News You May Have Missed: September 13, 2020

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

Not a California sunset. Photo credit, Peggy Mena

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Immigrants’ biometric data captured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD NEWS

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

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

7. Migratory birds again protected

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

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

8. Trump COVID body count: 193,723

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed: September 6, 2020

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

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed: August 23, 2020

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

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

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. How Trump could stay president

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

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

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

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

3. Latest assaults on the Post Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

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

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

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

7. Uyghurs interned, abused, surveilled in China

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

News You May Have Missed: August 16, 2020

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Preserving the Post Office: We did the math

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

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

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

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

2. Black lives at risk from COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Women assaulted in immigrant detention

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

5. GAO confirms that acting secretaries are serving illegally.

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

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

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

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

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

7. Clearview to claim first-amendment rights?

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

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Tracking the dead

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

RESOURCES

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



News You May Have Missed: August 9, 2020

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

1. Undermining the Postal Service threatens the November election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. New immigration and asylum application fees imposed

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

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

4. Good news/bad news immigration updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. No parenting while Black

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

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

8. A new strategy to obtain justice for Breonna Taylor

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

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

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

9. Did you receive COVID pay?

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

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

10. Flush insurers should pay consumers back

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

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

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

11. More concessions in national parks would damage local communities

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

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

12. Explosion in Lebanon, already wracked by economic devastation

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

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

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

13. Bangladesh takes the burden of climate change

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

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

RESOURCES

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

News You May Have Missed: August 2, 2020

“Moms United for Black Lives,” Alicia R,

DOMESTIC NEWS

  1. Serious “non-lethal” force injuries by police a decades-old issue

Reporting by the Washington Post shows that in the week following George Floyd’s death, eight people across the country lost vision in one eye due to being struck by police projectiles. These folks were among the 12 who reported partial loss of vision in the first week of protests. USA Today has shown that police use of rubber bullets and bean bag rounds has left “a bloody trail for decades.” Injuries have included skull fractures and head wounds, in addition to eye injuries. The pattern that was observed in the reporting is that individuals are injured, file lawsuits, and cities and police departments attempt to adopt reforms, and then a few years later it happens again. These so-called less-than-lethal munitions have been banned in the United Kingdom for decades. 

But, over decades of use, munitions that originally were touted as safe and nonlethal have proven otherwise: 

  • In 2000, a protester at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles lost an eye. Dozens of protestors demonstrating for migrant-rights demonstrators were wounded, shot by “less-lethal” rounds.
  • In 2001, after the University of Arizona lost the NCAA men’s basketball championship game, a riot ensued, during which a student was partly blinded.
  • In 2003, during protests against the Iraq war, police officers injured 58 people with wooden pellets and other “non-lethal” projectiles. 
  • In 2004, a college student in Boston celebrating a Red Sox victory was killed when a pepper-based projectile went through her eye and into her brain.

While civil liberties groups and others have argued for banning the use of these weapons, law enforcement agencies have asked how they would contain violent crowds without them.

In Portland, federal troops incited violence, used tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash explosives against peaceful protestors, and according to Newsweek, deliberately destroyed stockpiles of COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment, which would be considered a war crime if we actually were at war. ProPublica has examined nearly 400 social media posts showing police response to protestors in Portland, and found “troubling conduct by officers” in 184 of them; as ProPublica’s investigation noted, “officers punched, pushed and kicked retreating protesters, including a few instances in which they used an arm or knee to exert pressure on a protester’s neck.”

There is no central authority setting standards for police use of force; standards generally demand that officers have a basis for the firing of less-lethal weapon, but that standard can include deeming the protest unlawful, and decisions are often placed in the hands of front-line commanders. The stress of anti-police protests and long hours may also contribute to the reactivity of police officers, according to the experts ProPublica consulted.

In Portland, protestors have filed lawsuits in response to the use of force by Federal officers outside the federal court house. They claim the use of tear gas and projectiles while they were protesting peacefully and offering aid to protestors represents a violation of their first amendment right to protest and represents excessive use of force. In response to the lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Oregon, a restraining order was issued barring federal agents from “dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or otherwise targeting journalists and legal observers at protests.” Related to the arrests and other threats to journalists, the Department of Homeland Security has been compiling “intelligence reports” regarding journalists who reported on leaked documents about DHS operations in Portland. 

Finally, the Democratic mayor of Portland has called for a meeting with acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and other officials to “discuss a cease-fire and the removal of agents sent to Portland to deal with protests,” CNN reported.  A leaked email, obtained by CNN, shows that the administration is planning to keep agents there until at least October, while the actions of agents are under scrutiny by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General.  JM-L

2, Legislation proposed to deal with police use of force

Several pieces of legislation regarding police use of force and the deployment of federal officers in response to protests are before Congress, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley announced. H.R.7120, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and S.3912, the Justice in Policing Act, are identical and would do the following

  • lower the intent standard to convict law enforcement for misconduct in federal court;
  • limit the use of qualified immunity in civil actions;
  • authorize the Department of Justice to subpoena police records in order to investigate patterns or practices of discrimination;
  • establishe a National Police Misconduct Registry;
  • prohibit racial profiling, set up new requirements for training police, and report use of force, as well as use of body cameras.

H.R.7120 has been passed by the House. S.3912 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

S.4220, the Preventing Authoritarian Policing on America’s Street Act, was written in response to the actions of federal officers in Portland, Oregon. This legislation would:

  • require identification on officer uniforms and vehicles they use;
  • allow federal agents to protect only federal property unless requested to do more by the governor of the state and mayor of the city in which they are functioning;
  • require disclosure on official web sites within 24 hours of any deployment of federal officers, and specifically require information on the number of personnel deployed and the purpose of the deployment;
  • make violations of the above unlawful.

