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The Paper Trail: December 15, 2023

Judicial Self-Policing Doesn’t Work; Children Risk Lives Building America’s Roofs; Cybercrime Victim Victimized by IRS; and More. 

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Judicial Self-Policing Doesn’t Work; Children Risk Lives Building America’s Roofs; Cybercrime Victim Victimized by IRS; and More. 

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The Paper Trail

Top stories for December 15, 2023

The judiciary has policed itself for decades. It doesn’t work: The secretive Judicial Conference is tasked with self-governance of federal judges, including Supreme Court justices. The group has spent decades protecting — not policing — judges accused of ethics lapses, thwarting outside oversight, and targeting “disloyal” people who push for reforms. (Brett Murphy and Kirsten Berg, ProPublica)

Senate approves back pay for military officers caught in Tuberville’s blockade: The measure still needs approval in the House, which won’t return until the new year. Tuberville is still blocking the quick confirmation of 11 nominees for four-star positions. (Connor O’Brien, Politico)

Children risk their lives building America’s roofs: Federal law bars anyone under 18 from roofing because it’s so dangerous. But across the U.S., elementary-school age migrant children do this work anyway, often without the required safety gear. (Hannah Dreier et al., New York Times)

Research institutions must better secure sensitive data from foreign adversaries, experts say: U.S. universities and research institutions need to be more protective of their sensitive data and have a better sense of the foreign governments underwriting their work to prevent it from falling into the hands of adversarial nations, a House lawmaker and other experts said this week. (Edward Graham, Government Executive)

The failed promise of police body cameras: When body-worn police cameras were introduced a decade ago, they seemed to hold the promise of accountability. But police have the power to decide what is recorded, who can see it, and when. In turn, departments across the country routinely delay releasing footage, release only partial or redacted video, or refuse to release anything at all. (Eric Umansky,New York Times)

Analysis: Why federal efforts to protect schools from cybersecurity threats fall short: While the steps taken by the White House to bolster cybersecurity in K-12 schools are positive, the measures aren’t enough to fully protect schools from cyberthreats. (Nir Kshetri, Government Executive)

Classified Documents

The mystery of the missing binder: How a collection of raw Russian intelligence disappeared under Trump: A binder containing highly classified information related to Russian election interference went missing at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, raising alarms among intelligence officials that some of the most closely guarded national security secrets from the U.S. and its allies could be exposed. (Jeremy Herb et al., CNN)

Air Force cracks down on “need to know” violations in wake of Discord leaks: The Air Force said it has implemented several reforms to improve procedures related to need to know and classified access, in addition to improving accountability for protection of classified and sensitive information. (Audrey Decker, Government Executive)

🔎 See Also: U.S. officials were “furious” about leaks exposing Ukraine war concerns (John Hudson and Missy Ryan, Washington Post)

Dobbs Aftermath

Supreme Court will decide access to key abortion drug mifepristone: The court will review the Fifth Circuit’s decision that the FDA didn’t follow proper procedures when it began loosening rules for obtaining mifepristone in recent years. It won’t consider a separate challenge to FDA’s initial approval of the drug in 2000. (Ann E. Marimow, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Behind the scenes at the dismantling of Roe v. Wade (Jodi Kantor and Adam Liptak, New York Times)

Google is rolling out new protections for our location data: The changes mean that Google won’t be able to see the record of where you’ve been and your location will be inaccessible to law enforcement, which will help protect people’s privacy in states where abortion is outlawed. (Chris Velazco, Washington Post)

Russia-Ukraine War

U.S. aid to Ukraine by the numbers: Since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration has sent more than $75 billion in cash and equipment to Ukraine for military operations, keeping its government running, and addressing humanitarian needs. That total includes $44 billion in military assistance, $26.4 billion in financial assistance, and $2.7 billion in emergency food assistance, health care, refugee support, and other humanitarian aid. (Michael Crowley, Eric Schmitt, and Helene Cooper, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: How the U.S. keeps funding Ukraine’s military — even as it says it’s out of money (Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

House passes defense policy bill, a rebuke of GOP’s far-right fringe: After stripping it of hard-liners’ demands over abortion, diversity, and LGBTQ+ rights, the House approved the $886 billion National Defense Authorization Act. It passed the Senate by an overwhelming margin a day earlier and now heads to the White House. (Abigail Hauslohner, Washington Post)

Marine sees finish line in Camp Lejeune fight but hurdles remain: Hurdles remain for those seeking compensation for illnesses caused by toxic water at the base. Unresolved is whether veterans whose compensation claims are rejected by the government can request jury trials, as well as a provision to limit lawyer fees. Bogus claims have also been a problem. (Kaustuv Basu, Bloomberg Law)

