News You May Have Missed: January 16, 2022

“Martin Luther King, Jr. San Francisco June 30 1964” by geoconklin2001 is
licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Martin Luther King Day is behind us but the issues remain. Family members of Martin Luther King, Jr spent the weekend in Arizona rallying for voting rights. Martin Luther King III, his wife and their 13-year-old daughter spoke out about U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who will not vote to reform the fillibuster so that voting rights legislation can pass, according to ABC News. Sinema claims that the fillibuster fosters bipartisanship, so should not be undercut–an old and incorrect myth, according to Vox. Martin Luther King III has an editorial on CNN urging elected officials “to legislate, not celebrate.”

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Chess move in the House will force Senators opposed to voting rights legislation to go on record.

Back in March, the House passed H.R.1, the For the People Act. In fact, it also passed the For the People Act in the previous congressional session: we’ve been here before. In August, the House passed H.R.4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. H.R.1 would expand voter registration and voting access, limit the removal of voters from the rolls, and would require independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting. H.R.4 would reinstate limits on the changes those states with history of voting rights violations could make to voting rules. without approval of the Department of Justice (DoJ)

In an interesting move last week, the House passed additional voting rights measures by modifying H.R.5746, legislation originally intended to allow NASA to lease facilities to other companies or organizations. The original version of this legislation was passed by both the House and the Senate in December, but because the Senate version of the bill was authorized in different form than the House version, this legislation was returned to the House in order to reconcile the differences between the two. This time around, the House removed all NASA-related provisions from the bill, renamed it the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act and folded into it provisions of both H.R.1 and H.R.4 (details for this new version of the legislation are explained in this Business Insider piece.

As The Hill explains, the revised H.R.5746 now returns to the Senate, where—thanks to the Senate rules of procedure—Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can bring it to floor debate without needing the 60 votes required to block a filibuster. The legislation itself can still be, and no doubt will be, filibustered, but the filibuster can’t be used to prevent debate, allowing Congressmembers to go on the record regarding the legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Schumer has promised to bring voting rights legislation to the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, the first day the Senate will meet following the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. SH-P

You can urge your Senators to defend voting rights by supporting H.R.1, H.R.4, the revised H.R.5746, and the 24 pieces of election-related legislation that have been sitting idle in Senate committees. Find your Senators here. You can also thank Senate Majority Leader Schumer for—finally—focusing on voting rights and urge him to keep the issue before Congress using all possible means: Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader, 322 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6542.

2. Corporations support legislators who challenged the 2020 election and supported voting restrictions–after saying they wouldn’t

This time last year, corporate America was decrying the January 6 attack on the Capitol and declaring that lawmakers claiming attempting to overturn the 2020 election results would not be receiving their support. The New York Times notes that at a business summit last January, Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced in response to the attack, “There are some members [of Congress] who, by their actions, will have forfeited the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Period. Full stop.”

Two months later, continues the New York Times, the Chamber of Commerce had reversed course. In a memo, the chamber’s senior political strategist, Ashlee Rich Stephenson, stated, “We do not believe it is appropriate to judge members of Congress solely based on their votes on the electoral certification.”

 One hundred forty-seven Republican legislators (sometimes referred to as the “Sedition Caucus”) joined in the effort to challenge the 2020 election results. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has now published a comprehensive report looking at how those early-January promises have held up over the past year. The CREW report’s findings include the following

• One hundred forty-three of those 147 have received corporate donations totaling $18 million in the last year, with 717 corporations providing this support.

• $4.8 million of those donations came from corporations that had committed to stopping or pausing their support of Sedition Caucus politicians.

• Among the companies pledging not to support the Sedition Caucus, Boeing, Koch Industries, American Crystal Sugar, General Dynamics, and Valero Energy have made the largest donations to members of that group

• Toyota, Cigna, and AT&T were quickest to reverse course on a policy of not funding Sedition Caucus members.

The CREW report also includes a number of corporations pledged to stop making donations to politicians supporting state-level efforts to disenfranchise voters by limiting access to ballots, removing ballot drop boxes, purging voter rolls, and other means. The “pro-democracy” stances many of them took publicly disappeared as the U.S. returned to business as usual. These include Home Depot, JP Morgan, Delta Airlines, and UPS.

 Additionally, corporations who signed on to a full-page New York Times ad condemning discriminatory voting legislation—including Merck, American Airlines, Ford, General Motors, and Johnson & Johnson—continued to donate to politicians responsible for those laws.

If you are outraged by these corporations who pledged to support voting rights and then reneged, corporations who said they would not donate to the “Sedition Caucus” and then did, you can write to them and tell them what you think. Addresses are here.

3. Justices Unmasked

Last week, the Supreme Court heard—and supported via a 6-3 ruling—challenges to President Biden’s requirement that businesses with over 100 employees require those employees by vaccinated against COVID or that they undergo weekly testing to determine their COVID status. Six Supreme Court Justices attended the hearing and wore masks in response to the easily spread Omicron variant. One Justice—Neil Gorsuch—attended, but did not wear a mask. In non-pandemic times, Justice Sonia Sotomayor would have been sitting beside Gorsuch and Justice Breyer would have been sitting next to Sotomayor, but both chose to attend remotely, CNBC reports. Sotomayor is diabetic. At 83, Breyer is the oldest Justice on the Court. Diabetes and advanced age greatly increase the likelihood that an individual will be infected by COVID and that that infection will have severe consequences. We don’t know with certainty why Sotomayor and Breyer chose to attend remotely, but the fact that Gorsuch chose to be unmasked in a workplace situation where colleagues with COVID risk factors might have been present certainly may have played a role. S-HP

If you are appalled by Justice Gorsuch’s behavior, you can castigate him for his indifference to the health of his colleagues on the Supreme Court: Justice Neil Gorsuch, U.S. Supreme Court, 1 First St. NE, Washington DC 20543.

You can also urge Chief Justice John Roberts to insist that all Justices be required to mask during hearings: Chief Justice John Roberts, U.S. Supreme Court, 1 First St. NE, Washington DC 20543

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

4. All cities are sister cities

If you had any doubt that the people of the world are connected, the undersea volcanic eruptions of the coast of Tonga January 15th and 16th should persuade you. From the resulting tsunami, harbors (and cars parked near them) were swamped on the California coast while at least two people died in Peru, 6,000 miles away, caught by high waves. The people of Tonga have sent out a desperate plea for fresh water and food, Al Jazeera reports, as the water supply has been contaminated. Frantic family members outside the country have be unable to find out how their loved ones are faring, according to the New York Times. Ascertaining conditions there has been difficult, as the country’s communication lines were destroyed in the first eruption and the ashy haze limits visibility. NBC News has before and after aerial photos that illuminate what the country looks like today, compared to the period before the eruption. RLS

5. Canada finally settles with Indigenous children

The Canadian government–under a court order–has finally agreed to stop fighting Indigenous children who were or will be removed from their homes between April 1, 1991 and March 31, 2022, and agreed to compensate them, according to the CBC. Some 200,000 children and some parents and guardians will be eligible for compensation. For 15 years, the government has been refusing to compensate Indigenous children who were pulled from their homes and put into the foster care system, effectively severing them from their communities and their culture since there are very few Indigenous foster homes. In general, Indigenous children are removed from their homes for reasons related to poverty–inadequate housing and food–but instead of supporting families with basic needs, child welfare authorities have apprehended children and put them into foster homes, a costly solution that reproduces the trauma of residential schools. As the CBC quoted Assembly of First Nations Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse as saying, “First Nations from across Canada have had to work very hard for this day to provide redress for monumental wrongs against First Nation children.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

6. New patent-free COVID vaccine

Patent battles over mRNA COVID vaccines—such as the one between Moderna and the National Institutes of Health—assume that vaccine manufacturing is a for-profit industry. The Guardian reports that at Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine, Drs. Maria Bottazzi and Peter Hotez are taking a different approach using simpler, decades-old technology to develop a simpler-to-produce vaccine. Their COVID vaccine requires only standard refrigeration, unlike vaccines that must be kept in ultra-cold storage. This new vaccine is already in production in India.  Bottazzi and Hotez’ research, which has not received government funding, has been funded via philanthropy, and the scientists have announced that they do not intend to patent the vaccine. The simpler production and storage of their vaccine, along with open access to the formula and means for producing it, should greatly improve developing nations’ ability to fight COVID. S-HP

You can thank Drs. Bottazzi and Hotez, and their coworkers and donors, for their work on this basic, affordable vaccine : Dr. Maria Bottazzi, Texas Children’s Hospital, 6621 Fannin St., Houston, TX 77030. Dr. Peter Hotez, Texas Children’s Hospital, 6621 Fannin St., Houston, TX 77030

RESOURCES


To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist urges you to contact your Senators and try to persuade them to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. They have a list of other short, effective actions you can take.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: January 6, 2021

“December 10 march for voting rights” by Michael Fleshman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We’re doing a mid-week issue–instead of Sunday & Sunday–to mark January 6. We know you won’t have missed all the news and commentary, but we will flag a few pieces here that are worth looking at. In addition, we note that Democrats are trying to use the anniversary to energize their ranks around voting rights, as NPR points out. They seem determined to advance their big election package, which in our view is doomed to fail. Instead, as we noted December 19, we think they should they should advance smaller pieces that are more likely to advance. To that end, we’ve been tracking 91 pieces of proposed federal election legislation. Since early October, when we posted the database, none of them has changed status; most of them have been in stasis for longer than that. Unsurprisingly, according to NBC News, Mitch McConnell says it is “distasteful” that Democrats are pivoting new voting rights legislation on the anniversary, describing them as “breaking the Senate.”

Instead of watching news clips again, we recommend that you check out the virtual vigil (starting at 6 PM PST), sponsored by Fix Democracy First, the League of Women Voters of Washington and Seattle Supports Democracy. You could also read the New York Times editorial, “Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now,” that summarizes their view of the state of things; it has a number of excellent interior links, including to Rebecca Solnit’s essay on gullibility and complicity. On Slate, Jeremy Stahl summarized the status of all 733 criminal prosecutions stemming from the insurrection. Short version: “Jan. 6 defendants have been sent home to await trial at a far greater rate than the rest of the federal jail population in 2019”; they have received lighter sentences as well. Heather Cox Richardson’s overview on January 2 was extremely useful; she will no doubt have important commentary later tonight as well.

