The Farm Security Administration, created as part of the New Deal, helped farmers whose livelihoods were decimated by the dust storms and economic collapse gripping the United States. As part of that mission, a group of photographers documented the devastation and helped promote the government program. That team, which included some of the best photographers is the country, shot thousands of images, many of which became iconic photographs.
Roy Stryker was the man charged with selecting and overseeing the FSA photographers. All the images went to Stryker's office in Washington, DC, where his team cataloged and edited the photos, which were then eventually archived in the Library of Congress.
He had a harsh method for marking undesired images. During the editing process, the team would literally punch a hole in the negative. The tool left a black, round scar on the image, so they could never be printed.
It is not unlike editing photos from the back of your digital camera, deleting everything but the handful of shots you think you might actually use.
Mr. Tronson, farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota, 1937 Russell Lee/Library of Congress, from "Ground."
In this case, however, these discarded images gained a new life. Photos once meant to be a very straight documentation of the United States now take on life as post-modern art pieces. More than just offering a glimpse at outtakes and giving insight to Stryker's editing process, the photos stand on their own in this collection.
In many photos, Stryker's punch-out looms over the picture like an ominous, black sun. In others, it completely obliterates a face or disrupts an otherwise serene landscape with a threatening black hole. The empty circle takes center stage in all the images. It is not subtle. McDowell's sequencing of the photos includes close-up crops of many images where the punch-out hole becomes the subject of the photo.
Here's an example of an original, unpunched image along with an edited version from the same shoot. A detail of this photo is above.
Mr. Tronson, a farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota Russell Lee/Library of Congress
Those versed in the world of photography (and even those not) likely know at least a few FSA photos well. This book mines that treasure trove a bit more deeply, offering a fresh take on a subject that has been studied by archivists, researchers, and historians for decades. It's a wonderful, artfully edited book.
Untitled, Tennessee, 1936. Carl Maydans/Library of Congress
Getting fields ready for spring planting in North Carolina, 1936 Carl Maydans/Library of Congress
Levee workers, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 1935 Ben Shahn/Library of Congress
Blueberry picker near Little Fork, Minnesota, 1937. Russell Lee/Library of Congress
Untitled, Nebraska, 1938 John Vachon/Library of Congress
Untitled, Alabama, 1936 Walker Evans/Libary of Congress
Resettlement officials, Maryland, 1935 Arthur Rothstein/Library of Congress
Untitled, Kansas, 1938 John Vachon/Library of Congress
Five bedroom house, Meridian (Magnolia) Homesteads, Mississippi, 1935 Arthur Rothstein/Library of Congress
Do you remember how you were asked to your high school prom? (Or how you asked?) Maybe it was some cheesy romantic gesture. Or maybe it was a very informal conversation that took place near your locker between classes. Either way, it probably wasn't documented and put online to become a viral hit. America's prom tradition, instead of fizzling over the years, has only grown more sacred with time. From April to June, prom season reigns in high schools nationwide as juniors and seniors pair up, beautify, and ask older siblings to snag them some bottom-shelf booze to pass around at the after-party. But before party buses, $400 dresses, and hotel ballrooms were a thing, prom was just an annual dance that took place in the school gym under the watchful eye of teacher chaperones. With the season upon us, we decided to take a look back at the history of this peculiar institution.
1920s: The "democratic debutante ball" makes its high school debut. In theory, any student can attend a "promenade"—but teens of color are excluded thanks to Jim Crow and unequal access to education.
1930s: With the Depression in full swing, some Chicago principals cancel prom to ensure poor students aren't "psychologically wounded."
1950s: During the postwar boom, one advice book offers a warning: "Girls who [try] to usurp the right of boys to choose their own dates will ruin a good dating career."
1960s: Despite the repeal of Jim Crow, white-only proms persist in the South.
Sissy Spacek will forever be remembered as the telekinetic teen outcast in the movie Carrie, who gets drenched in pig's blood at prom. MGM/Red Bank Films
1974: In Stephen King's Carrie, a telekinetic outcast terrorizes her classmates at the prom. Sissy Spacek stars in the 1976 film.
1975: First daughter Susan Ford hosts prom at the White House. "I was told that we had to choose a band that didn't have any kind of drug charge," one organizer recalled later. "It was pretty hard."
