News You May Have Missed: October 13, 2019

Foreign policy too often seems brutal, thoughtless, short-sighted. But Trump’s latest move–to permit Turkey to invade the Kurdish-held territory of Syria, with no provision for security of Isis fighters and family members the Kurds were holding, no plan for the safety of civilians and no thought for the Kurds themelves who had battled Isis and served as a US ally–is beyond comprehension. Historian Heather Cox Richardon has a useful, if chilling, summary on her Facebook page.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

1. Turkey invades Kurdish-held areas of Syrian. Isis prisoners escape.

100,000 people have fled the Turkish invasion of northern Syrian and numerous civilians have been killed or injured in the fighting between Turkish forces and Syrian Kurdish fighters, who had been essential to the battle to defeat Isis, according to the AP. Last week, Trump—confounding even his loyalists—told Turkish president Erdogan that he would move US forces out of the area and allow the assault. According to Al Jazeera, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) called Trump’s decision “a stab in the back.”

Absurdly, Trump tried to justify his betrayal of the Kurds saying, ‘they didn’t help us in the Second World War. They didn’t help us in Normandy.’ The Washington Post points out that the U.S. is aligned now with various countries who were enemies during WW II, and that the Kurds did not have a state then (or now), so could not assist as a state. Nonetheless, many Kurds opposed the Nazis and fought them with the British and Soviet armies.”

In addition:

  • Havrin Khalaf, a Kurdish politician and advocate for women’s rights, was killed during the Turkish invasion. Some factions claim that she—along with her driver—was killed by Turkish forces while others say she was killed by Isis, according to Rudaw, an Iraqi Kurdish publication.
  • Five Isis militants were broken out of a Syrian prison during the fighting, while twenty Isis women attacked officials at a camp in Syria, the Independent reported; Isis also claimed responsibility for a car bombing. On Sunday morning, hundreds of Isis families appeared to have left a detention camp, according to the Washington Post. The Independent noted the warning of a Kurdish official “that Isis detainees could break out of detention as Kurdish-led security forces confront the Turkish offensive and their ability to guard detainees is weakened.”
  • Democracy Now points out that among the terrible losses in this invasion is that of Rojava, a progressive democracy in Kurdish territory based on feminist principles.
  • In desperation, as of October 14 the Kurds seem to have forged an alliance with the Russian and Syrian governments, changing the dynamics of the regions, according to the New York Times. RLS

If you want to speak up about this incomprehensible turn of events, here are some suggestions.

2. China’s sexual abuse of Muslim women

Muslim minority women in China, including Uighurs, Kazakhs, and others who have taken refuge in Kazakhstan, report having been raped, sexually tormented, forcibly implanted with contraceptive devices and forced to have abortions while in China. Aiman Umarova, a Kazakh human rights advocate, told the Independent that “Sexually violating women, including stopping them from reproducing, has become a weapon for China against its Muslim population.”

Over a million Muslims have been detained in re-education camps for the last two years. Even Muslim countries have been reluctant to object to the treatment of women. The U.S. is blacklisting some police departments and eight companies involved in the production of surveillance equipment because they do business in Xinjiang, in northwestern China, which Uighurs live and are detained. The blacklist would prevent them from obtaining US-made electronics, the New York Times reports. Mike Pompeo also announced that Chinese officials suspected of detaining or abusing Uighurs will have their visas restricted.

Meanwhile, The China Tribunal has told the UN Human Rights Commission that China has been killing members of political minorities and extracting their organs, according to the Independent. The Tribunal says it has clear evidence that members of the Falun Gong group have been targets, and possibly the Uighur Muslims as well. A number of countries have already outlawed organ tourism to China, and a bill in the UK is pending. RLS

If you want to urge the Secretary of State and Senate leadership to pressure China on its treatment of Muslim women, here are the addresses.

3. Genocide against Brazil’s Indigenous people

A group of experts has warned that “genocide is underway” against Brazil’s indigenous peoples as President Bolsonaro attempts to undercut indigenous rights and to open significant portions of the Amazon rain forest to mining and large-scale agriculture. According to EcoWatch, the letter was issued after the firing of the coordinator for uncontacted tribes, Bruno Pereira, and warns that “this upheaval [as a result of Pereira’s firing] will provoke the genocide of uncontacted and recently contacted indigenous people.”

At the same time, the Brazilian Mining Minister, Bento Albuquerque has announced that “draft legislation to allow mining and agriculture on indigenous lands should be ready later this month.” Brazil has more uncontacted indigenous tribes than any other country and the policy, at least on paper, has been to forbid contact with these tribes and to leave the areas of the Amazon rainforest they inhabit untouched. In practice, there were 111 documented incursions into indigenous territories during 2018. That number since Bolsonaro took office in January, 2019, has jumped to 160, which suggests that by the end of this year there may have been as many as 240 incursions. S-HP

If you would like to see the Secretary of State and heads of appropriate congressional committees take up this issue, here are the names of whom to contact.

DOMESTIC NEWS

4. Some Trump anti-immigrant initiatives blocked

Several of Trump’s more egregious immigration policies have been blocked in court. In refusing to allow the Trump administration to keep children incarcerated for longer than the 20 days provided for in the Flores agreement, Judge Dolly Gee of Federal District Court for the Central District of California called the government’s reasoning “Kafkaesque.” The judge’s ruling–a response to a lawsuit by the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, will likely be appealed, the NY Times reports.

In addition, the so-called “public charge rule,” which would deny visas and green cards to immigrants whom the government thinks might use public benefits, was blocked by Judge George Daniels of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, as well as by judges in San Francisco (in response to lawsuits by Northern California counties) and Washington State, according to CBS News. The “public charge” rule has already had an impact on immigrant communities, with enrollment in the Affordable Care Act dropping and parents declining food and other assistance for their citizen children.

However, the American Immigration Lawyers Association says that a state department official says they plan to implement the public charge rule on October 15 anyway, despite the injunctions. RLS

5. Dangers to disabled and LGBTQ asylum-seekers in Mexico

Under Trump administration policy, asylum-seekers have been forced to stay in Mexico, rather than entering the U.S. to begin the asylum application process, as is the norm under international law. With over 50,000 asylum-seekers currently forced to stay in Mexico, conditions are horrible: overcrowded, with improvised and inadequate housing, food scarcity, and violence, including rape, kidnapping, and torture.

As highlighted by Presidential candidate Julian Castro, these conditions are particularly dangerous for disabled and LGBTQ asylum-seekers, who can be seen as easy targets for assault. On October 7, as the LA Times reported, Castro led a group of eight lesbian and gay asylum-seekers from Cuba, Guatemala, and Honduras, along with a deaf asylum-seeker from El Salvador and three of her family members. While this action helped highlight the situation at the border, it did not lead to any change in status for the asylum-seekers accompanying Castro, who were all returned to Mexico by the end of the day. S-HP.

If you think that asylum-seekers who are LGBTQ, disabled or children should be able to wait for their hearings in the United States, here is whom to write.

6. Immigrants following legal process deported after marriage interviews

There’s a new twist in the administration’s anti-immigrant moves. Married couples with one partner who is a citizen or legal resident and another who is not must come in for “marriage interviews,” part of the process of gaining legal status for the partner without it. Now federal agents are arresting and deporting undocumented individuals leaving their marriage interviews, even when the result of the interview was positive, according to NBC News. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a pair legal cases in response to this move. The best-known suit involves six couples from Maryland, all of whom have been separated immediately after marriage interviews. The ACLU is pursuing a similar complaint in Massachusetts and says similar detentions have occurred in New York, Virginia, Florida, Illinois, and California. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the detention and deportation of immigrants following legal procedures, write your representatives.

7. Challenges to for-profit detention centers

According to a report from PBS and the Associated Press, Comprehensive Health Services (CHS), the company that runs the children’s migrant detention center in Homestead, Florida, has received almost $300 million in contracts to shelter migrant children, compared to $1.3 million they received in 2015. In June, 20% of children in immigration custody were in CHS centers. CHS currently operates six detention facilities, including three “tender age” shelters that house infants and toddlers. CHS is also working to establish a facility in El Paso that could house up to 500 individuals. There are currently some 5,100 children housed in private immigration detention facilities. California Governor Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, has just signed legislation that will lead to an end of all state contracts with privately run prisons and immigration detention centers. S-HP

If you want to thank Governor Newsom and urge your representatives to close for-profit detention centers everywhere, here are some addresses.

8. Billionaires pay taxes at lower rate than workers

The Washington Post, using information from the recently published report The Triumph of Injustice, has reported that in 2018, the super-rich paid a lower tax rate than working class (in this case the bottom 50% of all Americans). In 1960, the typical tax rate for the wealthiest 400 families in the U.S. was 56%. By 1980, that had dropped to 47%. This year, that had plummeted to 23%—less than the typical 24.2% paid by the bottom half of households. S-HP

If you have something to say about the current rate of taxation, you can write to your senators and representatives at these addresses.

9. Betsy DeVos facing jail time?

In June, 2018, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim issued a ruling that blocked the U.S. Department of Education from pursuing collection on student debts for former students at Corinthian Colleges, Inc. Corinthian filed for bankruptcy protection in the face of multiple investigations for fraud. At that time, an agreement was reached allowing Corinthian students with student loan debt to file a form that would prevent additional debt collection and refund monies already collected.

However, as reported in Bloomberg, in early October the Judge discovered that the Department of Education had repeatedly violated that order. In fact, more than 16,000 former Corinthian students had been contacted by the Department of Education and incorrectly informed that they had payments due on their student loans. At least 1,800 of those former students had wages or taxes garnished by the Department of Education. Judge Kim warned Department of Education lawyers, “At best it [the failure to stop collecting these student debts] is gross negligence, at worst it’s an intentional flouting of my order. According to Newsweek, Judge Kim is now in the process of deciding whether to find Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in contempt of court, which could lead to the Secretary serving jail time. S-HP

Do you think Betsy DeVos should resign? If so, you can tell her so here.

9. Russian interference in election confirmed; McConnell still resists election security

The GOP-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a report affirming that Russian operatives made significant use of social media to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to provide support to “Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin,” according to the New York Times. The goal of this social media campaign was to alienate significant proportions of the American electorate so that they would choose not to go to the polls. African Americans were the most frequent targets.

The Senate investigation also determined that this interference via social media continued—at an even greater rate—after the election. Richard Burr the Republican head of the committee has explained, “Russia in engaging in an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election.” This social media interference was facilitated by the fact that U.S. election laws do not require the disclosure of the funders of online political advertisements. The Senate Intelligence Committee report comes at a time when virtually all election-related legislation has been blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, despite the House’s passage of a number of pieces of legislation addressing the subject. S-HP

If you are inclined to write to McConnell and the Senate Intelligence Committee about election security, you can do so at these addresses.

10. Impeach Kavanaugh?

If you’re still disturbed by the hurried confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice last year, you’ll be interested to know about H.Res.560, a resolution currently before the House of Representatives calling for investigation of possible impeachment of Kavanaugh. This legislation currently has 14 cosponsors, including Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Jimmy Panetta is not among the cosponsors. H.Res.560 is currently with the House Rules Committee. S-HP.

If you would like the House to pass H.Res.560 and begin impeachment proceedings to look into Kavanaugh’s possible perjury during those hearings, you can write the Chair of the Rules committee here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Mass-produced fake comments

Millions of comments for the public record were submitted around the net-neutrality debate—and oddly, given that public opinion polls showed strong support for net neutrality, the comments swung the other way. Of the 22 million comments submitted, 9.5 million were fake, according to the New York Attorney General’s investigation. The FCC [Federal Communications Commission] demolished net-neutrality regulations anyway, a huge gift to big broadband companies.

How could that many fake comments be produced? An investigation by Buzzfeed found that “In a key part of the puzzle, two little-known firms, Media Bridge and LCX Digital, working on behalf of industry group Broadband for America, misappropriated names and personal information as part of a bid to submit more than 1.5 million statements favorable to their cause.” Both companies have been involved in other campaigns, overwhelming public agencies with their submissions; LCX digital is associated with Christian right strategist Ralph Reed, who was also working for Broadband for America, and with right-wing political consultant Mary Cheney. Many of the emails used came from the Modern Business Solutions data breach, Buzzfeed found. Several million pro-net neutrality comments were also identical sentences from suspect addresses. RLS

If you would like to write the chair of the FCC and the congressional committees with oversight over the FCC, here are the addresses.

12. Herbicide plus other triggers leads to aggressive breast cancer, study shows

The commonly used herbicide glyphosate has been shown to cause tumor growth when combined with oxidative stress–“a chemical reaction that results from aging, diet, smoking, and alcohol,” researchers wrote in Frontiers in Genetics. Scientists from the Purdue Center for Cancer Research and an institute in France found that glyphosate alone did not cause breast cancer, but alarmingly, the combination led to an especially aggressive form of breast cancer, luminal B, found in younger women.

Glyphosate was also linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma in a 2017 meta-analysis, Science Direct reported then. In 2015, the EPA found that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic while in 2017, the EPA declared it “not carcinogenic,” according to Indiana Environmental Reporter.

The lead scientist, Sophie Lelièvre,  a professor of cancer pharmacology in Purdue, said,  “Showing that glyphosate can trigger tumor growth, when combined with another frequently observed risk, is an important missing link when it comes to determining what causes cancer.” RLS

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has a number of well-focused action suggestions for voter empowerment and election security.
  • Amy Siskind’s list of not-normal events for week 151 is particularly illuminating this week.
  • Sarah-Hope’s complete list is at this site, though her action items follow the stories above.
  • On her list, Martha calls our attention to item 7 under “NEW”; SEC is massively undoing Dodd-Frank in ways which would de-regulate banks. There are numerous other opportunities to weigh in on proposals to open wilderness areas to roads, lower environmental standards, much more.
  • Rogan’s list for Monday has a number of good opportunities to comment.
  • Our colleague Chrysostom’s column on elections is on hiatus this week; check it out in a few days.