S.4220 is with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

H.R.7719, to Limit Use of Federal Law Enforcement Officers for Crowd Control, was also written in response to the actions of federal officers in Portland, Oregon. H.R.7719 would:

  • restrict the ability of Federal Marshalls to deputize other law enforcement such as employees of the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Homeland Security;
  • prohibit the Attorney General from using Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) employees to enforce federal laws outside the purview of the DEA.

H.R.7719 is currently with two House committees: Armed Services and Judiciary. S-HP

If you want to have a voice on this issue, contact:Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee, 290 Russell Senate office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-3841, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, 290 Russell Senate office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-3841.f

3. Those responsible for Portland debacle in office illegally

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been cooperating with Trump’s dispatching of federal officers to cities experiencing Black Lives Matter protests. Interestingly enough, at least two high-level Department of Homeland Security officials, including the highest among them, are currently serving illegally.

In general, Congress must approve high-level government appointments via Senate confirmation. Officials can be appointed temporarily without this approval, but under the Federal Vacancies and Reform Act of 1998, service in such temporary appointments is limited to 210 days. Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, took on that post on December 13, 2019, and as of August 1 had been serving for 232 days. He took the temporary position when the Republican Senate balked at confirming his appointment. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Mark Morgan, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, began serving on July 5, 2019, and as of August 1 had held that position for 393 days: 118 days (or a full half a year) beyond the legal limit. Not only are these men abusing their positions by allowing those they supervise to violate American’s First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances, but they should have been forced out of these positions by now. Wolf was in day 204 of his 210 days when he approved sending federal officers to Portland and should have stepped down the following week, given the 1998 legislation. On the day federal officers were sent to Portland, Morgan had been in his position for 365 days: 155 days (or roughly five months) beyond his legal term of service. S-HP

If you think Wolf and Morgan have overstayed their welcome, you can propose that they be removed from their positions as is required under law and call for an investigation into the full number of individuals currently serving illegally in DHS. Addresses are here.

4. Guess who the real domestic terrorists are

As Trump uses violence by federal officers to intimidate Black Lives Matter protestors, he keeps warning about the threat of antifa (anti-fascist) violence. A new study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, based on 900 politically motivated acts of violence in the U.S. since 1994, examines the deaths caused by both leftwing and rightwing extremist violence. As reported in the Guardian, the study reveals 1 death resulting from that period resulting from left wing violence and 329 deaths resulting from rightwing violence. And note, the one “left wing death” was actually the perpetrator of the violence himself. Nonetheless, Trump assures us that white supremacists are “some very fine people.” S-HP

If you want to call for a serious Congressional investigation of and legislation in response to extreme rightwing violence, you can find your congressmembers’ contact information here.

5. Trump defies court orders

The Supreme Court recently ruled that Trump used an improper procedure in ending DACA, the provision allowing children and young people who had been brought to the U.S. by their parents to stay in the country. Trump via the Department of Homeland Security has re-announced a policy to end DACA in a way that he believes will be beyond legal challenge. He has also refused to accept new DACA applications, NPR reports, despite a court order to do so. As the new policy reads, Trump is directing “DHS personnel to take all appropriate actions to reject all pending and future initial requests for DACA.” 300,000 young people are still hoping to apply for DACA, according to the Center for American Progress. RLS

If you want to tell the Senate Majority Leader and your own Senators that it is well past time for Passing the American Dream and Promise Act that would give DACA youth a path toward citizenship, their addresses are here.

6. Trump administration refuses to print green cards for renewals

The Trump administration’s willingness to defy a court order is congruent with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ refusal to renew a contract with the company that prints green cards. Thus, immigrants legitimately in the country—such as those who must renew their cards every ten years and those whose immigration status has been previously approved—have not been able to get their cards, leaving them vulnerable to deportation, the Washington Post reports. The Post quotes immigration attorney Anis Saleh in Coral Gables, Fla. as saying, “The bottom line is that applicants pay huge filing fees, and it appears that these fees have apparently been either squandered through mismanagement or diverted to enforcement-focused initiatives, to the great detriment of applicants as well as the overall efficiency of the immigration process. The administration has accomplished its goal of shutting down legal immigration without actually changing the law.” RLS

If you think this situation should be put right, you can insist that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services obtain an ample supply of green cards immediately and ask for a Congressional investigation into this ill-intended decision not to order additional green cards necessary for the day-to-day function of our immigration system. Addresses are here.

7. Some child asylum-seekers able to seek hearings, others deported

ICE has been holding unaccompanied children arriving in search of asylum in hotels and then deporting them. There are no records of the children nor any information about where their parents are. “Witness at the Border” posted on Sunday about two unaccompanied children, 12 and 9, being deported to the country where their uncle was killed by gangs and where they have received death threats. Their mother lives legally in the US. “The United States is estimated to be deporting approximately 200 unaccompanied children as young as 4 EVERY WEEK to the dangerous countries of Central America. Many have no caregivers. Many will grow ill from the coronavirus to which they’re exposed on these deportation flights. Some will be trafficked, abused, raped, killed.”

In one small piece of good news, a successful challenge to the policy protected 17 people, children and adults, from being deported without a hearing, Buzzfeed reported. Buzzfeed also told the story of a teenager who successfully fought to join his father in the U.S. after receiving death threats from gangs in Honduras. He described his experience of being sequestered under armed guard in a hotel this way: “I felt locked up. I felt alone and isolated,” he said. “I didn’t know what time of day it was. I didn’t know what day it was. I felt utterly disconnected from society. I just felt anxiety and depression.” RLS

Witness at the Border urges you to sign the petition and donate to bring the two children back to their mother.

