5 stories from last week that deserve a second look
News about President Donald Trump — including an apparently neglected vegetable garden that once belonged to former first lady Michelle Obama — is inescapable.
As The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo wrote, “he is no longer just the message. In many cases, he has become the medium.”
Mental health professionals in the U.S. have reported that the all-encompassing coverage of the president has induced anxiety and depression, or post-election stress, in many of their patients.
Here are five important stories, then, that (largely) sidestep news of the president’s every move.
1. The deafening silence over the killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla.
Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a 32-year-old Indian immigrant, died last week shortly after being shot by a white Kansas man who reportedly yelled “Get out of my country” before opening fire at a bar.
Two others were injured in Wednesday’s attack at Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas. Kuchibhotla’s colleague Alok Madasani, also from India, and Ian Grillot, who tried to intervene in the shooting, sustained injuries when 51-year-old Adam Purinton used slurs against the two Indian men he allegedly thought were from the Middle East.
Purinton, a U.S. Navy veteran, was charged with first-degree murder and another two counts of attempted first-degree murder. The FBI is investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime.
Why it’s important
Media outlets in India have been reeling from the attack, with many calling the shooting a hate crime and linking Trump’s rhetoric to an atmosphere of fear, BBC’s Brajesh Upadhyay reported. One headline read: “The president now has blood on his hands.”
Madasani’s father also cited Trump’s election victory as contributing to a climate that wasn’t welcoming to minorities, including Indians.
“I appeal to all the parents in India not to send their children to the US in the present circumstances,” he told Hindustan Times.
As Quartz noted, Trump has yet to address the shooting.
Last week, press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the link between the president’s rhetoric and the rise of reported hate crimes in the U.S. He said “any loss of life is tragic,” adding that “to suggest that there’s any correlation, I think, is a bit absurd.”
Slate’s Jamelle Bouie said the president’s silence could be read as “simple insensitivity” until you think of other scenarios.
“If the situation in Kansas were reversed, if two Indian immigrants attacked a group of white patrons to intimidate the larger community, there’s little question that Trump would respond with anger and condemnation,” he wrote.
“[The president has] sent a clear signal to the country about who is worthy of empathy and concern — and protection — and who is not,” Bouie added.
The media weren’t immune from the criticism, either. The Indian community has questioned why the shooting hasn’t received more news coverage in the U.S.
“It should be much more covered,” Pawan Dhingra of Tufts University told the Hindustan Times. “The shootings and killing would be getting much more attention if the shooter was a self-described Muslim or if it happened in midtown Manhattan.”
“The lack of coverage suggests the normalization of such terror and distrust of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian Americans,” he added.
2. What happened in the years before the “underwear bomber” failed to blow up a U.S.-bound plane.
Last week, the Times published more details behind a failed 2009 al-Qaeda terrorist plot when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab smuggled explosives in his underwear on board a plane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.
The device failed to detonate, but it did emit fire that spread to parts of the plane internally and severely burned the young Nigerian. Abdulmutallab was sentenced to life in prison in 2012, after pleading guilty to the would-be suicide mission.
Less known, however, was how Abdulmutallab was recruited to carry out the “martyrdom mission.”
After a two-year battle in the courts, the Times was given access, under the Freedom of Information Act, to 200 pages of documents that describe how Abdulmutallab’s actions were inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric and al-Qaeda propagandist.
Why it’s important
The Times gleaned a couple of points as to why this underwear plot has implications today.
In 2011, Awlaki was assassinated in a drone strike in Yemen. The drone strike is known as the first time an American citizen was deliberately targeted by a presidential order — sans a trial — since the Civil War.
At the time, the decision courted questions from the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union and other critics who said the public has a right to understand the “breadth of the authority the government is claiming as well as the legal basis for it.”
Years later, a memo was released showed that the Obama administration cited a 2001 law that allowed lethal force abroad against any U.S. citizen that posed a “continued and imminent threat” to the U.S. The Obama administration had fought lawsuits that sought to reveal the motivations behind the order to kill Awlaki.
In the new documents the Times obtained, Awlaki is shown advising Abdulmutallab, including introducing him to other bomb makers and helping him make his martyrdom video.
This also could have implications for President Donald Trump’s reported desire to bring back torture. The Times said most interrogators would say torture wasn’t necessary to get good intel from suspects, and in Abdulmutallab’s case, he was largely forthcoming in his interviews with the FBI about his involvement with al-Qaeda.
3. An Amazon Echo device could be a witness in a murder trial.
“Alexa,” Amazon’s hands-free digital assistant device, is both a digital no-hands secretary and entertainment provider, responding to human directives such as “Alexa, how’s the weather?” or “Alex, did ‘La La Land’ or ‘Moonlight’ win Best Picture? I’m confused.”
But prosecutors in Arkansas say it could also have recorded crucial information from a murder two years ago. They’re trying to call the device, also known as the Amazon Echo, as a witness in court. But Amazon is fighting that request — because Alexa has first amendment rights, the company says.
It all started when James Bates, 31, of Bentonville, Arkansas, was arrested in February 2016 and charged with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence after a man was found dead in his hot tub, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Police seized the Echo device and also requested Amazon release a history of voice recordings from the device during the time in which authorities believe the murder took place, according to The Information, a technologically-based publication. Police also believe the device could have been inadvertently activated on the night of the murder, which could potentially provide recordings that offer insight into what happened that night. Another smart device is also under authorities’ radar — Bates’ water heater, which flagged investigators to exorbitant amounts of water used during the early-morning hours that day.
