Newsletter

The Paper Trail: November 3, 2023

Senate Chips Away at Military Nom Backlog; The Secretive Industry Devouring the U.S. Economy; Toxic Metals in Chocolate—Relax, People; and More. 

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Announcements

Making the Most of Your Resources: Databases and Other Sources: POGO’s virtual training on how to use publicly available databases will be TODAY at 12 noon. This event is only open to staff in Congress, GAO, and CRS. Register HERE.

Top stories for November 3, 2023

Around half of those eligible for WIC in 2021 received benefits: According to a new USDA report, despite 12.1 million Americans being eligible for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children in 2021, only 6.2 million received benefits. (Tara Suter, The Hill)

State and USAID employees abroad face an increased demand and an inadequate supply of mental health resources: State Department and USAID workers serve in positions all over the world, often in environments that pose psychological challenges. But a recent GAO report found continuing and worsening problems in the provision of mental health services for these workers. (Nathan Abse, Government Executive)

Home schooling’s rise from fringe to fastest-growing form of education: The growth demonstrates home schooling’s arrival as a mainstay of the American educational system, with its impact on society, on public schools and, above all, on millions of children only beginning to be felt. Nearly a dozen states don’t monitor home-schooled students. (Peter Jamison, Washington Post)

The secretive industry devouring the U.S. economy: The private-equity industry has made one-fifth of the U.S. economy opaque to investors, the media, and regulators. (Rogé Karma, The Atlantic)

Unproven “advanced recycling” facilities have received millions in public subsidies: The petrochemical industry is lobbying for “advanced recycling” as a solution to plastic pollution, but a new report casts serious doubt on the technology’s effectiveness and reveals a troubling track record at U.S. facilities. (Schuyler Mitchell, The Intercept)

Israel-Hamas War

House approves GOP’s $14.3 billion Israel aid package: The measure pairs the $14.3 billion in aid with the same amount in cuts to IRS funding. It also excludes humanitarian aid for Gaza. (Mike Lillis and Mychael Schnell, The Hill)

🔎 See Also: How the GOP’s Israel bill could help Hamas (Freddy Brewster and David Sirota, The Lever)

White House requests “unprecedented” loophole that would obscure arms sales to Israel: Buried within the $106 billion supplemental national security funding request the White House sent to Congress last month is a highly unusual exemption that would let the Israeli government buy up to $3.5 billion in military articles and services in complete secrecy. (Janet Abou-Elias et al., In These Times)

American commandos are in Israel helping to locate hostages, Pentagon says: The Pentagon declined to say how many U.S. Special Operations forces are currently in Israel helping locate the more than 200 hostages seized during Hamas’s cross-border attacks. (Eric Schmitt, New York Times)

Local construction firm for secret U.S. base in Israel also built an illegal settlement: The U.S. military’s recent $35 million contract for construction at its secret base in Israel went to a joint venture that includes an Israeli company involved in building an illegal settlement in occupied Palestinian territory. (Ken Klippenstein and Jason Paladino, The Intercept)

🔎 See Also: Kathy Hochul’s Israel trip bankrolled by group funding illegal settlements (Akela Lacy and Chris Gelardi, The Intercept)

Insurrection

Minnesota Supreme Court grapples with Trump’s eligibility to run in 2024: Minnesota’s highest court expressed skepticism about whether they — or their counterparts in other states — should decide whether Donald Trump can appear on the 2024 ballot. (Heidi Przybyla, Politico)

Russia-Ukraine War

Analysis: What exactly is Zelensky’s “Forum of Defense Industries”? Military contractors can’t be trusted to take part in Ukraine’s new industrial collaboration, the Defense Industries Alliance, without the Pentagon establishing parameters and guardrails. (Julia Gledhill, Responsible Statecraft)

Police Misconduct

Former Memphis police officer accused in death of Tyre Nichols pleads guilty: Nichols’ death in January led to protests and vigils in Memphis and other major U.S. cities, reigniting the debate over how the police treat Black people and the use of specialized crime fighting teams. (Pamela Kirkland and Eric Levenson, CNN)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Senate confirms three more senior military officers around Tuberville blockade: The Senate on Thursday confirmed three more senior military officers — including Adm. Lisa Franchetti, the first woman to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff — in the latest move to bypass Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on nominations. (Dan Lamothe, Washington Post)

The Air Force is investigating cases of rare pediatric brain cancers. This isn’t the first time: The Air Force is investigating several cases of rare pediatric brain cancers at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico. (Patricia Kime, Military.com)

Administration officials defend maligned whistleblower protection office, though lawmakers still want changes: Six years after its creation, lawmakers and advocates are still looking to overhaul the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, an office within the VA charged with assisting employees who report wrongdoing that has faced criticism for failing to prevent whistleblower retaliation. (Eric Katz, Government Executive)

Business and Finance

Home sellers win $1.8 billion after jury finds conspiracy among realtors: A federal jury found that the powerful National Association of Realtors and several large brokerages conspired to artificially inflate the commissions paid to real estate agents, a decision that could radically alter the home-buying process in the U.S. (Debra Kamin, New York Times)

