CVIndependent

Thu09242020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Riverside County businesses may soon be allowed to further reopen—and San Diego County businesses may soon be forced to further close.

Those are some of the takeaways from yesterday’s weekly update of the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” statuses.

To recap: Every county in the state has been placed in one of four “county risk levels,” depending on the COVID-19 test-positivity rate, and the case rate per 100,000 residents. Riverside County is currently in the most-restrictive “Widespread” category, for counties that have a positivity rate higher than 8 percent, and more than 7 new daily cases per 100,000 people. The next less-restrictive category, “Substantial”—San Diego County’s current tier—requires a positivity rate between 5 and 8 percent, and between 4 and 7 new daily cases per 100,000.

As of this week’s update, Riverside County’s positivity rate is listed as 6.4 percent, with 6.7 daily cases per 100,000—which would put us in less-restrictive “Substantial” territory. However, per the state: “At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least 3 weeks before moving forward.” So … that means Riverside County could possibly move into the less-restrictive “Substantial” category as of Sept. 29.

San Diego County’s numbers, however, are moving in the opposite direction: As of yesterday’s update, the adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 was 8.1—higher than the “Substantial” threshold, even though the county’s positivity rate is a quite-good 4.5 percent. According to the state: “If a county’s metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, it will be assigned a more restrictive tier. Public health officials are constantly monitoring data and can step in if necessary.”

Got all that? Good.

The difference in the tiers is quite substantial. That’s why in San Diego County—which, again, remains in the less-restrictive “Substantial” category for now—personal-care services (waxing, nails, etc.) can currently operate indoors. Churches can be open for indoor service at 25 percent capacity. Gyms can open indoors at 10 percent capacity. Movie theaters can open indoors at 25 percent capacity.

None of that can happen in Riverside County yet.

Meanwhile, county leaders in both places aren’t happy with the state’s criteria. San Diego County officials say their spike in numbers has to do with San Diego State University, and asked the state to not count the college’s numbers in their county metrics. The state said no to that request.

Here, local business leaders are clamoring for Riverside County to open faster, no matter what the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” metrics say. The state is very likely to say no to this request, too.

Stay tuned, folks.

Today’s news links:

• The big local news today: The arena that had been planned for downtown Palm Springs will now instead be built near Cook Street and Interstate 10. The Agua Caliente tribe is no longer involved; instead, the Oak View Group will partner with The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation. From the news release: “The Seattle Kraken’s AHL Franchise, led by David Bonderman and OVG, will play in the new arena once construction is complete. Groundbreaking and construction are scheduled for 2021. The arena is expected to open in the last quarter of 2022.”

• It’s been a fascinating and completely insane couple of days for followers of college football. The Big 10 Conference today announced it would begin playing football this fall after all—as soon as Oct. 23. Then the Pac-12 Conference—the only remaining power conference not to announce plans to play in the fall—announced plans to play in the fall. All of this happened the day after LSU’s coach told the media that most of his team had contracted COVID-19 … amid increasing questions about the virus’ long-term effects on athletes. Repeat after me: Nothing makes sense anymore.

• In the aftermath of this week’s terrible shootings of two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, the actions of the department are raising a whole lot of concerns.

• Good lord, this is awful: A whistleblower has come forward with claims that detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody have been subjected to questionable hysterectomies. Key quote, from NPR: “The complaint says that several immigrant women expressed concerns to Project South about a high rate of hysterectomies and that (whistleblower Dawn) Wooten and other nurses at the facility questioned the number of women undergoing the procedure as well as their ability to fully understand and consent to it. According to the complaint, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five women at the facility who received hysterectomies between October and December 2019 and said they “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” ICE officials have denied wrongdoing.

A group of gym owners is suing the state over COVID-19-mandated closures. According to The Associated Press: “The suit accuses state and Los Angeles County officials of requiring gyms to close without providing evidence that they contribute to virus outbreaks and at a time when staying healthy is critical to California’s residents. The prolonged closure is depriving millions of people the ability to exercise as temperatures soar and smoky air from wildfires blankets much of the state, said Francesca Schuler, a founding partner of the (California Fitness Alliance).

