NYMHM for 9 Jun

News You May Have Missed collects the news you didn’t see–or didn’t want to see–and lets you skim it quickly. Now we’re making it possible to act on events in the news in the most direct ways possible. See our action items.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Following the money (to Mitch McConnell)

NYMHM has reported before on US transport secretary Elaine Chao’s tangle of conflicts of interest and corrupt practices, but now the New York Times has picked up the story.

NYT reporter Mike Forsythe also has a twitter thread which summarizes and adds detail, but briefly: her family’s shipping company benefits from her ability to influence policy. Chao tried to include family members in meetings on an official visit to China. Her sister sits on the board of the Bank of China. Under Chao, her department has tried to cut programs to support the US shipping industry (which obviously competes with China’s shipping industry, including her family’s business). She didn’t list her connections to China before her confirmation hearing.

Chao is also Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, and her family has donated millions to McConnell, whose role in all of this bears further scrutiny. JM

2. A new pathway for Dreamers?

The House has passed H.R.6, the American Dream and Progress Act, which cancels and prohibits removal proceedings against many Dreamers and repeals a restriction that bars states from providing higher education benefits to undocumented aliens unless those benefits are available to all U.S. citizens. (“Dreamers” is a term used to refer to individuals brought into the U.S. without documentation at a very young age, usually by family members.) The education provision is an attempt to end a bi-pronged prohibition against educational aid for Dreamers. This prohibition both declared Dreamers ineligible for federal funds and barred universities creating funds specifically to support Dreamers as a response to the federal aid ban. S-HP

If you want the Senate to act on this bill, you can tell them so! Here’s how.

3. Transgender asylum seeker dies in custody

A proportion of the asylum seekers coming to the U.S. from Central America are transgender individuals, who can face ongoing violence in their home countries. Johana Medina, from El Salvador, is the second transgender migrant to die in ICE custody since Trump became President. For at least two months while in detention, Medina had sought treatment for complications related to HIV/AIDS. Medina was finally transferred to an El Paso hospital, but didn’t respond to treatment, Democracy Now reports. S-HP.

If you want to call for an investigation into the death of transgender migrants, here is a list of whom to talk to.

4. New child detention centers

1,600 teenaged asylum seekers will be held in a new Texas facility that does not have to observe child welfare standards, according to the AP. Military bases around the country will also hold hundreds more children, and likewise will not have to observe licensing standards because they are “temporary.”

These shelters will not provide English language instruction, recreation sessions or legal services, according to a new policy that will deny these services to all
13,200 children–from toddlers to teenagers–now in custody. According to the Washington Post, education and recreation are required for minors in custody. RLS

If you have something to say about the establishment of these child detention centers and the removal of basic services, here are some options.

5. Northern border enforcement intensified

The Trump administration is ramping up a little-publicized immigration crackdown near the Canadian border, challenging passengers on buses. The ACLU has identified this program unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment because passengers cannot be detained and questioned by Border Patrol without reasonable suspicion that they are deportable. Furthermore that suspicion cannot be based on someone’s skin color or ability to speak English. The program also apparently violates Department of Homeland Security policy.

Even on routes that do not travel to the border, the searches can happen as often as three times a day. NBC News reports that the searches have caused bus delays and “resulted in the long-term detention of immigrants allegedly apprehended through racial profiling.” Greyhound has expressed frustrations about these searches to Congress and former DHS officials have criticized the practice. NBC quoted one woman who was present at two of these searches: “‘I was super angry because [they were] obviously profiling,’ said Phelan, who is black, Puerto Rican and a United States citizen. ‘They literally skipped over every single white person.’ She says she watched agents walk down the aisles, stopping only when they saw a person of color, to ask: ‘Are you from here? Do you have papers?’” S-HP

If you want to challenge unconstitutional searches, write Kevin McAleenan, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security. Contact information here.

6. ICE did not know about policies for screening veterans

As many as 2000 veterans may have been deported, even those they were supposed to receive extra screening that considered their health and service records. ICE apparently was “unaware of the policies,” according to the Government Accountability Office. Under previous administrations, soldiers were quickly naturalized, but the office that used to do that was closed in 2018, according to the Washington Post.

What’s more, applicants for citizenship who are in the military are being denied at a higher rate than civilian applicants, according to Pacific Standard. Several bills to resolve these inequities and to enable deported veterans to return have been proposed but they are not expected to prevail. RLS, SH-P

If you’d like to speak up about this situation, here’s how.

7. Senate may block Trump’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Twenty-two Senate resolutions are being introduced in objection to the Trump administration’s use of an emergency declaration to move forward with $8 million in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, bypassing the usual process of Congressional approval. Legislators objecting to this circumvention hope to use legislative action to block the arms sales, according to the LA Times.S-HP

If you want to speak up about arms sales to Saudia Arabia, you can send letters to this list.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Massive protest in Hong Kong

Over a million people protested in Hong Kong over the weekend, perhaps the largest protest in Hong Kong’s history, the New York Times reported. Protestors objected to China’s plan to allow those accused of crimes to be extradited to China, where the legal system is less transparent. Hong Kong has no extradition treaty with China. A bipartisan group of legislators wrote to Hong Kong’s leader to express their concern, saying that “We believe the proposed legislation would irreparably damage Hong Kong’s cherished autonomy and protections for human rights by allowing the Chinese government to request extradition of business persons, journalists, rights advocates and political activists residing in Hong Kong,” according to NPR. RLS

9. African bans on single-use plastic bags

Tanzania has banned “the importation, production, sale, and use of plastic bags”—following in the footsteps of Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, Tunisia, and 30 other African countries. JM

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer may have sat on treatment for Alzheimer’s 

The Washington Post reported that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer chose not to disclose research findings that suggest its popular arthritis drug Enbrel may be an effective treatment and preventative for Alzheimer’s disease. Pfizer, which reported revenues of 58 billion dollars, performed an in-house analysis of hundreds of thousands of insurance claims and found that those on Enbrel experienced an incredible 64% reduction in risk of contracting Alzheimer’s. After years of internal debate, the decision was made to not publish their findings or to pursue it further; in fact, the company disbanded their entire neurology research division working on Alzheimer’s. Researchers had recommended a clinical trial that would have cost the company about 80 million dollars; speculation by a former executive speaking anonymously is that the company didn’t see enough profit potential. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in those 65 and older. JC

11. New technique for editing DNA using CRISPR

CRISPR technology has been at the forefront of news for years, thanks to breakthroughs in gene editing made possible by the powerful tool, breakthroughs which promise new avenues of treatment for hereditary diseases. Enthusiasm for CRISPR treatments has been tempered by the fact that the process is very error- prone, requiring that DNA be “cut” by specialized proteins and then re-attached with the edited section inserted. Now a new technique developed by a team at Harvard, MIT and the National Institutes of Health has found a new way to insert edited genes without the necessity of cutting the DNA strand by using a protein they’re calling transposase. Naturally occurring segments of DNA called transposons have been known to “jump” position along the DNA helix; by utilizing the proteins used for this process, vast improvements have been seen in error rates. Traditional CRISPR editing has a success rate of about 1% while the new process succeeds 80% of the time, according to phys.org.
JC


12. New online database shows disturbing posts by police officers.

An online database called “The Plain View Project” has brought attention to thousands of public social media posts made by active duty police officers that have sexist, bigoted, racist and or violent content. The project was started by lawyer Emily Baker-White who was curious after a year-long fellowship after law school investigating a claim of police brutality. During that research she found public Facebook posts by officers involved and was astounded by the content. The results of the project indicate that police culture has some serious problems, far more than “a few bad apples” can be blamed for. The posts run the gamut from over-the-top promotion of cruelty and violence towards the public to outright white supremacy. Currently it shows posts made by 3,500 officers of eight cities selected to be broadly representative of the United States as a whole, according to the New York Times.
JC

ARTS & CULTURE

The architecture of slavery

In “We Have Made These Lands What They Are: The Architecture of Slavery,” artist and former newscaster Keris Salmon examines the lives of enslaved people and the places they lived in the American South – including the plantation owned by her husband’s ancestors.  Powerful story and imagery. Transcript is provided, but one should watch the video.

Pussy Riot playing benefit in Birmingham

Pussy Riot, the Russian band whose members were jailed for protesting human rights abuses in Russia, will put on a benefit concert for pro-choice groups in Alabama.

Free on-line indigenous film festival

From June 3 through 14, UNESCO is screening more than 80 films by filmmakers from Latin America and the Caribbean. Some films will be in Indigenous languages with English and Spanish subtitles. See them here.

Fighting back with chalk

What began as a class writing assignment is now a world-wide movement of women recording the daily harassment they are subject to in chalk where the event occurred. 

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist is focusing on voter empowerment for the month of June. See their site for an explanation and easy actions you can take.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list suggests whom you might write to about election security, disaster relief, penalties for those protesting pipelines–and much more.
  • Martha’s list provides numerous ways to comment on the record. Crucial this week
    is the sage grouse habitat; opportunities to comment closes in two days. Trump wants to open up the entire habitat to oil and gas drilling, threatening more than sage grouse but the entire ecosystem. Also, they’ve moved to remove regulatory restrictions on automated driving for cars, trucks, trains. Planes will be next. The 737 Max problem was in part automation.

NYMHM for 2 June 2019

Whether you have missed it or not, the news continues to become more and more incredible. ICE is separating newborns from mothers who give birth in detention, and it is not clear whether they are being returned when the women are released. At the same time as the abortion debate rages, ICE does not count a stillbirth as a death in custody. Like a low hum, other–even more ominous–policy changes emerge and the costs of climate change become clearer. At the same time, there are scraps of good news–and a myriad of ways to address the national issues. See the Resources page for ideas–and our new Arts & Culture page for ways to be sustained in this troubling present.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. The military as civilian police

Trump has in mind to invoke the Insurrection Act, which would permit military personnel to serve as civilian police. In particular, he would authorize them to detain and remove immigrants. The Insurrection Act is an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act, which says that the military cannot do domestic policing. The Insurrection Act gives the president broad powers: federal troops can be used “whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.” There is no option for Congressional or judicial review, according to Slate. RLS

2. Permanent War

In his speech to West Point graduates, Vice President Mike Pence said that “It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life.  You will lead soldiers in combat.  It will happen.” Pence went on to speculate that the graduates would fight in Afghanistan or Iraq, on the Korean Peninsula, in Europe, or in “this hemisphere.” Days before, Trump had sent 1,500 troops to the neighborhood of Iran. In Afghanistan, 2,400 Americans along 62,000 Afghan troops and police have died since the war there began in 2001; 24,000 civilians have been killed in the last ten years, according to Newsweek. RLS

3. Newborns taken from asylum-seekers

Women asylum-seekers who give birth while in the custody of the U.S. Marshalls in West Texas have been required to give up their newborn babies. Women who were released from custody and obtained legal help from organizations such as Annunciation House were able to be reunited with their babies, but it is not known how many mothers were not able to retrieve their babies. Rewire News, which is the only news outlet to break this story, had this information from the doctor who delivered many of the babies.

