NEWS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: MAY 24, 2020

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. 900 Children deported alone, no one notified

Since the pandemic began, the U.S. has deported 900 children who arrived alone at the border, sometimes without notifying their families. Children are being sent back to their home countries–or to Mexico–alone even in the middle of the night, with no plan for what might happen when they arrive, according to the New York Times. Ordinarily unaccompanied children are housed in shelters where their asylum process begins, but the U.S. border patrol has refused to follow these protocols under the guise of not spreading the coronavirus–even though NBC News reveals that plans for rapid deportations have been in the works since 2017. Simultaneously, the U.S. has been hastily deporting children already in the country or waiting in Matamoros in the “Remain in Mexico” Program, ProPublica reports. Even when children have asylum cases in progress and relatives to receive them in the U.S., they have been sent away, sometimes to extremely dangerous locations. 

ProPublica speculates that their removal relates to the case being supervised by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, who has insisted that they be released. On May 22, Judge Gee found that the government was still not in compliance with the order, according to the National Center for Youth Law; the NCYL and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and the Immigration Law Clinic of the U.C. Davis School of Law filed the suits that resulted in Gee’s decision. The LA Times suggests that some children who could be released are being held in the hope that they will reach the age of 18 in custody and thereby be more easily deported. Reveal describes the circumstances of some 17 year olds who have families or sponsors ready to receive them and who are covered by Judge Gee’s order–but whom the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) will not release. As Leecia Welch, senior director at the NCYL put it, “Given the growing concerns being raised about the impact of COVID-19 on children, it is unfathomable to us that ORR is letting children languish in federal custody when they have fully vetted family members ready to care for them.” RLS

You can call on ORR to comply with Judge Gee’s ruling and ask your Congressmembers to monitor OSS compliance.

2. Trump firing those in charge of oversight

Over the past few weeks, Trump has fired or removed from their positions five Inspectors General (IGs) or Acting Inspectors General for various governmental departments and offices: Michael Atkinson, Inspector General for the Intelligence Community; Mitch Behm, Acting Inspector General for the Department of Transportation; Glenn Fine, Inspector General for the Department of Defense; Christi Grimm, Acting Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services; and Steve Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, according to the list from CBS News.

Inspectors General are non-partisan appointees charged, among other things, with investigating claims of unethical or illegal behavior within the department or office they oversee. Atkinson is the IG who notified the House of the whistle blower complaint regarding Trump’s July 2019 phone conversation with the President of Ukraine, in which Trump intimated that Congressionally allocated aid to Ukraine would not be released until an investigation of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was undertaken, CNN reports. This is the phone call that launched Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives. As the American Independent explains, Behm was in the process of investigating Secretary of Transportation Chao (and wife of Mitch McConnell) for inappropriately giving preferential treatment to the state of Kentucky (the home state of Chao and McConnell) in funding for transportation projects when Trump removed him.

Fine was slated to oversee a commission charged with monitoring coronavirus relief spending, the Washington Post reports. His firing prevented him from leading that commission, a position that required status as an IG. The Washington Post noted that Grimm’s staff had “just completed a report finding ‘severe shortages’ of testing kits, delays in getting coronavirus results and ‘widespread shortages’ of masks and other equipment at U.S. hospitals.” Linick had begun two investigations at the State Department: inappropriate use of staff and resources by Secretary Mike Pompeo and his wife, and, more significantly, the process by which military technology was sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after both houses of Congress had voted to block such a sale. Trump is now filling these positions with administration loyalists, meaning that the next President who is not Trump, and will perhaps be Joe Biden, will have the job of once again ensuring that these positions are nonpartisan. S-HP

It would be a good time to urge Biden to commit himself now to reappointing these IGs who were appropriately responding to whistleblower complaints when Trump “lost faith” in them. Joe Biden c/o American Possibilities, 918 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20003 (202) 456-1111

3. National Guard let go one day short of benefits eligibility

Last week, the Republican administration signaled that it was planning to pull more than forty thousand National Guard troops from their coronavirus pandemic-related work exactly one day short of the length of time that is required for many veterans’ benefits to kick in, including a three-month credit towards retirement and 40% off tuition at public colleges and universities, according to the Military Times. As the Hill reports, Congressional resistance to this move has been strenuous, and the administration now claims it has not made a final decision on this matter. National Guard members on pandemic placements have been providing support to hospitals, enforcement of stay-at-home orders, and body removal, difficult and often deeply unpleasant work. S-HP

You can insist that the administration abandon this plan and call on your Congressmembers to stand up for the rights of National Guard members on the frontlines of the pandemic: Addresses here.

4. Child hunger in Puerto Rico

In the last few years, Puerto Rico has been hit with environmental disasters, including hurricanes and earthquakes, and now it is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. In every one of these crises, Puerto Rico has received inadequate funding to address the full scale of the damage. With the coronavirus, families and communities still recovering from natural disasters are facing food scarcity, and children are going hungry, NPR reports. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory but does not receive the same level of disaster-response support as the states. As of April 30, Slate points out, no one in Puerto Rico had received a stimulus check. S-HP

You can urge Congress to provide Puerto Rico with ample, timely support to address food shortages, medical needs, and remaining damage from natural disasters.

5. Incarcerated people at risk

Prisons and jails, of course, are not exempt from the coronavirus pandemic and can become hot spots for COVID-19 due to accommodations that make no allowance for social distancing. A North Dakota woman who gave birth while on a ventilator died recently, according to NBC News. The Emergency Community Supervision Act (S.3579 in the Senate; H.R.6400 in the House) mandates the release of inmates who are pregnant, have underlying health issues and are 50 or older. This legislation also limits the use of pretrial detention and in-person supervised release. In both houses of Congress, this legislation is currently with the Judiciary Committee.

The ACLU urges us to advocate for the incarcerated–you can sign their petition. In addition, you can urge swift, positive action on the Emergency Community Supervision Act by both Judiciary Committees and call on your Congressmembers to support this legislation.

6. Four House members vote against anti-lynching bill

In February, the House passed the Emmitt Till Antilynching Act, which would make lynching a federal hate crime, CNN reports. There have been nearly 200 attempts to define lynching in this way, and this act is the closest an antilynching measure has come to being enacted in the United States. The measure is similar to one that passed the Senate in 2019, and is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If passed and signed into law by the president, it would impact federal handling of the February death of Ahmaud Aubrey, the unarmed Georgia man killed while jogging.

Four House members voted against the measure, claiming it was overreach by the federal government, according to Newsweek. These lawmakers included 3 Republicans— Ted Yoho of Florida, Louie Gohmert of Texas, and Thomas Massif of Kentucky— and Independent Justin Amash of Michigan. JM-L

7. Ghost guns

Guns made with 3-D printers, often referred to as “ghost guns,” don’t meet the current legal definition of a firearm. As a result, they’re not required to have serial numbers and kits to make them can be purchased without being subject to gun control laws currently on the books, Politico points out. The Untraceable Firearms Act, S.3743 , sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut,  and other Senate Democrats, would require that these weapons have serial numbers and establish provisions to keep them out of the hands of violent felons and domestic abusers. (This legislation is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee.) As Blumenthal told Politico, gun sales have risen more than 70% compared to a year ago. Since the coronavirus pandemic, “People are more stressed,” he said. “They’re buying more firearms. The incidence of domestic violence has risen.” S-HP

You might the Senate Judiciary Committee to take swift, positive action on S.3743 and ask your Senators to support this important legislation: Addresses here.

8. Coronavirus relief money repurposed to undercut public schools

The CARES Act, which provides coronavirus relief, included $30 billion for educational institutions. Education Secretary DeVos, who has discretion over these funds, has ordered that $180 million of this money be offered as grants to parents hoping to move their children from public to private schools, including religious schools and has earmarked $350 million that was to be directed to struggling colleges to private, religious, and for-profit colleges. Though Congress has blocked these kinds of initiatives, DeVos is using the opportunity of the pandemic to implement them anyway, according to the New York Times. These actions both benefit private schools that are less apt to serve low-income students and threaten the wall between church and state.

Maybe you’d like to tell DeVos to use coronavirus relief to help the neediest schools and students and insist that she honor the church/state separation enshrined in the Bill of Rights? You might also explain to your Congressmembers why you object to DeVos’s inappropriate allocation of Coronavirus relief monies. Addresses are here.

9. Trump and Republicans fighting vote-by-mail efforts

Trump and Congressional Republicans are fighting efforts to expand vote-by-mail during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the New York Times, despite a spike in COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin among those who voted in-person because additional vote-by-mail provisions were blocked. Forbes reports that a study by the University of Wisconsin and Ball State University found a “statistically and economically significant association” between in-person voting and the spread of Covid-19 weeks after the election. Republicans, who have made disenfranchisement a key part of their 2020 election strategy, claim that vote-by-mail is insecure and likely to allow election fraud; however, a recent Stanford study, the largest of its kind, determined that vote-by -mail does not unfairly benefit either political party, according to the Washington Post. Nonetheless, these same legislators seem to have no problem with tax refunds, social security payments, Coronavirus stimulus checks, draft registration, prescription drugs, passports, and driver’s licenses being delivered by mail. S-HP.

It might be a good time for you to insist on an end to this counterfactual claim about vote-by-mail benefitting one party over another and demand national vote-by-mail to prevent the spread of Coronavirus among those choosing to participate in the 2020 election. Addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Transporting fracked gas threatens communities

Fracked gas would be transported from the Rockies and Canada across Southern Oregon to Coos Bay, under a proposal from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). A 36-inch fracked gas pipelne called Pacific Connector would travel 229 miles from Malin to Coos Bay, cutting through Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties. Once in Coos Bay, it would be turned into liquefied natural gas (LNG) at a giant new terminal, put on large tankers and sent overseas. A FERC notice about the Jordan Cove Liquified Natural Gas Project–infelicitiously called “Petition for Declaratory Order (Petition) finding that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality waived its authority to issue certification for the Jordan Cove LNG Terminal and Pacific Connector Pipeline under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act”–would deprive the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality of the right to weigh in on this project, thus affirming the rights of corporations over state and local environmental concerns. In 2019, the Oregon Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility ennumerated the dangers of these kinds of projects to community health, including how they exacerbate climate change, create air and water pollution, are prone to accidents, require temporary labor camps with all the social problems that these engender–and more. S-HP

If you want to ask that local voices be honored and to object to this FERC proposal, instructions for commenting are here. Comments must be submitted by June 11.

11. Dam failure due to climate change. Floodwaters overrun toxic waste site.

The dams that failed in Central Michigan could be just the first of many, as the climate crisis leads to heavier rainfalls, overwhelming aging infrastructure, according to the New York Times. In 2017, the American Society of Engineers gave the nation’s dam system a grade of “D”; American dams are sixty years old, on average. The floodwaters from the Michigan dam have now reached the  Dow Chemical facility and Superfund site, Common Dreams reports, so they are now intermingled with toxic waste that Dow declined to clean up. The Trump administration refused to enforce the executive order for superfund sites to upgrade their families. As Common Dreams notes, Climate Power communications director Meghan Schneider tweeted, “Dow’s facilities appear to be at the heart of the floodwaters—this has the potential to be a major environmental disaster.” RLS

RESOURCES

  • See the Americas of Conscience Checklist for quick, clear, effective actions you can take.
  • Do you postcard? Start with Sarah-Hope’s list.
  • If you want to advocate for the HEROES act, the Postal Service, nurses, the Navajo nation, and much more, see Rogan’s list.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record. She says that regulations are still a moving target as some are extended or suspended, supposedly temporarily. Ending soon are two items related to the National Environmental Policy Act – one from EPA, the other from Dept of Energy. The entire act was recently up for comment, you will remember. Rodenticide review is back, and there is a new item about endangered Mexican wolves. Look at USDA food policy relating to aid to farmers – will this round go to Ag-business again? And note work requirements for food-stamp recipients, and more.
  • For daily updates of coronavirus cases and deaths, in country by country reports, see Our World in Data.
  • Check out Chrysostom’s incredibly comprehensive election coverage–House, Senate, state, local.
  • Heather Cox Richardson has commentary on the NY Times front page, above, along with the Inspectors General firings and much more.

News You May Have Missed: May 17, 2020

Did you believe it when you heard that Dr. Anthony Fauci was on the board of Microsoft? What about when you read on Facebook that Nancy Pelosi’s bill HR6666 would allow government officials to remove family members from your home for quarantine? The AP is doing a immense service for us all by running weekly “Not Real News: A look at what didn’t happen this week” columns. It’s a great, quick way to cope with the onslaught of false information.

Heather Cox Richardson has her usual erudite insights into the morass in Washington, if you want to catch up on the week. And Chrysostom has an excellent overview of federal and state election issues. You’ll find it here.


“alameda county ballot” by citymaus is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Vote by mail

We don’t know what the coronavirus situation will be like when November’s election rolls around, but we should all be doing what we can to avoid a situation like that in Wisconsin, where many voters who were unable to get absentee/vote-by-mail ballots were forced to wait in line, in a very non-socially-distanced way, in order to vote. Now would be a great time to request an absentee/vote-by-mail ballot for November. Political Charge has made the process easier by putting together an easy-to-use web page where you can find out how to go about getting an absentee/vote-by-mail ballot in your own state—whatever that state is. If you are not currently signed up for vote-by-mail, start here and request your ballot. Then, share this information with everyone you know. For all we know, the deciding factor in November’s election may be which party has the most people approved for absentee/vote-by-mail ballots. S-HP

Progress America has a petition you can sign to support the Postal Service–on which vote-by-mail depends.

2. Only two people granted asylum between March and May

According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data, in September 2019, the U.S. conducted 2,799 asylum interviews. One hundred and ninety-nine of these were initial screening interviews, and as a result of these interviews 101 recommendations of asylum approval were issued, representing 51% of all screenings at this level. Also during September 2019 the USCIS adjudicated 4,453 cases, with 1,501 (or 34%) approved.

Now let’s move forward to the period between March 21 and May 13 of this year. The Washington Post reports that during this nearly two-month period only 59 screening interviews took place. Fifty-four claims were rejected, three remain pending, and two (or 4%) were approved. This immense change in numbers and results of interviews can be attributed to new, “emergency” immigration protocols established in response to the oronavirus pandemic. These new protocols include a suspension of almost all due-process rights for those seeking to enter the U.S., including asylum seekers and children. During the March 21-May 13 period, at least 20,000 migrants attempting to enter the U.S. have been rejected without any kind of interview under the “Migrant Protection Protocol” and have been forced to remain in Mexico.

According to ProPublica analysis of a new Border Patrol memo, at this point, almost the only way a migrant at the border can gain admission to the U.S. is if they “spontaneously” state that they fear torture in their home country. Protocols do not require that agents ask about fear of torture, so those who don’t speak out will not gain temporary admission, even though they would be entitled to it. In response to a question from the Washington Post, immigration-law scholar Lucas Guttentag, who served in the Obama administration and now teaches at Stanford and Yale universities, observed, “The whole purpose of asylum law is to give exhausted, traumatized and uninformed individuals a chance to get to a full hearing in U.S. immigration courts, and [the current U.S. procedure] makes that almost impossible. It’s a shameful farce.” S-HP

You can demand a return to asylum protocols in line with international law and decry the near termination of admission to the U.S. for migrants along the southern border. Addresses are here.

3. Supporting HEROES

The House has passed the HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act, H.R.6800. This bill provides additional coronavirus relief measures, directed to ordinary Americans. Its provisions include a second round of direct payments to individuals up to $1,200; expanded sick days, family medical leave, and unemployment compensation; increased food, nutrition, and housing assistance; payments to farmers; student loan debt forgiveness; and increased funding for coronavirus testing. It expands funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, designed to help employers continue to pay employees during the pandemic; includes $3.6 billion to help states improve election security; and earmarks $25 billion to continue postal services. Some provisions, including continuing payments for individuals, were cut from the final version of the legislation, cuts which threatened passage at one point. The HEROES Act will face a much more difficult battle in the Senate. S-HP

You can urge your Senators to support the HEROES Act when it reaches the Senate. Find them here.

4. Water shut-offs continue during pandemic

The impact of COVID-19 has been particularly brutal for minority and low income communities. One of the key ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus is increased handwashing and similar hygiene measures, but about two-fifths of the U.S., including many of those hard-hit communities, rely on water utilities that have not suspended shutoffs for nonpayment, despite public health warnings that good hygiene is crucial to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Guardian and Consumer Reports. The House CARES Act included funding for water-bill assistance and a termination of water shut-offs during the Coronavirus pandemic, but these provisions were removed from the bill ultimately approved by the Senate. S-HP

You can tell your Congressmembers that the removal of water-access protections from coronavirus legislation was both cruel and dangerous to public health and demand action now to ensure access to clean water for all. You can also sign a petition calling for an end to water shut-offs at this link.