• According to Yelp, 60 percent of pandemic-related business closures are now permanent closures. CNBC explains.

• Some people who have been jobless since the first stay-at-home order are about to exhaust their 26 weeks of state unemployment. What’s next for them? The San Francisco Chronicle explains.

Don’t expect a widespread SARS-CoV-2 vaccine until the middle of next year. So said the CDC director today.

• The Los Angeles Times recently decided to test the speed of first-class USPS mail delivery. The verdict? It’s definitely slower these days.

Both climate change and forest management are responsible for the hellfire blanketing the West these days. A professor of history from the University of Oregon, writing for The Conversation, says: “Management policies have created tinderboxes in Western forests, and climate change has made it much more likely that those tinderboxes will erupt into destructive fires. A third factor is that development has expanded into once-wild areas, putting more people and property in harm’s way.”

• From the Independent: When Palm Springs Pride announced tentative plans for a car caravan as part of an otherwise primarily online celebration in November, some people freaked out—unjustifiably, perhaps. I recently spoke to Pride president and CEO Ron deHarte about what Palm Springs Pride 2020 will look like. Key quote from deHarte, regarding that caravan: “We’re not creating assembly points. … This is being made for TV. The idea is to really show people who are at home, not participating; they can tune into YouTube or the livestream on Facebook. There are not going to be things for people to see—but if somebody was to go sit alongside the road, there are going to be at least 10 miles of roadway where anyone who is conscious of what’s going on in society today can social distance themselves. … But we just don’t see (people gathering) happening. It hasn’t happened in the 17 cities that we’ve been modeling from.”

• Take rising interest rates off your list of things to worry about. Per CNBC: “Projections from individual members (of the Federal Reserve) also indicated that rates could stay anchored near zero through 2023. All but four members indicated they see zero rates through then. This was the first time the committee forecast its outlook for 2023.”

• NBC News looks at the influence YouTube is having on the presidential election this year. Key quote: “YouTube, founded in 2005, has often been overshadowed by the likes of Facebook and Twitter as a place where political campaigning happens online, but this year is shaping up differently, and the fall promises to test YouTube’s capacity to serve as a political referee.”

• Finally … I know I could use a drink, and wine actually sounds quite lovely right now. Here are some fall wine suggestions from Independent wine columnist and resident sommelier Katie Finn.

Happy Wednesday, all! Thanks to everyone from reading. Please help the Independent continue producing quality local journalism—and making it free to everyone, without paywalls or fees—by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return on Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Monday all! Let’s get right to it:

• OK, so we’re in the midst of a crippling pandemic, and it’s hot as hell … and now we have to deal with possible rolling blackouts?! Yes, indeed we do—2020 keeps getting more bonkers by the day, doesn’t it?—and Gov. Gavin Newsom is less than pleased. He said today the power shortage was “unacceptable” and pledged an investigation into the matter. 

How hot has it been throughout California? Well, Death Valley may have reached the hottest temp recorded on Earth in 90 years yesterday.

The Trump administration’s efforts to hamper the U.S. Postal Service has drawn the attention of Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House back into session, and Senate Democrats are asking the Postal Service’s Board of Governors to reverse Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s recent efforts to slow down mail delivery—and remove DeJoy from the job if he doesn’t cooperate. Key quote, from The Washington Post: “In recent days, DeJoy’s agency changes have reduced mail deliveries and overtime hours, resulting in massive mail backlogs that have delayed critical communications and packages, including prescription drugs. The Postal Service also sought to eliminate hundreds of high-speed mail sorting machines this month while removing public-collection boxes in states including California, New York and Pennsylvania, sparking a broad outcry.”