8. Kids’ schools, parents jobs

One of the great unknowns of the COVID-19 epidemic is how working parents will return to work if their children’s schools, as an appropriate safety measure, remain online. On Thursday, the House passed an important piece of COVID-related legislation that could help address this quandary. H.R.7327, the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act, which would increase federal childcare funding for 2020. H.R.7327 would increase the federal tax deduction for dependent children and make it refundable, would increase the amount of employer-provided childcare that is not taxable, and allow the carryover of any unspent childcare funding into 2021. H.R.7327 is now with the Senate’s Appropriations Committee. S-HP

If you feel strongly about this, urge quick, positive action on H.R.7327 by the Senate Appropriations Committee to help working parents make the return to onsite work as it becomes appropriate. Addresses are here.

9. Strikes for safe schools

The American Federation of Teachers has passed a resolution backing members who go on strike to oppose unsafe school openings, the AP reports. While Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump, who want to make federal school funding dependent on schools’ reopening, are at least claiming—incorrectly—that children do not contract COVID-19. They have said nothing about the risks such reopenings would present for teachers and school staff.

The National Education Association (NEA) has published a report on what safe school reopening would entail, and has been urging constituents to contact their Congressmembers telling them that we still desperately need education-related COVID-19 legislation that would:

  • provide at least $175 billion to support school reopenings, whether online or in-person;
  • eliminate any requirements regarding whether that instruction should be in-person or online for schools to receive these funds;
  • lock any liability protections for schools as they return to in-person instruction, in order to ensure appropriate attention to the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff;
  • not set funds aside for private schools or voucher funding at the expense of public schools.

The Council of Chief State School Officers has written Lamar Alexander, Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, to let the Senate know what kinds of flexibility and funding schools will need. The Washington Post has published a heartbreaking opinion piece by a superintendent about the stakes of re-opening in-person schools. S-HP

 You can advocate for appropriate school funding and safety measures modeled on NEA guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic and inform Education Secretary DeVos and your Congressmembers that you will be supporting any teachers who feel compelled to strike because of the health threat presented by hasty school reopenings. Addresses are here.

10. Transgender people to be deprived of shelter

Let’s consider a set of related facts. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, 1 in 3 trans people will be homeless at some point in their lives. Research by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) indicates that in 2017, 71% of all incidents of hate violence were against people of color; 52% were against transsexuals; and 40% were specifically against transsexual women of color. And the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), as reported in USA Today, says that 27 trans people were killed in hate crimes during 2019—and as of July 8, this year has seen 21 such killings.        

Now let’s consider federal homeless housing assistance. Under 2016 rules, single-sex facilities determining whom they could serve are to do so “in accordance with their [the homeless] self-identified gender identity.” This meant trans women could be safely housed in women’s shelters where they would be less apt to suffer the kinds of violence documented by NCAVP and HRC. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is now proposing a rule change that would direct shelters “to consider biological sex in placement and accommodation decisions,” and that in making such decisions, shelters could consider “factors such as height, the presence (but not the absence) of facial hair, the presence of an Adam’s apple, and other physiological characteristics,” Vox reported.

Once you’ve contemplated these facts, you may want to tell HUD your thoughts about this proposal while it is open for official comments and you can get suggestions for wording here. You can also comment for the public record on this cruel and dangerous rule change proposa,l being sure to include the docket number HUD-2020-0047-0001.

11. While Black

The California legislature has an opportunity to enact penalties for deliberately placing an emergency call that is deliberately discriminatory—think of those 911 calls about BBQ-ing while Black, birdwatching while Black, swimming while Black, and entering one’s own home while Black. This legislation, AB-1550, has passed the Assembly and is now with the California Senate’s committees on Rules and Public Safety. S-HP

If you are in California, you might want to advocate for the quick passage of AB-1550. Addresses are here. If you are not, you might want to suggest that your state legislators take up such a bill.

12. Black Lives

Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13 by Louisville police officers serving a questionable no-knock warrant. The men who killed her remain free and uncharged.

If you want to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, write to Kentucky officials and your elected representatives. Addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

13. Covid numbers

On July 10, hospitals were ordered to begin reporting COVID-19 case numbers and deaths to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), rather than to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as had been the practice. Because of the politicized nature of DHS and Trump’s desire to keep case numbers low, many have worried that this transition will make it easier for the administration to manipulate COVID-19 numbers, MedPage Today reported. At the moment, HHS numbers are relatively close to the numbers being posted by Johns Hopkins, which has been conservative, but not repressive, in its reporting. Nonetheless, the administration numbers are lower than Johns Hopkins figures—3% lower on total cases and 1% lower on deaths, as of August 1. The uncertainty about the HHS numbers makes accurate state-level numbers all the more important. S-HP

You can ask your State Director of Public Health whether the COVID-19 numbers it’s posting are the state’s own or the numbers from the new HHS system and share your concern about the accuracy of HHS numbers. Links to all state and territory Departments of Public Health can be found here.

14. Transporting liquified natural gas

For years, the energy industry has pushed for approval to transport Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) by rail. Previous efforts have been blocked because of the potential for catastrophic explosions and fire this method of transportation would present. Now, according to EcoRI News, the Trump administration has issued a final rule, that would allow rail transport of LNG beginning August 24 and allows “voluntary compliance” (starting to ship LNG early if the industry promises to honor safety guidelines) as of July 24.

