NYMHM for 17 March 2019

It would be hard to improve on Charles Dickens to describe the present moment: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” On the cusp of the spring of hope, 50 people in New Zealand were killed at prayer. And in the middle of the winter of despair, children and teenagers have taken the lead in demanding action on climate change. Our lives, these days, require us to toggle between these polarities.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. No Planet B

Over a million young people all over the world marched on March 15 to insist on climate action. There were more than 2000 protests, according to the Guardian; Mother Jones has pictures of some of them. Sixteen year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, whose work helped inspire the youth movement, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian legislators.

The Guardian’s coverage concludes with comments by Hannah Laga Abram, an 18-year-old from Santa Fe, New Mexico:

“We are living in the sixth mass extinction. Ice is melting. Forests are burning. Waters are rising. And we do not even speak of it. Why?

“Because admitting the facts means admitting crimes of epic proportions by living our daily lives. Because counting the losses means being overpowered by grief. Because allowing the scale of the crisis means facing the fear of swiftly impending disaster and the fact that our entire system must change.

“But now is not the time to ignore science in order to save our feelings. It is time to be terrified, enraged, heartbroken, grief-stricken, radical.”

2. Federal inaction around climate change costs billions

While the Green New Deal has been described as too expensive, a new report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found that federal inaction around climate change is costing the nation billions of dollars. The cost of disaster relief, for example, could be mitigated if funds went into prevention. As the report reads, “We found that federal investments in resilience could be more effective if post-disaster hazard mitigation efforts were balanced with resources for pre-disaster hazard mitigation.” The GAO’s report is nearly invisible in mainstream news, but Common Dreams has the story, and you can read Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution here.

3. Heroes, victims and social media companies

Portraits of the mosque shooting victims are starting to emerge, from Husne Ava Parvin, who tried to shield her husband in his wheelchair, to 50 year old Naeem Rashid who tackled the gunman, to Mucad Ibrahim, age 3, who was “energetic, playful and liked to smile and laugh a lot,” according to his brother.

The sophistication with which the New Zealand shooter used social media reveals how technology companies have become complicit in producing right-wing radicalism, according to Mother Jones. As the CBC points out, social media companies can proactively remove videos that violate copyright, but they were much slower to remove the shooter’s live-stream. In addition, the CBC quoted one expert as saying that companies were much quicker to remove Islamic extremist content than right-wing content.

Note Sarah-Hope’s discussion of the Disarm Hate Act (in the Resources), which would make it illegal for firearms to be sold or given to anyone convicted of violent misdemeanor hate crimes.

INTERNATIONAL/DOMESTIC NEWS

4. Nuclear winter on the horizon if India and Pakistan go nuclear

The recent dispute between India and Pakistan,  both with nuclear weapons, illustrates the need for nuclear powers to seriously engage in nuclear disarmament, as required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed 50 years ago. As Conn Hallinan, writing for Foreign Policy in Focus, points out, there are no local nuclear wars. India and Pakistan have between 130-150 nuclear warheads each; Hallinan cites a study that shows that if they exchanged 100 of them, it would plunge the world into a 25-year-long nuclear winter.

5. US and the Philippines refuse to be investigated by the International Criminal Court

The United States will refuse visas to International Criminal Court personnel seeking to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan—or anywhere, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced March 15. The ICC prosecutor’s request to investigate says that the ICC wants to investigate whether members of the U.S. military and intelligence services  “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period,” according to the AP.

According to Al-Jazeera, the ICC will continue to do its work. “”The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its independent work, undeterred, in accordance with its mandate and the overarching principle of the rule of law.” (Sarah-Hope–see the resources–can tell you whom to write if you want to speak up about this.)

The United States has never been a member of the International Criminal Court; now the US is joined by the Philippines, which has just withdrawn from the ICC. The ICC had been investigating accusations of thousands of murders by President Duterte’s forces in the course of his war against drugs.

6. The company we keep: United Arab Emirates

The United States has sold $27 billion dollars’ worth of weapons to the United Arab Emirates over the last decade and has been training 5000 UAE troops, according to Democracy Now. Along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE has been fighting rebels in Yemen, resulting in deaths of 20,000 civilians over the last four years, according to a report published by Stanford University.

Details about the UAE’s actions in Yemen—and the role of the United States in making them possible–are delineated in a devasting report by William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

The Sanders-Lee amendment—introduced by Senators  Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT)—which would have stopped U.S. contributions to the Yemeni civil war—was blocked 55-44. As Sanders told Vox, “This is one of the great humanitarian disasters of our time.”

7. US air strikes in Somalia

In addition, the US is conducting air strikes in Somalia, ostensibly against Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda affiliate, but civilians, including children, are being killed and maimed, according to Democracy Now. An investigation by Nation journalist Amanda Sperber, who spent five weeks in Somalia suggests that it is not clear which US agency is conducting the strikes; the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) is the official agency doing so, but there are strikes unaccounted for by AFRICOM that may be initiated by the CIA. Since Trump’s election, the number of strikes in Somalia has tripled.

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

8. Ecological decline perhaps more pressing than climate change 

A three-year UN study done under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is due to conclude and turn in its findings in May—and they are grim. The report, likely to run to over 8000 pages and compiled by more than 500 experts in 50 countries, is the greatest attempt yet to take measure of the health of life on Earth. It will show that tens of thousands of species are under threat of extinction and that societies are using natural resources at a pace far outstripping nature’s ability to replenish them.

The culprits are predictable: large scale mono-crop agriculture with the resulting deforestation, along with ever-rising human populations and living standards. So far we have lost 80% of marine mammals, 50% of plants, 14% of all fish, 50% of all butterflies; the list goes on and on. Serious and fundamental changes to economic policy and societies will be necessary to prevent total ecological collapse, reports the Huffington Post. 

In related news, Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, conducted by 200 scientists and peer-reviewed by 125 more, warns that a third of the Himalayan ice cap will likely melt by the end of the century, according to Democracy Now. The melting will have an impact on 250 million people who live in the area, affecting supplies of food and water.

9. DARPA awards $10 million to design a new open-source voting system

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, known as DARPA, has been at the forefront of spurring scientific and technological breakthroughs for decades, helping to birth the internet and driver-less vehicles among others. DARPA is now setting its sights on the notoriously hodgepodge and terrifyingly vulnerable electronic voting systems in use in the United States. To this end, a $10 million dollar contract has been awarded to Oregon-based Galois, a long-standing federal contractor with experience in making secure and authenticated information systems, to produce a totally open-source and secure voting system that can allow voters to verify their votes were recorded properly.

Voting systems in use today often use ageing proprietary software that is not transparent in the ways in which it verifies or records votes, possessing glaring security flaws that have resulted in white-hat hackers taking control of voting machines in mere minutes. Embarrassingly, one such experiment showed an eleven year old succeeding in ten minutes. On DARPA’s end this project will showcase the potential for secure hardware systems vital to the military in an easy-to-demonstrate way, as Vice reports.

10. Quantum dots on track to replace single crystal semi-conductors

Semi-conductors are the backbone of the technology of the information age, the material we use to inscribe billions of minute transistors onto computer chips. Until recently, the best material known for this purpose consisted of single crystals of silicon-based materials grown in a vacuum under highly specialized conditions in the cleanest environments we can make. Now a maturing technology has been identified to equal the performance of single crystal semiconductors and it’s far more “tunable,” versatile and perhaps most importantly, cheaper to produce.

Testing performed by the University of California Berkeley and Stanford University shows that “quantum dot” technology can re-emit 99.6% of light it absorbs, equal to the most perfect single crystals we can manufacture. It’s not just microchips and flat screen displays that stand to benefit; solar panels use a substrate of semi-conductors to convert sunlight to electricity and cheaper solar panels are going to be very important in the change to a greener world power supply, according to Physics.org.

NYMHM for 10 March 2019

Whom the U.S. government is willing to track: Journalists covering the migrant caravan. Attorneys representing asylum-seekers. Anti-Trump protestors. Whom it is not willing to track: Civilians who die in anti-terrorist air-strikes. Children separated from their parents at the border. But Freedom of Information requests are coming home to roost, and the stories News You May Have Missed summarizes this week illuminate the patterns of what this government is willing to know and to hide. See the Resources list if you want to speak up about these and other issues.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Trump administration family planning gag rule

The Trump administration has published a federal Title X family planning program rule which would prevent any organization that provides abortions, or even refers a patient for an abortion, from receiving money to pay for other (non-abortion) services. The rule would, perversely, increase abortion rates, since those other services include contraception, and lower rates of contraception naturally leads to higher rates of unplanned pregnancy.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, other medical and reproductive rights groups, and 22 states, are challenging the rule through the courts. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and 16 other medical organizations, signed a letter objecting to the revisions.

2. Meanwhile in pending legislation

Democrats are working on bills to raise federal minimum wage to $15/hour, to restore Obama-era FCC net neutrality rules, an Honest Ads Act (pdf) to regulate online political ads to reduce manipulation and disinformation, and an anti-corruption, voting rights and ethics bill, which would make Election Day a federal holiday, automatically register citizens to vote, restore ex-felon’s voting rights, require public disclosure of donor identity for donations over $10k to groups spending money on elections, and create a 6-to-1 matching system for small contributions to congressional and presidential candidates who refuse high-dollar donations, funded by fines on law-breaking corporations. A bipartisan bill, The Green Alert Act of 2019, would create a national alert system similar to amber alerts for missing veterans. Several bills propose to fight robocalling.

3. Database kept of journalists and attorneys

The U.S. and Mexico kept a database on journalists who covered the migrant caravan last year, according to documents leaked to NBC news. The Department of Homeland Security created dossiers and tagged passports of 48 people, including 10 journalists. Not only journalists but immigration activists and attorneys received extra scrutiny at the border and in some cases were prohibited from entering Mexico. One of the attorneys who was in the database, Nicole Ramos, the Refugee Director and attorney for Al Otro Lado, which provides legal services in Tijuana, told NBC, “The document appears to prove what we have assumed for some time, which is that we are on a law enforcement list designed to retaliate against human rights defenders who work with asylum seekers and who are critical of CBP practices that violate the rights of asylum seekers.”

4. ICE keeps spreadsheet on certain protests

Anti-Trump protests in 2018 were apparently of interest to ICE, which keeps a database of them, according to information obtained through a FOIA request filed by The Nation magazine. ICE apparently did not track right-wing protests, even those with racist or anti-Semitic points of view. ICE assured The Nation that their agency “fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference.”

5. The Trump administration will not track civilian deaths

Civilian deaths which result from military strikes against terrorist activities outside an active war zone will no longer be reported, under an executive order signed by Trump last week. Reporting civilian deaths had been a policy under the Obama administration, although—as CNN reports—such strikes are conducted in such secrecy that it is not clear to what degree these numbers have been accurate. The White House described reporting civilian deaths as “superfluous reporting requirements.”

