News You May Have Missed: February 23, 2020

On February 22, Heather Cox Richardson answered the question of whether we have been here before, whether the political situation in the U.S. has ever before been in such crisis, and if so, how democracy was preserved. If you dozed through 9th grade civics, she reviews the history succinctly and tells us what we need to do.


“Forgotten Classroom” by ne* is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Medicare for all would save $450 billion and 68,000 lives

According to a new report published in the Lancet, the plan proposed by Warren and Sanders, “Medicare for All” “…will save Americans more than $450 billion and prevent 68,000 deaths every year,” Democracy Now reported. The authors of the report, researchers at Yale University, say that Medicare for all is more “cost-effective” than “Medicare for All Who Want It,” the option preferred by Buttigieg. They write, “The entire system could be funded with less financial outlay than is incurred by employers and households paying for health-care premiums combined with existing government allocations. This shift to single-payer health care would provide the greatest relief to lower-income households.”

Just for the sake of comparison, the LA Times reported in January that the U.S. health care system costs four times as much to operate as the Canadian system. A 2017 study in Annals of Internal Medicine found that health care costs every American (including children) $2,497 per year, while in Canada, it costs $551 per person. (Makes you wonder where that extra $1,940 goes.) You can look at the study in Annals if you want to see how it breaks down: note “insurers’ overhead” and “hospital administration,” for example. RLS

2. Border volunteers acquitted: Judge objects to  deterence by death

Earlier this month, the conviction of four volunteers from No More Deaths/No Más Muertes who had left food and water for immigrants in the desert was reversed by a federal judge. Hundreds of bodies have been found in the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge, where the volunteers had left life-saving supplies, the Tucson Sentinel reports. Central to their defense was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA: They persuaded the judge that they were acting on their religious convictions. According to the Intercept, the judge wrote that “In other words, the government claims a compelling interest in preventing defendants from interfering with a border enforcement strategy of deterrence by death…This gruesome logic is profoundly disturbing.” RLS

If you want to read about the wide-ranging work that No More Deaths /No Más Muertes does or to contribute to the organization, start with this page.

3. Notes from children’s therapy sessions used in deportation proceedings

Since a 1997 court-ordered settlement which established minimum detention standards for the detention of immigrant children, children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) have been provided with therapy to help them deal with the traumas that have led them to flee their countries of origin and of their migration and detentions. After policy changes in 2017 and 2018, notes from those therapy sessions have been used by ICE in asylum and removal processes, despite therapists telling children that their sessions would be confidential. According to the Washington Post, the therapists sometimes were themselves unaware of how their notes would be used by the ICE. JM-L

The head of the American Psychological Association condemned the use of therapy notes in asylum and deportation decisions. The letter is here; you can also write to the Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Health and Human Services–addresses are on the letter. You can also see Rogan’s list for whom you might write.

4. Are you now or might you ever be?

The Supreme Court this week permitted the Trump administration to deny green cards to immigrants who might at some point in the future become a “public charge.” Quartz points out that despite public misconceptions about immigrants who receive benefits, most of them are employed and work in industries where they are much needed. A 2019 study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found that “immigrants help fill key gaps in the U.S. economy,” partly because they are more mobile; in addition, they address the labor shortage left by the baby boomer generation and raise upwardly mobile children. CBPP notes that “the rule will discourage their families from receiving health care, nutrition, and housing assistance that can improve their ability to contribute as future members of the adult community and workforce.” 

In her dissent to the decision, Justice Sotomayor noted that cases are being rushed to the Supreme Court without being fully heard in lower courts, thereby “putting a thumb on the scale in favor” of the Republican administration, Bloomberg news reported. RLS

5. Officials lied when they said there was no room at the inn

The catastrophic “Remain in Mexico” policy was justified in part by the idea that facilities for asylum-seekers on this side of the border were out of space. They were not, according to a Customs and Border Protection official in a deposition for a legal case brought by the immigrant support organization in Tijuana, El Otro Lado; the official said he was told to lie when turning back those applying for asylum. Buzzfeed quotes the testimony: Attorney: “In fact, it was obvious to everybody who was implementing this policy at Tecate that the capacity excuse was a lie, right?” CBP officer: “Correct.” RLS

El Otro Lado’s website has more information about what they do. In 2019, Mother Jones reported that their staffers routinely receive death threats, some presumably from the cartels their clients are fleeing.

6. Contracting rules waived for border wall

Among the laws being waived so that Trump’s border wall can be built are those governing contracting. Concerns about inflated prices and cronyism have been raised by critics of the project. The AP quotes Charles Tiefer, professor at University of Baltimore School of Law  as saying that the government “can just pick the contractor you want and and you just ram it through … The sky’s the limit on what they bill.” RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

7. 900,000 civilians under assault by Syrian forces

As we noted last week, the last sanctuary for rebel forces opposed to President Bashar Al-Assad, Idlib province, is under relentless assault by Russian-backed Syrian forces. The Guardian has a devastating video of conditions there and Time points out that American inaction has allowed this catastrophe to continue. Turkish President Erdogan has said he will hold a summit about Idlib on March 5 with leaders of Russia, France and Germany, according to Al Jazeera. But March 5 is a long time away when 900,00 people are crowded into ever-shrinking zones, freezing and starving. The United Nations humanitarian chief has alerted the world to an “unfolding humanitarian catastrophe…In Idlib, nowhere is safe,” he said. RLS

Two links to rescue organizaions working to support civilians in Idlib can be found here. You’ll also find ways to contact your elected representatives if you want to tell them that no matter what is going on in Washington, we have a responsibility to the rest of the world.

8. Could the Irish re-unify post-Brexit?

The left-wing Sinn Fein Party in Ireland won the recent elections–but by a margin so narrow that they cannot form a government. The two center-right parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are in exploratory talks to form a coalition government, according the BBC, a coalition founded on vilifying Sinn Fein, the Irish Times reports. Foreign Policy in Focus has a piece usefully sketching Irish history since 1609 and speculating that the reunification of the Republic and Northern Ireland is now a possibility. In the Brexit vote, Northern Ireland and Scotland both voted to remain in the E.U.; now that Britain has left, if Northern Ireland follows, border complexities will seriously impede trade with the Republic, which remains in the E.U. Reunification would solve this issue–but whether a vote could succeed, given the history, depends on whether both countries could be persuaded that serious social issues–health care, housing, jobs, education–would be better addressed united, FPIF asserts. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. No country for young kids

A wide ranging report by the World Health Organization in cooperation with UNICEF and The Lancet has declared that not a single nation on earth is creating a healthy enough environment for our children. Compiled by a team of more than forty child heath experts, the report warns of extreme environmental degradation and irresponsibly aggressive marketing of unhealthy products to children, according to the Independent. Among the recommendations to correct the problems that threaten to reverse decades of global child wellness improvement: Deep cuts to CO2 emissions, child centered policy vision and much tighter regulations on marketing products to children. JC

10. Individual atomic interactions imaged for first time

A lab at the University of Otago in New Zealand has captured incredible images of individual atoms combining to form molecules, a process so far studied only by inference using statistical analysis of large numbers of atomic interactions. Phys.org reports. The process involves blending a cutting edge variety of technologies using lasers, near absolute zero temperatures, a vacuum chamber and quantum imaging technology. The experiment was able to show in real time three atoms being brought together to unite two of them in combination to form a molecule, releasing energy (you can see a diagram of this at APS Physics). This heralds a new level of control that promises to one day allow us to build molecules from the individual atoms up, allowing for an almost unimaginable precision in material engineering. JC

11. 25% of all tweets on the climate crisis produced by bots

A quarter of all tweets on the climate crisis were produced by bots, according to a study coming out from Brown University, the Guardian reports. The researchers looked at 6.5 million tweets from around the time Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords. Tweets from bots tended to spread misinformation or downright climate crisis denial. Tweets such as “Get real, CNN: ‘Climate Change’ dogma is religion, not science,” and “Get lost, Greta” reached tens of thousands of followers. RLS

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is on hiatus this week, but we recommend that you look at their new “We Make an Impact” feature, which charts the many victories people working for justice have had.
  • Sarah-Hope is away this week but there are lots of actions you can still take if you haven’t worked through last week’s list.
  • Rogan’s list has any excellent ideas for ways you can comment on and intervene in things as they are: on Trump’s “pardonapalooza,” disabled asylum-seeking children waiting in Mexico, Native American voting rights, and much more.
  • Martha’s list this week offers numerous opportunities to comment for the public record, along with important news on Gulf of Mexico region-wide oil and gas lease sales on all federal holdings (with some named exceptions) and the waiver of laws for the border wall across several states. There is no formal opportunity to comment so she recommends writing your legislators.





News You May Have Missed February 16, 2020

Heather Cox Richardson’s column for February 16 recounts the history of the Democrat and Republican parties: It is intriguing to see the echoes into the present. Previous columns look at Trump’s efforts, directly and via Barr, to undermine the DOJ; threaten New York (see Martha’s list); and make an argument (February 9) for the power of stories to make change. The Constitution is a rather remarkable story about change; cryptic as it is, it–along with the Bill of Rights, and the evolving commentaries in the form of judicial decisions–is what we have.


“We the People” by StevenANichols is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Trump’s cruel budget

On February 10, Trump released a 4.8 trillion dollar budget with a laundry list of cuts to social services, according to the Wall Street Journal. The budget would provide two billion for the wall and would cut Social Security disability by 71 billion. It would eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, Artforum reports, given them only enough money to shut down, Artnet noted. His budget would eliminate the student loan forgiveness program for public sector workers, CNN reports; the program is already deeply flawed, with very few people actually receiving loan forgiveness, according to an ongoing suit by the American Federation of Teachers. The budget would also eliminate subsidized loans for low-income students. The Washington Post offers a useful chart of how the budget process works. RLS

If you want to weigh in on how Trump’s budget affects the issues that concern you, you can find your elected representatives’ addresses here. If you are especially interested in how the budget would cut funds related to environmental issues and climate change, see the post from EcoWatch.

2. Good news on work requirements for Medicaid, food stamps

One of the moves that the Trump administration has repeatedly made is adding work requirements to safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps. We can report two positive developments in efforts to ensure such benefits are available to those who need them. First, on Valentine’s Day, appropriately enough, a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration had violated federal law by allowing states to impose work requirements on Medicaid programs, according to Axios. The ruling went on to state that the administration had not satisfactorily justified the change which was not in line with Medicaid’s statutory goals. Second, H.R.5349, the Protect SNAP Act, would prohibit rules changes adding work requirements to SNAP benefits (Supplemental Food Assistance Program, or food stamps). This legislation is currently with the House Agriculture Committee. S-HP

If you want to urge the chair of the House Agriculture Committee to take quick, positive action on H. R. 5349 and to tell your elected representatives that you do not want to see work requirements added to safety-net programs, the addresses are here.

3. Who (else) has your cellphone data?

It’s not just corporations buying up data on cell phone users’ apps, purchases, teams and the like—apps and sites to which consumers may unthinkingly grant location tracking. The Department of Homeland Security is also buying cell phone data, according to the Wall Street Journal. Since 2017, DHS has been buying information from Venntel, a “pioneer in mobile location information.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reportedly spent $190,000 on Venntel data. Customs and Border Protection has spent over $1 million. Originally, this data was used in anti-human trafficking operations, but it is now being used to track immigrants in order to arrest them.

As Vice points out, a Supreme Court ruling requires a warrant to collect wireless data from wireless providers, but the ruling does not cover the large data-mining and data-selling businesses that have sprung up in tandem with increased cellphone use. What was once creepy commercial surveillance is now becoming a government means for avoiding the kinds of documentation and processes involved in obtaining an electronic collection warrant. While government representatives claim tracking information is only being used in the case of “illegal” immigrants, the data being purchased by DHS agencies includes vast numbers of cellphone users in the U.S., regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. This kind of data collection is possible because of Congress’s failure to enact meaningful online privacy legislation. As the New York Times observes, “The use of location data to aid in deportations also demonstrates how out of date the notion of informed consent has become.” Representative Carolyn Maloney, Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has announced that the committee will be holding hearings on this issue. S-HP

You can urge Venntel to stop potentially illegal searches and seizures by ending sales to government organizations, thank Maloney for the promised hearings and ask your Congressmembers to educate themselves on electronic privacy, which is an issue that merits bipartisan support. Addresses are here.

4. How voter rights are—and aren’t—being protected

Remember when Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, was elected governor of Georgia after purging 700,000 voters from the state’s rolls between 2016 and 2018? As Governor, Kemp has fought to prevent the release of specifics about those purges—whom they affected and how they were directed. Now, thanks to a suit brought by journalist Greg Palast, federal judge Eleanor Ross ruled “sua sponte” that the state of Georgia must release this information without a trial, a move not requested by Palast’s attorneys, because Kemp’s defense was so weak that no trial was warranted, according a Georgia newspaper, Valdosta Today.

And…

In early February, Senate Democrats attempted to pass three pieces of election security legislation by consent, the Hill reports. Two would have required campaigns to alert the FBI and the Federal Elections Commission about offers of foreign assistance. The third would have provided additional election funding and prohibited voting machines from being connected to the internet. Consent passage is used for noncontroversial legislation of bipartisan interest—like, say, election security. A single Senator can block consent, making the affected legislation’s path to the Senate floor much more complicated and uncertain. One Senate Republican, Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), objected, sidelining these basic efforts to protect our electoral system. S-HP

You can point out the desperate need for improved election security and voting rights protection to your Congressmembers and let Blackburn know how you feel about her decision to block consent. Addresses are here.

5. Honor among thieves?

Historian Heather Cox Richardson puts it succinctly: “Trump, and evidently Barr, see the Department of Justice as a tool for Trump to reward friends and take revenge on enemies.” As the New York Times explains, Trump has been looking for an attorney general who was an advocate for him in all things, as Roy Cohn was for him in the 70s–and in many ways, Barr has obliged (Roy Cohn was Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man in the 1950s). He intervened in the Justice Department’s sentencing  of Roger Stone for lying to Congress, leading to the resignation of four Justice Department prosecutors. He has assigned a special prosecutor to reconsider Michael Flynn’s case–another Trump ally who lied to Congress in the Mueller investigation, the Times reports, and hired prosecutors to handle other cases of interest to Trump, interrogating prosecutors about the decisions. Barr has also declared that only he, not the FBI, can open investigations into presidential and vice-presidential candidates, according to CNN. He has in addition, according to Cox Richardson, arranged to accept “information about the Bidens in Ukraine from Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.” He is, in short, undermining prosecutorial independence and the authority of federal agencies.

At the same time, he said that Trump’s tweets made it impossible for him to do his work, the Times revealed in another story. And without notifying Trump, Barr declined to prosecute Andrew McCabe, former director of the FBI, who investigated Russia’s interference into the 2016 election. It is not clear whether Barr’s actions are intended to create an appearance of independence or whether he is actually trying to distance himself, however marginally, from Trump. Wherever the truth is, Barr’s hoarding of power is alarming. (Slate has an excellent round-up of his outrageous decisions and the Washington Post has an explanation of the re-investigating that Barr is doing and the effects of it.) RLS

1,100 former Justice Department employees have sent a letter recommending Barr’s removal. You can write to him suggesting that he resign and ask the Judiciary Committees of both houses of Congress to investigate Barr’s multiple ethics violations and his failure to fulfill his responsibilities as outlined in the Constitution.

6. Hookers for Jesus

The business of federal grants generally operates as follows. A call for proposals is released. Groups apply. The applications are read blindly by a group of experts who score each proposal on a number of criteria, giving each a final score. Then, the score range is looked at (again blindly) and the scores are sorted into tiers: Tier 1, Tier 2, etc. Grants in the Tier 1 category are prioritized for funding, although there is no guarantee there will be sufficient funding for all Tier 1 proposals. Tier 2 and lower proposals are very rarely funded.

However, as alleged in a whistleblower complaint filed by the Justice Department’s employee union, things did not play out this way in a recent series of Department of Justice grants to aid victims of human trafficking. Two long-established nonprofits, the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach and Chicanos Por La Causa of Phoenix, were originally given Tier 1 status and slated to receive grants. Both organizations were later removed from the list and additional grants were awarded to a pair of Tier 2 proposals: Hookers for Jesus and the Lincoln Tubman Foundation. Hookers for Jesus provides a safehouse for trafficking survivors. In manuals published by Hookers in 2010 and 2018, the organization required participation in Christian services and had rules that included a ban on reading “secular magazines with articles, pictures, etc. that portray worldly views/advice on living, sex, clothing, makeup tips”; they said that homosexuality is immoral and abusing drugs for pleasure is “witchcraft.” The Lincoln Tubman Foundation was launched by the daughter of a prominent Republican who supported President Donald Trump as a delegate at the 2016 convention and is close to South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott. Reuters noted that the grant reviewers described the Foundation as still in its “infancy” with “little to no experience.” The Washington Post explains how the substitution of grant recipients is part of a pattern. S-HP

You can ask the Inspector General for the Department of Justice to fully and carefully investigate the activities highlighted in the whistleblower complaint and ask the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the process by which these changes were made. Addresses are here.

