We can be appalled–if not surprised–by the depth of corruption that has emerged almost simultaneously with the pandemic; this administration will use anything to advance its agenda. See the specifics below. If attending closely to elections seems like the appropriate response to corruption, note Crysostom’s round-up of state and congressional election issues.
On the other side of the same coin, Heather Cox Richardson writes about how the responses to the coronavirus reveal the disparities in impacts on various communities as well as to access to healthcare and basic services (April 11). Week by week, we try to identify those most disadvantaged: First Nations communities, grocery workers, farm workers, contract workers, coal miners, students at for-profit colleges–the list continues.
1. Native American tribe disestablished for Trump supporters’ casino
According to their website, “the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, also known as the People of the First Light, has inhabited present day Massachusetts and Eastern Rhode Island for more than 12,000 years. After an arduous process lasting more than three decades, the Mashpee Wampanoag were re-acknowledged as a federally recognized tribe in 2007.”
Why, then, has Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt essentially disestablished the tribe, removing their 321 acre reservation from federal trust? The decision also takes away the land’s sovereign status, meaning the Wampanoag would have to disband its police force and social services program and would be forced to pay federal taxes. Ostensibly, this decision was made based on a court ruling—but that litigation is still making its way through the courts and no ruling is definitive at this point.
So pervasive are the financial tendrils of Trump and company that if you pull any thread along the East Coast and let it unravel far enough, you’ll find someone Trump-connected at the end. Esquire traces the links. The Mashpee-Wampanoag are in the process of applying for a casino license, the last remaining casino license in the state of Massachusetts. And the Mashpee-Wampanoag lands, where the casino would be based, are near the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border. Over that border lie—a pair of casinos held by a private company, Twin River Worldwide Holdings. The President and Chief Marketing Officer of Twin River Worldwide Holdings are both former employees at Trump’s Atlantic City casino (the one that went bankrupt, remember?) and active Trump supporters.
Last May, the House passed H.R.312, the Mashpee-Wampanoag Reservation Reaffirmation Act, intended to override the current court battle between Twin River and the Mashpee-Wampanoag. H.R.312 had a bipartisan group of thirty-five cosponsors and easily made it through the House to the Senate. And in the Senate, Mitch McConnell has placed the legislation “under general orders,” which is Congress-speak for “I am not assigning this legislation to any committee and therefore condemning it to the black hole of things-that-have-no-hope-of-being-voted-on.” Prospects for H.R.312 didn’t always look bad in the Senate, but that was before Trump tweeted in opposition to the legislation, falsely tying it to that Republican’s Boogie(wo)man, Elizabeth Warren.Cedric Cromwell, the tribe’s chairman, told Boston.com that the tribe is continuing to fight the order and has in addition sued Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for not considering factual evidence. “We have survived, we will continue to survive,” Cromwell wrote. “These are our lands, these are the lands of our ancestors, and these will be the lands of our grandchildren. This Administration has come and it will go. But we will be here, always.” S-HP
You can write to Bernhardt and him to reverse his decision, and remind your Senators that H.R.312 is being held in legislative limbo, asking them to act in support of the legislation. Addresses are here. In addition, the Mashpee-Wampanoag have a letter via MoveOn that they would like you to sign.
2. Native American communities vulnerable to coronavirus
As we continue to learn, coronavirus does not impact all communities equally. For under-resourced communities; communities with high rates of heart disease, respiratory illnesse, and diabetes; communities with lack of access to healthcare, lack of internet and phone services, coronavirus is particularly deadly. This is proving true on sovereign Native American lands. The Indian Health Service (IHS), the largest Native American healthcare provider, runs only one-sixth of the approximately 423 health clinics on Native American lands, Politico explains. Since the rest are run by local organizations, tracking Native American coronavirus cases depends on reports from hundreds of small, often underfunded facilities.