6. California’s hidden list of criminal cops

A list of 12,000 names was sent to two reporters with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. They had filed public records requests for the names of police officers convicted of crimes in the last ten years. They then got a letter from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, telling them that they had been sent the list by accident and that keeping it would be a criminal offense, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. Not all of the 12,000 are police officers; the reporters are combing through the list to identify who is on it. The reporters’ original story is in The East Bay Times.

7. The EPA prevented NASA from acquiring air-quality data after Hurricane Harvey

When Hurricane Harvey released toxic pollution from industrial spills, waste sites and damaged storage tanks in Houston, NASA scientists proposed to fly a sophisticated air sampler over the area. But according to public records, the EPA told them that they could not do so, despite significant health concerns. According to the Times, Michael Honeycutt, Texas’ director of toxicology, told NASA, “At this time, we don’t think your data would be useful.” This is the very same Michael Honeycutt who in 2015 told Houston Public Radio that lowering pollution and ozone levels would be dangerous. “Houston and Los Angeles are going to lose people. People are going to die,” he said then.

8. Children are still being separated at the border—and the government still is not tracking them

Children as young as a week old are still being separated from their parents at the border, months after the policy was supposed to have been rescinded, according to the New York Times. And, the Times reports, methods of keeping track of children continue to be inadequate and the reports that are supposed to explain why the children were separated—often because the parents were convicted of minor crimes years ago—are sometimes redacted to the point of unintelligibility.

9. The government is responsible for more children taken from parents

Children separated from their parents at the border beginning in June 2017—a year before Trump’s so-called zero tolerance policy was implemented—must be included in a class-action suit filed by the ACLU, according to a federal judge’s ruling last week. The judge, Dana Sabraw, has not yet said that the government must reunite them with their parents; he said he would decide this later, NBC news reported. As News You May Have Missed noted at the time, the inspector general for Health and Human Services filed a report in January indicating that children had been separated from their parents many months before the policy had been announced and that no “integrated data system” existed to keep track of the location and identity of children. In his decision, Judge Sabraw wrote, “The hallmark of a civilized society is measured by how it treats its people and those within its borders.”

10. Those 76,000 migrant crossings/month are actually less than under Bush

Much has been made in the news of unusually-high numbers of migrants crossing the southwest border of the U.S. The New York Times reports that the number “has broken records” but NPR reports that, actually, “10, 15 years ago, it was routine for more than a million people to be apprehended a year. We are way below those totals today.”

Why are illegal border crossings up now? The Trump administration has made it vastly more difficult to cross legally at southern border checkpoints.

And, of course, these migrants are “overwhelmingly not criminals” (except for the paper crime of crossing the border illegally) even according to former Trump administration chief of staff John Kelly, who said this Wednesday in the context of talking about why the U.S. doesn’t need a border wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

11. Trade deficit at 10-year high; budget deficit also ballooning

Trump’s trade war has resulted in a trade gap 20% higher than when he took office. It’s not a simple metric for determining the health of a country’s economy, so this statistic doesn’t matter in the way that Trump frequently argues, but it points to how Trump’s ignorance of economics is affecting our trade.

The budget (not trade) deficit is up due to lower taxes and higher spending. “The deficit grew 77 percent in the first four months of fiscal 2019 compared with the same period one year before, Treasury said.

There are solid arguments to be made that federal deficits don’t matter, and Modern Monetary Theory advocates make that argument, as well as center-right publications like Forbes, but Republicans claim to care about budget deficits, although only when they aren’t in power. In any case, mainstream economics argue that the main cause of the growing federal budget deficit Trump created with his huge tax cuts for the rich.

12. Kushner meeting with foreign governments without embassy staff

Not only is Jared Kushner’s security clearance bogus, as we reported last week, but he met with members of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Court without anybody from the U.S. embassy in Riyadh in attendance. One State Department official was there, but he’s an Iran expert, not part of State’s team in Saudi Arabia. The weirdest part of this? The White House is claiming embassy staffers lied about being blocked from attending.

13. Stay skeptical of your news sources

Given the stories below, it’s important to bear in mind as we move into the primary season: evaluate your news sources for trustworthiness. Some primers on how to do that: Johns Hopkins, University of Texas Libraries, and Washington Post. Face-check, and be a bit of a detective, and look for the “three A’s” of disinformation: “activity, anonymity, and amplification.

Some good news on this front: a company called Semantic Visions won a UK government award of $250,000 “to finance their platform which provides real-time detection of adversarial propaganda and disinformation and gives user joint situational awareness of event and emerging trends.”

a. Modern war includes information operations

General Valery V. Gerasimov, the chief of Russia’s general staff, gave a speech at a conference on the future of military strategy that included “the signature strategy of Russia under President Vladimir V. Putin“—information, or disinformation, operations. These strategic influence campaigns help to sap an enemy’s will to fight by sowing doubt.

b. Literally fake news

Republican consultants are launching propaganda websites purporting to be local news, funded in part by candidates the sites write about, including the innocuously-named Minnesota Sun, Ohio Star, and Tennessee Star.

c. Fox News knew about Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election

Fox News is extremely influential: without it, the Republican candidate for president would have received 3.59% and 6.34% fewer votes in 2004 and 2008 respectively.

That makes it all the more troubling that Fox News knew about Stormy Daniels and the president’s hush money before the election, but killed the story because Rupert Murdoch wanted Trump to win. Citing the New Yorker article linked just above, the Democratic National Committee is rejecting Fox News for debates.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

14. Brexit looming on March 29th

It’s looking more and more like a No Deal Brexit might happen on March 29th. 10% of the population is stockpiling goods in preparation. Some members of Parliament are receiving daily death threats. Social media is a cesspool, as always these days, of lies and distortions. The uncertainty is driving businesses away from the UK, and those that remain prepare for a lot of paperwork.

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

15. Philadelphia first to ban “cashless” stores

Philadelphia has become the first major US city to require that most retail establishments operating in the city accept cash for transactions. This regulation comes as a trend towards “cashless” stores seems to be growing, with proponents of the model claiming increased efficiency and safety. Critics have charged that operating as a cashless business is just another way to discriminate against poor, minority and non-citizen patrons who may lack access to banking services and use cash for day to day purchases. The regulation exempts parking garages, hotels and membership clubs such as Costco, reports Gizmodo.

16. SpaceX Dragon Crew Capsule achieves successful launch, docking and recovery

The race to become the next US-based manned spacecraft has a clear front runner with SpaceX’s latest launch of their crewed Dragon capsule. The launch occurred Saturday March 1st and went flawlessly, placing the capsule into orbit with a powered recovery of the first stage on the floating barge landing pad, called “Of Course I Still Love You”—a reference to a starship in Iain Banks’ novel The Player of Games. The capsule, “manned” by a dummy model in a SpaceX spacesuit, then climbed to match the orbit of the International Space Station and docked automatically without need for the assistance of the robotic arm on the station. Departing the station, it splashed down on Friday March 8 after re-entry through the atmosphere, somewhat marring the brilliant white protective paint on the capsule—causing some to compare it to a toasted marshmallow.

The next step is to test the emergency abort functions of the capsule necessary in case the capsule needs to make a rapid separation from the booster stages during an emergency. Should that succeed, the way is clear for Dragon to carry the first manned crew on a US based spacecraft since the Space Shuttle fleet was grounded in 2011, Ars Technica reports.

17. T-Mobile spent $195,000 at the Trump hotel in DC while lobbying for merger with Sprint

T-Mobile has disclosed that their CEO and top executives have stayed repeatedly in the Trump hotel in DC during their lobbying efforts to complete a planned merger with Sprint. Previous to the lobbying efforts, the company had only used the services of the hotel on one occasion, raising questions about the hotel’s role in influencing federal policies. Interestingly enough, CEO John Legere had sworn off patronizing Trump branded establishments in the wake of comments on the president’s Twitter feed in 2015 saying that, “T-Mobile service is terrible,” and that “I don’t want it in my buildings,” according to Ars Technica. The Trump hotel in DC opened two months before Mr. Trump’s presidential victory and has been heavily frequented by international and corporate actors doing business with the US federal government.

RESOURCES

NYMHM for 3 March 2019

News You May Have Missed not only illuminates stories that might have escaped your notice but tracks stories over time. Note the story below of parents whose children were taken from them: they have come back to the border–and this time been permitted to apply for asylum. Note that–as we knew but now we know more–children are not safe in detention. Note that the travel ban is still in place.

Still, we don’t overlook good news. An undergraduate may have discovered the secret to antibiotic resistance. Temporary Protected Status has been restored–at least temporarily–for Haitians and others. And Oakland teachers have fought the good fight.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Remember the travel ban? 37,000 visas denied.

Reuters reports that, in 2018, the U.S. State Department denied over 37,000 visa applications due to Trump’s travel ban, which was upheld by the US Supreme Court in June 2018. If you’d like to comment on this, Sarah-Hope’s list can tell you how.

2. Parents permitted to return to apply for asylum

Twenty-nine parents who were separated from their children last year and deported have been allowed to return to apply for asylum. The Washington Post has some of their stories—a Guatemalan woman who fled the country with her daughter when gang members began systematically killing her family members, a Honduran man who fled with his daughter when gang members threatened to rape her. Parents made the arduous trek back to the border and once again requested asylum, assisted by attorneys from El Otro Lado, a legal services organization in Tijuana.  The parents have not seen their children for almost a year; the Post describes a Salvadoran woman’s daughter as texting her over and over, “Fight for me.”

See the Families Belong Together twitter feed for updates.

3. Detained babies in poor health

Nine babies detained with their mothers in Dilley, Texas, near San Antonio are losing weight because of abrupt changes in their formula—one has lost a third of his body weight. The mothers, all from Honduras, have requested asylum; they have family members with whom they could stay while they wait for their claims to be heard. A complaint by the Immigration Council, the American Immigrant Lawyers Association and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network speaks to the lack of specialized care at the facility and its distance from hospitals. As the Center for Public Integrity reports, the Dilley facility is the same one where a toddler became ill and died of viral pneumonia after being released.

4. Thousands of migrant children sexually abused while in custody

Between October, 2014 and July, 2018, 4,556 complaints of sexual abuse against immigrant children in the custody of Health and Human Services (HHS) were filed, according to documents released by Florida representative Ted Deutch. 178 of these involved staff members; the rest involved other minors, according to The Hill.

According to CBS News, HHS did not dispute the allegations but objected to the characterization of the staff involved as federal workers; they may have been contract employes.  Details of some of the complaints of abuse by staff members are here.

If you want to call or write those who put children in this situation, Sarah-Hope’s list has contact information.

has contact information.

5. Kushner possible security risk according to CIA

The New York Times reports that President Trump ordered John F. Kelly, his chief of staff at the time, to give his son-in-law Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance against the advice of career security clearance professionals. Both Kelly and Donald F. McGahn II, the then-White House counsel, wrote contemporaneous internal memos about the order and their concerns about Kushner.