7. Native American burial sites blown up for Trump’s wall

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona’s Sonora Desert has been home to endangered species and Native American burial sites. Now, however, blasting has begun to make way for the border wall, according to CBS and confirmed by Snopes. Saguaro cactus are being destroyed, a rare aquifer is being drained, and human remains have been disturbed, the Intercept reports, noting that the Real ID Act permits the waiving of environmental regulations by the Department of Homeland Security. (Snopes notes that a cemetery in Texas where US veterans are buried which was originally in the pathway of the wall seems to be being protected from border wall construction.) There has been no consultation with the Tohono O’odham nation whose ancestral lands those are, according Congressman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources and who represents the area. “This administration is basically trampling on the tribe’s history — and to put it poignantly, its ancestry,” Grijalva told CBS. RLS

You can thank Representative Raúl Grijalva for speaking up and let your members of Congress know how you feel about the wall. Addresses are here.

8. Department of Justice sends tactical units to cities, sues states over sanctuary laws

The Republican administration has declared war on sanctuary cities where police have been directed to decline to work with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). CBP has begun to send elite tactical units to apprehend immigrants in sanctuary cities, according to the New York Times, among them Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston, Boston, New Orleans, Detroit and Newark. The Times also reports that the Department of Homeland Security will prohibit residents of New York from buying or renewing  Global Entry passes or participating in other programs which make it easier for those who frequently travel among Canada, Mexico and the U.S. to do so. And the Republican administration has again sued California, New Jersey and Washington State, arguing that their sanctuary laws are unconstitutional, according to the Times. RLS

If you want to urge mayors of these sanctuary cities to stand firm in upholding the values of their cities’ residents in the face of administration harassment, their addresses are here.

9. White nationalists in the armed forces

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Lecia Brooks recently testified before the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Personnel to warn of the presence of white supremacist individuals in the armed forces and to make recommendations on how to stop this problem. Brooks testified that “the white supremacist movement in the United States is surging and presents a distinct and present danger to this country and its institutions, including the U.S. Armed Forces. Recent investigations have revealed dozens of veterans and active-duty servicemembers who are affiliated with white supremacist activity.” She cited a 2019 poll by The Military Times, finding that 36% of active-duty servicemembers who were surveyed reported seeing signs of white nationalism or racist ideology in the U.S. Armed Forces—a significant rise from the year before, when 22% reported witnessing these extremist views. In the same survey, more than half of servicemembers of color reported experiencing incidents of racism or racist ideology, up from 42% in 2017.

Brooks argued that the issue has not been treated with appropriate seriousness, noting that the most recent National Defense Authorization Act was altered in the U.S. Senate to remove mention of “white nationalists” in the screening process for military enlistees, leaving “extremist and gang-related activity” as the focus of screening processes. Supremacist groups like Atomwaffen, the Base, and Identity Evropa view the U.S. military as a valuable source of weapons training and a productive ground for recruiting new members. Brooks called for implementation of a true zero-tolerance for white supremacist activity and ideology in the U.S. military. She concluded her prepared remarks by urging “this Subcommittee and this Congress to exercise its oversight responsibilities and to use its powers to ensure that every branch of the military take the strongest action possible to prevent the infiltration of white supremacists and to weed out those who are already active. They represent a serious and ongoing threat not only to military order and the values that servicemembers are sworn to uphold but to the safety of every American.” S-HP

You can write to the chair of the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel and the chair of the House Armed Services Committee to raise the issue of white supremacists in the military.

10. Rule proposed to permit all breeds of service dogs on planes

One of the challenges faced by people with disabilities when travelling is that many commercial airlines have blanket policies prohibiting certain breeds of dogs from traveling in the passenger area of planes. However well intended, this policy results in either separating disabled individuals from their service dogs or in severely reducing travel options for disabled individuals—despite the fact that service animals go through extensive training and certification. The Department of Transportation has proposed a federal rule change that would exempt certified service dogs from these blanket prohibitions. S-HP

If you want to comment for the public record on this rule change, the instructions are here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

11. Ruthless bombing of Idlib province in Syria

800,000 Syrians have fled Idlib province and another 500,000 are trying to escape, as the Syrian army continues its relentless bombing campaign. The last sanctuary for rebel forces opposed to President Bashar Al-Assad, Idlib had been where Syrians fled from other parts of the country. The E.U. has called for an end to the bombing and a “humanitarian corridor,” according to Al Jazeera, essential as the border with Turkey is closed. The circumstances for refugees are dire, as it is almost impossible to get aid to them and the weather is freezing, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. See the New York Times for an intensely vivid photo essay on those fleeing.

The International Rescue Committee says that hospitals and ambulances have been deliberately targeted, and that they have had to move 30 staff people from the line of fire; the Inquirer reported that “In 2019 alone, there were 85 attacks on health-care facilities in Northern Syria,” according to the head of CARE USA. A doctor who works in Idlib described conditions there in a piece for Al Jazeera. RLS

If you want to donate to help refugees from Idlib, two links are here. In addition, it might be worth explaining to your Congressmembers that the only kind of involvement the U.S. should have in Syria is humanitarian.

12. Alarming turn of events in El Salvador

El Salvador is facing a constitutional crisis as President Nayib Bukele attempts to force passage of an international loan to fund “his Territorial Control national security plan, which intends to ‘modernize’ the police and armed forces with advanced weapons, tactical gear, aircraft, drones, surveillance equipment including facial recognition, and other materials,” as explained by the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. Taking a move from the Trump playbook, on Friday, February 7, Bukele issued an order via tweet to the Salvadoran legislature calling for a special Sunday night legislative session that would have to sole purpose of approving this loan. Bukele also tweeted a call for popular insurrection if the legislature did not comply. The military issued tweets confirming its oath of loyalty to President Bukele [as opposed to the nation of El Salvador].

On February 8, legislature security personnel were removed and National Civilian Police and Armed Forces members surrounded, then entered the Assembly, the nation’s legislative building. Far-right and far-left political parties found themselves agreeing on the illegality of this move by Bukele. On Sunday, February 9, only 28 legislators, less than a quorum, appeared for the meeting. That same day the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet Jeria, issued an international call (also via tweet) for dialogue and respect for democratic institutions in El Salvador. On Monday, February 10, El Salvador’s Supreme Court issued a blanket suspension of any acts resulting from the underattended Sunday legislative meeting. In an op ed in the New York Times, Human Rights Watch Director José Miguel Vivanco called U.S. and E.U. responses to Bukele’s actions inadequate “mild rebukes,” noting that “It’s going to take more than that to cow a man who shows absolute disregard for the balance of democratic powers.” World Politics Review called Bukele’s actions “the most serious constitutional crisis in El Salvador in nearly three decades.” The situation in El Salvador mirrors the way that the military’s role in Latin American countries is intensifying, as the Washington Post explains. S-HP

You might want to ask your Congressmembers to monitor the situation in El Salvador and urge that, in its position as a member of the Organization of American States, the United States respect and support Salvadoran democracy. Addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

Two million tons of radioactive waste dumped in Oregon

Oregon law prohibits improper disposal of radioactive waste. Nonetheless, between 2016 and 2019, Chemical Waste Management, a landfill in Arlington, Oregon near the Columbia River Gorge, accepted and buried over two million tons of radioactive fracking waste, which registered radium levels up to three hundred times higher than allowed under state law. Oregon law limits landfill waste to no more than five picocuries of radium per gram; the average reading of the material accepted in Arlington was 140 picocuries per gram. Kevin Niles, Assistant Director for Nuclear Safety with the Oregon Department of Energy said that, while the facility was cited, it would not be fined because the landfill operators misunderstood the state guidelines and were not aware they were committing violations. According to ABC News, Niles said that fines could only be levied for violations repeated after an official warning, for willful acts, or for acts that result in “serious adverse impacts” to humans or the environment, which begs the question of exactly how many tons of radioactive fracking waste would be required to meet the “serious adverse impacts” threshold. The organization Columbia Riverkeeper has launched a petition calling for an investigation of Chemical Waste Management’s handling of the material, an immediate fix to loopholes that allowed this dumping to occur, an end to new oil and fracked gas projects in the state, and accountability for the organizations responsible for the radioactive dumping. S-HP

You can join the Columbia Riverkeepers in demanding both stronger state laws regarding radioactive fossil fuel waste and consequences for those responsible for such waste–addresses for the Oregon governor and attorney general are here.

11. Climate change and homeland security

The House has passed H.R.4737, the Department of Homeland Security [DHS] Climate Change Research Act. This legislation would require the DHS to evaluate federal research in order to anticipate potential impacts of climate change on homeland security, to identify gaps in that research, and to launch research projects to fill those gaps. This legislation has moved to the Senate where it is currently with the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. S-HP

You can urge leadership of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and your own Senators to take swift, positive action on H.R.4737 because real security requires acknowledging the threats posed by the climate crisis.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has easy, straightforward things you can do. Now you can click them off when you’ve done them, so they have a idea of their impact.
  • If you want to work from Sarah-Hope’s complete list, it is here.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment on major revisions to Medicare and Medicaid (scroll down–there are several), the travel ban for New Yorkers, rules changes to permit drilling and mining in Bear Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante, migratory birds, seismic blasts at polar bear dens, and a request for climate scientists on some recommendations–pass the word.
  • Rogan’s list has ways to respond to the outrages at the Department of Justice, send support to the four prosecutors who resigned, speak up for disability rights, comment on Trump’s budget, object to the shredding of files at the archives, and more.
  • Many of you have circulated this great list of 64 things white people can do for racial justice.

News You May Have Missed: February 9, 2020

Trump is lashing out like a blinded basilisk at those who have attempted to hold him to Constitutional norms. Two people who deserve thanks: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whose leadership has been crucial during the impeachment process, and Mitt Romney, the sole Republican to vote to convict Trump on either of the two articles of impeachment. Whether or not we generally share his political viewpoint, he was unique among Republicans in his willingness to hold the President to account. Their addresses are in the links if you want to send your thanks. Common Cause is also suggesting that we speak up for Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who has been dismissed from the National Security Council for testifying truthfully about Trump’s phone call with the president of Ukraine.

Once again, Heather Cox Richardson explains the impeachment debacle and urges us to listen closely to Trump’s budget speech tomorrow, when he is expected to propose deep cuts to Medicaid.

Justice Gavel
“Justice Gavel” by Tori Rector is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Asylum seekers killed on return to El Salvador

Human Rights Watch has been tracking the fates of asylum-seekers deported to El Salvador. The organization reports that between 2013 and 2019, two hundred of these deportees were killed, raped, or tortured upon return to El Salvador. 138 of these deportees were killed by “gang members, police, soldiers, U.S.-trained death squads, or ex-partners” (in the case of those fleeing domestic abuse)–in other words, ” the same perpetrators the asylum seekers had fled from,” according to Democracy Now. Human Rights Watch identified these cases through news accounts, court records, and interviews with family members; since no official data is kept on the fate of deportees the actual number of those affected is probably higher.

You can speak up about the practice of returning asylum-seekers to the country they fled and ask the House Homeland Security Committee to begin monitoring this situation. Addresses are here.

2. Trump trolls hacked Iowa caucus phone lines

All sorts of lessons can be drawn from the debacle that was the Iowa Democratic Presidential Caucus, but let’s focus on two. First: We. Need. Paper. Ballots. Yes, a ballot box can be stuffed, but the parts of our election systems that are most vulnerable are electronic. In 2018, we saw how easily eleven- and twelve-year-old children could hack U.S. voting systems. We need secure operating systems and secure machines. Second: We have to identify and combat new forms of election interference as they arise. Bloomberg first reported that one of the problems the Iowa caucus had to contend with was deliberate clogging of the phone lines used to tally results. When the tallying phone app failed, caucus leaders had to phone in results to a central number. Unfortunately, as NBC reported, the phone number to which results were reported was easily found via Goggle search—and had been shared on right-wing message boards in advance of the caucus. Those answering the phones on caucus night found themselves fielding calls excoriating the Democratic party and touting Donald Trump, rather than calls with caucus results. S-HP

If you want to recommend legislation to make our elections secure, including legislation that requires paper ballots and that penalizes deliberate attempts to interrupt voting and tallying procedures, you can find addresses for your Members of Congress here.

3. Southern states propose to criminalize gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender kids

A House committee in South Dakota passed a bill which would impose fines of up to $2000 and jail sentences of up to a year on doctors who prescribe puberty-blocking hormones and gender-affirming surgery to transgender teens under 16, according to the Washington Post. Other states are proposing these bills as well, among them South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee, where providing puberty-blocking hormones to children would be defined as child abuse, the Tennessean reports. The bill in Georgia would make the provisions of gender-affirming care a felony; the legislator who is proposing it refers to it as “child abuse,” according to the Marietta Daily Journal. Legislators argue against allowing transgender youth to make permanent changes to their bodies when they may merely be “experimenting with their identity,” the Post reports. The Campaign for Southern Equality, an organization of medical professionals in the South, has spoken out against these bills, saying that “gender-affirming care is linked to significantly reduced rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide attempts.” The risk is that young transgender teens will take puberty-blocking hormones without medical supervision and will be at higher risk for mental health challenges and suicide. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 25% to 30% of transgender adolescents report attempting suicide at some point during their lives; the risk for female-male transgender adolescents is especially high, 62.5%. RLS

If you are a doctor in the South, you can sign the Campaign for Southern Equality’s letter. Otherwise, you can remind your Congressmembers that we need national-level protections for LGBTQ+ rights—including the rights of minors. Addresses here.

4. DNA samples to be collected from asylum-seekers

The Center for Public Integrity has reported on a Republican administration plan to collect DNA samples from nearly one hundred thousand individuals, some of them minors, being held in immigration detention. This would likely be the U.S.’s largest ever law enforcement collection of DNA from individuals not accused of a crime (it is important to remember that those in immigration detention are in civil, not criminal, detention). The plan, announced in early January, would begin with DNA collection at two migrant detention centers, one in Michigan and the other in Texas. Civil rights advocates have raised concerns that DNA collected could be used to link immigrants to family members who might then be targeted as well. While those charged with a crime can request that their DNA samples be destroyed if they are found innocent, no such provision is included in administration plans. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has signed a $5.2 million contract with Bode Cellmark Forensics for supplies and services. The contract will expire in April. S-HP

If you want to suggest that Bode Cellmark Forensics honor civil rights by refusing to extend or reapply for this contract and to ask the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees to investigate this large-scale collection of DNA from individuals not charged with any crime, addresses are here.

5. National archives are being purged

Let’s add a small corollary to Santayana’s warning that “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” and note “Corrupt governments will encourage that forgetting when they find it expedient.” A New York Times opinion piece by professor of history Matthew Connelly warns that “vital information [held by the National Archives] is actually being deleted or destroyed, so that no one—neither the press and government watchdogs today, nor historians tomorrow—will have a chance to see it.” In 2017, it was revealed that the National Archives had authorized Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) delete or destroy documents detailing the sexual abuse and death of undocumented immigrants. After thousands of critical comments were received from individuals, Congressmembers, and organizations that plan was given minor changes, but last month the National Archives gave ICE permission to begin destroying documents from the first year of Trump’s presidency.

The opinion piece goes on to identify other documents being destroyed with Archives approval: Department of the Interior files on endangered species, offshore drilling, safe drinking water, and management of Native American lands; Department of State papers of the under-secretary for economic growth, energy, and environment, which include everything from aviation safety to foreign takeovers of American firms. As Connelly notes, “All this is happening without so much as a congressional hearing—Congress has not called [National Archives Director] Mr. Ferriero to appear for almost five years.” Part of Congress’s lack of action may be that maintaining and running archives is an expensive business, and one that the nation has repeatedly underfunded. S-HP

You can tell the Director of the National Archives and your Congressmembers that you want to see the preservation of documents currently being or slated to be destroyed–which will require better funding of the Archives. Addresses here.

6. House supports union organizing, Republican administration undercuts it

On February 7, the House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would allow the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to fine employers who fire employees for union organizing, allow contract (“gig”) workers to unionize, and ease “Right to Work” provisions in various states that undermine union organizing, according to the Washington Post. Central Coast representative Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) described the bill as “the most significant upgrade to U.S. labor law in 80 years…a direct response to the struggle that many hardworking families are facing to keep pace with the rising costs of education, child care, housing, and other basic essentials.” The bill is unlikely to be taken up in the Senate, as it is opposed by right-wing and industry forces. Why launch it, given it will not become law anytime soon? According to In These Times, the point is to announce the Democratic agenda and map the future should Democrats be in a position to enact it.