Because households on reservations are often multigenerational and share relatively small homes, social distancing is an impossibility in many locations, the Washington Post explains. Remote housing on reservations may not include running water, complicating basic hygienic procedures, according to the New York Times. Over one week in March, the Navajo Nation saw its coronavirus cases rise from 1 to 110. As of April 11, there were 698 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 24 deaths, in Navajo communities in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, CNN reported. Like states, sovereign Indian Nations are receiving little help from the federal government in their fight against the pandemic. Many of the healthcare challenges facing sovereign Indian Nations are the legacy of U.S. colonialism and many Indian Nations have long histories of disproportionate morbidity resulting from both pandemics and the deliberate introduction of disease. S-HP.
You can insist on a well-funded, effective federal response to the impact of coronavirus on Sovereign Indian Nations. Write the Secretary of the Interior and your Members of Congress here.
3. Corruption Watch: The relief bill
In the way it was designed, the $2 trillion corona relief fund undermines Church-State separation. The relief includes $350 billion for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans that are largely forgivable, making them more like grants. In a statement describing businesses that would be eligible for these loans, the SBA announced that “Faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans regardless of whether they provide secular social services.” Because these loans are processed through the Paycheck Protection Program, at least 75% of the funds must go to cover paychecks. Connect the dots and what you get is the government providing forgivable “loans” to be used in paying salaries for pastors, rabbis, imams, and others in similar positions.
A legal remedy to this breach is unlikely. In 2018 the Trump administration made Federal Emergency Management Agency funds available to churches, synagogues, mosques, and similar organizations for facility repairs and reconstruction—a move which the Supreme Court declined to take into consideration. This is the first time federal monies will be used to pay the salaries of religious figures, a plan that appears to violate the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause is understood to mean not only that the state cannot establish an official religion, but that it cannot act in a way that advantages one religion over another or even privileges religious institutions over non-religious ones, according to Cornell Law School. In an NPR interview, Alison Gill of American Atheists noted that this funding “directly contradicts the establishment clause of the First Amendment. This is the most drastic attack on church-state separation we have ever seen.” S-HP
You can make a case to administration figures and your Congressmembers that any additional SBA funding for coronavirus relief must preclude the payment of salaries for religious leaders. Addresses are here.
4. Almost all asylum-seekers turned away at the border under CDC rules
A leaked Border Patrol memo obtained by ProPublica citing the CDC has essentially closed the US-Mexico border to asylum-seekers, citing coronavirus fears. 10,000 people had been turned away as of April 9, according to the Washington Post. Though asylum law says that people cannot be returned to areas where they might be harmed, it is being almost completely ignored, unless asylum-seekers can persuade a Border Patrol agent that they are in danger of being tortured. There is no medical screening of asylum-seekers and no information on what happens to people who are turned away. Because it is so difficult to get information, ProPublica reported, there is not yet a legal case against the policy. As Kari Hong, an immigration attorney, put it, “By invoking these emergency orders, the Trump administration is simply doing what it’s wanted to do all along, which is to end asylum law in its entirety.” RLS
Note that you can comment on this new policy–and only 13 comments had been received as of April 12.
5. Corruption watch: Inspector General who would have had oversight fired
The House insisted on careful oversight for the big-business part of coronavirus relief, while Trump claimed things would be just fine under the complete control of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The House won that battle in the short term, but now Trump is actively working to undermine the oversight provisions in the legislation–along with the entire Inspector General system, the New York Times notes. Glenn Fine, the acting Inspector General for the Department of Defense, was chosen by a team of Inspectors General to become head of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee—that was before Trump fired him. The Committee head must be an Inspector General, so Fine is no longer eligible for the role, despite his colleague’s respect for him, the New York Times explains.. Lawfare suggests “the reason for Fine’s removal, it isn’t subtle: Fine is the kind of guy who will make trouble.” Though we might well reword “will make trouble” with “would have approached his oversight role with integrity.” S-HP
Now would be the time to ask what steps your Congressmembers are taking to assure proper oversight of coronavirus funds now that Trump has removed Inspector General Fine. Addresses are here.