Susan Ford's White House prom. Joseph H. Bailey/NGS/White House Historical Association
1979: Police in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, show up to protect the first openly gay couple in prom history. "Many students came over and congratulated us," one of the boys said, despite threats to "tar and chicken feather" the pair.
1980: A Rhode Island senior sues his school after his principal rejects his request to bring a male prom date. A federal judge sides with the boy.
1980s: Hollywood goes gaga for prom flicks, with Valley Girl (1983), Footloose (1984), Back to the Future (1985), and Pretty in Pink (1986).
Jon Cryer and Molly Ringwald in 1986's Pretty In Pink (left). Nicholas Cage and Deborah Foreman in 1983's Valley Girl (right). Paramount Pictures, Valley 9000/Atlantic Releasing
1997: Actor Morgan Freeman offers to cover the cost of a prom in Charleston, Mississippi, so long as all races can attend. No such luck. The city's proms remain segregated for 11 more years.
2009: Students at Fairfax High in Los Angeles pass over eight girls to select a gay senior boy as prom queen. "Tears were almost falling down my face," a jubilant Sergio Garcia tells ABC News.
Amy Poehler, as the obsessive mother of popular girl Regina George (Rachel McAdams) in the 2004 hit Mean Girls, snaps a shot of her daughter. Paramount
2013: A group of girls from Georgia's Wilcox County High holds an all-inclusive prom, eschewing the segregated affairs. The school makes it official in 2014. "The adults should have done this many, many moons ago," notes the mother of one of the girls.
2016: #promposal is the hot Instagram meme: One student gets a cop to pull a girl over and hand her a "ticket"—his prom invite. Another takes his girlfriend to a gun range, with "yes" and "no" targets set to go.
On an uncharacteristically chilly Saturday earlier this month, travelers found themselves standing in line for more than two hours to get through security Chicago's O'Hare airport. A staggering 450 American Airlines travelers missed their flights. Dozens spent the night in the airport, and the incident brought national attention to increasingly long wait times.
Last Wednesday, called to Congress to account for the longer security lines, Transportation Security Administration Administrator Peter V. Neffenger told the House Homeland Security Committee that record travel, understaffed checkpoints, and some policy changes aiming to reduce risk of terrorist attacks means that the problem will continue into the summer. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told the committee that TSA is in a "crisis."
So what is going on with TSA? Well, a lot.
For starters: Perhaps you've heard that TSA is short staffed in part due to security coverage at presidential campaign events. Actually, TSA has been staffing presidential campaigns since 2004. The agency insists that the additional work does not impact the staffing at airports, because the officers working these events would have been off-duty otherwise. And it doesn't effect the TSA budget, because the United States Secret Service pays for the screeners' time at campaign events. (The airport nearest to a campaign event provides this support.)
The staffing provided for Donald Trump's events, though, have far exceeded that of any other candidate. As of March, 770 TSA officers had been provided to Trump events, 544 went to Sanders events, and 207 worked Clinton events. When asked how the agency determines the appropriate number of officials needed for any event, a TSA spokesman said, "We provide the number we feel is appropriate."
So what about the agencies budget woes?
According to a TSA spokesman, money plays a big factor in the TSA's struggle to shorten wait times and increase efficiency. From fiscal year 2012 to 2013, the agency's budget fell from $7.8 billion to $7.2 billion.
But, from 2013 to late 2014, now-former TSA head of security Kelly Hoggan received under-the-radar bonuses that came to more than $90,000. This week, Hoggan was relieved of his duties in part, the agency said, because of these bonuses.
In an interview with The Washington Post, TSA Administrator Peter V. Neffenger called the bonuses that supplemented Hoggan's $181,500 salary "completely unjustifiable." (Hoggan also recently faced accusations of retribution toward employees who spoke out about mismanagement.)
Additionally, a TSA spokesman says the agency's staffing budget has declined annually from 2012 to 2015, and the agency is at its lowest staffing level in five years.
TSA attributes the long wait lines partly to budget cuts and tightened security procedures that have led to a shortage of screeners. Jeh Johnson, Department of Homeland Security secretary, told NPR that despite the challenges, Congress recently held off on cutting another 1,600 positions, and TSA is expediting the addition of 800 new positions. They're expected to be in place next month. Johnson said TSA is converting more part-time workers to full time and bringing in more drug-sniffing dogs.