A staple of collective bargaining agreements is the carry-over principle, which is that the provisions of an agreement stay in force even if it expires while a new one is being negotiated. The Republican administration has proposed a rule which would undermine this long-standing way of preserving continuity. A “General Statement of Policy or Guidance: Agency-Head Review of Agreements that Continue in Force Until New Agreements Are Reached” would allow heads of federal agencies to review expiring agreements and decline to continue any provision whose legality they question. Not only will workers’ rights under their contracts take a hit, but unions will be under pressure to settle contracts more quickly, perhaps accepting retrograde agreements. RLS

If you want to preserve the continuity of workplace regulations and the rights of workers, you can comment on this rule by 2/24/2020. In addition, you might want to advise your senator to urge that the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, H.R.2474, be brought to the floor of the Senate. It has already been passed by the House.

7. State of disunion

Trump’s “fanciful” State of the Union Address has left our country’s fact-checkers grossly overworked, but let’s focus for a moment on two legislative issues. First, Trump urged Congress “to pass bipartisan legislation to “dramatically” lower the cost of prescription drugs,” as the Hill reports. If you were listening, you may have heard the chants of “H.R.3! H.R.3!” coming from the Democratic side of the aisle, Vox notes. H.R.3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, was passed by the House in December and received in the Senate that same month, but has not yet been assigned to a Committee by Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

You may also have noted the lack of Democratic enthusiasm when Trump called for paid family leave. The legislation to which Trump was referring is S.2976, the Advancing Support for Working Families Act. S.2976 does offer working families a new means for covering family leave, but it does not actually include any paid family leave, via either the government or employers. Instead, it allows families to collect a portion of future child tax credits early to “pay” for the leave. In other words, families would be borrowing from their future selves in order to cover family leave offered by S.2976. Additionally, S.2976 only applies to family leave for babies or adopted children under age six and includes no provisions to care for sick family members or to cover an individual’s own health emergencies. S.2976 also does not provide any job protection for individuals covering family leave by this method, according to the New York Times. S-HP

It would be a good time to remind your Senators that the drug-price legislation Trump called for is sitting idle in the Senate and that real paid family leave is paid family leave, not a juggling of the books that can threaten a family’s future financial security.

8. Immigration judges appointed with no experience

We’ve reported before on the pressures—both workload demands and political interference—immigration judges are forced to deal with, but there’s another threat to our immigration justice system that hasn’t been getting the notice it deserves. The Trump administration has been hiring immigration judges who have no experience in immigration law, according to the Hill. The experience requirement for immigration judges doesn’t mention immigration law experience, but only that applicants must have seven years of “post-bar experience as a licensed attorney preparing for, participating in, and/or appealing formal hearings or trials.” Of the 28 new immigration judges recently sworn in by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, 11 of them had no immigration law experience. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee has been speaking out on this issue. S-HP

You can thank Representative Lee for reminding us that immigration judges should have immigration law experience and urge your Congressmembers to join her in bringing attention to this problem. Addresses are here.

9. Asylum seekers on hunger strike

In a story that has received virtually no attention in the U.S., five men in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention have been engaging in a hunger strike that is now beginning its fourth month. The organization Freedom for Immigrants has filed a complaint against ICE for refusing to release the medical records of two of these men for independent review, a right that should be available to anyone in ICE custody, the Guardian reports. ICE has been force feeding two of the men, leaving nasal feeding tubes in for up to three weeks at a time. Because it can be both violent and painful, force-feeding is only allowed under a judge’s orders. The five men are from South Asia and are filing asylum claims based on fear of religious or political persecution

You can ask the House Homeland Security Committee to initiate a Congressional investigation of hunger strikes among ICE detainees and ICE’s treatment of these individuals.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. RCMP arrest First Nations people defending land in Canada

The RCMP tore down tents and arrested six First Nations people who are trying to keep a pipeline out of traditional Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia. In support of those objecting to the pipeline, protestors in Vancouver stopped traffic; a car drove through the protest group, though no one was hurt, Global News reported. Protesters in Ontario blocked the rail service between Toronto and Montreal, stopping 62 trains, according to the Toronto Star. Organizers from the group No One is Illegal told the Star that they were blocking the trains because “the RCMP has sent militarized police to evict Wet’suwet’en people from their unceded territory, to support a dangerous and disruptive pipeline project.”

“Unceded” means that the land was never surrended nor sold to Canada. Na’Moks, a hereditary chief with the Wet’suwet’en Nation who also goes by John Risdale, told the Star that “They came in with armed forces to remove peaceful people that are doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. We’re protecting the land, the air, the water.” RLS

To follow this issue or to look for ways to support the Wet’suwet’en people, see their website.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. US Navy discontinues climate change task force

The United States Navy has long understood the need for ascertaining the impact climate change would have on the world in order to fulfill its mission, if for no other reason than the Navy has the vast majority of its assets (naturally) located in coastal areas that are due to see sea level rises. To this end, the Navy created a climate change task force in 2009 that issued a number of important reports outlining the dangers of climate change to world stability and naval assets as well as estimating the costs involved in mitigating the damage. It’s puzzling, then, why the Navy quietly shut down the task force back in March of 2019 without a press release or public comment period and scrubbed all data and information regarding the task force from the internet, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. One can only assume the Trump administration’s ongoing purge of everything climate related from federal agencies is to blame, though the Navy says its mission was “duplicative.” However, there is no other identifiable group or command in charge of climate change issues.  JC

12. Cost to make California net carbon neutral? 8 billion a year

A report issued by Lawrence Livermore National Labs estimated the costs and means by which California can achieve the goal set by former governor Jerry Brown in 2018 to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2045. In order to do that, the state will need to not only drastically reduce its overall carbon emissions but also pay for carbon capture to offset the emissions that cannot easily be eliminated. Among the methods are some relatively easy and inexpensive things such as restoring wetlands, changes in forestry, soil improvement and revisions in agricultural crops. Beyond that, there will need to be some relatively costly technologies employed. One option is to convert bio-waste to hydrogen fuels and store the carbon in underground repositories and another is simply to suck the CO2 directly from the air and inject it underground where there is geological capacity for 100 years of storage. The cost for all of this is estimated at eight billion a year, a large sum, but it represents .4% of state GDP or 5% of current state tax revenues, Ars Technica reports. Given the extraordinary costs of climate change impacts, the costs seem very reasonable. JC

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist focuses on easy actions you can take in the areas of democracy, voting access, equality for all Americans, basic respect for aspiring Americans.
  • Rogan’s list this week focuses on Black Lives Matter at school, nominating Adam Schiff for a Profiles in Courage award, battleground seats in the Senate, and much more.
  • Sarah-Hope’s full list is here.
  • Martha’s list offers many opportunities to comment for the public record. She notes that the opportunity to comment on high fees for immigrants, asylum seekers, and citizenship petitions has been extended till tomorrow. She gives you links for commenting on the many proposed regulations in support of faith-based organizatios. And there’s a new posting asking for general comment on their regulations process.


News You May Have Missed: February 2, 2020

If you are in despair about the vote in the Senate not to allow witnesses, read Heather Cox Richardson’s last few columns. Her long view is quite bracing. And if you want to thank the House Impeachment Managers, who have performed impeccably– documenting all claims and insisting on respect for the Constitution–their names and addresses are here.


“Influenza virus” by Sanofi Pasteur is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Just a word about the other “big” story, the new coronavirus: There is understandable concern about the new virus, but less worry about influenza, though as many as 25,000 people have died in the U.S. so far this flu season, according to the Washington Post. (3500 die annually in Canada; numbers from this season are not available.) See award-winning science writer Laurie Garrett’s piece from last fall on the connection between climate change and pandemics and on how the most vulnerable people and countries will suffer most. As with everything–political or seemingly non-political–it is important to focus not (only) on the sensational but on the news that doesn’t make the headlines (or that disappears quickly from the headlines). To that end, we bring you News You May Have Missed.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Trump authorizes the use of landmines

In 2014, Barack Obama issued a directive prohibiting U.S. production or acquisition of anti-personnel landmines (APLs). Landmines are a notorious weapon of war, designed to kill or main and often used in areas with significant civilian populations. In addition, landmines don’t disappear when a conflict ends. Vox reports that, according to the watchdog group Landmine Monitor, there were over 130,000 landmine casualties between 1999 and 2018. More than 160 countries—but not the U.S.—have signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, known as the Ottawa Treaty, which prohibits production, stockpiling, use, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines; Canada signed it as well and has not reneged. Now, a cable from the Trump administration indicates that the U.S. has given itself a blanket authorization to use landmines in current or future conflicts. S-HP

If you are aghast at the revival of landmines, consider objecting. You can write to the Secretary and Undersecretary of Defense as well as to your elected representatives; addresses are here.

2. Abuse of immigrants in detention centers authorized

“Hog-tying, fetal restraints, [and] tight restraints” are now all permitted at immigration detention centers; minors may be handcuffed, and the reasons for using solitary confinement have been broadened under new rules governing these facilities, according to the Texas Observer. Even more ominously, guards only need to notify ICE that an inmate needs to be transferred to a hospital “as soon as practicable,” rather than immediately. In addition, non-profit organizations, such as those that represent immigrants in their asylum appeals, will have less access to prisoners, the ACLU notes. One of the reasons for these lowered standards is to enable local jails and prisons to serve as detention centers, according to Rolling Stone. RLS

You can object to lowered standards at immigration detention centers and point out that seeking asylum is a right under international law, not a crime. Appropriate addresses are here.

3. Medicaid cuts would jeopardize elders and babies

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)–the government insurance programs that serve 70 million Americans, including a third of all children–would be seriously undercut under new proposals from the Trump administration. As the LA Times reports, these programs cover half of all births in the South and 62% of nursing home residents nationwide. The new Republican proposal would permit states to convert their Medicaid allocation to block grants, according to the LA Times, allowing them to use the funds as they wished. The grants would be capped, likely diminishing access to medical care for low-income people. RLS

If you want to let your members of Congress know that cuts to Medicaid are inhumane, you can find your addresses here. You can mention your grandma, if appropriate.

4. Supreme Court won’t stop Republicans from using public benefits to keep out immigrants

The Supreme Court, in a typical 5-4 split, has determined that Trump’s “public charge” rule can be enforced while it makes its way through the courts, according to Politico and other new outlets. Under this rule, potential immigrants can be denied residency in or admission to the U.S. because they have used or because it is deemed likely that they may in the future use public-assistance programs, meaning an immigration official’s predictions of individuals’ future income could determine their fate. As numerous commentators have pointed out, this kind of regulation is what kept some 300,000 Jewish refugees out of the US during World War II. H.R.3222, the No Federal Funds for Public Charge Act, would end this program by prohibiting paying for it with federal monies. This legislation has 118 co-sponsors, including the Central Coast’s Jimmy Panetta. It is currently with the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. S-HP

You can urge appropriate committee leadership to support H.R. 3222. Addresses are here.

5. “Saving” Social Security

Trump tweeted recently that he is going to “save” Social Security, but then had the following exchange with a CNBC interviewer at the World Economic Program in Davos: Interviewer: “One last question: Entitlements ever be on your plate?” Trump: “At some point they will be.”

Those of us uncomfortable with what a Republican “save” of Social Security might look like can urge passage of the Social Security 2100 Act (S.269 in the Senate; H.R.860 in the House). The legislation would provide an increase of about 2% of the average benefit to all beneficiaries; would improve the annual cost of living adjustment to better reflect the costs incurred by older Americans; would protect low income workers by setting a new minimum benefit at 25% above the poverty line; would cut taxes for beneficiaries by raising the threshold for non-Social Security income before benefits are taxed; and would ensure that any increase in benefits from the bill don’t result in a reduction in SSI, Medicaid or CHIP benefits. The measure would also gradually phase in an increase in the contribution rate to keep the system solvent (for the average worker, this would mean paying an additional 50 cents per week every year), and would allow income up to $400,000 to be taxed for Social Security (these taxes currently tax income earned up to, but not beyond $132,900 a year). S.269 has been languishing in the Senate Finance Committee for over a year now. House action on H.R.860 has been similarly nonexistent, except for one referral to a subcommittee: the House Ways and Means Committee sent it to their Subcommittee on Social Security. In the House H.R.860 is also with the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. S-HP

You can urge the appropriate Congressional committees to take quick action on these bills. Addresses are here.

6. HUD finds tracking discrimination “burdensome”

Originally passed in 1968, the Fair Housing Act outlawed discrimination in housing, but federal enforcement was lackluster. In 2015, the Obama administration moved to increase enforcement of the act by requiring local governments to track patterns of poverty and segregation. Federal funds could then be withheld from cities that did not address segregation. Calling this tracking “burdensome,” Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson is now moving to eliminate it. HUD has also cancelled efforts to end unintended discrimination in home loans caused by banking algorithms. According to Politico, this past November every Senate Democrat signed on to a letter to Carson, saying they were “deeply troubled by the direction this administration is heading in relation to fair lending and fair housing protections.” Currently homeownership rates are 73% for Whites and are a bit under 43% for Blacks. According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Treasury Department’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) saw an 8% increase in housing discrimination cases in 2018 (the 2019 annual report is not yet available), but according to Politico, the administration has filed only a single fair lending enforcement case since Trump appointees took over management of the CFPB. S-HP

If you want to remind the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development that addressing segregation isn’t burdensome but essential, and tell appropriate officials that CFPB’s poor record of fair lending enforcement is unacceptable, you will find addresses here. In addition, if you want to post a comment for the public record, see Martha’s list, here.

8. Trump pleases the crowd at the March for Life, threatens to punish California

Undermining abortion rights is a key strategy in Trump’s re-election campaign. His latest move is to threaten California with the loss of some federal funding if the state continues to require that health plans cover abortion services, according to the L.A. Times. Five other states already have this requirement, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The announcement was intended to coincide with Trump’s appearance at the March for Life rally in January, Politico reports, the first sitting president to do so. There, according to the BBC,  he told the crowd, without irony, that “We’re here for a very simple reason: to defend the right of every child born and unborn to fulfill their God-given potential.” RLS

If you want to urge your Congressmembers to defend women’s right to make their own healthcare decisions and let California officials know not to cave in to this blackmail, addresses are here.

9. Boy Scouts still working with Border Patrol

Last August, we wrote about the Border Patrol Law Enforcement Explorer Program, a program for 14-to-20-year-olds, jointly run by the Boy Scouts and the Border Patrol. Its ostensible aim is to teach survival skills and first aid, and to participate in training exercises in which they “play” either Border Patrol agents or the immigrants they target. The Boy Scouts, which claims to “train youth in responsible citizenship [and] character development” continue to participate in the program. S-HP

If you would like to ask the Boy Scouts in what ways targeting minorities, separating families, and ignoring international law regarding the rights of asylum seekers improve their members’ citizenship and characters, addresses are here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. Travel ban extended–who will be next?

Trump has extended the travel ban to six more countries with significant Muslim populations: Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania . Set to go into effect February 21, this move is likely to further endanger Myanmar’s Rhohingya Muslims, who face genocide in Myanmar and misery in refugee camps elsewhere, the New York Times notes. Nigeria is likely to be particularly hard-hit, as 7,920 Nigerians were given immigrant visas in 2018. Student visas would still be permitted, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, which provides detailed information on its website. Most people from China are now being denied entry, but this prohibition is due to the coronavirus and hence is temporary. The previous travel ban was upheld by the Supreme Court, so it is hard to see what legal challenges will prevail against this one. Families separated by borders will particularly suffer, explained Doug Rand, who worked on immigration policy in the Obama White House: “It has become a de facto family separation policy besides the obvious one at the border,” he said. “This will just magnify the pain to extend it to other countries.” RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Astronomers observe warping of the fabric of space and time

An international team of astrophysicists has published data in the journal Science showing an effect called “frame dragging,” observed in a neutron star rapidly spinning around a white dwarf companion star, chalking up yet one more validation for Einstein’s theory of relativity. When a quickly spinning, quickly orbiting and very massive body moves, it bends the fabric of time and space around it, affecting the light radiating through the area of space around the object. This can have some unusual apparent effects. For example, if you were to throw an enormous spear right at the neutron star, it would appear that the spear would actually be moving in an orbit opposite the orbit of the star, away from the target. This is because the tip of the spear would actually be moving at a slower rate than the end of the spear, warping its image from any observer’s point of view. This observed and confirmed phenomenon can be added to the historic observation of light deflection during solar eclipse in 1919 and 1922 as proof that general relativity continues to make accurate predictions about the nature of the universe, Phys. Org notes. JC

12. Protecting migratory birds

As explained by Audubon, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) makes it illegal to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect migratory birds or their eggs or nests—or attempt to do so—without a permit. For decades, both deliberate acts and “incidental take” (accidental or inadvertent killing of birds) were considered violations of this legislation. In 2018, the Interior Department announced that it would no longer enforce rules against incidental take.

