CVIndependent

Mon08102020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Happy Fourth of July weekend, y’all.

Those of us here at Independent World Headquarters are planning on basically staying at home this weekend. We’ll support some of our fave restaurants by getting takeout and cocktails; have a Zoom happy hour or two with friends; and catch up on some much-needed rest.

If you do decide to venture out this weekend, I recommend taking the advice of this Los Angeles Times article: Assume everyone you’re around has the virus. Positivity and hospitalization rates are on the upswing, after all.

I’d like to take this chance to thank all of you who have supported the Independent’s work over these last several trying months. I can’t tell you how much all of the emails, social-media messages and phone calls have meant to us. I’d also like to thank the dozens of you who have opened your wallets to support us financially by becoming Supporters of the Independent—and I ask those of you who haven’t done so already to join them. Find details on how to do that here.

Stay safe. Wear a mask. And keep making the Coachella Valley the amazing place that is.

Here’s the news:

• Some interesting drug news out of Spain: Some HIV-positive patients on anti-viral medications seem to be less at risk for COVID-19 than the general population. Could drugs that helped slow the AIDS pandemic help slow the coronavirus pandemic?

The late-stage trial for one of the more promising vaccine candidates has been delayed by several weeks.

• Recent unemployment numbers have not been as dire as many had forecasted. However, the economy’s still going to take a while to recover, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. (Spoiler alert: The coronavirus surge isn’t helping.) The Washington Post explains.

• One other thing that may keep the economy down: While a lot of workers have kept their jobs (at least for now), they’ve had to accept sometimes-drastic pay cuts.

NBC News looks at the latest research into whether people infected with COVID-19 will have immunity—and there’s “some encouraging early evidence of possible protection against reinfection.” 

• Things have gotten rather dire in Arizona—you know, our neighbors to the east. The state this week became the first in the nation to enact crisis standards of care—which, to oversimplify things, means overwhelmed doctors there may begin determining which patients get treated, and which ones don’t, based on limited resources.

• Chicago is the latest to place to demand that people from California and other states experiencing a coronavirus surge quarantine for two weeks

• Oh, and Mexico has closed the Arizona border based on the spike in that state

• While more people than ever before are getting sick with COVID-19 in the United States, so far, the death rate has remained relatively low. The New York Times explains why that is—and why that may not remain the case for long.

• Hooray! It’s now easier to make SARS-Co-V-2 testing appointments at Riverside County-run sites; you can now make appointments online

The New York Times examines why fireworks are driving so many people crazy here in California.

• Good news: The state has extended unemployment benefits. Bad news: Some eligible people who filed months ago have yet to receive a dime.

California is doing about 85,000 coronavirus tests per day. However, Harvard says the state needs to do several times that to keep the virus in check

Amazon is facing yet more criticism for not taking proper care of its people; this time, workers with Amazon’s air service are making the complaints about unsafe environments

• In some places, contract tracers are using subpoenas to get people infected with COVID-19 to spill the beans on who they’ve been with, and where they’ve been

• The Conversation takes a deep dive into the history of Mexico City, where many water ways were destroyed to prevent illnesses—but that history has paved the way (pun not intended) for COVID-19 to run amok there.

Have great weekend. We’ll be back on Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Let’s get right to the day’s news:

• I owe Supervisor V. Manuel Perez an apology. In this space last Friday, I called his attempt to get the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to review its own policies “pretty weak,” because, well, he was asking THEM to review THEIR OWN policies, more or less. Here’s what’s happened since. First, the department’s union announced they were opposed to the idea because, in the words of the union president, “There is no need to suggest or invent problems that do not exist in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.” Then Sheriff Chad Bianco—the one who has recently been on Fox News—said he didn’t want a “political” process, and pointed out that the County Commission doesn’t have authority over him. Second, Perez’s motion by the County Commission failed, because he couldn’t get a second. Yeesh. Key quote from Bianco, to the supervisors: “It's not your job to tell me what to do.”

• From the Independent: We spoke to Angel Moreno, one of the organizers of the June 1 Black Lives Matter protest in Palm Desert: “What’s happening right now is just really unacceptable, and we just wanted to do this protest so our words could be heard.”

• The TV show Cops’ 33rd season was slated to premiere next week. That’s not going to happen now.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently asked an epidemiologist how long it’ll take to determine whether the Black Lives Matter protests will cause a spike in COVID-19 cases. Key quote: “(Dr. George) Rutherford is encouraged by what he sees in Minnesota, which is where the protests started on the week of May 25. It has been almost a full two weeks since the protests began, and the number of new confirmed cases statewide is actually trending downwards.”

The Conversation uses science to explain that COVID-19 deaths and the killing of George Floyd (and many other Black men and women over the years) have something in common: Racism.

• The state announced late yesterday that movie theaters could reopen—at 25 percent capacity—on Friday. However, most of them probably won’t open that soon. Deadline explains the reasons why.

• Meanwhile, The Living Desert is reopening on Monday. Here’s what the people who run zoo and gardens are doing to reopen as safely as possible.

• Yesterday, we discussed how a WHO doctor created a furor by claiming asymptomatic SARS=CoV-2 infectees don’t spread the virus all that much. Well, today, WHO did a whole lot of backpedaling.

• One of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the state is taking place right now in a prison in this very county: Almost 1,000 inmates at the Chuckawalla Valley State Prison have tested positive, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Why is COVID-19 killing more men than women? The Conversation examines what we know, what we don’t know, and, uh, why we don’t know the things we don’t know.

• Some people who are making the very wise decision to stay home while the world around them reopens are getting shamed, according to this USA Today columnist.

Even though you might think the opposite if you’re a loyal viewer of NBC Palm Springs, Amazon’s coronavirus response has been rather problematic. Therefore, it’s a good thing that the retail giant is going to soon start testing its workers a whole lot more.

• Yet another analysis of SARS-CoV-2 mutations explains why the San Francisco Bay Area was briefly such a COVID-19 hotbed: The virus entered the area from all sorts of different places as it started to spread.

A company that’s on the leading edge of the vaccine race just got all sorts of government cash to work on a treatment to battle COVID-19 designed around antibodies.

• On a recent interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he was “almost certain” more than one vaccine being developed would work against the disease he called his “worst nightmare.” He also made it abundantly clear that we’re nowhere near the end of this damned pandemic.

All of the state’s DMV offices will soon be open again. (Well, except for the one damaged by looters in San Bernardino.)

• This story probably has no application to your life whatsoever, but we’re presenting it here because it’s so damned weird. The Business Insider headline: “People are paying as much as $10,000 for an unlicensed remdesivir variant for their cats, in a thriving black market linked to Facebook groups.”

• Finally, on his Netflix show Patriot Act, Hasan Minhaj explains why a whole lot of local newspapers are in trouble—and how essential they really, truly are.

That’s the news for this Tuesday. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Fight injustice. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means to do so. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

It was an insanely busy news day, so let’s get right to the links:

• First, a correction: In the emailed version of yesterday’s Daily Digest, I had the month portion of the date wrong for the city of Palm Springs’ “Restaurant, Retail, Hair Salon & Barbershop Re-Opening Guidance for Business Owners” webinar. As a few eagle-eyed readers pointed out: The webinar is taking place at 9 a.m., May 28—in other words, tomorrow. Get info here, and please accept my apologies for the mistake.

• Other Palm Springs news: The City Council voted yesterday to extend the eviction moratorium through June 30.

• While this news is certainly not surprising, it’s an economic bummer for sure: Goldenvoice is reaching out to artists slated to perform at the already-delayed Coachella festival, and trying to book them for 2021 instead. Translation: A Coachella cancellation announcement may be coming soon.

If you’re going to read only one piece from today’s Daily Digest, please make sure it’s this one. Yesterday, we talked about the appalling lack of journalistic integrity NBC Palm Springs showed by airing an unvetted fluff piece—multiple times—provided by Amazon talking about all the great things the company is doing to keep its workers safe. In reality … at least eight workers have died. Today, the Los Angeles Times brings us the story of one of those eight fallen workers. Grab a tissue before you get to know the story of Harry Sentoso.

• Gov. Newsom announced today that more information regarding gym/fitness center-reopening guidelines would be released next week, as the state moves further into Stage 3.

