- Reporters Without Borders dropped the U.S. to No. 48 out of 180 countries on its annual World Press Freedom Index.
- The ranking is three places lower than it was last year, changing the U.S. label from “satisfactory” to “problematic.”
- The Index states that increased threats against journalists in the U.S. are becoming more normalized.
- The report specifically cites the U.S. ranking as “marred by the effects of President Donald Trump’s second year in office.”
World Press Freedom Index
The United States has been ranked as a “problematic” place for journalists, as the threats they face continue to become more standard, according to a new report about press freedom.
The 2019 World Press Freedom Index, an annual report compiled by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) or Reporters Without Borders (RWB), downgraded the U.S. to No. 48 out of 180. The ranking is three spots lower than its place last year.
The downgrade officially changes the press freedom status of the U.S. from “satisfactory” to “problematic,” marking the first time the country has received that label.
#RSFIndex: For the first time, the #UnitedStates is coloured orange (“problematic”) on the World Press Freedom Map.— RSF (@RSF_inter) April 18, 2019
A man opened fire inside a newsroom, killing five people, but @realDonaldTrump continued to systematically denigrate the media.https://t.co/QYCSKKs2xB pic.twitter.com/uVObO1wwVH
“Never before have US journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection,” the report said.
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 10 journalists have faced physical attacks this year, and 46 journalists were physically attacked in 2017.
The World Press Freedom Index report also cited the five journalists who were shot and killed at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland last June. The attack was carried out by a man who had threatened the publication for years before the attack.
The report also cited the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey last October.
The section of the report on North America specifically stated that the drop in rankings was “marred by the effects of President Donald Trump’s second year in office.”
“Amid one of the American journalism community’s darkest moments,” the report said.“President Trump continued to spout his notorious anti-press rhetoric, disparaging and attacking the media at a national level.”
Since being elected, Trump has referred to journalists as the “enemy of the American people,” and continuously accused nearly every mainstream media outlet of reporting “fake news.” He has also commended violence against journalists, like giving praise to a GOP congressman who assaulted a reporter in 2017.
According to the report, Trump has also called for the revocation of broadcasting licenses and attempted to block certain media outlets from access to the White House. In November, the Trump administration was forced to restore the press credentials of a CNN reporter that had been stripped of his pass after a heated exchange with Trump.
Back in August, United Nations human rights leaders stated that Trump’s attacks have undermined press freedom, and increase the risk of violence against journalists.
“The president’s relentless attacks against the press has created an environment where verbal, physical and online threats and assault against journalists are becoming normalized,” RSF Interim Executive Director Sabine Dolan told NPR.
The Index also found that the Americas has experienced “the greatest deterioration” in its press freedom regional score.
This is not just because of the United States. The report also cited instances in Brazil, where journalists have been targeted by supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro “both physically and online.” Experts often noted that Bolsonaro uses the same “fake news” refrain to discrediting negative media about him.
The report also stated that Mexico is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, noting that “at least ten journalists were murdered in 2018.”
RSF identified North Korea and Turkmenistan as the most dangerous countries for the media, stating that their governments control the flow of information and censor journalists who defy them by using tactics including arrest, torture or killing.
In contrast, Norway ranked as the safest country, a title it has held for the past three years. Finland received second place.
Only 24 percent of the 180 countries in the report were given the rank of being “safe” or “satisfactory” for the press. This is lower than the 2018 Index, which gave 26 percent of countries “safe” or “satisfactory” rankings.
“If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.”
Luxury Homes, Cars and Yachts?! How Medicare Fraud Is Paying For Them
In April, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General uncovered a massive $1.2 billion Medicare scam that peddled unneeded orthopedic braces to hundreds of thousands of seniors through international call centers. The Justice Department announced charges against 24 people. The indictment says that the money benefited through the scam was laundered through international shell corporations, then used to purchase things like luxury homes, cars and yachts.