LNG is a form of extremely cold liquid methane (methane becomes liquid at temperatures below -260° F). The cooling process condenses the methane to 1/600th of the volume it would have at ambient temperatures, Insurance News explains.. An explosion involving 22 tank cars would create an explosion equal in size and power to the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Green America reports. These facts alone are cause for a concern. The extreme cold of LNG poses dangers in its own right, and if LNG ignites it will almost instantly increase in size by a factor of 600, causing massive explosions, as well as fire.  Burning LNG can produce “pool” fires, fires in which a cloud of gas forming as LNG warms in a leak or spill. The gas cloud burns while hovering of the escape LNG and cannot be extinguished until all the LNG has converted to gas and burned. Then, there’s the fact that methane is a greenhouse gas responsible in part for global warming,

         Currently LNG is moved via pipeline. In the six-year period ending in 2016 the LNG industry reported 35 explosions and 32 ignitions at transmission pipelines; they killed a total of seven individuals and injured another 86. Other methane-related explosions and fires include

  • the 2010 explosion of an underground pipeline in San Bruno that killed eight and injured 51;
  • a 2015 Texas pipeline fire that released up to 165,732 pounds of organic compounds
  • an underground pipeline explosion in New Mexico that killed ten people camping nearby;       
  • A 2014 explosion in the state of Washington that forced hundreds to evaculate, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

This final rule comes after a 2019 rule proposal, which, oddly enough, remains open for comment, though it was to have closed on January 13 of this year, so there are actually two ways to comment as explained below. Comments on the 2019 proposed rule can be either written or online. Comments on the current final rule must be submitted online. As of August 1, only a single comment had been filed regarding the final rule. S-HP.

If you want to comment for the public record on the unacceptable risks posed by transporting LNG by rail, the instructions are here.

RESOURCES

  • Subscribe to the Americans of Conscience Checklist for a list of clear, quick actions you can take.
  • Rogan’s list is taking a well-deserved break, but she suggests other sites with lists of actions you can take.
  • Sara-Hope’s list is integrated above, but if you want to work through the action items systematically, you can check out the google doc.
  • Apropos of her list, which offers many, many opportunities to comment on policy items for the public record, Martha muses that a lot of important proposed regulations either have no to opportunity comment or don’t allow the 60 day comment period -so don’t follow the Administrative Procedure Act. Thus, many may be illegal (as the DACA ruling showed.) If so, it may be easier to set things right later.



News You May Have Missed: July 26, 2020

Portland, July 21, 2020. Photo Courtesy of Candace Millard

Heather Cox Richardson’s daily column is now a year old. See her July 24 commentary on how McConnell and co. are stalling on another relief bill, right when unemployment benefits are due to run out on Friday and eviction protections have expired. As she speculates, “But there is another brutal calculation in this catastrophic timing: evicted adults will be far less likely to vote.”

With 100 days +/- to go till the election, Chrysostom reports on House, Senate, state and local races, and vets various polls.

The National Lawyers Guild has launched a hotline for people to call if they are–just hypothetically–grabbed off the street by armed, unidentified federal agents or face other threats to their civil rights. Keep the number handy: 212-679-2811.

A medic who was injured in Portland recommends this organization, Don’t Shoot PDX, if you want to donate to support protesters.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Toddlers held in hotels without their parents, then deported

An unknown number of children as young as a year old have been held without their parents in hotels in Arizona and Texas before being deported, Forbes reported. Some have been held there for weeks, according to the AP. It is not clear who is caring for them in the hotels or what kind of credentials they have. A court settlement, the Flores agreement, and anti-trafficking laws require that children be placed with family members or sponsors as soon as possible, but the Trump administration has refused to do so. Over 2000 children have been deported since March. The Facebook group Witness at the Border says that no one knows where the children are being sent and to whom. The Texas Civil Rights Project along with the ACLU has filed a lawsuit, and the National Center for Youth Law is representing the children; as one of their attorneys told the AP, They’ve created a shadow system in which there’s no accountability for expelling very young children.” RLS

The Texas Civil Rights Project is urging people to contact their Congressmembers, asking them to investigate the detention of children at unidentified hotels. You can send the letter at the above link–we recommend that you personalize it, as it will have more impact.

2. Trump plans to unleash armed federal agents on more cities

In a follow-up to last week’s coverage of the use of federal law enforcement officials grabbing protesters off the streets of Portland in unmarked vans, this week we have the Trump administration threatening to expand the use of the tactic to other cities; the President has said they are doing a “great job,” CBS reported. 

ABC News, along with several other outlets, reports that the President is expanding “Operation Legend,” sending federal agents into US cities to crackdown on violent crime, which started in June in Kansas City, MO; it is being expanded to Chicago and Albuquerque, NM, due to rises in violent crime. This is a separate action from the use of federal agents in Portland. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, after a phone call with President Trump, that she welcomed the presence of ATF, FBI, and DEA agents to help curtail the recent surge in violent crime in the city. She was adamant, however, that any action by federal law enforcement agencies would not be actions like those against the protesters in Portland. (Chicago Tribune) The recent rash of shootings in Chicago includes the widely politicized shooting in which 15 people were injured outside of a funeral home, where visitation was being held for the victim of a drive-by shooting, as CNN reported.

In Portland a variety of groups and individuals have stood up to protect protesters from the actions of federal agents. A group of moms, calling themselves “A Wall of Moms,” wearing yellow shirts, bicycle helmets, and goggles locked arms in front of the protestors to protect them from violence. Additionally veterans have joined the forces between the federal courthouse and protesters, as well as a group of dads, in orange shirts, many of whom have brought leaf blowers, used to disperse tear gas, as the New York Times  and Rolling Stone described the scene. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was tear gassed with protesters in the early hours of Thursday morning. Wheeler also faced jeers from protesters, who charge that he didn’t do enough to stop the Portland Police from using tear gas against protesters, prior to the federal government’s involvement, according to the AP

Two government watchdog agencies said on Thursday that they would investigate the response of federal agents to protests in Portland. The Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced he would be investigating the use of unmarked vans and agents in fatigues not wearing identification. The statement given by the Inspector General’s office said the investigation would include “examining the training and instruction that was provided to the DOJ law enforcement personnel; compliance with applicable identification requirements, rules of engagement, and legal authorities; and adherence to DOJ policies regarding the use of less-lethal munitions, chemical agents, and other uses of force,” both Politico and the AP reported. On Thursday, a federal judge restricted the actions of both federal and local law enforcement, in a decision responding to a suit brought by the Oregon ACLU, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.  Additionally, Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and  Oregon Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., have drafted legislation to halt what they call “paramilitary occupations” in cities, KDRV noted. J-ML

After being contacted by members of Congress concerned about the use of federal agents to attack and disperse protestors in Portland and Washington, DC, Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz has announced that he, along with Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security Joseph V. Cuffari will be investigation the legality of incidents of use of force in both locations. If you want to urge them to be thorough, their addresses are here.

