Seattle defied major companies such as Amazon and Starbucks this week by passing a new corporate tax to fund programs addressing the city’s growing homelessness crisis. The City Council unanimously approved a “head tax” of $275 on each employee at businesses that make at least $20 million a year in revenue, affecting nearly 600 large employers. The measure is expected to raise about $48 million annually, which will go toward building affordable housing and providing emergency services to the homeless. The Seattle metro region has the third-largest homeless population in the U.S.; a count last year showed 11,600 homeless people in surrounding King County. The initial proposal called for a $500 per employee tax, which triggered howls of outrage from local business groups. Amazon even halted construction plans on a 17-story downtown building in protest. Council members eventually decided on a lower rate, fearing a mayoral veto.
Hawaii residents braced this week for the possibility of a major eruption as a 12,000-foot plume of ash and volcanic gas rose from the Big Island’s turbulent Kilauea volcano. The U.S. Geological Survey issued a “red alert” and warned aircraft to stay away from the area. Scientists fear that an eruption caused by a buildup of underground steam at the top of Kilauea could spew ash as far as 12 miles from the summit. Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983, but the level of volcanic activity has increased sharply in recent weeks. More than 20 fissures have opened in the earth since May 3, sending lava flows and clouds of toxic sulfur-dioxide gas into nearby neighborhoods. The eruptions have forced the evacuation of 2,000 residents, but there have been no deaths or major injuries reported so far.
New York City
Federal authorities have identified a suspect in a massive leak that exposed top-secret CIA cyberweapons and spying techniques. Joshua Adam Schulte, a former CIA employee, is being held in a Manhattan jail on unrelated charges of possessing child pornography. The government believes that Schulte provided WikiLeaks with the stolen archive of CIA hacking tools that the organization published in March 2017 under the label “Vault 7.” It was the largest leak of classified documents in CIA history, revealing intricate details of America’s online spying capabilities, including tools for commandeering iPhones and smart TVs. Although authorities searched Schulte’s apartment shortly after WikiLeaks disclosed the materials, he hasn’t been charged in connection with the breach. Schulte has said that he is being unfairly targeted because he spoke out about “incompetent management and bureaucracy” at the CIA.
Arkansas and Texas
The Trump administration is preparing to hold migrant children on military bases, separated from their families, as part of an effort to deter people from crossing the border illegally. The Department of Health and Human Services is evaluating four military installations in Arkansas and Texas as potential shelters for minors under 18. The Justice Department recently announced plans to file criminal charges against anyone caught crossing the border illegally, and said that parents traveling with children will be held in immigration detention facilities and their children put in state custody. Today, families with children and unaccompanied minors make up 40 percent of illegal border crossings, compared with 10 percent five years ago. The military has been used to house children before. More than 7,000 migrant children were sheltered at bases in Oklahoma, Texas, and California at the peak of the 2014 child-migration crisis.
Most members of a special Department of Education team tasked with investigating abusive practices by for-profit colleges have been reassigned under Secretary Betsy DeVos, effectively killing multiple probes. Under the Obama administration, roughly a dozen lawyers and investigators had been examining potentially fraudulent advertising and recruitment practices at institutions such as DeVry, Bridgepoint Education, and Career Education Corp. That team now numbers just three people supervised by Julian Schmoke, a former dean at DeVry, now known as Adtalem Global Education. DeVry agreed to a $100 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in 2016 after it was accused of misleading students about the employment and post-graduation salaries of alumni. Bridgeport and Career Education were facing similar investigations. The team’s activities have been dramatically scaled back to focus on processing student loan forgiveness applications.
Nielsen: Fed up?
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen drafted a resignation letter last week after President Trump berated her during a Cabinet meeting for what he said was her failure to adequately secure the nation’s borders, according to Politico.com. The number of arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border, considered a proxy for illegal crossings, fell to its lowest level since 1971 last year, but it’s been increasing steadily in recent months, and Nielsen has received the lion’s share of Trump’s blame for that reversal. Several of Trump’s advisers have also complained to him that Nielsen, a veteran of the Bush administration, wasn’t a vocal supporter of his during the 2016 campaign and may not fully support his agenda. The tensions spilled into the open during last week’s Cabinet meeting, with Trump reportedly going on a tirade aimed at Nielsen for 30 minutes, while uncomfortable Cabinet members fidgeted in their seats. Nielsen, who has denied threatening to resign, said in a written statement that Trump “is rightly frustrated” by illegal immigration. ■