NYMHM for 10 Feb

This week we’ll go in-depth on border security and the Green New Deal, plus 7 other stories that you may have missed, and opportunities for action.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Border security

By the time you read this, border security talks could be back on—or not. As of Sunday mid-day, they had stalled, according to the New York Times, for which Trump is blaming the Democrats. Democrats are trying to hold funds for a physical wall to $2 billion, while insisting that ICE’s priorities shift from detaining those with criminal records rather than people who have overstayed their visas.

Meanwhile, parts of the wall already built and in progress have impeded the migration not of people but of wildlife, damaging fragile ecosystems, as is visible from drone footage from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Dangers to people abound as well; the military in Nogales, Arizona strung as many as six separate coils of razor wire along the border fence separating the city from Nogales, Mexico—all without consulting city officials. The City Council passed a resolution demanding that the wire be removed, seeing it as a danger to pets, wildlife and children. As one citizen told The Washington Post:

“You hear on the news that an invasion is coming, but in fact,” he said, “border communities have been invaded by our own government.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is sending another 3,750 troops to support border agents.

Those of you interested in the history and viability of border walls may find the Shorenstein’s Center’s background information valuable.

Finally, Mexico is doubling the minimum wage, halving sales tax, and lowering taxes by a third in a new zona libre along the US-Mexico border to reduce emigration and encourage more US companies to invest in Mexican firms.

2. Suspicious timing on billionaires’ contributions to Republicans

Wealthy donors gave Republicans a total of $31.1 million during the two months during which the tax bill was being considered, according to the Center for Public Integrity, which has mapped historical giving patterns and noted the anomalies in this cycle.

The bill that was ultimately passed cut the corporate tax rate and gave significant benefits to the richest Americans. Middle class filers are already starting to see how their refunds have diminished in the face of shifting priorities.

3. McConnell funded by Russians?

Despite Democratic objections, sanctions against three Russian companies were lifted at the end of January. The companies are connected to Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Putin and one-time business partner with Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman who was convicted of bank fraud and tax evasion.

Now, the Daily Kos reports that Mitch McConnell received campaign contributions from Len Blavatnik, whose companies benefited from sanctions being lifted. A Soviet-born American (and also British citizen), Blavatnik donated some $3.5 million to a PAC which benefited McConnell. The Dallas News reported in 2017 on the Blavatnik donations to McConnell, but the story never gained traction.

A background piece from 2017 in the Dallas Daily News details how US citizens with ties to Russia made significant campaign contributions to Republicans. Later the paper pointed out that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen received significant contributions from A T & T as well as from an investment firm controlled by a Russian oligarch.

4. Green New Details

US House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) released their Green New Deal Proposal this week. It’s a Resolution, which means it’s not a new law, but more like a statement of purpose or broad blueprint, which (if adopted) would guide (but not bind) the development of the law.

This item will be longer than usual for us, since the proposal is so sweeping. We’re also publishing this item as a separate post, for ease of sharability. (Scroll down to “INTERNATIONAL NEWS” if you’re not interested.)

Here’s the Congressional summary of the resolution, but it’s worth reading the actual text of the proposal, which is easily readable for non-lawyers (and which will inoculate you from the hot takes from people who clearly didn’t read the proposal, only others’ summaries). It starts by acknowledging the climate crisis described by the IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC and Fourth National Climate Assessment—and it’s clear they actually read the IPCC summary for policy makers, which outlines which drastic changes are necessary to prevent literally billions from dying of thirst, forest fires, etc. Those changes “include attention to poverty and sustainable development.”

The GND proposal states that, as a primary polluter, the US has a responsibility to lead in “reducing emissions through economic transformation,” and ties climate change to income inequality, declining life expectancy in the US, and racial and gender wealth divides, noting that climate issues disproportionately affect “indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth” (or “frontline and vulnerable communities”). It notes that climate change is a national security threat.

It proposes a 10-year national mobilization to build resilience to extreme weather and other climate disasters, to repair and upgrade US infrastructure, and to switch to entirely green energy. There’s a long list of ways to do that which we won’t recap here, but which touch on manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, environmental clean-up, and educational opportunities, in coordination and consultation with “frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.” It ends with the promise of “providing all people of the United States with—(i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

Critics have predictably demanded to know how we’ll pay for it (ignoring the even higher cost of inaction) and likened it to a socialist fever dream or total government control.

On the issue of how we’ll pay for it: investment website The Motley Fool has an explainer of AOC’s 70% top marginal tax rate idea, in which Americans with more than $10 million/year in income would pay 70% on income above $10 million. Her proposal is separate from the Green New Deal, but obviously related.

Further reading:

Representative Ocasio-Cortez, whose educational background is in economics, understands as few leaders seem to do that our problems of late have been problems of deflation, not inflation. She also knows well that both inequality and the loss of our middle class have both caused and been worsened by these deflationary trends, along with their mirror images in the financial markets: our asset price hyperinflations – ‘bubbles’ – and busts. Her Green New Deal aims to do nothing short of reversing this slow-motion national suicide – and end our ongoing ‘planet-cide’ in the process.

—”The Green New Deal: How We Will Pay For It Isn’t ‘A Thing’ – And Inflation Isn’t Either” (Robert Hockett, Forbes, 16 Jan 2019)

Frontline and vulnerable communities stand to get it coming and going, from the problem and from the solutions. And unlike big energy companies pursuing growth, unlike idle billionaires fascinated with new tech, unlike banks and financial institutions seeking out new income streams, unlike incumbent industries fat from decades of subsidies, frontline and vulnerable communities do not have the means to fund campaigns and hire expensive lobbyists. They do not have the means to make their voice heard in the scrum of politics.

That’s why progressives exist: to amplify the voices of those without power (a class that includes future generations).

—”There’s now an official Green New Deal. Here’s what’s in it.: A close look at the fights it picks and the fights it avoids.” (David Roberts, 7 Feb 2019, Vox)

Ocasio-Cortez and her allies have rallied around the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark October report. The authors of the report asserted the planet has only 12 years to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit before catastrophic consequences ensue. . . . “What else is there? If we don’t save the planet what else is there to worry about?” Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s spokesman, told INSIDER recently. “We either believe that the scientists are right and we have 12 years to avoid cataclysmic failure of our climate system, or we don’t.”

—”Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled a Green New Deal that will force 2020 Democrats to take an aggressive stance on climate change” (Eliza Relman, 7 Feb 2019, Business Insider)

Ocasio-Cortez worked closely with the youth-led environmental organization Sunrise Movement to craft the Green New Deal deal and whip up interest in it. Through a series of sit-ins and other actions, the activist group chased down Democratic politicians to win support for the plan. The tactic seems to have worked: The Guardian reported that 60 House members and 9 senators are co-sponsoring the resolution. That includes presidential hopefuls Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren.

—”The Green New Deal is here, and everyone has something to say about it” (Justine Calma, 7 Feb 2019, Grist)

We’re reaching a tipping point on climate action. Reaching net-zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible is vital and it will require a sustained effort over the next decade and beyond. We look forward to working alongside a diverse group of business, labor, environmental justice, science, agriculture, youth and broadly representative civil society groups and communities to turn this resolution into actionable, bipartisan legislation.

—”Green New Deal Resolution Pushes Congress to Act on Climate” (Statement by Ken Kimmell, President, Union of Concerned Scientists, 7 Feb 2019)

The bill lists some of these consequences [of inaction]: $500 billion in lost annual economic output for the US by 2100, mass migration, bigger and more ferocious wildfires, and risk of more than $1 trillion in damage to US infrastructure and coastal property.

—”Green New Deal bill aims to move US to 100% renewable energy, net-zero emissions” (Megan Geuss, 7 Feb 2019, Ars Technica)

Climate change and inequality are inextricably linked. We cannot tackle one without addressing the other. A Green New Deal would take on both.

—”What Is a Green New Deal?” Sierra Club [Undated – could have been written before the Resolution was released – Google Cache is from 10 Feb 2019]

Think this wild-eyed? Think again. Wind costs have fallen by 67% since 2009 while utility-scale solar has dropped by 86% since that time, according to the financial adviser, Lazard. Prudence has been a virtue. But what green energy skeptics have learned is that the public incentives and the overall economics are adding up — progress that will only go forward, given that prices continue to fall while the quality continues to improve.

—”The Green New Deal Just Speeds Up The Current Green Wave. Case In Point: Solar-Plus-Storage” (Ken Silverstein, 10 Feb 2019, Forbes)

And, just for laughs:

Nobody is arguing that landing a man on the moon would not be a stirring national achievement. But since when is inspiration a justification for national policy? Far more sensible would be to attempt to get a man a quarter of the way to the moon in 20 years, with a longer-term project to get a full three-quarters of the way there by the year 2000. In point of fact, the technology to get anyone to the moon and back simply does not exist, and there is no proof it will ever exist. Rocket science is incredibly complex, which is why everything else is now described as “it’s not rocket science.”

—”Here’s the case against the Green New Deal, by analogy” (Tom Toles, 8 Feb 2019, The Washington Post)

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

5. North Macedonia now able to join NATO and the EU

On Friday, Greece became the first nation to ratify the admission of the newly renamed Republic of Northern Macedonia to NATO. By a narrow vote in January, Greek MPs accepted an agreement which would rename Macedonia “The Republic of North Macedonia.” North Macedonia is now able to join NATO and the EU. The issue has been contentious in Greece for 27 years because of an area inside the country also called “Macedonia,” a name deeply embedded in Greek history; the newly renamed country had been known as “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” after the Soviet Union dispersed.

The agreement to change the name came out of a complex political process during which in 2016 a coalition of political parties replaced a right-wing nationalist party in North Macedonia and negotiated the Prespa agreement with Greece (named for a lake between the two countries where the negotiations took place), culminating in Greek support for North Macedonia’s admission to NATO. Enacting Prespa did not come easily; the campaign was targeted by Russian disinformation, as Putin is not pleased to see NATO expand. [NYT]

The stakes for North Macedonians are high: “Unemployment and poverty are in the 20-25% range and foreign investment is essential to improve this number” according to Dave Saldana, who was part of an international team of consultants who helped move the process forward. However, there will be no foreign dollars “without border security, internal stability, and open access to trade markets,” he explains—all now possible. He points out that once Bulgaria and Romania entered NATO, foreign investment increased increased sharply. Indeed, GDP went up 133% and 182% respectively (our calculations based on data provided by the World Bank). If North Macedonia follows this model, “more jobs, higher wages, better living standards” will become possible, along with “minimum standards of education, health care, workplace, environmental standards,” Saldana says—all of which will bring increased security to the region. [Independent, Time]

6. Maduro blocking aid to Venezuela

Millions of dollars in US food and medical supplies have been stopped at the Venezuelan border by president Nicolás Maduro, who said on Friday, “The reality is there is no help. It’s a message of humiliation to the people. If they really wanted to help they should lift all the economic sanctions, the financial persecution, and cancel the economic ban that robs us of billions of dollars.” [WaPo] However, Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself president, says humanitarian aid will be allowed in. Canada, on the other hand, is providing $53 million in aid to neither the existing Venezuelan government nor to Guaidó but to non-governmental organizations and countries trying to support Venezuelans leaving the country. [Globe & Mail] Cold Type has a strong round-up of Venezuela news (pdf).

