The Intercept no doubt pissed off a fair share of its own cultivated readership when it released a top-secret National Security Agency document revealing that Russian military intelligence indeed attempted to meddle in last November's US presidential election. Specifically, the Kremlin's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) "executed a cyberattack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials" just days before the vote. It is to The Intercept's everlasting credit that they've released this. But it is notable that their leading light Glenn Greenwald was not among the journalists involved. So far, his only response to the revelations is to tweet: "Journalism requires that document be published and reported. Rationality requires it be read skeptically." Funny, we don't recall any such skepticism from Greenwald about all the WikiLeaks claims he aggressively hyped—some of which seemed a little dubious.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned May 8 that there are "systemic failures" in US immigration detention centers, such as unreasonable delays in health care and unqualified medical staff, leading to "dangerously subpar" care. The group expressed concerns about the Trump administration's plans to detain an even higher number of immigrants, which HRW believes will result in more "needless and preventable deaths." The group documented numerous incidents of "substandard and dangerous" medical care, and the misuse of solitary confinement for people with mental health conditions. According to the report, this type of substandard care contributed to seven of the 18 deaths in detention centers from 2012 to 2015.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking to the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) on April 18, pledged that the Trump administration will have "zero tolerance for gang violence" from "transnational criminal organizations"—particularly singling out MS-13, the Central American narco-network that has its roots on the streets of Los Angeles. Citing a February executive order in which President Trump directed the Justice Department "to interdict and dismantle transnational criminal organizations," Sessions promised "concrete ideas to follow through" on the directive.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on April 28 to lift restrictions placed on offshore oil drilling by the previous administration. According to a statement, about 94% of the US Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) was either off-limits to or not considered for oil and gas exploration and development under previous rules. Trump blamed federal regulations for high unemployment in the state of Alaska, where oil and gas are a significant part of the economy, and said lifting restrictions would create thousands of jobs. Opponents, including US Congressman Charlie Christ (D-FL), criticized the move, citing environmental risks posed by drilling, especially naming the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill.
US District Judge District Judge William Orrick of the Northern District of California on April 25 issued a temporary injunction (PDF) against Executive Order 13768, "Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States" (PDF), which would have allowed the federal government to withhold funds from municipalities that have been designated as "sanctuary cities." Orrick rejected the government's argument that the order was within the president's scope, saying, "The President has called it 'a weapon' to use against jurisdictions that disagree with his preferred policies of immigration enforcement... The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President, so the Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds."
A maddening account on CNN April 24 informs us of the "anti-protest" bills now pending in several states around the country, and contains this utterly harrowing line: "Under a bill in the Tennessee state legislature, drivers who injure protesters blocking traffic would be exempt from civil liability..." The escape clause is "so long as they were 'exercising due care.'" But the article describes an incident in Nashville earlier this year, in which Spencer DesAuteles, working as a volunteer to keep anti-Trump protestors safe from traffic, was thrown onto the hood of a car that drove through the intersection where he was standing. Miraculously, he was not hurt—and says he had the right of way when the motorist assualted him. DesAuteles blames the pending legislation. Perhaps too generously, he says: "The sponsor was very clear that the wording of the bill is not to say that it's OK to go and hit people with your car. But that's the way that people are reading it. The only way it's being read by the vast majority of people is: 'I can hurt protesters and get away with it.'" The bill's sponsor, Republican state Rep. Matthew Hill, did not respond to a request for comment.
This week's unnerving incident in which US jets intercepted two Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska leaves us wondering how to read events. Russia sent the two "nuclear-capable" bombers to within 100 miles of Kodiak Island April 17, prompting the US to scramble two F-22 stealth fighter jets from Elmendorf Air Force Base. The US and Russian craft were side-by-side for a full 12 minutes, until they crossed out of the US Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). (The Telegraph, April 18) This came as ExxonMobil was seeking a waiver from US sanctions against Russia to move ahead with its Black Sea venture with Rosneft. The decision rested with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), while Secretary of State (and ex-Exxon CEO) Rex Tillerson is officially recusing himself from any matters involving the company for two years. Still, it is counterintuitive (at least) that OFAC turned down the waiver April 21. (NYT, April 21; Fox Business, April 19)
Physician Jumana Nagarwala was charged April 13 in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan for performing female genital mutilation (FGM) on minors out of a medical office in Livonia, Mich. According to the complaint (PDF), the girls were as young as six to eight years of age and were transported from out of state by their parents or other family members secretly to the facility to perform the procedure. Federal authorities learned of Nagarwala's actions based on a tip from an unidentified source and interviews conducted of two minor victims from Minnesota who were taken by their parents to the Livonia facility.