News You May Have Missed: October 18, 2020

“Yemen IDPs 6” by IRIN Photos is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

These days, we need to know exactly where we stand. Thus, this week we have a special issue on regulations that are being forced through by the Trump administration even now–and what can be done about it.

The entire Sunday review section of the New York Times is devoted to the case against Donald Trump. Even if you think you know all you need to know, don’t miss this.

And if you want to be reminded of how we got here, see the excerpt from Amy Siskind’s list of Trump’s violations of basic norms. The Post offers 340 of her 34,000 items.

Georgetown Law School’s Institute for Constitutional Law and Advocacy has state-by-state fact sheets on the laws surrounding unregulated militias, as well as an information sheet on voter intimidation.

You can still sign up to be a volunteer to protect the vote, via Common Cause’s “Protect the Vote” project. Their site also has numbers to call if you encounter problems while voting. 

Read Rebecca Solnit’s piece on Facebook for October 18 if you need encouragement to get through till November 3–and then till January 20.

With everything going on, we may need to remind ourselves that the rest of the world continues turning. See in particular information below on the emergency in Yemen.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Search warrant would require all Facebook data–names, addresses, messages, content.

A coalition of 12 immigrant rights groups along with Public Citizen filed a motion to quash a search warrant seeking five days of all the data from the Facebook page “Free Them All VA,” according to the Washington Post. Someone from the organization painted “Free Them All” in English and in Spanish on the sidewalk in front of Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s home, a misdemeanor. The slogan was painted on the same day that ICE flew detainees–dozens of whom had the coronavirus–from one facility to another in order to justify flying federal agents to police the DC protests against the death of George Floyd (see our September 13th story 2, for more explanation). The perpetrators’ faces were briefly posted in the page, but Public Citizen argues that the warrant would jeopardize undocumented immigrants, who regularly post questions. Setting an alarming precedent, the warrant asks for information about “the page’s subscribers, including phone numbers, addresses, credit card information and IP addresses, as well as all posted content, messages, chats, photos, videos and deleted materials,” according to the Post. RLS

2. Republican drop box machinations in Florida, “unofficial” drop boxes in California, contested drop boxes in Texas

The Republican Secretary of State in Florida is trying to shut down ballot drop boxes, Slate reports. Florida has allowed absentee ballots for years, and two million people have already voted absentee. State law permits drop boxes, but the Secretary of State now insists that boxes be monitored 24 hours a day by election officials, who must scrutinize each ballot (now they are sometimes monitored electronically or by volunteers). The backstory, Slate proposes, is that since election officials are free to ignore the Secretary of State’s demand, if the election is contested, the use of drop-boxes could be grounds to nullify the count.

Perhaps the same plot is at work in California, where Republicans have openly set up over a hundred unsanctioned drop boxes in churches, gun stores and gas stations, despite a cease-and-desist order from the state, NPR reports. Though no one is signing the ballots that are dropped off and it is not clear who is monitoring them, the state has backed off enforcement efforts.

A federal judge on Friday ruled that Texas Governor Greg Abbott had to allow Texas counties to allow multiple ballot drop boxes, according to CNN. The judge said that the Governor had not persuasively shown that voter fraud was an issue. It looked briefly as if Harris County, which tends to vote Democratic (and is 60% Black and Latinx), could have 11 drop boxes, easing transportation concerns in an area bigger than the state of Rhode Island. However, another judge blocked the first judge’s ruling, allowing the Governor to authorize only one drop box per (enormous) county. RLS

3. Covert lawmaking

What happens in the pivotal months before and after a presidential election and the installation of a new administration? The administration that is departing (or is at risk of being voted out) rushes to finish off its list of regulatory changes, hoping to continue its impact. Recent reporting in the New York Times highlights ways the Trump administration is busy doing just that.

Ignoring Public Comments: The first tool for making last-minute rules changes is one the Trump administration has been using since its inception: simply ignoring the public comments submitted during the (usually) 60-day period that is required for rules changes. Changes to internet neutrality rules, which were overwhelmingly opposed in public comments (even with fraudulent supporting comments submitted in significant numbers) nonetheless went through. New rules that would allow liquified natural gas to be carried by freight trains–known as “bomb trains,” as they create a risk of deadly explosions and fires that would overwhelm first responders–were subjected to a similarly limited comment period. These rules changes regarding the transportation of liquified natural gas are now being challenged in the courts by a group of fourteen states.

Limiting Public Comment Periods: As noted above, federal rules changes are generally subjected to a 60-day comment period, but a number of recent rules changes have been limited to 30 days of public comment. Recent proposed rules changes open for limited public comment periods include new, more restrictive financial requirements for sponsors of immigrants (still open for comment–only 18 people have commented to date and the comment period ends on November 2 ). Other proposed rules provide for the collection of biometric data by the Department of Homeland Security and its agencies (also still open for comment); and new guidelines limiting which workers (primarily those working in the “gig economy”) can be considered independent contractors.  Only 133 people have commented on this last proposal; your voice could have an impact. Comment here.

“Interim” Final Rules: If an agency feels it has “good cause” to issue a new rule without public comment, it can issue that rule as an “Interim” Final Rule. The agency may, but is not required, to open the rule to public comments. It may also simply announce the rule as final at a later date without public comments. Recent interim rules changes include an exemption for many long-haul agricultural truck drivers from rules governing maximum continuous driving hours, and more restrictive rules governing visas for skilled workers; you can still comment on those rules here.

Appointments to Advisory Boards: Many positions on advisory boards for federal agencies run independently of the four-year presidential term in office. As a result, recent Trump appointees to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board will be able to remain on the board through 2023. This means that once climate-change deniers or heard-immunity supporters are appointed, they can continue to influence agency rule-making under a new administration.

The Congressional Review Act: There is a way to eliminate some of the last-minute rules changes made by an outgoing administration. The Congressional Review Act, which was signed into law during the Clinton administration, allows Congress the opportunity to both cancel and prohibit “substantially significant” rules passed during the last 60 legislative days of an outgoing administration through a joint resolution. The specification of legislative days is significant, since Congress generally meets four days a week and takes frequent, sometimes extensive, breaks.

Obama-Era Rules Revoked Using the Congressional Review Act: Generally speaking, the Congressional Review Act (CRA) has been used rarely. The Congress elected along with George W. Bush revoked only one Clinton Administration rule change via the CRA. The Congress elected along with Barak Obama revoked no Bush Administration rules using the CRA. In contrast, the Congress elected along with Donald Trump revoked 16 Obama-era rules using the CRA. According to Ballotpedia, these included rules involving educational accountability and teacher preparation; broadband consumer privacy protections; access to family planning; protections for Alaskan wildlife refuges; arbitration rules protecting consumers; workplace safety; water protections; and equity rules for loans used to purchased automobiles.

The Congressional Review Act: Looking Forward: A very rough estimate of the remaining days during which Congress will hold legislative sessions suggests that the CRA may cover Trump-era rules changes going back to early October of this year. What will determine whether the CRA can be put to use reversing Trump-era rules changes is the composition of both houses of Congress. Under the CRA, a joint Congressional resolution is required to revoke rules changes made by an exiting administration. If the U.S. is run by a Democrat-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate, which presumably would continue to be led by Mitch McConnell, the possibility of any action via joint resolution is beyond scant. In other words, the longevity of Trump-era rules changes hinges on electing not just a Democrat for President and a Democrat-controlled House, but also a Democrat-controlled Senate. S-HP

We recommend that you read the entire New York Times article to see more of what is being done in your name. If you want to comment on the rule changes that are still pending, the links to do so are in bold, above. If you wish to speak out on issues affected by last-minute Trump administration rules changes, this list explains how to do it.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

4. Four million Yemenis at risk of starvation

Four million people in Yemen are on the brink of starvation, due to a drop in donor contributions, commentator Juan Cole reports. Malnutrition in Yemen was already widespread, due to the war being waged since 2015 by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates–and backed by the Trump administration, which approved arms sales to the Saudis without obtaining congressional approval, as we noted May 31. Foreign Policy in Focus, which produced a detailed piece on Yemen in September, observes that four years ago, the State Department was warned that the U.S. could be liable for war crimes charges due to its complicity in the death of civilians.

In Yemen, Cole says that a third of the infrastructure has been destroyed and 100,000 have been killed. According to Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, farms are targeted and humanitarian access has been refused. The United Nations has called on the United Arab Emirates to provide aid to Yemen, but they have refused; the Saudis and Kuwaitis were also asked, but they have provided less than is required. As Lowcock said, “The window to prevent famine in Yemen is closing.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

5. No vaccine before the election

Lest you had your hopes up, there will be no vaccine before the election. Pfizer–the last company to possibly be on track to produce one–has said it will not be ready to request emergency authorization from the FDA, according to Politico. Against the recommendations of his own scientists, Trump promised a vaccine by November 3. Though researchers have been working at breakneck speed, Pfizer is still enrolling people in its trials and the FDA will want two months of safety data on at least half of its participants. Two other companies, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson recently paused their trials based on safety concerns; each had one participant come down with a serious illness that may well not be related to the vaccine but that nevertheless must be investigated. Politico–and other sources–say that a vaccine is most likely to be available in January 2021, but as we noted in our story #10 last week, other issues in the supply chain, such as a shortage of syringes, may impede the launch. RLS

6. EU can test for Legionnaires disease but the US can’t/won’t

The EU now has the technology–and the political will–to test drinking water systems in every country for Legionella pneumophila, according to Euractiv. Legionella causes most cases of Legionnaires disease, an infection which can result in deadly cases of pneumonia. Rates of Legionnaires disease have been rising due to the effect of climate change on water temperatures, a German scientist told Euractiv last year. Ontario does investigations if two or more cases of Legionnaires disease are related but only does water sampling if there is an outbreak, according to Public Health Ontario. In the US, where 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires disease each year, water testing takes place on “an ad hoc basis, spanning from regulations that require some buildings to have water management plans that include monitoring of water samples for Legionella along with treatment, to no requirements at all,” according to a book on the topic published by the National Academies of Science. RLS

RESOURCES

◉ The Americans of Conscience checklist offers ways to assist in election audits, report voter intimidation, support Indigenous sovereignty–and more.

Rogan’s List suggests ways to object to the way the census was cut short, how to help get out the vote and how to send pizza to voters standing in hours-long lines.

◉ Read Heather Cox Richardson nightly in order to make sense of unfolding events; last week she unpacked the bizarre story of Hunter Biden’s laptop and why it is absurd–even though Biden’s lead has slipped a bit because of it.

News You May Have Missed: October 11, 2020

“Shredded Paper” by RLHyde is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

You might have thought we were indulging in hyperbole when we ran a picture from The Handmaid’s Tale in this space last week. But it turns out that Amy Coney Barrett, the Supreme Court nominee who is likely to get rushed through confirmation hearings, actually was a “handmaid” in the Christian group she is part of, according to the Washington Post. People of Praise changed the name of women in that leadership position once the web series based on Atwood’s book came out, and of course “handmaids” in the movie had a rather different role than those in Barrett’s organization. Still, the group’s position on the subservience of women is alarming, as is the fact that Coney Barrett apparently concealed her membership in the sect when she was nominated to serve in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, according to the Daily Mail.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Destruction of records by Homeland Security, ICE, Border Protection

During Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon, and Washington DC, the administration made legally questionable use of federal officers—including agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—to pursue administration purposes that excluded local leadership and conflicted with local policy. Now DHS, ICE, and CBP want to destroy the records that would show how they distorted their own missions to serve the Trump administration

ACLU News and Commentary reports on its efforts, in cooperation with other organizations, to ensure that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintain full records from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to be accessed for future study. This really shouldn’t be an issue. NARA maintains inactive federal agency records expressly so they can be available for legal researchers, academics, and journalists in the future. CBP, however, has asked permission to destroy a number of records, rather than passing them on to NARA. As the Intercept points out, if they succeed, records of forced hysterectomies, coronavirus infections, allegations of sexual abuse in detention will all be gone. According to the ACLU, these include “‘records developed to track and monitor complaints that are or will be investigated by DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) regarding alleged violations of civil rights and civil liberties’; ‘records pertaining to administrative and criminal investigations on [CBP] employees, contractors, and those in CBP custody’; and records and reports of Prison Rape Elimination Act allegations.”

In arguing against the destruction of these records, the ACLU cites a Cato Institute study of records dating from 2006 to 2016 showing that CBP’s “misconduct and disciplinary infractions outstripped all other federal law enforcement” and “it is virtually impossible to assess the extent of corruption or misconduct… because most publicly available information is incomplete or inconsistent.”

The ACLU points out that ICE has already received permission for a similar destruction of its records. The destruction of these records could make it impossible to ever accurately track ICE and CBP actions—particularly those in violation of civil right and civil liberties and those against detainees—under the Trump administration. In June, George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis Police Office Derek Chauvin, was buried in Pearland, Texas, a Houston suburb. After receiving records via a freedom of Information Act request, the ACLU discovered that not only mourners, but a great many others—including sixty-six paramilitary agents and six snipers provided by CBP, 100 Texas National Guard members, DHS drone operators, and FBI surveillance plane crews—were present at Floyd’s burial. The ACLU reports that, “federal agents were given instructions to escalate use of force should there be protests against racial injustice and police brutality at the burial service. The plan included authorized use of gas munitions… against the crowd if the people went beyond “verbal aggressive language” or threw objects more dangerous than empty water bottles, and authorized ‘use of deadly force anytime under [the] Texas Penal Code’ if people went beyond throwing full water bottles or bricks.” ACLU federal immigration policy lawyer Madhuri Grewal observed that “It is not lost on us that CBP deployed snipers and federal agents to surveil and potentially use military-style force against people mourning George Floyd, who died because police officers killed him.” Without these records, we would never have known. S-HP

You might object to the use of CBP agents against US citizens in a role well outside their legal mandate and to the deliberate effort to erase ICE and CBP abuses from the historical record. You might also call for legislation to limit this kind of interference in domestic affairs and insist that records be maintained so that ICE, CBP and their employees can be held responsible for their actions. Addresses are here.

2. Trump wants documents declassified

An October 6 tweet from the Tweeter-in-Chief announced “I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to… the Russia hoax.” (Actually, he didn’t just call it the Russia hoax, he called it “the single greatest political CRIME in American history.”) Later that night, another Trump tweet claimed “All Russia Hoax Scandal information was Declassified by me long ago. Unfortunately for our country, people have acted very slowly, especially since it is perhaps the biggest political crime in the history of our Country. Act!!!” Two days later, Buzzfeed took Trump at his word and filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge to order the declassification and release of all documents related to the investigation of Russian election interference and allegations that Trump tried to impede the investigation. S-HP

You could go on record as insisting that the Tweeter-in Chief make good on his claims and take executive action to ensure that all Russia-related documents are released immediately—unredacted. Donald Trump, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111

3. Administration’s own documents acknowledge the threat of white supremacists

Which domestic terrorists are the “most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland?” According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that would be white supremacists. And what nation is the primary threat to the U.S. via use of disinformation? According to DHS, that would be Russia. As reported by the New York Times, a long-delayed DHS annual threat assessment has drawn these conclusions, which contrast with administration fear-mongering over groups ranging from anti-fa to Black Lives Matter protesters. In fact, a DHS whistleblower who worked on that assessment claims to have been pressured to downplay the threats posed by white supremacists and Russia and instead to emphasize possible dangers presented by left-wing groups and by China and Iran in order to make DHS findings align with claims made by Donald Trump. The White House has denied that any such pressures were exerted. Bottom line, the assessment has now been released, and even Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security and a Trump loyalist, acknowledged in the report’s introduction, “I am particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years.” S-HP

You could insist that Congress consider legislation responding to the threat represented by white supremacists and ask your Congressmembers to stop supporting and/or to criticize misleading statements by the administration downplaying the real threat of white supremacist violence. Addresses are here.

