News You May Have Missed: July 12, 2020

“DSF9537” by joaodanielper is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Black Lives Matter Protests, London, 2020.

Vox and the Center for Public Integrity have launched a six-month collaboration, System Failure, on how the Trump administration’s passion for deregulation got us where we are today. The opening pieces are on how his policies demolished public health infrastructure and how the administration declined to use a key tool to stop police violence.

Heather Cox Richardson’s post from July 8 provides some context around Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s resignation, below, and also has some interesting speculations on what the administration’s fierce insistence on school re-opening is about. On July 9 she analyzed the recent Supreme Court decisions and called attention to some new evidence that confirms Russia offered the Taliban bounties for the death of Americans and that the administration knew it.

It’s critical to take action in the next few days for the detained children Judge Dolly Gee has ordered released by July 17; ICE has not committed to releasing their parents with them. This toolkit provides a clear set of steps to take. July 15 is the last day to comment on Trump’s proposal to end asylum as we know it. Instructions for getting your comment on record are here (from Martha’s list).

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. For Black lives, the Breathe Act

The Electoral Justice Project of the Movement for Black Lives has announced proposed federal legislation (summarized here) which is being presented in the House of Representatives by Representatives Ayana Pressley and Rashida Tlaib and supported by 150 organizations. The Breathe Act (number not available) would divest federal resources from incarceration and policing, invest in new approaches to community safety, provide funding in support of healthy, sustainable, and equitable communities, hold officials accountable, and enhance self-determination of Black communities, as Black Enterprise explains. Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, told the AP, “We are a generation that wants to make sure that the needs of all Black people are met. We believe the BREATHE Act is that legislation. It’s an act that is pushing us to look at the future of this country, an act that is is mandating and demanding a new future and policies that are courageous and visionary.” S-HP

You can urge your Congressmembers to support the Breathe Act: addresses are here.

2. Trump insists on in-person instruction, threatens schools and international students

Trump’s policy is governing by bullying, and right now he’s bullying both public schools and international students at our nation’s colleges and universities. As part of his fixation on reopening the economy and denying the significance of the COVID-19 pandemic (which as of Saturday, July 11 has infected over 3.2 million Americans and killed at least 135,000 of them), Trump is demanding that the nation’s public schools reopen for in-person instruction this fall. As Politico points out, he has, in fact, tweeted a threat to strip federal funding from schools that don’t physically reopen—something he probably does not have the power to do under Constitutional separation of powers. Heather Cox Richardson’s July 12 column has an explanation–based in politics and history–of why Trump and DeVos are so fiercely committed to reopening schools.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, whose original statement Trump has used in pressuring schools, has backed off from their position, now saying that school re-opening has to be based on evidence, not politics, and that “science and community circumstances must guide decision-making,” according to NPR. This policy turnabout is appropriate, given that–as an Esquire writer put it–“I also know they can’t handle a lice outbreak on a good day and are not equipped to handle COVID on a bad one.” And as Susan Rogan, of Rogan’s List points out, “Let’s remember that Cohen and Manafort were released from prison early due to COVID. If conditions are not good enough for them to return to prison, why are the lives of our children, teachers, and school staff less worthy?”        

Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced a new rule for international students in the United States: they must take at least one in-person course this fall or lose their F-1 visa status and leave the country. Given that many schools have opted for no in-person courses during the fall, this rule puts the million+ international students at U.S. colleges and universities in jeopardy. Responses from states and Universities have been swift. The states of California and Washington are filing suit to block implementation of these new rules as are Harvard, MIT, Johns Hopkins, and the University of California. As the New York Times reports, Trump has now ordered the Treasury Department the investigate the funding and tax exempt of universities that he claims are about “Radical Left indoctrination, not Education.” S-HP

You can tell your elected representatives that all students, including international students, should be appropriately protected from COVID-19 and that neither schools nor students be penalized for using remote instruction if they deem it best.

3. Brownshirts-in-training

ICE is preparing to offer a six-week course in immigration enforcement for civilians, according to Newsweek. To be piloted in Chicago, this “Citizen’s Academy” will include information on how to arrest a suspected undocumented immigrant, with training in “defensive tactics and firearms familiarization.” Assuming the program is successful, ICE plans to offer it nationwide. Newsweek quoted ICE as saying that the academy was “an extension of the community relations work ICE is already doing in the community.” As of this writing, only Democracy Now and NPR, in addition to Newsweek, have covered the issue. Chicago Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García, who said he had not been notified about the program, told Newsweek that the course appeared to be “inviting people to become an extension of ICE… to possibly surveil their neighbors who might be undocumented…appealing to right-wing individuals who might like the vigilante lifestyle.” RLS

If the concept of ICE training armed vigilantes troubles you, you may want to object to your elected officials and others.

4. Public health workers under siege

Nationwide, public health workers–especially women–have been mercilessly harassed for trying to do their jobs, according to the Washington Post. It isn’t only random cranks who are doing this; public health officials have even had to change their recommendations around masks due to pressure from business leaders. Georgia’s public health official, Doctor Kathleen Toomey, receives daily threats and has armed protection, according to 11Alive. Amy Acton, Ohio’s public health director, backed down into an advisory role after months of armed protestors showing up at her home shouting anti-Semetic slogans. Adding insult to injury, Fair points out, however, that many media outlets have been critical of pubic health.workers for not sticking to a sufficiently narrow mandate. All this comes as the CDC agreed to revisit its guidelines for school reopening after Trump criticized them as being too stringent, the Post reported on July 8. RLS

Similar events have been reported in California. The public health officer of Orange County was threatened and had her home address announced at a public meeting, after which protestors gathered outside of her home. In fear for her safety, she resigned from her position, the LA Times reported. Other health officials have been subjected to similar protests at their homes, including the Contra Costa County public health officer and the director of the Los Angeles Department of Public Health. In all, as of July 1 eight California Public Health Officials have resigned. Now, State Senator Dr. Richard Pan has introduced SB-843, which would grant public health officials the same address confidentiality provided for city council members, board of supervisors members and other officials in the state, whose home addresses are excluded from publicly accessible Department of Motor Vehicles records. Health Officers would still be accessible through their workplaces, as only home addresses are protected in this way. In introducing the legislation, Pan explained, “Public health officials shouldn’t have to choose between their own safety and livelihood and the public’s health.” This legislation has been passed by the Assembly and is awaiting consideration by the California Senate. S-HP

You can advocate for national legislation to protect public health officers from this kind of harassment, and if you are a Californian, urge your California State Senator to protect our health officers by voting in favor of SB-843. Addresses are here.

5. Republicans resisting mail ballots

Trump and the Republicans are depicting broader use of mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 epidemic as an invitation to fraud and foreign interference in our elections, and Trump has claimed that foreign governments could flood our nation with fraudulent ballots if we expand mail-ballot use, the Washington Post reports. At the same time, the Republican Senate has once again removed a requirement that presidential campaigns report attempted foreign interference from legislation, in this case removing the proviso from national intelligence policy and the National Defense Authorization Act, according to CNN. Apparently, placing restraints on voters’ opportunity to exercise the franchise and exposing them to epidemic disease on the grounds of “election security” is just fine, but asking campaigns to report actual attempts at foreign interference is not.

Let’s take a look at that claim that mail-in ballots raise the risk of election fraud. To successfully forge mail-in ballots, a foreign (or domestic) entity would need to have a list of absentee voters in a state, know who had already voted, and be able to replicate key details like precinct and voter ID numbers and the local races on each ballot. It would have to also access the precinct’s signature files, match the forged signature on the envelope to the one on file, and then mail them locally to ensure a proper postmark, the Post notes. Once we acknowledge those facts, mail-in ballots don’t seem so vulnerable. S-HP

Are you in favor of mail ballots? If so, insist to your state and federal representatives, your Governor, and your Secretary of State that all voters be given access to mail-in ballots because, even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, facilitating voter participation in elections should always be seen as beneficial to our democracy. Addresses are here.

6. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified on impeachment, resigns under pressure from Trump

In the opening remarks of his testimony during the Trump impeachment investigation, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman compared the U.S. to the Soviet Union, from which his family had immigrated. Addressing his father, as well as the committees holding the hearings, he explained, “my simple act of appearing here today, just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before this Committee, would not be tolerated in many places around the world. In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offering public testimony involving the President would surely cost me my life. I am grateful for my father’s brave act of hope 40 years ago [bringing the family to the U.S.] and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety. Dad, my sitting here today, in the US Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision forty years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United State of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

Unfortunately, Vindman’s America has proven to be a bit more like the former Soviet Union than Vindman had anticipated. Vindman’s lawyer explained that after a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation,” Vindman has decided to retire from the U.S. Army, in which he had served for twenty-one years, because political retaliation meant his career in the military “will be forever limited.” This persecution of a man who took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” is a failure of our democracy. As long as Trump remains in power, Vindman will be sidelined, but a change in administration might give him a chance to provide another kind of service to this nation he loves. S-HP

If you want to thank Vindman and suggest that Biden, if elected, find a place for Vindman in his administration, addresses are here.

7. Goya Foods head praises Trump–boycott ensues

In a Rose Garden ceremony announcing the “White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative,” Robert Unanue, head of Goya Foods, a leading Latino food company in the U.S., sang Trump’s praises: “We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder, and that’s what my grandfather did. He came to this country to build, to grow, to prosper. And so we have an incredible builder, and we pray for our leadership, our president, and we pray for our country that we will continue to prosper and to grow.” Within hours, calls for a boycott of Goya had flooded the internet, according to ABC News. Unanue claimed a double standard because Goya had not faced consumer backlash when praising President Obama. Former presidential candidate and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro responded in a tweet, noting that unlike Obama, Trump “villainizes and maliciously attacks Latinos for political gain,” the Washington Post reported. Others critical of Unanue’s remarks and calling for Goya boycott include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Lin-Manuel Miranda. S-HP

If you want to join #Goyaway, you can write to Mr. Unanue at: Goya Foods, 350 County Road, Jersey City, New Jersey, 07307, (210) 348-4900.

8. FedEx no longer wants to be associated with the Redskins

In 1999, FedEx agreed to pay the Washington Redskins $205 million for stadium naming rights. Now, the general counsel of FedEx has written to counsel for the Redskins’ corporate organization to say that, if the team does not it change its name, FedEx will remove its name from all stadium signage at the end of this season. The Washington Post, which received a summary of the unreleased letter’s contents, reported that FedEx had indicated that the team’s name posed a risk to FedEx’s brand reputation and to its commitment to a more inclusive society. The language suggests that FedEx is considering removing itself from the contract “for cause,” which would free it from the obligation to make any additional naming rights payments after the end of the 2020 season. S-HP

If you wish to thank FedEx for taking this stand, write to Frederick W. Smith, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, FedEx, 942 South Shady Grove Rd., Memphis, TN 38120, (901) 818-7500.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Black Lives Matter: Patients, newborns, mothers

Have you ever gotten medical test results and noticed that the standard for your eGFR–estimated glomerular filtration rate (a measure of kidney function)–is different depending on whether you are African American or not? A new study has shown that the algorithms that doctors rely on to evaluate a patient’s health are often race-based, leading to disparities in health care, the New York Times reports; the Times quotes the study as saying that the effect “has been to direct medical resources away from Black patients and to deny some Black patients treatment options available to white patients.” The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, points out the many ways in which the algorithms influence care: Black patients are thought to be at lower risk for heart failure, so they are less likely to be referred to specialists. Black women and Latinas are more likely to be referred for Cesarean sections for a subsequent delivery after an initial C-section (VBAC). The authors note that because Black patients tend to have worse health-care outcomes, health researchers have persuaded themselves that the disparity is due to genetics, overlooking the social conditions that have been shown to be the cause.

The differential between Black and white patients is especially visible among babies and new mothers. Infant mortality for Black babies is twice that of white babies, according to the State of Babies yearbook, and the death rate among Black mothers is three times as high. Access to health care and paid maternity leave would interrupt this cycle, according to Parentology.

Among the most horrific examples of structural racism in medicine is the treatment of Black people’s pain, the Washington Post reports. In an assumption going back to slavery, Black people are thought to have a higher pain tolerance, a belief which was used to justify the pain inflicted on enslaved Black people, but which persists today–so that Black people are less likely to be prescribed pain killers for the same conditions for which white people receive pain medication. A study of 222 medical residents at the University of Virginia found that one third of them believed the myth about Black patients’ pain tolerance. Even Black children are one-fifth as likely as white children to receive medication for severe pain with appendicitis. 

The undertreatment of Black people for kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes may–in addition to profoundly unequal social conditions–may explain why the death rate from COVID-19 of people of color under 65 is twice that of white people. RLS

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is focusing on voter registration this week.
  • Sarah-Hope’s postcarding list is here and itemized above.
  • Martha’s list identifies a series of challenges to asylum and opportunities to comment on them.
  • See Rogan’s list for ways to advocate for DACA recipients, international students, children in detention and others.



News You May Have Missed: July 5, 2020

“Families should not be separated.…by ClevrCat is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Note that the deadline is July 15 to comment on the Trump administration’s proposal to end asylum completely (see our fourth story in the June 14th issue). Comment for the public record at this link--follow all instructions so that your comment will be counted.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Asylum-seekers: Good news/bad news

Any good news around asylum is mitigated by bad news that undercuts it–and by the tragedy of the whole story. Here are some key issues:

  • A federal judge blocked the Trump administration policy saying that asylum-seekers had to seek asylum first in any country they passed through. The policy was aimed especially at keeping Latin Americans out of the US. As the Washington Post reports, the judge said that the administration failed “to show it was in the public interest to stealthily implement the change and bypass the Administrative Procedure Act.” However, now that the Republican administration has effectively ended asylum entirely under the guise of protecting the country from the coronavirus, it is not clear what the practical effect of the judge’s ruling will be.
  • A judge told the Trump administration that they had to stop the practice of imprisoning detained immigrants in adult centers when they turned 18. According to Courthouse News, the judge said that ICE was required to find the least restrictive environment for these young people–for example, their parents or other relatives already settled in the U.S. As the judge put it, “ICE has acted in a manner that is ‘arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion’ and—most clearly—‘otherwise not in accordance with law.’”
  • As we reported last week, a judge has ordered that detained children be released by July 17. However, the judge did not have the authority to order that their families be released with them, and some observers believe that the government will not do so, thereby separating another group of families, according to Border Report. There are 138 parents and 139 children in the facilities covered by the order (861 additional children continue to be detained without their parents). Eighty members of Congress signed a letter asking that families be released together. RLS

You can sign this petition from RAICES calling for families to be released together, and you can insist to your Congressmembers and the current head of Homeland Security that families be released along with their children. Addresses are here.

Also, Witness at the Border and the ACLU are urging people to ask ICE to release the last three teenagers in Cowlitz County Washington, rather than waiting for them to turn 18 and then imprisoning them in an adult detention center.

2. Protesters injured by “rubber” bullets and tear gas

Rubber bullets and tear gas may no longer be exported by the UK to the US if 160 members of Parliament have their way, Buzzfeed reports. According to Kaiser Health News, a 2017 study demonstrated that rubber bullets (which can have a metal core) can result in disability or even death. During recent protests, police have been shooting them randomly into crowds, causing serious injury–a reporter was blinded and other protesters have been hospitalized. Dr. Douglas Lazzaro, a professor and expert in eye trauma at NYU Langone Health told Kaiser Health News that when fired at close range, “rubber bullets can penetrate the skin, break bones, fracture the skull and explode the eyeball.” The British army developed them to use in Northern Ireland fifty years ago, but they no longer use them. Teen Vogue has recommendations for what to do if you are hit by one.