• The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership just released a new survey of local businesses regarding the impact of the pandemic … and the only word that comes to mind is “yikes.” One takeaway: 99 percent of businesses have experienced a reduction in revenue—and 56 percent of those declines were between 91 and 100 percent

• It’s well-known that a number of COVID-19 antibody tests are flawed, but now there are concerns about the accuracy of the diagnostic tests. NBC News looks into the matter.

• Well, this could be interesting: President Trump, angry that Twitter placed a fact-check notice on an obviously untrue statement of his, apparently plans on taking some sort of action against social media companies via executive order. Will tomorrow be the day our democratic republic comes to an end? Tune in tomorrow! 

• In Pennsylvania, Democratic lawmakers are accusing GOP lawmakers of covering up the fact that a lawmaker had tested positive for COVID-19—possibly exposing them in the process. Republicans say they followed all the proper protocols … but didn’t feel the need to tell Democrats about the positive test, because of privacy. Jeez. The barn-burning video of Rep. Brian Sims expressing his extreme displeasure is horrifying.

• From the Independent: While tattoo shops remain closed (at least legally) across the state, they may be allowed to reopen soon, as we move further into Stage 3. The Independent’s Kevin Allman spoke to Jay’e Jones, of Yucca Valley’s renowned Strata Tattoo Lab, about the steps she’s taking to get ready.

• An update on what’s happening in Imperial County, our neighbors to the southeast: A coronavirus outbreak in northern Mexico is causing American citizens who live there to cross the border for treatment—and overwhelming the small hospitals in the county. The Washington Post explains how this is happening, while KESQ reports that packed Imperial County hospitals are sending patients to Riverside County hospitals for care.

• Don’t let the headline freak you out, please, because it’s not as horrifying as it sounds, although it remains important and interesting: The “coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine,” explains The Washington Post.

Nevada casinos will begin coming back to life on June 4. The Los Angeles Times explains how Las Vegas is preparing for a tentative revival.

• Another business segment is also making plans to reopen in Nevada: brothels. The Reno Gazette-Journal explains how brothel owners are making their case to the state.

• Given that Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody issued the nation’s first stay-at-home order, it’s 1) interesting and 2) not entirely surprising that she thinks California’s reopening process is moving too quickly.

• Some of us are naturally inclined to follow rules; some of us bristle at them. University of Maryland Professor Michele Gelfand, writing for The Conversation, explains how these primal mindsets are coming into play regarding masks and other pandemic matters.

The Trump administration is still separating migrant families—and often using the pandemic as an excuse to do so, explains the Los Angeles Times.

• The New York Times reports on the inevitable upcoming eviction crisis. Eff you, 2020.

Some Good News, John Krasinski’s feel-good YouTube series, has been sold to ViacomCBS. Here’s how and why that came about.

• Finally, here’s an update on increasing evidence that sewage testing may help governments stop new coronavirus outbreaks before they blow up.

That’s all today. I am going to now go raise a toast to the life of Harry Sentoso and the other 100,000-plus Americans this virus has claimed so far. Please join me if you can. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Viewers of the local news on NBC Palm Springs may have recently caught a short segment on all of the wonderful things Amazon is doing during the pandemic.

“Millions of Americans staying at home are relying on Amazon,” the piece begins, before going on to talk about how “the company is keeping its employees safe and healthy,” and giving its oh-so-safe employees more than $800 million in increased wages and overtime pay.

Unfortunately, this segment is slanted at best—and dangerously misleading at worst.

Oh, and this segment wasn’t news. It was produced by Amazon, and sent to TV news stations around the country via a PR wire service.

Most TV-news reporters ignored it; a few actually called out Amazon for sending out this piece of packaged crap in the first place.

But at least 11 TV stations, according to Courier Newsroom, took the piece and ran with it … including NBC Palm Springs.

And now the truth that NBC Palm Springs “report” was lacking: Amazon is having its annual shareholder meeting tomorrow—and some of those shareholders want to know more about what Amazon actually is doing to protect its employees, because so far, it hasn’t been enough. According to CNBC:

Tensions have been growing between Amazon and warehouse workers nationwide, as the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths at its facilities have climbed. Warehouse workers have called for the company to put in place greater safety protections, including providing paid sick leave and closing down facilities where there are positive cases for additional cleaning.

Amazon has repeatedly declined to disclose how many warehouse employees have died from the coronavirus, but has confirmed eight deaths as they were reported by various media outlets. The company also hasn’t provided a total number of workers who have fallen ill from the virus, though one estimate from Jana Jumpp, an Amazon worker in Indiana, pegs the total number of cases at 900 employees nationwide.

I reached out to Bob McCauley, NBC Palm Springs’ senior vice president, as well as Gino LaMont, listed on the NBC Palm Springs website as the news department contact, to ask them how this happened. As of this writing, I have not yet gotten a response.

So much stuff that’s presented as “news” or “journalism” these days is, well, NOT. Numerous local publications run press releases from various organizations without disclosing that’s what they are, and some even sell stories to groups and businesses without disclosing to readers that they’re actually paid ads. None of that, of course, is right … but that’s how they do it.

But this is unconscionable. At least eight Amazon workers have died.

NBC Palm Springs, you really need to serve your viewers better, and you have some explaining to do.

Today’s links:

• The big news today: Gov. Newsom surprised the heck out of a lot of people when he announced that barbers and hair salons could reopen in counties—including Riverside County—that have moved into the second part of Phase 2. However, other businesses listed in Stage 3—including nail salons—remain closed. 

• Palm Springs business owners, take note: The city will be holding a webinar at 9 a.m., Thursday. May 28, titled “Restaurant, Retail, Hair Salon & Barbershop Re-Opening Guidance for Business Owners.” Get all the information here.

• Other Palm Springs news: The library is opening for curbside pickup. Learn more at the Facebook page.

• Hey, Apple Store fans: The El Paseo location is reopening this weektomorrow, to be specific.

• When full-on Stage 3 comes—which is anticipated to happen sometime in June, but who in the hell knows at this point—that will include theme parks, so says the state.

• Speaking of who in the hell knows … The Washington Post today broke down how truly little we still know about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.

All sorts of people and businesses are suing Gov. Newsom over the shutdown orders. The latest: Patioworld is suing the state, because … uh, outdoor furniture showrooms are essential? Anyway, if you’re so inclined, bookmark this helpful lawsuit tracker, from our partners at CalMatters.

Another stimulus bill is coming at some point in the future, probably, maybe? After waffling, Mitch McConnell now says it’s likely.

• For the first time ever, Twitter has fact-checked something Trump tweeted. The president, of course, reacted to this news in a restrained and reasonable manner. (*Snort*)

• Sad but not surprising: The number of Americans dealing with anxiety or depression has skyrocketed since the pandemic hit.

• Local company Ernie Ball makes strings for guitars and all sorts of other musical equipment—and when COVID-19 arrived, the company started making masks, too. Now, Ernie Ball is making those masks available for free to everyone in the Coachella Valley.

• A whole lot of people who purchased travel insurance have been horrified to learn that pandemics are a common travel-insurance exclusion. The Los Angeles Times looks at the issue—and explains which companies are doing right by their customers, and which ones are not.

That’s all for today. If you’re a fan of our print version, the June edition is hitting streets this week—or if you want it mailed to you for a nominal fee, we can have that arranged. If you value good, honest, doesn’t-run-lying-crap-from-Amazon journalism, and you can afford it, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

OK, so who here is dealing with seasonal allergies right now?

Aaaand who here is being freaked out by those seasonal allergies right now?

Any other year, the congestion, the occasional runny nose and the couple-times-per-day sneezes would be mere minor annoyances—I’d take a Claritin and move on with my day. But the universe has made it annoyingly freaking clear this is NOT any other year, and as a result, every time I have the slightest sniffle, my paranoid brain goes OMG! I MIGHT HAVE THE VIRUS OMG HELP ME, further damaging my already-wobbly psyche.

Who’s with me here?

Of course, logically, I have no reason to actually believe I have the virus. I’ve been having the same damn allergies every spring for more than a decade now. My temperature is normal. I’ve been basically staying home, and have been washing my hands, on average, 34 times per hour. Aaaand then there’s the fact that these damn allergy symptoms aren’t the standard COVID-19 symptoms.

Yet I just sneezed—and damn near had a panic attack. I repeat: Who’s with me here?