Finally, to strengthen your heart, watch Amanda Gorman’s new year’s poem. Start at 3:00 to avoid the banter.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Voting rights threatened by 262 bills in 41 states

Over the past year, States United Democracy Center (SUDC), a coalition of voting rights organizations, has been tracking attempts in U.S. states to limit voting rights, politicize election administration, criminalize certain election decisions that could previously made by non-partisan election administrators, and interfere in other ways with election administration. As of December 15, 2021, SUDC had identified a total of 262 bills—across 41 states—placing new limits on voting rights or election administration. Nine states have had no such legislation introduced. Twenty-eight states have seen 1-5 pieces of such legislation introduced. Six states have seen 6-10 pieces of such legislation introduced. Seven states have seen 11 or more such legislation introduced. Overachievers in introducing such legislation include Texas (59 new laws proposed), Arizona (20), Wisconsin (19), Georgia (15), and Michigan (14).

 Thirty-two of those 262 bills—across 17 states—have now become law. In Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas state legislatures have taken control of election oversight. In Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas, legislatures have imposed criminal or other penalties for decisions made by election administrators. In Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas have passed legislation that places new limitations on the minutiae of election administration. Overachievers here, with passed legislation in all three categories are Kansas, Tennessee, and Texas.  Texas, an overachiever’s overachiever in the area of election manipulation has just instituted a new version of a program that had been stopped by a judge in 2019. Under this program, explains the Guardian, the Texas Secretary of State provides counties with lists of voters whose citizenship they must verify or from whom they must demand proof of citizenship. While the process by which these lists are assembled is not completely clear, about 12,000 voters have received these demands since September. Voters who are subsequently contacted by county officials are given 30 days to provide proof of citizenship or be removed from voter rolls. The Guardian quotes Thomas Buser-Clancy, a senior staff attorney with the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who said his organization was trying to understand why eligible voters were being flagged, because “something is not going right…. Even if your system flags one eligible voter and threatens to remove them, that’s a problem. If you have hundreds, and if you add it up across counties, you’re probably getting to thousands of eligible voters, being threatened with removal.” Depending on issues with mail delivery, locating documents, and time constraints that can affect provision of these documents to officials, there will almost certainly be a “percentage of people who are going to be removed from the rolls even though they’re eligible voters.” S-HP

If you want to protect the right to vote, you could highlight the anti-democratic legislation being passed on the state level and insist on consistent protections for all voters in federal elections and for all state and local officials administering federal elections. Contacts are here.

2. Members of Congress refuse to work with Ethics Committee

The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) of the U.S. House of Representatives describes itself as “an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the U.S. House of Representatives and, when appropriate, referring matters to the House Committee on Ethics.” Established in 2008, the OCE’s first investigations were conducted during 2009-2010. That year, the OCE undertook 68 investigations. In three of those investigations (just over 4%) lawmakers refused to work with the OCE and to provide requested information. This year, while the OCE is conducting many fewer investigations—just fourteen—six law makers, representing 43% of those investigations have refused to participate. In the New York Times, the head of the OCE explains the reduction in the number of investigations to a commitment to focusing on the cases that are potentially most serious. This could help explain the higher level of non-cooperation, but given that the OCE is nonpartisan significant non-cooperation is problematic. S-HP

If you find congressmembers’ refusal to work with the Committee on Ethics rather appalling, ask your Representative whether they are aware of the increasing pattern of non-cooperation with OCE investigations and insist that they commit themselves to cooperating with the OCE should the situation arise. Find your Representative here

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

3. Legislation needed to address the intensifying crisis in Myanmar/Burma

Let’s start by noting that Burma and Myanmar mean essentially the same thing, as PBS explains. Most of the world refers to the nation as Myanmar, rejecting the name Burma, which is associated with British colonialism. The U.S. tends to refer to the nation as Burma, because the change to Myanmar in 1989 was instituted under the military dictatorship. Arguments can be made for and against both names. We raise this point just to clarify the difference between news reporting on the nation (Myanmar) and Congressional legislation regarding the nation (Burma). For want of a better solution, we will refer to the nation as Myanmar/Burma.

 After very gradual steps toward democracy, on February 1, 2021, Myanmar/Burma was once again subjected to military rule following a coup justified by claims that the most recent national election has been riddled with fraud (sound familiar?). Before the coup, the human rights situation in Myanmar/Burma was already grim for the country’s Rohingya Muslims, who were being attacked and killed by the nation’s non-Muslim majority with no resistance from the democratic government led by San Suu Kyi. The military coup has not lessened the violence against Rohingya Muslims; instead it has led to broader violence against a wider range of civilians.

The Washington Post, using analysis 300+ videos and photos, announced in late December that the town of Thantlang was subjected to bombing, arson, and murder of civilians beginning in September, 2021, because of refusals to cooperate with the military coup. One day after the Washington Post’s announcement, the New York Times reported the killing of a group of at least 35 villagers in another part of the country, who had fled their homes to avoid fighting between the military and civilian resistance. The military acknowledge the attack, but characterized it as a defensive manoeuvre and denied accusations that it had burned buildings and bodies following the killings. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates 1,393 civilians killed by the military and another 8,344 arrested, charged and/or sentenced. Follow-up reporting by the New York Times described the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar/Burma. The military are blocking aid convoys, deaths due to lack of medical assistance are increasing, and some 30,000 people have fled the country as refugees in the last few months.

 The U.S. Congress is considering four pieces of legislation that attempt to address the military coup in Myanmar/Burma. H.R.1112, the Protect Democracy on Burma Act requires State Department reporting to Congress on U.S. efforts to engage with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to support a return to Democracy in the nation and to hold those responsible for the coup accountable in the United Nations. This legislation has passed the House and is now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The BURMA Act (H.R.5497 in the House; S.2937 in the Senate) would authorize humanitarian assistance and efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Myanmar/Burma, as well as the imposition of sanctions against those responsible for the coup. H.R.5497 has been assigned to four committees in the House. The Committee on Foreign Affairs has ordered the legislation reported. It is still in committee with the Judiciary, Financial Services, and Ways and Means Committees. S.2937 is with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The final piece of legislation in this group, H.R.6340, To Establish the United States Policy on Burma in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group, and the Asian Development Bank, would do as the title suggests and make it clear to each of the organizations listed the U.S. policy does not support recognition of the military government. This legislation is with the House Financial Services Committee.

Charity Navigator lists a number of organizations working in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis and includes its rankings on the effectiveness of each organization’s use of funds.S-HP

You can engage with and push forward these legislative actions–information is here.

4. Canadian government at last required to address contaminated water in Indigenous communities

At long last, the Canadian government has been forced into a settlement with Indigenous communities over undrinkable water. The Federal Court of Canada has approved the government’s plan to spend $6 billion (Canadian) to develop water infrastructure and another $1.5 billion to compensate 140,000 Indigenous Canadians for decades of unsafe water, the New York Times reported. Water in First Nations communities has been contaminated with bacteria and with toxics, leading to gastrointestinal illnesses and cancer.

As Human Rights Watch wrote in 2016, though hundreds of communities have been under “boil water” advisories for decades, boiling is not feasible for all household uses, and so community members have suffered with skin disorders from the water–or the chemicals used to clean it. The lack of water infrastructure has contributed to the lack of housing in First Nations communities, as housing cannot be built with inadequate provision for water, Human Rights Watch further explained, noting that the problems with drinking water had been noted as early as 1977, and had been serious for decades before that. I

In November 2021, a report commissioned by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) on water and wastewater systems in First Nations’ communities found that there were 99 communities currently under “boil water” advisories, some for as long as 25 years. The report identifies various sources of the problem–extractive industries located near water sources (or communities relocated near extractive industries, such as uranium mining; lack of funding for infrastructure; lack of involvement of Indigenous people; lapses in government responsibility. The report also notes the particular impact of contaminated water on First Nations people, who are culturally mandated to protect water; as the writers note, “From an indigenous worldview, water is considered to be the lifeblood of Mother Earth, a sacred gift from the Creator that connects all things, and a spiritual resource that must be respected, kept clean, and protected for the future generations of all life.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

5. Over half a century of damaging nuclear waste yet to be safely stored

The Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington contains 54 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste held in 177 underground storage sites. This waste began being produced during the Manhattan Project that led to U.S. development of a nuclear bomb. At one point, the site included nine nuclear reactors and twelve plutonium processing complexes. More than 60,000 U.S. nuclear weapons have been built using plutonium processed at Hanford. At the end of the Cold War, the plutonium production complexes were decommissioned, but at that point the site held the high-level liquid waste mentioned above, as well as 25 million cubic feet of solid radioactive waste.

The Hanford Nuclear Site is located along the Columbia River, which was used to cool reactor-produced heat, and where–from the beginning of production at the site–radioactive waste, cleaned of short-lived isotopes, but still containing long-lived isotopes, was released. In the 1960s, the U.S, Public Health Service published reports regarding this radioactive waste, which was exposing those living downstream to elevated doses of radiation that placed them at increased risk for various cancers and other diseases. Decades of litigation and remediation proposals have followed.

The U.S. Department of Energy is in the process of planning retrieval and treatment of 2,000 gallons of this radioactive waste as a next step in clean-up efforts. This sounds good, but the latest version of this proposal—Draft Waste Incidental for Reprocessing (WIR) Evaluation for Phase 2 of the Test Bed Initiative (TBI)—is now opened for public comments, and Columbia Riverkeepers is pointing out several crucial unknowns in this proposal and is asking that the public submit comments on these.

◉The plan does not, and needs to, provide plans to deal with potential health and environmental issues that may arise off-site.

◉The process being used, grouting, is unpredictable with the possibility of rapid leaks where the grouting does not set as planned. The plan does not discuss how grout stability will be monitored to identify and prevent such leaks.

◉The plan depends upon waste currently classified as High-Level Waste to Low-Level Waste, a power the Department of Energy does not have.

◉The plan would increase soluble tank wastes by 70% and states that some of this waste would be sent to off-site facilities in other states—which are under no obligation to accept this waste.

◉The draft Environmental Assessment for the plan received comments from solicited groups, but the general public did not have an opportunity to comment at this point in the plan’s development. S-HP

If you want to engage with this issue, you can join Columbia Riverkeepers in asking that Energy address these key safety and environmental concerns: (1) the accountability of offsite grouting and disposal facilities, (2) the efficacy of grout, (3) Energy’s unacceptable attempt to reclassify High Level Waste to Low Level Waste, (4) the possibility of orphaned waste on site, and (5) the lack of public engagement throughout the TBI environmental review process• Jennifer Colborn, HMIS, P.O. Box 450, H6-60, Richland WA 99352 [Note, you can also submit online comments to https://bit.ly/hanford-2022 or via the Columbia Riverkeepers web site]

6. New option for HIV prevention

In 2018, 78 percent of HIV diagnoses among cisgender women in the US were among Black women and Latinas, reports Heather Boerner, writing in Web MD. However, among those who most could benefit from medication for HIV prevention–known as Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP–those who take it are most likely to be white. The disparity is acute: in 2018, 16 percent of white people at risk of acquiring HIV had prescriptions for PrEP, while only 1 percent of Black people did, and 3 percent of Latino/as. Many fewer women for whom the drug regimen would be appropriate take it. Some of the disparity is caused by class issues, Boerner points out; people with insurance can get prescriptions and deal with the cost, while poorer people have to depend on community organizations to get grants and then to target the medications appropriately. 