Justice Department probes Live Nation’s agreements with venues, artists: The DOJ is investigating whether Live Nation uses anticompetitive agreements with venues and other partners to book top talent and serve as the ticketing provider for their shows. (Anne Steele and Dave Michaels, Wall Street Journal)

It isn’t just golf. The Justice Department is very, very interested in sports: The biggest and most powerful sports leagues in the U.S. are under unprecedented scrutiny from antitrust enforcers these days. (Louise Radnofsky, Andrew Beaton, and Robert O’Connell, Wall Street Journal)

The truth about Target: In September, Target announced it was closing nine stores because of “theft and organized retail crime.” But publicly available crime data for the stores Target is closing reveal that the stores being closed had lower levels of theft than nearby stores left open, suggesting the company has ulterior motives. (Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria, Popular Information)

Tech

How AI is crafting a world where our worst stereotypes are realized: AI image generators like Stable Diffusion and DALL-E amplify gender and race bias despite efforts to “detoxify” the underlying data. (Nitasha Tiku, Kevin Schaul, and Szu Yu Chen, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Poll shows most U.S. adults think AI will add to election misinformation in 2024 (Ali Swenson and Matt O’Brien, Associated Press)

Infrastructure

A tangle of rules to protect America’s water is falling short: America’s stewardship of one of its most precious resources, groundwater, relies on a patchwork of state and local rules so lax and outdated that in many places oversight is all but nonexistent. (Dionne Searcey and Delger Erdenesanaa, New York Times)

Offshore wind firm cancels N.J. projects, as industry’s prospects dim: Danish company Orsted’s cancelling two wind farm projects off the coast of New Jersey will crimp the Biden administration’s goal of making the wind industry a critical component of its green energy agenda. High inflation and soaring interest rates are making planned wind power projects that looked like winners several years ago no longer profitable. (Stanley Reed and Tracey Tully, New York Times)

Health Care

People who used recalled Philips breathing machines face painful choices: Their CPAP machines were lifelines until they learned the foam inside them could break down and make them sick. Now, after the Philips Respironics recall, they’re plagued by illness, lost sleep, and worry about long-term harm. (Margaret Fleming et al., ProPublica)

More medical gloves are coming from China, as U.S. makers of protective gear struggle: The government has invested $1.5 billion to boost American production of medical masks, gowns, and gloves, as some U.S. manufacturers of personal protective equipment face dire financial circumstances. (Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR)

Infant deaths have risen for the first time in 20 years: The U.S. infant mortality rate increased by 3% last year. The increases were particularly stark among babies born to Native American, Alaska Native, and white mothers in 2022. Rates among Black infants remained highest of all. (Roni Caryn Rabin, New York Times)

Millions have used the 988 mental health crisis line, but most say they wouldn’t turn to it again: The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline has received millions of calls, texts, and online messages since its launch in 2022, but a new study found the resource is far from reaching its full potential. (Deidre McPhillips, CNN)

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

Why illegal border crossings are at sustained highs

With an eye toward China, Biden to meet Latin leaders on economics, migration

Other News:

A tall task awaits O’Malley at Social Security

Trump’s allies want a new style of lawyer if he returns to power

Capitol Police knew security precaution lapsed ahead of Paul Pelosi attack

DOJ opens civil rights probes into South Carolina jails beset by deaths and violence

Hawaii bribery scandal casts a shadow over Lahaina’s ruins

Why your neighborhood pharmacy isn’t so friendly anymore

Dozens of bird names honoring enslavers and racists will be changed

Uber, Lyft drivers to receive $328M in back pay as part of NY settlement

Because It’s Friday

Despite spooky Consumer Reports’ testing, metals in chocolates aren’t scary: Consumer Reports has warned about chocolate products containing “concerning” and “dangerous” amounts of the toxic metals lead and cadmium. But a closer look at the data and reactions from medical toxicologists indicate that the danger is actually pretty low. (Beth Mole, Ars Technica)

Upcoming Events

📌 Free Speech: What Everyone Needs to Know. Cato Institute. Monday, November 6, 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m., 1000 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington DC.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 CRS: Israel and Hamas 2023 Conflict In Brief: Overview, U.S. Policy, and Options for Congress. R47828(PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - VA Whistleblowers: Retaliation Claim Investigations and Settlement Agreements. GAO-24-107090(PDF)

🔥📃 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction: Quarterly Report to Congress. October 30, 2023(PDF)

Nominations & Appointments

Nominations

  • Jacquelyn D. Austin - Judge, United States District Court for the District of South Carolina
  • Jacqueline Becerra - Judge, United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida
  • Kurt Campbell - Deputy Secretary of State
  • Melissa Damian - Judge, United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida
  • David S. Leibowitz - Judge, United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida
  • Julie S. Sneed - Judge, United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida

Withdrawals

  • Laura Daniel-Davis - Assistant Secretary of the Interior