4. Black girls much more likely to be disciplined in schools than white girls

Earlier this year in Orlando, a six-year-old Black girl had her wrists zip-tied behind her back by police because she had a tantrum earlier in the day, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Vox posted a video pf her arrest on charges of misdemeanor battery taken from an officer’s body cam. Another Black six-year-old girl’s hands and feet were cuffed in an Ontario school; as the CBC reported in March, an investigation found that police officers actions were based on race. A study by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies in 2015 showed that Black children were 3.5 times more likely to be suspended than white children; because of these disparities and others,  the Common Application for post-secondary education has stopped asking students to report their disciplinary history, which can be a barrier to admission. 

That Black boys face harsher discipline than white boys has been widely discussed, but as the New York Times reported last week, the disparities in the way Black girls are disciplined are less well known but equally damaging. A study by researchers at Georgetown Law School’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood,” found that “adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, especially in the age range of 5–14.” In school, Black girls are penalized for clothing that white girls wear with impunity; they are said to be loud, disrespectful and mature for their ages, the New York Times article reported. The effects on their well-being and their educational opportunities are catastrophic. RLS

5. Administrative arm-twisting resulted in border closure that resulted in 8,800 children turned away

In March, the Trump administration was urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to use its emergency pandemic powers to close both the northern and southern US borders to asylum-seekers. A CBS News report catalogs the results of that “pandemic emergency” border closing. Previously, unaccompanied minors who arrived at the border, were housed at state-licensed Health and Human Services facilities before being placed with relatives. As of September, more than 8,800 unaccompanied minors seeking asylum have been denied asylum hearings and expelled from the U.S. The numbers, provided by the Trump administration in a petition seeking to continue parts of its immigration policy, show that an additional 7,600 members of families with children were peremptorily expelled during that period as part of a total of 159,000 asylum-seekers who were not admitted to the U.S.

 More recent reporting by the Associated Press (AP) spells out the process by which that pandemic emergency closure was put in place. Originally, Dr. Martin Cetron, who leads the CDC’s Division of Migration and Quarantine, refused to issue such an order because there was no valid health reason for closure. Following this refusal, administration figures—particularly Trump aide Stephen Miller and Vice-President Pence looked for ways to accomplish this goal by working around the Division of Migration and Quarantine. The ultimate result, reports AP, was that a Health and Human Services (HHS) lawyer wrote the order the administration wanted and that order was subsequently sent directly to CDC Director Robert Redfield, who signed it in mid-March, closing our borders to asylum seekers.        

When the order was first issued, many physicians, medical organizations, and public health organizations objected. AP shared an excerpt from a letter written by Dr. Anthony So of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to Redfield arguing that “The decision to halt asylum processes ‘to protect the public health’ is not based on evidence or science. This order directly endangers tens of thousands of lives and threatens to amplify dangerous anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia.” S-HP

If you wish to object to the ‘pandemic emergency’ border closings that as of September had resulted in 159,000 asylum seekers being denied the due process they sought when fleeing violence to come to the U.S., and to insist that Congress institute a COVID-safe asylum process that ends the preemptory denial of the rights of asylum-seekers, addresses are here.

6. Biden’s platform would support asylum-seekers

Since the mainstream press continues to favor soundbites and Trumpian tantrums over political reporting that looks carefully at the policy proposals of the two presidential candidates, we’re continuing to look each week at a particular aspect of Biden’s policy proposals. For the most part, Trump’s Central American policy has been combative: tighten our borders to keep “them” out, portray asylum seekers as criminals, and create inhumane asylum processes that rely on the use of punitive detention facilities and the abrogation of the rights of asylum-seekers. The “Biden Plan to Build Security and Prosperity in Partnership with the People of Central America” contains elements that won’t sit well with many (including this writer) such as continuing support of police to fight corruption, which one could argue can actually serve authoritarian regimes. But many of Biden’s proposals compare positively with current initiatives like “build the wall,” “zero tolerance,” and a “pandemic emergency plan” that essentially ends all access to the asylum process.

         Biden proposes a retargeting of Department of Homeland Security funds to mobilize private investment in Central America through programs developed in cooperation with multi-lateral development banks (such as the Inter-American Development Bank); to bolster microfinance, prioritizing programs that empower women; and to modernize shipping, transportation, and power infrastructure.

         Biden proposes pairing violence reduction measures with job training programs and broader access to service for victims of violence, including domestic violence—including a promise to restore domestic violence as one of the grounds on which asylum may be sought.

 Biden also proposes addressing food insecurity, conditions for returning migrants, and the climate crisis through programs developed with national governments. S-HP

You might thank Joe Biden for any of these proposals you find particularly valuable, object to any you find problematic, and suggest to your Congressmembers that you’d like them to work toward the similar goals, regardless of who is elected in November. Addresses are here.

GOOD NEWS

7. Couple indicted for pointing weapons at Black Lives Matter protestors.

In the now-famous photo, Mark McCloskey (in a pink polo shirt) pointed an AR-15 rifle and Patricia McCloskey pointed a handgun at peaceful Black Lives Matters protestors in St. Louis. Trump subsequently invited them to speak at the Republican National Convention. A grand jury has now indicted them on charges of exhibiting a weapon and tampering with evidence, according to the Hill. RLS

8. In California, immigrants who endured maltreatment in detention centers can sue

Immigrants detained in California’s immigrant detention centers can now sue the companies that run the centers if their treatment did not meet “minimum standards of care,” according to a bill Governor Gavin Newsom signed last week, according to the American Immigration Council. A report released at the end of September by the House Oversight and Reform Committee detailed the mismanagement of medical care in detention centers–from ordinary chronic medical issues to “grossly negligent” responses to contagious illnesses to severely inadequate medical care, the Texarkana Gazette reported. Some of this negligence may have contributed to immigrant deaths. RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Pence will not consider requiring masks on public transportation

One in 1550 people have died from COVID-19. But last month, when the CDC wanted to make masks mandatory on public transportation, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, refused to discuss it, the New York Times reported. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said “It’s especially outrageous because the science is so clear: masks save lives.” This was not the first time the Trump administration over-ruled the CDC. Church-reopenings, cruise ship launchings, and guidelines on seniors flying all were deleted or delayed by the White House, which also had a hand in removing the description of COVID-19 as being transmitted through airborne particles, a phenomenon described by the BMJ (British Journal of Medicine); the reference to aerosols appears to have been restored, per the CDC website. RLS

10. A vaccine is on the horizon–but will there be syringes to deliver it?

A coronavirus vaccine could arrive as early as January of 2121–but not by election day–according to an AP story which quoted Robert Kadlec, the Department of Health and Human Services  assistant secretary of preparedness and response. However, shortages in the supply chain–vials, syringes, needles–could set that date back. As the AP  pointed out last week, in a story produced cooperatively with Frontline and the Global Reporting Centre, the lack of PPE is likely responsible for the high death rate in the U.S. Their story weaves together the heartbreaking narrative of a nurse who had inadequate PPE dying of COVID with a meticulous analysis of the flaws in the supply chain. As they explain it, then-Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt raised the alarm state by state about preparedness for a potential pandemic in 2005. From the Bush administration forward, it was not a priority. A 2019 pandemic simulation revealed the lack of preparedness, but nothing was done despite frantic warnings to the Trump administration.  Now, the country faces a shortage of materials it will desperately need once a vaccine becomes available. As the AP writers wrote, “ Last week, the department of Health and Human Services refused to say if — or how many — needles and syringes have been delivered, claiming that information is ‘business sensitive.’” RLS

RESOURCES

Rogan’s list offers concrete ways you can insist that Congress pass a coronavirus stimulus bill, advocate for the safety of White House staff, argue for vaccine safety guidelines–and more.

◉ The Americans of Conscience Checklist this week offers clear, useful things you can do to ensure the viability of the election.

◉ Cox Richardson’s nightly letters make sense out of a world that sometimes seems surreal at best.

News You May Have Missed October 4, 2020

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by vpickering is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

With Trump’s illness, we’re missing all the other news–his tax returns, his diversion of coronavirus funds (see our story last week), his incarceration and deportation of children, his Supreme Court nominee… If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, NPR points out, she will be one of six Catholics on the bench. But she is a particular kind of Catholic; People of Praise, the branch she is affiliated with, emerged from the Catholic charismatic movement of the 60s, according to the Guardian; participants believe that wives should defer to husbands, opposes sex outside of marriage, and has established what the Guardian describes as an authoritarian structure. On the other hand, it seems to have strong collectivist leanings, at least for unmarried people. In addition to how she would handle Roe-related cases, the big concern is whether Barrett would vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act–in the middle of a pandemic.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Trump keeps out more refugees

As he campaigns for reelection, Trump is resorting to a trope that served him well among some voters during the 2016 campaign: the vilification of refugees, whom he depicts as dangerous and violent. The claim that refugees are more apt to engage in criminal behavior than native-born Americans has been debunked any number of times, as the Washington Post points out. According to the Washington Post, on Wednesday evening, just hours before the 2021 fiscal year began, the State Department announced the lowest admission numbers for refugees since the 1980 Refugee Act took effect: 15,000. This administration’s refugee admissions numbers have been consistently below those established by previous administrations.

For example, in Obama’s final year, the refugee “cap” was 116,000. During the Trump administration that cap has been reduced every year, beginning at 45,000 in 2017, then moving downward to 30,000 and 18,000 before this year’s record low. The Hill reports that the State Department claims it will offset that lower total through increases in overseas humanitarian aid and efforts to end conflicts driving the movement of refugees, a claim that appears improbable given the administration’s lack of interest in global, humanitarian politics. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) is quoted in the Hill article as observing that “We have a long history of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers from around the world. It’s who we are when we are at our best. Trump’s cruel and continued draconian cuts to refugee programs not only turn our back on refugees but on this country.” Much of the justification for reducing the refugee cap is placed on the COVID-19 pandemic, which in the past six months has also been used to justify the preemptive return of 90% of Mexico-US border crossers to the Mexican side of the border. Since March, according to CBS News, 9,000 children arriving without their parents have been turned away from the border, with the pandemic as the excuse. S-HP

If you would like to remind Trump, his associates, and your members of Congress that we are a nation of refugees and need to remain so, their addresses are here.

2. Not the lesser of two anything: Biden’s environmental justice platform

This week, let’s take a look at “The Biden Plan to Secure Environmental Justice and Equitable Economic Opportunity.” The introduction to this plan explains that “any sound energy and environmental policy must advance public health and economic opportunity for all Americans, in rural, urban, and suburban communities, and recognize that communities of color and low-income communities have faced disproportionate harm from climate change and environmental contaminants for decades. It must also hold corporate polluters responsible for rampant pollution that creates the types of underlying conditions that are contributing to the disproportionate rates of illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 among Black, Latino, and Native Americans.”  Some of the specifics in the plan for achieving these goals include:

◉Make decisions driven by data and science.

◉ Establish an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the Department of Justice.

◉ Overhaul the Environmental Protection Agency’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office and legal decisions that have allowed state EPAs to issue dangerous permits in the face of community resistance and reinstate the rights of communities to file environmental justice claims, which were voided in a 2001 court ruling.

-◉ Elevate the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and charge it with creating a data-driven Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to identify and support communities that have faced the cumulative impacts of climate change, economic and racial inequality, and multi-source environmental pollution.

◉ Direct the Environmental Protection Agency to create a community notification program ensuring communities receive timely notice of toxic releases and mandating community participation in remediation plans.

◉ Improve preparation for public health emergencies like heat waves, sea level rise, wildfire, air pollution, infectious disease, hurricanes, and flooding, particularly in communities of color and low-income communities.

◉ Create a Task Force to Decrease the Risk of Climate Change to Children, the Elderly, People with Disabilities, and the Vulnerable, identifying climate change impacts posing the largest risks for these vulnerable Americans.

◉ Establish an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity within the Department of Health and Human Services to launch an Infectious Diseases Defense Initiative, predicting infectious diseases most likely to be worsened by climate change and to accelerate development of vaccines and other responses.

◉ Create a Health Care Readiness Task Force to assess U.S. health care system resilience, considering both the delivery of health care and protections for health care workers.

This is an ambitious list, but most of these actions could be accomplished via executive order using existing agency funding. S-HP

You might thank Biden for any of these proposals you find particularly valuable and suggest to your Congressmembers that you’d like them to work toward the same goals, regardless of who is elected in November. Addresses are here.

3. Postal Service error undercuts voter rolls

At this point, most of us know about the late summer slowdown of mail delivery, along with the removal of sorting machines and mail drop-off boxes and have wondered about the ways these might impact November’s presidential election, but the threats to our voting system due to postal service error and mismanagement go beyond those issues. Time reports that during the month of August, the United States Postal Service (USPS) failed to update at least 1.8 million change-of-address requests—this at a time when most states were preparing to send voters request forms for mail-in ballots or similar documents. The USPS database is used by 43 states and the District of Columbia to update their voter rolls. The USPS says the error was remedied by September 19, but unknown numbers of mailers would have gone out to voters in the first half of September using the incomplete data. The USPS has stated that election materials sent to incorrect addresses can be forwarded as “eligible.” The eligible is important because many states have laws specifically banning the forwarding of election documents as a protection against election fraud. S-HP

You might tell the USPS Board of Directors that you object to this dereliction of duty and ask your Secretary of State whether this failure to update address records affected distribution of voting material in your state and, if so, how they plan to remedy the problem. Addresses are here.

4. Newsom blocks bill to support emergency services. In 2020.

This session, the California Legislature passed AB-2054, the Community Response Initiative to Strengthen Emergency Systems (CRISES), which, in the language of the bill itself, was designed for “the purpose of expanding the participation of community organizations in emergency response for specified vulnerable populations…. The bill would require a community organization receiving funds pursuant to the program to use the grant to stimulate and support involvement in emergency response activities that do not require a law enforcement officer, as specified.”

With minimum awards of $250,000 per grantee, the legislation would have allowed communities to pilot programs that would take responsibility for problems like mental health and homelessness crises from police. The goal of the legislation would have been twofold: to reduce police responsibilities, allowing them more time to address criminal activity, and to prevent the risk of police violence against vulnerable populations. Unfortunately, as explained in a statement from the California State Assembly Democratic Caucus, this legislation was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom who objected to the placement of the pilot program within the California Office of Emergency Services (COES). This appears a rather thin line of reasoning, given that the legislation would only be funding pilot programs and would end in 2024. If, at that point, the state determined that these programs could be more effectively housed with a different government agency, those changes could be made in follow-up legislation. S-HP

You might express your disappointment to Governor Newsom for blocking this valuable pilot program that had the potential to benefit both police and local communities. Governor Gavin Newsom, c/o State Capitol, Suite1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841.