As the legal coordinator of Annunciation House, Taylor Levy, explains it this way: “Just think about it. You’re 18, 19, 20 years old. You’re in an entirely new country. You just gave birth and your baby is taken from you after two days. You have no clue what is going to happen to your baby or if your baby is safe. You’re taken back to prison, your breasts are leaking milk, you’re in pain, and you sit in a prison cell with no idea when you’ll get released or if you’ll see your baby again. All of this because you crossed a line without permission.” RLS

4. A stillbirth in ICE custody not considered an in-custody death

Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released information about a 24 year-old Honduran woman who suffered a stillbirth while in ICE custody, the New York Times reports. ICE officials released a statement that they do not view the stillbirth as an in-custody death. This has happened amid scrutiny over the medical care given inmates in immigration custody after several deaths of children and teens in ICE or Border Patrol custody. According to the Refugee and Immigrant Center of Education and Legal Services, interviews with women recently released from detention call into question the medical care received by pregnant women in custody. JML

5. 8,400 detainees kept in solitary confinement

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have made extensive use of solitary confinement in immigration detention centers—with nearly a third of those subjected to solitary confinement described as having a mental illness. This practice has come to light through extensive interviews with Ellen Gallagher, former policy adviser for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights, and documented by research done by the Intercept and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists ICIJ.

The general consensus is that solitary confinement should only be used as a last-resort measure and can be particularly dangerous for those with mental vulnerabilities. Gallagher described detainees sent to solitary confinement, often as a first option, rather than a last resort, for actions such as being assaulted (the detainee in question did not retaliate, but was placed in solitary nonetheless), engaging in a consensual kiss, and threatening suicide, according to Democracy Now. The Intercept/ICIJ data show 8,400 reported uses of solitary confinement from 2012 to early 2017. Among these cases, 373 were because detainees were potentially suicidal—and more than two hundred additional detainees were placed on suicide watch after being put in solitary.

Gallagher says she reported her concerns about misuse of solitary confinement to the DHS, the Homeland Security Secretary’s Office of Inspector General, the Office of Special Counsel (which solicits reports of wrongdoing from government employees), and the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (these two committees oversee ICE). The only significant response she knows of that was taken in response was a letter from then-Judiciary Committee members Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Democrat Senator Al Franken to the then-Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, citing Gallagher’s findings and demanding an explanation. S-HP

If you are inclined to call for an investigation and on-going monitoring of the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention centers, write the people on this list.

6. US refusal to take refugees has worldwide consequences

Despite the worldwide refugee crisis, the Trump administration has drastically cut the number of refugees the U.S. accepts–for example, from 9,000 Somali refugees in 2016 to 257 in 2018. About 320,000 Somalis were displaced due to confict in 2018. Kenya is housing many Somalis but has said it will have to close its camp in August. As Foreign Policy in Focus points out, the willingness of the U.S. to resettle refugees and to fund refugee camps has put pressure on countries housing refugees who will never come to North America, so that those countries will keep them safe until they can go home. Now, that pressure is gone. RLS

7. The census citizenship question was designed to benefit white Republicans

​We’re waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 census. This is an election issue because the distribution of House seats and a great many federal resources rely on census population data. The possible addition of citizenship question has become a contentious issue, since it would almost certainly discourage census participation by undocumented people living in the U.S.—and by people who fear being incorrectly labeled undocumented—who could be subject to deportation. 

Because this particular subset of the population resides primarily in California and New York, a decreased population count could lead to fewer House seats for those states. And because those states lean Democratic, a loss of House seats there could likely result in more House seats held by Republicans during the decade between the 2020 census and the next census in 2030. In a similar fashion, states with significant undocumented populations—or, again, anyone afraid of being labeled undocumented—would receive reduced shares of federal resources. 

The Commerce Department, which administers the census, claims the citizenship was added to the census to help with the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, but details from conversations and electronic documents–in particular, a hard drive belonging to a deceased Republican strategist–strongly suggest that the question was designed to suppress census numbers for undocumented communities and people of color, according to the Mercury News.

While the Supreme Court considers its ruling, Congress could act by supporting legislation that would sustain accurate population numbers and by rejecting legislation that would hinder accurate population numbers. The first, positive category includes H.R.732, which requires three years of testing for impact before any new question can be added to the census; H.R.1734, which would prohibit census questions on citizenship, nationality, or immigration status; S.201, which would also bar questions on citizenship, nationality, or immigration status; and S.358, which would require advance notification of Congress before any changes to census questions. The second, negative category includes H.R.1320 and S.1358, both of which would require an option to identify as a citizen on the census. All House legislation is with the Oversight and Reform Committee; all Senate legislation is before the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. S-HP

If you want to urge Congress to act on the citizenship question, here is whom you want to contact.

8. Trump punishes American consumers for migrants

Trump has declared he will impose a 5% tariff on all goods coming from Mexico unless Mexico stops the flow of migrants coming over the border, Mother Jones and many other outlets report. He says that the tariff will rise by 5% per month until it reaches 25%. As the CBC points out, his move threatens the new NAFTA agreement, yet to be ratified, and leads other countries to wonder whether the U.S. can be trusted. As Don Pittis, writing for the CBC, puts it, the question that  “must be echoing in Beijing, Brussels, Mexico City and Ottawa​ is​: “How can you trust Trump to honour deals?”

Indeed, China is setting up a “​​non-reliable entity list”​ which​ would include “foreign entities, individuals and companies that block and shut the supply chain, or take discriminatory measures over non-commercial reasons​,” according to China’s state newspaper, the CBC reports.

The Chicago Tribune has a useful fact-checker on tariffs and trade; Trump’s tweets suggest that tariffs are something one country pays another, but of course, they are paid by businesses and ultimately increase the price paid by consumers. CNBC reports on Goldman Sachs’ assertion that the cost of the tariffs imposed on Chinese goods “has fallen entirely on American businesses and households, with a greater impact on consumer prices than previously expected. ” RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. A Canadian Genocide

The murders and disappearances of thousands of Indigenous Canadian women and girls constitute a “Canadian genocide,” according to the long-awaited 1200 page report to be released Monday. The report concludes that these deaths and losses are caused by  “state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies,” challenging previous claims by the RCMP that Indigenous men were responsible for most of the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women. Based on an inquiry that lasted two and a half years and that received testimony from the families of murdered and missing women as well as Indigenous elders, the report makes 230 recommendations, reports the CBC. RLS

10. Far-right extremists funded internationally

Right-wing extremists in the UK are being funded by international networks, but enforcement efforts are not focusing on these groups but on Muslims, according to a new report by the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi). PayPal has recently shut down accounts by extreme right-wingers, impeding the crowd-funding efforts that have supported them in the past; they may be turning to crypto-currency instead, reports the Independent. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. An “unusual mortality event”: grey whales

Since the start of the year, at least seventy grey whales have washed up dead or stranded along the California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska coasts. Fifteen of these mammals were found dead. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared this cluster of events an emergency, according to the San Jose Mercury News. To be precise, the deaths are an “unusual mortality event,” language that automatically triggers funding for scientists to determine the cause of the die-off. The dead have included juvenile and adult, as well as male and female whales. Many of them were found malnourished, and Cascadia Research Collective Biologist John Calambokidis has pointed out that “We are seeing lots of live grey whales in unusual locations, clearly emaciated, trying to feed.” The current leading theory for the cause of these deaths is a disruption of the whales’ food supply, particularly in the Arctic, due to warming ocean waters. S-HP

If you want to urge action on this issue, the key contact people are here.


12. Severe heat wave hits northern India

Temperatures rose to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 Celsius) in the desert city of Churu in northern India, with temperatures expected to remain at a deadly high for the next week. Forty percent of India faces severe drought this year with the annual monsoon rains coming late and total rainfall projected to be less than normal. Weather patterns in India have been erratic the past decade, with lengthy droughts punctuated by severe flooding. Villages are now relying on trucked-in water as rivers and lakes have dried up, leaving farmers in fear of the prospects for the future. India has seen almost sixty thousand suicides of farmers in the past thirty years, a fact some attribute partially to the changing climate, phys.org reports.

13. For better or worse, climate change is impacting food production

A study led by the University of Minnesota in collaboration with Oxford University and the University of Copenhagen used weather and crop reports to detail a map of where and which crops have been most affected by climate change. The results are mixed but overall the world has seen a 1% drop in the calories supplied by the ten crops farmed, crops that provide 83% of all calories consumed by people. There are winners as well as losers, however, with Latin American yields coming out ahead while farms in Europe, southern Africa and Australia falling and North and Central America providing mixed results. Regarding specific crops, oil palm has been hit hardest with a 13% reduction in yield while soybeans have seen a bump of 3%. These data confirm that climate change impacts to food security aren’t a nebulous future threat; they are with us now. JC

14. Britain has gone two weeks without burning coal

For the first time since the 1880s, Britain has supplied all of its electrical power needs without burning coal for a record two weeks, the BBC reports. The good news comes from the regulatory board that monitors power production across the country. As coal plants take six hours to “warm up,” the board is notified well in advance of any being fired. That last happened on the 17th of May. This bit of good news happens as Britain continues to ramp up renewable production with the 14th of May seeing the record high share for solar power, at 25% of total electricity used. Britain is due to abandon the use of coal completely by 2025.  JC

15. Facebook fine in limbo as the FTC bickers

Last year, we summarized reports explaining how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook to siphon off the data of users’ friends and families, then targeted them with political ads that likely influenced the 2016 American election as well as the Brexit vote. Facebook has now been hit with a five billion dollar fine by the FTC.

However, as CNET reports, disagreements between Republicans and Democrats on the FTC have kept the fine from being imposed. Meanwhile, a Delaware court has ordered Facebook to turn over records on this privacy breach to shareholders.

Facebook has also refused to take down a doctored video of Nancy Pelosi in which she appears to be drunk. Representatives told politicians in Ottawa that it will not take down “false or misleading content,” saying that “it’s not Facebook’s role to decide the line between ‘free speech’ and ‘censorship.'” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg refused to honor a summons from a Canadian parlimentary committee, the Toronto Star reports. RLS

ARTS & CULTURE

“The House On Mango Street” to become an opera

The House on Mango Street tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, and has been a favorite worldwide for 35 years.  Author Sandra Cisneros is collaborating with composer Derek Bermel on the project, according to Bookriot.

Transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera featured on a monument in Greenwich Village.

Fierce transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will be recognized for their roles in the gay liberation movement, the New York Times reports. Johnson and Rivera were active in the Stonewall uprising, and also worked to assist homeless LGBTQ+ youth and people with HIV/AIDS.

The world’s largest protest banner produced by Sudanese artists

The textile banner will have hundreds of paintings, interspersed with the signatures of activists and portraits of protestors who died in the struggle in Sudan. 1.9 miles long, it will cover the length of the plaza in front of the military headquarters.

The Central Park Five now the subject of Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us”

Netflix presents a 4-part docudrama of the infamous case of five young men wrongly convicted for the rape of a woman in Central Park.  Then wise-guy, now president Donald Trump took out full-page advertisements in the local papers calling for their execution, according to the LA Times.