As it stands, Medicare fraud and inaccurate billing cost the federal government health care program as much as $60 billion annually. Fraud schemes that involve Medicare only impact the federal budget, but also affect beneficiaries and the program. In most cases, these schemes include things like enrolling beneficiaries who are not eligible for care, billing for services never provided, identifying care providers who aren’t actually caregivers, and offering kickbacks to patient recruiters in return for the referral of Medicare beneficiaries, many of whom didn’t need or qualify for home health services.
Medicare fraud is particularly egregious because it preys on families who are looking for the best way to care for aging loved ones. And finding a nursing home, an assisted living facility, or a home health agency that not only meets the needs of your loved ones but also meets national standards can be rather difficult. Check out today’s Rogue Rocket video for the full story and to know what to watch out for.
Thousands of Facebook Users Pledge to Storm Area 51
- Over 470,000 people have pledged to attend a Facebook event called “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us,” as part of a quest to “see them aliens.”
- The event lays out a plan of attack for how the attendees will take over the infamous Air Force base that is home to numerous extra-terrestrial conspiracy theories.
- However, the user who wrote the plan has clarified that this is only a joke, and says he does not expect responders to actually go to Area 51.
Users Respond to Facebook Event
Over 470,000 people have responded to an event on Facebook pledging to storm Area 51 in Nevada to “see them aliens.”
The event, called “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” is now a gathering of both the extra-terrestrial and meme-obsessed users of the Internet. In addition to those who have said they will be going, another 480,000 have claimed they are “interested.” Calendars worldwide have marked September 20 as the date to head to the conspiracy-embroiled Air Force base.
For those less familiar with the world of martian mysteries, Area 51 is the subject of several conspiracy theories, largely due to its secretive nature and the lack of information the U.S. government releases about it. Some claim it is the site of U.F.O.’s and home to alien ship crashes. Others even believe time travel is being developed at the site.
The details on the event page suggest that everyone will gather for a mass meet-up before storming the base.
“We will all meet up at the Area 51 Alien Center tourist attraction and coordinate our entry,” the event says. “If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Lets see them aliens.”
The Naruto run is likely in reference to the popular Manga character known for his high-speed run with his hands behind his back.
Plan of Attack Established
A pinned post on the page, written by Jackson Barnes, outlines a thorough but ambitious plan of attack. The first stage involves the “Kyles,” represented by black rectangles, storming the front line. The “Kyles” appears to refer to an online meme that, according to Know Your Meme, characterizes someone named Kyle as “an angry white male teenager.” One that might toss back a few cans of Monster, punch through drywall and spray his room with copious amounts of Axe bodyspray. Their job is to “go beserk and become an impenetrable wall.”
The next step involves “Rock Throwers,” which are represented in the graphic as blue rectangles. Their job is pretty self-explanatory, but they claim to have safe intentions.
“We dont want to hurt them, we just want to annoy them enough to not shoot the kyles as often,” Barnes writes.
And the last element of the plan involves the aforementioned Naruto runners, marked in green.
“The two naruto runner battallions will run full speed around the north and south flank, and shadow clone jutsu, effectively trippling our numbers, and overwhelm the base,” Barnes explains.
It Was All in the Name of Memes
Even though he mapped out a detailed scheme, Barnes does not actually have any intentions of seeing his plan come to fruition. His goal behind the post was just to get a few good old fashioned “likes” online.
“P.S. Hello US government, this is a joke and I do not actually intend to go ahead with this plan,” Barnes wrote at the bottom of the post. “I just thought it would be funny and get me some thumbsy uppies on the internet. I’m not responsible if people decide to actually storm area 51.”
It seems most people involved are in on the joke, too. The page is filled with users making jokes about fighting off guards all in the name of finding aliens. The story also made its way to Twitter, where people had their own hilarious meme fest.
However, we will have to wait until September 20 to see if anyone actually takes the risk of storming the curious landmark.