GOOD NEWS

5. Mueller report must be published

This week is not redolent with good news. There is this, though: A federal judge has ordered the Department of Justice to publish redacted information from the Mueller Report, which investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election. In response to a lawsuit filed by BuzzFeed News and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the judge objected to the removal of sections discussing how Mueller’s team made decisions not to charge particular people with crimes, according to the Hill. RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

6. 54,000 Latinx people dead from COVID-19, many of them immigrants

Arresting, detaining and deporting immigrants has been the hallmark of Trump’s strategy to appease his base. Missing from his narratives of immigrants as criminals and job-stealers is the undeniable fact that they are essential to the survival of all Americans. From the poultry plants of Georgia to the broccoli fields of California, immigrants are keeping food on the country’s tables. An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, published in partnership with Mother Jones, estimated that some 790,000 of the 1.87 million food processing workers and farm laborers are immigrants; one third of those 1.87 workers are undocumented–and therefore ineligible for any of the COVID-19 relief funds others can apply for.

As we discussed in our September 19th issue (story 2), meat and poultry processing workers are at high risk for COVID-19, as are farmworkers. A high percentage of all these workers are Latinx, and Latinx people account for twenty-six per cent of the deaths from the coronavirus, as NPR points out. As essential workers, they are more likely to be exposed to the virus; they have less access to health care, health insurance, and medical leave. Growers and owners have been mandated to provide farm and food processing workers with PPE, but–as we noted on July 19 (story 6)–they often do not. A large group of advocates for agricultural workers wrote a carefully detailed letter to the Secretaries of Labor, State and Homeland Security asking for safety protections for this vulnerable group; all three declined to act. RLS

RESOURCES

◉ For stats about the COVID-19, the Johns Hopkins site is most useful.

◉If you have been fuming about recent events and want to take some kind of action quickly, The Americans of Conscience checklist has easy, focused things you can do. They also keep track of how many people act, so you have a sense of your efficacy.

◉If you want to speak up about white supremacy, presidential corruption, Trump’s tax returns, or Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, Rogan’s list will tell you how.

NewsYou May Have Missed: September 27, 2020

“U.S. Constitution – Illustration” by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Will the taxpayer-in-chief refuse to concede?

On Wednesday, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition if he lost the election. Look closely at the quote NPR provided: “We’re going to have to see what happens. You know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster… Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there’ll be a continuation.”

He is not only hedging about the transition; he is telling us that he could stay in power if he could get rid of the ballots–mail ballots, presumably. Clearly, he understands that his presidency depends on reducing the vote as much as possible. 

Trump also is clear about why he is rushing to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg; as the BBC and others quoted him as saying, “I think this [the election] will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,”

75 per cent of Biden voters believe thatTrump will refuse to relinquish power and Biden told CNN in June that if that were to happen, “I promise you, I’m absolutely convinced, they [the military] will escort him from the White House in a dispatch.” 

Waging Nonviolence offers some suggestions for stopping a coup–the true name for what it would mean for Trump to refuse to leave office.  Building on a document from the Transition Integrity Process, Waging Nonviolence provides a number of excellent suggestions but argues that a show of (non-violent) people in the streets will be essential to stop a coup. Given the dynamics in which people affiliated with Anti-fa are unjustifiably being accused of causing violence (Washington Post) and groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer are showing up at locations in the Northwest (Seattle Times) and Boogaloo Bois elsewhere (Washington Post) provoking violence, that approach may be a risky one.

Heather Cox Richardson, always the voice of reason, suggests that Trump is making these assertions to take the attention away from how far ahead Biden is and Biden’s platform. 

Other writers are less sanguine. The New Yorker has a meticulous description of how both parties are preparing for the post-election struggle, and the Atlantic has a chilling piece making an argument that Trump will refuse to concede, no matter what. Read to the end of it, if you can; the writer proposes a nightmare scenario in which there are dueling slates of electors and hence two people with claim to the presidency. Because there are so many ways mail ballots can be challenged, the Atlantic ends up exhorting us to vote in person after all, if there is any way we can do so. Or–if we live in states where absentee ballots can be counted early, send them early. One critique of the Atlantic article was posted by Teri Kanefield, an elections lawyer in Georgia, on Twitter; she asks us to think about why the Trump-campaign legal adviser the Atlantic quoted went into such detail about the strategy: it may be that the spectre of Trump refusing to concede is designed to derail and discourage us.  RLS

Progressive Change Campaign Committee/Bold Progressives has contacted all the Secretaries of State and is hiring organizers to plan a response. They are looking for donations. Daily Kos is looking for Election Protection volunteers. Bernie Sanders has a strategy to suggest, which you could review if you are going to write your elected officials. You also might want to write your governor to find out how he or she is preparing.

2. The Alternative

While Trump grabs headlines by refusing to state that he will abide by the results of November’s election, Joe Biden’s team has assembled a number of detailed proposals outlining what Biden hopes to accomplish as President and how he intends to do this. The topics covered include: Racial Equity Across the American Economy; Sustainable Infrastructure and a Clean Energy Future; Recovery, Renewal, and Respect for Puerto Rico; LGBTQ+ equality; Older Americans and Retirement; and Criminal Justice Reform. Unfortunately, Trump’s tweets trump careful thought about just and productive policy, leaving Americans aware of the latest vitriol from the White House, but with no sense of the detailed and coherent goals Biden has set for his presidency. The language of policy isn’t “sexy,” so considering Biden’s proposals requires a willingness to read without being entertained–but that willingness pays off with a vision of an America very different from the present day. Until November, we’ll be highlight one of these policy proposals each week, but you can see them all for yourself here.

We’ll start with the “Biden Plan to Build Back Better by Advancing Racial Equity Across the American Economy,” which covers thirteen subtopics. For small businesses, Biden plans to increase small business creation and expansion in economically disadvantaged areas, particularly for Black-, Latino-, AAPI-, and Native-American owned businesses, to modify federal contracting service practices to improve access to these contracts for small disadvantaged businesses (SDBs, a term used throughout the document), and to create incentives encouraging state and local governments and the private sector for contracting with SDBs.

To increase home ownership, especially for families traditionally excluded from the market, Biden proposes allocating a one-time tax credit of up to $15,000 for first-time home buyers; developing new more inclusive credit-rating systems through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that take into account things like rental history and utility payments; rolling back Trump policies that gutted fair lending and fair housing protections; and holding financial institutions accountable when they use practices that deepen the impact of systematic housing discrimination.

In the area of education, Biden proposes including student debt relief in additional COVID-19 legislation; doubling the maximum value of Pell grants college students can receive, creating simpler, more generous income-based loan-repayment programs; and increasing support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific-Islander Institutions, and others—and for graduates of these institutions.

The above provides an incomplete summary of Biden policy proposals in three of the thirteen areas discussed in the “Biden Plan to Build Back Better by Advancing Racial Equity Across the American Economy.” The quality, imagination, and thoroughness of these proposals give evidence of the Biden team’s experience governing. S-HP

You might thank Biden for any of these proposals you find particularly valuable and suggest to your Congressmembers that you’d like them to work toward the same goals, regardless of who is elected in November.

3. CARES Act I: Lunches for children due to expire

The CARES Act, H.R.748, passed in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, established a Pandemic-Emergency Benefits Transfer Program (P-EBT), supporting food benefits for children who would normally receive free or reduced-price meals at school and who had no access to these meals when classroom teaching moved primarily online. A study by the Brooking Institute’s Hamilton Project found this program to be highly effective, reducing food insecurity among low-income children by 30% during its first week, and reaching 2.7 to 3.9 million children. Though some states were able to initiate P-EBT programs earlier than others, P-EBT ultimately functioned effectively in all fifty states. Now, explains Fern’s Ag Insider, the program is set to end on September 30, despite the fact that many children continue to attend school remotely and do not have access to free or discounted school meals. S-HP

If you feel strongly about this, urge your Congressmembers to support and extension of P-EBT to ensure that all children are adequately fed as the pandemic continues.

4. CARES Act II: Funds go to the Pentagon, not to PPE

In March, Congress allocated funding to the Pentagon to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus” through H.R. 748, the CARES Act. One would expect such funding to be spent on medical supplies that remain scarce: personal protective equipment, for example. Instead, as reported in the Washington Post, the Pentagon diverted $1 billion of that money to defense contractors to pay for things ranging from jet engine parts to drone technology to body armor to dress uniforms. The Pentagon argues that supporting the defense industry is an essential part of its coronavirus response, regardless of the fact that defense contractors would have had access to the significant funding available for businesses. According to follow-up Washington Post reporting, Congressmembers have called for an investigation of the ways this money was used. S-HP

If you are dismayed by this misuse of coronavirus funds, you can write those on the link below. It would also be worth calling for an investigation by the appropriate Congressional committees of this diversion of funds.

5. Impeach Barr?

William Barr has been serving as U.S. Attorney General for seventeen months and has racked up a considerable number of accomplishments. Let’s look at some of them:

◉Barr subverted the Special Counsel investigation both of Russian interference in the 2016 election and of Trump for obstruction of justice by writing an unsolicited memorandum arguing against the Mueller investigation, claiming that investigating a president for obstruction would be “fatally misconceived,” based on a “novel and insupportable reading of that law” that it would do “lasting damage to the Presidency and to the administration of law within the Executive branch.” (Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington—CREW)

◉In the words of Federal Judge Reggie Walton, Barr misrepresented the findings of the Special Counsel by making “misleading public statements” and distorting the Special Counsel report in ways that “show[ed] a lack of candor,” deliberately spinning the report’s findings in ways beneficial to Trump. (AP)

◉Barr gave misleading testimony to Congress: He claimed he had no knowledge whether Mueller supported Barr’s presentation of the Special Counsel’s findings (Mueller did not) and claimed that the White House “fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation” (CREW)

◉Barr interfered with the lawful functioning of the Department of Justice by overturning career prosecutors’ decisions in the cases of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn and by falsely claiming U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman had resigned and subsequently firing Berman when he refused to play along with Barr’s false claim. (CREW)

◉Barr oversaw violations of the First and Fourth Amendments—freedom of speech and assembly and protection from unreasonable search and seizure—by authorizing the presence of federal officers in Portland, Oregon, and through the actions of those officers, using the legally questionable justification of “defending the federal function,” an overly broad claim with no precedent beyond Barr’s earlier use of it. (CREW, Just Security)

◉Barr has interfered with Congressional direction of funds by accepting and acting on Trump’s call for specific cities to be identified as “anarchist jurisdictions” as a prelude to depriving these cites of federal funding. (NBC)

If Barr were to be impeached, the confirmation process for a new Supreme Court justice would be stalled. On September 20, according the Mother Jones, Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to rule out that possibility. S-HP

You don’t have to sit still for this. You can condemn Barr’s partisanship and political theatre and demand a House impeachment hearing of Barr for these and other actions that are contrary to the Constitution and that violate the rights of citizens. Appropriate addresses are here.

6. Another of the usual suspects

Since November, Chad Wolf has been serving illegally in his position as Acting Homeland Security Secretary according to a federal judge (see our story #3 last week). Now he is finally having a confirmation hearing. He has been responsible for a number of atrocities: He was the architect of family separation in 2017, according to documents Mother Jones made available, and he was responsible for rushing to deport asylum-seekers without a hearing. He ignored intelligence reports about Russian claims that Joe Biden had a mental illness, according to ABC News, as well as Russian threats to the election, according to Mother Jones. Indeed, a whistleblower complaint filed by Brian Murphy, who headed the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, said that he modified these reports in order to suit Trump’s agenda, CNN reported. He also sent Homeland Security agents to Portland to take down unarmed protestors. At his confirmation hearing, Wolf lied about having done these things, according to Border Rights organization Al Otro Lado. It is not clear whether a confirmation vote for Wolf will be held in the Senate before the November election. RLS

If you want to get a word in, remind your Senators of Wolf’s disastrous and inhumane (also illegal) tenure at the Department of Homeland Security and insist on a “no” confirmation vote.

7. Foreshadowing of voting issues in LA

Primary elections in Los Angeles County this spring were chaotic, with many of the problems being traced back to issues with the voter check-in system the county used and inadequate training of and communication among poll workers. LA elections also revealed weaknesses in the voting machines themselves and the process by which they tally votes. Before the California primary, a coalition of thirty-one organizations and an additional thirty-six individuals—including academics and directors of nonprofit organizations—wrote a letter to Secretary of State Alex Padilla outlining weaknesses in the Voting Solutions for All People 2.0 (VSAP). The writers acknowledged that these problems couldn’t be remedied before the primary election, but urged that they be addressed before November’s presidential election. Unfortunately, several weaknesses remain:

◉Voters using VSAP receive a printout of their choices before their votes are finalized, which is good, but the document voters approve is not the actual text used to tally votes, as votes are “translated” from text to QR codes before tallying. This leaves open a window for manipulation of votes via changes to QR codes between the confirmation and the tallying. In fact, the State of Colorado specifically disallows voting machines that do a text-to-QR “translation.” Instead Colorado requires the tallying to be done via optical character recognition (OCR), which means tallying is done using the format voters receive when confirming their ballots.

◉The ballot confirmation process requires inserting a ballot into the system before receiving a print-out of votes for confirmation; then this print-out must be reinserted after confirmation. This creates two problems: it doubles the opportunity for paper jams that can slow down voting and it also means that the confirmation print-out actually passes under the system’s print-out head an additional time, creating another window (besides the QR code “translation”) for ballot manipulation.

◉During the 2013-14 session, the California Legislature passed SB-360, a bill requiring that source code for voting systems be made publicly available. While this might seem counterintuitive, the availability of code opens the possibility of multiple independent tests of the system’s security. Nonetheless, the VSAP source code has not been released.

◉LA used VSAP in the primary under a provisional certification of the system, with modifications required before the system would be fully certified. Some of these modifications, however, will not be made until 2021, meaning that known weaknesses will remain in place for the presidential election.

◉Finally, there is no plan for a new round of full testing of VSAP once these modifications are completed, which means any new weaknesses introduced during the modification process may remain unidentified until the next time the system is used during a 2021 election. S-HP

You could ask Secretary of State Padilla for a summary of the progress made on addressing weaknesses in VSAP (and which weaknesses will have actually been addressed by November 3) and urge a full round of testing of VSAP once changes have been made with the intention of moving the system from being provisionally certified to fully certified–because election interference by is a reality, not just a possibility. Alex Padilla, Secretary of State, 1500 11th St., Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 653-6814

GOOD NEWS

8. Post office victory for voters and workers

It’s pretty difficult to find good news this week, but this news might foreshadow more: A federal judge in New York ordered the U.S. Postal Service to expedite election mail, treating it as first-class or priority, regardless of its actual designation, Reuters reported. The judge also ordered the Post Office to pay overtime as needed. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Trump body count

How many people would be alive today if Trump had acted decisively instead of trying to make political use of COVID-19? In early September, a columnist for the New York Times speculated that 145,000 of the 185,000 people dead by then would be alive if Trump had done a merely average job of managing the country’s response. To come to this conclusion, he compared the US deaths per population size to those in other developed countries, where masking was routine and bizarre cures and solutions (such as “herd immunity”) were not touted at the highest levels. A “herd immunity strategy,” notes the Washington Post, “could lead to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lost American lives.”

