The Source Documents Behind the News (A librarian reads the news...)

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Presidential security and travel costs: the source documents behind the news

The Primary Source Crusader (my own mashup of images)

How much does it cost to have Melania and Barron Trump live in New York rather than at the White House? How much do the President’s weekend trips to Florida cost?

Sadly, this is one of those questions that cannot be fully answered using officially published information, not least because the details of the budget for protecting the President and First Family are classified (as pointed out by Politico in paragraph 7). Not only that, but there are lots of judgements to make about what costs to include in these estimates since multiple parts of multiple departments are involved in multiple ways. This is one issue where we’ll probably have to wait for next year’s budgets and reports come out before we have a very clear picture of a) what the actual costs are, and b) how they compare to previous administrations.

Currently, news sources are relying on a combination of interviews with sources in the know and estimates based on past budgets and reports. Even Congress and the Government Accountability Office rely on commissioned reports that, themselves, rely on information that doesn’t seem to be publicly available. So with all of my usual caveats for this series* plus all the above as additional caveats, here are some of the past budgets and reports that I’ve been able to dig up…

The most recent estimates of domestic presidential travel are found in an October 2016 report by the Government Accountability Office. (I believe this is the report mentioned in the recent Washington Post article estimating costs of current presidential travel.) If this report, which focuses on a single trip, offers anything like an average estimate of costs per day for presidential travel, over and above typical security costs, we’re looking at about $901,000 per day when looking at only the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense (not local police departments or other local services).

Meanwhile, local police departments also contribute to protection. Since no official numbers seem to be available for key numbers floating around on this topic, here are some that get quoted often, and where they come from. Quite a few news outlets are quoting the ballpark estimates of about $500,000 per day (provided by several anonymous sources to CBS in NYC and then quoted by other news outlets) as the local police force costs when all members of the First Family are in town for a day — it costs less President is not there with the rest of  the First Family. Politico took a different tack, using NYPD overtime costs to estimate local costs for Obama visits to New York City. They reported this at somewhere around $8000 per hour during Obama’s recent 4- and 6-hour visits to New York City (paragraph 13). They also acknowledge that this is a blunt instrument when estimating costs on this issue since it only includes overtime and not straight salaries or infrastructure.

Back to government reports, a 2012 Congressional Research report on presidential travel talks mostly about international travel costs, but it mentions one trip to Hawaii in 1990, saying that it cost the Air Force “$1 million to $1.5 million.” (I haven’t yet been able to put my hands on the full text of that report, H. Rept. 102-985 from October 1992, and without that it’s unclear how long that Hawaii trip was or whether the 2012 report is using 1990 or 2012 dollars, but here’s an inflation calculator to play with if you like.) Without further information, this isn’t a very useful number.

Another way to build context for current reports on presidential travel is to look at the Department of Homeland Security’s Budget Justification Book for FY2017, volume 3 (dealing with the Secret Service). Useful information in this 1,189-page volume includes:

  • Since the Secret Service protects presidential candidates in addition to the President, Vice President, First and Second Families, and visiting dignitaries, FY2016 was an expensive year costing $753,012,000 for protections operations and support. $100,853,000 was for the presidential campaign alone (page 7 of the section on Operations and Support).
  • They have requested $734,547,000 for FY2017 (page 1 of the section on Operations and Support).
  • Numbers of trips Obama went on per year, durations not listed (page 14 of the section on Operations and Support):

If anyone else has found more or better primary sources for this, please let me know!

* Two caveats: 1) Not all knowable things are knowable using official, original published sources, but that’s the limit I’ve set for myself even when that’s inconvenient or frustrating, and 2) I am a librarian trained in tracking down and evaluating sources — nothing more or less than that. I’m doing my best to find the most authoritative version of the primary sources behind the news, and I welcome suggestions and corrections. If you or someone you know would like to add to my collection of primary sources, please let me know.