Apretude, a new drug, which is given as a shot every two months, was approved by the FDA on December 20. It is approved for people of all genders and sexual orientations, teenagers as well as adults. The shot, however, is expensive, and various levels of reimbursements–especially for low income people–have yet to be approved. Apretude has not yet been approved in Canada (or anywhere outside the US), though a generic PrEp has been, making the drug more affordable. RLS

RESOURCES

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist urges you to contact your Senators and try to persuade them to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. They have a list of other short, effective actions you can take.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: December 19, 2021

“December 10 march for voting rights” by Michael Fleshman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Voting rights legislation needs traction

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that 2021 was a very bad year for election integrity in the U.S.—not because of any actual election fraud, but because disinformation about election fraud has provided an excuse for gaming election laws for partisan (Republican) advantage. In an end-of-the year report, the Guardian cites what it sees as top threats to U.S. electoral system: the injection of partisanship into “under-the-radar election jobs; attacks on election officials; partisan campaigns for secretary of state positions; and the lingering distrust in elections that, for different reasons, has significantly affected both of the U.S.’s major political parties. We can all think of concerns that need to be added to this list: partisan redistricting; limits on accessible voting practices, like voting from home, weekend and evening voting, ballot drop-boxes, and drive-through polling sites.

 Coverage of voting rights seems to have been superseded in the mainstream media by reporting on Build Back Better, which Senator Joe Manchin has subjected to death by 1,000 cuts. Yes, a humane economy that recognizes the costs of the climate crisis and that provides healthcare, childcare, and other protections for working families is essential; however, if our electoral system is derailed, we may not have another chance to consider such legislation.

We’ve been tracking 89 pieces of proposed federal election legislation (now 91). Since early October, when we post the database, none of them has changed status; most of them have been in stasis for longer than that. H.R.1, the For the People Act, was passed by the House in March; it has not yet been assigned to a Senate committee. H.R.4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, was passed by the House in September; it has not yet been assigned to a Senate Committee. Unfortunately, neither H.R.1 nor H.R.4 is apt to make it through the Senate, which raises the question of why more pieces of less-sweeping election legislation haven’t made it through the House. Logic would suggest that the more election legislation passed by the House, the more opportunities Senate Majority Leader Adam Schiff would have to assign such legislation to committees and ultimately to place such legislation on the Senate calendar, forcing repeated Republican votes against fair, secure elections—votes that could be cited in 2022 election campaigns. 

We have added a new topic to our database of election legislation: Stop Foreign Interference in Ballot Initiatives Act (S.3136 in the Senate; H.R.1516 in the House). Not originally included in our database, the bill would make it illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to contribute funds to state or local ballot initiatives or local ballot referenda. These pieces of legislation have their origin in a 2018 Montana Ballot initiative that would have strengthened water protections. A Canadian subsidiary of an Australian company—involved in resource extraction, sales, and processing—contributed significantly to the campaign against this initiative, which ultimately failed by 58%. Foreign entities are barred from contributing to campaigns for elected offices; this legislation would provide similar protections for ballot campaigns regarding topics other than elected offices. S-HP

To protect the vote, you could urge President Biden and your Congressmembers to move voting rights to the top of their legislative agenda and explain that you want to see ballot initiatives given the same protections from foreign financial interference that elections for political office currently have. You could also suggest to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer that they do all they can to support the movement of additional election legislation through the House, even if it is less-sweeping than H.R.1 and H.R.4. Finally, you could exhort Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to keep placing voting rights on the Senate calendar whenever possible. All addresses are here.

2. Legislation to address Islamophobia

This week the House passed H.R.5665, the “Combatting International Islamophobia Act,” which would create an office within the Department of State charged with monitoring and combatting international acts of Islamophobia. H.R.5665 would also establish the position of Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Islamophobia to head this office. It would also require that reports to Congress about human rights and religious freedoms in other countries include information on Islamophobia. H.R.5665 is now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP

You can check on how your representative voted on H.R.5665 and respond appropriately. Find your Representative here. You can also urge swift, positive action on H.R.5665 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and ask your Senators to actively support this legislation: Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 423 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20519, (202) 224-4651. @SenatorMenendez. It’s time to object again to the proposed sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and urge your Congressmembers to support these resolutions: President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your Senators here.

3. Remaining in Mexico–Still and again

Ordered by a federal court, the Biden administration has reluctantly reinstated Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which has meant that tens of thousands of asylum applicants have been waiting over the border in filthy, unsafe conditions for months. Many of these are parents who sent their children ahead into the US and have been living in the faint hope that their asylum applications will be granted so they can reunite with their children, the Guardian reports. 13,000 children unaccompanied by their parents are currently in government custody; about 500 a day are released to family members or sponsors in the US.

The flaws in the new program are already evident; Buzzfeed points out that while immigrants who are particularly vulnerable for reasons having to do with a medical condition or sexual/gender identity are not supposed to be required to wait in Mexica, but two dozen or so were sent anyway. Other people sent to Mexico report that they have been asked to sign documents in English that they could not read and were mocked in hearings that were supposed to assess their “credible fear,” according to the Washington Post. RLS

A number of volunteer organizations provide aid to asylum seekers at the border. Team Brownsville provides support to people in Brownsville, Texas or on the bridge between Brownsville and the camp in Matamoros. The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers in the Matamoros camp. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted. Al Otro Lado provides assistance to people on either side of the border near Tijuana.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

4. Arms are still being sold to Saudi Arabia

We’ve reported previously on U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite its role in the civil war in Yemen and its horrific record on human rights. While the administration claims that any weapons being sold to the Saudis are purely defensive, not offensive, given the destructive capacity and the range of the weapons being sold to the Saudis, this distinction seems more like clever wordplay than an actual difference in the potential uses of the weaponry.

S.J.Res.31, “Providing for Congressional Disapproval of the Proposed Foreign Military Sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of Certain Defense Articles” (currently with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), and H.R.Res.63, “Providing for Congressional Disapproval of the Proposed Direct Commercial Sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of Certain Weaponry and Munitions” (currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee), both introduced in November, would bar these sales.  What’s unusual here, as GovTrackInsider points out, is the team behind these resolutions: the Senate resolution’s sponsor is Rand Paul (R-KY); the House resolution’s sponsor is Ilhan Omar (D-MN). In other words objecting to weapons sales to the Saudi is one of those rare topics that has supporters on both sides of the aisle. S-HP

It’s time to object again to the proposed sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and to urge your Congressmembers to support these resolutions: President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your Senators here and your Representative here.

You can also urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take swift, positive action on S.J.Res.31: Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 423 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20519, (202) 224-4651. @SenatorMenendez. In addition, you can advise the House Foreign Affairs Committee to take swift, positive action on H.R.32: Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2170 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5021. @RepGregoryMeeks.

5. Canada’s new defense minister apologizes to assault survivors

The new head of Canada’s armed forces issued an apology to the women and men who were sexually assaulted while in the military. As many as 19,000 claims alleging sexual assault have been filed, according to the Toronto Star; these are consolidated in a massive lawsuit which was settled recently. Claimants can request up to $155,000 in damages as well as restorative justice, a process in which they will discuss their experience with senior officials. In her formal apology last week, new Defense Minister Anita Anand said, ““I apologize to the thousands of Canadians who were harmed because your government did not protect you, nor did we ensure that the right systems were in place to ensure justice and accountability.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

6. One monoclonal antibody works against Omicron

Previously we’ve reported on the recommendation that people who contract COVID and have symptoms–but are not hospitalized–should request monoclonal antibodies, a verified treatment for COVID that tends to go underused. At one infusion clinic in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, fewer than 100 treatments were given in November, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which speculates that patients either did not know about the treatment or associated it with Donald Trump, who was administered the drug along with discredited treatments such as hydroxychloroquine.

If they are given within 10 days of coming down with COVID, most monoclonal antibodies are effective against the Delta variant. However, only one–sotrovimab–works against Omicron, according to the Public Health Emergency (PHE) website of Health and Human Services, which has arranged for 55,000 new doses to be sent out for use among the highest risk individuals. Doses should arrive on Tuesday. Given that Omicron multiplies 70 times faster in human respiratory tissue than the Delta variant, as NPR reports, a treatment that had been underused may soon be in short supply. RLS

7. Biden didn’t have to auction leases after all

In our November 21 issue, we noted that the Biden administration had been forced by a court ruling to auction off 80 million acres of new oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time, White House press secretary Jen Paski was cited by CNN as explaining, “We’re required to comply with the injunction; it’s a legal case and legal process. But it’s important for advocates and other people out there to understand that it’s not aligned with our view, the President’s policies or the executive order that he signed.” 

However, as the Guardian now reports, the Administration did not have to move to immediate sales of leases following the court ruling—and the Justice Department had, in fact, produced a memo explaining that immediate auctions were not necessary. The Guardian cites language from that memo: “While the order enjoins and restrains (the department of) interior from implementing the pause, it does not compel interior to take the actions specified by plaintiffs, let alone on the urgent timeline specified in plaintiffs’ contempt motion.” In other words, while the court ruling obviated the Biden Administration’s pause on new leases, it did not eliminate the many other procedures and regulations affecting these sales—for example full environmental review prior to the lease sales. S-HP

You can express your disappointment about both to the new lease sales that contradict Biden’s campaign promise and the Biden administration’s disingenuousness in claiming these sales were unavoidable. You can also demand a clearer, stronger commitment to addressing the climate crisis by using all means available to delay or prevent further sales of oil and gas leases.

President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW.. Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS; Deb Haaland, Secretary of Interior, Department of Interior, 1849 C St. NW, Washington DC 20240, (202) 208-3100. @SecDebHaaland; Merrick Garland, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20530-0001, (202) 514-2000.

RESOURCES

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist urges you to contact your Senators and try to persuade them to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. They have a list of other short, effective actions you can take.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: December 12, 2021

“At the Hospital” by courosa is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It’s hard to avert our eyes even momentarily from the twin catastrophes that voting rights and reproductive rights appear to be at the moment, but Congress is considering a great many issues beyond those. Critical legislation–including around children’s health–is stuck in Congress. See our summaries below–and our notes about how you can intervene.