Congressional Democrats want Kushner’s top-secret clearance revoked.

6. Oakland Teachers strike about broad educational issues

Negotiators for the 2,300 teachers in Oakland, California, reached a tentative agreement after a week-long strike—but whether members will accept it remains in doubt; teachers are due to vote on March 3. The increase would provide an 11% pay increase over four years, more support personnel for students (counsellors, nurses), a moratorium on charter schools, a moratorium on school closures, and a slight reduction in class size according to the strike website.

According to In These Times, the significance of the strike is that though wages were at issue, the big target was neoliberalism itself, the conditions that mean schools are not appropriately funded, teachers and students lack support, and class sizes are untenable. Some striking teachers do not think enough has been gained in terms of the non-wage issues.  73% of students in the Oakland Public Schools receive free or reduced-cost lunches, 30% are English learners, and 11.8% are white. (See the story below.)

NPR reports on the wave of school strikes over the last year.

7. White schools receive more funding

Meanwhile, the non-profit educational research group EdBuild has released a report noting that nationwide, the average white school district receives $2,226 more per student than districts with predominately students of color. Because school funding is based on property taxes and because people live in areas segregated by income and race, schools for children in the most need are underfunded. Even setting income aside, race alone has a drastic effect on school fund; in California, for example, predominately white schools in high-poverty areas receive $13,904 per student per year, while schools in high-poverty areas with mostly students of color receive $9,931. Paradoxically, non-white schools in low-poverty areas receive even less.

8. Lying while doing under-cover reporting is covered by freedom of speech

A number of states have passed so-called “ag-gag” laws, which make it a crime for undercover reporters to lie about their intentions at an agricultural production facility. Now a federal court in Iowa has struck down that law, on the grounds that it violates the right to free speech. Undercover reporting has been essential in revealing the mistreatment of animals as well as the violation of health and safety regulations in agricultural production. You can read the decision here.

The ACLU of Iowa filed the lawsuit. The Michigan State University Animal Legal and Historical Center summarizes some relevant cases.

9. Random grifter shows issues with robocalls

A guy named Matthew Tunstall has made hundreds of thousands of dollars by impersonating the president’s campaign through “Support American Leaders PAC” robocalls asking for donations. He then uses some of that money to buy more robocall ads and, presumably, spends the rest of it on hookers and blow or whatever. He’s able to do this in part because in 2018, a court threw out a poorly-worded Obama-era anti-robocall FCC rule; Ajit Pai (who celebrated at the time) is now asking phone companies to implement anti-robocall technology or face government regulation.

10. Popular vote compact

So far, 12 states (CA, CT, DC, HI, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA) have signed on to the so-called National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which “would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.” Colorado is poised to join the compact

Maine is considering it. Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, says, “What would happen if they do what they say they’re gonna do, white people will not have anything to say. It’s only going to be the minorities who would elect. It would be California, Texas, Florida.” His comments make explicit the logic behind all Republican efforts to suppress the votes of non-white citizens (some of which are outlined by Brennan Center for Justice).

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

11. Update on Haiti

After a flurry of stories around the U.S. State Department’s updated travel advisory to Level 4 (“Do Not Travel”), Haiti has mostly gone out of the U.S. news again, but although protests there have died down, their root causes remain unsolved.

Under Secretary of Political Affairs David Hale travelled on March 1st to Haiti to discuss “the path forward on dialogue and economic growth.” Hale is a career diplomat with Middle Eastern experience but no experience in Haiti. Haiti Libre reports that the opposition in Haiti believes Hale is wrong “for promoting dialogue, while the main obstacle is President Jovenel Moïse.”

In compliance with a court order, Homeland Security officials have formally extended temporary protected status (TPS) for Haiti as well as El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Sudan.

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

12. Arizona moves ahead with bills to weaken vaccination rates

In the midst of six ongoing outbreaks of the measles, a preventable disease that can have debilitating or lethal consequences for young children, the State of Arizona has moved three bills out of committee that if passed will considerably weaken vaccination standards for the state. Citing “parental rights,” HB 2470 would expand access to religious and personal belief waivers for preschool and grade school children as well as eliminate the necessity to fill out a state authorization form, according to Ars Technica. HB 2471 and 2472 would require that parents receive a pamphlet about vaccination risks before vaccinating their children and require doctors to blood-test kids to see if they already possess immunity from the diseases covered by the requested vaccines. House Co-chair of the Health and Human Services committee Rep. Nancy Barto (R) sponsored all three bills, claiming that there is research “on both sides” regarding the alleged debate over vaccines. 

13. Mechanism for antibiotic resistance in bacteria found 

Research published by a professor of physics and a biochemistry undergraduate student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada claims to have found the means by which bacteria fend off an important antibiotic of last resort called polymyxin b. The pair used an approach more similar to material than biomedical research and found that the cell walls of resistant bacteria thicken and change their electrical charge to be less attractive to the antibiotic. The result is that the resistant bacteria deal with far less of the antibiotic and are tougher when they do encounter it. The researchers reasoned that instead of treating every disease and antibiotic interaction as unique, they would instead look for the similarities across the board and utilized cutting-edge imaging and simulation software to make their discovery, according to the Toronto Star. The study was published in the journal Nature: Communications Biology

14. Google to keep app available to track women in Saudi Arabia

Google is coming under fire from civil rights groups and politicians for choosing to keep an app produced by the government of Saudi Arabia on its Google Play store, according to Gizmodo. The app allows Saudi men to track and restrict the travel of women and dependents under the country’s stringent guardianship laws which make the rights of women heavily dependent upon the consent of men in their family. The decision to keep the app comes after a letter was sent by fourteen members of Congress in which they requested the app be removed while acknowledging that it had legitimate civic uses such as registering for passports and vehicles. The letter said that 21st century American technology companies should not support 16th century style oppression of women and domestic workers. The group Amnesty International urged tech companies to consider the products they support in terms of risk to human rights abuses of women, calling out the Saudi app for its use in tracking and limiting the free movement of women in a disturbing system of discrimination against women under the guardianship system. The motto in Google’s code of conduct for years was ‘Don’t be evil’, which was removed in 2015. 

If you would like to write Google about this, see the Resources tab for Sarah-Hope’s instructions.

RESOURCES

Exasperated by the news? Talk back! See our Resources tab for ways to respond.

NYMHM for 24 Feb

News You May Have Missed is waiting for the shoe(s) to drop—the Mueller Report is expected. If you need an illustrated primer of who is who, the Washington Post offers one. But it would of course be a mistake to see Mueller as a super-hero: fundamentally, we will need to rescue ourselves.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. “The trolls want Democrats to eat each other.”

As potential Democratic presidential candidates have landed on the field, each one has been subject to destructive ad hominem attacks, undermining reasoned assessment. According to a report by Politico, these attacks are part of a coordinated strategy to spread disinformation, much of it racist or sexist in nature. A group of 200 accounts—the same accounts that worked to influence the 2018 congressional elections—produced many of the messages; tens of thousands of other accounts then broadcast those messages, according to the research group—Guardians.ai—that Politico used. Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) were those most frequently targeted. Slate points out that some of the attacks originate with the message board 4chan—but then they spread to the rest of us. As Slate put it, “The trolls want Democrats to eat each other.”

2. Why is the U.S. rushing nuclear technology to the Saudis?

According to a House Oversight Committee report, whistleblowers have reported that U.S. officials who have a conflict of interest have been trying to rapidly transfer nuclear technology to the Saudi government in advance of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s visit there. You can read the interim report here (pdf).

According to the report, officials involved include “former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland, and former NSC Senior Director for Middle East and North African Affairs Derek Harvey, as well as with Thomas Barrack, President Trump’s personal friend of several decades and the Chairman of his Inaugural Committee, and Rick Gates, President Trump’s former Deputy Campaign Manager and Deputy Chairman of the Inaugural Committee who has now pleaded guilty to financial fraud and lying to investigators.” Flynn, of course, lied to the FBI about his exchanges with the Russian ambassador, as NPR reminds us.

The Washington Post has a detailed story on the dangers of transferring technology without a nuclear agreement and the risks of nuclear proliferation if the technology is given to the Saudis.

3. Missing missing person cases

In 2016, 5,712 American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls were reported missing, according to a new report (pdf) from the tribal epidemiology center Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI). However, US Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database only recorded 116 cases. The UIHI used Freedom of Information Act requests, requests to law enforcement agencies, and reports on social media and from friends and family members to identify missing and murdered women. Of those missing or murdered, 506 were in 71 urban areas across the U.S. The report explains why the data are so contradictory and elusive.

In Canada, a wrenching and contentious inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls concluded in December; an interim report came out in 2018 (pdf) while a full report is expected in April. To see the scope and heartbreak of the problem, look at the CBC’s 308 profiles of women they have identified.

Anyone wishing to understand the history of Canada’s treatment of indigenous people would do well to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report.

4. Another 1,157 children lost to gun violence since Parkland

Since the Parkland murders in February of 2018, 1,157 children have died by gun violence—accidents, suicides, murders—many of them children of color, according to the Miami Herald. The Herald is partnering with The Trace to document lives lost. The Herald also documents both some important advances and the lack of progress on gun control, as well as small victories—the Broward County League of Women Voters distributing gun locks, for example. In a retrospective piece, the CBC noted that in part due to the activism of Parkland survivors, 40 states introduced some kind of gun control legislation in 2018.

5. Scarce medical care in detention centers

An immigrant detention center in Colorado has 1,500 detainees, a chicken-pox outbreak—and only one doctor, according to Vice. When Colorado Rep. Jason Crow tried to visit the facility, he was refused access. Operated by the huge for-profit prison corporation GEO Group, the facility was the subject of a complaint last summer by the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association alleging serious lapses in medical care.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Venezuelans walking over mountain passes to Colombia

Whatever the merits and faults of President Nicolás Maduro, whatever echoes of prior disastrous Latin American interventions are in the present situation, as usual the most vulnerable people are suffering the most. Without food or possibility, millions of Venezuelans are walking out of Venezuela, according to the New York Times—walking across mountain passes 11,000 feet high to get to Colombia and other countries. Some have infants; some are pregnant. All are hungry and exhausted.

Humanitarian aid is being used by the self-declared opposition president Juan Guaidó to force out Maduro—Guaidó’s theory apparently was that if Maduro refused to let desperately needed aid into the country, Venezuela’s armed forces would turn on him, according to The Washington Post. On Friday, militias—some of them irregular—fired on civilians; four were killed and 285 injured.

Maduro is accepting aid from international bodies such as the Red Cross—a fact generally under-reported, as FAIR points out; the refusal of aid from the U.S. is being used to set the stage for U.S. intervention, according to In These Times. For more detailed information, see Cold Type’s special issue on Venezuela.