5. More guns in wildlife refuges

If a pair of proposed federal rules changes are approved, we may be seeing many more guns in National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) and Army Corps of Engineers projects, according to Oregon Live. The first of these, “Station-Specific Hunting and Sport-Fishing Regulations,” proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service would newly open eight NWRs to hunting and fishing, expand hunting and fishing at another eighty-nine NWRs, allow expansion of hunting within the National Fish Hatchery System; and create forty-one new easements in North Dakota, intended to increase hunting on federal lands accessible via privately held lands. This rule change is open for public comments through June 8.

The second of these, “Rules and Regulations Governing Public Use of Water Resource Development Projects Administered by the Chief of Engineers” (federal rule-makers do have a way with woThosrds), would impact 400 lake and river projects in forty-three states that currently allow firearms for the purpose of hunting, but require written permission for possession of firearms not intended for hunting. Under the new rules, all firearms would be allowed, not just those intended for hunting. If you wonder what the impact of this proposal might be, take a moment to consider the title of an Ammoland article celebrating this possible change: “Trump Administration to Abolish One of America’s Biggest Gun-Free Zones.” This proposal is open for public comments through June 12. S-HP

You can comment for the public record on the proposals to increase hunting in National Wildlife Refuges, perhaps pointing out the contradiction between the concept of “refuge” and the use of firearms. Follow the instructions carefully.

6. Sexual assault survivors in school sports lose protections

The Department of Education has revamped Title IX standards, which protect gender equity in school sports, claiming the changes rebalance “the scales of justice.” These changes received overwhelming, critical public commentary when they were proposed, with over 124,000 public comments submitted. Key changes include:

  • Removing coaches and other university employees from the list of mandated reporters, who have a legal obligation to file complaint when the receive allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct;
  • Narrowing the definition of sexual harassment;
  • Allowing colleges to choose the standards of proof they use when adjudicating sexual harassment allegations.

Inside Higher Education quotes Senator Patty Murray’s (D-WA) statement on these changes, “Let me be clear: this rule is not about ‘restoring balance,’ this is about silencing survivors. This rule will make it that much harder for a student to report an incident of sexual assault or harassment—and that much easier for a school to sweep it under the rug. There is an epidemic of sexual assault in schools—that’s not up for debate. But instead of responsibly working with advocates, survivors, students, K-12 schools, and colleges to address the issue, Secretary DeVos and this Administration are going out of their way to make schools less safe.” S-HP

If you wish to object to these changes that weaken student protection from sexual harassment, find your members of Congress here.

7. Preserving gender equity on college campuses

While Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been undermining protections against sexual harassment and assault on college campuses, Congress has been offered legislation that would improve such protections and address gender equity in multiple ways. The Patsy T. Mink and Louise M. Slaughter Gender Equity in Education Act (H.R.3513 in the House; S.1964 in the Senate), is currently with the House’s Education and Labor Committee and the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. According to the American Association of University Women, the Gender Equity in Education Act (GEEA) would:

  • establish an Office of Gender Equity within the Department of Education
  • provide training and resources for Title IX compliance
  • establish competitive grants at all educational levels to support gender equity work
  • provide funding for identifying and disseminating best practices in avoiding stereotypes and bias in education; addressing sex-based harassment and violence on campuses; mitigating bias in teaching and counselling; and addressing the needs of students facing discrimination based on multiple characteristics.

The GEEA has seven cosponsors in the House and fifteen cosponsors in the Senate—you can use the links above to see whether your Congressmembers are among them. S-HP

You can call for positive action on H.R.3513 and S.1964 by the appropriate committees and urge your Congressmembers to support the GEEA, including by co-sponsorship if appropriate. You can also sign the American Association of University Women’s Petition in support of GEEA.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Boats carrying Rohingya refugees disappear

The plight of the Rohingya continues, despite being displaced from news reports by the coronavirus pandemic. The Rohingya originate in Myanmar, and those who are still in that country have been placed in internment camps. Bangladeshi refugee camps currently house the largest refugee population of Rohingya. Rather than live in Bangladeshi camps, many Rohingya are trying to escape to Malaysia where they hope to find work as undocumented laborers. In April, a boat with 400 Rohingya refugees locked in its hold was liberated by the Bangladesh Coast Guard. Those aboard were malnourished and dehydrated and had suffered physical abuse, the New York Times reports. Those rescued had seen the bodies of others who died on the journey thrown overboard. International organizations had been tracking another three boats, each carrying hundreds of Rohingya refugees. The boat had left from Bangladesh and headed to Malaysia, but was refused docking in Malaysia and then refused docking in Bangladesh when it attempted to return. At the start of May, these boats could not be found via the satellite systems that had been tracking them. S-HP

If you wish to insist that the U.S. continue to support and shelter refugees, including the Rohingya, during this pandemic and ask your Congressmembers what they are doing to ease conditions for the Rohingya, addresses are here.

9. Sweden not a role model for coronavirus response

While Sweden is often invoked as an argument against social distancing measures due to the country’s anti-lockdown strategy, the chief epidemiologist of the nation’s public health agency has admitted to Newsweek that he was “not convinced” that it was the appropriate strategy to take. Sweden has seen over 3000 deaths, which places the number dead per million at around 343 deaths per million population (their population is about 10 million), which is a higher rate than the United States (257 deaths per million in population). While the anti-lockdown strategy was intended to develop herd immunity, and was implemented under the assumption that children do not get critically ill from coronavirus infections. Sweden currently has the highest rate of infections in Scandinavia. JM-L

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. More electricity coming from renewable sources than from coal

According to the New York Times, a decade ago coal-burning plants provided 50% of U.S. electricity. In the past three years, the administration has gone to great lengths to shore up the coal industry by reducing rules for coal-burning power plants, which continue to struggle. New government projections now show that for the first time ever, the U.S. is expected to use more electricity from renewable sources rather than from coal. Coal is projected to drop by one-quarter this year, providing only 19% of U.S. electricity. In the period that coal’s share of the U.S. electricity market has been dropping, costs of renewable energy have been dropping: by 40% for wind farms and by 80% for solar, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboraatory. S-HP

Do you want to tell the administration and your Congressmembers that our coronavirus economic recovery should emphasize cheaper, less polluting renewable energy sources so that we can simultaneously address the climate crisis? Addresses are here.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist reports that their subscribers have doubled the number of actions they have taken. See the list for many quick, direct ways to intervene politically.
  • See Sarah-Hope’s list if you want to work through her recommendations for actions.
  • Martha’s list offers weekly opportunities to comment on policy changes for the public record. Closing this week are: the misnamed “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science”; new policy on coal ash disposal; biometric data collection on undocumented immigrants; FEMA management of medical resources; and small but significant: redefining the word “healthy” on food labels to include more fat. You can also sign up for the Consumer Product Safety Commission meeting on setting priorities for fiscal years 2021 and 2022.
  • Rogan’s list this week is chock-full of information and action items–everything from the movement for justice for the family of Ahmaud Arbery, to re-opening guidelines, to the strategy behind ICE’s refusal to release migrant children.

News You May Have Missed: May 3, 2020

It is pretty difficult to keep track of all that is happening and to sort out the reliable information from the dreck. Luckily, some remarkable thinkers and scholars are making sense of it all. Science journalist Laurie Garrett, who received a Pulitzer for her coverage of the Ebola virus in 1995 and who predicted the situation we are now in, in her book The Coming Plague is among these.. She had a comprehensive piece which clarifies the parallel roles of Xi Jinping and Donald Trump with regard to the coronaviru in The New Republic earlier in April; TNR will only give you three free articles, but this should be one of them.

We mention Heather Cox Richardson regularly; the worse things get, the more cogent and essential her analysis becomes.

The Atlantic has a project, “The Battle for the Constitution,” which features a myriad of impressive stories on how the coronavirus, the Trump administration and the Supreme Court are jeopardizing constitutional rights.

Fluffy cat reads the Globe and Mail newspaper

“Fluffy cat reads the Globe and Mail newspaper” by Helena Jacoba is licensed under CC BY 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Trump threatens press freedom

Trump tweeted last week that news outlets should return their “Noble” prizes for their coverage of the Russian election interference story, as the Hill notes. (Just to be clear, newspapers don’t get Nobel prizes but Pulitzers–but have not gotten them for stories about Russia and the election.)  Though the tweets are absurd, they should remind us that in March he filed libel lawsuits against the Washington Post, CNN, and the New York Times for publishing opinion pieces that demonstrated how Trump collaborated with Russia, as Vice reported. In April, he sued an NBC affiliate for writing that he said that the coronavirus was a hoax, according to the New York Post. Though these suits are widely regarded as frivolous, unable to succeed because of First Amendment protections, they are likely to have a chilling effect on smaller media outlets without the budget to fight them, the Atlantic reports. 

Local news is already jeopardized, as the New York Times reported last year. A detailed 2019 report from PEN explains that as print advertising revenue has fallen (and as readers resist paywall/subscription models), 1800 news outlets have closed since 2004, impeding democratic processes and allowing false news to flourish. Also in 2019, a PEW report indicates that people value local news (though they prefer to access it on TV) but don’t understand that it is in jeopardy.

Thirty states have laws prohibiting “SLAPP” suits (strategic lawsuits against public participation)–that is, those filed with the intent to silence public voices, according to the Cornell Law School. But these are not helpful in dealing with Trump’s suits against newspapers, because he filed them in federal court, where SLAPP does not apply, according to the Hill. RLS

You can tell your Congressmembers it’s time for a national SLAPP law. Addresses are here.

2. US deporting asylum-seekers ill with COVID-19 back to the countries they fled.

The U.S. has been turning back all asylum seekers at the border, claiming this is a coronavirus prevention measure. And up until mid-April, when Guatemala barred flights from the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had been returning asylum seekers to their countries of origin from which they had sought asylum. Reuters reports that at this point, more than 100 individuals testing positive for coronavirus—or over 20% of all Coronavirus cases in Guatemala as of May 1—have been deported from the U.S. to Guatemala. Many of these are deportees who come from indigenous communities, which are spurning the returnees. Groups in the Guatemala highlands, from whence many asylum-seekers come, have attempted to burn down a migrant shelter and are threatening the families of those who return from the U.S. Carlos Cunes, flown back to Guatemala after his U.S. asylum claim was denied, told Reuters that when he tried to return home, “[villagers] threatened to set my family on fire…. If I had stayed, they would have burnt down my house and who knows what else,” this despite the fact that Cunes had documentation showing he had tested negative for coronavirus. Mexico has not stopped deportations, so despite the cancellation of flights from the U.S., Guatemalans seeking asylum in the U.S. continue to be returned to the country they are fleeing. S-HP

3. Long-standing flaws in nursing home oversight led to thousands of COVID-19 deaths

16,000 nursing home residents and staff in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus–more than 25% of the U.S. deaths overall, USA Today reported on May 1. Some 97,000 are known to be positive, though this is likely an undercount, given insufficient testing, data and reporting. California’s flaws in tracking cases are detailed in a Santa Cruz Sentinel story.  Inadequate safety precautions, improper procedures and missing safety equipment, severe staff shortages, unavailability of tests, lack of regulation and reporting, and a culture of secrecy driven by financial priorities all set the conditions for nursing homes to be over-run by COVID-19, according to CNN. Residents are already at high risk because of their age and medical situations. Information about the status of nursing homes in terms of the coronavirus has been hard for residents and families to obtain, CNN reported.

USA Today has a searchable database of nursing homes with cases of COVID-19, though not all states provided data.You can look up the inspection reports for the nursing home your family member or friend is considering, thanks to a tool from Kaiser Health News; as KHN explains, infection control–handwashing and protective equipment–is the biggest lapse.

In Canada, half of the 3,391 COVID-19 deaths have occured in long-term care homes (as nursing homes are called there), according to the New York Times.  The situation has revealed long-standing faultlines in the system, from underpaid workers with precarious status who must work even when they are sick to the lack of protective equipment in an industry which is fundamentally unregulated, NOW magazine reported. Five long-term care homes in Ontario, Canada were in such difficulty with staff shortages and critically ill patients that the province called in the military to help, according to CTV. The hardest-hit nursing home in Ontario had numerous previous violations involving–among other things–dirty laundry and recorded patient abuse. What should have happened throughout Ontario–and everywhere–was universal testing of all nursing home residents. A few nursing homes have done this with the help of local hospitals, revealing residents who had the coronavirus but were asymptomatic, according to the Toronto Star. Universal testing permitted the facilities to quarantine those who otherwise would be infecting others. RLS

Ask your members of Congress for immediate action—and appropriate funding—to protect nursing home residents. Addresses are here.

4. $500 billion in loan money to businesses entirely unregulated

Most coronavirus aid for businesses is being distributed under guidelines adopted in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which places limits on dividend payments and executive compensation for businesses and calls on businesses to prioritize maintaining pre-Coronavirus workforce. These limits have not been placed on a federal program set up by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department that will lend up to $500 billion in the form of bond purchases to large, publicly traded companies, according to Stripes. While the companies will be required to pay back these loans, there are no limitations on how the monies can be used. In an interview with the Washington Post, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed “a lot of these companies have stopped their share buybacks and slashed their dividends,” implying that restrictions on the use of these funds were unnecessary. Of course, we were also assured that the 2017 corporate tax cuts would be used to increase worker pay and provide benefits, not for executive bonuses, stock buybacks, and shareholder dividends. S-HP

If you want to intervene, you could demand that the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department set up limits on the use of the monies in this $500 billion fund so the general public, rather than shareholders and executives will benefit. Addresses are here.

5. Meatpacking plants–coronavirus hotspots–required to stay open, per Trump

In mid-April, Trump finally used the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of masks and personal protective equipment. Now he has invoked it once again—to classify meatpacking plants as “essential infrastructure,” which means they will be required to remain in operation. Trump’s move will also prevent local health officials from closing facilities that are significant sources of coronavirus infections. Meatpacking plants generally provide poor working conditions, including lax safety requirements. Workers in these plants stand close together and make significant use of knives and other cutting implements—injuring both themselves and others, as Common Dreams described the situation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not yet issued any guidelines for protecting workers in meatpacking facilities. In addition, a Department of Agriculture (USDA) federal rule change in September, 2019, reduced inspection requirements for pork processing plants and gave plant owners the option of hiring their own inspectors, rather than requiring inspections by federal employees, according to NPR. Meatpacking plants have been identified as hotspots for coronavirus transmission. As of April 30, at least 20 workers at meatpacking plants has died of COVID-19 and another 6,500 either tested positive for COVID-19 or were symptomatic at a level to require their quarantine, the Washington Post reports.. Trump may call meatpacking plant workers “essential,” but essential is starting to sound a lot like expendable. S-HP

If you think that essential should not mean expendable, ask your Congressmembers to investigate conditions at “essential” workplaces. Addresses are here.

6. Inequities among students intensified by on-line learning

The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating existing educational inequities because students without adequate internet access cannot engage in remote learning. The Emergency Education Connections Act, H.R.6563, would address this gap by granting $2 billion to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use in its E-Rate Program that helps provide schools, students, and teachers with affordable internet and appropriate devices, such as laptops and tablets. H.R.6563 is currently with the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

We can advocate for H.R.6563 by using the this link to contact House leaders or we can contact those listed here, making the point that internet access for students and teachers be prioritized in any further coronavirus legislation and point out that H.R.6563 would do just that.

7. Protections for transgender patients to be eliminated–in a pandemic

The Affordable Healthcare Act barred discrimination on the basis of gender, under which it included transgender people as a protected class. The Trump administration is about to remove those protections for transgender people through a federal rules change by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), according to Politico. The final rule has not been released publicly, but has been circulated to the Department of Justice (DoJ), one of the final steps before a rule change is enacted. This rule change comes in the middle of a pandemic and affects a community that has been treated poorly by some in the healthcare community, Transgender Planet wrote. A Center for American Progress survey of transgender individuals found that 29% of them said a healthcare professional had refused to see them on the basis of their gender identity. In other circumstances one might hope that Health and Human Service’s Office of Civil Rights might object to the removal of a protected class, but that office is currently run by Roger Severino, a former staffer at the Heritage Foundation and a long-time anti-LGBTQ activist. S-HP

You can decry this invitation to discriminate, particularly as it comes during a pandemic. Addresses are here.