Protesters are also endangered by tear gas, especially during the pandemic. As ProPublica explains, it can damage the mucous membranes in the lung and make the lungs more vulnerable to infection. The Centers for Disease Control say that tear gas in a closed setting–such as a prison or detention center–can lead to “Blindness, glaucoma (a serious eye condition that can lead to blindness), immediate death due to severe chemical burns to the throat and lungs, and respiratory failure possibly resulting in death.” They recommend that people exposed to tear gas leave the area if at all possible, carefully remove contaminated clothing and double-bag it in plastic, rinse their eyes for ten-fifteen minutes, leave contact lenses out, use asthma inhalers, and treat skin burns. RLS

You can insist on an end to law enforcement use of rubber bullets and tear gas, which can be life-threatening and are not “safe” options as many law enforcement groups claim, and call for Congressional action to prohibit the use of these dangerous “crowd control” measures. Addresses are here.

3. Protecting women’s health

For the moment, women can breathe a bit easier thanks to the Supreme Court ruling supporting women’s right to access to abortion, but this gain truly may be momentary. Dozens of cases are working their way through the court system with intent of limiting or denying access to abortion, as NPR explains. Women will always be one court ruling away from losing access until their right to make their own health care decisions and health care workers’ right to provide a full range of reproductive healthcare services are confirmed under law. The Women’s Health Protection Act (S.1645 in the Senate; H.R.2975 in the House) does exactly this. It would bar regulations regarding the provision of abortion that do any of the following:

  • delay access to abortion services
  • directly or indirectly increase the cost of providing or obtaining an abortion
  • decrease the availability of abortion services in a State or geographic region
  • add medically unnecessary tests or procedures before, during, or after the provision of abortion services
  • require presentation of medically inaccurate information
  • limit the ability of abortion providers to prescribe medications
  • subject medical providers of abortion to additional costs not borne by other health care providers
  • ban specific pre-viability abortion procedures
  • limit a woman’s rights to abortion services post-viability if her health or life are at risk
  • place a limit on the reasons for which a woman may seek abortion services

Basically, The Women’s Health Protection Act eliminates all the many hoops women are often required to jump through before receiving an abortion. When this legislation is passed, women will not see their right to full reproductive health care threatened with each new court case. S.1645 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee; H.R.2975 is currently with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. S-HP

Consider protesting the limitations on women’s right to make their own healthcare decisions. Urge your senators to pass S.1645 through committee and on the Senate floor and your representative to pass H.R.2975 through committee and on the House floor.

4. Church and state become less separate

The wall separating church and state has lost a brick following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that state-funded scholarship programs could not exclude students from faith-based institutions. The ruling responded a decision by the state of Montana, which had begun providing tax credits to parents sending children to private schools, that those schools could not be religious in nature because of Montana’s legal prohibitions of state payment for religious education, the Deseret News explained. In the majority decision, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that “a state need not subsidize private education. But once it decides to do so it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” At least forty states have laws barring state funding of religious education and will likely be subject to the provisions of this ruling. S-HP

You can tell your Congressmembers that state funding of religious schools is unacceptable in any form and ask for Congressional legislation to keep the wall between church and state solid.

5. Child care is Essential: funding bills in the House and Senate

The costs of child care have increased with new restrictions put in place in response to the COVID-19 emergency. The Child Care Is Essential Act (H.R.7027 in the House; S.3874 in the Senate) would create a $50 billion fund to cover increased costs to child care providers with the intention of avoiding increases in child care costs for working parents. These monies would be managed within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Childcare and Block Grant Development Program. In the House, this legislation is currently with the Appropriations and the Budget Committees. In the Senate, it is with the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

You can urge swift, positive action on H.R.7207 in the appropriate House Committees and on S.3874 in the Senate HELP Committee. Addresses are here.

6. House tries to mend the country

Recently, the House has passed a number of important pieces of legislation that will now move on to the Senate:

  • H.R.2, the Investing in a new Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act (INVEST Act), maintains funding for highway, transit, safety programs, provides programs specifically for isolated rural communities, and initiates a study of the best ways to respond to the damaging effects of climate change on the U.S. transportation system.
  • H.R.1425, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act, provides additional funds for medical payments and individuals’ out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • H.R.5332, the Protecting Your Credit Score Act, calls for the creation of a single online site where consumers can request free credit reports and scores, dispute errors, and place or lift security freezes.
  • H.R.7301, the Emergency Housing and Protections Relief Act, places limits on evictions, foreclosures, and unsafe conditions in housing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • H.J.Res.90, Providing for Congressional Disapproval Under Chapter 8 of Title 5, United States Code, of the Rule Submitted by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Relating to “Community Reinvestment Act Regulations, objects to administration weakening of the Community Reinvestment Act that was designed to make banks respond to the credit needs of low- and moderate-income communities. S-HP

One strategy is to tell your representative how much you appreciate this legislation (regardless of whether that representative supported it) and tell your senators that you want to see swift, positive action as this legislation moves to the Senate. Addresses are here.

7. Senate Judiciary Committee votes to give Inspector General oversight over the Department of Justice. But…

In an unusual example of bipartisan pushback, in late June the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S.685, the Inspector General Access Act, 21 to 1, with the single dissenting vote being that of the committee’s chair, Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Similar legislation was passed by the House last year. This legislation would transfer responsibility for investigation of alleged misconduct by Department of Justice (DoJ) attorneys from the DoJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility to the D0J’s Office of the Inspector General, according to The Hill. This would allow someone independent from the Attorney General to make decisions about initiating ethics investigations. Opposition to this change is not new: similar legislation failed in the two previous administrations. Lindsey Graham opposed the legislation because it did not include his proposed amendment requiring that the Attorney General sign off on all such investigations before they begin—which would have undercut the clear intention that such investigations be undertaken by independent, non-political appointees. Attorney General William Barr also opposes the legislation. Given this opposition, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not choose to bring S.685 to a vote of the full Senate, but the near-unanimous bipartisan agreement among the Judiciary Committee makes this choice more difficult. S-HP

You might urge your senators to support S.685 as one way of mitigating the politicization of the office of Attorney General.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Life in Hong Kong changes overnight

As soon as Hong Kong’s new security law was passed, Hong Kong became a different place, according to the New York Times. The banners and slogans that were previously common suddenly became illegal, with those convicted under the security law at risk of life imprisonment. “Subversive” books have been removed from libraries and people have deleted their social media accounts, as speech ceased to be protected. Britain has offered to receive some three million Hong Kong residents, according to the Times. The Nation has a strong piece explaining the stakes of the security law–among many issues, Hong Kong had been a place of refugee for Chinese dissidents–and the history of how Hong Kong became vulnerable to it. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Coronavirus round-up

You likely haven’t missed the news about the explosion of coronavirus cases in Texas, Florida, Georgia, California and elsewhere, as states discover the terrible costs of reopening too early. NPR has a useful graphic which shows where cases are rising and by how much. Other coronavirus news might be under the radar:

  • Among the things that makes the coronavirus so deadly is the way it short-circuits the immune system, depleting the T-cells in the way HIV does, according to the New York Times. One study, yet to be peer-reviewed, suggests that the cells in charge of releasing T-cells overreact, causing a chaotic immune reaction in the body.
  • The White House cancelled the funding for a long-standing research project into how bat viruses jump to people–because the project had become the target of a conspiracy theory that the virus had been released by Chinese researchers in Wuhan, according to Ars Technica. The organization that wrote the grant, EcoHealth Alliance, Inc., works with a Chinese researcher who studies bat coronaviruses–and the project was the only one collaborating with Chinese scientists. It was Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, who finally told a Congressional hearing at the end of June who had cancelled the project.
  • Canada, which has kept its border with the US closed, has seen the number of new cases and new deaths fall in July, according to the New York Times. However, Indigeous communities have been impacted by the virus, and the travel time to medical care is significant. Of greatest concern is the risk to Elders, the National Post reports, whose historical memory is irreplaceable. Migrant workers, too, are at risk not only from the virus but from the lack of income supports that have sustained other workers. Protests in several cities on July 4 decried their lack of access to medical care, wage top-ups, and unemployment payments, according to CP 24. RLS

10. Comment to preserve clean air–and other environmental regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed changes to the Clean Air Act that are open to public comment though August 3. Under Obama regulations, cost-benefit analyses for pollution reduction regulations could consider all potential benefits of proposed regulations. If, for example, a measure designed to reduce carbon pollution also happened to reduce ozone and particulate pollution, all three of those impacts could be included in the cost-benefit analysis of that measure. Under the proposed rule change, if the rule were written to reduce carbon pollution, any additional reductions in pollution could not be included in the cost-benefit analysis, according to Energy and Environment (E&E) News.

The EPA is presenting its proposed changes as “Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rule Process,” but the actual impact of the change won’t so much increase consistency and transparency as it will make calculations more industry-friendly and environmental regulations more difficult to put in place, jeopardizing the ability of future administrations to fight climate change, according to E&E. The Union of Concerned Scientists and many other scientific and environmental groups have come out against this rule change. Hayden Hashimoto, a legal fellow at the Clean Air Task Force, sums up the proposed rule change as an “attempt [by the EPA] to tie its own hands…in a transparent effort to benefit industry at the expense of the American people, RollCall.com reported.The EPA is only accepting electronic comments on this proposal. You can use the link below to access the comment site. S-HP

You can object to this faux effort at “consistency and transparency” here (follow the letter of the instructions) and urge your Congressmembers to fight this and other regulatory sleights-of-hand by the current administration.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist tracks the impact of their suggested actions–quick, clear things you can do.
  • Martha’s list offers ways to comment for the public record on many crucial items, in particular a new rule closing homeless shelters to trans youth. She notes that the whole regulatory process is in chaos, as Trump will issue executive orders while the process is still underway: this is why the Supreme Court struck down the ban on LGBTQ+ employment rights.
  • Rogan’s list explains how to speak up for public health officials, seek justice for Breonna Taylor, challenge policing in schools, push for the election of people who will advocate for racial justice–and more.
  • Most of Sarah-Hope’s list is woven into the stories above, but if you would like to see all of it in one place, click the link above.
  • Chrysostom has interesting news from the Oklahoma, Utah, and Colorado primaries.

News You May Have Missed: June 28, 2020

“Declaration of Immigration” by swanksalot is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In case you missed the news that Russia paid the Taliban a bounty to kill American troops and that Trump (et al.) had been briefed on it in March–but not only kept silent about it but now denies having been briefed, read Heather Cox Richardson’s June 27 column.

Wonder which hand sanitizers are toxic? Wonder how to deal with your phone (that tracks you, FYI) during a protest? See our Resources section.

Also in the Resources section below are links to Martha, Sarah-Hope and Rogan’s lists, each of which has quick, focused actions you can take to intervene in the news.

Our colleague Chrysostom, who follows election news indefatigably, says that it was a good night for Black candidates and a good night for progressive candidates in the Virginia, Kentucky, and New York, despite the voting difficulties in Kentucky.  The progressive strategy of safe seat primaries appears to be bearing fruit. See also the wealth of information on state and local races he has catalogued.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Children are still being detained and deported–often alone

The judge who has for over three months been following the government’s (lack of) progress in releasing children from detention has ordered that they release them all–either with their parents or to family sponsors–by July 17, according to the LA Times. Judge Dolly Gee wrote that “The family detention centers “are ‘on fire’ and there is no more time for half measures.” However, since she did not order that their parents be released with them, their parents could be deported without their children and the families separated forever. 

At the same time, the U.S. has deported over 2000 unaccompanied children, many under 13, who have arrived at the border since March, reports the New York Times. Under the guise of protecting the country from the coronavirus, they have either been sent over the bridge to Mexico or flown back to their countries of origin–from which they fled. And the Southern Poverty Law Centre says that the policy of separating asylum-seeking children who arrive with their families has never ended, despite claims that the policy had been rescinded in March of 2019; since then, some 1142 children have been taken from their families.  The ACLU has filed suit earlier in June to stop this policy, according to Buzzfeed, and the plaintiff’s deportation has been blocked by a federal judge.

The psychological cost of detaining children and separating children from their families is clear. A Canadian researcher studying conditions of children and families in immigrant detention in Canada published a report in 2015 documenting the severe psychiatric symptoms detained children suffered, according to a documentary aired last week on the CBC.

In February of 2020, a group of investigators from Physicians for Human Rights declared the separation of children from their families to be torture, the Intercept reported then, with consequent severe psychological symptoms. Families not only endured violence in the countries they were fleeing and the trauma of having their children taken from them, but harassment by immigration officials; the report notes that they were “taunted and mocked by U.S. immigration officials when they asked after their children.”

According to the Intercept, a mother from El Salvador “recounted asking a U.S. official why her daughter was being taken away from her. The official reportedly responded that her daughter ‘was going to be adopted by an American family and that [she] would be deported and that she would never see her daughter again,’ according to the report. Another mother whose daughter was taken from her was told she should ‘learn to deal with it.’” RLS

If you want to speak up for migrant children, some addresses are here. You can also sign Amnesty International’s petition.

2. No recourse for asylum-seekers

While the Supreme Court astonished many by ruling in favor of the Dreamers, young people who were brought to the U.S. under the age of 16, they showed no such mercy to asylum seekers, ruling last week that asylum-seekers could not appeal flawed decisions to the court system, the New York Times reported. Justices Bader Ginsberg and Breyer voted with the majority, with only Justices Kagen and Sotomajor dissenting. As Lee Gelernt, the attorney for the ACLU who brought the case on behalf of a Sri Lankan man–whose initial asylum claim was rejected because he could not identify the 12 men who blindfolded and savagely beat him–told the Times, “This ruling fails to live up to the Constitution’s bedrock principle that individuals deprived of their liberty have their day in court, and this includes asylum seekers. This decision means that some people facing flawed deportation orders can be forcibly removed with no judicial oversight, putting their lives in grave danger.” RLS

You can call for Congressional action to reaffirm the rights of asylum-seekers. In addition, you have until July 15 to comment for the public record on Trump’s new policy elimating asylum (See our story from June 14). Follow the instructions to the letter.

3. Bailout funds given to deportation airline

One significantly under-reported recent news item is the granting of $67 million in Coronavirus bailout funds to Omni Air, according to Yahoo News. This may not seem that significant: Congress earmarked $32 billion for airline bailouts. Omni, however, is a special case. Out of 427 airline grants distributed, Omni’s came in 20th in terms of overall amount—another way of putting it is that 407 airlines received smaller grants than Omni. And how big is Omni’s fleet? It owns 15 aircraft and employs 800 people.

Omni Air, a subsidiary of Air Transport Services Group (ATSG), is the airline that handles deportation flights for the Trump administration. In 2018 these flights included one taking 110 Kenyan, Somali, and South Sudanese immigrant-hopefuls to Nairobi, Kenya and another that returned 46 Cambodians to their country of origin. In 2019, Omni deportation flights included one flight of 167 Indian-immigrant hopefuls and another that carried 163 deportees to an unspecified Asian location. MSN reported. Omni charged the U.S. government $1.8 million for the second of those two flights, which represents a cost of over $11,000 per deportee. Business has been good for Omni both before and during the Coronavirus pandemic. Last year, Omni received a $77.7 million contract from the Pentagon for “aircraft services.” This year, it received a government contract worth $77.65 million for “international charter airlift services.” In fact, profits for ATSG were up 12% during the first quarter of this year due in large part to profits from its Omni Air subsidiary. Kyle Herrig, president of AccountableUS, which has been tracking the distribution of Coronavirus bailout monies, observed that “The Trump administration’s idea of saving the economy is giving tens of millions of free tax money to a private airline [Omni] that already profits massively from doing [Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s] ICE’s dirty work. Every dollar wasted like this is a dollar not being spent to help small businesses and workers struggling to make ends meet.”