My fellow allergy sufferers: You’re fine. Really. I promise. Probably. Anyway, the next time a light congestion sniffle causes you to freak out a little, please know: You’re not alone. (Even if you actually, well, are alone.) Your fellow allergy suffers, like me, are right there with you. So hang in there. Now go wash your hands.

Meanwhile … a huge thank you to all of you who have joined the ranks of Supporters of the Independent in recent days. In tomorrow’s Daily Digest, I’ll list the names of all of you who have chipped in during the month of March (which was a doozy of a month, no?) to help us keep doing what we’re doing. I am truly grateful to all of you.

To those of you who have requested mail delivery of the print edition: I’ll be sending out the orders we have so far tomorrow. Before I do, I am going to attack my desk with Lysol wipes; wash my hands four times (minimum); put on fresh gloves; and get everything together. (Not joking!) In other words, they’ll go out, as safely as possible, in tomorrow’s mail. If you want a copy or copies sent to you, details can be found here.

To those of you who get some yummy takeout/delivery from a local restaurant: We’re looking for Reader Indy Endorsements! Our Indy Endorsement feature has always showcased fantastic dishes at Coachella Valley restaurants … and now we’re asking you to help. If you enjoy an amazing appetizer, entrée, dessert or drink from a local restaurant, please 1) take a pic of the dish (unless you’ve already devoured it and have no plans to get another, in which case we’ll either go without a pic or request one from the restaurant); and 2) send us your writeup on why the dish is so gosh-darned splendid (250-350 words, usually … but we won’t be sticklers); and 3) we’ll edit it and publish it at CVIndependent.com, and link to it in a Daily Digest! We’ll also run a selection of them in our May print edition, room permitting. The goal here is to give our give our fantastic local restaurants a PR boost—and build community while doing so. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

And now, on with the news:

• The state is asking recently retired health professionals AND medical and nursing students—yes, current students who have yet to graduate—to sign up to join the fight (paid!) against COVID-19.

• Some Instacart and Amazon workers are on strike. Here’s why.

• If you’re looking for an academic deep dive into the reasons why the U.S. is behind on COVID-19 testing, the Harvard Business Review has you covered.

• MIT is developing plans to show people how to build emergency ventilators for about $100.

John Krasinski has launched a new YouTube series called Some Good News which, well, highlights good news during these messed-up times. For his first episode, he talked The Office with Steve Carell.

• If you’re obsessed with how the nationwide COVID-19 stats curve is going, Time magazine is updating its Coronavirus Chart—for the U.S. and five other countries—on a daily basis.

• Good news: Johnson and Johnson has announced a rapid COVID-19 vaccine-development plan, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Unfortunately, “rapid” means it still would not be available until early 2021.

• Palm Springs favorite TRIO Restaurant is planning a virtual happy hour at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 1—no foolin’.

• Here’s an update from Friday on what Riverside County courts are and aren’t doing right now.

• Wow, this is awesome: Palm Desert’s City Wok restaurant is feeding unemployed restaurant workers for free.

• The Atlantic has been doing an amazing job at covering the pandemic in a thoughtful, intelligent, telling-hard-truths way. Here’s another fantastic piece, on the dangers of the coronavirus culture wars we’ve all seen sprouting up on social media.

• In Spanish: Here’s a primer on Spanish-language films being offered online—many for free.

• The San Francisco Chronicle offers up this primer on manners in this age of coronavirus.

Is it safe to take ibuprofen during the pandemic? According to Wired, it probably is.

That’s enough news for today. Wash your hands. Support local journalism. Send us your Reader Indy Endorsements! Enjoy life. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

We’re not in the business of sharing misinformation here at the Independent. In fact, the whole point of these Daily Digests is to share good info from reliable resources, because there’s a whole lotta crap floating around out there.

However, bear with me as I share a really stupid post from a Facebook friend … that has a really important point embedded within it.

This Facebook friend (a person I don’t actually know; because of the newspaper, I accept friend requests from pretty much anyone with whom I have mutual friends) wrote, in part: “Banning all fun activities while quarantining an entire population is a very, very BAD IDEA. What worked in Chinaor Korea will not work for America. What I feared has already come to pass: an increase in spouse abuse, children abuse, suicidal attempts … and we’re just 4 days in.”

OK … the first part of that post, we can all agree, is bonkers nonsense: Viruses and epidemiology don’t change based on location and nationality. On-the-ground horrific happenings in several countries prove that the social distancing and staying at home we’re enduring right now are, well, REALLY GOSH DARNED CRUCIAL.

However, the second part of that post … it rattled me: While I have not seen any hard evidence that spousal abuse, child abuse or suicide attempts are already on the rise, they’re inevitable consequences of people being forced to stay inside with someone who’s abusive (and stressed to boot). And all this chaos, as I touched upon yesterday, is seriously triggering some people with mental illness.

So … how do we fix this? I don’t have a complete answer for that. I doubt anyone does. And that chills me to the bone.

However, I do have a partial answer: We all need to ask for help if we need it. And we all need to check in with friends, loved ones and neighbors who may need help but be afraid or unable to ask for it.

I participated in two calls with various community leaders today, and this point came up multiple times: We all need to look out for each other in this unprecedented, crappy-ass time. And we need to make sure we reach out when we, ourselves, are in need.

To that end, Palm Springs City Councilwoman Christy Holstege has started a new Facebook group, Coachella Valley Neighbors Helping Neighbors Through COVID-19. The page includes Google Docs where people can sign up to volunteer—and sign up to request needed help.

My friends … if you can volunteer your time, or goods, or anything, please sign up. (Oh, and check out the governor’s Volunteer California site, too.) Even more importantly, if you need help right now of some sort, please sign up.

Beyond this admirable Facebook effort … we need to really live up to the meaning of the word “community” right now. To repeat: Now is the time to be there for each other—and now is the time to reach out if we’re in need.

Please.

Now, for some news:

• For the last couple days, I’ve promised the Independent was publishing a piece that covered the heartbreaking decisions local theater companies endured heading into what was supposed to be one of the busiest theater weekends of the year, as the news got crazier and crazier. At last, here’s that piece, and I am quite proud of it.

• Breaking casino news: Fantasy Springs is closing down through the end of the month (and paying employees during the closure; great move), according to a news release we just received. Meanwhile, the Agua Caliente locations are remaining open for now. Morongo and Spotlight 29 also remain open as of this writing.

Clark’s Nutrition is opening an hour early for elderly and disabled shoppers, at least for the next few days. This is a fantastic idea, and I hope other grocers follow suit.

• If you want or need lunch from Mizell Senior Center, they offered to-go meals today, and may do so in the future. Watch the Facebook page for updates.

• If you suddenly find yourself with extra downtime, why not consider taking a free college course online?

Safeway is hiring in Northern California. The same thing is happening at some local grocery stores, too.

Amazon, too, is hiring in a big way.

• Max Brooks has an important message to share from him and his father, Mel Brooks.

• You’re stuck at home. Museums are closed. But due to the wonders of the internet, you can now visit some museums from home! Even in Paris

• And finally, what happens when a zoo is closed, and they give penguins free run of the joint? Adorableness!

That’s enough for today. Stop hoarding toilet paper. (Really, people. I had to give a friend an extra pack so she could avoid a 25-person-long line at Walmart. Sheesh.) Wash your hands. Check in on someone who may need someone to check in with them. We’re gonna get through this together … and think of the whackadoo stories we’ll all have from this era one day.

Published in Daily Digest

One man puts it all on the line to expose the CIA’s torture tactics post-Sept. 11 in The Report, a film—based on real life—from writer-director Scott Z. Burns.

Adam Driver acts his heart out as Daniel Jones, a U.S. Senate staffer tasked by, among others, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (a droll Annette Bening) to get to the truth about the CIA’s use of extreme interrogation tactics, mainly waterboarding, on suspected terrorist prisoners. Jones (a real guy) basically proved the U.S. was breaking international law, and the film shows how high members of the government and the CIA tried to prevent him from exposing this fact.

While the movie is a decent history lesson, and Driver is good, the film is a bit drab and unintentionally funny at times. Burns doesn’t quite have a grasp on the material here, and the resulting movie should be far more shocking and disarming than it actually is.

The Report is available on Amazon Prime.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The cause of government transparency finally broke through to the popular zeitgeist this year.