Writing on Twitter, Bob Wachter, Chair of the UC San Francisco Department of Medicine, powerfully compares the now 200,00 dead to other catastrophic losses. He points out, “If the U.S. had Canada’s death rate, we’d be at 82,000 deaths, not 200,000. That’s 118,000 Americans who would still be alive. If the U.S. had Germany’s death rate, we’d be at 37,106 deaths, not 200,000. That’s 162,894 Americans who would still be alive. Not fair, you say. Those are very different countries, with different laws, cultures, economies, and history. OK, if the U.S. had San Francisco’s death rate, we’d be at 36,101 deaths, not 200,000. That’s 163,899 Americans who would still be alive.” RLS

10. Governor Newsom’s strategy for global warming: mixed blessings

California Governor Gavin Newsom has taken a lot of flack for the executive order he signed to combat global warming. Rather than being too radical, the changes he’s making may be far from adequate. According to the New York Times, the executive order does the following [emphases added]:

◉Requires increasing proportions of new passenger vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emissions, with a 2035 cutoff, when all new passenger vehicles must be zero-emissions;

◉Sets a goal of making all heavy-duty trucks on California roads zero-emissions by 2045, where possible;

◉Sets a goal of ending all new hydraulic fracking permits by 2024;

◉States his intention to work with the legislature to establish health and safety setbacks to protect vulnerable communities from the impacts of fossil fuel extraction.

In announcing the executive order, Newsom stated that he does not have the power to end all gas and oil drilling in California on his own. A mailer from 350.org outlines several weaknesses in Newsom’s executive order:

◉While he sets a goal of ending hydraulic fracking permits, goal-setting is not the same as creating a requirement—and, in fact, a number of California counties have already barred fracking, suggesting that this goal could be made a requirement;

◉His executive order leaves the issue of other forms of fuel extraction unaddressed;

◉While the governor has announced his intention to add protections to communities affected by fossil fuel extraction, he has not set specific requirements or expectations, although several California counties (and the entire state of Colorado) have enacted such protections, suggesting that he could have gone significantly further than stating an intention;

◉His order has no plan for ending all new oil and gas extraction permits in the state, so that even if a fracking ban is in place by 2024, the state will still be able to approve new permits for extraction by other means—which not only continues California’s economic reliance on fossil fuels, but also does not protect communities from the health and safety problems posed by fossil fuel extraction. S-HP

One approach to moving forward is to thank Newsom for the actions he has taken and point out areas where you’d like to see him go further, for example, broader bans of fossil fuel extraction and significant and immediate community protections: Governor Gavin Newsom, c/o State Capitol, Suite1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841. You can also sign 360.org’s petition calling for further climate action from Newsome.

RESOURCES

The Americans of Conscience Checklist has a variety of things you can do in the five weeks before the election–helping displaced voters, encouraging young people to vote, focusing on local elections.

Rogan’s list has the demands for justice for Breonna Tayler–from Black Lives Matter Louisville, how to acertain whether accounts on twitter are fake or real, and various options to encourage voter turnout.

News You May Have Missed, September 19, 2020

“Ruth Bader Ginsberg” by The Aspen Institute is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Most likely, everyone reading this has been deeply saddened by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an exceptional jurist who devoted her life to defending the concept that all people are equal under the law. You might look at Heather Cox Richardson’s moving tribute to her. She argued six cases before the Supreme Court (and won five of them!) between 1973 and 1976. She founded the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project. The Senate confirmed her appointment to the Supreme Court by a vote of 96 to 3, with 38 of the “aye” votes being cast by Republicans. The opinions she has written while serving on the Supreme Court, whether agreeing with or dissenting from a ruling, have been exceptionally clear and carefully reasoned.        

When a Supreme Court seat became open eight months before the 2016 election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow a Senate confirmation vote on Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. McConnell based this refusal on the claim that the Senate should not vote on Supreme Court nominees during an election year, when the people are about to “speak” via voting. Twenty-two Republican Senators spoke in support of McConnell’s decision, with most of them arguing that a Supreme Court appointment should not be made so close to a presidential election. (Individual Republican statements on this issue can be accessed via the previous link.) Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s final wish was that this precedent be honored and that her replacement not be considered until the new President and Senate chosen by the people in the 2020 election were in office. Despite the fact that we are just six weeks from an election, Mitch McConnell is now calling for speedy confirmation of the Supreme Court Justice nominated by Donald Trump claiming that the people “spoke” when electing a Republican Senate in 2018.

If you wish to urge the Republican Senators who refused to consider the confirmation of Merrick Garland to follow that logic this time around and to wait for a nomination to be made by the winner of the 2020 presidential election, their addresses and phone numbers are here. If you want to see a strategic list of Senators to call, phone numbers are here. You can also text RBG to 50409 and Resistbot will sign you on to a petition telling your US senators not to confirm a new Supreme Court justice until the new president takes office. Note: there’s a queue.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Women in ICE detention sterilized

Hysterectomies have apparently been performed either unnecessarily and/or without appropriate consent on women in immigration detention. NPR reports that a nurse at the Irwin immigration detention center in Georgia filed a whistleblower complaint alleging lack of appropriate medical care, including questionable hysterectomies. In response, a group of 168 Congressmembers are calling for an investigation by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the alleged actions “a staggering abuse of human rights. This profoundly disturbing situation recalls some of the darkest moments of our nation’s history, from the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks, to the horror of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, to the forced sterilizations of Black women that Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others underwent and fought.” An overview of the use of forced sterilization in the U.S. can be found on Truth Out, which notes that “These disturbing reports from Georgia are not surprising within the larger context of human rights abuses in the U.S. since 2016.”

 According to Vice, the nonprofit Project South has collected multiple reports from women working at the detention center alleging that hysterectomies have been frequently performed there. One of these women said she knew of five women who had been subject to hysterectomies in the three-month period from October through December 2019. Vice reports that Dawn Wooten, the nurse who filed the complaint, “said she’d talked to several detained immigrants who’d had hysterectomies but didn’t know why. One detained immigrant told Project South that, ahead of the scheduled procedure, she was given multiple different explanations about what would happen and why it was necessary.” When asked to comment on the allegations, ICE explained in a written statement that it does not comment on matters before the Inspector General. LaSalle Corrections, which runs the center, did not respond to a Vice request for comment. S-HP

If you want to join the call for investigations both by the DHS Inspector General and by Congress, the addresses are here.

2. Meat Packing

The story of meat packing plants and COVID-19 isn’t pretty. In a tweet last spring, the eminent science writer Laurie Garrett noted how COVID-19 cases mapped onto the locations of meat-packing plants. Published in 1994, her book The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance warned of the inevitability of emerging pandemics. Her book was written for a popular audience and used scientific studies produced before 1994. In other words, pandemics had been predicted for well over 25 years before COVID-19 emerged.

  As ProPublica reports, the U.S. government issued written warnings in 2006 to essential businesses, including meat-packing and chicken-processing plants, of the need to develop plans that would keep the food system—and food workers—safe during a pandemic. The warnings told businesses that they should be prepared to lose 40% of their workforce at the peak of a pandemic, when workers would be sick and/or would be caring for sick family members.

That same ProPublica piece points out that in 2009 the Department of Homeland Security provided essential businesses with an 84-page guide to pandemic planning prepared by Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Among the recommendations of this document was that businesses should stockpile enough protective masks for 120 days. Assuming each worker would use two masks during a shift; OSHA recommended that businesses keep 240 masks per worker on hand.

 The meat-packing plants contacted in 2006 and 2009 chose not to develop pandemic response plans.

  The ProPublica piece goes on to quote a letter written in late June to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, who were investigating COVID-19 outbreaks in meat-packing plants, by Kenneth Sullivan, CEO of Smithfield Foods. Sullivan told the Senators: “What no one had anticipated, and has never happened in our lifetimes, is the scenario we are living through today [the COVID-19 pandemic].”

On September 13, the Washington Post cited data from the Food and Environment Reporting Network that since March 42,500+ meat-packing and chicken-processing plants workers had tested positive for COVID-19. More than 200 have been killed by the virus. In early September, the Foster Farms plant in Livingston, California, said it had closed its facility; at least 392 employees had tested positive for COVID-19 as of September second, according to the Fresno Bee. However, other facilities in the complex continued their operations. Foster Farms, which provides between 50 and 60% of the chicken consumed in California, has been slow to test employees, having tested only 10% of them by July despite orders from the county. The UFW threatened a boycott of Foster Farms after 9 workers died of COVID-19.

 So, given the early warnings by the government regarding the need for pandemic planning, what consequences have meat-packing and chicken-processing plants faced for their failure to plan and the resulting infections and deaths of workers? According to the Washington Post, as of September 13, federal regulators had cited a total of two meat-packing plants—a Smithfield Foods plan in South Dakota and a JBS plant in Colorado—for a total of three citations, levying a total of $29,000 in fines.  One other item of interest: The executive order Trump issued on April 28 declaring meat-packing and poultry-processing plants as essential businesses is strikingly similar to a “suggested executive order” provided to Trump by the North American Meat Institute (a trade group) one week earlier. The Washington Post’s article on this similarity between trade group suggestions and Trumps order notes six essentially identical passages between the two documents. S-HP

You might point out to your Congressmembers, the Department of Labor, and OSHA that meat-packing and poultry-processing businesses were given ample waning that pandemic planning was necessary and that their failure to do this planning be reflected in the consequences the face for COVID-19 illness and deaths among their workers. Addresses are here.

GOOD NEWS

3. Judge finds that the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security is serving illegally

Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, has been serving illegally in the position, since the line of succession was not followed when his predecessor was appointed, so he did not have the authority to appoint him, a federal judge ruled on Friday. Thus, according to CNN, he did not have the authority to issue rules around asylum; he was the one who declared that asylum-seekers had to wait a year to seek employment. As News You May Have Missed noted on August 16 (story 5), the Government Accountability Office also announced that Wolf’s appointment was irregular and in any case, he has been in the office longer than an acting appointee is permitted to be. Thus far, Wolf has declined to leave his position. RLS.

4. Betsy DeVos tries, fails to funnel coronavirus aid to private schools

The CARES act was supposed to send $13 billion to the public schools to help cover their coronavirus losses, allowing private schools some limited funds for “equitable services” such as tutoring or transportation for their low-income students. However, according to NPR, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos insisted that the funds should go to private schools based on their total enrollment. In the first week of September, a federal judge ruled against DeVos, saying that “it is difficult to imagine how Congress could have been clearer” that funds were intended only for low-income students. RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

5. Justice at last: Spanish judges find Salvadoran colonel guilty of murders in the 80s civil war

In the Salvadoran civil war that raged from 1979-1992, 75,000 people were known to have been killed and an incalculable number were disappeared; death squads and the Salvadoran army funded by and in league with the U.S. government were responsible for 85% of the deaths, according to the UN sponsored Truth Commission. Among the atrocities was the torture and murder of clergy people. A 1993 amnesty law was found unconstitutional in 2016, and the perpetrators could thus be brought to justice.

Among those murdered in 1989 were five Spanish Jesuits, a Salvadoran Jesuit and two Salvadoran women. Operating under a principle of universal jurisdiction, a panel of Spanish judges found Inocente Orlando Montano guilty of the murders on September 11, 2020; he was sentenced to 26 years, eight months and one day for each murder, though he will not serve more than 30 years in total, according to the Guardian. The Guardian reported that the eight were ordered killed in order to derail peace talks; the death squad used a rifle from the opposition, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), to try to cast blame on them. Those killed were Spaniard Jesuits, among them Father Ignacio Ellacuría, who was a leader among peace activists, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Segundo Montes, Ramón Moreno, and Amando López. A Salvadoran Jesuit, Joaquin López y López, was also killed, as was a housekeeper, Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter, Celina, aged 15. RLS

6. Greek asylum-seekers forcibly deported on rafts

Over 1000 refugees have been turned away from Greece–put into overfull, unmotorized rubber rafts that cannot be steered and sent out to sea. As one refugee , a teacher from Syria who survived the ordeal, told the New York Times in August, “I left Syria for fear of bombing — but when this happened, I wished I’d died under a bomb.” She had been ordered onto a raft with 22 other people, including 2 babies. On other occasions documented by the Times, Greek officials disabled the engines on refugees’ boats and set them adrift. Greece authorities have also been refusing to allow refugees to apply for asylum or to appeal their expulsion.

For the last six years, Greece has been beset by tens of thousands of refugees, mostly from Syria; European nations have not been stepping up with sufficient aid. A refugee camp housing 13,000 people that burned on the island of Lesbos has been replaced by a new one, where conditions are unsafe and unsanitary, according to Al Jazeera. One resident, a young Afghan woman, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview that “There is no water, no toilet, no food.”

Describing the deportation of asylum seekers on rafts as “unprecedented,” Niamh Keady-Tabbal, a graduate student researcher at the Irish Center for Human Rights, and one of the first to document the phenomenon, told the Times that “Greek authorities are now weaponizing rescue equipment to illegally expel asylum seekers in a new, violent and highly visible pattern of pushbacks.”

A few weeks after this report emerged, a three-year-old at a beach in southern Greece drifted out to sea on a unicorn float. She was rescued by a Greek ferryboat captain, according to the New York Times, and Greeks were captivated by the video of her rescue. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis praised the captain. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Reliable Sources

An excellent list of 50 reliable individuals who are writing about the sciences has been published by the editors of Elemental on Medium. The list is remarkable and contains links to some of their articles. Another good source is Brief 19, edited by Jeremy Faust, an emergency room doctor and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. The September 18 issue describes the CDC’s ambiguous messaging on school re-opening, their quite good directive on evictions, and the White House’s efforts to interfere in their directives. RLS

8. Scientific American endorses a presidential candidate for the first time

Scientific American has been around for 175 years and, in that time, has never endorsed a presidential candidate. Now Scientific American has broken with the tradition and is endorsing Joe Biden for the office of president. In a piece in the “Policies and Ethics” section the editors explain this decision: “The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges…. Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures have been catastrophic in the U.S.” S-HP

If you want to thank Scientific American for this decision at a time when our planet and its people need public officials who accept science, their address is: Scientific American—Editors, 1 New York Plaza, Floor 56, New York, NY 10004

RESOURCES

The Americans of Conscience Checklist has an excellent list for actions around voting, including how to report voting-related misinformation.

Rogan’s list has essential information, including how to donate to fire relief, how voters impacted by the fires should manage their registration, how you can help ex-prisoners in Florida pay their fees so they can vote, and how Spanish-speakers are needed to text for Biden. She links to a Black-led get-out-the-vote project. She notes that the Campus Votes project is trying to reduce barriers to student voters.