News You May Have Missed: October 6, 2019

With a second whistleblower having emerged and more appeals to foreign government being reported, the plot continues to curdle around the impeachment investigation (see last week’s post below for a complete run-down, packed with sources). In this new(s) atmosphere, it can be hard to know what to read. This week we recommend:

♦ “Unfit for Office,” a meticulous piece in the Atlantic by George Conway, the attorney who is famously married to Kellyanne Conway, who since 2017 has advised the president.

♦ Heather Cox Richardson’s Facebook posts. Richardson is a professor of History at Boston College who has been producing lucid reports and analyses of recent events. Her posts are public and she’ll help you catch up without being overwhelmed.

Do keep up with our colleague Crysostom’s summaries of elections news; you’ll be amazed by what is going on under the radar.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. The NRA-Russsia connection

The National Rifle Association (NRA) apparently connected Russian officials with American elected officials in exchange for profitable business deals for NRA leaders. An investigation by Senate Finance Committee Democrats found that top officials at the NRA used the organization’s financial resources—largely collected via member dues—to curry favor with Russians. These activities included an NRA leadership trip to Russia, the NRA arranging meetings between Russians and elected officials, and lucrative business deals between NRA leadership and Russians. The NRA also paid for lodging and travel of Russian nationals throughout 2015 and 2016, as part of a relationship that supported foreign actors looking to influence the U.S. elections.

NBC News reports that “Former NRA President David Keene and his wife, Donna Keene, organized the trip [to Russia] with the promise of new business opportunities by the Russians, including access to a Russian arms manufacturer that was under U.S. sanctions….” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking member of the Finance Committee that conducted the investigation, said that the NRA may have violated numerous tax laws. “The NRA,” he said, “has abused its tax-exempt status and essentially become a business enterprise that its board members and leadership use for lucrative personal business opportunities, including in Moscow.’”

More recently, according to the New York Times, Trump and NRA head Wayne LaPierre met at the White House for a discussion that included both ways the NRA might help Trump fight the current impeachment inquiry and Trump could help prevent action on gun reform. The NRA has responded to the New York Times story, claiming the meeting did not include any “quid pro quo” arrangements.

If you want to see the NRA’s political activities, its relationship with Trump, and its tax-exempt status fully investigated, tell your members of Congress.

2. Who should recuse himself?

Attorney General Barr’s conduct related to the whistleblower’s complaint and the Mueller Report and intelligence investigations have been deeply concerning, according to the New Yorker. He has repeatedly misrepresented his own actions and the Department of Justice’s decision-making process; he has also repeatedly refused Congress access to materials to which the Constitution grants them access. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had the professional ethics to recuse himself at the slightest suggestion of a conflict of interest in the Russia investigation. Barr is certainly equally compromised, both in terms of the Russia investigation and the new impeachment investigation regarding interactions between the Trump administration and Ukraine. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect Barr to at least match Sessions’ (not all that high) level of ethical behavior in his role as Attorney General. S-HP

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has admitted that he was on the infamous phone call in which Trump asked the Ukrainian president to intervene in the election by digging up dirt on Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son, MSNBC reports. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has asked him to recuse himself from any Ukraine-related issue.

Should Barr and Pompeo recuse themselves from the impeachment investigation? Let them know!

3. Blocking asylum-seekers

“This Week in Terrible Immigration News” on the Current Affairs website outlines many of the means by which the Trump administration is trying to limit both the number of asylum claims and the actual granting of asylum. Among the moves the administration is attempting:

  • -Make indefinite detention the norm for all asylum seekers, including children, and extend that detention throughout the entire asylum proceeding.
  • -Close legal ports of entry for asylum seekers while refusing to process asylum claims for those who enter the U.S. at a point that is not an official port of entry.
  • –Force all asylum seekers not from Mexico to remain in Mexico for the duration of their asylum proceeding, while simultaneously making it illegal for asylum seekers not from Mexico to travel through Mexico in their journey to seek asylum.
  • -Reverse precedents giving rights to asylum seekers. S-HP

Do you have something to say to Democratic candidates and congressmembers about these ongoing efforts to block pathways to asylum? Addresses are here.

4. Legal immigrants denied entry without health insurance

In addition to blocking those seeking asylum, Trump is trying to cut the number of immigrants overall. His latest strategy is a requirement that people already approved to immigrate legally must be able to show that they will have health insurance within 30 days of arriving in the country, either through a family member or an employer, or that they are wealthy enough to cover the costs of any healthcare expenses that might arise. As the Washington Post explains, the measure is clearly designed to cut the numbers of immigrants who have been waiting to join family members in the United States. RLS

If you want to speak up about this policy, which is clearly designed to prevent family reunification, you can write to the addresses here.

5. US wants to delay approval of asylum-seekers’ work permits

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has submitted notice of a federal rules change that would eliminate the requirement that asylum seekers’ initial work permit applications be processed within 30 days. According to Immigration Forum, if implemented, this rule change is apt to have a number of negative consequences. It will limit asylum seekers’ ability to find legal work and encourage participation in “under the table” employment; will lower tax revenues, due to the drop in legally employed asylum seekers; will make it more difficult for businesses to hire workers with needed skills; and will facilitate exploitation of asylum seekers. S-HP

If you want to speak up about this proposed rule change and its likely consequence, here is how you can get your comment on the public record.

6. Workers unsafe at poultry processing plants

ProPublica and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have published a piece on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s issuing of line speed-up approvals to eleven poultry-processing plants, most of which have significant histories of worker injuries and deaths. How has the speed-up affected worker safety? We may never know because the Trump administration has ended a requirement that plants share their injury records with the government. Chicken processing plants in general have worse safety records than both coal mines and construction sites (workplaces typically viewed as hazardous) because workers are required to use extremely sharp knives at top speed with both these knives and other processing-line blades only inches from their hands. ProPublica and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution note, “Scientific studies, including both government-funded and industry-sponsored, have established that going faster worsens the risk of repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. There is also evidence that feeling rushed or struggling to keep up with the work pace are factors in traumatic injuries.” S-HP

You can speak up about poultry processing line speeds!

7. Auditing the poor

The past spring, ProPublica reported that IRS audit rates are comparable for the working poor and the top 1%, which is counterintuitive, since tax fraud by the wealthy is much more apt than similar activities by the poor to affect government income from taxation. This led Congressmembers to question IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig regarding this IRS practice and to ask for a plan to fix the “imbalanced balance.” Rettig sent a report to Congress, but said that any decrease in audits of low-income taxpayers and increase in audits of wealthier taxpayer could not be undertaken unless the funds that have been cut from the IRS in the past nine years were restored. The reasoning? It’s easier to audit the poor. These audits can be done by low-level employees and are often pursued via mail, rather than in-person meetings. Auditing the rich is hard. The tax filings are more complex and must be done by higher-level employees—and the IRS has had difficulty retaining employees at this level. According to ProPublica, “[Senator Ron] Wyden [D-OR] agreed in a statement that the IRS needs more money, ‘but that does not eliminate the need for the agency to begin reversing the alarming trend of plummeting audit rates of the wealthy within its current budget.’” S-HP

You can speak up about the importance of auditing the rich. Here’s how.

8. Voting security at risk again

At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised to hear about vulnerabilities in U.S. voting machines. The U.S. has no national cybersecurity requirements for voting machines, and vulnerabilities have been documented for years. In fact, some existing weaknesses were originally spotted as much as a decade ago. We also know about ongoing attempts by foreign governments to hack our voting systems, though the Hill thinks that the machines themselves are a higher security risk. Wired recently reported on Defcon Voting Village, a once-a-year gathering of hackers who attempt to compromise election machinery to identify its vulnerabilities so they can be addressed. The weaknesses they found included poor physical security protections, easily guessable hardcoded system credentials, potential for operating system manipulation, and vulnerabilies to remote attacks that could compromise the functioning of systems or bar access to those systems. S-HP

If you are concerned about cybersecurity for voting machines, you can address these officials.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. How fracking endangers health

Fracking endangers both the environment and human health, and is associated with birth defects, cancer and asthma, among other health problems, according to a recent report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, which pulled together the results of 1700 studies. Pregnant women in areas where fracking is prevalent are at “higher risk for poor birth outcomes, including premature birth, certain kinds of birth defects and small-for-date births—infants born small for the number of months of pregnancy,” PRI noted. Sandra Steingraber, who worked on the study, said that there was no regulatory framework to deal with the issues. “In other words,” she said, “there’s no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly or without imperiling climate stability, on which public health, of course, depends.” A 2015 study from the previous EPA demonstrated the danger that fracking poses to drinking water, contaminating water at various stages in the process. RLS

If you want your congress members to address the issue of fracking, here are their addresses.

10. US cities bracing for hundred-year floods–annually

Some island countries and several U.S. cities–including Los Angeles, Miami, Savannah, Honolulu, San Juan, Key West and San Diego–can expect “hundred-year floods” annually if the release of greenhouse gasses continues at the present rate, according to a recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), summarized by the Washington Post. Oceans will rise by several feet by the end of the century; warming oceans have already damaged coral reefs and led to increasingly destructive storms. Science Alert quoted UN Secretary General António Guterres as saying at the most recent climate summit, “Even our language has to adapt: What once was called ‘climate change’ is now truly a ‘climate crisis.’ … We are seeing unprecedented temperatures, unrelenting storms and undeniable science.” RLS

11. Who funds climate deniers?

Meanwhile, the Smithsonian Magazine has identified who funds the climate deniers–and it’s not just Coors and Koch, along with associated billionaires donating through donor trusts, which keep their identities secret. The Vanguard Foundation, a progressive charitable organization, and the Annenberg Foundation, which funds all manner of arts organizations and community groups, are both on the list. The article links to a 2013 study by Robert Brule and published in Climatic Change; Brule explains exactly how the movement to suppress climate change knowledge evolved and who funded it. RLS

If you want to speak up about this, you could write the foundations listed in the article. And you could remind people in Washington that the climate crisis needs to be addressed–now.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has many clear, positive actions that you can take this week.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list is always worth reviewing, as there are usually a few items that haven’t made it into our summaries.
  • Rogan’s list has a series of excellent action items and resources.
  • Martha’s list this week is a compenium of policy changes and proposed changes that affect the environment, public safety, individual rights–and more. Read through it for an education into the fine print of all that is going on. She offers opportunities to comment for the public record as well.

News You May Have Missed: September 29, 2019

We’re sure you haven’t missed the news about the whistleblower whose cogent and cautious complaint–that Trump had tried to use foreign aid as a bargaining chip to get the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden’s son–was initially suppressed. However, as the plot gets thicker and thicker, we thought you might like to have a comprehensive overview of the whole messy story–at least to date.

We’ve also tried to keep track of the most critical immigration news (more stories follow). For a devastating summary of where things stand, see Brianna Rennix’s column in Current Affairs, “This Week in Terrible Immigration News.” Rennix is the Senior Editor of Current Affairs and an immigration attorney.

Our colleague Crysostom sums up the week’s news about appointments and elections.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Unpresidented.

A C.I.A. whistleblower has filed a complaint through formal legal channels. Their evidence was initially (possibly illegally) withheld from Congress. The complaint was declassified Wednesday (pdf; if you read only one link from our account, make it this one).

In July 2019, Trump called Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to pressure him to help smear a political rival. The smear? In 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden demanded that Ukraine fire Viktor Shokin from their top prosecutor position, with Western leaders and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists united in wanting the corrupt Shokin’s removal. Trump is saying Biden used his power to protect his son Hunter from prosecution, even though Shokin had already dropped his investigation into the Hunter Biden-associated company Burisma when Joe Biden intervened, and Hunter was hired after the period originally under investigation.

On the July 25 call (pdf; annotated by WaPo):

  • Zelensky curried favor with Trump by mentioning his stay at a Trump Hotel. Trump has trained world leaders to bargain for their national goals with personal favors. Ukraine already showed their understanding of this in 2018, when they stopped cooperating with Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort while the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell them missiles.
  • The president criticized Marie Louise Yovanovitch, ambassador to Ukraine from August 2016 to May 2019, as “bad news”, and made the chilling comment, “Well, she’s going to go through some things.”

But allegations of wrongdoing don’t hinge on a single phone call. Giuliani had multiple meetings with Ukrainian officials, at least one set up by the State Department. He also worked through Soviet-born Floridians Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have Ukrainian financial interests and histories of fraud, mafia ties, and ties to smugglers, all detailed in this article. Parnas and Fruman have stayed at the Trump Hotel, brunched with Don Jr., dined with Trump in Washington, and met with and raised funds for congressional Republicans, all “without registering as foreign agents or being vetted by the State Department.” A Florida lawyer specializing in foreign investments wired money from a client trust account to Parnas, who then transferred $325,000 of that money to a Trump-supporting super PAC, apparently laundering an illegal foreign campaign contribution. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is investigating.

The House has opened an impeachment inquiry into the President (video) where the question won’t be whether or not Trump broke the law, but whether he failed to uphold his constitutional duties. The Senate has started a bipartisan inquiry and will depose Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Ambassador Kurt Volker, Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl and Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Both Senate and House heard from intelligence officials Thursday. On Sunday, the House Intelligence Committee made arrangements to hear testimony from the whistleblower, according to the Washington Post. Indivisible is calling on Pelosi to cancel the Sept 30-Oct 15 recess.

The whistleblower complaint also alleges that White House officials sometimes hide computer records of Trump communications with foreign officials (including the July 25 call) on a separate, covert network, in clear abuse of the National Security Act. CNN reported that among those foreign officials were Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The wrongdoing is not limited to Trump. Vice President Pence also discussed Biden with Zelensky (Trump helpfully threw Pence under the bus). Acting White House Chief of Staff Mulvaney ordered the hold on the distribution of funds. Secretary of State Pompeo got Ukrainian officials to defend Trump (and has been subpoenaed). Attorney General Barr was named by Trump in the call.