Rogan’s list points out that “Senators Jeff Merkley Ron Wyden have introduced legislation to stop the Trump administration from using federal forces as a shadowy paramilitary against Americans. A vote could happen soon, so we can call our Senators and Representatives and ask them to vote YES, on the ‘Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America’s Streets Act’ today.” We can also sign here:  http://act.boldprogressives.org/survey/petition-trump-paramilitary/? to show our support and then share this information on social media.

3. Mayors say Trump’s militia increases violence

The United States Conference of Mayors, an organization of mayors of cities with populations of 30,000 or more and which has bipartisan leadership, has issued a stern statement of their outrage and opposition in response to the Trump administration’s deployment of federal law enforcement to cities, uninvited and without coordination with State and local officials, saying that these “actions have exacerbated a situation that was calming down… [and] have increased violence in our streets.” The group goes on to explain “There are many things the federal government can do to help cities and support local efforts, but sending federal agents in without any coordination with mayors and governors is not among them… [and] federal actions are an unprecedented and dangerous threat to our democracy and to the future of our great country.” S-HP

You can thank the United States Conference of Mayors for speaking truth to power: U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1620 I St. NW, Washington DC 20006, (202) 293-7330.

4. New ban on asylum proposed

The Trump Republicans have proposed a ban on asylum for those who have come from or travelled through a country with “serious disease”–possibly one of the Latin American countries to which the U.S. has deported people with COVID-19. The ban would also eliminate the provision for “withholding of removal” which gives someone access to the country–though with fewer privileges than asylees–if they can show that they are likely to be persecuted if they return their home country. Previous incarnations of the Department of Justice agreed in court that it could not eliminate that provision without violating international law, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). This ban is in addition to the ban imposed by the CDC, which led to the immediate expulsion of all asylum seekers on the grounds that they would bring in COVID-19, as Stanford Law’s blog explained.  As the president of AILA said, “The United States has among the highest COVID-19 infection rates worldwide, so the real threat of COVID-19 is not outside our nation’s borders but within them.” RLS

Comments on the new ban will be accepted until August 10. The National Immigration Project (an arm of the National Lawyers Guild) is raising funds to assist detained immigrants.

5. Trump and DeVos advocate putting children, parents, grandparents, teachers, at risk

Apparently, the Trump administration is full of unrecognized medical savants. Trump himself has urged us to consider injecting bleach and providing ourselves protection from coronavirus by touting a chemical that has medical uses, but is also a component in fish-tank cleaners. Now Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose highest degree is a B.A. in business economics, has assured us in an interview with Conservative Circus that children “don’t get it [Coronavirus] and don’t transmit it,” so we should happily and without worry send them back to in-person education for the 2020-21 school year. In fact, the Trump administration is now looking for ways to economically penalize schools that continue to provide remote instruction. Not surprisingly, DeVos’s claims are no more medically useful than Trump’s. In a fact-checker piece, the Washington Post examined the information De Vos was using to make her claim.

DeVos mentions several reports, but, as the Washington Post explains, her main piece of evidence is a German study that has not yet been peer reviewed and that, therefore, should not be used to guide clinical guidance. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker contacted the study’s authors, who said using it to justify reopening schools in the U.S. would be inappropriate. First, the researchers said that their study, which was based in Germany, was looking at a population in which the number of Coronavirus infections had remained low after an initial peak, unlike the U.S., whose case numbers continue to rise. Second, they explain while their report says children play a limited role in spreading the virus, this claim is made in the context of an earlier report that children spread the virus more easily than adults.        

The article goes on to provide other data and also discusses the current situation of the U.S. The Washington Post cites American Academy of Pediatrics data that, while acknowledging that Coronavirus is less life-threatening for children than adults, as of July 17, 241,904 school-age children had contracted Conronavirus and that those numbers had seen a 46% increase from July 2 through July 16. The Washington Post then goes on to point out an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation that finds some 3.3 million adults age 65 or older (the group most vulnerable to Coronavirus and who face the greatest risks if they contract the virus) live in households with school-age children. To put it simply, even if no children become sick from returning to in-person education, millions of vulnerable adults would be at greater risk.

Meanwhile, CNN has just reported on a nine-year-old with no pre-existing conditions who died of COVID. S-HP

You might want to tell Secretary DeVos that having a degree in business economics doesn’t qualify her to dispense medical advice and that medicine isn’t practiced by directing treatment using a small body of non-peer reviewed evidence that has been hand-picked to lead to a predetermined conclusion. You can also tell DeVos and Trump what you think of their efforts to penalize schools that prioritize student health over economic recovery. Their addresses are here. You may want to write to your local school board as well.

6. Trump orders undocumented residents to be omitted from the Census

The U.S. Census counts for any number of reasons, but a particularly significant one is that the population figures resulting from the Census are used to determine the distributions of the House of Representative’s 435 voting seats. The actual mechanisms in the Constitution determining Census counts include the President providing the Census data to Congress, Congress determining the official count.

The Constitution requires that all “persons” residing in the U.S. be counted in the Census—and therefore in the distribution of House seats. In the first Census of 1790 and in all subsequent Censuses, “persons” had been defined in the broadest possible sense as any human being, regardless of immigration status. (Until the Civil War, of course, enslaved people were counted as three-fifths of a person.)