Survivors of sexual violence now have a national monument

The Monument Quilt is on display May 31 – June 2 on the National Mall in Washington DC, the Huffington Post reports.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is focusing on voter empowerment for the month of June. See their site for an explanation and easy actions you can take.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list also has some actions you can take around elections, as well as a way to pressure Justice Kavanaugh to rescue himself on the abortion issue, ways to address gun violence and more.
  • Martha’s list focuses on the attacks on LGBTQ+ civil rights; she says the big news is how the Trump administration is changing how it measures things – pollution deaths, poverty and a new standard called “natural law,” likely a further challenge to LGBTQ+ rights. See her list for ways to engage with these issues.

NYMHM for 26 May 2019

News You May Have Missed for May 26, 2019: We’re continuing to draw on the meticulous work of Sarah-Hope and Martha, so that if you want to act on the news you read, you can see how you might do so. In addition, Melissa has discovered more art that offers rsistance and sustenance in the world we find ourselves; see her listings below.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Protections eroding for trans, LGBTQ+ people in health care

Health-care providers could discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, if new rules from Health and Human Services go into effect. Discrimination on these grounds had been prohibited by the ACA, though these regulations have been continuously litigated. The new rules have not yet been published for public comment, but you can read HHS’s comprehensive argument here. Look in particular at page 44 and 103, where HHS writes, “It is also the position of the United States government that “Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination . . . does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status.” 

As the New York Times explained it last year, “The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.”​ For more discussion, see this piece by Charlotte Clymer,  as well as her twitter feed, @cmclymer. 

The Transgender Law Center says you can write to HHS here. If you’d like to see how HHS describes this initiative, you can read their press release. See Martha’s list for a more full discussion of a range of transgender discrimination issues. 

2. More apprehended children dying in custody

On May 20, the Associated Press reported that a fifth Central American child, a sixteen-year-old boy from Guatemala, had died in U.S. custody. But on May 23, CBS News revealed that child was actually the sixth to die in U.S. custody. The administration had not previously announced the death of a ten-year-old Salvadoran girl on September 29, 2018. The girl’s name had not been released as of this writing. In an interview with CBS News, Representative Joaquin Castro, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus responded to the girl’s death, “I have not seen any indication that the Trump administration disclosed the death of this young girl to the public or even to Congress, and if that’s the case, they covered up her death for eight months, even though we [the Hispanic Caucus and Congress at large] were actively asking the question about whether any child had died or been seriously injured. We began asking that question last fall.”

Manuel Castillo, Consulate General of El Salvador in Aurora, was also surprised by the report of the September death. He told CBS News his office had no knowledge of the girl’s death and was hoping the CBS News report would help him track down the family. Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, the boy who died, had been held in custody for six days —twice as long as federal law permits—and had been transferred to a second holding facility, even though it was known he had been diagnosed with influenza. As The New Yorker puts it, in the system of border enforcement, “the quality of mercy is under extreme strain.”

If you want to comment on the deaths of minors in custody, here are some options.

3. More children separated from their parents

Meanwhile, 1,700 additional children–so far–have been identified as possibly having been separated from their parents before the so-called “zero tolerance policy” went into effect, according to NBC News. Under court order, the Trump administration is reviewing 50,000 files on children and families to determine whether the children might have been separated; the Department of Homeland Security will then review the files to confirm whether they were. The ACLU, which brought the case, is trying to locate the families.

4. People arrested for giving food and water to migrants

People protesting the border policy and the treatment of immigrants are being targeted by the Border Patrol, according to documents obtained by Shadowproof. Those involved in peaceful protest–such as at the United States Border Patrol museum–are being hit with felony charges. Border Patrol units are attending seminars with Paul Laney, “a leading architect of the militarized police response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests on the state’s Great Plains in 2016 and 2017,” according to Shadowproof.  In addition, the Border Patrol has recently admitted that it surveilled journalists, protesters and legal aid workers on the border, according to the Intercept.

People who give food and water to migrants in the desert have been arrested and convicted. And one woman–not an activist but a parent and a city attorney–who stopped to help three ill young people on a Texas highway was arrested but not charged earlier in May, according to the New York Times. The Intercept ran a long, evocative, detailed piece earlier in May on the history of the Arizona sanctuary movement and on Scott Warren, an Arizona community college teacher who helps identify bodies found in the desert so that families can be notified and who has organized humanitarian volunteers to leave food and water for migrants through the organization No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes. Warren goes to trial next week, facing three felonies. His parents have written a plea for people to make phone calls to support him.

To stay tuned to this and other stories, you can follow investigative reporter Will Parrish on Twitter, @willparrishca.

5. Pipeline protest criminalized

In other efforts to criminalize protest, five states–Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa–have passed laws “making trespassing on “critical infrastructure” property” a felony, carrying heavy fines and jail time, according to Grist. Other states are poised to do the same. The intent here is to prevent protests under the guise of protecting infrastructure. The laws are close to identical, suggesting the involvement of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) an organization backed by the Koch Brothers which produces “model” conservative legislation. The International Center for Not-For-Profit law has been tracking this legislation.

6. New immigration rules changing the face of the country

Trump’s proposed new immigration rules would vastly reduce the number of people admitted to join family members, give preference to people based on skills and education, and require English fluency for Green Cards. They make no provision for Dreamers, long-term undocumented immigrants, and people with Temporary Protected Status. The language requirement could “definitely change the racial makeup of who’s coming here,” said Peter Isbister, an attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center.​ In addition, he says, “the family-based immigration system is so central to who we are as a country.”​

7. California teachers pay their own subs

If they are sick longer than ten days, California teachers must pay for their own substitutes, up to up to $240 per day​, Buzzfeed reports. Teachers have endured this situation since 1976, but it has not been well-known until a Go-Fund-Me campaign was organized for a San Francisco elementary school teacher who had to go out for the rest of the year for breast cancer treatment. To add inj​ury to injury, teachers nationwide have not recived an increase in real wages since 1996, according to Daily Kos. And to compound the injury, teachers in California and fourteen other states cannot receive Social Security–even if they paid into it through other jobs. Even their spousal Social Security payments have their retirement pensions deducted from them, NPR reported in 2018.

If you want to speak up on behalf of teachers, you might press the state-wide offices of teachers’ unions–National Education Assocation or American Federation of Teachers–to take this up. It’s been over 40 years.

8. Cuts to Job Corps target marginalized youth

The Trump administration is planning to end its involvement in the Civilian Conservation Corps, laying off 1100 federal employees and cancelling a program that provided job training in rural areas for marginalized young people. There is bi-partisan opposition to the cuts, according to the Washington Post, but it is not at all clear that those opposed will prevail.  

To advocate for Job Corps programs, see this link.

9. Russia plans for 2020 and beyond

Russia intends to create racial tension in the US and undermine the electoral process well beyond 2020, new documents obtained by NBC news through the Dossier Center suggest. (The Dossier Center is funded by Russian opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky.) Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and who saw the documents, commented that “Russia understands how critical the African American vote is to determining the outcome of elections. “And because we have not effectively dealt with racism as a country ourselves, I believe we’ve made ourselves vulnerable to foreign powers like Russia to continue to try to undermine us.”

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. Slouching toward war with Iran?

The Trump administration seems to be ambivalently but alarmingly moving toward war with Iran. It pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement, while other signers have stayed in. National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has long wanted a reason to press for regime change in Iran, said earlier this month that the U.S. has seen “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” coming from Iran. The US has sent “an aircraft carrier strike group and land-based bombers,” NPR reported, and is proposing to send another 5000 troops along with military equipment, including Patriot missiles. It is not clear what Bolton is referring to; apparently Iran loaded missiles onto small boats and then unloaded them, reported the New York Times.

The build-up of weapons is alarming, according to Colin H. Kahl, who was deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East from 2009 to 2011. His piece in the Washington Post sketches how easily the US and Iran could fall into a war through a tragedy of errors.

Last fall, Conn Hallinan, writing for Foreign Policy in Focus, reviewed a new book by Middle East reporter Reese Erlich, The Iran Agenda Today: The Real Story Inside Iran and What’s Wrong with U.S. Policy. The book, says Hallinan, “certainly provides enough historical context to conclude that an attack on Iran — which would likely also involve Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and possibly Israel — would unleash regional chaos with international repercussions.”

There are key differences between Iran and Iraq that would complicate any invasion, points out professor of history, Juan Cole, among them that “the US would need 2.4 million troops to occupy Iran”; the US has 281,900 active military personnel and 1,860,000 reservists, he says.    (You can follow Juan Cole at @jricole)

If you’re worried about the looming threat of war with Iran, be aware that H.R.2354 and S.1039, both titled the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act, would explicitly deny Trump the authority he needs to go to war with Iran. H.R.2354 is with the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees; S.1039 is with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

If you want to urge your representatives to support these bills, you can locate them here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Rogue NSA program cripples Baltimore city government computers

A secret NSA cyberweapon was stolen by hackers back in 2017 and since then has caused havoc around the world, according to the New York Times.. First used by North Korean operatives in the Wannacry virus, which crippled the British healthcare networks and German train systems, the tool has now been leveled at US city governments, which suffer from old outdated software and lax IT standards.

The core of these attacks come from a program made to exploit a flaw found in Microsoft software called EternalBlue, named for the so-called blue screen of death which occurs when the Microsoft operating system crashes. This security flaw was not passed on to Microsoft for five years while the NSA made full use of it until it was appropriated by foreign actors. While Microsoft has now released a patch, many networks used by smaller city governments remain vulnerable. Baltimore is one of the latest victims with its ability to process real estate sales, water bills, health alerts or utilize city email compromised; the system is being held ransom for $100k which Baltimore—at least so far—refuses to pay. 

12. FDA sat on 50,000 “hidden” reports of cardiac device malfunction

The FDA has decided to eliminate an “alternative” reporting system offered as a special exemption to some medical device manufacturers. Ordinarily medical devices are required to report any instances of malfunction or failure to a public database called MAUDE, Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience, but a number of devices acquired exemptions to this requirement and were permitted to use a private database accessible only to the FDA. This was done ostensibly to streamline reporting but since its inception, over one million reports have accumulated, all out of public view, including 50k reports of an implanted defibrillator in widespread use made by Medtronic. The device itself was recalled by the manufacturer in 2007 but tens of thousands of patients have not had access to information needed to make an informed decision about whether to remove the devices or continue with possible malfunction, Ars Technica reports.

RESOURCES

  • See Martha’s whole list for other issues affecting trans people, along with many opportunities to comment on the record, including proposals to loosen restrictions on RoundUp, frack California, tighten asylum rules and make eagle feathers available to non-indigenous people for non-indigenous religious observances.
  • If you want challenge locking up asylum-seekers or requiring them to wait in Mexico while their cases are being heard, if you want to advocate for preserving NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System or for keeping the EPA’s system for monitoring the health of children, see Sarah-Hope’s full list.

Arts & Culture

A queer film festival in Tunisia

It is illegal to be queer in Tunisia–but nonetheless for four days in March, the
Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival was a sanctuary for LGBTQ+ people. Mawjoudin, the New York Times reports, means “we exist.”

Black Lives matter–in stained glass windows

Though the show, called Lamentations, has closed, you can still see Kehinde Wiley’s extraordinary stained glass windows representing the beauty and tragedies in Black lives at this site.