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Drug companies withholding generics from the market

An analysis published in Kaiser Health News reports that of the 1,600 generic drugs approved by the FDA, more than 700 or 43% are not available for sale in the United States. Generic drugs are a key factor in keeping pharmaceutical costs down as they compete with far more costly brand-name drugs under patent protection. Reasons for the absence in the marketplace include costly litigation from patent holders, industry consolidation, and anti-competitive agreements in which brand-name drug manufacturers simply pay generic manufacturers to keep a drug off the shelves. Studies have shown that to bring the cost of a drug down 33%, five versions of a generic need to be available versus the name brand. Clearly, anti-competitive market manipulation is compounding unscrupulous marketing and shameless price gouging as drivers for pharmaceutical industry profits.

8. ‘Virtual’ Pharmacology set to revolutionize medicine

Partnering teams from the University of California San Francisco and the University of North Carolina have built on advances in atomic-scale molecular imaging and computer simulation of novel chemical compounds called “virtual pharmacology” to build a platform that will be able to test over a billion new chemical compounds. Collaborating with a cutting-edge chemical supplier based in Kiev who offers syntheses of new molecules at a price as low as sixty-five dollars per molecule, the team is now able to rapidly test their new drugs to see if real-world testing matches the simulations. Already as a proof of concept of their method, the team concentrated on two bio-mechanisms, a bacterial enzyme called beta-lactamase involved in antibiotic resistance and the D4 dopamine receptor found in the human brain and implicated in psychosis and addictive behavior. The huge database and simulator combed through millions of potential matches. They found several hundred top candidates likely to perform as needed and had them synthesized and after lab testing found the strongest beta-lactamase inhibitor known to date and one of the most powerful dopamine receptor activators ever discovered. This advance is essentially taking biochemistry from what has been a painstakingly hand-crafted process of a single molecule isolated and studied one at a time to a mass-production paradigm in terms of efficiency.

9. Amazon reportedly reconsidering New York headquarters expansion

The much reported-on and controversial race by municipalities to court Amazon to locate its secondary North American headquarters within their cities ended with a split decision and a consolation prize. Amazon chose to split the headquarters into two locations, one in the Washington DC area and the other in Queens, New York City with Nashville, TN receiving a smaller logistics center. Enormous tax-incentive packages were part of the enticement for all three cities and while Nashville and Washington have experienced some local grumbling over the size of the tax breaks, New York City has broken into near revolt over its success. At heart is the question of why the most valuable company in the country would require tax breaks as well as issues of gentrification, urban planning and Amazon’s anti-union stances. This strong backlash has allegedly caused Amazon executives to reconsider the decision, which is expected to take until 2020 to finalize.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist always has an excellent set of useful actions.
  • Martha has sorted through 300 calls for public comment and offered her best suggestions for getting your views documented. Significant this week: proposed changes to banking regulations which would undermine protections against payday loans and water down stress tests for banks; the San Diego border wall; ACA; tightening eligibility for SNAP (food stamps). You might want to have a word about arctic drilling as well.
  • Sarah-Hope wonders whether you have thoughts about exporting semi-automatic weapons, preventing victims (including children) of domestic violence from obtaining asylum, investigating whether Kavanaugh committed perjury, escalating deregulation and more. If so, she has summarized these and many other issues for you, and can suggest to whom you might write. Type in, do not click on “whatifknits.com.”
  • Tom Dispatch is always a reliable source; look at the resource list on the right side of his page for more of the same.
  • If you’d like to tweet to climate deniers and climate obfuscators, Get The Facts Out is all set up for you to do so.

The Green New Details

US House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) released their Green New Deal Proposal this week. It’s a Resolution, which means it’s not a new law, but more like a statement of purpose or broad blueprint, which (if adopted) would guide (but not bind) the development of the law.

Here’s the Congressional summary of the resolution, but it’s worth reading the actual text of the proposal, which is easily readable for non-lawyers (and which will inoculate you from the hot takes from people who clearly didn’t read the proposal, only others’ summaries). It starts by acknowledging the climate crisis described by the IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC and Fourth National Climate Assessment—and it’s clear they actually read the IPCC summary for policy makers, which outlines which drastic changes are necessary to prevent literally billions from dying of thirst, forest fires, etc. Those changes “include attention to poverty and sustainable development.”

The GND proposal states that, as a primary polluter, the US has a responsibility to lead in “reducing emissions through economic transformation,” and ties climate change to income inequality, declining life expectancy in the US, and racial and gender wealth divides, noting that climate issues disproportionately affect “indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth” (or “frontline and vulnerable communities”). It notes that climate change is a national security threat.

It proposes a 10-year national mobilization to build resilience to extreme weather and other climate disasters, to repair and upgrade US infrastructure, and to switch to entirely green energy. There’s a long list of ways to do that which we won’t recap here, but which touch on manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, environmental clean-up, and educational opportunities, in coordination and consultation with “frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.” It ends with the promise of “providing all people of the United States with—(i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

Critics have predictably demanded to know how we’ll pay for it (ignoring the even higher cost of inaction) and likened it to a socialist fever dream or total government control.

On the issue of how we’ll pay for it: investment website The Motley Fool has an explainer of AOC’s 70% top marginal tax rate idea, in which Americans with more than $10 million/year in income would pay 70% on income above $10 million. Her proposal is separate from the Green New Deal, but obviously related.

Further reading:

Representative Ocasio-Cortez, whose educational background is in economics, understands as few leaders seem to do that our problems of late have been problems of deflation, not inflation. She also knows well that both inequality and the loss of our middle class have both caused and been worsened by these deflationary trends, along with their mirror images in the financial markets: our asset price hyperinflations – ‘bubbles’ – and busts. Her Green New Deal aims to do nothing short of reversing this slow-motion national suicide – and end our ongoing ‘planet-cide’ in the process.

—”The Green New Deal: How We Will Pay For It Isn’t ‘A Thing’ – And Inflation Isn’t Either” (Robert Hockett, Forbes, 16 Jan 2019)

Frontline and vulnerable communities stand to get it coming and going, from the problem and from the solutions. And unlike big energy companies pursuing growth, unlike idle billionaires fascinated with new tech, unlike banks and financial institutions seeking out new income streams, unlike incumbent industries fat from decades of subsidies, frontline and vulnerable communities do not have the means to fund campaigns and hire expensive lobbyists. They do not have the means to make their voice heard in the scrum of politics.

That’s why progressives exist: to amplify the voices of those without power (a class that includes future generations).

—”There’s now an official Green New Deal. Here’s what’s in it.: A close look at the fights it picks and the fights it avoids.” (David Roberts, 7 Feb 2019, Vox)

Ocasio-Cortez and her allies have rallied around the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark October report. The authors of the report asserted the planet has only 12 years to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit before catastrophic consequences ensue. . . . “What else is there? If we don’t save the planet what else is there to worry about?” Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s spokesman, told INSIDER recently. “We either believe that the scientists are right and we have 12 years to avoid cataclysmic failure of our climate system, or we don’t.”

—”Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled a Green New Deal that will force 2020 Democrats to take an aggressive stance on climate change” (Eliza Relman, 7 Feb 2019, Business Insider)

Ocasio-Cortez worked closely with the youth-led environmental organization Sunrise Movement to craft the Green New Deal deal and whip up interest in it. Through a series of sit-ins and other actions, the activist group chased down Democratic politicians to win support for the plan. The tactic seems to have worked: The Guardian reported that 60 House members and 9 senators are co-sponsoring the resolution. That includes presidential hopefuls Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren.

—”The Green New Deal is here, and everyone has something to say about it” (Justine Calma, 7 Feb 2019, Grist)

We’re reaching a tipping point on climate action. Reaching net-zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible is vital and it will require a sustained effort over the next decade and beyond. We look forward to working alongside a diverse group of business, labor, environmental justice, science, agriculture, youth and broadly representative civil society groups and communities to turn this resolution into actionable, bipartisan legislation.

—”Green New Deal Resolution Pushes Congress to Act on Climate” (Statement by Ken Kimmell, President, Union of Concerned Scientists, 7 Feb 2019)

The bill lists some of these consequences [of inaction]: $500 billion in lost annual economic output for the US by 2100, mass migration, bigger and more ferocious wildfires, and risk of more than $1 trillion in damage to US infrastructure and coastal property.

—”Green New Deal bill aims to move US to 100% renewable energy, net-zero emissions” (Megan Geuss, 7 Feb 2019, Ars Technica)

Climate change and inequality are inextricably linked. We cannot tackle one without addressing the other. A Green New Deal would take on both.

—”What Is a Green New Deal?” Sierra Club [Undated – could have been written before the Resolution was released – Google Cache is from 10 Feb 2019]

Think this wild-eyed? Think again. Wind costs have fallen by 67% since 2009 while utility-scale solar has dropped by 86% since that time, according to the financial adviser, Lazard. Prudence has been a virtue. But what green energy skeptics have learned is that the public incentives and the overall economics are adding up — progress that will only go forward, given that prices continue to fall while the quality continues to improve.

—”The Green New Deal Just Speeds Up The Current Green Wave. Case In Point: Solar-Plus-Storage” (Ken Silverstein, 10 Feb 2019, Forbes)

And, just for laughs:

Nobody is arguing that landing a man on the moon would not be a stirring national achievement. But since when is inspiration a justification for national policy? Far more sensible would be to attempt to get a man a quarter of the way to the moon in 20 years, with a longer-term project to get a full three-quarters of the way there by the year 2000. In point of fact, the technology to get anyone to the moon and back simply does not exist, and there is no proof it will ever exist. Rocket science is incredibly complex, which is why everything else is now described as “it’s not rocket science.”

—”Here’s the case against the Green New Deal, by analogy” (Tom Toles, 8 Feb 2019, The Washington Post)

NYMHM for 3 Feb

We often observe here at #newsyoumayhavemissed that so much is happening that it’s impossible to keep track of it all—almost certainly a strategy by the Trump administration to achieve their unpopular goals. The shutdown story, border wall boondoggle, and Mueller investigation have been pushing off the front page the equally important stories of the transgender military ban, teachersstrikes, BLM and Native American concerns, and migrant children locked up, separate from their parents, in facilities with, to put it mildly, inadequate oversight. Meanwhile, those social justice concerns are in turn diverting attention from structural changes to our governance and laws, and those changes are diverting attention from the slow-motion oncoming climate crisis. None of these things are a distraction-in-the-sense-of-being-unimportant, but they each serve to distract us from the next, making any sustained campaign of objections less likely. This week we’ll again focus on some stories getting less attention, and follow the news with some suggestions and resources for action.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. White House blocking rule requiring employers to submit details of workplace injuries.

The Obama administration enacted the Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses rule to get more detailed information about how, and how many, people are injured on the job. In 2017, the Trump administration put the rule on hold. More recently, they amended the rule so employers would only have to submit a summary report, effective 25 February 2019. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) rushed through the amendment in 6 weeks (rather than the usual 3 months) despite the shutdown. The non-profit occupational health research group Public Citizen has filed a lawsuit hoping to prevent the changes. [Vox]

2. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to roll back Obama-era rules on campus sexual assault cases

The Department of Education has proposed new rules for investigating campus sexual assaults. DeVos wants to protect the accused by, among other changes, narrowing the definition of sexual harassment (potentially excluding rape!), guaranteeing a right to cross-examine accusers through a lawyer or representative, and exempting schools from investigating assaults at off-campus events.

Nothing is stopping DeVos from doing what Ajit Pai did and claiming, like her supporters, that “quality is more important than quantity“—although NYMHM observes that arguing that is essentially an admission that the problem of sexual assault is far more common than the problem of false accusations. The comment period is over, but you can still call your members of Congress.