From the House to the Senate–and then?

Here are summaries of seven pieces of legislation passed by the House that are now with the Senate—most of which shouldn’t be controversial, even in our fractured Senate. If you want to raise this issue with your Senators, addresses follow. S-HP

1.  H.R.5551: the Improving the Health of Children Act

This legislation reauthorizes funding for researching and preventing, birth defects, developmental disabilities, and other conditions and for education on the role of folic acid in preventing birth defects. This legislation is currently with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee.

2. H.R.5561: Early Hearing Detection and Intervention

This legislation reauthorizes programs and services that support screening and early intervention for newborns, infants, and young children who are deaf or hard of hearing. This legislation is currently with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee.

3. H.R.5487, the SHINE for Autumn Act

This legislation awards grants for data collection on stillbirths, provides education/awareness materials on stillbirths, creates a fellowship program for postgraduate training on perinatal autopsy, and supports research on stillbirths. This legislation is currently with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee.

4. H.R.3894, the CARING for Social Determinants Act

This legislation requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to regularly update guidance for states on socioeconomic determinants of health under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This legislation is currently with the Senate Finance Committee.

5. H.R.1155, the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act

This legislation imposes trade restrictions on China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region, where China is engaged in genocide—as determined by both the U.S. and international human rights organizations—against the region’s Muslim population. It would also impose sanctions for these human rights violations. This legislation has not yet been assigned to a Senate committee.

6. H.R.5720, the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act

This legislation requires regular reporting on and dissemination of financial disclosure statements of federal judicial officers. This legislation has not yet been assigned to a Senate committee.

7. H.R.5314, the Protecting Our Democracy Act

This legislation addresses abuses of presidential power and creates new checks and balances, accountability, and transparency requirements through multiple measures, including placing limits on presidential pardon powers; suspending the statute of limitations on federal offenses committed by a sitting president or vice-president; clarifying Office of Government Ethics and Office of Special Counsel’s jurisdiction and enforcement powers; authorizing actions to support Congressional subpoenas; requiring the Department of Justice to maintain a log of contacts between it and the White House; increasing whistleblower protections; penalizing political appointees who engage in prohibited political activities; requiring federal campaign reporting of foreign contacts; prohibiting the provision of non-public information to political campaigns by foreign entities; and requiring release of Presidential and Vice-Presidential tax returns for the ten most recent tax years. This legislation has not yet been assigned to a Senate Committee.

For all these pieces of legislation, urge support from your Senators: Find your Senators here.

For legislation not yet assigned to Senate committees (H.R.1155, H.R.5729, H.R.5314), ask the Senate Majority Leader to expedite committee assignments: Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader, 322 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6542. @SenSchumer.

For legislation with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee (H.R.5561, H.R.5487, H.R.5551), urge swift, positive action: Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, 428 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-5375. @PattyMurray.

For legislation with the Senate Finance Committee (H.R.3894), urge swift positive action: Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chair, Senate Finance Committee, 221 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-5244. @RonWyden.

Spinning our Wheels: Legislation stalled in the House

The twelve pieces of legislation listed below are all with the House, but appear to have stalled out at either being assigned to a committee or being brought to a floor vote. S-HP

1. H.R.1218, the Data Mapping to Save Mom’s Lives Act

This legislation directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to include data on maternal health outcomes in its broadband health mapping tool in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also requires the Government Accountability Office to study the effectiveness of internet connectivity in improving maternal health outcomes. This legislation was assigned to three House Committees in February. In November, it was ordered reported by all three committees, meaning it can be brought to a floor vote of the full House.

There’s no excuse for the House leadership not to bring this legislation to a floor vote: Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Speaker of the House, 1236 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-4965. @SpeakerPelosi. Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Majority Leader, 1705 LongworthHouse Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3141. @LeaderHoyer.

2. H.R.5031, the Parental Bereavement Act (also known as the Sarah Grace-Farley-Kluger Act)

This legislation would allow for unpaid leave of up to twelve weeks for parents mourning the death of a child. While this seems like a common-sense and humane piece of legislation, variations on it have been kicking about unsuccessfully in Congress for the past decade. Since August this legislation has been with three House committees: Education and Labor, Oversightand Reform, and Administration. You can find the addresses of the three committee chairs here.

3. H.R.669, Restricting the First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act

This legislation prohibits the use of federal funds for a first-use nuclear strike without Congressional authorization following a declaration of war. In February, this legislation was assigned to the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees where it remains.

Prompt, positive committee action on this legislation is essential. Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2170 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5021. @RepGregoryMeeks. Representative Adam Smith (D-WA), Chair, House Armed Services Committee, 2216 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-4151. @RepAdamSmith.

4 . H.R.1340, the Immigrant Detainee Legal Rights Act

This legislation would establish Department of Justice programs assisting immigrant detainees in making informed and timely decisions regarding their removal and eligibility for relief from removal; and identifying particularly vulnerable aliens, such as unaccompanied children, for right to counsel considerations. Since April, this legislation has been with the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.

This is critical legislation: urge prompt, positive committee and subcommittee action on this legislation: Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chair, Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepZoeLofgren.

5. H.R.1670, the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act

This legislation would authorize the use of foreign assistance funds for reproductive health care services, including abortion, training, and equipment. In March, it was assigned to the House Foreign Affairs Committee where it remains.

You can urge prompt, positive committee action on this legislation. Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2170 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5021. @RepGregoryMeeks.

6. H.R.2035, the Improving Access to Mental Health Act

This legislation would increase the Medicare reimbursement rate for social services workers and would expand the conditions under which such funds could be used. Since March, this legislation has been with the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and the House Ways and Means Committee Subcommittee on Health.

You can encourage prompt, positive committee and subcommittee action on this crucial legislation. Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Chair, House Energy and CommerceCommittee, 2107 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202)225-4671. @FrankPallone. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Chair, Health Subcommittee, House Energy and Commerce Committee, 2107 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-4671. @RepAnnaEshoo. Representative Richard Neal (D-MA), Chair, House Ways and Means Committee, 1102 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3625. @RepRichardNeal. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Chair, Health Subcommittee, House Ways and Means Committee, 1102 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3625. @RepLloydDoggett.

7. H.R.2805, the PROTECT Immigration Act

This legislation would limit immigration enforcement activities to immigration officers and specific Department of Homeland Security employees with specific exceptions. It also bars the Department of Justice from authorizing state or local government employees from engaging in immigration enforcement activities. In April, this legislation was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, which has sent the legislation to its Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.

Given the ways in which police and others have been expected to serve as agents of the Border Patrol, prompt, positive committee and subcommittee action on this legislation is urgent. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 214 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chair, Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepZoeLofgren.

8. H.R.3548, the Keeping Our Promises Act

This legislation would allow for the issuing of additional visas to Afghans who were employed by the U.S. and their family members. It has been with the House Judiciary Committee since May.

Given the risk to Afghan lives, anything but prompt, positive committee action on this legislation is inexplicable. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 214 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler

9. H.R.4176, the LGBTQ Data Inclusion Act

This legislation would require federal agencies that collect data via surveys including demographic data to assess changes needed to these surveys to be adjusted so that LGBTQ individuals have the opportunity to self-identify. It further requires that any publications including such data include gender identity and sexual orientation information. This legislation has been with the House Oversight and Reform Committee since June.

You can suggest that Representative Ro Khanna (D-NY), Chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, get this bill moving. 2308 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-7944. @RoKhanna.

10. H.R.4848, the Rescinding DHS’ Waiver Authority for Border Wall Act

This legislation would repeal waivers the DHS currently has that allow expedited construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall. This legislation has been with the House Homeland Security Committee since July.

Expedited construction of the disastrous wall makes no sense. You can urge prompt, positive committee action on this legislation. Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chair, House Homeland Security Committee, H2-176 Ford House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 226-2616. @BennieGThompson.

11. H.R.4766, the Supreme Court Ethics Act

This legislation would establish a one-year deadline for the Judicial Conference of the United States to issue a code of ethics, which would apply to both Justices (Supreme Court) and Judges (federal courts). This legislation has been with the House Committee on the Judiciary since July.

Need we say more? Ask Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, to move this bill forward. 214 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler.

12. H.R.5497, the BURMA Act

This legislation would authorize humanitarian assistance and civil society support, promote democracy and human rights, and impose targeted sanctions with respect to human rights abuses in Burma/Myanmar, It was ordered reported by the three House committees to which it was assigned and can now be brought to a floor vote of the full House.

You can urge the House leadership to bring this legislation to a floor vote: Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Speaker of the House, 1236 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-4965. @SpeakerPelosi. Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Majority Leader, 1705 LongworthHouse Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3141. @LeaderHoyer.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

Millions unable to afford prescription drugs

In 2018-2019, 13 million people were unable to pay for their prescriptions, according to a new study from the Urban Institute. Uninsured patients are not the only ones who could not pay for their medications or had to delay taking them; those who could not manage the cost included “2.3 million elderly Medicare beneficiaries and 3.8 million nonelderly adults with private insurance, 1.1 million with Medicaid, and 4.1 million who were uninsured at any point during the year,” the report said. Notably, most of these patients had multiple chronic conditions that needed to be managed with medications.

Legislation to get a cap on drug prices failed in 2019; the Elijah E. Cummings
Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3) passed in the US House of Representatives in December of 2019 but stalled in the Senate. It would have also allowed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate over drug prices on behalf of Medicare and private insurance plans.

Legislation to get a cap on drug prices failed in 2019; the Elijah E. Cummings
Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3) passed in the US House of Representatives in December of 2019 but stalled in the Senate. It would have also allowed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate over drug prices on behalf of Medicare and private insurance plans. The Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), which passed in the House of Representatives on November 19, would contain provisions like these. As WebMD points out in its very clear description of the bill, it would also make insurance more available to people in states which have declined to expand access to Medicaid. However, it faces an uphill battle in the Senate. RLS

RESOURCES

Over 929,000 people have died in the post-9/11 wars due to direct war violence, and several times as many due to the reverberating effects of war. Over 387,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting,” the project directors at the Watson Institute’s The Cost of War Project have ascertained. The Cost of War Project tracks all this and more.

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist points out that there are only 55 weeks till the midterms, and suggests a series of actions you can take toward election security.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: December 5, 2021

“Sterling Silver Coat Hanger Pendant from DC Abortion Fund” by ClinicEscort 
is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year. 50,000 US women experience life-threatening pregnancy complications. What happens when Roe is gone?