Charts and graphs about climate change become art

Alisa Singer, a data visualization artist, is turning scientific data about climate change into art pieces. Her work is part of a show, Environmental Graphiti, which you can see at this site.

Women prisoners healing from PTSD through dance

The “Dance to be Free” program, which uses dance as therapy to assist women prisoners coping with PTSD and which trains women prisoners to serve as teachers, has expanded to eight prisons in five states. You can get a sense of it here.

New Chicago major hangs piece in her office on red-lining

Lori Lightfoot, the new mayor of Chicago, hung an art piece on red-lining, just in time for her inauguration. Produced by the community print studio, Spudnik Press, the piece is one of a series produced by Amanda Williams and Natalie Y. Moore, all based on maps of Chicago.” You can see it here.

NYMHM for 19 May 2019

In addition to offering opportunities to act or comment on items in the news, News You May Have Missed has added a new section on art projects around topics in the news. Thanks to Melissa for seeing that resistance is sustained by art and for bringing these events to our page.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Missing and murdered Indigenous women

According to the National Institute of Justice, four out of five American Indigenous women and men have suffered violence in their lifetimes. Indigenous women also experience intimate partner violence, human trafficking and rape at high rates, and the number of murdered and missing Native American women is also significantly under-reported. A 2008 Department of Justice report examined the issue in considerable detail and the National Institute of Justice report came out in 2016. At last, the bipartisan Not Invisible Act (S. 982), introduced by U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Jon Tester (D-MT), would address this crisis in the US. As Senator Murkowski’s website says, the bill would establish “an advisory committee of local, tribal and federal stakeholders to make recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice on best practices to combat the epidemic of disappearances, homicide, violent crime and trafficking of Native Americans and Alaska Natives.” 

If you want to learn about other pending bills on this subject and contact your senators about them, the information is here.

In process since 2016, Canada’s inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women has finally been completed; the report is due out in June. Profiles of Indigenous Canadian murdered and missing Indigenous women are in this CBC story

2. Detention in Louisiana

Lowering the state’s high incarceration rate was a commitment Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, made when he was elected. However, once the jails empied out, ICE began detaining immigrants in them. There are fewer immigration attorneys in Lousiana so detainees often have to represent themselves. The few attorneys available work extremely long days. And the judges are more punitive; as Mother Jones reported, “One judge, Agnelis Reese, denied every asylum claim she’d heard between 2014 and 2018…her colleague John Duck denies 83 percent of claims.”

3. Children of LGBT parents described as “out of wedlock”

Another threat on the citizenship front involves gay and lesbian couples with children born via surrogate. One gay couple, Roee and Adiel Kiviti are American citizens, with a two-year-old son, born in Canada using an egg donor and a surrogate, who is also an American citizen. When the family was expanded to include the now-two-month-old Kessem, also born in Canada using an egg donor and surrogate, they were told that because Kessem was “born out of wedlock” she is not eligible for birthright U.S. citizenship. This is in accordance with new State Department policy that says a child born via “assistive reproductive technology” to a U.S. citizen father and an anonymous egg donor does not have a right to birthright citizenship, regardless of that father’s marital status. Roee told the Daily Beast, “This is a very clear attack on families, on American families. Denying American married couples their rights to pass their citizenship, that is flat-out discrimination, and everyone should be concerned about this.”

If you want to speak up about this issue, some suggestions are here.

4. Proposed amendments to anti-abortion law

You won’t have missed the news about the draconian anti-abortion laws being passed in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Alabama, and Missouri. Rewire News has a good explainer on the issues. In Alabama, four amendments were proposed before the anti-women-having-control-over-their-own-bodies-and-lives legislation was passed. One was proposed by State Senator Linda Coleman-Madison and would have required free prenatal and medical care for women in the state who are denied an abortion. State Senator Vivian Davis has three proposed amendments. The first would have expanded Medicaid to provide funding for mothers and young children. The second would have required those who voted for the legislation to pay the legal costs of defending it in court. The third would have outlawed vasectomies. Not surprisingly, none of them passed, but they forced those voting in favor of the legislation to embrace the hypocrisy of their “pro-life” stances.

If you want to thank the legislators who made those proposals, their contact information is here. See this link as well for information about demonstrations planned for May 21.

5. Public Utilities at fault

Electrical transmission lines owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Company were responsible for the Camp Fire last year that destroyed the town of Paradise, California, and killed 85 people, according to a report by The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. PG&E, which has filed for bankruptcy protection, faces multiple lawsuits from people whose lives were destroyed, and may be criminally prosecuted as well. Meanwhile, Geisha Williams, who was PG&E’s CEO during the wildfires, received a salary of 9.3 million during 2018.

In addition, the cause of a hundred-day leak of 100,000 metric tons of methane in Southern California in 2015-2016 that led to mass evacuations and countless illnesses was finally attributed to corrosion of the lining of storage tanks. According to the New York Times, “SoCalGas, the company that owns and operates the natural gas well, did not meaningfully investigate or analyze more than 60 previous leaks at the complex.” 36,000 people are suing SoCalGas.

6. Fracking earthquake country

On May 9, Trump released plans to allow fracking across 725,000 acres of federal land on the coast of California and in the Central Valley, according to the Sacramento Bee. An earlier plan would allow fracking on an additional 1.6 million acres. California sued the Trump administration in January to prevent that plan from going forward. The Center for Biological Diversity says that fracking in these areas would lead to “air pollution, drinking water contamination, risk of induced earthquakes, industrial disturbance, habitat fragmentation, and noise and light pollution.” The organization points out that California is already the third-largest oil producing state and that continuing to develop fossil fuels will contribute to climate change.  

If you’re of a mind to speak up about this issue, Martha has located where to comment.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

7. Canada ends “safe country” policy

Canada has quietly ended its policy of subjecting refugees who come from 43 so-called “safe countries,” including the United States, to abbreviated processes and restrictions on work permits; they were also deprived of the right to appeal. The policy was supposedly designed to reduce the backlog in the immigration system; it did not succeed in doing so, according to CTV. In 2015, 16,000 people applied for asylum in Canada; in 2018 55,000 applied. Most of the applicants were young men.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. Technique to manipulate single atoms has been developed

Individual atoms can be manipulated into place using the electron beam of scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM), which is controlled using magnetic lenses, according to a paper submitted to the journal “Science Advances.” The paper, by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Vienna, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and others in China, Denmark and Ecuador, opens the door for truly atomic scale engineering. While individual atoms have been painstakingly put into ordered positions before, scientists used a mechanical method involving the minute tip of a scanning tunneling electron microscope to pick up and drop atoms into place. This new method is completely electronic and uses no mechanical moving parts making it potentially much much faster and more accurate than old methods. Instead of a sort of nano-scale claw machine, this process resembles an expert billiards player who can calculate the exact force and angle to predict precisely where his aimed shots will go across a “table” made of a single atom thick layer of graphene.

9. Trump administration unrolls site to report ‘censorship’ by social media companies

Citing “political bias,” the White House has launched an online form to report social media platforms for what they describe as censorship. The Trump administration alleges that social media companies should “advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH” (their caps) and that “too many” Americans have been suspended or banned for violated terms of service that are apparently not well understood. This comes in the wake of a series of high profile bans of alt-right media personalities from platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, all of whom were wildly outside of the terms of service conditions regarding hate speech, Ars Technica reported. The first amendment of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech in that the federal government is prohibited from curtailing the free speech rights of Americans; however. as most people are well aware private companies also have  rights and are in no way compelled to allow persons free access to their services to promote views they feel are contrary to their economic interests.

ARTS & CULTURE

Artists in Response

In Response is a visual resource of artists, cultural organizers and organizations who engage the arts to investigate and amplify issues related to immigration.  While centered in New York, the site lists organizations and resources from around the country.  Well worth investigating!

Commemorating students killed in school violence

A graduating Ohio student has decorated her mortarboard with QR code that leads to a list of students killed in school shooting, with the heading, “I graduated. These high school students couldn’t.” A CNN article includes a link to a printable version of the QR code, in case you know of any students who might want to do the same

Art and the Environmental Crisis

Christie’s Education is putting on a symposium June 11 in New York, asking such questions as:
• How does contemporary art communicate information about global climate change and its consequences?
• How can art assist in decision making about climate change?
• What methods, materials and processes are among those being utilized by artists?
• How does the context in which we encounter this work impact our response to it?
• How do we gauge its effectiveness?

The cost is $125 – 15% discount using the code: SYMPOSIUM19

RESOURCES

  • If you want to speak up about gun violence, pregnancy-related deaths among Black women, the “conscience” rule permitting health care providers to refuse to care for LGBTQ+ patients and others–and much more, see Sarah-Hope’s list.
  • The Americans of Conscience list has a list of actions you can take, along with some good news.
  • Martha also has good news: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reversed the Medicare Part D rule which would have permitted plans to exclude protected classes including people with HIV or cancer. Comments can make a difference! To comment on other issues, among them RoundUp, HUD targeting undocumented residents (see our story last week), exposing miners to diesel exhaust, the ACA, elections and voting systems, municipal sewer run-off, and more, see her list.

NYMHM for 12 May 2019

At News You May Have Missed, we are continuing our experiment with integrating action items–as we are able to–with news summaries. We appreciate the meticulous work of Martha and Sarah-Hope who identify each week how we can be useful with regard to the topics we care about. In addition, this week Sarah-Hope has joined us as a writer, bringing her remarkable ability to encapsulate complex issues to writing news summaries.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Happy Mother’s Day: Consider 55,000 (more) homeless kids

​As many as 55,000 children could become homeless as a result of a new regulation published by Ben Carson’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Until now, families with mixed-status–that is, families who have one or more undocumented members–could live in public housing as long as the family had one member who was eligible for federal subsidies, Mother Jones explains. Under this new regulation, all members would have to be eligible–so families with children who were citizens and one parent who was undocumented would have to leave their homes.  By HUD’s own calculations, this change will affect 76,000 people; about them, HUD wrote,  “HUD expects the fear of the family being separated would lead to a prompt evacuation by most mixed-status families.”  ​If you would like to comment on this, you can do so here; comments are due July 9. 

2. Happy Mother’s Day #2: Kids at Guantánamo

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is proposing to house separated migrant children at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the Independent reported, though as the New York Times pointed out, the image of housing children next to terrorism suspects has kept the plan from moving forward. Still, because ICE is overwhelmed by immigrants–housing some 50,223 at this writing–the Department of Defense is looking at other military bases where they could be housed. The numbers are due in part to Attorney General Barr’s insistence that migrants seeking asylum be detained until their cases can be heard.

3. The entire ACA at risk

​The entire Affordable Care Act could be struck down if the Trump administration prevails in a federal appeals court. The administration argues that the entire ACA is unconstitutional, a change in from its previous position that only part of it needed to be dismantled. If the court agrees with Trump, 21 million people will lose health insurance (see the story on maternal mortality, below). Many millions more will no longer be protected by its provisions–regarding pre-existing conditions, for example, according to the New York Times

4. Redefining poverty

The Office of Budget and Management is proposing a change in the way the national poverty threshold is calculated. The move would tie poverty measures to the “chained” Consumer Price Index, which minimizes increasing inflation by assuming that, rather than buying products whose costs are increasing at new, higher prices, consumers will move to purchasing less expensive items. As a result, the number of families qualifying for income-based services would grow more slowly than the actual growth in consumer prices, Bloomberg reports. The Obama White House tried a similar move with cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security in2014—a proposal that was abandoned after objections by Congressional Democrats.