3. Federally-funded foster agencies in SC may deny services to same-sex and non-Christian couples.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster asked for, and has now received from the federal government, a waiver of the rule that “prevents publicly licensed and funded foster care agencies from serving specific religions.” In effect, it’s now legal to discriminate against prospective parents because they are gay, or Jewish, which McMaster is perversely championing as a win for religious freedom.

4. 18% of streams and 51% of wetlands under threat

On December 11, 2018, in response to a February 28, 2017 Executive Order and three Supreme Court decisions, the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) jointly proposed a new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule (AKA the Clean Water Rule), narrowing the scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act, and probably disingenuously argues that states will make up the difference. Washington Ag Network states the replacement rule is “welcomed by U.S. agriculture” and the Farm Bureau president has spoken in support of it, saying current rules aren’t clear. The Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at University of Tennessee argues:

A better solution to changing WOTUS may be to require the federal government to map the areas that it determines are in the watershed of ephemeral streams. Then farmers will not be faced the problem of not knowing whether or not they need to apply for a permit before engaging changes to their land.

The National Law Review has published an outline of the changes. A 2017 EPA/USACE slideshow (pdf) estimated 18% of streams and 51% of wetlands would no longer be protected. The Environmental Defense Fund recommends edge-of-field and watershed-level conservation and restoring buffers, filters and wetlands, regardless of what happens with WOTUS. Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day comment period will start. We’ll post when it does, as will Martha’s list.

5. Changes to H1-B lottery

The lottery for H-1B visas, which allow American employers to employ specialized foreign labor (and which, we’re amused to learn, Melania Trump once used), is changing. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will now start with a lottery of all petitioners to fill the 65,000 H-1B quota, followed by a 20,000-quota lottery for holders of advanced degrees from U.S. institutions, instead of the other way around, which gives holders of advanced U.S. degrees two kicks at the can. USCIS estimates that up to 5,340 more immigrants with higher degrees will be selected, though the overall number of immigrants is not increasing.

6. Low-yield nukes

In a move we here at NYMHM don’t understand at all, on the direction of the Trump administration, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has started building the W-76-2, the “first low-yield, submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead” for the Navy. We find ourselves in the weird position of… advocating for higher-yield nukes? What is even happening. But: it appears that W-76-2 has a yield of about 5 to 7 kilotons (for contrast, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 15 kt), and would be launched from submarines, but Russia, or any other enemy, would have no way of differentiating it from the Navy’s primary sub-launched nuke, the 100kt W-76-1, so they would launch a massive counter attack upon detection. Yet a foolish president might be more likely to actually order the use of the W-76-2, thinking of it as more like a big conventional bomb. So as far as we non-experts at NYMHM can tell, this move makes us less safe.

7. Comment period for changes to HIPAA

For those of you interested in health policy, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services has published a Request for Information (RFI). Comment by February 12 specifically on HIPAA and medical data sharing and communications. This is not an opportunity to comment on anything you dislike about HIPAA, but is more narrowly focused on removing regulatory obstacles to efficient patient care coordination while preserving patient privacy. Section II.a. of the RFI lists the questions they’d like commenters to address.

8. ICE continues to be awful

a. ICE force-feeding detainees

Immigration detainees from India and Nicaragua being held in a detention center in El Paso have been on a hunger strike over the last month, protesting unequal treatment. In particular, detainees from Punjab have been denied bond, while others have received it. AP reporters Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke reported that hunger strikers are being painfully force-fed.  Human Rights Watch condemned the force-feeding: “ICE should immediately stop the cruel, inhuman, and degrading process of force-feeding any detainees who have made a rational decision to stop eating as a form of protest.”

b. ICE issues fake court dates, forcing immigrants to drive for hours

NYMHM reported on the practice of ICE giving immigrants fake court dates, sometimes many hours away. ICE has done it again; on Thursday, according to CBS, ICE issued thousands of Notice to Appear letters, leading to chaos in immigration courts in Arlington, San Francisco and Memphis, as thousands of immigrants responded as they thought they were supposed to. As one immigration attorney told CBS, “For someone who’s facing deportation, playing around with court dates is literally playing around with their life.”

c. ICE refuses to cite shelters for violations

Meanwhile, ICE has refused to cite detention facilities for health and safety violations, according to an auditor general’s report (pdf). Among the 14,000 violations reported only two penalties were imposed. Among the violations were failures to report sexual assault and staff misconduct, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Staff did not respond quickly enough to medical crises, permitted detainees to be housed among violent criminals, allowed a toxic gas to be used to subdue detainees and so on; instead of citing the facilities, ICE issued waivers permitting the practices. Over 35,000 people are being housed in private detention centers.

d. The U.S. says it can’t find separated children

In a court filing on February 2, the U.S. said that it cannot locate the many thousands of children ICE separated from their parents. It says it has no tracking system and no resources to do so, while acknowledging that separations are ongoing.

The ACLU, which is carrying the case to force the government to locate the children, posted that “The Trump administration’s response is a shocking concession that it can’t easily find thousands of children it ripped from parents, and doesn’t even think it’s worth the time to locate each of them. The administration also doesn’t dispute that separations are ongoing in significant numbers. We will be back in court on February 21.” The government’s responses are on the ACLU site.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Where did Juan Guaidó come from?

Last week, NYMHM commented on the simmering coup in Venezuela, where the incumbent president has been challenged by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who proclaimed himself president after having boycotted the election in which he might have run (and won). Astonishingly, Guaidó was immediately recognized by the U.S. and Canada and praised by the mainstream press. Writing for Grey Zone, journalists Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal recount recent US interventions into Venezuela, all of which added to the destabilization of the economy, and show how Guaidó was cultivated from his student activism days by US politicians, institutes and universities.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration said on Sunday that military options were on the table in Venezuela and promised $20 million in aid to Guaidó, along with access to Venezuelan funds in U.S. banks.

A number of European countries plan to recognize Guaidó if Maduro doesn’t call new elections.

We also noted last week the tragic irony of the appointment of Elliott Abrams as special envoy to Venezuela. The Intercept now has a history of Abrams’ disastrous relationship to Latin America. Warning: the first paragraph is difficult reading.

10. Foreign Policy chaos: attack on Iran?

Writing for Foreign Policy in Focus, Conn Hallinan sketches out the real possibility that John Bolton could lead us into war with Iran. Apparently the Trump administration is persuaded that its sanctions have not persuaded Iran to revisit the 2015 nuclear agreement that the administration unilaterally scrapped. Still, other nations have declined to support the sanctions and have urged Iran to stay in the agreement. As FPIF notes, it’s not clear that war with Iran, which is opposed by the American public by a 2-1 margin, serves anyone’s interests at all.

11. Immigration attorneys denied entry in Mexico

Two immigration attorneys who work for Al Otro Lado, which filed a lawsuit in 2017 alleging that the Trump administration was violating the rights of asylum seekers, were denied entry into Mexico because another country—unnamed—had flagged their passports. In addition, two journalists who covered the migrant caravan were also prohibited from entering. One of the journalists needed to go into Tijuana, where she lives, to pick up her baby.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

12. Opioid crisis projected to deepen: 147% increase in deaths by 2025

According to a study by a team at Massachusetts General Hospital published in JAMA Network Open, deaths from opioid overdoses are likely to rise despite changes in policies limiting the prescription of opioid drugs. The study shows that opioid use has shifted in recent years. What were largely misused and/or over-prescribed medications have now been replaced by dangerous synthetic illicit drugs such as fentanyl and heroin. In addition to former prescription drug abusers shifting to wholly illicit substances, the team projects that by 2025, half of all new opioid users will start with these black market sources, completely bypassing the medical system altogether. The study concludes that simply reducing availability and use of prescribed opioids will not be enough to stem the current crisis; instead, a multi-pronged approach is needed including drug therapies to treat addiction and more widespread use and availability of anti-overdose medication such as naloxone.

13. Massive cavity found beneath crucial Antarctic glacier 

An enormous void around two-thirds the area of Manhattan has been found beneath the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica, mostly formed in just the last three years. The vast Thwaites Glacier’s meltwater alone accounts for about 4% of total sea level rise. The void is between the glacier and the bedrock it sits on, where ocean currents infiltrate and undermine the ice above them.

As the ocean penetrates further into the glacier, the glacier will melt faster—and the Thwaites Glacier has enough water to raise the world’s oceans over two feet by itself. Of even more concern is that the Glacier acts as a plug of sorts, damming ice in place further inland. Without it, ice would flow from the interior of the continent to the sea, potentially leading to an additional eight feet of sea level rise. A sea level rise of ten feet would be catastrophic, displacing hundreds of millions of people and drowning dozens of cities around the world. [Science Advances]

14. Fewer than one in ten people can tell an ad from a news article. 

An online experiment conducted by professors at the University of Boston and the University of Georgia found that fewer than one in ten participants could tell what they were reading was advertising and not an impartial news article. The study asked participants to read an actual advertising piece from Bank of America created by marketing firm Brandpoint. The 515 word ad entitled “America’s Smartphone Obsession Extends to Online Banking” contained a disclosure line identifying it as an advertisement, yet less than ten percent of the participants—a broad cross-section of the US population—accurately described it as an ad. The people who were successful tended to be younger, more educated, and more apt to describe their news consumption as for informational purposes.

RESOURCES FOR ACTION

  • Jen Hofmann’s Americans of Conscience Checklist for the Week of February 3, 2019.
  • Martha’s list has some key opportunities to comment—among other issues, on further restrictions to SNAP (food stamps), redefinition of the “Waters of the U.S,” standards on preventing food-borne illness, injuries to marine mammals and many, many EPA regulations.
  • Do you have something to say about wait times for asylum seekers, the protection of vulnerable immigrant populations, the separation of families, the Climate Solutions Act, changes to the Clean Waters Act (WOTUS), the Mueller investigation, and so on? Sarah-Hope’s list recommends whom to write about what. Her own summaries are excellent and she has some drawn from Rogan’s list as well.

Breaking: 18% of streams and 51% of wetlands under threat

On December 11, 2018, in response to a February 28, 2017 Executive Order and three Supreme Court decisions, the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) jointly proposed a new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule (AKA the Clean Water Rule), narrowing the scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act, and probably disingenuously argues that states will make up the difference. Washington Ag Network states the replacement rule is “welcomed by U.S. agriculture” and the Farm Bureau president has spoken in support of it, saying current rules aren’t clear. The Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at University of Tennessee argues:

A better solution to changing WOTUS may be to require the federal government to map the areas that it determines are in the watershed of ephemeral streams. Then farmers will not be faced the problem of not knowing whether or not they need to apply for a permit before engaging changes to their land.

The National Law Review has published an outline of the changes. A 2017 EPA/USACE slideshow (pdf) estimated 18% of streams and 51% of wetlands would no longer be protected. The Environmental Defense Fund recommends edge-of-field and watershed-level conservation and restoring buffers, filters and wetlands. Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, a 60-day comment period will start. We’ll post when it does, as will Martha’s list.

Photo: US EPA Wetland area in the Chesapeake Bay

NYMHM for 27 Jan

#Newsyoumayhavemissed for January 27, 2019 is grateful for the hiatus in the shutdown drama, but wary. Over the next three weeks, we hope some government employees and contractors will get paid, government services will be restored and government lands preserved. But we suspect that Shutdown II could be equally troubling. Meanwhile, we note that the Trump administration’s pattern of putting people in charge of what they prefer to destroy has reached its apex, with the appointment of Elliott Abrams as special envoy to Venezuela (see the first story in International News below).

