News You May Have Forgotten

To celebrate the New Year, we present a round-up of some of the most concerning or most ignored (or both!) stories of 2018:

1. A little matter of the survival of our species.

The world has just over a decade to drastically rein in carbon emissions to prevent catastrophic warming to the planet, according to a UN study released by the Intragovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [also: BBC, Media Matters, Washington Post]

It’s important to note that the IPCC stressed that it’s not too late to turn things around and listed ways we can take action, including deploying a wide portfolio of technologies for carbon dioxide removal (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage [BECCS], afforestation, reforestation, enhanced weathering, biochar, and soil carbon sequestration) paired with “measures to conserve land carbon stocks, limit the expansion of agriculture at the expense of natural ecosystems, and increase agriculture productivity,” plus technologies to remove other greenhouse gases (like methane) from the atmosphere, as well as mitigation efforts focusing on “strongly limiting demand for land, energy and material resources, including through lifestyle and dietary changes.”

Cities and municipalities will need to focus on “reducing and managing disaster risks due to extreme and slow-onset weather and climate events, installing flood and drought early warning systems, and improving water storage and use,” and rural and agricultural areas “need to address climate-related risks by strengthening and making more resilient agricultural and other natural resource extraction systems.”

And, of course, we need to vote for politicians who will take action.

2. The DEA and ICE are spying on us.

Documents obtained from the federal government show that the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency are concealing video cameras inside street lights, traffic barrels and other roadside infrastructure. Given the agencies’ aggressive use of facial recognition and tracking software, one can imagine the kinds of mass surveillance that can be made possible with such a network of cameras. [Quartz]

3. Concentration camps for children and families are big business.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) relies on for-profit contractors to run at least 24 for-profit immigration facilities, 94 for-profit contracted facilities, and 4 for-profit family detention centers, totaling 72% of detained immigrants (as of Nov 2017—these numbers have increased since), not counting those being held in tent cities—who profit from immigrant detention and “whose financial incentives conflict with the criminal justice goals of reducing crime and incarceration” [Urban Justice Center‘s Corrections Accountability].

They include: The GEO Group (2017: $541 million, or 24% of revenue, from ICE contracts); CoreCivic (2017: $444 million, or 25%), Accenture Federal Services (recruitment and hiring, $297 million), G4S Secure Solutions ($234 million), and Southwest Key ($458 million in 2018cited by state inspectors for at least 246 violations including “burns, a broken wrist, and sexually transmitted diseases” going untreated). In 2018, $800 million in taxpayer money went to for-profit immigration detention [Daily Beast].

The GEO Group and CoreCivic have received loans from JPMorganChase, SunTrust, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, US Bank and Wells Fargo, and are dependent on institutional investors, primarily Vanguard, BlackRock, Fidelity, Hotchkis & Wiley, Barrow Hanley Mewhinney & Strauss, and State Street [“Immigration Detention: An American Business“], all of whom could be contacted to request that they divest from funding detention facilities.

4. Suspicious deaths are occurring among Ferguson activists & families.

Danye Jones, son of Ferguson activist Melissa McKinnies, was apparently lynched on 17 October 2018; he was found hanging from a tree in his mother’s backyard with his pants around his ankles (a common feature in lynchings). Essence notes at least three previous Ferguson-activist-related deaths, including Deandre Joshua (shot in the head and set on fire inside his car the same day a grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown); prominent Ferguson activist Darren Seals (also shot inside a burning car); and the activist in the iconic photo tossing a canister of tear gas away from protesters, Edward Crawford (police say he died of a self-inflicted wound while in his car). [Essence (1, 2, 3), Atlanta Black Star, NY Times]

5. Asbestos found in baby powder; manufacturer knew for decades.

Johnson & Johnson was aware for decades that its signature talc baby powder was occasionally contaminated with carcinogenic asbestos. [Reuters]

6. Facebook is selling our phone numbers.

Facebook prompts users to provide a phone number for two-factor authentication—so would-be hackers would need possession of your phone to take control of your account. Facebook is selling users’ phone numbers for advertising purposes, claiming that its Data Use Policy outlines its ability to do so; Engadget says Facebook’s Data Use Policy doesn’t list security information as fair game. Data security experts are dismayed that this may discourage people from using two-factor authentication.

