The Paper Trail: October 17, 2023

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Top stories for October 17, 2023

Wildfires are dealing a massive blow to U.S. real estate and homeownership, congressional report finds: Climate change-fueled wildfires are costing the U.S. economy between $394 billion to $893 billion annually, according to the Joint Economic Committee — a shocking figure that is more than double what previous government reports have estimated. (Ella Nilsen, CNN)

🔎 See Also:These houses are at risk of falling into the sea. The U.S. government bought them (Brady Dennis, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also:House Republicans want answers on agency spending on Biden’s federal climate corps (Eric Katz, Government Executive)

How Lunchables ended up on school lunch trays: The weak standards that govern federally subsidized school lunches illustrate the power of the food industry in Washington. Pizza sauce and French fries still count as vegetables, and food companies remain virtually free to advertise to children any way they like. (Lenny Bernstein, Lauren Weber, and Dan Keating, Washington Post)

ICE paid millions for empty detention beds in Georgia: The DHS inspector general found the government paid a Georgia immigrant detention center more than $12.5 million for unused bed space during the pandemic. The IG review also found problems at the facility with migrants’ ability to access medical care and file grievances. (Lautaro Grinspan, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Israel-Hamas War

FBI tracks increased threats to Jews and Muslims after Hamas attack: The FBI is tracking increased numbers of threats against both Jewish and Muslim Americans, although it has not yet detected evidence that Hamas is trying to direct attacks in the U.S. by its supporters. (Julian E. Barnes, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: DOJ opens hate crimes investigation after Muslim boy stabbed to death (Monica Eng, Axios 

FBI targets Muslims and Palestinians in wake of Hamas attack, civil rights advocates warn: FBI agents have questioned and detained Palestinian nationals and made visits to mosques, according to civil rights advocates. Meanwhile, Muslims and Palestinians are reporting incidents of discrimination. (Prem Thakker and Daniel Boguslaw, The Intercept)

Supreme Court Ethics

Justice Barrett expresses support for formal Supreme Court ethics code: In an interview at the University of Minnesota yesterday, Justice Amy Coney Barrett said “it would be a good idea” for the Supreme Court to adopt a formal ethics code, but she said she could not speak for the court on a timeline or what such a code might look like. (Politico)


Dating websites and furry forums: The volunteer army of online investigators who helped the FBI track down January 6 perpetrators: A community of online sleuths is at the center the FBI’s investigation into the insurrection, vacuuming up video, scouring social media, and finding fresh faces and new crimes. These “Sedition Hunters” have sparked and aided hundreds of arrests and identified more than 700 participants who had not yet been arrested. (Ryan J. Reilly, Politico)

DOJ appeals sentences of Proud Boys members: While four members received sentences of at least 15 years in prison, many of the figures fell far below what the government sought. (Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill)

Dobbs Aftermath

Justice Dept. focuses on violence by protesters at abortion clinics: Federal authorities and abortion rights groups said harassment, stalking, and intimidation at abortion clinics have escalated since the Dobbs ruling. Conservative groups and Republican lawmakers say the DOJ is going too far in pursuing antiabortion groups. (David Nakamura, Washington Post)

Russia-Ukraine War

Team Biden looks for creative ways to help Ukraine: With Congress paralyzed, the Biden administration is exploring and implementing creative ways to achieve its goals in Ukraine without signoff from Capitol Hill. (Hans Nichols, Axios)


How more than $600M in COVID relief funds spent last year went unreported: According to the GAO, thousands of localities last year didn’t follow the law and tell the federal government when they spent $606 million in COVID stimulus funds. This year, twice as many municipalities hadn’t said how they had used about $3 billion in Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. (Kery Murakami, Route Fifty)

Scientists offer a new explanation for long COVID: New studies document distinct biological changes in the bodies of people with long COVID, offering important discoveries for a condition that takes many forms and often does not register on standard diagnostic tools. (Pam Belluck, New York Times)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Behind closed doors, Marines struggle with a glaring diversity problem: The Marine Corps, in step with the rest of the military, has spent decades making a concerted push to become more racially diverse. But within its community of fighter pilots, these efforts have failed to keep pace, and critics say the Corps is unwilling to take aggressive steps that could level the playing field. (Hope Hodge Seck, Washington Post)

Analysis:Camp Lejeune toxic water victims still wait for justice: Over a year after the Camp Lejeune Justice Act gave those harmed by the U.S. Marine base’s contaminated water a way to recover damages, victims face a gridlocked claim process, a stampede of opportunistic lawyers, and concerns that the people managing the litigation were chosen because of connections rather than expertise. (Neil Gordon, Project On Government Oversight)

Whiteman Air Force Base is scrambling to find out why high radon levels at a day care center were ignored: Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri is conducting a new round of radon testing at a base day care more than a year after high levels of the radioactive gas, which can cause lung cancer, were found at the facility and nothing was done. (Thomas Novelly,

Soldiers are getting burned out. Army leadership knows it’s a problem: After the end of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, troops were optimistic their operational tempo would become more manageable. Instead, many soldiers are spending more time away from home now than during the peak of those wars. (Steve Beynon,

Lockheed’s F-35 quality flaws persist as production ramps up: Lockheed Martin continues to produce F-35 jets with flaws discovered after they are delivered to the military, according to the Pentagon’s contracts management agency. (Anthony Capaccio, Bloomberg)

Health Care

Blood transfusion crisis puts U.S. at risk, doctors’ JAMA op-ed says: Not enough health-care facilities and emergency vehicles are equipped to perform blood transfusions, and that presents a “substantial risk to our nation’s security infrastructure,” three military and civilian physicians wrote in JAMA. (Erin Blakemore, Washington Post)

FDA plans to ban hair straighteners with formaldehyde: Chemical hair straightener products, often marketed to Black women, have been linked to an increased risk of various cancers. The FDA has proposed banning the products more than a decade after the cosmetic industry’s own experts declared them unsafe. (Roni Caryn Rabin and Christina Jewett, New York Times)


Immigration and Border Security:

Federal government reaches settlement over migrant family separations

Massachusetts governor warns state is running out of room to house migrants

Other News:

Violent crime down, carjackings up, according to FBI crime statistics

Ebay faces up to $2 billion in fines over selling “rolling coal” devices

Zipcar fined after allowing customers rent vehicles with open, unrepaired recalls

Upcoming Events

📌 Protecting Beneficiaries from the Harm of Improper Payments: House Committee on Ways and Means; Subcommittee on Social Security. Wednesday, October 18, 2:00 p.m., 2020 Rayburn House Office Building.

📌 Preserving Due Process and the Rule of Law: Examining the Status of Our Nation’s Immigration Courts: Senate Judiciary Committee; Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety. Wednesday, October 18, 2:30 p.m., 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

📌 Trust in Transparency: Holding VA Accountable and Protecting Whistleblowers. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs; Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Thursday, October 19, 10:00 a.m., 360 Canon House Office Building.

📌 Investigating Pandemic Fraud: Preventing History from Repeating Itself. House Committee on Ways and Means; Subcommittee on Oversight. Thursday, October 19, 10:00 a.m., 1100 Longworth House Office Building.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 CRS: Israel and Hamas October 2023 Conflict: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). R47754 (PDF)