Johnson also added that carry-on luggage is a major contributor to wait times, and he encouraged passengers to check their bags—and to arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare.
Democratic Senators Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut wrote a letter to a dozen major airlines calling on them to aid in reducing wait times by waiving checked baggage fees.
“Without charges for checking their bags, passengers will be far less likely to carry them on, which snarls screening checkpoints and slows the inspection process,” they wrote.
Markey and Blumenthal echoed Johnson's call for more passengers to sign up for TSA's pre-check program, which has an average wait time of five minutes or less.
Despite the pressure to reduce wait times, Johnson insisted that TSA will not "shortcut [passengers'] safety." (His caution is understandable, given that in April, TSA agents discovered a record number of guns and other weapons in passengers' carry-on luggage.)
Should you forget for any brief moment during your upcoming Memorial Day weekend that Donald Trump has a serious problem with women, here is a 1994 clip of the presidential hopeful explaining why he didn't approve of his then wife Marla Maples joining the workforce.
"I have days where I think it's great," Trump said in the newly unearthed interview. "And then I have days where if I come home and—you know, I don't want to sound too much like a chauvinist—but when I come home and dinner's not ready, I'll go through the roof, okay?"
The clip comes courtesy of the Daily Show's "Tales from the Trump Archive" series, in which host Trevor Noah brings to light such unsavory moments from the real estate magnate's past. Also on Thursday, NBC resurfaced another vintage interview where Trump called pregnancy an "inconvenience" to businesses. Anyone sensing a pattern?
Marco Rubio will vote for Donald Trump this November. He's not yet ready to say the words "I will vote for Donald Trump," but based on this tweet, a quick process of elimination makes his intentions clear.
In Florida only 2 legitimate candidates on ballot in Nov. I wont vote for Clinton & I after years of asking people to vote I wont abstain.
The senator from Florida has come a long way since this past winter, when he attacked Trump with increasing savagery. In the final weeks of his presidential campaign, Rubio swung hard at the Republican front-runner in an attempt to win his home state. He failed, and dropped out the night he lost the Florida primary, but not before calling Trump a whole lot of names.
Here's a sampling of the epithets and insults Rubio slung just a few short months ago at the man he is now supporting for president:
February 26: Rubio called Trump a "con artist who is telling people one thing but has spent 40 years sticking it to working Americans and now claims to be their champion."
February 26: Rubio questioned Trump's most basic qualifications, including his ability to spell words. "How does this guy—not one tweet, but three tweets—misspell words so badly?" he asked. "And I only come to two conclusions. No. 1, that's how they spell those words at the Wharton School of Business, where he went, and No. 2, just like Trump Tower, he must have hired a foreign worker to do his own tweets." Zing!
February 27: He said Trump is a "a lunatic trying to get ahold of nuclear weapons in America."
February 29: He implied Trump has a small penis. "He's like 6'2", which is why I don't understand why his hands are the size of someone who is 5'2"," Rubio said. "Have you seen his hands? They're like this. And you know what they say about men with small hands?" Rubio paused, then added, "You can't trust them!"
March 12: He went after Trump for encouraging violence at his rallies, accusing him of "[feeding] into language that basically justifies assaulting people who disagree with you."The same day, he called Trump "rude and obnoxious and offensive—deliberately offensive for the purposes of driving media narrative."
Now Rubio will be voting for Trump. What happened to the man who said, "Friends do not let friends vote for con artists"?
Late last year, a team of of Chinese and UK researchers shocked the global public health world when they identified a strand of E. coli circulating among Chinese pigs that had developed resistance to colistin, a "last resort" antibiotic that's used only to treat pathogens that can resist other antibiotics. Worse still, they found, the gene that allowed the E. coli to withstand the potent drug can easily jump to other bacterial species—including nasties like salmonella—and is "likely" to go global. The researchers didn't mince words: "All the key players are now in place to make the post-antibiotic world a reality," one of them told the BBC.
So, uh-oh: Researchers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland have just found colistin-resistant E. coli in a person here in the United States. In response to the bad news from China, the Walter Reed crew had just begun in early May to screen all the E. coli samples that came through the facility's medical-testing lab for the presence of that highly mobile colistin-resistant gene. It didn't take them long to find a positive test, which they reported Thursday in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. The discovery "heralds the emergence of truly pan-drug resistant bacteria," they wrote.