Journalism, News Media, and Sources: praise and condemnation for 21st century practices

Journalist with Pipe

Schjelderup, C.A.D. “Journalist with Pipe.” Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re constantly wondering if you can believe anything you hear or read these days, constantly worried that you’ll be taken in by some tidbit of fake news (however we’re defining that at the moment), and overwhelmed and exhausted by the prospect of sorting out the real information from the bias, you are not alone. And I would argue that the history and rhetorical traditions of the mainstream media are partly to blame. There’s a lot that’s very, very good about good journalistic practices, but they could do better, and they could do it relatively easily in the age of online news.

First, what are they doing right? Becoming a journalist means becoming trained in ethical standards and methods fact-checking that involve getting independent corroboration from multiple sources before publishing. Another thing that is more invisible but probably more powerful is the publication process itself, which requires that stories get submitted for review by fact-checkers and editors prior to publication. There are multiple points built into the process for people to decide not to publish a story until it has more reliable sources, more or better corroborating sources, etc. This doesn’t mean that sources are unbiased, but it should at least mean that they aren’t deliberately publishing falsehood. And of course, mistakes can happen in journalism just as in the peer reviewed scholarly publishing world, but the system has been set up over journalism’s long history to minimize those chances, there are consequences for messing with the system, and there are multiple levels of staff to do all the work that the system requires.

But the long social and rhetorical history of the news can muddy the waters, too. Printing newspapers back in the day meant strict character and word limits and painstaking type-setting, none of which were conducive to any desire to add full citations to articles like we’re used to in academia. And besides, they were The News — sourced and fact-checked and vetted prior to printing — so readers shouldn’t need full cumbersome citations in order to believe what was being presented.

The problem is that at least for the online version of the news, linking to the study or bill or report when you mention it is trivial. If the New York Times can have an animated gif as its main image for a front page story of the online edition, they can certainly hyperlink these references in the online edition as well. Just as an example I spent over an hour trying to track down “an October government report analyzing White House travel” referenced in a Washington Post article yesterday (and I think I found it, but good grief do you know how many reports from how many parts of “the government” were presented or published in October, and in how many places the different reports could be published??). In fact, my whole recent series of posts has resulted from me asking the very basic question “what publication are they referencing in that article?” or “where did they get that number?” and then essentially providing the footnotes for the news stories I read.

Not only would links or citations help readers consume the news more critically just in general, but they would also help us distinguish between solid journalism and those publications that really are fake news in the original sense of the term. I think it’s long past time for newspapers to do themselves and their readers the courtesy of a citation when they’re referring to published documents.

Healthcare Spending: The source documents behind the news

The Primary Source Crusader (my own mashup of images)

Yesterday the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published their projections for National Health Expenditure, covering 2016-2025. Some numbers are floating around the news and social media, and these are the numbers that your lawmakers will (probably) be looking at as they propose healthcare spending legislation. If you’d like to see how accurate those numbers are, here is the report and the data tables for these projections.

Curious about how these projections stack up compared to the years since 1960? Have no fear, the CMS has you covered, summaries and data tables are available.

The projection tables include things like projected population, projected GDP, projected Medicare/Medicaid costs, and even details like projected costs for hospitalization vs medications, so the numbers are sliceable, diceable, and comparable in various ways.

Just to illustrate how you might build context around these numbers, here’s one way of looking at the table laying out total health expenditures (not just Medicare/Medicaid) from 1960-2015 (click to enlarge):

Table 1: National Health Expenditures; Aggregate and Per Capita Amounts, Annual Percent Change and Percent Distribution: Selected Calendar Years 1960-2015. Available from NHE Tables at Historical National Health Expenditure Data. (My annotations)

And then there’s a similar chart for Medicare and Medicaid spending over the same time periods (click to enlarge):

Table 3: National Health Expenditures; Levels and Annual Percent Change, by Source of Funds: Selected Calendar Years 1960-2015. Available from the NHE Tables at Historical National Health Expenditure Data. (My annotations)

And finally, here’s a similar chart for people’s Out-of-Pocket spending over the same time period (click to enlarge):

Table 3: National Health Expenditures; Levels and Annual Percent Change, by Source of Funds: Selected Calendar Years 1960-2015. Available from the NHE Tables at Historical National Health Expenditure Data. (My annotations)

States Propose Legislation Criminalizing Protests: The source documents behind the news

The Primary Source Crusader (my own mashup of images)

Passions are running high on the topic of protests. Some States have proposed legislation that would criminalize certain protest behaviors, and I was asked for information on exactly what they’re proposing and whether these proposals run afoul of our Constitutional rights.