• We keep hearing about potential COVID-19 “game-changers,” and so far, this terrible game has not changed much. Well, here’s the latest thing to keep your fingers crossed about: We mentioned hopes for rapid saliva COVID-19 tests in Friday’s Daily Digest. Well, on Saturday, the FDA granted emergency authorization to the SalivaDirect test, created by the Yale School of Public Health. According to CNN: “Researchers said the new test can produce results in less than three hours, and the accuracy is on par with results from traditional nasal swabbing. They said SalivaDirect tests could become publicly available in the coming weeks. Yale plans to publish its protocol as ‘open-source,’ meaning designated labs could follow the protocol to perform their own tests according to Yale’s instructions, the FDA said.”

• We also mentioned on Friday that the FDA had recently updated guidelines to say that people who have recovered coronavirus will likely have immunity for three months. Well, late Friday night, they sort of took that back, and chided the media for reporting what they’d said, because absolutely nothing makes sense anymore.

Counties are beginning to move on and off of the state’s COVID-19 watch list. Today, five were added; one was removed; and another—San Diego County—could be removed tomorrow. Counties removed from the watchlist can reopen more indoor businesses—like gyms and hair salons—as well as schools. (Riverside County, for the record, can’t be removed from the watch list, because our test-positivity rate remains too darned high.)

• However, Riverside County has a plan to “fix” that: It wants the state to raise the positivity-rate criteria! It’s part of a reopening plan the county has submitted to the state. According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the county wants to open churches, offices, hair salons and indoor dining on Sept. 8; indoor malls, group meetings (!) and wedding receptions on Sept. 22; and gyms, movie theaters and bars on Oct. 6. Hmm.

• The New York Times examines hopes that we could achieve herd immunity with just 50 percent of the population having antibodies to the damned virus, via either recovering from COVID-19 or getting a vaccine. Key quote: “I’m quite prepared to believe that there are pockets in New York City and London which have substantial immunity,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “What happens this winter will reflect that. The question of what it means for the population as a whole, however, is much more fraught.”

• The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill brought students back to campus for classes a couple of weeks ago. Well, that didn’t work out so well: 135 students and staffers have tested positive over the last week, and the school has decided to cancel all in-person classes and shift to remote learning. Sigh.

Should the U.S. allow people to be deliberately given COVID-19 as part of the vaccine trials? Two scientists, writing for The Conversation, make the case that “human challenge trials” should be allowed for the greater good, because it would speed things up. Key quote: “Rapid development of an effective vaccine could save hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. At present, more than 5,000 people die of COVID-19 each day. At that rate, every month of delay in vaccine availability costs 150,000 lives.”

• Also from The Conversation: Some indigenous communities in Mexico have found ways to battle the coronavirus, despite poverty and a lack of access to health care. A professor of anthropology from Ohio State writes: “I find the Zapotec are surviving the pandemic by doing what they’ve always done when the Mexican government can’t, or won’t, help them: drawing on local Indigenous traditions of cooperation, self-reliance and isolation.

• A new study out of Stanford attempts to explain why some people get ill from SARS-CoV-2, and others don’t. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “Three key molecules appear to play a crucial role, new research revealed this week. These key indicators, all found in the bloodstreams of severely ill patients, can be characterized as specific cytokines, or hormone-like molecules produced by the immune cells in the body that can regulate immune response. When overproduced, cytokines accelerate inflammation and can induce severe results.”

This lede from The New York Times … just ugh: “The Trump administration has been using major hotel chains to detain children and families taken into custody at the border, creating a largely unregulated shadow system of detention and swift expulsions without the safeguards that are intended to protect the most vulnerable migrants.”

• Bloomberg reports that homeowners with Federal Housing Administration mortgages are being delinquent with payments at a rate not seen in at least four decades. “The share of late FHA loans rose to almost 16 percent in the second quarter, up from about 9.7 percent in the previous three months and the highest level in records dating back to 1979, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Monday. The delinquency rate for conventional loans, by comparison, was 6.7 percent.”

Do you have questions about voting—when the registration deadline is? Do you need a photo ID? NBC News answers each of these questions, state by state.