The sample came from E. coli found in a urine sample from a 49 year-old Pennsylvania woman "with symptoms indicative of" a urinary-tract infection, they reported. There's no information on how she picked up the bacteria, but she "reported no travel history within the prior five months," the researchers wrote.
The incident marks the first known US case of colistin-resistant bacteria in a person. The US Department of Agriculture recently reported finding it in a pig intestine. As predicted, the resistant gene, known as mcr-1, has spread rapidly across the globe. Here's the US Department of Agriculture:
Following the revelation in China, scientists across the globe began searching for other bacteria containing the mcr-1 gene, and the bacteria have since been discovered in Europe and Canada. The mcr-1 gene exists on a plasmid, a small piece of DNA that is not a part of a bacterium's chromosome. Plasmids are capable of moving from one bacterium to another, spreading antibiotic resistance between bacterial species.
So far, the Pennsylvania patient's sample is the only one that has turned up positive for mcr-1, the Walter Reed researchers wrote. "However, as testing has only been ongoing for 3 weeks, it remains unclear what true prevalence of mcr-1 is in the population," they added.
The Washington Post has more here. And make sure to check out my recent deep-dive into the long history of antibiotic use in US meat production and its connection to the unraveling of antibiotics as a tool for fighting human infections.
It's the job of the Department of Justice to defend the laws of the United States to the best of its ability. But earlier this month, that job led the Obama administration's top lawyers to take an awkward, even embarrassing position: embracing a racist, century-old precedent in order to deny birthright citizenship to people from the territory of American Samoa.
American Samoans are the only people born on US soil who are denied birthright citizenship. Five people from the island territory are suing the federal government, arguing that this deprivation violates the 14th Amendment's guarantee of birthright citizenship to "[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof." Last year, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the American Samoans. The plaintiffs are now appealing to the Supreme Court.
On the opposite side is the Obama administration, which urged the Supreme Court not to take the case in a brief earlier this month. In doing so, the government offered a full-throated endorsement of a set of Supreme Court rulings known as the Insular Cases, which are notorious today for espousing antiquated ideas about colonialism and white supremacy.
The Insular Cases date back to the early 1900s, when the United States had recently snapped up new territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, but did not want to incorporate the people who lived in these territories into American society. The justices who authored the Insular Cases were not subtle in their views of these residents, describing them as "savage" "alien races." In one case, Justice Edward White hypothesized that granting citizenship to an "uncivilized race" in a new territory would "inflict grave detriment on the United States" through "the immediate bestowal of citizenship on those absolutely unfit to receive it."
Through the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court created a legal framework for the United States to become a colonial power without extending complete constitutional rights to its new subjects. The Constitution applied fully in what the court deemed "incorporated territories," such as Arizona, which were settled mostly by white people and destined for statehood, but much of the Constitution did not apply in "unincorporated territories," such as American Samoa, which were not considered to be on a path toward statehood—largely because of their racial and ethnic makeup. Between 1917 and 1986, Congress passed measures to confer citizenship on the residents of each of the other four American insular territories, but never American Samoa.
"I wouldn't have thought that this administration would be in a hurry to champion expansive views of old precedents that are controversial on race and ethnicity grounds," says Stephen Vladeck, a constitutional law expert at the American University Washington College of Law.
For Vladeck, along with some of the nation's top lawyers who have filed amicus briefs on behalf of the plaintiffs, the American Samoans' case is interesting not just because of the birthright citizenship issue but also because it functions as a referendum on these infamous outdated decisions. The Insular Cases addressed whether various aspects of the Constitution, particularly economic issues involving taxation and tariffs, applied in the new territories. But the cases never directly addressed citizenship. The five American Samoans have argued that for this reason, the Insular Cases are not actually at issue in their case, which should instead turn on whether the citizenship clause was intended to apply to US territories.
