David Kravets -
New paradigms loom for cyber warfare, climate change, net neutrality, and more.
Donald Trump takes the oath of office Friday, becoming the 45th president of the United States.
Donald J. Trump won the US presidency in November on a campaign that repudiated both his opponent and the Obama administration. Today he took the oath of office and became the nation's 45th president—despite the political pundits and polls predicting victory for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
The Republican's ascendancy from billionaire real estate mogul to the world's most powerful elected official promises to usher in a new era, one that includes a remaking of the Supreme Court and alterations of US policy when it comes to space, broadband, healthcare, manufacturing, immigration, cyber defense, the environment, and even foreign relations (from diplomacy to the reliance on foreign labor enjoyed by companies like Apple). All of these potential changes only seem more imminent due to the fact that the newly inaugurated Trump, and his Vice President Mike Pence, enjoy a GOP-controlled House and Senate.
"The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action," Trump said after he was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts. Moments later, Trump added: "We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions."
Space: The final frontier
As president-elect, Trump already named several key posts in his administration. But one pick that is still to come has star-gazers sitting uneasy—we don't currently know who will lead NASA and replace Charles Bolden.
Clearly, this leaves NASA in an uncertain orbit, especially insofar as its human spaceflight programs go. And thus far, there have been no clearly announced NASA policies concerning what comes next from either President Trump or his space transition team.
To be sure, many of NASA's human spaceflight initiatives face serious questions. As Trump's presidency begins, recurring issues with the Russian Soyuz launch vehicle have left the agency unable to say when its next astronaut will go into space. Its much-anticipated private space taxis remain more than a year from flight. And questions remain about the viability of its big-ticket programs, the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft.
All that said, there is currently a leading choice to become NASA administrator, Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma. Bridenstine has been a proponent for the privatization of satellite data and, if appointed, is likely to favor private solutions for NASA spaceflight operations.
The death of net neutrality
Warning: Data transfer in progress.
While the future of the nation's space exploration remains at a crossroads, it's clear that change is even more afoot for US broadband policy. Internet Service Providers are already chomping at the bit to undo Web browsing privacy rules adopted in October by the Federal Communications Commission, which under Trump's rule will shift from being controlled by Democrats to Republicans. Seizing on Trump's victory November 8, Republicans in Congress asked the FCC to halt any controversial rulemakings until after the inauguration and warned that any action taken in the final hours of the administration could be overturned. All the while, the Trump transition team has reportedly been pushing a plan to strip the FCC of its role in overseeing competition and consumer protection.
What's more, as FCC chief Tom Wheeler steps down today, the FCC enjoys a GOP majority that has promised to gut net neutrality rules "as soon as possible," a move that's backed by many ISPs. And Trump's rumored pick to head the FCC and replace the departing Wheeler, Republican Ajit Pai, says net neutrality's "days are numbered." At stake is a net neutrality order the FCC adopted in 2015 prohibiting ISPs from blocking or throttling traffic or giving priority to Web services in exchange for payment. The order also set up a complaint process to prevent "unjust" or "unreasonable" pricing and practices. The threat of complaints to the FCC helped put an end to several disputes between ISPs and other network operators over network interconnection payments, which improved Internet service quality for many subscribers.
Obamacare on life support
Make no mistake, the Trump administration and GOP lawmakers intend to gut the Affordable Care Act, Obama's centerpiece legislation also referred to as Obamacare. Trump's pick for health secretary, six-term GOP Rep. Tom Price, has already used a scalpel and carved out some of the most detailed plans to repeal and replace the ACA—among several plans being floated by Republicans. Trump has repeatedly said, pre- and post-election, that he wants to gut Obamacare, which Obama signed in 2010.
An estimated 20 million people gained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. According to the Congressional Budget Office, as many as 18 million people would lose coverage alongside premiums rising by up to 25 percent under Price's proposed repeal legislation. Hospitals maintain that Price's plan could cost them $165 billion and unleash an "unprecedented public health crisis."
Again, that's just Price's proposal. As far as official replacement legislation, the Trump administration has yet to publicly embrace or propose a plan, despite saying that the Republicans have one. The GOP's mystery plan is advertised to cover more people than the ACA while improving care and lowering costs. However, Democrats and healthcare experts are skeptical, and Americans nationwide are anxious about the fate of their coverage. For now, no matter which proposed Republican plan is examined, the result would be Americans losing coverage. Nevertheless, Republicans have already begun legislative proceedings to dismantle the ACA.
Elsewhere under Price's leadership, federal funding for Planned Parenthood is likely to go by the wayside. Planned Parenthood, one of the nation's leading providers of women's healthcare and the largest provider of sex education, has long been a target of the GOP because Planned Parenthood provides abortions. (The organization is the nation's leading provider of abortions.) Legislation backed by Price in 2015 and approved by the House and Senate had defunded Planned Parenthood, but it was vetoed by President Obama.
A 1976 law bans federal funds to pay for abortions. Abortions, however, make up only about three percent of Planned Parenthood's work, with the rest focusing on women's health issues. The organization runs more than 650 health centers around the country, serving around 2.5 million patients a year. And it depends on federal funding for many of those health initiatives. In 2014, for example, federal lawmakers gave Planned Parenthood roughly $553 million—about 43 percent of its overall funding.
However, in terms of increasing access to healthcare, Trump has promised prescription drug prices are in his crosshairs. "I'm going to cut down on drug prices," he told Time, a statement that has Big Pharma and its Wall Street backers on edge. But even Trump's drug policies aren't without controversy. The new president has repeated the debunked suggestion that vaccines can induce autism.
Taking a bite out of Apple, automakers
NEW YORK, NY - December 14: (L to R) Donald Trump, Peter Thiel and Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, Inc., listen during a meeting with technology executives at Trump Tower last month.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
One of Trump's key election and post-election points has been jobs, specifically the idea that US companies must stop outsourcing and bring manufacturing jobs home.
A year ago, Trump proclaimed in a speech at Liberty University that he would "get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries." But Apple's business model is based on cheap, foreign manufacturing labor in China. So whether Apple will face any consequences for not adding manufacturing jobs to US roles is anybody's guess. The company has previously squared off with Trump—roughly one year ago during the San Bernardino iPhone controversy. Then-candidate Trump urged a boycott of Apple products until Cupertino complied with a court order requiring the company to assist authorities in unlocking an iPhone used by one of the two killers involved in a San Bernardino mass shooting. But Apple held its ground and fought the order, before watching as the FBI dropped the case without courts compelling Apple to assist. (The FBI was ultimately able to unlock the phone with the assistance of Cellebrite, an Israeli forensics firm.)
Another major target of Trump's jobs rhetoric has been the auto industry. And whether it's been attributed to Trump's words, actions—or not to Trump at all—carmakers have been aligning with Trump. This month, after Trump attacked General Motors on Twitter, GM said it would bring back thousands of outsourced information technology jobs in addition to investing $1 billion at several US-based manufacturing plants. GM said the plan has been in the works for some time, but Trump was quick to claim influence.
GM was actually the second big automaker with jobs news in January. Earlier, Ford said it would invest $700 million in a Michigan plant to build more electric cars instead of making vehicles in Mexico. Ford chief Mark Fields said the move, among other things, was a "vote of confidence" in the "positive business climate" created by the incoming Trump administration.
Even with GM and Ford pledging actions that align with Trump's views, Trump doesn't appear done. Just days ago, he insinuated that he'd heap big tariffs on carmakers and "others" for manufacturing overseas. "Car companies and others, if they want to do business in our country, have to start making things here again. WIN!" Trump tweeted.