It wasn’t an investigative journalism exposé or a civil rights lawsuit that did it, but a light-hearted sitcom about a Taiwanese-American family set in Orlando, Fla., in the late 1990s.

In a January episode of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, the Huang family’s two youngest children—overachievers Evan and Emery—decide if they sprint on all their homework, they’ll have time to plan their father’s birthday party.

“Like the time we knocked out two English papers, a science experiment, and built the White House out of sugar cubes,” Evan said. “It opened up our Sunday for filing Freedom of Information requests.”

“They may not have figured out who shot JFK,” Emery added. “But we will.”

The eldest child, teenage-slacker Eddie, concluded with a sage nod, “You know, once in a while, it’s good to know nerds.”

Amen to that. Around the world, nerds of all ages are using laws like the United States’ Freedom of Information Act (and state-level equivalent laws) to pry free secrets and expose the inner workings of our democracy. Each year, open government advocates celebrate these heroes this time of year during Sunshine Week, an annual advocacy campaign on transparency.

But the journalists and researchers who rely on these important measures every day can’t help but smirk at the boys’ scripted innocence. Too often, government officials will devise novel and outrageous ways to reject requests for information or otherwise stymie the public’s right to know. Even today—20 years after the events set in the episode—the White House continues to withhold key documents from the Kennedy assassination files.

Since 2015, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (a nonprofit that advocates for free speech, privacy and government transparency in the digital age) has published The Foilies to recognize the bad actors who attempted to thwart the quests for truth of today’s Evans and Emerys. With these tongue-in-cheek awards, we call out attempts to block transparency, retaliation against those who exercise their rights to information, and the most ridiculous examples of incompetence by government officials who handle these public records.


The Corporate Eclipse Award: Google, Amazon, and Facebook

Sunshine laws? Tech giants think they can just blot those out with secretive contracts. But two nonprofit groups—Working Partnerships and the First Amendment Coalition—are fighting this practice in California by suing the city of San Jose over an agreement with Google that prevents city officials from sharing the public impacts of development deals, circumventing the California Public Records Act.

Google’s proposed San Jose campus is poised to have a major effect on the city’s infrastructure, Bloomberg reported. Yet, according to the organization’s lawsuit, records analyzing issues of public importance such as traffic impacts and environmental compliance were among the sorts of discussions Google demanded be made private under their nondisclosure agreements.

It’s not just Google using these tactics. An agreement between Amazon and Virginia includes a provision that the state will give the corporate giant—which is placing a major campus in the state—a heads-up when anyone files a public-records request asking for information about them. The Columbia Journalism Review reported that Facebook has also used this increasingly common strategy for companies to keep cities quiet and the public in the dark about major construction projects.


The Unnecessary Box Set Award: Central Intelligence Agency

After suing the CIA to get access to information about Trump’s classified briefings, Kel McClanahan of National Security Counselors was expecting the agency to send over eight agreed-upon documents.

What he was not expecting was for the files—each between three and nine pages each—-to be spread out across six separate CD-ROMs, each burned within minutes of each other, making for perhaps the most unnecessary box set in the history of the compact disc.

What makes this “extra silly,” McClanahan said, is that the CIA has previously complained about how burdensome and costly fulfilling requests can be. Yet the CIA could have easily combined several requests onto the same disc and saved themselves some time and resources. After all, a standard CD-ROM can hold 700 MB, and all of the files took only 304 KB of space.


The (Harlem) Shaky Grounds for Redaction Award: Federal Communications Commission

After repealing the Open Internet Order and ending net neutrality, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai doubled down on his efforts to ruin online culture. He released a cringe-inducing YouTube video titled “7 Things You Can Still Do on the Internet After Net Neutrality“ that featured his own rendition of the infamous “Harlem Shake” meme. (For the uninitiated, the meme is characterized by one person subtly dancing in a room of people to Baauer’s track “Harlem Shake.” Then the bass drops, and the crowd goes nuts, often with many people in costumes.)

Muckrock editor JPat Brown filed a Freedom of Information Act request for emails related to the video, but the FCC rejected the request, claiming the communications were protected “deliberative” records.

Brown appealed the decision, and the FCC responded by releasing all the email headers, while redacting the contents, claiming that anything more would cause “foreseeable harm.” Brown did not relent, and a year later, the FCC capitulated and released the unredacted emails.

“So, what did these emails contain that was so potentially damaging that it was worth risking a potential FOIA lawsuit over?” Brown writes. “Pai was curious when it was going live, and the FCC wanted to maintain a veto power over the video if they didn’t like it.” The most ridiculous redaction of all was a tiny black box in an email from the FCC media director. Once removed, all that was revealed was a single word: “OK.”


The Unreliable Narrator Award: President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. District Court Judges

When President Trump tweets attacks about the intelligence community, transparency groups and journalists often file FOIA requests (and subsequently lawsuits) seeking the documents that underpin his claims. The question that often comes up: Do Trump’s smartphone rants break the seal of secrecy on confidential programs?

The answer seems to be no. Multiple judges have sided with Justice Department lawyers, concluding that his Twitter disclosures do not mean that the government has to confirm or deny whether records about those activities exist.

In a FOIA case seeking documents that would show whether Trump is under investigation, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that the President’s tweets to that effect are “speculation.” Similarly, in a FOIA suit to get more information about the widely publicized dossier of potential ties between Trump and Russia, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said that the president’s statements are political rather than “assertions of pure fact.”

And so, whether Trump actually knows what he’s talking about remains an open question.


The Cross-Contamination Award: Stanford Law Professor Daniel Ho

One of the benefits of public records laws is they allow almost anyone—regardless of legal acumen—to force government agencies to be more transparent, usually without having to file a lawsuit.

But in Washington state, filing a public-records request can put the requester at legal risk of being named in a lawsuit should someone else not want the records to be made public.

This is what happened to Sarah Schacht, a Seattle-based open-government advocate and consultant. For years, Schacht has used public records to advocate for better food-safety rules in King County, an effort that led to the adoption of food-safety placards found in restaurants in the region.

After Schacht filed another round of requests with the county health department, she received a legal threat in November 2018 from Stanford Law School professor Daniel Ho’s attorney threatening to sue her unless she abandoned her request. Apparently, Ho has been working with the health department to study the new food-safety and placard regulations. He had written draft studies that he shared with the health department, making them public records.

Ho’s threat amounted to an effort to intimidate Schacht from receiving public records, probably because he had not formally published his studies first. Regardless of motive, the threat was an awful look. But even when faced with the threat, Schacht refused to abandon her request.

Fortunately, the lawsuit never materialized, and Schacht was able to receive the records. Although Ho’s threats made him look like a bully, the real bad actor in this scenario is Washington State’s public-records law. The state’s top court has interpreted the law to require parties seeking to stop agencies from releasing records (sometimes called reverse-FOIA suits) to also sue the original requester along with the government agency.


The Scanner Darkly Award: St. Joseph County Superior Court

ProPublica reporter Jessica Huseman has been digging deep into the child-welfare system and what happens when child abuse results in death. While following up on a series of strangulations, she requested a copy of a case file from the St. Joseph County Superior Court in Indiana. Apparently, the clerk on the other end simply took the entire file and ran everything through a scanner. The problem was that the file contained a CD-ROM, and that’s not how CD-ROMs work. “Well, this is the first time this had happened,” Huseman posted to Twitter, along with the blotchy black-and-white image of the top of the disc. “They scanned a CD as part of my FOI and didn’t give me its contents. Cool cool.”


The Cash for Crash Award: Michigan State Police

As tech companies experiment with autonomous vehicles on public roadways, reporters are keeping tabs on how often these cars are involved in collisions. That’s why The Information’s Matt Drange has been filing records requests for the crash data held by state agencies. Some government departments have started claiming that every line of the dataset is its own individual record—subject to a copy fee. Our winner, the Michigan State Police, proposed to charge Drange a 25-cent fee for each of a 1.9 million-line dataset, plus $20 for a thumb drive, for a grand total of $485,645.24, with half of it due up front. Runners-up that quoted similar line-by-line charges include the Indiana State Police ($346,000) and the North Carolina Department of Transportation ($82,000).

Meanwhile, Florida’s government released its detailed dataset at no charge at all.