7. Orwell in China?

Last year, News You May Have Missed summarized a story on China’s Social Credit system, in which citizens were blocked from travel for small occasions of bad behavior. Now the Independent reports that 17.5 million people were prevented from taking planes and 5.5 millions were kept off trains.

The country is also tracking Muslims, Christians, and other minorities, using security cameras and cell-phone technology, according to the Independent. Some of it is acquired from Western companies, raising human rights criticisms. Wired points out that one of the big concerns is the convergence between private and governmental reporting.

8. Haiti

Last week, we reported on the dire unrest in Haiti, spanning fuel riots and government corruption. The situation continues, with police firing rubber bullets at mourners, and businesses re-opening Monday for a brief respite before protests resumed on Friday.

Five Americans were arrested with weapons in Haiti last week. Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant called them “mercenaries” trying “to target the executive branch of the government.”

The Miami Herald points out that 46,000 Haitians with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) deserve better than to be kicked out of the US. The Trump administration tried to end TPS designations for four countries—El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan—but a temporary injunction (pdf) from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California rejected the government’s arguments for ending the status and has restrained the government from doing so, for now.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Suffering in Silence

A CARE International report, “Suffering in Silence,” finds that humanitarian crises, including several in which climate change played a big role, are going under-reported. Foreign Policy cites chronic droughts in Ethiopia, Madagascar’s withered crops, Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines, and chronic food shortages in Haiti, which was fourth on the 2018 Long-Term Climate Risk Index.

10. DDT exposure linked to increased risk of breast cancer

A sixty-year study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute involving over fifteen thousand women has found that early exposure to the pesticide DDT, especially in infancy, results in a substantial increase in risk of developing breast cancer. DDT was widely banned in the 70’s so the youngest cohorts to be routinely exposed as children are just now entering the window for increased diagnosis. Researchers identified a forty-year lag time between exposure and onset of cancer, with earlier exposure in infancy resulting in more pre-menopausal breast cancers. Researchers found that doubling the amount of DDT found in the bloodstream resulted in a three-fold increased risk in developing breast cancer.

11. Public health joins elections as a target for Russia

Scientists at George Washington University looking into Russian manipulation of social media during the period surrounding the 2016 presidential election found that vaccination was among the wedge issues used to sow divisions within the American electorate. The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, shows evidence that accounts linked to known Russian actors, both bots and trolls, posted an enormous volume of inflammatory content creating controversy around the subject of vaccination.

Some 1.6 million tweets posted between July of 2014 and September of 2017 were evaluated. Researchers found that these Russian-based accounts posted on the subject of vaccination 22 times more often than an average Twitter user. In addition, the posts often combined additional wedge subjects such as race, animal welfare, class and religion and also seemed to undermine the legitimacy of the US government by linking vaccinations to various conspiracy theories. Since the 2016 election, Europe has seen the largest outbreak of measles in decades and vaccination rates in the US continue to fall,  despite overwhelming public support for vaccination in polls, according to the BBC.

12. Becoming literal vampires is not a great idea, says FDA

The FDA issued an alert warning ageing, wealthy consumers against the practice of paying large sums of money in order to infuse the blood plasma of youthful donors, according to Ars Technica. At issue is the recent offerings of some clinics to transfuse the blood plasma of young people into the bodies of older adults, claiming a myriad of unproven health benefits.

The basis for these claims are a few legitimately interesting tests that suggest that the blood of young mice may have some regenerative effects when given to older mice. It should go without saying (you’d hope) that mice are not the same as people, and anybody following science news for any length of time could tell you the number of promising things that work in mice that don’t work in humans is vast. Still, the demand for young, healthy, life-giving blood was concerning enough for the FDA to issue an alert citing dangers of disease, allergic reaction and overloaded circulatory systems for those recipients with heart disease. One wonders what the demand would be if these claims were proven true. 

RESOURCES

  • In her list of places to comment, Martha maps the Title IX issue and the “gag” rule to be imposed on Planned Parenthood and others. She also recommends various other issues to comment on, among them Arctic Wildlife Reserve drilling (comments extended). The EPA is now seeking comment on Sierra Club’s lawsuit over rollback of clean air act vehicle emissions. She also alerts us to water issues, power plant rollbacks, and a HUD initiative that would replace contracts with grants—which lots of local housing agencies oppose.
  • If you want to support Planned Parenthood, you could look here.
  • Sarah-Hope has helpful information on asylum seekers, employees of federal contractors who never got back pay, diabetics dealing with the high cost of insulin, indigenous Brazilians in danger from the new government—if you would like to speak up for some people, or for Monarch butterflies, bees, and other wildlife.

NYMHM for 17 Feb 2019

This week: public lands protected, national emergency declared, riots in Haiti, and several pipeline and science stories.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Immense public lands bill passes.

Let’s start with some good news! Millions of acres of public land and miles of wild rivers will be protected under a bill passed by the Senate last week. In an atmosphere where environmental protections are being eroded and national monuments are under siege, the bill is a startling win for conservation forces. The bill—which included protections for wilderness areas—was successful because it gave almost every senator voting something he or she needed, according to the New York Times. It is expected to pass in the House and be signed by Trump.

2. Militarized response to pipeline protests planned.

Via Freedom of Information Act documents, the Intercept has determined that police in Minnesota are bracing for a confrontation with those who would protest the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, a 1,031-mile replacement pipeline that would take an additional hundreds of thousands of barrels/day through Ojibwe lands. The documents reveal that law enforcement offices consulted with counterparts in North Dakota responsible for the violent suppression of Dakota Access Pipelines protests.

To add insult to injury, among records the Intercept obtained was an email in which their investigative reporter was described as “William Parrish out of California who claims to be a ‘journalist’.”

Following the release of these records, the overwhelmingly-Republican North Dakota Senate has voted for a bill to ban the release of public records on “critical infrastructure facilities,” including pipelines; it goes next to the House of Representatives. Advocates claim the restrictions are needed to prevent cybersecurity attacks.

In contrast, Minnesota’s new Democratic governor, Tim Walz, will continue the appeal of the pipeline his predecessor began.

The current Line 3 pipeline runs at half-capacity due to age and corrosion.

3. Mueller summons Cambridge Analytica representative

News You May Have Missed has tried to keep tabs on Cambridge Analytica, the organization that enabled the Trump campaign to target voters through social media. Now Brittany Kaiser, former business development director of Cambridge Analytica, has been subpoenaed by the Mueller investigation. Kaiser told Parliament last April that the company had operated to influence the “leave” vote in the Brexit campaign. Among the stakes here is whether she persuaded WikiLeaks to release emails before the election. [Guardian]

4. The border non-emergency

a. Stop us if you’ve heard this one

President Trump has declared a national emergency at the southern border to circumvent Congress for funds for a border wall, falsely claiming it would stop drugs from entering the U.S. 

California’s Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra says he will file a lawsuit to contest the declaration.

b. How do drugs enter the US?

On Friday, February 15th, Customs and Border Patrol announced that they had seized 221 pounds of cocaine in two late-January busts of ships entering at Port Hueneme, a small port 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The ships had initially come from Guatemala and Ecuador. The seizures followed a January 17th joint enforcement action by US and Australian authorities in which over 3,000 pounds of meth, 55 pounds of cocaine, and 11 pounds of heroin were seized at the Long Beach/Los Angeles seaport.

According to the DEA’s 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment Report (pdf), the majority of heroin entering the United States enters through legal ports of entry in private vehicles or in tractor-trailers, co-mingled with legal goods. A September 2018 report from the Post Office Inspector General’s office (pdf) also showed that smugglers are increasingly relying on the mail to ship drugs into the United States.

c. National Guard troops withdrawn from California and New Mexico

400 National Guard troops sent to the California border by former governor Jerry Brown are being withdrawn by current governor, Gavin Newsom. Newsom says that they will be redeployed, 110 to California’s fire agency and 100 to address international criminal gangs.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham withdrew most of the National Guard troops from New Mexico’s border last week; in a statement, she said, “New Mexico will not take part in the president’s charade of border fear-mongering by misusing our diligent National Guard troops.”

d. Immigrants aren’t a threat

According to Military Times, troops assigned to the border do not view immigration across the border or Mexico as significant threats; an October poll showed that 60% of those surveyed believe that immigration poses little or no threat to US security, and 77% viewed Mexico as little to no threat. They rated cyberterrorism, Russia, and China as more significant threats.

It has long been reported that, despite claims made by the President, illegal crossings at the southern border remain at historically-low levels. According to Forbes, illegal entry from Mexico has fallen by over 90% since 2000 and the number of people without documents living in the United States has fallen by around 1 million people since 2010. Border Patrol apprehensions of those illegally crossing the southern border in fiscal year 2017 were at the 5th-lowest level in 30 years, per their own data.

5. Your weekly reminder that we’re imprisoning children at the border.

a. NPR profile of Homestead

As of December 2018, nearly 15,000 children were apprehended at the U.S. southern border, some arriving as unaccompanied minors and others separated from their family members, now living in shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services. NPR profiled the largest of these facilities, the “temporary influx facility” in Homestead, Florida which houses 1,600 boys ages 13-17 at a cost of about $775/day/child or around $1.2 million per day. The largest of these facilities, Homestead is the only one run by a for-profit company, and the only one not overseen by state regulators. While a tour showed services and perks for children in the facility, advocates for the boys note that the children have experienced trauma and that they see the effects of trauma in their clients. (NYMHM notes that those separated from their family are experiencing ongoing trauma at the hands of the government.)

b. Inspector General finds moldy food at detention center

Yet another report (pdf) has identified abusive conditions at an immigration detention center, this time in New Jersey. Upon making a surprise visit last week, the Inspector General’s office has found that the correctional facility in Essex New Jersey, which can house up to 900 men, served detainees moldy and spoiled food. Conditions were so bad that the inspection team fired the kitchen manager on the spot.

The Inspector General’s report follows numerous other documents about this and other facilities about conditions that are a danger to health—among these was one we described last fall about the Department of Homeland Security’s investigation of conditions at an ICE shelter, revealed by the Center for Public Integrity.

c. Center for migrant children to be built on toxic waste site

Earthjustice and other environmental organizations have used public records to show that the government is planning to build a shelter that would house 7,500 unaccompanied children at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. As Earthjustice wrote, “The area is said to be contaminated with lead, arsenic, benzene, PFAS, and other chemicals associated with increased risk of cancer and neurodevelopmental damage.” See their “Toxic Cages” report for details (pdf).

The administration is fighting a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that would provide further details on the site and the planning process.

6. And finally, this week in government hyperbole.

The Department of the Interior has announced several mining operations with the headline The War on Coal is Over.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

7. Why are there riots in Haiti?

In 2005, 14 Caribbean countries signed a series of bilateral agreements between Venezuela and participating countries, collectively referred to as PetroCaribe, which provide financing to allow those countries to buy oil at very favorable credit terms, with 40% of funds going to a development fund for social programs.