6. Corruption Watch: Another Inspector General fired
When he fired Michael Atkinson, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, from his position, Trump made it clear that he was taking that action in response to Atkinson’s decision to share the whistle-blower report on Trump’s Ukraine phone call with the House Intelligence Committee—as Atkinson was required to do under law. Atkinson was the last Senate-appointed official in the Director of National Intelligence’s office. The office is now being run solely by individuals who have not gone through Senate confirmation and is headed by Acting Director Richard Grenell. Now Politico reports that Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is questioning “political interference in the production and dissemination of intelligence.” Schiff is concerned that substantial changes to the Office of National Intelligence are being made without informing Congress. Schiff has written to Acting Director Grenell pointing out that “it would be inappropriate for you to pursue any additional leadership, organizational, or staffing changes to ODNI [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] during your temporary tenure.” In addition, Schiff is demanding a written explanation of all organizational changes in ODNI by April 16. S-HP
If you wish to thank Schiff for taking these actions and urge closer Senate oversight over the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the addresses are here.
7. Grocery store workers, farm workers, at high risk
Workers given “extended first responder” or “emergency personnel” status are “prioritized for testing and provision of personal protection equipment during the coronavirus outbreak,” according to the Boston Globe. (Whether such tests and equipment are actually available for anyone is another question.) At the moment, we are all dependent on workers in the food system. For this reason, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and Albertson Companies are calling for grocery workers to be given such status. Farmworkers, who play a key role in our food system, have been largely left out of coronavirus relief legislation thus far, and they would also benefit from special status regarding access to tests and protective equipment. Reveal describes the contradictions that surround them, being declared essential after years of being deportable, working in unsafe conditions without protective equipment.
Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue are looking for ways to lower the wages of foreign “guest” farmworkers (about 10% of the farm workforce) as a form of coronavirus “aid” to agriculture. Farmworkers are already not covered by federal minimum wage rules and many workplace safety regulations, and are at significant risk given their workplace conditions, KATU explains. As NPR notes, this proposal puts a significant portion of our food supply workers under additional financial pressure at the time when we need them most. S-HP
If you want to recommend that grocery workers and farm workers be given “extended first responder” or “emergency personnel” status—our lives depend on them—and insist that wages for all farmworkers, including guest workers remain at current levels or, better yet, be raised because of the hazards of such work at the present moment, appropriate addresses are here.
8. Coal miners threatened by COVID-19, coal companies crying poor
Coal miners, especially current or former miners with black lung disease, are particularly vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic. If coal companies have their way, these miners may soon face increased financial vulnerability as well. In 1969, the Nixon administration established the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (BLDTF). Coal mining companies signed a two-part agreement with the federal government that as long as they operated, they would pay benefits to their retirees and that they would pay an excise tax on coal extraction to cover pension benefits for miners with black lung disease whose former employers have gone out of business. As this agreement plays out now, pensions for minors with black lung disease typically receive about $700 a month. For every ton of coal mined (coal is currently selling at $34 per ton) coal companies pay an excise tax of $1.10 that goes to BLDTF. They pay a lower rate of 55¢ per ton for surface coal—these monies are intended to support the BLDTF.
For years, the BLDTF has been unable to meet its obligations to miners and has been borrowing from the Treasury. At the moment, the BLDTF has a debt to the Treasure of $4 billion. Now, citing difficulties related to the coronavirus pandemic, coal companies are calling for a 55% cut in the excise tax funding the BLDTF and also asked for a suspension of a separate fee that goes toward the clean-up of abandoned mines. Mine companies say these fee reductions would save them about $220 million. The Washington Post reports that miners receiving BLDTF pensions and their advocates worry that the proposed cuts will quickly raise the BLDTF debt, making the fund appear unsupportable during a time of economic pressure. S-HP
You could tell your Members of Congress to object to lowered excise taxes for coal companies, insist that they continue to pay their fail share for black lung disease pensions and abandoned mine clean-up, and call for legislation to make the BLDTF solvent over the long term.
9. Stanford terminates contract workers
In late March, that Stanford Daily ran an editorial on the differential treatment of “regular” Stanford employees and “contracted” Stanford employees during the coronavirus pandemic. Contracted employees are employees who work on the Stanford campus, but are not directly hired by Stanford. The largest such group are janitors hired through the national custodial service, UG-2. But the bottom line for these workers is that if Stanford eliminates their positions, they will be unemployed during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. At this point, 150 such employees have been terminated. Regular Stanford employees have been assured that they will continue to receive their full salaries and health benefits, regardless of the effect coronavirus has on their actual hours. With an endowment of $27.7 billion, Stanford could extend this treatment to their contracted workers, but has chosen not to do so.