Louisiana Declares State of Emergency as Residents Brace for Tropical Storm Barry
- A state of emergency has been declared in Louisana and thousands have been evacuated as the state gets ready for Tropical Storm Barry.
- Forecasters have said the storm could be upgraded to a hurricane when it makes landfall late Friday or early Saturday, but most officials and residents are more worried about the flooding the storm could cause than wind damage.
- One of the biggest threats is the Mississippi River, which is typically at 6 to 8 feet in New Orleans this time of the year, but is now at 16 feet due to record flooding.
- New Orleans already experienced massive flash floods earlier this week, and many view Barry as the first real test to the levees which broke during Hurrican Katrina in 2005, destroying the city.
Flooding in New Orleans
Louisiana has declared a state of emergency as residents prepare for Tropical Storm Barry which has already caused flash floods and inclement weather throughout the state.
The storm is expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday, and forecasters anticipate that it could be upgraded to a hurricane before then.
The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning Thursday for the areas between Intracoastal City and Grand Isle, about 50 miles south of New Orleans.
Thousands of people are already under mandatory evacuations, while others have been told to prepare for an intense rainfall, strong winds, and enormous storm surges. Around 3,000 National Gaurd members have been deployed for search and rescue efforts.
If Barry does become a hurricane, it would likely be a fairly weak one in terms of wind speeds.
As of Friday afternoon, wind speeds had reached 65 miles per hour, with forecasters predicting it will make landfall just above 74 miles per hour, the speed required to be categorized as a hurricane.
As Louisiana prepares for the incoming storm, many are far more concerned about the flood risks and storm surges from Barry’s heavy rains than the damage its winds could create.
“This is going to be a major weather event for a huge portion of the state of Louisiana,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday. “The more information we get, the more concerned we are it’s going to be an extreme rain event for large portions of the state.”
“There are three ways that Louisiana can flood; storm surge, high rivers, and rain. We’re going to have all three,” Edwards continued.
Forecasters have predicted that the storm could bring a three-to-six-foot storm surge to coastal areas. The Mississippi River represents one of the biggest risks to the state at large.
Between 10 to 20 inches of rain are expected across Louisiana, posing a dangerous threat of flooding from the Mississippi River, which is already inundated with unusual amounts rainwater.
The Mississippi River, which is usually at 6 to 8 feet in midsummer in New Orleans, is now at 16 feet because of record flooding along the waterway.
“This is the first time we’ve had a tropical system with water levels on the river this high,” Jeffrey Graschel, a hydrologist with the weather service’s Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center told CNN.
Low-lying parts of New Orleans have already flooded earlier this week in the wake of heavy storms ahead of Barry. It was reported that 10 inches of rain had fallen in parts of the city by noon on Wednesday.
Many streets were covered with dangerous amounts of water, and power outages were also reported.
On Friday, the National Weather Service of New Orleans issued an alert on Twitter warning that the city was “looking at potential for life-threatening flooding in some areas.”
A Test for New Orleans
Regardless of Barry’s strength, many view the storm as the first real test of the storm system improvements put in place after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Specifically, many New Orleans officials and residents are concerned about the levees that protect the city, and that infamously broke during Katrina, causing massive flooding and damages that New Orleans has still not fully recovered from.
Experts expect rainwaters to push the Mississippi River to swell to 19 feet, just a foot below the tops of the shortest levees.
The Army Corps of Engineers has said that the Mississippi River will likely be contained by levees that protect New Orleans, and many of the floodgates near the river have already been closed.
However, officials still warned that the system of levees and drainage pumps have limited capacity. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Thursday that the city’s pumps were operating at “optimal capacity,” but also added that Barry’s downpour could outpace the pumps ability to move the water.
Still, Cantrell stopped short of mandatory evacuations in the city. On Friday, Cantrell announced a voluntary evacuation for the areas outside of the protection of the levees, noting on Twitter that certain areas could expect “a surge between three to six feet.”
Cantrell has also asked New Orleans residents to shelter in place starting at 8 p.m. local time.