The Supreme Court seems poised to dismantle Roe v. Wade, partially or entirely, according to the New York Times. If they do, the costs to women will be devastating.  The number of pregnancy-related deaths would increase by 21% for all women, 33% for Black women, a researcher writing in the University of Colorado’s Arts and Sciences Magazine points out–simply because carrying a pregnancy is more dangerous than having an abortion. You can see her calculations here.  Some 50,000 American women each year experience life-threatening complications from pregnancy, NPR noted in 2017–and the rate is increasing.

Because 26 states are likely to ban abortion outright as soon as the Supreme Court makes it possible, women with means are likely to cross state lines to obtain an abortion, while poor women are more likely to seek illegal abortions, with all the consequences for their lives and health, the Guardian points out, sketching the legal penalties such women might face as well. You can use Planned Parenthood’s app to see what will likely happen to abortion rights in your state if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, and the New York Times has a map of what the remade US will look like.

The language of “choice” around abortion masks the lethal costs of making it illegal. The dean of the Boston University School of Public Health points out that worldwide, 22,800 woman are estimated to die each year from unsafe abortions, with countless others suffering complications. Being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy can have serious consequences for women’s mental health throughout their lifetimes, as one study of more than 10,000 women who did so before Roe confirmed. The agonizing situations of women who are pregnant as a result of rape (including sexual abuse by a partner or family member), those dealing with a fetus with a genetic anomaly such that it will die in the womb or shortly after birth, those with chronic illnesses or life-threatening medical complications are not rare. A study in the 90s estimated that 32,101 pregnancies resulted from rape each year in the U.S. 

If the Supreme Court upends Roe, the next strategy to preserve women’s right to choose is legislative. The Women’s Health Protection Act would codify the protections of Roe; as H.R.3755, it passed the House in September. In June, the Senate version,  S 1975 was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee–from which it has not emerged.

However, the chances of it passing the Senate are miniscule, as there are apparently two Democratic senators who would decline to vote for it, according to the New York Times. In order to survive a filibuster, the bill would need all 50 Democrats plus 10 Republicans to support it. RLS

 The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent a letter—signed by 60 civil rights organizations—to House members that could be used as a model letter to go to your Senator. Alternatively, the ACLU has an easy form you can fill out and have sent to your Senator automatically.

It’s time to tell your Senators that passing S.1975 is critical, given the state-level efforts to limit women’s access to the full range of reproductive health care and check whether or not they’re cosponsors. Find your Senators here.

2. The eloquence of Justice Sotomayor

If you read or listened to any of the coverage of oral presentations to the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, you will know the Justice Sonia Sotomayor was fierce in her opposition to an overturning of Roe v. Wade, using questioning to highlight the Constitutional issues at hand—including the right to freedom of religion as well as the right to privacy and the right to equal protection. Our personal favorite was “The issue of when life begins has been hotly debated by philosophers since the beginning of time. It’s still debated in religions. So, when you say this is the only right that takes away from the state the ability to protect a life, that’s a religious view, isn’t it?” S-HP

You can thank Justice Sotomayor for her fierce defense of women’s right to reproductive choice: Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court of the United States, 1 First St. NE, Washington DC 20543, (202) 479-3000. @soniamsotomayor.

3. Religious freedom and the Do No Harm Act

U.S. religious freedom has become less about the private right to practice (or not) the religion of one’s choice and more about the ability to discriminate against those not of one’s faith. This shift has been aided by changing interpretations of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), originally intended to prevent bias on the basis of religion and now applied to private-sector movements to deny services to individuals of particular religions or religious denominations. The Do No Harm Act (S.2752 in the Senate; H.R.1378 in the House) seeks to curb this shift from protecting freedom to enabling discrimination by disallowing the use of religion as grounds for discriminatory practices in promotions, wages and compensation, child labor, workplace activities, health care, and in provision of goods and services. As Americans United for Separation of Church and State explains, the purpose of this legislation is to “prevent anyone from using their religion to harm others.” The Do No Harm Act would prevent current uses of “religious freedom” that we have witnessed in recent years, including allowing employers to deny birth control and enabling foster care agencies to turn away prospective foster parents of the “wrong” religion. S.2752 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee. H.R.1378 is with the House Judiciary Committee and its Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. S-HP

You can check whether your Senators and Representative support the Do No Harm Act and thank or nudge as appropriate. Find your Senators here and your Representative here. You can also call on the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to take swift, positive committee action on the Do No Harm Act. Addresses are here.

4. Reviving Labor

While the media have focused on people dropping out of their jobs post-COVID and refusing to accept non-livable wages, it seems to have missed the reviving union movement. Cornell University, which has a labor action tracker, reports that 37 strikes began in October, and that at one point 28,370 workers were on strike. Though they did not all strike, “90,000 unionised workers issued strike authorisations – including 10,000 John Deere United Auto Workers (UAW) members, 37,000 nurses and other health care workers at Kaiser Permanente, and 60,000 film and television workers organised with International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) explains Rebekah Entralgo, writing for Cold Type. John Deere workers accepted a solid contract after rejecting two inadequate offers, the New York Times reports, and after nearly two years of negotiations, lecturers at the University of California won a contract which improves access to paid family leave, job security for lecturers in their first six years of employment, and salary, according to the LA TImes.  Not only lecturers but students and professors were poised to walk out when the contract was finally signed early in the morning of the scheduled strike. RLS

The reasons behind the so-called Great Resignation are amply explained by David Dayen of The Prospect, who found in talking to workers that low wages, disrespect on the job, intolerable working conditions, and a sense that they are indeed essential have all propelled them into looking for something better. RLS

5. Is the DHS doing its job?

“Over 929,000 people have died in the post-9/11 wars due to direct war violence, and several times as many due to the reverberating effects of war. Over 387,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting,” the project directors at the Watson Institute’s The Cost of War project have ascertained.

The Watson Institute also found that since 9/11, 230 terrorist attacks and plots in the US have been stopped, while 81 succeeded to some degree; 276 people died in these attacks. Moreover, the Institute found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) tends not to anticipate domestic terrorism, focusing instead on international terrorism, according to a study by Erik J. Dahl, an Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Dahl notes that the DHS’s lapses in this area “helped create an environment” that made the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol possible. RLS

6. Reality Winner speaks out

Reality Winner has finally been released from prison and is able, within limits established via a plea agreement, to speak about her decision to leak classified materials that drew attention to possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. This decision led to her conviction under the Espionage Act and a 63-month federal prison sentence. 60 Minutes this Sunday will feature an interview with Winner. At the time of this writing, the full interview was not available, but CBS included material from that interview in its reporting, including Winner’s statement regarding the leak: “I knew [the leaked material] was secret but I also knew that I had pledged service to the American people. And at that point in time, it felt like they were being led astray.” The 60 Minutes episode will reportedly reveal that, while the Justice Department was investigating and prosecuting Winner, “another part of the federal government was using the information Winner leaked to alert state and local election officials about potential hacking of their own systems.” S-HP

You can urge President Biden (yet again) to issue a full pardon for Winner, the one person who brought us the truth about Russia interfering into our election infrastructure: President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Vaccine nationalism hurts us all

What is surprising about the Omicron variant is not that it exists but that mainstream voices are pointing out how inequality damages everyone. The Washington Post quotes J. Stephen Morrison, director of the global health policy center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as saying, “If you have uncontrolled transmission in large populations, that is the optimum environment for generating new variants. In Africa, you have a 6 percent vaccination rate. You’re going to get mutations.” Morrison refers to the current situation as “vaccine nationalism,” which is evident when wealthier countries focus on boosters when people in poorer countries cannot get their first shots. Not enough of the vaccine is being shipped through the Covax system and pharmaceutical companies have refused to suspend their intellectual property rights to enable the vaccine to be produced elsewhere. RLS

8. Grey wolves endangered

In 2020, the Trump administration removed grey wolves’ designation as an endangered species. Grey wolves have been villainized by ranchers for preying on livestock, but that predation can be avoided through nonlethal methods that don’t put the grey wolf at greater risk of extinction. Montana, Idaho, and Wisconsin have been at the forefront of states loosening restrictions on the hunting of grey wolves, and hundreds of wolves have been killed since the species’ delisting. The Biden administration has not restored protected status for grey wolves. Representatives of Native American nations had two separate meetings scheduled with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to discuss restoring and increasing protections for grey wolves. In both instances, Haaland opted out of the meeting on short notice, sending in a lower-ranking department official in her place. S-HP

You can urge the President (@POTUS) , Secretary Haaland (@SecDebHaaland), and Martha Williams, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (@USFWS) to restore grey wolves’ endangered status. Send a tweet, call or write. Full addresses are here.

RESOURCES

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist points out that there are only 55 weeks till the midterms, and suggests a series of actions you can take toward election security.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

New You May Have Missed: November 21, 2021

“Lost childhood – Children of Aleppo, Syria” by FreedomHouse is licensed under CC BY 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. US armed forces cover up civilian casualties–new investigation

US forces dropped three large bombs on 70 civilians–women and children–during a  2019 battle against ISIS in Syria. The military officials supposedly in charge of the battle had not ordered the strike and even noted that it could be considered a war crime. However, almost immediately, military leadership began covering it up, according to the New York Times. An inspector general who tried to investigate it was removed from his job. An Air Force attorney who witnessed it spent years pressing for an investigation, even taking it to the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

After an exhaustive investigation, the Times found that bombing had been carried out by an American special operations unit, Task Force 9. While armed forces officials described the war against ISIS as preserving the lives of civilians, the special operations units ignored those principles, which they were allowed to do if they claimed they acted in self-defense. The TImes article is exhaustive, with remarkable detail about the trail of decisions and errors that resulted in those deaths and the evasion of procedures that meant they were not acknowledged until now.

The Defense Department is undergoing two reviews to address its policies on air strikes and civilian casualties, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced in response to the report. RLS

2. Republicans decline to censure Gosar

Historian and public intellectual Heather Cox Richardson warns that “Republicans have made it clear that they are comfortable with violence, and they are rigging elections to gain power. Unless Congress chooses to protect our votes with the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Republican performance in the House today [a refusal by all but two Republicans to vote for censure of Representative Paul Gosar for posting animated video showing him killing a Democratic member of the House] will become our norm.”