However, there have been a number of moves to redefine “persons” to mean “citizens and legally documented non-citizen immigrants.” Given that immigrant communities (including both documented and undocumented individuals) are largest in major cities of primarily Democratic states—Los Angeles and New York City, for example—the move to exclude immigrants without documentation is a move to reduce the number of House seats assigned to those states. The current administration’s first attempt to pull the issue of citizenship into the Census, and therefore into the distribution of House seats, began with a proposed citizenship question on the 2020 Census, which was definitively blocked by a 2019 Supreme Court ruling.

Shortly after that ruling, however, Trump issued an executive order calling on all federal agencies to provide to the Commerce Department, which is charged with running the Census, any “information permitting the President, to the extent practicable” to leave out unauthorized immigrants from the Census, as the Hill reported.. These might include visa and green card data from the Department of Homeland Security, passport and refugee records from the State Department, and social service records from a number of agencies. What Trump is aiming for, is a way of eliminating undocumented individuals from the Census data sent to Congress. Vox has characterized this move by the President as “a transparent bid to erode [immigrants’] political power and that of their communities.”

The House of Representatives, under Democratic leadership, is considering its own methods for ensuring that the “persons” counted in the census include both citizens and non-citizens, documented and undocumented. According to The Hill, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has criticized the President’s “unconstitutional and unlawful attempt to impair the Census.” The House Oversight and Reform Committee is also launching emergency hearings regarding the Census, the data the President will provide to Congress, and how that data will be interpreted. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Attorneys General of California and New York, have all launched, or announced their intention of launching, legal challenges to any attempt to remove individuals from the Census count. Ultimately, it is most likely that “persons” will mean “everyone,” as US News points out, but if getting to that point requires multiple court cases and appeals, the U.S. might, meanwhile, be forced to function with incomplete results. S-HP

You could remind Trump that while he is assigned the responsibility of providing Census data to Congress, provide does not mean passing along only individual data units that suit his own agenda and leaving others out. You could thank Pelosi and the House Oversight and Reform Committee for their attention to these disingenuous moves by the administration. Addresses are here.

7. Meat-packing plant workers sue over unsafe conditions

Three meat-packing plant workers at Maid-Rite in Pennsylvania, two of whom have contracted COVID-19, have filed suit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia for failing to protect essential workers from dangerous conditions that could expose workers to Coronavirus, according to ProPublica. This suit is based on a provision in the Occupational Safety and Health Act that allows workers to sue the Secretary of Labor if imminent dangers are handled “arbitrarily or capriciously.” Among specific practices cited by the plaintiffs are a six-absences-and-you’re-out employment policy and the offering of attendance bonuses, which encourage sick individuals to continue reporting to work. The plaintiffs allege that their problems are not exclusive to Maid-Rite, but are prevalent across the meat-packing and poultry-processing industry, which has seen at least 33,000 Coronavirus cases and 132 deaths related to the pandemic. The meat-packing industry in general has been slow to adopt or accept COVID-19 protection practices. Workers at many plants report working elbow-to-elbow and washing their hands in dirty, overused bathrooms. OSHA does have guidelines for COVID-19 safety practices, but these are not mandates, and companies can choose whether to follow them. Smithfield, another one of the plants in question, is trying to block any data or photographs from being used in lawsuits, according to Meat & Poultry, a trade journal. The Maid-Rite workers are being represented by lawyers from Justice at Work, a non-profit focusing on workplace issues of workers in low-paying jobs.

You can write to Eugene Scalia, Secretary of Labor, to urge him to take immediate measures to require appropriate COVID-19 safety practices for meat-packing and poultry-processing workers and impose significant penalties for employers not in compliance: 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20210, (866) 4-USA-DOL

8. Releasing nursing homes from liability in California and Ontario

The California Senate will soon be voting on legislation that would indemnify nursing home operators and other owners of businesses with fewer that twenty-five employees from COVID-19-related liability claims. AB-1035, COVID-19 Emergency: Small Businesses: Immunity from Civil Liability, was passed unanimously by the California Assembly. The American Association of Retired People has been fighting this legislation, pointing out that those housed in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities are among California’s most vulnerable populations and that these businesses should be held accountable for the health and safety of these populations. According to The California Health Care Foundation’s website (CHCF) more than 40% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes. CHCF also cites the results of an analysis by CalMatters showing that there are 73 California nursing homes with 10 or more COVID-19 deaths that were rated by Medicare as “below average” or “much below average” in terms of quality of care and living conditions. Data.CMS, a website managed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, reported that as of July 12, 2,458 nursing home residents in California had died as a result of COVID-19. S-HP

Most of the deaths from COVID-19 in Ontario, Canada have been in long-term care facilties, and as an investigation by the CBC demonstrated, most of those deaths–83 percent–have occurred in for-profit facilities. Though non-profit and for-profit facilities had the same infection rate, the cases in for-profit homes were more serious, the CBC noted last week. Chain companies had the worst outcomes, according to Global News; Sienna Senior Living and Revera Inc. had the highest number of deaths, with 525 residents dying. Nonetheless, Ontario is considering some form of immunity for those who spread COVID-19 while acting “in good faith,” a provision which could cover nursing homes, the CBC reports. COVID is not the only difficulty long-term care residents face; the CBC quoted the Ontario Health Coalition as saying that “95 per cent of staff in the province’s nursing homes reported the basic care needs of residents — such as bathing, oral care and emotional support — were going unmet due to staff shortages.” RLS

If you are a Californian, you can ask your Assemblymember to explain their reasoning in freeing these businesses from the results of their failure to adequately care for residents and tell your California Senator that you want to see accountability for nursing homes, which means voting “no” on AB-1035. Addresses are here.