In November 2017, a Haitian senate commission released a preliminary report finding that PetroCaribe funds had been mismanaged and that the country owed Venezuela over $80 million in back-payments as of September 2016. Haitian activists have been demanding an audit of the PetroCaribe funds, using the #PetroCaribeChallenge hashtag, as well as sit-ins and demonstrations in the capitol, Port-au-Prince.

President Trump’s concurrent economic sanctions against Venezuela gave Haiti an excuse not to pay. In January 2019, Haiti’s governing party decided not to recognize the re-election of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, siding with the U.S. and many other Western democracies. (Haiti is in the minority: 12 of 15 other Caribbean countries are criticizing the U.S. recognition of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as “carrying out a coup d’ etat.”)

In January 2019, Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors released a report of nearly $2 billion in misappropriated PetroCaribe funds, with another report due in April. The Guardian reports that now almost $4 billion in funding from PetroCaribe, earmarked for social development, seems to have gone missing. Anger at government corruption, amidst the extreme poverty of the country (about 59% live under the national poverty line) and the 15% inflation rate, has exploded into riots and violence leading to a country on lockdown with businesses, schools, and public transit shut down, roads barricaded, and hospitals struggling with lack of supplies.

Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moise (whose 2015 election was thrown out due to fraud, and whose election in 2016 with 21% voter turnout also sparked protests over suspected election shenanigans and money-laundering allegations), is refusing to step down and blaming the prime minister, Jean-Henry Ceant, who he chose to be PM in August 2018 after the previous PM, Jack Guy Lafontant, resigned over the fuel riots happening then. PM Ceant announced Saturday that government officials would lose perks like vehicles, phone cards, and paid travel in anti-corruption measures including a full audit, and promises to speak with factory owners about increasing the minimum wage.

The U.S. is considering sending food aid to Haiti to help address what is turning into a humanitarian crisis. The Miami Herald characterizes the relationship between the U.S. and Haiti as “a cooling of tensions” due to Haiti siding with Washington on the issue of who should rule Venezuela.

The U.S. is also attempting to send food and medicine to Venezuela against the wishes of Maduro but with the support of Guaidó.

For easier sharing, we’ve also published this item as its own post.

8. Who controls Canada’s indigenous land?

The issue of whether Canada can impose a pipeline on First Nations land is now before the courts. Coastal GasLink is building a 420-mile long pipeline which would bring gas from interior BC to the port of Kitimat, negotiating deals with elected indigenous councils along the route. However, the elected and hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en people; according to the BBC, “have jurisdiction within the boundaries of the reservations to administer federal government legislation, but not the wider traditional territory which the pipeline would pass through.” Hereditary chiefs say the consultation was not meaningful and indeed that they object to the imposition of the pipeline on environmental grounds.

9. Young women leading climate change movement in Europe

A major movement in Europe against climate change is being led primarily by teenage girls, many of them girls of color, according to BuzzFeed. Tens of thousands of girls have skipped class and led marches, including one of 12,000 people in The Hague last week, the largest protest the Netherlands has seen. 100,000 people attended a climate march in Brussels last weekend. Many girls were inspired by Greta Thunberg from Sweden, who picketed in front in front of the Swedish Parliament every Friday to demand that Sweden honor the Paris Climate Accords.

A New York seventh-grader, Alexandria Hogue, who was made ill by smoke from the California Camp Fire and inspired by Thunberg, has gone to the UN every week and galvanized environmental movements worldwide. A youth-led climate protest is planned for the U.S. on March 15.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Cow Deaths Signal Climate Change

Unless you’re a dairy farmer in the state of Washington, you’re unlikely to have heard about the more than 1,600 cows who died on February 9th in a blizzard there, which represents a devastating emotional loss and economic losses of about $3.2 million (plus future production losses).

The white-out snowstorm with 30 to 50 mph winds and gusts up to 80 mph was part of the same weather system that closed highways, caused power outages and local flooding, and led the governor to declare a state of emergency. AccuWeather notes, “This makes this February Seattle’s snowiest in recorded history, beating out the 13.1 inches that fell during February 1949.” Winter Storm Maya moved east through the last week, causing more damage. It’s the third of four named winter storms in February.

IFL Science explains how “the heaviest snowfalls … are becoming more likely in mid-winter because of human-induced climate change.”

Washington state’s infrastructure received a C grade last month from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which, alarmingly, is still better than the national average of D+. As climate change worsens, this poor infrastructure will be increasingly stress-tested.

11. New AI program is too good to release

The OpenAI team in California has announced that it will not release the dataset behind their newest algorithm designed to create convincing text. The algorithm, GPT-2, can create completely made-up news articles, product reviews, essays, blog posts, etc. from being fed just a sentence or two and building on it. The text it produces is so convincing and natural that it has given researchers pause, worrying that it could be easily misused for propaganda and misinformation purposes.

The algorithm works somewhat like the predictive text feature on smart phones, by anticipating the most natural word to follow the word before, but works from a vast dataset of millions of webpages—and requires no micromanaging. The development blog for the program said:

We’ve trained a large-scale unsupervised language model which generates coherent paragraphs of text, achieves state-of-the-art performance on many language modeling benchmarks and performs rudimentary reading comprehension, machine translation, question answering and summarization—all without task-specific training.

12. Amazon abandons plans for New York City HQ

Readers last week learned of the growing resistance in New York City regarding Amazon’s decision to build a secondary headquarters in Queens, splitting the location with Washington, DC. Backlash was substantial enough for Amazon to announce it is pulling out of the planned HQ. Citing a lack of support among elected officials, which the company describes as vital to any project’s success, it will now concentrate solely on the Washington DC location. Washington’s incentives package is composed of $750 million in tax breaks, while the New York City location offered a far larger $3 billion. Activists balked at the audacity of giving away 3 billion dollars to a company headed by the richest man in the world. This represents the most significant victory against the now-standard practice of paying successful companies for the privilege of their presence in cities and states.

13. Which is why Google is doing this…

The Washington Post reports that Google is using a system of shell companies and non-disclosure agreements to obscure a substantial number of the company’s real estate holdings to secure millions of dollars in tax incentives without public outcry.

Internet service companies like Google use dozens of large warehouses full of servers, called data centers, which consume large amounts of public resources like electricity and water to power and cool row upon row of machines. While there is some legitimacy in keeping data center locations secret, as they represent dangerous targets for sabotage, it seems as if the primary reason for the shell game is to prevent the public from knowing Google is behind the data centers, and asking why public funds are being provided to the largest, most financially-successful companies in the United States.

RESOURCES

  • Sarah-Hope once again offers opportunities to send letters and postcards to those in a position to act. To get to her site, it’s best to type in whatifknits.com, and click on the Word doc. She explains the five bills on asylum seekers and separated families, one which offers pathways to citizenship for agricultural workers, climate change legislation currently before the House, a bill requiring that the Trump administration act in response to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and much more.
  • Martha offers some helpful sites to track the rollback of environmental regulations as well as one to track deregulation in general. She also suggests some ways to provide on-the-record responses regarding SNAP benefits, Medicaid work requirements, patients’ rights, and many other issues. See her google doc.

Why are there riots in Haiti?

In 2005, 14 Caribbean countries signed a series of bilateral agreements between Venezuela and participating countries, collectively referred to as PetroCaribe, which provide financing to allow those countries to buy oil at very favorable credit terms, with 40% of funds going to a development fund for social programs.

In November 2017, a Haitian senate commission released a preliminary report finding that PetroCaribe funds had been mismanaged and that the country owed Venezuela over $80 million in back-payments as of September 2016. Haitian activists have been demanding an audit of the PetroCaribe funds, using the #PetroCaribeChallenge hashtag, as well as sit-ins and demonstrations in the capitol, Port-au-Prince.

President Trump’s concurrent economic sanctions against Venezuela gave Haiti an excuse not to pay. In January 2019, Haiti’s governing party decided not to recognize the re-election of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, siding with the U.S. and many other Western democracies. (Haiti is in the minority: 12 of 15 other Caribbean countries are criticizing the U.S. recognition of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as “carrying out a coup d’ etat.”)

In January 2019, Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors released a report of nearly $2 billion in misappropriated PetroCaribe funds, with another report due in April. The Guardian reports that now almost $4 billion in funding from PetroCaribe, earmarked for social development, seems to have gone missing. Anger at government corruption, amidst the extreme poverty of the country (about 59% live under the national poverty line) and the 15% inflation rate, has exploded into riots and violence leading to a country on lockdown with businesses, schools, and public transit shut down, roads barricaded, and hospitals struggling with lack of supplies.

Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moise (whose 2015 election was thrown out due to fraud, and whose election in 2016 with 21% voter turnout also sparked protests over suspected election shenanigans and money-laundering allegations), is refusing to step down and blaming the prime minister, Jean-Henry Ceant, who he chose to be PM in August 2018 after the previous PM, Jack Guy Lafontant, resigned over the fuel riots happening then. PM Ceant announced Saturday that government officials would lose perks like vehicles, phone cards, and paid travel in anti-corruption measures including a full audit, and promises to speak with factory owners about increasing the minimum wage.

The U.S. is considering sending food aid to Haiti to help address what is turning into a humanitarian crisis. The Miami Herald characterizes the relationship between the U.S. and Haiti as “a cooling of tensions” due to Haiti siding with Washington on the issue of who should rule Venezuela.

The U.S. is also attempting to send food and medicine to Venezuela against the wishes of Maduro but with the support of Guaidó.

NYMHM for 10 Feb

This week we’ll go in-depth on border security and the Green New Deal, plus 7 other stories that you may have missed, and opportunities for action.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Border security

By the time you read this, border security talks could be back on—or not. As of Sunday mid-day, they had stalled, according to the New York Times, for which Trump is blaming the Democrats. Democrats are trying to hold funds for a physical wall to $2 billion, while insisting that ICE’s priorities shift from detaining those with criminal records rather than people who have overstayed their visas.

Meanwhile, parts of the wall already built and in progress have impeded the migration not of people but of wildlife, damaging fragile ecosystems, as is visible from drone footage from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Dangers to people abound as well; the military in Nogales, Arizona strung as many as six separate coils of razor wire along the border fence separating the city from Nogales, Mexico—all without consulting city officials. The City Council passed a resolution demanding that the wire be removed, seeing it as a danger to pets, wildlife and children. As one citizen told The Washington Post:

“You hear on the news that an invasion is coming, but in fact,” he said, “border communities have been invaded by our own government.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is sending another 3,750 troops to support border agents.

Those of you interested in the history and viability of border walls may find the Shorenstein’s Center’s background information valuable.

Finally, Mexico is doubling the minimum wage, halving sales tax, and lowering taxes by a third in a new zona libre along the US-Mexico border to reduce emigration and encourage more US companies to invest in Mexican firms.