Buzzfeed presents a list of “Literally Just A Big List Of Facebook’s 2018 Scandals“: including its lax data security which allowed Cambridge Analytica to steal user data and use it to manipulate voters, its role in spreading misinformation and fascist/ethnonationalist propaganda, and giving special data-sharing access to companies like Huawei, Lenovo, and Oppo which have ties to the Chinese government, as well as Microsoft, Netflix, and Spotify.

7. Jill Stein might be a Russian asset.

Russia boosted Jill Stein’s campaign to help Trump win (by splitting votes on the left). An NBC analysis found that the Putin-allied Internet Research Agency tweeted her name “over 1,000 times around the time of the election” and that state-run propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik published “more than 100 stories, on-air and online, friendly to Stein and the Green Party” in 2015 and 2016. Stein was also at the same RT dinner with Putin that Michael Flynn was [Salt Lake Tribune, NBC].

Buzzfeed reported a year ago that Mueller would investigate her involvement, and in April, we found out that she’d refused to provide requested documents [The Hill]. Since Mueller’s team never leaks, any information about her involvement in the Special Counsel’s investigation would have to come from her or her lawyers, but it seems likely that she was either colluding with Russia, or a useful idiot.

It’s important to note that, Russian efforts notwithstanding, Stein didn’t cost Clinton the 2016 election, according to data analyst Nate Silver at 538.

8. The GOP tax cuts did nothing they promised.

The $1.5 trillion-with-a-T Republican tax cut has failed to pay for itself [AP, Center for American Progress, CBO, The Hill – the federal deficit has continued to climb], failed to create jobs [Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, WaPo – existing unemployment trends continued] or raise wages [Bloomberg, Center for American Progress, LA Times, Vox – wages fell], failed to boost the stock market [Mother Jones, NYT, Vox], and failed to simplify the tax code [Center for American Progress, NYT].

Many businesses used the money to buy back stock [Vox (1, 2)], instead of creating jobs as Republicans had promised. In 2018, corporations paid $119 billion less in taxes than they would have without the tax cuts [Center for American Progress], adding to the budget shortfall.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the top 20% of earners get 70% of the tax cut’s benefits, and even the conservative Tax Foundation recognizes the tax cuts failed to produce higher wages, though they blame Trump’s tariffs.

Combined with this predictable failure of trickle-down policies (again), The Washington Post predicts a Trump recession:

After all, his new trade barriers have lifted manufacturing costs, closed off markets and clouded the future for American firms with global supply chains. Economists say Trump’s trade war is the biggest threat to the U.S. economy in 2019. In loonier moments, the president has also threatened to default on our debt, ramp up the money-printing press, reinstate the gold standard or deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants. Some of those policies would ignite not just a recession but an immediate, global financial crisis.

Newsweek (citing the U.S. Federal Reserve and various economic analysts) and CNBC (citing Goldman Sachs) are also reporting predictions that 2019’s economy will be slow. The LA Times reports that new home sales fell every month from June to October 2018 and that the “tax cut is estimated to sap government revenue by as much as 8.1% in inflation-adjusted terms and is expected to drive the federal deficit above $1 trillion for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.”

9. The Trump administration is stripping immigrants of citizenship using technicalities.

With Operation Janus, begun under Obama and vastly expanded under Trump, and Operation Second Look which scours already-vetted records for discrepancies, ICE is going after naturalized American citizens. There’s no statute of limitations, and the constitutional standards of guaranteed counsel and defense against unreasonable search and seizure don’t apply to civil cases like these. There’s also no standard for who should be investigated (so, anybody can be) and even those who are eventually found not to have committed even unintentional or minor fraud will still have to bear the costs of their immigration lawyer, if they can even afford one. In about 150,000 cases [Hoppock Law], the “second look” is occurring because USCIS failed to upload and compare fingerprint data, so the error (if there was any) was theirs.

Before Trump, denaturalization proceedings were primarily used to remove human-rights abusers and war criminals, and averaged 22/year. ICE asked for $207.6 million for this work, for what Law at the Margins estimates at 20 million citizens.

So far, the bulk of defendants have been nonwhite. [The Nation]

10. Roundup of roundups

If you’d like more stories, several news outlets and interested amateurs have provided 2018 roundups, or provide ongoing updated tracking tools. Here are just a few: