NYMHM for 31 March

If you read NYMHM regularly, you may notice that we rarely mention Mueller, mainly because it’s our mandate to focus on neglected news. Pending the release of the full report, which Mitch McConnell is repeatedly blocking, we are suspending judgment of its central questions—but we note that the summary comes from Trump’s hand-picked attorney general, who wrote a memo arguing that it’s impossible by definition for a president to obstruct justice, even by, for example, firing the FBI Director and then saying on national TV that he did it to shut down investigations into his own misconduct.

President Trump is implicated in paying off women alleging affairs, negotiating a huge real estate deal with Russia’s help, and selling access through Mar-a-Lago. The White House keeps refusing to provide information about security clearances. He lies about his net worth and lots of other things. Even if Trump doesn’t meet the legal (rather than public-opinion) definition of treason for colluding with foreign entities to steal the election (and we don’t know yet that that was even Mueller’s conclusion)—we don’t need the apparatus of the law to have an accurate impression of Trump and his cronies as fundamentally dishonest. We expect more from our president than merely avoiding criminal liability.

We believe in the value of work. Some of our readers, we hope, will work on holding the president accountable. Others, we hope, will volunteer for, and donate to, primary campaigns for state and federal races across the country, and then for the general. Still others, we hope, will volunteer for, and donate to, causes which fight for human rights and humane treatment for everybody, notably migrants, the homeless, LGBTQ youth, indigenous peoples and people of color, and other marginalized groups, and/or will work on protecting the environment. There’s plenty to do, and we hope everybody reading this will take on a manageable portion of it, and keep calling their Congressfolk and stay in the fight. Suggestions for action are in our Resources section.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Trump tells media to muzzle his political adversaries.

The Trump campaign sent a memo (jpg) to TV producers suggesting they stop interviewing a Democratic Senator [Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)], three Democratic House Representatives [Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA and chair of the House Intelligence Committee), and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA)], Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and former CIA director John Brennan.

2. Cuts to food stamps hit ~1.3 million Puerto Ricans.

For U.S. states, the federal government has committed to funding these programs’ needs, whatever the cost and without needing to take a vote. But Puerto Rico instead funds its programs through a block grant from the federal government, which need to be regularly renewed, and also gives food stamp benefits about 40 percent smaller than those of U.S. states.” Trump wants to limit funding to Puerto Rico to that needed to fortify the electric grid. Food stamp money also goes to buying medicine and getting medical treatment. The Democratic-led House approved a bill authorizing the $600 million request and it is now before the Republican-led Senate.

3. Hate crimes and Facebook

Anti-semitic attacks in America are up, representing almost 60% of religious/ethnic hate crimes. Most of the remainder target Muslims.

Facebook has announced that they’re banning white nationalism/separatism on both Facebook and Instagram, and will direct searches for “terms associated with white supremacy” to Life After Hate (whose federal funding was cut by Trump).

4. What we forget the ACA covers

Trump wants to end the ACA through the courts. Things we don’t generally associate with the Affordable Care Act would no longer be required, like the FDA biosimilar drug program, Medicare fraud and kickbacks regulations, break time for nursing mothers, and restaurant calorie labels. Call the Department of Justice at 202-353-1555 to let them know your thoughts.

5. Only awards for journalists Trump likes?

The U.S. State Department has canceled Finnish investigative journalist Jessikka Aro’s International Women of Courage award over her criticisms of President Trump.

6. Charter school money debacles

In the wake of Betsy DeVos’ controversial proposal to cut all $18 million of the Special Olympics’ funding (which Trump has since walked back), a public education advocacy group report reveals that the US government has wasted as much as $1 billion on charter schools that never opened, or opened and then closed again.

The State of California is also failing to appropriately follow the money: the LA Times reports that Clark and Jeanette Parker, who run charter schools in the state, have made millions off taxpayer money by paying themselves to rent buildings they own, contract out services to companies they own, and pay themselves generous consulting fees, and get away with it by paying regulators thousands in campaign contributions.

7. Trump nominees the worst possible people, as usual.

a. Interior Secretary nominee David Bernhardt

Trump’s pick for Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, currently acting secretary, is a partner at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which has donated over $225k to members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Pretty clear conflict of interest there. Bernhardt also blocked a report from Fish and Wildlife Service on malathion and chlorpyrifos (two pesticides which the report found “jeopardize the continued existence” of over 1,200 endangered species), preventing protective regulations. Greenpeace sent a swamp monster to photobomb his confirmation hearing in protest. You can sign a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petition here.

b. Federal Labor Relations Authority general counsel nominee Catherine Bird

Trump’s nominee for Federal Labor Relations Authority’s general counsel, Catherine Bird, is “part of a group accused of violating the labor rights of Health and Human Services Department employees.”

c. Federal Reserve Board nominee Stephen Moore

Trump is nominating the “easily confused” Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve Board. A former Bush economic advisor tells Bloomberg, “He does not have the intellectual gravitas for this important job.” Moore also owes $75k to the IRS and was found in contempt of court in 2012.

d. World Bank president nominee David Malpass

Trump nominee David Malpass is currently Undersecretary for International Affairs in the Treasury Department and former chief economist at Bear Stearns (which famously collapsed during the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis). He argued in 2017 that “the tax reform that’s going through will contribute substantially to economic growth,” which we know now didn’t happen. Maybe we shouldn’t nominate people who think “multilateralism has gone substantially too far” to lead a multilateral organization, especially when their economic predictions are so off.

e. The blue slip is dead

Trump is nominating judges to the 9th Circuit without asking for input from California’s Democratic Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. Traditionally, the White House asks home-state senators for approval (a “blue slip”) before nominations.