8. $8 billion earmarked for Native Americans–none distributed after a month

Under the CARES Act, Native American tribal governments were to receive $8 billion in emergency Coronavirus relief through the Treasury Department; however, almost a month later, none of that funding has been distributed, according to the Huffington Post. There appear to be two reasons for this failure. First, there is a legal battle underway regarding whether Alaska Native corporations, which hold most native land in the state, can receive money earmarked for tribal governments [emphasis added]. Tribal governments are arguing that Alaska Native corporations do not engage in the types of public services needed to fight coronavirus. Second, as pointed out by Senator Tom Udall, Vice Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the Treasury Department generally doesn’t interact with tribes and as a result “They don’t know how to interact in the appropriate way with tribes and they’re just not getting the job done,” the Huffington Post reported. All this is occurring as coronavirus devastates Native American communities.

Insist on prompt distribution of coronavirus relief funds, and ask Senate Indian Affairs committe leadership to take any actions possible to see that these funds are distributed swiftly and appropriately. Addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. COVID-19 hits Black people harder than others

A study of 305 adults hospitalized with COVID-19 in eight Georgia hospitals found that 83.2% of them were Black, while in the same period only 47% of people hospitalized for all causes–including COVID-19–were Black. Seven of the eight hospitals were in Atlanta, where Black people constitute 54% of the population, according to World Population Review.  Previous discussions of the coronavirus have suggested that Black patients were more likely to have risk factors, such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma, but in the study of Georgia patients, published by the Center for Disease Control, Black and non-black patients were equally likely to have these risk factors. High blood pressure was the only risk factor that Black patients were more likely to have. Black patients were no more likely to die than non-black patients. The study suggests that social and economic factors–including occupation–may explain why Black people are more likely to contract COVID-19.

You can call for a Congressional investigation of disparities in coronavirus mortalities and urge additional funding for hospitals caring for over-represented minority communities. Addresses are here.

RESOURCES

  • With 26 weeks to go before the presidential election, the Americans of Conscience Checklist prioritizes what we need to do–starting with taking care of ourself.
  • See Sarah-Hope’s whole list for more opportunities to intervene.
  • Martha’s list this week has the news that 10,000 Federal employees tested positive for coronavirus. She also notes the EPA’s refusal to regulate particulate matter as well as to regulate neurotoxin methyl bromide Proposed Rule on HHS OIG . And under closing soon, you’ll want to see that the”Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” comment period was extended, enough time for their own Science Advisory Board to criticize the proposal.
  • See Rogan’s list for ways to object to the treatment of prisoners, asylum-seekers, the Navajo nation, and more.

News You May Have Missed: April 26, 2020

News You May Have Missed this week continues to identify the costs of the pandemic for the most vulnerable people and to insist on the context of events–so that we are not simply bounced from outrage to outrage. We offer you resources toward clarity and options for action.

Though the news cycle produces a series of blinking alerts, we need to keep the short- and long-run pictures in focus. Among these: Can the Democrats retake the Senate? Read the fine print in Chrysostom’s elections roundup–and see what you think.

DACA rally

“DACA rally” by vpickering is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. “Dreamers” ineligible for federal coronavirus assistance

Congress allocated $6 billion in coronavirus relief funding to colleges, who were then to release these funds to students to cover coronavirus-related educational expenses. Although the original legislation did not contain such restrictions, the Department of Education has barred any distribution of these monies to students who don’t qualify for federal aid., Politico points out. That might sound benign, but “do not qualify for federal aid” is bureaucratese for “undocumented.” This restriction will potentially make hundreds of thousands of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) ineligible for support, despite the fact that they have work authorizations and protections from deportation under existing law. S-HP

You can tell the Secretary of Education that our DACA students deserve our support during this pandemic: Secretary Betsy DeVos, U.S. Department of Education, 7W301 LBJ Building, Mail Number 0100, 400 Maryland Ave. SW, Washington DC 20202, (202) 401-3000.

2. ICE has DACA recipients’ personal information

One of the basic understandings of the current DACA Program is that applicants’ information will not be shared with other government agencies—particularly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This policy was honored during the Obama administration and, despite its hostility to immigrants of all stripes, the Trump administration has claimed it is also honoring this policy. ProPublica now reports that emails obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the organization “Make the Road New York” show that those promises—which were made to Congress, as well as DACA recipients—were “incomplete or misleading.” In an internal memo written shortly before Trump announced his administration’s compliance with protections on the personal information of DACA applicants and recipients, an employee at the Department of Homeland Security noted that “ICE already has the information. There is no way to take that back.” Several weeks later, that fact was deliberately removed from talking points for ICE testimony before Congress, calling the information “not essential… and likely to generate considerable anxiety among DACA requestors.” S-HP

You can insist on a recommitment to safeguarding the information provided by DACA applicants and ask for Congressional information on the administration’s misrepresentation on this issue and any actions it has taken making use of DACA information. Addresses are here.

3. Court victories for detainees at risk from coronavirus

On April 20, a federal judge ordered ICE to evaluate all those it is holding in detention centers, taking into account their risk factors for COVID-19. The sweeping judgment, in response to a request for an injunction by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other advocates, requires ICE either to put new precautions into place to protect detainees or to release them. The judge criticized what he called the deficiencies in the way asylum-seekers are housed,  “many of which persist more than a month into the COVID-19 pandemic,” he wrote. As he put it in his decision, “…the Court concludes Defendants have likely exhibited callous indifference to the safety and wellbeing of the Subclass members [detained immigrants at risk]. The evidence suggests systemwide inaction that goes beyond a mere ‘difference of medical opinion or negligence.”

Then on April 23, another federal judge ordered ICE to reduce the number of detainees at the Adelanto facility in California, where 1300 people are held, in order to make social distancing possible. In response to an ACLU lawsuit, the court found that the conditions in which asylum-seekers are held are “’inconsistent with contemporary standards of human decency.” ICE must release 100 of the most vulnerable people by April 27 and another 150 by April 30, Newsweek reported. 

The ACLU and the San Francisco Public Defender’s office have also sued ICE to release 400 asylum-seekers in other California facilities, arguing that because they are in such close proximity and lack cleaning materials, they are at acute risk from the coronavirus, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. RLS

You can write to your elected representatives demanding swift action in response to these rulings and requesting careful Congressional monitoring of that action and of conditions for detained immigrants as the pandemic continues. Addresses are here.

4. Trump’s ban on immigration challenged in court

On April 25, a coalition of immigration lawyers filed an emergency motion to stop Trump’s ban on immigration, arguing that it keeps families who have already qualified for visas from accessing consular offices, according to the Innovation Law Lab. The effect will be to keep families separated at a time when legal immigrants are among those essential to the pandemic response. Trump’s policy advisor, Stephen Miller, told supporters that the 60-day ban foreshadowed a long-term change in immigration policy, the Washington Post reported.

What are your Congressmembers doing to protect immigrants and asylum seekers? You can ask them–addresses are here.

5. Judge again orders children in detention released

The judge supervising the government’s response to children in detention has found that it has not met its legal obligations to them under the Flores agreement, given pandemic conditions. Judge Dolly M. Gee issued an injunction to promptly release those children to family members and to cease imposing unnecessary requirements, such as fingerprinting, when children’s safety is not at issue,  according to the National Center for Youth Law. She will review on May 22 whether the government has complied. CBS News reported that there are still 2,100 children incarcerated without their parents and 342 in detention with their families, even though hundreds have been released due to coronavirus concerns. The judge cited medical expert Dr. Julie DeAun Graves, who said, “Postponing the release of children in facilities with known COVID-19 exposure is like leaving them in a burning house rather than going in to rescue them and take them to safety.” RLS

May 22 is almost a month away. You can ask your Congressmembers to investigate what progress has been made of releasing children in detention.

6. Citizens married to non-citizens denied stimulus checks

Most Americans are receiving $1200 coronavirus stimulus payments, but some are finding it difficult or impossible to receive that payment. As the legislation including the stimulus payment was written, only those with a valid Social Security number (SSN) are eligible for payments. Thus, immigrants in the process of getting citizenship who have not been assigned SSNs are ineligible for a payment—even if they are documented, have been living in the U.S. for years, and have consistently paid taxes, Slate explains. The inequality doesn’t stop there, however. If a married couple, one a citizen with an SSN and the other a legal immigrant without an SSN have been filing their taxes jointly, neither of them will be eligible for a stimulus payment, as that couple is treated as a single, non-SSN holding entity. In other words, American citizens are being penalized for marrying immigrants.

News You May Have Missed has also received information from one citizen/immigrant couple, both of whom have SSNs. One half of this couple is a U.S. citizen with an SSN; the other is an asylum applicant whose case is still being settled and who has a valid SSN, but no green card. The second of these two individuals is being denied a stimulus payment based on the lack of a green card, despite holding an SSN. The second of these individuals has been told they are not eligible for a stimulus payment because of the status of their spouse. This situation suggests a) that checks are being refused for reasons other than not having an SSN and b) that a wider range of U.S. citizens is being denied coronavirus payments than the SSN-based explanation would lead us to believe. USA Today reports that a group of four Representatives, Lou Correa, Judy Chu, and Jimmy Panetta from California and Raúl Grijalva from Arizona have introduced the No Taxpayer Left Behind Act (no number yet), which would allow non-citizens who are legally in the U.S. and paying taxes to receive a Coronavirus stimulus payment Via their Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). S-HP

To address this issue, you can urge your Representative to support the No Taxpayer Left Behind Act and tell your Senators you want to see similar legislation introduced in the Senate. Addresses are here.

7. Stimulus checks diverted to pay debts

Many Americans who anticipated receiving coronavirus stimulus payments instead found that money being redirected to banks and private debt collectors, depriving them of funds they need during this global crisis to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Forbes reports that a group of fourteen Democratic Senators and a separate pair of Republican Senators have both written to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin asking that the Treasury exempt conoravirus payments from private debt collection. S-HP

You can join these Senators in calling for coronavirus stimulus payments to be exempted from private debt collection. Write or call Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20220, (202) 622-2000

8. VA employees exposed to coronavirus required to come to work. Masks seized by FEMA.

A new Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policy requires coronavirus-exposed employees to continue coming into work, under threat of being found absent without leave (AWOL) and/or losing pay, Government Executive reports.. VA hospitals have been hard hit by the coronavirus. At least 5,000 patients in VA hospitals and over 1,600 VA facility staff have tested positive for COVID-19. More than three hundred patients and twelve staff members have died as a result of COVID-19. Employees at half a dozen VA facilities reported being denied access to masks and similar personal protective equipment either because it was being reserved for use by other groups of employees or because of fears that broad-scale wearing of masks would alarm patients and visitors. Five million masks ordered by the VA were recently seized by FEMA, according to the Daily Mail. Some facilities are requiring staff who worked with patients who would subsequently receive COVID-19 diagnoses to continue working until they display COVID-19 symptoms–at which point they can be tested for the disease. S-HP

You can call for better treatment of our veterans and the healthcare staff serving them, and object to the seizure of masks from the VA. Addresses are here.

9. Director of research fired for refusing to promote toxic drug

Dr. Richard Bright, who was summarily removed from his position as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), has been frank in expressing his view that he was reassigned because he resisted political pressures to support widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a highly toxic, anti-malaria drug touted by Trump (who owns stock in the manufacturer) as a treatment for COVID-19, CNN reported.

In a statement cited by the New York Times, Dr. Bright asserted, “I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American people.” In fact, the most recent, and most stringent, studies of the effect of hydroxychloroquine show that COVID-19 patients treated with the drug fair more poorly that those not treated with it. A recent study of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment was ended early because of the drug’s toxic effects on those receiving it and its failure to improve disease outcomes, according to CNBC, which quoted the Journal of the American Medical Association as saying that the use of the drug had a “primary outcome” of death.

Many Congressional and healthcare figures are now calling for an investigation of Dr. Bright’s removal. Representative Frank Pallone, Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was quoted by the New York Times: “Removing Dr. Bright in the midst of a pandemic would raise serious concerns under any circumstances, but his allegations that political considerations influenced this decision heighten those concerns and demand full accountability. Pallone has called for a Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General investigation of Dr. Bright’s removal from his position at BARDA, which was created to counter bioterrorism and infectious diseases. S-HP

You can demand an investigation of Dr. Bright’s removal from his BARDA post by the Inspector General of HHS and the Office of Special Counsel, which is charged with investigating complaints of retaliation against whistleblowers. Addresses are here.

10. Senator moves to protect Fauci and others against political firing

One of the things made clear by Trump’s endless coronavirus briefings is that the United States’ voice of reason during this pandemic is Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci has been striking a delicate balance between signaling deference for the President, something Trump demands, with an insistence on challenging the President’s misstatements/lies. Dr. Fauci has insisted that the virus will not be disappearing, as Trump claims, but will continue to be a severe challenge as we move into the fall and winter months. He has corrected grandiose claims on the availability of protective equipment for healthcare workers and coronavirus tests for the public.

Not surprisingly, Fauci has been receiving a great deal of criticism from Trump loyalists, some of whom are calling on Trump to fire Fauci. In fact, Trump recently retweeted one such call. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts has now introduced the National Institutes of Health Director Protection Act, which would allow the firing of Fauci and others in similar positions only on the grounds of malfeasance, neglect of office, or incapacity—rather than on the grounds of having the audacity to provide accurate coronavirus information, which is the way things appear to be headed, according to The Hill. There is no bill number yet for this legislation, but we can still urge that it be enacted as quickly as possible for the health of the nation. S-HP

You can urge your Senators to support the National Institutes of Health Director Protection Act and ask your Representative to support similar legislation in the House. Addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Is social distancing worth it?

There has been much national debate over the enormous financial costs that are imposed by restricting business operations in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. A substantial number of people, mostly on the right wing, say that the burden exceeds the economic damage the virus would do were it simply allowed to spread. Setting aside any ethical or moral arguments, is this true from a pure economics perspective? A paper soon to be published by the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis says it’s worth it, to the tune of over five trillion dollars.

In order to make calculations of this nature, it is necessary to input a monetary cost for a human life. The federal government uses a figure of $10 million to represent lost productivity and costs associated with end of life, Ars Technica reports. The authors utilized this figure, then used an estimate of 1.2 million dead should we drop all safeguards and allow the virus to spread freely. In a scenario with that many lost lives, they then estimated the likely GDP drop versus the GDP drop we are estimated to have with social distancing costs. The result was a savings of 5.16 trillion dollars. To be sure, this is all based on things that are at this moment unknowable: We still do not have a good handle on the actual case fatality rate for covid-19 or the precise number of Americans now infected due to a lack of accurate testing. It’s worth remembering that every decision has costs, including the decision to open up for business. JC

12. Consumption of conservative media linked to COVID-19 misinformation.

A study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana and published in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review has found a strong link between consumption of conservative media and misinformation regarding the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The study was done using a survey of over 1000 adults and found that people who watched or listened to programming such as Fox News or Rush Limbaugh were more likely to believe in inaccurate information or outright conspiracy theories. Additionally, those who consumed news via social media posts or news aggregator sites were more likely to believe false information such as vitamin C being an effective treatment for the disease, Phys.org explains. Those who consumed news via traditional news outlets were generally more accurately informed on the relative danger of the virus as well as the need for hygiene and safety measures. JC

13. Deepwater disaster 10 years on: No lessons learned

This month marks the ten-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest ever in the U.S., which killed eleven people, released approximately five million barrels (or 210 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, devastating wildlife, local fisheries, and tourism along the coast. The spill was caused by the failure of a blowout protector that should have prevented such a spill. In 2016 the Obama administration created the Well Control Rule, which created three safety measures to prevent spills like Deepwater Horizon: additional backup mechanisms for equipment; increased testing of equipment; and the use of independent inspectors so oil companies could no longer police themselves. Since the start of the Trump administration, according to the Washington Post, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has granted 1,700 waivers to the Well Control Rule, claiming that its provisions unnecessarily burdened oil companies–despite the fact that such a spill has been demonstrated to be not just a possibility, but a reality.

You can demand an end to these dangerous BSEE waivers and urge your Congressmembers to stand up for appropriate safety measures on deep water drilling. Addresses are here.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist is tracking its impact. See their site to note what they have accomplished and to find quick, straightforward actions you can take.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list has a number of action items not listed above, including for some stories run previously on deportations and farmworker wages.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record and has news you won’t find elsewhere, including National Science Foundation involvement in the Arctic, a plan to replace the words “foreign national” with the word “alien” in Citizen and Immigration Policy manuals, rollbacks of EPA regulations–read through the list. You’ll be astonished.
  • Rogan’s list suggests ways to object to how big companies absconded with the money intended for small businesses, to insist that more funding go to support essential workers and to make it possible for everyone to vote by mail in November, among other actions you can take.