Omni and other airlines have made some 350 flights carrying deported asylum seekers since late February, according to the Intercept. Most of these flights have gone to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador–and many have carried people who have tested positive for the coronavirus–or who have been contagious but have not been tested. These are countries with fragile health care systems, not equipped to handle the pandemic. As Dr. Lucrecia Hernández Mack told the Intercept, “They’re capturing migrants in the United States, then putting them in detention where they get infected, and sending them back to us. And our hospitals can barely cope from day to day, let alone with the situation we are in now.” S-HP

If you want to object to this use of Coronavirus bailout funds to underwrite the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies, addresses are here.

4. He can’t use military funding for the wall.

The ruling that the Trump Administration does not have legal authority to divert $2.5 billion in military funding to a U.S.-Mexico border wall, first handed down in June 2019, has been upheld in a 2-1 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling, as cited by NBC News, notes that that the administration, “lacked independent constitutional authority to authorize the transfer of funds.” The suit to block the transfer of funds was brought by the attorneys general of sixteen states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Virginia. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra observed that “Today, the court reminded the president—once again—that no one is above the law.” No doubt there will be an appeal, but today’s news represents a victory for those concerned with constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government. S-HP

Thank the attorneys general for pursuing this case, particularly if one of them serves your state.

5. Facial recognition technology dangerous for people of color

Research studies have repeatedly shown that facial recognition technology (FRT) is discriminatory, with a pattern of false identifications, particularly among people of color, young people, and women. As an example, one study cited by Wired found that a false identification was ten times more likely with a Black woman than with a white woman. In fact, errors are least common with white men and most common with black women. (The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a good explainer on how FRT works.) The ACLU has just filed a lawsuit on behalf of Robert Williams, who was falsely identified using FRT as having stolen several watches. Police arrested Williams in his driveway in front of his family. He was held for thirty hours before the police themselves acknowledged that he did not, in fact, look like the individual in surveillance video of the thefts. It was later revealed that the identification of Williams as the thief had been “confirmed” by a store guard who had not witnessed the theft, but who had been shown the surveillance video, after which he agreed that a photo of Williams depicted the man in the video.

 Growing public concern about the use of FRT is beginning to be echoed by those actually engineering the technology. The Verge recently reported that in letter to a group of five Congressmembers, Arwind Krishna, Chief Executive Officer of IBM, announced that IBM would no longer be selling or developing FRT. Krishna’s letter explains that IBM “opposes and will not condone [use of FRT] for mass surveillance, racial profiling, [and] violations of basic human rights and freedoms….[N]ow is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.”  Congress has an opportunity to address this injustice via the Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act, S.3284, which would halt warrantless federal use of FRT until a Congressional committee had been established and developed recommended rule for the use of and limitations on FRT. S.3284 would allow those “aggrieved” by the use of FRT to ask for a cease and desist order or other remedy in federal courts. This legislation is currently with the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee; it has only two sponsors: Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. S-HP

You can thank IBM CEO Krishna for making this commitment to ending his company’s production of a discriminatory technology and explain to your Senators how crucial you think S.3284 is to basic civil rights. Ask them to become cosponsors of this legislation. Addresses are here.

6. Congress needs to act on DACA

For the moment the Dream Act for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has been upheld by the Supreme Court, but that ruling was based on the fact that the Trump administration did not provide appropriate justification for its decision to end the DACA program. Implicit in this ruling is the possibility that if the administration attempted to end DACA based on “better” reasons, the termination of that program might be upheld by the Supreme Court. Trump has said he will terminate the program using reasoning likely to survive a court test, according to the Hill. To defend the Dreamers, Congress needs to act. Protecting DACA would also support the views of the 74% of Americans who support the program, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. S-HP

You can tell your Congressmembers that you are among the 74% who want to see lasting protections for our Dreamers.

7. Truth and Reconciliation in the U.S.

Over forty nations have instituted Truth and Reconciliation Commissions or their equivalent as part of a process of restorative justice in response to violations of civil rights and/or genocide. Some of the better known of these commissions include South Africa’s, addressing apartheid; Rwanda’s, addressing genocide; and Chile and Argentina’s, addressing the desaparecidos (or disappeared), those illegally killed by the two nations’ militaries. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which completed its work in 2015, uncovered the heartbreaking story of residential schools which separated Indigenous children from their families and their cultures. Barbara Lee’s H.Con.Res.100, “Urging the Establishment of a United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation,” would call for a similar commission in the U.S. to address the nation’s history of slavery and racial injustice. The actual text of the resolution is brief and powerful. After citing eighteen examples of slavery and racial injustice in the U.S. in “whereas clauses,” the resolution “affirms on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first slave ship [in what would become the U.S.], the United States’ long-overdue debt of remembrance not only for those who lived through the egregious injustices [listed in the whereas clauses] but also to their descendants; and proposes a United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation to properly acknowledge, memorialize, and be a catalyst for progress toward jettisoning the belief in a hierarchy of human value, embracing our common humanity, and permanently eliminating persistent racial inequalities.” H.Con.Res.100 has 132 co-sponsors, including the Central Coast’s Jimmy Panetta. It is currently with the House Judiciary Committee. S-HP

Consider thanking Barbara Lee for this much-needed resolution and urging support for it from the House Judiciary Committee and your own representative. Addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. FDA knew it was allowing flawed antibody tests on the market

In our April 19 issue (story 10), we told you about how the FDA had allowed some 90+ antibody tests to go on the market unvetted. Now it turns out the FDA knew that some of those tests were flawed–and permitted them to be sold anyway, according to a CBS news investigation. Various countries and even municipalities–such as Laredo, Texas–paid tens of millions of dollars for antibody tests which were proven not to work. Hundreds of thousands of these tests were distributed–so incalcuable numbers of people made decisions on what kinds of safety precautions to take based on flawed tests. As Dr. Alex Marson, an immunology researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, told CBS, “anyone with a positive antibody test should have a second or third test to confirm it. And even then the results should be viewed cautiously because scientists still don’t know what antibody levels are required to give immunity or how long it lasts.” RLS 

9. Masks–and lockdowns–save lives

The second–and third–surge in the coronavirus could be mitigated by a combination of lockdowns and masks, according to a new study from Cambridge and Greenwich universities, which found that masks were even more important than previously thought. Periods of lockdown plus universal wearing of masks–even homemade face coverings–could suppress the pandemic’s surge for 18 months. But in some communities, there has been a near hysterical reaction to wearing masks. A security guard, the father of eight, in Michigan was killed for not permitting a customer to enter a Family Dollar store without a mask, ABC News reported in May. ABC lists a number of other incidents in which people were harassed or assaulted for wearing masks, pointing out that men of color face a particular dilemma–to not wear a mask and be unsafe, or to wear a mask and be thought of as dangerous. At least 24 public health officials have resigned or been fired due to conflicts over coronavirus policy and threats against their lives, the Washington Post reported. Just today, Hugh’s Tacos in Southern California, was forced to close over the issue, SF Gate reported. “Our taco stands are exhausted by the constant conflicts,'” Hugh’s statement read. “Staff have been harassed, called names, and had objects and liquids thrown at them. A mask isn’t symbolic of anything other than our desire to keep our staff healthy.” RLS

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist has a list of quick, effective things you can do if you are troubled by how things are.
  • Sarah-Hope’s full list includes some items particular to California. Everything else follows the stories above.
  • Martha’s list has news about the executive orders all but banning immigraton altogether – legal and undocumented, with the new visa ban and credible-fear asylum restrictions. She also calls our attention to the proposal from the Bureau of Land Management to drill 2/3 of Arctic reserve and an excellent article from Bloomberg Law on why BLM is anything but transparent with regard to proposals or posting comments .
  • Rogan’s list reminds us that we only have until July 15 to comment on Trump’s proposal to end asylum entirely and tells us how we can support public health officials who are being harassed out of their jobs. She also gives us a list of things we can do in the 131 days until the November election.
  • The FDA has found methanol in some hand sanitizers. You want to avoid these.
  • Several safety apps are worth considering if you plan to attend a protest.

News You May Have Missed: June 21, 2020

“Black Lives Matter Protest, Seattle WA” by Kelly Kline is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Needed: Database on police violence

Police violence is a major problem in the U.S. and that violence is particularly directed toward Black people, but specifics behind that consensus are hard to come by. However, as USAFacts explains, the U.S. has no agency that provides the public with comprehensive, annual data on excessive use of police force and officer-involved shootings. Individual data sets can be found, but they are often incomplete and usually several years old. The most recent Bureau of Justice statistics (BJS) on excessive police force give 2016 data. BJS reports 1,348 arrest-related deaths from the period June 1, 2015, through March 31, 2016—but offers nothing more recent. BJS also interviews arrestees, compiling data on their perceptions of police use of force, but this data is only released every three years; the most recently available data, released in 2018, was from 2015. That data showed that 65% of black arrestees, 53% of Hispanic arrestees, and 43% of white arrestees felt they had been subjected to excessive force.

The bottom line here is that DJS is not providing any information related to the current administration; the data available is all from the Obama administration. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has cause-of-death data from death certificates; its most recent material, from 2018, was released earlier in 2020. The CDC data shows 614 people killed in encounters with the police in 2018. The CDC also runs the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), but participation is not mandatory, so NVDRS includes material from only thirty-four states and the District of Columbia. The most recent data from this less-than-complete source shows 515 deaths due to police officers in 2016. In other words, we know we have a problem, but our government either cannot or will not produce the data that would let us understand the parameters of this problem in specific detail. S-HP

If you think that the time has come for a truly comprehensive, up-to-date national database on police use of force and office-involved shootings, here you’ll find out whom you can write.

2. LGBTQ+ Rights: What’s next?

The Supreme Court ruling that prohibitions on sex-based workplace discrimination include bars on discrimination based on LGBTQ+ identity represents a big win. But it’s a win in terms of workplace rights. Other areas of the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality—rules governing healthcare, education, landlord-tenant relations, access to public services, and more—will need additional litigation, though having this new precedent should help. All these issues could be solved without spending years in court if Congress were to pass H.R.5, the Equity Act. H.R.5 has passed the House and is now with the Senate Judiciary Committee. S-HP

You can urge swift, positive action on H.R.5 by Senate Judiciary Committee leadership and tell your Senators you want them to vote in favor of H.R.5 when it reaches the Senate floor. Addresses are here.

3. Immigrants in detention: Toxic sprays and coronavirus

Immigrants imprisoned in the Adelanto Detention Center in California are suffering from “nosebleeds, fainting, headaches, stomach pain and a burning sensation in their skin” as a result of a toxic disinfectant, HDQ Neutral, being sprayed near them as often as 50 times a day, Democracy Now reports. The Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice and Freedom for Immigrants have sent a letter to ICE and DHS identifying the many people who have had acute symptoms from the spray, as well as the safety precautions that should have been taken according to the safety guidelines–wearing goggles, avoiding inhalation, spraying only on surfaces, not on people, and so forth. The letter reads in part, “Since May 11, 2020, we have received reports multiple times per day from people in ICE detention at Adelanto regarding the negative and serious health consequences that they are suffering due to being exposed to hazardous chemicals being disseminated by the GEO Group staff.”

Not only are imprisoned immigrants in danger from toxic spray but from the coronavirus. The University of Chicago’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, along with El Otro Lado, have filed a lawsuit in federal court against ICE, DHS and Customs and Border Protection demanding that public records on the impact of the coronavirus be released. As  Nicole Ramos, director of Al Otro Lado’s Border Rights Project, put it, “DHS must be held accountable for running what have essentially become COVID-19 death camps. We cannot detain immigrants during a pandemic while refusing to implement critical protective measures or provide lifesaving medical care, and if DHS cannot do so, all detained immigrants must set them free. To do anything else is unconscionable.” RLS

You can object to the use of dangerous chemicals and to the inadequate coronavirus protections within immigration detention centers and call for the release of those currently in immigration detention. In addition, you can demand a Congressional investigation of the use of hazardous chemicals and of coronavirus transmission in immigration detention centers. Addresses are here.

4. Coronavirus in prison

Deaths in prisons due to the coronavirus have risen 73% since mid-May, according to the New York Times, and 68,000 people are infected, double the number of a month ago. Prisons have tested relatively few inmates and medical care is inconsistent. In crowded conditions with limited access to protective measures, older inmates with respiratory conditions are especially at risk; as Fred Roehler, 77, a California prisoner with a chronic lung disease told the New York Times, “It’s like a sword hanging over my head. Any officer can bring it in.” 

In addition, hundreds of people detained during Black Lives Matter protests have been held in crowded cells, many without masks, the Times notes; though they are supposed to be arraigned within 24 hours, three days has become common, according to a lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society. Defense lawyers point out that most of these detentions were unnecessary; protesters could have been issued a summons instead. Some protestors have said that the long detentions were retaliatory, and that officers said that complaints would result in slower processing times.  RLS

You can ask what your members of Congress, your governor and your State Department of Corrections are doing to protect incarcerated people from COVID-19. Addresses are here.

5. Five barriers to Indigeous voting rights identified

In 2017 and 2018, the Native American Voting Rights Coalition (NAVRC) held nine public hearings gathering information on the status of U.S. voting rights for First Peoples. Just this month, the NAVRC issued a report based on that substantial body of testimony, High Country News reports. The report identifies fives types of barriers faced by Native Americans: general barriers to participation; barriers to voter registration; barriers to casting a ballot; barriers to having votes counted; and barriers to vote by mail. The report proposes a number of needed actions including equitable election funding; direct outreach to Native American Voters; tribal programs emphasizing voting as a way to achieve political power; and activism directed to individual Secretaries of State in support of Native American voting rights by activists outside the Native American Community. The report also highlights the importance of passing the Native American Voting Rights Act (S.739 in the Senate; H.R.1694 in the House). These two identical pieces of legislation include expanding the types of facilities that can be used as voter registration agencies; increasing polling site accessibility; expanding requirements for bilingual voting accessibility; and establishing a Native American Voting Task Force grant program. S.739 is with the Senate Judiciary Committee. H.R.1694 is with the House Judiciary Committee and its Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties and with the House Administration Committee. S-HP

You can urge quick, positive action on S.739 by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and on H.R.1694 by the House Judiciary Committee and its Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee and by the House Administration Committee. You can also ask your Secretary of State what programs your state has in place to facilitate Native American voting. Addresses are here.

6. Black Lives Matter–at the polling place

Writing in the New York Times, University of Chicago Professor Sendhil Mullainathan argues that a concrete action that businesses trying to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as opposed to the vagaries currently being spouted, would be providing paid time off for all employees to vote. He points out that in the U.S., where time is money, long waits at the polls are an unevenly distributed form of poll tax. He cites research by a group of economists showing that on average people living in predominantly black neighborhoods have a 29% longer wait at the polls than people living in predominantly white neighborhoods and that those voters in the predominantly black neighborhoods face a 79% greater chance of having to spend more than thirty minutes in line waiting to vote than do those in predominantly white neighborhoods. In other words, if you live in a predominantly Black neighborhood you will find yourself paying a greater poll tax in terms of paid work hours lost than will coworkers from predominantly white neighborhoods. What Mullainthan suggests isn’t a panacea—if businesses don’t diversify then paid time off to vote won’t truly benefit those locked out of the system—but it would accomplish more than a tweet saying “Popeyes is nothing without Black lives.” S-HP

You could tell your Congressmembers that as long as we’re shoveling coronavirus relief monies at major corporations, we could be pressuring them to start making paid time off to vote the norm and not an exception. You could also urge them to find ways to address systematic differences across polling places that make voting in predominantly black neighborhoods more costly than voting elsewhere.