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Immigrant children used as “bait” to catch and deport sponsors

Sponsors who offered to take in immigrant children—usually family members—were deliberately targeted for deportation, according to a lawsuit (pdf) filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and two other organizations. A 2017 memo (pdf) indicates the government knew the policy of investigating and deporting sponsors would result in fewer coming forward and more children saying in detention longer.

2. Migrant children held in unlicensed shelters

Meanwhile, migrant children are being housed in a dozen unlicensed shelters, according to CBS. Under the law, detained children must be held in the least-restrictive facilities possible, facilities must be licensed, and parents must be told where their children are. Attorney Peter Schey, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, the only non-governmental organization which may evaluate shelters where children are held, told CBS, “We have a team of over 250 lawyers, doctors and paralegals visiting these places. We’ve interviewed hundreds of detained children. We think there are violations across the board.” The Center is fundraising to continue its work.

Lawyers are particularly concerned about a facility in Homestead, Florida, whose parent company, Comprehensive Health Services (CHS), has no Florida license and thus can’t conduct background checks on employees.

3. Laid-off reporters receive death threats from trolls

When Buzzfeed laid off 15% of its reporters and the Huffington Post announced it would lay off 7%, the reporters were besieged by anti-semitic and sexist threats generated by the right-wing message board 4chan. [NBC] Journalists say that the repetitive quality of the threats suggests that they should be easily identified, but instead they are lingering on Twitter and other social media sites.

4. Median net-worth of non-Caribbean Black people in Boston: $8

That is, half of non-Caribbean Black Bostonians have a higher net worth, half have lower; net worth is calculated by subtracting debt from assets. [Boston Globe] A report (pdf) from Duke University, the New School, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston identified the wealth gap in the Boston area. According to the report, “the median household net worth in the Greater Boston region is $247,500 for whites, $8 for US blacks, $12,000 for Caribbean blacks, $3,020 for Puerto Ricans and $0 for Dominicans.” Black Bostonians fare worse on all measures of wealth: more likely to have medical debt, less likely to own homes or even have checking accounts—and thus are disadvantaged, along with their children, in terms of future planning and opportunities.

5. Security clearance probe at White House

Rep. Elijah Cummings, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, launched an investigation last week into security clearance issues at the White House and among the transition team, looking to (pdf):

determine why the White House and Transition Team appear to have disregarded established procedures for safeguarding classified information, evaluate the extent to which the nation’s most highly guarded secrets were provided to officials who should not have had access to them, and develop reforms to remedy the flaws in current White House systems and practices.  The investigation also will seek to determine why the White House is currently defying federal law by failing to provide to Congress information about its security clearance process required by the SECRET Act

6. Judicial nominations

In December, Democrats refused to cross the aisle to provide bipartisan support to a slate of ultra-conservative judicial nominees, and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake blocked judicial nominations until the Senate voted on a law protecting special counsel Robert Mueller (which didn’t happen).

Trump has released a list of his intended judicial nominees (Law360, Buzzfeed). They include:

Flake has retired, and in the new Congress, Republicans now have 53 votes in the Senate (plus Pence’s tie-breaking vote, if needed) so protests would need to be vigorous to prevent the worst nominations from being approved. This seems like an impossible battle, but some of the nominees from the 2018 list have been removed, including Thomas Farr, Patrick J. Bumatay, Daniel P. Collins, and Kenneth Kiyul Lee, reportedly due to objections by Senators Tim Scott (R-SC, Farr) and Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris (D-CA, Bumatay, Collins and Lee).

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

7. Scholars condemn US-backed coup in Venezuela

On Wednesday, Juan Guaidó, the leader of a right-wing party in Venezuela declared himself president. The US and Canada promptly recognized him, along with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, and the UK. Though Guaidó is in the National Assembly, he was not even a candidate for president, though he might have won had the opposition not boycotted the election. The person who did win last May, Nicolás Maduro, has long incurred the wrath of Donald Trump, who met with dissident officers in September. It is not yet clear where the military stands on the coup-in-progress. China, Mexico, Russia, and Turkey have backed Mr Maduro.

Elliott Abrams—infamous for arranging funding of Contra rebels in Nicaragua and lying to Congress about it (he was convicted but pardoned by George H. W. Bush)—has been named US special envoy to Venezuela. Abrams also covered up the El Mozote massacre of a thousand men, women and children in El Salvador when he was assistant secretary of state for human rights during the Reagan administration.

Conditions in Venezuela are dire, with the economy in collapse, shortages of food and medicine, malaria on the rise, inflation of 1,300,000%; Maduro is widely blamed. At the same time, academics and experts point out the costs of supporting a coup: Paul Ortiz, Medea Benjamin, Noam Chomsky and others wrote, “The U.S. and its allies must cease encouraging violence by pushing for violent, extralegal regime change. If the Trump administration and its allies continue to pursue their reckless course in Venezuela, the most likely result will be bloodshed, chaos, and instability” [Common Dreams].

The BBC has a feature on what all this means for oil exports.

8. Canada detains low-risk immigrants in maximum-security prisons

Almost 1,500 non-violent detainees have been locked up in maximum security prisons in Canada—some for years—simply because they are thought unlikely to show up for immigration hearings. They are incarcerated with those already sentenced for violent crimes and frequently endure periods of lockdown. Immigration lawyer Jared Will: “You’re putting them in a terrifying and sometimes objectively dangerous environment when there’s no justification for doing it whatsoever.”

9. Sudan protests

Cuts to bread and fuel subsidies prompted protests in Sudan which have now morphed into hundreds of protests of President Omar al-Bashir 30-year rule. Doctors have become a target for arrests and extrajudicial murders by police, who have also used tear gas, stun grenades, and live ammunition to disperse crowds, and filled public squares with mud to discourage protests. Hundreds, possibly thousands, have been arrested.

10. Philippines church bombing

Twin bombings during a Sunday church service on the mainly-Muslim Jolo island killed 20 and wounded more than 100 people. Islamic State has claimed the attacks, which come six days after an overwhelming “yes” vote in the autonomy referendum to create a self-administered region to end decades of fighting between the Philippine army and Islamist separatists.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Heat wave responsible for mass wildlife deaths in Australia

A severe heatwave across the eastern portion of Australia has resulted in mass die offs of feral horses, known locally as “brumbies,” around dried-up watering holes. In New South Wales, a third of spectacled flying foxes, a species of bat, have succumbed to the heat. The most recent heatwave has broken records and comes after record-breaking drought led to massive wildfires in 2018. It has hit over 100°F for over two weeks with lows only dropping into the high 90s. Readers may recall that the UN Intragovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned of precisely these types of events occurring with more and more frequency. [Guardian, BBC]

12. “Use it or lose it” not quite right regarding muscle strength.

A review of research published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology suggests that muscle once built remains, even if shrunk through atrophy or disuse.

When fitness levels drop, muscle tissue shrinks; however, the nuclei of muscle cells remain locked in a special tissue called syncytium. Syncytium allows a cluster of cells to effectively operate as one cell, and is seen in organs such as heart, bone and placenta, but are mostly found in skeletal muscle. This means it is much easier to regain muscle mass after disuse than to build it from scratch. This places a particular importance upon early fitness, as the ability of the body to build muscle deteriorates over time, which means the key to maintaining high strength and fitness levels might be the muscle you build as a teen and young adult.

13. Glacial retreat shows landscapes hidden for the last 40,000 years

Glacial retreat on Canada’s Baffin Island has revealed surfaces that have been continuously covered in ice for the last 40,000 years, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder sampled plant material found at the base areas recently revealed by melting glaciers and using radiocarbon dating, showed that they grew 40,000 years ago at the latest. The abrupt stop in the record at that time indicates that there was no pattern of growth and retreat which would have allowed for periods of newer plant growth over millennia; the area has been continuously covered with ice until now. This suggests that the arctic may be undergoing the warmest century experienced in 115,000 years.

RESOURCES FOR ACTION

  • Postcards to Voters: text JOIN to 484-275-2229 to sign up; you can write as few as 4 postcards at a time, or as many as you like, so this is a very flexible commitment.
  • Rogan’s List from 1/25 mentions commenting on changes to Title IX, the recent federal changes to definitions of domestic violence and sexual assault, an online form to support public schools, and more.
  • 5 Calls has scripts for supporting legislation to protect transgender troops and reduce prescription drug prices, and more.
  • Martha—who posts various invitations to comment at the federal level—is catching us up on new ACA changes (they want the health insurance marketplace to go directly to private insurers, an abortion clause, and more.) Deadline is tomorrow on the Title IX regulations and NLRB joint employer policies. Speak now, or…
  • Sarah-Hope offers 49 opportunities to comment this week. Consider writing on asylum, the additional children discovered to have been in detention, Barbara Lee’s INVEST act, facial recognition technology, the security clearance process (see our story on the news page), and more! Type in whatifknits.com for the full list.

NYMHM for 20 January

#Newsyoumayhavemissed for January 20, 2019 is circumventing the elephant in the room. The government shutdown is the big story, but you surely won’t have missed it—especially if you are someone who is working without pay (or not working and not getting paid). With the DACA deal a non-starter, a way out isn’t clear—and the costs are mounting, to individuals and to the social fabric (see #5 below). Meanwhile, migrants are still dying in the desert and children are still being taken from their parents the border—many more than we knew, according to a government report. 

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. What did he say and when did he say it?

If you want clarification on why Buzzfeed says that Trump directed his attorney to lie to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and why Mueller’s office refutes it, a very lucid lawyer of our acquaintance recommends the blog post by Marcy Wheeler, who regularly writes about national security and serves on the Advisory Committee for the House Fourth Amendment Caucus. Wheeler explains why Mueller’s representative would have said what he did and why it doesn’t discredit Buzzfeed’s claims.

2. Child separations

a. Thousands more children

According to the Office of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General, many thousands more children were taken from their families at the border, a year prior to the so-called zero tolerance rule that was implemented in the spring of 2018 (pdf). No records of these children were kept in a central database, the Office of the Inspector General points out, and so reuniting them with their families has been a challenge. However, HHS itself claims it can locate such records.

b. The Trump administration is still separating families.

As the New Yorker points out, immigration agents can take children from their parents if they claim to have reason to believe that the parents are abusive or have criminal ties. They do not have to provide evidence for these claims.

c. Proof that policy to separate families a deliberate strategy to deter migrants

A 2017 draft memo leaked to Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) shows precisely how the Trump administration planned to separate children from their families to deter migrants from seeking asylum. The plan was/is to deny asylum hearings to children and to prosecute parents. The authors wrote that the “increase in prosecutions would be reported by the media and it would have a substantial deterrent effect,” according to NBC News. This is in direct contradiction to statements by Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, who said that there was no policy, only an effort to enforce existing law. NBC has posted the memo.

Senator Merkley has asked for a perjury investigation of Nielson, while Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has called on Nielsen to resign, given the report about how many more children were abducted from their families than was previously acknowledged.

d. What you can do

Rogan’s list has a series of useful actions you can take to address the issue of children at the border and the shutdown.

3. Volunteers convicted of leaving food and water for migrants

Four women were convicted of misdemeanors for leaving food and water in the desert for migrants. The volunteers, who worked with the group No More Deaths, were found guilty of entering a wildlife refuge without a permit, the first such conviction in a decade. They could be sentenced to six months in prison and fined $500. Another volunteer for the organization said:

This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country. If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?

The bodies of 127 migrants were delivered to the Pima County medical examiner in 2018; others likely have not been found. On an average of twice per week, No More Deaths has found their containers of water destroyed by the Border Patrol. This is not illegal.

