On the removal of sections of the websites, Sean Spicer explained:

 

“We hit the ground running on day one. There was a lot of work to do, and we had done a lot of work on the website to make sure that we were prepared to get as much information up as fast as possible.

 

“We are continuing to build out the website both in the issue areas and in that area. But we’ve got the IT folks working overtime to continue to get all of that up to speed. Trust me, it’s going to take a little bit more time, but we’re working piece by piece to get that done.”

 

It seems the Spanish-language website is also undergoing this process and Mr Spicer says it will return when it has been adapted to the Trump administration.  Both of the last two Presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have maintained separate Spanish-language versions of the White House website. This is essential for modern America, which is now the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world – even ahead of Spain, with Mexico the largest. Mr Trump once told Jeb Bush that the United States is “a country where we speak English, not Spanish.” Yet in modern America there are around 41 million native Spanish speakers and around another 11.6 million who are bilingual. Donald Trump seems to be uninterested in pandering or catering for this large demographic, which is something that US politicians can ill afford to do. Increasingly, it will be this demographic that will be important in shaping American politics not the demographic who elected Donald Trump.

 

2. Disturbing attitudes towards abortion and women’s right to access abortion.

 

President Trump has signed a memorandum, a “global gag rule” if you like, known as the Mexico City Plan which dates back to the Reagan administration. It prohibits U.S. funding  for any international group which give women information about abortion, even if they  do not perform their own abortions or use their own money to provide that information. The Independent newspaper in London described the Mexico City Plan as:

 

A traditional tool used by Republican administrations and is frequently put in place under GOP presidents, before being rescinded by Democratic ones. It was last put in place under George W Bush and then subsequently repealed by Barrack Obama when he entered office.

 

The policy has been criticised by many women’s rights and healthcare groups who fear the lives of women and girls may be put at risk by the policy, either due to continuing risky pregnancies or attempting to perform terminations dangerously. However, many Republican politicians support the policy for religious reasons.

 

In response to the reinstatement of the Mexico City Plan, the Dutch government is to set up an overseas abortion fund to compensate for the lost of American funding. The Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation in the Netherlands, Lilianne Ploumen, said the fund will finance projects relating to access to birth control, abortion and women’s education. Ms Ploumen added that any governments or organisations that are concerned with Trump’s policy could support the Dutch government’s funding plan in order to  “compensate this financial setback as much as possible.” (read article)

 

One Texas Republican Congressman, Tony Tinderholt, has called for abortion to become a crime in the United States, so  that women could be “more personally responsible” about sex. He has introduced a Bill into the House called “Abolition of Abortion In Texas Act”. It would make having an abortion illegal at any stage of the process and regardless of whether the woman was a victim of rape or incest. Congressman Tinderholt explained:

 

“Right now, it’s real easy. Right now, they don’t make it important to be personally responsible because they know that they have a backup of ‘oh, I can just go get an abortion.’

 

Now, we both know that consenting adults don’t always think smartly sometimes. But consenting adults need to also consider the repercussions of the sexual relationship that they’re gonna have, which is a child.” 

 

If the law was enacted, women having abortions in Texas could be charged with murder. Texas already has some of the toughest abortion laws, including requiring women to have an ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion and being made to look at the image and requiring women to attend a clinic at least twice. The Republican Party nationally has also increasingly been tough on abortion laws. An annually instituted ban on Federal funding in the United States for abortion has been routinely brought in through a funding bill  clause since 1976. Known as the Hyde Amendment it has now been made a permanent law.

donald-trump-mexico-city-policy-abortion

The photo above shows Donald Trump signing the memorandum that reinstates the Mexcio City Plan. The photo itself went viral showing him and his male advisors as an example of patriarchy and how men continue to make laws that govern women’s bodies.

 

3. Trump to outlaw government scientists from speaking out publicly

 

The American Association for the Advancement of Science warns against “censorship and intimidation” as President Trump signals that he wants to ban all scientists working for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  from speaking out publicly. The world’s largest  scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) says that similar  measures already exist in various governmental agencies and departments and were intended to “prohibit political interference” in how scientists relay information to the public. Meanwhile the World Resource Institute  said this new move would “stop the free flow of information” and would have a “chilling effect on staff.”

 

Other departments have also had gag orders placed on them, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, although the latter’s has now been lifted.  According to the Independent:

 

The ban includes the issuing of press releases, blogs, messages on Twitter and Facebook posts, according to information leaked to several media organisations. All media requests must be “screened” by the administration.

 

The controls over EPA come after its grants had been temporarily suspended and Scott Puritt, a Climate Change sceptic, had been appointed by Trump to run the EPA.  It seems that these temporary measures may be in place only while the administration establishes control over the EPA and the government departments. However, they may turn out to be more permanent. Sam Adams, the US Director of the World Resources Institute said:

 

“These actions will stem the free flow of information and have a chilling effect on staff in these agencies,

 

“This flies in the face of effective policymaking which requires an open exchange of ideas, supported by the best science and evidence available.

 

“Curtailing communications from these agencies will hinder their ability to provide clean air and water and protect people’s health across the country.

 

“The administration should lift these bans as soon as possible and ensure that the role of science is respected within our government agencies.”

 

The gaging of the EPA is particularly concerning in light of Donald Trump’s known attitude towards climate change and his refusal to accept scientific evidence that climate change is a man-made phenomenon. The combination of his administration’s removal of mention of climate change from the White House website, the gagging order on EPA scientists, the suspension of its funding, the appointment of Scott Pruitt and his recent decision to allow controversial oil exploration in North Dakota and elsewhere to go ahead, are all disturbing signs that Donald Trump is not going to be a champion of the environment or the climate.

 

4. Reuters reporting that Trump will block visas from people from seven Muslim-majority countries

 

Reuters are suggesting that today President Trump will  issue orders for a temporary ban on  most refugees and a block on visas from the Muslim countries: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. According to the United Nations, even a temporary ban would be “highly concerning” for those involved, and legal experts say that such bans could be challenged as un-Constitutional if they could prove they are based on religious beliefs. This seems possible as Trump and his team during the campaign did deliberately focus on Muslim immigration as a target.

 

Stephen Legomsky, who was chief counsel at US Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration, said the President had the authority to limit refugee admissions and the issuance of visas to specific countries if the administration determined it was in the public interest.

 

“From a legal standpoint, it would be exactly within his legal rights,” said Mr Legomsky, a professor at Washington University School of Law in St Louis. “But from a policy standpoint, it would be terrible idea because there is such an urgent humanitarian need right now for refugees.”  Catherine Stubberfield, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, expressed the urgency:

 

“These men, women and children can no longer afford to wait.”

Muslim immigration and the perceived threat of terrorism was a central pillar of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Ignoring facts that many more people have been killed by white American extremists since the 9/11 attacks than by foreign Muslim terrorists, Trump has shamelessly played on people’s fears over terrorism and immigration. Those Islamic-inspired attacks that have taken place in America since 9/11 have been carried out be people who were already in America or by people who were born in America, and the weapons they used were mostly legally bought within the U.S.  Closing the borders won’t prevent such attacks and will only radicalise many more Muslim Americans who will feel discriminated against simply for being Muslims. Restricting immigration will also have devastating effects on the U.S. economy, despite what Trump might have us believe.

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