7. Where are the new citizens?

In a March 18 response to the Coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) suspended almost all activities—these include administering citizenship tests and swearing in of new citizens. Before these activities were cancelled, an average of 63,000 applicants took the oath of allegiance each month, the New York Times reports. Swearings-in began again in early June, but these are not processing anywhere the number of eligible individuals waiting to become citizens. One group of lawful permanent residents have sued the administration for the right to be sworn in before late September, which is the cut-off date for eligibility to vote in the November presidential election. Bipartisan Congressional calls for a solution—remote swearing in ceremonies or a temporary waiver of the swearing in, perhaps—have been met with resistance from the administration. USCIS says there is a legal obligation that the ceremonies be public and that requirement precludes remote swearings-in, but friends and family are not being allowed to attend socially distanced ceremonies, which suggests that they are not genuinely public. The use of remote technology doesn’t mean that ceremonies cannot be public, as anyone who has already watched C-SPAN or attended an online workshop or performance during the pandemic can attest.

There is some concern that one of the motivations behind this heel-dragging is the perception that recent immigrants are purported to lean Democratic. Several swing states potentially have enough individuals qualified to take the oath of allegiance that they could play a decisive role in those state’s elections. Nonetheless, Republican members of Congress from American Samoa, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah are among those urging USCIS, along with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, to find ways of expediting swearings-in in order to allow new citizens to vote in November. S-HP

You can join the bipartisan call for expedited swearings-in for those eligible to become citizens and point out that “public” does not have to mean “in person.” Addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. Safety of small nuclear reactors in doubt

At the moment, small module nuclear reactors (SMRs) have been designed but not built, although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved the construction of one in Tennessee and more will no doubt be approved. As a consequence of this, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proposing modifications that would only apply to these small modular reactors and other new technologies. Current requirements for larger nuclear reactors include a 10-mile plume emergency planning zone (the plume being the radioactive material that could be released in an accident or malfunction) and a 50-mile ingestion emergency planning zone to prevent food and water contamination. In the words of the NRC, the proposed rules would “adopt a scalable, plume pathway emergency zone approach [for SMRs] that is performance-based, consequence-oriented, and technologically inclusive,” suggesting that individual SMRs would be subject to individualized emergency planning zone (EPZ) requirements. For some small reactors, that might mean a determination that no EPZ is required for any area beyond the boundaries of the reactor site or it could mean EPZs much smaller than the current 10-mile and 50-mile zones. In fact, facilities with EPZs situated entirely on a reactor site would be exempt from both offsite radiological emergency planning and from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) evaluation of site emergency plans.

  Some well-respected scientists and regulators oppose the proposal and their views are reported in Utility Dive, a trade journal for the utility industry. According to Utility Dive, one NRC Commissioner, Jeff Baran, had provided written opposition to the proposal, nothing that it would be “a radical departure from more than 40 years of radiological emergency planning.” FEMA is similarly critical. The director of FEMA’s Technological Hazards Division has written, “FEMA believes that the NRC staff conclusion that the proposed methodology for offsite emergency preparedness maintains the same level of protection as a 10-mile EPZ is unsupported.”

Finally, Utility Dive reports that, based on measurements taken within the 10-mile EPZ at the site of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor failure, Edwin Lyman, Director of Nuclear Power Safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists, is critical of current EPZ planning: “This proposal is based on a fallacy,” he said. “The evidence [from Fukushima] demonstrates the 10-mile zone for existing reactors is not adequate and it certainly doesn’t support reducing the zone.” As part of the rules proposed, the NRC asks several questions, one of which is whether an ingestion EPZ is even necessary for sites where government or tribal authorities intended to seize any contaminated food supplies. Given that contaminated food would be located or grown on land that would presumably be similarly contaminated, this question makes little sense. How would removing contaminated food from a site prevent radiation dangers from the site itself? Comments are due July 27. S-HP

You might want to suggest that the NRC listen to critical experts and that modified regulations for SMRs need to be based on real-world observation, so that all reactor sites should be required to plan for 10-mile and 50-mile emergency zones [be sure to refer to NRC-2015-0225-0071 in your comment]: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington DC 20555-0001, ATTN: Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff [you can also comment online at https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=NRC-2015-0225-0071 ].

9. Trading fracking for parks’ funding

Some readers may have recently received an email for Openlands, an Illinois based group that is dedicated to “Connecting people in the region to nature where they live.” A perusal of the website makes it clear that they do a good bit of worthwhile work. Their most recent email, asking us to contact our Representatives to urge that they support S.3422, the Great American Outdoors Act, which recently made it through the Senate, suggests that they have not read the bill closely. According to Openlands, S.3422 “would be the most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century… [and] would invest much needed money toward conservation, outdoor recreation, and park maintenance.”

Well, S.3422 is significant, but not in the way Openlands is suggesting. Their email doesn’t address the fact that S.3422 would tie funds for restoring National Parks and Lands to the amount of profit the federal government makes leasing federal lands and waters for development of oil, gas, coal, or renewable or alternative energy: 50% of the value of the federal government’s proceeds will be earmarked for parks. No fracking in Joshua Tree? Sorry if you really needed restoration, you’d prove it by allowing fracking. It comes as no surprise that the author of S.3422 is Cory Gardner (R-CO) one of the more fossil-fuel friendly members of the Senate. S-HP

You might urge your Representative to oppose this wolf-in-sheep’s clothing piece of legislation that ties park maintenance to allowing drilling for fossil fuels on federal lands.

10. New combinations of herbicides risk crops and human health

In the endless chemical war against weeds, Bayer/Monsanto has developed and sells genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant corn, which has encouraged the use of glyphosate (marketed as RoundUP) as a weed killer in agricultural areas. However, weeds are now becoming glyphosate-tolerant. As a result, Bayer/Monsanto has developed genetically engineered corn that is resistant not only to glysophate, but to a brew of chemicals: dicamba, glufosinate, quizalofop, and 2, 4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Piling up of chemical resistance is known as a “stacked herbicide-resistant trait.” Bayer/Monsanto has now petitioned the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to be allowed unregulated production and sales of this multi-chemical-resistant corn. As part of the decision-making process, APHIS is now soliciting public comments on the Bayer/Monsanto petition. Allowing unregulated production and sales of multi-chemical-resistant corn is a bad idea for many reasons, the most obvious being that weeds will develop a similar resistance over time ,requiring an even higher stack of herbicide-resistant traits in corn.

 Enabling continued use of glysophate via this stacked-resistance corn allows the continued use of glysophate as a weed killer—as well as adding dicamba, quizalofop, and 2, 4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Continued use of glysophate is bad news, as US Right to Know explains:

  • Glysophate is a carcinogen
  • The use of glysophate is currently banned in parts of twenty-four states because of its carcinogenic properties
  • In California, five counties and forty-one cities have banned glysophate use because of its carcinogenic properties
  • In 2015 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glysophate as “probably carcinogentic to humans”
  • In 2017 the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics’ Reproductive Health Committee called for a “full global phase out of glysophate
  • There are currently at least 52,000 individuals suing Bayer/Monsanto for glysophate-related cancer.

Adding dicamba to the mix has particular drawbacks because dicamba-resistant corn will encourage wider use of dicamba, a dangerous chemical: In a peer reviewed study, the National Institutes of Health have linked dicamba to multiple forms of cancer, in a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. Historically, dicamba has been shown to have extensive dispersal, meaning that it travels significant distances beyond the area upon which it is used. More than 100 farmers are suing Bayer/Monsanto because, as reported in the Guardian, use of dicamba has “damaged orchards, gardens and organic and non-organic farm fields in multiple states.” Dicamba poses a threat to already-threatened monarch butterflies because it kills plants the monarchs rely on for nectar and reproduction. Glufosinate, quizalofop, and 2, 4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid have not been proven to be carcinogens, but like glyphosate and dicamba they will severely damage native plants and the ecosystems that rely upon them, the Center for Biological Diversity notes. Comments are due by July 7. S-HP

You can tell the APHIS that unregulated production and sales of multi-chemical resistant corn presents unacceptable dangers to public health and to native ecosystems: Docket No. APHIS-2020-0021, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale. MD 20737-1238 [you can also comment online at https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=APHIS-2020-0021-0001 ].

11. Rat poison kills more than rats: the danger to threatened species.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the availability of “draft human health and/or ecological risk assessments for the registration review of brodifacoum, bromadiolone, bromethalin, cholecalciferol, chlorophacinone, difenacoum, difethialone, diphacinone and diphacinone sodium salt, and warfarin and warfarin sodium salt,” and is now receiving public comments on its assessment, which would approve them for uses beyond those currently authorized. Those eleven chemicals have one thing in common: they are second-generation anticoagulants (SGAs) used as rodenticides. They are cause significant environmental damage and have a particularly damaging effect on threatened species. Consider the following:

  • Anticoagulants are dangerous and potentially life-threatening to species that prey on rodents—or that prey on animals that prey on rodents. These predators include a number of threatened species including bobcats and Pacific fishers as well as a number of owl and hawk species, the Island Connection points out. The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science notes the particular danger to raptors.
  • There are effective methods of rodent control that don’t have these consequences.
  • Anticoagulants are slow killers which means that over a period of time, rodents may consume enough to give them “super lethal” levels of anticoagulants.
  • Rodents have the opportunity to travel out of the particular area of use before dying, increasing the risk of hurting threatened species.
  • While labeling can help prevent misuse of SGAs many rodenticide users do not consult label directions before use. For example, a 2016 study of pesticide application practices in Missouri found that 57 percent of farmers applying pesticides in that state do not read label instructions before use.
  • In approving new use,s the EPA must demonstrate that SGAs will not cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment when used according to “widespread and commonly recognized practice,” a higher bar than simply being safe when used in compliance with labeling.
  • According to the Center for Biological Diversity, additional types of data collection and studies are needed to meet federal requirements before additional uses for SGAs can be approved. These include effects on pollinators; information concerning estrogen or other endocrine disruption effects; whether these pesticides or products containing them may have synergistic effects, meaning they become more dangerous when used in conjunction with other chemicals. Comments are due July 6. S-HP.

You can share your concerns about new uses for anticoagulant rodenticides with the EPA using any of the above arguments that speak to you. OPP Docket, Environmental Protection Agency Docket Center (EPA/DC), (28221T), 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20460-0001 [you can also comment online at https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2016-0139-0019 ].

12. Hunting to be permitted in Alaska Wildlife Refuge

One of the goals of the Republican administration has been to open federal lands to greater public and commercial use. A rule proposed on June 11 by the Fish and Wildlife Service that affects Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is the latest of these efforts. Federal protections at this refuge exceed protections for State lands, which makes sense since areas given national recognition are particularly rare and vulnerable habitats. Current federal requirements that would be eliminated if this proposal is finalized address issues of hunting and firearms use, access to remote areas in Kenai, and use of motorized and nonmotorized vehicles. Some specifics of the proposal:

  • A prohibition on killing brown bears at bait stations (the feds don’t use the word “killing”; instead, they refer to this activity as bear “harvesting”) would be eliminated.
  • Annual opportunities for firearms discharge would be expanded, leaving the two peak tourism months of June and July the only times during which firearms discharge is prohibited, a change Alaska State government requested to make Kenai open to hunting during the entirety of the moose and brown bear hunting seasons.
  • Non-motorized vehicles, including bicycles and game carts would be allowed at Kenai where they are currently prohibited for the purpose of habitat preservation.
  • During the ice-fishing season, snow mobiles, all-terrain vehicles, and utility vehicles would be allowed on designated lakes and the lands providing access to these lakes; currently all of these vehicle types are prohibited at these locations.
  • A requirement for a federal trapping permit would be revoked, meaning that trapping could follow less-strict state guidelines instead.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which opposes these rule changes and plans to challenge them in court if they are approved, explains that the changes allow “ecologically harmful hunting methods” such as “gunning brown bears down at bait stations and using cruel leghold traps.” Comments due August 10.

You can defend the unique habitat of Kenai and the species making it their home by opposing rule changes that will allow greater incursions by motorized and non-motorized vehicles, increased hunting, and increased firearms use. Public Comments Processing, attn: FWS-R7-NWRS-2017-0058, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: JAO/1N, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3808 [you can comment online at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/06/11/2020-10924/refuge-specific-regulations-public-use-kenai-national-wildlife-refuge#open-comment ] .

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist has a number of easy actions you can take to support voter empowerment and other important issues.
  • If you’re part of a group that send postcards to people who need to hear from you, you can work through Sarah-Hope’s whole list here.
  • In her list of items available for comment on the Federal Register, Martha sees evidence of the Trump administration’s rush to use the pandemic emergency to codify and solidify anti-environment regulatory actions and make them harder to undo. Read through them–pick a few to write comments on.
  • If you didn’t have a chance to look at Chrysostom’s elections roundup last week, it’s worth reviewing some key races.

News You May Have Missed: June 14, 2020

“New York Protest” by KarlaAnnCoté is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

Chrysostom’s elections round-up this week has comprehensive results and analyses of congressional, state and local races.

1. Trump: LGBTQ+ people can now be discriminated against in health care settings. Supreme Court: not so fast

Showing its usual impeccable sense of timing, the Trump administration on June 12—the anniversary of the murder of forty-nine LGBTQ+ people in the Pulse Nightclub shooting—announced that it was changing the understanding of healthcare-related prohibitions on gender-based discrimination. Under the Obama administration, “sex” was defined as “male, female, neither, or a combination of both,” and the Affordable Healthcare Act’s prohibitions on such discrimination were understood to include prohibitions on discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The Department of Health and Human Services will now limit the interpretation of prohibitions on gender-based discrimination to the “meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology.”

Religious healthcare providers have been anticipating this move, which will limit their obligations to patients who are transgendered or nonbinary and to women who have had or are seeking abortion or sterilization. Making this change in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic will further marginalize many individuals who already have difficulty finding supportive healthcare and may prevent some from seeking any kind of medical care, NPR points out. The Human Rights Campaign and Lambda Legal have both announced that they will be filing a lawsuit with the goal of overturning this redefinition of gender-based discrimination. Lambda Legal invites LGBTQ+ people who have been discriminated against in health care to contact them. S-HP

In breaking news, the Supreme Court has found that discrimination on the basis of sex includes gay and transgender workers, under the provisions of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Washington Post reports. News You May Have Missed does not know how this will affect the Trump administration’s law around health care, but we notice that they did not wait for the court decision before promulgating their rules.

You may want to write your members of Congress about this dangerous move that puts LGBTQ+ health at risk—particularly during this time of pandemic.

2. Legislative response in support of Black Lives Matter

The most substantive national legislative response thus far to the murder of George Floyd and in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement is H.R.7120, the Justice in Policing Act. This legislation–which has received almost no national news coverage, except on public radio–includes a number of provisions intended to increase police accountability, improve transparency and data collection, and eliminate discriminatory policing practices, NPR reports. Specific requirements of H.R.7120 include:

  • a lower threshold to convict law enforcement officers of misconduct in federal court cases;
  • limits on the use of a qualified immunity defense in civil actions against law enforcement and corrections officers;
  • subpoena power to accompany Department of Justice investigations of discriminatory practices by police forces;
  • a national police misconduct registry;
  • implicit bias and racial profiling training;
  • use-of-force incident reporting;
  • use of police body cameras.