In July, LatinoUSA ran a photo essay of volunteers leaving provisions for migrants. For a vivid description of what it is like to do this work, see Lee Sandusky’s evocative essay published first on Literary Hub and then in Rebellious Mourning, an extraordinary anthology about political grief.

4. First Nations elder, Vietnam Veteran, harassed by white Catholic schoolboys

You likely won’t have missed the news that Nathan Phillips, an elder of the Omaha nation, was ridiculed by a group of students from Covington High School, a private school, according to Indian Country Today. Video of the students’ behavior has circulated widely. Still, it is useful to notice who Phillips is and how he comported himself in the face of outrageous provocation.

According to Buzzfeed, Covington High School may take disciplinary action against the students. The school and diocese have posted an apology. NYMHM doesn’t know this source, but Heavy has a detailed article about what happened; the details are congruent with other sources.

5. Flight risks

Flying has become less safe since the government shutdown, according to an official of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. As Trish Gilbert, the executive vice-president of the union, told The Hill:

We are working with barebones crews. We have controllers there doing what they do very, very well – but how long can you expect them to do it without all of the systems behind them to keep the system safe? And the planes in the air?

Skeletal staffs result when thousands of FAA employees are home unable to work—or are working without pay. In response to a lawsuit from the Air Traffic Controllers and TSA employees’ unions, a federal judge refused to issue a preliminary injunction requiring the government to compensate employees who are working unpaid.

Passengers on a United Airlines flight from Newark had to spend 16 hours on the tarmac in Labrador in -22F degree weather when their plane was diverted due to a medical emergency; they could not leave the plane because there were no border officials working overnight.

6. L.A. teachers strike for lower class sizes, better staffing

After 21 months of unsuccessful negotiations, thousands of Los Angeles teachers went on strike last week. According to CNN, the issues separating the two sides have to do with staffing and class sizes. As one striker told CNN:

“It’s absolutely not the pay raise. It’s about class size reduction. In other words, hire more teachers,” said Andrea Cohen, who’s taught at John Marshall High School for 24 years. “We want to have fully staffed schools. That means librarians, nurses, psychiatric social workers and their interns. We have 46, 45, 50 students in a class. It’s unacceptable.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed additional funds, but it is not yet clear how L.A. will get those funds.

Enormous demonstrations have developed solidarity among L.A. teachers and inspired teachers around the country.

INTERNATIONAL

7. Canada’s vexed generosity

The Trudeau government accepted the asylum request of Rahaf Mohammed, a Saudi Arabian teen who barricaded herself in her hotel room in Thailand and begged the international community to help her escape her abusive family. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) investigated her case and recommended she be granted refugee status in a safe third country.

The very public nature of Canada’s welcome—foreign minister Chrystia Freeland met her at the airport—underscored the tensions between Canada and Saudi Arabia and Canada’s decision was criticized by those who have been waiting a long time to have their cases heard.

Writing for Medium, Syed Hussan—who also was able to immigrate from a Muslim country—explains the problematic nature of the Canada into which Rahaf was welcomed.

8. Gasoline fire deaths in Mexico illuminate fault lines

At least 79 people have died and many more are badly burned after a punctured pipeline exploded in the Mexican town of Tlahuelilpan, north of Mexico City. Residents, dealing with fuel shortages, had been collecting fuel from the line. Fuel thieves, known as huachicoleros, have made 12,581 illegal taps into pipelines in the first ten months of 2018, costing the government of Mexico—where fuel is nationalized—some three billion per year. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as Amlo, has shut down pipelines in order to do crack down on fuel theft. Fuel shortages have resulting, lead to scenes like those in Tlahuelilpan.

If you can read Spanish, the article by Ana Lilia Pérez in La Jornada, illuminates the situation vividly. Pérez has written four books on corruption in Pemex, the national gas company. Even the automatic translation page will give you a sense of the complexities.

9. Zimbabwe government crackdown

At least a dozen people have died in a violent crackdown by security forces against those protesting fuel prices having more than doubled, including live ammunition, door-to-door searches, and abridging access to information and preventing coordination by shutting down social media. Many Zimbabweans can no longer afford bus fares to work, amidst stagnating wages, high inflation, and intermittent internet access. The UN has called for a halt of the “excessive use of force.” [BBC]

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

10. First plants germinated on another world

China’s Chang’e-4 probe, part of a larger groundbreaking mission to the so-called “dark” side of the moon, has completed an experiment which saw tiny cotton plant seedlings sprout. This marks the first recorded instance of plant life growing from seed on another world, something we’ll need to learn much more about to live long-term in places like Mars. The sealed canister contained fruit fly eggs, seeds from cotton, mustard and potato plants and yeasts. The experiment ends as the landing site enters its two-week lunar “night” with frigid temperatures in the canister reaching -60F.

11. FCC moves to delay case to restore net neutrality, citing the shutdown

Oral arguments in a case before the DC circuit court of appeals are scheduled to begin in February; however, the FCC under chairman Ajit Pai requested that the hearings be delayed because of a lack of funding for the FCC due to the federal shutdown. The case has been brought against the FCC by an industry group called Incompas, representing companies such as Google, Netflix, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook. The request to delay has been denied.

12. Billionaire Sackler family found to be heavily involved in pushing Oxycontin 

Until now, the family behind Oxycontin-manufacturer Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family, has not been charged or faced penalties for their company’s actions, but a court filing by the Attorney General of Massachusetts may change that, with reams of evidence suggesting that not only did the Sacklers know about the activities for which Purdue has been heavily fined, but they also had a heavy hand in directing them. Ex-CEO Richard Sackler is shown to have relentlessly hounded sales reps to push the drug in marginal communities and demand all blame for opioid deaths be shifted to addicts, calling them “reckless criminals.”

RESOURCES

Do you want to hold forth about any of the above? Are you ready to step into the fray? See our Resources page and the ideas below for opportunities to engage.

  • Sarah-Hope’s suggestions are well-informed and clear. To object to the use of eminent domain to build the wall, permit residents of US territories to vote in US elections (think Puerto Rico), or object to oil and gas companies being permitted to drill during the shutdown, type in (don’t click on) whatifknits.com and you’ll find them. 
  • Per Martha, Regulations.gov is taking comments. It went dark for a couple of days this week but the disclaimer about the site not being maintained has been taken down but added to the Federal Register site (aren’t these people fun?). This week: Navy assault on marine mammals and a new strategy for weakening the ACA. Also, the deadline to comment on the NLRB joint employer rule which holds subcontractors liable and not the overall contractor is now extended to Jan. 28 (think of Energy Transfer Partners behind KeystoneXL and several other damaging projects and their hundreds, if not thousands, of subcontractors whose workers get no benefits, are often injured, and under this, can’t sue).
  • Rogan’s list also has a series of useful actions you take to address the issue of children at the border and the shutdown.
  • Jen Hoffman’s Americans of Conscience checklist has a set of actions you can take around the shutdown.
  • If you would like to contact Covington Catholic High School and ask what lessons its students are learning, here is contact information, provided by Idle No More: Phone: (859) 491-2247; Principal Robert Rowe: browe@covcath.org; Tweet @supmikeclines (Superintendent of Schools Diocese of Covington).

NYMHM for 13 Jan 2019

After an especially heavy week, we’ve got a roundup of good news and several other positive items scattered throughout the darker news below, including a possible Ebola treatment and a method for a 40% increase in crop yields. Actions and resources will follow the news.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Some much-needed good news:

a. Ruth Bader Ginsberg

RBG is cancer-free and will return to the Supreme Court soon (she’s currently working from home). [Elle; Reuters]

b. SNAP is funded through February

If you’ve been worrying that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be shut down by the government shutdown, don’t worry yet. SNAP has enough money to provide food stamps through the end of February. However, be careful if you receive food stamps—to issue February stamps, the government is using a workaround that requires early issuance, so recipients will need to plan carefully so that stamps distributed by Jan. 20 (that would normally be distributed Feb 1-10) don’t run out. [Chicago Tribune, Indianapolis Star]

c. Medicare For All would save the US money

In an analysis that has received almost no attention in the news despite several conversations sparked by comments from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) [e.g. WaPo], The Political Economy Research Institute at University of Massachusetts Amherst published “Economic Analysis of Medicare for All” which found that, “Medicare for All could reduce total health care spending in the U.S. by nearly 10 percent, to $2.93 trillion, while creating stable access to good care for all U.S. residents.” [Sojourners]

d. Guaranteed healthcare access in NYC

Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced guaranteed comprehensive healthcare access for uninsured New Yorkers to be rolled out this year. [The Hill]

e. Re-enfranchisement of ex-felons in Florida.

As of Jan. 8, about 1.2 million ex-felon US citizens living in Florida can register to vote, if they “have completed their terms of sentence, except those convicted of murder or sexual offenses.” [Miami Herald] Now only Kentucky and Iowa disenfranchise ex-felons [Vox].

f. Another voting rights victory

The ACLU and NAACP have prevailed in their 2014 lawsuit over weighted voting for the Ferguson-Florissant Board of Education, since the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) has declined the case. [ACLU on Twitter; St. Louis Public Radio]

g. SCOTUS has also declined hearing an appeal by ExxonMobil

So, ExxonMobil will have to turn over documents which may prove they actively worked to discredit legitimate climate-change science. [Vox]

h. Facebook is a public forum

The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals have decided that Facebook is enough like a public forum that elected officials who block citizens from commenting on their pages are violating the First Amendment. [Ars Technica]

i. MS-13 mostly gone from eastern MA

The Trump-appointed US Attorney for Boston says eastern Massachusetts has “all but eradicated” MS-13. [Boston Globe] ProPublica notes that the gang has stayed at about 10,000 members (or 0.7% of the 1.4 million total gang members in the U.S.) for the past decade.

j. GoFundMe to buy ladders to go over the wall

You’ve likely heard about the GoFundMe to fund Trump’s Wall, which GoFundMe is refunding back to donors after it failed to raise the money. Now there’s a GoFundMe in response [ABC]: “Ladders to Get Over Trump’s Wall“:

…all funds raised will go to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) , a Texas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees…. This GoFundMe isn’t really about ladders at all. It’s about lifting people up.

2. Good news for the environment, bad news for coal miners

CNN reports that “more coal-fired power plants have been deactivated in Trump’s first two years in office then [sic] in Obama’s entire first term.” Roughly 50,000 coal miners and another 25,000 are employed in the industry in the U.S., whose industry is unlikely to rebound.

3. Gerrymandering roundup.

ABC has a roundup of current gerrymandering cases, affecting voters in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 2020 Census data will be used for redistricting; see last week’s story (#6) about the Census.

4. Pentagon’s Chief of Staff has resigned

Retired Rear Admiral Kevin Sweeney has resigned. He was chief of staff to James Mattis, who resigned as Defense Secretary last month. [Axios, DoD] Sweeney follows Brett McGurk (whose departure we mentioned in the 30 Dec roundup) and Dana White (the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson who left under a cloud amid accusations she mistreated employees) and of course Mattis himself. Eric Chewning (deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial policy) is taking over as chief of staff.