The problem is that “incidental take” is not necessarily accidental or inadvertent. For example, if a property owner decides to knock down a barn that contains an owl nest, the killing of nestlings is no longer considered a violation of the MBTA because the “intent” of the action was to tear down the barn, not to kill the nestlings. In other words, come up with the right story and you have a free license to kill and injure migratory birds and their nestlings. That decision to allow incidental take is being challenged in the courts by several wildlife and ecological protection organizations that argue that this new interpretation is clearly in conflict with the intent of the original legislation. The Migratory Bird Protection Act, H.R.5552, would affirm that the intent of the MBTA was to prohibit incidental take of birds without a permit and would require that the Fish and Wildlife research the impact of ongoing commercial activity on bird populations and that it identify and/or develop best practices to minimize this impact. The House Committee on Natural Resources had approved H.R.5552, which can now go to a vote of the full House. S-HP

If you want to encourage your representative along with the Speaker of the House to support H.R.5552, addresses are here. You can also see Martha’s list, below, to post a comment for the public record.

Amazon passes 500k employees, 1 trillion dollar valuation 

It’s fair to say that most people know that Amazon is a huge company. With its quarterly earnings report, it’s possible to more clearly define exactly how huge and influential the company is in the US marketplace. This past year saw Amazon add 150,000 workers to its payroll (more than Apple’s entire workforce), a 42% increase over the previous year.  While stocks tumbled this past week, Amazon stock reached over $2000 per share, doubling in value over the past two years. 150 million people are paying to be Amazon Prime members. Amazon has attracted criticism from Democratic presidential candidates for paying little tax relative to its size, a claim the company attempted to rebuff with a disclosure released this past week detailing the various taxes paid. While the company has indeed paid billions in payroll taxes and customs duties to the federal government, and has a tax bill of one billion dollars for 2019, it has deferred paying 900 million of those taxes, Geekwire reports. The amount paid in federal income tax for 2019 so far? 162 million dollars on an operating revenue of 14.5 billion. JC

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist not only has quick, clear-cut actions you can take but a long list of good news!
  • Our colleague Crysostom is back–with a comprehensive round-up of election news.
  • Sarah-Hope’s whole list has some California specific items, plus everything above.
  • If you get your health insurance through the ACA, you really need to look at the first item on Martha’s list.
  • Rogan’s list has great information on actions state-by-state, as well as ways to engage in upcoming primaries and an action you can take to restore asylum.

News You May Have Missed: January 26, 2020

Even for print people, film is a metaphor. The new news about the massacre at El Mozote–where, as Al Jazeera reports, in 1981 American-trained forces in El Salvador massacred 1,000 women, children, and elderly people–illustrates the need to pan, to survey the world systematically. The massacre was covered up, but now a Salvadoran general admits that the Salvadoran army did the killing. Representative Ilhan Omar reminded us about El Mozote last February, when she took on Elliott Abrams, who was then named the special envoy to Venezuela. Abrams had been in the State Department in the 80s, among those responsible for sending aid to El Salvador’s right-wing government despite clear evidence that civilians were being murdered. He claimed that the story about El Mozote was communist propaganda, Ray Bonner–who has been covering El Mozote since it happened–reminds us. This is why we need to remember.

The news cycle zooms in, then cuts to black, so that keeping everything in focus–the 69,550 children who were imprisoned by ICE in 2019, the almost-war with Iran, the discriminatory practices of some faith-based organizations–is a challenge. We’ll try to pan across some continuing stories this week, as well as giving you concrete, quick actions you can take. 

the hedgehog

“The hedgehog” by juanpoolio is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Useful in the process of keeping multiple stories in view is ironic humor–so to that end we recommend Foreign Policy in Focus writer Conn Hallinan’s “Are You Serious?” awards for the heights of absurdity in the previous year’s news.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Faith-based organizations would be allowed to discriminate, under new rules

Most of you are probably familiar with Executive Order 13831, even if that number doesn’t ring a bell. 13831 was the order signed by Trump to allow faith-based organizations to receive funding from the government and to participate in government programs while excluding from those programs anyone their faith disapproves of. The worst example of this we’ve seen is an adoption agency in Virginia that receives government funding and will not place children in Catholic, Jewish, Non-Religious, or LGBTQ+ households. If the rule changes proposed in order to implement 13831 go through, we’ll be seeing all sorts of hate-based unkindness. Eldercare programs that exclude Jews, soup kitchens that won’t serve atheists, academic support programs that bar LGBTQ+ youth—the possibilities are many and terrifying. S-HP

At the moment, eight different federal departments have proposed rules changes in order to implement 13831, and, yep, they all have to commented on separately. See the full list of proposing departments and comment instructions below.

2. Rules against flying while (possibly) pregnant

Remember when the term “anchor babies” had conservative pundits foaming at the mouth? Today’s equivalent is “birth tourism.” Just as with “anchor babies,” the horror underlying “birth tourism” is that the child of a non-citizen might be born in the U.S. giving that child citizenship rights—and thereby allowing all sorts of people from all over the place to become citizens because of immigration policies that favor family members. To eliminate this threat the administration has announced a rule change that would allow a State Department officer to deny a Class B recreational tourist visa to a pregnant (or possibly pregnant) women who that officer has “reason to believe” might be hoping to give birth during a vacation to the U.S. or a U.S. territory, NBC news reported. Note, that’s “announced,” as in “it’s a rule starting now,” as opposed to a “proposed” which would allow for public comment. A foretaste of this policy was recently offered by the airline Hong Kong Express that refused to allow a Japanese woman to board a flight to the U.S. territory of Saipan, where that woman had grown up and where her parents still live. A “fit-to-fly” test to which she was subjected included a pregnancy test. An airline employee took her into a bathroom, handed her a pregnancy test strip, and instructed her to urinate on it. (She was allowed a private stall in which to do this.) Only after the pregnancy test had a negative result was she allowed to board her flight, according to the Washington Post. Hong Kong Express has since announced that it has suspended this practice and apologized, but if the administration has its way, this process may be a good deal more common soon. S-HP

In Canada, the CBC came under fierce criticism for running a documentary on so-called “Passport Babies.” Women who come to Canada and pay privately to have their babies put a strain on the public health care system, the CBC says, and the nurses’ union says that the issue of increasing numbers of women coming from abroad to deliver might be mitigated if the private fees were put toward additional labor and delivery nurses. RLS

If you want to voice concerns about the new rule in the U.S., you can find the addresses for the State Department and your members of Congress here.

3. Asylum cases moved away from legal representation

In a move that may deprive thousands of immigrant detainees of legal representation, the Republican administration has announced that it is moving several hundred immigration cases out of San Francisco, where they were originally sited and where many detainees have been able to attain counsel, to a Van Nuys courtroom in northern Los Angeles. In response to increased immigration and asylum cases, a number of immigrant legal aid groups have been established in Northern California to support individuals with hearings in San Francisco.

The Guardian cites Valerie Zukin of the Northern California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, who explains that in 2017, only 2% of San Francisco immigration hearings were attended by an attorney. Presently, a group of thirty-five groups covers more than 80% of San Francisco immigration hearings. Zukin says that there is no equivalent group of organizations prepared to cover the hundreds of cases being transferred to Van Nuys. There had been rumblings of such transfers, and the Executive Office of Immigration Review had responded to queries from legal aid groups that no such move was planned. Case transfers are scheduled to begin on February 3. Asylum-seekers with legal representation are five times more likely to be granted asylum than those without, NPR notes, which raises the question of whether the underlying purpose of this move was to reduce immigrant access to legal aid. S-HP

You can object to the relocating of asylum cases and and ask for an investigation into the decision. Appropriate addresses are here.

4. A birthday present for Michelle

On former first lady Michelle Obama’s birthday, the Trump administration announced a proposal that would allow schools to serve foods that are higher in fats and sodium in place of fresh fruits and vegetables, ABC news reported. Better nutrition in school lunches had been one of her most significant policy initiatives.The new rules would make serving items like burgers and pizza easier. They would allow school salad bars to offered outside the point-of-service (in other words, where adults can’t see how much you take of which ingredients—croutons, anyone?). Legumes in meat alternatives would qualify as a “double dip,” simultaneously fulfilling meat and vegetable requirements. Limits on synthetic trans fats would be eliminated under the assumption that they are unnecessary under current Food and Drug Administration regulations. Water could be replaced with “calorie-free, non-carbonated, naturally flavored water” (lime aid with artificial sweeteners, anyone?). Vegetables (including nutritional duds like processed potato products) could substitute for fruit in school breakfasts. The Center for Science in the Public Interest and The Partnership for a Healthier America have called this a step in the wrong direction. Finally, reviews of school lunch and breakfast programs would move from a three-year to a five-year review cycle. S-HP

Want to get this stopped? Comments can be made for the public record; there were only 33 comments submitted as of 1/23/2020; the deadline for comments is March 23. Here is how to comment.

5. DOJ and oil industry–“a team”?

Reporting by Inside Climate News alleges that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been siding with the oil industry, rather than acting on behalf of the American people. What appears to be carefully planned collaboration between the DOJ and industry lawyers began in early 2018, shortly after Oakland and San Francisco filed suit against several oil companies over the effects of climate change. At that point, the DOJ began a series of emails and meetings with industry lawyers and began preparation of an amicus brief supporting the oil companies. At the same time, a group of attorneys/solicitors general from fifteen Republican-led states began preparing their own amicus brief on behalf of the oil industry. In all, between February and May 2018 at least 178 pages of communications were exchanged between DoJ representatives and industry lawyers. A number of meetings among the groups took place, but documentation from these has not become available. According to Inside Climate News, in one email, Eric Grant, a Deputy Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division asked Indiana’s Solicitor General to arrange a meeting to review a plan to intercede on oil companies’ behalf. Another email refers to DOJ and industry lawyers as a “team.” S-HP

If you want to call for a Congressional investigation of this government/industry collaboration, here are the appropriate peopleto write.

6. Franchise workers deprived of protections

If you work at a fast-food franchise and are denied overtime pay, where can you go for remedies? Is your employer the local franchise owner or the fast-food corporation? In a situation where the answer to this question is “both,” you have what is a called a “joint employer” and you can expect both of the two to safeguard your employment rights. The Department of Labor has issued new joint employer rules that are scheduled to go into effect on March 16, US News reports. Under these rules, you are only jointly employed if you work under one or more of four very specific circumstances: if both employers can hire and fire you; if both employers supervise your work schedule; if both employers set your pay; if both employers maintain your employment records. Under the new rules if one or more of these is true, you may be jointly employed. But, if that fast food corporation doesn’t set your work hours or maintain employment records on you, the corporation does not have to worry about the franchise’s failure to honor overtime pay rules and workers are left with little recourse, according to the New York Times. Previously, determination of joint employment took into account the real degree of dependence of workers on the “upstream” company: for example, whether that company provided facilities and equipment for workers. S-HP

You can speak up about how these new rules jeopardize the most vulnerable workers. Here are addresses.

7. National Archives may be leaving Seattle

In 2014, the Alaska branch of the National Archives was closed, and the records it held were moved to the Seattle National Archive branch. Now, the Federal Public Buildings Reform Board, created in 2016 as part of the Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act, which is charged with identifying and selling high-value government-owned real estate, is considering closing the Seattle Archives. The plan is to move Seattle Archive materials to a facility near Riverside, California, and federal agency records to Kansas City. If this proposal is approved, archives currently under a single roof will now be housed in two locations, complicating research efforts. When the Alaska Archive was closed, the National Archives committed to digitizing the Alaska records that would be less accessible to Alaska-based researchers, the Alaska Historical Society reports. That digitization is still incomplete, and an additional move may delay or even end that process. S-HP

You can write to the national archivist and ask that the Seattle archives remain open.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Another assassination considered, amidst disinformation about Iran

It feels like eons ago that we were almost at war with Iran, following the U.S. assassination of top general Qassem Soleimani. But on January 24, it came out that as a result of missiles from Iran hitting US bunkers in Iraq, 34 people have brain injuries from the attack–contrary to what Trump had said earlier, which was at first that there were “no casualties,” then 11 casualties. Trump referred to the concussions that soldiers had incurred as “headaches,” according to Vox. Indeed, some of these are apparently not serious, as 17 of those affected are back at work. But headaches?

The day before, the State Department’s special representative to Iran, Brian Hook, said that he would order the assassination of Soleimani’s replacement if Americans are killed, Vox reported. Hook is the architect of the devastating sanctions that are causing a humanitarian crisis in Iran, according to the Nation.

Foreign Policy in Focus has an overview of American actions against Iran, covering the last forty years.

You can ask your elected representatives to support asserting Congress’s war powers and to ensure that Trump first receives Congressional approval before ordering military action such as that in Iran. Addresses here.

9. Iranian-born travelers stopped at border, students sent back

Though the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has denied detaining and questioning Iranian-born tourists, the CBC reported on January 23 that an unnamed U.S. border patrol official sent an email to a Washington State immigration lawyer saying that this was part of deliberate policy. On the weekend of January 4, some 200 Iranian-Canadians were detained and questions as they were coming into the US from BC for a concert. And at least 13 Iranian students have been prevented from coming in to attend universities in the U.S., the New York Times reported. The students had valid visas and were enrolled in American universities, having spent all their savings on tuition and plane tickets. RLS

If you want to object to the harassment of Iranian-born tourists and call for an investigation into the deportation of Iranian students registered in US universities, here are some ways to do so.

10. Saudi surveillance comes close to home

Curiouser and curiouser! The Saudis apparently hacked Jeff Bezos’ phone, via a WhatsApp video from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to CNN. (The Saudi embassy called the allegations “absurd.”) Whether they did this at Trump’s request or had their own reasons to monitor Bezos is not known–in addition to being the founder of Amazon, Bezos is the owner of the Washington Post, whose coverage has been persistently criticized by Trump. Raw Story claims that the Crown Prince likely had hacked Jared Kushner’s phone; Kushner and MBS, as the Crown Prince is known, are friends and MBS boasted in 2018 that he had Kushner “in his pocket,” according to the Intercept.

Even more oddly, Saudi Arabia is somehow paying the U.S. for the use of American troops, Rolling Stone reported on January 11. They quoted Trump’s interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox News, “I said, listen, you’re a very rich country. You want more troops? I’m going to send them to you, but you’ve got to pay us. They’re paying us. They’ve already deposited $1 billion in the bank.” Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), who recently left the Republican party, described this practice as the use of U.S. troops as “paid mercenaries.” 

Meanwhile, a report on the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in 2018 should have been sent to Congress by Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence–but was not; it was due last week, according to BuzzFeed. In November of 2018, the CIA had concluded that the Saudi crown prince had ordered the killing, the Washington Post reported then, though the Saudi government has denied this and has imposed the death penalty on five people who they say actually killed Khashoggi.