2. Suspicious timing on billionaires’ contributions to Republicans

Wealthy donors gave Republicans a total of $31.1 million during the two months during which the tax bill was being considered, according to the Center for Public Integrity, which has mapped historical giving patterns and noted the anomalies in this cycle.

The bill that was ultimately passed cut the corporate tax rate and gave significant benefits to the richest Americans. Middle class filers are already starting to see how their refunds have diminished in the face of shifting priorities.

3. McConnell funded by Russians?

Despite Democratic objections, sanctions against three Russian companies were lifted at the end of January. The companies are connected to Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Putin and one-time business partner with Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman who was convicted of bank fraud and tax evasion.

Now, the Daily Kos reports that Mitch McConnell received campaign contributions from Len Blavatnik, whose companies benefited from sanctions being lifted. A Soviet-born American (and also British citizen), Blavatnik donated some $3.5 million to a PAC which benefited McConnell. The Dallas News reported in 2017 on the Blavatnik donations to McConnell, but the story never gained traction.

A background piece from 2017 in the Dallas Daily News details how US citizens with ties to Russia made significant campaign contributions to Republicans. Later the paper pointed out that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen received significant contributions from A T & T as well as from an investment firm controlled by a Russian oligarch.

4. Green New Details

US House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) released their Green New Deal Proposal this week. It’s a Resolution, which means it’s not a new law, but more like a statement of purpose or broad blueprint, which (if adopted) would guide (but not bind) the development of the law.

This item will be longer than usual for us, since the proposal is so sweeping. We’re also publishing this item as a separate post, for ease of sharability. (Scroll down to “INTERNATIONAL NEWS” if you’re not interested.)

Here’s the Congressional summary of the resolution, but it’s worth reading the actual text of the proposal, which is easily readable for non-lawyers (and which will inoculate you from the hot takes from people who clearly didn’t read the proposal, only others’ summaries). It starts by acknowledging the climate crisis described by the IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC and Fourth National Climate Assessment—and it’s clear they actually read the IPCC summary for policy makers, which outlines which drastic changes are necessary to prevent literally billions from dying of thirst, forest fires, etc. Those changes “include attention to poverty and sustainable development.”

The GND proposal states that, as a primary polluter, the US has a responsibility to lead in “reducing emissions through economic transformation,” and ties climate change to income inequality, declining life expectancy in the US, and racial and gender wealth divides, noting that climate issues disproportionately affect “indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth” (or “frontline and vulnerable communities”). It notes that climate change is a national security threat.

It proposes a 10-year national mobilization to build resilience to extreme weather and other climate disasters, to repair and upgrade US infrastructure, and to switch to entirely green energy. There’s a long list of ways to do that which we won’t recap here, but which touch on manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, environmental clean-up, and educational opportunities, in coordination and consultation with “frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.” It ends with the promise of “providing all people of the United States with—(i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

Critics have predictably demanded to know how we’ll pay for it (ignoring the even higher cost of inaction) and likened it to a socialist fever dream or total government control.

On the issue of how we’ll pay for it: investment website The Motley Fool has an explainer of AOC’s 70% top marginal tax rate idea, in which Americans with more than $10 million/year in income would pay 70% on income above $10 million. Her proposal is separate from the Green New Deal, but obviously related.

Further reading:

Representative Ocasio-Cortez, whose educational background is in economics, understands as few leaders seem to do that our problems of late have been problems of deflation, not inflation. She also knows well that both inequality and the loss of our middle class have both caused and been worsened by these deflationary trends, along with their mirror images in the financial markets: our asset price hyperinflations – ‘bubbles’ – and busts. Her Green New Deal aims to do nothing short of reversing this slow-motion national suicide – and end our ongoing ‘planet-cide’ in the process.

—”The Green New Deal: How We Will Pay For It Isn’t ‘A Thing’ – And Inflation Isn’t Either” (Robert Hockett, Forbes, 16 Jan 2019)

Frontline and vulnerable communities stand to get it coming and going, from the problem and from the solutions. And unlike big energy companies pursuing growth, unlike idle billionaires fascinated with new tech, unlike banks and financial institutions seeking out new income streams, unlike incumbent industries fat from decades of subsidies, frontline and vulnerable communities do not have the means to fund campaigns and hire expensive lobbyists. They do not have the means to make their voice heard in the scrum of politics.

That’s why progressives exist: to amplify the voices of those without power (a class that includes future generations).

—”There’s now an official Green New Deal. Here’s what’s in it.: A close look at the fights it picks and the fights it avoids.” (David Roberts, 7 Feb 2019, Vox)

Ocasio-Cortez and her allies have rallied around the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark October report. The authors of the report asserted the planet has only 12 years to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit before catastrophic consequences ensue. . . . “What else is there? If we don’t save the planet what else is there to worry about?” Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s spokesman, told INSIDER recently. “We either believe that the scientists are right and we have 12 years to avoid cataclysmic failure of our climate system, or we don’t.”

—”Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled a Green New Deal that will force 2020 Democrats to take an aggressive stance on climate change” (Eliza Relman, 7 Feb 2019, Business Insider)

Ocasio-Cortez worked closely with the youth-led environmental organization Sunrise Movement to craft the Green New Deal deal and whip up interest in it. Through a series of sit-ins and other actions, the activist group chased down Democratic politicians to win support for the plan. The tactic seems to have worked: The Guardian reported that 60 House members and 9 senators are co-sponsoring the resolution. That includes presidential hopefuls Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren.

—”The Green New Deal is here, and everyone has something to say about it” (Justine Calma, 7 Feb 2019, Grist)

We’re reaching a tipping point on climate action. Reaching net-zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible is vital and it will require a sustained effort over the next decade and beyond. We look forward to working alongside a diverse group of business, labor, environmental justice, science, agriculture, youth and broadly representative civil society groups and communities to turn this resolution into actionable, bipartisan legislation.

—”Green New Deal Resolution Pushes Congress to Act on Climate” (Statement by Ken Kimmell, President, Union of Concerned Scientists, 7 Feb 2019)

The bill lists some of these consequences [of inaction]: $500 billion in lost annual economic output for the US by 2100, mass migration, bigger and more ferocious wildfires, and risk of more than $1 trillion in damage to US infrastructure and coastal property.

—”Green New Deal bill aims to move US to 100% renewable energy, net-zero emissions” (Megan Geuss, 7 Feb 2019, Ars Technica)

Climate change and inequality are inextricably linked. We cannot tackle one without addressing the other. A Green New Deal would take on both.

—”What Is a Green New Deal?” Sierra Club [Undated – could have been written before the Resolution was released – Google Cache is from 10 Feb 2019]

Think this wild-eyed? Think again. Wind costs have fallen by 67% since 2009 while utility-scale solar has dropped by 86% since that time, according to the financial adviser, Lazard. Prudence has been a virtue. But what green energy skeptics have learned is that the public incentives and the overall economics are adding up — progress that will only go forward, given that prices continue to fall while the quality continues to improve.

—”The Green New Deal Just Speeds Up The Current Green Wave. Case In Point: Solar-Plus-Storage” (Ken Silverstein, 10 Feb 2019, Forbes)

And, just for laughs:

Nobody is arguing that landing a man on the moon would not be a stirring national achievement. But since when is inspiration a justification for national policy? Far more sensible would be to attempt to get a man a quarter of the way to the moon in 20 years, with a longer-term project to get a full three-quarters of the way there by the year 2000. In point of fact, the technology to get anyone to the moon and back simply does not exist, and there is no proof it will ever exist. Rocket science is incredibly complex, which is why everything else is now described as “it’s not rocket science.”

—”Here’s the case against the Green New Deal, by analogy” (Tom Toles, 8 Feb 2019, The Washington Post)

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

5. North Macedonia now able to join NATO and the EU

On Friday, Greece became the first nation to ratify the admission of the newly renamed Republic of Northern Macedonia to NATO. By a narrow vote in January, Greek MPs accepted an agreement which would rename Macedonia “The Republic of North Macedonia.” North Macedonia is now able to join NATO and the EU. The issue has been contentious in Greece for 27 years because of an area inside the country also called “Macedonia,” a name deeply embedded in Greek history; the newly renamed country had been known as “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” after the Soviet Union dispersed.

The agreement to change the name came out of a complex political process during which in 2016 a coalition of political parties replaced a right-wing nationalist party in North Macedonia and negotiated the Prespa agreement with Greece (named for a lake between the two countries where the negotiations took place), culminating in Greek support for North Macedonia’s admission to NATO. Enacting Prespa did not come easily; the campaign was targeted by Russian disinformation, as Putin is not pleased to see NATO expand. [NYT]

The stakes for North Macedonians are high: “Unemployment and poverty are in the 20-25% range and foreign investment is essential to improve this number” according to Dave Saldana, who was part of an international team of consultants who helped move the process forward. However, there will be no foreign dollars “without border security, internal stability, and open access to trade markets,” he explains—all now possible. He points out that once Bulgaria and Romania entered NATO, foreign investment increased increased sharply. Indeed, GDP went up 133% and 182% respectively (our calculations based on data provided by the World Bank). If North Macedonia follows this model, “more jobs, higher wages, better living standards” will become possible, along with “minimum standards of education, health care, workplace, environmental standards,” Saldana says—all of which will bring increased security to the region. [Independent, Time]

6. Maduro blocking aid to Venezuela

Millions of dollars in US food and medical supplies have been stopped at the Venezuelan border by president Nicolás Maduro, who said on Friday, “The reality is there is no help. It’s a message of humiliation to the people. If they really wanted to help they should lift all the economic sanctions, the financial persecution, and cancel the economic ban that robs us of billions of dollars.” [WaPo] However, Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself president, says humanitarian aid will be allowed in. Canada, on the other hand, is providing $53 million in aid to neither the existing Venezuelan government nor to Guaidó but to non-governmental organizations and countries trying to support Venezuelans leaving the country. [Globe & Mail] Cold Type has a strong round-up of Venezuela news (pdf).

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Drug companies withholding generics from the market

An analysis published in Kaiser Health News reports that of the 1,600 generic drugs approved by the FDA, more than 700 or 43% are not available for sale in the United States. Generic drugs are a key factor in keeping pharmaceutical costs down as they compete with far more costly brand-name drugs under patent protection. Reasons for the absence in the marketplace include costly litigation from patent holders, industry consolidation, and anti-competitive agreements in which brand-name drug manufacturers simply pay generic manufacturers to keep a drug off the shelves. Studies have shown that to bring the cost of a drug down 33%, five versions of a generic need to be available versus the name brand. Clearly, anti-competitive market manipulation is compounding unscrupulous marketing and shameless price gouging as drivers for pharmaceutical industry profits.

