News You May Have Missed: January 19, 2020

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

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


“2014” by DrGarageland is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Military equipment used to evict mothers in Oakland

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

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

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

7. Bar Association calls for investigation of Attorney General Barr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

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

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

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

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

12. SpaceX completes an apparently successful launch abort test.

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

RESOURCES

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

News You May Have Missed: January 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Cambridge Analytica again

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

2. Pelosi to forward articles of impeachment

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

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

Puerto Rico denied aid again

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

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

3. Justice Department rules against the ERA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Mapping the Arctic coast: promise and perils

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

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

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

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

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

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

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

9. Oil and gas industry to release more greenhouse gases

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

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

10. Locust swarm threatens food security.

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

11. California considers entering the generic drug business.

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

12. Computer intelligence is breaking free of 2D

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

13. Relaxed regulations on dumping coal ash proposed

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

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

RESOURCES

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

News You May Have Missed: January 5, 2020

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

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Crisis in immigration courts

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

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

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

Funds for prisoners health care and job training misappropriated

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

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

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

LGBTQ+ seniors could be denied nutrition assistance

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

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

Time to thank civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis

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

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

#. Ambassador to Zambia recalled after criticizing homophobia

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

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

Efforts to force Trump to oppose human rights violations in China

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

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

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Ten million acres burned so far in Australia fires

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

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

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

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

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

Fish threatened by border wall

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

-All are endangered or threatened species.

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

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

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

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

EPA takes down Toxmap

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

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

Trump’s own EPA says rollbacks contradict science

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

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

RESOURCES

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



News You May Have Missed: December 22, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. All DACA cases to be reopened

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

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

2. People granted asylum given fake court dates, deported

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

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

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

3. Less than 0.1% of applicants approved for asylum

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

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

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

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


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

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

5. Republicans planning voter intimidation

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

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

6. Printable, untracable guns would be blocked by legislation

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

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

7. Change in disability rules may put recipients at risk

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

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

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

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

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

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Pro-Trump publication linked to fake accounts

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

10. Stinky molecule identified as an unmistakable biosignature

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

RESOURCES

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

News You May Have Missed: December 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

2. New immigration law proposed to address decades of injustice

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

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

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

3. Aid still illegally withheld from Puerto Rico

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

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

4. Facebook refuses to remove misleading ads about HIV prevention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. What happened to the Emoluments Clause?

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

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

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

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

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

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. New sustainable substance can treat stormwater runoff 

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

11. Genetic testing shows we were the culprit

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

12. EU eliminates or significantly cuts single-use plastics

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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



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.