NYMHM for 14 Apr 2019

With Passover approaching, it is a good week to think about migrants and refugees, to consider what the liberation of all people might mean.

As well, in the Christian tradition, Maundy Thursday is approaching, the day when Jesus is said to have been asked, “And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” He is said to have answered, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

In these seasons, as well as others, we continue to report on the disenfranchised, and those who serve, represent and advocate for them.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Last day to comment on the “Dirty Water Act”

We’ve been running this under Resources but time has run out. Monday is the deadline to comment on the redefinition of the “Waters of the United States” regulations. These would significantly weaken the Clean Water Act by overlooking the connectivity of waterways (so that pollutants could be discharged into streams) and by narrowing the definition of a body of water. Wetlands are particularly at risk. The scientific community is opposed to it–as are farmers, surfers, fishermen and the NAACP. Polluters are in favor of it. As critical as this issue is, the mainstream media have been almost entirely silent. Only Vox, Politico, and The Hill–in addition to some trade journals–have run pieces.
 In a Google doc, Martha–of Martha’s list–has written a summary of the issues and explained how to comment.  Among the first things to ask for is an extended comment period.

2. Important victory for asylum-seekers

Among Kirstjen Nielsen’s legacies was the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which required asylum-seekers and other migrants to wait in border cities where they had no access to attorneys. In response to a suit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU, last week a judge blocked that policy. The decision is on the Mother Jones website.

3. Migrants dropped off, volunteers scrambling. Again.

Though it is not a Sanctuary City, migrants are being dropped in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where they staying in a homeless shelter and a recreation center. The city is asking for donations of food and personal care items, according to the Toronto Star. In addition, the New Mexico Medical Reserve Corps is asking for volunteers, particularly health care workers, as the organization believes more migrants will be dropped off in New Mexico due to “capacity issues” along the border, according to the Border Patro

4. Dangerous precedents coming

Attorney General William Barr is planning to make major changes to immigration courts in the name of efficiency, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. These changes would permit an appeals judge to issue rulings which would be precedental for the entire system, exactly when the Trump administration is hiring new appeals judges. Immigration judges are not supposed to be chosen based on their politics, but at least one candidate has alleged that they are.

5. Twice as many corporations are paying no taxes this year

Trump’s tax cut is functioning as apparently intended: 60 companies—twice as many as last year—reported a tax rate of zero, according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Among the companies able to avoid paying taxes are Amazon, Netflix, Chevron, Lilly, Deere & Co, Delta, Honeywell, IBM, Goodyear and others. The Center for Public Integrity has the full list. A million fewer individuals will receive refunds this year, and as of February, the average refund was down by 17 per cent, according to the New York Times.

6. Assange arrested on the wrong charge?

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has been charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, essentially for offering to help Chelsea Manning with a password. The indictment against Julian Assange is a threat to press freedom, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists and other experts and organizations, arguing that it sets an alarming precedent for how journalists can interact with sources. “The US extradition request and the indictment itself – the fact it is alleging conspiracy with a source – means a publisher or journalist could be accused of conspiracy with a source,” Jennifer Robinson, a member of a legal team that has blocked US efforts to extradite hackers, told the Guardian. “It’s a terrifying precedent for all journalists.”

According to Democracy Now, Noam Chomsky sees the arrest of Assange as “scandalous,” illustrating the reach of the United States around the world. Others note his role in the 2016 election and in Brexit while women’s groups say he should be extradicted to Sweden to face the allegations of rape against him.

7. Death threats against AOC and Omar

Teen Vogue has come through again, running a story on how Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) challenged college Republicans for calling her a “domestic terrorist,” pointing out that such claims lead to a “spike in death threats” against her.