News You May Have Missed: April 19, 2020

This week we’re trying to remember that there is much more going on than the coronavirus. Trump has closed the border and essentially ended the possibility of asylum. Pipelines are being constructed and challenged. Essential workers are going without essentials. And as our colleague Crysostom reminds us, we are careening toward an election. See his site for news you won’t have seen about downballot races.

TP8 Art in time of CV-19

“TP8 Art in time of CV-19” by FolsomNatural is licensed under CC BY 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Freezing aid to the WHO possibly illegal, certainly unwise

As he flails about in an effort to draw attention away from his Administration’s failed Coronavirus response, Trump has settled on the World Health Organization (WHO) as a target. Politico reports that Trump claims WHO was not honest in reporting on the Coronavirus outbreak in China, going so far as to call WHO “very China centric.” Now Trump has ordered a halt to U.S. funding of WHO, a move similar to the one he made in freezing foreign aid to Ukraine.

The General Accounting Office determined in January that Trump violated the 1974 Impoundment Control Act by withholding funds for a policy reason. It is the legislative branch of the government, not the administrative,  that controls appropriations. And, of course, it was that freezing of aid and the subsequent cover-up that led to Trump’s impeachment by the House. Besides its potential illegality, Trump’s decision to withhold WHO funding in the midst of a pandemic is hugely shortsighted. WHO led the global response to Coronavirus and produced and distributed Coronavirus test kits—which were offered to and rejected by the U.S Moreover, the Washington Post reported on April 19 that American employees of the WHO were transmitting updates as they were available. S-HP

You can ask for Congressional censure of Trump for illegally withholding WHO funding and insist that the U.S. continue funding WHO to protect the health of the nation and the world. Contact your elected representatives–addresses are here.

2. Federal government seizing PPE from states that had purchased it

State governments have faced severe difficulties in obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE) for those working on the frontline of the coronavirus response. On a number of occasions, the federal government has seized PPE shipments before they could be delivered to the governments that were the original purchasers, a New York Magazine story explains, and has redistributed these supplies using opaque criteria that appear to have more to do with Trump’s whims (and those of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is leading the administration’s Coronavirus response) than with actual need.

The Chairs of the House Homeland Security and Oversight and Reform Committees have asked Peter Gaynor, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to explain the seizure of medical supplies from states, as have Virginia’s senators, according to the Virginia Mercury. They have also asked him to clarify Jared Kushner’s role in handling supplies, especially given rumors that distribution depends on personal connections. They have asked FEMA to provide all documents related to these two issues. One response to this irresponsible administration behavior would be passage of the Medical Supply Chain Emergency Act, S.3568, which is currently with the Senate’s Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. S.3568 would require Trump to use his powers under the 1950 Defense Production Act to generate emergency production of medical equipment, including PPE, to address the coronavirus outbreak. S-HP

You can thank House Committee Chairs for investigating federal seizure of PPE, urge swift, positive action on S.3568 by the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and encourage your Congressmembers to continue pushing for an increase in the production of medical equipment and supplies and for an investigation into federal disruption of existing supply chains. Addresses are here.

3. Remain (infected) in Mexico

As of April 17, 17 of the 3,000 asylum-seekers required to wait in the crowded camp in Matamoros, Mexico, have symptoms of coronavirus, according to Border Report. The camp does not have testing facilities so these cases and those to come cannot be confirmed. Though asylum-seekers with symptoms have been quarantined, the camp lacks sanitary facilities and running water; what medical care there is is provided by a volunteer organization, Global Response. Human Rights First has urged the Department of Homeland Security to permit those required to “Remain in Mexico” to enter the US, where many of them have families, rather than having to risk both violence and infection both in the camp and when they must travel as immigration courts reopen. RLS

4. Deporting COVID-19

The US has deported thousands of asylum-seekers since the coronavirus became a concern, including children and teenagers without their parents–and refused to admit 377 children so far during the pandemic, according to the Intercept. They are most often being sent away without testing, the AP reports, endangering the local populations and the fragile local health care systems Some number of asylum-seekers sent to Guatemala have tested positive for the virus, according to the New York Times. Guatemala’s health minister said that the deportees have driven up the infection rate in Guatemala, ABC News reported, noting that on one flight, 75% of those deported tested positive.

While Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico have asked the US to halt the flow of asylum-seekers back to their countries, Trump instead declared that any country that doesn’t accept these deportees will incur sanctions, regardless of the ability of their health care systems to manage an outbreak. Father Juan Carbajal, the director of the Catholic Church’s Pastoral of Human Mobility in Guatemala, told El Faro, an on-line newspaper in El Salvador, “[The deportations] show a lack of ethics and a lack of respect for international rights, especially amidst this crisis.” Carbajal added, “there have been deportations that are being carried out without any concern for their health.” Earlier in April, the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) launched an inquiry into the Trump administration’s decision to unilaterally shut the border and freeze all asylum proceedings. RLS

5. Detaining COVID-19

As of April 14th, there were 19 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the San Diego Otay Mesa Detention Center, where masks were not distributed to asylum-seekers until two weeks after a staff member tested positive. At first, detainees were asked to sign a release of liability before being given masks; those who objected were pepper-sprayed and put in isolation, according to KPBS

In the Heartland Alliance facility in Chicago, 37 children and two staff members had tested positive for the virus as of April 14, the number of cases having doubled overnight, ProPublica reported. As Holly Cooper, co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California, Davis, pointed out, the priority should be to release the children, since protecting them against the virus is impossible when they are in close quarters.

On March 28, U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered that children in detention be released to families and sponsors as quickly as possible and told the government to report on April 9 what the progress had been. No information is available on how many children have been released, but the lawyers for the  Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, which is representing detained children, announced on Twitter April 10 that they were back in court. RLS

 ISLA (Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy) in Louisiana is urging people to write the governor to ask that those in detention be released. The address is here.

6. Price-gouging in a pandemic

At least two different sets of anti-price gouging legislation have been introduced in Congress. The chief difference between them appears to be the way in which they define price-gouging. The Disaster and Emergency Pricing Abuse Prevention Act (H.R.6457/S.3576) defines price-gouging during an emergency as an increase in price greater than 20% and provides for civil penalties of up to $10,000 per incident. Text for the second, the Price Gouging Prevention Act (H.R.6450/no number yet in the Senate), is not yet available, but press releases indicate that it will define price gouging as an increase of 10% or more in essential goods or services; it was introduced in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, CNBC reports. The material currently available does not indicate what penalties for violations might be. The committees receiving this legislation are Energy and Commerce in the House and Commerce, Science, and Transportation in the Senate. S-HP

If you are inclined to tell leadership of the appropriate committees and your Congressmembers that you want to see swift action on anti-price-gouging legislation, their addresses are here.

7. Biden and Warren’s visions for coronavirus recovery

Both Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have recently had proposals for coronavirus recovery in the New York Times. Biden’s piece calls for measures we can all support: increased testing; preparing hospitals for likely virus flare-ups; establishing worker safety protections; and addressing racial disparities in the impact of coronavirus. However, his proposal does not outline specific protections for ordinary Americans facing the challenges of coronavirus: job loss; inability to pay rent or make mortgage payments; water and utility shut-offs; the lack of universal healthcare and family leave; and the impact on small businesses.

Warren’s piece addresses these topics and more. Besides protections for ordinary Americans, Warren highlights necessary systemic protections and changes. Warren calls for strengthened oversight of coronavirus relief funds. She wants conflict-of-interest rules attached to coronavirus funding and wants companies receiving government relief to commit to retaining employees as their primary concern. Finally, Warren emphasizes the importance of establishing election protections before November so that all eligible voters can safely and easily vote in the Presidential election. S-HP

You might want to suggest that Biden to take a closer look at Warren’s proposals for protecting workers, small business owners, and voters, and ask him to incorporate some of Warren’s provisions in his own plan. Joe Biden, PO Box 58174, Philadelphia, PA 19102.

8. Essential Workers Bill of Rights

Current reports indicate that workers in essential services—healthcare, transportation, grocery workers, and more—are contracting COVID-19 at higher rates than the general public. In response, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ro Khanna have proposed an “Essential Workers Bill of Rights” that should be added to any new coronavirus response/relief funding. Warren explains, “Essential workers are the backbone of our nation’s response to the coronavirus. We have a responsibility to make sure essential workers have the protections they need, the rights they are entitled to, and the compensation they deserve.” The Essential Workers Bill of Rights would include:

  • Access to adequate health and safety protections
  • Robust premium compensation
  • Protection of collective bargaining agreements
  • Truly universal sick leave, as well as family and medical leave
  • Whistleblower protections
  • An end to the inappropriate use of the “independent contractor” title to deprive workers of health and other benefits
  • Health care security
  • Support of childcare
  • Treatment of workers as experts in the fields
  • Corporate accountability from those receiving Coronavirus relief funds, including giving taxpayers and workers a say in how these funds are used. S-HP

If you want to tell your elected representatives that any new Coronavirus legislation include the Essential Workers Bill of Rights, you can find their contact information here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. What an election in a pandemic could look like

South Korea had record voter turnout–66.2%–in last week’s election, despite the country’s recent bout with the coronavirus, the South China Morning Post reported. Voters were required to stand three feet apart, wear disposable gloves and have their temperatures checked. President Moon Jae-in won by a landslide, as tensions in his administration were outweighed by perceptions that he had successfully handled the coronavirus outbreak. The country had just eight new cases of the virus on April 19, according to CTV. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. Poor quality tests are muddying already murky waters.

Readers may have seen a news story about a study from Santa Clara county in California claiming that a very large number of asymptomatic cases were found, suggesting that the virus’ spread is much further along than expected and lowering the case fatality rate for COVID-19 all the way down to something slightly more deadly than seasonal flu, as an article in the journal Nature explains. This would be very positive news were it true; however, there have already been serious criticisms of the study on the basis of the kind of test it used to gather its data. In the rush to fill the insatiable demand for accurate data about this outbreak, many different types of serum antibody tests have been devised and manufactured under relaxed quality control standards, one of which was used in the California study. These tests look for an immune response in blood serum that indicate that the person had been exposed to the covid-19 virus.

Unfortunately it has become clear that the accuracy standards for these tests can be quite lacking, with very high rates of false positives. Even a very few false positives in these types of studies can skew results to the point of being meaningless. As the Washington Post points out, more than 90 antibody tests are on the market, none of which have been vetted by the FDA. Additionally, simple observation of real numbers in New York City make the study’s proposed findings very implausible: if the virus were that much more widespread with commensurate lower fatality rate, then in order for New York City to have had 15,000 deaths in a month, it would require that the entire city be infected plus another 50%. Given that there is currently a serious push to re-open the economy, complete with “astroturfed” protests, there is danger in cherry-picking these kinds of studies based on potentially fatally flawed data.  JC

11. Constructing pipelines under cover of COVID-19

In early April, Trump signed two executive orders intended to speed up construction of pipelines and other projects for the production and transportation of oil and gas at a time when the wise move would be to reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. As the New York Times explains, one order would make it more difficult for states to use the Clean Water Act to fight federally approved projects. The other proposal would remove the State Department from the process used to approve international projects. These executive orders will exacerbate an ongoing rush by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to implement eminent domain allowances for private energy companies to complete and expand pipeline projects. One current proposal is “Double E Pipeline, LLC; Notice of Availability of the Environmental Assessment for the Proposed Double E Pipeline Project” (because federal regulators are not hired for their ability to coin clear, concise proposal titles), which would allow a pipeline running from New Mexico to Texas. Comments must be received by May 1.

If you have something to say about this pipeline project, you can comment for the public record here. [Note: be sure to refer to Document Number 2020-06560 in your comment]

12. Pollution clearing but standards dropping

While air, water and noise pollution is dropping markedly during the slowdown of economic activity due to the coronavirus, the Atlantic reports, the administration has formalized its rollback of Obama-era fuel efficiency regulations, according to the AP. President Obama responded to this announcement noting “We’ve seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic. We can’t afford any more consequences of climate denial.” This rollback will ultimately cause more deaths from air pollution and exacerbate the climate crisis. While many automakers have confirmed a commitment to raised fuel standards in a deal brokered by the state of California, others, including Ford, GM, and Chrysler, have not. S-HP

You could ask automakers who have not yet committed to improved fuel standards to put the health of the planet before profits and keep the standards as close as possible to the Obama-rule levels. Addresses are here.

RESOURCES

  • See the Americas of Conscience Checklist for an update on the primaries and to advocate for safe ways for Native Americans to vote.
  • Martha offers ways to comment for the public record. About this week’s list, she says to look for more border wall land grabs, more ways the Trump administration is using COVID-19 as cover to waive rules, including EPA waiving pesticide regulations. There are some urgent deadlines for commenting–including tomorrow.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list for postcarding has some of the above action items–and more.
  • Rogan’s list offers clear, concrete actions you can take.

News You May Have Missed: April 12, 2020

We can be appalled–if not surprised–by the depth of corruption that has emerged almost simultaneously with the pandemic; this administration will use anything to advance its agenda. See the specifics below. If attending closely to elections seems like the appropriate response to corruption, note Crysostom’s round-up of state and congressional election issues.

On the other side of the same coin, Heather Cox Richardson writes about how the responses to the coronavirus reveal the disparities in impacts on various communities as well as to access to healthcare and basic services (April 11). Week by week, we try to identify those most disadvantaged: First Nations communities, grocery workers, farm workers, contract workers, coal miners, students at for-profit colleges–the list continues.


“TP” by lildynamitedesigns.contact is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Native American tribe disestablished for Trump supporters’ casino

According to their website, “the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, also known as the People of the First Light, has inhabited present day Massachusetts and Eastern Rhode Island for more than 12,000 years. After an arduous process lasting more than three decades, the Mashpee Wampanoag were re-acknowledged as a federally recognized tribe in 2007.”

Why, then, has Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt essentially disestablished the tribe, removing their 321 acre reservation from federal trust? The decision also takes away the land’s sovereign status, meaning the Wampanoag would have to disband its police force and social services program and would be forced to pay federal taxes. Ostensibly, this decision was made based on a court ruling—but that litigation is still making its way through the courts and no ruling is definitive at this point.

So pervasive are the financial tendrils of Trump and company that if you pull any thread along the East Coast and let it unravel far enough, you’ll find someone Trump-connected at the end. Esquire traces the links. The Mashpee-Wampanoag are in the process of applying for a casino license, the last remaining casino license in the state of Massachusetts. And the Mashpee-Wampanoag lands, where the casino would be based, are near the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border. Over that border lie—a pair of casinos held by a private company, Twin River Worldwide Holdings. The President and Chief Marketing Officer of Twin River Worldwide Holdings are both former employees at Trump’s Atlantic City casino (the one that went bankrupt, remember?) and active Trump supporters. 

Last May, the House passed H.R.312, the Mashpee-Wampanoag Reservation Reaffirmation Act, intended to override the current court battle between Twin River and the Mashpee-Wampanoag. H.R.312 had a bipartisan group of thirty-five cosponsors and easily made it through the House to the Senate. And in the Senate, Mitch McConnell has placed the legislation “under general orders,” which is Congress-speak for “I am not assigning this legislation to any committee and therefore condemning it to the black hole of things-that-have-no-hope-of-being-voted-on.” Prospects for H.R.312 didn’t always look bad in the Senate, but that was before Trump tweeted in opposition to the legislation, falsely tying it to that Republican’s Boogie(wo)man, Elizabeth Warren.Cedric Cromwell, the tribe’s chairman, told Boston.com that the tribe is continuing to fight the order and has in addition sued Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for not considering factual evidence. “We have survived, we will continue to survive,” Cromwell wrote. “These are our lands, these are the lands of our ancestors, and these will be the lands of our grandchildren. This Administration has come and it will go. But we will be here, always.” S-HP

You can write to Bernhardt and him to reverse his decision, and remind your Senators that H.R.312 is being held in legislative limbo, asking them to act in support of the legislation. Addresses are here. In addition, the Mashpee-Wampanoag have a letter via MoveOn that they would like you to sign.

2. Native American communities vulnerable to coronavirus

As we continue to learn, coronavirus does not impact all communities equally. For under-resourced communities; communities with high rates of heart disease, respiratory illnesse, and diabetes; communities with lack of access to healthcare, lack of internet and phone services, coronavirus is particularly deadly. This is proving true on sovereign Native American lands. The Indian Health Service (IHS), the largest Native American healthcare provider, runs only one-sixth of the approximately 423 health clinics on Native American lands, Politico explains. Since the rest are run by local organizations, tracking Native American coronavirus cases depends on reports from hundreds of small, often underfunded facilities.