8. Is there a recession coming?

US and European equities went into reverse on Friday as the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds fell below those for three-month notes,” which matters because this yield curve inversion is often historically correlated with recessions, maybe due to Trump’s interference with the Fed.

Trump’s financial sanctions office has lost about 10% of its staff despite its work roughly doubling, due to job opportunities elsewhere and low morale among staff.

A new study estimates that Trump’s tariffs cost Americans at least $6.9 billion last year. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, with Princeton and Columbia, found that US consumers are currently spending about $1.4 billion/month due to tariffs.

Bloomberg reports that “few U.S. companies are bringing their production back home,” and that “weakness from housing to retail sales and consumer sentiment . . . have economists cutting estimates of fourth-quarter gross domestic product . . . [but] a healthy American labor market with rising wages is propelling the economy toward the longest expansion on record.”

9. Good news, everybody

  • New Mexico just added same-day and automatic voter registration.
  • A federal judge struck down Kentucky‘s and Arkansas’ Medicaid work requirements.
  • Maryland Democrats overrode the governor’s veto to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2025.
  • The Massachusetts House voted 147-8 to ban conversion therapy for minors. It goes to the state Senate next. Republican Governor Charlie Baker gave the bill lukewarm support and will face pressure from some Republican colleagues; if you’re in MA, call 617-725-4005 to let him know you support a ban on the abusive practice.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. EU Copyright Directive

The EU Copyright Directive (pdf) has passed, including Article 11 (news aggregators and search engines pay to use news links) and Article 13 (large tech companies liable for copyright violations in material posted on their platforms). Memes are supposedly excluded. Ars Technica says the law is confusing. EU countries now have two years to approve and fine-tune implementation; the Electronic Frontier Foundation says, “there’s good reason to believe that online services will converge on the most restrictive national implementation of the Directive.

11. China persecuting critics and religious minorities

A Vanity Fair article on the disappearance of celebrity Fan Bingbing buries the lede a bit, but outlines an effort by the government of China to crack down on critics:

An eminent TV news anchor was taken away hours before going on air. A retired professor with views critical of the government was dragged away during a live interview on Voice of America. A billionaire was abducted from his private quarters in the Four Seasons in Hong Kong. Other high-profile disappearances include Interpol president Meng Hongwei in September, photojournalist Lu Guang in November, two Canadians who went missing in December, as well as the writer Yang Hengjun, who went missing in January.

To be clear, being tough on tax fraud is good, but imprisoning people without legal counsel is not. It looks as though the Chinese government is using charges of corruption to consolidate power. Meng Hongwei has been charged with bribe-taking; his wife has applied for asylum in France. Lu Guang, who photographed Chinese pollution and social issues, has been detained on mystery charges. Pastor Wang Yi, his wife, and several members of their congregation are in detention for “inciting subversion.” Muslims in China have been forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, interned in camps, tortured, and sexually abused. The Guangzhou Department of Ethnic and Religious Affairs is offering money for informing on “illegal religious groups“.

Reporters Without Borders outlines China’s efforts to shape global public perception of the country.

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) almost got it right in demanding that Google justify its work “partnering with China on artificial intelligence initiatives . . . that may possibly be used by Chinese military and intelligence services to exploit Americans’ data and privacy” but then wanted to know why Google couldn’t instead help out the Armed Forces of the United States, like it would be OK for Google to exploit our data and privacy as long as its for the right people.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

12. Trump signs executive order based on literal fiction.

The order mandates preparations to improve the US’s resilience to electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks. While this might be a perfectly fine national security measure, it concerns us that it appears to be based on figures from the sci-fi thriller One Second After. According to the EMP Commission, an EMP attack would be disruptive but not particularly deadly.

13. FCC falls short on collecting robocall fines

The Federal Communications Commission has fined robocallers $208.4 million since 2015 yet only collected $6,790. An FCC spokesperson says that the FCC lacks authority to collect the fines it issues, and that most violators are small-time operators unable to pay in any case. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has collected $121 million of $1.5 billion dollars in fines since 2004. Had the FCC collected the same percentage as the FTC, it should have gleaned $16 million. Robocalls have increased 60% in just the the last year and are projected to soon be half of all phone calls received by Americans.

14. Scientists create first synthetic organelles in mammalian cells

Scientists with the Lemke Group at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Mainz, Germany have succeeded in creating a synthetic organelle capable of creating proteins from non-canonical (unnatural) amino acids. Organelles are minute structures within living cells which fulfill various biological processes including protein manufacture. Naturally-occurring organelles use only 20 amino acid bases called canonical bases, but scientists have discovered are over 300 amino acid bases not used by any naturally-occurring process. This innovation opens the door to creating novel protein compounds within cell cultures in quantities suitable for study.

15. Tasmanian Devils adapting in face of cancer onslaught 

The world’s largest carnivorous marsupial has been in dire straits since a facial cancer called Devil Facial Tumor Disease, or DFTD, was discovered in 1996. Tasmanian devils use biting to establish dominance, which has spread cancer cells, causing mortality rates of up to 90%. Then in 2014 another strain of cancer was found, making already dismal chances for the species worse. Recent studies show there may be hope. Devils surveyed over the last 4-5 years have found both increasing rates of resistance and slower tumor growth. 23 cases have been discovered where devils actually recovered from their tumors. The iconic creatures will need every edge they can get to survive in the face of DFTD, car strikes and climate change.

RESOURCES

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