Postcards to Voters is focusing on McGrath for Senate in Kentucky and Cunningham for Senate in North Carolina. Once you are approved, they will send you voter addresses and sample scripts.

Sarah-Hope’s list also identifies postcarding possibilities, most of them integrated in the stories above.

News You May Have Missed: September 13, 2020

We know you must be exhausted both by the news and in anticipation of the work ahead, with only 50 days before the election. Hence, we’ve added a good news section, not to offer comfort food but to illustrate that concerted action pays off.

Not a California sunset. Photo credit, Peggy Mena

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Deadly fires, unbreathable air in California and the Pacific Northwest

28 large fires in Oregon have burned over a million acres, demolishing entire neighborhoods in the Southern Oregon communities of Phoenix and Talent, according to Oregon Live. 10 people have died. The fires, like the coronavirus, have hit the most vulnerable the hardest, as Street Roots points out. Evacuation is difficult for elderly people, and too many people need to get out of the intolerable air: As Street Roots put it, “The scale of need is extraordinary…The uneven distribution of shelter and wealth has always been a public health crisis and the need right now is acute as people are evacuated from still-standing homes, evacuated from ruins, and evacuated from the streets.”

Twenty-two people have died in California fires, some of which are under control. The massive SCU Lightning Complex fire in central California is almost contained, having burned some 400,000 acres and leaving almost a thousand homes destroyed, according to the Mercury News. Smoke, dangerous air and eerie light as the smoke piles on the marine layer plague residents. Also almost contained is the LNU Lightning Complex in the North Bay, leaving 375,000 acres charred. The largest fire in the state’s history, the August Complex in Northern California, has burned over 877,000  acres.

In Big Sur, the Dolan fire has injured a number of firefighters and burned 111,000 acres of beautiful country, filling Monterey County with smoke. Communities near Lucia, South Coast Ridge Road, Gorda and Prewitt Ridge have been evacuated; the Zen Center Tassajara could be in the fire’s way. Set by an arsonist, according to the Monterey Herald, the Dolan fire is on its 27th day at this writing, and 14 homes have been destroyed. Big Sur Kate’s blog is an excellent source on the Dolan fire.

How the fires are connected to the climate crisis is clearly described in a recent LA Times article. Though forest management strategies, dry lightning, and human maliciousness and carelessness are all factors, no combination of these would result in fires this extreme aside from the climate crisis. As  Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland-based think tank, told the Times, “We have seen the rapid warming of California summers really turbocharge the type of conditions that are suitable for rapid growth of wildfires. We see fires growing from essentially nothing to a quarter of a million acres in one day. And that’s because the conditions are ripe, and temperature plays a large role.” RLS

Those who want to donate could think about Big Sur Fire, which provides emergency services across the Big Sur Coast. Resources and fire information for California can be found at the Cal Fire website. Donations can be made to the California Community Foundation. Resources and information about the Oregon fires can be found at the Jefferson County website. You could also donate to your favorite organization working on the climate crisis.

2. ICE relocated detained immigrants in order to police protests, spreading COVID

This summer, the Trump administration used both Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officers to quash protests in Washington DC and other cities. How did those ICE agents make it to Washington DC and elsewhere? ICE agents are prohibited from travelling on chartered flights unless they are accompanying detainees. According to reporting by the Washington Post and based on interviews with current and former Department of Homeland Security employees, ICE resolved this dilemma in the case of Washington DC protests by using charter flights to unnecessarily transfer detainees from Arizona and Florida to Virginia; this allowed ICE officers who are members of “Special Response Teams” to accompany those detainees–then join other federal agents monitoring and attempting to shut down protests.

The stated reason for the detainee transfers was to reduce overcrowding that might facilitate the spread of COVID-19, but dozens of those transferred detainees tested positive for COVID-19 after their arrival. The Farmville, Virginia, immigration jail, to which the detainees were transferred, subsequently suffered an outbreak of COVID-19, with 300 inmates infected; one of the infected inmates died as a result of the disease. The Washington Post notes that ICE officials in the Washington office objected to the transfers before they were made; they also noted that many ICE detention facilities besides the one in Farmville had room for transfers at the time. A lawsuit has now been filed on behalf of four inmates, three of whom contracted COVID-19, who were already housed at Farmville when the transferred detainees arrived. The Washington Post points out that in a hearing related to that lawsuit, an ICE attorney told a judge that one reason for the transfer was that “ICE has an air regulation whereby in order to move agents of ICE, they have to be moved from one location to another with detainees on the same airplane.” S-HP

If you want to intervene, you can object to this disingenuous use of transfers to deliver ICE agents to suppress Washington DC protesters, which resulted in a surge of COVID-19 cases at Farmville and ask your Congressmembers to investigate this dangerous and unnecessary transfer used as a pretext to deliver ICE agents to Suppress Washington DC protesters. Addresses are here.

3. Immigration documents and prescription medications held up by Postal Service delays

Previously, we’ve reported on the potential effects of cuts and policy changes at the United Stated Postal Service (USPS) on election security and an accurate vote count, but we have additional reasons to be concerned. Documented notes that, like our elections, the U.S. immigration system depends upon an efficient postal system. In a radio interview cited by Documented, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employee and American Federation of Government Employees union member Kenneth Palinkas explained that “our work [at USCIS] and the USPS go hand in hand.” The USPS carries immigration paperwork, notices, visas, work authorizations, and naturalization documents on a daily basis—all of which are time sensitive. If immigration paperwork doesn’t reach USCIS on time, an individual’s immigration application may be derailed. Immigrants can’t look for employment until they receive work authorizations. Immigrants also can’t register to vote until they’ve received their naturalization documents.

 Another area of concern is delivery of prescription drugs. The Washington Post notes that in 2019, upwards of 170 million prescriptions were filled by mail. That number will be increasing this year with more people isolating (whether under orders or for personal health reasons) due to the CIVID-19 pandemic. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) have released a report, based on data provided by major pharmacies and pharmacy benefits managers, documenting the effect of changing postal practices on the delivery of prescription drugs. With the exception of one pharmacy, which makes almost exclusive use of private carriers, all pharmacies reported delivery delays, usually of 1-2 days, though one pharmacy reported it regularly experiences delays of an entire week.

Pharmacies reported significant increases in complaints about delayed medication delivery. They also pointed out the increased costs they face as increasing numbers of prescription orders have to be reshipped because of delivery issues. One pharmacy reported an increase of 35% in the number of reshipments this year and noted that July 2020 was particularly problematic; in that month their reshipment numbers increased by 80% and cost the pharmacy $700,000. These delays can threaten the health of Americans, particularly those with chronic conditions—like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and high blood pressure—who depend on daily medications. In the long run these delays may also result in increasing drug costs, as pharmacies are forced to spend more time fielding complaints and reshipping orders that have not been received. S-HP

Consider asking your Congressmembers to address the impact of mail delays on both immigration and healthcare. Maybe the USPS Board of Directors also needs to hear from you that mail service must be maintained at a level that guarantees not just safe voting, but also reliable delivery of medications and timely processing of immigration documents.

4. Immigrants’ biometric data captured

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed federal rule changes that would significantly increase both the occasions in which the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) collects biometric data and the kinds of biometric data it collects. Nextgov explains that the USCIS currently collects fingerprints and uses these when conducting background checks. Under the changes, USCIS would collect palm prints, photos to be used in conjunction with facial recognition software, voice prints, iris images, and DNA samples. These data would be collected not just for background checks, but also for much broader identification purposes, such as the production of identity documents. As we’ve reported repeatedly, biometric identification software is highly unreliable, particularly for people of color, producing significant false identifications. These proposed rule changes are open for public comment through October 13. DHS is only accepting online comments on this proposal. S-HP

If this use of biometric data troubles you, you can object to DHS’s attempt to increase the use of technologies that invade individual privacy and that regularly result in false identifications by going to this web address.

5. Former intelligence officer who blew the whistle on information suppression also revealed catastrophic policy decisions on Latin America

Reporting on Brian Murphy’s whistle-blower complaint filed against the State Department has focused on Murphy’s claim that the State Department deliberately suppressed information on Russian election interference, instead promoting a narrative that presents China and Iran as the main players in attempts to undermine U.S. elections. However, this was not the only type of intelligence misrepresentation Murphy highlighted. Roll Call reports that Murphy’s complaint also alleges that intelligence regarding Central American nations was similarly distorted. Murphy claims that Kevin Cuccinelli, then the Department of Homeland Security’s second highest official, ordered him to fire or reassign intelligence analysts working on Central America because they were part of a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine administration restrictions on asylum. Intelligence reports at that time detailed corruption, violence, and poverty in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

  The Trump administration has been openly critical of the government in another Central American nation, Nicaragua. The U.S. State Department describes the government of Nicaragua, headed by former Sandinista Daniel Ortega, as violently repressive. According to the State Department, Nicaraguan police and para-police, “arbitrarily detain pro-democracy protesters.” The State Department considers reports of Nicaraguan torture and disappearances “credible.” However, this criticism of the Ortega regime has not had any impact on U.S. asylum policy.

  In late August, the Washington Post reported on a number of Nicaraguan activists who arrived to the U.S. to apply for asylum, but were quickly returned to Nicaragua without asylum hearings. Under rules put in place in response to COVID-19, current U.S. policy is to immediately return all asylum applicants from Nicaragua to their country of origin. One of the individuals featured in the Washington Post story was Valeska Alemán, 22, who posted video footage online of Nicaraguan police firing at student protesters. The footage went viral, and Alemán’s photo appeared in newspapers throughout Nicaragua. Alemán was detained twice and tortured: interrogators pried off her toenails. Because the U.S. government has been a vocal critic of the Nicaraguan’s crackdown on protesters, Alemán chose to seek asylum in the U.S. However, seventeen days after she entered the U.S. in July, Alemán was put on a flight back to Nicaragua with more than 100 other Nicaraguans, most of whom had protested against the government of Daniel Ortega. The 100+ were not allowed to submit asylum requests. Alemán and others of these deportees are now in hiding in Nicaragua; some have had their identity and travel documents seized, which would make a new attempt at applying for asylum much more difficult.

  Seven members of Congress have sent the President a letter formally requesting that the U.S. discontinue deporting Nicaraguan political dissidents hoping to apply for asylum. The Washington Post includes excerpts from that letter: “Your deportations of politically persecuted Nicaraguans run counter to U.S. values and directly undermine the stated goals of U.S. policy towards Nicaragua…. We call for any such future asylum requests to be considered, in accordance with U.S. law, and urge your administration to cease collaborating with the Ortega regime in deporting Nicaraguans.” The United Nations have also criticized the deportations for violating the international refugee convention’s principle of non-refoulement, the practice of forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to countries where they are apt to face persecution.

   Reuters reports that the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are investigating this complaint. S-HP

You might thank the House and Senate Intelligence Committees for investigating Murphy’s whistleblower complaint and share your concerns about the deportation of Nicaraguan asylum-seekers. Addresses are here.

GOOD NEWS

6. Trump’s efforts to avoid counting undocumented people thwarted by court

In July, Trump instructed Census administrators to exclude undocumented people from the count and to shorten the timeline, attempting to reduce the number of residents in each state for apportionment purposes. Last week, in response to a suit by the ACLU and the New York State attorney general, a judge told the Republican administration that they could not shorten the timeline and that they had to include undocumented residents. Had the administration been able to exclude them, state with high numbers of undocumented people would suffer in terms of federal funding and representation in the House. As Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project told the Washington Post, “President Trump has tried and failed yet again to weaponize the census against immigrant communities. The law is clear — every person counts in the census.” RLS

7. Migratory birds again protected

We’ve reported previously about Trump administration attempts to weaken protections for migratory birds established in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The administration attempted to eliminate penalties for “incidental” killing of migratory birds. Thus, a company or individual might kill any number of migratory birds without repercussions, if the birds’ deaths resulted from an action not intended to kill them. For example, a major leak of oil or toxins that resulted in bird deaths would not have carried penalties because the oil or toxins would not have been released for the specific purpose of killing those birds. Now the National Resources Defense Council is celebrating a federal court ruling overturning this weakening of the MBTA. The ruling noted that the language of the MBTA makes killing of migratory birds “by any means whatever or in any manner” unlawful. S-HP

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Children of color are 5-8 times more at risk of hospitalization from COVID-19

Black, Latinx and Indigenous people are four and a half to over five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19, with Indigenous people being the most likely, according to the CDC (such as it is). Children of color are even more vulnerable; they are five to eight times more likely than white children to be hospitalized with COVID, and more likely to develop the most severe complication of the disease, multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C. Most of the children who have died from COVID are children of color, according to the New York Times. The reason for this disparity, the Times speculates, is that their parents are more likely to be front-line workers in health care or to have other jobs that cannot be done in person. They are less likely to have paid sick leave. Children of color are therefore more likely to have to attend school in person and to be more at risk as a result. RLS

8. Trump COVID body count: 193,723

We now know what Trump knew (about how dangerous the coronavirus was) and when he knew it, thanks to Bob Woodward’s unconscionably delayed reporting. We also know what the costs of that delay and Trump’s inaction have been. Many travelers returning to the US from China to Washington State around February 1 launched the virus into the US, according to a new study published in the journal Science. Exhaustive study of the genomics of the virus, travel patterns and computer models of the epidemic have definitively established this date and this route of transmission, according to Science Daily. Those outbreaks were contained by prompt testing, contact tracing and quarantining, Science Daily reports, and subsequent outbreaks could have been contained as well if rigorous responses had been in place. Trump’s interview with Woodward in which he revealed he knew how dangerous the virus was took place on February 7. 193,723 people have died in the US since February 23, according to Johns Hopkins.

PBS interviewed a number of public health experts at the end of July who said that deaths and hospitalizations could have been dramatically reduced if proper containment measures had been followed: Testing, adequate PPE and masking in public. The Johns Hopkins site has a wide range of resources on COVID-19. RLS

RESOURCES

The Americans of Conscience checklist is determined to get out the vote. They offer clear, focused actions you can take.

Susan Rogan has her pulse on the issues. See Rogan’s list for ways you can weigh in on the need for COVID relief, speak out against Trump’s ban on anti-racism training, support Black Lives Matter.

Future Now has a list of eight critical Senate and House seats that you can help defend or flip.

If you want to find out what the government is proposing and how you can comment for the public record, Martha offers you a list of tracking sites.

Heather Cox Richardson analyzes the news from a historian’s perspective almost every night.

News You May Have Missed: September 6, 2020

“Protective medical mask on laptop. The end of the pandemic.” by shixart1985 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

News You Might Have Missed is on leave this week, but you don’t need to be.

We’re under the weather. If you aren’t, there are things you might do:

  • The Americans of Conscience checklist is determined to get out the vote. They offer clear, focused actions you can take.
  • Susan Rogan has her pulse on the issues. See Rogan’s list for ways you can weigh in on the Agriculture Secretary’s use of free lunches to force kids back to in-person school in January, admonish Wisconsin Republicans for refusing to act on police brutality, consider ways to take back the Senate–and more.
  • Speaking of the Senate, Future Now has a list of eight critical Senate and House seats that you can help defend or flip.
  • If you want to find out what the government is proposing and how you can comment for the public record, Martha offers you a list of tracking sites.
  • Heather Cox Richardson analyzes the news from a historian’s perspective almost every night.