But the DC Circuit explicitly applied the precedent of the Insular Cases to the citizenship clause, finding the cases "both applicable and of pragmatic use in assessing the applicability of rights to unincorporated territories." The government's brief to the Supreme Court also relies heavily on an expansive view of the Insular Cases, particularly the 1901 case Downes v. Bidwell, in which the court found that a tax provision of the Constitution did not apply to Puerto Rico. "The Court held that Puerto Rico is not part of 'the United States' for purposes of that provision," the brief argues, nor is American Samoa "in the United States" for the purposes of the citizenship clause. The government quotes extensively from Downes, in which Justice Henry Brown (who also authored Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous decision that gave the Constitution's blessing to segregation) went out of his way to posit that "the Constitution should not be read to automatically confer citizenship on inhabitants of U.S. territories," even though citizenship was not at issue inthat case.
If the Supreme Court declines to review this case and allows the DC Circuit's expansive view of the Insular Cases to stand, Vladeck believes "it will make it that much harder for residents of all the US territories to argue that some of their most fundamental rights are protected by the Constitution going forward, as opposed to by acts of Congress currently on the books that could be repealed in the future."
This is the same argument made by the lawyers working on behalf of the five plaintiffs. "Failure to grant review would place at risk the citizenship status and constitutional rights of more than 4 million Americans who live in U.S. territories," Neil Weare, a civil rights attorney who spearheaded the case and argued it before the DC Circuit, said in a statement this week.
"The question in this case is: Just what rights do territorial citizens have?" says Vladeck. "For those who think territorial citizens ought not to be second-class subjects, I think it's worth having the conversation not about birthright citizenship as such but about the continuing prevalence of the Insular Cases."
The renewed salience of the Insular Cases has brought this case to the attention of the nation's top Supreme Court litigators. Prominent legal scholars, civil rights groups, and former judges have filed amicus briefs to urge the Supreme Court toreverse the expansive view of the cases set forth by the court of appeals. (Some legal scholars argue that the cases should be overturned because they are based on racial bias.) After the five plaintiffs lost at the DC Circuit, superstar conservative lawyer Ted Olson stepped in to represent them in their appeal to the Supreme Court. On the other side, conservative legal scholar John Eastman—who, like Donald Trump, does not believe the 14th Amendment affords birthright citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States—filed a brief supporting the Obama administration.
In his response to the government's brief, filed on Monday, Olson and his colleagues cite the government's expansive view of the Insular Cases as a reason that the Supreme Court should take up their case. "That the Solicitor General is forced to defend a statute based on opinions blessing overt discrimination against persons branded as 'alien races'…is a red flag that review is warranted," the response states. The justices could consider taking the case as early as their June 9 conference.
Despite the enthusiasm of the elite legal community, Vladeck believes the court is unlikely to take up the case. With the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat still unfilled, theeight-member court is less likely to take up new cases, and there is no disagreement among the lower courts to resolve. The justices also just might not see questions in this case as pressing compared with the other issues that come before the court. "It's a long shot for the court, and I think that's too bad," Vladeck said. "The Supreme Court has not seriously considered the scope of constitutional rights in the territories for decades."
It's the moment we've all been dreading. Initial findings from a massive federal study, released on Thursday, suggest that radio-frequency (RF) radiation, the type emitted by cellphones, can cause cancer.
The findings from a $25 million study, conducted over two and a half years by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), showed that male rats exposed to two types of RF radiation were significantly more likely than unexposed rats to develop a type of brain cancer called a glioma, and also had a higher chance of developing the rare, malignant form of tumor known as a schwannoma of the heart. The effect was not seen in females.
The radiation level the rats received was "not very different" from what humans are exposed to when they use cellphones, said Chris Portier, a former associate director of the NTP who commissioned the study.
As the intensity of the radiation increased, so did the incidence of cancer in the rats. (The highest radiation level was five to seven times as strong as what humans typically receive while using a phone.) Although ionizing radiation, which includes gamma rays and X-rays, is widely accepted as a carcinogen, the wireless industry has long noted that there is no known mechanism by which RF radiation causes cancer. The researchers wrote that the results "appear to support" the conclusion that RF radiation may indeed be carcinogenic.
The findings should be a wake-up call for the scientific establishment, according to Portier, who is now a contributing scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. "I think this is a game changer," he said. "We seriously have to look at this issue again in considerable detail."
"The NTP does the best animal bioassays in the word," Portier added. "Their reputation is stellar. So if they are telling us this was positive in this study, that's a concern."