🔎 See Also: Black mold video prompts Marine base to shut down showers (Irene Loewenson, Military Times)

Did Army blast exposure play role in Maine gunman’s rampage? The Army is looking into whether Robert Card’s deadly shooting spree in Lewiston, Maine, in October was linked to brain damage caused by his service as an instructor at a hand grenade training range. (Dave Philipps, New York Times)

Federal judge allows Naval Academy to continue using race in admissions — for now: A federal judge this week denied a request to temporarily bar the Naval Academy from using race in its admissions process. Students for Fair Admissions, the group that filed the lawsuit, is also suing West Point. (Bianca Quilantan, Politico)

🔎 See Also: Anti-DEI movement expands in politics, business and academics (Erica Pandey, Axios)

Business and Finance

VW spent $2B to build America a charging network. It’s ranked dead last: In 2016, the year after Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” emissions scandal came to light, the company agreed to make amends by spending $2 billion building electric car chargers. Since then, VW has built thousands of charging ports across the U.S., but many of them don’t work. (Shannon Osaka, Washington Post)

New York joins Colorado in banning medical debt from consumer credit scores: Nearly 25% of Americans say they have past-due medical or dental bills they can’t afford to pay. Medical debt has a disproportionate impact on communities of color and lower-income people. (Anne Marie Lee, CBS News)


Tesla recalls 2 million cars with “insufficient” Autopilot safety controls: The NHTSA said Tesla’s method of ensuring drivers are still paying attention while the driver-assistance system is activated is “insufficient” and that “there may be an increased risk of a crash.” (Leo Sands, Aaron Gregg, and Faiz Siddiqui, Washington Post)

A former White House scientist was scammed out of $655,000. Then came the IRS: The story of how former White House adviser Frances Sharples was victimized by online criminals underscores the nation’s vulnerability to global cybercrime and points to inconsistencies in the treatment of fraud victims. (Michael Laris, Washington Post)


Offshore wind farm projects face major hurdles amid tough economic climate: Inflation, rising interest rates, and supply chain issues have made President Biden's goal of powering more than 10 million homes with offshore wind energy too expensive to achieve. (Ben Tracy, CBS News)

Health Care

The U.S. is unprepared for the growing threat of mosquito- and tick-borne viruses: Experts warn that the U.S. is not ready for the threat of tropical diseases. For one thing, the U.S. has lost much of its capacity to track insects. (Pien Huang, NPR)

Thousands of patients may be undergoing vascular procedures too soon or unnecessarily: Atherectomies, a procedure to treat vascular disease, were performed between 2019 and 2022 on about 30,000 patients who had questionable need for them. (Annie Waldman, Alma Trotter, and Fred Trotter, ProPublica)

Medicaid unwinding exposed a “crisis” in the system as 1.7 million Texans lost coverage: Since a review of eligibility began earlier this year, about 1.7 million Texans have lost Medicaid coverage — almost a million of them kids. Out of 21 states reporting data, Texas by far has the most people who have lost coverage. (Elena Rivera, KERA News)


Immigration and Border Security:

Drastic border restrictions considered by Biden and the Senate reflect seismic political shift on immigration

Texas Guard’s Operation Lone Star to continue beyond 2024 election

Other News:

Ex-FBI counterintelligence chief sentenced to 50 months in prison for working with Russian oligarch

The Republican leading the probe of Hunter Biden has his own shell company and complicated friends

Education Dept. is investigating six more colleges over campus discrimination

GSA, FBI still at odds over headquarters selection, while House subcommittee smells “a rat”

Cheating fears over chatbots were overblown, new research suggests

State tax collectors push struggling people deeper into hardship

Because It’s Friday

Tomato lost in space by history-making astronaut has been found: Due to the humidity aboard the International Space Station, the space-harvested tomato “probably desiccated to the point where you couldn’t tell what it was,” said astronaut Frank Rubio. Case closed. (Jackie Wattles, CNN)

Upcoming Events

📌 Webinar: Scandals & SCOTUS – Improving U.S. Supreme Court Ethics. Ohio Fair Courts Alliance and Common Cause Ohio. Monday, December 18, 6:00 p.m.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 GAO - GAOverview: Understanding Abuse of Federal Programs: Challenges Identifying and Determining Abuse of Federal Programs. GAO-24-106458 (PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: More Actions Needed to Explain Cost Growth and Support Engine Modernization Decision. GAO-24-107177 (PDF)

🔥📃 VA OIG: Greater Compliance with Policies Needed Related to the Management of Emergent Care for Patients Presenting with Acute Sexual Assault. 21-01445-30 (PDF)