News You May Have Missed: August 23, 2020

Photo of the CZU Lightning Complex fire courtesy of Shmuel Thayer. More of his work, including stunning pictures of the fires, is at: https://www.facebook.com/ShmuelThalerPhotographer/

News You May Have Missed this week is trying to maintain bi-focal vision, with one eye on the California fires and the other on national and world events. Hence, this week we follow the fires and follow up on a number of the stories we have covered before.

With tens of thousands of people having been evacuated, we want to alert everyone to re-register to vote if you expect to be relocated for any length of time. Information about registration is at the California Secretary of State’s office. The deadline to register for the November election is October 19.

Apropos of which, our elections correspondent has a wrap-up of the most recent primaries.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Those caught in California fires pay the price for climate change

The California fires, like disasters everywhere, illuminate many fault lines at once. The climate crisis contributes to the higher temperatures and drier conditions, MIT Technology Review points out, citing a paper in Science that shows how “the number of lightning strikes will increase by about 12% for every degree of rise in global average air temperature.” We know that hurricanes have been increasing in the climate crisis, and what Weather.com called “the ghost” of Hurricane Genevieve is likely to send erratic winds and dry lightning, making the fires worse. As the AP reported, Governor Gavin Newsom said, “If you are in denial about climate change, come to California.”

Newsom has obtained a federal disaster declaration from the Trump administration, permitting access to federal funds and services, even though, as Politico reported, earlier Trump ridiculously said at a rally “They’re starting again in California. I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests — there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up.” California and the Federal government had already reached an agreement–before the present fire crisis–to thin California’s forests, the Mercury News noted.

In Monterey County, around 70,000 acres have burned in the three fires–the River, Carmel and Dolan fires, affecting areas south of Salinas, Carmel Valley and Big Sur, according to the Californian. Big Sur Kate, who for decades has been the hub of information and the facilitator of resources in the Big Sur area, is tracking the Carmel, River and Dolan fires. Evacuation locations and fire maps are located at her blog.

Santa Cruz, Alameda and San Mateo Counties are beset by the CZU Lightning Complex, which has grown to 339,968 acres. 1157 firefighters are on the scene, and air support is now possible, since some of the smoke has cleared. Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty says that 24,000 structures are still threatened; many homes have already been lost. Santa Cruz County has links to fire information and shelter options.  Air quality in the Bay Area and the Central Coast is significantly impaired, according to the Mercury News; full of not only smoke but particulate matter, the air is particularly dangerous for people with lung conditions–and for animals.

The LNU Lightning Complex, which has burned 341,243 acres north of San Francisco as of August 23, is now the second-largest wildfire in California history, SF Gate reports, covering an area nearly ten times the area of San Francisco. Status updates on the LNU fire are available at Cal Fire’s website.

Over 100,000 people statewide have been evacuated, according to KPIX, which has a complete list of evacuation orders for Santa Clara County and the Bay Area. 

Even though California hired and trained 830 new firefighters over the last month, the cadre of firefighters is simply insufficient to deal with the 357 fires across the state, the Mercury News reports, and new firefighters will lack experience in coping with a challenge of this magnitude. Ordinarily California depends on inmate firefighters, but many have been released due to the risk of COVID, and many still incarcerated have COVID, KCBS reported. In short, a vital public service depends on people being in prison. Inmate firefighters are not permitted to become firefighters upon their release because of their criminal record. A bill in the Assembly in 2019 was intended to rectify this inequity, but it failed in February of this year. 

Because there are so many fires in the state, the usual sharing of resources among regions and between the state and federal jurisdictions is not viable, leaving firefighting forces in all areas stretched thin. Firefighting agencies across California have requested aid from other states, the Mercury News reported. While the National Guard is expected to be deployed, it will take a week to train them, fire officials on the Central Coast said. And while volunteers have fought fires on an ad-hoc basis until firefighters could arrive, their presence complicates the work of fire-fighting, as firefighters need to keep their safety in focus. 

Those who are vulnerable in ordinary circumstances are especially so in the fires. California farmworkers have been hit hard by COVID-19; those who are able to work are enduring the the falling ash and smokey air, the Guardian reported. Farmworkers are supposed to be provided with masks when the air is bad, but often they are not; what they need for working in smoke are N-95 masks, but these have mostly gone to hospitals. Paid sick leave is rare. As Lucas Zucker, the policy and communications director for the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, told the Guardian, “people are pushed to make an impossible choice during something like a pandemic or a wildfire.” RLS

If you want to suport those deplaced by the CZU lightning complex, we suggest you support the Santa Cruz Community Foundation. The Red Cross is assisting those displaced by the LNU lightning complex. And for those in Monterey County, Big Sur Kate recommends Monterey County Recovers. The Californian has a listing of where you can help people displaced in Napa, as well as various centers who are assisting animals.

2. How Trump could stay president

Trump is famously opposed to mail ballots, but it turns out he is suspicious of in-person voting as well. Asked about worries around fraud in during in-person voting, he said, “We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to have hopefully, U.S. attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody, and attorney generals. But it’s very hard,” he told Fox News’s Sean Hannity, the Washington Post reported. Visualize the process whereby law enforcement personnel distinguish legitimate from illegitimate voters and what their criteria might be.

Republicans are also hoping to send 50,000 volunteers to 15 states to “monitor polling places and challenge ballots and voters deemed suspicious,” the New York Times reported. As a result of a court case, the Republican Party is no longer precluded from sending observers to polling places; previously, starting in 1981 with a lawsuit  by the Democratic party, several court decisions up through 2004 found that Republican “poll watchers” were intimidating voters. 

The Trump administration is also suing election boards in Pennsylvania for providing secure drop-boxes for ballots, but in a court hearing, Trump’s lawyers could provide no instances of voter fraud, according to the Intercept.

Newsweek maps a chilling scenario whereby Trump would still be president after the 2020 election: 1) He succeeds in suppressing enough votes in key states; 2) He claims widespread election fraud and invokes emergency powers that allow him to remain president. RLS

3. Latest assaults on the Post Office

  • According to Politico, Louis De Joy was not on the original list of candidates being vetted for the position of Postmaster General. DeJoy was instead nominated, after the compiling of the list and initial vetting, by John Barger, a member of the USPS Board of Governors. This represents a significant break in past practice, as has been noted by a number of members of Congress. Politico quotes a written statement from Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL): “The appointment of Mr. Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General was highly irregular, and we are concerned that his candidacy may have been influenced by political motivations.”
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer continues to seek information about the process by which Louis DeJoy was selected for the position of Postmaster General, but thus far, as the New York Times reports, the US Postal Service (USPS) Board of Directors has continued to refuse to provide the requested information or to allow the consulting firm it employed for the hiring process to be released from the nondisclosure agreement it had signed at the start of the process. Senator Schumer has also requested specific information from Postmaster DeJoy about the specifics of his promise to delay further USPS changes until after the presidential election. In hearing on Friday with the Senate Homeland Security Committee DeJoy repeatedly refused to provide written transcripts of his meetings with the USPS Board of Governors and other documents related to the slowing of mail service under new policies he instituted, according to refinery29. And while DeJoy did promise a delay in changes, he has been clear that he does not intend to reverse the changes already made, which include taking mail sorting machines offline, removing mailboxes, and cutting postal worker overtime.
  • The Anchorage Daily News has reported on a rule change that prevents postal workers from signing as witnesses on absentee ballots. Many states require witnesses, and preventing postal workers from signing as witnesses will make voting more difficult for those who live alone or have limited social contact and who, in the past, might have relied on obtaining the witness signature when dropping off a ballot for mailing. Alaska, one of the states that has a witness requirement, lists postal workers among those who can serve as witnesses, but voters have reported that postal workers are refusing to provide witness signatures, saying they are now barred from doing so.
  • According to the Washington Post, Postmaster General DeJoy not only plans to restart paused changes in postal services: he has a lengthy list of changes in the works that will include raising package mailing rates, charging extra for mail services in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, ending reduced mailing rates for nonprofit organizations, and leasing USPS space to other government agencies. The Washington Times discusses the possibility of higher postal rates in rural areas where mail delivery is more costly than in urban areas, which would further isolate many of the nation’s isolated rural communities.
  • Vice offers stories about the difficulties small businesses are having relying on the USPS as service becomes more erratic. The New York Times offers similar stories about the experiences of rural Americans, including late deliveries of day-old chicks and ducklings that have resulted in the death of the animals. In other instances, packages containing live animals are being crushed under the backup of coronavirus-related mail-order shipments that have slowed postal deliveries.
  • A piece by NBC reveals that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin requested one-on-one meetings with members of the USPS Board of Directors before a decision was made on the hiring of the new Postmaster General. Because one-on-one meetings do not fall under the “sunshine” rules that require public access to information regarding the meetings of federal agencies, there is no way of knowing what the topic of Mnuchin’s meetings was. Mnuchin has been actively advocating for USPS cuts and blocking attempts to provide additional funding for the USPS during the COVID-19 epidemic.
  • Labor Notes explains the increasing stress postal workers find themselves under as the workforce is temporarily reduced due to COVID-19 while DeJoy’s policies of barring overtime pay that would ensure mail delivery are in effect. Before DeJoy’s, postal workers might take up to an hour and a half to integrate unsorted mail with presorted mail before going out on their routes. New USPS policies limit sorting time to 30 minutes in the morning and provide no time for it in the afternoon. For postal workers who are committed to fully discharging their responsibilities, that cut necessitates working off the clock or skipping breaks. Milwaukee postal workers have responded to these pressures with a committed refusal to work unpaid time or to be “sped up” during their work hours. By insisting on taking the time necessary to do the work they are responsible for, they have been able to push back against new directives and to gain additional time for activities like integrating sorted and unsorted mail. This resolution does, however, require a certain willing blindness on the part of supervisors, who continue to verbally insist on a thirty-minute limit while requiring more time in practice, and postal workers, who continually have to resist the pressures being put on them. S-HP

If you want to help save the Postal Service, tell the Post Office Board of Governors and others that we are not satisfied with promises from DeJoy, demand his resignation, and warn them that we will be closely monitoring the state of the USPS during the presidential election and after. Addresses are here.

4. Children still being separated from parents, housed in hotels, deported

Children are still being detained in hotels, supervised by transportation workers with a private security company; as far as anyone knows, no records are being kept of who they are or where their parents are, and no representation is being offered to them. Some of the children are as young as a year old, the New York Times reports. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit trying to get injunction against the practice of rapidly deporting children, reports Vox, and Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) has called for an investigation On the one hand, the children are at least not in dubious border shelters in 115 degree weather. On the other hand, the potential for abuse is obvious. As an ACLU attorney told the New York Times, ““As dangerous as it is for children to be secretly held in hotels,” he said, “the ultimate problem is that they are expelled without a hearing, regardless of where they are held.” RLS

The Texas Civil Rights Project urges us to tell Congress to investigate the detention of children in hotels. More information is at their site.

5. Trump’s cabinet voted in 2018 to separate children from their families

Led by Trump’s senior advisor, Stephen Miller, Trump’s cabinet took a “show of hands” vote in 2018 to separate children from their families at the border, even though they all knew that the system was not capable of keeping track of the families and children once separated. According to an investigation by NBC News, also expected to be present (though NBC could not confirm that they were) were Jeff Sessions, then Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Undersecretary of Defense John Rood, then-White House chief of staff John Kelly, White House deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell, then-White House counsel Don McGahn and Marc Short, now chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence. RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. On top of the explosion and the downward-spiraling economy, cases of COVID in Lebanon spike

Following the August 4 explosion of a warehouse filled with 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, Lebanon is coping with a spike in coronavirus cases and has imposed a two-week lockdown. With over 6,000 people injured, the virus likely spread due to crowding in hospitals and close contacts in the desperate search for survivors, as well as among those protesting government inaction, Global News explains. RLS

If you want to assist in Lebanon, a Middle-East scholar of our acquaintance recommends these NGOS.

7. Uyghurs interned, abused, surveilled in China

The situation of Uyghur Muslims in China appears to have slipped off the radar, so it’s time to review what they have been facing. The Chinese government is now holding upwards of one million members of the Uyghur minority in internment camps in the Xinjiang province. The Financial Times reports that interned Uyghurs have been subject to many abuses, including forced sterilization and separation of parents and children (that might sound familiar). Outside of the internment camps, the government is destroying mosques and criminalizing minor expressions of religious practice, including wearing head scarves, growing beards, and refusing to smoke and drink. The government also requires Uyghurs to download tracking software onto their phones and has extensive facial recognition software in use in the Xinjiang province. The government aims to obliterate their Muslim and ethnic/cultural practices a process it calls “deradicalization.” As the Financial Times notes, these abuses border on genocide according to many human rights lawyers

         At the end of July, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced new sanctions against the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps in addition to already existing sanctions that bar sales of U.S. goods to eleven Chinese corporations. Construction Corps, an economic and paramilitary group—as described by the New York Times—also oversees state-run companies that export agricultural products. In 2018, the Construction Corps exported $43 million worth of goods to the U.S. and received $103 million in goods exported from the U.S., not necessarily significant amounts in today’s economy, so there are questions about how much effect the sanctions will have. However, the current pandemic which has lessened the U.S. Government’s willingness to try to maintain pleasant relations with China and Trump’s flailing election campaign may provide the impetus for more significant sanctions, which have long been called for by people both on the right and the left.  