The Bartering With Extremists Award: California Highway Patrol

In 2016, the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), an infamous neo-Nazi group, staged a demonstration at the California State Capitol. Counter-protesters fiercely opposed the demonstration, and the scene soon descended into chaos, leaving multiple people injured. When the dust settled, a member of the public (who, we should disclose, is a co-author of this piece) filed a California Public Records Act request to obtain a copy of the permit the white nationalist group filed for its rally. The California Highway Patrol rejected the request for this normally available document, claiming it was related to a criminal investigation.

Two years later, evidence emerged during criminal proceedings that a CHP detective used the public-records request as a bargaining chip in a phone call with the TWP protest leader, who was initially reluctant to provide information. The officer told him how the request might reveal his name. “We don’t have a reason to … uh … deny (the request),” the officer said, according a transcript of the call. But once the organizer decided to cooperate, the officer responded, “I’m gonna suggest that we hold that or redact your name or something … uh … until this thing gets resolved.”

In light of these new facts, the First Amendment Coalition filed a new request for the same document. It, too, was denied.


The Pre-emptive Shredding Award: Inglewood Police Department

In defiance of the law-enforcement lobby, California legislators passed a law (SB 1421) requiring police and sheriffs to disclose officer-misconduct records in response to California Public Records Act requests. These documents, often contained in personnel files, had historically been untouchable by members of the public and the press.

Almost immediately, police unions across the Golden State began to launch lawsuits to undermine these new transparency measures. But the Inglewood Police Department takes the prize for its efforts to evade scrutiny. Mere weeks before the law took effect on Jan. 1, 2019, the agency began destroying records that were set to become publicly available.

“This premise that there was an intent to beat the clock is ridiculous,” Inglewood Mayor James T Butts Jr. told the Los Angeles Times in defending the purge. We imagine Butts would find it equally ridiculous to suggest that the fact he had also been a cop for more than 30 years, including serving in Inglewood and later as police chief of Santa Monica, may have factored into his support for the destruction of records.


The What the Swat? Award: Nova Scotia and Halifax Law Enforcement

One Wednesday morning in April, 15 Halifax police officers raided the home of a teenage boy and his family. “They read us our rights and told us not to talk,” his mother would later tell the CBC. “They rifled through everything. They turned over mattresses; they took drawers and emptied out drawers; they went through personal papers, pictures. It was totally devastating and traumatic.”

You might well wonder: What was the Jack Bauer-class threat to geo-political stability? Nothing at all: The Canadian teen had just downloaded a host of public records from openly available URLs on a government website.

At the heart of the ordeal was some seriously terrible security practices by Nova Scotia officials. The website created to host the province’s public records was designed in such a way that every request and response had a nearly identical URL and placed no technical restrictions on the public’s ability to access any of the requests. This meant that regular public-records requests and individuals’ requests to access government files about them, which included private information, were all stored together and available on the internet for anyone, including Google’s webcrawler, to access. All that was necessary was changing a number identifying the request at the end of the URL.

What Nova Scotian officials should have done upon learning about leaks in their own public-records website’s problems was apologize to the public, thank the teen who found these gaping holes in their digital security practices, and implement proper restrictions to protect people’s private information. They didn’t do any of that, and instead sought to improperly bring the force of Canada’s criminal hacking law down on the very person who brought the problem to light.

The whole episode—which thankfully ended with the government dropping the charges—was a chilling example of how officials will often overreact and blame innocent third parties when trying to cover up their own failings. This horror show just happened to involve public records. Do better, Canada.


The Outrageous Fee Request of the Year: City of Seattle

When self-described transparency advocate and civic hacker Matt Chapman sent his request to Seattle seeking the email metadata from all city email addresses (from/to/BCC addresses, time, date, etc.), he expected some pushback, because it does sound like an incredible amount of data to wrangle.

Seattle’s response: All the data can be yours for a measly $33 million. Officials estimated that it would take 320 years’ worth of staff time to review the roughly 32 million emails responsive to Chapman’s request. Oh, and they estimated charging an additional $21,600 for storage costs associated with the records. The fee request is the second highest in the history of The Foilies. (The Department of Defense won in 2016 for estimating it would take $660 million to produce records on a particular computer forensic tool.)

Then the city did something entirely unexpected: It revisited the fee estimate and determined that the first batch of records would cost only $1.25 to process. We get it; math is hard.

But wait—that’s not all. After paying for the batches of records with a series of $1.25 checks, Chapman received more than he ever bargained for: Rather than disclosing just the metadata for all 32 million emails, Seattle had given him the first 256 characters of every email. Those snippets included passwords, credit card numbers and other personally identifying information.

What followed was a series of conversations between Chapman, Seattle’s lawyers and the city’s IT folks to ensure he’d deleted the records and that the city hadn’t just breached its own data protections via a public-records request.

Ultimately, Seattle officials in January 2018 began sending the data to Chapman once more, this time without the actual content of email messages. The whole episode doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Seattle officials’ ability to do basic math, comply with the public records law or protect sensitive information.


The Intern Art Project Award: Vermont Gov. Phil Scott

Seattle isn’t the only city to stumble in response to Matt Chapman’s public-records requests for email metadata. The Vermont governor’s office also wins for its scissor-and-glue approach to releasing electronic information.

Rather than export the email information as a spreadsheet, the Vermont governor’s office told Chapman it had five interns (three of whom were unpaid) working six hours each, literally “cutting and pasting the emails from paper copies.” The next thing Chapman knew, he had a 43-page hodgepodge collage of email headers correlating with one day’s worth of messages. The governor’s attorney told Chapman it would cost $1,200 to process three more days’ worth of emails.

Chapman pushed back and provided his own instructions on exporting the data using a computer and not, you know, scissors and glue. Sure enough, he received a 5,500-line spreadsheet a couple of weeks later at no charge.


The Least-Transparent Employer Award: U.S. Department of Justice

In the last few years, we’ve seen some great resignation letters from public servants, ranging from Defense Secretary James Mattis telling President Trump, “It’s not me; it’s you,” to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions‘ forced resignation.

But the Trump DOJ seems to have had enough of the tradition and has now determined that U.S. Attorney resignation letters are private in their entirety and cannot be released under the Freedom of Information Act. Of course, civil servants should have their private information protected by their employer, but that’s precisely what redactions should be used to protect.

Past administrations have released resignation letters that are critical of executive branch leaders. The change in policy raises the question: What are departing U.S. Attorneys now saying that the government wants to hide?


The Clawback Award: The Broward County School Board

After the tragic Parkland shooting, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel went to court to force the Broward County School Board to hand over documents detailing the shooter’s education and disciplinary record. A judge agreed and ordered the release, as long as sensitive information was redacted.

But when reporters copied and pasted the file into another document, they found that the content under the redactions was still there and readable. They broke the story of how the school denied the shooter therapeutic services and alternative education accommodations, but then uploaded the school board’s report with working redactions.

Rather than simply do better with double-checking their redactions next time, the school board struck back at the newspaper. They petitioned the court to hold the newspaper in contempt and to prevent anyone from reporting on the legally obtained information. Although the local judge didn’t issue a fine, she lambasted the paper and threatened to dictate exactly what the paper could report about the case in the future (which is itself an unconstitutional prior restraint).


The Wrong Way to Plug a Leak Award: City of Greenfield, Calif.

The Monterey County Weekly unexpectedly found itself in court after the city of Greenfield, Calif., sued to keep the newspaper from publishing documents about the surprising termination of its city manager.

When editor Sara Rubin asked the interim city manager for the complaint the outgoing city manager filed after his termination, she got nothing but crickets. But then an envelope containing details of a potential city political scandal appeared on the doorstep of one of the paper’s columnists.

The weekly reached out to the city for comment and began preparing for its normal Wednesday print deadline. Then, the morning of publication, the paper got a call saying that they were due in court: The city sued to block publication of the documents, to have the documents returned and to have the paper reveal the identity of the leaker.

Attorney Kelly Aviles of the First Amendment Coalition gave everyone a fast lesson in the First Amendment, pointing out that the paper had every right to publish. The judge ruled in the paper’s favor, and the city ended up paying all of the Monterey County Weekly’s attorney fees.


If it Looks like a Duck Award: Brigham Young University Police

Brigham Young University’s Police Department is certified by the state,* and has the powers of the state, but says that they’re not actually a part of government for purposes of the Utah transparency law.