5. US approving immigration requests from men with child brides  

Thousands of men who want to come into the country with their child or adolescent wives were approved: 5,556 requests from adults (almost all men) with child or adolescent spouses, and 2,926  from minors asking to bring in adult spouses, from 2007 to 2017. Approvals included 149 cases where the adult was over 40 years old, and 28 over 50; some applicants were as young as 8 years old. Another 4,749 minor spouses or fiancees were granted permanent resident status in the same ten-year period. The data was collected by the Homeland Security Committee at the request of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and then-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who raised concerns about whether these girls were being abused or had been forced into marriage. Officials have since created a system to flag birthdates in applications, but there’s no data yet to show if it’s working. [NBC/AP]

6. Death reveals need for a broader range of translators at the US border

On December 8, 2018, 7-year-old Jakeline Caal died in US Customs and Border Control custody. Her death has drawn attention to an issue facing many migrants at the southern border. Caal and her father both spoke the Mayan language Q’eqchi. Her father, who speaks what linguist Geoff Nunberg calls “market Spanish,” signed an English-language form read to him in Spanish by a CBP translator. Many of the Central American migrants arriving at the border speak indigenous languages of Mayan origins and have little or no Spanish fluency and may not understand the documents they sign. [NPR; Portland Press Herald]

6. New documents reveal how and why the Border Patrol can do what they do 

Lawyers, this one’s for you: Border Patrol training documents obtained by the Intercept illuminate how the Border Patrol systematically extends its authority. A powerpoint explains occasions when those stopped have no expectation of privacy and identifies various in-practice strategies. When boarding a bus, for example, passengers have the right not to answer questions, but agents have no obligation to advise them of that right. It details the way that the border is defined as a 100-mile swath, within which border patrol officials have wide discretion. 

The documents were acquired by the ACLU after four years of litigation (and the ACLU Border Litigation Project would like to hear from you about your experiences with the Border Patrol). If you have access to Lexis, the case number is:  8:15-cv-00229-JLS-RNB. If you subscribe to Case Text, you can see  it here. The Intercept says that the ACLU shared the training documents exclusively with them. 

7. Trump administration downgraded EU delegation’s diplomatic status

With no announcement or notification, the State Department downgraded the European Union’s delegation from member state to international organization. No comment from the State Department due to the shutdown, but the EU says [Deutsche Welle]

The demotion apparently only came to the attention of EU officials when the ambassador to Washington, David O’Sullivan, was not invited to certain events last year. 

[Independent]

George W. Bush’s former undersecretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, called the move, “a gratuitous and entirely unreasonable swipe at the EU by the Trump administration.”

8. The US is refusing to cooperate with the UN regarding human rights violations inside the country  

The State Department has stopped responding to human rights inquiries coming from United Nations rapporteurs (independent experts who investigate issues of inequality, freedom of expression and human rights around the world). As the Guardian explains it, State stopped responding when Philip Alston, the UN’s expert on extreme poverty, critiqued the United States for intensifying inequality. The outgoing UN ambassador Nikki Haley was very much offended by Alston’s report, calling it “patently ridiculous” that the UN would concern itself with the US rather than developing nations.

The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner has a tool that lets you search the issues the UN raised for yourself. UN rapporteurs raised questions about sanctions against Iran; arbitrary detention of immigrants at private detention centers (including pregnant women); separation of families at the border; exposure of Puerto Ricans to toxic chemicals generated by American companies; targeting of Black Americans called “Black Identity Extremists” by the FBI—and more.

As the Guardian points out, the US’s decision to ignore the UN sends a dangerous message to countries around the world—that they need only ignore the UN when it tries to involve itself.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Friction between US and South Korea

The U.S. has demanded a 50% increase in South Korea’s annual payment to defray costs for about 28,500 U.S. troops based in the country, which Seoul is resisting. [Stars and Stripes] Higher-level talks are expected to continue. [Korea Herald]

10. Ebola in Congo & some hope on the horizon

Amidst unrest over the election of Felix Tshisekedi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, accusations of an election coup, and the potential creation of a unity government, the second most deadly Ebola outbreak in history has risen to 630 cases as of January 10th.

The World Health Organization is now coordinating a randomized control multi-drug trial for Ebola treatments, and, separately, antibody cocktails MBP134 and MBP134 AF were found effective in various animals including non-human primates.

11. RCMP forcibly breach Indigenous checkpoint in British Columbia

Members of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) are being accused of using excessive force by protestors objecting to the placement of a pipeline through Indigenous territory in British Columbia—sovereign territory never ceded to Canada, never conquered, never relinquished through treaty. [CBC]

Protestors had established a blockade that was forcibly breached by RCMP members carrying assault weapons; some were injured. The chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en territory had agreed to honor an injunction requiring access to Coastal GasLink for preconstruction work, saying that they were still adamantly opposed to the pipeline but that they were concerned about safety, but protestors nonetheless set up a checkpoint at Gidim’ten. [CBC] Some Indigenous people don’t recognize the chief and council structure, saying it was imposed by colonial law. [CBC]

Coastal GasLink is proposing to build a pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory carrying liquified natural gas and—according to one commentator, Kai Nagata—is trying to do so before the Wet’suwet’en claims of sovereignty over their extensive historical territory are heard in court. [Vancouver Star]

12. Round-up of some other international news

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

13. Inhalable RNA may be on the way

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a way to deliver mRNA therapies via inhalation, which paves the way for groundbreaking new treatments for lung diseases. mRNA is the “messenger” form of RNA which tells cells which proteins to make and in what quantities. Protein therapies are a promising type of treatment for many lung diseases, cystic fibrosis in particular, but mRNA is delicate and breaks down easily requiring a means of direct delivery and a protective “carrier.”

MIT succeeded in making tiny nanospheres of a bio-degradable polymer entangled with the mRNA and aerosolized it so that it can be inhaled and applied directly to lung cells where it’s needed. In experiments with mice, they successfully delivered mRNA containing directions to produce a bioluminescent protein which was shown to spread evenly throughout the lungs. As the lungs cleared, the mRNA that was delivered the bioluminescent proteins gradually diminished—which allows for the possibility of scalable doses. [MIT]

14. Federal government shutdown hitting science hard

The impact of the budget impasse and resulting shutdown of the federal government is being felt throughout the science community as long-standing planned research is scrapped at the last moment, data piles up without being examined and projects are in limbo waiting for promised funding. New lab staff can’t be vetted because E-verify is down.

Among the immediate effects, the National Science Foundation has suspended approving and reviewing grant proposals or judging and awarding post doctorate fellowships. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has taken down weather and climate databases widely used for industrial and agricultural purposes. NASA is preparing for delays in planned launches and has been unable to fix the Hubble telescope, which broke this week, the EPA has been hamstrung with only 733 employees considered ‘essential’ out of 14,000 and a number of scientific conferences are expecting a plunge in attendance with government-employed scientists being unable to attend. It’s worth mentioning that these delays, abandoned experiments, canceled travel plans and empty conference seats cost the US taxpayer since much of this has already been paid for. [BBC, Nature (1, 2), Union of Concerned Scientists]

15. Scientists fix plant “glitch” for 40% increase in crop yield.

The planet is due to hit 10 billion people by mid-century. The problem of how to feed everybody will only get tougher as climate change hurts agriculture. A new breakthrough from the USDA and University of Illinois may help. Most plants have what could be considered a glitch in their DNA which makes photosynthesis less efficient. (Photosynthesis is the process by which plants turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugars—ultimately it’s how everybody gets fed.)

The protein that allows this magic trick in plants, Rubisco, sometimes has trouble telling CO2 from O2. About 20% of the time, the protein grabs up oxygen instead of CO2 and instead of producing nourishing sugars makes plant-toxic compounds, which then have to be disposed of via photorespiration. Photorespiration takes a lot of plant energy, with an inefficient chemical cycle requiring compounds to be processed by three different parts of the plant.

The breakthrough involves genetically engineering a more efficient means for plants to discard toxic compounds, resulting in more efficient photorespiration. Experiments so far on tobacco plants (the botanists’ version of the ubiquitous white lab mouse), resulted in a 40% increased yield in crops under real-world farming conditions, and a huge increase in biomass including 50% larger stems. They’re due to be duplicated in soybeans, tomatoes, rice and potatoes. Funding comes from a variety of sources including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, so results must be provided royalty-free to subsistence farmers. [phys.org; Science]

RESOURCES

  • Grist has a calculator to help you consider which individual actions to mitigate climate change are worth doing. Big collective changes are called for, but you can make changes on your own as well.
  • Martha reports that in the shutdown, federal sites including regulations.gov are not being updated and public meetings to discuss regulations are on hold—though open comment opportunities are still working. Stay tuned for options to comment on Medicaid block grants (yet to be posted). Meanwhile, there’s lots to comment on, including changes to FOIA, arctic drilling, disposal of depleted uranium—and more.
  • Sarah-Hope has 27 new ways to comment on things as they are and shouldn’t be. See her blog for ways to respond to incorrect information about immigrants, the warming of the oceans, the failures of HUD, and much more. Type in—don’t click on—the url: whatifknits.com.
  • Daily Doublespeak offers a rhetorical analysis of political speech and various links that do so as well.
  • Columbia University tracks the federal actions targeting scientific work in climate and other environmental fields.
  • NYMHM advocates laughing even/especially when things are at their worst. Foreign policy writer Conn Hallinan offers his annual “Are You Serious” awards, for events and statements that are so incredibly awful that we have to laugh or we will weep. He includes such items as the “Little Bo Peep Award” for the Pentagon for losing track of $21 trillion dollars and the U.S. Air Force for losing a box of grenades.

NYMHM for 6 Jan 2019

It’s 2019, and that means it’s time for endless think-pieces about the 2020 presidential election, because our news media likes a horse race better than anything. So, let’s talk just for a moment about how we talk about 2020: remember that:

  • when you see a politician criticized as unlikable, shrill, or bossy …often it just means she’s female;
  • while mainstream news is good at a lot of things, it’s run by people largely unaffected by Trump’s policies, and reflects their bias;
  • and, at this point, reporting about the 2020 elections is mostly-fact-free speculation and can be safely ignored.

The primaries will matter when they happen, but for now, let’s keep our focus on preventing our world from becoming an uninhabitable hellscape, and on preventing our government from killing people with lack of affordable health care, police brutality, and malign neglect. Opportunities for action are listed under our news round-up.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Some good news!

a. Medicare expansion in Maine.

Maine’s new Democratic governor, Janet Mills, started her tenure by signing an order to expand Medicaid in the state, retroactive to last July. Expansion was approved in 2017 by referendum, but the former Republican governor, Paul LePage, refused to implement it. An estimated extra 70,000 Mainers will be covered. [Bangor Daily News]

b. Minimum wage increases.

Twenty states (listed here) are increasing their minimum wages. The federal government hasn’t raised the minimum wage of $7.25/hr since 2009. [AP]

Adjusting for inflation, $7.25 in 2009 dollars is $8.65 now. The U.S. minimum wage was $1.25/hr in 1966, $2/hr in 1974, and $3.10/hr in 1980; if minimum wage had kept up with inflation at any of those starting points, it would currently be, respectively, $9.91, $10.82, or $10.04/hr.

c. No raises during shutdown.

Top Trump administration officials won’t be getting their raises in the middle of the shutdown after all. The raises—including Vice President Pence ($230,700 to $243,500), cabinet secretaries ($199,700 to $210,700), and deputy secretaries ($179,700 to $189,600)—were a consequence of the shutdown, as the budget deal that had frozen wages lapsed.

d. Congressfolk donating their salaries during shutdown.

White House staff and Congressional members continue to receive pay during the shutdown. Many members of Congress are donating their salaries during the shutdown to various causes to help those affected. (Roll Call has a list; so does The Hill).