Rights groups are pointing out that the fashion industry depends on forced labor provided by the Uyghur Muslims, the Guardian reported. A coalition of human rights organizations are asking companies not to use cotton and other products produced by Uyghur Muslims in China. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling on the National Basketball Association to cease all operations in China, including training programs and broadcasting and licensing agreements, until the persecution of Uyghur Muslims ceases. CAIR cites an ESPN report that one former NBA employee who worked in the Xinjiang province “compared the atmosphere there to ‘World War II Germany.’” S-HP

If you are inclined to urge the NBA to cease all operations in China until the persecution of Uyghur Muslims is halted and call for additional sanctions against China in response to these human rights abuses, appropriate addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. “Race Detection”: The latest use of facial recognition software

We’ve called attention several times to the inaccuracy of facial recognition software and its potential for abuse and recently alerted you to the actions of Clearview AI, a facial recognition software maker: in particular to block privacy laws allowing individuals the right to refuse the company from using online photos of them in developing the software. According to a February article from the Verge, Facebook and LinkedIn prohibit image harvesting for such purposes, but Clearview continues the practice. The Verge now reports that Clearview AI has just signed a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has its own history of using people’s pictures—in this case from state drivers’ license databases—in developing facial recognition programs. Following February reporting from BuzzFeed on the extensive use of Clearview products by private companies, including the NBA, Bank of America, Macy’s and Walmart, Clearview pledged to end such sales, but it intends to continue marketing its products to government and law enforcement entities, as the new ICE contract demonstrates.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a new type of facial analysis: race detection. The “legitimate” use most often cited for such programs is ad targeting, “Use of the software is fraught, as researchers and companies have begun to recognize its potential to drive discrimination, posing challenges to widespread adoption.” Aside from its potential for abuse—it is one of the tools the Chinese government uses to track Uyghur Muslims— this software is problematic for a reason that would be readily understood by anthropologists. As the New York Times explains in science reporting: “the standard labels used to distinguish people by ‘race’ have little or no biological meaning…. the human species is so evolutionarily young, and its migratory patterns so wide, restless and rococo, that it has simply not had a chance to divide itself into separate biological groups or ‘races’ in any but the most superficial ways.” In other words, racial detection is categorizing people under a construct not of biology, but of human society, which has a propensity for labeling people according to an other/self dichotomy. Even if it’s only used to help sell lipstick—something the Wall Street Journal tells us Revlon tried in 2015—it’s “validating” nonexistent differences and enabling those with exclusionary or prejudicial motives to continue in their exclusion and prejudice. S-HP

If you wish to insist (yet again) on clear limits to unauthorized use of individuals’ photographs to develop facial-recognition software and the use of the software by both government agencies and private companies and call for an examination of the potential misuse of “racial-detection” software and for appropriate limits (or even a ban) to be set on its use by private corporations and organizations and the government, you can find your representatives’ contact information

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist has bracing messages and easy actions you can take.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list is mostly incorporated above, but if you want to work through it with a pile of postcards, here is the link.
  • In her list , Martha points out that the opportunity to comment on proposals to shift liquified natural gas by rail, a practice hat Mother Jones calls “bomb trains,” closes soon. There is a new proposal that lets the FDA not review coronavirus tests, and the USPS Board of Governors will post a notice tomorrow under the Sunshine Act that says they met last week, public not allowed–and no info on agenda, discussion, or decisions has been revealed. And note that you can comment on the usual environmental assaults -reminding us that the administration wants to redefine critical habitat in a way that is deadly for endangered species.
  • Rogan’s list is back, reinvigorated, from hiatus. She suggests a series of actions to address the issues surrounding the Post Office.
  • Heather Cox Richardson this week reflects on the presence of QAnon believers in the Republican party, the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, an opponent of Putin, the arrest of Steve Bannon, the Democratic convention, and more.

News You May Have Missed: August 16, 2020

“mailbox” by alandberning is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Heather Cox Richardson reviews the efforts to dismantle the Post Office before the November election in her August 14 letter, along with the illegal tenure of the acting secretary and acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Preserving the Post Office: We did the math

Outrage around the overt assault on the Post Office has begun to have an effect. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy says that he will stop removing mailboxes until after the election, according to the Daily Beast. Several issues around this situation reported by Business Insider (and many other sources) deserve highlighting.

  • Trump himself has been very open about the fact that the changes being made right now at the USPS are being made in order to interfere with mail-in voting in the November presidential contest: “They want $25 billion—billion—for the post office. Now they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said, adding, “But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”
  • 19 mail sorting machines (most in swing states), each of which could process some 35,000 pieces of mail an hour, have been dismantled and removed. If we do the math (our math, not Business Insider’s) we can see that the loss of just those 19 machines will reduce the daily mail processing capacity in the U.S. by almost 8 million pieces of mail. The calculation: 19 machines x 35,000 pieces processed per hour x [this is a guess] 12 hours of operation a day = 7,980,000 pieces of mail daily that just those machines could have processed.
  • The Washington Post (and many other sources) notes that the administration has now advised 46 states that their ballots many not arrive in time to be counted due to slower service and lower capacity.

Law and Crime has noted that the Inspector General of the USPS is launching an investigation into these changes, as a result of queries made by Elizabeth Warren. Also per the Washington Post ( and many other sources), Congressional Democrats are trying to launch investigations of the changes at the USPS. The sad fact is that those investigation simply won’t have teeth, regardless of what is discovered. The only people, besides Trump, who have the power to remove DeJoy and see that these changes are reversed are the USPS Board of Governors. S-HP

If you want to add your voice to the discussion, ask the USPS Board of Governors to remove DeJoy in response to his clearly demonstrated intention to hinder U.S. elections. Their addresses are here (maybe they’d like a postcard?), as are their email addresses. You can also join MoveOn’s campaign to get the Post Office funded through the stimulus bill.

2. Black lives at risk from COVID-19

The uneven impact of COVID-19 on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) continues to wreak havoc on these communities. We•News provides an update on the virus’s impact on women of color. Through August 4, COVID-19 had killed one in every 2,800 white Americans. In contrast, for Black Americans, that number is one in every 1,250; for indigenous Americans, it’s one in 1,500; for Pacific Islander Americans, it’s one in 1,700; and for Latinx Americans, it’s one in every 2,200. These numbers are particularly problematic because women of color are more likely than white women to be the primary breadwinners for their families. Women of color also make up a disproportionate slice of many occupations—manicurist, skin care specialist, cashier, and health aids of many types—that involve greater possible exposure to the coronavirus. All this is complicated by long-standing discrepancies in basics like housing and healthcare for women of color as compared to white women.      

The Washington Post reports on a CDC finding that Hispanic and Black children have much higher rates of COVID-19-related hospitalization as compared to while children. A Hispanic child with COVID-19 is eight times more likely than their white peers to require hospitalization; Black children are five times more likely than their white peers to require hospitalization. The article goes on to explain that “[t]he report calls for improved understanding of the broader social forces that affect health so that racial and ethnic disparities in pediatric hospitalization rates can be mitigated.”(S-HP)

You can inform your Congressmembers, Congressional leaders, and administration figures negotiating COVID-19 relief of these immense discrepancies and insist that COVID-19 relief funding reaches the communities being most hard-hit be the disease and that the underlying causes of these discrepancies be studies and addressed. Addresses are here.

3. Company collecting coronavirus data instead of the CDC won’t disclose its process of tracking information

The New York Times reports that TeleTracking Technologies, the private company that’s now aggregating COVID-19 data since Trump took this responsibility out of the Centers for Disease Control’s purview, has refused to answer Senate Democrats’ questions about its $10.2 million contract because of a nondisclosure agreement it signed with the Department of Health and Human Services. The information TeleTracking is refusing to provide includes “its process for collecting and sharing data; its proposal to the government; communications with White House staff or other officials; and any other information related to the award.” A Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson has told the Senators to request this information from the administration, instead. The New York Times quoted Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer’s reaction that “The Trump administration’s decision to hire a private vendor and then cloak that vendor in a nondisclosure agreement raises numerous questions about their motivations and risks the ability of our public health experts to understand and effectively fight this virus.” S-HP

You can demand that HHS honor rules for transparency in government contracting and that it provide all requested information to the Senators. Write or call Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Ave. SW, Washington DC 20201, (877) 696-6775. Secretary@HHS.gov.

4. Women assaulted in immigrant detention

Immigrants being held at an immigration detention center in El Paso have been sexually assaulted by ICE guards, an investigation by ProPublica and the Texas Tribune reported. Women are attacked areas that cannot be viewed by cameras, and are threatened and bribed, one woman told ProPublica in a telephone interview. One woman who was assaulted was deported, according to other detainees, and another woman is scheduled for deportation, meaning that witnesses in the case that has been brought by Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center will likely be unavailable. According to a complaint filed by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) with the Department of Homeland Security, these assaults are not a fluke. CIVIC notes that between 2010 and 2016, 14,700 complaints regarding sexual and physical abuse were filed against ICE. RLS

5. GAO confirms that acting secretaries are serving illegally.

We’ve known that the appointments of Chad Wolf as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security and Ken Cuccinelli as Acting Deputy Secretary did not meet with current regulatory guidelines. Now, Politico reports that the Government Accountability Office (GAO)—Congress’s investigative arm—has confirmed that fact. Wolf and Cuccinelli took on these positions while Kevin McAleenan restructured the agency’s order of succession while he was serving as Acting Director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The GAO has determined that McAleenan did not have authority to makes these changes. Congressional Democrats are calling for the two to resign, but the Department of Homeland Security has refused to respond to Congressional queries and calls the GAO finding “baseless,” according to the Washington Post. However, assuming the GAO finding is correct, points out Raw Story, Wolf did not have the authority to order changes that would limit and ultimately lead to the end of the Dream Act and the use of DHS officers for riot “control” (by which we mean “incitement”) in Portland. Both men have also been serving in these positions beyond the legal maximum terms of service for “Acting” department leadership. S-HP

You could demand the resignations of these men holding leadership positions illegally and insist to your Congressmembers that these men be removed from their positions and that policies developed under their leadership be cancelled. Addresses are here.

6. Campaign to stop prosecutors from accepting campaign contributions from police

National Public Radio reports that a group of current and former District Attorneys have launched a campaign asking California’s bar association to ban prosecutor candidates from accepting police union and other law enforcement donations due to conflict of interest this creates. CBS SF Bay Area goes on to explain: the group [of DAs] argued that prosecutors cannot ethically investigate and prosecute police misconduct when police unions, sheriff’s offices and correctional divisions offer their endorsements and financial support. That conflict of interest also erodes public trust in law enforcement, they said. “I think it’s apparent to all of us today that America has a crisis of trust in law enforcement,” San Francisco DA, Chesa Boudin said. “It’s a crisis that you can see unfolding on the streets all across this great country.”

If you are in California, you can join current and former DAs in asking the California Bar Association to ban prosecutor candidates from accepting police union and other law enforcement donations and point out the way current practice creates a conflict of interest and betrays the public’s trust in law enforcement.

7. Clearview to claim first-amendment rights?

The New York Times reports that prominent First-Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, who worked on Citizens United, has a new client: the facial recognition company Clearview AI. Clearview has been assembling its facial recognition database using billions of photos available on the internet, without requesting or receiving permission from any of the people in those pictures. Law enforcement can then give Clearview a photo of a person of interest and its database tries to match that photo to images online. Basically, at any moment Clearview can use online images of you for a virtual “perp walk,” which is particularly problematic given the high inaccuracy rates for facial recognition software identifications of people of color. Lawsuits against this use of online photographs, using privacy protection arguments, have been filed in California, Virginia, Illinois, Vermont, and New York. Clearview’s hope, apparently, is that it can convince the courts that its use of online photographs can be seen as a form of speech (or pre-speech), which would make their use of these photographs protected under the First Amendment. S-HP

You might tell Clearview that their use of images of our faces without our permission is an invasion of our privacy, regardless of the source of those images. You can also for legislation on the national and state level to protect us from this use of online photographs that include us. Addresses are here.

8. Felony to assault workers who ask customers to wear masks

You likely haven’t missed the stories of customer service workers being screamed at, spit on, assaulted, and threatened with guns for asking customers to wear masks. Finally, though, there is a strategy: The state of Illinois has enacted legislation that makes it a felony to assault retail workers who are enforcing mask requirements, reports USA Today. S-HP

You can tell your state legislators and Governor that you’d like to see them take similar action. Find your state legislators’ addresses here, and your governor here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Tracking the dead

An anesthesiologist, Claire Rezba, couldn’t bear it that no one was keeping track of health care workers who died from COVID-19. She began to search for the obituaries, looking for lessons learned. Instead, she found heartbreaking patterns, as ProPublica reported: “men and women who worked two or three jobs but had no insurance; clusters of contagion in families; so many young parents…The majority were Black or brown. Many were immigrants. None of them had to die.” By the end of July, Rezba had 900 names. Rezba connected with a doctor who had had COVID and who had started a Facebook page, Physicians Memorial. Both doctors are commited to preserving not only data but life stories. RLS

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist is focusing on actions you can take to encourage voter participation.
  • If you missed our elections correspondent’s roundup on the most recent primaries, you can find his comprehensive report here.
  • If you postcard, see Sarah-Hope’s full list.
  • Martha says that the newer proposals inviting public comment involve more environmental assault – on energy efficiency, air quality (ozone) and critical habitat; see her list for details. You might also want to comment on the government’s proposal to expand the options for conducting executions, including moving them to another state if the state in which the sentence is imposed prohibits the death penalty.



News You May Have Missed: August 9, 2020

“The End Of An Era” by Patrick Gensel is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

Who does our elections correspondent describe as an “odious troglodyte”? It’s not who you think. Find out here and see his exhaustive summary of the primary results.

See Heather Cox Richardson’s August 8 letter on Trump’s efforts to suspend the payroll tax (see below) and that the strategy is behind his plan to provide coronavirus relief.

1. Undermining the Postal Service threatens the November election

This can’t be said often enough: the fate of U.S. democracy may well be determined by the fate of the U.S. Post Office (USPS). The COVID-19 epidemic will certainly remain at play when the presidential election arrives on November 3, and mail-in ballots are the best way to protect the health of voters while allowing them to exercise the franchise. While the Republican administration insists that voting by mail is prone to fraud (it isn’t), there are other, legitimate concerns about voting by mail—particularly given the current state of affairs at the USPS. According to Fortune, new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has introduced “cost-saving measures,” like prohibiting all overtime, regardless of whether mail has been sorted and delivered, that are significantly slowing mail delivery. Democratic leadership has objected to these changes, but they remain in effect.

 And what if a voter sends a mail-in ballot on or after election day because that ballot arrived late? Answer as of now: that ballot most likely won’t be counted. That would be in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling regarding Wisconsin’s primary election. Wisconsin Republicans were unwilling to make adjustments to the ballot-counting procedure that would have allowed late-arriving ballots to be counted, despite the increasing reports of voters not having received ballots and entire crates of ballots misplaced, due to the increase in mail-in voting and the reduced postal staff as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A federal judge ruled in support of a request that ballots arriving up to six days after the election be counted. That ruling was appealed by Republicans. The Supreme Court agreed to an expedited hearing on the issue and ruled, along straight party lines, that the only late-arriving ballots that would be counted were those that were postmarked on or before election day—regardless of when a voter received a ballot.

         At least eight states have made plans to send mail-in ballots to all voters. Given deliberately slowed mail services and the Supreme Court ruling, many voters may have to choose between last-minute, in-person voting at a risk to their own health or the possibility of their vote not being counted. According to reporting by the New York Post, in the New York primary election, some 84,000 mail-in ballots were not counted, one-quarter of them due to late arrival. The House COVID-19 HEROES Act would include an additional $25 billion to save the post office, maintaining services and allowing for timely delivery of mail. No such provision is included in the analogous Senate legislation, the HEALS Act.         Another threat lurks as well, the Washington Post reports: The Republican Party has filed suit against the state of Nevada in an attempt to block its decision to send mail-in ballots to all voters, claiming (here we go again) that mail-in voting is prone to fraud. S-HP

If you want to work to ensure that mail ballots will be viable, you can write to the President, Senate and House leadership, and your Senators, telling them that any new COVID-19 stimulus must include support to maintain the USPS and to ensure that ballots will arrive early and be returned promptly because every vote should be counted. See this link for addresses and other ideas.

2. Eviction crisis and internet access for on-line schooling

As the House, Senate, and White House wrangle over new COVID-19 stimulus legislation, the American public faces a housing crisis as eviction protections expire. A CNBC report using data analysis by Stout Risius Ross shows that between 22% (Vermont) and 59% (West Virginia) of renters in each state are at risk of eviction due to an inability to make rental payments. Nationally, more than 40% of all renter households are at risk of eviction. CNBC points out that the effects of this crisis will not be evenly distributed: “People of color are especially vulnerable. While almost half of White tenants say they’re highly confident they can continue to pay their rent, just 26% of African-American tenants could say the same.”        