9. What the Commission established to oversee elections is (not) doing

Reporting by ProPublica examines the current lack of leadership—and appropriate actions—by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a four-member, bipartisan group of appointees that was established in 2002 as a follow-up to the disputed Bush-Gore presidential election. The EAC’s stated responsibility is maintaining U.S. election integrity during emergencies—like, say, a pandemic. The reporting is detailed and not easily summarized, but includes items such as John Ashcroft’s focus on voter fraud during his time as Attorney General, which many feel originates from his failed run for the office of Governor of Missouri, when he lost to a dead man. (How could Ashcroft lose to a dead man? It must be fraud!) Three of the lawyers who worked on Ashcroft’s voter fraud investigations are now key players in the election fraud/deliberate disenfranchisement movement [the writer’s term]: Hans von Spakovsky, who moved on to work at the conservative Heritage Foundation; J. Christian Adams, who now runs the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an organization dedicated to reducing voter rolls through legal means with suits alleging “largely exaggerated” [ProPublica’s term] claims of bloated voting rolls ripe for fraud. Like much of the Republican party the Republican EAC Commissioners have become increasingly focused on purported voter fraud—rather than, say, planning for secure elections during emergencies. In 2007 the EAC hired researchers to study and report on voter fraud, but when their research found little evidence of such fraud, the EAC decided not to accept their report.

Now, let’s move ahead 17 years to ProPublica’s reporting on the current iteration of the EAC. ProPublica begins the present-day material with a mid-March conference call to the EAC, involving a number of State election commissioners and others involved in running U.S. elections. The callers wanted information on how to quickly establish large-scale mail balloting, since the pandemic might well make in-person voting risky. Apparently only one of the four commissioners spoke during that call, Ben Hovland, who chairs the commission, and one participant described his responses to questions as “striking” in their lack of direction. A second call resulted in the EAC essentially telling State election commissioners, “check with Washington State. They’ve had mail-only voting for ages and will know how to do it.” Unfortunately, Washington had spent years developing its system—the documentation for which consisted of thousands of pages of material—and had never been in the start-mail-voting-quick-we’re-in-an-emergency business.

 Ultimately, Washington’s enormous body of information was boiled down into two shorter documents focused on creating election timelines and a how-to guide. These documents were not created by the EAC, but by an informal group consisting of representatives from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, two different associations of State election officials, and a group of election-related vendors and nonprofit agency employees. The EAC initially balked at vetting and posting these new materials because one Commissioner objected that they included no information on in-person voting and felt mail voting should not be promoted over in-person voting—note that these materials were specifically intended to be material regarding mail voting, not multiple forms of voting. By late April, the EAC had agreed to post the new materials, and most State election commissioners and other similar individuals have gone on to develop mail voting plans alone or with small groups of colleagues. 

This brings us up to the present, when we have the EAC offering support for mail voting that it should have developed itself, but didn’t, and administration figures regularly firing off Tweets with unsubstantiated claims of rampant election fraud.

If you want to remind the EAC and the administration that the goal of elections should be to allow maximum participation with minimum individual risk and propose that they begin immediate efforts to make secure, efficient nationwide mail voting possible before the November 3 election, their addresses are here.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. PPE Shortage still, again

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. healthcare workers lacked access to Personal Protective Equipment (masks, gloves, shields, and the like) and were dying as a result. Adequate amounts of PPE were never produced, and healthcare workers continue to contract COVID-19 (and die) as a result of these shortages, according to ABC News. As the New York Times has reported, even when the federal government has provided PPE for healthcare workers, it is often defective or unusable: expired surgical masks, isolation gowns that look more like trash bags, and extra-small gloves that fit only a limited minority of those providing healthcare to COVID-19 patients and those vulnerable to the disease.

The National Nurses Union has called for Senate support of the establishment of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set of standards to protect healthcare workers during the pandemic and for the creation of a comprehensive and transparent medical supply chain system—including full use of the Defense Production Act—to rapidly scale up domestic production of PPE. These could be accomplished by passing the HEROES Act, which was passed by the House in mid-May and has still not been the subject of debate or a vote by the Senate. Whatever form the next stimulus package takes, we can tell our Senators that we want it to include healthcare worker protections and adequate production of PPE. S-HP

The National Nurses Union has provided an online site that will quickly connect you with your Senators’ offices so you can discuss the importance of PPE.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist has clear explanations and easy actions you can take around voting and other rights.
  • If you send postcards, you can work through Sarah-Hope’s list, designed for exactly that.
  • Martha’s list this week gives you an opportunity to comment on the HUD effort to allow community housing organizations (read homeless shelters) to turn away transgender people. See also the call for nominations for two Census Advisory Committees–closing soon.
  • Rogan’s list has other actions you can take to prevent the administration from unleashing armed agents in cities (with Democratic mayors), ways to learn non-violent tactics online, recommendations for whom to call to save the Post Office, and more.

News You May Have Missed: July 19, 2020

John Lewis. United States House of Representatives / Public domain

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.” John Lewis

Heather Cox Richardson offers us the quote above from the late John Lewis. She has a comprehensive tribute to Lewis in her July 17 column. In it, she also comments on CNN’s analysis that the reason Trump and DeVos are pressing schools to reopen has to do with Trump’s effort to recapture white women voters in the suburbs who are tired of teaching their kids at home and need to return to their jobs. We wonder whether there is also a calculation that by the time teachers and children (or their parents and grandparents) die from the disease, the election will be over.

Speaking of elections, our indefatigable elections correspondent, Chrysostom, reports this week on recent primaries. He also reminds us that the Supreme Court declined to intervene in the ongoing litigation concerning Florida felon disenfranchisement, meaning that, at minimum, many people will be blocked from voting in the upcoming primary there.

