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.
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.
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.