The cost of insulin is soaring … and that’s just fine with pharmaceutical companies. FairWarning, via NBC News, reports: “Spurred by stories that diabetics are spending thousands of dollars a year on insulin, or even dying trying to ration it, lawmakers in at least 36 states are trying to tackle the issue, according to a FairWarning review of state bills introduced in the past two years. But the lawmakers are finding that the drug industry is working full-time to weaken or kill insulin price caps.”

That’s enough news for the day. Hooray—we’re one day closer to the end of this mess, whatever that may mean. Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you’re around others. If you value independent local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest

Forgive the tortured metaphor here … but the reopening train has left the station. And I don’t think there’s anything this country can do to get it back in the station now—no matter how dire things get.

Late this afternoon, the Wisconsin Supreme Court—in a disturbing 4-3 decision—struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order. The result is chaos: According to the Wisconsin State Journal, some counties have stepped in to issue their own orders, which remain valid. As for the other counties …

“For now, it looks like businesses and restaurants in counties that have not prohibited opening may operate as they wish,” the story says.

Closer to home, two Southern California casinos—Sycuan Casino Resort and the Valley View Casino and Hotel—just announced they’re reopening next week. And even closer to home, Morongo’s Canyon Lanes bowling alley will be reopening on Monday, according to the Facebook page.

All of this is happening on a planet where other countries that have eased restrictions are now needing to tighten things back up due to an increase in infections. Would that even now be possible in Wisconsin, if needed?

What a weird, alarming mess.

Meanwhile, May rolls on. And it’s only the 13th.

Other news from today:

• I am going to start off with some encouraging stories, as I cross my fingers really hard: The Washington Post talked to some doctors about how much they’ve learned about treating COVID-19 in the last two months. They’ve learned a lot, and that increasing knowledge is saving lives.

• From The New York Times: Scientists are working together more than they ever have before to find treatments for this damned virus. That’s leading to some very good things.

• Related: Vaccine-makers are considering joining forces to test their various candidate vaccines in one large trial. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach, however, as CNN points out.

• Public-relations guru David Perry drew my attention to this article, from Foreign Affairs magazine. The headline says it all, and as David presented it, I present it to you—without endorsement or critique: “Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Will Soon Be the World’s: Herd Immunity Is the Only Realistic Option—the Question Is How to Get There Safely.

• In a similar vein, here’s a piece from The Atlantic with this headline: “Take the Shutdown Skeptics Seriously: This Is Not a Straightforward Battle Between a Pro-Human and a Pro-Economy Camp.”

• I am holding back tears and counting my ample blessings after reading the opening paragraph of this San Francisco Chronicle piece: “More than 40 immigrants being held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego are alleging that a detainee’s recent death due to COVID-19 was caused by reckless and inhumane conditions, according to a letter begging the governor and other California lawmakers to intervene.”

• Some companies stepped up and offered their “essential workers” what amounted to hazard pay as the pandemic broke out. However, some of that extra pay is coming to an end—even though the hazards have not.

• Our colleagues at Dig Boston have done yet another compilation of alternative-newsmedia coverage of the pandemic, across the country and the world.

• Speaking of kick-ass media: Five media orgs with deep pockets are suing the Small Business Administration for information on which businesses got billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded loans.

The Hollywood Bowl’s summer season is officially cancelled. Surprising? No. Sad? Undeniably.

• If you’re a nerd like me, you’ll be fascinated by this San Jose Mercury News piece on how geneticists mapped the spread of SARS CoV-2 across the country. This data could help guide future travel restrictions.

• From the Independent: Palm Desert’s two new voting districts—which are decidedly unconventional—have been finalized for the 2020 city election. However, the pandemic has delayed the city’s planned adoption of a ranked-choice voting process.

• The federal government has decided some companies don’t need to follow the EPA’s pollution-monitoring rules during the pandemic. Nine states, including California, have filed suit against the EPA as a result.

Bankruptcy courts, alas, are going to probably going to see a lot of filings in the coming months and years. The Conversation shows how the courts are not ready for what’s about to hit them.

• A fantastic read from the Los Angeles Times: Janice Brown spent time at a Victorville hospital after getting sick with COVID-19. She improved, went home … and then the infection came back. This story, while alarming, is also oddly filled with hope.