Because households on reservations are often multigenerational and share relatively small homes, social distancing is an impossibility in many locations, the Washington Post explains. Remote housing on reservations may not include running water, complicating basic hygienic procedures, according to the New York Times. Over one week in March, the Navajo Nation saw its coronavirus cases rise from 1 to 110. As of April 11, there were 698 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 24 deaths, in Navajo communities in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, CNN reported. Like states, sovereign Indian Nations are receiving little help from the federal government in their fight against the pandemic. Many of the healthcare challenges facing sovereign Indian Nations are the legacy of U.S. colonialism and many Indian Nations have long histories of disproportionate morbidity resulting from both pandemics and the deliberate introduction of disease. S-HP.

You can insist on a well-funded, effective federal response to the impact of coronavirus on Sovereign Indian Nations. Write the Secretary of the Interior and your Members of Congress here.

3. Corruption Watch: The relief bill

In the way it was designed, the $2 trillion corona relief fund undermines Church-State separation. The relief includes $350 billion for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans that are largely forgivable, making them more like grants. In a statement describing businesses that would be eligible for these loans, the SBA announced that “Faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans regardless of whether they provide secular social services.” Because these loans are processed through the Paycheck Protection Program, at least 75% of the funds must go to cover paychecks. Connect the dots and what you get is the government providing forgivable “loans” to be used in paying salaries for pastors, rabbis, imams, and others in similar positions. 

A legal remedy to this breach is unlikely. In 2018 the Trump administration made Federal Emergency Management Agency funds available to churches, synagogues, mosques, and similar organizations for facility repairs and reconstruction—a move which the Supreme Court declined to take into consideration. This is the first time federal monies will be used to pay the salaries of religious figures, a plan that appears to violate the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause is understood to mean not only that the state cannot establish an official religion, but that it cannot act in a way that advantages one religion over another or even privileges religious institutions over non-religious ones, according to Cornell Law School. In an NPR interview, Alison Gill of American Atheists noted that this funding “directly contradicts the establishment clause of the First Amendment. This is the most drastic attack on church-state separation we have ever seen.” S-HP

You can make a case to administration figures and your Congressmembers that any additional SBA funding for coronavirus relief must preclude the payment of salaries for religious leaders. Addresses are here.

4. Almost all asylum-seekers turned away at the border under CDC rules

A leaked Border Patrol memo obtained by ProPublica citing the CDC has essentially closed the US-Mexico border to asylum-seekers, citing coronavirus fears. 10,000 people had been turned away as of April 9, according to the Washington Post. Though asylum law says that people cannot be returned to areas where they might be harmed, it is being almost completely ignored, unless asylum-seekers can persuade a Border Patrol agent that they are in danger of being tortured. There is no medical screening of asylum-seekers and no information on what happens to people who are turned away. Because it is so difficult to get information, ProPublica reported, there is not yet a legal case against the policy. As Kari Hong, an immigration attorney, put it, “By invoking these emergency orders, the Trump administration is simply doing what it’s wanted to do all along, which is to end asylum law in its entirety.” RLS

Note that you can comment on this new policy–and only 13 comments had been received as of April 12.

5. Corruption watch: Inspector General who would have had oversight fired

The House insisted on careful oversight for the big-business part of coronavirus relief, while Trump claimed things would be just fine under the complete control of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The House won that battle in the short term, but now Trump is actively working to undermine the oversight provisions in the legislation–along with the entire Inspector General system, the New York Times notes. Glenn Fine, the acting Inspector General for the Department of Defense, was chosen by a team of Inspectors General to become head of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee—that was before Trump fired him. The Committee head must be an Inspector General, so Fine is no longer eligible for the role, despite his colleague’s respect for him, the New York Times explains.. Lawfare suggests “the reason for Fine’s removal, it isn’t subtle: Fine is the kind of guy who will make trouble.” Though we might well reword “will make trouble” with “would have approached his oversight role with integrity.” S-HP

Now would be the time to ask what steps your Congressmembers are taking to assure proper oversight of coronavirus funds now that Trump has removed Inspector General Fine. Addresses are here.

6. Corruption Watch: Another Inspector General fired

When he fired Michael Atkinson, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, from his position, Trump made it clear that he was taking that action in response to Atkinson’s decision to share the whistle-blower report on Trump’s Ukraine phone call with the House Intelligence Committee—as Atkinson was required to do under law. Atkinson was the last Senate-appointed official in the Director of National Intelligence’s office. The office is now being run solely by individuals who have not gone through Senate confirmation and is headed by Acting Director Richard Grenell. Now Politico reports that Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, is questioning “political interference in the production and dissemination of intelligence.” Schiff is concerned that substantial changes to the Office of National Intelligence are being made without informing Congress. Schiff has written to Acting Director Grenell pointing out that “it would be inappropriate for you to pursue any additional leadership, organizational, or staffing changes to ODNI [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] during your temporary tenure.” In addition, Schiff is demanding a written explanation of all organizational changes in ODNI by April 16. S-HP

If you wish to thank Schiff for taking these actions and urge closer Senate oversight over the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the addresses are here.

7. Grocery store workers, farm workers, at high risk

Workers given “extended first responder” or “emergency personnel” status are “prioritized for testing and provision of personal protection equipment during the coronavirus outbreak,” according to the Boston Globe. (Whether such tests and equipment are actually available for anyone is another question.) At the moment, we are all dependent on workers in the food system. For this reason, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and Albertson Companies are calling for grocery workers to be given such status. Farmworkers, who play a key role in our food system, have been largely left out of coronavirus relief legislation thus far, and they would also benefit from special status regarding access to tests and protective equipment. Reveal describes the contradictions that surround them, being declared essential after years of being deportable, working in unsafe conditions without protective equipment.

Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue are looking for ways to lower the wages of foreign “guest” farmworkers (about 10% of the farm workforce) as a form of coronavirus “aid” to agriculture. Farmworkers are already not covered by federal minimum wage rules and many workplace safety regulations, and are at significant risk given their workplace conditions, KATU explains. As NPR notes, this proposal puts a significant portion of our food supply workers under additional financial pressure at the time when we need them most. S-HP

If you want to recommend that grocery workers and farm workers be given “extended first responder” or “emergency personnel” status—our lives depend on them—and insist that wages for all farmworkers, including guest workers remain at current levels or, better yet, be raised because of the hazards of such work at the present moment, appropriate addresses are here.

8. Coal miners threatened by COVID-19, coal companies crying poor

Coal miners, especially current or former miners with black lung disease, are particularly vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic. If coal companies have their way, these miners may soon face increased financial vulnerability as well. In 1969, the Nixon administration established the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (BLDTF). Coal mining companies signed a two-part agreement with the federal government that as long as they operated, they would pay benefits to their retirees and that they would pay an excise tax on coal extraction to cover pension benefits for miners with black lung disease whose former employers have gone out of business. As this agreement plays out now, pensions for minors with black lung disease typically receive about $700 a month. For every ton of coal mined (coal is currently selling at $34 per ton) coal companies pay an excise tax of $1.10 that goes to BLDTF. They pay a lower rate of 55¢ per ton for surface coal—these monies are intended to support the BLDTF.

For years, the BLDTF has been unable to meet its obligations to miners and has been borrowing from the Treasury. At the moment, the BLDTF has a debt to the Treasure of $4 billion. Now, citing difficulties related to the coronavirus pandemic, coal companies are calling for a 55% cut in the excise tax funding the BLDTF and also asked for a suspension of a separate fee that goes toward the clean-up of abandoned mines. Mine companies say these fee reductions would save them about $220 million. The Washington Post reports that miners receiving BLDTF pensions and their advocates worry that the proposed cuts will quickly raise the BLDTF debt, making the fund appear unsupportable during a time of economic pressure. S-HP

You could tell your Members of Congress to object to lowered excise taxes for coal companies, insist that they continue to pay their fail share for black lung disease pensions and abandoned mine clean-up, and call for legislation to make the BLDTF solvent over the long term.

9. Stanford terminates contract workers

In late March, that Stanford Daily ran an editorial on the differential treatment of “regular” Stanford employees and “contracted” Stanford employees during the coronavirus pandemic. Contracted employees are employees who work on the Stanford campus, but are not directly hired by Stanford. The largest such group are janitors hired through the national custodial service, UG-2. But the bottom line for these workers is that if Stanford eliminates their positions, they will be unemployed during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. At this point, 150 such employees have been terminated. Regular Stanford employees have been assured that they will continue to receive their full salaries and health benefits, regardless of the effect coronavirus has on their actual hours. With an endowment of $27.7 billion, Stanford could extend this treatment to their contracted workers, but has chosen not to do so.

You could ask your own workplace–and Stanford–to do the right (and for them, affordable) thing and extend pay and benefits to contracted workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Addresses are here.

10. Corruption watch: Congressmembers and their stocks

We pointed out previously (March 22, first story) the multiple stock sales and purchases by Congressmembers who were part of an early coronavirus briefing. These included sales of travel-related stocks and purchases of health-related stocks, Bloomberg notes. While these sales and purchases are being investigated, we need to deal with the larger issue: Congressmembers who hold individual stocks (as opposed to mutual funds) and are in a position to benefit from information not yet released to the public. Whether or not the timing of these activities was coincidental, as some Congressmembers claim, we cannot risk such profiteering. The answer: a ban on individual stock holding by Congressmembers. S-HP

You could urge immediate action by the House and Senate that bars Congressmembers from owning individual stocks while in office.

11. Mail ballots essential in 2020

In case we need further proof of the need for mail-in ballots during a pandemic (or at any time), consider last Tuesday’s primary election in Wisconsin. Republican lawmakers blocked a request by governor Tony Edwards to either move back the date of the election or to provide absentee ballots to all voters, due to the coronavirus pandemic. With no action on the state level, requests for absentee ballots subsequently went up. Concerned about inefficient mail service hindering the distribution and return of absentee ballots, the danger of coronavirus transmission, and the substantial drop in the number of available poll workers Wisconsin, Governor Tony Edwards next attempted to expand the period over which absentee ballots would be accepted. Republicans, who have adopted a strategy of winning elections by disenfranchising voters, filed suit over this move, as the Washington Post describes the situation. The Governor’s move was upheld in a lower court, but the case ultimately reached the Supreme Court of the U.S., which in a narrow, 5-4, technical ruling squashed the extension on the grounds that federal judges are not entitled to change a state’s absentee-voting procedures shortly before an election. In a dissent Ruth Bader Ginsburg excoriated the majority for forcing voters to choose between risking their own lives and the lives of others to vote in person or to forgo their right to vote.

Elections proceded—but not smoothly—in Wisconsin on Tuesday. Seven thousand individuals who usually serve as poll workers were unavailable on election day, causing the closure of many polling places. The city of Milwaukee, population 600,000, which has the state’s largest minority population, normally has 180 polling stations. On Tuesday a total of 5 polling stations were open across the city—97% fewer than usual. Three bins of absentee ballots that had never been distributed were found in one Milwaukee post office, according to the New York Times. Panicked voters who had not received absentee ballots that they requested two weeks or more before the election as required in the state tied up phone lines trying to talk to state and county officials. Many ballots dropped at post offices on election day didn’t get postmarked until the next day, invalidating those votes. One city clerk reported that almost half the ballots she received from the post office were not postmarked at all, invalidating those votes as well. A reminder that Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by 23,000 votes. In November, the U.S. will almost certainly be experiencing the continued effects of the coronavirus pandemic but a nation-wide system of mail-in ballots is not in place–Politico describes how chaos could overtake the 2020 election. According to NPR, Elizabeth Warren has a plan. S-HP.

Do you think that all voters be able to exercise their franchise using a mail-in ballot in the 2020 election? If so, you can speak up here.

12. Corruption watch: For-profit colleges

Many businesses are apt to benefit from coronavirus stimulus funding—including for-profit colleges that have been accused of fraud and misuse of federal student funding, according to an exclusive report from MarketWatch. A small group of senators has raised concerns about the distribution of coronavirus stimulus monies to for-profit colleges. The coronavirus stimulus for educational institutions is based on the number of enrolled students at that institution receiving Pell Grants, a federal needs-based scholarship. Ben Miller, of the Center for American Progress, has estimated that for-profit colleges will be receiving approximately $1 billion in stimulus money.

A MarketWatch analysis headed by U.C. Merced sociologist Charlie Eaton looked at the top 100 for-profit colleges eligible for stimulus monies. Seventy-nine of these schools have had fraud complaints filed against them by former students—a total of 12,000 complaints among the schools. Twenty-three of these schools have be characterized as “failed” by federal regulators because students graduating from them are unable to find employment sufficient to make student loan payments. In the past, such schools were not eligible for stimulus payments, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded that rule in 2019. S-HP

If you wish to urge that DeVos stop supporting predatory, for-profit schools and encourage your Congressmembers to investigate the amount of stimulus money going to for-profit schools engaging in malfeasance, the pertinent addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

13. Climate change denial predicted coronavirus denial.

Decades of climate crisis denial set up patterns of speech and thought that anticipated the way the coronavirus was dismissed in the crucial early weeks, Inside Climate News points out. Trump’s strategy of blaming China and ignoring scientists set into motion right-wing propaganda insisting that the virus was no worse than the flu, threatening scientists and claiming the virus was a hoax.

The connection among pandemics, climate and habitat is well beyond patterns of rhetoric, however. As humans encroach on animal habitats–through deforestation, invasive agriculture, and global trade in wild animals–pandemics that originate in animals will become much more frequent, as the Washington Post points out. Some 70 per cent of diseases come from animals, and there could be 1.67 million as-yet-undiscovered viruses, to which LiveScience alerted us in 2018, of which as many as half could infect humans. As the Guardian points out, the same processes that lead to pandemic are those that lead to climate change, and diseases–including those carried by insects–can be more widespread as the world warms, according to New York Magazine. RLS

14. Food waste and hunger in the pandemic

Tens of millions of ripe vegetables, millions of gallons of milk, tens of thousands of eggs are being dumped by farmers in the U.S. who have no ways to sell their products now that restaurants and institutional buyers are closed. Dairy farmers in Canada are doing the same.At the same time, cars have been lined up for miles outside food banks in San Antonio, Pittsburgh and other cities, as food banks in the U.S. face acute shortfalls, Common Dreams reports. In Canada, too, food programs report skyrocketing demand, according to the Globe and Mail. Farmers told the New York Times that they have donated to food banks and charities, but that these organizations have limited ability to absorb perishable food. The same crops will be replanted, in the hope that distribution will possible again after the next harvest.

In Ontario, FoodShare and other groups have invented programs to bring food from local farmers to consumers, and accept donations for food boxes for those who are coping with food insecurity.  Mother Jones points out that the U.S.government could ramp up the Commodity Credit Corporation, the depression-era agency that provides for the redistribution of food from farmers who cannot get it picked and to market to food assistance programs. The Trump administration did so in 2019 for farmers affected by the trade wars with China. It has not done so now. RLS

15. Mountain lions extinct?

Mountain lion populations across California, but particularly on the California Central Coast and in Southern California, are at risk of extinction due to loss of habitat and fragmentation of the habitat remaining, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Environmental groups have been fighting to have the mountain lions covered by California’s Endangered Species Act, which is a two-step process. First, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife must determine that such protection may be warranted. After that, the state’s Fish and Game Commission decides whether to give mountain lions the “endangered” status and the protections that come with it. Step one has been accomplished. Now the Fish and Game Commission is making the final call. S-HP

You could ask the Fish and Game Commission to protect California’s mountain lions, particularly on the Central Coast and in Southern California, by giving the species endangered status. The Center for Biological Diversity is suggesting that you sign their petition and write a letter.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is posting every other week. See the site for easy actions you can take.
  • Sarah-Hope’s action items for postcarding are in her full list.
  • Rogan’s list has opportunities to advocate for front-line workers, address the disparities in diagnosis and treatment of communities of color, support the needs of people with disabilities in the pandemic, and much more.
  • Martha’s list this week tries to keep track of the moving target of regulations, some suspended or rolled back. HUD-faith-based initiatives, EPA rollbacks, the EPA’s so-called “strengthening transparency in regulatory science” (which would in fact block some scientific data from being used ) are closing to comments soon.

News You May Have Missed: April 5, 2020

As Heather Cox Richardson puts it in her quiet way, “While we are all focused on the pandemic, there is a lot going on.” Her recent posts describe various voter suppression activities, starting with the Reagan era, and explains why it matters that Trump fired Intelligence Inspector General Michael Atkinson. Her April 5 column reminds us that “We are surrounded by ordinary people who are giving themselves to serve others.”

This week’s issue of News You May Have Missed continues to track the impact of the coronavirus and policies surrounding it on many of those others–while still noting what else is going on. 