On Thursday morning, in a “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest” moment, Trump insinuated that the whistleblower, who he called a spy, should be killed, saying, “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.” (LA Times audio)

It is illegal under US law for a politician to extort a foreign government to help win an election. Moreover, part of the $391 million package Trump delayed will pay for a secure system to allow Ukrainian military communications to continue despite ongoing Russian hacking and jamming… meaning that Trump compromised national security, and did so in a way that just happens to benefit Russia. JM

NYT keeps a list of Who Supports an Impeachment Inquiry Against Trump if you want to check on, and call, your representatives.

2. Other investigations.

Huffington Post reports on a potential second whistleblower with evidence given to Ways and Means that Trump tried to rig tax audit of his personal returns.

The New York Times has a summary of each of 30 investigations related to the president. JM

3. Many fewer refugees to be admitted to the U.S.

In a deeply disturbing move, President Trump has slashed the cap on the number of refuges the U.S. will admit, the New York Times reports. In 2016, then-President Obama suggested the U.S. should be taking responsibility globally for admitting 110,000 refugees annually. Last year, Trump and the Republicans accepted 30,000 refugees. Next year the U.S. intends to admit only 18,000 refugees.

In contrast, with only about 11% of the population of the U.S., Canada accepted 28,100 refugees in 2018, according to Global News. S-HP.

To speak up about our responsibility to the world’s refugees, write those on this list.

4. We’re all paying to keep empty detention centers open

While there haven’t been children in the Homestead Detention Center since August 3, taxpayers are still paying $720,000 day to keep the facility fully staffed in case of an influx. That’s a bit more than $5 million a week or $21.6 million per month, according to CBS News. Incarcerating children is helping to keep Caliburn, the company that runs this and other private prisons and whose Board members include ex-Chief of Staff John Kelly, profitable. The company actually wrote in their SEC filings: “Border enforcement and immigration policy is driving significant growth for our company.” S-HP

If you have opinions about whether this is a good use of your tax money, write your representatives–addresses here.

5. We’re all paying for the tariffs

The Center for American Progress has been examining the impact of Trump’s China tariffs. They report that the Federal Reserve estimates the tariffs will cost each U.S. household $831 per year, while JPMorgan is projecting a cost of $1000 per household—and both these numbers were calculated before Trump escalated the trade war with additional tariffs. The Center for American Progress estimates the current sot of these tariffs at over $100.7 billion (yes, that’s billion with a b). To look up the tariffs’ costs thus far for your Congressional district, just go here. S-HP

If you want to speak up about how much the tarrif war is costing you, write your representatives.

6. Graduate student teachers no longer “employees”

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has just published a proposed rule that would declare that students (undergraduate and graduate) working for any private college or university, including teachers and researchers, would not be considered “employees” under the law. This means they would have no collective bargaining rights and could not turn to the NLRB for redress of workplace abuses. The NLRB’s logic: “The Board believes that this proposed standard is consistent with the purposes and policies of the Act, which contemplates jurisdiction over economic relationships, not those that are primarily educational in nature.” However, as anyone with much contact with a college or university would already know, many schools now rely on graduate students to do the bulk of lower-division instruction and to avoid hiring additional faculty, which certainly sounds like “employment.” This proposed rule is open for comments through November 11. At the moment, only five comments have been submitted, so we need to speak up.

Do you want to let the NLRB know that labor is labor? If so, you can send a formal comment.

7. Election (In)security

You may have heard that the Senate, with Mitch McConnell’s blessing, has passed a $250 million election security bill. Before you start doing a happy dance, let’s look at some of the details. These monies would be given to local elections offices to purchase additional voting machines. Does it require machines with paper ballot verification? No. Does it require machines that haven’t been hacked in fifteen minutes by a twelve-year-old (seriously)? No. Does it require machines be auditable? No. Does it require that the machines not be connected to the internet, which facilitates hacking? No. S-HP

Do you have views on election security? Write your senators.

International News

8. Depriving the poorest countries of humanitarian aid

In April, President Trump froze foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in protest of the number of individuals from these countries entering the U.S. to seek asylum. The loss of aid makes conditions in the region even more dire, giving individuals who live there even more reason to attempt a move to the U.S. National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a story illustrating what frozen aid has meant for one Guatemalan family. The Marroquín family, struggling, small-scale corn farmers, had been delighted to receive a small monthly stipend through a program run by Save the Children and primarily financed with U.S. aid. The stipend was originally $60 a month, but after the aid freeze, the amount kept dropping, until the program was ended altogether. The family spent their final payment of $18 on chickens, in hopes that their eggs might provide a continuing source of calories and nutrition to supplement their corn.

According to NPR, other projects currently in jeopardy include “discount agricultural supply markets in the highlands; rural health clinics; community savings and loans funds; after-school tutoring for kids in violent urban neighborhoods; shelters for victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking; re-integration services for returned migrants; trainings aimed at improving the transparency and effectiveness of local governments; and support for conserving ecologically sensitive landscapes.” Are we to believe that punishing the poorest of the poor in these ways will discourage Guatemalans from seeking a better life in the U.S.? S-HP

Do you think foreign aid should be restored? Here’s a list of those to write.

9. Protect

Burma’s Rohingya people have suffered mass killings and gang rapes; 730,000 have fled to Bangladesh. The UN has said that the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims was conducted with “genocidal intent.” According to its own internal report, which Reuters obtained, the UN did not respond effectively in part because it did not have the support of the Security Council. As the report reads, “The overall responsibility was of a collective character; in other words, it truly can be characterised as a systemic failure of the United Nations.”

The House has passed H.R.3190, the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act. This legislation calls for sanctions on Burmese officials and, as explained in the official summary, “authorizes humanitarian aid for Burma, Bangladesh, and the surrounding region for various purposes, including aid for ethnic minorities targeted by Burma’s military and support for voluntary resettlement of displaced persons. The bill also prohibits security assistance for or security cooperation with Burma’s military and security forces, with exceptions for certain existing programs related to training, research, and reconciliation.” H.R.3190 has now moved to the Senate, where it is with the Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP

Do you want your senators to advance the bill to protect Burma’s Rohingya people? Information here.

Science, Technology & Environment

10. Greta Thunberg attacks are coordinated 

Teen Vogue reports that the deluge of hateful remarks and criticism regarding 16 year old climate activist Greta Thunberg aren’t exactly of a grassroots groundswell variety. The reporting traces back much of the propaganda efforts to a familiar coterie of incredibly wealthy, old, white men best described as “free market radicals.” That a 16 year old girl has been moved to speak so articulately and passionately about what is almost certainly the greatest existential threat to her generation is apparently also existentially threatening to these moneyed interests. Among the originators are the laughably named Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, the oil lobbying allied Heartland Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute as well as some key British players in the Brexit debacle. They say you can judge a person by their enemies; this seems very true with Ms. Thunberg. JC

11. New UN report reveals we are already within a climate catastrophe

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its newest report this week entitled “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate,” which details that we are already well past the point of no return to avoid serious climate related disasters. Among the baked-in impacts are *annual* so-called “hundred-year floods” for some cities, more than three feet of sea rise by the end of this century (displacing more than four million people in this country alone), sharp decline in ocean productivity, mass die-off of coral and increased water shortages from the end of glacier-supplied water sources. These are things that are going to happen, no matter what we do now.. even with the most extreme proposals;what will happen if we don’t make significant systemic changes will be much worse, the IPCC explains. JC

Resources

  • Sarah-Hope’s list is partly incorporated above, but she has additional material especially for Californians.
  • In addition to a variety of other actions you can take, Rogan’s list suggests some ways your voice can be heard on the Ukraine/impeachment issue.
  • In Martha’s list, note particularly the issue of water quality in Washington State.

News You May Have Missed: September 22, 2019

It seems to be the week of the whistleblower. You’ve likely not missed the news that Trump apparently asked the president of Ukraine–eight times in one phone call–to investigate Joe Biden’s son, and that the Justice Department is refusing to forward the whistleblower’s complaint about it to Congress.  You probably saw the articles on the FBI’s refusal to interview witnesses before Supreme Court justice Kavanaugh was confirmed, a refusal that has just now come to light.

But you might have missed the piece in the Guardian about the climate whistleblowers whose research was suppressed by the Trump administration, or CBS’s piece on the intelligence analyst who resigned because the Trump administration tried to delete five pages of “basic science” from its climate report. 

It’s incredible that this news would come out on the heels of the climate strike, in which millions of people all over the globe demanded climate action.  Canadians: you can march September 27. Torontonians: here’s a list of all the climate actions this week.

Americans: See Sarah-Hope’s list for ways to address the Justice Department’s refusal to follow whistleblower procedures, along with various other actions you can take to preserve human rights, object the suppression of climate science, and stop the impeding war against Iran. And see our colleague Crysostom’s election roundup; his September 19 post focuses on primary challengers and his September 17 post passes on the gossip about the North Caroline GOP. (Link in the Resources list, below.)

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Asylum-seekers to be sent to El Salvador

Asylum-seekers who pass through El Salvador on the way to seek asylum in the U.S. must now seek asylum there first under a new agreement the Trump administration has struck with El Salvador, the New York Times reports. Not only will asylum-seekers be required to apply in El Salvador if they pass through the country., but they will actually be sent there from the U.S. border, according to the Washington Post.

El Salvador has a high rate of internal displacement and is riddled with gang violence, a New York Times story explained in detail last December. The Times says that tens of thousands of Salvadorans have had to leave their homes and in 2018, 46,800 Salvadorans sought asylum around the world. The murder rate may be falling, but in general Salvadorans do not go to the police when a family member is attacked, in fear of retaliation. Some Salvadorans in the US have Temporary Protected Status, which Trump has sought to end; a lawsuit halted the end of TPS only until January. Those without TPS who are deported face the same violent conditions they fled, along with the stigma of being a “returnee,” Foreign Policy in Focus explains.

In the 1980s, El Salvador endured a protracted civil war marked by atrocities; 70,000 people died. The United States supported the government that was widely understood to be responsible for the majority of human rights violations, pouring 1.5 million dollars a day into the conflict, according to some estimates. It is not clear what the U.S. has promised El Salvador in return for considering the asylum claims of people passing through the country; it is already contributing heavily to law enforcement there. According to the Times, a similar deal struck with Guatemala is on hold while lawsuits proceed. RLS

If you are concerned about U.S. abandonment of our responsibilities to asylum seekers and refugees via agreement with Central American countries that face the same levels of violence the asylum-seekers and refugees are fleeing, you can write the people listed here.

2. “Factory justice” at the border

Asylum-seekers in Laredo, Texas, are having their cases heard in new courtrooms housed in tents, places where legal advocates are forbidden to make “Know Your Rights” presentations and the public and press are excluded. Judges are often not present but appeal virtually. “It’s like factory justice,” the LA Times quoted Charanya Krishnaswami, Americas’ advocacy director for Amnesty International USA, as saying. “They’re just trying to get as many people through with the least friction as possible. They know people having counsel will cause friction in their system — people will express fear and potentially win their cases.”

In Brownsville, Texas, families who have been required to stay in Mexico awaiting their court hearings have been required to show up to tent courts at 4 AM, navigating the dangerous city of Matamoros with their children at night, the Washington Post reported. These asylum seekers are homeless or in tent shelters in an area of Mexico that has a level-four State Department warning; that is, tourists are warned against visiting because of the risks of violence. RLS

If you have views on the need for transparency in the tent courts and for the safety of immigrants waiting in Mexico, those on this list should perhaps hear from you.

3. Documenting credible fear

Families seeking asylum in the U.S. must have a “credible fear” of returning to their home countries, as determined by an asylum officer. The process is grueling, requiring an hour-long interview, with an explanation of the process only available in a complicated document written in legalese, Sojourners explains. Unless a volunteer legal agency, such as the Dilley Pro Bono Project, is on hand, asylum seekers must go through these interviews without legal assistance. Now, the process is likely to become even more difficult, as the Trump administration plans to have Border Patrol agents, rather than asylum officers, conduct the “credible fear” interviews, SF Gate reports. The administration expects that Border Patrol agents will confirm fewer applicants as having credible fear. RLS

If you have concerns about the suitability of BP agents to ascertain credible fear, you can write the people listed here.

4. Girls in ICE custody deprived of menstrual supplies

A lawsuit filed by 19 states accuses the Trump administration of not providing adequate sanitary products to girls in ICE custody, leaving them to bleed through their clothes and unable to clean themselves. According to the Independent, “[t]he lawsuit includes testimony by Alma Poletti, an investigator,… who said one young woman who was having her period was only permitted to take a shower after 10 days. ‘[This young woman] recalls there was another girl at the facility who was also on her period. They were each given one sanitary pad per day. Although the guards knew they had their periods, they were not offered showers or a change of clothes, even when the other girl visibly bled through her pants.’” S-HP

You can write your congresspeople to urge that girls in ICE custody be provided with adequate sanitary supplies and opportunities to wash.

5. An “epidemic” of violence against trans women

The “life expectancy of trans women in the Americas is between 30 and 35 years of age,” reported the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2014. Bee Love Slater was the 18th transgender person killed this year in the U.S.—that is, the 18th murder that was reported and identified as such. Her body was found in a burned-out car near West Palm Beach, Florida. 17 year old Bailey Reeves was the 17th trans person killed; she was shot in Baltimore over Labor Day. The American Medical Association has described an “epidemic” of violence against trans people, especially African-Americans. However, transgender people are not protected by federal legislation and indeed, in August the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to permit discrimination on the basis of trans status, Time magazine reported. Florida’s hate-crime law excludes trans people, according to the Guardian. Note that at a September 20 Presidential candidate forum on LGBTQ issues, Elizabeth Warren specifically named each of the eighteen transgendered women who have been killed this year. RLS, S-HP

If you want to thank Elizabeth Warren for acknowledging these tragic deaths and to advocate that your member of Congress address hate crimes against trans people, the addresses are here.