With my usual caveats for this series,* here’s what I’ve found as I track down the bills referenced in recent news stories.

Last updated: 6/8/2017

Current count:

  • States introducing such bills:
  • Bills introduced:
    31 (plus 1 or more possibly pending in NC)
  • Bills signed into law:
    8 (GA, ND, OK,  SD)
  • Dead bills:
    8 (AZ, CO, FL, MI, MS, ND, TN, VA)

Which states are proposing laws like this?

Map I created April 26th, 2017. Information on partisan control of state legislatures taken from the National Conference of State Legislatures. CC-BY

Put another way:

  • 2 of 14 Democratic legislatures (14%)
  • 1 of 3 split legislatures (33%)
  • 13 of 32 Republican legislatures (40%)


  • SB 1142 (text of bill) introduced January 19th, 2017 – Expands the definition of “rioting” to include actions which “either disturbs the public peace or results in damage to the property of another person,” adds rioting to the list of offenses that can constitute “racketeering,” and then combines all of that with expanded definitions of “conspiracy” that explicitly includes planning a riot (here called 13-2903). If a person is guilty of conspiracy or “knows or has reason to know” that someone is conspiring, that person can get the same sentence as the person who committed the offense. Rioting is a Class 5 Felony. “A pattern of racketeering activity” could include a single act of rioting and could be punished in a variety of ways. (Declared Dead)


  • SB 17-035 introduced January 13th, 2017 – Deals specifically with protests that involve tampering with oil and gas equipment, making it a class 6 felony(Passed Senate, Failed in the House)
  • On the other handSB 17-062 introduced January 19th, 2017 – Would prohibit public colleges and universities from restricting student protests, such as designating specific times or places where protests are allowed. (Became Law)


  • SB 1096 introduced March 7th, 2017 – Prohibits obstructing traffic during protests or demonstrations, and exempts drivers from liability for injury or death to a person who is obstructing or interfering with traffic under certain circumstances. (Dead)


  • SB 285 introduced January 9th, 2017 –  Defines a “Mass traffic obstruction” as “an incident in which, as part of (or as the result of) a protest, riot, or other assembly, at least ten (10) persons obstruct vehicular traffic in violation of IC 35-44.1-2-13 (obstruction of traffic).” Requires a “responsible public official” to “not later than fifteen (15) minutes after first learning that a mass traffic obstruction exists in the official’s jurisdiction, dispatch all available law enforcement officers to the mass traffic obstruction with directions to use any means necessary to clear the roads of the persons unlawfully obstructing vehicular traffic.” (Passed Senate, in committee in the House)


  • SB 160 Introduced February 10th, 2017 – Increases penalties for blocking “any highway, street, sidewalk or other public passage.” (Signed into Law)


  • SF 111 Introduced January 19th, 2017 – Would prohibit people from “intentionally blocking the movement of traffic on certain highways.” (referred to committee)