You could ask your own workplace–and Stanford–to do the right (and for them, affordable) thing and extend pay and benefits to contracted workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Addresses are here.
10. Corruption watch: Congressmembers and their stocks
We pointed out previously (March 22, first story) the multiple stock sales and purchases by Congressmembers who were part of an early coronavirus briefing. These included sales of travel-related stocks and purchases of health-related stocks, Bloomberg notes. While these sales and purchases are being investigated, we need to deal with the larger issue: Congressmembers who hold individual stocks (as opposed to mutual funds) and are in a position to benefit from information not yet released to the public. Whether or not the timing of these activities was coincidental, as some Congressmembers claim, we cannot risk such profiteering. The answer: a ban on individual stock holding by Congressmembers. S-HP
You could urge immediate action by the House and Senate that bars Congressmembers from owning individual stocks while in office.
11. Mail ballots essential in 2020
In case we need further proof of the need for mail-in ballots during a pandemic (or at any time), consider last Tuesday’s primary election in Wisconsin. Republican lawmakers blocked a request by governor Tony Edwards to either move back the date of the election or to provide absentee ballots to all voters, due to the coronavirus pandemic. With no action on the state level, requests for absentee ballots subsequently went up. Concerned about inefficient mail service hindering the distribution and return of absentee ballots, the danger of coronavirus transmission, and the substantial drop in the number of available poll workers Wisconsin, Governor Tony Edwards next attempted to expand the period over which absentee ballots would be accepted. Republicans, who have adopted a strategy of winning elections by disenfranchising voters, filed suit over this move, as the Washington Post describes the situation. The Governor’s move was upheld in a lower court, but the case ultimately reached the Supreme Court of the U.S., which in a narrow, 5-4, technical ruling squashed the extension on the grounds that federal judges are not entitled to change a state’s absentee-voting procedures shortly before an election. In a dissent Ruth Bader Ginsburg excoriated the majority for forcing voters to choose between risking their own lives and the lives of others to vote in person or to forgo their right to vote.
Elections proceded—but not smoothly—in Wisconsin on Tuesday. Seven thousand individuals who usually serve as poll workers were unavailable on election day, causing the closure of many polling places. The city of Milwaukee, population 600,000, which has the state’s largest minority population, normally has 180 polling stations. On Tuesday a total of 5 polling stations were open across the city—97% fewer than usual. Three bins of absentee ballots that had never been distributed were found in one Milwaukee post office, according to the New York Times. Panicked voters who had not received absentee ballots that they requested two weeks or more before the election as required in the state tied up phone lines trying to talk to state and county officials. Many ballots dropped at post offices on election day didn’t get postmarked until the next day, invalidating those votes. One city clerk reported that almost half the ballots she received from the post office were not postmarked at all, invalidating those votes as well. A reminder that Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by 23,000 votes. In November, the U.S. will almost certainly be experiencing the continued effects of the coronavirus pandemic but a nation-wide system of mail-in ballots is not in place–Politico describes how chaos could overtake the 2020 election. According to NPR, Elizabeth Warren has a plan. S-HP.
Do you think that all voters be able to exercise their franchise using a mail-in ballot in the 2020 election? If so, you can speak up here.
12. Corruption watch: For-profit colleges
Many businesses are apt to benefit from coronavirus stimulus funding—including for-profit colleges that have been accused of fraud and misuse of federal student funding, according to an exclusive report from MarketWatch. A small group of senators has raised concerns about the distribution of coronavirus stimulus monies to for-profit colleges. The coronavirus stimulus for educational institutions is based on the number of enrolled students at that institution receiving Pell Grants, a federal needs-based scholarship. Ben Miller, of the Center for American Progress, has estimated that for-profit colleges will be receiving approximately $1 billion in stimulus money.