The Guardian reported on Friday that the Saudis were planning to keep surveillance on Khashoggi’s fiancee in London; the Guardian described this surveillance, the monitoring of a pro-democracy activist who has asylum in Norway, and the hacking of Bezos’ phone as part of a pattern: “Agnès Callamard and David Kaye, UN special rapporteurs who are investigating the matter, have pointed to a ‘pattern of targeted surveillance of perceived opponents’ of the kingdom, especially people who are of ‘strategic importance.’” RLS

Are you troubled by the close relationship between the Trump administration and the Saudis? Are you outraged that the killing of Khashoggi seems to be on the back burner? Some ways to respond are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Physicists explain how voter turnout and high polarization are recipes for disaster

An electoral model constructed by physicists has given some insights into why our political system appears to be so broken, and why it might not improve. Physicists are used to reducing incredibly complex systems down to an idealized model to better understand the underlying mechanisms at work. It is this approach that physicists at MIT used to see why electoral results often do not match the actual will of the majority of voters., Ars Technica reports. The key ingredients in creating a broken system that does not accurately represent voter opinion are low voter participation and extreme political polarization. Essentially, as the political poles diverge, more people feel that neither candidate is suited to represent their beliefs and so they simply do not vote. This division leaves the remaining pool of voters concentrated in the extremes–which then repeats the same winnowing process, disenfranchising more voters. These extreme fluctuations are representative of a physical phenomenon called a phase transition, researchers explain in the journal Nature. Unfortunately, in physics, phase transitions are very hard to break out of once they settle to one extreme or the other, a prospect that doesn’t bode well for our democracy. More voter participation is sorely needed.  JC

12. Ocean acidification is already affecting crab larvae

As the gigatons of carbon dioxide human beings have emitted interacts with the world’s oceans, it increases the acidity of the water. This process has been predicted to have long-term negative consequences for wildlife, especially crustaceans and mollusks who depend on calcium carbonate for their shells; the higher acidity will literally dissolve them. A study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Dungeness crab larvae in British Columbia, Oregon and Washington states and published in the journal Science of the Total Environment has found that the process is already well underway, Phys.org reports.. Because of the way that deep water mixes with surface water, the coasts of the area studied have several “hot spots” with increased acidity levels, levels which will become the norm throughout the ocean. These hot spots are ideal for a peek into the future of the world’s oceans. They found that the crab larvae already show signs of pitting and folding in their shells, indicative of severe dissolution of their shell material. In addition, tiny free swimming snails that the crab depend upon for food are also negatively affected. The west coast Dungeness crab fishery is worth $200 million dollars alone.  JC

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has accessible, usable information on voter registration and the census, as well as quick actions you can take toward justice–e.g., advocating for workers, transpeople and indigenous people in ICE custody, and more.
  • Heather Cox Richardson has illuminating commentary on impeachment–and more.
  • Want to thank the National Archive for restoring the images of the Women’s march? Inclined to speak up about the manipulation of aid to Puerto Rico? Sarah-Hope’s list has additional items that may interest you.
  • Martha’s list this week has numerous ways you can comment for the public record–on school lunches (2 measures), the Endangered Species Act review, DeVos’s “guidance” on school prayer, and most immediate, changes to SSI and SSDI disability reviews (see our December 23 issues for the full story).
  • Rogan’s list has an excellent roundup of actions you can take vis a vis impeachment, elections, and other issues.
  • Crysostom’s election news site is on hiatus this week, but here’s the January 7 column to hold you over.



News You May Have Missed: January 19, 2020

This week we’re rejoicing in small victories. The National Archive repented in response to the outcry over the way they blurred pictures of signs from the Women’s March, according to the New York Times. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Lindey Graham agreed to pause judicial nominations until after the impeachment trial, something that both Martha’s list and Americans of Conscience had called for, Bloomberg Law reports. Earthjustice posted a list of the 33 legal victories it has won as a result of the 40 of its lawsuits that have been heard. These rulings will restore a ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, protect grizzly bears from trophy hunting, continue a ban on coal leasing, and much more. And a federal judge blocked Trump’s order allowing states and municipalities to refuse to accept refugees (Texas was the first state to do so), according to NBC.

All this is to say that as grim as the worldwide picture is, organizing works. Lawsuits are effective. And individual acts of protest or advocacy matter. To that end, see our Resources section at the end of this week’s issue, which offers numerous quick, easy actions you can take. You might start by commenting on the proposed changes to disability regulations that we discussed in our December 23 issue; see the link here for an explanation and the location for comments–due January 31.


“2014” by DrGarageland is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. “Forever chemicals” will not be addressed by the Senate

Senator John Barrasso, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told Bloomberg News that a House bill addressing “forever chemicals” has “no prospects in the Senate,” according to the Hill. Forever chemicals, which Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found present in a wide range of common foods, resist breaking down over time and have also been linked to health problems like kidney and thyroid cancer, by the FDA, the Hill reports. At the same time, as reported in the Intercept, political appointees in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are planning multiple processes for rolling back regulation of chemicals that its own scientists have found to be carcinogens, as well as chemicals linked to autism and neurodevelopmental problems. The Intercept details some of the health consequences of these rollbacks. A few examples:

-EPA rollbacks have included clean air and clean water regulations. The damages from these rollbacks will most impact Black and Latino people, who produce less pollution that white Americans, and who live with a higher burden of pollution because they are more likely to live near facilities using dangerous chemicals.

-The EPA has been pulling funding from centers researching the effects of chemicals on children. One such center, the Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Leukemia and the Environment, had identified associations between childhood leukemia and exposure to pesticides, traffic emissions, tobacco smoke, and solvents.

-The 2016 Toxic Substances Control Act, which requires the EPA to identify and restrict dangerous substances, is being undermined by the current administration. As Ever Gartner, an Earthjustice attorney explains in the Intercept, “We’re seeing massive exclusions of known pathways for exposure. EPA is finding that chemicals that are universally understood to present massive risk are fine.”

-The EPA is also proposing a federal rules change, the disingenuously named “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” which would prohibit the use of studies based on the private health data. Without that data, scientists would be unable to prove a connection between cigarette smoke and cancer, for example. This would end the use of anonymous medical information to create study populations in the thousands—which is currently a standard practice in ethical medical research. S-HP

If you want to urge the Senate to take action against these changes, write Barrasso and his colleagues here.

2. Trump administration send asylum-seekers to Guatemala–without telling them where they are going.

Under the administration’s so-called “safe third country” policy, the Border Patrol is sending some asylum-seekers–including families with small children–to Guatemala, without telling them whre they are going or what they should do when they get there. They are required to apply for asylum within 48 hours, but they do not know to do so, according to the Washington Post. Guatemala itself is no place of refuge; in fiscal 2019, 264,000 Guatemalans sought asylum in the United States, the largest number from any country. Guatemala is plagued by the same gangs as the countries the asylum-seekers have fled. RLS

3. House Judiciary Committee investigates “Remain in Mexico” Program

The House Judiciary Committee has announced an investigation into Homeland Security’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which this past year have forced 57,000 asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed; in a letter to the most recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acting Secretary, Chad Wolf, the Judiciary Committee asserts that the program is “exposing thousands of people to threats of murder, sexual violence, and kidnapping…. [and] depriving them of already-scare due process protections.” The Committee also pointed out that “As of today [1/12/2020], there are 31 active travel advisories for Mexico…. It is difficult to understand why this administration is sending children and families to areas where they will face certain harm.” (If you want to know more, the New York Times reported on the investigation; the New Yorker had an eloquent piece on MPP in October, and we covered the issue November 10, if you want to scroll down.) S-HP

If you want to write the DHS secretary, here’s his address–and others.

4. House Democrats call for release of transgender people held by ICE

According to The Hill, a group of House Democrats–“arguing that the U.S. has failed to follow guidelines to protect individuals who face more perilous conditions in detention than other migrants”–is calling for the release of all transgender individuals currently held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The letter goes on to note that “Transgender migrants and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, solitary confinement, physical assault, and medical neglect. These inhumane conditions and systematic abuses are evidenced in countless reports and accounts by formally detained people.” A 2015 ICE memo calls for specific accommodations to be made when housing individuals who identify as transgender—policies which ICE has never put into practice. This effort is being led by Representative Mike Quigly (D-IL). S-HP

If you want to thank Rep. Quigly and urge your members of Congress to follow suit, here are the pertinent addresses.

5. The Census: from the frying pan into the fire

As follow-up to an executive order from Donald Trump, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that it is providing the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce, which oversees the census, with records that can “assist in determining the number of citizens, lawfully present non-citizens, and unauthorized immigrants in the United States during the decennial census (2020 Census).” Participating agencies will include DHS, as well as a number of agencies it oversees, including the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), NPR reports. In essence this data-sharing will replace the controversial citizenship question that was struck from the census after court challenges. (Fun fact: note that only one of the individuals directing these agencies has actually been confirmed by the Senate.) S-HP

If this effort to weaponize the census troubles you, here are the various (acting) heads of agencies that you can write.

6. Military equipment used to evict mothers in Oakland

A few facts about Oakland, California. Housing in Oakland, California, as is true of most California Housing, is high-priced and scarce. According to the site Rent Jungle, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland is $2551, for a two-bedroom apartment $3171. The average rent by neighborhood in Oakland ranges from $1939 to $4122. Move-in fees reach $8000 or more. Oakland has a homeless population of 8,000, which is 47% higher than two years ago. In Alameda County, where Oakland is located, you need to make $48 an hour to afford the median rent, but minimum wage in the County is just $14 an hour. Of 9.304 housing units recently built or in construction in Oakland, only 628 were subsidized affordable housing. When a new group of 28 affordable units became available, more than 4,000 people applied for them. Estimates are that there are 32,000+ unoccupied houses in Oakland—or four empty houses per homeless person.

This is why last November a group of homeless mothers moved into an unoccupied house on Magnolia Street (not one of Oakland’s better addresses), Vice explains. That house was owned by Wedgewood, a real estate company that specializes in “flipping homes” and that owns 125+ homes in the Bay Area; “flipping” partly accounts for the increase in home prices. For fifty-seven days the struggle between Moms4Housing (the name the occupying women gave themselves) and Wedgewood played out with intense news coverage. Then in a pre-dawn raid, Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputies stormed the house and evicted the mothers, SF Gate reports. The equipment they used included tanks and AR-15s. They blasted open the door to the house using a battering ram, according to KTVU. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said she was “shocked” by the use of force. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the excessive force used in these evictions, and about the evictions themselves, here are the addresses for the Alameda County Sheriffs and for Wedgewood.

7. Bar Association calls for investigation of Attorney General Barr

Bloomberg reports that the New York Bar Association, in a letter to the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, has called for a Congressional investigation of Attorney General William Barr because of his “willing[ness] to use the levers of government to empower certain groups over others.” This follows last year’s chastisement of Barr by 450 former federal prosecutors, who had been appointed by both Republican and Democratic administrations, for his misleading handling of the Mueller report. According to PBS, the letter stated that “The duties to act impartially, to avoid even the appearance of partiality and impropriety, and to avoid manifesting bias, prejudice or partisanship in the exercise of official responsibilities are bedrock obligations for government lawyers. Mr. Barr has disregarded these fundamental obligations in several public statements during the past few months…. Mr. Barr launched a partisan attack against ‘so-called progressives’ for supposedly waging a ‘campaign to destroy the traditional moral order…. [and] vowed to place the Department of Justice ‘at the forefront’ of efforts to resist ‘forces of secularization.’” S-HP

If you want to join the New York Bar Association in calling for an investigation of the Attorney General, the appropriate committee chairs can be found here.

8. Conservative think tank masterminded plan to shrink Bears Ears National Monument

The successful campaign to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by 85 per cent was funded by the Sutherland Institute, a non-profit organization supported by private funding, according the Salt Lake Tribune, which obtained a considerable number of documents from the Department of the Interior, following a public records request. The Sutherland Institute tends to be staffed by people who are connected with the Koch brothers and takes positions opposed to public lands in principle. RLS

9. Trump releases aid for Puerto Rico–but with almost untenable restrictions

Trump has agreed to release the aid for Puerto Rico that was earmarked for them after the hurricanes two years ago, according to NPR (see our story last week). However, the aid comes with severe restrictions–it cannot be spent on the electrical grid; federal workers cannot be paid the mandated wage of $15/hr; its budget plans have to be approved by a fiscal control board. As the New York Times reports, a congressional aide suggested that these restrictions are designed to make it impossible for Puerto Rico to spend the money. RLS

If Trump won’t help, you can. Remezcla suggests some local organizations doing relief work there.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. Legal complaints filed against RCMP for refusing to allow delivery of winter supplies

The territory of the Wet’suwet’en people in Northern B.C. was never ceded to Canada nor signed over in a treaty. Nonetheless, the Coastal GasLink/TC Energy (formerlyTranscanada) pipeline is scheduled to go through their land despite their objections. Barricades were removed and 14 people were arrested by the RCMP last year at this time, according to The Real News, and documents recently uncovered by the Guardian reveal that in 2018, the RCMP were prepared to shoot protestors (see our December 23 issue for details). Last week, the RCMP refused to allow deliveries of food and winter gear to the territory, and legal complaints have been filed as a result, the National Observer reports. Indigenous Climate Action articulates their support for the Wet’suwet’en people and identifies other sites where Indigenous sovereignity, climate issues and the fossil fuel industry collide. RLS

The Wet’suwet’en people have sent out a call for support.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Human-linked loss of biodiversity actually predates modern humans

A new study published in the journal Ecology Letters provides evidence that the loss of biodiversity that seems to follow humans wherever we live actually predates us as a species. An international team from Sweden, Switzerland and the UK studied fossil records in east Africa, the place with the longest continuous human presence, and found that the drop in biodiversity goes back millions of years. In particular they found that numbers and variety of predatory species fell with no obvious reason such as climate change to explain the loss. It seems likely that it was human ancestor species that out-competed predators in their overlapping habitats. This would also align with hominid’s development of stealing kills from predatory animals, a behavior called kleptoparasitism. Indeed, it may be the case that the lion’s social organization which is unique among felines and the leopard’s habit of carrying their kills up into trees may be tactics evolved to preserve their food from marauding hominids, Phys.Org explains. JC

12. SpaceX completes an apparently successful launch abort test.

The SpaceX Dragon crewed capsule has completed its final test on the road to carrying human beings into space. The rocket lifted off at 10:30 EST January 19 to perform a test on the safety system that should engage if the rocket suffers a catastrophic failure during launch. In the event the rocket explodes or shuts down for whatever reason, the capsule is designed to rapidly break free of the rocket and clear distance from any possibly debris before safely returning the capsule to earth under parachutes. The test utilized a Dragon rocket that had been flown three times previously, in itself an extraordinary achievement, and appeared to be completely successful with separation and safe splashdown exactly where predicted. The first human crew could launch as soon as a few months to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, Ars Technica reported.  JC

RESOURCES

  • Vice provides a comprehensive guide to avoid getting hacked.
  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has quick, easy actions you can take and an announcement about its 2020 strategy.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list includes some items above and others from last week that you might want to revisit, including the ERA, the machinations of Cambridge Analytica, and the issue of the changes to disability.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record on issues such as the additional barriers to asylum (see last week’s issue where we explain this), coal plant waste (also explained last week), farmworker protections, and much more.
  • Rogan’s list recommends that we call key senators to demand witnesses at the impeachment trial and suggests that we pressure the Senate on the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. See the list for other straightforward actions you can take.
  • As the impeachment trial proceeds, Heather Cox Richardson’s nightly columns will be an essential resource.

News You May Have Missed: January 12, 2020

News You May Have Missed tries to help you keep multiple issues in your line of vision, especially difficult this week. If you focus on Iran, Puerto Rico, Austrailan fires and impeachment, then long-range issues around climate, the environment, and inhuman policy changes can fall out of view. “Radar” is our metaphor of the week–with its sorrowful echoes of the downed Ukrainian plane filled with Iranians and Iranian-Canadians: all we know to do is to systematically scan the horizon, rotating rather than fixating on one spot.

Radar
“Radar” by ASKYZ is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Once again, Heather Cox Richardson gives it to us straight: “All current evidence suggests that Trump ordered the killing of General Qassem Soleimani either to please his base or to curry favor with key senators before the Senate impeachment trial.” We recommend her January 10 piece.

See our Resources section for many ways you can engage with events rather than letting them happen (to you). In particular, a number of pressing policy changes allow for public comment–and many have received very few comments, likely due to the problem of distraction we mention above.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Cambridge Analytica again

Cambridge Analytica–remember them?–apparently interfered not only in the US 2016 election but in the elections of 68 countries, Democracy Now reports. There has been a leak of tens of thousands of documents from Cambridge, according to the Guardian. Some of these are available on a Twitter feed linked to Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Brittany Kaiser, who has just come out with a memoir. @HindsightFiles, has already posted information pertinent to four countries, including Iran, and has a section of material on Bolton. The Guardian quotes Kaiser as saying that in the documents, “There are emails between these major Trump donors discussing ways of obscuring the source of their donations through a series of different financial vehicles. These documents expose the entire dark money machinery behind US politics.” RLS

2. Pelosi to forward articles of impeachment

Under pressure from members of her own party–including Dianne Feinstein–Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has agreed to forward the articles of impeachment to the Senate, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. She did so even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to provide any guarantees regarding the form of the upcoming Senate trial and has made clear his intention to ensure that the trial is conducted according to the wishes of the President and his advisors. It may be that she is seizing the moment while the U.S. is remarkably not at war to refocus the attention of the country. There is however, at least one good reason for Pelosi to delay acting while McConnell remains intransigent. Trump’s final State of the Union address to Congress will be given on February 4. If McConnell is able to engineer a “fake trial,” Trump will be able to spend a significant part of his address celebrating his “exoneration.” If the Senate trial is delayed, he will doubtless proclaim his own innocence, but will not be able to claim exoneration. RLS, S-HP

If you want to urge Speaker Pelosi to continue to be judicious about releasing articles of impeachment, you can write her at this address.