If you have an opinion about this issue, you can find out where to write here.

5. Marginalizing US Department of Agriculture scientists

Last August, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue announced plans to move the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)—both agencies that play a key role in developing policy—outside the nation’s capital. While this proposal may sound inconsequential, fifty-six former United States Department of Agriculture and federal statistical agency officials, along with more than 1,100 scientists and economists have objected to this move. The move is apt to spark retirement or resignation of USDA scientists who do not wish to relocate, creating a loss of expertise that will take years to recover, reports farmprogress.com.

Government officials, policy makers, and scientists frequently consult with the ERS and NIFA. These consultations will be more difficult once the offices are relocated, particularly for out-of-area officials, who could formerly have included visits to the ERS and NIFA offices when conducting other business at the capitol. Susan Offutt, an ERS administrator during the Clinton and Bush (W.) administrations, explained “The USDA’s evidence-lite justification for USDA to so radically uproot its world-class research, economics and statistical agencies is the reason the Economic Research Service should be kept in Washington, DC, and in the USDA research arm. We need its objective and respected analysis to support evidence-based policymaking in our $1 trillion food, agriculture and rural economy.”

If you want to object to this move, here’s how to do so.

6. The plots thicken: Bolton and Cambridge Analytica

​Between 2014 and 2017, John Bolton’s Super PAC received $5 million dollars from John Mercer of Cambridge Analytica, according to the Centre for Public Integrity, which has updated its 2018 story. In turn, Bolton gave back $1.1 million to Cambridge Analytica for data on voters. (Cambridge Analytica was the voter-profiling company whose ability to identify particular details about voters and then target them with fake news to shape their choices was instrumental in the 2016 presidential campaign and in the success of Brexit.) The Centre for Public Integrity’s source was Mark Groombridge, an advisor to Bolton.
The PAC, which Bolton says he disbanded in March but which had continued its operations well after Bolton became National Security Advisor April 9, was intended in part to explore Bolton’s nascent presidential ambitions. All in all, it donated some $6 million to right-wing candidates. Bolton’s PAC was made possible by the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations and other entities to donate unlimited sums to political campaigns.

7. Foreign governments renting in Trump Tower

​Seven foreign governments–Iraq, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Thailand and the European Union–rented condos at Manhattan’s Trump World Tower, according to a Reuters story, possibly violating the emoluments clause; Congress must approve any gifts or payments from foreign governments. Other governments expressed interest in renting, as a Reuters graphic showing the timeline of these arrangements demonstrates.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Chinese repression of Uighar Muslims

As trade talks continue (or don’t) between the U.S. and China, one important topic is not on the table: the ongoing Chinese violations of of Uighar Muslims’ human rights. China is currently holding up to one million Uighars in detention camps. The vast Xinjiang region, where the Uighar detentions are occurring has a population of 24 million, almost half of whom are Muslims—and the majority of these are Uighars. The detentions, along with intensive monitoring of Uighars’ daily activities through the use of both cameras and informants are aimed at forcing Uighar abandonment of Islam and of resistance to Chinese rule. The New York Times describes the anti-Uighar programs as “a campaign of breathtaking scale and ferocity that has swept up hundreds of thousands of Chinese Muslims for weeks or months of what critics describe as brainwashing, usually without criminal charges” and noted that this is the country’s most significant internment program since the Mao era. China has called Uighar detention centers “mild corrective institutions” and claims that they provide job training. The Uyghar [sic] Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 (S.178 in the Senate and H.R.649 in the House), which calls for an end to arbitrary, detention, torture, and harassment of Uighar communities remains in committee in both houses of Congress: the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.


If you want to speak up about Chinese Muslims, here’s whom to write.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Pregnancy-related deaths high among Black and Indigenous Women


Pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are two and half to three times higher among Black and Indigenous women than among white women, according to the CDC’s weekly morbility and mortality report. Three out of five deaths were preventable; better health care, stable housing and reliable transportation would reduce the number of deaths, according to the CDC. The US has twice the number of deaths in pregnancy and childbirth compared to Canada and a number of other wealthy nations. Severe bleeding, heart disease and strokes caused most of the deaths; the  American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists  recently acknowledged that racial bias plays in role in maternal deaths, in that symptoms among Black and Indigenous women tend to be discounted, according to the New York Times.

10. Extinctions on the horizon

As many as a million plant and animal species are in danger of extinction, putting the survival of ecosystems and people at risk, the New York Times reports. Various ordinary human activities–from farming to poaching–have led to a 20 per cent decrease of plants and animals in major habitats. Climate change has intensified this process, shrinking the areas in which plants and animals can survive, a process that will result in profound loss of biodiversity. As the summary of the United Nations report puts it, “Climate change is a direct driver that is increasingly exacerbating the impact of other drivers on nature and human well-being.”    We have covered this issue before, but are mentioning it again because the full summary is now available–the 1500 page report will be published later this year.

11. Ancient trees discovered in North Carolina

​The bald cypresses of North Carolina were known to be long-lived—however, how long was a mystery until a recent study published in the journal Environmental Research Communications identified trees exceeding 2000 years in age, with one example recorded at over 2600 years. The trees are located along the Black River in a 16,000 acre preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy of North Carolina and these studies would set them around the third oldest trees with confirmed ages in the world. Old growth forests in the United States are exceedingly rare, with less than 1% of old growth cypress trees still in existence, according to BGR.

12. The US military has drones that fire knife-wielding missiles

​The Wall Street Journal reports that the United States Department of Defense, in collaboration with the Central Intelligence Agency, has created a new version of the Hellfire missile that uses kinetic energy and blades to kill. Developed in response to a mandate by the Obama administration to reduce collateral casualties in drone strikes, the missile instead uses precision guidance, 100 pounds of metal and spring-loaded blades in an attempt to eliminate single targets. The missile, designated R9X, has been used about six times according to the WSJ, with two confirmed strikes against targets in vehicles in which the vehicles did not explode. In the strike against Al Qaeda leader Ahmad Ahasan Abu Kahyr al-Masri in February of 2017 the damage to his Kia was limited to a hole in the roof and a crack in the windshield, according to Ars Technica.

RESOURCES

  • Do you have something to say about fracking in California? The destruction of grey wolves? The requirement that asylum seekers pay fees to apply?  If so, Martha can tell you how to weigh in. Here is her list.
  • Sarah-Hope has identified even more action items than we have listed above, from ways to speak up about the dismantling of safeguards around off-shore drilling to subsidies of fossil fuels to Anita Hill’s call for federal protections against sexual harassment. See her list here.

NYMHM for 5 May 2019

News You May Have Missed is integrating some action items into our news summaries. Martha and Sarah-Hope (see the Resources below) do thorough, comprehensive investigations into how people can respond to the many issues in the news–we think it makes sense not only to call your attention to undercovered stories but to give you ways to intervene in them. Feel free to comment on our Facebook page if you have thoughts about this.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. More attacks on freedom of the press

We’ve reported before on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) keeping a database of journalists and influencers. In further news, Bloomberg Government reports on a DHS FedBizOpps.gov posting (Statement of Work) which describes monitoring the public activities of media professionals and influencers.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has just posted a different kind of database–a heartbreaking list of 1340 journalists killed worldwide since 1992. If you want to work with the database, you can search by gender, country, year, and so forth.

2. Unreliable list of unreliable news sites

The Poytner Institute, ordinarily a very responsible organization which conducts journalism education and analysis, pulled its list of 515 unreliable news sites after a barrage of critique. The list was compiled from “fake news” databases developed by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at University of Southern California, Merrimack University, PolitiFact, Snopes and data designer Chris Herbert, according to the Hill.

In a letter on its website, the editor said that they had decided to pull the site because of “weaknesses” in the methodology. She wrote, “we regret that we failed to ensure that the data was rigorous before publication, and apologize for the  confusion and agitation caused by its publication.”

3. Heath care for LGBTQ+ patients compromised

Health care providers may now refuse to care for LGBTQ patients for reasons of conscience, according to new rules published by Health and Human Services last week. According to PBS, which provides a detailed analysis, the new rule broadens the grounds on which health care workers can opt-out of providing care. They may refuse to see transgender patients, for example, or to address concerns regarding HIV/AIDS.

In addition, health care providers no longer have to refer patients to other practitioners if patients need care to which they object, a measure that will have a particularly serious impact on rural women. The regulations go beyond the provision of services in that they permit workers to opt out for religious reasons from health care research and insurance processing, according to Rewire News. On Thursday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the Trump administration, saying that “people’s health should not be a political football. The intent of this new rule is clear: it’s to prioritize religious beliefs over patient care, thereby undermining access to contraception, abortion, HIV treatment and a host of other medical service.”

Are you inclined to speak up about this policy? Write the head of Health and Human Services.

4. More severe hardships imposed on asylum seekers

In April, Attorney General William Barr declared that asylum seekers had no right to bail. Now, the ACLU, the American Immigration Council, and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project have sued the Trump administration, insisting that asylum seekers have a right to due process, according to the Associated Press. Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU described the issue this way: “We are talking about people who are fleeing for their lives, seeking safety. And our response is just lock them up.”

In other measures designed to deter asylum-seekers, the Trump administration ordered that they be charged fees for applying for asylum, that anyone crossing the border illegally be denied work permits, and that courts adjudicate asylum requests within 180 days, the Washington Post reported.

If you want to speak up about the treatment of asylum-seekers, some options are here.

5. Child who died in US custody had tumor, authorities claim

On April, 30, Juan De Leon Guiterrez, 16, died in U.S. Government custody at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas. He was taken to a shelter on April 20, when, according to a statement released by Administration for Children and Families spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer, no health problems were observed. The following morning, Guiterrez became visibly ill, with fever and chills, and was taken to a local emergency department for treatment; when his condition did not improve the following day, he was returned to the hospital by ambulance and later transferred to Driscoll, where he spent several days in intensive care, according to USA Today. Authorities claim the teen had a Pott’s tumor, which is a rare complication of sinusitis, according to Applied Radiology. Guiterrez is the third child to die in U.S. custody.

If you want to recommend that the health of asylum-seekers, especially children, be more closely monitored, here are some people to write.

6. Hondurans drown in the Rio Grande

On Thursday, May 2, U.S. border agents recovered the body of a 10-month-old boy, and continued to look for the remains of three other Honduran migrants who are missing, presumed dead after their boat overturned as they tried to cross the Rio Grande late on the evening of Wednesday, May 1. 

7. Indigeous rights to eagle feathers threatened

The Department of the Interior is proposing to permit non-Indigenous people to have access to eagle feathers for religious purposes, according to the Turtletalk blog on Indigenous legal affairs. Under current Fish & Wildlife regulations, designed to preserve eagles, no one may possess eagle feathers except Indigenous people, to whom they are sacred. Indigenous people may receive eagle feathers from the  National Eagle Repository, inherit them, or receive them as gifts.