8. ‘Virtual’ Pharmacology set to revolutionize medicine

Partnering teams from the University of California San Francisco and the University of North Carolina have built on advances in atomic-scale molecular imaging and computer simulation of novel chemical compounds called “virtual pharmacology” to build a platform that will be able to test over a billion new chemical compounds. Collaborating with a cutting-edge chemical supplier based in Kiev who offers syntheses of new molecules at a price as low as sixty-five dollars per molecule, the team is now able to rapidly test their new drugs to see if real-world testing matches the simulations. Already as a proof of concept of their method, the team concentrated on two bio-mechanisms, a bacterial enzyme called beta-lactamase involved in antibiotic resistance and the D4 dopamine receptor found in the human brain and implicated in psychosis and addictive behavior. The huge database and simulator combed through millions of potential matches. They found several hundred top candidates likely to perform as needed and had them synthesized and after lab testing found the strongest beta-lactamase inhibitor known to date and one of the most powerful dopamine receptor activators ever discovered. This advance is essentially taking biochemistry from what has been a painstakingly hand-crafted process of a single molecule isolated and studied one at a time to a mass-production paradigm in terms of efficiency.

9. Amazon reportedly reconsidering New York headquarters expansion

The much reported-on and controversial race by municipalities to court Amazon to locate its secondary North American headquarters within their cities ended with a split decision and a consolation prize. Amazon chose to split the headquarters into two locations, one in the Washington DC area and the other in Queens, New York City with Nashville, TN receiving a smaller logistics center. Enormous tax-incentive packages were part of the enticement for all three cities and while Nashville and Washington have experienced some local grumbling over the size of the tax breaks, New York City has broken into near revolt over its success. At heart is the question of why the most valuable company in the country would require tax breaks as well as issues of gentrification, urban planning and Amazon’s anti-union stances. This strong backlash has allegedly caused Amazon executives to reconsider the decision, which is expected to take until 2020 to finalize.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist always has an excellent set of useful actions.
  • Martha has sorted through 300 calls for public comment and offered her best suggestions for getting your views documented. Significant this week: proposed changes to banking regulations which would undermine protections against payday loans and water down stress tests for banks; the San Diego border wall; ACA; tightening eligibility for SNAP (food stamps). You might want to have a word about arctic drilling as well.
  • Sarah-Hope wonders whether you have thoughts about exporting semi-automatic weapons, preventing victims (including children) of domestic violence from obtaining asylum, investigating whether Kavanaugh committed perjury, escalating deregulation and more. If so, she has summarized these and many other issues for you, and can suggest to whom you might write. Type in, do not click on “whatifknits.com.”
  • Tom Dispatch is always a reliable source; look at the resource list on the right side of his page for more of the same.
  • If you’d like to tweet to climate deniers and climate obfuscators, Get The Facts Out is all set up for you to do so.

The Green New Details

US House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) released their Green New Deal Proposal this week. It’s a Resolution, which means it’s not a new law, but more like a statement of purpose or broad blueprint, which (if adopted) would guide (but not bind) the development of the law.

Here’s the Congressional summary of the resolution, but it’s worth reading the actual text of the proposal, which is easily readable for non-lawyers (and which will inoculate you from the hot takes from people who clearly didn’t read the proposal, only others’ summaries). It starts by acknowledging the climate crisis described by the IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC and Fourth National Climate Assessment—and it’s clear they actually read the IPCC summary for policy makers, which outlines which drastic changes are necessary to prevent literally billions from dying of thirst, forest fires, etc. Those changes “include attention to poverty and sustainable development.”

The GND proposal states that, as a primary polluter, the US has a responsibility to lead in “reducing emissions through economic transformation,” and ties climate change to income inequality, declining life expectancy in the US, and racial and gender wealth divides, noting that climate issues disproportionately affect “indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth” (or “frontline and vulnerable communities”). It notes that climate change is a national security threat.

It proposes a 10-year national mobilization to build resilience to extreme weather and other climate disasters, to repair and upgrade US infrastructure, and to switch to entirely green energy. There’s a long list of ways to do that which we won’t recap here, but which touch on manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, environmental clean-up, and educational opportunities, in coordination and consultation with “frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.” It ends with the promise of “providing all people of the United States with—(i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

Critics have predictably demanded to know how we’ll pay for it (ignoring the even higher cost of inaction) and likened it to a socialist fever dream or total government control.

On the issue of how we’ll pay for it: investment website The Motley Fool has an explainer of AOC’s 70% top marginal tax rate idea, in which Americans with more than $10 million/year in income would pay 70% on income above $10 million. Her proposal is separate from the Green New Deal, but obviously related.

Further reading:

Representative Ocasio-Cortez, whose educational background is in economics, understands as few leaders seem to do that our problems of late have been problems of deflation, not inflation. She also knows well that both inequality and the loss of our middle class have both caused and been worsened by these deflationary trends, along with their mirror images in the financial markets: our asset price hyperinflations – ‘bubbles’ – and busts. Her Green New Deal aims to do nothing short of reversing this slow-motion national suicide – and end our ongoing ‘planet-cide’ in the process.

—”The Green New Deal: How We Will Pay For It Isn’t ‘A Thing’ – And Inflation Isn’t Either” (Robert Hockett, Forbes, 16 Jan 2019)

Frontline and vulnerable communities stand to get it coming and going, from the problem and from the solutions. And unlike big energy companies pursuing growth, unlike idle billionaires fascinated with new tech, unlike banks and financial institutions seeking out new income streams, unlike incumbent industries fat from decades of subsidies, frontline and vulnerable communities do not have the means to fund campaigns and hire expensive lobbyists. They do not have the means to make their voice heard in the scrum of politics.

That’s why progressives exist: to amplify the voices of those without power (a class that includes future generations).

—”There’s now an official Green New Deal. Here’s what’s in it.: A close look at the fights it picks and the fights it avoids.” (David Roberts, 7 Feb 2019, Vox)

Ocasio-Cortez and her allies have rallied around the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark October report. The authors of the report asserted the planet has only 12 years to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit before catastrophic consequences ensue. . . . “What else is there? If we don’t save the planet what else is there to worry about?” Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s spokesman, told INSIDER recently. “We either believe that the scientists are right and we have 12 years to avoid cataclysmic failure of our climate system, or we don’t.”

—”Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled a Green New Deal that will force 2020 Democrats to take an aggressive stance on climate change” (Eliza Relman, 7 Feb 2019, Business Insider)

Ocasio-Cortez worked closely with the youth-led environmental organization Sunrise Movement to craft the Green New Deal deal and whip up interest in it. Through a series of sit-ins and other actions, the activist group chased down Democratic politicians to win support for the plan. The tactic seems to have worked: The Guardian reported that 60 House members and 9 senators are co-sponsoring the resolution. That includes presidential hopefuls Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren.

—”The Green New Deal is here, and everyone has something to say about it” (Justine Calma, 7 Feb 2019, Grist)

We’re reaching a tipping point on climate action. Reaching net-zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible is vital and it will require a sustained effort over the next decade and beyond. We look forward to working alongside a diverse group of business, labor, environmental justice, science, agriculture, youth and broadly representative civil society groups and communities to turn this resolution into actionable, bipartisan legislation.

—”Green New Deal Resolution Pushes Congress to Act on Climate” (Statement by Ken Kimmell, President, Union of Concerned Scientists, 7 Feb 2019)

The bill lists some of these consequences [of inaction]: $500 billion in lost annual economic output for the US by 2100, mass migration, bigger and more ferocious wildfires, and risk of more than $1 trillion in damage to US infrastructure and coastal property.

—”Green New Deal bill aims to move US to 100% renewable energy, net-zero emissions” (Megan Geuss, 7 Feb 2019, Ars Technica)

Climate change and inequality are inextricably linked. We cannot tackle one without addressing the other. A Green New Deal would take on both.

—”What Is a Green New Deal?” Sierra Club [Undated – could have been written before the Resolution was released – Google Cache is from 10 Feb 2019]

Think this wild-eyed? Think again. Wind costs have fallen by 67% since 2009 while utility-scale solar has dropped by 86% since that time, according to the financial adviser, Lazard. Prudence has been a virtue. But what green energy skeptics have learned is that the public incentives and the overall economics are adding up — progress that will only go forward, given that prices continue to fall while the quality continues to improve.

—”The Green New Deal Just Speeds Up The Current Green Wave. Case In Point: Solar-Plus-Storage” (Ken Silverstein, 10 Feb 2019, Forbes)

And, just for laughs:

Nobody is arguing that landing a man on the moon would not be a stirring national achievement. But since when is inspiration a justification for national policy? Far more sensible would be to attempt to get a man a quarter of the way to the moon in 20 years, with a longer-term project to get a full three-quarters of the way there by the year 2000. In point of fact, the technology to get anyone to the moon and back simply does not exist, and there is no proof it will ever exist. Rocket science is incredibly complex, which is why everything else is now described as “it’s not rocket science.”

—”Here’s the case against the Green New Deal, by analogy” (Tom Toles, 8 Feb 2019, The Washington Post)

NYMHM for 3 Feb

We often observe here at #newsyoumayhavemissed that so much is happening that it’s impossible to keep track of it all—almost certainly a strategy by the Trump administration to achieve their unpopular goals. The shutdown story, border wall boondoggle, and Mueller investigation have been pushing off the front page the equally important stories of the transgender military ban, teachersstrikes, BLM and Native American concerns, and migrant children locked up, separate from their parents, in facilities with, to put it mildly, inadequate oversight. Meanwhile, those social justice concerns are in turn diverting attention from structural changes to our governance and laws, and those changes are diverting attention from the slow-motion oncoming climate crisis. None of these things are a distraction-in-the-sense-of-being-unimportant, but they each serve to distract us from the next, making any sustained campaign of objections less likely. This week we’ll again focus on some stories getting less attention, and follow the news with some suggestions and resources for action.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. White House blocking rule requiring employers to submit details of workplace injuries.

The Obama administration enacted the Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses rule to get more detailed information about how, and how many, people are injured on the job. In 2017, the Trump administration put the rule on hold. More recently, they amended the rule so employers would only have to submit a summary report, effective 25 February 2019. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) rushed through the amendment in 6 weeks (rather than the usual 3 months) despite the shutdown. The non-profit occupational health research group Public Citizen has filed a lawsuit hoping to prevent the changes. [Vox]

2. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to roll back Obama-era rules on campus sexual assault cases

The Department of Education has proposed new rules for investigating campus sexual assaults. DeVos wants to protect the accused by, among other changes, narrowing the definition of sexual harassment (potentially excluding rape!), guaranteeing a right to cross-examine accusers through a lawyer or representative, and exempting schools from investigating assaults at off-campus events.

Nothing is stopping DeVos from doing what Ajit Pai did and claiming, like her supporters, that “quality is more important than quantity“—although NYMHM observes that arguing that is essentially an admission that the problem of sexual assault is far more common than the problem of false accusations. The comment period is over, but you can still call your members of Congress.