After the Salt Lake Tribune exposed that the university punished survivors of sexual assault for coming forward and reporting, the paper tried to get records of communications between the police department and the school’s federally required sexual assault coordinator. BYU pushed back, saying that the police department is not subject to Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act because the police department is privately funded.

This turns out to be a trickier legal question than you’d expect. Brigham Young University itself isn’t covered by the state law because it is a private school. But the university police force was created by an act of the Utah Legislature, and the law covers entities “established by the government to carry out the public’s business.” Investigating crime and arresting people seems like the public’s business.

Last summer, a judge ruled that the police department is clearly a state agency, but the issue is now on appeal at the Utah Supreme Court. Sometime this year, we should learn if the police are a part of the government or not.

*Because BYU police failed to comply with state law, and was not responsive to an internal investigation, the Utah Office of Public Safety notified the department on Feb 20 that the BYU police department will be stripped of its certification on Sept. 1, 2019. The university police also plan to appeal this decision.


The Insecure Security Check Award: U.S. Postal Service

Congressional elections can turn ugly, but the opponent of newly elected U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger got a boost when the U.S. Postal Service released Spanberger’s entire personnel file, including her security-clearance application, without redaction of highly sensitive personal information.

When a third party requests a person’s federal employment file without the employee’s permission, the government agency normally releases only a bare-bones record of employment dates, according to a Postal Service spokesperson. But somehow Rep. Spanberger wasn’t afforded these protections, and the Postal Service has potentially made this mistake in a “small number” of other cases this year. Security-clearance applications (Form SF-86) are supposed to be analyzed and investigated by the FBI, raising questions about how the FOIA officer got the information in the first place. The Postal Service has apologized for the mistake, which they say is human error, but maybe security-clearance applications should be kept just as secure as the state secrets the clearance is meant to protect.

The Foilies were compiled by Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Investigative Researcher Dave Maass, Staff Attorney Aaron Mackey, Frank Stanton Fellow Camille Fischer, and Activist Hayley Tsukayama. Illustrations by EFF Art Director Hugh D’Andrade. For more on our work, visit eff.org.

Published in Features

The first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was a huge success, garnering five Primetime Emmy Awards—including Outstanding Comedy Series honors—and giving Amazon Studios its biggest hit to date.

Given all the accolades and press, show runners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino had to be feeling a lot of pressure to deliver with the show’s second season—and deliver, they did, on Dec. 5 with 10 splendid episodes.

While the second season doesn’t cover any surprising ground—the plot lines all head pretty much where one would predict them to head—the writing remains sharp and delightful, and the acting is consistently stellar.

Season 2 takes us on a comedy tour with Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) and Susie (cast MVP Alex Borstein); to Paris with Midge and parents Rose (Marin Hinkle) and Abe (Tony Shalhoub); and on a summer away in the Hamptons with the entire Masiel and Weissman families. New addition Zachary Levi is on hand as a potential love interest for Midge.

Side note: I can’t believe Miriam Maisel and House of Cards’ Rachel Posner—she’s the prostitute knocked off by an obsessed Doug Stamper—are played by the same actress. Rachel Brosnahan, you’re amazing!

The second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is now streaming on Amazon Video.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

“Fake news” is not a new thing. In Censored 2019: Fighting the Fake News Invasion, Project Censored’s vivid cover art recalls H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

The situation today may feel as desolate as the cover art suggests.

Censored 2019 is a book about fighting fake news,” editors Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff observed in the book’s introduction. In the end, they argued that “critical media education—rather than censorship, blacklists, privatized fact-checkers, or legislative bans—is the best weapon for fighting the ongoing fake news invasion.”

Project Censored’s annual list of 25 censored stories, which makes up the book’s lengthy first chapter, is one of the best resources one can have for such education.

Project Censored has long been engaged in much more than just uncovering and publicizing stories kept down and out of the corporate media. Over the years, it added new analytical categories, including sensationalist and titillating Junk Food News stories. But through it all, the list of censored stories remains central to Project Censored’s mission, which, the editors point out, can be read in two different ways: “As a critique of the shortcomings of U.S. corporate news media for their failure to adequately cover these stories, or as a celebration of independent news media, without which we would remain either uninformed or misinformed about these crucial stories and issues.”


1. Global Decline in the Rule of Law as Basic Human Rights Diminish

According to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2017–2018, released in January 2018, a striking worldwide decline in basic human rights has driven an overall decline in the rule of law since October 2016—the month before Trump’s election.

Fundamental rights—one of eight categories measured—declined in 71 out of 113 nations surveyed. Overall, 34 percent of countries’ scores declined, while just 29 percent improved. The United States ranked 19th, down one from 2016, with declines in checks on government powers and deepening discrimination.

Fundamental rights include the absence of discrimination, the right to life and security, due process, the freedom of expression and religion, the right to privacy, the freedom of association and labor rights.

“All signs point to a crisis not just for human rights, but for the human rights movement,” Yale professor of history and law Samuel Moyn told The Guardian the day the index was released. “Within many nations, these fundamental rights are falling prey to the backlash against a globalising economy in which the rich are winning. But human rights movements have not historically set out to name or shame inequality.”

This reflects the thesis of Moyn’s most recent book, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World.

Constraints on government powers, which measures the extent to which those who govern are bound by law, saw the second-greatest declines (64 countries out of 113 dropped). This is where the United States saw the greatest deterioration, the World Justice Project stated in a press release. “While all sub-factors in this dimension declined at least slightly from 2016, the score for lawful transition of power—based on responses to survey questions on confidence in national and local election processes and procedures—declined most markedly,” the press release stated.  

The United States also scored notably poorly on several measurements of discrimination.

The four Nordic countries—Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden—remained in the top four positions. New Zealand, Canada and Australia were the only top 10 countries outside of Europe.

“The WJP’s 2017–2018 Rule of Law Index received scant attention from U.S. corporate media,” Project Censored noted. The only coverage they found was a Newsweek article drawing on The Guardian’s coverage.


2. “Open-Source” Intelligence Secrets Sold to Highest Bidders

In March 2017, WikiLeaks released Vault 7, a trove of 8,761 leaked confidential CIA files about its global hacking programs, which WikiLeaks described as the “largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.” It drew significant media attention.

But almost no one noticed what George Eliason of OpEdNews pointed out.

“Sure, the CIA has all these tools available,” Eliason pointed out. “Yes, they are used on the public. The important part is (that) it’s not the CIA that’s using them. That’s the part that needs to frighten you.”

As Eliason went on to explain, the CIA’s mission prevents it from using the tools, especially on Americans.

“All the tools are unclassified, open-source, and can be used by anyone,” Eliason explained. “It makes them not exactly usable for secret-agent work. That’s what makes it impossible for them to use Vault 7 tools directly.”

Drawing heavily on more than a decade of reporting by Tim Shorrock for Mother Jones and The Nation, Eliason’s OpEdNews series reported on the explosive growth of private contractors in the intelligence community, which allows the CIA and other agencies to gain access to intelligence gathered by methods they’re prohibited from using.

In a 2016, report for The Nation, Shorrock estimated that 80 percent of an estimated 58,000 private intelligence contractors worked for the five largest companies. He concluded that “not only has intelligence been privatized to an unimaginable degree, but an unprecedented consolidation of corporate power inside U.S. intelligence has left the country dangerously dependent on a handful of companies for its spying and surveillance needs.”

Eliason reported how private contractors pioneered open-source intelligence by circulating or selling the information they gathered before the agency employing them had reviewed and classified it; therefore, “no one broke any laws.” As a result, according to Eliason’s second article, “People with no security clearances and radical political agendas have state-sized cyber tools at their disposal, (which they can use) for their own political agendas, private business, and personal vendettas.”

Corporate media reporting on Vault 7 sometimes noted but failed to focus on dangerous role of private contractors, Project Censored pointed out—with the notable exception of am op-ed in The Washington Post in which Shorrock reviewed his previous reporting and concluded that over-reliance on private intelligence contractors was “a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct.”


3. World’s Richest One Percent Continue to Become Wealthier

In November 2017, Credit Suisse released its 8th Annual Global Wealth Report which The Guardian reported on under the headline, Richest 1% Own Half the World’s Wealth, Study Finds.