• More from the “Elon Musk is a dick” files: Some of Tesla’s employees aren’t too thrilled about being rushed back to work at the carmaker’s Fremont plant.

• Creepy, or creative? A restaurant in Virginia with three Michelin stars doesn’t want to feel empty when it reopens with social-distancing restrictions … so it’s “seating” mannequins at unoccupied tables.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. If you can spare a few bucks to support quality, independent local journalism, please consider supporting the Coachella Valley Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with whatever craziness Thursday brings.

Published in Daily Digest

Every year, Project Censored scours the landscape for the most important stories that the mainstream corporate media somehow missed—and every year, the task seems to get a bit stranger. Or “curiouser and curiouser,” as suggested in the subtitle of this year’s volume of their work, Censored 2020: Through The Looking Glass, which includes their full list of the top 25 censored stories—and much, much more about the never-ending struggle to bring vitally important hidden truths to light.

In the foreword, “Down the Rabbit Hole of ‘Media Literacy’ by Decree,” Sharyl Attkisson, an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, highlights the absurdity of “so many well-organized, well-funded efforts to root out so-called ‘fake news,’” which—as we’ll see below—have significantly impacted the kinds of journalists and outlets who have historically produced the stories that make Project Censored’s list in the first place.

“The self-appointed curators, often wielding proprietary algorithms, summarily dispense with facts and ideas that they determine to be false—or maybe just dangerous to their agendas,” Attkisson notes. “Thanks to them, we will hardly have to do any of our own thinking. They’ll take care of it for us.”

In the beginning, Project Censored’s founder, Carl Jensen, was partly motivated by the way in which the early reporting on the Watergate scandal never crossed over from being a crime story to a political story—until after the 1972 election coverage. It wasn’t censorship in the classic sense, but it was an example of something even more insidious, because no clear-cut act of censorship or all-powerful censor was needed to produce the same result of a public left in the dark. Jensen defined censorship as “the suppression of information, whether purposeful or not, by any method—including bias, omission, underreporting or self-censorship—that prevents the public from fully knowing what is happening in its society.” The most obvious way to start fighting it was to highlight the suppressed information in the form of the stories that didn’t get widely told. Thus, Project Censored and its annual list of censored stories was born.

1. Justice Department’s Secret FISA Rules for Targeting Journalists

The federal government can secretly monitor American journalists under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which allows invasive spying and operates outside the traditional court system, according two 2015 memos from then-Attorney General Eric Holder.

The memos were obtained by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the Freedom of the Press Foundation through an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, which was reported on by The Intercept, whose parent company provides funding for both organizations. However, the memos were virtually ignored by the corporate media.

The secret rules “apply to media entities or journalists who are thought to be agents of a foreign government, or, in some cases, are of interest under the broader standard that they possess foreign intelligence information,” The Intercept reported.

Project Censored cited three “concerning” questions the memos raise. First: How many times have FISA court orders been used to target journalists, and are any currently under investigation? Second: Why did the Justice Department keep these rules secret when it updated its “media guidelines” in 2015? And, third: Is the Justice Department using FISA court orders—along with the FBI’s similar rules for targeting journalists with National Security Letters (NSLs)—to “get around the stricter ‘media guidelines’”?

The corporate media virtually ignored these revelations when they occurred. The subsequent media interest in FISA warrants targeting Trump campaign adviser Carter Page “has done nothing at all to raise awareness of the threats posed by FISA warrants that target journalists and news organizations,” Project Censored observed.

Project Censored ended with a quote from Ramya Krishnan, a staff attorney with the Knight Institute, summarizing the stakes: “National security surveillance authorities confer extraordinary powers. The government’s failure to share more information about them damages journalists’ ability to protect their sources, and jeopardizes the news gathering process.”

2. Think Tank Partnerships Establish Facebook as a Tool of U.S. Foreign Policy

In the name of fighting “fake news” to protect American democracy from “foreign influences,” Facebook formed a set of partnerships with three expert foreign influencers in 2018, augmenting its bias toward censorship of left/progressive voices.