Critiques of Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) have resulted in similar threats, including one by a man who was arrested for calling her office and threatening to kill her. According to Vox, he told investigators that he “loves the president and that he hates radical Muslims in our government.” Trump has been trying to use criticisms of Omar to drive Jews away from the Democratic party, though he removed a video on Twitter suggesting that Omar was not taking 9/11 seriously. Sunday night she released a statement, saying “Since the President’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life—many directly referencing or replying to the President’s video,” reported The Hill.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT

8. Canada warming twice as fast as the rest of the world

Canada is warming at twice the global rate, according to a new report from Environmental and Climate Change Canada. Temperatures in Northern Canada, where communities are especially vulnerable, have increased 2.3 degrees C since 1948. Climate change is leading to “extreme heat, less extreme cold, longer growing seasons, rapidly thinning glaciers, and warming and thawing of permafrost and rising sea levels in Canada’s coastal regions,” Chris Derksen, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada told the Globe and Mail. Indigenous elders in the Yukon say that the caribou are moving north, following their food supply, according to the CBC. As if this were not true, the country’s conservatives are battling the imposition of a $20/ton carbon tax in provinces which have not established their own—even though most of it will return to consumers in their taxes. Ontario premier Doug Ford, who is challenging the carbon tax in court, tweeted, “Today’s the last day to fill your gas tank before the federal carbon tax makes life more expensive for your family.” The tax will rise to $50/ton by 2020.

9. Drastic changes recorded in Bering Sea

Sea ice in the Bering sea, located between the coasts of Alaska and Russia in the arctic circle, reached a new record low this past winter, worrying local residents, fishermen and scientists. Sea ice is vital for preserving an oasis of cold, salty water that is called a “cold pool” that serves as a refuge and habitat for the richest fisheries found in US waters. In addition, sea ice provides hunting grounds and resting places for sea mammals such as seals and walrus and a natural sea wall for native communities along the northwest coast, protecting them from winter storms. This past winter, for the first time recorded in 37 years of measurement, there was no cold pool in the Bering sea, and the village of Kotlik flooded from lack of sea ice protection in February. Fishermen had to fish further north for valuable Pacific cod and native Alaskan hunters had to follow the seals north as well, as the cold water retreated ever further towards the pole. Warm water brings a risk of algal blooms, fishery collapse and ecological catastrophe to the region.

10. Number of children and teens seen in hospitals due to suicide attempts double

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Pediatrics shows that hospitalizations due to suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts have doubled from the period spanning 2007 to 2015. Data was evaluated from surveys of 300 emergency rooms gathered by the Centers for Disease Control for an age group spanning from five years to eighteen years of age, with an average age of just 13 years. Suspected causes for the dramatic increase include increased competitive pressure to succeed academically, anxiety about future economic prospects, bullying including cyber bullying and a critical shortage of child psychologists available, leading to long wait times for kids in crisis.

RESOURCES

NYMHM for 7 April

Watching the news can make you wall-eyed, as you try to track the many on-going stories that flash on and off the front page while at the same time taking note of new developments in politics and science. Did you know that there is a crisis involving a medication-resistant fungus and that outbreaks are kept secret? Neither did we–but now we do and so do you. As the humanitarian crisis that our grandchildren will study in astonishment, migration and separated families are among the issues that we try to to track regularly. If you want to speak up about any of these asylum and family separation issues, see Sarah-Hope’s list in the Resources section, below and on the Resources page.

DOMESTIC NEWS

Asylum and immigration round-up

1. Trump would get rid of the asylum system and immigration judges

Last week, around a visit to the U.S. Border Patrol Station in Calexico, California, President Trump stated that he’d like Congress to eliminate the asylum process, as well as immigration judges, according to the Washington Post. His administration has already made a number of moves that have attempted to limit the number of asylum seekers admitted to the United States and this next move would be in conflict with U.S. and international norms of due process. California governor Gavin Newsom issued a statement in response to Trump’s statements about asylum seekers and potential changes to the system, saying “Since our founding, this country has been a place of refuge – a safe haven for people fleeing tyranny, oppression and violence. His words show a total disregard of the Constitution, our justice system, and what it means to be an American.”

2. Tracking the periods of teen girls in ICE custody

According to Harper’s Bazaar, The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the branch of the Department of Health and Human Services that is responsible for migrant children traveling alone or separated from their families, tracked the periods, pregnancies, and causes of pregnancy (if it resulted from rape or not) of teen girls — some as young as 12– in their care. This was done with the intent to prevent the girls from obtaining abortion care, something that the former head of the ORR Scott Lloyd has admitted. Rachel Maddow discusses the issue on MSNBC.