H.R.7120 is currently with three House committees: Judiciary, Armed Services, and Energy and Commerce. You can write the chairs of those committees.

3. Data on inequality reveal structural racism

CNN connects some dots in their article on inequality, with their charts on the disparity between American black and white people in income, employment, health care, health insurance and coronavirus diagnoses. Black people account for 23% of the coronavirus deaths, though they are only 13% of the population, attributable to higher risk factors due to conditions of poverty and differential access to health care. The New York Times, too, has a clear discussion of factors contributing to inequality: Graduation rates are lower among black students and student debt is higher. The gap in home ownership between black and white people is the highest it has been in 50 years. And unsurprisingly, black workers have been able to set aside less money for retirement than white workers. RLS

4. New asylum regulations would keep out almost all applicants

“Gender-based violence, gang threats and torture at the hands of “rogue” government officials” will no longer be grounds for asylum under new asylum regulations proposed by the Trump administration, CBS News reports. In addition, according to CBS, judges would be encouraged to deny asylum to anyone who “crossed or attempted to cross the border illegally, did not file taxes, worked without authorization or used fraudulent travel documents.” In addition, new court procedures and new definitions of eligibility would keep out most applicants for asylum. Among other changes, judges would be able to decide without a court hearing whether the evidence is too weak to proceed, according to Al Jazeera. As Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel for the American Immigration Council, told Al Jazeera, “The proposed changes would represent the end of the asylum system as we know it.” RLS

These proposals were just published in the Federal Register; the public has 30 days to comment.

5. Immigration updates

With so much going on inside U.S. borders, it is easy to miss what might be happening on the border. In a bit of good news, a federal judge has blocked ICE from arresting undocumented immigrants in and around courthouses, on the grounds that removing victims, witnesses, or defendants from court procedures makes it harder to prosecute crimes and impedes the process of justice, CNN reported.

In less hopeful news, Customs and Border Protection spent money allocated for medical care, food and supplies for immigrants in detention on “dirt bikes, dog food and leashes, boats and other unrelated items,” according to the LA Times. The Government Accountability Office report that called these expenditures in question found it necessary to define medical care and “consumables” to show that CBP had spent funds improperly.

The ACLU, along with the Texas Civil Rights Project, the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, and Oxfam, have filed suit against the Trump administration for its ruthless removal of children arriving at the border fleeing unimaginable danger. The absence of due process is not academic, said Karla M. Vargas, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “In our name, the government used a dog to chase a girl into the river and never even bothered to check if she had a mother. Then sent her back to a country where she fears being killed. The administration’s racist agenda to end asylum for refugees means dismantling basic protections for the most vulnerable children in the world. RLS

6. Education Department illegally seized student borrowers’ tax refunds

The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act provides a variety of relief funding to different groups, included student borrowers. One provision of the act suspended collections of defaulted federal student loans through September 30. The act also earmarked $6 billion in grant funding to be made available to college students to cover rent, childcare, food, and educational technology. As is the case with so many parts of the CARES Act, the means by which these provisions are being put into effect contradict the intention of the legislation. On May 29, a class action lawsuit on behalf of student borrowers alleges that, contrary to CARES Act requirements, over one million student borrowers have had tax refunds seized by the Department of Education. As reported in Forbes, a spokesperson for the Department of Education stated that these seized monies have been returned to students, but those involved in the law suit say that they have not received these monies.

On Thursday, Education Secretary DeVos announced a rule requiring that students receiving CARES grant monies must be eligible for federal financial aid. This might sound reasonable, but it actually leaves out a number of student cohorts that have been hard-hit by the Coronavirus pandemic including undocumented students, international students, students with existing loan defaults, students with minor drug convictions—and because of procedural issues—students who would qualify for federal financial aid, but who have never applied for it previously, the Washington Post reported. Democrats in Congress have called for DeVos’s new rule to be reversed. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) has introduced S.3947, which would cancel DeVos’s rule. This legislation is currently with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP). S-HP

You can ask the Chairs of the House Education and Labor Committees to investigate the Department of Education’s illegal seizure of students’ tax refunds and urge the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee leadership for swift, positive action on S.3947. Addresses are here.

7. US to sell drone technology to countries previously prohibited from receiving it

In a June 12 exclusive, Reuters reported that the Republican administration plans a reinterpretation of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a cold-war arms agreement among thirty-four countries, to allow the sale of U.S. drone technology to a number of governments—including Jordan and the United Arab Emirates—formerly barred from receive this type of U.S. technology. Reuters identifies this reinterpretation as being particularly beneficial for U.S. corporations General Atomics and Northrop Grummon. Interestingly, Business Insider reported in 2018 that both companies were among the top twenty defense contractors making political donations, with Northrop donating over $1.9 million to Republican candidates and organizations and General Atomics donating over $116 thousand to Republican candidates and organizations

If you wish to object this reinterpretation of MTCR and to the proliferation of dangerous technology for the sake of profits for a few corporations, addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. WHO guidelines on masks

A new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences asserts that face masks may be the critical factor in slowing the coronavirus pandemic, Forbes. reports. However, the World Health Organization has issued new guidelines on masks, guidelines more stringent than those issued by the CDC. These are worth reviewing if you are making masks or using purchased cloth masks, as they describe a necessary three-layer structure which home-made masks may not have. Non-medical masks, the WHO reminds us, are not sufficient protection against the coronavirus and indeed, are more useful to protect others than oneself. A systematic program of physical distancing and handwashing, medical care for those who are ill, along with tracing and quarantining their contacts, is essential, according to Ars Technica, which has been reporting on the WHO’s recommendations. RLS

. The World Health Organization has issued new guidelines on masks, guidelines more stringent than those issued by the CDC. These are worth reviewing if you are making masks or using purchased cloth masks, as they describe a necessary three-layer structure which home-made masks may not have. Non-medical masks, the WHO reminds us, are not sufficient protection against the coronavirus and indeed, are more useful to protect others than oneself. A systematic program of physical distancing and handwashing, medical care for those who are ill, along with tracing and quarantining their contacts, is essential, according to Ars Technica, which has been reporting on the WHO’s recommendations. RLS

9. EPA decides states’ rights do not apply to clean water

The 1972 Clean Water Act was written to give states greater power than the federal government in protecting and restoring waterways. Among other things, states were authorized to create standards for projects above those required by the federal government and provided with an open-ended timeline for investigating proposed projects. In a 2019 executive order intended to limit states’ powers to protect waterways, Trump ordered all federal agencies to do everything possible to facilitate the development of “energy infrastructure” projects like pipelines.

On June 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a significant step to limit the power of states, tribes, and the public to object to federal permits for activities that could potentially lead to the pollution of waterways, according to the Washington Post. The EPA has announced that states, tribes, and the public will have only one year in which to certify or reject proposed energy projects, significantly shortening the previously unlimited timeline and potentially making certain types of studies and investigations impossible to complete before a state is required to make a certification decision. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said the new rule was intended to prevent energy projects from being “held hostage” by states or other groups, accusing states of holding up water and gas projects for reasons having to do with climate change, according to the New York Times. The response to this rule change from environmental groups has been highly critical and California Attorney General has announced that he and other State Attorneys General intend challenge this new rule by suing the EPA. S-HP

If you want to object to this move by the EPA to limit the rights of states and tribes under the Clean Water Act, you can write to: Andrew Wheeler, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20460, (202) 564-4700.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist suggests ways you can plan your actions–and offers quick, straightforward actions you can take.
  • Sarah-Hope’s whole list has some California-specific items you won’t want to miss.
  • Rogan’s list suggests ways to stand up against militarized policing, advocate for an investigation of the New York police’s violence against legal observers, speak up against voter suppression in Georgia, and more.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record on various proposals, which reduce protections for wildlife refuges, national forests, and undercut environmental regulations.

News You May Have Missed: June 7, 2020

“File:Millions March NYC (15828805848).jpg” by The All-Nite Images from NY, NY, USA is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Recent events suggest there is a great deal about history and the present that we may have missed (or misunderstood). Hence, we offer a resource list for those wanting to learn to be anti-racist allies. We also suggest you look at activist and filmmaker Sarah Sophie Flicker and writer Alyssa Klein’s list as well. In addition, the Smithsonian offers 158 resources to learn about racism in America.

Heather Cox Richardson, who makes sense of current events in her nightly letters, now has a YouTube channel. She is also moving to a subscription model for comments, so that while the letters will continue to be free, she says she hopes to have a discussion forum which is less vulnerable to incessant trolling. The fee will allow her to pay her moderator.

Chrysostom, who keeps meticulous track of federal and state elections, reports that there is some good news. We surely do need it.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. No-Knock warrant police used to enter Breonna Taylor’s home was illegal

Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13, when police burst into her home after midnight in what was supposed to be a drug raid, despite the fact that Taylor was not the person being investigated and there were no drugs in her home. The police, who were dressed in plain clothes, did not identify themselves when entering the home because they had a “no-knock” warrant. Taylor’s boyfriend, a licensed gun owner, thinking they were experiencing a home invasion, shot at the entering officers. Taylor was killed in the volley of police bullets that followed, struck eight times. Her boyfriend actually dialed 911 during the raid because he had no idea that the men entering the house,  who killed Taylor, were police.

            The police justification for their action was that Taylor regularly received packages for an ex-boyfriend suspected of being a drug dealer—and the warrant application claimed that this receipt of packages had been confirmed by a Louisville postal inspector. The postal inspector, however, says he was never consulted about packages being received by Taylor. And Taylor had received one package at her address

            The story gets worse. According to a piece by Radley Balko in the Washington Post, the no-knock warrant used by police was illegal. In a 1995 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) recognized that a “knock-and-announce” rule is implicit in the Fourth Amendment when police are entering a private home: police must knock and clearly state who they are before attempting to enter. SCOTUS identified exceptions to this rule under “exigent circumstances,”and, after the 1995 ruling, police across the country began requesting routine, blanket “exigent circumstances” exceptions to the knock-and-announce rule, using formulaic, generalized language when applying for. In other words, at that time the Fourth Amendment was understood to require knock-and-announce, but in almost every real-life situation in which a warrant was served this manufactured exigence freed police of their Constitutional obligation.

            As a result, in a unanimous 1997 ruling, SCOTUS determined that blanket exceptions to knock-and-announce were unconstitutional. Instead, when requesting a no-knock warrant, police must provide specific information about the particular suspect being sought and the particular behavior that was anticipated and justified the use of a no-knock warrant. However, the no-knock warrant application that ultimately led to Taylor’s death simply said “Affiant [applying officer] is requesting a No-Knock entry to the premises due to the nature of how these drug traffickers operate. These drug traffickers have a history of attempting to destroy evidence, have cameras on the location that compromise Detectives once an approach to the dwelling is made, and a have a history of fleeing from law enforcement.” No mention of a particular individual or a particular concern that in this one instance that would justify the use of a no-knock warrant. Not one.

            In fact, five no-knock warrants were issued in relation to this investigation, and all five had identical wording, making it clear that none of the conditions were specifically risky in a way that would make a no-knock warrant appropriate. Attorneys representing Taylor’s family report that sixteen neighbors interviewed said they heard the gunshots, but did not hear the police announcing their presence before entering the home.             Research indicates that Taylor’s case is not unique. No knock warrants continue to be approved despite the lack of specific justification. And frequently police knocks are timed to coincide with the entering of the house by force, which also violates the 1997 SCOTUS ruling. A 2015 study found that in a group of seventy-three warrants used by Louisville police none provided the specific language necessary to justify the issuing of such a warrant. Balko says that he examined group of 105 no-knock warrants issued in Little Rock and found that ninety-seven lacked the kind of specific language required to justify a no-knock warrant. S-HP

Tell federal and state officials, along with your elected representatives, that SCOTUS rulings regarding warrants must be followed in every instance and that strict limits must be placed on the use of no-knock warrants.

2. Time to consider reparations

Slavery was a part of the “American reality” long before the United States existed as a country. In fact, there is a convincing argument to be made that the creation of and economic success of the early United States depended upon slave labor. In 2014, a piece in the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates documented the way the young U.S. benefitted—at least for those who weren’t slaves—from slave labor. H.R.40, the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” would examine slavery in the colonies and the U.S. from 1619 to the present. The commission would be charged with identifying the role of national and state governments in supporting slavery, the forms of discrimination faced by freed slaves and their descendants in both the public and private sectors, and the lingering effects of slavery on African-Americans. The American Civil Liberties Union is working to bring about this national accounting of “the spiritual, mental, cultural and physical damage inflicted on African Americans ripped from their families and nations to labor for the enrichment of the United States” and “ the violent repression, oppression, exploitation and deprivation under Jim Crow laws and black codes in the South, as well as de facto segregation in every region of this nation.” S-HP

If you want to join the ACLU in their call for this long-overdue national soul-searching and for the development of an appropriate reparations plan, you can send their message to your representative.

3. Behind the call to defund the police

Protests against police violence and the murder of George Floyd have resulted in even more police violence, forcing us to confront the failure of our current model of policing and to develop radical alternatives to the status quo. Key goals of the current protests include:

  • rethinking the nature of policing
  • ending the militarization of police
  • cutting police budgets and strengthening social services
  • moving from a view of police as “warriors,” constantly engaged in battle, to a view of police as “guardians,” working to help build peaceful communities benefiting all.

NPR  has a useful interview with Alex S. Vitale, the author of the 2017 book The End of Policing. Vitale points out that too many serious social problems–homelessness, mental illness, youth in difficulty, misuse of drugs–have been turned over to police, whose expertise is not in addressing these but in aggressive enforcement. The Guardian reminds us that the US spends $115 billion annually on policing, even as crime is declining, and that while social service budgets are continually cut, policing budgets are sacrosanct. Officials in various cities are proposing that police budgets be cut and funds reallocated to addressing the social problems that result in crime. Given the damage to state budgets resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and the cost of payments resulting from police misconduct suits, activists across the political spectrum suggest that it is time to rethink the failed model of policing that has led to protest in the streets of thousands of U.S. cities. S-HP

If you concur that a radical, non-militarized reconceptualization of policing in your state is needed, contact your governor.

4. The cost of tear gas in a respiratory pandemic

NPR has published a guide to the health risks of “Riot Control Agents” such as flash bangs, rubber bullets, and tear gas. “Tear gas,” which is an umbrella term for chemical agents (generally either pepper spray or CS gas) which irritate skin and eyes, and may cause pulmonary edema, reactive airway dysfunction, as well as respiratory arrest. Because of the effects of the gasses on the respiratory system, and their potential for causing symptoms that would increase viral shedding, NPR notes, over 1000 physicians have signed a letter calling for these agents not to be used.   

Non-lethal projectiles, otherwise known as “rubber bullets” are projectiles used by police for crowd control, that are generally made of plastic, rubber, dense foam, or sponge-like material with a rubber coating. These projectiles, as has been covered by various media sources, can cause serious injuries– a 2017 study found that 70% of those injured by the projectiles had severe injuries, 15% were permanently injured, and less than 3% died. Recent photographs of damage done by these projectiles have been making the rounds on social media.