Puerto Rico denied aid again

Puerto Rico has been hit with a devastating series of earthquakes. The strongest of occurred on January 7 and measured 6.4 on the Richter scale. In the two days following that event, the Island had experienced at least 120 aftershocks, CNN reports. At this writing, the earthquakes continue, as the AP notes. As a result, almost the entire island lost power . Now reports indicate that it may take up to a year to repair the earthquake-damaged Costa Sur power plant, which provides one-quarter of the island’s electricity. And, as we’ve reported previously, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) continues to withhold hurricane relief funds from Puerto Rico (a territory of the United States), ignoring a statutory deadline to issue a Federal Register notice permitting Puerto Rico to use $8.2 billion in disaster relief aid appropriated by Congress, as NBC points out. And as Rep. Darren Soto pointed out in a press release, “Puerto Ricans continue to suffer from major hurricanes that made landfall more than two years ago while HUD illegally withholds this aid.” S-HP

You can ask the Inspector General of HUD and members of Congress to investigate the agency’s failure to process Congressionally approved funds in a timely manner.

3. Justice Department rules against the ERA

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” As basic as this language sounds, only 35 states of the required 38 had ratified the Equal Rights Amendment by the deadline of 1982. Nevada and Illinois ratified it after 2017 and the Virginia legislature was set to do so. However, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota rescinded their ratifications and in December, Alabama, Louisiana and South Dakota sued to block it, according to NPR. And then last week, the Justice Department said that because the deadline had expired, the ratification vote by Virginia would not enable the amendment to be enacted, the Washington Post reported. Advocates argue that because the text of the amendment did not include a deadline, Congress’s deadline should not prevail. On January 7, the League of Women Voters sent a letter to Congressional leadership urging them to rescind the deadline. RLS

If you want to add your voice to that of the League of Women Voters, you can find your Congressmembers’ addresses here.

4. More barriers to asylum-seekers: speak up now

The Executive Office for Immigration Reform has proposed changes to asylum regulations that would create seven new mandatory bars to asylum eligibility and that would end automatic reconsideration of discretionary asylum denials, according the National Immigrant Justice Center. The new bars to eligibility would include illegal reentry (in other words, enter the U.S. a second time and you’re ineligible for asylum); alien smuggling or harboring (which might apply simply to helping other asylum seekers), and offenses related to false identification (which asylum seekers are sometimes forced to use to support themselves as they pursue their claim). The end to “automatic review of reconsideration of discretionary asylum denials” actually means an end to all automatic appeals of denials because asylum rulings are, by definition, discretionary. As of January 10, only 43 comments had been submitted regarding these proposed changes. The comment period for these rule changes closes on January 21.

If you want to add your voice to the 43 others who have raised concerns about these barriers to asylum, you can write to the people listed here.

5. Hundreds of billions in tax breaks for the health care industry, while additional billions would be subtracted from Medicare/Medicaid

Bi-partisan support made possible hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the health care industry, including pharmaceutical and insurance companies. At the same time, three taxes which fund the Affordable Care Act–taxes on expensive health-care plans, medical device manufacturers, and health insurance companies–were repealed, according to the Washington Post.

Simultaneously, the government is proposing new limits on the kind of money that can be used to secure Medicare/Medicaid funding beyond the standard federal payments. In regions with high medical costs, Medicare/Medicaid currently will match state funds spent to cover under-funded medical services. The source of funds to be matched is up to individual states. One solution a number of states have used is to place special taxes on healthcare providers. The monies collected are then used to pay for healthcare, which keeps the bottom line even for the state and makes additional matching federal funds available to healthcare providers. State governments generally see this as a practical way to manage health care spending. Billions of dollars are at stake here, according to Skilled Nursing News, the only publication to cover this issue. Our view is that healthcare costs significantly exceed the funding normally provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and so states are looking for mechanisms to put payments closer to actual costs, while the feds are trying to avoid paying any more than basic fees. The result, if the rule change is approved, will be decreased CMS payments to state governments, most of which are already struggling with healthcare costs, with likely cuts to care for patients. RLS/S-HP

If you’d like states to be able to continue to cover the cost of Medicare and Medicaid, rather than losing billions in federal funding, you can comment for the public record here.

6. Mapping the Arctic coast: promise and perils

The Coast Guard has proposed a study of the Alaskan Arctic coast with the goal of identifying possible port access locations. This survey will involve significant areas of largely untouched wildlands, putting them at greater risk of ecological catastrophe. One of the current written responses to this proposal was submitted by a coalition of Audubon Alaska, Friends of the Earth International, Oceana, the Ocean Conservancy, Pacific Environment, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund of the United States. These groups point out that “The PARS [Port Access Route Study] study area has great ecological significance and is vital for food security and subsistence hunting, which has been—and continues to be—carried out by Indigenous Peoples in the region for millennia. It is also a highly dynamic environment that changes dramatically with the seasons and is subject to sea ice and challenging weather and ocean conditions. What’s more, the Arctic region is experiencing rapid change and is warming at more than twice the rate of the rest of the planet. Vessel traffic in the region is increasing, a trend that is expected to continue in the years to come. Yet most areas of the U.S. Chukchi and Beaufort seas remain poorly charted. The remoteness of the region and lack of infrastructure means that the impacts of a serious vessel accident, especially an oil spill, could be devastating to the marine environment and the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on a healthy ocean.

” At the same time, vessels operating in the Arctic region provide vital services to communities and others in the region, including delivery of goods and fuel and support for search and rescue and spill response. For all these reasons, we appreciate the Coast Guard’s decision to carry out a study of current and predicted vessel traffic in the region and consider whether new mitigation measures could be adopted to enhance vessel safety, safeguard subsistence use, reduce user conflicts and protect the health of the marine environment.” The mitigations they ask for include the use of best available information about marine ecosystems; the seasonally and long-term dynamic nature of region, including changes in sea ice, marine wildlife migrations, and subsistence hunting patterns. S-HP

At this link, you can add your voice to the call for mitigations to prevent ecological disaster, mitigations that take into account sea ice, the dynamic nature of the area, and the current subsistence hunting practices.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

7. “Too many dead and not enough shovels”: Revelations about the US attack on its own Afghan security forces

While we are thinking about the narrowly averted war with Iran and about mistakes and miscalculations, we should remember Afghanistan, and in particular the US raid on its own paid security forces in 2008. According to a USA Today investigation, published January 10, the U.S. announced in 2008 that in the Azizabad raid, called Operation Commando Riot, an important Taliban commander had been killed. This was completely false. He had escaped, and instead many civilians died, including about sixty children. Because there were not enough shovels, a local politician brought in heavy machinery and tried to bury mothers and children together. A doctor took pictures of the dead on his cell phone. Read the whole story to learn what happened, how it was covered up, and how USA Today discovered what really happened.

This story echoes the investigative series the Washington Post ran in December, based on 2,000 pages of interview transcripts, which reveal that American politicians and generals knew very early on that the now 18-year war was unwinnable–but continued it nonetheless. These stories seem to have fallen off the radar given everything else, but they are essential reading as our government considers war with Iran. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. Administration removing environmental protections, climate change considerations on big projects

Under new rules to be proposed by the Republican administration, designers of big projects would no longer have to take into account climate change considerations or the fifty-year old National Environmental Policy Act. This move is in addition to 95 other environmental policy rollbacks over the last three years, the New York Times reports, and 70 lawsuits have been filed challenging these changes. (As of last summer, many of these had prevailed, according to The State of the Planet.) These new rules would exempt significant infrastructure projects–such as pipelines–from clean air and water requirements, and would prevent communities from objecting to projects that would impact them, according to the Washington Post. Opportunities for public comment should open shortly. RLS

We’ll let you know when the comment period opens. Meanwhile, you can urge your members of Congress to fight these rollbacks.

9. Oil and gas industry to release more greenhouse gases

The oil and gas industry are on track to release 270 million more tons of greenhouse gases, according to Houston Public Media. According to Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project which gathered the data, “To put that in scale, that’s equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions that you’d get from more than 50 large coal plants.” They gathered their data from permits already issued as well as drilling proposals, all concentrated in the Houston area. RLS

You can demand action from the leadership of Congressional Committees charged with protecting the environment and monitoring the fossil fuel industry and from your own Congressmembers. Addresses are here.

10. Locust swarm threatens food security.

Desert locusts, a grasshopper species which travels in enormous swarms of millions of insects and moves quickly, consuming all vegetation in their path, have moved into Kenya after having inflicted massive crop damage in Somalia and Ethiopia. This has led to what has been described by the Food and Agricultural Organization as the worst crisis in 25 years in the Horn of Africa region, Phys.org reports. The situation is exacerbated by the instability in Somalia; no organized response to the situation was provided. The insects are not expected to continue breeding within Kenya, a small mercy for an area known for widespread and devastating famines. JC

11. California considers entering the generic drug business.

California may soon become the first state to market its own brand of generic pharmaceuticals in response to a crisis of high prices for lifesaving drugs. The proposal is part of California governor Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal, released on January 10th. Under the plan, the state would contract out the manufacture of the drugs and sell them under its own label at a lower cost than is available in the market. Drug industry experts are divided about whether the plan will succeed or not, though it is not the first enterprise to try to tackle high drug prices; a consortium of hospitals started a company to manufacture vital drugs in chronic short supply and has achieved some success, Ars Technica reports. JC

12. Computer intelligence is breaking free of 2D

Artificial intelligence software can play chess, drive cars and even create (bad) original prose but until recently the architecture of the neural network it is based upon limited it to two dimensional extrapolations of three dimensional shapes. This is now changing with the advent of a new model called “gauge-equivariant convolutional neural networks,” which can allow artificial intelligences to find patterns in complex real world shapes, like spheres and asymmetrically curved surfaces. This is important because translating actual geometry to a 2d representation can result in distortions–similar to why maps often show Greenland far larger than it actually is. Wired notes that more accurate and detailed ability to describe real world objects should result in huge improvements in AI driven applications in climate and weather modeling, autonomous vehicle piloting and detecting patterns in the complicated surfaces of the human brain and heart. JC

13. Relaxed regulations on dumping coal ash proposed

Government agencies have a special gift for making potentially catastrophic proposals sound as boring (and, hence, harmless) as the text of a metropolitan phone book. Example: “Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities; A Holistic Approach to Closure Part A: Deadline to Initiate Closure.” In plain English, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to weaken the rules for disposing of the coal ash produced by coal-burning power plants. The focus here is “impoundments,” the fancy term for “pits we dump coal ash into.” The Obama administration had created new requirements intended to prevent coal-ash leaks or leaching into surrounding soil and water by ending the use of unlined impoundments and limiting the use of clay-lined impoundments. If the proposed rule change goes through, unlined impoundments can continue receiving coal ash unless they leak, which assures that even if leaking impoundments are closed, they will be allowed to leak for a certain period of time before closure is deemed justifiable. The rule change would also reclassify vulnerable and potentially permeable clay-lined impoundments as “lined,” allowing them to operate indefinitely. As of January 10, only six public comments had been received on this proposal. Comments are due by January 31. S-HP

With only six comments having been posted, your response to the deregulation of toxic coal ash could have a real impact. Here’s how to comment for the public record.

RESOURCES

  • Got five minutes? The Americans of Conscience checklist gives you quick, focused actions you can take–objecting to the “Remain in Mexico” policy, supporting the census, pausing judicial confirmations during the impeachment process.
  • Emma Marris, writing in the New York Times, provides a clear, direct plan for how to live while engaging the climate crisis.
  • If you have a postcarding group, consider Sarah-Hope’s list–it has all the options to speak up that you see here–and more.
  • Don’t forget Rogan’s list, which explains how to call on Congress to restrain Trump from war-mongering, has election information, suggests launch parties for a Green New Deal–and much more.
  • In her list, Martha reminds us that the deadline to speak up about tariffs, drinking water (de)regulations and the “Remain in Mexico” policy is January 13, while the deadline to comment on new nursing home (de)regulations is January 17.
  • See why Crysostom hopes Pompeo tries out for Hamlet after all of this, and more in his most recent election round-up–he covers news and gossip around House, Senate and state races.

News You May Have Missed: January 5, 2020

We know you won’t have missed the news about Trump’s decision to assassinate a senior Iranian military commander while he was in Iraq. We’re recounting the story to date so you will have all the puzzle pieces; where we can, we have embedded them in the history of US intervention in Iran.

We recommend that readers continue to follow Heather Cox Richardson, as she is putting the pieces together around the Iran situation, as she does with everything else. Richardson alludes to the work of New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi, who has covered ISIS & al-Qaeda and is very much worth following on Twitter.

On another topic, an eagle-eyed reader recommends ProPublica’s letter to partner newsrooms about Documenting Hate, the project it has just concluded, documenting three years of hate and discrimination. Anyone exhausted by conversations with family, friends or students about how much better things are could send them to that link. As ProPublica explains, “We saw a large number of hate incidents in schools, particularly after the 2016 election. Latinos have been targeted based on the (often erroneous) belief that they are immigrants or for speaking Spanish. People of color reported being victimized by people who referred to the president or his border and immigration policies. We found people of color harassed by their neighbors and targeted in hate incidents at superstores. We heard from Muslims and people of Arab descent targeted in road rage incidents…” With the news out of Iran and Iraq, this is only going to get worse.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Iranian general assassinated: Why now? Fallout to come.

On January 2, Trump authorized a drone attack in Iraq which killed Iran’s top military commander, Major General Qassim Suleimani and an Iraqi official, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, along with those accompanying them. Trump claimed that “Suleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him,” according to the New York Times. He offered no evidence that Suleimani was plotting something in particular. Suleiman has been an agent of attacks against American troops in Iraq since 2003, so it is not clear why Trump chose this moment to make this move. Vox has a useful discussion about whether the attack was legal and the New Yorker has a good piece on the implications of assassinating Suleimani.

The attack followed violent protests at the American Embassy in Baghdad by those angry about US air strikes against Iran-backed forces; the attack on the embassy echoed the 1979 hostage-taking at the embassy in Iran, which followed the U.S.’s decision to accept the ousted Shah into the United States. New documents reveal that David Rockefeller and others lied to then-President Carter, telling him that the Shah was deathly ill and could only be treated in the U.S., according to NPR. In 2019, the CIA finally admitted that the U.S. was behind the 1953 coup in Iran that had installed the Shah in the first place, deposing a democratically elected leader who had nationalized the Iranian oil industry. In May of 2018, the U.S. unilaterally exited the nuclear pact that it and other countries had negotiated with Iran; the U.S. went on to impose devastating economic sanctions on Iran. In short, there is a long history of U.S. intervention in Iran and Iranian fury about it, as well as of dubious diplomacy; writing for Esquire, Charles Pierce has a useful reflection on this history.

The US is sending 750 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne to the region, and another 4000 are preparing to deploy, the Washington Post reported. Thousands of people in Iraq were mourning Suleiman following his funeral January 4, and hundreds of thousands more were protesting his killing in Iran, according to Common Dreams and CBS.  The BBC quoted the Supreme National Security Council of Iran as saying that  “the US would be held responsible for its ‘criminal adventurism’: ‘This was the biggest US strategic blunder in the West Asia region, and America will not easily escape its consequences.’”

Trump apparently notified Republican leadership–as well as a few friends at Mar-a-Lago–prior to the attack but did not notify or request approval from Congress. A resolution which would prevent Trump from engaging in acts of war or military action against Iran without authorization from Congress–but not from responding to an “imminent attack”–was proposed by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine on January 3, the Hill reported, while Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna introduced legislation that would prohibit Trump from going to war against Iran without Congressional approval, Common Dreams notes.  In December, draft language that would have denied authorization for war against Iran was taken out of the military funding bill that allocated $738 billion for the military, according to Truthout. Trump was apparently offered a range of actions he could take vis a vis Iran; concerned that the attack on the embassy would be seen as his “Benghazi,” he chose the most extreme one. “Top Pentagon officials were stunned,” wrote the New York Times.

Unsurprisingly, the attack complicates the impeachment process; though Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would transfer the articles of impeachment to the Senate once she was assured that a fair trial could be conducted, the dynamics have now radically changed, the Washington Post notes, given that the trial would take place while the U.S. is on the brink of war.

Fallout from the attack has already begun; Iraq has said it will expel all US troops while Iran has withdrawn from the nuclear pact, which had been provisionally in place with other signers. A group of Iranian-Americans–citizens–says they were detained at the U.S.-Canada border when returning home from a rock concert. Border Patrol officials says that these claims are false, the Vancouver Sun reports. RLS

If you have concerns about the march to war with Iran, you can take a variety of actions, listed here. In addition, Rogan’s list this week has links with information and actions you can take.

2. Crisis in immigration courts

In a report issued in June, “The Attorney General’s Judges: How the U.S. Immigration Courts Became a Deportation Tool,” the Innovation Law Lab and Southern Poverty Law Center describe the ongoing failure of U.S. Immigration Courts across multiple administrations. The Immigration and Nationality Act requires the Attorney General to establish and maintain an impartial immigration court system, but that system has consistently been neglected and subject to administration biases. The report executive summary contends, “Overwhelming evidence shows that the Office of the Attorney General has long allowed immigration judges to violate noncitizens’ rights in a systemic, pervasive manner that undermines the integrity of the court system.” The report ends by calling for the formation of a new immigration court system outside of the Attorney General’s control.