6. EPA tries to open aquifers on Indigenous land to uranium mining

Uranium could be mined and contaminated water disposed of in the underground water tables in the Southern Black Hills of North Dakota  if Hong Kong-based Arzaga Uranium succeeds in obtaining permits. The EPA had already issued drafted permits, which were resoundingly rejected by members of the public and Native American communities; now it is proposing to re-issue permits and has opened a public comment period. Arzaga and its local subsidiary PowerTech would drill “4,000 new injection well holes in the Inyan Kara and Minnelusa aquifers at the 10,000-acre Dewey Burdock site located on the headwaters of the Cheyenne River, 50 miles west of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation,” Indianz reports. The EPA’s own guidelines require it to consult “on a government-to-government basis…when EPA actions and decisions may affect tribal interests.” However, no such consultation has taken place, according to tribal members. RLS

To speak up about water safety and to advocate for government-government consultation with Indigenous nations, comment for the public record. Here’s how.

7. Narrowing the options for challenging discrimination in housing

The Trump administration has introduced a new rule that may make it harder for people to bring forward discrimination complaints under the Fair Housing Act, City Lab explains. Currently, a philosophy of “disparate impact” has been to determine when housing practices are discriminatory. Under a Supreme Court ruling on the issue of “disparate impact” practices that adversely affect minorities, even practices that do not explicitly discriminate against them, can be considered violations of fair housing law. The proposed rule change would eliminate the use of the “disparate impact” standard in demonstrating discriminatory housing practices. The rule change would also indemnify lenders, landlords, and others, if they use third-party algorithms that are subsequently demonstrated to have a discriminatory effect in decisions about credit risks, interest rates, and more. S-HP

You can speak up for the public record about discrimination in housing . Here’s how.

8. Books banned in prisons

Multiple states as well as the federal prison system ban particular books or try to restrict book deliveries. Texas has banned “over 10,000 books from prisons, including books by Alice Walker, John Grisham, Jenna Bush Hager, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Bob Dole,” while allowing books from Adolf Hitler and David Duke, according to the Action Network. Oregon prisons are banning books that teach coding, Vice reports. Salon points out that various kinds of books that advise prisoners’ families how to cope, prisoners how to navigate the prison system, and various self-help books are banned; because the guidelines are so vague, it is difficult to appeal. RLS

You can ask the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to hold hearings on book restriction practices in prisons.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. War with Iran?

The Trump government very nearly attacked Iran in June, in retaliation for Iran’s downing of a surveillance drone; Trump bragged that he stopped the attack with 10 minutes to go because he was concerned about civilian deaths, the New York Times reports. Instead, he directed a cyber attack against an Iranian intelligence group, according to the Times. Now, Trump has sent troops to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in response to attacks on Saudi oil tankers which he blames on Iran.

Iran has sharply denied the attack and the Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility for it, which they say are in retaliation for Saudi Arabia’s merciless bombings of territory they hold. The Trump administration has also intensified economic sanctions on Iran and denied visas to many Iranian students poised to study at campuses in the University of California system; those coming to graduate programs had already left jobs in Iran and turned down offers from other universities, the New York Times reports. Code Pink, Win Without War, and other organizations foresee war with Iran and are urging action against it. If you’re worried about the looming threat of war with Iran, H.R.2354 and S.1039, both titled the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act, would explicitly deny Trump the authority he needs to go to war with Iran. H.R.2354 is with the House Foreign Affairs committee.

You can urge Congress to act to prevent war on Iran.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. North America has lost 3 billion birds

Research by American and Canadian scientists published in the journal Science details how over the last fifty years, bird species have declined in huge numbers across the board, with only a few exceptions. The research drew upon annual surveys conducted by volunteers across Canada and the United States encompassing 90% of species; they found that populations, even “common” suburban species, are in steep decline. Grassland birds such as meadowlarks and bobwhites have been particularly impacted, with declines of over fifty percent seen. The only species bucking this downward trend are waterfowl in wetlands such as ducks and geese and raptor species. It is no coincidence that the duck and goose habitats are jealously protected and nurtured by sportsmen while raptors have some of the strongest regulatory protections. The causes for the declines are familiar: loss of habitat, pesticides and feral cats. JC

Things you can do to preserve birds: •  Grow native plants
•  Ban neonicotinoids
•  Prevent window strikes
•  Keep cats indoors and spay or neuter 

11. Climate studies suppressed

The day before the worldwide Climate Strike, Democrats released a list of 1,400 climate-related studies produced by Department of Agriculture researchers, studies addressing such issues as the decline in the nutritional values of food and the projected drop in crop yields–all critical information for farmers and ranchers, along with the rest of us. None of these were made available to farmers who depend on Department of Agriculture information, according to Politico. Climate-related issues across a number of other departments were also silenced. The effect of the climate crisis on food supplies worldwide was the subject of a United Nations report in August, as we reported then; problems such as desertification, water scarcity, fire, drought, and other kinds of land degradation are becoming more acute, putting food security at risk. RLS

If you would like to address the suppression of climate research, write to your representatives. Here’s how.

RESOURCES

  • Chrysostom’s comprehensive election roundup.
  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist offers some clear-cut actions you can take to support voter turnout.
  • Some of Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the stories above; see others on her list.
  • Rogan’s list suggests actions you can take on impeachment, human rights, gun reform, border wall construction, fees charged to immigrants, and much more.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record on a myriad of topics: cuts to food stamps, regulations linked to the USCIS public charge rule, expedited removal of immigrants, exploitation of the Alaskan wilderness and national forests, the California auto-emission waiver, immigration court changes, Medicaid work requirement, safe drinking water, nuclear weapons, pesticide residues allowed, the right of federal employees to unionize, miners exposed to diesel exhaust, and the ACA.

News You May Have Missed September 15, 2019

A youth-led climate strike is set for September 20 & 27. Canadians might want to look at this Chatelaine (yes, Chatelaine!) story for an overview. The overall climate strike website is a bit glitchy, but it identifies all the supporting organizations and will help you identify climate strike actions nearby. As Chatelaine points out, Canada is nowhere near the targets in the Paris Agreement that it signed; the Climate Action Network identifies the shortfalls and necessary steps. Vice has some ideas about how to support the climate strike if you can’t attend.

A few related sites: Toronto Climate Action Network, Rally and March September 27. Code Pink (San Francisco March September 20)

Closer to home, note Martha’s list below. Propose rule changes would relax safety regulations in nursing homes, but Monday the 16th is the last day to comment.

Our colleague Crysostom has news, polls, gossip and analysis on important state elections, as well as some possible gubenatorial recalls.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Trump blocks Temporary Protected Status for Bahamians

Hurricane Dorian has left the Bahamas devasted—an over-used word that might well be an understatement in the current moment. Mark Morgan, current chief of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), had suggested that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) could be extended to Bahamians as a result, which would be in line with past practice regarding TPS. Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio (both from Florida) have also called for TPS for those affected by Dorian. Donald Trump has shot down that possibility, claiming “very bad people” from the Bahamas would be a threat to the safety of Americans if allowed to remain in the country.

As the Los Angeles Times explains, the TPS program was established by Congress in 1990 and allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant temporary legal status to individuals in the U.S. whose home countries have been impacted by armed conflict or natural disaster to such an extent that it would be “unsafe and inhumane to force them to return.” TPS does not grant a path to citizenship; it merely allows those affected by disaster to remain in the U.S. for appropriate periods of time. Hurricane Dorian is clearly the sort of disaster to which TPS was intended to respond. S-HP

If you want to urge your representatives to advocate for TPS and appropriate visa waivers for survivors of Hurricane Dorian , you can find their addresses at this link.

2. Supreme Court allows Trump to require that refugees apply for asylum in the countries they pass through

Asylum-seekers now must apply for asylum in any country they pass through before arriving in the United States, according to a recent Supreme Court ruling. (Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented.) For example, an asylum seeker from Guatemala must first apply and be turned down in Mexico. A lawsuit on this issue is wending its way through the lower courts, and while an injunction had kept the policy from being implemented, the Supreme Court said it could go forward while the lawsuits proceeded, NBC News reported. Mexico said it would not change its policies in order to accommodate the US policy, according to Democracy Now.

More than 10,000 asylum seekers are waiting at the Tijuana-San Diego border to apply for asylum in the US. El Otro Lado is the only group providing legal aid at that site; in a tweet they wrote, “This is a death sentence for most of our clients.” RLS

If you want to advocate for the rights of asylum seekers, the addresses of appropriate people are here. You can also donate to El Otro Lado here.

3. Funding to analyze backlogged rape kits must be reauthorized by September 30

The Debbie Smith act, due to expire September 30, has resulted in  200,000 solved rape cases. The act, reauthorized in 2014, provided funding to test backlogged rape kits, which contain the evidence gathered when someone has reported a rape. In 2017 the backlog was 169,000, according to the Washington Post; another 200,000 remain in labs and police evidence rooms.  One in five rape kits identifies a serial rapist.
In a reversal of the usual story, the Senate has reauthorized the funding, while the House has not; reauthorization is buried in the Violence Against Women Act, and a reconciliation process has not yet begun.
As Debbie Smith, for whom the Act was named, told the Post,  Smith said. “Hope deferred means another day, week or year that a rapist remains on the street.” RLS

To urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and your representative to make sure that funding is authorized by the deadline, find their addresses here.

4. California passes bill banning for-profit prisons and detention centers

Assuming Governor Gavin Newsom signs the bill just passed by the California legislature, private prisons and immigrant detention facilities would be banned in California. There are currently four privately owned detention facilities in California, which are for all practical purposes prisons; in one of these facilities, Adelanto, immigrants were subject to abuse and denied medical care for “weeks and months,” according to the LA Times. The facilities will not be closed immediately but when their federal contracts end, Vice reported. Newsom is likely to sign the bill; as Democracy Now reported, when he was inaugurated, he said that California should “end the outrage of private prisons once and for all.” RLS

If you want to urge Governor Newsom to sign the bill–or suggest that your representatives sponsor similar legislation on the national level, check here for addresses.

5. Emoluments lawsuit against Trump can proceed

Trump may yet have to face a lawsuit based on the emoluments clause, which forbids elected officials from accepting profits from foreign governments. Though several courts had tossed out lawsuits saying they were politically motivated, a federal judge said that whether a lawsuit has political motivations is beside the point; lawsuits have to be evaluated on their merits. Time-consuming legal maneuvering will likely keep the case from going forward until after the 2020 election, according to Politico. RLS

If you wish to ask the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to continue to monitor possible emoluments clause violations by Donald Trump, you can contact him at this address.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Climate catastrope projected for Europe

Flooding and extreme rain in Northern and Central Europe. Drought in Southern Europe. The destruction of trees by bark beetle. Deadly cyanobacteria in warming lakes. Europe can expect an acute climate crisis unless carbon emissions are drastically reduced, according to Foreign Policy in Focus.

Various European political parties have advocated for the Green New Deal for Europe, which has identified ways to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

See the information above on the climate marches September 20 & 27.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Speaking of climate change…

A piece in the Washington Post outlines recent research showing that for many areas of the globe, the 2 c global warming “tipping point” is already here. While there have been many headlines about how global average temperatures are rising, not as much has been said of local temperature deviations, such as a “blob” of ocean just off the coast of Uruguay that has warmed by 3 c  since the 1980s, an increase which is having profound effects on local life and economies. An example is the yellow clam, once a significant food source that was abundant and gathered easily, with hundreds of tons collected in the mid 80’s. 1994 saw a massive die off of yellow clam; beaches were littered for miles with rotting shellfish. Stocks have not and likely will not ever recover.

Closer to home, the city of Philadelphia is enacting sweeping new procedures and protocols for heat emergencies as the number of days over 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the city have gone from an average of just three a year between 1950 and 1999 to over twice that in the last five years, according to Physics.Org. Heat emergencies present lethal danger to the elderly and infirm and by the end of the century, Philadelphia is expecting up to 53 days over 95 degrees. JC

8. Trump administration orders oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a 19.3 million acre home to herds of caribou, polar bears, seals and dozens of migratory birds. It has also long been a target for the oil and gas industry, with large reserves of both oil and natural gas suspected to lie in the same geological formations that made areas like Prudhoe Bay so productive. The Trump administration managed get access to drilling with a provision in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, controversial for its enormous tax cuts to wealthy corporations, legally opening the way to drilling and actually requiring that three leases to ANWR land be sold to the petroleum industry, the Washington Post reports.

The current proposed plans include four airstrips and drilling pads, 175 miles of roads, supports for pipelines and a seawater treatment plant. It is projected that the end of this century will see the extinction of several bird and seal species that depend on sea ice as well as many other species driven to threatened or endangered status. Scientists say that in order to prevent the worst case scenarios for climate change, we must stop all consumption of carbon fuels immediately; additional drilling is literally pouring fuel onto the fire. JC

See Martha’s list to find out how to comment on the plan to drill in Alaska’s Coastal Plain.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist emphasizes election security preparation and Temporary Protected Status for Bahamians. They also offer some good news.
  • Martha’s list alerts us to how the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services wants to modify nursing home regulations yet again – all but eliminating the ombudsman program and other protections. The proposed requirements would rollback numerous resident protections by eliminating or easing up on specific nursing home responsibilities. The result for residents? Reduced standards for safety, quality care and rights. Comment by the end of the day on the 16th. If you miss it, look at all the other issues in play.
  • See Martha’s list as well for opportunities to comment for the public record on cuts to food stamps, regulations linked to USCIS public charge rule, expedited removal of immigrants, immigration court changes, the Medicaid work requirement, and more.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list this week focuses on California. Because the legislature had to pass bills by September 13, a pile of crucial laws are now on Governor Newsom’s desk.
  • Rogan’s list also has some crucial items–on stopping adoptee deportation, stopping open carry in stores, forgiving student loans, and much more, including a list of where companies make political donations.

News You May Have Missed: September 8, 2019

Attention to elections and voter suppression is essential if 2020 is not to be a rerun of 2016. Metafilter notes a series of troublespots; Sarah-Hope reviews the most pressing issues below. Our colleague Crysostom asks “Will the last one to leave the House of Representatives please turn out the lights?” He sketches the impact of retirements and looks at polling data.

This week we also look at who is being targeted for surveillance, some quieter and more confusing immigration issues, and the impact of Trump’s wall on wildlife refuges, aid to Puerto Rico, and military families. And close to home, have you wondered why you couldn’t get your student loans forgiven, despite being in public service since forever? See story number 5.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Delete your old tweets!

A group of Trump supporters has committed to raising $2 million to investigate CNN, MSNBC, all broadcast networks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, and other news organizations, which it describes as media that “routinely incorporate bias and misinformation in their coverage.” Investigating potential inaccuracies in reporting is nothing new and has been pursued by groups all along the political spectrum.

What sets this project apart from others is its promise to “track the editors and reporters of these organizations” and to slip damaging information about these individuals to “friendly news outlets,” Axios reports. The New York Times reported that four sources close to the organization said that ” it has compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.” S-HP

If you are troubled by this new focus on discrediting individuals, you may want to raise these concerns with your elected officials.

2. Border policy protestors targeted

A document obtained by Yahoo News indicates that the FBI is monitoring groups protesting U.S. immigration policy along the southern border. The document, “an external intelligence note,” was produced by the FBI’s Phoenix office and distributed to other law enforcement agencies. It alleges that these groups are “increasingly arming themselves and using lethal force to further their goals.” (There seems to be less concern about anti-immigrant vigilante groups, such as the Guardian Patriots, which have been for years terrorizing immigrants along the border–with the tacit approval of the Border Patrol, according to the Washington Post.) According to Yahoo News, “The intelligence collected and cited in the FBI document… is worrisome to activists and civil rights advocates who say that the government is classifying legitimate government opposition and legally protected speech as violent extremism or domestic terrorism.” S-HP

If you’d like to see an investigation into the surveillance of activists, write Congress here.

3. Indigenous communities targeted by “virtual wall”

Surveillance towers and methods that are “field-proven,” presumably on Palestinians, are scheduled for construction across the Tohono O’odham Nation in Southern Arizona, a community beseiged by drone surveillance, facial recognition software and security checkpoints, according to the Intercept. The Border Patrol has contracted with the U.S. division of Elbit Systems, a large miliary equipment company in Israel, to further develop a 26 million dollar security system.; Elbit has already built 55 fixed towers in southern Arizona. Younger community members working or studying in the cities are less and less eager to come home, as their movements are incessantly tracked. As the Intercept describes it, ” Vehicle barriers, surveillance cameras, and trucks have appeared near burial grounds and on hilltops amid ancient saguaro forests, which are sacred to people on the reservation.” RLS

4. Cherokee Nation sending representative to Congress

The 1835 Treaty of New Echota resulted in the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from its tribal land to territories in Oklahoma, an event known as the Trail of Tears. Nearly 4,000 died as a result of that forced march. As part of the 1835 treaty, the US government promised the Cherokee Nation that it could seat a delegate in the US House of Representatives. The Cherokee Nation has now announced its intention to appoint a delegate, Kimberly Teehee, according to CNN. Teehee interned with Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee nation, and pursued a career in law, on Mankiller’s advice, when she returned to college from that internship. She has worked for the Democratic National Committee and was a policy advisor during the Obama administration. She contributed to the Violence Against Women Act and to the formation of Congress’ Native American Caucus. Congress will have to take action before Teehee can begin serving as the Cherokee Nation’s representative. S-HP

If you would like to congratulate Teehee on her appointment and ask Speaker Pelosi to welcome her, the contact information is here.

5. Review finds public servants still denied student loan relief

A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that a revised version of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) called the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (TEPSLF) has failed to address profound failures to deliver on its promises to dedicated public servants such as teachers and nurses. The PSLF came under criticism by Congress because the vast majority of applicants were being rejected.

The program promises forgiveness of student loans after ten years of work in certain public service professions. A very small percentage of applicants managed to actually obtain loan forgiveness, the vast majority being rejected for a variety of minor rule requirements or unclear guidelines, according to NPR. To address this issue, Congress created TEPSLF and set aside $700 million in funding for the program, directing the Department of Education to streamline and simplify the process for approval. The GAO has found that to date only $27 million had been distributed, just 661 out of over 54,000 requests: A failure rate of 99%. The majority of rejections were because applicants had not first applied for the PSLF program and been rejected, a requirement which was unclear to say the least. Smaller numbers were rejected for not making the required 10 years of payments and a technicality that requires the payments made be equal to or more than the sum of an income-driven repayment plan. The GAO recommends further streamlining of the process. 

6. “Expedited removal” procedures would allow immigrants to be removed without a hearing–and without the right to appeal

Currently, Department of Homeland Security rules allow for expedited removal of any undocumented immigrant arrested within 100 miles of a land border—and the definition of “undocumented” being used is questionable, with several recent cases of U.S.-born citizens being taken into immigration detention under this rule, Think Progress reports. Eighteen-year-old Francisco Galicia, for example, was arrested while traveling with friends to a soccer event. He provided Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) with his Texas state ID, which he had obtained by providing his social security card. His mother provided CBP with his original birth certificate, showing he was born in the U.S., as well as his health insurance card and has school ID. Despite this, Galicia continued to be held by CBP for three weeks and was refused the right to make phone calls for that entire period—regardless of the fact that such immigration holds are legally limited to seventy-two hours. After those three weeks, Galicia was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and was released within a few days.

The fact that such illegal detentions of U.S. citizens are happening now under the more limited rule suggests that illegal detentions of citizens will increase when the rule is broadened—by 20,000 additional incidents per year, NPR speculates, also pointing out that expedited removal regulations permit people to be deported without a hearing and do not allow for appeals. However, in a hearing September 6, the ACLU asked a federal judge for an injunction, as expedited removals were expected to begin early in September, Courthouse News reports. S-HP.

This rule is currently open for public comments. Information on how to comment is here.

7. Judges losing authority over immigration–comment now.

The Republican administration appears to be attempting to circumvent the nation’s system of immigration courts. The Department of Justice (DoJ) is attempting to have the union representing immigration judges decertified, claiming that the judges are management and therefore do not qualify for union representation. Judge Ashley Tabaddor, President of the National Association of Immigration Judges, objects to this claim, telling NPR that “[Immigration judges] do not set policies, and we don’t manage staff.” The Federal Labor Relations Agency previously rejected a similar effort during the Clinton administration, but the make-up of the Agency has seen such significant changes in subsequent years that there is no assurance it will rule similarly this time around. Judges are pressured to hear 700 cases per year and cope with ever-changing rules without sufficient administrative report, as Ilyce Shugall, director of the Immigrant Legal Defense Program of the Bar Association of San Francisco, explains.

In addition, the Department of Justice has announced a new interim rule that gives the director of the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR—the office within the DoJ that oversees immigration courts) the power to issue decisions in immigration cases not decided within a certain timeframe. Given that the nation current has only 440 immigration judges who are facing 900,000 pending immigration cases, this suggests that a significant portion of future immigration decisions may not be made by immigration judges. S-HP

This rule change has been put into place but can still be officially commented on. See the link and this document for information.

8. Voter suppression looms

Let’s connect some dots about voting in the U.S:

*For years under the Voting Rights Act, states with counties that had histories of racially based voter discrimination required federal “pre-clearance” (permission) before changing their voting laws. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling threw out that requirement. Since then, states that previously needed pre-clearance to change voting laws—particularly Virginia, Texas, Georgia, and Arizona—have had 40% higher rates of voter purging than states that had no history of discrimination necessitating pre-clearance.

*Between 2014 and 2016 (after pre-clearance was no longer required), some 16 million voters were purged from state voter rolls. Between 2016 and 2018 17 million voters were purged.

*According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of 2018, 10 states had “strict” voter ID laws that require voters without ID to cast a provisional ballot and to provide additional identifying information after the election before their votes will be counted. Another 25 states had “non-strict” voter ID laws, that allow at least some (though often very few) voters without ID to have their votes counted without providing additional identifying information after the election. Two more states had voter identification laws that were not enforced at that time because they were stuck down by courts.

*An investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has found serious voting irregularities in Georgia elections, according to Salon, with the rates of irregularities highest in primarily African American voting districts.

*Reporting by Bloomberg Businessweek has revealed probable collaboration between the 2016 Trump campaign and an organization called Trump for Urban Communities that was dedicated to sending Black voters the message, “If you can’t stomach Trump, just don’t vote for other people and don’t vote at all.” The campaign was most active in urban centers that ultimately had lower-than-expected Black voter turnout.

*Twelve states still use paperless electronic voting machines in some areas. Four states use them statewide. Given all this, it would be unreasonable not to draw the conclusion that the right to vote, particularly for voters of color, is at risk in many parts of the U.S. While the House has passed several pieces of voting rights/vote protection legislation, Mitch McConnell has not allowed any of that legislation to be voted on in the Senate. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the right to vote, your legislators’ contact information can be found here.

9. Military families sacrifice daycare & schools to build Trump’s wall; Puerto Rico loses $400 million for hurricane reconstruction

Not only will nine schools and a daycare center on military bases not be built if Trump succeeds in diverting $3.6 billion from the military budget to his border wall, but critical rebuilding funds will not be sent to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. MSNBC notes that Puerto Rico will lose the most, 400m. Trump declared a national emergency at the border in order to justify diverting $8 billion from other federal budgets for the wall, and already diverted $2.5 billion from the military budget, according to Politico. PBS News Hour has an explainer on the issue, pointing out that whether Congress will backfill the Pentagon budget that Trump has raided will only become clear next month when legislators come back from recess. A group of Democratic senators wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, saying that “We also expect a full justification of how the decision to cancel was made for each project selected and why a border wall is more important to our national security and the well-being of our service members and their families than these projects.”
Trump has become increasingly frantic to get the wall built before the 2020 election, the Washington Post reports, so much so that he told aides he would pardon them if they violated any laws getting it done (later claiming it was a joke). He also is determined that it should be painted black. RLS

If you have views about this redirection of funds, you can write the Acting Secretary of Defense and your elected officials here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. Complicity in war crimes in Yemen

The United Nations-commissioned Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEEY) said during a press conference that the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Iran may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen because they have supplied weapons to parties in the conflict, a practice which “perpetuates the conflict” and has prolonged the suffering of the Yemeni people, CNN reports. GEEY also said that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the internationally recognized Yemeni government, and Iranian-backed rebels fighting the government have all enjoyed a “pervasive lack of accountability” for their actions in the conflict, which include torture, sexual violence, and the deliberate use of starvation as a tool of war. The GEEY “has recommended that their states prohibit authorization of arms transfers and refrain from providing arms to parties in the conflict…. Because of the prevailing risk that such arms will be used by parties to commit or to facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

If you think the US should stop sending weapons to Yemen, write your elected officials.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Suicide rates climbing, especially in rural areas.

A study published in the journal JAMA Network Open provides evidence that suicide rates in the United States are rising, particularly in rural areas of the nation. Researchers at Ohio State University took data spanning from 1999 to 2016 and did a county-by-county breakdown, finding that suicide rates had increased in that time by a sobering 41%. 1999 saw 15 suicides per 100,000 people per county and 2016 had 21 deaths per 100,000. Rural areas saw the largest increase by far, with a shocking 22 deaths per 100,000 on average, with large urban areas showing 17 per 100k. Interesting, there appeared to be a relation between the number of gun stores and the suicide rate, linking easier availability to firearms with higher rates of suicide. Rural areas suffer from a lack of resources and education regarding suicide prevention.

12. Maps that actually matter

If Trump’s 17 environmental waivers go through, the Border Wall will cut through six tracts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, as well as through the towns of Mission and La Grulla and along the edge of the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, according to the Monitor. These were areas excluded from the Congressional budget agreement earlier this year after considerable outcry. The waivers were executed by acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, and effectively bypass Congress, while waiving  the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Farmland Protection Policy Act, according to the Valley Greenspace Blog, which speaks to issues in the Rio Grande Valley. A map is available on their site.

The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is home to endangered species, such as the ocelot, as well as four hundred species of birds, some of them rare, according to the Texas Monthly.  Border construction is also beginning this week in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a national park in Arizona, construction which will tear out ancient Saguaro cactus as well as creosote. Members of the Tohono O’odam Nation “harvest saguaro fruit and perform their sacred salt ceremony in and around Organ Pipe,” according to High Country News. By October, the border wall will also cut through Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. The Center for Biological Diversity, which produced a report in 2017 identifying the costs to habitats of building the wall, has filed 158 lawsuits against the Trump Administration, challenging the waivers and the diversion of military funds.

By October, the border wall will also cut through Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. The Center for Biological Diversity, which produced a report in 2017 identifying the costs to habitats of building the wall, has filed 158 lawsuits against the Trump Administration, challenging the waivers and the diversion of military funds. RLS

If you want to speak up about the destruction of wildlife refuges, information to do so is here.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is still on summer break, but you can sign up for their checklist now.
  • In addition to proposing various action items, Sarah-Hope recommends that we send well-wishes to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. See Sarah-Hope’s list here.
  • Most important on Martha’s list are the USCIS tip form and cuts to food stamps (SNAP). She also identifies opportunities for public comment on proposed changes Medicare Part B, impending exploitation Alaskan wilderness and national forests, the Medicaid work requirement, Drinking water, Nuclear weapons, allowable residues of pesticides residuesm the right of federal employees to unionize, and more.
  • If you want to help victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, plant trees to address the climate crisis, work against the deportation of immigrants in medical need, or engage in some other way, see Rogan’s List, now with new items.

News You May Have Missed: September 1, 2019

Maybe you intuited–but thought it might be too far-fetched–that fires in the Amazon might be Trump’s fault. You were close: it’s the fault of one of his American donors. Read our second story: you won’t believe it. No–sadly–you will.

Have you been wanting to help address treatment of asylum seekers at the border? The Center for Public Integrity is asking for help sorting through complaint documents released by Homeland Security and logging specific details. The material is online. You can do this for as brief or extended a period as you want.

Our colleague Crysostom suggests that you find out what happens when people stop being polite and start resigning from Congress in August 27’s ELECTIONS NEWS. The August 29 issue has interesting news about retirements as well.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Deportation = death sentence.

A key immigration rule once allowed deferred deportation for families who have a member receiving life-saving medical treatment in the U.S. The Republican administration has begun unilaterally refusing to consider these claims, except for members of the military. In many instances, the countries these people will be deported are not able to provide the needed medical care, essentially sentencing such individuals to death. Though according to WBUR, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says only a limited number of people will be affected, “That ‘limited number of people’ is mostly terminally ill kids. They’re kids with cancer and HIV and horrific terminal illnesses,” Anthony Marino, legal director at the Boston-based Irish International Immigrant Center explained.

Earlier this month, a diabetic man deported to Iraq died because of the lack of insulin availability in that country. While his deportation happened before this change in policy, we can anticipate many more such tragedies if the refusal to consider medical necessity deportation deferrals continues. The families affected have been given 33 days to leave the country retroactive to any requests filed on or before Aug. 7th. A bicameral group of over 100 Congressmembers sent a letter to the administration on August 30 objecting to this policy change and announcing an investigation of the change by the House Oversight and Government and Affairs Committee subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. S-HP

If you want to speak up about deporting people undergoing medical treatment, here is how.

2. Amazon fires linked to Trump and McConnell donors

Let’s play a round of Follow the Money, courtesy of reporting by The Intercept. Much of the Brazilian Amazon region is on fire, with many fires set in order to seize land for agriculture and to drive out indigenous peoples (in order to seize land for agriculture). One relatively new roadway beginning deep in the Amazon, B.R. 163, has become a prime site for deforestation because it provides a shipping pathway for agricultural products from the deforested land. That shipping pathway begins with a deep-Amazon terminal in Miritituba, run by Hidrovias do Brasil. Hidrovias do Brazil’s majority owner is Pátria Investimientos.

Pátria is owned by the U.S. investment firm Blackstone, which also separately holds an additional ten percent stake in Hidrovias. The founder and Chief Executive Officer of Blackstone is Stephen Schwarzman, a major Trump and McConnell donor, who has given those politicians millions in recent years. So in simplified terms, we have a chain linking the Amazon fires to Hidrovias to Pátria to Blackwell to Schwarzman to Trump/McConnell. According to the company itself “Blackstone is committed to responsible environmental stewardship. This focus and dedication is [sic] embedded in every investment decision we make and guides how we conduct ourselves as operators.” Blackstone argues that by providing a shipping pathway that begins deep in the Amazon, goods can be sent to markets with less overall pollution than that which would be created by individual deep-Amazon growers shipping their goods separately by longer, more difficult routes.

However, this logic does nothing to acknowledge the fact that since the shipping terminal in Miritituba has been built, deforestation has been centered on that area of the Amazon and has consistently increased in that area, even when deforestation in other areas of the Amazon was being reduced. In other words, the level of potential pollution that Blackstone uses to justify its shipping terminal would not exist if that terminal had not been built. S-HP

If you want to speak about the responsibility American corporations have for fires in the Amazon, you may do so here.

3. California and Massachusetts take the lead on lawsuit against Trump

California and Massachusetts have announced a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s planned termination of Flores Agreement protections for children being imprisoned in immigration detention. Seventeen additional states have signed on to the lawsuit, according to the L.A. Times. The Flores Agreement requires that children in immigration detention be released within twenty days; the Trump plan will allow for indefinite detention of children and families. The key argument underlying the lawsuit is that, because federal detention centers are not required to meet state licensing requirements, the new practices will interfere with states’ obligation to ensure the health and safety of children. This is the fifty-seventh lawsuit California has filed against the Trump administration and the thirteenth to deal with immigration issues . S-HP

If you wish to thank the Attorneys General of California and Massachusetts for their leadership on this issue: Attorney General Xavier Becerra, 1300 “I” Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 952-5225• Attorney General Maura Healey, 1 Ashburn Place, Boston, MA 02108-1698, (617) 727-7200

4. Gun bills not reaching committee–mass shootings becoming deadlier

After yet another mass shooting, it’s worth counting up the number of gun bills before Congress: 110. Congress is now on recess, Among the bills they might have considered are one requiring background checks (including at gun shows), another prohibiting high-capacity magazines, another preventing perpetrators of intimate partner violence from owning guns, still another advocating red flag laws, Most of them have been written by Democrats, according to PBS. Only five have advanced to committee. 113,108 people are shot every year, the Brady Foundation reports, and 36,383 are killed.

Meanwhile, a statistical analysis by the Violence Project and reported by the LA Times has revealed that mass shootings are becoming more lethal. “During the 1970s, mass shootings claimed an average of 5.7 lives per year. In the 1980s, the average rose to 14. In the 1990s it reached 21; in the 2000s, 23.5. This decade has seen a far sharper rise. Today, the average is 51 deaths per year,” the researchers write. The Violence Project, which has studied every mass shooting since 1966, has an analysis of what mass shooters have in common: early childhood trauma, a crisis that lead to suicidal thinking, a craving for media attention–and the means to carry out mass violence. RLS

5. Only believers in a particular god may offer invocations

The federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court decision and reinstated the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ policy of only allowing House members with a belief in God to deliver the invocations to open legislative sessions. The appeals court ruled that the policy fell within the “historical tradition of legislative prayer” and counts as government speech that is protected from a free speech or equal protection challenge. While the decision does acknowledge that no particular theistic religion can be held above others, Americans United for Separation of Church and State observes that it legitimizes discrimination against non-theists. JM-L

6. Canadian Muslims, Chinese students turned away at the border

Six Canadian Muslim men–not traveling together–were denied entrance to the U.S. in recent weeks, according to the CBC. Several originally come from countries not covered by the “Muslim ban.” Several are significant community leaders. Two of them had special-needs children with them. No reason was offered for the refusal. As one of the lawyers representing the group told the CBC, “Having worked as an immigration lawyer for over 40 years, nothing surprises me anymore but, in all my years, I have never seen such a Kafkaesque scenario.”

And nine Arizona State students from China, returning for their fall term, were refused admission at the border by Customs and Border Protection and sent back to China. ASU says it has not been able to get an answer about why they were denied admission, according to USA Today. Several are due to graduate this semester; they are continuing to take courses through Arizona State’s on-line program.

Just FYI, even if you are a citizen, border officials have the right to look through your devices–because lawsuits challenging the practice are still wending their way through the courts. If you don’t want them to do so, you can request a lawyer–though you will have to pay them, according to Business Insider.. RLS

7. No election oversight?

The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) is charged with investigating violations of election law, particularly campaign finance rules. The FEC is supposed to have six members and requires a quorum of four to meet. Four votes are also needed to initiate any investigation or action. The FEC has been limping along with four members for quite some time, meaning little has been done because, with reduced membership, all votes had to be unanimous. Now, one of the FEC’s Republican members (there are rules about party balance among Commissioners) has resigned, leaving membership at three and making all meetings and actions impossible. S-HP

If the lack of election oversight concerns you, you can write to these people.

8. Coal miners still blocking coal train–4 weeks later

On this Labor Day, remember that Harlan County coal miners are still camped on railroad tracks, blocking the coal they mined from leaving; they have been there for four weeks.  Blackjewel, the bankrupt company they worked for, either didn’t pay them or withdrew their paychecks out of their bank accounts. 1800 workers around the company were affected. The Labor Department has asked for an injunction to keep the company from moving the coal–about a million dollar’s worth–and a group of lawyers is trying to secure the workers’ compensation in bankruptcy proceedings, according to the Washington Post.  RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Climate change-driven hurricane demolishes the Bahamas

Hurricane Dorian, whose pathway has strewn such confusion, is the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas. Winds have reached 185 MPH and some 30 inches of rain has fallen, according to the Washington Post. “You cannot tell the difference as to the beginning of the street versus where the ocean begins,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told the Guardian.

Category 5 hurricanes have become more common over the last forty years due to the climate crisis. Warming oceans lead to rising oceans, due to expansion, giving hurricanes a higher starting point; warm, humid air fuels hurricanes as well. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a very clear explanation of this phenomenon. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Fake social media accounts to be set up by USCIS

Fake social media accounts will be set up by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) so they can spy on people seeking “visas, green cards and citizenship,” according to PBS. Even though both Twitter and Facebook forbid impersonation and even though agents are prohbited from “friending” those on Facebook, they can access users’ public posts (and presumably, public groups). The Center for Democracy & Technology has submitted a FOIA request to learn how USCIS uses social medis data. Dave Maass, senior investigative researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed out that this practice “undermines our trust in social media companies and our ability to communicate and organize and stay in touch with people.”

The EFF also points out that the partnership between Ring, the Amazon company that provides front-door cameras and 400 police departments has significant privacy implications. Some cities offer discounts; Ring representatives coach police departments on how to coax residents to relinquish their footage without a warrant. RLS

RESOURCES

  • See the Americas of Conscience Checklist for lists of issues and easy actions you can take.
  • Many items on Sarah-Hope’s list follow the stories above, but if you want to see other items, the entire list is here.
  • Martha’s list, which addresses ways to respond for the public record, includes information on plans to restructure immigration courts, a proposed USCIS tip line on immigrants suspected of using public benefits, a rule which would prevent the FDA from labeling Round-Up as a carcinogen, a proposal to open Alaska national forests to roads.
  • Rogan’s list is taking a break till after Labor Day, but it still has many timely items on it.

News You May Have Missed: August 25, 2019

Despite everything else that is going on–fires in the Amazon, incarceration of children in the U.S.–all eyes also need to be on the economy: see our round-up below. And note that in addition to rule changes that would undermine the well-being of vulnerable people, there are also viable Senate bills to support Social Security and procure dental care for seniors and children. See the Resources tab and the links below the news items for actions you can take.

‘Tis the season: see our colleague Crysostom’s regular upates on elections here!

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Tank the economy; blame the incoming president.

We at NYMHM are worried that a recession may be inevitable largely due to the Trump administration’s absolutely bonkers trade and economic policies. Many economists expect recession by the end of 2021 (pdf), when it would most hamper the first term of a Democratic president if Trump doesn’t win in 2020. This week, in the largest revision since 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics corrected job growth figures downwards by roughly 500,000 jobs. The Congressional Budget Office raised its 2019 budget deficit projection by about 7% ($63 billion, for a total of $960 billion) and estimated that the Trump administration’s planned tariffs could lower U.S. GDP by 0.3% in 2019. Goods-producing employment (warning: autoplaying video) is lower than almost any year under Obama and has fallen precipitously in the past year.  Trump is floating a payroll tax cut (warning: autoplaying video) which would increase the federal budget deficit—and 50% of its benefits would go to the top 20% of income-earners. (JM)

2. New rules would keep families locked up indefinitely

The 1977 Flores settlement sets minimum standards for holding minors in immigration detention, prohibiting holding them beyond twenty days and mandating provision of food, water, toilets, sinks, emergency medical care and more. The Republican Administration has repeatedly violated Flores, holding children significantly beyond the twenty-day limit and claiming that Flores only applies to unaccompanied minors, despite a court ruling affirming Flores rights for all minors in immigration detention. Now the administration has announced that it is abandoning the Flores settlement. Pending judicial approval, Flores protections could be abandoned by the second half of October. Since this move has been posted as a rule change, there is no official comment period and Congressional action would be necessary to block it. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the Flores settlement, addresses are here.

3. Employees prosecuted. Employers go free.

In general, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raids on places of employment using undocumented workers make hundreds of arrests of individual workers, but rarely prosecute the employers, who are legally required to confirm workers’ immigration status. Time notes that between April 2018 and March 2019 (a period during which a total of 120,000 people were prosecuted for illegal entry), only eleven employers were prosecuted for hiring undocumented workers, and only three of those were sentenced to any prison time. Results have been similar for the sweeping ICE raids of Mississippi poultry processing plants and other workplaces during August: 680 workers were arrested (with 300+ later released), but no arrests of employers have been made. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the unequal treatment ICE gives to employers and employees, the addresses are here.

4. Proposal to narrow rights for LGBTQ people

The Justice Department is pressuring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to reverse its position; Justice wants the EEOC to tell the Supreme Court that employers can discriminate against LGBTQ people, according to Bloomberg.

The Supreme Court is preparing to take up three cases having to do with LGBTQ rights and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects individuals from sex-based discrimination, the Huffington Post reports. In the past, protections against sex-based discrimination have occasionally, but not consistently, been used to protect the rights of LGBQ and Transgendered individuals. In the first case, the use of “sex” has been taken to embrace sexual and affectional orientation because it is, essentially, the sex of the individuals involved in LGBTQ relationships that is used to justify discrimination. In the second case, “sex” has been accepted not just as a matter of perceived gender at birth, but as a matter of individual identity, which may or may not align with physical characteristics at birth. The Republican administration has recently presented two amicus briefs to the Supreme Court arguing for a narrow interpretation of “sex” in upcoming cases, an interpretation that could make discrimination on the basis of LGBQ or transgendered status legal. S-HP

If you want to address the use of public money to eliminate protections for LGBTQ people, you can write to key people here.

5. Rule changes would allow religious organizations to discriminate

The Department of Labor has announced rules changes that would allow that would allow “religious-exercising organizations” with federal contracts much broader freedom to discriminate. The proposal specifically classifies as “religious-exercising organizations” not just companies engaged in some aspect of the business of religion, but also businesses whose owners have such beliefs, regardless of the services or products the business provides, according to the Washington Post. Among those likely to be negatively impacted (in other words, subject to firing) would be LGBTQ individuals, unmarried women who are pregnant, perhaps even divorced individuals, individuals with children born out of wedlock, or individuals using birth control—since there are “sincerely held” beliefs condemning all of these groups. As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) points out, one-quarter of all employees in the U.S. work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government. Put those two facts together and you get a sense of the potential destruction that could be wreaked as a result of these rules changes. S-HP

If you want to challenge the idea that religious freedom permits discrimination, you can write the head of the Office of Federal Compliance.