It’s not just Gosar, the New York Times points out. Democratic members of Congress regularly receive threats of death and violence against themselves and their families, requiring security protection just to drop their children off at school. S-HP

You might consider reminding your Congressmembers that voting rights are the foundation upon which a democracy is built and that these rights must include freedom from the threat of violence in electoral politics. It’s time for them to continue to (or begin) fighting for voting rights protections on the federal level through comprehensive legislation or—if that isn’t possible—through smaller, step-by-step pieces of legislation, as we suggested in our database. Find your Senators here and your Representative here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

3. Climate crisis wreaks havoc in BC floods

The floods in British Columbia have left Vancouver completely blocked off, as all roads into the area are closed by flooding, Bloomberg explains. 17,000 people have been forced out of their homes, and three people have died. Thousands of farm animals in BC’s Fraser Valley have died, and others are stranded without access to food, drinkable water, or veterinary care, according to the Globe and Mail. Farmers on higher ground are responding to desperate Facebook pleas from other farmers, asking for help moving cattle up to their necks in water, as seen in the Calgary Herald.

The flooding is especially acute because of the fires last summer–the torrential rains run off the burned land, the New York Times explained. The Times quoted Merran Smith, the executive director of Clean Energy Canada, as saying, “In the last six months, B.C. has both burned and drowned. So there’s really no greater evidence of climate change right now than here in British Columbia.”

Among the sorrowful ironies of the flooding in BC is that it is in part a consequence of a decision a hundred years ago to drain what First Nations people called Lake Semá:th. At the time, the lake–which was an essential source of water and fish for the Sumas First Nation– was drained to provide farmland for white settlers, and the Sumas people were relocated away from their ancestral territory, as Global News explains. The Sumas Chief Dalton Silver points out that catastrophic flooding might have been averted if First Nations people had been allowed to continue to manage the land. “Our perspective is that we should be looking after everything around us that looks after us, which means the salmon, the animals, everything else,” he said. “We are the land and the land is us.”

One view is that Canada’s infrastructure is built on old climate data and assumptions, and that the process of adaptation to new climate contingencies has barely begun, as one Toronto Star reporter described it. That view focuses on how small vulnerable communities need to retrofit for the future and be able access federal funds, not on how the climate crisis could have been or ought to be mitigated. 

The Star quoted Joanna Eyquem, managing director of climate-resilient infrastructure at the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, as saying, “Climate change is often seen as a future problem but, actually, it is a now problem. It’s affecting people’s health. It’s not an environmental issue only, and it’s adversely affecting people’s lives.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

4. Legislation to prevent maternal deaths stalled in committees

Recent New York Times reporting summarizes deeply troubling data about maternal health in the U.S. In the U.S. there are 20 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to six per 100,000 in Canada, four per 100,000 in Australia, and zero per 100,000 in Ireland, Norway, and Luxembourg. Twenty percent of women living in the American south live in counties with high risk of maternal death or poor maternal health outcomes. Native American and Alaskan Indian women are 2.6 times more likely to live under conditions that create problems during and after pregnancy; for Black women the figure is 1.6 times more. Black women are also 2.5 more times likely than white women to die giving birth—and that’s after controlling for age, education, and income. The NYT article notes that “Solving this worsening problem requires looking not just at the quality of care a woman receives but the entire environment around her—from her access to health care to the availability of food in her community.” Other factors that affect maternal health outcomes include pollution, housing quality, transportation availability, educational opportunity, and language barriers.

  H.R.959, the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act would begin to address maternal health broadly, calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to address maternal health threats presented by environment; it would extend access to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program (“food stamps” in the vernacular) to 24 months post-partum; it would increase access to maternal health care, alternative payment models for maternal health care, and maternal care training and technology. In addition it specifically addresses maternal health outcomes for the incarcerated and the effects of the climate crisis on maternal health. This legislation was introduced in April; since then, it’s been assigned to eight House Committees and an additional eight subcommittees. S-HP

Help jumpstart this bill! Insist that we need swift, positive action on the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act by House leadership, the appropriate Committees and Subcommittees, and your own Representative. Addresses are here.

5. Biden required to auction oil and gas leases

We’re facing a one-step-forward, two-steps back situation in terms of limiting new oil and gas leases on federal lands.

President Biden has announced an end to new oil and gas leases within ten miles of Chaco Canyon, a major Native American cultural site. This announcement follows years of tribal requests to protect Chaco Canyon.

  Protection for Chaco Canyon, however, does not address demands from Native American climate activists who say too little has been done to combat fossil fuel use. Among the continuing fossil fuel projects being criticized is the Line 3 pipeline that puts at risk watersheds and tribal lands in Minnesota.

This week, the Biden administration also held its first auction of oil and gas leases—which includes 308 tracts that cover 2,700 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico. On January 27, the Biden administration announced the suspension of all new oil and gas leases on federal lands until the impact of these sales could be individually studied. That move was challenged in a lawsuit by Attorneys General and other officials from 13 states, and in June U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty ordered that sales be continued. S-HP

Consider thanking President Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for protecting Chaco Canyon and urging them to work toward an end of oil and gas leases on federal lands, despite the resistance from states and courts. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW.. Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Deb Haaland, Secretary of Interior, Department of Interior, 1849 C St. NW, Washington DC 20240, (202) 208-3100. @SecDebHaaland.

Since the courts have blocked Biden from suspending the leases, tell your Congressmembers that if we want to have a livable planet—not just in the distant future, but for those living today—we must end our reliance on fossil fuels and need to protect federal lands from being used as fossil fuel extraction sites. Find your Senators here and your Representative here.

6. Hope for Monarchs

The Build Back Better legislation President Biden just signed includes provisions first suggested in The Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act, legislation introduced Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and SenatorJeff Merkely (D-OR). This part of Build Back Better will protect monarch butterflies and other pollinators by providing grants to plant or seed native wildflowers and grasses along roadsides. More plants, more butterflies, more beauty, more hope. S-HP

You could thank Panetta and Merkely for introducing thelegislation that this provision of Build Back Better is based on: Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), 212 Cannon House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-2861. @RepJimmyPanetta. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), 531 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-3753, @SenJeffMerkley.

RESOURCES

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist points out that there are only 55 weeks till the midterms, and suggests a series of actions you can take toward election security.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: November 14, 2021

“Washington DC: Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial – The Three Soldiers” by wallyg is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. An alternative to thanking them for their service

Veterans Day provides us with an opportunity to do right by current and former members of the military who have been unfairly deprived of access to benefits and, in cases, of citizenship. We can advocate for three paths of action to work towards this equity of treatment

1. We can support legislation that would pay families of Black service members from WWII for the housing and educational benefits those service members were denied or prevented from making full use of when they returned from war. Representatives Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Seth Moulton have announced that they are introducing the G.I. Bill Restoration Act, which would address these historical injustices.

2. We can support H.R.5139, the Military Justice Transparency Act, which calls for a thorough study of and responses to racial, ethnic, and gender dispartities in the military justice system. This legislation is currently with the House Armed Services Committee.

3. We can thank the Biden administration for the efforts it has made to provide a path back to the U.S. for military veterans deported under the Trump administration and call on Biden to both continue these efforts and to improve access to military naturalization. S-HP

ASK the President and your Congress members for active support of all these measures. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW. Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your Senators here and your Representative here.

2. CDC official: Title 42 is unnecessary and unfair

Title 42, the controversial policy barring asylum-seekers from the U.S. under the justification that they threatened to spread the Coronavirus was, in fact, not needed to contain the spread of the virus, according to Ann Schuchat, until recently the second-highest ranking official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She recently testified before the House’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus crisis, reports CBS News. Previous reporting from multiple sources had indicated that then-CDC Director Robert Redfield approved Title 42 under pressure from Trump political appointees and over objections from public health officials. Schuchat identified the Director for the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, Marty Cetron, as one of the officials opposing Title 42: Cetron’s view “was that the facts on the ground didn’t call for this from a public health reason, and that the decision wasn’t being made based on criteria for quarantine. It may have been initiated for other purposes. So I don’t think he was comfortable using his authority to [activate Article 42] because it didn’t meet his careful review of what the criteria are.”

At a recent forum, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas explained that “Under Title 42, one doesn’t even get to make a claim of credible fear. One is expelled and that is why as a matter of immigration policy, it is so vigorously opposed and quite frankly, why we do not embrace it as a matter of immigration policy,” according to CBS. However, since March 2020, Title 42 has been used to justify at least 1.2 million expulsions of asylum seekers, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and these expulsions have continued under the Biden administration in a somewhat scaled back form. Unaccompanied minors and some families with children are no longer stopped at the border under Title 42, but other families and almost all single, adult migrants continue to be barred. S-HP

If you want to demand an end to the disingenuous use of Title 42 to keep those arriving at the U.S. southern border from making credible fear claims that initiate the asylum application process, write to President Biden (@POTUS), Vice President Harris (@VP), and Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas (@SecMayorkas). You can also thank the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis for its work to uncover how the Trump administration responded to the Coronavirus pandemic and urge the Subcommittee and your Congressmembers to call on the administration to end its use of Title 42. Addresses are here.

3. Federal contractors’ right to discriminate challenge

The Biden administration has announced that it intends to return to a more limited understanding of the kinds of religious exemptions to antidiscrimination law federal contractors may claim. A rule enacted by Trump’s Department of Labor allowed federal contractors to discriminate against workers and job applicants in the name of religion. The initial basis for this move was based on a George W. Bush era policy that allowed religiously affiliated non-profits to prefer coreligionists in hiring. The Trump administration extended that policy to include a broader range of employers, including some for-profit employers, and allowed federal contractors to use “religious” beliefs to fire LGBTQI+ employees, individuals using birth control, or “someone who is the ‘wrong’ religion or doesn’t practice the religion the ‘right’ way. As long as a corporation claims to hold religious beliefs, it could take taxpayer dollars and fire someone who doesn’t meet its religious test.”—as Americans United for Separation of Church and State explains.

Biden’s commitment here, however, could falter in the negotiations over the Build Back Better Act, according to the New York Times, given that the way the legislation is written, faith-based daycare and preschool educators would be defined as federal contractors if they receive federal money–and they want to preserve their right to discriminate. S-HP

You could thank the Biden administration for this move to ensure that freedom of religion doesn’t become freedom to discriminate for federal contractors and ask him to stick to this principal during the Build Back Better negotiations. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW. Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Marty Walsh, Secretary of Labor, Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., Washington DC 20210, (866) 487-2365. @SecMartyWalsh.

4. Lesbians still prevented from serving as foster parents

Kelly Easter wanted to become a foster parent via a federal foster care program for immigrant children, one which is run by channeling funding through existing organizations arranging foster care placements throughout the country. Unfortunately, according to Church and State magazine, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which oversees the program, told Easter that only one foster care agency in her region worked with the program: Bethany Christian Services, a subgrantee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which received federal funds for foster care services. Bethany did not allow Easter to apply to be a foster parent because she is a lesbian. Easter reported this discrimination to the ORR.