“Farm Workers Who Feed Us!” by National Farm Worker Ministry is licensed under CC BY 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Farmworkers struggle because of COVID-19, left out of relief

U.S. farmworkers are in grave difficulty as a result of the coronavirus and policies surrounding it. They are considered “essential” workers, according to the New York Times, but have few protections and are at high risk of contracting COVID-19. The United Farm Workers union describes their situation vividly. In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Greg Asbed, a founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and a McArthur fellow, points out the risks that farmworkers face:

  • in general, they live in crowded condition where social distancing and isolation of the sick are impossibilities;
  • they often travel to work in crowded buses provided by growers;
  • they have been suffering from the effects of inadequate healthcare for years;
  • many are undocumented and at risk of deportation, so they fear attempting to access social services that are helping others during the pandemic;
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement has continued to raid immigrant communities during the pandemic.
  • Farmworkers have been left out of coronavirus pandemic relief legislation thus far, and their vulnerability makes our entire food system vulnerable. S-HP

You can insist on coronavirus legislation that includes farmworkers and on an end to immigration raids. Addresses are here.

2. Farmworker children at risk

Agricultural workers are excluded from basic protections provided under federal employment law, and this lack of protection extends to child workers, who may legally begin agricultural work as young as age 12.  Farmworkers under the age of 18 are killed in workplace accidents at four times the rate of other underage workers. Women—and this includes girls—doing agricultural work are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. In addition, according to EarthJustice, children are highly vulnerable to the pesticides used in agriculture, which have been documented to cause lowered IQs, developmental delays, and a higher risk of both ADHD and cancer. H.R.3394, the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety Act, would address these issues by doing the following:

  • raising the minimum age for farm work to 14
  • limiting hazardous tasks to farm workers age 18 and older
  • prohibiting farm work by children before 7a.m. and after 7p.m.

This legislation has been with the House Education and labor Committee since June of 2019. S-HP

You can urge swift, positive action on H.R.3394 by the House Education and Labor Committee and encourage your Congressmembers to stand up for children working in agriculture by supporting H.R.3394 or similar legislation. Addresses here.

3. Trump resists oversight of coronavirus relief funds. Pelosi persists.

Trump had wanted the recent $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, included $500 billion dollars for “corporate relief,” under the sole control of Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin. To ensure that this money was allocated appropriately and not used as a slush fund to benefit Trump and his cronies, the House insisted that the distribution of these monies be under the supervision of an oversight committee and an inspector general. However, Politico reports that, when signing the legislation, Trump added a signing statement, “‘I do not understand, and my Administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the [inspector general] to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required’ by Article II of the Constitution…. Trump also indicated he would treat as optional a requirement in the bill that key congressional committees be consulted before Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of State or U.S. Agency for International Development spends or reallocates certain funds.” Days later, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the formation of a select committee with subpoena powers to oversee the handling of relief funds. According to the Washington Post, the committee is specifically charged with “rooting out waste, fraud and abuse.” S-HP

If you are so inclined, you can insist to Trump and Mnuchin that they honor the legislated oversight for these funds and thank Pelosi for acting to ensure these monies will be used appropriately. Addresses are here.

4. Immigrants pepper-sprayed in pandemic briefing, denied safe conditions

The struggle against inhumane immigration policies and the use of immigration detention has intensified during the coronavirus pandemic. A number of human rights and medical organizations have called for immediate action to prevent the spread of coronavirus in both U.S. detention campus and in the informal, and chaotic, camps where those subjected to the “Remain in Mexico” policy are forced to stay. These groups include Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders USA, Human Rights First, Physicians for Human Rights, Refugees International, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Their specific requests include:

  • that the U.S. stop violating its own refugee laws and treaty obligations;
  • that the “Remain in Mexico” policy be abandoned as it presents a greater public health threat than releasing asylum applicants in the U.S.;
  • that the poor health conditions in U.S. refugee detention centers be addressed, rather than used as a reason for continuing “Remain in Mexico”;
  • that proper legal processes be followed for asylum requests;
  • that asylum and immigrant applicants not be allowed to fall out of status (the legal timelines for processing applications) during the coronavirus pandemic.

         The Southern Poverty Law Center is citing multiple examples of individuals in immigration detention being denied adequate access to soap and water and hand sanitizer, not being provided information on avoiding coronavirus transmission, and kept in facilities within which the recommended social distancing guidelines are an impossibility. To this situation, add the fact that as, Mother Jones reports, in at least three instances, detainees have been pepper-sprayed in privately run GEO Group facilities. These are facilities with lack of adequate access to soap and water. Anyone hit with pepper spray is immediately going to start producing tears and mucous—and this is happening in overcrowded facilities during a viral pandemic. (If you need yet another reason to be appalled, see GEO Group’s self-promotion claiming respect for human and civil rights and corporate social responsibility. If you click on “locations,” you’ll see aerial shorts of all 129 GEO Group facilities, which contain a combined total of 95,000 beds.)        

There are currently some 6,600 children being held in immigration detention—3,600 in facilities for unaccompanied minors, and other 3,000 in family detention. As of March 30, at least four unaccompanied children in immigration detention had tested positive for coronavirus. After appeals on behalf of children in immigration detention, U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee has ordered swift—but not immediate—release of children in immigration detention, according to the New York Times. She has ordered that the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement provide an accounting by April 6 of all efforts they have taken to release detained children. S-HP

You can write to the GEO Group and demand investigations by Congress and the Homeland Security Inspector General regarding GEO Group’s use of pepper spray in immigration detention centers during the coronavirus pandemic. You can also join the groups calling for release of those in immigration detention, particularly children, and for immediate provision of appropriate care, supplies, and space for those in detention. Addresses are here.

5. ICE harassing immigrants during pandemic

While California continues to live under “shelter-in-place” rules, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has continued to raid immigrant communities. California has ordered all “non-essential” businesses and services closed, a policy which raises the question of why harassing these communities and worsening a climate of fear is essential. In addition, in doing this work, ICE is making use of N95 medical masks, which are under high demand and which the Surgeon General has said should be reserved for frontline medical workers, according to the LA Times. In fact, on March 25, ICE put in a request for 45,000 N95 masks, the SF Chronicle reported.

The Chronicle quotes Brian Grady, a physician and president of the San Francisco-Marin Medical Society, as saying the request “flies in the face of all the public health measures to combat and minimize the spread of COVID-19…. We are currently experiencing a severe shortage of PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], particularly N95 masks, for health care workers. Requisitioning a large number of these to further the effort to arrest and detain people sends exactly the wrong message at this time.” S-HP

You can write to your elected representatives asking for an end to immigration raids during the coronavirus pandemic and insisting that N95 masks and other PPE be reserved for medical use.

6. State Dept. to require DNA tests of immigration applicants

A proposed Federal Rules Change from the Department of State, “Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposals, Submissions, and Approvals: Affidavit of Relationship,” would require DNA testing for all “anchor” immigration applications: “Anchor” immigration being immigration allowing a parent or child to join other family members already living legally in the U.S. The cost of this testing would be borne by the “anchor” (U.S. resident) or other family members. In the case of successful applications, individuals may be eligible for reimbursement. As of April 4, no comments had been submitted regarding this proposed rule change. Official comments are due by April 20. S-HP

You can comment on the burden DNA testing would place on immigrants applying to reunite with family members. Be sure to refer to the docket number.

7. Black people dying at higher rates from COVID-19

Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ, reports that “while black residents make up only 23% of the population in the county, they account for 58% of the COVID-19 deaths.” These kinds of statistics are echoed around the country, according to Axios, which says that poor communities and communities of color are experiencing a disproportionate impact. Poverty and environmental conditions in those communities lead to higher rates of high blood pressure, respiratory problems and diabetes, all risk factors for more severe cases of COVID-19. Lack of access to health care, crowded living situations, and the inability to work from home all compound the risks. RLS

You can demand immediate coronavirus relief targeted at communities of color and insist that accessible healthcare and expanded preventative medicine for these communities must be national goals, regardless of any other challenges we face. You could also write any of the caucus co-chairs on Black and community health and thank them for their continued work on this issue. Addresses are here.

8. Racial Disparities in COVID-19 testing

According to reporting by Nashville Public Radio, concerns have been raised about racial disparities in testing for those with coronavirus symptoms. In Nashville, three drive-through testing centers were set up in primarily minority communities, but their opening was delayed due to a lack of test kits and personal protective equipment. In other parts of the city, testing has predominantly been offered by Vanderbilt University Medical Center at its walk-in clinics, which serve more-affluent, predominantly white areas of the metropolitan area. One of these testing centers is being staffed by Meharry Medical College, the historically Black medical college located in north Nashville, the heart of the city’s historically Black community. Dr. James Hildreth, president of Meharry, has said that he has seen no overt bias, but instead views the delay in getting the testing centers up and running as part of ongoing disparities in healthcare services. Similar testing disparities have been noticed in Shelby County, TN, where Memphis is located, where screening is happening in the predominantly white suburbs, rather than the predominantly Black urban neighborhoods. Community activists have raised concerns about modes of testing (drive-thru testing requires a car) and of using social media to publicize the testing locations (which requires technical savvy and internet connection at home, with libraries and schools closed). JM-L

9. Concerns about bias in NYC Field Hospitals

New York mayor, Bill De Blasio has said that officials from the mayor’s office will monitor the field hospitals built in Central Park by the evangelical Christian charity, Samaritan’s Purse. Samaritan’s Purse is run by Franklin Graham, who is known for his anti-LGBTQ and anti-Islam views. De Blasio expressed concerns that the organization requires employees to sign statements of faith denouncing both same-sex marriage and abortion and declaring that people who do not follow Christian faith are condemned to hell, according to the Gothamist. The organization has affirmed that they will provide equal treatment to all New Yorkers, but given Graham’s statements and accusations that the group has used previous deployments as “covert conversion schemes,” De Blasio and speaker of the New York City Council, Corey Johnson, have expressed concern that LGBTQ people would not receive equal treatment at the facility. These concerns have drawn backlash from conservative media, which has accused De Blasio of being anti-Christian. The Samaritan’s Purse field hospitals have already accepted more than 30 patients. JM-L

10. Postal service, vote-by-mail in jeopardy

Democrats in the House have launched a new stimulus to keep the Post Office running past June. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Gerry Connolly, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations issued a statement that urgent action is needed to stave off bankruptcy. In remote areas, the Postal Service is essential for drug deliveries; it is also crucial for bill payment for those without reliable internet, the upcoming relief checks, and for integrated world-wide mail service. In addition, a shut down would leave hundreds of thousands of people without jobs at a vulnerable time in the economy, MSN reports. Especially urgent is that it would undercut the vote-by-mail system, which will be increasingly essential to cope with COVID-19 risks in the fall. The Brennan Center, a non-partisan non-profit, has mapped out what would be necessary in terms of logistics and funding, to expand vote-by-mail. Trump is, of course, opposed to expanding voting access, claiming that it would ensure that Republicans would never again be elected.

The stresses on the Post Office increased when Congress required it to pre-fund benefits for all current and future employees, as CNBC explained in 2011; the Post Office is required to be entirely self-sustaining and does not receive taxpayer funds. The most recent stimulus bill permitted the Post Office to borrow up to $10 billion, it does not include any debt or emergency support, according to Business Insider. RLS

If you want to ask your members of Congress to keep the U.S. Postal System running both during this pandemic and after, their addresses are here.

11. Navy captain relieved of duty tests positive for COVID-19

Navy Captain Brett Crozier, who brought attention to the coronavirus crisis on the ship he commanded, has been relieved of duty. Simply put, Crozier sacrificed his career to get his sailors off USS Theodore Roosevelt and save as many as possible from the virus. On top of that, he has now tested positve for the coronavirus, according to the New York Times.

The sailors who has been under his command loudly cheered Crozier as he disembarked from the USS Theodore Roosevelt, NBC News reports. In contrast, the ACLU notes, Trump’s pardons of war criminals are undermining the entire military justice system. S-HP

If you want to ask your congressmembers to call for the reinstatement of Captain Crozier, their addresses are here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

12. Trump neglects to order equipment, seizes it from other countries

Trump has forbidden 3M, which produces desperately needed n95 masks for medical use, to export them to Canada and Latin America, according to the CBC. The move could cause retaliatory trade responses and overlooks many reciprocal agreements. As Canadian prime minister Trudeau pointed out, thousands of nurses cross into Detroit from Canada daily to work. German and French officials also accused the Trump administration of diverting medical supplies headed for their countries, NPR reports. Even within the US, states with governors who are allies of the president are more able to get medical supplies from the federal stockpile, the Washington Post notes. Vox points out that the U.S. did not even begin ordering masks and ventilators until mid-March, though Trump received a briefing on the coronavirus on January 3. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

13. Pregnant women, new mothers of color, impacted by coronavirus

A piece in We•news highlights the negative impact the coronavirus pandemic is having for U.S. women, particularly women of color, who are pregnant, giving birth, and breastfeeding. Social distancing and hospital restrictions on “visitors” mean more women are giving birth without doulas (medically qualified birthing assistants) or without partners who have prepared to be with them as they give birth. Depending on the situations at birthing centers and hospitals, some women are making plans for c-sections, rather than vaginal births, in hopes of having improved chances of receiving appropriate levels of care; some are trying to arrange last-minute home births; others, who can afford to, are travelling hundreds or thousands of miles in hope of giving birth at a facility that is not already stretched to its limits by coronavirus.

The complications continue after birth. Breastfeeding is the most reliable way of feeding infants in an emergency and the World Health Organization recommends that women continue to breastfeed with protections. However, the lack of access to lactation consultants and per-based breastfeeding support programs mean women are choosing not to breastfeed—and this at a time when infant formula is already scarce, due to panic buying. The anxieties surrounding the coronavirus pandemic are also likely to trigger increased premature births and rising rates of post-partem depression. These problems aren’t just unavoidable byproducts of the pandemic; they are the direct results of the failed federal coronavirus response. Kimberly Seals Allers, the author of the We•news piece calls for:

  • providing immediate access to video conferencing with doulas and lactation consultants;
  • decriminalizing home-birth midwives in states that have not yet done this;
  • establishing birthing centers in appropriate alternate facilities;
  • requiring that emergency planning include those who are pregnant or birthing.

Seals Allers also recommends donating to several organizations that support birthing women of color:the Black Mammas Matter Alliance, the National Association of Peer Lactation Supporters of Color, and the National Association to Advance Black Birth.

In addition, the California Association of Licensed Midwives–CALM–is calling on Governor Newsom to provide greater access to midwives and require that insurance companies cover the cost of their services in order to permit birthing women with low-risk pregnancies to stay out of hospitals during the pandemic. You can email the Governor here. S-HP

You may want to ask that the federal coronavirus response include planning for individuals who are pregnant, giving birth, and breastfeeding. Key addresses are here.

14. US testing rate has stalled

It’s not news that the US has lagged behind other countries in testing for COVID-19 and because widespread testing is increasingly looking like an important facet to keeping fatalities low, this failure is going to cost lives. Throughout March, the number of tests done by US labs rose steadily from a few hundred to 100,000 a day;  unfortunately, the number of tests has stalled at that rate for the past week. In comparison, while Germany tests 50,000 a day, that is about twice the U.S. per capita testing rate, and their case fatality rate is also much lower, according to Ars Technica. The tests that are being performed are increasing in one key, if troubling, metric: The percentage of positive results. The week of March 15, 13% of tests returned positive results, while last week it was 17% and this week was 22%. It’s not necessarily the case that the actual rate of positive numbers are increasing accordingly; it could be that medical professionals are getting better at screening candidates for testing. JC

15. Economic effects of COVID-19 may last decades

Economists at the University of California, Davis have written a paper published by the Federal Reserve bank of San Francisco, drawing on historical data from previous pandemics that claimed at least 100,000 lives. They found the economic aftershocks can last for decades. From the Black Death of the 14th century to the Hong Kong flu epidemic of the 1950’s, researchers found that real interest returns decreased after the diseases had passed. This pattern suggests that investments will earn less as people shy away from risk and attempt to rebuild wealth and save, a phenomenon actually opposite of the after-effects of war. Wage growth, however, stands to grow modestly as labor asserts itself in the wake of these events. According to Phys.org, the researchers caution that this pandemic may depart from previous ones because of the disproportionate death rate among elderly populations that were a far less numerous demographic historically than is the case today. JC

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has ways to advocate for people coping with gun violence at home during shelter-in-place orders, speak up for Indigenous communities, urge protection for immigrant healthcare workers–and more.
  • If you postcard, you can work through Sarah-Hope’s list. Most of the items are with the pertinent news summaries above.
  • Martha has identified various important items on which to register a public comment. If you can comment on April 6, there is a proposal to dredge San Francisco Bay. In addition, there is a chance to comment on the Trump administration’s proposal to grow GMO crops in wildlife refugees. Also take a look at the Community Reinvestment Act.
  • Rogan’s list has ways to object to the rollback of environmental protections, donate for food relief, find solutions to Zoom attacks, along with many good news links.