The wealth share of the world’s richest people increased “from 42.5 percent at the height of the 2008 financial crisis to 50.1 percent in 2017,” The Guardian reported, adding that “the biggest losers … are young people who should not expect to become as rich as their parents.”

“(Despite being more educated than their parents), millennials are doing less well than their parents at the same age, especially in relation to income, home ownership and other dimensions of well-being assessed in this report,” Rohner Credit Suisse Chairman Urs Rohner said. “We expect only a minority of high achievers and those in high-demand sectors such as technology or finance to effectively overcome the ‘millennial disadvantage.’”

“No other part of the wealth pyramid has been transformed as much since 2000 as the millionaire and ultra-high net worth individual (known as UHNWI) segments,” the report said. “The number of millionaires has increased by 170 percent, while the number of UHNWIs (individuals with net worth of $50 million or more) has risen five-fold, making them by far the fastest-growing group of wealth holders.”

There were of 2.3 million new dollar millionaires this year, taking the total to 36 million.

“At the other end of the spectrum, the world’s 3.5 billion poorest adults each have assets of less than $10,000,” The Guardian reported. “Collectively these people, who account for 70 percent of the world’s working age population, account for just 2.7 percent of global wealth.”

“Tremendous concentration of wealth and the extreme poverty that results from it are problems that affect everyone in the world, but wealth inequalities do not receive nearly as much attention as they should in the establishment press,” Project Censored noted. “The few corporate news reports that have addressed this issue—including an August 2017 Bloomberg article and a July 2016 report for CBS’s MoneyWatch—focused exclusively on wealth inequality within the United States. As Project Censored has previously reported, corporate news consistently covers the world’s billionaires while ignoring millions of humans who live in poverty.”


4. How Big Wireless Convinced Us Cell Phones and Wi-Fi Are Safe

Are cell phones and other wireless devices really as safe we’ve been led to believe? Don’t bet on it, according to decades of buried research reviewed in a March 2018 investigation for The Nation by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie.

“The wireless industry not only made the same moral choices that the tobacco and fossil-fuel industries did; it also borrowed from the same public-relations playbook those industries pioneered,” Hertsgaard and Dowie reported. “Like their tobacco and fossil-fuel brethren, wireless executives have chosen not to publicize what their own scientists have said about the risks of their products. … On the contrary, the industry—in America, Europe and Asia—has spent untold millions of dollars in the past 25 years proclaiming that science is on its side, that the critics are quacks, and that consumers have nothing to fear.”

Their report comes at the same time as several new developments are bringing the issue to the fore, including a Kaiser Permanente study (published December 2017 in Scientific Reports) finding much higher risks of miscarriage; a study in the October 2017 American Journal of Epidemiology, finding increased risk for glioma (a type of brain tumor); and a disclosure by the National Frequency Agency of France that nine out of 10 cell phones exceed government radiation safety limits when tested in the way they are actually used—next to the human body.

“The wireless industry has ‘war-gamed’ science by playing offense as well as defense, actively sponsoring studies that result in published findings supportive of the industry, while aiming to discredit competing research that raises questions about the safety of cellular devices and other wireless technologies,” Project Censored summarized. “When studies have linked wireless radiation to cancer or genetic damage, industry spokespeople have pointed out that the findings are disputed by other researchers.”

While some local media have covered the findings of a few selected studies, Project Censored notes, “the norm for corporate media is to report the telecom industry line—that is, that evidence linking Wi-Fi and cell phone radiation to health issues, including cancer and other medical problems, is either inconclusive or disputed. … As Hertsgaard and Dowie’s Nation report suggested, corporate coverage of this sort is partly how the telecom industry remains successful in avoiding the consequences of actions.”


5. The Washington Post Bans Employees from Using Social Media to Criticize Sponsors

On May 1, 2017, the Washington Post introduced a policy prohibiting its employees from criticizing its advertisers and business partners—and encouraging them to snitch on one another.

“A new social-media policy at The Washington Post prohibits conduct on social media that ‘adversely affects The Post’s customers, advertisers, subscribers, vendors, suppliers or partners,” Andrew Beaujon reported in The Washingtonian the next month. “In such cases, Post management reserves the right to take disciplinary action ‘up to and including termination of employment.’”

Beaujon also cited “a clause that encourages employees to snitch on one another: ‘If you have any reason to believe that an employee may be in violation of The Post’s Social Media Policy … you should contact The Post’s Human Resources Department.’”

At the time, the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, which represents the Post’s employees, was protesting the policy and seeking removal of the controversial parts in a new labor agreement. A follow-up report by Whitney Webb for MintPress News highlighted the broader possible censorship effects, since prohibiting social-media criticism could spill over into reporting as well.

“Among The Washington Post’s advertisers are corporate giants like GlaxoSmithKline, Bank of America and Koch Industries,” Webb wrote. “With the new policy, social-media posts criticizing GlaxoSmithKline’s habit of making false and misleading claims about its products, inflating prices and withholding crucial drug safety information from the government will no longer be made by Post employees.”

Beyond that, Webb suggested it could protect the CIA, which has a $600 million contract with Amazon Web Services. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Post four months after that contract was signed.

“While criticism of the CIA is not technically prohibited by the new policy, former Post reporters have suggested that making such criticisms could endanger one’s career,” Webb noted.

“Corporate news coverage of The Washington Post’s social media policy has been extremely limited,” Project Censored noted.

It’s part of a much broader problem, identified in Jeremy Iggers’ 1998 book, Good News, Bad News: Journalism Ethics and The Public Interest. Iggers argued that journalism ethics focused on individual reporters completely missed the larger issue of corporate conflicts whose systemic effects fundamentally undermine journalism’s role in a democracy.


6. Russiagate: A Two-Headed Monster of Propaganda and Censorship

Is Russiagate a censored story? In my view, not exactly. This entry seems to reflect a well-intentioned effort to critically examine fake-news-related issues within a “censored story” framework. It’s important that these issues be raised—which is one reason why I suggested above that Project Censored add “fake news” as a new analytical category to examine annually along with its censored stories list, “junk food news” and “news abuse.”

What Project Censored calls attention to is important: “Corporate media coverage of Russiagate has created a two-headed monster of propaganda and censorship. By saturating news coverage with a sensationalized narrative, Russiagate has superseded other important, newsworthy stories.”

As a frustrated journalist with omnivorous interests, I heartily concur—but what’s involved is too complex to simply be labelled “propaganda.” On the other hand, the censorship of alternative journalistic voices is a classic, well-defined Project Censored story, which suffers from the attempt to fit both together.

In April 2017, Aaron Maté reported for The Intercept on a quantitative study of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show from Feb. 20 to March 31, 2017 which found that “Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent of these broadcasts.” Maté wrote: “Maddow’s Russia coverage has dwarfed the time devoted to other top issues, including Trump’s escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants (1.3 percent of coverage); Obamacare repeal (3.8 percent); the legal battle over Trump’s Muslim ban (5.6 percent), a surge of anti-GOP activism and town halls since Trump took office (5.8 percent), and Trump administration scandals and stumbles (11 percent).”

Well and good. But is this propaganda?

At Truthdig, Norman Solomon wrote: “As the cable news network most trusted by Democrats as a liberal beacon, MSNBC plays a special role in fueling rage among progressive-minded viewers toward Russia’s ‘attack on our democracy’ that is somehow deemed more sinister and newsworthy than corporate dominance of American politics (including Democrats), racist voter suppression, gerrymandering and many other U.S. electoral defects all put together.”

Also true. But it is not so much propaganda as Project Censored’s broader category of “news abuse,” which includes propaganda and spin among other forms of “distraction to direct our attention away from what we really need to know.” To fully grasp what’s involved requires a more complex analysis. On the other hand, the censorship of alternative journalistic voices is far more clear-cut and straightforward.

In a report for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Robin Andersen examined Russiagate-inspired censorship moves by Twitter, Google and others. A key initial target of this censorship was RT.

"RT’s reporting bears striking similarities to alternative and independent media content, and that is why letting the charges against RT stand unexamined is so dangerous," Andersen noted.

In fact, the government’s intelligence report on RT included its reporting on the dangers of fracking as part of its suspect activity. Beyond that, the spill-over suppression was dramatic: “Yet in the battle against fake news, much of the best, most accurate independent reporting is disappearing from Google searches,” Anderson said. “The World Socialist Web Site (8/2/17) reported that Google’s new search protocol is restricting access to leading independent, left-wing, progressive, anti-war and democratic rights websites. The estimated declines in traffic generated by Google searches for news sites are striking.”