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) calls these donations “gimmicky” and will keep his salary. Of course, members of Congress aren’t living hand-to-mouth, so these donations are symbolic, but they may make a huge difference to people helped by the charities receiving donations.

On Thursday, Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) introduced the “No Work, No Pay Act of 2019” to freeze pay to Congress during government shutdowns.

e. Cambodian immigrants to get 14-day pre-detention notice

US-to-Cambodia deportations increased by 279% in 2018. On Thursday, Judge Cormac J. Carney issued a temporary injunction barring ICE from unannounced raids on Cambodian immigrants. [Buzzfeed; court docs]

Also see item #12 below for another bit of good news!

2. Ultra-conservative judicial nominees stalled.

Foreign service nominees and 270 other nominees, including 70 judicial nominees, were sent back to the President to renominate at the opening of the 116th Congress on Thursday. Nominees will be re-considered by the new Senate under Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the new Judiciary Committee Chair. Even though leaving federal positions open is generally bad for government, some nominees are a nightmare. To keep our news round-up from bloating completely out of control, we’ve put our list of nominees to watch out for in a separate post.

3. More on the decline and fall of the American empire.

At the end of 2018, the U.S. (and Israel) officially left UNESCO, the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency which protects World Heritage sites, defends media freedom, improves education for girls, promotes scientific collaboration, and fights anti-Semitism. No comment from the U.S. State Department due to the government shutdown. According to the AP:

The withdrawals will not greatly impact UNESCO financially, since it has been dealing with a funding slash ever since 2011, when both Israel and the U.S. stopped paying dues after Palestine was voted in as a member state. Since then officials estimate that the U.S. — which accounted for around 22 percent of the total budget — has accrued $600 million in unpaid dues, which was one of the reasons for President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw. Israel owes an estimated $10 million.


4. Trump is hurting…

a. …federal workers,

Not only are federal government workers not getting paid during the shutdown (whether or not they are working), but they’re also not getting a raise in 2019. Trump signed an Executive Order to that effect on the Friday between Christmas and New Year’s, when people are at their most distracted. The cost of living adjustment was set at 2.8%, and the salary increase they’re no longer getting was set at 2.1%. Troops will still receive a 2.6% raise (which almost, but not quite, covers the rise in the cost of living).

b. …farmers,

Provisions negotiated by Obama’s administration for the benefit of American agriculture under the Trans-Pacific Partnership are benefiting countries like Australia and Canada, with American farmers shut out by Trump’s decision to pull out of the TPP. It went into effect without the US last week.

c. …and Indian Country.

The government shutdown is especially hard on Native American Nations who are owed services from the federal government via treaty agreements, but whose services are perversely not considered “essential” under the shutdown definitions that keep essential services open, such as an Agriculture Department program that helped feed 90,000 Native Americans last year. The New York Times notes:

The Interior Department’s Indian Affairs bureau provides basic services to about 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, often by funneling funds to the tribes to administer the services themselves or by employing federal workers to run the programs. This means that services from law enforcement to tribal courts, disaster relief and road maintenance are often completed by tribal employees whose salaries rely on federal funding — or by federal workers, some of whom are tribal citizens.

5. Introducing a profit motive unsurprisingly makes government services more expensive.

An analysis by ProPublica and PolitiFact of Veteran’s Administration claims data shows that increasing privatization of the VA through the Veterans Choice program has led to ballooning overhead costs (because of course it does, where else would the profit come from?) and longer wait times. The purpose of the Choice program was to address waits over 30 days, but the program takes longer than 30 days 41% of the time.

At 21-24% (depending on how it’s measured), overhead is so high that it wouldn’t be allowed in a private program. In contrast, the private sector aims for 10-12%, and the Department of Defense’s Tricare health benefits program has 8% overhead. In many cases, overhead exceeded doctors’ bills. Per the Pacific Standard:

“That’s just unacceptable,” Rick Weidman, the policy director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in response to the figures. “There are people constantly banging on the VA, but this was the private sector that made a total muck of it.”

Trump’s promises to veterans were a central message of his campaign. But his plans to shift their health care to the private sector put him on a collision course with veterans groups, whose members generally support the VA’s medical system and don’t want to see it privatized. The controversy around privatization, and the outsize influence of three Trump associates at Mar-a-Lago, has sown turmoil at the VA, endangering critical services from paying student stipends to preventing suicides and upgrading electronic medical records.

One of the contractors, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, and another, Health Net (which no longer services Veterans Choice), are under federal investigation for overcharges. TriWest is under investigation in Arizona for misused government funds and wire fraud. In the mid-’90s, TriWest’s president and CEO David J. McIntyre Jr. was a senior aide to Sen. John McCain. In 2013, TriWest lost its TriCare contract. In 2014, McCain sponsored the bill that created the Choice program with Bernie Sanders. Despite numerous problems with TriWest detailed in a thoroughly-sourced story by Pacific Standard, their CEO, McIntyre, successfully lobbied to have a bill pass this past May to permanently replace the Choice program with a new program for which they are currently the sole contractor.

6. Yikes. If the Census Bureau is allowed to ask about citizenship, they’ll share that data with redistrictors.

The Census Bureau, currently engaged in litigation regarding the addition of a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census, is willing to provide citizenship data to states for redistricting, according to a federal registry notice published on 28 December, in which they say:

The Census Bureau intends to work with stakeholders, specifically “the officers or public bodies having initial responsibility for the legislative apportionment of each state,” to solicit feedback on the content of the prototype redistricting data file.  If those stakeholders indicate a need for tabulations of citizenship data on the 2020 Census Public Law 94-171 Redistricting Data File, the Census Bureau will make a design change to include citizenship as part of that data.

Redrawing districts by eligible voters (rather than by residents) generally shifts districts from Democratic to Republican control, according to a study (pdf) cited by Talking Points Memo (1, 2).

New Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham was unanimously confirmed on January 2nd by the Senate, after a year and a half of leadership under acting director Ron Jarmin (who will become deputy director). Dillingham avoided taking a public position on the census citizenship question during his confirmation hearing. The question is controversial in part because it discourages participation, according to the Census Bureau’s own research.

The new Democratic chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Elijah Cummings (D-MD) will investigate the Trump administration’s decision to include the question.

7. Flint water emergency criminal cases

Michigan’s new Attorney General Dana Nessel requested this week that Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy take over the Flint Water Emergency criminal cases from Special Prosecutor Todd Flood. The Flint water crisis has been ongoing since 2014 when water was sourced from the Flint River which turned out to be 19 times more corrosive to the city’s lead pipes than Detroit water. Residents stopped receiving free bottled water in April 2018, with officials claiming water is safe and critics pointing out that many lead pipes are still in place.

8. The US fired tear gas across the Mexican border again.

For the second time (since November), just after midnight on New Year’s Day, the US fired tear gas into Mexico at migrants attempting to cross the border in Tijuana.

Accounts vary as what actually happened. According to the AP:

An Associated Press photographer saw at least three volleys of gas launched onto the Mexican side of the border near Tijuana’s beach that affected the migrants, including women and children, as well as journalists. The AP saw rocks thrown only after U.S. agents fired the tear gas.

Customs and Border Protection say migrants were passing “toddler sized children” across concertina wire (large coiled razor wire fencing) at the border, and that they couldn’t help the children because of the rock-throwing that the AP photographer says hadn’t started yet. CBP say they responded to rock-throwing with smoke, pepper spray and tear gas, whereas the AP journalist says they initiated the violence, and also fired plastic pellets.

Mexico wants an investigation.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Update on Ebola in Congo

Last week we reported on the ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Deaths have doubled (to over 600) amidst election-related violence, which also prompted the government to shut down the internet after “fictitious results” circulated online. Election result announcements have been postponed. The epicenter of the outbreak, North Kivu and Ituri provinces, borders Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda.

10. UN envoy expelled from Somalia

Nicholas Haysom, the UN secretary general’s special envoy to Somalia, was asked to leave the country after he asked the government to “exercise its authority in conformance with the law and provide explanation about the atrocities committed in Baidoa last month and the detention of Mukhtar Robow.”

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Cairo water supply in jeopardy

Egypt is one of the most “water-stressed” countries in the world, and the nearly-complete Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), upstream of Egypt, will exacerbate water shortages. They may run out of water by 2025 (pdf).

12. We might be able to save the coral reefs.

Dr. David Vaughan of the Florida Mote Marine Laboratory (which specializes in coral reef restoration) has discovered how to make coral grow forty times faster than it does in the wild. Watch a BBC video about the discovery here.

Coral reefs, like rainforests, are depositories of biodiversity; they support more species than any other comparably-sized marine environment [NOAA page – cached due to the shutdown] and a quarter of all fish depend on them for some part of their life cycle. They help protect coastlines from storms and waves and are essential to many marine food chains and marine organisms. They’re also a source of new medicines. They’re being killed by overfishing, global warming, and oceans becoming increasingly acidic and polluted, and will likely turn intoslimy mats of algae and bacteria” if they’re not saved. Half a billion people rely on them for food, jobs and recreation.

Up to 85% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean, which depend on coral reefs.

Support the 501(c)3 nonprofit Mote Marine Laboratory‘s work with a donation. Florida drivers can support Mote by getting a Protect Our Reefs plate.

RESOURCES AND ACTIONS

  • Postcards to Voters is still encouraging Florida voters to register for Vote by Mail. Text JOIN to 484-275-2229 if you’re not already signed up.
  • Jennifer Hofmann’s Americans of Conscience Checklist recommends writing your state’s election officials about election security, calling your members of Congress to demand accountability from U.S. immigration agencies, and thanking Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario for donating their $10M corporate tax break, No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes for risking their personal freedom to save lives, and Samantha Bee for focusing attention on cruel border policies, and other actions at this week’s list.
  • Sarah-Hope’s whatifknits list recommends a host of actions related to immigration and border policies and abuse, affordable housing (with a shout-out to this Nation article), calling your member of Congress to express support for a Green New Deal, congratulating incoming FEC Chair Democrat Ellen Weintraub on her new job and thanking her for plans to address the “threat of foreign money influencing U.S. elections” and more.
  • Rogan’s List recommends calling our members of Congress about the lapsed Violence Against Women Act, to keep limits on the level of mercury emissions in place, to investigate GEO Group and CoreCivic‘s slave wages, and more.
  • 5Calls has a script to ask your Member of Congress to only vote to confirm William Barr as the new U.S. Attorney General if he recuse himself on the Russia investigation.
  • Martha’s list (google drive) offers ways to comment for the federal register despite the federal shutdown: you can address the continuing state of emergency (theirs, not ours), some significant environmental issues, the danger to marine mammals, the damage to Title IX, treatment of farm animals, and much more. 

Judicial Nominees to Watch

From our 6 January 2018 news round-up, here’s an incomplete list of Trump judicial nominees to watch out for.

Background

Foreign service nominees and 270 other nominees, including 70 judicial nominees, were sent back to the President to renominate at the opening of the 116th Congress. Democrats refused to cross the aisle to provide bipartisan support, and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s had vowed to block judicial nominations until the Senate voted on a law protecting special counsel Robert Mueller, which didn’t happen.

Flake’s term ended this week after he decided not to run again, saying that “our politics is not healthy“; he has since warned Republicans of the dangers of “fear and conspiracy theories” within the party.

The nominees will be re-considered by the new Senate under Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the new Judiciary Committee Chair. Republicans now have 53 votes in the Senate (plus Pence’s tie-breaking vote, if needed) so protests would need to be vigorous to prevent the worst nominations from being approved. Trump may decide not to re-nominate some of the 2018 nominees.