In May 2018, Facebook announced its partnership with the Atlantic Council, a NATO-sponsored Washington, D.C., think tank to “monitor for misinformation and foreign interference.”

“It’s funded by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Navy, Army and Air Force, along with NATO, various foreign powers and major Western corporations, including weapons contractors and oil companies, (including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell),” noted Adam Johnson, writing for the media watch group FAIR.

FAIR went on to note that the major news outlets covering the story said nothing about any of the above conflicts of interest.

In September, Facebook announced it would also partner with two Cold War-era U.S. government-funded propaganda organizations: the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.

In October 2018, Jonathan Sigrist, writing for Global Research, described one of the greatest Facebook account and page purges in its troubled history: “559 pages and 251 personal accounts were instantly removed from the platform. … This is but one of similar yet smaller purges that have been unfolding in front of our eyes over the last year, all in the name of fighting ‘fake news’ and so called ‘Russian propaganda.’”

3. Indigenous Groups From the Amazon Propose Creation of Largest Protected Area on Earth

When news of unprecedented wildfires in the Amazon grabbed headlines in late August, most Americans were ill-prepared to understand the story, in part because of systemic exclusion of indigenous voices and viewpoints, as highlighted in Project Censored’s No. 3 story—the proposed creation of an Amazonian protected zone the size of Mexico, presented to the UN Conference on Biodiversity in November 2018.

The proposal, which Jonathan Watts, writing for The Guardian, described as “a 200m-hectare sanctuary for people, wildlife and climate stability that would stretch across borders from the Andes to the Atlantic,” was advanced by an alliance of some 500 indigenous groups from nine countries, known as COICA—the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin, who called it “a sacred corridor of life and culture.”

“We have come from the forest and we worry about what is happening,” declared Tuntiak Katan, vice president of COICA, as quoted in The Guardian. “This space is the world’s last great sanctuary for biodiversity. It is there because we are there. Other places have been destroyed.”

The Guardian went on to note: “The organization does not recognize national boundaries, which were put in place by colonial settlers and their descendants without the consent of indigenous people who have lived in the Amazon for millennia. Katan said the group was willing to talk to anyone who was ready to protect not just biodiversity but the territorial rights of forest communities.”

In contrast, The Guardian explained: “Colombia previously outlined a similar triple-A (Andes, Amazon and Atlantic) protection project that it planned to put forward with the support of Ecuador at next month’s climate talks. But the election of new rightwing leaders in Colombia and Brazil has thrown into doubt what would have been a major contribution by South American nations to reduce emissions.”

4. U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Set to Unleash 120 Billion Tons of New Carbon Emissions

Three months after the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we have just 12 years to limit catastrophic climate change, Oil Change International released a report that went virtually ignored, warning that the United States was headed in the wrong direction.

The report, Drilling Towards Disaster, warned that rather than cutting down carbon emissions, as required to avert catastrophe, the United States under Donald Trump was dramatically increasing fossil fuel production, with the United States on target to account for 60 percent of increased carbon emissions worldwide by 2030—expanding extraction at least four times more than any other country.

References to the report “have been limited to independent media outlets,” Project Censored noted: “Corporate news outlets have not reported on the report’s release or its findings, including its prediction of 120 billion tons of new carbon pollution or its five-point checklist to overhaul fossil fuel production in the US.”

5. Modern Slavery in the United States and Around the World

An estimated 403,000 people in the United States were living in conditions of “modern slavery” in 2016, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, or GSI—about 1 percent of the global total. The GSI defines “modern slavery” broadly to include forced labor and forced marriage.

Because forced marriage accounts for 15 million people, more than a third of the global total, it’s not surprising that females form a majority of the victims (71 percent). The highest levels were found in North Korea, where an estimated 2.6 million people—10 percent of the population—are victims of modern slavery.

The GSI is produced by the Walk Free Foundation, whose founder, Andrew Forrest, called the U.S. figure, “a truly staggering statistic, (which) is only possible through a tolerance of exploitation.”

“Walk Free’s methodology includes extrapolation using national surveys, databases of information of those who were assisted in trafficking cases, and reports from other agencies like the UN’s International Labour Organization” to compile its figures, explained The Guardian.

There are problems with this methodology, according to others working in the field, The Guardian noted. There’s no universal legal definition, and tabulation difficulties abound. But the GSI addresses this as an issue for governments to work on and offers specific proposals.

“The GSI noted that forced labor occurred ‘in many contexts’ in the U.S., including in agriculture, among traveling sales crews, and—as recent legal cases against GEO Group, Inc. have revealed—as the result of compulsory prison labor in privately owned and operated detention facilities contracted by the Department of Homeland Security,” Project Censored noted.

Newly restrictive immigration policies have further increased the vulnerability of undocumented persons and migrants to modern slavery.

6. Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Sex Trafficking Criminalized for Self-Defense

On Jan. 7, outgoing Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, who had been sentenced to life in prison in 2004, at age 16, for killing a man who bought her for sex and raped her. Brown’s case gained prominence via the support of A-list celebrities, and Haslam cited “the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.” But despite public impressions, Brown’s case was far from unique.

“There are thousands of Cyntoia Browns in prison,” organizer Mariame Kaba, co-founder of Survived and Punished, told Democracy Now! the next day.

“We should really pay attention to the fact that we should be fighting for all of those to be free,” Kaba said. “When you look at women’s prisons, the overwhelming majority, up to 90 percent of the people in there, have had histories of sexual and physical violence prior to ending up in prison.”

Project Censored wrote: “In contrast to the spate of news coverage from establishment outlets, which focused on Brown’s biography and the details of her case, independent news organizations, including The Guardian, Democracy Now!, Rolling Stone and Mother Jones, stood out for reporting that cases like Brown’s are all too common.”

Later in January, Kellie Murphy’s Rolling Stone story quoted Alisa Bierria, another Survived and Punished co-founder, and highlighted several other cases prominent in alternative-media coverage. In May, Mother Jones reported on the legislative progress that Survived and Punished and its allies had achieved in advancing state and federal legislation.

“Corporate news organizations provided considerable coverage of Cyntoia Brown’s clemency,” Project Censored noted. “However, many of these reports treated Brown’s case in isolation, emphasizing her biography or the advocacy on her behalf by celebrities such as Rihanna, Drake, LeBron James and Kim Kardashian West.”

It went on to cite examples from the New York Times and NBC News that did take a broader view, but failed to focus on sex trafficking or sexual violence.

7. Flawed Investigations of Sexual Assaults in Children’s Immigrant Shelters

“Over the past six months, ProPublica has gathered hundreds of police reports detailing allegations of sexual assaults in immigrant children’s shelters,” ProPublica reported in November 2018. “(The shelters) have received $4.5 billion for housing and other services since the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America in 2014, (and the reports reveal that) both staff and other residents sometimes acted as predators.”

“Again and again, the reports show, the police were quickly—and with little investigation—closing the cases, often within days, or even hours,” ProPublica stated.

In the case of Alex, a 13-year-old from Honduras, used to highlight systemic problems, the police investigation lasted 72 minutes, and resulted in a three-sentence report. There was surveillance video showing two older teenagers grabbing him, throwing him to the floor and dragging him into a bedroom. But ProPublica reported, “An examination of Alex’s case shows that almost every agency charged with helping Alex—with finding out the full extent of what happened in that room—had instead failed him.”

“Because immigrant children in detention are frequently moved, even when an investigator wanted to pursue a case, the child could be moved out of the investigating agency’s jurisdiction in a just few weeks, often without warning,” Project Censored noted. “When children are released, parents or relatives may be reluctant to seek justice, avoiding contact with law enforcement because they are undocumented or living with someone who is.”

8. U.S. Women Face Prison Sentences for Miscarriages

“There has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, candidate Donald Trump said in early 2016, which led to a wave of denials from anti-abortion activists and politicians, who claimed it was not their position. These women were victims, too, they argued—that had always been their position.