  • H 807 – “An Act Relative to Attempted Murder By Preventing Highway Access to Emergency Vehicles” introduced January 23rd, 2017 – Adds the words “or by blocking access to or upon the public highway or roadway for any purpose other than road construction, maintenance or official traffic direction by a public safety official” to the current statute. (in committee)
  • H 808 – “An Act Relative to Manslaughter by Protest” introduced January 23rd, 2017 – Adds the words “or manslaughter caused by reckless disregard of life while protesting or blocking highway or roadway access” to the first sentence of the current statute. (in committee)
  • H 809 – “An Act Relative to Intentionally Blocking or Preventing Access to a Public Roadway or Highway while Protesting with the Express Purpose of Preventing Passage of Others” introduced January 23rd, 2017 – Creates the following crime: “Notwithstanding any special or general law, or rule or regulation to the contrary, Any person who intentionally blocks or prevents access to a public roadway or highway while protesting with the express purpose of preventing passage of others shall be punished by imprisonment in state prison for not more than 10 years or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars and imprisonment in jail or house of correction for not more than two and one half years.” (in committee)


  • HB 4643 introduced May 26th, 2015 – “House Bill 4643 would amend Public Act 176 of 1939, which created the Employment Relations Commission, to modify the penalties for mass picketing. In addition to the current misdemeanor penalties, a civil fine could be levied and injunctive relief would be available.” (Passed House in December 2016, in committee in the Senate)


  • HF 390 introduced January 23rd, 2017, and SF 676 introduced February 6th, 2017 – Obstructing a roadway would become a crime, and the penalties for obstructing traffic to a highway or airport are increased. (both versions currently back from committee and awaiting vote)
  • HF 322 introduced January 23rd, 2017, and SF 679 introduced February 6th, 2017  – Governmental units would be allowed to sue to recover costs related to unlawful assemblies and public nuisances. (both versions currently in committee)


  • HB 179 introduced December 8th, 2016 – Makes intentionally concealing one’s identity while engaging in “the crime of unlawful assembly or rioting” a class A misdemeanor. (currently in committee)
  • HB 826 introduced February 2nd, 2017 – Makes intentional blocking of traffic unlawful and designate it a class A misdemeanor. (currently in committee)


  • SB 2730 Introduced on or before January 16th, 2017 – Makes obstructing traffic a felony offense. (Officially died in committee 1/41/2017)

North Carolina

  • HB 249 introduced March 2nd, 2017 – Proposes that “A person is guilty of the separate offense of economic terrorism if the person willfully and maliciously or with reckless disregard commits a criminal offense that impedes or disrupts the regular course of business, the disruption results in damages of more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), and the offense is committed with the intent to do either of the following: (1) Intimidate the civilian population at large, or an identifiable group of the 29 civilian population. (2) Influence, through intimidation, the conduct or activities of the government of the United States, a state, or any unit of local government.” (currently in committee)
  • The News & Observer reported that State Senator Dan Bishop plans to introduce a bill making it illegal to “threaten, intimidate, or retaliate against a present or former North Carolina official.” Senator Bishop’s list of introduced bills, however, does not include such a bill. On 3/9/2017 he introduced a bill providing for the protection of former elected officials for 1 year after they’ve completed their terms of office, but it doesn’t specify what these protection officers would protect against. (not yet introduced)

North Dakota

  • HB 1203 (text of the bill) introduced January 9th, 2017 – Creates a “liability exemption” for “a driver of a motor vehicle who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic.” It also makes it “unlawful” to walk in the road if there is a sidewalk, on the shoulder if there is no sidewalk, or on the right-hand side of a two-way street. (defeated by the House)
  • Four bills that the Governor indicated were in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests
    • HB 1293 (text of bill) introduced January 12th, 2017 – Expands the scope of criminal trespass activity under state law. (Signed into law)
    • HB 1304 (text of bill) introduced January 12th, 2017 – Makes it a Class A misdemeanor for someone to wear a mask, hood or other device that conceals their face when committing a crime. (Signed into law)
    • HB 1426 (text of bill) introduced January 16th, 2017 – Increases the penalties imposed for riot offenses. (Signed into law)
    • SB 2302 (text of bill) introduced January 20th, 2017 – Expands the Attorney General’s authority to appoint ad hoc special agents in response to a request for assistance. (Signed into law)


  • HB 1123 introduced February 6th, 2017 – Increases penalties for trespassing on or tampering with “critical infrastructure” such as pipelines, refineries, or power plants.  (Signed into Law)