Even though leaving federal positions open is generally bad for government, it’d be better to leave them open than fill them with these people, since these nominees aren’t merely the conservative jurists you’d expect of any Republican president, but would be particularly bad for the country.

Of note, McConnell restricted President Obama to 2 circuit court and 22 district court nominations in his last two years in office—creating Trump’s unusually high number of opportunities for nominations. The 115th Congress confirmed 85 judges.

Watch out for:

Patrick J. Bumatay, Daniel P. Collins, and Kenneth Kiyul Lee

Three nominees to the Ninth Circuit, Patrick J. Bumatay, Daniel P. Collins, and Kenneth Kiyul Lee. All are members of the ultra-conservative Federalist Society, which largely constructed Trump’s list of judicial nominees. Bumatay is a prosecutor who has never served as a judge. He’s gay, and a member of the Tom Homann LGBT Law Association, which concerns some social conservatives but not the Log Cabin Republicans, who endorse him. Collins has defended companies like Shell from allegations of infrastructure damage from climate change. Lee is anti-affirmative action and in favor of denying felons voting rights, and failed to disclose controversial writings to judicial selection committees. Together, they represent an effort by Trump to move the 9th Circuit sharply to the right, despite the objections of their homestate senators, another norm the Trump administration is breaking.

Roy K. Altman

Roy K. Altman, who wrote this op ed in favor of allowing U.S. border agents to search travelers’ personal computers “at random and indiscriminately.”

Stephen Clark

Stephen Clark, whose work with Lawyers for Life promotes lawyers using legal strategies to obstruct providers he’s called “abortionists”.

Thomas Farr

Thomas Farr, who “stands out for his decades-long crusade to disenfranchise African Americans” [NAACP]—he was the main author of a voter disenfranchisement law struck down by a federal appeals court for “target[ing] African Americans with almost surgical precision”—and whose 2018 nomination was prevented by the only African-American Republican Senator, Tim Scott (R-SC).

Eric Murphy

Eric Murphy, who argued against marriage equality and defended Ohio’s voter purge.

Ryan Nelson

Ryan Nelson, whose nomination as an Interior Department solicitor was held up by Democrats, has been general counsel for a decade at multi-level marketing (and historically anti-LGBT) “wellness” company Maleleuca, “which has faced investigation from state regulators and accusations of being a pyramid scheme.” He supports Trump’s fossil-fuel-heavy America First Energy Plan and has waffled on whether or not climate change is caused by human activity.

Chad A. Readler

Chad A. Readler, who has argued in favor of the citizenship census question, argued that protections for pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional, worked to undermine voting rights (pdf), defended the transgender military ban (pdf), and a host of other issues.

Allison Jones Rushing

Allison Jones Rushing is being criticized by Equality North Carolina, Free State Legal of Maryland, and Lambda Legal for ties to anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom, where she interned, and for her record, which includes arguing that same-sex couples are not guaranteed to equal liberty by the constitution. Democrats also objected to her inexperience: the American Bar Association says federal bench nominees should have at least 12 years’ experience, but Rushing only has 8.

Wendy Vitter

Wendy Vitter, wife of former Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who promoted a theory that women who take birth control are more likely to be abused and otherwise promotes fake science as fact.

News You May Have Forgotten

To celebrate the New Year, we present a round-up of some of the most concerning or most ignored (or both!) stories of 2018:

1. A little matter of the survival of our species.

The world has just over a decade to drastically rein in carbon emissions to prevent catastrophic warming to the planet, according to a UN study released by the Intragovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [also: BBC, Media Matters, Washington Post]

It’s important to note that the IPCC stressed that it’s not too late to turn things around and listed ways we can take action, including deploying a wide portfolio of technologies for carbon dioxide removal (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage [BECCS], afforestation, reforestation, enhanced weathering, biochar, and soil carbon sequestration) paired with “measures to conserve land carbon stocks, limit the expansion of agriculture at the expense of natural ecosystems, and increase agriculture productivity,” plus technologies to remove other greenhouse gases (like methane) from the atmosphere, as well as mitigation efforts focusing on “strongly limiting demand for land, energy and material resources, including through lifestyle and dietary changes.”

Cities and municipalities will need to focus on “reducing and managing disaster risks due to extreme and slow-onset weather and climate events, installing flood and drought early warning systems, and improving water storage and use,” and rural and agricultural areas “need to address climate-related risks by strengthening and making more resilient agricultural and other natural resource extraction systems.”

And, of course, we need to vote for politicians who will take action.

2. The DEA and ICE are spying on us.

Documents obtained from the federal government show that the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency are concealing video cameras inside street lights, traffic barrels and other roadside infrastructure. Given the agencies’ aggressive use of facial recognition and tracking software, one can imagine the kinds of mass surveillance that can be made possible with such a network of cameras. [Quartz]

3. Concentration camps for children and families are big business.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) relies on for-profit contractors to run at least 24 for-profit immigration facilities, 94 for-profit contracted facilities, and 4 for-profit family detention centers, totaling 72% of detained immigrants (as of Nov 2017—these numbers have increased since), not counting those being held in tent cities—who profit from immigrant detention and “whose financial incentives conflict with the criminal justice goals of reducing crime and incarceration” [Urban Justice Center‘s Corrections Accountability].

They include: The GEO Group (2017: $541 million, or 24% of revenue, from ICE contracts); CoreCivic (2017: $444 million, or 25%), Accenture Federal Services (recruitment and hiring, $297 million), G4S Secure Solutions ($234 million), and Southwest Key ($458 million in 2018cited by state inspectors for at least 246 violations including “burns, a broken wrist, and sexually transmitted diseases” going untreated). In 2018, $800 million in taxpayer money went to for-profit immigration detention [Daily Beast].

The GEO Group and CoreCivic have received loans from JPMorganChase, SunTrust, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, US Bank and Wells Fargo, and are dependent on institutional investors, primarily Vanguard, BlackRock, Fidelity, Hotchkis & Wiley, Barrow Hanley Mewhinney & Strauss, and State Street [“Immigration Detention: An American Business“], all of whom could be contacted to request that they divest from funding detention facilities.

4. Suspicious deaths are occurring among Ferguson activists & families.

Danye Jones, son of Ferguson activist Melissa McKinnies, was apparently lynched on 17 October 2018; he was found hanging from a tree in his mother’s backyard with his pants around his ankles (a common feature in lynchings). Essence notes at least three previous Ferguson-activist-related deaths, including Deandre Joshua (shot in the head and set on fire inside his car the same day a grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown); prominent Ferguson activist Darren Seals (also shot inside a burning car); and the activist in the iconic photo tossing a canister of tear gas away from protesters, Edward Crawford (police say he died of a self-inflicted wound while in his car). [Essence (1, 2, 3), Atlanta Black Star, NY Times]

5. Asbestos found in baby powder; manufacturer knew for decades.

Johnson & Johnson was aware for decades that its signature talc baby powder was occasionally contaminated with carcinogenic asbestos. [Reuters]

6. Facebook is selling our phone numbers.

Facebook prompts users to provide a phone number for two-factor authentication—so would-be hackers would need possession of your phone to take control of your account. Facebook is selling users’ phone numbers for advertising purposes, claiming that its Data Use Policy outlines its ability to do so; Engadget says Facebook’s Data Use Policy doesn’t list security information as fair game. Data security experts are dismayed that this may discourage people from using two-factor authentication.

Buzzfeed presents a list of “Literally Just A Big List Of Facebook’s 2018 Scandals“: including its lax data security which allowed Cambridge Analytica to steal user data and use it to manipulate voters, its role in spreading misinformation and fascist/ethnonationalist propaganda, and giving special data-sharing access to companies like Huawei, Lenovo, and Oppo which have ties to the Chinese government, as well as Microsoft, Netflix, and Spotify.

7. Jill Stein might be a Russian asset.

Russia boosted Jill Stein’s campaign to help Trump win (by splitting votes on the left). An NBC analysis found that the Putin-allied Internet Research Agency tweeted her name “over 1,000 times around the time of the election” and that state-run propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik published “more than 100 stories, on-air and online, friendly to Stein and the Green Party” in 2015 and 2016. Stein was also at the same RT dinner with Putin that Michael Flynn was [Salt Lake Tribune, NBC].

Buzzfeed reported a year ago that Mueller would investigate her involvement, and in April, we found out that she’d refused to provide requested documents [The Hill]. Since Mueller’s team never leaks, any information about her involvement in the Special Counsel’s investigation would have to come from her or her lawyers, but it seems likely that she was either colluding with Russia, or a useful idiot.

It’s important to note that, Russian efforts notwithstanding, Stein didn’t cost Clinton the 2016 election, according to data analyst Nate Silver at 538.

8. The GOP tax cuts did nothing they promised.

The $1.5 trillion-with-a-T Republican tax cut has failed to pay for itself [AP, Center for American Progress, CBO, The Hill – the federal deficit has continued to climb], failed to create jobs [Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, WaPo – existing unemployment trends continued] or raise wages [Bloomberg, Center for American Progress, LA Times, Vox – wages fell], failed to boost the stock market [Mother Jones, NYT, Vox], and failed to simplify the tax code [Center for American Progress, NYT].

Many businesses used the money to buy back stock [Vox (1, 2)], instead of creating jobs as Republicans had promised. In 2018, corporations paid $119 billion less in taxes than they would have without the tax cuts [Center for American Progress], adding to the budget shortfall.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the top 20% of earners get 70% of the tax cut’s benefits, and even the conservative Tax Foundation recognizes the tax cuts failed to produce higher wages, though they blame Trump’s tariffs.

Combined with this predictable failure of trickle-down policies (again), The Washington Post predicts a Trump recession:

After all, his new trade barriers have lifted manufacturing costs, closed off markets and clouded the future for American firms with global supply chains. Economists say Trump’s trade war is the biggest threat to the U.S. economy in 2019. In loonier moments, the president has also threatened to default on our debt, ramp up the money-printing press, reinstate the gold standard or deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants. Some of those policies would ignite not just a recession but an immediate, global financial crisis.

Newsweek (citing the U.S. Federal Reserve and various economic analysts) and CNBC (citing Goldman Sachs) are also reporting predictions that 2019’s economy will be slow. The LA Times reports that new home sales fell every month from June to October 2018 and that the “tax cut is estimated to sap government revenue by as much as 8.1% in inflation-adjusted terms and is expected to drive the federal deficit above $1 trillion for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.”

9. The Trump administration is stripping immigrants of citizenship using technicalities.

With Operation Janus, begun under Obama and vastly expanded under Trump, and Operation Second Look which scours already-vetted records for discrepancies, ICE is going after naturalized American citizens. There’s no statute of limitations, and the constitutional standards of guaranteed counsel and defense against unreasonable search and seizure don’t apply to civil cases like these. There’s also no standard for who should be investigated (so, anybody can be) and even those who are eventually found not to have committed even unintentional or minor fraud will still have to bear the costs of their immigration lawyer, if they can even afford one. In about 150,000 cases [Hoppock Law], the “second look” is occurring because USCIS failed to upload and compare fingerprint data, so the error (if there was any) was theirs.

Before Trump, denaturalization proceedings were primarily used to remove human-rights abusers and war criminals, and averaged 22/year. ICE asked for $207.6 million for this work, for what Law at the Margins estimates at 20 million citizens.

So far, the bulk of defendants have been nonwhite. [The Nation]

10. Roundup of roundups

If you’d like more stories, several news outlets and interested amateurs have provided 2018 roundups, or provide ongoing updated tracking tools. Here are just a few: