News You May Have Missed: December 8, 2019

In these difficult days, when news stories are falsified and facts are contested, it is a great gift to find news sites with integrity. Some you may have missed:

The Daylighter, which runs in-depth stories not easily accessible elsewhere. Their piece on human rights abuses by anti-poaching activists affiliated with the World Wildlife Fund is harrowing.

ColdType reprints articles that you might very have missed from around the world–December’s issue has a piece on the British journalists who are serving as a cheering squad for Boris Johnson, the role of the U.S military during a climate catastrophe, the spread of nuclear weapons worldwide–and more. Subscriptions are free.

The North Star, originally launched by Frederick Douglas in 1847 and relaunched by Shaun King and Benjamin Dixon last year, has a solid round-up of news affecting marginalized communities.

If you’re on the Central Coast of California, don’t miss Voices of Monterey Bay. They have great coverage of local politics and culture; in November they did a particularly good piece on the path to legal residency for farmworkers.

Haven’t gotten around to reading the Mueller report yet? The Washington Post has an illustrated version–on-line and in print.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. DHS intended to separate five times as many families as they did–knowing they had no way to track them

When the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) began to separate families at the border, they knew that they lacked the technology to track individuals—technology that would be essential to familial reunification. They also intended to separate five times as many families as they did, according to the DHS’s own Inspector General, according to NPR. This new report notes that more than 5,000 children were separated from their parents under this policy, that the program cost nearly $1 million taxpayer dollars in overtime work, and that the practice persisted, even after an executive order was assigned to end the practice in June 2018. S-HP

To speak up about the separation of families, you can write the acting Secretary of Homeland Security and your elected representatives.

2. Army lieutenant’s mother deported; new bill would protect family members

Rocio Rebollar Gomez, mother of US Army 2nd Lieutenant Gibran Gomez, was ordered to self-deport to Mexico in 30 days after the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) denied her deferred action protections offered to family my members of service members, veterans, enlistees, and their families, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. The program is entirely at the discretion of USCIS.

A bill introduced by Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) in November, Military Times reported, would protect the policy and require the secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs to sign off on deportation plans,. It would also prevent the Trump administration from acting on rumors that they intended to terminate the deferred action program. According to reporting from 2018 (Military Times), the Trump Administration is denying significantly more requests from veterans and their dependents for protection from deportation than the Obama Administration. JM-L

You can speak up about the deportation of veterans and family members of active service members. Addresses are here.

3. Department of Education refuses to forgive student loans for disabled borrowers

Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education continues to excel at denying loan forgiveness to qualified applicants. One loan forgiveness program, intended to benefit those who go into public service, has denied relief for 99% of applicants, according to Salon.com. The Department of Education has also failed to provide information about and to approve loan forgiveness for disabled applicants. As WNYC explains, “For over half a century, student loan borrowers… with a significant, permanent disability… have been protected by federal law. If they can no longer work enough to support themselves, they can ask the U.S. Department of Education to erase their debts.”

This year, the Department of Education told Congress it had forgiven loans for 40% of eligible borrowers. In fact, an NPR investigation found that between March 2016 and September 2019 only 28% of eligible borrowers had received or were on track to receive loan forgiveness. Student loan debt, which currently tops $1.5 trillion, is the second largest source of consumer debt in the United States, exceeding both auto loan and credit card debt, according to Forbes. The only type of debt larger than student loans is mortgages. S-HP

A bi-partisan investigation has been launched following the NPR investigation. You can let relevant committee chairs know that you support debt relief for disabled borrowers and those in public service: addresses are here.

4. 3.7 million people will lose food stamps under new rules

The Republican administration has launched a three-pronged attack on recipients of food stamps. Prong one: A new rule stipulates that able-bodied adults between the ages of 18-49 without dependents cannot receive more than three months of food stamp assistance in any three-year period, according to the Washington Post. This rule is accompanied by new limitations on a program that allowed states to distribute food stamps more widely in areas under economic pressure or where employment is difficult to obtain. According to the administration’s own estimates, these moves would deny food stamps to 688,00 people.

Prong two: A proposed rule change, not yet final, would cap the utility allowance families could deduct from their incomes when applying for food stamps—a move that would hit people in regions with extreme weather (and there are more of these all the time, thanks to the climate crisis) and people in areas with a high cost of living, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. According to the Urban Institute, this change would end food stamps for 500,000 households with children.

Prong three: a move that would require a separate application for food stamps from families who currently automatically qualify for them because of their enrollment in other state or federal programs. All told, Urban Institute figures indicate that these changes would take food stamps away from 3.7 million people. These changes were all considered and rejected by Congress during approval of the 2018 federal Farm Bill. S-HP

If you wanted to let your elected representatives know what the cost will be of these cuts in food stamps, you can write to them. Contact information here.

5. Medications seized from children at the border, doctors say

Customs and Border Protection officers have been seizing possessions, including medications, from migrants arriving at the border to request asylum, according to Yahoo News. This issue is now the subject of an article in Pediatrics, the official publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which calls the practice both “prevalent and underreported” and “a human rights violation.” Further reporting by Reuters, based on the Pediatrics article, recounts the story of two pediatricians who treated children arriving at their hospital in part because their asthma medication, albuterol, had been seized by CBP officers and neither returned nor replaced. These pediatricians, Drs. Noy Halevy-Mizrahi and Ilana Harwayne-Gidansky are calling on physicians to report similar cases to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Information Center, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and the DHS Office of the Inspector General. They also write “pediatricians should feel empowered to work with representatives in Congress and their local districts” to address this practice by CBP. S-HP

If you think that the Border Patrol should not be taking medications from children, you can write them here–and ask your members of Congress to investigate.

6. Senate waters down Violence Against Women Act

The Senate is playing a little game of presto-change-o with important implications for women. Instead of taking up the House-passed renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, H.R.1585, the Senate has drafted their own “alternative” version, S.2920. The Senate version strips essential protections including a provision which would preclude individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanor stalking and/or domestic abuse crimes from purchasing guns. S.2920 also removes provisions for preventing discrimination against LGBTQ people in shelters and strips protections for Native American women, according to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. S-HP

You can tell your Senators you want them to pass legislation with all the protections included in H.R.1585, not the watered-down S.2920.

7. LGBTQ information deleted from government websites

Researchers tracking changes on government web sites have found that over half of these sites have “had significant alterations to LGBTQ-related terms” according to the Web Integrity Project (WIP), which is overseen by the Sunshine Foundation. The changes to and erasure of content began hours after Trump’s inauguration. According to the Sunshine Foundation, “examination of key case studies…identified two key trends: the removal of access to resources about discrimination protections and prevention, especially for transgender individuals, [and] the removal of resources containing LGBTQ community-specific information.” This reduction of information has been observed on government-supported web sites in the areas of health, labor, education, and housing. As an example, WIP’s co-director, Rachel Bergman referenced the Center for Disease Control (CDC) web site, which has replaced “LGBTQ” with “LGB” and deleted transgender statistics from multiple Youth Risk Behavior Surveys. The Department of Labor has removed information about the protection of federal contractors from gender identity-based discrimination. The Department of Education’s Civil Rights website has removed information on the rights of transgender students. S-HP

If you want to call for a congressional investigation of these changes that obscure basic information needed by LGBTQ Americans, here is where to find your representatives.

8. Park rangers sent to the border–despite staff shortages in national parks

Despite staff shortages in the national parks, the Trump administration has insisted that park rangers be sent to the border to assist with enforcement. With a 20% drop in staffing since 2011, there are only 1,800 law enforcement rangers responsible for the safety of the 320 million visitors to the nation’s 419 national parks, according to USA Today. There already are 20,000 border patrol agents. Trump issued the order after the House refused to authorize funding for Trump’s border operations; he had requested 18.2 billion, which included 5 billion for the wall. 

The park rangers are untrained and unaccustomed to the desert. “If the goal is to secure the border, these rangers aren’t going to be it,” Laiken Jordahl, a former park service contractor who now works for the Center for Biological Diversity, told USA Today. “One hundred percent, it’s a publicity stunt that has very real consequences for the national parks across the country. It’s totally clear it’s putting a strain on already limited resources. … That doesn’t serve any of us.” RLS

To speak up against the reassignment of park rangers, you could write to the Secretary of the Interior and your elected representatives.

9. Bill would promote fairness in on-line political ads

Under Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, all qualified political candidates have the opportunity to purchase television air time at the same cost—the network’s lowest advertising rate. Groups running political ads are required to identify themselves in such advertising and must clarify whether the advertisement is part of a candidate’s official campaign.

None of these regulations apply on the internet. The FCC offers “guidance” on disclaimers that online political ads should include, but service providers, like Google and Facebook, can easily request exemption from this guidance, according to The Conversation. Television advertising is also expensive in comparison with online advertising. A thirty-second spot on a popular television show can cost upwards of half a million dollars. Facebook advertisements cost much less and can be targeted to specific audiences in ways television advertising cannot. The Honest Ads Act, S.1356, would ensure that political advertising on television and online be subject to the same rules. This legislation is currently with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. S-HP

To urge the Senate to take quick action on the fairness of internet ads, write the relevant committee chairs.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. Germany bans arms sales to Saudi Arabia, U.S will not

Germany has banned arms sales to Saudi Arabia and asked manufacturers to cancel orders already in place, in light of reliable reports that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) ordered the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate. Germany has also banned the 18 suspects linked to the murder from the 26 countries in the EU’s passport-free Schengen Zone (which includes France but not Britain), Axios reports.

MBS has denied responsibility for the murder, but an extensive CIA investigation found that he must have directed the killing; among the evidence is a recording from a device that Turkey had placed in the embassy where he was killed. MBS is friends with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; Trump has said that he does not want to break off relations with Saudi Arabia because the country is important in containing Iran and because he does not want to see their oil production interrupted, according to the Washington Post.

The U.S. has not banned arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite the CIA report and despite the fact that US bombs are being used against civilians in Yemen, a CNN investigation found in 2018. CNN also found that US arms sold to Saudi Arabia ended up in the hands of “al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions,” including Iranian rebels. Indeed , the U.S. sold nuclear technology to the Saudis, 16 days after Khashoggi’s death, according to the Times of London. RLS

If you think that the U.S. should follow Germany’s lead and discontinue arms sales to Saudi Arabia, you can write to your representatives at these addresses.

11. Ontario premier “proud” of cancelling renewable energy contracts

Ontario premier Doug Ford cancelled 750 renewable energy contracts last July, but only now is he acknowledging that it will cost the province 231 million dollars. Ford says he is “proud” of the action he took. He claims that the province doesn’t need power and that he is particularly pleased to be rid of those “terrible, terrible, terrible wind turbines,” the CBC reported. He expects to be refurbishing ageing nuclear power plants instead. Most of the cancelled projects were small and community-based, according to MacLean’s.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

12. The oceans are suffocating

A study released at the culmination of an international climate conference shows that the world’s oceans have lost 2% of their oxygen since 1960, the New York Times reports. That decline is somewhat misleading as the oxygenation levels vary widely in the oceans, with some tropical areas having suffered a 40-50% loss in oxygenation. Some of this may be laid at the feet of climate change, as warmer water has less capacity to carry oxygen than colder waters while other causes include agricultural runoff which fuels oxygen-sapping algal blooms. The plunging oxygen levels are also causing a disturbance in the mixing of ocean layers, with colder dark waters not becoming mixed with the warmer water needed to provide nutrients and oxygen to the deep seas. Oceans have absorbed the vast majority of waste heat as a result of climate change; these measurements reveal the impact. JC

13. Birds have been getting smaller as the world warms

A study spanning forty years done by the Field Museum in Chicago has found that birds have been getting smaller as the climate warms. Since 1978, the Field Museum has been meticulously gathering and measuring birds that die from striking buildings in flight, collecting over 78,000 of them in that time. The study focused on 52 species of migratory birds and found that over the years, birds have been getting smaller, weighing less while their wingspans have slightly increased, according to Reuters. The study theorizes that the increase in wingspan allows the lighter-bodied birds to make the strenuous migratory flights; smaller bodies also shed excess heat more easily. This is just another data point to show the profound impact the changing climate has had on America’s birds, whose populations have fallen by almost 30% since the seventies. JC

14. Bill would require stringent environmental impact reports for oil and gas leases

No new oil and gas leases could be offered on the Central Coast of California unless a new, supplemental environmental impact report had been approved, under a new bill proposed by Rep Jimmy Panetta (D-California). As Panetta’s website puts it, “the review must consider potential impacts on air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, groundwater, surface water, seismicity, wildlife and plant species, low-income communities, communities of color, and indigenous communities.” The bill, called the Central Coast Conservation Act, was drafted in response to the Trump administration’s insistence on opening up 720,000 acres in central California to oil and gas exploration.  As the San Francisco Chronicle explained, up to 37 new wells could be drilled, adding to the 110 already in operation on federal land, and 18,200 wells on private and state land. The state has not withheld approvals of oil and gas drilling. .

The Center for Biological Diversity has sued the Trump administration over the policy to open up public land to drilling, arguing that the administration had not considered the dangers to groundwater and the possibility of earthquakes caused by fracking. As Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, put it, “Oil and gas extraction is a dirty, dangerous business that poisons our water, kills wildlife and worsens the climate crisis. It’s reckless and illegal for Trump officials to open our public lands to oil companies without considering the human and environmental costs. We’re taking them to court to keep this planet livable for our kids.” RLS

If you want to thank Panetta for introducing this legislation and urge your representative to support it, here are addresses.

15. Possible protections for humpback whales

Parts of the waters off California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska would be protected Distinct Population Zones for humpback whales, if a rule proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) goes through. Comments on Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: Critical Habitat for the Central America, Mexico, and Western North Pacific Distinct Population Segments of Humpback Whale can be submitted through January 32. The good news is that, if this rule is adopted, humpback whales will receive addition protections for specific pods whose small size puts them at risk. The bad news is that NOAA has left lots of wiggle room in this proposal. To quote from background information provided by NOAA, “Based on consideration of national security and economic impacts, we also have proposed to exclude multiple areas from the designation for each DPS.” In other words, “we’re protecting this habitat, except when we don’t want to—including when there’s money to be made.” S-HP

You can comment for the public record on these new protections for humpback whales–and speak up about the exclusions.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has a list of organizations to support and clear. focused actions to take.
  • If you’re in a postcard writing mood, see Sarah-Hope’s entire list for actions and addresses.
  • Martha’s list has many opportunities to comment for the public record. And as we noted last week, stunningly few people comment, so your comment will have proportionately more weight than you might think.
  • Rogan’s list has numerous recommended action on climate, immigration, healthcare and more.
  • Our colleague Chrysostom has a full election round-up, weekly and then some. This time he remarks on how the first people to have endorsed Trump seem to have been indicted, points out some scary news on election security, and provides important state-level information.
  • Don’t forget to read Heather Cox Richardson this week. Her nightly commentary on events in Washington make sense out of the chaos.

News You May Have Missed: December 1, 2019

We’ve tried to include as many opportunities as possible to speak out on issues in the news; as we noted last week, many of those opportunities are missed. Thus, your voice has more weight. For example: Last week we told you about the government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Guatemala and other Latin American countries; only seven comments about the plan had been received as of November 29. Comment online before December 12 here.

Though most news stories have been grim and are becoming more so, there has been some good news as well. The coal miners who blocked train tracks for six weeks in Kentucky were finally paid at the end of October, according to the New York Times, though negotiations over health care and retirement payments are ongoing.

Although the Senate has thus far refused to reauthorize the Violence against Women Act, as we’ve noted previously, it did allocate funds to investigate the patttern of missing and mudered Indigenoous women, according to KTOO radio in Alaska.

And not only was Scott Warren–a geography teacher and volunteer with No More Deaths/ No Más Muertesacquitted in his second trial for providing water, shelter and directions to refugees walking through the Arizona desert, but a district judge acknowledged that his efforts to save lives were protected by the principles of religious freedom, one of the first times that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was used in favor of someone on the left, the Huffington Post reported.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Humanitarian crisis for 11,000 refugees in Matamoros, Mexico

Asylum-seekers at the Matamoros camp just over the US-Mexico border are enduring unsanitary and hazardous conditions. In extensive reporting, the AP documented persistent smoke from fires burning human waste, a scarcity of potable water, only e. coli-contaminated river water for bathing and washing clothes, and waste leaking in puddles outside toilets. The AP noted reports from Doctors Without Borders that during 178 medical consultations held over three weeks in October, health concerns treated included diarrhea, hypertension, diabetes, psychiatric conditions and asthma—and that over half of those treated were under the age of fifteen. As of October 1, over 11,000 asylum seekers had been redirected from the U.S. to the Matamoros camp. Helen Perry, a nurse practitioner and Global Response Management’s operations director, warns that “Speaking from having seen other humanitarian crises in the world, this is one of the worst situations that I’ve seen. It is only going to get worse, and it is going to get worse rapidly.” S-HP

If you want to speak up about conditions at the Matamoros camp, here are some addresses.

Latinas earn 53 cents for every dollar earned by white men

Recent reporting by Fortune highlights the ongoing gender pay gap. Women earn eighty cents on the dollar in comparison with men. As Fortune points out, some women are even more severely impacted by this gap. In 2017, for example, Latinx women earned just fifty-three cents on the dollar in comparison with white men, and this number has been dropping since 2013. It has been more than 200 days since the House passed the Bipartisan Paycheck Fairness Act, H.R. 7 that would make sure women and men are paid equally, but in the Senate this legislation has not yet been assigned to a committee, the first step toward a vote of the full Senate. S-HP

If you want to take action on the gender pay gap, you could write your Senators to press for consideration of H.R.7.

National parks would be privatized under new rule

National park campgrounds would be privatized under a proposed federal rule, “Federal Acquisition Regulation: Recreational Services on Federal Lands.” The rule would then extend similar privatization to the Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation. The rule would allow electrification of campgrounds via expanded utilities, food trucks and camp stores within parks, and blackouts and restrictions on senior admissions discounts, according to the Western Values Project. These changes will incentivize profit over conservation, benefitting wealthy investors, while raising costs and reducing opportunities for ordinary Americans to enjoy our country’s natural beauty. As of November 29 only three comments had been received on this proposal. Comments can be submitted through December 20. S-HP

Information on how to comment on the proposed rule to privatize national parks is here.

Huge Facebook site reveals law enforcement’s complicity with ICE

California is a sanctuary state, under the California Values Act, which went into effect in 2018. Among other things, that means that the state’s law enforcement officers are prohibited from making use of an individual’s immigration status as the sole justification for stopping, investigating, or arresting that individual. In addition, state law enforcement officers are prohibited from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers seeking to arrest and deport individuals solely on the basis of their immigration status.  The Appeal, a criminal justice newsletter, has reported on a 12,000-plus member Facebook group on which California law enforcement officers brag about the refusal to comply with sanctuary law and their cooperation with ICE in the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants. “There’s ways around stupid-ass liberal state policy,” noted one member of the group. Another described what was essentially an ongoing exchange with border patrol officers, in which state police who turned over individuals with uncertain immigration status were rewarded with boxes of ammunition. The group page also refers to the Governor of California as “Gavin Nazisom.” S-HP

You can ask California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate these activities and other violations of sanctuary laws by state law enforcement: 1300 “I” Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 952-5225.

The “right” to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people to be enshrined in federal rule

Faith-based organizations’ “right” to deny services to LGBT individuals could take precedence over those individuals’ right to be treated in a nondiscriminatory manner. A proposed federal rule, “Office of the Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources; Health and Human Services Grants Regulation,” would “align” grants with “new legislation, nondiscrimination laws, and Supreme Court decisions,” which sounds sensible until one discovers whom these “alignments” would privilege.

A significant portion of federal healthcare spending on human services is provided not by the government itself, but by providers receiving grants from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Logic would dictate that such federal spending should honor the concept of separation of church and state as embodied in the First Amendment, but the current administration apparently wants to allow church-state crossover to become easier. According to the Bay Area Reporter, “Sharon McGowan, legal director for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the proposed grant rule ‘rolls back critical protections against discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion, and in doing so, puts at risk some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, including LGBT people who are poor or experiencing homelessness; LGBT seniors and LGBT youth in out-of-home care, including foster children in need of loving families; people living with HIV; and many others.’” Comments are due by December 19 and must be made electronically “because of staff and resource limitations.” S-HP

You can comment on this proposal which would undermine the right to be free from religious discrimination in favor of here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

Greenhouse gas emissions increasing in China, US

Greenhouse gases are continuing to rise, with catastrophic consequences predicted, according to a new U.N. report on the climate crisis. The Emissions Gap Report points out that greenhouse gas emissions will need to fall by 7.6% each year between 2020 and 2030 to attain the 1.5 degree temperature rise goal from the Paris Climate Agreement.  Emissions from the United States and China have increased, according to the New York Times. The report comes as world leaders prepare to meet in Madrid to discuss how to implement provisions of the Paris Climate Agreement–from which the US has begun to withdraw. Though the report is grim, there are a few hopeful signs. The climate has not warmed as much as it would have if current climate policies had not been in place. Coal emissions have dropped and renewable energy is increasing. Still, countries such as Canada intend to reduce their own emissions while selling fossil fuels to other countries, a contradictory policy undercutting the climate goals to which it is committed. Alden Meyer, director of policy and strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists told the Times,  “We are sleepwalking toward a climate catastrophe and need to wake up and take urgent action. RLS

The “Tomb” in the Marshall Islands leaking plutonium

Leaks in the cement dome which houses 3.1 million cubic feet of radioactive waste–including lethal plutonium–on the Marshall Islands are due to rising oceans, the Los Angeles Times reports. From 1946 to 1958, the United States tested 67 nuclear bombs on the islands; the fallout rained down on the islanders and and then buried the resulting waste–including waste from biological weapons testing and radioactive material from the Nevada Test Site–in the dome, called “the Tomb.” The soldiers who bulldozed the waste into a crater to house it and then sealed it with cement to form a dome were not issued protective equipment and have since developed cancers of various kinds. 

The islanders, too, suffer cancers, birth defects, and the stress of displacement, from having had to leave the site of the testing–immediately afterward for other islands with an inadequate food supply, in recent years for the U.S.–according to a 15 month investigation by the Times. They were not told that biological testing had been conducted, nor that waste from the Nevada test site had been buried in the Tomb. Three years after the testing, the islanders were encouraged to return to Rongelap, one of the islands where the bombs were dropped, so that researchers could study the effects of radiation on humans. A study by Columbia University found that parts of the Marshall Islands are still more radioactive than Chernobyl. 

The U.S. pays compensation to the islanders, but not nearly what a tribunal established by the U.S. and the Marshall Islands has said should be paid. And now that the “Tomb” is leaking radioactive waste and lethal plutonium into the Pacific, the U.S. has said it is the responsibility of the islanders to deal with it. As Hilda Heine, the president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told the LA Times, “We don’t want it. We didn’t build it. The garbage inside is not ours. It’s theirs.” RLS

Polluting power plant supported by new policy

Coal power plants are responsible for 30% of all toxic pollution dumped into surface waters. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), under new proposed rules, that percentage could be much higher. While the title may sound snooze-worthy, the proposed government rules change called “Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category” will have a huge impact. Under this proposal the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would relax waste standards for coal-fired power plants, a rollback of Obama-era regulations on water pollution and waste management that could help struggling coal plants stay in operation. It would also roll back an Obama administration regulation outlining the types of technology that coal-fired power plants must use to capture and treat the wastewater that flows out of their facilities. John Devine, the NRDC’s director of federal water policy, explains “The EPA’s proposal would expose millions of people to a toxic brew of mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium—pollutants that can cause neurological disorders and cardiovascular disease and increase the risk of cancer.” As of November 29, only thirty-one comments had been filed in response to this proposal. Comments are due by January 21, 2020.

To argue against the relaxing of standards for coal-fired plants, use the commenting site here.

Mining in the Alaskan rain forest

Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the world’s largest remaining temperate rain forest, would be open for mining, logging, energy extraction, and the road-building that accompany those activities, if a proposed rule change goes through. Called “Special Areas, Roadless Area Conservation: National Forest System Lands in Alaska,” it would exempt Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The proposal is open for official comments through December 17. Not only would the proposed rule change lead to deforestation of a key part of the global ecosystem, it would also enable continued reliance on fossil fuels at a time when we need to be developing sustainable energy options, Slate reported. Unlike many other proposed rules changes, this one has garnered a great many comments (27,522 as of November 29), probably because there are big profits to be made destroying wilderness. S-HP

If you want to advocate for the preservation of the Tongass National Forest, you can do so here.

Seismic blasting lethal to beluga whales

Since September, the government has permitted nighttime air gun blasting in Cook Inlet, Alaska, home to beluga whales. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Beluga whales are vulnerable to many stressors and threats, including pollution, habitat degradation, harassment, interactions with commercial and recreational fisheries, oil and gas exploration, disease, and other types of human disturbance such as underwater noise.” All beluga populations are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and those of Cook Inlet are supposed to receive special protections because of the small size of that breeding population. Air gun blasting, which is used for oil exploration, can be heard for miles and reaches volumes up to 250 decibels (for comparison, a loud rock concert might reach a level of 120 decibels). During the first two weeks of air gun blasting at Cook Inlet, four beluga—a bit over one percent of the Cook Inlet population—washed up dead. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Cook Inletkeeper have filed suit to end air gun blasting in the area. S-HP

To express concern about how air gun blasting undermines protections for Cook Inlet belugas, there are various administrators and committee chairs you can write to.

RESOURCES

  • Chrysostom has a comprehensive round-up of elections news, interwoven with some oblique Bloom County references.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list includes ProPublica’s list of thirty-one examples of the ways the current administration is systematically undoing guarantees of rights for LGBTQ Americans, as well as some California-specific items.
  • Martha’s list offers further opportunities to comment–including on proposed changes to Medicare and Medicaid, plus an extension of time to comment on student workers ability to unionize–and much more.
  • Rogan’s list has further opportunities to comment, in addition to other actions you can take to promote the ACA, work against conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth, protect abortion rights, and much more.
  • Heather Cox Richardson’s analysis for December 1 posits a reason why Trump does not want to be impeached. It’s not obvious.

News You May Have Missed: November 24, 2019

Many of our action items suggest that you comment for the public record on the many proposals–most deliterious, a few beneficial–made by this administration. As Martha, who sorts through the opportunities to comment and presents the most significant each week, points out, many of the draconian policies carried out by the administration originate in rule changes that tend to fly under the radar. You may think that your comment will have minimal impact or that it will be overrun by bots. But comments are used in court cases when policies are challenged, and they can have significant weight in the decision-making process, depending on how many have been received. The proposal to expand the habitat for endangered orcas, for example, has received only 48 comments so far (see our final story).

Heather Cox Richardson had some excellent advice on Saturday on how to ascertain what is true in the ongoing drama in Washington. Check out her daily column, Letters from an American.

If you would like to thank those who testified under such duress in the impeachment hearings, Sarah-Hope’s list has all the names and addresses (scroll half-way down).

We also recommend Foreign Policy in Focus; put into the search box any region of the world you are interested in and you can get a wealth of current and historical information. This week we suggest you look at Conn Hallinan‘s reflections on the status of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and who really has an unauthorized nuclear program.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Asylum-seeker sent to Guatemala

The first deportee under a new program was sent to Guatemala on November 21, according to Reuters. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has initiated a program that will send asylum-seekers who reach the U.S. from El Salvador and Honduras to Guatemala, which has been named a “safe third country.” Selected asylum-seekers from El Salvador and Honduras will be interviewed by asylum officers who will determine whether they are eligible for deportation to Guatemala. These interviewees are not allowed legal representation. The designation of Guatemala as “safe” seems disingenuous, given “the high murder rates, tiny asylum system and weak rule of law in that nation,” as Reuters put it. U.S. Advocates and asylum officers have told BuzzFeed News that “the unprecedented plan lacks legality, organization, and will lead immigrants to be placed in dangerous circumstances.” S-HP

You can speak up about this new policy to the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security and your elected representatives: addresses are here.

2. Gag rule for immigration lawyer before the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear United States v. Sineneng-Smith, a case with huge implications regarding immigration-related free speech. Under one provision in the vast body of immigration law, encouraging an “alien” to reside in the U.S. without legal status is punishable under law. The case originated with an immigration lawyer who was convicted of fraud—and also convicted under the “encouragement” clause, the New York Times explains. If this law is upheld, the consequences may be enormous. As Manny Vargar, Senior Counsel for the nonprofit Immigrant Defense Project in New York City explained to Slate, “an undocumented person who marries a citizen can adjust her status to lawful, but if she leaves the United States, she won’t be permitted to come back. Advising that client to stay would be an important part of representing her—but also potentially a felony” under the encouragement provision. In its most extreme interpretation the law could also criminalize things like tweets in support of undocumented individuals living in the U.S. S-HP

If you want to suggest to your members of Congress that they get out in front of the Supreme Court on this issue, their addresses are here.

3. Rule change would deprive asylum-seekers of work permits

Most asylum-seekers would be completely unable to receive work permits while in the U.S. awaiting the results of an asylum request, under a new rule proposed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS claim is that providing work permits for asylum seekers encourages fraudulent asylum claims from those simply hoping to acquire work permits, but who do not face any threats in their home countries. This proposed rule change, “Asylum Application, Interview, and Employment Authorization for Applicants,” is open for official comments through January 12. Note that the comment page for the change in asylum work permits has had 10,000+ page views, but only 104 comments. S-HP

If you want to post a public comment on asylum-seekers’ access to work permits, here is how to do so.

4. ICE tries end-run around California legislation

This fall the California Legislature passed legislation that will make California the first state in the nation to phase out private immigration detention centers, barring new construction and contracts beginning January 1, 2020, and phasing out all existing facilities by 2028. Governor Gavin Newsom signed this legislation, AB-32, on October 11. The four private immigration detention facilities currently operating in California hold some 49,000 detainees—8% of those in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody nation-wide. All four of the detention centers have contracts that expire at the end of 2020, which suggests that California could move out of the private immigration detention business very quickly.

ICE, however, appears to be engineering an end-run deliberately intended to avoid the effects of AB-32, according to the LA Times. Five days after Newsom signed AB-32, ICE solicited bids for four California-based immigration detention facilities. Interestingly, the specifics for these facilities are an almost exact match in terms of size and location with California’s four existing facilities—and the ICE solicitation says it will not consider proposals that would require new construction. ICE has indicated that it intends to sign contracts with at least three companies. The initial contract length is five years, with two optional five-year extensions. If ICE completes these contacts before January 1, that means California could have a significant presence of private immigration detention centers through AB-32’s 2028 moratorium for all such facilities. S-HP

If you don’t think ICE should circumvent California law, you can write to various elected officials and representatives.

5. No flu vaccine for detainees

Concerned about a potential flu epidemic among migrants in immigration detention centers which could spread nationally, a group of physicians offered to provide free flu shots to detainees in the San Isidro processing and detention facility. According to NBC News, the doctors also said that they could call on a network of physicians nationwide who would make sure that those held in CBP custody are vaccinated. CBP has rejected their offer, despite the fact that during the 2018 flu season, three children–well over the death rate in ordinary circumstances–in its custody died of what were most likely flu-related complications. As the group of doctors wrote, “In our professional medical opinion, this alarming mortality rate constitutes an emergency which threatens the safety of human lives, particularly children.”  S-HP

You can advocate that detainees be given flu vaccines; here is whom to write.

6. Senate stalling Violence Against Women Act reauthorization due to provision on guns

It appears that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) may be the next victim of gun violence. The House approved a reauthorization of VAWA, H.R.1585, in April, but the bill is now stalled in the Senate. Why? Because Senate Republicans are unwilling to accept a provision that would preclude individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanor stalking and/or domestic abuse crimes from purchasing guns, according to The Hill. This intransigence fails to acknowledge the fact that according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “an abuser’s access to firearms increases the risk of femicide by at least 400%.”

The Senate version would also weaken the rights of tribal courts to prosecute non-Indigenous offenders who have assaulted Indigenous women, according to the Portland Press Democrat, which noted that “National surveys have shown that Native American women are twice as likely to have been victims of rape or sexual assault than other Americans, and that roughly two-thirds of the perpetrators of these crimes were not Native Americans.”

And–as we pointed out in September–among the crucial issues stalled by the delay in reauthorizing VAWA are the several hundred thousand backlogged rape kits that need funding to be analyzed. The kits are essential in prosecuting rapists and identifying serial rapists. S-HP, RLS

If you want to argue that guns should be kept out of the hands of domestic abusers and that the Violence Against Women act should be reauthorized, write your senators.

7. Trump pardons war criminals

In what some may take as additional proof that we’re living in dystopian times, Donald Trump has begun issuing pardons to and rescinding disciplinary measures against war criminals and those accused of war crimes, despite objections from military leaders. According to the Washington Post, “officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said some commanders have raised concerns that Trump’s move will undermine the military justice system.” And who were those receiving pardons? Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance was given a 19-year sentence in 2013 for the 2nd degree murder of three men in Afghanistan, according to the New York Times. Army Major Mathew L. Golsteyn was scheduled to be tried for the murder of an Afghan civilian. Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was demoted for posing in a photo of an Islamic State fighter’s corpse, but will now be restored to his previous rank before he retires. Now former Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer has been fired because of his objections to Gallagher’s reinstatement, NBC News reported on Sunday. S-HP

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Hong Kong bill stalled in the Senate

Pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong continue to face the daily possibility of death as they work to retain Hong Kong’s autonomous status. By Tuesday, most of the protestors had left Hong Kong Polytechnic University, according to the Guardian, but there are mixed reports of how they left. Six hundred protestors surrendered on Monday; three hundred were children and so it is not clear what consequences they will face. Another three hundred were in the hospital. Some had tried to escape through sewers and others off a footbridge. A video surfaced on IMGUR purporting to be of protestors being loaded onto trains headed for mainland China; though it has been picked up by other sources such as the Taiwan News, we have been unable to verify it.

Pro-democracy candidates in the Hong Kong Council elections appear to be headed for a “stunning victory” as of Sunday night; that and high turnout suggest widespread sympathy for the protestors, according to the New York Times.

In the U.S., the House has passed the Hong Kong Rights and Democracy Act, H.R.3289, which is intended to strengthen Hong Kong’s democratic structures and to protect U.S. interests in Hong Kong. By way of background, the British ended Hong Kong’s colonial status in 1997, and Hong Kong has since been a Special Administrative Region of China where democratic norms established during the colonial period must be allowed to remain in place through 2047. The current unrest in Hong Kong was triggered by a move by Chinese authorities to allow the extradition of residents of Hong Kong for trial in China, rather than letting Hong Kong conduct trials independently. It is now the Senate’s turn to consider H.R.3289, which would impose sanctions for any violations of Hong Kong’s autonomy by the Chinese. Mitch McConnell has not assigned H.R.3289 to a Senate committee, leaving it in limbo, with no clear path to a vote by the full Senate. Donald Trump has said he will veto H.R.3289 if he feels it interferes with his ability to conduct trade negotiations with China. S-HP, RLS

You might want to urge the Senate to speak up for Hong Kong. Write your senators.

9. “Where is my family?” Students in China cope with family members’ detention

Four hundred pages of documents detailing the plans to detain the minority Muslim population in the Chinese province of Xinjiang have been obtained by the New York Times. In particular, the documents instruct officials how to handle the questions of university students who came home for vacation in 2017 and found their families missing. Students were told that their families were in training camps, where they were sent “to study because they have come under a degree of harmful influence in religious extremism and violent terrorist thoughts.” They were instructed that their own behavior could be used against the family member. (The Times provides a translation of the entire guide for how the students were to be handled.) RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Microsoft develops ultra-long data storage medium

The archival of long-term data is expensive, in part because existing methods use storage mediums that degrade over relatively short spans of time requiring that the entire catalog be recopied periodically–a painstaking proposition. Microsoft may have solved this issue using one of the oldest materials around: glass. Using femtosecond lasers (which can write extremely small optical pixels) researchers in the U.K. etched data into glass in 3-D layers; a 2 mm thick sheet of glass can have 100 layers or more. This allows for gigabytes of data to be stored on a square of glass a few inches wide, as Ars Technica described it. Glass is extremely stable and durable; optical pixels do not degrade like magnetic storage. Addressing the read portion of the archival process, each record contains a sort of primer at the very beginning to instruct readers how to decode the rest of the data. This primer can be read using no more than a microscope and polarized light source if necessary. JC

11. Music is a universal language

Researchers at Harvard University were curious about what, if any, commonalities exist in music across cultural backgrounds. It was long thought that due to the incredible variety of musical styles and methods of making music, it would be impossible to compare musical structure in dissimilar cultures. To find out, they created two databases, one with detailed descriptions of 5000 songs across 60 different cultures and another with vocal recordings (because the human voice is the only truly shared instrutment) of four different categories of songs: lullabies, dance, love and healing. What they found is that there may be a universal musical “grammar” that all peoples build from when creating music, according to New Scientist. For example, the team found that all cultures had melodies that were structured around a base tone, a tone the song keeps returning to as a “home.” They also found that healing songs were more repetitive, while dance songs were quicker and more rhythmic than lullabies. It seems that evidence is pointing that music, like all language, is built into the human brain.  JC

12. Communities could replace fewer lead pipes under new rules

Lead can cause “profound and permanent adverse health effects” in young children, according to the World Health Organization, especially on the development of the brain and nervous system. Adults can suffer high blood pressure and kidney damage from ingesting lead, which also can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature birth. A recent New York Times article notes that of the 30,000 children exposed to high levels of lead in Flint, Michigan, some 28 per cent of them need accommodations at school.

The Environmental Protection Agency has posted a proposed rule change, “National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Lead and Copper Rule Revisions,” which is open for public comments through January 13, 2020. While the proposed rule change tightens rules for acceptable levels of lead leaching from pipes and requires better monitoring, it also reduces the required annual replacement rate communities with lead pipes must comply with, according to the Environment and Energy (E2) Law Blog. S-HP, RLS

You can post a public comment on lead pipe replacement; follow the instructions here. Note that there are only 31 comments so far! Yours will count.

13. Comment now to protect orcas

Last year the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration for failing to protect orcas along the West Coast. This has led to a proposal by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to add protections for an additional 18,000 square miles of marine habitat, including foraging areas, river mouths, and migratory pathways. The proposal is open for public comments through December 18—but only 48 comments have been received thus far. Most of these comments support the proposal; objections come primarily from the commercial fishing industry. S-HP

If you want to comment for the public record on orca habitate, here is the information on how to do so.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist always has clear, pointed suggestions for action.
  • Chrysostom posts election updates and analyses at this site.
  • Sarah-Hope’s whole list is here, including those you could consider thanking for testifying.
  • Martha’s list has numerous opportunities to comment–including on regulations involving the “migrant protection protocols” — of which “remain in Mexico” is one part. The anti-LGBT adoption/foster care proposal was published, along with a proposal to relax standards on coal ash in streams and rivers.
  • In addition to opportunities to comment (some of which we include above), Rogan’s list updates us on upcoming climate strikes, including one November 29. See the Fridays for Future map for Canadian events.

News You May Have Missed: November 17, 2019

The losses over the last three years are legion. But so are the heroes–activists, lawyers, political analysts, reporters, and ordinary people trying to survive these times. We continue to recommend Heather Cox Richardson’s nightly analyses of the day’s news. See her astonishing summary (November 16) of a speech by Attorney General William Barr–and shudder.

With her permission, we are quoting health journalist Heather Boerner‘s post on reporters: “My main gratitude right now and every day is the quality of reporting happening in news organizations right now. This is what we were all trained for, and few of us ever thought we’d see this day. Covering breaking news is an exhausting, altruistic act of self-neglect on the part of journalists.

“I guarantee you that the people reporting this news at big organizations but also at small, are not eating or eating candy bars out of vending machines, not sleeping, and on constant adrenaline and caffeine. My closest experience with this was when I was at the Santa Cruz Sentinel during 9/11, and, earlier, when I stood outside an elected official’s office in Cathedral City, California, as FBI agents ran a search warrant. I was small potatoes, and I wasn’t in the fire every day for three years the way these reporters are.

“Send them food. Send them gift certificates for massages. Send them encouraging messages. This work is demanding. Reporters’ energy levels are not a renewable energy if they are running at full speed for weeks and months on end. That’s what this administration has been.

“So my wish is that you thank a journalist today. Find a journalist’s Twitter account or Facebook, and thank them for doing this work. And if you can’t manage that, because you believe the stories of the conspiracy against a certain president, at least just shut up for a day. Reporters know what they’re signing up for, yes. But they’re also human. And they deserve to be treated as human.”

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Possible one-year amnesty for undocumented family members of veterans

ICE does not know how many veterans it has deported, nor has it followed its own policies, according to a Government Accountability Office report. On Veteran’s Day, an editorial in USA Today on the continuing deportation of veterans opens with a description of the privately funded Deported Veterans Support House, located across the border in Tijuana, and those who use its services: “Once inside, you might be greeted by veterans who are miles away from their homes and their families and denied access to the benefits they earned, need, and are still eligible for under the law…. These brave men and women have protected our freedoms and swore an oath to defend our Constitution against all enemies. In return, America made these recruits a promise: citizenship in exchange for service. Our government and our military have failed these veterans.”

Senator and wounded war combat veteran Tammy Duckworth spent Veteran’s Day in Mexico with some of these veterans. Along with a group of nine Democratic Senate colleagues, Duckworth has introduced the Military Family Parole in Place Act (S.2797), which is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee. This legislation would not prevent the deportation of veterans, but would allow a series of one-year amnesties for veterans’ immediate family members who are undocumented and hope to become citizens. S-HP

To advocate for an end to deportation of U.S. veterans and for their right to access veterans’ services, and/or to support the Military Family Parol in Place Act, you can write the appropriate committee chairs–addresses are here.

2. Trump would charge asylum-seekers to apply

Asylum-seekers would have to pay a $50 to apply for asylum, as well as a $490 fee for a work permit, under new rules proposed by the Trump administration. Historically, asylum seekers, who come to the U.S. fleeing persecution and life-threatening violence, are not charged fees. In fact, at the moment, only three countries charge a fee for asylum applications: Iran, Fiji, and Australia. The U.S. would become the fourth. In addition, the new rules would raise citizenship fees by more than 60%, from $725 to $1170, with even larger increases in some cases. Participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) would be charged $765, rather than $495, for renewal applications. As the New York Times reported, Doug Rand, a founder of Boundless Immigration, a technology company in Seattle that supports immigrants, described the new rules this way: “It’s an unprecedented weaponization of government fees.” S-HP

These new rules are open for public comment until December 16.

3. Labor shenanigans: Half-pay for overtime?

If your hours vary weekly and you work overtime, your employer could pay you half your hourly salary for hours over 40, not time-and-a half, under new rules proposed by the Department of Labor. The Department says it is updating “the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “fluctuating workweek” compensation method, according to Bloomberg.

This new rule on overtime is open to public comment. Here’s how to get your comment on record.

4. Graduate student instructors: They aren’t really working?

Graduate students who teach and do research at private universities would not be considered employees, under new rules proposed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The rules would treat paid work students perform in their fieldsas part of their studies, rather than as employment. This would take away the right to unionize for many, many student employees performing functions vital to universities. In particular, this would hurt graduate students, who are often responsible for a significant proportion of undergraduate courses—including all classroom instruction and grading—at most large colleges and universities. Science has the context and history of this debate. S-HP

If you want to affirm that student employees are employees and have the right to be treated as such, including the right to union representation, instructions on commenting are here.

5. No “buffer” from pesticides for farmworkers

Farmworkers will be at greater risk of pesticide exposure if new rules from the EPA reducing the size of buffer zones go through. As Bee Culture explains, “At present, a buffer zone of 25 feet is required around sprayer rigs that release large droplets more than 12 inches above the ground, and a 100-foot zone is required for aerial, air blast, and ground applications that release fine or very fine droplets as well as fumigations, mists, and foggers.” Under current regulations, buffer zones can extend beyond a farmer’s property line if spraying is being done along property borders and must be immediately halted if anyone enters the buffer zone, regardless of property ownership, according to the trade journal Successful Farming. Under the proposed change, buffer zones would end at property boundaries–but of course, pesticides do not recognize boundaries. Pesticide draft is known to be a source of illness among farmworkers, according to a 2017 article in Mother Jones, as well as among school chidren, when schools are built near agricultural fields. S-HP

If you want to go on record explaining that pesticides don’t recognize property lines, the information on how to do so is here.

6. Publishing giant Macmillan squeezes out libraries

The publisher Macmillan has instituted a new “embargo” policy regarding e-book sales to libraries, allowing for only one “copy” to be sold to each library for the first eight weeks after a book is released. The company claims, drawing on unknown sources, that 45 percent of all “reads” of their e-books are consumed for free via libraries–which they say depresses sales, Publishers Weekly reports. Libraries have responded that the change makes very little sense, pointing out that libraries traditionally spur demand for literature and as a result book sales. In an era where every consumer has a vast variety of entertainment options, theconcern is that without libraries to instill a love of reading people will simply cease reading.  JC

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Evidence that Down Syndrome may be treatable

Some of the cognitive deficits caused by Down Syndrome can be reversed with drugs, at least in mice, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California San Francisco and Baylor College of Medicine. According to their research, published in the journal Science, mice genetically engineered to have the same physiological changes as are found in humans with Down Syndrome were able to have much of their cognitive impairment reversed via a drug therapy that restored a key protein production in the brain’s hippocampus. The hippocampus is a key part of both the formation of long-term memories and learning. The protein produced in hippocampus cells is up to 39% reduced in the altered mice, and similar reductions have been found in human brains with Down Syndrome as well. It is thought that a stress response is the mechanism inhibiting protein production; the cell’s self monitoring system detects the extra chromosome found in people with Down Syndrome and in a protective measure reduces protein production. The drug therapy reduces the stress response, thereby raising protein production and allowing the treated mice to markedly improve on two memory and learning tests, UCSF reports. JC

8. EPA’s new rule would permit it to overlook research in public health policy

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be able to set aside research when making public health policy, if it decides that the public has insufficient access to the data on which the policy was based, Science reports. Especially alarming is that policy could be re-evaluated on this basis retroactively. The proposed policy–which should be open for public comment next year–is particularly aimed at policies to reduce pollution that damages health, according to the Washington Post. While public access to evidence, seems like it should be a good thing, it could compromise the confidentiality of patients and research subjects. The New York Times quoted Linda Birnbaum, who just retired as director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences , as saying, “It will practically lead to the elimination of science from decision-making.” RLS

9. Clean Water Act in danger of repeal

Under new Trump administration rules, the Clean Water Act would be effectively repealed, making it much easier for pollution to enter drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed undoing what is called “the 2015 Waters of the United States” rule, crafted during the Obama administration, as the New York Times explains. This change would drastically reduce the number of streams, headlands, and wetlands subject to clean water protections, making it easier to discharge chemicals into bodies of water without requiring a federal permit. The move would also end rules on types of ploughing, planting, and pesticide use intended to prevent dangerous agricultural runoff into bodies of water. Some of the provisions of the Clean Water Act may be protected by state law, as in California, according to the National Law Review. Official comments on this proposal are due by December 23.

If you want object to this destructive rule change and its likely effect on the quality of drinking water and groundwater, the information on how to do so is here.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist offers a number of positive advocacy opportunities.
  • If you want to systematically work through some opportunities to comment on pending rules, Sarah-Hope’s entire list is here.
  • Martha’s list provides opportunities to comment on Keystone XL, the reduction in food stamps, cuts to food stamps, fast-tracked nuclear reactors, restrictions on LGBTQ adoptions, and much more.
  • Rogan’s list also has a number of ways to speak up–about detained children, voter suppression, Stephen Miller’s white nationalism–and more.
  • Chrysostom has a comprehensive round-up of election news.



News You May Have Missed: November 10, 2019

You may have noticed that there was some rather remarkable elections news last week. Chrysostom has a full summary. Heather Cox Richardson has an excellent analysis of the elections and what they indicate about the Republican party’s strategies. She now has her nightly analyses of national political events on a website, if you’d prefer to stay away from Facebook.

Another illuminating piece is Emily Bazelton’s piece in the NY Times magazine about the battle between Congress and Trump about whether staff in the administration can testify.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. What Migrant Protection Protocols really mean

Picture this: you are an asylum-seeker from the Guatemalan highlands who speaks only Ki’che’ and who has entered the United States through a legal port of entry in Eagle Pass, Texas. As part of the Republican administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), you are immediately returned to the Mexican side of the border in Piedras Negras. You are told you must wait there until you are given a hearing date and are left to find food and shelter on your own. When your hearing date arrives in two to four months, you will travel to a “tent court” over 120 miles distant from the city in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) left you. You will “see” the judge in that court via videoconferencing. You will have no direct contact. If you don’t have a legal representative, you will be provided with an interpreter, also via teleconferencing, who will translate proceedings into Spanish, a language you do not speak. If you do have a legal representative, you will not be provided with an interpreter, so you will have to hope that attorney is fluent in your indigenous language.

In the “broadcast center” DHS attorneys who remain offscreen and have access to electronic technology. You will be subject to humiliating searches on your way into the tent-court, which sometimes have been reported to include body-cavity searches. Your legal representative will have to locate the unmarked entrance to the tent-court, will have to provide official paperwork, and then will be “escorted” by DHS guards the entire time they are in the structure, including when they need to use a bathroom. And your legal representative—unlike those DHS attorneys—will not have any access to electronic equipment, meaning they cannot do any data searches or legal research while they attend your hearing, as an attorney who has been through the process described it to the Hill. If your attorneys need electronic access for any reason, such as scheduling your next hearing date, they will be escorted out of the structure, where they can use electronic devices, then will have to go through all the admissions checks once again and be “escorted” back to the hearing room.

This entire procedure is what is known as the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), and all asylum seekers entering the U.S. through San Diego and Calexico California and El Paso, Laredo, Brownsville, and Eagle Pass in Texas are subject to MPP. As of mid-October, some 55,000 asylum-seekers have been subject to the MPP, according to VOA, which points out that a sixth city has been designated as a waiting area for asylum seekers. And the Times points out that some people have been sent back to these “cities” who have no chance at all of asylum.

An immigrant family affected by MPP and a group of organizations, including the ACLU and Jewish Family Service of San Diego, filed suit on Tuesday against the way the MPP denies immigrants access to attorneys, according to the San Diego Union Tribute. S-HP

If you want to advocate for humane treatment for asylum seekers, write to your members of Congress. Addresses can be found here.

2. DACA at the Supreme Court; Senate holds up legislation

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Tuesday on whether Trump’s decision to rescind DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. There are 660,000 people who were brought to the US as children covered by DACA–all of whom would be liable for deportation if Trump’s actions are upheld, according to Reuters.

Just a reminder—more than a year after Congressional Democrats rolled over and approved federal budget extensions in exchange for promised DACA legislation, we still have no DACA legislation in sight. In June, the House, which is now Democrat-controlled, passed the American Dream and Promise Act, H.R.6, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for two million “Dreamers,” the Washington Post reported then. That legislation is now with the Senate “under General Orders,” which is Congress-speak for “in over four months Mitch McConnell hasn’t even assigned it to a committee.”

Note that the New York Times has a moving photo essay on DACA recipients. S-HP

 If you want to remind your representatives that the U.S. is the only home Dreamers know, that they are making huge contributions to our nation, and that they need a path to citizenship now, find their addresses here.

3. Kentucky governor who lost asks for election review

Kentucky governor, Matt Bevin, trailing in the vote count in the Kentucky election last week, has questioned the election’s legitimacy and requested a recanvassing, a process by which Kentucky election officials will reprint receipts from voting machines to check for irregularities. This is a largely clerical process that is unlikely to change the outcome of the election. Under state law, if the recanvass affirms the victory of Democratic state Attorney General Andy Beshear, Bevin would have the option to contest the election, which would ask the state legislature–where Republicans have a supermajority–to investigate the election and decide an outcome. The Republican President of the Senate, Robert Strivers has said that unless the recanvass shows significant irregularities, Bevin should concede.

Bevin claims that there were “a number of significant irregularities” in the vote, although he has declined to provide evidence, NPR reports. The claim of election “irregularities” has become a recent part of the narrative around elections, although fraud is rarely found. Experts warn that this is deteriorating the public’s faith in the election process. JM-L

4. Expecting orders, USAID gives grants to Christian groups

According to ProPublica, in a November 2018 email, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) appointee explained in an email to others at the agency “we need to stay ahead of this curve everywhere lest our interventions be dictated to us.” And what “curve” would that be? The Pence-wants-you-to-reroute-aid-to-Christian-groups curve. According to a review of internal USAID communications and forty interviews with current and former foreign aid workers, Pence and his staff have “convinced key decision-makers that unless they fall in line [by redirecting grants to Christian groups], their jobs could be at stake.”

These demands fly in the face of Agency regulations that require awards “must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and must be made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization, or lack thereof.” ProPublica has noted that the most recent round of USAID grants to Iraq included grants to two Christian organizations never provided funding before: “One of the groups selected for the newest awards has no full-time paid staff, no experience with government grants and a financial tie that would typically raise questions in an intense competition for limited funds. The second organization received its first USAID direct grant after extensive public comments by its leader and allies highlighting what they described as a lack of U.S. assistance to Christians.” The moral here? It is much more dignified to violate regulations in anticipation of administration desires rather than waiting to be ordered to violate those regulations. S-HP

If you want to remind key committee members about the importance of keeping church and state separate, you can find their addresses here.

5. Dark Money could flow to nonprofits

Proposed rules changes by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would make it much easier for “dark money” contributions–that is, money from an undisclosed source–to nonprofits to remain hidden. These rules would allow anonymous donors to funnel political contributions through nonprofits. The public can comment on the rule change until December 9. The IRS has actually attempted to make these rules changes before, without the required public comment period, but were ordered by a federal judge to delay implementation until such a comment period had been allowed. In the language of the current rules-change proposal, the IRS had wanted to “reflect statutory amendments and certain grants of reporting relief announced through subregulatory guidance,” with “subregulatory” meaning “our attempt to put these rules in place without public comment.”

Currently, nonprofits are required to provide the IRS with the names and addresses of everyone from whom they received contributions worth $5,000 or more within a single tax year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The rules change would require nonprofits to collect this information, but end the obligation to report to the IRS without an agency request, making it much more difficult for that information to be accessed by state agencies charged with enforcing state-level tax regulations. As the Brennan Center explains, ultimately the IRS may implement these rules after the public comment period. Without stricter rules than the ones currently up for change being put in place, the general public will be unable to access information about the funding sources for nonprofits. S-HP

You can comment online at the Federal Register website or submit your comment at this address.

6. Whistleblower’s identity leaked by aide to Nunes

The purported identity of the whistleblower whose complaint led to the current impeachment inquiry was leaked by Derek Harvey, currently an aide to Devin Nunes (R-California) and a former member of the National Security Council (NSC), according to The Daily Beast. Harvey has provided what he claims is the whistleblower’s name to Republicans involved in the impeachment investigation, who have apparently been invoking it frequently in secret hearings in hope of its wider release, according to Salon.

While on the NSC, Harvey is reported to have compiled a list of State Department officials “disloyal” to Trump. Harvey also originated a defamation campaign against a member of Adam Schiff’s staff, claiming the staffer and the Whistleblower exchanged information before the whistleblower complaint was filed and that this proved the whistleblower’s complaint was a partisan attack. In fact, such information exchanges did not take place. “We are aware of these unsupported and false attacks on a respected member of our staff,” a senior Intelligence Committee official told The Daily Beast. “It is completely inappropriate, and we have previously urged the Republican leadership to address this situation.” S-HP

Do you think those who leak the whistleblower’s identity should be prosecuted? Write the appropriate committee chairs at the addresses listed here.

7. Domestic employees ordered to work while homeowners evacuated

During the latest round of California fires, as homeowners fled, domestic employees were expected to continue travelling into evacuation zones for their normal business of cleaning and other chores. In the wake of reports about risks undertaken by domestic workers, Frank Polazzi, of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health responded to a query by the Los Angeles Times by affirming that there is no labor code preventing a domestic employer from ordering a domestic worker to remain in a mandatory fire evacuation zone. In general, state and federal workplace safety codes requiring employers to provide safe workplaces do not apply to domestic workers. Additionally, if a domestic worker refuses to work in hazardous conditions, there’s no legal protection from retaliation, including firing. S-HP

If you want to write California’s governor about protections for migrant workers, his address is here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Mexico, too, is arresting child asylum-seekers

The U.S. isn’t the only country arresting minors attempting to enter the country to seek asylum. Mexico is also arresting minor asylum seekers in significant numbers. According to El Sol de Mexico, over the last fiscal year (October 1, 2018-September 30, 2019), during which U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested 76,000 minor asylum-seekers, Mexico arrested an additional 40,500 on its side of the border. Most of these children were from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. S-HP

You can write to the ambassador to Mexico and ask him to raise the issue of minor asylum-seekers–and to your representatives to ask them to think about the big picture of minors seeking help.

9. High levels of lead in Canadian water

33% of 12,000 households tested in Canada had dangerously high levels of lead in their water, the AP reported. Testing for lead is not mandatory in Canada, and there is no systematic record-keeping of results when tests are done. Especially in children under six, ingesting lead can cause multiple problems, from developmental delays and learning delays to gastrointestinal symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Lead in drinking water usually results from deteriorating lead pipes; cities may replace the pipes they control, but homeowners are usually responsible for the $5,000 it costs to replace the pipes from the street to the home. While running the water whenever it has sat in the pipes for more than six hours can lower lead to acceptable levels, if residents do not know that the water has lead, they will not know to run the water.

As Martha Mendoza pointed out in her piece for the AP, the presence of lead was documented not by health officials but by reporters: As she put it, the information about lead emerged from “a yearlong investigation by more than 120 journalists from nine universities and 10 media organizations.”

First Nations in Canada have even more acute water quality issues, Human Rights Watch reported in October. Though First Nations communities have raised the issue for years, there are still 56 drinking water advisories in place–that is, 56 communities in which the water is not safe to drink. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. New study shows sea level rise to be more devastating than thought

A paper published in the journal Nature Communications details how long standing projections regarding sea level rise are based on faulty data and that the real numbers are much worse. The problem isn’t the rate at which the sea is rising or the amount of melt water going into the oceans; it’s that old data about the elevation of coastal areas are incorrect and many low-lying coastal areas are even closer to sea level than previously thought. This recalculation has enormous implications for dozens of coastal cities, especially throughout Asia, and means that sea level rise will put 150 million people living below sea level at high tides by 2050, Rolling Stone explains. That is the equivalent of the entire populations of Mexico and Australia being displaced in thirty years. At a minimum, billions, if not trillions, of dollars will have to be spent in order to keep seas at bay from major cities. JC

11. New “unstickable” adhesive developed

As the demand for rare metals grow,s the need to recycle so-called “e-waste” has become increasingly important. One large barrier to mass recycling of consumer electronic items is that many of them are put together using lots of adhesive in order to achieve the thin form factor customers demand. Adhesives are a serious problem for would-be recyclers, as there is no good way to dismantle components so that their valuable metals can be processed economically. A research paper submitted to the European Polymer Journal might just provide a solution, Phys.org reports. Researchers found that by putting tiny metal particles into the adhesives and then subjecting the set glue to an alternating magnetic field, they could loosen the adhesives and allow for components to be separated. Particularly helpful is that this process seems to work across a wide array of adhesives and can easily be adopted into current manufacturing processes. JC

12. Keystone XL pipeline leaks 383,000 gallons of crude oil

The Keystone XL pipeline suffered a major leak in late October, releasing approximately 383,000 gallons of oil into North Dakota wetlands, one of a number of leaks that have occurred along the four-stage pipeline project during its construction, the Washington Post reports. Nonetheless, the State Department is accepting comments through November 18 in response to a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) regarding a new “Mainline Alternative Route” for a section of the pipeline.

While the report does acknowledge that construction would disturb sacred land (not the government’s term for it) along the Trail of Tears, it does not acknowledge that the area being “studied” has not undergone any substantial review of environmental or cultural resources in the last ten years.  That means that any new environmental vulnerabilities or new cultural sites discovered in that period have not been taken into consideration in the SEIS. Aside from the problems with the SEIS, there are ongoing concerns about leaks, the particularly polluting tar sands oil the pipeline will carry, and the role the pipeline will play in delaying our move away from fossil fuels while we are in the middle of a planet-threatening climate crisis. S-HP

You can comment on the problem of using old data to make decisions about the Keystone XL pipeline for the public record. Instructions are here.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist has clear information about quick actions you can take to make a difference.
  • If you want to use Sarah-Hope’s list for postcarding, here are all the action items together.
  • Martha’s list, which lists opportunities to comment for the public record, has some critical items this week: Several proposals on drilling in Alaska, diverting the Sacramento River, relaxing standards for dumping coal waste into rivers, and the final nail in the coffin for the Clean Water Act–along with a proposal to charge fees to immigrants/asylum-seekers.
  • Rogan’s list has a way to add your voice to that of the 11,000 scientists who declared a climate emergency this week. She also tells us how to insist that elections are secure, suggests that we advocate for impeachment, and reminds us that enrollment has opened for the Affordable Care Act. It’s important to pass the word on the ACA as open enrollment has not been advertised at all.

News You May Have Missed: November 3, 2019

Heather Cox Richardson comments on the Mueller investigation documents obtained by way of Buzzfeed‘s Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. Hundreds of pages were released last week, and batches will be released every month for the next eight years.  Last week’s documents sketch the origins of Trump’s preoccupation with Ukraine, the Trump campaign’s willingness to seek Russian help,  Kushner’s connection with a Russian billionaire. Richardson pulls all this together and includes a reflective PS on Wikileaks. 

Advocates for the humane treatment of immigrants have won some small (and possibly temporary) victories: Both the “public charge” rule–which would prevent immigrants from obtaining green cards if the immigration officials suspect they might at some point use public benefits–and the rule that required potential immigrants to show that they would have health insurance within 30 days have been blocked by judges. Court battles on both are pending.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Children leaving border camps–crossing alone

Some 50,000 asylum-seekers have been processed under the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols,” (MPP) which require them to wait in Mexico while their cases are being considered. The Intercept has a vivid description of one of the makeshift refugee camps where families are living. Now children and teenagers are leaving their families and crossing the border alone; because they are not covered under MPP, they will not be sent back. Some of their families have given up on seeking asylum and have returned to their home countries, knowing they may never see their children again. As one father told the Intercept, “I feel sad every day without [my daughter]. I feel lonely. But it was much more dangerous for her here than for either of us over there. May God forgive me.” RLS

If you want to call for an end to the Migrant Protection Protocols, you can speak up to your elected officials. Addresses are here.

2. Help for farmworkers impacted by California fires

There are both dangerous and hopeful times for California’s agricultural workers. While fire-fighters race to battle the many fires in the state, farmworkers are outside in the smoke bringing in the grape harvest—or, if the harvest has been cancelled or postponed, trying to figure out how to support families given the loss of wages. As National Public Radio explains, “Outside of the fire itself, the main health concern in wildfire conditions is smoke, which produces particulate matter, a mix of gases and microscopic pieces of solid matter…. increasing the risk of respiratory diseases and asthma, as well as heart problems. These risks lead health authorities to warn people in areas affected by wildfire to stay indoors and limit exertion. Farmworkers, an essential component of the wine country economy, along with construction workers, utility workers and many others who make their livelihood outside, can’t always take such precautions.”

The hope comes in the form of the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R.4916, which is cosponsored by 24 Democrats and 21 Republicans. The legislation took nine months to hammer out with participation from both sides of the House, farmers, and farmworkers, Vox reports. At the legislation’s introduction, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) explained, “The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. But, farmworkers across the country are living and working with uncertainty and fear, contributing to the destabilization of farms across the nation.” Republican House member Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) noted that H.R.4916 “will provide some much-needed certainty. It does so by modernizing the H-2A program, stabilizing wages, and instituting a merit-based system for agricultural workers to eventually earn legal status – but only after years of proven and consistent employment in the U.S. agriculture industry, vigorous background checks, and state-of-the-art biometric verification. It’s what the people who work to feed our country need.” S-HP

Some 38,000 undocumented people live in Sonoma County, according to Undocufund, which is raising funds to assist them. You can also ask Cal-OSHA to monitor conditions for farmworkers.

3. US abandoning responsibility for refugees

The US took in no refugees in October, abandoning its responsibilities as a world leader in this regard, Politico explains in a detailed article. The administration has set the 2020 refugee cap at 18,000, by far the lowest number since the program was established in 1980 (the previous low was 67,000 in 1986; the high thus far has been the 231,700 admitted in 1980). The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office has no overseas trips for initial interviews of refugees for the remainder of this calendar year.

When in October, the U.S. announced it would not be admitting any refugees for the month, refugees were left in limbo and some 500 flights were cancelled. The administration says the moratorium will continue through November 5. Meanwhile, transportation will need to be cancelled and rebooked at taxpayer expense for the small numbers of refugees on track to be admitted. CNN points out a United Nations Refugee Agency statement that “[t]he latest travel delays come as the humanitarian crisis in Syria worsens. More than 12,000 Syrian refugees have recently fled to shelters in the region.” Refugee admissions this year have fallen well below approved ceilings.

For example, the 2020 U.S. refugee cap allows for 4,000 Iraqi refugees to be admitted, but this past year (the federal fiscal year ends on September 30) delays and heightened vetting meant only 465 Iraqi refugees were actually allowed in. Those Iraqis are people who assisted the US during the war–translators, contractors, workers in all areas–some of whom risked their lives to do so, according to the New York Times. The Pentagon is the only voice within the administration advocating for the admission of refugees, according to NBC. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the refugee cap, some options are here.

4. Work permits extended for Salvadorans: Another quid pro quo?

The Los Angeles Times headline read “Trump administration extends protections for Salvadorans, allowing thousands to stay in the U.S.” The reality was more stark. Salvadorans with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) have been granted a one-year extension of their work permits, but no extension of their TPS status, which is the subject of litigation. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill, in Washington to sign the agreements, said Salvadorans are being given ‘breathing room’ to find a permanent solution that will eventually earn them residency or citizenship.”

Ken Cuccinelli, acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, on the other hand, said that TPS was not being extended at all. There’s also a layer of contradiction underlying the U.S. move. While the U.S. is allowing Salvadorans with TOPS to remain in the country an additional year, suggesting that conditions in El Salvador are not safe for return, it has also signed an agreement with El Salvador committing it to preventing refugees from other Central American Nations from continuing their journey to the U.S., suggesting that El Salvador is a “safe” destination for asylum-seekers. S-HP

If you want to advocate for Salvadorans to have their Temporary Protected Status preserved, write your members of Congresses–addresses here.

5. One private detention center closing, eight more opening

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been paying Calliburn $720,000 per day to maintain the Homestead Detention Center in Florida, which had held asylum-seekers, but which in fact has had its bed capacity reduced to zero, meaning it is housing no asylum seekers whatsoever. That contact will not be renewed on November 30th, which means that taxpayers will only continue paying nearly three-quarters of a million dollars a day for absolutely nothing for an additional month.

Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been building a closer relationship with Louisana-based LaSalle Corrections. ICE has paid to have eight additional immigration detention centers built in Louisiana, six of them operated by LaSalle. Vice reports on years of documented and alleged abuse at LaSalle facilities, including verbal abuse, moldy food, and indifference to inmate health. One detainee at a LaSalle facility committed suicide in October after being placed in solitary confinement. Because private detention centers are operated for profit, contactors are strongly motivated to provide only minimal—even insufficient—services to keep profits high. S-HP

If you want to speak up about private detention centers, here are some possibilities.

6. Cuts to food assistance

Funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps and in California known as CalFresh, would be cut under a Trump Administration proposal. The new proposal would change the benefits for many SNAP and CalFresh recipients based on a new calculation for household utilities. According to Forbes, “The new rules would prohibit states from expanding who is eligible for the program beyond the so-called federal baseline, which is $33,475 for a family of four—or 130% of the federal poverty level.” Through this action, the administration could force some low-income families–including veterans, according to Stripes–to choose between putting food on their table and keeping the heat on in their homes, particularly in states with high costs of living. The official comment period for this proposal is open through December 2. S-HP

To send an official comment objecting to cuts in food assistance, follow the instructions here.

7. Disabled people abandoned in power outage

Twenty disabled seniors, dependent on wheelchairs and walkers, were left in the dark in their low-income Nothern California apartment building when PG&E, the troubled California utility, shut off power to two million customers. The elevators did not work and the hallways and stairwells were completely dark, leading to falls and disorientation. The management of the building did not check on residents. The incident was covered by the AP, but only a few American news sites picked it up; the Toronto Star ran the story.

Many other people with disabilities were at risk during the outages. People with lung disease need equipment to ease their breathing; people who use insulin must keep it refrigerated. Even the call buttons some wear depend on electricity. PG&E provided tents where people could use their medical equipment and recharge their devices, reported National Public Radio, but people without transportation could not get to them. And when the power is out, even people with cars cannot get their garage doors open, the Los Angeles Times notes.

You can let California’s Governor Gavin Newsom know that seniors and disabled people need to be safe in power outages: 1303 10th Street, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841.

8. Climate left out of fire coverage

The fires in California and weather disasters in other states aren’t happening in a vacuum; climate changes are directly implicated, in part because hotter, drier weather makes trees more vulnerable to pests that kill them–and become fuel for any spark, CNN reports. The Trump administration is blocking California’s efforts to deal with the climate crisis and criticizing its firefighting. Former Governor Jerry Brown explained the problem this way, the New York Times reported: “The seas are rising, diseases are spreading, fires are burning, hundreds of thousands of people are leaving their homes. California is burning while the deniers fight the standards that can help us all. This is life-and-death stuff.”

Too often, however, reporting on fires leaves out climate, as the Columbia Journalism Review points out. As long as these are treated as isolated events, there is little impetus for systematic change to address the climate crisis.

You can let media outlets know that they need to be clear how the fires and other weather disasters are part of the climate emergency.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Bipartisan efforts to address persecution of Muslims in China

As we noted October 14, reports from China describe the detention and mistreatment of Uighur Muslims—and other Muslim groups—in China, including allegations of the internment of nearly one million Chinese Muslims, torture, systematic sexual abuse, forced abortions, and cultural reprogramming. The Uighur Human Rights Policy Act of 2016 has been passed by the Senate and is now awaiting consideration in the House.

According to the official House summary, “[t]his bill directs various U.S. government bodies to prepare reports on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic group. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence shall report to Congress on issues including the security threats caused by the Chinese government’s reported crackdown on the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province, the frequency with which other governments are forcibly returning Turkic Muslim refugees and asylum seekers to China, and the development or transfer of technology that facilitates mass internment and surveillance…. The Department of State shall report on the scope of the reported crackdown in Xinjiang, including the number of detained individuals, the use of forced labor in the region, an assessment of government surveillance in the province, and U.S. diplomatic efforts to address the crackdown.” The House legislation, H.R.649, is currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, and two of Judiciary’s subcommittees: Immigration and Citizenship and Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. S-HP

To address the situation of Uighurs and other Muslim groups, you can urge the relevant committees to act quickly on HR 649.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Measles destroys the immune system’s “memory”

With measles epidemics making a global comeback due to poor rates of immunization, scientists have been studying the disease anew and have found some disturbing new facets to the illness. In two studies conducted by Cambridge University and the Wellcome Sanger Institute, researchers sampled blood from a community of Orthodox Protestant children in the Netherlands, comparing those exposed to measles to those who had not contracted the illness. They found that the measles virus wreaks havoc on the immune system of children long after they recover from measles itself, most importantly “resetting” the acquired immunities the children had collected prior to the illness and returning their immune systems to that of babies. Alarmingly, they found that the natural antibodies that the children depend on to protect them from other illnesses plummeted, decreasing from 11 percent to as much as 73 percent after measles, Science reported. Thus, the return of the measles is a double risk, first from the initial infection and then from subsequent follow-on infections, making immunization all the more important.  JC

11. Trump administration prevents scientist from revealing dangers of PFAS

As the former head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology program, Dr. Linda Birnbaum has made a career out of protecting the public from the dangers posed by industrial chemical exposure. After recently retiring, she has revealed that she was restricted in what she was allowed to publish by Trump administration officials, who insisted she water down her language regarding the dangers posed by a group of widely used chemicals called PFAS. PFAS compounds are in many products, including fire-fighting foam, stain-resistant coatings and non-stick surfaces such as cookware, microwave popcorn bags, and fast-food wrappers. According to Birnbaum’s findings, they are associated with kidney cancer, reproductive problems, immune system issues in children, and other issues.

While opposition to her research findings is nothing new (she was at the forefront of warning the public against the dangers posed by glyphosates in pesticides such as Monsanto’s Roundup), the official pressure to moderate her language was unprecedented. In particular she was restricted from using the word “cause” in reference to PFAS, despite ample research to meet the bar for concluding causality, the Intercept reported. Instead, she was told to use “associated,” a far less alarming term in the field. Should PFAS be found in courts to have caused illnesses such as cancer, the government and industry would be exposed to billions of dollars in liabilities JC

12. Program to identify animal-to-human disease to be shuttered

Some of the most dangerous diseases we face are zoonoses, diseases that originate in animals but migrate to humans. As the New York Times explains, “The United Nations Environment Program estimates that a new animal disease that can also infect humans is discovered every four months.” These include diseases like Ebola, Influenza, and Anthrax. Disease vectors include everything from bat-filled trees to gorilla carcasses to camel barns. With airline travel, diseases like these can also move across our planet in a matter of days. For the last ten years, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has funded the Predict project to track just such diseases. Predict has identified more than 1,000 new viruses and trained some 5,000 people in Asia and Africa to conduct testing to identify viruses. Now, the federal government is shutting down Predict, one of our best hopes for early identification of emerging diseases. S-HP

You can write the head of USAID and your members of Congress about the Predict program. Addresses are here.

13. DNA to be collected from asylum-seekers, other immigrants

The administration continues to rally support (and hate) by reinforcing the “bad hombre” stereotype that Trump made famous during the 2016 debates . In fact, the crime rate for both documented and undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is much lower than it is for citizens, the New York Times reported in May. Now the administration is proposing a rule that will allow it to collect DNA from almost any asylum-seeker crossing the border at official entry points, Gizmodo reports. This new policy would supersede earlier rules that allowed DNA collection only from migrants being prosecuted for criminal offenses, according to NPR. S-HP

If you want to submit an official comment on the proposal to collect DNA from immigrants, follow the instructions here.

RESOURCES

  • Sarah-Hope’s list has the action items above along with others, including ways to address the issue we covered last week on the racism inherent in health-care algorithms.
  • Martha’s list provides opportunities to comment for the public record; the policy changes pending would undo agricultural worker, food and environmental protections, implement anti-LGBTQ foster care and adoption measures, permit border officials to delay action on asylum-seekers–and much more.
  • Rogan’s list has resources on Indigenous issues, uninsured children, voter purges and much more.
  • See Chrysostom’s comprehensive election round-up here.

News You May Have Missed: October 27, 2019

We hope that all of our California readers–and your households and animals–are safe from fire and smoke. For context on the fires, see the story on PG&E below.

Since you won’t have missed the news about Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, we simply want to recommend that you read Heather Cox Richardson’s post on the subject. She collects the troubling moments about the announcement–that the scene in the situation room was apparently staged, that Trump did not notify Congress as required by law. Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria jeopardized the whole operation, says the New York Times. Three of al-Baghdadi’s children were killed in the raid; 11 were saved.

Tune in to election issues at the federal and state level by reading our colleague Chrysostom’s posts. Other sources of information and opportunities for action are under the Resources tab and below.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Documented: Children abused in ICE custody

Children have described being beaten while handcuffed, being run over by ATVs, being bitten by dogs, being forced to strip, and being left in “icebox” rooms nearly naked for hours at a time, according to 35,000 heavily redacted pages documenting claims of Border Patrol abuse of underage asylum seekers between 2009 and 2014 obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) received after a lengthy legal battle. Public radio station KPBS reports that many of these cases have already been “resolved”—at least as far as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are concerned—though civil cases may still be pursued for some. The range of alleged abuses is deeply disturbing and presents a culture of abuse that significantly predates the current administration.

ABC News also reports that, according to the ACLU, another 1,500 children were separated from their families before the June, 2018, ruling barring the practice. When a judge ordered that all separated children be reunited with their families, the administration said that it had identified 2,814 such children. The judge also gave the administration until October 25 to release the names of any additional separated children. The new list of 1,500 children was released by the government on October 24, one day before the legal deadline. That number includes 207 children under the age of 5. CBS News also reported that the administration separated an additional 1,090 children from families since the court ordered an end to the practice, except in limited circumstances. The current number of separated children is now more than 5,400. S-HP

If you want to challenge the detention of young asylum-seekers and speak up about the conditions in which they are held, here is whom you might write.

2. Evidence destroyed in death of trans asylum-seeker

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is one of the federal agencies required to preserve evidence when it anticipates litigation. The death of transgender asylum-seeker Roxsana Hernández while in ICE custody would seem to be such a case. However, Buzzfeed News reports that according to internal emails, ICE chose to delete surveillance footage that included Hernández. What did the footage show? We don’t know—and even if it didn’t document abuse, it could have provided a valuable benchmark of Hernández’s health and physical condition in ICE detention. Lynly Egyes, legal director at the Transgender Law Center, said that CoreCivic, which ran the detention center, and ICE should have anticipated there would be a lawsuit because Hernández’s family requested an independent autopsy that was performed on June 8. “That autopsy alone made it clear there was interest in this case,” Egyes told BuzzFeed News. “When a detainee death review is conducted, it’s important to keep track of all the documents to understand why someone died, and for that reason alone, they should’ve been keeping all of this evidence.” S-HP

To call for a Congressional investigation of this destruction of evidence that should have been preserved under federal law, see this list of whom to write.

3. A million fewer children uninsured

More than one million children disappeared from Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) rolls btween December 2017 and June 2019, 3% of the children who had been insured before that period. Administration officials insist that these children have not lost health insurance, but that their parents now hold jobs through which the children are insured. However, a New York Times analysis of census data shows that “administrative changes aimed at fighting fraud and waste—and rising fears of deportation in immigrant communities—are pushing large numbers of children out of the programs, and that many of them are now going without coverage.” Some of the states with the highest drops in children’s insurance rates are those that have changed coverage rules to require more frequent checks of family eligibility or have reset their lists with new computer programs. Families who are dropped from insurance as a result of one of these checks often don’t realize their status has changed until the insurance is needed and periods for contesting removals are often brief. S-HP

If you want to raise concerns about the number of children covered by Medicaid, you can find your members of Congress here.

4. Fake pique: Republicans had access to testimony

Congressional Republicans continue to fight the impeachment investigation being undertaken by the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Government Reform Committees. In particular, Republican have been complaining about the process for the investigation, claiming that Republicans are being excluded from the process. This is simply untrue. Only members of the investigating committees are allowed to hear testimony, but as with all Congressional committees, members of both parties sit on these three committees. In fact, nearly one quarter of all House Republicans are members of one of those committees. Despite this, on October 23 a group of Republican Representatives stormed a secure room where testimony was scheduled and shut down operations for more than five hours. Eleven of those participating in this act of “resistance” were already members of one of the committees conducting the investigation and had access to the testimony. S-HP

Do you want to ask some of these Republicans what they were thinking? Here is a list.

5. Trump won’t reject “illicit offers” of help

One would think that legislation requiring federal election campaigns to report “illicit offers” of assistance from foreign entities would be a no-brainer. Such assistance is already illegal, and now the House has passed the SHIELD Act, H.R.4617 to mandate reporting. It is not clear, however, whether the Senate will even take this legislation under consideration and Trump has announced that if such legislation is passed by Congress, he will veto it. S-HP

To advocate for safe and fair elections, write your senators–addresses here.

6. Aid to Puerto Rico deliberately delayed

NBC News has reported that “two top officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development admitted at a Congressional hearing [on October 17] that the agency knowingly missed a legally required deadline that would have made desperately needed hurricane relief funding available to Puerto Rico.” That Congressionally mandated deadline would have begun a months-long process of helping Puerto Rico obtain billions in federal housing funds that had already been allocated by Congress to the U.S. territory. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had been directed to notify Puerto Rico and seventeen disaster-affected states of the available funds by September 4, so that each could begin developing methods for distributing the much-needed funding. All of the states were properly notified; Puerto Rico was not. Congress allocated approximately $43 billion in disaster funding for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Two year later, some two-thirds of that funding remains undistributed. S-HP

If you want to advocate that aid for Puerto Rico be released without further delay, here is a list of people to write.

7. California public utility implicated in fires knew its equipment was unsafe

185,000 people are being evacuated in Northern California this weekend, fleeing the uncontrolled 25,500 acre Kincade fire that has ravaged the wine country and contaminated the air for miles around, according to the Press Democrat, the best source on this ongoing story. The fire was apparently sparked by a PG&E high-voltage transformer which had not yet been shut off; PG&E, the local utility has pre-emptively shut off power to nearly a million people in light of expected high winds, according to NPR.

PG&E has known for years that its transmission lines were unsafe but declined to upgrade them, a Wall Street Journal investigation in July revealed. Some of its 8,500 miles of line as well as its towers are a hundred years old; the Journal notes that it did not even have workers climbing the towers to inspect them and that it spent money on other kinds of less critical upgrades. The state and federal regulatory system appear to have been hands-off, permitting PG&E to regulate itself. The Journal article is behind a paywall, but the Naked Capitalism blog has the story, along with comments from the U.S. district court judge who is overseeing PG&E’s probation following its conviction in other safety-related charges. As NPR points out, PG&E paid out 4.5 billion to shareholders instead of upgrading infrastructure. RLS

Undocufund is raising money to assist undocumented residents of the area, as they will not have access to federal aid.

8. Veterans Affairs retaliates against whistleblowers

A Veterans Affairs (VA) office designed to protect whistleblowers instead stifled claims and retaliated against employees, according to a recently released Inspector General report. The Washington Post reports that the VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection—created with much fanfare by Trump in 2017—was found to have “significant deficiencies,” including poor leadership, skimpy training of investigators, a misunderstanding of its mission and a failure to discipline misconduct. S-HP

You can write members of the Veterans Affairs committees–see this list.

9. Student loan system “fundamentally broken”

A senior student-loan official appointed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has resigned, reports the Washington Post. Arthur Wayne Johnson was charged with overhauling the student loan repayment system for the Department of Education, but the Washington Post now quotes him acknowledging his failure to effect the overhaul: “When … somebody has $40,000 in student loan debt and, because of forbearances or deferments and the accrual of interest, they wind up with $120,000, you have to step back and say this is fundamentally broken….You have no idea how proud I am of what we’ve done to make the existing process better … but we’re making a broken system better.” Johnson has called for canceling most of the U.S.’s student debt. S-HP 

If you want to speak up about the need for an overhaul of the student loan program, here is how.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. Led by high school students, Chileans protest inequality

The Chilean president has declared a state of emergency and Congress has been evacuated as hundreds of protestors stormed the grounds, the Guardian reported on Sunday. As many as a million people have been demonstrating in Santiago over the last week, as well as in cities all over the country.  Human rights observers say that 2000 people have been arrested and more than 500 have been injured in the protests; 19 people have died. Not only has there been a massive military response, but the Guardian reports that masked men are shooting protestors. In contrast to President Pinera’s decision to escalate enforcement against the protests, most of the protestors have been peaceful, according to Al Jazeera, demonstrating by banging on pots with cooking spoons, a tradition called cacerolazo (casserole).

High school students initially launched the protests over a 30 Chilean peso (about 40 cents US) fare hike in the transit system, but larger issues of inequality quickly became central. For perspective, the average income in Chile is about $450 US per month, and most families spend around $65 per month on transportation. Fare-dodging demonstrations followed, which the government addressed by closing the Metro and imposing a police crackdown. Chile is among the most unequal countries in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). A comprehensive discussion of conditions in Chile is available at Alborada.net–it’s a two-part series. RLS

11. Bill would provide Protected Status for Bahamians

In August, Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas, displacing some 14,000 people. The administration has refused to allow Bahamians Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which would allow them to legally live and work in the U.S. for a specified period of time. As a result, there is now a movement in Congress to provide TPS to Bahamians through legislation. The Bahamas TPS Act, H.R.4303 in the House; S.2478 in the Senate) would do just that. The House legislation is currently with the Judiciary and Budget Committees. The House Judiciary Committee has assigned the legislation to its Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. The Senate legislation is with that body’s Judiciary Committee S-HP

To urge that TPS be offered to Bahamians, write the people on this list.

12. You-Tube takes down evidence of war crimes

Under pressure not to broadcast hate speech, You-Tube is taking down videos which portray graphic violence. In doing so, however, the company has also deleted evidence of war crimes, in particular 200,000 videos of human rights violations in Syria. As Syrian human-rights activist and video archivist Hadi Al Khatib, who runs a site called The Syrian Archive, said in a video published in the New York Times, “All these takedowns amount to erasing history.”

The ability to upload video to You-Tube is crucial for recording events that are inaccessible to human rights observers and journalists. Some of the videos have been taken down when the Syrian government flags them–such as the videos that documented the government’s use of Sarin gas. The Columbia Journalism Review has a careful discussion of how this issue is playing out world-wide. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

13. Racial bias pervades algorithm used in hospitals

An algorithm used in a computer program that is commonly used in hospitals to allocate healthcare resources has been found to have a serious problem with racial bias, according to a study published in the journal Nature. At issue is the complex set of calculations performed to determine who most needs attention and who can wait, a proprietary formula that is not often available for study. Major bias negatively impacting African American healthcare emerged from a seemingly logical set of assumptions; if you paid more in healthcare costs you were less healthy than those who paid less and were therefore assigned a higher “risk score. “

However, the assumption breaks down in the face of long standing cultural beliefs and systemic racism in the healthcare system. It is known that the average African American who spends X amount of dollars on healthcare is far more likely to be in poorer health than a white person spending the same amount. Why is this? It’s because distrust of doctors is widespread in black communities, resulting in fewer opportunities to interact with the healthcare system. Also, inherent bias in care providers often minimizes the complaints of African American patients versus white patients. The company is working quickly to correct the issue and points out than human judgement is no better at weeding out these sorts of biases. What is needed is more thorough audits of the algorithms before they see widespread use. JC

14. The Americans with Disabilities act applies on-line

A victory for accessibility advocates emerged when the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal to a decision made by the 9th Circuit Court. The case involves the Domino’s Pizza company and its website and phone app. The plaintiff, who is visually impaired, found that neither were able to be parsed by his screen reading program which rendered them useless to those like him. The case was noted to be hugely important, determining whether or not the ADA extended to online accessibility. The law has long said that so-called “public accommodations” must be made accessible to the disabled; now it is clear than online services are considered “public accommodations” as well, Ars Technica reported.  The cost to correct the issue is minor compared to the cost of litigation; the company apparently preferred to pay more money to be able to discriminate rather than to simply make their websites available to all. JC

15. Banning large-capacity magazines would save lives

Would banning large-capacity magazine (LCM) be effective in reducing high-fatality mass shootings? Yes, according to the American Journal of Public Health, which has just published a new study. Researchers looked at sixty-nine mass shooting events with more than six fatalities between 1990 (when LCMs first came into use) and 2017. 73% of those events involved LCMs and those events had death rates 63% higher than those that did not involve LCMs. S-HP

You can urge action on large-capacity magazines by writing those on this list.

Rat poison

A significant cause of death among California’s predators—owls, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions—is the consumption of rodents who have been poisoned by anticoagulants. These poisons cause catastrophic bleeding, not just in the rodents, but also to those higher up the food chain who eat them. Cats and dogs are also at risk from anticoagulant rat poison. California’s AB-1788, which would have prohibited the use of anticoagulant poisons, made it through the state Assembly, but died in committee in the California Senate. S-HP

Californians, if you want to speak up about rat poison, here is whom you should write.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist offers clear, well-defined actions you can take.
  • Amy Siskind’s list is paradoxically helpful in identifying how surreal things have become.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list has an additional important story for Californians as well as cohesive opportunities for action.
  • Martha’s list has some urgent items on it requiring comments right away: the reduction of energy efficiency standards, land policy in Alaska, EPA policy re: clean air, ominous-sounding policy changes re: Venezuela.
  • As Martha notes, on Mondays, Rogan’s list features a listing of proposed rule and regulation changes that arecurrently accepting public comment. Commenting is the way to show government agencies howwe feel about these proposed changes. Our comments also become part of a record that will bereviewed by courts if and when a reg change is contested. Courts use comments to judge whether an agency is acting arbitrarily and capriciously.

NEWS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: OCTOBER 20, 2019

In trying to make what sense we can of careening events, we have tried to note the key elements of the Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory, below. We suggest you read at least the end of Fred Kaplan’s commentary on Slate, in which he explains what seems to constitute Trump’s foreign policy. Robin White has a useful analysis of the situation in Syria as well in the New Yorker.

.Once again, we recommend historian Heather Cox Richardson’s nightly summaries. On Sunday she had a clear analysis of the Clinton/Gabbard dust-up and also notes the silences around the refusal of administration officials to honor subpoenas (see story below on the Constitutional crisis we seem to be in).

Even in the face of events like these, other critical events are unfolding. We offer you a selection below, along with ways to engage.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

1. Turkey targeting civilians

According to the Red Cross, tens of thousands of civilians in the pathway of the Turkish invasion are at risk. Al Jazeera has stark photographs of people fleeing and the Guardian has vivid descriptions of civilians–dead and injured–being unloaded at hospitals. The ceasefire announced by Pence on Thursday appears only to have given Turkey carte blanche to accumulate and hold territory, CNN reported, quoting an unnamed “senior US official very familiar with operations in Syria” as confirming that the ceasefire was simply “validating what Turkey did and allowing them to annex a portion of Syria and displace the Kurdish population.” 

Turkey says that the pause in fighting–which has since resumed, according to Democracy Now–was not a ceasefire, only an opportunity for Kurds to leave the area. Amnesty International, however, says that Turkish forces are committing war crimes, shelling civilians and impeding humanitarian aid. In particular, civilians have come to hospitals with terrible burns suggesting that Turkey is using white phosphorus against them, according to Newsweek. The Secretary General of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo, said that “Turkey’s continued military offensive has driven thousands of already displaced people from what had been places of safe shelter. Turkey’s actions risk hampering the delivery of life-saving assistance and medical aid to those in need, causing a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe in a country already ravaged by war.”

The Kurds have been holding 10,000 Isis fighters and 60,000 family members in detention, the Intercept reports; the conditions for family members have led to the deaths of several hundred children.  According to Democracy Now, Trump says that Turkey will take over but experts on the region are alarmed, saying that Isis fighters could escape in the invasion.

The way in which Trump’s decision to cede the territory to Turkey came about has startled many. Mitt Romney had posed the theory that Erdoğan simply announced he was invading and Trump caved. The withdrawal has troubled current and recently retired military officials, the Washington Post reports.

Of particular concern are the 50 nuclear weapons now at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, especially since Erdoğan said recently that he could no longer accept the requirement that Turkey not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, according to the New York Times. Turkey is a signer on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Writing for Slate, Fred Kaplan explains how those nukes got there and why they are still there.

Among Trump’s chilling remarks on the situation in Syria was “We’ve taken control of the oil in the Middle East … the oil that everybody was worried about.” Heather Cox Richardson, the historian who produces reasoned nightly commentaries on the most recent events, asks who “we” refers to. As she puts it, “I have spent hours today researching the oil industry in the region and can come up with no scenario in which the US has gained control of oil in the course of the past ten days. The country that has gained control of oil fields is Russia.” In speaking of “we,” the president apparently meant Russia.

Nancy Pelosi is leading a bipartisan delegation to Jordan for a meeting on security in the area, according to Axios, in particular to talk with Jordanian officials about the issue of Isis fighters, the Washington Post reports. RLS

The House passed a resolution 354-60 condemning Trump for the troop withdrawal, but the Senate refused to consider it. If you want to suggest that your senator revisit the question, contact information is here.

2. Trudeau campaign undermined by fake news

Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau is in a tight race against the Conservatives’ Andrew Scheer, with the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh making an unexpectedly strong showing. A website in Buffalo, the Buffalo Chronicle is regularly putting out disinformation about Trudeau, among other things that he paid millions to suppress reports of sexual misconduct. The story–debunked by multiple reliable sources–was widely shared on Facebook, which refuses to take it down. RLS

Avaaz is running a petition asking the RCMP to investigate. The election is October 21.

3. Indigenous protesters in Ecuador stop bad IMF deal

Indigenous people in Ecuador forced the government to restore fuel subsidies and reject an International Monetary Fund loan, after two weeks of protests in which eight people were killed and more than two thousand were arrested and/or wounded, according to Democracy Now. Protestors were resisting austerity measures to be imposed in order to meet IMF requirements, the Washington Post reported. Salaries for public workers would also have been cut to pay the IMF, Common Dreams noted. New proposals to address Ecuador’s economic issues will soon be under discussion. Jacobin has an excellent backgrounder on the situation underlying the conflict and in particular on the choices President Lenín Moreno has made that undermined previous successes in addressing inequality. RLS

4. Muslim ban keeps 31,000 people out of the US

Over thirty-one thousand people have been denied entry to the U.S. under Trump’s Muslim ban, according to CNN and the Root. During the first 11 months of the ban, visitors and immigrants from the Muslin majority countries Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen—along with Venezuela and North Korea—have been prohibited from entering, with a small percentage admitted on appeal. The Supreme Court permitted the ban to be implemented last December.

In April, Democrats in both houses introduced “No Ban Bills,” but they are not expected to pass in the Senate. CNN quoted House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, as saying, “The Muslim ban has not made us safer. It has weakened our standing in the world and runs contrary to our country’s moral and philosophical foundation. The United States has always been, and must continue to be, a place that welcomes and embraces people of all religions and nationalities.” RLS

If you want to write your representatives about the Muslim ban, addresses are here.

DOMESTIC NEWS

5. Refusal to honor subpoenas a Constitutional crisis

How many administration figures and government agencies are refusing to provide House committees with material they have a right to access under the Constitution—some of them refusing even when that information has been subpoenaed? Let’s see… Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Secretary Mike Pompeo and the Department of State, Attorney General William Barr and the [ironically named, it appears] Department of Justice, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary Rick Perry and the Department of Energy, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Pentagon, Director Russ Vought and the Office of Management and Budget, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, and no doubt some others, according to the New York Times.

Given the breadth of this refusal to cooperate with Constitutional authority, let’s call the situation what it is—a Constitutional crisis. We have a Constitution. That Constitution and its provisions have been repeatedly violated. If a country with which the U.S. was on less-than-friendly terms had an executive branch so flagrantly violating both Constitution and the legislative branch, we would be denouncing this recalcitrance as a threat to global security and proof that that country’s government was illegitimate. S-HP

If you’d like to remind legislators and administration figures about the significance of the Constitution and their obligations to it, here is a list.

6. No relief from crushing student loans

As NBC News points out, 1 in 5 American adults is paying off student debt—debt that totals $1.6 trillion nationally (yes, that’s trillion with a t). “Sallie Mae” used to be a federally chartered organization processing government loans, but in 2004 it was privatized and now offers private loans, although some Sallie Mae employees also process separate federal loans. Some borrowers have found paying off their debt particularly difficult because, while they thought they were applying for low-interest Federal loans, they have wound up with higher-interest, variable-rate private loans.

Meanwhile, Sallie Mae has celebrated a record year of 374,000 student loans processed, which total $5 billion. The organization celebrated by flying more than 100 of its employees to the Fairmont on Wailea Beach in Maui. Ray Quinlan, CEO of Sallie Mae, did tell NBC that this Hawaii stay was not an “incentive trip.” Rather, it was “a sales get-together for all of our salespeople.” Quinlan also pointed out Sallie Mae has been funding such trips since its founding in the 1972.

A number of pieces of legislation before Congress could address some of the problems with student loans.  Among the most significant are H.R.3887, the Student Loan Debt Relief Act of 2019, which would eliminate up to $50,000 in student debt for every person with a gross household income under $100,000, and H.R.3257, the Student Loan Fairness Act, which would set maximums on the proportion of a borrower’s income that could be assigned to student loan debt payments and provides the opportunity for $45,000 of student loan debt to be cancelled once a borrower has made ten years of consecutive loan payments. H.R.3887 is currently with the House Education and Labor, Ways and Means, and Judiciary Committees. H.R.3257 is currently with the House Education and Labor, Financial Services, and Ways and Means Committees. S-HP

You can let key committee chairs know that you’d like to see these bills pass. Addresses are here.

7. Free lunches at risk under proposed policy

Three million people could lose access to food stamps and one million children could lose their free lunches, according to a Department of Agriculture analysis, if a Trump proposal goes through. Children who receive food stamps automatically have access to free lunches—so application paperwork does not become a barrier, the New York Times explains. Trump sees it as problematic that currently, people whose income is 200% of the poverty line have access to food assistance. In a rare moment of reconsideration, the administration has re-opened public comment on the proposal—just for 14 days. RLS

You can write an official comment on this proposal: the deadline is November 1. Be sure to include the rule title; instructions and addresses are here.

8. New Trump proposal could bankrupt Medicare

Trump has issued an executive order aimed at requiring Medicare to pay amounts equal to those private insurers pay for services, rather than negotiating lower prices for Medicare recipients. This is a move that genuinely could bankrupt Medicare. The language of the executive order frequently cites the “threat” of Medicare-for-All to consumer choice, the LA Times reports. In the executive order, Trump explains his rationale, claiming that the changes will “modify Medicare FFS [fee-for-service] payments to more closely reflect the prices paid for services in MA [Medicare Advantage] and the commercial insurance market, to encourage more robust price competition, and otherwise to inject market pricing into Medicare FFS reimbursement.” How forcing Medicare to pay higher reimbursements will lower healthcare costs is a conundrum that defies logic. At some point, this should be posted as a federal rule change on which we can make official comments, but for now we can seek opposition to this change from our Congressmembers. S-HP

Addresses for members of Congress are here.

9. LGBTQ rights at risk

The rights of LGBTQ Americans are particularly vulnerable at the present moment. A federal judge has overturned health protections for transgender individuals that were part of the Affordable Care Act. The conservative-heavy Supreme Court recently heard arguments on whether or not the Civil Rights Act covers job discrimination against LGBTQ workers. S-HP.

Since we do not have a way to pressure the Supreme Court, urging your members of Congress to pass legislation is the next route toward preserving LGBTQ rights.

10. “Religious freedom” rule upheld

On Tuesday, federal judge Reed O’Connor in the Northern District of Texas ruled against a regulation under Obama Care that prohibited healthcare providers from denying care based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, or pregnancy termination, reports the Hill. O’Connor, who had previously ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, said that the regulation violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The ruling will likely be appealed. JM-L

11. Refugees: Not in our town

An executive order announced by the Trump administration on September 26 requires both state and local governments to consent in writing before refugees can be placed in their jurisdictions. As Forbes explains “Donald Trump’s new executive order appears designed to give veto power over resettling refugees to people who don’t like refugees and elected officials willing to play on those fears…. The executive order could play out in ways that might be characterized as ‘ugly.’ If several African refugee families have been resettled in a town in recent years, some residents could organize and argue to local or state officeholders against new admissions. Some people may not want anyone from the Middle East – or Asian or Jewish refugees – to live near them. The executive order may provide a government-sanctioned outlet for personal animosity toward foreign-born individuals and families.”

The order would also seriously undercut sanctuary legislation on the state and local level. This executive order probably violates existing law—at least if refusals by states or cities target specific refugee groups—but nonetheless promises another long-term court battle of the kind this administration is continually provoking. The Secretaries of State and of Health & Human Services have been directed to implement this new policy in the next 90 days. S-HP

If you object to implementation of this order, here are addresses for whom to write.

12. British family detained for 11 days after accidental detour into US

A British family–two couples, two young children and a 3 month old baby–were held in US Immigration custody for eleven nights, after crossing the US/Canadian border accidentally while vacationing in British Columbia, according to NPR. They were held at a family detention center in Pennsylvania, where they complained of inadequate facilities, including a lack of heat and infant-care supplies. They had a visa waiver to visit the US, the New York Times reported. One of the parents told the Times, “No one should have to suffer this kind of treatment. This would never happen in the United Kingdom to U.S. citizens, or anyone else, because people there are treated with dignity.” JM-L

13. Fewer families to be eligible for public housing

Federal rules changes have been proposed affecting how the Department of Housing and Urban Development would determine eligibility for public housing (also referred to as “means testing”). The changes are abstruse, but boil down to requiring a broader examination of “assets” and financial records in ways that would reduce the number of families qualifying for such assistance. S-HP

If you want to write an official comment about these changes, the instructions are here.

14. Cummings’ last work

Hours before his death, the late Elijah Cummings (D-MD) signed subpoenas relating to the policy shift around delayed deportations for immigrants and visitors who were in the U.S. for treatment of medical conditions when treatments were not available in their home countries. In August, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services sent letters to family members reversing the policy that undocumented visitors might stay to complete their treatment and telling them they would be deported. As CNN reports, a House oversight committee could not get USCIS to explain the origins or rationale for the policy. The testimony resulting from Cummings’ subpoenas may bring clarity. RLS

Share your appreciation for Cummings’ commitment to justice and an America that serves all: Family and Colleagues of Elijah Cummings, 1010 Park Ave, Suite 105, Baltimore, MD 2120

15. Voter purges undermining fair elections

Many state governments are trying to limit access to the right to vote by passing laws allowing regular voter purges. Most states that purge voting rolls, however, are not particularly transparent about the purge process, leaving people who wish to vote disenfranchised and making mistaken purges difficult to spot and rectify.

Ohio offers a case in point. According to the New York Times, Ohio had a list of 235,000 people it proposed to purge from voter rolls, but it did send the list of those who would be purged to voting advocacy groups, including the League of Women Voters. What these groups found in working their way through this massive database is that the list included around 40,000 people, roughly 17%, who should not have been purged under the state’s own rules. One of those slated for purging was Jen Miller, the Ohio Director of the League of Women Voters, who told the New York Times, “I voted three times last year. I don’t like to think how many other individuals this has happened to.” S-HP

If you want to urge your members of Congress to initiate or act on bills intended to preserve election security, here are addresses.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

16. Terminology around climate matters

The Guardian has taken the lead in describing the climate situation with more precision, declaring that “climate emergency” or “climate crisis” are to be used instead of “climate change.” When a specific mechanism is in operation, the publication suggests we use exact terminology when possible. It further recommends using  “climate science denier” or “climate denier” rather than “climate sceptic,” and that we use  “wildlife,” not “biodiversity” and “fish populations” instead of “fish stocks,” as being more respectful of our fellow creatures. RLS

17. Environmental destruction as a war crime

Calls have been made for a Fifth Geneva Convention for the past two decades. The Fifth Convention would define particular kinds of environmental destruction as war crimes, attempting to protect the planet, in addition to people, during times of war, Global Citizen explains. As Nature reports, “military conflict continues to destroy megafauna, push species to extinction and poison water resources.” It also allows for easier global distribution of arms that can lead to “unsustainable hunting of wildlife.” S-HP

If you want to advocate for this proposal, here’s how.

18. Farmers coping with climate crisis ignored by Department of Ag

Farmers suffering from the consequences of the climate crisis have received almost no help from the Department of Agriculture. Earlier this fall, a “bomb cyclone” in the Midwest destroyed crops and livestock, ruined stored grain and meant that 20 million acres could not be planted. Extreme weather and fires elsewhere in the country have been financially catastrophic, but the Agriculture Department devotes only 0.3 percent of its $144 billion budget to helping farmers cope with climate issues, according to Politico. Though it offers resources—called “hubs”—most farmers are not aware of them because the political atmosphere in the USDA is so hostile to any discussion that relates to climate. Thus, changes in farming strategies that might help them adapt are unavailable to them. The Politico story has a wealth of documentation and the detailed backstory on the silences on climate. RLS

If you would like to urge key committee chairs to make sure that farmers have the information they need, here are the addresses.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has a set of clear, important actions you can take on various issues, from election security to immigration to women’s safety.
  • Amy Siskind’s weekly list of not-normal things is once again dis/re-orienting.
  • Most of Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the stories above, but other possibilities of particular interest to Californians can be found here.
  • Rogan’s list suggests whom you might contact about oil production, the situation of the Kurds, the Turkish invasion, the Democratic silence on the climate crisis, and much more.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record. She notes that there seems to be a good deal of behind the scenes rewriting of manuals and regulations, so a “proposed rule” is not always announced. She observes, too, the persistent undoing of the Clean Air Act. Her list has other Alaska anti-environmental proposals as well, available for comment.
  • Our colleague Chrysostom offers an election round-up news and polls from the House, Senate and states, as well as the latest on election security.

News You May Have Missed: October 13, 2019

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

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

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

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

In addition:

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

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

2. China’s sexual abuse of Muslim women

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

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

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

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

3. Genocide against Brazil’s Indigenous people

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

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

4. Some Trump anti-immigrant initiatives blocked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Immigrants following legal process deported after marriage interviews

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

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

7. Challenges to for-profit detention centers

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

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

8. Billionaires pay taxes at lower rate than workers

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

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

9. Betsy DeVos facing jail time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Impeach Kavanaugh?

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

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

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Mass-produced fake comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

News You May Have Missed: October 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. The NRA-Russsia connection

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

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

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

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

2. Who should recuse himself?

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

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

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

3. Blocking asylum-seekers

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

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

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

4. Legal immigrants denied entry without health insurance

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

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

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

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

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

6. Workers unsafe at poultry processing plants

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

You can speak up about poultry processing line speeds!

7. Auditing the poor

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

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

8. Voting security at risk again

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

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

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. How fracking endangers health

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

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

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

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

11. Who funds climate deniers?

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

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

RESOURCES

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