News You May Have Missed: March 29, 2020

To reduce the chaos of multiple stories, we offer you an overview of all things coronavirus, from the impact on the economy to the strains that are circulating, to the likely impact on elections. We also alert you to what kinds of machinations are going on in the name of coronavirus defense.


“Negative – Melbourne (?), Victoria, circa 1910” is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

Apropos of which, are you mystified by Trump’s approval ratings during the coronavirus outbreak? Heather Cox Richardson explains.

Now more than ever, it’s hard to get fact-checked news. We suggest some lesser-known but notable sources:

  • Specializing in in-depth, freshly reported stories from around the world, the Daylighter now has been running illuminating coronavirus updates.
  • We also recommend Cold Type, which has news, features, analysis, history–from everywhere. Don’t miss it.
  • We count on Crysostom’s election round-ups (and a little election gossip). He’ll let you know where Mitch McConnell’s super-pak is putting its money and measures the effect on the re-election prospects of those senators who dumped stocks rather than warning the public about the coronavirus.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Under cover of COVID-19

The administration has been slow and disorganized in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s been quick to capitalize on the chaos created by coronavirus to roll back regulations and take other actions that would face a much more critical response in ordinary times. A few of these changes and proposed changes:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced, retroactive to March 13, that it will allow corporations to monitor themselves for compliance with environmental regulations and will not issue fines for many kinds of reporting violations, according to the Hill. The EPA has also announced a suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws, including those around pollution, according to the New York Times.
  • The administration has announced plans to use pandemic protections to justify immediately turning away asylum seekers and would-be immigrants crossing the U.S.’s southern border, reported CBS News.
  • The New York Times reports that a rollback of automobile fuel efficiency standards is expected next week.
  • The Federal Labor Relations Authority has made it easier for federal employees to stop withholding of their union dues.
  • Workers at the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department have been told not to relax deadlines for public comment despite ways the coronavirus pandemic might slow individuals’ and organizations’ ability to file such comments. Many comment periods are being limited to thirty days, the bare minimum required under law.
  • Under a supposed move for “transparency,” an EPA rules change would essentially bar a significant proportion of scientific research from consideration in policymaking because these studies do not release the personal health information of the participants—a standard ethical practice in such research (see our 2nd story on March 15 for more detail. This proposal is particularly salient at the moment because it may prohibit research into the coronavirus and its treatment from consideration in policymaking.
  • The Department of Justice has requested Congressional authorization to hold individuals indefinitely during federal emergencies without following rules of habeus corpus, Rolling Stone noted.. This proposal is unlikely to receive Congressional approval, but shows the kind of moves the administration is currently attempting. S-HP.

You may want to tell the EPA that self-monitoring and eliminated fines for corporations are an invitation to wreak environmental havoc and that “transparency” should not be used as an excuse to ignore the best available scientific research. You could also tell Homeland Security that the U.S. continue to follow international law regarding the processing of asylum seekers. Addresses here.

2. Children, adults in detention dealing with coronavirus

With four children having tested positive for coronavirus in a federal shelter in New York, a federal judge has ordered the U.S. to release the 3,600 asylum-seeking children separated from their parents to sponsors as soon as possible. As the New York Times reported on March 29, Judge Dolly M. Gee of the United States District Court ordered authorities to report by April 6 on their efforts to release the children. Last year, PBS reported on how being institutionalized has long-term psychological effects on children and NBC News has a piece on the terror of children in detention as the pandemic spreads.

In addition, the Southern Poverty Law Center, along with others, filed a petition over this past weekend, insisting that ICE either release asylum-seekers in detention centers or find some way to protect them. Detainees and staff are beginning to test positive, but ICE has not intensified its medical response. As things stand, those detained cannot possibly maintain physical distancing and have limited access to soap and washing facilities. A district judge set a date of April 13 for an expedited hearing. The SPLC quotes one plaintiff from California, at high risk from coronavirus due to age and other factors, as saying, “I am scared for my life.” RLS

Youth justice advocates in 30 states have called for the release of youth in detention centers and juvenile justice facilities. Access the state-level campaigns here. Raices has filed suit for the release of families in detention, given the conditions they live in and the risks of the virus; find out about their work here.

3. Coronavirus legislation overlooks needs of those with disabilities

Disability rights advocates are raising concerns that the conronavirus response legislation passed thus far omits funding for services essential to the disabled community. The Arc outlines those shortcomings. Autistic Advocacy and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network suggest contacting Congress to ask for legislation that provides the following

  • Extra funding so Medicaid can still provide home and community-based services during the crisis.
  • Making sure family caregivers for adults with disabilities are covered by paid leave.
  • Making sure that people on SSI or SSDI are able to receive cash payments like everyone else, without worrying about income or asset limits.
  • Making sure that people with disabilities can get medications refilled.
  • Making sure people with disabilities don’t face discrimination in health care.
  • Protecting the rights of students with disabilities.
  • Permanently reauthorizing Money Follows the Person, to make sure that people who are institutionalized during the crisis can return to their homes and communities.

ProPublica has also reported that as states prepare triage procedures (the way care is assigned when there isn’t enough to go around), it appears that those with intellectual disabilities may be among those denied care. ProPublica cites the following language from Alabama’s proposed procedures: “‘Persons with severe mental retardation, advanced dementia or severe traumatic brain injury may be poor candidates for ventilator support”; [and] “persons with severe or profound mental retardation, moderate to severe dementia, or catastrophic neurological complications such as persistent vegetative state are unlikely candidates for ventilator support.’” The suggestion that intellectual disabilities are equivalent to being in a vegetative state are both disturbing and dehumanizing. Other states with potentially problematic triage priorities include Washington, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. As a result, disability rights groups have filed multiple complaints and queries with the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the decision-making being done on the state level. According to the New York Times, the U.S Office of Civil Rights has opened in investigation to make sure that state-level rationing plans  “are fully compliant with civil rights law.” S-HP

We suggest that you call for coronavirus legislation that includes provisions essential for the disabled community, demand federal-level monitoring/legislation to protect people with intellectual disabilities from bigoted denial of service, and emphasize that intellectual disability is not an appropriate ground for denying limited-availability resources and care.

4. Native American communities not receiving promised funds

Vox reports that on March 6, Congress allocated $40 million in coronavirus aid to assist in the surveillance of the virus, laboratory capacity, infection control, and other initial preparedness and response activities. Congress also subsequently allocated another $64 million in aid directly to Indian Health Services. On March 20, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Indian Health Service, announced it was prepared to release $80 million in coronavirus funding to tribes, tribal organizations, and Urban Indian Organizations. However, citing sources familiar with the Indian Health Service, Vox reports that as of March 21, only 2% of tribal clinics had received this because of the lack of bureaucratic mechanisms to distribute funds from the CDC. Meanwhile, the American Indian Health Service reports that it is dangerously low on medical supplies and equipment. S-HP

You might share your concerns about the need for expedited release of these funds with the heads of Health and Human Services and the CDC, and ask your Congressmembers to intervene to see that these funds are disbursed quickly. Addresses are here.

5. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe wins legal battle against DAPL

The Dakota Access Pipeline lost its permits to run a pipeline across Standing Rock Sioux Tribal land as a result of a decision by a federal judge last week. The judge said that the company had not adequately addressed the Tribe’s concerns about the liklihood of an oil spills, and found that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act  when it granted the pipeline permits in 2016. The judge is requiring the company to do a full environmental impact report, which the Sioux have been requesting from the beginning. As Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith told Earthjustice, “It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet.” RLS

6. Coronavirus used to restrict abortion access

In preparation for a likely influx of coronavirus patients, a number of governors are calling for a halt of elective hospital procedures until the pandemic wanes. While this move makes sense generally, it is being used deliberately to restrict abortion access. As the LA Times puts it, “A ‘postponed’ abortion? Yeah, that’s called having the baby.” The Governors of Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas have all halted elective procedures and have included abortions on the list of procedures to be discontinued. However, unlike, say, cosmetic surgery, which can be safely postponed, abortions cannot be delayed for any significant length of time, particularly because the procedure becomes riskier for women as they move further along in their pregnancies. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Lawyering Project and other organizations have filed a lawsuit to stop the postponement of abortions. S-HP

Do you think that these governors should be able to decide whether an abortion is essential? If not, you can reach them at these addresses.

7. Blood shortages projected: FDA urged to lift ban on gay men donating

As schools, community centers, churches, and similar venues close because of coronavirus and as healthcare staff shortages increase, blood drives are being cancelled across the country. The Red Cross has canceled more than 5,000 blood drives in order to follow CDC guidelines regarding social distancing and other preventive measures. As a result, the available blood supplies are shrinking, and we are faced with the possibility of massive shortages, according to the Guardian. One way to increase the rate of blood donation at this crucial time would be for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift its ban on donations from men who have had sex with other men in the past year. (Canada permits such men to donate if they have not had sex within the last three months.) A group of US senators has called on the FDA to drop the ban, saying that given increased blood screening capabilities, the ban is discriminatory and unnecessary, Time reports. S-HP

You could call on the Commissioner of Food and Drugs to end to this discriminatory rule that excludes willing blood donors at the time we need them most.

8. Trump eviscerating union rights

Trump has been using executive orders to weaken union and collective bargaining rights for federal employees. These rollbacks include three 2018 orders shortening performance improvement plans to thirty days, exempting adverse personnel actions from grievance proceeding, placing time limits on collective bargaining, and severely restricting the time federal employees can spend on union-related work. Unions challenged these moves in court, but were told that they can only challenge the provisions of these executive orders through concrete disputes with agencies before the Federal Labor Relations Authority, meaning the changes will have to be fought piecemeal over an extended period of time. More recently, Trump signed off on a memo giving Defense Secretary Mark Esper the right to exempt any of the units he oversees from federal labor law. Now a bipartisan group of Representatives has introduced H.R.6246: To Provide that Certain Executive Orders with Respect to Federal Employee Collective Bargaining Shall Have No Force or Effect. H.R.6246 is currently with the House Oversight and Reform Committee. S-HP

You can ask your representatives for quick, positive action on H.R. 6246. Contact information is here.

9. Trump packing courts

One of the major “accomplishments” of the current administration has been the ongoing warp-speed confirmation of federal judges, including two Supreme Court Justices who are young enough to continue serving on the court for decades. The New York Times now reports Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans have also been systematically identifying judges appointed by Republican presidents who are eligible for retirement or senior status and encouraging them to make the transition now, so that their replacements can be appointed by Trump before the possible election of a Democratic President or Senate in November’s elections. More than ninety Republic-appointed judges are or will be eligible for “senior status” before the end of the year. Senior status judges can continue to hear cases, hire clerks, and receive pay, but their seats become officially vacant, allowing the president to appoint new judges, even if the senior status judges continue to work. Many of these potential appointments are on appeals courts—and appeal court rulings can become binding precedent, affecting future rulings. The New York Times quotes Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer explaining, “Senator McConnell knows he can’t achieve any of his extreme goals legislatively, so he continues to attempt to pull America to the far right by packing the courts.” S-HP

If you are so inclined, you could tell your senators that you are object to this deliberate attempt to warp the nation’s judicial processes and urge them to resist the continuing rapid pace of judicial appointments.

10. Elections at risk during COVID-19 pandemic

U.S. election security and functions were at risk before the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, which has significantly worsened these problems. The Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act, (S.3440 in the Senate; H.R.6202 in the House) would address these problems by requiring states and jurisdictions to develop plans to facilitate elections during disaster, including the coronavirus pandemic, by making vote-by-mail ballots easy to request and readily available, including the options of requesting these ballots online and printing ballots at home, the Hill explains. It would also allow absentee ballot requests to be submitted up to five days before an election if requested via mail and one day if requested online. Finally, it requires that states and jurisdictions provide pre-paid envelopes for voters casting mail ballot. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and other signers have sent a letter to Congress urging Congressmembers to act quickly. S-HP

If you want to advise your Congressmembers to support the Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act and similar legislation, addresses are here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

11. Why Italy was hit so hard

Given that Italy had a thriving economy, a higher life-expectancy than most Western countries and more health-care beds per person than the U.S., why has the coronavirus hit it so hard? Foreign policy writer Conn Hallinan thinks it has to do with the country’s anti-immigration policy. Because birthrates are low among Italians and immigration has been restricted, 23 per cent of Italians are over 65–and the death rate of coronavirus jumps to 8 per cent at age 70. Austerity measures following the economic crisis of 2008 also targeted health care, so that the country had insufficient margin. (He describes for-profit health care and managed care as the culpits in the U.S.) In Dispatches from the Edge, Hallinan explains that countries which keep out immigrants and allow their population to age will be at similar risk, exacerbated by the lack of working-age adults to fund social spending. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

12. COVID-19: One month update

Readers may recall the snapshot overview we provided on March 1st. It is now four weeks later and we have some better clarity on where the United States stands confronting this pandemic. As before, data is changing hourly in this rapidly evolving world catastrophe. 

Currently there are 199 countries and territories reporting at least one infection, for a total of about 722,000 infections recorded and about 34,000 deaths. You may have heard the word “exponential” used regarding this virus and if you compare these numbers to the numbers provided just four weeks ago you will see why: They have doubled roughly every week with that period shortening as we move further from the brief flattening in the curve China managed to produce. It has become clear that the most important single factor in preserving life during this crisis is to have adequate hospital care available for patients in severe respiratory distress, meaning ventilators and ECMO machines, as well as healthcare workers well enough to operate them. As it currently stands, no country in the world is adequately prepared for the numbers we will be seeing in coming weeks and so heartbreaking decisions are facing medical staff, as has already been the case in Italy, regarding who will get life-saving care and who will not. 

The virus itself is not remaining idle either, with eight distinct strains of the virus recorded around the world. As far as can be determined, the differences in the strains are not causing either less or more severe illness but they do allow for opportunities for forensic tracking via the evolution of the genome, USA Today reports. Evidence based on this tracking suggests that strategies of social distancing are effective in slowing or even halting the spread of the disease. The entire genome has been available for awhile now and it is apparent to experts that it is not of human design, instead almost certainly originating from an animal host and crossing to humans in China. 

Speculation that the impact to the world economy would be severe has proven correct as the New York Stock Exchange recorded the largest drop ever and the second largest by percentage since the ‘Black Friday’ event of 1987, with other less severe but substantial drops occurring–as well as modest rallies in response to positive news. A record three million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks. Trillions of dollars have evaporated, negating years of positive growth which has prompted some, mostly on the political right, to posit that the costs of social distancing might be more than the cost of simply allowing the virus to rapidly spread. Health experts are broadly unified in their recommendation that social activities be limited to the bare essential, regardless of economic cost, since the consequences of an even more rapid spread would be horrific, the Connecticut Mirror points out. Repeated models of more limited measures, such as isolating only the sick, family of the ill and the most high-risk show that they are inadequate to prevent the collapse of our healthcare system, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

It is puzzling as to how billionaire investors, President Trump and others who support an early cessation of social distancing measures think that a completely overwhelmed medical system throughout the entire nation with commensurate mass casualties will not result in devastating economic losses as well. Already there has been backtracking on the ideas being floated, withTrump apparently giving up on his Easter date and aiming for the end of April (which is also insufficient) and suggesting that 100,000 American deaths would be “a very good job,” essentially a concession that there will be a massive loss of life as a result of this pandemic. As a basis for comparison, the worst flu season in the last forty years was in 2018; it claimed 80,000 lives. 

While the economic and human cost of the pandemic have been getting much attention, social costs are beginning to show, highlighting long standing cracks in societies. Southern Italy has been dealing with a growing rise of discontent in the face of their country’s relatively severe restrictions of movement. Southern Italy has long been poorer and more discontented than the northern areas where the virus has hit hardest: Now there are people going hungry and altercations over food and cash. Meanwhile, here in the United States, domestic terrorists do not seem to be hesitant in using the disorder caused by the virus to identify weak areas to attack. A white supremacist was arrested after plotting to bomb a hospital, the front line of the fight, ABC News reported.

Finally, while China was aggressive in its response to the outbreak and enacted sweeping suppressive measures, evidence is emerging that the peak of their infection was far worse than official numbers record, Newsweek suggests, estimating from numbers of cremations and the shipments of urns. In addition, due to the official Chinese narrative that the enormous government response was successful in stamping down the infection, foreigners are now blamed for every new case of infection within the country, Foreign Policy notes. President Trump’s branding of COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” is adding fuel to the xenophobia and nationalism brewing.