3. Federally-funded foster agencies in SC may deny services to same-sex and non-Christian couples.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster asked for, and has now received from the federal government, a waiver of the rule that “prevents publicly licensed and funded foster care agencies from serving specific religions.” In effect, it’s now legal to discriminate against prospective parents because they are gay, or Jewish, which McMaster is perversely championing as a win for religious freedom.

4. 18% of streams and 51% of wetlands under threat

On December 11, 2018, in response to a February 28, 2017 Executive Order and three Supreme Court decisions, the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) jointly proposed a new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule (AKA the Clean Water Rule), narrowing the scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act, and probably disingenuously argues that states will make up the difference. Washington Ag Network states the replacement rule is “welcomed by U.S. agriculture” and the Farm Bureau president has spoken in support of it, saying current rules aren’t clear. The Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at University of Tennessee argues:

A better solution to changing WOTUS may be to require the federal government to map the areas that it determines are in the watershed of ephemeral streams. Then farmers will not be faced the problem of not knowing whether or not they need to apply for a permit before engaging changes to their land.

The National Law Review has published an outline of the changes. A 2017 EPA/USACE slideshow (pdf) estimated 18% of streams and 51% of wetlands would no longer be protected. The Environmental Defense Fund recommends edge-of-field and watershed-level conservation and restoring buffers, filters and wetlands, regardless of what happens with WOTUS. Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day comment period will start. We’ll post when it does, as will Martha’s list.

5. Changes to H1-B lottery

The lottery for H-1B visas, which allow American employers to employ specialized foreign labor (and which, we’re amused to learn, Melania Trump once used), is changing. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will now start with a lottery of all petitioners to fill the 65,000 H-1B quota, followed by a 20,000-quota lottery for holders of advanced degrees from U.S. institutions, instead of the other way around, which gives holders of advanced U.S. degrees two kicks at the can. USCIS estimates that up to 5,340 more immigrants with higher degrees will be selected, though the overall number of immigrants is not increasing.

6. Low-yield nukes

In a move we here at NYMHM don’t understand at all, on the direction of the Trump administration, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has started building the W-76-2, the “first low-yield, submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead” for the Navy. We find ourselves in the weird position of… advocating for higher-yield nukes? What is even happening. But: it appears that W-76-2 has a yield of about 5 to 7 kilotons (for contrast, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 15 kt), and would be launched from submarines, but Russia, or any other enemy, would have no way of differentiating it from the Navy’s primary sub-launched nuke, the 100kt W-76-1, so they would launch a massive counter attack upon detection. Yet a foolish president might be more likely to actually order the use of the W-76-2, thinking of it as more like a big conventional bomb. So as far as we non-experts at NYMHM can tell, this move makes us less safe.

7. Comment period for changes to HIPAA

For those of you interested in health policy, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services has published a Request for Information (RFI). Comment by February 12 specifically on HIPAA and medical data sharing and communications. This is not an opportunity to comment on anything you dislike about HIPAA, but is more narrowly focused on removing regulatory obstacles to efficient patient care coordination while preserving patient privacy. Section II.a. of the RFI lists the questions they’d like commenters to address.

8. ICE continues to be awful

a. ICE force-feeding detainees

Immigration detainees from India and Nicaragua being held in a detention center in El Paso have been on a hunger strike over the last month, protesting unequal treatment. In particular, detainees from Punjab have been denied bond, while others have received it. AP reporters Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke reported that hunger strikers are being painfully force-fed.  Human Rights Watch condemned the force-feeding: “ICE should immediately stop the cruel, inhuman, and degrading process of force-feeding any detainees who have made a rational decision to stop eating as a form of protest.”

b. ICE issues fake court dates, forcing immigrants to drive for hours

NYMHM reported on the practice of ICE giving immigrants fake court dates, sometimes many hours away. ICE has done it again; on Thursday, according to CBS, ICE issued thousands of Notice to Appear letters, leading to chaos in immigration courts in Arlington, San Francisco and Memphis, as thousands of immigrants responded as they thought they were supposed to. As one immigration attorney told CBS, “For someone who’s facing deportation, playing around with court dates is literally playing around with their life.”

c. ICE refuses to cite shelters for violations

Meanwhile, ICE has refused to cite detention facilities for health and safety violations, according to an auditor general’s report (pdf). Among the 14,000 violations reported only two penalties were imposed. Among the violations were failures to report sexual assault and staff misconduct, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Staff did not respond quickly enough to medical crises, permitted detainees to be housed among violent criminals, allowed a toxic gas to be used to subdue detainees and so on; instead of citing the facilities, ICE issued waivers permitting the practices. Over 35,000 people are being housed in private detention centers.

d. The U.S. says it can’t find separated children

In a court filing on February 2, the U.S. said that it cannot locate the many thousands of children ICE separated from their parents. It says it has no tracking system and no resources to do so, while acknowledging that separations are ongoing.

The ACLU, which is carrying the case to force the government to locate the children, posted that “The Trump administration’s response is a shocking concession that it can’t easily find thousands of children it ripped from parents, and doesn’t even think it’s worth the time to locate each of them. The administration also doesn’t dispute that separations are ongoing in significant numbers. We will be back in court on February 21.” The government’s responses are on the ACLU site.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Where did Juan Guaidó come from?

Last week, NYMHM commented on the simmering coup in Venezuela, where the incumbent president has been challenged by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who proclaimed himself president after having boycotted the election in which he might have run (and won). Astonishingly, Guaidó was immediately recognized by the U.S. and Canada and praised by the mainstream press. Writing for Grey Zone, journalists Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal recount recent US interventions into Venezuela, all of which added to the destabilization of the economy, and show how Guaidó was cultivated from his student activism days by US politicians, institutes and universities.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration said on Sunday that military options were on the table in Venezuela and promised $20 million in aid to Guaidó, along with access to Venezuelan funds in U.S. banks.

A number of European countries plan to recognize Guaidó if Maduro doesn’t call new elections.

We also noted last week the tragic irony of the appointment of Elliott Abrams as special envoy to Venezuela. The Intercept now has a history of Abrams’ disastrous relationship to Latin America. Warning: the first paragraph is difficult reading.

10. Foreign Policy chaos: attack on Iran?

Writing for Foreign Policy in Focus, Conn Hallinan sketches out the real possibility that John Bolton could lead us into war with Iran. Apparently the Trump administration is persuaded that its sanctions have not persuaded Iran to revisit the 2015 nuclear agreement that the administration unilaterally scrapped. Still, other nations have declined to support the sanctions and have urged Iran to stay in the agreement. As FPIF notes, it’s not clear that war with Iran, which is opposed by the American public by a 2-1 margin, serves anyone’s interests at all.

11. Immigration attorneys denied entry in Mexico

Two immigration attorneys who work for Al Otro Lado, which filed a lawsuit in 2017 alleging that the Trump administration was violating the rights of asylum seekers, were denied entry into Mexico because another country—unnamed—had flagged their passports. In addition, two journalists who covered the migrant caravan were also prohibited from entering. One of the journalists needed to go into Tijuana, where she lives, to pick up her baby.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

12. Opioid crisis projected to deepen: 147% increase in deaths by 2025

According to a study by a team at Massachusetts General Hospital published in JAMA Network Open, deaths from opioid overdoses are likely to rise despite changes in policies limiting the prescription of opioid drugs. The study shows that opioid use has shifted in recent years. What were largely misused and/or over-prescribed medications have now been replaced by dangerous synthetic illicit drugs such as fentanyl and heroin. In addition to former prescription drug abusers shifting to wholly illicit substances, the team projects that by 2025, half of all new opioid users will start with these black market sources, completely bypassing the medical system altogether. The study concludes that simply reducing availability and use of prescribed opioids will not be enough to stem the current crisis; instead, a multi-pronged approach is needed including drug therapies to treat addiction and more widespread use and availability of anti-overdose medication such as naloxone.

13. Massive cavity found beneath crucial Antarctic glacier 

An enormous void around two-thirds the area of Manhattan has been found beneath the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, mostly formed in just the last three years. The vast Thwaites Glacier’s meltwater alone accounts for about 4% of total sea level rise. The void is between the glacier and the bedrock it sits on, where ocean currents infiltrate and undermine the ice above them.

As the ocean penetrates further into the glacier, the glacier will melt faster—and the Thwaites Glacier has enough water to raise the world’s oceans over two feet by itself. Of even more concern is that the Glacier acts as a plug of sorts, damming ice in place further inland. Without it, ice would flow from the interior of the continent to the sea, potentially leading to an additional eight feet of sea level rise. A sea level rise of ten feet would be catastrophic, displacing hundreds of millions of people and drowning dozens of cities around the world. [Science Advances]

14. Fewer than one in ten people can tell an ad from a news article. 

An online experiment conducted by professors at the University of Boston and the University of Georgia found that fewer than one in ten participants could tell what they were reading was advertising and not an impartial news article. The study asked participants to read an actual advertising piece from Bank of America created by marketing firm Brandpoint. The 515 word ad entitled “America’s Smartphone Obsession Extends to Online Banking” contained a disclosure line identifying it as an advertisement, yet less than ten percent of the participants—a broad cross-section of the US population—accurately described it as an ad. The people who were successful tended to be younger, more educated, and more apt to describe their news consumption as for informational purposes.

RESOURCES FOR ACTION

  • Jen Hofmann’s Americans of Conscience Checklist for the Week of February 3, 2019.
  • Martha’s list has some key opportunities to comment—among other issues, on further restrictions to SNAP (food stamps), redefinition of the “Waters of the U.S,” standards on preventing food-borne illness, injuries to marine mammals and many, many EPA regulations.
  • Do you have something to say about wait times for asylum seekers, the protection of vulnerable immigrant populations, the separation of families, the Climate Solutions Act, changes to the Clean Waters Act (WOTUS), the Mueller investigation, and so on? Sarah-Hope’s list recommends whom to write about what. Her own summaries are excellent and she has some drawn from Rogan’s list as well.

Breaking: 18% of streams and 51% of wetlands under threat

On December 11, 2018, in response to a February 28, 2017 Executive Order and three Supreme Court decisions, the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) jointly proposed a new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule (AKA the Clean Water Rule), narrowing the scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act, and probably disingenuously argues that states will make up the difference. Washington Ag Network states the replacement rule is “welcomed by U.S. agriculture” and the Farm Bureau president has spoken in support of it, saying current rules aren’t clear. The Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at University of Tennessee argues:

A better solution to changing WOTUS may be to require the federal government to map the areas that it determines are in the watershed of ephemeral streams. Then farmers will not be faced the problem of not knowing whether or not they need to apply for a permit before engaging changes to their land.

The National Law Review has published an outline of the changes. A 2017 EPA/USACE slideshow (pdf) estimated 18% of streams and 51% of wetlands would no longer be protected. The Environmental Defense Fund recommends edge-of-field and watershed-level conservation and restoring buffers, filters and wetlands. Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day comment period will start. We’ll post when it does, as will Martha’s list.

Photo: US EPA Wetland area in the Chesapeake Bay