But that wasn’t true, as Rewire News reported at the time. Women were already in prison, not for abortions, but for miscarriages alleged to be covert abortions. And that could become much more widespread due to actions taken by Trump Administration, according to a 2019 Ms. Magazine blog post by Naomi Randolph on the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, especially if the decision is overturned.

“Pregnant women could face a higher risk of criminal charges for miscarriages or stillbirths, due to lawmakers in numerous states enacting laws that recognize fetuses as people, separate from the mother,” Project Censored explained, adding:

One example that Randolph provided is in Alabama, where voters recently passed a measure that “endows fetuses with ‘personhood’ rights for the first time, potentially making any action that impacts a fetus a criminal behavior with potential for prosecution.” Collectively, these laws have resulted in hundreds of American women facing prosecution for the outcome of their pregnancies.

In fact, a 2015 joint ProPublica/AL.com investigation, found that “at least 479 new and expecting mothers have been prosecuted across Alabama since 2006,” under an earlier child-endangerment law, passed with methamphetamine-lab explosions in mind, which the “personhood movement” got repurposed to target stillbirths, miscarriages and suspected self-abortions.

9. Developing Countries’ Medical Needs Unfulfilled by Big Pharma

“The world’s biggest pharmaceutical firms have failed to develop two-thirds of the 139 urgently needed treatments in developing countries,” Julia Kollewe reported for The Guardian in November 2018, according to a report by Access to Medicine Foundation, which “found that most firms focus on infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, but had failed to focus on other serious ailments. … In particular, the foundation called for an infants’ vaccine for cholera and a single-dose oral cure for syphilis.”

It’s not all bad news. “The foundation’s report also highlighted 45 best and innovative practices that could ‘help raise the level of standard practice’ and ‘achieve greater access to medicine,’” Project Censored noted. “The report highlights examples such as the development of a child-friendly chewable tablet for roundworm and whipworm, which infect an estimated 795 million people,” The Guardian reported. “Johnson and Johnson has pledged to donate 200 million doses a year until 2020.”

The possibilities underscore why attention is vital. Attention makes a difference, Project Censored pointed out: “In an effort to mobilize investors to pressure pharmaceutical companies to make more medicines available to developing countries, the foundation presented the findings of its reports to 81 global investors at events in London, New York, and Tokyo. As of April 2019, Access to Medicine reported that, since the release of the 2018 Access to Medicine Index in November 2018, 90 major investors had pledged support of its research and signed its investor statement.”

But attention has been sorely lacking in the corporate media. “With the exception of a November 2018 article by Reuters, news of the Access to Medicine Index’s findings appear to have gone unreported in the corporate press,” Project Censored concluded.

10. Pentagon Aims to Surveil Social Media to Predict Domestic Protests

“The United States government is accelerating efforts to monitor social media to preempt major anti-government protests in the U.S.,” Nafeez Ahmed reported for Motherboard in October 2018, drawing on “scientific research, official government documents, and patent filings.” Specifically, “The social media posts of American citizens who don’t like President Donald Trump are the focus of the latest U.S. military-funded research,” which in turn “is part of a wider effort by the Trump administration to consolidate the U.S. military’s role and influence on domestic intelligence.”

The Pentagon had previously funded Big Data research into predicting mass population behavior, “specifically the outbreak of conflict, terrorism, and civil unrest,” especially in the wake of the Arab Spring, via a program known as “Embers.” But such attention wasn’t solely focused abroad, Ahmed noted, calling attention to a U.S. Army-backed study on civil unrest within the U.S. homeland, titled “Social Network Structure as a Predictor of Social Behavior: The Case of Protest in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.”

Ahmed discussed two specific patents which contribute to “a sophisticated technology suite capable of locating the ‘home’ position of users to within 10 kilometers for millions of Twitter accounts, and predicting thousands of incidents of civil unrest from micro-blogging streams on Tumblr.”

Project Censored made no mention of any coverage of this story by the corporate media.

Published in Features