You can submit a formal comment on this issue here and here.

8. Disaster unrelieved

In March, we noted that the Inspector General of HUD was investigating whether the Trump Administration had blocked disaster relief funding for Puerto Rico. A recent Government Accounting Office report revealed that block grants for several locations hit by hurricanes–Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands–had not been released. Meanwhile, children and adults in these areas are suffering mental health crises, as NPR and The Guardian report.

If you want to recommend that these funds be released, you can find whom to write here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Climate emergency declared in the U.K.

A climate emergency has been declared by Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland; she said she was moved to act by meeting with young climate change protestors. Sturgeon’s government has already banned fracking, according to the BBC, and has committed Scotland to being carbon-neutral by 2050.

Wales, too, has declared a climate emergency following protests; cyclists disrupted traffic by riding slowly through Cardiff. Lesley Griffiths, Minister of Energy, Planning, and Rural Affairs, told the BBC, that “climate change threatens Wales’ health, economy, infrastructure and natural environment.” She added that the Welsh government was committed to establishing a “carbon neutral public sector by 2030.”

In response to pressure from these governments and the action group Extinction Rebellion, the UK government also declared a climate emergency. Though it is not binding on the government, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “We pledge to work as closely as possible with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe and make clear to US President Donald Trump that he cannot ignore international agreements and action on the climate crisis.”

10. Trump vetoes resolution to stop U.S. aid to Saudi war against Yemen.

By the end of this year, a quarter of a million people will have died in the US-assisted Saudi war on Yemen, according to the U.N. Development Report, just released. Conditions there are dire, especially for children, who are dying of famine and lack of water, caught in bombing raids and forced to serve as child soldiers.

In response to the on-going conflict, the U.S. Congress for the first time invoked the War Powers Act, passed in 1973 to prevent presidents from waging war without Congressional approval. The resolution to stop aiding Saudia Arabia passed both houses but was vetoed last week by Trump, Al Jazeera reported. In a 53 to 45 vote, the Senate failed to over-ride the veto, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed. In a statement, Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the sponsors of the measure, said “The bad news today: we were unable today to override Trump’s veto regarding U.S. intervention in this horrific war in Yemen. The good news: for the first time in 45 years, Congress used the War Powers Act to reassert its constitutional responsibility over the use of armed forces.”

11. Coup in Venezuela fails–for now

In Venezuela, a US-backed coup against the government of  President Nicolás Maduro, a coup led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó has apparently failed. Calling it  “Operation Liberty,” Guaidó admitted on Saturday that the opposition had overestimated support from the military and said that he would take any offer of military support from the US to the national assembly, reported the Washington Post.

The Nation ran an insightful on-the-ground piece demonstrating the ways in which the mainstream media got the story wrong and the very high cost of potential US intervention.

Meanwhile, US sanctions have killed an estimated 40,000 people since 2017,  according to a report economist Jeffrey Sachs has co-authored with Mark Weisbrot, Democracy Now points out. The report, published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, refers to these deaths–due to lack of food and medicine–as collective punishment.U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden criticized Maduro’s government for “concocting false and outlandish conspiracy theories” about the United States, according to Politico.

Do you want to speak up about Yemen or Venezuela? Find your Senators and Representatives here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

12. Second largest emperor penguin colony all but wiped out

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey have revealed that the second largest colony of emperor penguins in the world in Antarctica has totally collapsed, as The Hill reports.. Using satellite imagery the colony located at Halley Bay has been observed to be shrinking for several years now, with the last three breeding seasons yielding almost no chicks. The sea ice on which the colony depends during brooding season broke up far earlier than the historic norm, with climate change the likely cause. The small glimmer of hope is that a nearby colony has been seen to be increasing, taking in refugees; however, emperor penguin numbers overall are predicted to crash between 50-70% by the end of the century.

13. Department of Justice to investigate taxpayer-funded carbon capture facility

The Department of Justice has issued a notice to Southern Company that it intends to investigate the Kemper County energy facility in Mississippi regarding the decision to abandon its project to sequester carbon at the power plant. Tax-funded grants of 387 million dollars had been provided to help fund the facility that was intended to use cutting-edge coal gassification and carbon sequestration technology. Instead the company scrapped the project and simply converted the plant to run on cheap natural gas, apparently pocketing the grant money. This failure represents a blow both to any prospect of a resurgence of coal as a viable energy source and industrial CO2 sequestration as a byproduct, according to Ars Technica.

RESOURCES

  • Lawfare has a page with just the executive summaries of the Mueller report.
  • Martha has a particularly comprehensive list this week, addressing threats to the ACA, a massive fracking plan in California, changes to groundwater contamination, and much more. She tells you where to submit a federal comment on these and other issues.
  • Sarah-Hope’s full list suggests other issues you may want to address–the House climate change bill, the Trump administration’s resistance to considering rape a weapon of war, gun control, and more.
  • Jen Hofmann’s Americans of Conscience checklist also offers clear, managable actions to take.

NYMHM for 28 April

As always, we focus on news that’s being overwhelmed by the press of events.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. It gets worse.

The Independent reports that the US is looking at military bases to house migrants, and has even considered Guantanamo Bay (though with no “immediate” plans “because of the optics involved”). The media keeps reporting on a “surge” in immigrants, buying into the Trump administration’s framing of the issue, but any housing difficulties are manufactured by the Trump administration’s resistance to what they dehumanizingly call “catch and release” programs, where immigrants are released while they wait for their legal status to be adjudicated. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) currently imprisons 50,223 migrants, more than the congressionally-mandated limit of 45,274.

In fact, the “surge” is still a historic low: while illegal border crossings are at a decade-long high, they are still less than half the numbers routinely seen from the 1980s into the mid-2000s.

In addition, there’s no immediate shortage of housing: The Guardian reports, there were “nearly 2,000 empty beds in two detention centers last week, with a facility in Dilley, Texas, at 26% capacity and a facility in Berks county, Pennsylvania, at 19% capacity.”

CNN’s Jim Acosta reports, “Family separations are still under discussion inside the WH, I’m told. Stephen Miller is still driving those discussions and Trump remains receptive to the policy, a WH official said.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is preparing to expand the military’s role on the southern border, including military lawyers to be detailed to ICE to work on deportation hearings, as well as troops to “hand out snacks and refreshments to migrants in detention, where families often receive items such as cookies, crackers and juice boxes between meals. CBP agents often complain such tasks amount to ‘babysitting’ duties and say their time would be better spent guarding the border.”

The government continues to target immigration activists, attorneys, and journalists, according to the Boston Review, referencing an NBC affiliate report on a leaked Homeland Security database, listing in part attorneys stopped during travel, allegedly in retaliation for work on immigration matters. 

2. Republicans supporting anti-vax & so-called “conscience” movement.

Politico reports that Republicans in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and Washington are trying to prevent Democrats from limiting vaccination exemptions, and in some states (Mississippi and West Virginia) are even introducing bills to expand exemptions. This despite widespread outbreaks spread at least in part by the anti-vax movement and online medical misinformation.

Apparently Republican resistance to vaccination is tied to abortion. Vice has a well-sourced explainer; yes, laboratory-grown fetal-derived cell lines are involved in the production of some vaccines, but there’s no good alternative for chickenpox, rubella, and hepatitis A, and even the Catholic Church says, “the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine.” (We here at NYMHM don’t find those concerns as legitimate as the Catholic Church does: nobody is getting an abortion just to supply a lab with fetal-derived cell lines.)

Additionally, Health & Human Services (HHS) is planning to roll back transgender protections, reports Politico. New rules would eliminate existing protections for transgender patients and allow health care workers to refuse transition-related care, as well as other care (for anybody) based on religious objections, potentially affecting abortion care, contraception, sterilization procedures, advance directives, and vaccinations.

The Center for American Progress points out that HHS’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR)’s new (as of 2018) Conscience and Religious Freedom Division (CRFD) is diverting funds from other civil rights areas:

  • OCR’s Civil Rights Division (CRD) already enforced conscience and religious freedom laws effectively
  • Conscience-related complaints historically average 1.25 per year (not 1.25%, but 1.25 complaints), which increased abruptly after the 2016 election to the still very low number of 34 complaints in slightly over a year (in contrast to, say, the 1,523 cases closed with corrective action).
  • HHS reported a 48% increase in civil rights cases and an 18% increase in health information privacy cases from FY 2016 to FY 2017, but Trump administration’s proposed FY 2020 budget asks for cuts to the Civil Rights Division and the Health Information Privacy Division, and over $1 million in additional funding for the CRFD.

3. States rights for the environment.

A coalition of 21 more-progressive states are working to uphold the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement through the United States Climate Alliance. Also, the Climate Mayors consists of over 400 cities populated by almost 1 in 5 US residents.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture is requiring that peer-reviewed work include a confusing statement that their work is “preliminary.”

4. Farmers hit hard by tariffs are being devastated by floods.

US farm profits “fell last year to $69.4 billion, half of the $136.1 billion in 2013.” NET Nebraska reports that Midwest “farm bankruptcies jumped 19% last year” and the Rural Response Hotline, which provides mental health and other assistance to farmers and ranchers, “set four new all-time monthly highs for the most new first-time high-stress phone callers.”

PBS reports that the federal government hasn’t begun implementation of the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), reauthorized in the 2018 farm bill. The FY 2019 budget for the FRSAN was $2 million. A coalition of farm groups including the American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union is urging full funding of $10 million for the FRSAN.

5. Thank a Millennial.

The Washington Post reports that new Census Bureau data indicates that 2018 voter turnout was at a 100-year high, and that citizens aged 18-29 went from 20% turnout in 2014 to 36% in 2018, followed by citizens aged 30-44 whose participation rose from 36% in 2014 to 49% in 2018.

6. Airport body scanners discriminating against black hair.

ProPublica reports that full-body scanners are prone to false alarms for thicker hair, resulting in more searches of especially women of color, pointing to a need for more diversity amongst designers of these technologies.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

7. UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for concrete commitments to end rape as a weapon of war

TThe Guardian reports that the UN has passed a watered-down version of a resolution to support victims of rape as a weapon of war, because the US threatened to veto if references to “sexual and reproductive health” were retained.

The Trump administration has been opposing UN references to sexual or reproductive health and the word “gender,” not wanting to imply support for abortions or transgender rights respectively.

Also removed from the resolution’s original language: strengthening laws to protect LGBT people targeted in combat, and specific mention of access to safe abortions.

For the first time, the resolution made specific calls for greater support for children born due to rape during conflict, and for their mothers.

8. Could INSTEX be used to circumvent sanctions imposed via SWIFT?

A brief aside about Iran and sanctions, which are being otherwise better-covered by mainstream media than we can manage here: China and Russia have set up an international financial payments system as an alternative to SWIFT, explicitly due to threats of sanctions and tariffs. France, Germany, and the UK have likewise set up INSTEX to “facilitate legitimate trade between European economic operators and Iran and thereby preserve the Iran Nuclear Deal.”