6. Legislation to preserve Social Security

This fall, assuming the legislation makes it through committee, the House will likely be voting on H.R.860, the Social Security 2100 Act. Currently, Social Security benefits average just $16,000 per year—while only about 20% of Americans have retirement pensions and only about half have retirement savings. Even at this level, Social Security faces a projected shortfall beginning in 2035. H.R.860 would address these problems. It would create a formula for increasing payments based on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). In addition, an individual’s full salary would be subject to Social Security withholding, rather than just the first $132,000 of that income as is currently the case. Currently this legislation is with several House Committees: the Social Security Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee; the Committee on Education and Labor; and the Committee on Energy and Commerce. S-HP

If you have something to say about this legislation, write to your representative and to the committee chairs.

7. Dental Care

There’s a pair of bills currently before Congress that would make minimal-cost dental care available to needy children, seniors, and others. S.22 and H.R.2951, both titled Medicare Dental Benefit Act of 2019, would expand Medicare to include oral health, in other words, dental care. As Dientes, one group supporting the legislation, points out, one in five seniors have lost all their teeth, and tooth loss and pain can create significant difficulties in eating and speaking, affecting not only physical health, but emotional health and social connectedness as well. S.22 is currently with the Senate Finance Committee. H.R.2951 is currently with the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees. S-HP

If you would like to articulate your position on dental care for seniors and children, you can contact the elected officials listed here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. Europe exerts pressure to combat Amazonian fires

The Amazon rain forest in Brazil has a near record number of uncontrolled fires burning, an 83% increase over the number of fires last year. Most of the fires are intentional, set by farmers burning the forest to clear land for soy and cattle, a practice encouraged by current Brazilian president Bolsonaro. In response French president Macron along with Irish prime minister Varadkar have said they will block a proposed trade deal between the EU and several South American states including Brazil. Additionally Norway and Germany have slashed money provided to an Amazonian conservation fund, sighting the lack of protection for the forest in the wake of Mr. Bolsonaro’s presidency, the Independent reports. Bolsonaro has accused Europe of engaging in a colonialist mindset and interfering with Brazilian sovereignty. The Amazon basin is one of the world’s largest depositories of biodiversity and a huge carbon sink/oxygen producer. JC

9. Ultra fast lasers to weld ceramics — implications for space travel

Ceramics are a broad and remarkable class of materials with uses ranging from spacecraft to medical implants. Until now ,a serious drawback has been the fact that in order to fuse or weld two ceramic parts together, one had to heat the entire surfaces of both parts to extremely high temperatures. A team of engineers at the Universities of San Diego and California Riverside has succeeded in using extremely rapid pulsed lasers to weld ceramic materials together, using a very modest amount of energy and not requiring the rest of the material be heated at all., Science Daily reports. This is important because though ceramics would make for an ideal housing for something such as a smart phone, one could not enclose the electronics and have them survive the heat of a kiln. Welded ceramics open the door for things like metal-free pacemakers, super tough and scratch-resistant smart phones and electronics better able to withstand conditions in deep space. JC

10. Google employees to Google: “Don’t be evil.”

Google’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Values Statement promises that the company will not “build technologies whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights,” and the company has abandoned programs in the past, when they were found to conflict with this value. Now,a group of Google employees is petitioning Google to end all cooperation with Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement because “by any interpretation, CBP and ICE are in grave violation of human rights law.” As of mid-August, over 1,000 employees had signed on to the petition, according to CNBC. S-HP

If you would like to join Google employees in this petition, you can do it here.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has reliable and engaging information. See their site for an explanation and easy actions you can take.
  • Most of Sarah-Hope’s recommendations for action items follow the relevant stories, but there are a few from last week that you might want to revisit.
  • About her list, Martha says that the most important item is the first one in the “Closing Soon” section about the “National Environmental Policy Act Compliance” which applies to all National Forests.and would leave the public with no role in more than 90 percent of the decisions made for our national forests. This is a clear violation of the public trust and of major laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, and it’s designed to ramp up clearcutting and bulldozing of millions of acres in national forests, Also extremely important is the Final Rule allowing unlimited detention of immigrant children, “Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children” – there is no opportunity to comment as it’s final. But you can write your legislators.
  • Rogan’s list is on hiatus until after Labor Day, but the items on her site are still pertinent.

News You May Have Missed: August 18, 2019

News You May Have Missed tries to help with information overload by calling your attention to noteworthy but undercovered stories–or stories which badly need context. At the same time, we look for significant good news. See in particular the first story in the Science & Technology section, which tells us something about how we got here.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. States suing the administration over rules blocking immigrants from services

Following Oregon, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, Maine has joined the lawsuit California has brought against the Trump administration for its policy blocking legal status for those who use or are thought likely to use public services such as federal housing assistance, food stamps, or Medicaid, according to the Press Herald. As Vice points out, the new rules will hit low-income immigrants with disabilities especially hard, making it impossible for them to access caregivers and wheelchairs, for example. As a result of the proposed policy, immigrants are not accessing programs that would provide food and medicine for their U.S. citizen children, for fear that their own legal status will be jeopardized. RLS

If you wish to write your senators and representatives about this issue, you can find the link here.

2. “Reprogramming” money meant for FEMA

Once money is allocated to a federal agency, that agency may request to transfer (or unilaterally transfer) some of those monies from one account within the agency to another. Last year, for example, the Department of Homeland Security “reprogrammed” (that’s the official term for the process) $200 million to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from a variety of other accounts including FEMA (this transfer was made at the start of hurricane season), the Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration, Politico reports. DHS has indicated it intends to do the same in the coming fiscal year and has filed reprogramming requests with the House. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, Chair of the Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security subcommittee, has confirmed the submission of the reprogramming request. It is not clear how essential Congressional approval to this transfer of funds is. The Democratic House is likely to reject increased ICE funding by whatever means, but the administration may try to make the moves unilaterally. S-HP

To voice your opinion on this issue, write to relevant committee chairs.

3. Cops working with/for ICE

In 2017, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Values Act, SB-54, into law. SB-54 prohibited California’s local law enforcement agencies (LEAs) from using resources to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) identify, detail, arrest, and/or transfer custody of immigrants. In SB-54’s first five months (January-May 2018), California saw a 41% decrease in ICE arrests in local jails, but further study has revealed a pattern of non-compliance with the California Values Acts by many LEAs. A repost released by Asian Americans Advancing Justice—Asian Law Caucus, the University of Oxford Centre for Criminology, and Oxford’s Border Criminologies Program shows that some 40% of 169 LEAs are out of compliance with the California Values Act.

The most common method LEAs use to evade SB-54 requirements is a cynical exploitation of a rule that allows the release of “information generally available to the general public” to ICE and CBP. These LEAs have adopted new, post AB-54 practices of posting information online about release dates, court hearing dates and locations, and identifying information for immigrants. The agencies frequently supply information about to be posted to ICE and CBP in advance, according to Rewire. Any transfer of an immigrant from an LEA to ICE is required to be reported to the California Attorney General, but in fact LEAs are providing ICE with non-reported access to non-public, secure areas of jails to arrest detained persons immediately before they are released. A movement is now underway to ask for the following practices from the California Attorney General and Department of Justice:

  • auditing of LEA compliance with SB-54 and advice in modifying practices to comply with SB-54
  • establishing a clear, accessible process for reporting and reviewing alleged SB-54 violations
  • providing full public access to all data on SB-54 compliance and all materials from SB-54 violation reviews. S-HP

Californians can write their representatives about this issue. Here is how to find them.

4. State Department employees routinely bullied, report says

Numerous State Department employees, most of them junior, were harassed by senior management, particularly Assistant Secretary Kevin Moley and former senior adviser Mari Stull. According to a report by the State Department’s inspector general, employees thought insufficiently loyal to Trump were berated, retaliated against, and had promotions denied. RLS

5. Christian books exempted from tariffs

The Republican administration recently announced a new series of tariffs to be levied against goods produced in China. The new tariffs included a 10% levy on books published in China—where a quarter of all books sold in the U.S. are produced. Shortly after, the Republican administration back-pedaled on some of the tariffs, saying they would delay putting these in place in order to “not ruin Christmas.” The goods allowed this tariff delay included children’s books and Bibles and religious texts. Almost all other types of books remain on the current tariff list, including art books, text books, dictionaries and encyclopedias, and technical, scientific, and professional publications, according to the Washington Examiner.

These actions are cause for concern for two reasons. First, they show a deliberate governmental action in support of religion that violates the First Amendment. Second, as Shelf Awareness (a major publishing news source) explains, “A tariff on books is a tax on information, and at odds with longstanding U.S. policy of not imposing tariffs on educational, scientific and cultural materials.” S-HP

If you are troubled by the concept of tariffs on books, here’s how to intervene.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. 25% of Hong Kong’s population marched in the pouring rain

In the face of a threatened five-year jail term, 1.7 million people marched from a rally to the government center in Hong Kong, undaunted by torrential rain. Protestors demand the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill which would have permitted people to be sent to China for trial. According to the Guardian, they are asking for independent investigations of police violence and the free election of Hong Kong’s leaders–a measure which was provided for in the handover agreement of 1997, in which Britain returned control of the territory to Beijing, but never implemented. RLS

7. Silence on nuclear issue

On August 5, India revoked the special status of Kashmir that had given it limited political autonomy; at the same time, it silenced all communications, shutting down newspapers, telephones and the internet. Some 4,000 people have been arrested, according to Al Jazeera, under a law which permits people to be imprisioned for up to two years without being charged or tried. Pakistan has condemned India’s actions. The BBC has a useful background piece clarifying the origins of the conflict between India and Pakistan over the state of Kashmir. However, the BBC, along with most media outlets other than Al Jazeera, does not mention the acute danger of the conflict, given that both countries have nuclear weapons, as Foreign Policy in Focus explains. RLS

8. Books & writers endangered in Turkey

Publishers have been closed, writers have been silenced, and books have been destroyed since the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey. Now Turkey’s education minister, Ziya Selçuk, announced that the destruction of some 300,000 books that are claimed to reference Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Muslim cleric whom the Erdogan administration believes was behind the 2016 coup attempt. 50,000 people have been detained over the last three years, the Guardian reports. For a backgrounder on Turkey, see Conn Hallinan’s piece in Foreign Policy in Focus. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. A beautiful discovery hints at the origin of life

One of the great mysteries in science is exactly how and under what conditions life first arose on Earth. Thanks to research submitted to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States (PNAS) by a team at the University of Washington in Seattle, we may understand the process a little better. All life is composed of cells, which are essentially bags of fatty acids containing proteins and DNA/RNA. Without cell walls, it would be impossible for a cell to perform the activities of life. How exactly that winning combination of container and contents managed to arise and self organize from a primordial soup of ingredients has been an open question, and contentious, reports the Atlantic. One major problem is that fatty acids, which can naturally form balloon-like structures in water, don’t form membranes in the presence of salts. Since life arose in our salty oceans and amino acids require salt ions, explaining that contradiction was necessary.

The team at the University of Washington discovered that the key is in the ingredients of life themselves. When fatty acids are combined in the presence of amino acids (the base ingredients of DNA and RNA) in a salt water solution, they will form bubbles of fatty acids containing amino acids, the first step to a rudimentary cell. The amino acids provide structure for the fatty acids to assemble while the enclosing fatty acid bubble serves to concentrate the amino acids together into a self-reinforcing structure. Indeed, not only do the amino acids allow for the formation of fatty acid membranes it, for reasons yet unknown, forms them into a layered double wall somewhat resembling an onion. This double fatty acid layer is the same as is found in our own cell walls. JC

10. Feeding the world will mean more beans

A recently released UN report found that 25% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions come from agriculture, with the production of meat being a significant portion of that total. Feeding a still-growing world population with plant-based proteins will be a formidable challenge but achievable with legumes like chickpeas and beans taking a leading role, according to Phys.org. Currently only 10% of cropland is devoted to the production of legumes, in order to replace animal-based protein with vegetarian protein, that total will need to increase to 25%. This presents some challenges as the amount of money spent on genetic research for legumes has been dwarfed by that spent on cereal grains used to feed livestock. Additionally, legumes are harder to grow and more susceptible to disease and pests than most cereal crops. The change will be necessary, however, as predictions indicate that by 2050 we will have to feed each person on Earth with just half as much land devoted to farming as we did in 1960.  JC

11. Impending water shortages

By 2030, four out of ten people worldwide will not be able to access clean water, according to a 2016 U.N. report cited by Alternet. Water shortages have become particularly acute in the Middle East, due to climate change and mismanagement. In response, various countries have been building dams and canals which deprive other countries of water; privatization and illegal wells exacerbate the problem, according to Foreign Policy in Focus, which earlier this month wrote that only international cooperation and water treaties will address the issues. RLS

12. Endangered species even more so

A million species are facing extinction, according to the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which came out this spring. An immense effort involving hundreds of researchers from 50 countries, the Report makes it clear that only intensive intervention worldwide will prevent massive losses to biodiversity, with acute consequences to human life as well. Nonetheless, the Trump administration announced a series of new rules this past week which would significantly weaken the endangered species act. Notably, as the New York Times points out, the new rules go to great lengths to avoid taking account of how the climate crisis might affect endangered species. RLS

If you would like to suggest that Congress take on this threat to endangered species, here is how to contact your legislators.