The Marshall Project has shown that rather than disperse protestors and stop violence, these uses of police force can escalate a protest. JM-L

5. Police targeting journalists–especially those of color

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has reported that at least 54 journalists were arrested and 173 were assaulted by police while reporting on George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protests between May 26 and June 6, an average of twenty-three freedom of press violations each day. The total number of such attacks across the entire year of 2019 was 150. Some of the attacks on or arrests of journalists reported during that period, according to the Guardian, include:

  • the on-air arrest of an entire CNN crew, who identified themselves as press, followed police orders, and repeatedly asked where the police would like them to place themselves;
  • photojournalist Linda Tirado’s permanent loss of vision in her left eye and a result of being hit with a rubber bullet;
  • the deliberate pepper spraying of Vice News’ Michael Adams—while he identified himself as press and was lying on the ground following police orders;
  • the on-air shooting of Kaitlin Rust of WAVE3 News in Kentucky with pepper balls.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of journalists targeted by Minneapolis and Minnesota police and is working on similar class-action lawsuits in other states. The Center for Health Journalism, which points out that journalists of color are those most likely to be targeted, has scheduled a webinar on the topic for June 10. S-HP.

You can demand an end to the targeting of press that violates First Amendment protections and insist on prosecution of the officers responsible.

6. The military resists Trump’s agenda

As Heather Cox Richardson and other observers have noted, amidst the appalling scenes of police violence is a ray of light from an unexpected direction: the US military. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a memo to all the armed forces, saying that “Every member of the U.S. military swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution and the values embedded within it,” noting that the Constitution “gives Americans the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly,” the Wall Street Journal reported. 89 former defense officials published a statement in the Washington Post, saying that “We are alarmed at how the president is betraying this oath [to defend the Constitution] by threatening to order members of the U.S. military to violate the rights of their fellow Americans.”

Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis released a statement critical of Trump’s aggressive clearing of protesters in order to be seen holding a Bible in front of a church: “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath [to defend the Constitution] would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.” And on Friday, current Secretary of Defense Mark Esper–without consulting Trump–disarmed the National Guard which had been deployed in Washington, the Washington Post reported. RLS

If you think it appropriate, you can thank military and Department of Defense leaders for upholding the Constitution.

7. Senate Judiciary Committee members try to blame Biden for…everything

On Wednesday, June 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee continued its investigation into the investigation by the Justice department of Russian interference in the 2016 election, starting with testimony from former Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. As NPR reports, Rosenstein defended his decision to appoint Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but admitted that had he had more information, he would have curtailed the surveillance on Trump aide Carter Page. 

Republican members of the Judiciary Committee have committed to continuing the investigation, hoping to tie any alleged wrong-doing or abuses of power to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) claimed that what the “Obama-Biden administration” had done “went right up to the very top” and was worse than the abuses of President Richard Nixon. JM-L

8. ICE tries to separate families–again

In an apparent attempt to evade a court order to “make every effort to promptly and safely” release children from its detention facilities, ICE asked parents at three detention centers whether they wanted to let their children be released without them, according to Mother Jones. Parents were not allowed to confer with attorneys before deciding and interpreters were not provided, though some agents spoke Spanish. None of the parents agreed to allow their children to be released without them. The stakes for families are that if parents permitted their children to be released to relatives in the US and if the parents were later deported, they might never see their children again. As Andrea Meza, the legal aid organization RAICES’s director of family detention services, put it,  “A choice to be separated from your child is no choice at all. We know that separating a child from their parent results in lasting trauma.” RLS

You can let relevant administrators and your elected representatives know that you want to see families in detention released–together–during the pandemic. Addresses are here.

9. Why residents in long-term care homes are dying of COVID-19

At least a third of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have been in long-term homes, according to the AARP. This number is likely a massive undercount, since not all states are sharing data and since long-term care homes are not required to reveal publicly the number of residents who have died from COVID-19. These deaths were not inevitable: Long-term care homes in the US resisted regulations that would have required them to plan for emergencies, such as an outbreak of a contagious disease. In a letter to Trump on his election, the American Health Care Association wrote that “The second reason we are on the brink of failure is that we are being inundated with rules and regulations. We are already the most regulated profession in the country. Additional regulations have become extremely burdensome.” Nonetheless, the Trump administration told long-term care homes in 2019 that they were required to do such planning. By March 2020, however, 43 per cent of long-term care homes had not done so, according to an investigation by ProPublica

82 per cent of the deaths in Ontario, Canada from COVID-19 have been in long-term care homes, the Toronto Star reported in May. Last fall, a report from the National Institute on Ageing identified a number of risk factors for infection in long-term care, including understaffing and the use of part-time staff who must work at several homes in order to make a living. In an effort to address conditions in long-term care homes, the province deployed members of the Canadian armed forces to five of them, four of them for-profit. A report from those serving revealed exhausted staff and horrifying conditions, from residents being force fed or not fed, left in dirty diapers, allowed to wander and treated abusively. Simultaneously, a report from the union representing long-care home staff points out that understaffing contributes to the high levels of violence, sexual harassment and assault, and racial harassment of staff, TVO reports. 90 per cent of staff said they had been physically assaulted, while 50 per cent said that they had been sexually assaulted.

According to another investigation by the Star, for-profit long-term care homes had 25 fewer staff members per 100 beds than municipal long-term care homes, and 16 fewer than non-profit homes. As Candace Rennick, a spokesperson for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which  represents workers in 182 long-term-care homes, put it,  “When you’re running a business to make profit you have to cut corners somewhere.” RLS

To demand stricter regulation of nursing homes along with better staffing ratios, you can write the US Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care, or your elected representatives. Addresses are here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. The UK may welcome 3 million Hong Kong residents

After China said it would support the security law in Hong Kong that is widely understood to mean that the autonomy long enjoyed by Hong Kong is at an end, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he would rewrite Britain’s immigration law in order to offer citizenship to as many as 3 million residents of Hong Kong, some 40% of the population, the Washington Post reported. The president of Taiwan also said she was working on ways to welcome Hong Kong residents. In the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, China agreed to preserve Hong Kong’s political freedoms until 2047. However, the security law would criminalize dissent and allow Chinese security forces to enforce policies against “sedition” and “foreign interference.” According to Reuters, Hong Kong’s independent media understands that the security law will result in the restriction of press freedom.

Concerned about the well-being of 300,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong, as well as critical trade issues, Canada is responding gingerly to Beijing’s shift in policy, according to Global News. The US said it would no longer give Hong Kong special status in terms of trade and tariffs but instead would treat Hong Kong as if it were part of China, the New York Times reported. Trump did not comment on the situation of the Hong Kong protesters nor on that of the 85,000 Americans living in Hong Kong. RLS

You could call on U.S. and Canadian leadership to match the British effort in offering safe harbor to current residents of Hong Kong.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11, Mass extinctions are accelerating

Extinctions of vertebrates are occurring at a much faster rate than predicted, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 543 species went extinct in the last 100 years; in ordinary times, it would have taken 10,000 to lose that many species. 500 more are expected to go extinct in the next 20 years. The scientists involved in the study–Gerardo Ceballos, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Paul Ehrlich, a conservation biologist at Stanford University, and Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden–point out that these numbers do not include invertebrates or water-dwelling species, and they only include vertebrate species for which data are available. Hence, the real numbers are likely much higher, the New York Times reports. Extinctions, of course, do not affect only the animal population itself but all of us. As lead author Ceballos told the Times, “We’re eroding the capabilities of the planet to maintain human life and life in general.” To address this issue, the scientists themselves have started a new organization called Stop Extinction. RLS

You can remind your Congressmembers that they need to continue to stand up for the animals we share the planet with—even during this time of pandemic.

12. Two influential coronavirus articles retracted

Two studies–one dismissing the viability of the antimalarial drugs promoted by Trump, the other finding that certain blood pressure drugs were protective against the coronavirus–were retracted last week, because the massive database on which they depended could not be verified. The database, called Surgisphere, was built by a small private company which amassed patient records from hospitals worldwide, but the author of the studies said that he could not verify the records and hospitals themselves were not aware that the records were being collected, according to the New York Times. The Times points out that thousands of articles on the coronavirus are being published, some without adequate peer review. RLS

13. Speak up for Joshua Trees by June 10

Joshua trees, spiky, twisted, and long-lived, are the iconic plant species of the Mojave Desert and also provided the image for U2’s highest-selling album. Climate change and human interference have increasingly put the survival of Joshua trees at risk. Climate change plays a role because young Joshua trees cannot take root without receiving crucial rains at a particular moment in their development, and rain is becoming more and more scarce in the Mojave, the National Park Service explains. Humans threaten Joshua trees in a number of ways: trees have been destroyed for developments; off-roaders damage trees and their habitat; cattle, power lines, pipeline and water-mining also threaten Joshua trees and their habitat. As NBC reminds us, Joshua trees were particularly harmed during the 2019 government shutdown when Joshua Tree National Park was overrun with off-roaders and unauthorized camping, and some of the trees were deliberately destroyed.

In April, the Department of Fish and Wildlife determined that there is sufficient data suggesting the trees are at risk to justify a review that could ultimately have them designated endangered species, but this review process could take up to a year or more. Meanwhile, the Fish and Game Commission has the power to place temporary protections on Joshua trees while the review is being conducted, the LA TImes reports. The California Fish and Game Commission is accepting public comments regarding such protections, but comments have to reach them by June 10, so you may want to email them, rather than sending a postcard. Protections are being opposed by the Yucca Valley town council and the Hi-Desert Water Board. S-HP

Speak for the trees by asking that Joshua trees be protected while undergoing review as possible endangered species. Write, call or email the California Fish and Game Commission, P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090.

RESOURCES

  • See the Americans of Conscience Checklist for a series of clear, quick, efficacious actions you can take now.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list is great for people who want to work through a series of carefully chosen issues and write letters or postcards to address them.
  • Martha’s list of regulatory actions/notices/proposed rules and Executive Orders highlights two Trump Executive Actions – one an order, one a proclamation. The Executive Order uses the current emergency to order relaxation of environmental rules to speed up infrastructure projects, involving multiple agencies. The Presidential Proclamation removes protections for undersea monuments. She also alerts us to Skoposlabs, which tracks federal legislative responses to the coronavirus.
  • See Rogan’s list for ways to speak up for reforms in policing, for the demilitarization of police, and in defense of Black lives.

News You May Have Missed: May 31, 2020

“File:Black Lives Matter Minneapolis Protest (28246559695).jpg” by Andy Witchger is licensed under CC BY 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Black Lives Matter: What you might have missed

You won’t have missed the news of George Floyd, killed by Minneapolis police, nor of the eruptions of rage and anguish around the U.S. But elements of this situation are essential to keep in focus.

  • Over a thousand people are killed each year in the U.S by police, according to the New York Times. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people.
  • Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd, had been involved in a fatal shooting of another suspect and had multiple complaints against him, the Washington Post reports. Over the years, the Minneapolis police department ignored numerous calls for reform, according to the Marshall Project.
  • In at least some cities, white people are instigating the looting and burning which are being attributed to black people, according to Buzzfeed. Minnesota officials also asserted that “white supremacists” were active in the uprisings there, according to Patheos, though they later retracted statements that most of those arrested were from out of town,
  • White supremacists are hoping to turn the protests over Floyd’s death into a “civil war,” according to Vice, and are showing up at protests with guns.
  • Trump seemed to be encouraging violence, saying in one tweet that protestors outside the White House would have been met with “the most vicious dogs” and “most ominous weapons” if they had crossed the fence, Bloomberg reported, and appeared to be inviting Trump supporters to clash with protestors: “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???”
  • Trump says he will designate antifa as a terrorist organization, blaming people associated with that coalition, not white suprematists, for instigating riots, according to NBC News.
  • Enforcing an 8 PM curfew in Minneapolis, National Guard troops have been shooting paint canisters at residents in their neighborhood, KARE reports. 
  • The press–especially journalists of color–have been targeted by police, according to Pen America. A freelance photographer is permanently blind in one eye after being shot by police, the New York Times reports. The Times goes on to note that “The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press logged about 10 different incidents that ranged from assaults to menacing in Phoenix, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Minneapolis.”
  • Buzzfeed is keeping track of disinformation and hoaxes about the protests.
  • In Louisville, where seven people were shot during protests, a line of white women locked arms and stood between police officers and black protesters mourning the March 13 death of Breonna Taylor, whom police shot to death in her apartment, according to the Courier-Journal.
  • Also in Louisville, a police officer who became separated from his squad was surrounded and protected by a group of protesters, according to The Grio.
  • In Santa Cruz, California, the police chief took a knee with peaceful protesters.
  • Heather Cox Richardson points out how very convenient it is for Trump that these protests have erupted at a time when so much else in the news undermines Trump’s agenda. RLS

To support protesters in Minneapolis, you can contribute to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which provides funds for bail. You may also want to write to your legislators on every level about George Floyd’s death and the need for safety and justice for African Americans. Ask them what they’re doing to respond. Tell them what you want to see them doing. You can find your Congressmembers’ addresses here.

2. Facial recognition software and non-white faces

The unreliability of facial recognition software, particularly in the identification of non-white faces, has been well documented. As the New York Times reported in 2018, facial recognition software developed by Amazon and in use with police departments and other organizations incorrectly matched photos of 28 Senators and Representatives, mostly Black and Latino, with photos of arrestees. Now, the ACLU has drawn attention to the dubious methods by which images used to create facial recognition/biometric databases are collected. The organization has just filed a suit in Illinois against Clearview AI, which collected some three billion photos from online sites to build its biometric database. The ACLU contends this is in violation of an Illinois law that forbids the use of fingerprints or facial scans of state residents without permission. Clearview AI says this collecting is protected under the First Amendment, but the ACLU has countered that even if the collecting is legal, Clearview AI has done more than collect images. Clearview AI’s analyses of these images is conduct, not speech and constitutes “nonconsensual and unlawful capture of individuals biometric identifiers.” Similar suits have been filed in New York and Vermont. The Attorneys General of Vermont and New Jersey have issued orders for Clearview AI to stop collecting images of state residents.

The development and use of facial recognition software are not federally regulated, but several pieces of legislation before Congress could remedy this absence. S.3284, the Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act, would establish a Congressional commission to recommend “rules governing the use and limitations on both government and commercial use of this technology” and would require federal employees to obtain a warrant to use facial recognition technologies until such guidelines are developed. S.3284 is currently with the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

S.2878, the Facial Recognition Technology Warrant Act, would place limits on the use of facial recognition technology by federal agencies for the purpose of ongoing surveillance, except under specific conditions. This legislation is with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

H.R.4021, the FACE Act, would prohibit federal agencies from using facial recognition technology without a Federal court order. This legislation is currently with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. S-HP

If you want to ask the appropriate committees to take swift, positive action on these bills and also tell your Congressmembers that you want to see strict limits placed on the development and use of facial recognition technology, the addresses are here.

3. Mail ballots don’t solve everything

In many instances, given the Coronavirus pandemic, the safest way to vote in the 2020 election may be by mail. However, as the Guardian points out, mail ballots are not a panacea, given that many people living on Native American reservations and in rural areas do not have mail service, making receipt and return of mail ballots difficult, if not impossible. S.3529, the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act, would provide protections for both mail and in-person voting during times of disaster, including pandemics. The provisions of S.3529 require that voters have a period of at least twenty days in which to cast early ballots, both in person and by mail; that states accept voter applications until at least twenty-one days before elections; that voting applications, absentee voter applications, and mail ballots include prepaid postage; and that accommodations be developed to meet the needs of voters on Indian lands. S.3529 is currently with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee; its cosponsors include both Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. S-HP

You might urge key members of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and your own Senators to support S.3529.