9. Update on Haiti

We’ve reported before on the causes of the February riots in Haiti stemming from government corruption. Now the Jamaica Observer reports that Judge Brédy Fabien has cleared President Jovenel Moise of involvement in money laundering for lack of evidence. The country has a new prime minister, Jean-Michel Lapin, as of March 21. Gang violence continues. The Miami Herald reports the UN is due to remove peacekeepers on October 15, 2019, leaving only a special political mission, though elections are expected around that time. The US State Department has a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory in place for Haiti.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Ocean winds and waves increasing

A 33-year study at University of Melbourne shows that the world’s oceans are getting stormier. Extreme winds in the Southern Ocean have increased by 8% over the past 30 years, and extreme waves by 5%. Combined with sea level rise, storm surges and coastal flooding will become more serious.

11. Fracking linked to earthquakes

Small earthquakes in Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia can be linked to hydraulic fracturing wells in those regions, according to researchers speaking at the Seismological Society of America annual meeting, due to “injection of wastewater produced by extraction back into rock layers, which increases pore pressure within rocks and can affect stress along faults in layers selected for disposal.”

RESOURCES

  • Postcards to Voters is writing for a Congressional special election: Marc Friedenberg in PA.
  • Andrea Chalupa and Sarah Kendzior have posted free access to their Gaslit Nation podcast Mueller Report Special, Part 1 as well as a Gaslit Nation Action Guide.
  • If you’d ​like to take an important action but not drown in an issue or a project, take a look at Martha and Sarah-Hope’s lists. Martha vets the opportunities for public comments and highlights the most pressing. Among the issues this week that would warrant your attention is a proposal around election security and another that would permit Hilcorp Alaska to allow marine mammals to be harmed in its search for oil and gas. Still others would weaken groundwater standards and allow importing “trophies” of endangered species, a​s well as ​allowing private donors to contribute to gov’t employees legal expenses​: who benefits, would you guess? ​ 
  • ​Sarah-Hope suggests that you take a stand against the “icebox” detention centers which are so crowded that detainees can neither sit nor lie down. She also thinks you might have something to say about the Trump administrations’s plan to open the California Coast to oil and gas drilling or about mass executions in Saudi Arabia. She offers summaries of numerous issues and people to write to.​


NYMHM for 21 Apr 2019


The Mueller report: news you haven’t missed

That the Mueller report—at least the redacted version—did not ultimately conclude that the Trump administration obstructed justice—but that it identified numerous occasions on which they tried to do so—is not news you will have missed. Similarly, that the Trump campaign welcomed the involvement of Russian interests  but not in a way that is (as yet) indictable is clear, despite Trump’s loud efforts to spin the report otherwise. Reprising this territory is likely not useful to you. For the most important takeaways, see the New York Times piece that lists seven of them. Still, we’ll point out a few less visible points worth noting.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Mueller: Sanders used by Russians to defeat Clinton

Even before the Mueller report was released, researchers for the Washington Post identified a massive effort by Russians to use Bernie Sanders to target Clinton. They found 9,000 tweets coming from Russia which had been widely recirculated, tweets that referred to Sanders and urged people not to vote for Clinton; many thousands of others did not mention Sanders directly but were aimed at Sanders supporters, exhorting them to do anything but vote for Clinton. Fake news stories about Clinton—that she was in poor health, that she had sold weapons to ISIS—also undermined her candidacy. The fact that in 2016 Sanders was used in this way complicates his candidacy in 2020.

2. Mueller: News media did not disseminate fake news

The Mueller report does make it clear that it was not the mainstream media who produced “fake news,” despite many allegations by Trump and his followers. In fact, it was the Trump administration which produced fake news, the Washington Post explains. As has been widely reported, Sarah Sanders was a significant perpetrator of fake news but not the only one; Trump aides knew they were doing so and Trump himself regularly made claims to the media that he must have known were not true.

3. Mueller: Seth Rich did not leak emails

Seth Rich was not the source of leaked emails, the Mueller report confirms, despite WikiLeaks claims that he was. The actual source of the emails WikiLeaks released was Russian hackers, as of course WikiLeaks knew. Rich was a Democratic National Committee employee who was killed in Washington at the age of 27, probably in a burglary; WikiLeaks, Fox News and InfoWars had spun conspiracy theories about the killing and the leaks.

4. Need to know more? Here is a searchable copy

The version of the Mueller report that Attorney General Barr redacted and released was not searchable. Thanks to Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), a searchable PDF is now available.

5. Paramilitaries doing the work of the Border Patrol

The leader of a right-wing paramilitary group, the United Constitutional Patriots, was arrested on April 20, charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. The group had been stopping and detaining migrant families crossing the border into New Mexico, actions recorded in a recent video. The ACLU and others claim that the group is working in collaboration with the Border Patrol. The Attorney General for New Mexico released a statement, quoted in the New York Times, that the leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, “…is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families. Today’s arrest by the F.B.I. indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes.”

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Catastrophe in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, nearly 300 people have died and hundreds more have been wounded in a series of coordinated explosions at three hotels and three churches, which were filled for Easter Sunday services. Twenty-four suspects have been arrested but as of Sunday, it was not yet clear what the motive was for the bombings, according to the CBC. Social media sites were temporarily shut down and Easter services halted.

A friend recommends donating to SAMBAL, a children’s educational foundation, which she hopes will intervene in the conditions that produced the bombing.

7. The Troubles continue

Lyra McKee, a journalist covering protests in Derry, was apparently killed by two teenagers aiming for police, the Guardian reported. Her work focused on the costs of violence in Northern Ireland. Her first book, Angels with Blue Faces, is scheduled for publication this summer.

One of her first pieces was on the rise of suicides following the Good Friday peace agreement. Published in the Atlantic, “Suicide Among the Ceasefire Babies” is a stunning article, a mix of personal narrative and reporting in which McKee looks at the role of intergenerational trauma in suicide; the rate has nearly doubled, especially among young people.

Writing in The Independent, her friend Sarah Kay describes her as “a fervent LGBTQ+ activist, a committed writer, an inquisitive journalist and a human rights worker,” as well as the primary caregiver of her mother and as someone who advocated for those who still suffered from the trauma of the Troubles. At a rally in Derry, McKee’s partner Sara said, “This cannot stand. Her legacy will live on in the light that she’s left behind.”

8. Unprecedented order to decolonize

The Chagos Islands, once part of Mauritius, must be immediately “decolonized,” according to a judge at the International Court of Justice, saying that the UK violated an international law which prohibits colonies from being broken up before independence. In the late sixties, the UK leased Diego Garcia, the largest island, to the US, which relocated the local inhabitants to Mauritius and killed their dogs. The Chagossians have been asking to go home ever since; they live in poverty in Mauritius.

Diego Garcia is now a massive military base, central to US military operations in Syria and Iraq; it would be crucial if the US went to war against Iran. It was used as a transit point for “extraordinary renditions” in 2002-2003, when people captured during the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq were imprisoned and tortured, points out Conn Hallinan in Foreign Policy in Focus. The 6,000 surviving Chagossians are not asking for the base to be removed; they are willing to work there or to live on nearby islands. The UN General Assembly will take up the issue next.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT


9. “Extinction Rebellion” is in action

On April 15, the UK climate group Extinction Rebellion launched its spring protests, blocking major landmarks and roads in central London. Many thousands of people participated, according to the Guardian, demanding that the UK lower carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and develop an emergency plan to address climate and environmental issues.

The group’s protests are timely. Though you wouldn’t know it in southern Canada, March was the second warmest on record. The melt in Greenland has begun a month early, and areas in the arctic were 20 degrees (f) above normal. A very vivid Washington Post piece explains what is going on and why

RESOURCES


Opportunities to comment:

Martha points out that April 25 is the last day to comment on opening up US waters off the Continental Shelf to oil and gas drilling. In addition, see proposed changes to lawyer representation in immigration courts, and new proposed regulations from HUD targeting undocumented immigrants and their families. Also see a 4/15 notice allowing donors to contribute to federal employees’ legal expenses – think about that one and why now?

Sarah-Hope recommends that you look at the bill to preserve Social Security, challenge the ban on transgender service members, address the disenfranchisement of Native American voters, ask your legislators to address vulnerabilities in the election system, and more!

NYMHM for 14 Apr 2019

With Passover approaching, it is a good week to think about migrants and refugees, to consider what the liberation of all people might mean.

As well, in the Christian tradition, Maundy Thursday is approaching, the day when Jesus is said to have been asked, “And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” He is said to have answered, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

In these seasons, as well as others, we continue to report on the disenfranchised, and those who serve, represent and advocate for them.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Last day to comment on the “Dirty Water Act”

We’ve been running this under Resources but time has run out. Monday is the deadline to comment on the redefinition of the “Waters of the United States” regulations. These would significantly weaken the Clean Water Act by overlooking the connectivity of waterways (so that pollutants could be discharged into streams) and by narrowing the definition of a body of water. Wetlands are particularly at risk. The scientific community is opposed to it–as are farmers, surfers, fishermen and the NAACP. Polluters are in favor of it. As critical as this issue is, the mainstream media have been almost entirely silent. Only Vox, Politico, and The Hill–in addition to some trade journals–have run pieces.
 In a Google doc, Martha–of Martha’s list–has written a summary of the issues and explained how to comment.  Among the first things to ask for is an extended comment period.

2. Important victory for asylum-seekers

Among Kirstjen Nielsen’s legacies was the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which required asylum-seekers and other migrants to wait in border cities where they had no access to attorneys. In response to a suit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU, last week a judge blocked that policy. The decision is on the Mother Jones website.

3. Migrants dropped off, volunteers scrambling. Again.

Though it is not a Sanctuary City, migrants are being dropped in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where they staying in a homeless shelter and a recreation center. The city is asking for donations of food and personal care items, according to the Toronto Star. In addition, the New Mexico Medical Reserve Corps is asking for volunteers, particularly health care workers, as the organization believes more migrants will be dropped off in New Mexico due to “capacity issues” along the border, according to the Border Patro

4. Dangerous precedents coming

Attorney General William Barr is planning to make major changes to immigration courts in the name of efficiency, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. These changes would permit an appeals judge to issue rulings which would be precedental for the entire system, exactly when the Trump administration is hiring new appeals judges. Immigration judges are not supposed to be chosen based on their politics, but at least one candidate has alleged that they are.

5. Twice as many corporations are paying no taxes this year

Trump’s tax cut is functioning as apparently intended: 60 companies—twice as many as last year—reported a tax rate of zero, according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Among the companies able to avoid paying taxes are Amazon, Netflix, Chevron, Lilly, Deere & Co, Delta, Honeywell, IBM, Goodyear and others. The Center for Public Integrity has the full list. A million fewer individuals will receive refunds this year, and as of February, the average refund was down by 17 per cent, according to the New York Times.

6. Assange arrested on the wrong charge?

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has been charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, essentially for offering to help Chelsea Manning with a password. The indictment against Julian Assange is a threat to press freedom, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists and other experts and organizations, arguing that it sets an alarming precedent for how journalists can interact with sources. “The US extradition request and the indictment itself – the fact it is alleging conspiracy with a source – means a publisher or journalist could be accused of conspiracy with a source,” Jennifer Robinson, a member of a legal team that has blocked US efforts to extradite hackers, told the Guardian. “It’s a terrifying precedent for all journalists.”