A MarketWatch analysis headed by U.C. Merced sociologist Charlie Eaton looked at the top 100 for-profit colleges eligible for stimulus monies. Seventy-nine of these schools have had fraud complaints filed against them by former students—a total of 12,000 complaints among the schools. Twenty-three of these schools have be characterized as “failed” by federal regulators because students graduating from them are unable to find employment sufficient to make student loan payments. In the past, such schools were not eligible for stimulus payments, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded that rule in 2019. S-HP
If you wish to urge that DeVos stop supporting predatory, for-profit schools and encourage your Congressmembers to investigate the amount of stimulus money going to for-profit schools engaging in malfeasance, the pertinent addresses are here.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
13. Climate change denial predicted coronavirus denial.
Decades of climate crisis denial set up patterns of speech and thought that anticipated the way the coronavirus was dismissed in the crucial early weeks, Inside Climate News points out. Trump’s strategy of blaming China and ignoring scientists set into motion right-wing propaganda insisting that the virus was no worse than the flu, threatening scientists and claiming the virus was a hoax.
The connection among pandemics, climate and habitat is well beyond patterns of rhetoric, however. As humans encroach on animal habitats–through deforestation, invasive agriculture, and global trade in wild animals–pandemics that originate in animals will become much more frequent, as the Washington Post points out. Some 70 per cent of diseases come from animals, and there could be 1.67 million as-yet-undiscovered viruses, to which LiveScience alerted us in 2018, of which as many as half could infect humans. As the Guardian points out, the same processes that lead to pandemic are those that lead to climate change, and diseases–including those carried by insects–can be more widespread as the world warms, according to New York Magazine. RLS
14. Food waste and hunger in the pandemic
Tens of millions of ripe vegetables, millions of gallons of milk, tens of thousands of eggs are being dumped by farmers in the U.S. who have no ways to sell their products now that restaurants and institutional buyers are closed. Dairy farmers in Canada are doing the same.At the same time, cars have been lined up for miles outside food banks in San Antonio, Pittsburgh and other cities, as food banks in the U.S. face acute shortfalls, Common Dreams reports. In Canada, too, food programs report skyrocketing demand, according to the Globe and Mail. Farmers told the New York Times that they have donated to food banks and charities, but that these organizations have limited ability to absorb perishable food. The same crops will be replanted, in the hope that distribution will possible again after the next harvest.
In Ontario, FoodShare and other groups have invented programs to bring food from local farmers to consumers, and accept donations for food boxes for those who are coping with food insecurity. Mother Jones points out that the U.S.government could ramp up the Commodity Credit Corporation, the depression-era agency that provides for the redistribution of food from farmers who cannot get it picked and to market to food assistance programs. The Trump administration did so in 2019 for farmers affected by the trade wars with China. It has not done so now. RLS
15. Mountain lions extinct?
Mountain lion populations across California, but particularly on the California Central Coast and in Southern California, are at risk of extinction due to loss of habitat and fragmentation of the habitat remaining, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Environmental groups have been fighting to have the mountain lions covered by California’s Endangered Species Act, which is a two-step process. First, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife must determine that such protection may be warranted. After that, the state’s Fish and Game Commission decides whether to give mountain lions the “endangered” status and the protections that come with it. Step one has been accomplished. Now the Fish and Game Commission is making the final call. S-HP
You could ask the Fish and Game Commission to protect California’s mountain lions, particularly on the Central Coast and in Southern California, by giving the species endangered status. The Center for Biological Diversity is suggesting that you sign their petition and write a letter.
- The Americas of Conscience Checklist is posting every other week. See the site for easy actions you can take.
- Sarah-Hope’s action items for postcarding are in her full list.
- Rogan’s list has opportunities to advocate for front-line workers, address the disparities in diagnosis and treatment of communities of color, support the needs of people with disabilities in the pandemic, and much more.
- Martha’s list this week tries to keep track of the moving target of regulations, some suspended or rolled back. HUD-faith-based initiatives, EPA rollbacks, the EPA’s so-called “strengthening transparency in regulatory science” (which would in fact block some scientific data from being used ) are closing to comments soon.