Current CDC recommendations are that all persons able to stay home and/or work from home should do so. If ill, you are advised to wear a mask and continue using effective hand washing and disinfection of regularly contacted surfaces. Only go to the hospital if you or a loved one are seriously ill, such as experiencing significant shortness of breath and chest pain, having blue lips or being unresponsive. The three major symptoms of the illness are fever, cough and shortness of breath with fatigue. Most people who fall ill do recover at home and it is important that if you can self treat, you should do so–as the strain on medical resources will be acute. JC  

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is tracking its impact. See what your calls and letters have accomplished!
  • Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the news summaries above, but if you want the whole group of summaries and items for postcarding, it is here.
  • Martha tells us that regulations.gov, which receives public comment, is a moving target because of the coronavirus emergency. She sees echoed the issue we raise above about what is being done in the name of COVID. In the “recent” section at the following link, there are numerous changes across agencies enacted/proclaimed because of the pandemic. Here are the opportunities to comment through all this that she has collected.
  • Rogan’s list has a link to surgical mask-making instructions, a site where you can donate undocumented workers, a way to advocate against water-shutoffs–and more.

News You May Have Missed: March 22, 2020

We know that fast-breaking news about the coronavirus and everything surrounding it can be paralyzing, so we have sorted through and summarized the most pressing issues with lots of possibilities for action, even if you are sequestered at home.

Keep reading Heather Cox Richardson, even if you don’t want to be saturated with news. Her March 21 column talks about the story Politico broke about Department of Justice proposal to impose emergency measures that would gut civil liberties. It is telling that the Trump administration is willing to impose these kinds of draconian measures but won’t order manufacturers to produce medical equipment.

Worldwide COVID-19 is being tracked by Our World in Data, which is relying on information from the European CDC. See also the devastating real-time site designed by a Washington State high school student that shows the increases in cases of COVID-19, percent increases and fatalities. Balance this with the map below, which shows (in orange) the counties without ICU beds and in light grey, the counties without hospitals.

From Kaiser Health News.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. What they knew and when they knew it

The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, warned a small group of wealthy constituents on February 27 that the coronavirus was much more serious than the U.S. government was letting on, describing it as “akin to the 1918 pandemic,” according to recordings obtained by NPR. All those in attendance had contributed $100,000 or more to his campaign in 2015 and 2016. He did not convey this warning to his constituents at large. On February 7, Burr had assured them that the U.S. was well-prepared to deal with the coronavirus, but on February 13, he sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million in stocks, particular shares in hospitality companies whose value has dropped by half in recent weeks, according to ProPublica. In 2012, Burr was one of only two senators to vote against the The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or the STOCK Act, which was designed to prevent insider trading by members of Congress or their aides, Politico reported at the time.

After the news about Burr dumping stocks, it came to light that four other senators sold large parcels of stocks, among them Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), according to the Daily Beast. Senator Loeffler’s husband is Jeffrey Sprecher, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange; she began selling stocks on January 24, the same day as she attended a briefing by health officials to the Senate Health Committee, on which she sits, and also acquired stock in a tele-working company. In an opinion piece, the New York Times says that although Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) attended the same briefing and also sold his stock, according to Raw Story, he had been systematically selling it since he became chair of the Armed Services Committee. Similar, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) sold his stock, but after the stock market had begun falling. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sold stock as well, but she had not attended the briefing and indeed, she lost money on the deals as some of the stocks she sold were in biotech, which has gained in value. Bloomberg has a graph of how the stocks the others sold tanked. The Times piece asks where we would be now if those senators who had attended the January 24 briefing had broken ranks and told the country how serious the coronavirus was, instead of preserving their own financial interests. RLS

2. We could have been prepared

A scenario about a pandemic played out January-August of last year, one that sounds eerily familiar. The scenario, however, was a rehearsal, one which uncovered how disastrously unprepared the U.S. was for such a disaster, the New York Times explains. (The Times also explains how the Obama administration had assessed the nation’s readiness in light of Ebola, and how that administration ran an exercise on responding to a pandemic for incoming senior officials in the Trump administration in January of 2017.) But it wasn’t all scenarios and models: The Washington Post reported on Friday that intelligence officials and the CDC had been trying to get Trump to take the coronavirus seriously since mid-January, becoming increasingly frantic.

After the scenario last year, a truly alarming document was circulated but not released in October, sketching the chaos and miscommunication that would ensue. Now, it reads like history. RLS

3. Easing the impact of the coronavirus on students, others

The financial vulnerabilities of many Americans are becoming painfully clear as the coronavirus pandemic progresses. Among those affected are students at colleges and universities and those living in federal housing or purchasing homes through federal loan programs. Some members of Congress have been calling on federal departments and agencies to fast-track programs to protect these groups. A bipartisan group of 72 Congressmembers have requested that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos take all possible steps to identify the costs students are incurring as a result of college and university closures and to “identify how students may be reimbursed for any educational expenditures related to the coronavirus.” These expenditures include debt accruing on student loans; the costs of travel home when dormitories are closed; reimbursement of monies paid for on-campus housing, if that is closed; and the costs related to cancelled study abroad programs.

However, the New York Times says that what looks like a waiver of student loan payments is not; it only means that payments are applied to the principal.

A group of 106 Congressmembers is calling for an immediate moratorium on foreclosures and evictions from properties owned, insured, or overseen by the following federal agencies and programs: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Housing Administration, the Veterans’ Administration, and the Department of Agriculture. Sixty-three percent of all mortgages originating in the U.S. are affiliated with one of these agencies or programs. S-HP

Join in asking DeVos to begin immediate work to protect students from coronavirus-related expenses. You can also ask administration leadership to immediately end foreclosures and evictions. Addresses are here.

4. Social Security continued to hold disability hearings, some immigration hearings go forward

Many courts around the U.S. have shut down amid coronavirus pandemic, but some have done so only recently and others continue to operate. The Social Security Administration continued to hold disability hearings through March 20, a particularly troubling choice given the physical vulnerability of many disability recipients, though they have now suspended them, Vox points out. Immigration hearings for those not in detention have been suspended, but hearings are still being held for those in detention, despite a March 15 letter calling for immediate suspension of all hearings issued by the National Association of Immigration Judges; the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 511, which represents Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Employees; and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, WBUR explains.

Of course, cancelling hearings while continuing to hold asylum-seekers in detention or forcing them to remain in Mexico as a result of the Migrant “Protection” Protocols leave these individuals vulnerable. See the Times story on how those in the camps in Mexico are trying to manage. Multiple organizations, from local to national, have been calling for the release of immigration detainees to prevent the spread of coronavirus in detention facilities, which are notoriously crowded and under-provisioned. The former Acting Director of ICE advocates for their release in the Atlantic on Sunday. S-HP

You can join calls for an end to in-person hearing for detainees in immigration custody and for the release of these individuals until the pandemic is over. Addresses are here.

You can also contribute to El Otro Lado’s fund for assisting the 65,000 asylum-seekers forced to wait in camps on “the other side,” just over the border.

5. Whistleblower doctors call for detainees to be released; some prisons releasing inmates

Some U.S. jails and prisons are releasing prisoners early, according to the BBC. Prisoners are at risk for COVID-19, because not only are they in close quarters, but if they are handcuffed, they cannot cover their sneezes or coughs, and hand sanitizer is prohibited because of its alcohol content.

Whistleblower doctors from the Department of Homeland Security have sent a letter to Congress, calling the immigrant detention centers that house some 40,000 people “tinderboxes” for the coronavirus, according to CNN. Rather than release asylum-seekers, the government is curtailing visits from family members and advocates. ICE is seeking funding to deport more asylum-seekers and to release others with ankle bracelets. In an article Friday, Mother Jones quotes a detained Cuban doctor on the conditions in detention centers; she said that even soap for handwashing has to be purchased from the commissary, as not enough is supplied. Immigration attorneys argue that ICE could release detainees if it chose to.  The immigrants’ rights organization Raices sent CNN statements from asylum-seekers near San Antonio, among them one who wrote, “”This thing is very sensitive, and sickness spreads fast in Karnes. We will all die in here. If it comes here, we are doomed. Lack of medical care will kill us.” RLS

The ACLU has called for the release of prisoners who are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. Here is their petition. Color of Change and others are circulating a petition under the URL Humane Outbreak Response.
Immigrant rights organizations, such as
El Refugio, are raising funds so that asylum-seekers can call their families. Raices is asking people to sign a petition to release all vulnerable inmates

6. Effect of border shutdowns on migrant workers, ourselves

Every year, 250,000 workers come in to the U.S. to grow and pack our food. Now, the State Department has frozen the H-24 visas on which many of them come, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The impact on the food supply will be profound if these workers are not permitted to come into the country, according to a bipartisan group of 42 legislators, led by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D), who represents California’s Central Coast.

In contrast, in Canada, agricultural workers will be granted exemptions from the otherwise closed border, though they will have to self-quarantine for 14 days after they come in and though this new policy will require some delicate negotiations with the U.S., through which they ordinarily must pass in order to arrive in Canada, according to the St. Catharine’s Standard. This policy seems to be at odds with the merciless decision to turn away refugees at the border, which Trudeau announced on Friday, the CBC reported. RLS

7. Mask shortages endanger medical workers

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to expand, medical personnel across the country are facing dangerous (and embarrassing) shortages of basic medical supplies. The Washington Post reports that healthcare workers are having to improvise safety gear, using bandanas in place of face masks, and sports goggles in place of eye shields. There are also individual reports of medical workers improvising protective gear from craft supplies, Bloomberg reports, and using face masks for a week at a time, spraying them with bleach at the end of each work day in an effort to limit transmission. The Atlantic reported on the shortage of masks on January 30. Campaigns are underway seeking donations of basic supplies from private citizens. Other campaigns have seamstresses sewing face masks at home for distribution to health-care sites, though the efficacy of these is not known. S-HP

Where did all the masks go? China produces about half the world’s masks, according to the New York Times, and with the outbreak there, they have not been shipping masks out; indeed, producers elsewhere sent masks to them. The massive fires in Australia and California used up a large supply of masks (the N95 masks are effective against both smoke and viruses). And panic buying means that individuals are holding masks that could have gone to health care providers–though others, including tattoo artists who can’t work–are donating theirs. RLS

Doctors of our acquaintance are recommending that you tweet @realDonaldTrump and call your congressional representatives. Use the hashtag #GetUsPPE when you tweet, and follow the thread to see the scope of the problem.

If you want to speak up about the supply failures that have our healthcare workers using improvised safety gear and demand an immediate increase in funding for and production of these supplies, here is appropriate contact information, as well as links for mask-making.

8. Ramping up ventilator production–better late than never

The U.S. has the capacity to produce respirators and similar equipment at a rate much faster than it is currently doing. Although Trump has invoked the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows him to order the ramping up of industry to manufacture ventilators and other necessary medical equipment, he has not actually directed companies to produce medical equipment, says the New York Times. All this could have begun much sooner if the administration hadn’t wasted two months or more minimizing the risk of the coronavirus rather than developing responses to it. According to an article in Forbes Magazine, industry could easily produce five times the number of ventilators that are currently produced. S-HP

You can call for immediate action to assure that the maximum number of ventilators and supplies will be produced as quickly as possible. Contact information is here.

9. Virginia moves to keep insulin and epipens affordable

We’ve all read stories about people facing financial challenges whose health has been threatened by or who have died as a result of attempting to ration their insulin use as the prices for insulin skyrocket. In a move that should be an inspiration to every state, the Virginia General Assembly has passed legislation that would cap the cost of insulin for patients to $50 a month, the Virginia Mercury reports. Now that many face decreased employment or unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic, paying for medications like insulin has become even more challenging. This is true for other life-saving medications like EpiPens. S-HP

You can ask your state legislators to take action now to cap the prices of insulin, EpiPens, and similar medications. Find Your State Legislators Here.

10. Protect the 2020 election

At the moment, we have both a national emergency and a rapidly approaching election. One of the concerns raised as a result is how to guarantee the right of Americans to vote in the November Presidential election, should limits on public assembly and shelter-in-place orders remain in effect at that time. A solution to this problem is already sitting with Congress. The Vote by Mail Act (S.26 in the Senate; H.R.92 in the House) would guarantee the right of every American to receive a vote-by-mail ballot. The House also has a second, similar piece of legislation, H.R.138, the Universal Right to Vote by Mail Act. S.26 is with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. H.R.92 is with two House committees: Administration and Oversight and Reform. H.R.138 is with the House Administration Committee. S-HP

You can urge support for H.R.92, H.R.138 and S.26 to protect our elections at this challenging time . Addresses are here.

11. What if he didn’t know?

We’re familiar by now with the Trumpian strategy in which he claims he did not say things that he did say, how he distorts truth in the way made famous by 1984. Recently, of course, he said, “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic”; in response, the New York Times carefully lists what he has actually said over the last two months. He also said that he did not know who had dismantled the pandemic response team or even that it had been disbanded (this was in the same news conference when he said his famous–though unfortunately not last–words: “I don’t take responsibility at all.” The Intercept now is asking the question: What if in fact he did not know? Most of us have assumed that he is lying, as he does. It is even scarier to think that really, he knows very little about what is going on in his own administration, and given the revolving door, decisions of grave importance are being made by his favorite of the moment–in the case of the pandemic response team, John Bolton. RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

12. Trump’s deadly sanctions against Iran, Venezuela, Cuba

After Trump intensified the sanctions against Iran last week, a group of economists called on him to lift the sanctions, which by making basic goods unavailable are hampering people in these countries from protecting themselves against the coronavirus, Common Dreams reported. At least 1,100 people have died in Iran from the coronavirus, and Venezuela is on lockdown as cases have emerged. Cuba has one case so far. For Iran, the sanctions have not only been devastating but have put neighboring countries at risk. As Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), explained, “there is no doubt that Iran’s capacity to respond to the novel coronavirus has been hampered by the Trump administration’s economic sanctions, and the death toll is likely much higher than it would have been as a result.” RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

13. Alternative data points might show a clearer picture than official numbers for COVID-19

An Australian academic specializing in data analysis noticed internet speeds in Malaysia plunged by over five percent over the course of the day between March 12 and March 13. The conjecture? That despite only recording 129 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Malaysia was in the middle of an epidemic crises. This is because when people decide to self isolate, call in sick or are sent home, they naturally do what everybody does; they turn on Netflix, check social media or play online games, Wired notes. This surge in demand degrades internet speeds and is almost immediately measurable. In Malaysia’s case, the public was becoming aware of their government’s poor handling of the outbreak due to a massive exposure at a public religious event that was mishandled.

Similar analysis of China’s internet traffic indicates that its return to normalcy is lagging behind the public face China is presenting. For instance, there is solid conjecture that factories that have been restarted are running for show, to prop up electrical demand which causes a return to the usual sorts of pollution levels China normally experiences. The internet traffic says something else, though; if the factories that are running are not fully staffed, employees are at home on the net. This is not to say there’s not a rebound. NO2 levels from cars are rebounding and those *are* indicative of a return to normal travel patterns with an estimate that China is at approximately 2/3 of where they were the same time last year. JC

14. Truckers adapt to fill vast supply chain needs during pandemic crisis

As grocery store shelves empty and medical facilities run low on the necessary protective equipment they need to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s truckers are stepping up to help fill those gaps. Spot prices for last minute truck deliveries have risen over six percent in the last week, diesel sales have also modestly increased, pointing to an industry that is expanding productivity while much of the rest of the nation’s economy languishes. In order to help truckers meet the need to supply essential manufacturing with raw materials, deliver food and hygiene products and get medical supplies where they’re needed, the federal government has suspended some safety regulations that require periodic rests; they have also made exceptions for truck stops to remain open as truckers depend on their facilities to meet basic needs. That being said, workout and entertainment facilities at truck stops remain closed and drivers are being cautioned to maintain social distancing from each other and thoroughly wash and clean, Ars Technica reports. JC

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has clear, easy actions you can take on all sorts of issues relating to social justice.
  • If you write post-cards (or the electronic equivalent), Sarah-Hope’s action items are above–or you can work through her whole list.
  • Martha’s list this week has a site for commenting on the story we featured last week, the EPA’s misnamed “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” which would essentiallu permit decisions to be made without taking into account scientific data. A couple of weeks ago we wrote about rules permitting the “accidental” killing of migratory birds; now there is a proposal for hunting them. See also the federal anti-union bill for federal workers.
  • Rogan’s list this week has lots of news and many action items on the coronavirus this week, including a call for volunteers to 3-D print ventilator parts.
  • Ars Technica is updating its comprehensive coronavirus site every day at 3 PM.