Renters who can manage to keep up payments also face a potential shutoff of services like power, water, and internet access if they are unable to meet these bills. This last set of problems could be addressed by legislation proposed by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR). S.3695, the CONNECT at Home Act, would prevent termination of internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic and for 180 days thereafter. Some may think of internet as a luxury, but remote schooling has made it a necessity across much of the country. S.4362, would prohibit power cutoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic and would provide drinking and waste water assistance. S.3695 is currently with the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. S.4362 is with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. S-HP

If you want to act on this, you could tell the Speaker of the House and your Representative that any final COVID-19 stimulus must include protections from evictions and power, water, and internet shutoffs and urge swift, positive action on S.4362 by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Addresses are here.

3. New immigration and asylum application fees imposed

Last week, News You May Have Missed reported on the Trump administration’s refusal to print green cards for immigrants who have been granted residency or need to renew their cards. The administration’s latest assault on immigrants is a raise in fees of all kinds, including a $50 fee to apply for asylum, which has always been free. The fee to apply for citizenship has almost doubled, while fees to submit petitions for employment authorization have increased by 34 percent, the Miami Herald reports. The Herald has a complete list of the fee increases. The U.S. is now one of only four signatories, from a total number of 145, to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which charges fees for asylum applications. The others are Fiji, Iraq, and Australia.In addition, fee waivers have almost been eliminated, so these fees will hit low-income immigrants the hardest. RLS

If you want to speak up about these fee increases, particularly the new decision to charge for asylum applications, appropriate addresses are here.

4. Good news/bad news immigration updates

On July 19, we summed up the situation of the children in detention whom Judge Dolly Gee ordered released. At this writing, ICE continues to refuse to release them, despite the federal court order, Law 360 reports.

Asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico while waiting for their cases to be heard have pleaded with the U.S. to permit them to enter the country, as the camp where they have been staying is being flooded by the rising Rio Grande river, according to Newsweek.

In one significant piece of good news, the National Immigration Law Center reported that a federal judge imposed an injunction on Trump’s public charge rule, which prevented anyone who might be expected to use government-funded services, including the ACA or food stamps, from applying to enter the country legally or to regularize their status. In a pandemic, the rule was keeping families already in the country who hoped to apply for citizenship away from health care. In our February 23 issue (story 4), we explained how the Supreme Court permitted this rule to go forward. RLS

The No Family Separation Action Toolkit is still relevant. Find it here.

5. Trump threatens to “terminate” Social Security and Medicare

As the administration, Senate, and House wrangle over COVID-19 relief, Donald Trump has announced he is taking unilateral action and will issue an executive order suspending the payroll tax—the primary funding mechanism for Social Security. He also said on a live television program that he  would “terminate” the payroll tax if he were reelected in November, Raw Story reported. Common Dreams reports that organizations like Social Security Works and the Alliance for Retired Americans are warning that this could be a first step toward defunding Social Security. It may well also be illegal because Congress is the branch of government charged with legislating tax rates, but blocking the move might require a prolonged court battle during which payroll taxes might not be collected, weakening Social Security.        

Congress, meanwhile, has an opportunity to stabilize Social Security via the Social Security 2100 Act (S.269 in the Senate; H.R.860 in the House). This legislation would increase Social Security payments by adjusting the way they are calculated, would tie cost-of-living adjustments to the Consumer Price Index, would create an alternative minimum benefit for those who have worked for ten or more years, and would include income above $400,000 annually when calculating Social Security taxes and benefits. S.269 is currently with the Senate Finance Committee. H.R.860 is currently with the House Ways and Means Committee and its Social Security Subcommittee, the House Education and Labor Committee, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. S-HP

If you want to object to any suspension of payroll tax collection, here is whom to write.

6. Private Border Protect agents shared violence racist, sexist content

Last summer, ProPublica broke a story about a private Facebook group where Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents shared violent, offensive content, images, and memes, reflecting a pervasive culture of racism and misogyny. These included racist insults about Central American immigrants, jokes about migrants who died on their journey to the U.S. and doctored images depicting Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being sexually assaulted. The group membership, according to ProPublica, included 9,500 current or former CBP agents. At the time the story broke, the agency announced that it would be investigating the group and would hold all agents engaging in misconduct online accountable. The House Oversight and Reform Committee also launched its own investigation.        

Last month CBP told the Los Angeles Times it had investigated 138 employees (of the at least 9,500 individuals). Four were fired, 38 were suspended without pay for periods ranging from three days to two weeks, over two dozen were given warnings or reprimands, and sixty were cleared of any wrongdoing. Neither ProPublica nor the House Oversight Committee have received any information about who the punished agents were, what their specific actions were, or where they worked. The last of these was essential to determining whether there were clusters of agents or supervisors at particular CBP posts engaging in this activity. The agency has provided the House Oversight Committee with two batches of documents, but has not included many requested documents and has heavily redacted the documents it turned over. In the words of Oversight Committee member Representative Veronica Escobar (D-TX), who, like Ocasio-Cortez, was a target of many of the Facebook group’s postings: “CBP continues to obstruct a congressional investigation into the results of the agency’s findings, blatantly shielding agents that have dehumanized immigrants and fostered a culture of cruelty and violence.” S-HP

You might want to thank the Oversight Committee for the investigative work it has done thus far and urge them to continue investigating until CBP has provided all requested material and the Committee is able to make its own determinations about this group of rogue agents and the culture within CBP: Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Chair, House Oversight and Reform Committee, 2157 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5051

7. No parenting while Black

India Johnson and Yazmeen Winston, two Black Washington DC mothers, best friends since 7th grade, planned to take their infant children to splash in the fountains at the World War II memorial. Unfortunately, the Washington Post explains, they never made it that far. As they parked the van they were driving, Secret Service agents deliberately drove into their vehicle’s front bumper, trapping them in place. They were swiftly surrounded by officers initially not wearing masks to limit coronavirus spread, who pointed guns at them and yelled “Get out!” and “Put your hands in the air.” Neither woman was read her Miranda rights and both spent the next hour handcuffed and separated from their babies, who were in tears as a result of the car being struck. The doors of their cars were left open and the babies remained strapped in their car seats, which made the mothers worry they might overheat. Their vehicle was searched without their giving consent. Eventually, the women were told the vehicle had been reported stolen and the suspects were two African American men. Johnson pointed out that there were no men in their car and provided proof that she was the car’s owner. Winston asked the officers for their cards and was told they didn’t carry any, so she wrote down the badge names and names of all of them. The women remain shaken by the experience and are asking for an investigation—by the Secret Service or by Congress—of the incident. S-HP

You may join Johnson and Winston in their demands for an investigation of their treatment and tell your Congressmembers you would like to see them investigate as well. Addresses are here.

8. A new strategy to obtain justice for Breonna Taylor

A campaign launched by UltraViolet suggests an interesting strategy for achieving justice for Breonna Taylor. As of now, the police who murdered her continue to work and face no charges in her death. Campaigns asking for justice from the Mayor and Chief of Police of Louisville and the Governor and Attorney General of Kentucky have not yielded tangible results. So, why not try using the power of the purse in the pursuit of justice for Breonna Taylor? Three major corporations—Ford, Humana, and UPS—have major operations in Louisville. Each has spoken out in support of diversity during this time when corporations are, purportedly, embracing the Black Lives Matter movement, and between them, they employ over 50,000 people living in the Louisville area.

         Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford and CEO Jim Hackett have announced to their employees that Ford will “lead from the front” to create a fair and inclusive culture for workers, explaining “We know that systemic racism still exists despite progress that has been made. We cannot turn a blind eye to it or accept some sense of ‘order’ that’s based on oppression.”  According to News Break, Humana “announced actions to support its hometown of Louisville in its efforts to address racial inequity and unite toward a stronger community.” President and CEO Bruce Broussard affirmed, “Caring for each other and respecting differences is who we are as a company, and we do not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind. At the core of our values is serving the communities in which we operate. The mission of our company has taken on particular significance in our hometown of Louisville that is reeling from the devastating loss of Breonna Taylor, protests and ensuing tragedies.” United Parcel Services (UPS) has signed on to the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s (NMSDC) “In This Together” campaign, which the NMSDC describes as “a portfolio of initiatives to help expedite recovery efforts within the Black business community.” A recent statement by UPS’s chief procurement officer, Joe Turkienicz, noted that UPS is “honored to stand with you [the NMSDC] to support our diverse communities.” Given the commitment they have voiced to racial justice and their standing in the Louisville community, the corporations are in a position to push for justice for Breonna Taylor. S-HP

You can join UltraViolent and ask these Louisville-affiliated corporations to move beyond lip service and to speak out for justice for Breonna Taylor. Addresses are here.

9. Did you receive COVID pay?

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act required most small- and medium- sized businesses to pay a worker’s full salary for two weeks if they became infected with COVID-19. The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) reports that many companies failed to notify workers that they had this right to paid sick days and that nearly half of all workers in the U.S. did not know they had this right. Using a Freedom of Information Act request, CPI has identified nearly 700 companies who did not provide the mandatory sick pay—and that’s just through June 12. These companies include franchises for a number of major corporations, including McDonalds’s, Comfort Suites, Courtyard Marriott, and Red Roof Inn. To make matters worse, it’s unclear whether most of these workers will be able to receive the compensation they are due because they failed to file a complaint with the Labor Department. See the loop there? Workers aren’t informed of rights > workers take unpaid sick time, assuming that is the only option available, and do not file Labor Department claims > the businesses failing to provide information about worker rights don’t pay for the legally mandated sick time. S-HP

You can tell the major corporations whose franchises have denied workers mandated sick pay that they must track down all workers denied sick pay and see that they receive the monies owing to them and penalize franchises that chose to evade coronavirus sick pay rules. You might want to ask for a Congressional investigation while you are at it. The addresses are here.

10. Flush insurers should pay consumers back

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has a provision capping medical insurer profits. Under the act, 80% of all premiums paid by individuals and small employers and 85% of all premiums paid by large employers must go to the actual costs of providing healthcare. Overhead and profits cannot represent more than the remaining 15-20% of premiums paid in. Under the ACA, profits beyond this are to be returned to policy holders as refunds.

Small medical practices and rural clinics and hospitals have struggled to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Large health insurance companies, in contrast, have been raking in record profits, the New York Times reports. Anthem, Humana, and UnitedHealth Group have reported second-quarter profits that are double what they were a year ago. Anthem’s profits are $1.2 billion higher than they were for this quarter last year; Humana’s second-quarter profits rose by $860 million over last year; UnitedHealth’s profits beat last year’s quarterly earnings by $3.3 billion. CVS Health, which owns Aetna, had a net gain in second-quarter profits of $1 billion and has acknowledged that second-quarter spending on actual health care costs comprised only 70% of premiums taken in. This sudden rise in health insurance profits has been partially credited to people’s fears of seeking treatment at a medical facility because of the potential exposure to COVID-19 and to the number of elective surgeries being cancelled during the pandemic.  Even the Trump administration has noticed. According to the New York Times, the Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter to health insurers on August 4 calling for a rapid rebate of excess profits. However, under current law, health insurers have three years to release any rebates—a delay put in to give the companies time to check for accounting errors. S-HP

You might want to point out to your Congressmembers that capitalism is clearly not regulating the health insurance market in a way that is fair for those insured and to suggest that it is time for higher caps on health insurance profits or for single-payer health care

11. More concessions in national parks would damage local communities

The National Park Service has posted a proposed rule change that would open up national parks to more commercial concessions. The term “Concessions” covers a range of services including lodging, food, retail, marinas, wireless service, parking management, and more. In particular, the rule proposes to identify and add new types of concessions not currently available in national parks. The proposal raises concerns for two reasons. First, many national parks are already overcrowded and increasing the number and variety of concessions available will likely contribute to this overcrowding and significantly impact the environment and species within the park. Second, many small, rural communities near national parks rely on park visitors for the health of their local economies. If additional options for lodging, food, retail purchases, and more are available within parks, this will almost certainly lead to less use of such services in local communities, many of which do not have alternate sources of income to turn to. S-HP

You can comment on the impact increased in-park concessions would have on the national parks themselves and on nearby communities. Comments are due by September 18. You can comment electronically here. If you comment, be sure to include the notations “NPS” or “National Park Service” and “RIN 1024-AE57” in your comment.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

12. Explosion in Lebanon, already wracked by economic devastation

A section of Beirut was demolished and at least 158 people were killed, many of them firefighters, when a warehouse holding 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port area. Thousands of others were injured and some 300,00 homes were destroyed. The volatile chemical had been stored unsecured since 2013, when it was unloaded from a Russian ship, the Guardian reports. It is not yet clear what caused the chemical to ignite. Al Jazeera vividly describes the many warnings the government received about the dangers of the ammonium nitrate. Various news outlets, including the Irish Times, reported that “as recently as six months ago, officials inspecting the consignment warned that if it was not moved it would ‘blow up all of Beirut.’”

Since the explosion, protests have wracked the city, as many Lebanese are furious about a pattern of inaction by the government. According to Al Jazeera, 728 protesters have been wounded. Lebanon was already in a state of economic collapse, according to a New York Times writer, with inflation at 50 percent for three months in a row and 65 percent of its people in poverty. RLS

If you want to assist the people of Lebanon, Marshall Ganz, for decades a community organizer, provides this list of places to donate for relief work. In addition, a Middle-East scholar of our acquaintance recommends these NGOs.

13. Bangladesh takes the burden of climate change

Torrential rain. Flooding. A cyclone. Rising seas consuming villages. The climate crisis is overwhelming Bangladesh, whose people already were struggling to sustain their livelihoods. As the crisis gets worse, so will their suffering. Already, a million homes have been lost to flooding and 24-37 per cent of the country is under water, according to Reliefweb. The situation illuminates how those who contribute least to climate change suffer the most; as the New York Times points out, the average American contributes 33 times as much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as the average Bangladeshi. Advocates for the poor in Bangladesh argue that the countries which have caused the climate crisis should compensate those who suffer from it most.  As Farah Kabir, the Bangladesh country director for ActionAid International, asked in the Times article, “When is the global community going to take responsibility?”

On top of extreme weather, the people of Bangladesh have been hit hard by the pandemic, the livelihoods of the poorest people demolished. Think about the challenges endured by Uber drivers, housekeepers and farmworkers in North America–and then look at the stunning photo essay the Washington Post recently ran, a piece which illuminates the beauty and resilience of the people while mapping the dimensions of their hardship. RLS

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist not only provides clear, focused actions you can take, but tracks what they get done and where they succeed.
  • Sarah-Hope’s action items are woven in above, but if you want the whole list in one place for postcarding, here it is.
  • Martha’s list identifies ways to comment for the public record. She notes that the window for commenting on the transport of liquified natural gas by rail is closing (see our write-up of this last week) and reminds us to comment on the closure of shelters to transgender people.
  • Rogan’s list is on hiatus.