4. Students defrauded by for-profit colleges must still repay loans

On Friday, President Trump vetoed a bi-partisan resolution designed to reverse a Department of Education policy that makes it harder for students who claim to have been defrauded by colleges to have their federal student loans forgiven, according to the Washington Post. Rules regarding the forgiveness of loans taken out by students at schools that used deceptive practices to encourage them to borrow to attend the school were established under the Obama administration and significantly restricted by Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Under the new rules, more borrowers will be responsible for paying back loans even when their schools closed due to fraud, Forbes reports. DeVos has claimed that the Obama era rules were too broad and allowed too many borrowers to qualify for student loan forgiveness. The previous rules made student loan forgiveness automatic when a school closed due to fraud; DeVos’s rules required that borrowers impacted by a school closure needed to apply for forgiveness and prove financial harm; they also potentially limit the amount of forgiveness that defrauded students can receive. 

Veteran’s groups have been among the groups who have come out against this veto, along with consumer groups, and lawmakers. JM-L

5. Hypocrisy in the NFL

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodall has issued a statement (aka posted a tweet) on the death of George Flyod: “The protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel…. As current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league. These tragedies inform the NFL’s commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action. We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners.” S-HP

You may wish to remind Mr. Goodall that Colin Kaepernick opened up the perfect opportunity for the NFL to address these issues years ago. Roger Goodall, Commissioner, National Football League, 345 Park Ave., NY, NY 10154, (212) 450-2000.

6. Planned Parenthood threatened for receiving Paycheck Protection Program loans

Planned Parenthood’s state and local affiliates each function as separate non-profits with their own leadership and fundraising programs, a structure which allowed individual Planned Parenthood clinic to apply for small business through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) of Coronavirus loans for small businesses. In fact, individual Planned Parenthood clinics were granted a total of $80 million in PPP funding—out of $669 billion being distributed by the Small Business Administration (SBA). In other words, funds going to Planned Parenthood clinics represent just 12/100ths of 1% of the total monies available, hardly a mother lode of funding.

Nonetheless, Republicans in Congress, always eager to turn any political situation into an opportunity to limit women’s reproductive choice, are now demanding that these funds be returned and calling for an investigation into their original allocation, according to The Hill. The Washington Post quotes Senator Marco Rubio as saying, “[Planned Parenthood clinics] need to return the money, and if they did this knowingly, they need to be held accountable, and whoever helped them do this knowingly needs to be held accountable. That includes, potentially, people on staff at the SBA, the banks and anybody else.” In other words, there is not just a politically motivated campaign to withdraw the funding received by clinics; there are also threats of repercussions for workers in the public and private sector who help the clinics apply for and receive these funds. S-HP

You can tell the Treasury Secretary and the head of the SBA that we want these funds to remain with the individual Planned Parenthood clinics that were awarded them. You can also insist that your Congressmembers stand up for the independent Planned Parenthood clinics that were appropriately awarded Coronavirus loans under the PPP. Addresses are here.

7. People with disabilities and the coronavirus

Globally, people with disabilities have less access to education, healthcare, income opportunities, and community participation. They are also more likely to live in poverty and to suffer high rates of violence, neglect, and abuse, Forbes points out. With the onset of COVID-19 disabled people in care homes are also dying at disproportionately high rates. The United Nations has now issued a policy brief, “A Disability-Inclusive Response to COVID-19.” This brief focuses on four areas:

  • ensuring mainstreaming of people with disabilities;
  • ensuring accessibility to COVID-19 information, facilities, and programs for people with disabilities;
  • ensuring consultation with and participation by people with disabilities and organizations representing them in all stages of COVID-19 response and recovery;
  • establishing accountability mechanisms to ensure the participation of people with disabilities in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. S-HP

You can ask your Congressmembers to examine the U.N. report and to make use of its recommendations as they continue to develop legislation and programs in response to COVID-19.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. The Withdrawal Doctrine

Heather Cox Richardson’s daily report, Letters from an American, provides historically informed reflections on current events with a focus on the state of American democracy. In her post for May 29, Richardson examined the U.S. withdrawal from the position of global leadership it has held since World War II:  “Trump has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact designed to pressure China to meet international rules; the Paris climate accord; the 2015 Iran nuclear deal; the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, limiting nuclear weapons; UNESCO, the U.N.’s educational, scientific, and cultural agency; the Open Skies Treaty that allowed countries to fly over each other to monitor military movements. He pulled U.S. troops away from our former Kurdish allies in Syria, and has threatened to leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—NATO—that ties 30 North American and European countries into a military alliance. Now he has withdrawn the US from the World Health Organization that combats global disease and pandemics.” The Washington Post calls this “The Withdrawal Doctrine,” and sees no good outcome. S-HP

If you wish to speak up against these isolationist policies pulling the U.S. out of the community of nations, here are the people to write or call.

9. State Department Inspector General removed to facilitate arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Likely reasons that Trump “lost confidence in” and called for the removal of the former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick include the fact that Linick had begun investigating the process by which Trump had declared a state of emergency that allowed the State Department to move forward with arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, despite votes in both houses of Congress barring these sales. The Daily Beast reports that the Trump administration is now planning additional arms sales to the Saudis. Additional arms sales are apt to contribute to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and may make the U.S. vulnerable to war crimes charges if the Saudis use those weapons in the Yemen Civil War—a problem first pointed out by the State Department itself in 2019. S-HP

You can demand that your Congressmembers once again stand up to Trump and Pompeo to block these arms sales and call for continuing investigation into the firing of Steve Linick and the means by which Trump and Pompeo evaded appropriate Congressional oversight of arms sales.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Over a million children could die as a result of the pandemic

A new report from the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says that as many as 1.1 million children could die as result of the pandemic–not from the illness itself but from disruptions to health care and the food supply, Democracy Now reports. 60,000 mothers could die as well. Fear of vaccinations or inability to obtain them could lead to a catastrophic drop in herd immunity, while the fear of accessing health care facilities or lack of access to them along with malnutrition could put children at risk. The study’s authors were dismayed by the U.S. decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization, telling Democracy Now that “the WHO plays a crucial role for maternal and child health around the world. It’s a vital mechanism for coordinating work in the global health space. Also, I think what people don’t realize is the technical assistance that WHO provides to different governments and ministries of health around the world.” RLS

11. Groundbreaking study identifies multiple risk factors for breast cancer

A new study from Silent Spring illustrates how ionizing radiation contributes to breast cancer. Ionizing radiation comes from X-rays, CT scans and radiation treatment, along with testing and use of nuclear weapons. Researchers reviewed 467 studies and developed a map of how ionizing radiation not only damages DNA but “wreaks havoc” inside the cells themselves. Published in the Archives of Toxicology, the study also shows how estrogen and progesterone make breasts more vulnerable to cancer, and how chemicals can function as carcinogens. RLS

RESOURCES

  • Don’t miss the Americans of Conscience Checklist for quick, effective actions you can take. Take a look at their inspiring inpact report as well.
  • See Sarah-Hope’s full list for additional post-carding opportunities.
  • Rogan’s list suggests ways to respond the George Floyd’s killing, thank Twitter for fact-checking Trump, and to engage productively with various other issues, such as the education gap during the pandemic.
  • Of particular importance this week, Martha calls particular attention to the EPA proposed guidance regulation that would govern all EPA guidance documents and petitions henceforth. It’s number 4 on her list: “Comments due 6/20/2020. EPA Proposed Rule. Guidance: Administrative Procedures for Issuance and Public Petitions.” It has major implications for how the EPA listens to, or doesn’t regard, public input on policy. See her whole list here.
  • If you missed Chrysostom’s extraordinarily comprehensive election coverage, his May 21 column is available here.

NEWS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: MAY 24, 2020

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. 900 Children deported alone, no one notified

Since the pandemic began, the U.S. has deported 900 children who arrived alone at the border, sometimes without notifying their families. Children are being sent back to their home countries–or to Mexico–alone even in the middle of the night, with no plan for what might happen when they arrive, according to the New York Times. Ordinarily unaccompanied children are housed in shelters where their asylum process begins, but the U.S. border patrol has refused to follow these protocols under the guise of not spreading the coronavirus–even though NBC News reveals that plans for rapid deportations have been in the works since 2017. Simultaneously, the U.S. has been hastily deporting children already in the country or waiting in Matamoros in the “Remain in Mexico” Program, ProPublica reports. Even when children have asylum cases in progress and relatives to receive them in the U.S., they have been sent away, sometimes to extremely dangerous locations. 

ProPublica speculates that their removal relates to the case being supervised by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, who has insisted that they be released. On May 22, Judge Gee found that the government was still not in compliance with the order, according to the National Center for Youth Law; the NCYL and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and the Immigration Law Clinic of the U.C. Davis School of Law filed the suits that resulted in Gee’s decision. The LA Times suggests that some children who could be released are being held in the hope that they will reach the age of 18 in custody and thereby be more easily deported. Reveal describes the circumstances of some 17 year olds who have families or sponsors ready to receive them and who are covered by Judge Gee’s order–but whom the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) will not release. As Leecia Welch, senior director at the NCYL put it, “Given the growing concerns being raised about the impact of COVID-19 on children, it is unfathomable to us that ORR is letting children languish in federal custody when they have fully vetted family members ready to care for them.” RLS

You can call on ORR to comply with Judge Gee’s ruling and ask your Congressmembers to monitor OSS compliance.

2. Trump firing those in charge of oversight

Over the past few weeks, Trump has fired or removed from their positions five Inspectors General (IGs) or Acting Inspectors General for various governmental departments and offices: Michael Atkinson, Inspector General for the Intelligence Community; Mitch Behm, Acting Inspector General for the Department of Transportation; Glenn Fine, Inspector General for the Department of Defense; Christi Grimm, Acting Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services; and Steve Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, according to the list from CBS News.

Inspectors General are non-partisan appointees charged, among other things, with investigating claims of unethical or illegal behavior within the department or office they oversee. Atkinson is the IG who notified the House of the whistle blower complaint regarding Trump’s July 2019 phone conversation with the President of Ukraine, in which Trump intimated that Congressionally allocated aid to Ukraine would not be released until an investigation of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was undertaken, CNN reports. This is the phone call that launched Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives. As the American Independent explains, Behm was in the process of investigating Secretary of Transportation Chao (and wife of Mitch McConnell) for inappropriately giving preferential treatment to the state of Kentucky (the home state of Chao and McConnell) in funding for transportation projects when Trump removed him.

Fine was slated to oversee a commission charged with monitoring coronavirus relief spending, the Washington Post reports. His firing prevented him from leading that commission, a position that required status as an IG. The Washington Post noted that Grimm’s staff had “just completed a report finding ‘severe shortages’ of testing kits, delays in getting coronavirus results and ‘widespread shortages’ of masks and other equipment at U.S. hospitals.” Linick had begun two investigations at the State Department: inappropriate use of staff and resources by Secretary Mike Pompeo and his wife, and, more significantly, the process by which military technology was sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after both houses of Congress had voted to block such a sale. Trump is now filling these positions with administration loyalists, meaning that the next President who is not Trump, and will perhaps be Joe Biden, will have the job of once again ensuring that these positions are nonpartisan. S-HP

It would be a good time to urge Biden to commit himself now to reappointing these IGs who were appropriately responding to whistleblower complaints when Trump “lost faith” in them. Joe Biden c/o American Possibilities, 918 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20003 (202) 456-1111

3. National Guard let go one day short of benefits eligibility

Last week, the Republican administration signaled that it was planning to pull more than forty thousand National Guard troops from their coronavirus pandemic-related work exactly one day short of the length of time that is required for many veterans’ benefits to kick in, including a three-month credit towards retirement and 40% off tuition at public colleges and universities, according to the Military Times. As the Hill reports, Congressional resistance to this move has been strenuous, and the administration now claims it has not made a final decision on this matter. National Guard members on pandemic placements have been providing support to hospitals, enforcement of stay-at-home orders, and body removal, difficult and often deeply unpleasant work. S-HP

You can insist that the administration abandon this plan and call on your Congressmembers to stand up for the rights of National Guard members on the frontlines of the pandemic: Addresses here.

4. Child hunger in Puerto Rico

In the last few years, Puerto Rico has been hit with environmental disasters, including hurricanes and earthquakes, and now it is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. In every one of these crises, Puerto Rico has received inadequate funding to address the full scale of the damage. With the coronavirus, families and communities still recovering from natural disasters are facing food scarcity, and children are going hungry, NPR reports. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory but does not receive the same level of disaster-response support as the states. As of April 30, Slate points out, no one in Puerto Rico had received a stimulus check. S-HP

You can urge Congress to provide Puerto Rico with ample, timely support to address food shortages, medical needs, and remaining damage from natural disasters.

5. Incarcerated people at risk

Prisons and jails, of course, are not exempt from the coronavirus pandemic and can become hot spots for COVID-19 due to accommodations that make no allowance for social distancing. A North Dakota woman who gave birth while on a ventilator died recently, according to NBC News. The Emergency Community Supervision Act (S.3579 in the Senate; H.R.6400 in the House) mandates the release of inmates who are pregnant, have underlying health issues and are 50 or older. This legislation also limits the use of pretrial detention and in-person supervised release. In both houses of Congress, this legislation is currently with the Judiciary Committee.

The ACLU urges us to advocate for the incarcerated–you can sign their petition. In addition, you can urge swift, positive action on the Emergency Community Supervision Act by both Judiciary Committees and call on your Congressmembers to support this legislation.

6. Four House members vote against anti-lynching bill

In February, the House passed the Emmitt Till Antilynching Act, which would make lynching a federal hate crime, CNN reports. There have been nearly 200 attempts to define lynching in this way, and this act is the closest an antilynching measure has come to being enacted in the United States. The measure is similar to one that passed the Senate in 2019, and is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If passed and signed into law by the president, it would impact federal handling of the February death of Ahmaud Aubrey, the unarmed Georgia man killed while jogging.

Four House members voted against the measure, claiming it was overreach by the federal government, according to Newsweek. These lawmakers included 3 Republicans— Ted Yoho of Florida, Louie Gohmert of Texas, and Thomas Massif of Kentucky— and Independent Justin Amash of Michigan. JM-L

7. Ghost guns

Guns made with 3-D printers, often referred to as “ghost guns,” don’t meet the current legal definition of a firearm. As a result, they’re not required to have serial numbers and kits to make them can be purchased without being subject to gun control laws currently on the books, Politico points out. The Untraceable Firearms Act, S.3743 , sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut,  and other Senate Democrats, would require that these weapons have serial numbers and establish provisions to keep them out of the hands of violent felons and domestic abusers. (This legislation is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee.) As Blumenthal told Politico, gun sales have risen more than 70% compared to a year ago. Since the coronavirus pandemic, “People are more stressed,” he said. “They’re buying more firearms. The incidence of domestic violence has risen.” S-HP

You might the Senate Judiciary Committee to take swift, positive action on S.3743 and ask your Senators to support this important legislation: Addresses here.

8. Coronavirus relief money repurposed to undercut public schools

The CARES Act, which provides coronavirus relief, included $30 billion for educational institutions. Education Secretary DeVos, who has discretion over these funds, has ordered that $180 million of this money be offered as grants to parents hoping to move their children from public to private schools, including religious schools and has earmarked $350 million that was to be directed to struggling colleges to private, religious, and for-profit colleges. Though Congress has blocked these kinds of initiatives, DeVos is using the opportunity of the pandemic to implement them anyway, according to the New York Times. These actions both benefit private schools that are less apt to serve low-income students and threaten the wall between church and state.

Maybe you’d like to tell DeVos to use coronavirus relief to help the neediest schools and students and insist that she honor the church/state separation enshrined in the Bill of Rights? You might also explain to your Congressmembers why you object to DeVos’s inappropriate allocation of Coronavirus relief monies. Addresses are here.