At the same time, CNN has documented a crisis within the immigration court system. CNN cites the forty-five immigration judges who have left their positions in 2019. Compare this with twenty-one departures in 2017 and twenty-four in 2018. Some of these departures are the result of deaths, but most result from retirements, resignations, and transfers to other government positions. In interviews, CNN found that departing judges cited “frustration over a mounting number of policy changes that, they argue, chipped away at their authority”: the imposition of case quotas, transfer of power from judges to the director overseeing the courts, reversed rulings, curtailment of judicial discretion, and efforts to decertify the National Association of Immigration Judges, the union representing immigration court judges.

If you want to speak up about the misuse of the immigration court system and the policy changes affecting immigration judges, here are appropriate people to write.

Funds for prisoners health care and job training misappropriated

In a complex piece of reporting, ProPublica and the Sacramento Bee have investigated irregularities in the spending of billions of dollars in “realignment” funds, funds intended to compensate for the state’s transfer of prisoners from state prisons to county jails. This funding was first authorized in 2011, when California began the transfers (aka realignment), hoping to satisfy a Supreme Court ruling that required the reduction of the state prison population by at least 46,000 to mitigate the effects of overcrowding. Realignment funds were to be used for two purposes: first, modernization of facilities and second, improving medical care, addiction treatment, education, and job training in jails.

Since 2011, the state has issued $8 million in realignment monies. While such funding is not supposed to be used for non-realignment purposes, lax spending rules and limited oversight have allowed significant abuse. For example, in Shasta and Monterey counties. civil grand juries identified misuse of realignment funds and requested county-level investigations, which were never held. At issue in Monterey was the use of monies granted for a specialist to direct pretrial inmates to education courses that we actually spent to cover the salary of a single guard. In Contra Costa County, realignment funds were used to pay for police foot patrols. At the close of 2019, the California prison population remained above the limit set by the 2011 court ruling. S-HP

Whether or not you are a Californian, you can object to this misuse of funds.

LGBTQ+ seniors could be denied nutrition assistance

Faith-based organizations providing government-funded nutrition services to seniors could exclude LGBTQ+ individuals from their programs, under a proposal from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of Dignity, the largest U.S. Catholic organization supporting “justice, equality and full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and intersex (LGBTQ+) people in the [Catholic] church and in society,” has written to Secretary of HHS Alex Azar to object to the proposal. Duddy-Burke cites the particular vulnerability of LGBTQ+ elders, who may not have family support and are more likely to live in poverty, and argues that the proposal will put tens of thousands of such elders at risk. In addition, exclusion of LGBTQ+ elders will deprive them of socialization and wellness checks these nutrition programs also provide. The letter notes the large role Catholic institutions play in nutritional programs for the elderly and the “exclusion of LGBTQ+ people by [some] Catholic and other faith-based organizations.” S-HP

If you share Dignity’s concerns about the health of LGBTQ+ seniors, you can tell the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Time to thank civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis

John Lewis, a civil rights pioneer and seventeen-term Representative to the House from Georgia’s 5th congressional district, has announced that her is being treated for stage four pancreatic cancer. From 1963-1966 Lewis chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of six groups that organized the famous March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. In fact, Lewis is the last remaining living speaker from the March on Washington. As a college student he organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. He was one of the thirteen original Freedom Riders who challenged segregation on interstate public transportation. Over this period, Lewis was repeatedly assaulted by both law officers and civilians who opposed the movement for Black civil rights. He suffered a skull fracture in one incident, was knocked unconscious in another, and was a passenger on a bus that was fire-bombed by the Klan. His entire life has been characterized by a fearless advocacy for equality and justice. S-HP

You can send best wishes for successful treatment and thanks for a lifetime of fighting for civil rights to: Representative John Lewis, 300 Cannon House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3801

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

#. Ambassador to Zambia recalled after criticizing homophobia

Earlier this year two Zambian men were sentenced to fifteen years in prison each for engaging in gay sex, what Zambian law calls “crimes against the order of nature.” In December, U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote issued a strongly worded statement in response to the sentencing and objecting to rampant homophobia in Zambia. He noted that when he arrived in Zambia “I was shocked at the venom and hate directed at me and my country, largely in the name of ‘Christian’ values, by a small minority of Zambians,” and that “I cannot imagine Jesus would have used bestiality comparisons or referred to his fellow human beings as ‘dogs,’ or ‘worse than animals;’ allusions made repeatedly by your countrymen and women about homosexuals. Targeting and marginalizing minorities, especially homosexuals, has been a warning signal of future atrocities by governments in many countries.” Now, the U.S. has recalled Foote after Zambian officials, including the president, refused to continue working with him. Foote has received death threats limiting his participation in international events. S-HP

You can tell the Secretary of State that you appreciate Foote’s decency and courage: Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520, (202) 647-4000

Efforts to force Trump to oppose human rights violations in China

The New York Times reports on an upcoming bipartisan effort in Congress to force Trump to take a stance in opposition to Chinese violation of the human rights of Chinese Uighurs, a minority Muslim population. The Council on Foreign Relations has outlined a wide range of Chinese abuses against Uighurs: internment of between 800,000 and 2 million Uighurs in internment camps it calls “vocational training camps”; forced renunciation of Islam; forced abortions and contraception; torture; the placement of Communist Party members in Uighur homes to report on “extreme” behaviors, like fasting during Ramadan; and destruction of mosques. Despite this, as the New York Times notes, Trump continues to refer to Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a “terrific guy.” The Uyghur [sic] Human Rights Policy Act, S.178 in the Senate and H.R.649 in the House, has been passed by Congress, but not sent on to Trump while differences in the final versions of the two pieces of legislation are reconciled. The hope is that the final version of this legislation will be embraced by a veto-proof majority in Congress. S-HP

If you want to explain to Trump that “terrific guys” don’t engage in persecution of religious minorities and to urge Congress to pass the two Human Rights bills, pertinent addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Ten million acres burned so far in Australia fires

First Nations peoples in Australia are in danger of becoming climate refugees, according to the Guardian. Temperatures are routinely about 40 Celsius, 104 Fahrenheit, with some summer days at 120 Fahrenheit (over 48 Celsius). Indigenous communities are running out of water, electricity is unreliable, and most homes do not have air conditioning. Their historic connection to the land is threatened by the immense fires, the largest in Australia history.

Fifty million animals have died in the fires, including perhaps some entire species. Koalas in particular have suffered, as they move slowly and live in the flammable eucalyptus trees, Australian News.com reports. The Sydney Morning Herald ran a heartbreaking piece by a veterinarian about the devastating cost of the fires to farmers, wildlife, farm animals and the land itself.

Why are the fires so serious this year? Increasingly hot temperatures, a very dry spring, years of drought and the ravages of climate change which have led to very dry vegetation, according to the New York Times. Australia has not summoned the political will to cut carbon emissions, in part due to the mining and coal lobbies. The Guardian has a timeline of how the government has resisted climate action and the government’s attitudes toward climate activism is clear: Michael McCormack, the deputy prime minister, referred to activists as “inner-city raving lunatics.” For a sane voice, read councillor Vanessa Keenan’s heartfelt letter to McComack in the Guardian

Recent climate talks in Madrid ended without consensus, according to the New York Times, as Australia, Brazil, China, India and the U.S. blocked any specific action items.

Vice has a page on how to help Australians, with some links specifically for First Nations peoples. RLS

Fish threatened by border wall

What do the Yaqui topminnow, Yaqui chub, Yaqui shiner, Yaqui catfish, Chiricachua leopard frog, Huachuca water umbel, Aplomado falcon, and San Bernardino spring snail have in common?

-All are endangered or threatened species.

-All rely on crucial habitat along the edge of Arizona’s San Bernardino Wildlife Refuge.

-All face catastrophic consequences from the construction of a twenty-mile section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall along the edge of the wildlife refuge, particularly because of the depletion of spring flow and groundwater.

Water in this area was scare before wall construction began due to the effects of the climate crisis and expanded planting of water-intensive crops. Twenty-eight federal statutes and thirteen state laws have been waived to facilitate construction of this section of the wall—construction that requires the use of 50 million gallons of water for each mile of wall constructed (or 1 billion gallons of water for this particular twenty-mile segment). The laws being waived include clean air and water protections, endangered species protections, public lands, and Native American rights, the Guardian reports. Now, bear in mind the havoc that will most likely result from the construction of this twenty-mile segment of wall and consider what the extent of the destruction will be if the full two-thousand-mile-long wall is completed. S-HP

If you want to argue that the survival of species is more important than the construction of a wall (that will not deter immigration), you can write appropriate officials at these addresses.

EPA takes down Toxmap

For fifteen years, Toxmap, an interactive map maintained by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), allowed the general public, as well as researchers and advocates, to pinpoint sources of pollution. The easily navigable map used dots of different colors to represent all U.S. facilities releasing certain toxic chemicals into the environment, as well as every Superfund program site. Now, the NLM has removed the site, claiming it has become redundant as the data it aggregated were all available elsewhere, according to Newsweek and Popular Science. However, Toxmap was the only site that provided this particular mix of data. Now, those wishing to identify environmental hazards will have to move among at least twelve different online sites, none of them as user-friendly as Toxmap was. S-HP

If you want to advocate for the restoration and updating of Toxmap, here is whom to write.

Trump’s own EPA says rollbacks contradict science

The members of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board, which includes many members chosen by the Trump administration, has identified three of the administration’s environmental regulation rollbacks to be at odds with established science. These include Obama administration regulations regarding waterways, an Obama administration effort to limit tailpipe emissions, and a plan that would limit the data that could be used to draft health regulations. The New York Times cited a letter from the EPA Science Advisory Board, saying that the rollback on water pollution “neglects established science” by “failing to recognize watershed systems” and that there was “no scientific justification” for exempting certain bodies of water from anti-pollution protections. The changes to emissions standards were marked by “significant weaknesses in the scientific analysis of the proposed rule.” Finally, the health rule would limit data used for decision-making to studies in which all participants are specifically identified, despite the fact that this violates the privacy of medical records required of ethical research. The EPA Science Advisory Board found that “key considerations that should inform the proposed rule have been omitted from the proposal or presented without analysis.” S-HP

To let the EPA know that they should pay attention to their own advisory board, contact appropriate officials and committee chairs.

RESOURCES

  • Amy Siskind, who has been posting a weekly list of not-normal actions since the beginning of the Trump administration, has a round-up of particularly egregious behavior.
  • Martha’s list focuses on SSI and SDI proposed rules that would result in massive cuts to disability, the “remain in Mexico” comment deadline, and more.
  • For regular access to clear, well-defined actions, follow the Americans of Conscience checklist.



News You May Have Missed: December 22, 2019

Note that Unholy Escort, Katie Jo Suddaby’s apt and chilling painting, is available in various forms (cards, prints) through Fine Art America, a quite responsible site in our experience. 

News You May Have Missed is taking a holiday break on December 29, 2019. We will be back with renewed vigilance January 5.

Meanwhile, we know you will be thinking of those for whom the return of the light seems a long way away– people separated by borders, people in refugee camps, and political prisoners in the US and around the world. Among these are Reality Winner, who is serving a five-year and three-month sentence for leaking the information about Russian interference. You can write her at: #22056-021, FMC Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.

Since the administration is likely to take advantage of holiday distraction by dumping bad news, you might want to keep reading Heather Cox Richardson’s incisive commentaries.

And if you follow Rebecca Solnit on Facebook or Twitter, don’t miss her commentary on why it is so difficult and confusing to stay focused on events in Washington. Here it is in case you avoid Facebook.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. All DACA cases to be reopened

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has confirmed to CNN that it is in the process of reopening all DACA (Dream Act for Childhood Arrivals) cases. This includes cases of individuals who have no criminal record and have complied with all DACA requirements in a timely manner. In the past, these cases were “administratively closed,” meaning that an immigration judge approved ongoing suspension of these cases in order to allow those affected to remain in the U.S. Now ICE is “re-calendaring” these cases, making them active once more and setting court dates. Late last summer, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the legality of ending the DACA program, which the Trump administration wants to do. A ruling on this case is expected in June, and many immigration advocates see these moves by ICE as preparation for beginning large scale deportations should the court rule in the administration’s favor. S-HP

If you have something to say about this challenge to DACA, addresses are here.

2. People granted asylum given fake court dates, deported

At least four asylum-seekers, including one Cuban dissident, received fake court dates and were returned to Mexico. One of them, the Cuban, had been one of the thousands required to wait in Mexico and then to travel to a hearing in Laredo, Texas, where the judge appeared by video-conference. His asylum was granted, but when he presented his papers to an official point of entry, border officials told him he had to wait in Mexico for another 30 days while the government decided whether to appeal his asylum, Buzzfeed reported. He was given a court date and a notice for a hearing–which was non-existent, his attorneys ascertained.

If the government decides to appeal his asylum, he could be stuck in Mexico much longer, depending on how long the process takes. Buzzfeed quoted Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, as saying, “It is an exercise in cruelty to send people who win asylum back to Mexico, forcing them to wait months or years for an appeal to work its way through the system. Because the person has no future court dates, CBP just invents fake ones.” RLS

If you think successful asylum seekers should not face deportation and fake court dates, you can speak up to those at these addresses.

3. Less than 0.1% of applicants approved for asylum

Under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), very few individuals are being approved for asylum. How few? Less than 0.1% reports the Los Angeles Times. Some 47,000 individuals have been ordered to remain in Mexico under the MPP. 7,567 of those 47,000 cases had been resolved as of the December 15 publication of this story. 5,085 individuals have had asylum claims rejected. Another 4,471 have had their cases dismissed, generally on procedural grounds. Only eleven individuals have had their asylum claims granted. And, as noted above, individuals granted asylum are now expected to continue staying in Mexico while the government decides whether it will appeal those grants of asylum. Meanwhile, 636 cases of kidnapping, torture, and violence against asylum-seekers (including 138 cases of child-kidnapping) have been reported among those in Mexico as part of the MPP. S-HP

If it concerns you that the asylum process seems to be rigged and that asylum-seekers are placed in danger, you can say something to your elected officials.

4. 80 members of Congress have called on Stephen Miller to resign: His emails!

On December 17, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) revealed that Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy advisor, sent 900 emails to a former Breitbart writer, making alarmist statements about Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Bahamians devastated by the hurricane and urging her to focus on crime by immigrants and people of color. 


His latest campaign, according to the Washington Post, is to use biometric data from adults who come to pick up children in ICE custody to investigate and deport the adults. Congress has said that they do not want to scare away adults who take custody of children, but according to the Post, ICE believes that “adults denied custody of children lose their status as ‘potential sponsors’ and are fair game for arrest.”

At the time he sent those emails, Miller was working for then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (later to become Attorney General and then to be forced out by Trump), and his recommendations have had considerable impact on Trump policy. He is widely regarded as the architect of the Muslim ban and of family separation at the border; Bahamians were indeed denied TPS, Yahoo News reports. 80 members of Congress–all Democrats–have called on him to resign. RLS

5. Republicans planning voter intimidation

What’s the difference between election day ballot security monitoring and voter intimidation? As we may soon discover, this is a fine line, indeed. In 1982 a consent decree was put in place barring the Republican party from participating in “ballot security” activities at polling places. The decree originated after Republican National Committee (RNC) efforts to intimidate black voters during a New Jersey gubernatorial election, during which off-duty police officers wearing “National Ballot Security Task Force” arm bands, some carrying guns, questioned individual’s qualifications to vote as they stood in line at polling sites in predominantly black areas. The RNC did not admit wrongdoing, but did agree to the consent decree. Now, that consent decree has been lifted and the Associated Press reports that Wisconsin Republican strategists are planning to add “ballot security monitoring” back into the arsenal of techniques it uses to encourage high Republican, and low Democratic, participation in elections in crucial districts. S-HP

If you are concerned about voting rights, you could insist on federal protection for them.

6. Printable, untracable guns would be blocked by legislation

In November, a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration broke federal law and behaved in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner when it reversed Obama-era policy and allowed a gun-technology company to post digital blueprints for making weapons with a 3D printer. This case is being appealed, so we aren’t yet safe from the threat of untraceable firearms, Bloomberg explains. There is, however, pending Congressional legislation that would prohibit the publication of such materials—the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act of 2019. The House version of this legislation, H.R.3265, is currently with the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. The Senate version of this legislation, S.1831, is with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If you think we should be protected from untracable guns, write the chairs of the House and Senate judiciary committees.