13. Keeping pesticides away from endangered species

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a rule change affecting the process for approving the use of hazardous chemicals that “may affect” endangered species or critical habitats. The change would make the “may effect” determination more difficult, meaning it would be applied less often. Current practice requires that when the “may affect” determination is made for a specific chemical, the EPA must consult with wildlife agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, to determine the likely impact of a chemical and methods for mitigating that impact. Essentially, this change will shut federal agencies beyond the EPA out of many applications for pesticide use. A group of Attorneys General and affiliated legal and scientific figures from California, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington have submitted a letter opposing the proposed changes. The formal title for this document is “Receipt of a Pesticide Petition Filed for Residues of Pesticide Chemicals in or on Various Commodities for June 2019.” The public comment period ends on September 3. S-HP

If you want to comment on this issue for the public record, here is how to do it.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is an excellent source of action items.
  • Americans of Conscience also  recommends this list of actions you can take to support those imprisoned at the border.
  • Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the stories above, but here’s her whole list if you’d like to have it.
  • Martha tells us that there are two particularly alarming items on her list this week: The DOJ “Privacy ACT” on creating a new court database for immigrants to be used by ICE and DHS and the “Implementing Legal Requirements Regarding the Equal Opportunity Clause’s Religious Exemption.” She lists many more policies and rules in process to be aware of.
  • Rogan’s list is on hiatus until after Labor Day, but there are still many useful and topical suggestions on it.
  • Margaret Atwood recommends that you follow @projectdrawdown on Twitter, and indeed it is a great source for the many evidence-based reports that have emerged recently.



News You May Have Missed: August 11, 2019

There are numerous elephants in the room in this past week’s news, and we can’t corral all of them. But we have tried to bring issues to the surface that you might not have read about, and to pull together the complex elements of the stories you’ve skimmed. Consider our action items: even if you feel as if your one letter won’t make a difference, it may make a difference for you.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Children left behind struggle to cope

August 7 saw the largest workplace immigration sting in the U.S. in over a decade. The raid involved seven poultry processing plants in Mississippi run by Koch Foods. It resulted in the arrest of 680 allegedly undocumented and mostly Latino workers, but not of any of the Koch executives, Esquire reports. And it occurred during the first week of the 2019-2020 public school year in Mississippi. As a result, the children of those 680 arrestees came home to find one or both parents missing. In many cases, they were locked out of their own homes because their parents held the keys. Schools have been stepping up to assist children whose parents were taken away, MSN reports, as have perfect strangers, and immigrant communities, though terrified, are taking in children whose parents have not been released, the AP reports. Take the time to watch eleven-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio plead for the release of her father.

It seems no coincidence that ICE targed the Koch plants, as workers there had had just won an EEOC case against the company for sexual harassment and racial discrimination, according to Democracy Now. ICE has a history of arresting and detaining activists against immigration policies, even when those activists would not fall into enforcement priorities, Jacobin Magazine reports. RLS/S-HP

If you want to make contributions to assist targeted families or to speak up about the raids, information is here.

2. Where are the children of Homestead?

Remember the Homestead detention center, privately run via a contract with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)? DHS has reported that as of August 3 no one was being housed at Homestead, according to the Miami Herald, but prior to that date Homestead was a particularly large facility for imprisoning unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. to seek asylum. From March 2018 through August 2019, some 14,300 children passed through Homestead. Now that Homestead is closed, questions remain.

  • Where are the children who were formerly detained at Homestead—have they been released to family members or moved to other detention facilities?
  • While DHS says it has emptied Homestead, it plans to refit the facility with 1,200 beds (down from the previous 2,700). So who will be held there in the future and what will conditions be like for them? A youth care worker described the conditions in Homestead to CBS News.

The administration’s continuing lack of transparency and lack of effective organization in caring for detained minor asylum seekers suggest that overall treatment of these children may not have been significantly improved despite the temporary closure of Homestead. S-HP

If you want to raise concerns about the location and well-being of children who had been held at Homestead, here are some addresses of appropriate people to write.

3. Neither secure nor protected

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsay Graham has used a political maneuver to move his “Secure and Protect Act” (S.1494) out of the Judiciary Committee, making it eligible for consideration by the full Senate, Politico reports. This legislation will be the subject of legal wrangling, regardless of any decisions made by the Senate, but it’s worth looking at what effect S.1494 would have if it became law. Its effects would be most severe for children being held in immigration detention facilities, expanding the maximum length of detention for children from twenty days to one hundred, and allowing unaccompanied minors to be given “expedited deportation” within forty-eight hours of their arrival in the U.S.

S.1494 would give the Secretary of Homeland Security sole discretion over standards for child detention—including issues like sanitation and nutrition, as well as immigration/asylum processing. It would make immigration officers’ decisions regarding unaccompanied minor children final and unreviewable. S.1494 also limits asylum seekers to entering the U.S. through one of four official port of entry. It requires many asylum seekers to request asylum from within the countries where they fear for their lives and will require significant payment for the processing of asylum claims. It changes the criterion for asylum from “credible fear” to “reasonable fear,” essentially a change from “possible” to “more likely than not.” S-HP

If you would like to let Senator Graham–and others–know what you think about the Secure and Protect Act, information to do so is here.

4. Background checks, mental health and gun violence

At the moment, Trump and the Republican administration are blaming gun violence on individuals’ mental health issues. We can debate whether this is an appropriate approach—and certainly there are others like white supremacy and toxic masculinity—but let’s assume that it is. (Note that almost all mass shooters have a history of domestic violence, according to Business Insider.) Back in February 2017, one of Trump’s early actions was to nullify Obama-era legislation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase guns, NBC News reported. So any Republican “concession” or “compromise” on background checks is actually just a return to what currently would be gun policy in the U.S. if not for Trump’s nullification. S-HP

You can propose meaningful action against gun violence here.

5. Legislation against gun violence

After yet another weekend of gun madness in the U.S. even Trump has come out in favor of universal background checks and briefly floated the idea of an assault weapons ban (these before castigation from the National Rifle Association), NPR reported. As we ask Congress why they aren’t doing more, we can point out some opportunities they have for action. First off, this year the House has already passed two different pieces of background check legislation, H.R.8 and H.R.1112. Both of these have been sent to the Senate—where Mitch McConnell has not even assigned them to a committee. Then, we have the Assault Weapons Ban of 2019, (H.R.1296 in the House and S.66 in the Senate). Panetta is a co-sponsor of H.R.1296. Feinstein introduced S.66; Harris is a co-sponsor. These are with the Judiciary Committees of their respective houses, waiting for action before they can be brought to the full legislative body. S-HP

If you want to urge action on legislation against gun violence, you can do so here.

6. Preserving FOIA

A June Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling significantly broadened the interpretation of the “trade secrets exemption” in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This might seem trivial, but it isn’t. When one files an FOIA request that includes not just the government, but private contractors/companies the government works with, the question of what a “trade secret” is has significant implications. Is a trade secret limited to something like the formula for Coca-Cola? Is it the amount the contractor/company is actually billing the government? Does it involve connections between those working for a government agency and those with the contractor/company? Is it the minimum nutritional standards for a detention center? The SCOTUS ruling could easily lead to an answer of “all of the above” for this set of questions.

In response, a bipartisan group of Senators (2 Republicans, 2 Democrats, including Dianne Feinstein) has introduced the Open and Responsive Government Act of 2019, S.2220, reports the Toledo Chronicle. This legislation would explicitly require a standard of “substantial harm” (as opposed to, say, “possible harm”) before the trade secret exemption could be used, the Muckrock explains. S.2220 offers two more important guideline clarifications for the FOIA. First, S.2220 would specify that Congressional requests for information, unlike those filed by private individuals or organizations, cannot be redacted for trade secret reasons. The second of these prohibits redacting information produced in response to an FOIA request because it is “nonresponsive,” meaning not immediately connected to the central issue of the FOIA request. The more material labeled “nonresponsive,” the more subsequent FOIA requests will be necessary for full understanding of context and implications. S.2220 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee

If you want to speak up about FOIA, you can do so here.

7. Who are the terrorists?

Let’s look at some recent data on extremist violence in the U.S.

  • According to the Anti-Defamation League extremist-related murders rose 37% from 2017 to 2018 and the distribution of white supremacist propaganda saw a 300% increase over the same period;
  • In 2018, every extremist-related murder in the U.S. was carried out by a right-wing extremist, according to Business Insider. A report suppressed by the FBI confirmed this, Salon reports.
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center saw a 30% increase in hate groups in 2018, NBC News reports.

Now, with that information in mind, let’s consider the 2018 counter-terrorism focal points identified in a leaked FBI document. The FBI labeled the top threats as Black Identity Extremists (a term that has been highly criticized in public discourse), Animal Rights and Environmental Extremists, and Anti-Authority Extremists. The document also predicted “attrition” within white supremacist and nationalist extremist groups. See the mismatch? S-HP

If you want to speak up about public safety and who the real terrorists are, here are some possibilities.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. Climate crisis increasingly critical

Just in case you’re tempted to move the climate crisis to the back burner, given everything else, let’s consider this potpourri of data:

  • On a single day at the end of July, more than 12 billion tons of ice melted in Greenland, as we reported last week.
  • 7 million acres of the Arctic, primarily in Siberia, are on fire, devastating wildlife that includes bears, foxes, deer, boars, wolves, elk, lynx, hares, mice, and hedgehogs.
  • The smoke blanket from the Siberian fires is larger than the surface area of the entire European Union.
  • Temperatures in Siberia have been exceeding yearly averages by as much as 10° Celsius (18° Fahrenheit).

On top of all that, a leaked United Nations report warns that global temperatures cannot be kept at safe levels without significant changes to our land use and food consumption, including an end to draining of peat bogs, significantly reduced meat consumption, early warning systems for weather and crop yields, according to the Guardian. The Atlantic also has a useful summary of the issues. This report also points out that extreme weather events exacerbate land degradation, meaning every flood, fire, hurricane, and the like, will make feeding the world on the available land increasingly difficult. S-HP

If you want to urge action on the climate crisis, here are some options for doing so.

9. ICE contracts reveals extensive data sharing

A report on every contract awarded by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) by investigative website Sludge has found a 3.8 million dollar agreement to streamline criminal coding between ICE and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Agency (NLETS). NLETS is actually not a government agency; it’s a private non-profit run by the states in order to facilitate communication across jurisdictions between local, state and federal authorities. To this end, NLETS provides comprehensive access to state driver’s license information; when you get your license run by the police in a traffic stop, chances are it’s getting information from NLETS. The problem with ICE paying to get better key word searches for driver’s license information is that over a dozen states have laws allowing undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses. According to the Oakland Privacy site, the intent of this collaboration is to aid in enforcement. If ICE can index these types of licenses with a criminal code indicating their immigration status, it would provide home address and other information needed for ICE to detain and deport thousands of people. JC

10. Cyanide bombs

M-44s, also known as “cyanide bombs,” are used to kill coyotes, dogs, foxes, and other wildlife perceived to be a threat to livestock. The devices first lure animals to food-baited traps, then release cyanide directly into their mouths as the animals eat. At the end of last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opened public comments on a proposed reauthorization of cyanide bomb use. The public comments, as the EPA itself admits, were overwhelmingly opposed to continued use of cyanide bombs, citing their cruelty and indiscriminate impact. One study of the comments places the total proportion of opposition comments at 99.9%, CBS News reports. Nonetheless, the EPA has decided to reauthorize the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services’ use of cyanide bombs in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Texas. The EPA did some “fine-tuning” to directions for the use of cyanide bombs. The devices may not be used within 100 feet of a public road or pathway (increased from the previous 50-foot prohibition), but it has also lowered the previous requirement for warning signs where these devices are used from a 25-foot radius to a 15-foot radius. S-HP

If the continued use of cyanide bombs in the face of public opposition troubles you, you can write to the addresses listed here.

11. Obama did it so it MUST go

The Trump administration quietly shut down an advisory committee set up at the close of the Obama presidency that was formed to help guide regulatory issues surrounding the emerging technology of self-driving cars, according to the driving website Jalopnik. It’s perplexing because the committee was heavily slanted towards industry with representatives from essentially every major player in the autonomous vehicle game, the kind of move Republicans of just a few years ago would have applauded. The stated reason for shutting it down was cost–which is pretty amusing considering its budget of $41,244 (that’s right… thousands, not millions) went mostly towards payroll time for Department of Transportation staff and the sum is less than the amount spent on hotel rooms for security for Trump’s oldest son’s at a recent golf course opening. The move was SO quiet and quick that sitting members of the committee weren’t even made aware it was no longer extant. So like other instances of advisory committees being gutted or shut down in the FDA, EPA and Dept. of Interior, regulators and lawmakers will have less guidance on the industry they are charged to govern. JC

ARTS & CULTURES

Ngurrara II: A collaborative painting to argue for land rights

This is an amazing story about a critical case in Australian law, which resulted in native land claims being recognized for the first time.  The key to the decision was a collaborative painting depicting water holes. You can watch the painting evolve at this site. MW

Stories of the border: a mural with voices

Artist Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana created an interactive mural on the border, where the voices of the subjects are heard when a cell phone is pointed at their portrait.  The border continues to be a site of profound art arising out of profound pain. MW

Help transcribe Suffragist papers

The Library of Congress has turned to crowdsourcing to transcribe over 16,000 pages of speeches, diaries, and other written materials.  Anyone with online access can help transcribe these documents. The Smithsonian’s website describes this and other projects. MW

A play in the form of a high school debate

“What the Constitution Means to Me” takes on the form of a high school debate to examine what the playwright describes as a“boiling pot in which we are thrown together in sizzling and steamy conflict to find out what it is we truly believe.” MW

RESOURCES

  • Americans with Conscience recommends this list of actions you can take to support those imprisoned at the border.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list of actions to take is mostly integrated into the stories above, but the link has the whole list.
  • Martha’s list offers dozens of ways to comment for the public record on issues ranging from environmental policy changes limiting comment and environmental review on national forests logging; a policy change which would not permit California to require a toxic warning on RoundUp; cuts to food stamps; Trump’s Asylum Ban and expedited removal of aliens, the Medicaid work requirement and much more.
  • Rogan’s list suggests offers numerous opportunities for public comment.