Then, earlier this year, the national Bethany organization announced it had changed its policy and would accept applications from LGBTQ families, so Easter decided to apply again to her local Bethany organization. Surprisingly she was again told she could not apply to be a foster parent because she is a lesbian. Why? Because Easter’s local Bethany is, as noted above, a subgrantee of the USCCB, it is required to abide by USCCB rules prohibiting fostering by LGBTQ individuals. USCCB policy trumped Bethany’s stated policy.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has an ongoing relationship with the USCCB.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the federal government multiple times for providing health care funding to religious organizations (including the USCCB) that refuse access to birth control and abortion, even in cases of rape, and for funding foster care agencies refusing to work with LGBTQ individuals. These organizations serve unaccompanied immigrant minors and victims of sex-trafficking . Now Lambda Legal and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) have filed suit against Health and Human Services, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Administration for Children and Families and leadership on behalf of Kelly Easter. AU President and CEO Rachel Laser explains, “The foundational American principle of church-state separation promises freedom without favor and equality without exception for everyone. The federal government is reneging on that constitutional promise by allowing a taxpayer-funded agency to discriminate against Kelly Easter because she doesn’t live according to its religious beliefs. Our laws cannot allow anyone to use their religious beliefs to harm others, and especially not vulnerable children and the commendable people like Kelly who want to help them.” S-HP

If you want to intervene in this issue, you can insist that federal agencies stop funding health care and fostering organizations that discriminate on “religious” grounds. Write to: President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111, @POTUS. Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence SW, Washington DC 20201, (877) 696-6775, @SecBecerra. JooYeun Chang, Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families, Mary E Switzer Building, 330 C St. SW, Washington DC 20201. And Cindy Huang, Director, Office of Refugee Resettlement, 901 D St. SW, Washington DC 20447, (202) 401-9246.

ASK the President and your Congress members for active support of all these measures. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW. Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your Senators here and your Representative here.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

5. Spinal cord injuries in mice healed

Spinal cord injuries are notable for being debilitating and irreparable; now, researchers at Northwestern University have healed injured mice with just one injection. The injection consists of a nanofiber suspension which when “tuned” to the nerve cells aligns them with their damaged counterparts and allows signals to transmit which prompt a cascade of self repair responses. Without the nanofibers, the nerve endings are constantly in motion and firing which prevents them from being connected with the nerve fibers that were in contact with them before the injury. The angle of using the molecular motion as a catalyst to induce healing is new with much potential for possible therapies for humans–especially important because life expectancy for spinal injury survivors has not changed since 1980. JC

6. Richer countries should cut emissions first

As the New York Times asks in reporting on the current climate crisis talks, “Who gets to keep using fossil fuels, and for how long, during the transition to clean energy?” Until relatively recently the use of fossil fuels that has created the climate crisis has been the result of activity in North America and Europe, and North American and European use of fossil fuels has generated substantial wealth. As a result, nations in these regions are in a much better position to transition to renewable energy without experiencing economic crises. S-HP

You could remind key figures of the wealth that has been generated in the U.S. as a result of the use of fossil fuels and insist that those profits create a greater responsibility for the U.S. to take the lead in fighting the climate crisis by transferring to renewable energy and absorbing the costs involved. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy, Department of Energy, 1000 Independence NW, Washington DC 20585, (202) 586-5000. Find your Senators here and your Representative here.

RESOURCES


To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist points out that there are only 55 weeks till the midterms, and suggests a series of actions you can take toward election security.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: November 7, 2021

“Air pollution” by World Bank Photo Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Any issue is a lens through which inequalities become visible. This week we focus on a range of environmental and health issues: Who is most vulnerable to cancer caused by air pollution, who is more likely to contract HIV, who is most affected by illnesses related to the climate crisis. Environmental justice advocates talk about “sacrifice zones”: these result in sacrificed people.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

1. 250,000 people live in “sacrifice zones”

The EPA allows corporations to contaminate the air, creating what environmental analysts call “sacrifice zones”–areas where cancer-causing pollutants raise residents’ cancer risks significantly. Do you live in one of these? You can put your zip code into the interactive map created by ProPublica, which has drawn on five years of EPA data to identify 1000 such sites in the US. ProPublica quoted Ana Baptista, an environmental policy professor at The New School, as saying that “industries rely on having these sinks — these sacrifice zones — for polluting.” Most of these sites are in southern states, and Black communities face more than double the risk of living in contaminated areas.

EPA regulators have allowed these conditions to continue for decades. Baptista refers to the “political calculus [that] has kept in place a regulatory system that allows for the continued concentration of industry. We sacrifice these low-income, African American, Indigenous communities for the economic benefit of the region or state or country.” RLS

2. Rural, Black communities in the South suffer from poor health

Southern Black communities suffer from poor health for other reasons as well. The Center for Public Integrity points out that health disparities are a legacy of slavery, in that social conditions and inadequate access to health care have resulted in predictable illnesses in Black communities. The spending framework recently approved by Congress could expand Medicaid coverage in a dozen states that have refused to make Medicaid available to working poor people; the Center notes that governors support Medicaid expansion when it includes large numbers of white people but not when it benefits primarily communities of color. The Center quotes Laura Harker, a senior policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank dedicated to reducing inequality, as saying that many of these states “have a long history of policy decisions, based on racist views of who deserves to get health services.” RLS

3. Climate and Health

The effect of the climate crisis on human health is becoming more visible, in part due to the Glasgow climate conference, the New York TImes points out. Wildfires, drought, and heat waves exacerbate difficulties in pregnancy and lung and heart disease, and cause heat-related deaths. And as the Times puts it, “the risks and harms are particularly severe in places that are the least able to respond.” Other health consequences include tick and mosquito-borne diseases, which proliferate in a warming climate and malnutrition, from crop failures due to flooding and drought. During one week alone last summer, the Pacific Northwest weathered over a thousand heat-related deaths, according to another Times article. Those who are older, work outside, or are homeless are more vulnerable to dying from heat. Climate researchers hope that awareness of these immediate consequences of the climate emergency will begin to shift the political climate as well. RLS

4. Americans experience depression and anxiety due to the climate crisis

The effects of the climate crisis are affecting the mental health of Americans, with 70% saying they are “worried” or “very worried,” and many experiencing anxiety or depression, according to a new study cited in ABC News. Over the last six months, most Americans say they believe in global warming and 55% say that they believe people are being harmed by it, according to the Climate Change in the American Mind survey, produced by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. The number of people who say they are very worried has increased by 10 points since March of 2021. As a result, a record number of voters–almost all liberal Democrats and even a record 45% of moderate Republicans– believe that the president and Congress should take definitive action. RLS

5. Wind and solar are viable

A study published in the journal Nature Communications asserts that the energy demands of the world’s largest countries can be met almost entirely by a combination of wind and solar sources. These sources could meet a range from 72 to 91 percent of total energy needs, with the United States able to get 85% of its energy needs met. Additionally, this would not require resorting to massive energy storage or excessive spare capacity which would add unacceptable costs to the system. The balance of energy demand would need to be met by a suite of other, preferably non-carbon sources such as hydro, geothermal, nuclear and tidal, Techexplore notes. JC

6. 20% of US deaths among new mothers are due to suicide

MindSite News, a site written by award-winning health journalists, launched in September. Among their recent pieces is one on a UK pilot project, an inpatient program for new mothers with psychosis and postpartum depression, a hospital-based program in which mothers do not have to be separated from their babies. Services are covered by the National Health Service. Nothing like it exists in the US, where deaths among new mothers are double those in high-income countries, and where suicide accounts for 20% of those deaths. The lack of mandatory paid maternity leave is partly responsible for the mental health crisis among new mothers in the US–as there is no time for them to recover from a traumatic delivery or be treated for depression. RLS

7. FDA finally requires doctors to warn patients about breast implants

Last week, the FDA put a “black-box” warning on breast implants, requiring doctors to inform patients that implants have been associated with lymphoma, along with “autoimmune diseases, joint pain, mental confusion, muscle aches and chronic fatigue,” according to the New York Times. Most alarmingly, the women most vulnerable to these side effects are those who have had breast cancer and who have had–or plan to have–chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Women who have had mastectomies are often encouraged to have breast reconstruction–and therefore implants. The FDA has known about this issue for a number of years, and declined to ban textured implants, which are associated with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, in 2019, despite the risks. Certain ingredients involved in the use of implants have a higher complication rate than others; within 30 days, manufacturers of implants are required to reveal what implants contain. RLS

8. Disparity in access to needle exchanges lead to HIV increase among Black people

Though they have safer sex practices than white people, Black people who use injected drugs are more likely to become infected with HIV–more than twice as likely, according to new reporting by Heather Boerner in Poz, drawing on data from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality weekly report for October 22. This apparent paradox is likely due to their lack of access to needle exchange programs–only 40% of Black injection drug users had access to these services, compared to 51% of white people. In addition, Poz reported, “Black people who inject drugs received new syringes from pharmacists less than twice as often as their white counterparts and were less likely to access medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder,” perhaps due to lack of health insurance, Poz noted. RLS

RESOURCES

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist points out that there are only 55 weeks till the midterms, and suggests a series of actions you can take toward election security.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: October 31, 2021

“DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HURTS 025 altered” by ghetto_guera29 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Women at particular risk from partners with guns

In the U.S., a woman is fatally shot by a current or former partner every sixteen hours; gun homicides by intimate partners have risen 58% over the last decade; and in 2020, during the COVID pandemic, gun homicides involving intimate partners increased by 25%, according to reporting from the Guardian. More than two-thirds of those killed in these 2020 gun homicides were women. The Guardian piece was based on work by Reveal, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting.

A particularly painful aspect of these murders is that many times the killers were legally barred from possessing guns. Reveal discovered that because of the lack of enforcement measures for such laws—on both the federal and state level—and failure by law enforcement to follow through on gun removal, at least 110 killings by intimate partners who were legally prohibited from possessing guns occurred from 2017 to 2020. There are no requirements for tracking murders by intimate partners barred from possessing guns, and Reveal only had access to (incomplete) data from 21 states, so the actual number of such murders is unknown and certainly much higher. The Guardian quotes Natalie Nanasi, an associate professor of law at Southern Methodist University: “Every one of these deaths is preventable. It’s absolutely outrageous that we’re losing people in this way, because we know what we need to do in order to prevent it from happening. We have laws on the books. We’re just not actually enforcing them.”

According to the American Journal of Public Health, gun possession increases by five times the likelihood an individual will kill an intimate partner. According to Biomedical Central (BMC), a clearinghouse of published scientific research, perpetrators of more than two-thirds of mass shootings had killed partners or relatives or had a history of domestic abuse.