There were declines for AlterNet.org (63 percent), DemocracyNow.org (36 percent), CounterPunch.org (21 percent), ConsortiumNews.com (47 percent), MediaMatters.org (42 percent), and TheIntercept.com (19 percent), among others.

“Many people suffer when lies are reported as facts, but it seems that corporate media are the only ones that profit when they reinforce blind hostility—against not only Russia, but also legitimate domestic dissent,” Project Censored noted.


7. Regenerative Agriculture as “Next Stage” of Civilization

The world’s agricultural and degraded soils have the capacity to recover 50 to 66 percent of the historic carbon release into the atmosphere, according to a 2004 paper in Science—actually reversing the processes driving global warming.

A set of practices known as “regenerative agriculture” could play a major role in accomplishing that, while substantially increasing crop yields as well, according to information compiled and published by Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, in May 2017.

“For thousands of years, we grew food by depleting soil carbon, and in the last hundred or so, the carbon in fossil fuel as well,” food and farming writer Michael Pollan wrote. “But now we know how to grow even more food while at the same time returning carbon and fertility and water to the soil

Cummins, who’s also a founding member of Regeneration International, wrote that regenerative agriculture offers a “world-changing paradigm” that can help solve many of today’s environmental and public-health problems. As The Guardian explained: “Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, re-mineralizes soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertilizer runoff.”

“We can’t really solve the climate crisis (and the related soil, environmental, and public health crisis) without simultaneously solving the food and farming crisis,” Cummings wrote. “We need to stop putting greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere (by moving to 100 percent renewable energy), but we also need to move away from chemical-intensive, energy-intensive food, factory farming and land use, as soon as possible.”

In addition to global warming, there are profound economic and social justice concerns involved.

“Out-of-touch and out-of-control governments of the world now take our tax money and spend $500 billion ... a year mainly subsidizing 50 million industrial farmers to do the wrong thing,” Cummins wrote. “Meanwhile, 700 million small family farms and herders, comprising the 3 billion people who produce 70 percent of the world’s food on just 25 percent of the world’s acreage, struggle to make ends meet…. The basic menu for a Regeneration Revolution is to unite the world’s 3 billion rural farmers, ranchers and herders with several billion health, environmental and justice-minded consumers to overturn ‘business as usual’ and embark on a global campaign of cooperation, solidarity and regeneration.”

If you’ve never heard of it before, don’t be surprised. “Regenerative agriculture has received limited attention in the establishment press, highlighted by only two recent, substantive reports in the New York Times Magazine and Salon,” Project Censored wrote.


8. Congress Passes Intrusive Data-Sharing Law Under Cover of Spending Bill

On March 21, House Republicans released a 2,232-page omnibus spending bill. It passed both houses and was signed into law in two days. Attached to the spending provisions that made it urgent “must-pass” legislation was the completely unrelated Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act of 2018, also known as the CLOUD Act.

“The CLOUD Act enables the U.S. government to acquire data across international borders regardless of other nations’ data-privacy laws and without the need for warrants,” Project Censored summarized.

It also significantly weakens protections against foreign-government actions.

“It was never reviewed or marked up by any committee in either the House or the Senate,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s David Ruiz wrote. “It never received a hearing. … It was robbed of a stand-alone floor vote because Congressional leadership decided, behind closed doors, to attach this unvetted, unrelated data bill to the $1.3 trillion government spending bill.” Congressional leadership failed to listen to citizen concerns, Ruiz wrote, with devastating consequences:

“Because of this failure, U.S. and foreign police will have new mechanisms to seize data across the globe. Because of this failure, your private emails, your online chats, your Facebook, Google, Flickr photos, your Snapchat videos, your private lives online, your moments shared digitally between only those you trust, will be open to foreign law enforcement without a warrant and with few restrictions on using and sharing your information, privacy and human rights,” concluded Robyn Greene, who reported for Just Security.

“The little corporate news coverage that the CLOUD Act received tended to put a positive spin on it,” Project Censored noted. “(A glowing Washington Post op-ed) made no mention of potential risks to the privacy of citizens’ personal data, (and a CNET report that) highlighted the liberties that the CLOUD Act would provide corporations by simplifying legal issues concerning overseas servers.”

Because of this failure, U.S. laws will be bypassed on U.S. soil. Greene noted that the CLOUD Act negates protections of two interrelated existing laws. It creates an exception to the Stored Communications Act that allows certified foreign governments to request personal data directly from U.S. companies.

“This exception enables those countries to bypass the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty process, which protects human rights by requiring foreign governments to work with the Department of Justice to obtain warrants from U.S. judges before they can access that data for their criminal investigations,” Greene explained. “The version of the bill that was included in the omnibus does include some improvements over the earlier version to help to mitigate the risks of bypassing the MLAT process … two changes (that) are important improvements. … Several other concerns have been left entirely unaddressed.”

“While the bill sponsors did try to address some of the concerns that have been raised, the improvements are not enough to shift the balance so that the CLOUD Act will be a boon, rather than a threat, to privacy and human rights,” Greene concluded.


9. Indigenous Communities Around World Helping to Win Legal Rights of Nature

In March 2017, the government of New Zealand ended a 140-year dispute with an indigenous Maori tribe by enacting a law that officially recognized the Whanganui River, which the tribe considers their ancestor, as a living entity with rights.

The Guardian reported it as “a world-first,” although the surrounding Te Urewera National Park had been similarly recognized in a 2014 law, and the U.S. Supreme Court came within one vote of potentially recognizing such a right in the 1972 case Sierra Club v. Morton, expressed in a dissent by Justice William O. Douglas. In addition, the broader idea of “rights of nature” has been adopted in Ecuador, Bolivia and by some American communities, noted Mihnea Tanasescu, writing for The Conversation.

The tribe’s perspective was explained to The Guardian by its lead negotiator, Gerrard Albert.

“We consider the river an ancestor and always have,” Albert said. “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as in indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”

But that could be just the beginning. “It is a critical precedent for acknowledging the Rights of Nature in legal systems around the world,” Kayla DeVault reported for YES! Magazine. Others are advancing this perspective, DeVault wrote: “In response to the Standing Rock Sioux battle against the Dakota Access pipeline, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin amended its constitution to include the Rights of Nature. This is the first time a North American tribe has used a Western legal framework to adopt such laws. Some American municipalities have protected their watersheds against fracking by invoking Rights of Nature.”

“A few corporate media outlets have covered the New Zealand case and subsequent decisions in India,” Project Censored noted. “However, these reports have not provided the depth of coverage found in the independent press or addressed how legal decisions in other countries might provide models for the United States.”


10. FBI Racially Profiling “Black Identity Extremists”

While white supremacists were preparing for the “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, which resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer in August 2017, the FBI’s counterterrorism division produced an intelligence assessment warning of a very different—though actually non-existent threat: “Black Identity Extremists.” The report appeared to be the first time the term had been used to identify a movement, according to Foreign Policy magazine, which broke the story.

“But former government officials and legal experts said no such movement exists, and some expressed concern that the term is part of a politically motivated effort to find an equivalent threat to white supremacists,” Foreign Policy reported.

“The use of terms like ‘black identity extremists’ is part of a long-standing FBI attempt to define a movement where none exists,” said former FBI agent Mike German, who now works for the Brennan Center for Justice. “Basically, it’s black people who scare them.”

“It’s classic Hoover-style labeling with little bit of maliciousness and euphemism wrapped up together,” said William Maxwell, a Washington University professor working on a book about FBI monitoring of black writers. “The language … strikes me as weird and really a continuation of the worst of Hoover’s past.”

“There is a long tradition of the FBI targeting black activists and this is not surprising,” Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson told Foreign Policy.

A former homeland security official told them that carelessly connecting unrelated groups will make it harder for law enforcement to identify real threats. It’s so convoluted that it’s compromising officer safety, the former official said.

“The corporate media (has) covered the FBI report on ‘black identity extremists’ in narrow or misleading ways,” Project Censored noted, citing examples from The New York Times, Fox News and NBC News. “Coverage like this both draws focus away from the active white supremacist movement and feeds the hate and fear on which such a movement thrive.”

Published in National/International

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