3. Two years to reunite families

In an update on the nearly 1500 children separated from their families at the border under the Trump Administration’s zero tolerance policy (245 of whom were removed from their families after a court ordered the separations to stop), in a recent court filing the administration has said that it may take up to two additional years to identify families that may have been separated at the southern border. All of the children in question have been released from government custody and the administration claims it needs this time to use data analysis techniques to identify and locate the children, according to CNN.

4. Climate change fueling migration

Among the reasons Guatemalans are leaving the country are that farmers’ crops are failing, weather is extreme and unpredictable, and they are besieged by pests. Guatemala is one of the three countries to which Trump is refusing to send aid because they “haven’t done a thing for us.” In 2014, a group of scientists associated with the Rainforest Alliance’s initiative, “Climate, Nature, and Communities of Guatemala,” which was funded by US AID, said that the highlands area of Guatemala was particularly susceptible to climate change. “Extreme poverty may be the primary reason people leave,” Edwin Castellanos, a climate scientist at the Universidad del Valle, told the New Yorker, which is running a series on emigration from Guatemala. “But climate change is intensifying all the existing factors,” he said.

5. Where do laws come from?

We should not be surprised that conservative forces develop model legislation which they then spread around the nation. Various publications have reported on ALEC–American Legislative Exchange Council—which for years has drafted and disseminated bills. But what is surprising is the scope of this enterprise. According to a two-year study by USA Today, the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity, which looked at a million pieces of legislation across every state and in Congress, ten thousand bills were based on model legislation and 2100 became law. These are not produced only by ALEC but by industry groups and other special interests, include the liberal counterpart to ALEC, ALICE. According to the Arizona Republic, many legislators who sponsored these bills did not understand their implications or where they had originated.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Airstrikes intensifying humanitarian crisis in Somalia

The Pentagon claims no civilians have died in American airstrikes against suspected Shabab fighters. 13 NGOs (including Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and the ACLU) have criticized the lack of transparency on the use of lethal force in Somalia. The death toll for Shabab militants has probably reached a record high for the third time in three years. The increasing airstrikes are driving civilians from their homes and worsening a humanitarian crisis in the country.

7. Flooding overwhelms Iran

“Iran is under water,” Sayed Hashem, regional director of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, told the New York Times. Over 70 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced by floods due to endless rain. People are living on the rooftops of their submerged homes, waiting for rescue. Iranian officials have blamed American economic sanctions, reimposed by the Trump administration, for delayed recovery efforts, according to the Times.

8. Russia grooming African countries.

Russia is rekindling relationships with Soviet-era allies like Angola and Mozambique. Russian mercenaries helped Sudan’s president put down nationwide protests. A Russian is now the Central African Republic’s president’s national security adviser, and the country is trading mining rights for arms from Russia. While investigating a Putin-linked private military force training Central African Republic troops, three Russian journalists were murdered. Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger asked Russia for help fighting Al Qaeda and IS. The Pentagon’s Africa Command says Russia “has taken a more militaristic approach in Africa” (pdf). Putin plans a summit meeting between Russia and African countries.

9. And right-wing European politicians.

Putin wants Russia-friendly foreign leaders, and politicians want money. So, Putin is allegedly providing $3 million in Russian money to Italy’s far-right Matteo Salvini. According to the Italian newsmagazine L’Espresso, there was an elaborate deal involving
3 million tons of diesel fuel that Russia is selling to Italy, the profits from which will fund Salvini’s re-election campaign. 

Science and Technology

10. Scientists use lasers to observe molecular vibration 

A team at the University of California, Irvine published a study in the journal Nature wherein they describe their method of imaging the real-time movement, or vibration, of molecules down to the atomic level. All chemical processes of life depend on these minute changes in molecular structure. While we have been using electron spectroscopy to measure precise frequency changes, until now we have not been able to determine which atomic bonds vary in a molecule depending on current and charge. To achieve this feat the scientists set up a low temperature, high vacuum chamber and focused a titanium sapphire laser mere ångströms (a hundred millionth of a centimeter) away. As Science Daily describes it, the old models of molecules set up like tinker toy globs of spheres and sticks will soon give way to actual images of molecules themselves. 