According to Democracy Now, Noam Chomsky sees the arrest of Assange as “scandalous,” illustrating the reach of the United States around the world. Others note his role in the 2016 election and in Brexit while women’s groups say he should be extradicted to Sweden to face the allegations of rape against him.

7. Death threats against AOC and Omar

Teen Vogue has come through again, running a story on how Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) challenged college Republicans for calling her a “domestic terrorist,” pointing out that such claims lead to a “spike in death threats” against her.

Critiques of Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) have resulted in similar threats, including one by a man who was arrested for calling her office and threatening to kill her. According to Vox, he told investigators that he “loves the president and that he hates radical Muslims in our government.” Trump has been trying to use criticisms of Omar to drive Jews away from the Democratic party, though he removed a video on Twitter suggesting that Omar was not taking 9/11 seriously. Sunday night she released a statement, saying “Since the President’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life—many directly referencing or replying to the President’s video,” reported The Hill.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT

8. Canada warming twice as fast as the rest of the world

Canada is warming at twice the global rate, according to a new report from Environmental and Climate Change Canada. Temperatures in Northern Canada, where communities are especially vulnerable, have increased 2.3 degrees C since 1948. Climate change is leading to “extreme heat, less extreme cold, longer growing seasons, rapidly thinning glaciers, and warming and thawing of permafrost and rising sea levels in Canada’s coastal regions,” Chris Derksen, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada told the Globe and Mail. Indigenous elders in the Yukon say that the caribou are moving north, following their food supply, according to the CBC. As if this were not true, the country’s conservatives are battling the imposition of a $20/ton carbon tax in provinces which have not established their own—even though most of it will return to consumers in their taxes. Ontario premier Doug Ford, who is challenging the carbon tax in court, tweeted, “Today’s the last day to fill your gas tank before the federal carbon tax makes life more expensive for your family.” The tax will rise to $50/ton by 2020.

9. Drastic changes recorded in Bering Sea

Sea ice in the Bering sea, located between the coasts of Alaska and Russia in the arctic circle, reached a new record low this past winter, worrying local residents, fishermen and scientists. Sea ice is vital for preserving an oasis of cold, salty water that is called a “cold pool” that serves as a refuge and habitat for the richest fisheries found in US waters. In addition, sea ice provides hunting grounds and resting places for sea mammals such as seals and walrus and a natural sea wall for native communities along the northwest coast, protecting them from winter storms. This past winter, for the first time recorded in 37 years of measurement, there was no cold pool in the Bering sea, and the village of Kotlik flooded from lack of sea ice protection in February. Fishermen had to fish further north for valuable Pacific cod and native Alaskan hunters had to follow the seals north as well, as the cold water retreated ever further towards the pole. Warm water brings a risk of algal blooms, fishery collapse and ecological catastrophe to the region.

10. Number of children and teens seen in hospitals due to suicide attempts double

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Pediatrics shows that hospitalizations due to suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts have doubled from the period spanning 2007 to 2015. Data was evaluated from surveys of 300 emergency rooms gathered by the Centers for Disease Control for an age group spanning from five years to eighteen years of age, with an average age of just 13 years. Suspected causes for the dramatic increase include increased competitive pressure to succeed academically, anxiety about future economic prospects, bullying including cyber bullying and a critical shortage of child psychologists available, leading to long wait times for kids in crisis.

RESOURCES

NYMHM for 7 April

Watching the news can make you wall-eyed, as you try to track the many on-going stories that flash on and off the front page while at the same time taking note of new developments in politics and science. Did you know that there is a crisis involving a medication-resistant fungus and that outbreaks are kept secret? Neither did we–but now we do and so do you. As the humanitarian crisis that our grandchildren will study in astonishment, migration and separated families are among the issues that we try to to track regularly. If you want to speak up about any of these asylum and family separation issues, see Sarah-Hope’s list in the Resources section, below and on the Resources page.

DOMESTIC NEWS

Asylum and immigration round-up

1. Trump would get rid of the asylum system and immigration judges

Last week, around a visit to the U.S. Border Patrol Station in Calexico, California, President Trump stated that he’d like Congress to eliminate the asylum process, as well as immigration judges, according to the Washington Post. His administration has already made a number of moves that have attempted to limit the number of asylum seekers admitted to the United States and this next move would be in conflict with U.S. and international norms of due process. California governor Gavin Newsom issued a statement in response to Trump’s statements about asylum seekers and potential changes to the system, saying “Since our founding, this country has been a place of refuge – a safe haven for people fleeing tyranny, oppression and violence. His words show a total disregard of the Constitution, our justice system, and what it means to be an American.”

2. Tracking the periods of teen girls in ICE custody

According to Harper’s Bazaar, The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the branch of the Department of Health and Human Services that is responsible for migrant children traveling alone or separated from their families, tracked the periods, pregnancies, and causes of pregnancy (if it resulted from rape or not) of teen girls — some as young as 12– in their care. This was done with the intent to prevent the girls from obtaining abortion care, something that the former head of the ORR Scott Lloyd has admitted. Rachel Maddow discusses the issue on MSNBC.

3. Two years to reunite families

In an update on the nearly 1500 children separated from their families at the border under the Trump Administration’s zero tolerance policy (245 of whom were removed from their families after a court ordered the separations to stop), in a recent court filing the administration has said that it may take up to two additional years to identify families that may have been separated at the southern border. All of the children in question have been released from government custody and the administration claims it needs this time to use data analysis techniques to identify and locate the children, according to CNN.

4. Climate change fueling migration

Among the reasons Guatemalans are leaving the country are that farmers’ crops are failing, weather is extreme and unpredictable, and they are besieged by pests. Guatemala is one of the three countries to which Trump is refusing to send aid because they “haven’t done a thing for us.” In 2014, a group of scientists associated with the Rainforest Alliance’s initiative, “Climate, Nature, and Communities of Guatemala,” which was funded by US AID, said that the highlands area of Guatemala was particularly susceptible to climate change. “Extreme poverty may be the primary reason people leave,” Edwin Castellanos, a climate scientist at the Universidad del Valle, told the New Yorker, which is running a series on emigration from Guatemala. “But climate change is intensifying all the existing factors,” he said.

5. Where do laws come from?

We should not be surprised that conservative forces develop model legislation which they then spread around the nation. Various publications have reported on ALEC–American Legislative Exchange Council—which for years has drafted and disseminated bills. But what is surprising is the scope of this enterprise. According to a two-year study by USA Today, the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity, which looked at a million pieces of legislation across every state and in Congress, ten thousand bills were based on model legislation and 2100 became law. These are not produced only by ALEC but by industry groups and other special interests, include the liberal counterpart to ALEC, ALICE. According to the Arizona Republic, many legislators who sponsored these bills did not understand their implications or where they had originated.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Airstrikes intensifying humanitarian crisis in Somalia

The Pentagon claims no civilians have died in American airstrikes against suspected Shabab fighters. 13 NGOs (including Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and the ACLU) have criticized the lack of transparency on the use of lethal force in Somalia. The death toll for Shabab militants has probably reached a record high for the third time in three years. The increasing airstrikes are driving civilians from their homes and worsening a humanitarian crisis in the country.

7. Flooding overwhelms Iran

“Iran is under water,” Sayed Hashem, regional director of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, told the New York Times. Over 70 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced by floods due to endless rain. People are living on the rooftops of their submerged homes, waiting for rescue. Iranian officials have blamed American economic sanctions, reimposed by the Trump administration, for delayed recovery efforts, according to the Times.

8. Russia grooming African countries.

Russia is rekindling relationships with Soviet-era allies like Angola and Mozambique. Russian mercenaries helped Sudan’s president put down nationwide protests. A Russian is now the Central African Republic’s president’s national security adviser, and the country is trading mining rights for arms from Russia. While investigating a Putin-linked private military force training Central African Republic troops, three Russian journalists were murdered. Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger asked Russia for help fighting Al Qaeda and IS. The Pentagon’s Africa Command says Russia “has taken a more militaristic approach in Africa” (pdf). Putin plans a summit meeting between Russia and African countries.

9. And right-wing European politicians.

Putin wants Russia-friendly foreign leaders, and politicians want money. So, Putin is allegedly providing $3 million in Russian money to Italy’s far-right Matteo Salvini. According to the Italian newsmagazine L’Espresso, there was an elaborate deal involving
3 million tons of diesel fuel that Russia is selling to Italy, the profits from which will fund Salvini’s re-election campaign. 

Science and Technology

10. Scientists use lasers to observe molecular vibration 

A team at the University of California, Irvine published a study in the journal Nature wherein they describe their method of imaging the real-time movement, or vibration, of molecules down to the atomic level. All chemical processes of life depend on these minute changes in molecular structure. While we have been using electron spectroscopy to measure precise frequency changes, until now we have not been able to determine which atomic bonds vary in a molecule depending on current and charge. To achieve this feat the scientists set up a low temperature, high vacuum chamber and focused a titanium sapphire laser mere ångströms (a hundred millionth of a centimeter) away. As Science Daily describes it, the old models of molecules set up like tinker toy globs of spheres and sticks will soon give way to actual images of molecules themselves. 

11. Poverty leaves its mark, even genetically 

A study by Northwestern University suggests that the effects of low socio-economic status can be found even in our DNA, undermining the long-standing notion that genes are immutable from birth. Published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the study found that DNA methylation, an epigenetic marker that influences how genes are expressed, was increased in individuals living in low socio-economic conditions across 2500 sites in the genome, spreading across 1500 genes. It has been known for some time that poverty is a key factor in determining health but this study suggests that the effects may very well be inheritable with far-reaching implications.   

12. It sounds like science fiction: Treatment-resistant fungus emerges

A devastating fungus, Candida auris, has emerged world-wide, according to the New York Times. Like antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it is resistant to most anti-fungal medications. Also like antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it is a consequence in part of overuse in agriculture, in particular the use of fungicides on crops. C. auris is not the only fungus to have developed resistance; in 2013 the CDC published a report identifying 18 bacteria and fungi that are treatment resistant; a new report is expected in the fall of 2019. Complicating the problem is that the CDC is not allowed to make public the location of outbreaks, even though the C. auris is easily spread and deadly: 50% of patients who are diagnosed with it are dead within three months.

RESOURCES

If you think that the Trump administration’s plan to cut aid to Latin American countries (thus intensifying the hardship that leads to conditions that drive people to leave) is a bad idea, Sarah-Hope can tell you whom to write. She also thinks you might want to comment on the Privacy for All act, the refusal of the Education Department to support student loan relief, the withholding and redacting of the Mueller report—and more! Her list is on this google doc.

Martha notes this week that the SNAP work requirement comment deadline was extended to April 10. Glyphosate, the ingredient for Roundup, is now open for comment on inclusion in toxics registry.  She suggests that you look closely at the ICE Tip form – it’s really asking neighbors to inform on neighbors, she says. And look carefully at the Waters of the United States proposal, which seeks to redefine all inland waters. Her list has various options for responding on the record.