Last week, Amazon filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss the warrant for Alexa’s information.
“Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course,” wrote Kinley Pearsall, an Amazon spokesperson, in an email to Fortune.
Why it’s important
The case could be the first time a home speaker device is called for assistance in court. But as a whole, the Arkansas murder trial is yet another legal battle over the use of technology-based evidence and privacy laws.
It takes up issues that arose in 2015 after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. FBI officials solicited Apple to help hack shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, as reported by The Los Angeles Times. Apple refused to deliver the software necessary in order to perform the hack. But the FBI announced in March of last year it had managed to unlock Farook’s phone without Apple’s help, a move some experts said could jeopardize the tech giant’s security software or affect future devices.
We don’t know how the government unlocked the phone. Attorneys for Apple attempted to research legal tactics in order to compel the government to reveal the specific tactics used, but weren’t successful.
“From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought,” read a statement by Apple reproduced in the tech publication known as The Verge.
Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Amazon says the court needs to show a “compelling need” for the data that may or may not be stored on Alexa. Bates is free on a $350,000 bond while awaiting a discovery hearing for his case, which is scheduled for March, according to CNN. The Benton County prosecutor plans to file a response to Amazon’s request in the next few weeks, he told the Democrat-Gazette.
Until then, as the Internet of Things continues to grow, how and when our devices could be used to testify against us is still a question mark.
4. Why are so many people illegally crossing the border into Canada?
In his first weeks in office, President Donald Trump has focused a lot of his time on securing America’s borders, whether by trying to keep certain people from entering the country or more aggressively deporting those living here illegally.
Now, some of those people who sought asylum in the U.S. are fleeing the country on their own.
In all of the recent debates over immigration in the U.S., little time has been spent looking to the north, where refugees and immigrants — many of them from Africa — have tried to dodge security officials so they can claim asylum in Canada.
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) February 22, 2017
Minnesota Public Radio has chronicled many of those journeys — some through snowy fields by foot and and others in the cabs of drivers paid to smuggle refugees over the border — from North Dakota and Minnesota into Emerson, Manitoba.
Refugees are also illegally crossing the border from other states, officials say.
It’s not yet clear how many people are heading for our northern neighbors. But there’s a noticeable increase. The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council told the CBC it was offering assistance to about six times the number of people it usually serves this time of year. And the Canada Border Services Agency told Buzzfeed that while refugee claims have increased each year since 2014, there were “937 refugee claims in January alone.”
Why it’s important
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was one of President Donald Trump’s first official visitors to the White House. Among the leaders’ largest differences were their positions on immigrants and refugees.
As Trump has pursued stricter policies for U.S. borders, Trudeau has continued to defend Canada’s status as an “open country.”
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 28, 2017
“We will continue to accept refugees,” Trudeau said this week. “One of the reasons why Canada remains an open country is Canadians trust our immigration system and the integrity of our borders and the help we provide people who are looking for safety.”
The CBC reported Trump and Trudeau spoke by phone last week. It’s unclear if this issue arose.
When Trump issued his since-suspended ban on immigration last month, Trudeau said he would take refugees banned by the U.S. What isn’t clear, though, is whether that same welcome applies to refugees already on American soil. In 2004, Canada and the U.S. signed the Safe Third Country agreement, which says refugees who claim asylum in one country can’t turn around and try to claim it in another. That agreement is only enforced at official border crossings, though – if refugees find another way into Canada, they are protected by the country’s refugee policies.
Some people are calling for that agreement to be canceled because they believe it would encourage more people to cross the border legally. Others say the U.S. can no longer be considered a “safe country” because of Trump’s tightened policies on immigration.
And so Canada is now dealing with a small refugee crisis of its own. Conservatives want Trudeau to hand those crossing illegally back to the U.S. Canadian border patrol offices are starting to feel the strain of the small influx of refugees, a point they said they’re planning to raise with U.S. officials in the coming days.
In the meantime, while some refugees are successfully crossing into Canada, others haven’t been so lucky. Some don’t make it over the border. Others are sent back into the U.S. In some cases, they could also be deported from Canada back to their countries of origin.
Of course, everything could change later this week, when Trump is expected to release another version of his immigration ban.
5. What’s the buzz over bees and their small brains?
Bees may have small brains, but they’re not pea-brained, scientists recently found.
Bumblebees, studied by researchers at Queen Mary University of London, are very smart, despite their tiny brains.
Through a series of experiments, the researchers found that the bees not only mimicked others bees’ behaviors, but, most notably, improved on what they learned, Olli Loukola, co-author of the study told the NewsHour.
“This is of course amazing for small-brained insects — even for us, it’s difficult to improve on something when we are copying others,” Loukola said.
Why it’s important
In science, a larger brain reasonably meant more intelligence, like the swollen cranium of a human.
But Loukola said such conclusions are now “old-fashioned.”
It would appear this study, along with further investigations into the brains of fruit flies, ants and other insects, demonstrate how much a complex system of neurons, even when this small, can result in highly intelligent creatures.
Now, buzz me when the stegosaurus and their lime-sized brains are given a second look.