7. Change in disability rules may put recipients at risk

The Social Security Administration is proposing a major change to the regulations regarding continuing receipt of disability payments, a proposal titled “Rules regarding the frequency and notice of continuing disability reviews, ” according to MSN. Qualifying for disability benefits is a challenging process, requiring extensive documentation and multiple hearings. Once an individual qualifies for disability benefits, they are placed into one of three “medical improvement categories”: not expected, possible, or expected. All recipients of disability payments face regular reviews—benefits are never granted for an individual’s lifetime. Depending on the category into which an individual is placed, they may be reviewed as often as every six months or as infrequently as every five to seven years.

The administration is now proposing a fourth category—“medical improvement likely”—into which individuals in the “possible” or “not expected” categories might be moved. The “likely” category will require reviews at least every two years, a more frequent rate of review than is currently required for many of these individuals. While this might seem to be simply an inconvenience, the change could be a matter of life or death for some disabled individuals. Disability rights advocates see this change as a cynical move, created because the more frequently an individual is reviewed the more likely that individual is apt to lose disability benefits through inadvertently failing to comply with some aspect of the complex review process. The Social Security Administration is accepting official comments on this proposed change through January 31. (S-HP)

If you want to comment on this issue for the public record, here are the instructions.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Royal Canadian Mounted Police planned to shoot Indigenous land defenders

In 2018, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were prepared to shoot protestors objecting to the gas pipeline planned by TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink, which would cross through Wet’suwet’en territory, according to documents obtained by the Guardian. Wet’suwet’en is unceded territory in British Columbia, meaning that it was never given over to the Canadian government via treaty, as affirmed by Canada’s Supreme Court in 1997.  The Indigenous people in the area are concerned about the pipeline because it would run under the Morice River, a critical water supply for several villages. Documents from the RCMP strategy session said that “lethal overwatch is req’d”–official-speak for the use of snipers–and that officers could “use as much violence toward the gate as you want.” Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said that “…the terminology is entirely unacceptable,” the CBC reported. He did not comment on whether the intent was unacceptable as well. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Pro-Trump publication linked to fake accounts

Facebook recently deactivated over six hundred accounts that were being run by AI programs managed by paid agents in Vietnam posing as Americans. The accounts were used to promote pro-Trump conspiracy theories and editorials and as a distributed means of advertising for the publication Epoch Times, which is also known for its aggressively pro-Trump slant, according to NBC. Almost ten million dollars were spent on advertising through these accounts, which were run from a company in Vietnam comprised of former Epoch Times employees, their families and associates. The Epoch Times is a publication staffed by practitioners of Falun Gong, a persecuted spiritual group from China who believe the world is headed for an apocalyptic end where all communists will be sent to hell. Members of Falun Gong have gone on record as saying they believe President Trump was sent by heaven to destroy the Chinese Communist Party.  JC

10. Stinky molecule identified as an unmistakable biosignature

As the search for extrasolar planets expands to include teasing out details about the planets we discover orbiting distant stars, one key feature is top priority: life. We can with considerable effort and technology obtain information about the content of the atmospheres of some of these planets; what is needed is something we can look for the can only be produced by living organisms. A paper published in the journal Astrobiology now makes a compelling case to have found just such a chemical signature in a poisonous and nauseating compound produced by anaerobic bacteria here on earth called phosphine, Phys.org explains. Phosphine is the molecule that gives swamp gas it’s disagreeable odor and after ten years of research scientists have found no other natural means for its production other than biological processes. The chemical is distinct and detectable enough that we should be able to identify it in planets up to sixteen light years away. If we do, that will be proof positive we are not the only abode of life in the universe. JC

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has clear, easy actions you can take.
  • Most of Sarah-Hope’s list is included above, but there are a few additional items.
  • Rogan’s list is on holiday, but the December 19 edition has numerous, quick opportunities to speak up.
  • Chrysostom has an excellent roundup of election news and gossip.

News You May Have Missed: December 15, 2019

The documents obtained by the Washington Post are what Danny Sjursen, a US Army strategist who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has called “the Pentagon Papers of our generation.” The Post’s devastating six-part series reveals the many failures of the war in Afghanistan; we hope their coverage will stay on the radar amidst the din of impeachment news. See the story below.

Heather Cox Richardson had a chilling piece December 14 on how the Republican party became what it is today. Don’t miss it!

Rogan’s list this week is a special impeachment edition. On the site are many opportunities to support voters, challenge corruption, and show up at a pre-impeachment rally.

Plots are afoot to cut back SSI and SSDI–the two federal disability programs. Hundreds of thousands of people could be affected. Comments on this proposal are due January 31–see Martha’s list for how to respond to this and other critical policy changes.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. 18-year war in Afghanistan failed in every way. Officials knew, covered up.

The Washington Post, in a six-part series, revealed this week that the US officials knew that the 18-year war in Afghanistan could not be won, yet they continued to claim that progress was being made. In a successful Freedom of Information Act suit, the Post obtained 2000 pages of documents, records of an immense government project assessing the war. These made it evident that every element of the enterprise in Afghanistan was a failure, marked by lack of purpose and incompetence, all denied at every turn. Danny Sjursen, writing for the Nation, makes the costs of this denial clear, not only for American troops in the country, but for the country itself: “What had it all been for—the 2400 American lives lost, the trillion dollars spent? And what of the cost to the real victims—the Afghan people? More than 100,000 Afghan civilian and security force personnel have been killed thus far…” RLS

If you want to advocate for an end to this failed policy that is costing far too much in both economic terms and in terms of lives lost, addresses of appropriate committee chairs are here.

2. New immigration law proposed to address decades of injustice

Trump’s draconian immigration policies have been enacted through a multitude of new rules. Less attention has been given to the 1996 immigration law enacted during the Clinton administration that underlies the entire U.S. immigration system. According to Vox, “the ’96 law essentially invented immigration enforcement as we know it today—where deportation is a constant and plausible threat to millions of immigrants.” The 1996 law expanded the number of offenses, a significant number of them nonviolent, for which immigrants (both documented and undocumented) could be deported and made this provision retroactive. The law fast-tracked deportation for undocumented immigrants apprehended within 100 miles of a border. It also increased the number of immigrants who had to be held in detention before deportation, making access to immigration attorneys much more difficult.

A new House bill would correct the worst of these abuses. H.R.5383, “To Reform the Process for Enforcing Immigration Laws of the United States”—also known as the New Way Forward Act—would would end mandatory detention, summary deportation, local police participation in mass deportations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and criminal prosecution for undocumented entry into the U.S. It would also bar for-profit immigration jails and provide a pathway for some of those deported under the 1996 law to apply for readmission. S-HP

You can follow the Immigrant Justice Network to see how you can support this new bill. And you can write your elected representatives to urge them to support it. Addresses here.

3. Aid still illegally withheld from Puerto Rico

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) continues to withhold hurricane relief funds from Puerto Rico, NBC News reported last week. It has been three months since the HUD ignored a statutory deadline to issue a Federal Register notice detailing how Puerto Rico can use $8.2 billion in disaster relief aid appropriated by Congress through the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program. HUD continues to withhold $1.9 billion for electric grid upgrades. Puerto Ricans continue to suffer from major hurricanes that made landfall more than two years ago while HUD illegally withholds this aid. As Florida representative Darren Soto said at a press conference, “President Trump are you going to end your personal vendetta against Puerto Rico and finally do the right thing? These are Americans down on the island. Over 3.1, 3.2 million people who every day face the same indignation from your inaction, your anger against the island.”  S-HP

You can ask the Inspector General of HUD to investigate the agency’s failure to process Congressionally approved funds in a timely manner.

4. Facebook refuses to remove misleading ads about HIV prevention

People at risk of HIV can almost certainly prevent it with a daily dose of Truvada. Now, men have a new option: a one-time dose of four pills, two of them two hours before sex, one 24 hours later, and another 24 hours after that, reports Heather Boerner, writing for Medscape. (This option has not been tested in women because it is thought likely to be less effective in women.) Daily Truvada, a protocol known as PrEP, is almost 100% effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. Just last week, Health and Human Services launched an initiative to make PrEP available at no cost to people without medical insurance.

You could be forgiven for having missed this news; though it is widely available on health and activist websites, it is almost completely absent from the news. Compounding the problem, Facebook has been allowing ads which badly misrepresent Truvada. Personal-injury law firms have been running ads suggesting that Truvada has serious side effects, according to the Guardian. The ads, for example, say that Truvada causes bone damage, whereas the fact is that it can reduce bone density by just 1%. Facebook has declined to remove the misleading ads, putting people for whom HIV could be a death sentence at tremendous risk. RLS

If you want to say something to Facebook about running ads that endanger people’s lives, pertinent addresses are here.

5. Draconian anti-choice measure allowed to stand by the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has allowed to stand a Kentucky law that requires doctors to perform ultrasounds on any woman receiving an abortion and to require that such women view fetal images and listen to fetal heartbeats—none of which are medically necessary—before an abortion is performed, according to NBC News. For women in early pregnancy, the Guardian reports, those ultrasounds would have to be transvaginal–which could be significantly traumatizing for survivors of sexual assault. This court ruling emphasizes once again that women cannot depend on Roe v. Wade to protect their right to individual reproductive choice.

If you are inclined to tell your Congressmembers that they need to act now to protect women’s right to reproductive choice, you will find addresses here.

6. Border Patrol lied about treatment of 16 year old who died

Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, the teenager from Guatemala who died of the flu in Border Patrol custody, died in a holding cell where he was put instead of being taken to the hospital, as the nurse who examined him recommended. The Border Patrol said that an agent had checked on him and found him unresponsive, but in fact his cellmate discovered he was dead after he had been visibly suffering for hours. Border Patrol logs say that an agent checked on him three times in the hours before he died, but video obtained by ProPublica shows that either no one had in fact looked at him or that they had seen him writhing on the floor and not intervened. The ProPublica story also has a sketch of Carlos’ life in Guatemala, where he played soccer and was a musician. When he was little, he used to play a game of “cross the border” with his friends.

In another example of Customs and Border Protection’s laissez-faire approach to the health of asylum-seekers, doctors were arrested last week at the Border Patrol headquarters in San Diego for protesting against the policy to deny flu shots to asylum-seekers in custody, the Washington Post reported. Sixty doctors had shown up at the San Ysidro facility prepared to offer free flu shots, but were turned away. “We see this as medical negligence on the part of the US government,” Dr. Bonnie Arzuaga, one of the doctors offering vaccinations, told the Guardian. “People are being held in close confinement and usually are under a lot of physical and emotional stress … and may be malnourished and may not have access to hygiene supplies. That puts them at risk.” RLS

If you want to call for humane treatment and prompt, appropriate medical care for those in custody with ICE and CBP and an investigation into the death of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, addresses of appropriate people to write are here.

7. A new Space Force–while the war in Yemen goes on

Early on in the negotiation process, the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R.2500) included a number of important provisions: language withdrawing U.S. support for the war in Yemen, a reversal of the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, new limits on the use of toxic chemicals, and broad family leave provision. None of these are included in the compromise NDAA language worked out by the House and Senate. The new NDAA does, however, include paid parental leave for federal employees, according to the Hill, and $22 billion for the formation of a new branch of the military—the Space Force. Ro Khanna and Bernie Sanders have argued in a joint statement that “this bill does nothing to rein in out-of-control military spending, prevent unconstitutional war against Iran, limit the poisoning of Americans’ drinking water, or end the obscenity of innocent children in Yemen being killed by U.S. bombs…Congress must say no.” S-HP

If you want to advocate for the key provisions of the original House legislation and speak your mind about billions for a Space Force, addresses of your members of Congress are here.

8. What happened to the Emoluments Clause?

The New York Times has pointed out that, while the Constitution forbids the president from profiting off the office by accepting “emoluments,” Trump continues to own his hotels, allowing politicians, lobbyists and foreigners to enrich him and curry favor with him by staying there. According to New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt, who notes eight areas in which Trump could be impeached, “[t]he Democratic-controlled House has done an especially poor job of calling attention to this corruption. It hasn’t even conducted good oversight hearings—a failure that, as Bob Bauer, an N.Y.U. law professor and former White House counsel, told me, ‘is just astonishing.’” S-HP

You can ask the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate the probable violations of the emoluments clause.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Protests in Iran result in many deaths, injuries, arrests

Protests in Iran triggered by an increased in fuel prices have resulted in over 200 deaths and hundred more people injured, according to Foreign Policy. The United Nations has said that authorities are “shooting to kill” protestors, CNN reports. 7000 people have been arrested. Because of the internet blackout imposed by the government, family members in the US have difficulty getting information. City on a Hill press quoted an Iranian international student as saying, “…I don’t know what my classmates and friends are up to. I don’t know how many of them have been arrested. These are people that I’m close to, people that I grew up with and went to school with for years. These are students just like us that have been arrested protesting universities, these are working people just like us. They need to have their voices heard.”

The sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Iran have brought intensifying stress to its citizens, for whom everything from food to energy is more expensive. More sanctions against Iranian transportation companies were announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the 11th, the New York Times reported, allegedly for transporting nuclear material. The US imposed sanctions after it withdrew from the nuclear pact with Iran, even though “nuclear experts said earlier this year that Iran was complying with the agreement and had not been working toward building a nuclear warhead,” according to the Times. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. New sustainable substance can treat stormwater runoff 

Storm water runoff is a potential resource for increasingly thirsty cities, but contamination issues have restricted its use and raised concern about groundwater becoming tainted. Water that used to recharge aquifers is now collected along hard surfaces in cities and drained away from the soil into waterways, literally draining away a vital resource. Now researchers at the University of California Berkeley, publishing in Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, have developed a sand coated with a natural nontoxic coating that can remove two different classes of contaminants, Phys.org explains. The sand, which is simply ordinary sand, is coated with manganese oxide which is found naturally in soils everywhere. When water percolates and filters down through the sand, the coating removes both heavy metals and organic chemicals such as Bisphenol A (BPA), and can then more safely be allowed into the water table to be “stored” for use in drier times. JC

11. Genetic testing shows we were the culprit

The USA’s only native parrot, the Carolina parakeet, went extinct in 1918, with the last example dying in the same cage as the now-extinct passenger pigeon just four years prior. They were beautiful green and yellow birds that lived in large social groups in wetlands and riversides. Parrots are known for their intelligence and the Carolina parakeet was no exception; accounts tell of birds coming to the aid of injured or distressed members of their flock and remaining around their dead. Sadly, this intelligent behavior just allowed people to kill them more efficiently and a recent study shows that it is almost certainly people who are responsible for their extinction, the National Geographic explains. A known quality of distressed species is a lack of genetic diversity. Species barely hanging on in their habitats go through repeated depopulation events which reduce genetic diversity. Healthy species tend to have more diversity in their genome and a recent study by an international group of researchers published in the journal Current Biology shows that the genome of the Carolina parakeet was varied and healthy before its precipitous decline. In fact, their genome was more varied than many extant species with healthy populations. Without evidence of population pressure on the genome, or records of a catastrophe *other* than human hunting, the only conclusion is that we are solely responsible for the loss of the species. JC

12. EU eliminates or significantly cuts single-use plastics

In October, the European Union Parliament passed strict regulations for single use plastics, according to Forbes. Plastic items for which there are appropriate replacements would be fully eliminated by 2021. Other plastic items, such as some kinds of food packaging, for which there are currently no replacement would have to be cut by 25% by 2025. Also by 2025, a minimum recycling rate of 90% would be put in place for beverage bottles and cigarette butts would have to be reduced by 50%, moving up to 80% by 2030. S-HP

The U.S., too, could eliminate single-use plastics. Tell your elected representatives.

13. Cyanide bombs endanger wildlife, pets–and people.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reauthorized the use of M-44s, also known as “cyanide bombs,” despite overwhelming public opposition to their use, according to the New York Times. Several states–among them Oregon, Idaho and Colorado –have banned them. M-44s are used to kill coyotes, dogs, foxes, and other wildlife perceived to be a threat to livestock. The devices first lure animals to food-baited traps, then release cyanide directly into their mouths as the animals eat. As the Center for Biological Diversity points out, M-44s are a threat to endangered animals like grizzly bears, lynx, and wolves. These devices also kill pets and, in one instance, injured a child. S-HP

You can ask the chairs of appropriate committees to ban the use of cyanide bombs.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist offer quick, easy ways to advocate for free lunches for children who need them, fair treatment for asylum-seekers, legalization for farmworkers, and much more.
  • Incredibly, it’s week 161 since the world turned upside down. To keep track of everything that has happened, take a look at The Weekly List of not-normal actions.
  • Many of Sarah-Hope’s action items are included above, but if you’d like to work from the whole list, you can find it here.
  • See Chrysostom’s comprehensive collection of election news here.