Past animal studies have been inconclusive. Most of those suggesting a connection between cellphone radiation and cancer had first exposed rodents to toxic chemicals to induce tumors, which were then shown to grow in response to radiation exposure. But the new study did nothing in advance to stimulate cancer in the animals.
The NTP first decided to investigate the carcinogenicity of cellphone radiation in 2001, partly in response to epidemiological studies showing a correlation between gliomas and cellphone use. Some of the studies even showed that the cancers were ipsilateral—meaning they tended to appear on the same side of the head where users held their phones. But other epidemiological studies haven't found links between cancer and cellphones.
The Food and Drug Administration, which is charged with regulating the health aspects of consumer products, says on its website that there is "no evidence linking cell phone use with the risk of brain tumors." It does acknowledge some risk associated with carrying cellphones too close to the body, but only due to the phones' heating effect.
The NTP findings cast doubt on that conclusion: The study was designed to control for heating effects by ensuring that the body temperature of the exposed rats increased by less than 1 degree Celsius. "Everyone expected this study to be negative," a senior government radiation official toldMicrowave News, which was shown partial results from the study earlier this week. "Assuming that the exposures were carried out in a way that heating effects can be ruled out, then those who say that such [carcinogenic] effects found are impossible are wrong."
The study was expensive in part because it required the construction of special exposure chambers that allowed thousands of mice and rats to receive standardized dozes of radiation. For about nine hours per day, for periods ranging from two months to the lifetime of the animal, the rodents were exposed to the RF radiation frequencies used by second generation (2G) phones—the standard at the time the study was initiated.
Only the test results for rats have been released so far. Female rats didn't experience significantly higher than normal cancer rates. However, among male rats that received the highest radiation exposures, 2 percent to 3 percent contracted gliomas and 6 percent to 7 percent percent developed schwannoma tumors in their hearts, depending on the type of radiation used. None of the male rats in the control groups developed those cancers.
Potentially confounding the results, the rats exposed to radiation on average lived longer than those that weren't. Some outside reviewers argued that the study's authors should have given more weight to that caveat. Reviewers were also puzzled that the unexposed control rats didn't exhibit the usual number of brain tumors. "I am unable to accept the authors' conclusions," wrote Michael Lauer, the deputy director of the National Institute of Health's office of extramural research.
In the United States, of about 25,000 malignant brain tumors diagnosed each year, 80 percent are gliomas. Malignant brain tumors are the most common cause of cancer deaths in adolescents and adults ages 15 to 39.
The authors of the NTP study did not say how their results might translate into cancer risk for humans. But "given the extremely large number of people who use wireless communication devices," they wrote, "even a very small increase in the incidence of disease resulting from exposure to RFR resulting from those devices could have broad implications for public health."
The wireless industry and many media outlets—particularly tech sites, which depend on the industry for advertising—have confidently proclaimed that the science on cellphone safety is settled. You "can't choose to 'believe' in facts because they are, well, facts," Charlie Sorrell wrote in Wired in 2011, after detailing the results of a Danish epidemiological study showing no link between cellphone use and cancer. "So there you go, people. Finally you can ditch that dorky Bluetooth headset. Your brain isn't being microwaved after all."
But Portier says there still isn't enough data to consider the case closed. "There are arguments in the literature now that we are at the beginning of an epidemic of cancers," he told me. "There are arguments against that. It is not clear who is right. I have looked through it. It's a mixed bag."
"We spend as a nation god-awful billions of dollars using our cellphones," he adds. "We are significantly exposed on a constant basis and yet we spend almost nothing on research in this area. We need an influx of research dollars if we want to understand what may be happening, and hopefully be able to prevent it while we still have the time."
This article was updated to reflect criticism of the study's conclusions by outside researchers.
A new investigation by Rewire,a reproductive health news service, shows that anti-abortion groups are moving beyond their time-honored approaches of picketing clinics and shouting at women: Now they're going digital, thanks to a technology known as mobile geofencing that can be used to target women through smartphones.
The technology is typically used by advertisers who want to hone in on a target audience in a specific location. Have you ever gotten an ad for Lyft or Uber right after landing at an airport in a new city? That's an example of mobile geofencing in action.