11. Poverty leaves its mark, even genetically 

A study by Northwestern University suggests that the effects of low socio-economic status can be found even in our DNA, undermining the long-standing notion that genes are immutable from birth. Published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the study found that DNA methylation, an epigenetic marker that influences how genes are expressed, was increased in individuals living in low socio-economic conditions across 2500 sites in the genome, spreading across 1500 genes. It has been known for some time that poverty is a key factor in determining health but this study suggests that the effects may very well be inheritable with far-reaching implications.   

12. It sounds like science fiction: Treatment-resistant fungus emerges

A devastating fungus, Candida auris, has emerged world-wide, according to the New York Times. Like antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it is resistant to most anti-fungal medications. Also like antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it is a consequence in part of overuse in agriculture, in particular the use of fungicides on crops. C. auris is not the only fungus to have developed resistance; in 2013 the CDC published a report identifying 18 bacteria and fungi that are treatment resistant; a new report is expected in the fall of 2019. Complicating the problem is that the CDC is not allowed to make public the location of outbreaks, even though the C. auris is easily spread and deadly: 50% of patients who are diagnosed with it are dead within three months.

RESOURCES

If you think that the Trump administration’s plan to cut aid to Latin American countries (thus intensifying the hardship that leads to conditions that drive people to leave) is a bad idea, Sarah-Hope can tell you whom to write. She also thinks you might want to comment on the Privacy for All act, the refusal of the Education Department to support student loan relief, the withholding and redacting of the Mueller report—and more! Her list is on this google doc.

Martha notes this week that the SNAP work requirement comment deadline was extended to April 10. Glyphosate, the ingredient for Roundup, is now open for comment on inclusion in toxics registry.  She suggests that you look closely at the ICE Tip form – it’s really asking neighbors to inform on neighbors, she says. And look carefully at the Waters of the United States proposal, which seeks to redefine all inland waters. Her list has various options for responding on the record.

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

NYMHM for 24 March

At this writing (March 24), News You May Have Missed finds it hard to know what to think about the Mueller report. Clearly Barr’s summary was crafted to put the most positive spin on it, but if it were completely misleading, would Mueller speak up? We expect that the devil is in the details and that it won’t be clear what Mueller has said until the full report (or mostly full) is released. Meanwhile, it would be easy for pressing issues to be muted in the noise—for example, flooding: the focus of this week’s issue. And the 2020 budget.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. We’re all Nebraska now?

At least three people are dead and more than 340 businesses and 2,000 homes damaged, some irreparably, by flooding in the Missouri River Basin from heavy rain and snowmelt, causing about $1.4 billion in lost crops, livestock, and damages in Nebraska alone. And it’s not over; see the story in the Science & Technology section.

Farmers, already dealing with the fallout from trade agreements, are facing unprecented challenges, according to the Washington Post.Farmers may be losing a full year—even two—of income, in part because they were not notified in time by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and so could not move their grain. Some soybean farmers had more soybeans in storage than usual, waiting for a trade agreement that would bring better prices. In addition, farmers lost not just crops but impossible-to-replace topsoil, Gizmodo reports.

2. Native Americans stranded for two weeks by flooding

Meanwhile, members of the Oglala Sioux nation on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota have been stranded with little food, water or medicine for two weeks, reports the New York Times. Emergency supplies can only reach the community by horse, boat or helicopter, and help from the federal government and the state has been slow to arrive. Compounding the difficulties, the drinking water system that serves 8,000 residents went down. The reservation was the location of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre of 300 Native Americans by United States soldiers and the 1973 protest by members of the American Indian Movement.

3. And in Northern California…

When the Russian River crested at 45 feet in February, floods overwhelmed small communities in Northern California, turning them into islands, leaving residents with no way to get in or out, according to the NPR. Hundreds of homes and businesses were demolished and thousands of people were evacuated. Damage was estimated at $155 million. Recovery has been slow and housing is scarce.