Unfortunately, with the lack of universal gun registration and poor enforcement of existing laws, the number of such murders is not likely to decrease. While 33 states and the District of Columbia prohibit domestic abusers from possessing firearms, most of these laws do not “address how to get the guns away from people who aren’t supposed to have them. They don’t say how offenders who are banned from possessing firearms should surrender them. They don’t spell out procedures for confiscating them. They don’t create the legal infrastructure that is essential for keeping abuse victims, their families and communities safe from dangerous offenders,” as the Guardian puts it. Only seventeen of these 33 states require that those legally barred from own guns as a consequence of domestic abuse actually relinquish those weapons, and only three require proof of surrender. To put it simply, these gun laws depend, instead, upon an unofficial “honor system” by which abusers would know they are not allowed to possess guns and would voluntarily surrender them to law enforcement. S-HP

News You May Have Missed has developed a database of 39 pieces of gun-related legislation stalled in committee. If you want to address the issue of gun violence, here are a series of steps you can take. In addition, you can sign the petition asking the Senate to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which would close the loophole in which domestic abusers who are not legally married to their victims are allowed to buy guns.

2. American use of torture

For the first time, U.S. use of torture (“enhanced interrogation techniques”) against a detainee has been explicitly described in court. Majid Khan, a Pakistani citizen, born in Saudi Arabia, raised in Pakistan, had lived as a U.S. resident from the time he turned 16, before returning to Pakistan after 9/11 to join Al Quaeda. Captured in Pakistan in 2003, Khan was first held at a U.S. “black site,” then in 2006 was flown to the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, where he has been held since.

As part of a plea deal, Khan has pled guilty to war crime charges and will provide testimony in coming trials of other Al Quaeda figures. At his sentencing hearing this week, he was allowed to describe the conditions under which he was held and his treatment at the hands of the U.S. According to the New York Times, among the horrifying abuses he described included:

• Being held in dungeon-like conditions

• Periods when he was kept naked with only a hood on his head

• Having his arms chained to an overhead beam in a way the made sleep impossible

• Suffering hallucinations as a result of sleep deprivation

• Twice being nearly drowned

• Being waterboarded

• Being beaten

• Being duct-taped into a diaper and having his eyes duct-taped shut when he was moved from one detention site to another

The military jury for Khan’s sentence, who were not told of his plea agreement, recommended a sentence of 26 years, one year over the minimum sentence for the crimes he was accused of. With time served (3 years in “black sites” and 15 years at Guantanamo) and with consideration of his cooperation in other prosecutions, he may be released at some time in the next year. Seven of the eight jurors who convicted him–all senior military officers–drafted a letter to Pentagon authorities calling for clemency because of the conditions he experienced as a detainee. S-HP

If you want to tell the administration “Not in our name!” and demand a commitment to permanently abandon the use of “enhanced interrogation,” addresses are here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

3. Attack helicopters sold to Saudis–against policy

The White House purportedly has a policy barring the sale of “offensive” weapons to Saudi Arabia in order to protect the Yemeni Houthis. Nonetheless, reports the Guardian, the U.S. has just approved a $500 million contract with the Saudis to maintain its fleet of attack helicopters. These are the type of helicopters Saudi Arabia has used in past attacks against the Houthis in Yemen. This new, two-year agreement will support Saudi Arabia’s Apache helicopters, Blackhawks, and a future fleet of Chinook helicopters. It will involve training and service by 350 U.S. contractors and a pair of U.S. government staff.

The end to offensive weapons sales was, as the Guardian explains, “one of Joe Biden’s first foreign policy objectives, and reflected what the US president called his commitment to ‘ending all support’ for a war that had created ‘a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.’” Earlier this year, the Biden administration exempted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from sanctions, despite the fact that U.S. intelligence services had determined that bin Salman was the guiding force behind the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and journalist.

Current legislation in the House, H.R. 4718, the Stop Arming Human Rights Abusers Act, might make it more difficult for the administration to continue arms sales to the Saudis. H.R.4718 would prohibit security assistance to, the sale or commercial export of arms to, or the exchange of law enforcement with a foreign country that has committed genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. In its 2020 World Report, Human Rights Watch notes that Saudi and UAE-led Coalition forces have since “March 2015 … conducted numerous indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes killing thousands of civilians and hitting civilian structures in violation of the laws of war, using munitions sold by the United States, United Kingdom, and others…. Human Rights Watch has documented at least 90 apparently unlawful Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, including deadly attacks on Yemeni fishing boats that have killed dozens and appeared to be deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects.” During the period before the 2020 Human Rights Watch report, the Saudi-led coalition had conducted more than 20,100 airstrikes on Yemen. Targets have included hospitals, school buses, markets, mosques, farms, bridges, factories, and detention centers. S-HP

If you want to decry this move that violates the administration’s own declared policy and allows for continued human rights abuses and urge swift, positive action on H.R.4718 by the relevant House Committees, addresses are here.

4. Myanmar’s use of torture

In late October, the AP reported on systematic use of torture by the Myanmar military government. It identified dozens of “interrogation” centers across the country. Since the military coup in February, more than 9,000 people have been held in detention and more than 1,200 people have been killed. According to the AP, “The vast majority of torture techniques described by prisoners were similar to those of the past, including deprivation of sleep, food and water; electric shocks; being forced to hop like frogs, and relentless beatings with cement-filled bamboo sticks, batons, fists and the prisoners’ own shoes…” Since February, the [Assistance Association for Political Prisoners] says, security forces have killed 1,218 people, including at least 131 detainees tortured to death.

The U.S. Department of State expressed outrage and called for an investigation, but global posturing alone is unlikely to yield results. There are, however, further ways the Mayanmar government could be pressured. According to U.S. News and World Report, “While the U.S., United Kingdom and European Union have already placed sanctions on high-ranking Myanmar military members and state-owned enterprises, they have yet to sanction American and French oil and gas companies working in Myanmar. That has allowed the military to maintain its single-largest source of foreign currency revenue, which the Tatmadaw [the military] uses, in part, to purchase weapons.”

Congress could also take steps in response to these reports of torture. In March, the House passed the Protect Democracy in Burma Act [Burma is another name by which Myanmar is known], H.R.1112, which is now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The legislation calls for the State Department to report on the military coup and to describe U.S. efforts to engage with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to support a return of democracy to Myanmar and to encourage the United Nations to hold those responsible for the coup.

 The BURMA Act, H.R.5497 in the House; S.2937 in the Senate, would “authorize humanitarian assistance and civil society support, promote democracy and human rights, and impose targeted sanctions with respect to human rights abuses in Myanmar.” H.R.5497 has been reported by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, meaning that the committee has approved bringing the legislation to the floor of the House. H.R.5497 is still with three additional House committees: Judiciary, Financial Services, and Ways and Means. S.2937 is with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  The Rohingya Genocide Determination Act, S.1142, would require “the Department of State to report to Congress an assessment of the persecution of the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim group in Burma (Myanmar), by Burma’s military and security forces, and whether the situation constitutes genocide under U.S. law, along with a description of U.S. government actions to ensure that those responsible are held accountable, and recommendations on further actions to take to ensure accountability and to prevent further mass atrocity crimes in Burma.” This legislation is also with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP

To intervene in this situation, you may want to insist that the administration take substantial action against the use of torture in Myanmar, including the possibility of sanctions on corporations functioning within the nation. In addition, you might urge swift, positive action on H.R.5497 by the House and the relevant House Committees, as well as on H.R.1112, S.2937, and S.1142 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. All addresses are here.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

5. Chip shortages to continue indefinitely

The world economy has been hampered by a variety of product shortages but perhaps none so far reaching as the current shortage in computer chips, found in everything from toasters to luxury cars. The prevailing narrative has been that the shortage is due to ease sometime next year; however new analyses have brought some doubt to that optimistic prediction, according to Ars Technica. The problem is multi-faceted, involving a lack of industrial capacity combined with extreme expense in upgrading existing facilities, a fierce competition for scarce talent in the industry and compounding scarcity in related industrial products such as printed circuit boards (PCBs). The stage was set for a tight supply before the pandemic, but the uncertainty brought on by COVID delayed crucial investments in new manufacturing. The lag time in ramping up production combined with accelerating demand mean that the chip shortage is here to stay for the next few years.  JC

6. Rich nations called upon to make good on their promises

At the upcoming Glasgow climate conference, countries will be pressed to commit to new targets for the reduction of emissions. Likely those commitments will be inadequate and countries will not honor them in any case, according to the Washington Post. The Post features a chart indicating what countries committed to in Paris and what they actually did. In September, the UN indicated that unless significant changes were made in methane emissions, the world would warm by 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit). It has already warmed past 2 degrees Celsius in some areas, according to the Post, leading to the catastrophic weather-related events–fires, droughts, floods–that so many have endured.

Several conversations are needed at once. Fossil fuel companies are heavily subsidized — to the tune of $826 billion in price cuts and tax breaks, according to Rolling Stonenot counting any of the money that goes to dealing with the damage they cause. Canada contributed $18 billion to that number, according to a report last spring from Environmental Defence–and proposes to spend $15 billion on climate initiatives over the next ten years. As the Brookings Institution argued last summer, for any change to be possible, the U.S. has to take a leadership role, establishing a working group of G-20 nations to begin eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.

Rolling Stone recites the argument that China and India need to commit to climate goals–but points out that the damage to climate is cumulative. Historically, the United States has contributed the largest share of climate-changing emissions, some 20%, as Carbon Brief points out; Russian and China are the next in line, at 7% and 11% respectively. (Carbon Brief also has a series of articles on climate justice.) And poorer countries–on whom the burden of the climate crisis falls most heavily–insist that richer countries must do much, much more to mitigate the damage rising temperatures cause and to help them develop alternatives to fossil fuels, as Al Jazeera notes. Rich countries pledged $100 billion but the money is not expected to arrive before 2023. 

If you want to see how various countries are doing vis a vis their climate pledges vis a vis the Paris accord, the Climate Action Tracker has details. You’ll see that Canada’s responses are “highly insufficient” and the US’s are “insufficient.” 

A recent piece in the New Yorker reviews several books with theories on why “climate politics are frozen. The first step: “changing the way we think about the planet and its peoples.” RLS

To be heard at this critical moment, you can sign Avaaz’s emergency appeal for climate action. Food and Water Watch has a form where you can write Biden directly. Canadians can send a letter to their government at the Environmental Defence site, asking that subsidies to fossil fuel companies be discontinued.

RESOURCES

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist points out that there are only 55 weeks till the midterms, and suggests a series of actions you can take toward election security.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.