A Boston advertising executive named John Flynn realized the technology could be used to target women seeking an abortion, and to send information on crisis pregnancy centers and adoption agencies straight to their smartphones. Rewire reports that Flynn began marketing his presentations on the technology to anti-abortion groups such as RealOptions, a Northern California crisis pregnancy center network, and Bethany Christian Services, an evangelical adoption agency, and they quickly saw the potential.
Flynn's technology allows a geofence to be built around Planned Parenthood clinics and other abortion facilities, so anti-abortion messages may be sent to smartphones in clinic waiting rooms. Flynn's program for Bethany covered five cities: Columbus, Ohio; Pittsburgh; Richmond, Virginia; St. Louis; and New York City. Flynn said he has targeted 140 clinics on Bethany's behalf so far.
Rewire's Sharona Coutts obtained the PowerPoint presentations Flynn used to advertise his services:
"We can reach every Planned Parenthood in the U.S.," he wrote in a PowerPoint display sent to potential clients in February. The PowerPoint included a slide titled "Targets for Pro-Life," in which Flynn said he could also reach abortion clinics, hospitals, doctors’ offices, colleges, and high schools in the United States and Canada, and then "[d]rill down to age and sex."
"We can gather a tremendous amount of information from the [smartphone] ID," he wrote. "Some of the break outs include: Gender, age, race, pet owners, Honda owners, online purchases and much more."
And it's all perfectly legal. That's because digital advertising technologies have grown so quickly that privacy law hasn't been able to keep up. Chris Hoofnagle, a professor at UC-Berkeley's School of Law and School of Information, told Rewire that most of the relevant federal law either would allow Flynn's activities or wouldn't apply to them.
"Privacy law in the U.S. is technology- and context-dependent," Hoofnagle said. "As an example, the medical information you relay to your physician is very highly protected, but if you go to a medical website and search for 'HIV' or 'abortion,' that information is not protected at all."
At its weekly conference today, the US Supreme Court will consider whether to hear a case that involves the latest installment in the story of Donald Trump's failed Atlantic City casino empire and the efforts of hotel workers to recover some of their health and pension benefits from Trump's Taj Mahal.
In 2014, Trump's former company Trump Entertainment Resorts, which ran the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, filed for bankruptcy for the third time in its 25-year history. As part of the bankruptcy proceedings, billionaire Carl Icahn, who held much of the company's debt, agreed to bail out the hotel and keep it open, but only if the bankruptcy court would agree to let him obliterate union-negotiated health and pension benefits. The hotel workers union, Unite Here Local 54, had a collective bargaining agreement with the hotel management that covered more than 1,000 non-gaming workers. But the contract expired a few days after the company filed for bankruptcy. Under federal law, the provisions of that contract should have remained in effect until a new agreement could be negotiated.
But Icahn told the court that if it didn't invalidate the contract and strip the workers of their health and pension benefits, he would shutter the place. The court agreed; the hotel stayed open, but more than 1,000 workers lost their health insurance, paid lunch breaks, and more than $3 million in pension contributions as a result.
Unite Here Local 54, is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the bankruptcy court's decision, which was upheld by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in January this year. They argue that the bankruptcy judge overstepped his authority in invalidating the collective bargaining agreement, an argument that the National Labor Relations Board supported in the appellate court.
In February, the Taj Mahal under Icahn's ownership emerged from Chapter 11, ending the last vestiges of its relationship with the no-longer-presumptive GOP presidential nominee who founded it in 1990. Trump has not had anything to do with the hotel since 2009, other than enjoying the benefits from his 10 percent stake in the entertainment company in exchange for the use of his name on the hotel. Even that stake was eliminated in February when the company emerged from bankruptcy.
It's unclear what the Supreme Court might do with this case. The circumstances of the union's position are unusual, and not likely to affect many other labor contracts. There's no circuit split or other legal conflict that might push it to take the case, and without Justice Antonin Scalia, the court hasn't granted many new petitions for the next term. But if it were to take up the case and side with the union, Icahn might make good on his threat and simply shut the hotel down, leaving the union in a bit of a classic catch-22.
Trump, who still has his name on the hotel despite having no role in the company, won't be affected either way. But the case does reveal something about a possible Trump administration: He recently said that if he's elected president he'd make Icahn his treasury secretary.