4. Children held in secret shelters. In the U.S.

Migrant children in Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Virginia are being held in shelters whose location is being kept secret—even from the children’s attorneys, according to a report from Reveal, published by the Center for Investigative Reporting. These shelters specialize in assisting children with behavioral or mental health challenges. Keeping the locations secret means that no public oversight is possible. As Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, who introduced a bill to require detention centers to grant access to members of Congress, told Reveal, “Imagine being a child in a strange country, hundreds or thousands of miles from where you grew up, surrounded by people who may not speak your language. You would be incredibly vulnerable – which is exactly why ORR is supposed to follow strict regulations governing where these children can be held and what child welfare standards must be met.”

5. 2020 budget would cut Medicare, Medicaid, food aid

Trump’s 2020 budget request would increase funding to the departments of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Defense, and Commerce, and would significantly reduce spending for Health and Human Services, Housing, Education, State and USAID, and others, the Washington Post reports. The biggest loser is the Environmental Protection Agency, whose budget would be cut by 31%.

More specifically, the budget would cut $241 billion from Medicaid, $220 billion from SNAP (food assistance), and $845 billion over the next 10 years from Medicare; it would eliminate the Student Loan Forgiveness Program. If you’d like to comment on this, Sarah-Hope has addresses. See the Resources section.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Cyclone Idai

On March 14, Cyclone Idai struck Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. At least 557 of the 1.7 million people in the immediately affected areas have died and almost 110,000 have been displaced.. The homes—and crops—of something like 600,000 people have been destroyed (estimates are inexact). Continued rain and more than 150 square miles of flooding are slowing down rescue efforts. Electricity and running water are scarce. Cholera is spreading in Mozambique.

The role of climate change is not precisely known since “scientists with the expertise simply don’t have the resources to do the large amount of computer modelling required,” but experts say climate change is not so much making cyclones more frequent, as more intense.

Particularly vulnerable are women and children; as the executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, told NPR, “We are particularly concerned about the safety and well-being of women and children who are still waiting to be rescued or are crammed in temporary shelters and at risk of violence and abuse,” Fore said. “We are also concerned about children who were orphaned by the cyclone or became separated from their parents in the chaos that followed.”

The UN has allocated $20 million, the European Union the equivalent of $3.9 million, the UK $7.9 million, the United Arab Emirates $4.9 million, and Norway and the US $700,000 each. Neighboring Tanzania is providing “238 tons of food and medicine.” The disaster is so vast that more is needed. To donate, go to UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, or, in the UK, DEC.

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

7. Historic flooding in the Midwest has potential to get worse

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its annual spring flood outlook, predicting that two-thirds of the country is at risk for moderate to severe flooding. Fueling the flooding risk is rapidly melting snow in northern states, combined with rainfall measuring at twice the amount of average years. The combination puts the entire Mississippi river basin at risk for devastating floods. Already soils are saturated and reservoirs full—so any additional heavy rain, which is expected through May—is on a path to race down rivers and streams quickly. The damage to Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri is already calculated to be in the billions. These weather extremes are exacerbated by increased temperatures due to climate change, which “supercharges” storm events to produce about a third more rainfall than they otherwise would have, Ars Technica reports.

8. Incredible fossil discovery in China

A rich bed of fossils dating back 518 million years to the Cambrian period has been discovered along the Qingjiang river in Hubei province south China, with hundreds of species represented so far; the discovery offers a glimpse into a new ecosystem during the “explosion” that set the stage for complex life as we know it. Particularly exciting to researchers is the fact that around half of the fossil examples are from species never seen before, with an incredible quality of preservation showing detailed features of soft tissue. The Cambrian period is of particular interest, as Ars Technica reports, because it is the beginning of the fossil record for many kinds of animals we see on earth today whereas in periods pre-dating it, there seems to almost no connection to modern life aside from bacteria and algae.

9. Speaking of ancient life, sharks face extinction

A study by the Shark Specialist Group for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has shown that 17 of the 58 shark species surveyed face extinction, primarily due to overfishing. Among the endangered sharks is the short-finned mako, the fastest shark in the world, whose flesh and fins are prized as delicacies in Asia. A proposal from Mexico is due to be voted on to list the short-finned mako on Appendix II in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a listing which will provide regulation for the fisheries and some protections but stops short of a ban of the trade. According to Physics.org, sharks first appeared in the fossil record about 425 million years ago, making them some of life’s champion survivors.

See the Resources page for opportunities to comment on the news.

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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.