  • SB 540 introduced January 9th, 2017 – Would require public institutions of higher education to expel any student convicted of participating in a riot. (currently in committee)

South Dakota

  • HB 1087 introduced January 25th, 2017 – authorizes the recovery of attorney’s fees in civil actions relating to highway obstructions. (Signed into law)
  • SB 176 introduced February 3rd, 2017 – Allows the Governor to declare a “public safety zone” if “an event” looks like it “may consume significant public resources, poses a threat to public or private property, and poses a threat to the health and welfare of the public.”  It would then be a Class 1 misdemeanor to trespass into that zone. Obstructing highways would also be a Class 1 misdemeanor. If passed, this law would expire in 2020. (Signed into law)


  • HB 668 and SB 944 (text of the bill) introduced February 9th, 2017 – Provides civil immunity for the driver of an automobile who injures a protester who is blocking traffic in a public right-of-way if the driver was exercising due care. (The senate version is in committee, the House version failed in committee)


  • SB 1055 introduced January 11th, 2017 – Makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to remain at the scene of a “riot or unlawful assembly” after being told to disperse. (defeated by the Senate)

Washington State

  • SB 5009 introduced December 15th, 2016 – Protests that cause “economic disruption” are illegal. “Sec. 1. The legislature recognizes and fully supports the ability of individuals to exercise their rights of free speech, press, and peaceful assembly, and to engage in other constitutionally protected activities. The legislature finds, however, that there is no right to harm another person or prevent 10 another person from exercising his or her rights. … Sec. 2. The prosecuting attorney may file a special allegation when sufficient evidence exists to show that the accused or an accomplice committed the offense to cause an economic disruption.” (currently in committee)

Can they do that?

The question seems to rest on the exact extent of the 1st and 14th Amendments’ protection for peaceful assembly, and what exactly “peaceful” means.

  • The 1st Amendment prohibits Congress from restricting “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”
  • The 14th Amendment is the “due process” amendment, and it also prohibits States from making “any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” (which includes the rights from the 1st Amendment).

These amendments have been the subject of many a court case, and these have helped define the boundaries of “peaceful” and “assembly” and who is covered. — Extra caveats here that I am not a legal scholar, but following citations by people who are legal scholars (starting with Cornell’s Legal Information Institute and the Library of Congress) points to some of the key cases dealing with the right to peaceful assembly.

  • Whitney v. California 274 U.S. 357 (1927). States can impose restrictions if they are “sufficiently clear and explicit to satisfy the requirement of due process of law.”
  • De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 364, 365 (1937). Distinguished between the rights themselves and actions that can result from abuse of those rights. The justices ruled that legislation “can find constitutional justification only by dealing with the abuse. The rights themselves must not be curtailed.”
  • Hague v. CIO 307 U.S. 496 (1939). Justice Stone said, “The privilege of a citizen of the United States to use the streets and parks for communication of views on national questions may be regulated in the interest of all; it is not absolute, but relative, and must be exercised in subordination to the general comfort and convenience, and in consonance with peace and good order; but it must not, in the guise of regulation, be abridged or denied.”  Even though this was not part of the main ruling
  • Cole v. Arkansas  338 U.S. 345 (1949). Reaffirmed multiple previous rulings that said the right to peaceful assembly does not include the right to interfere with traffic on public streets or otherwise threaten public safety and order.
  • Ward v. Rock Against Racism 491 U.S. 781 (1989). Held that governments can restrict the time, place, and manner of public assembly and speech as long as these restrictions are “justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, . . . are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and . . . leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.”

* Two caveats: 1) Not all knowable things are knowable using official, original published sources, but that’s the limit I’ve set for myself even when that’s inconvenient or frustrating, and 2) I am a librarian trained in tracking down and evaluating sources — nothing more or less than that. I’m doing my best to find the most authoritative version of the primary sources behind the news, and I welcome suggestions and corrections.