9. Trump and Republicans fighting vote-by-mail efforts

Trump and Congressional Republicans are fighting efforts to expand vote-by-mail during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the New York Times, despite a spike in COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin among those who voted in-person because additional vote-by-mail provisions were blocked. Forbes reports that a study by the University of Wisconsin and Ball State University found a “statistically and economically significant association” between in-person voting and the spread of Covid-19 weeks after the election. Republicans, who have made disenfranchisement a key part of their 2020 election strategy, claim that vote-by-mail is insecure and likely to allow election fraud; however, a recent Stanford study, the largest of its kind, determined that vote-by -mail does not unfairly benefit either political party, according to the Washington Post. Nonetheless, these same legislators seem to have no problem with tax refunds, social security payments, Coronavirus stimulus checks, draft registration, prescription drugs, passports, and driver’s licenses being delivered by mail. S-HP.

It might be a good time for you to insist on an end to this counterfactual claim about vote-by-mail benefitting one party over another and demand national vote-by-mail to prevent the spread of Coronavirus among those choosing to participate in the 2020 election. Addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Transporting fracked gas threatens communities

Fracked gas would be transported from the Rockies and Canada across Southern Oregon to Coos Bay, under a proposal from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). A 36-inch fracked gas pipelne called Pacific Connector would travel 229 miles from Malin to Coos Bay, cutting through Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties. Once in Coos Bay, it would be turned into liquefied natural gas (LNG) at a giant new terminal, put on large tankers and sent overseas. A FERC notice about the Jordan Cove Liquified Natural Gas Project–infelicitiously called “Petition for Declaratory Order (Petition) finding that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality waived its authority to issue certification for the Jordan Cove LNG Terminal and Pacific Connector Pipeline under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act”–would deprive the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality of the right to weigh in on this project, thus affirming the rights of corporations over state and local environmental concerns. In 2019, the Oregon Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility ennumerated the dangers of these kinds of projects to community health, including how they exacerbate climate change, create air and water pollution, are prone to accidents, require temporary labor camps with all the social problems that these engender–and more. S-HP

If you want to ask that local voices be honored and to object to this FERC proposal, instructions for commenting are here. Comments must be submitted by June 11.

11. Dam failure due to climate change. Floodwaters overrun toxic waste site.

The dams that failed in Central Michigan could be just the first of many, as the climate crisis leads to heavier rainfalls, overwhelming aging infrastructure, according to the New York Times. In 2017, the American Society of Engineers gave the nation’s dam system a grade of “D”; American dams are sixty years old, on average. The floodwaters from the Michigan dam have now reached the  Dow Chemical facility and Superfund site, Common Dreams reports, so they are now intermingled with toxic waste that Dow declined to clean up. The Trump administration refused to enforce the executive order for superfund sites to upgrade their families. As Common Dreams notes, Climate Power communications director Meghan Schneider tweeted, “Dow’s facilities appear to be at the heart of the floodwaters—this has the potential to be a major environmental disaster.” RLS

RESOURCES

  • See the Americas of Conscience Checklist for quick, clear, effective actions you can take.
  • Do you postcard? Start with Sarah-Hope’s list.
  • If you want to advocate for the HEROES act, the Postal Service, nurses, the Navajo nation, and much more, see Rogan’s list.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record. She says that regulations are still a moving target as some are extended or suspended, supposedly temporarily. Ending soon are two items related to the National Environmental Policy Act – one from EPA, the other from Dept of Energy. The entire act was recently up for comment, you will remember. Rodenticide review is back, and there is a new item about endangered Mexican wolves. Look at USDA food policy relating to aid to farmers – will this round go to Ag-business again? And note work requirements for food-stamp recipients, and more.
  • For daily updates of coronavirus cases and deaths, in country by country reports, see Our World in Data.
  • Check out Chrysostom’s incredibly comprehensive election coverage–House, Senate, state, local.
  • Heather Cox Richardson has commentary on the NY Times front page, above, along with the Inspectors General firings and much more.

News You May Have Missed: May 17, 2020

Did you believe it when you heard that Dr. Anthony Fauci was on the board of Microsoft? What about when you read on Facebook that Nancy Pelosi’s bill HR6666 would allow government officials to remove family members from your home for quarantine? The AP is doing a immense service for us all by running weekly “Not Real News: A look at what didn’t happen this week” columns. It’s a great, quick way to cope with the onslaught of false information.

Heather Cox Richardson has her usual erudite insights into the morass in Washington, if you want to catch up on the week. And Chrysostom has an excellent overview of federal and state election issues. You’ll find it here.


“alameda county ballot” by citymaus is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Vote by mail

We don’t know what the coronavirus situation will be like when November’s election rolls around, but we should all be doing what we can to avoid a situation like that in Wisconsin, where many voters who were unable to get absentee/vote-by-mail ballots were forced to wait in line, in a very non-socially-distanced way, in order to vote. Now would be a great time to request an absentee/vote-by-mail ballot for November. Political Charge has made the process easier by putting together an easy-to-use web page where you can find out how to go about getting an absentee/vote-by-mail ballot in your own state—whatever that state is. If you are not currently signed up for vote-by-mail, start here and request your ballot. Then, share this information with everyone you know. For all we know, the deciding factor in November’s election may be which party has the most people approved for absentee/vote-by-mail ballots. S-HP

Progress America has a petition you can sign to support the Postal Service–on which vote-by-mail depends.

2. Only two people granted asylum between March and May

According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data, in September 2019, the U.S. conducted 2,799 asylum interviews. One hundred and ninety-nine of these were initial screening interviews, and as a result of these interviews 101 recommendations of asylum approval were issued, representing 51% of all screenings at this level. Also during September 2019 the USCIS adjudicated 4,453 cases, with 1,501 (or 34%) approved.

Now let’s move forward to the period between March 21 and May 13 of this year. The Washington Post reports that during this nearly two-month period only 59 screening interviews took place. Fifty-four claims were rejected, three remain pending, and two (or 4%) were approved. This immense change in numbers and results of interviews can be attributed to new, “emergency” immigration protocols established in response to the oronavirus pandemic. These new protocols include a suspension of almost all due-process rights for those seeking to enter the U.S., including asylum seekers and children. During the March 21-May 13 period, at least 20,000 migrants attempting to enter the U.S. have been rejected without any kind of interview under the “Migrant Protection Protocol” and have been forced to remain in Mexico.

According to ProPublica analysis of a new Border Patrol memo, at this point, almost the only way a migrant at the border can gain admission to the U.S. is if they “spontaneously” state that they fear torture in their home country. Protocols do not require that agents ask about fear of torture, so those who don’t speak out will not gain temporary admission, even though they would be entitled to it. In response to a question from the Washington Post, immigration-law scholar Lucas Guttentag, who served in the Obama administration and now teaches at Stanford and Yale universities, observed, “The whole purpose of asylum law is to give exhausted, traumatized and uninformed individuals a chance to get to a full hearing in U.S. immigration courts, and [the current U.S. procedure] makes that almost impossible. It’s a shameful farce.” S-HP

You can demand a return to asylum protocols in line with international law and decry the near termination of admission to the U.S. for migrants along the southern border. Addresses are here.

3. Supporting HEROES

The House has passed the HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act, H.R.6800. This bill provides additional coronavirus relief measures, directed to ordinary Americans. Its provisions include a second round of direct payments to individuals up to $1,200; expanded sick days, family medical leave, and unemployment compensation; increased food, nutrition, and housing assistance; payments to farmers; student loan debt forgiveness; and increased funding for coronavirus testing. It expands funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, designed to help employers continue to pay employees during the pandemic; includes $3.6 billion to help states improve election security; and earmarks $25 billion to continue postal services. Some provisions, including continuing payments for individuals, were cut from the final version of the legislation, cuts which threatened passage at one point. The HEROES Act will face a much more difficult battle in the Senate. S-HP

You can urge your Senators to support the HEROES Act when it reaches the Senate. Find them here.

4. Water shut-offs continue during pandemic

The impact of COVID-19 has been particularly brutal for minority and low income communities. One of the key ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus is increased handwashing and similar hygiene measures, but about two-fifths of the U.S., including many of those hard-hit communities, rely on water utilities that have not suspended shutoffs for nonpayment, despite public health warnings that good hygiene is crucial to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Guardian and Consumer Reports. The House CARES Act included funding for water-bill assistance and a termination of water shut-offs during the Coronavirus pandemic, but these provisions were removed from the bill ultimately approved by the Senate. S-HP

You can tell your Congressmembers that the removal of water-access protections from coronavirus legislation was both cruel and dangerous to public health and demand action now to ensure access to clean water for all. You can also sign a petition calling for an end to water shut-offs at this link.

5. More guns in wildlife refuges

If a pair of proposed federal rules changes are approved, we may be seeing many more guns in National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) and Army Corps of Engineers projects, according to Oregon Live. The first of these, “Station-Specific Hunting and Sport-Fishing Regulations,” proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service would newly open eight NWRs to hunting and fishing, expand hunting and fishing at another eighty-nine NWRs, allow expansion of hunting within the National Fish Hatchery System; and create forty-one new easements in North Dakota, intended to increase hunting on federal lands accessible via privately held lands. This rule change is open for public comments through June 8.

The second of these, “Rules and Regulations Governing Public Use of Water Resource Development Projects Administered by the Chief of Engineers” (federal rule-makers do have a way with woThosrds), would impact 400 lake and river projects in forty-three states that currently allow firearms for the purpose of hunting, but require written permission for possession of firearms not intended for hunting. Under the new rules, all firearms would be allowed, not just those intended for hunting. If you wonder what the impact of this proposal might be, take a moment to consider the title of an Ammoland article celebrating this possible change: “Trump Administration to Abolish One of America’s Biggest Gun-Free Zones.” This proposal is open for public comments through June 12. S-HP

You can comment for the public record on the proposals to increase hunting in National Wildlife Refuges, perhaps pointing out the contradiction between the concept of “refuge” and the use of firearms. Follow the instructions carefully.

6. Sexual assault survivors in school sports lose protections

The Department of Education has revamped Title IX standards, which protect gender equity in school sports, claiming the changes rebalance “the scales of justice.” These changes received overwhelming, critical public commentary when they were proposed, with over 124,000 public comments submitted. Key changes include:

  • Removing coaches and other university employees from the list of mandated reporters, who have a legal obligation to file complaint when the receive allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct;
  • Narrowing the definition of sexual harassment;
  • Allowing colleges to choose the standards of proof they use when adjudicating sexual harassment allegations.

Inside Higher Education quotes Senator Patty Murray’s (D-WA) statement on these changes, “Let me be clear: this rule is not about ‘restoring balance,’ this is about silencing survivors. This rule will make it that much harder for a student to report an incident of sexual assault or harassment—and that much easier for a school to sweep it under the rug. There is an epidemic of sexual assault in schools—that’s not up for debate. But instead of responsibly working with advocates, survivors, students, K-12 schools, and colleges to address the issue, Secretary DeVos and this Administration are going out of their way to make schools less safe.” S-HP

If you wish to object to these changes that weaken student protection from sexual harassment, find your members of Congress here.

7. Preserving gender equity on college campuses

While Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been undermining protections against sexual harassment and assault on college campuses, Congress has been offered legislation that would improve such protections and address gender equity in multiple ways. The Patsy T. Mink and Louise M. Slaughter Gender Equity in Education Act (H.R.3513 in the House; S.1964 in the Senate), is currently with the House’s Education and Labor Committee and the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. According to the American Association of University Women, the Gender Equity in Education Act (GEEA) would:

  • establish an Office of Gender Equity within the Department of Education
  • provide training and resources for Title IX compliance
  • establish competitive grants at all educational levels to support gender equity work
  • provide funding for identifying and disseminating best practices in avoiding stereotypes and bias in education; addressing sex-based harassment and violence on campuses; mitigating bias in teaching and counselling; and addressing the needs of students facing discrimination based on multiple characteristics.

The GEEA has seven cosponsors in the House and fifteen cosponsors in the Senate—you can use the links above to see whether your Congressmembers are among them. S-HP

You can call for positive action on H.R.3513 and S.1964 by the appropriate committees and urge your Congressmembers to support the GEEA, including by co-sponsorship if appropriate. You can also sign the American Association of University Women’s Petition in support of GEEA.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Boats carrying Rohingya refugees disappear

The plight of the Rohingya continues, despite being displaced from news reports by the coronavirus pandemic. The Rohingya originate in Myanmar, and those who are still in that country have been placed in internment camps. Bangladeshi refugee camps currently house the largest refugee population of Rohingya. Rather than live in Bangladeshi camps, many Rohingya are trying to escape to Malaysia where they hope to find work as undocumented laborers. In April, a boat with 400 Rohingya refugees locked in its hold was liberated by the Bangladesh Coast Guard. Those aboard were malnourished and dehydrated and had suffered physical abuse, the New York Times reports. Those rescued had seen the bodies of others who died on the journey thrown overboard. International organizations had been tracking another three boats, each carrying hundreds of Rohingya refugees. The boat had left from Bangladesh and headed to Malaysia, but was refused docking in Malaysia and then refused docking in Bangladesh when it attempted to return. At the start of May, these boats could not be found via the satellite systems that had been tracking them. S-HP

If you wish to insist that the U.S. continue to support and shelter refugees, including the Rohingya, during this pandemic and ask your Congressmembers what they are doing to ease conditions for the Rohingya, addresses are here.

9. Sweden not a role model for coronavirus response

While Sweden is often invoked as an argument against social distancing measures due to the country’s anti-lockdown strategy, the chief epidemiologist of the nation’s public health agency has admitted to Newsweek that he was “not convinced” that it was the appropriate strategy to take. Sweden has seen over 3000 deaths, which places the number dead per million at around 343 deaths per million population (their population is about 10 million), which is a higher rate than the United States (257 deaths per million in population). While the anti-lockdown strategy was intended to develop herd immunity, and was implemented under the assumption that children do not get critically ill from coronavirus infections. Sweden currently has the highest rate of infections in Scandinavia. JM-L

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. More electricity coming from renewable sources than from coal

According to the New York Times, a decade ago coal-burning plants provided 50% of U.S. electricity. In the past three years, the administration has gone to great lengths to shore up the coal industry by reducing rules for coal-burning power plants, which continue to struggle. New government projections now show that for the first time ever, the U.S. is expected to use more electricity from renewable sources rather than from coal. Coal is projected to drop by one-quarter this year, providing only 19% of U.S. electricity. In the period that coal’s share of the U.S. electricity market has been dropping, costs of renewable energy have been dropping: by 40% for wind farms and by 80% for solar, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboraatory. S-HP

Do you want to tell the administration and your Congressmembers that our coronavirus economic recovery should emphasize cheaper, less polluting renewable energy sources so that we can simultaneously address the climate crisis? Addresses are here.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist reports that their subscribers have doubled the number of actions they have taken. See the list for many quick, direct ways to intervene politically.
  • See Sarah-Hope’s list if you want to work through her recommendations for actions.
  • Martha’s list offers weekly opportunities to comment on policy changes for the public record. Closing this week are: the misnamed “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science”; new policy on coal ash disposal; biometric data collection on undocumented immigrants; FEMA management of medical resources; and small but significant: redefining the word “healthy” on food labels to include more fat. You can also sign up for the Consumer Product Safety Commission meeting on setting priorities for fiscal years 2021 and 2022.
  • Rogan’s list this week is chock-full of information and action items–everything from the movement for justice for the family of Ahmaud Arbery, to re-opening guidelines, to the strategy behind ICE’s refusal to release migrant children.