The multi-billion dollar CARES Act, which was supposed to help small businesses keep their workers during the pandemic, was in fact a debacle rewarding billionaires and Trump associates. See our story below on the many layers of corruption and graft.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Honoring John Lewis

As we mourn the death of Civil Rights hero John Lewis, we can think about appropriate ways of honoring his legacy. Here are two suggestions:

  • Rename the Voting Rights Advancement Act, H.R.4, in his honor and insist that it be passed by the Senate (the House has already done so). The Supreme Court’s 2018 Shelby County v. Holder ruling gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. H.R.4 would restore those voting rights protections. As of July 19, H.R.4 had been languishing in the Senate Judiciary Committee for 223 days.
  • Rename the Edmund Pettis Bridge, site of an attack on peaceful voting rights activists by Alabama State Troopers (the protestors were praying at the time the Alabama Troopers launched their assault) and now a National Historic Landmark, in honor of the leader of that protest.

If you want to urge your Congressmembers to support these actions in memory of John Lewis, their addresses are here.

2. New DACA applications rejected–DACA under siege

While the Supreme Court ruled that Trump’s cancellation of the Dream Act (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA) was improper, our Dreamers aren’t safe yet. First, the Supreme Court made it clear that, while the grounds Trump had used for ending DACA were inadequate, Trump can end the program if he finds an appropriate rationale (see the note under Martha’s list–Resources). Ending DACA is of particular concern during the COVID-19 pandemic, as over 62,000 U.S. healthcare workers are Dreamers, according to the New American Economy Research Fund. Two issues are pressing now: First, as The Hill reports, the administration made it clear almost immediately after the ruling that it would be issuing a new executive order ending DACA. Second, in a blatantly unconstitutional move, KQED reports that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has been rejecting all new DACA applications in defiance of the Supreme Court ruling.

Now a federal judge has ruled that the administration must begin operating the DACA program along its original guidelines, allowing both new and renewal applications. In June, USCIS went so far as to issue a statement claiming that the Supreme Court “opinion has no basis in law and merely delays the President’s lawful ability to end the illegal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals amnesty program…. The constitutionality of this de facto amnesty program created by the Obama administration has been widely questioned since its inception.” Dreamers are not “safe,” and they will not be safe until Congress acts to provide them ongoing legal protections. This could be accomplished with Senate passage of H.R.6, the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R.6 has already passed in the House). On June 10, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell placed H.R.6 on “general orders,” which means it is not being forwarded to any Senate committees and will almost certainly not be considered by the full Senate. S-HP

You can tell your Senators that you want them to fiercely and continuously press McConnell for serious Senate consideration of H.R.6, and urge Joe
Biden, who was part of a group proposing legislation in 2013 that would have given Dreamers and other undocumented individuals a path to citizenship, to take immediate action to protect Dreamers should he become President. Addresses are here.

3. Children still in detention–may be released without their parents

ICE has been given an extra ten days to release a group of children who are in detention with their families. Judge Dolly Gee has been overseeing the order to release them, and just permitted ICE to take until July 27 to do so, a story in the Toronto Star explains. (The extension has been undercovered in the U.S., with mainly local news outlets reporting.) Judge Gee, however, does not have the authority to insist that families be released with their children. The unfortunate but likely outcome is that parents will be forced to choose between signing a waiver permitting the children to be released to family members without them, or keeping the children in detention with them. RLS

RAICES, a very reliable immigration support group in Texas, has a toolkit you can use to contact your member of Congress and to support the children in detention–or you can call or email–contact information is here.

4. Repression of protestors escalates

Federal agents in unmarked vans have been grabbing protestors in Portland, Oregon since at least July 14th. Officers have been driving up to people and detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said that one protestor was shot in the head by Customs and Border Patrol agents, the Washington Post reported. This appears to be an escalation in federal use of force deployed on Portland city streets, as federal officials and the President have said they intend to quell the nightly protests that have been happening over the past 6 weeks outside the federal courthouse and the Multnomah County Justice center. However, Oregon Public Broadcasting has interviewed individuals who have been detained on Portland streets that aren’t near federal property, and it is not clear that those being arrested have been engaged in criminal activity. Demonstrators have said they think federal officers are targeting individuals who are simply wearing black clothing in the area of the demonstrations. 

Acting deputy director of the Department of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli, confirmed to NPR on Friday that officers have used this tactic once near the federal courthouse in Portland, but did not confirm that it had happened more than once. He did confirm the involvement of the Federal Protective Services officers, who guard federal buildings such as courthouses, and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. According to Cuccinelli, the officers were attempting to arrest “violent rioters.”

These actions appear to have been taken under a July 1 memo obtained by The Nation, regarding “CBP Support to Protect Federal Facilities and Property,” which was created in response to the President’s Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence. The memo instructs CBP officials not to answer questions regarding arrests, citing “operational security.” There is no indication when CBP’s involvement will end, although the memo says “we hope this support will be short-term, just for the July 4th weekend.” Unlike other federal law enforcement officers, those under the jurisdiction of DHS are not required to do anything in marked vehicles or wear clothing that identifies them as law enforcement agents; after the use of armed agents who had removed their insignia in Washington, D.C. on June 1, agencies found they could do this with minimal “blowback from Congress.” 

Agencies under the umbrella of DHS, created by the 2001 Patriot Act, have increasingly been involved in law enforcement activities, and have broad and expanded powers. The authority of these agencies has further expanded since Trump’s Covid-19 emergency declaration, which triggered the Title 42 pandemic law. 

The Oregon ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration to stop this DHS activity. The lawsuit against DHS and the US Marshall service aims to “block federal law enforcement from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists or legal observers.” The mayor of Portland has asked Federal law enforcement to stop these practices and the US Attorney for Oregon has stated his intent to investigate these actions. 

Like many officials in the Trump administration, Deputy Secretary Cuccinelli, recently interviewed by NPR, is serving in an “acting” capacity, and therefore has not been confirmed by the Senate. According to February reporting by the Washington Post, Trump has had acting officials serve more than three times as much as Obama did. At the head of DHS during Trump’s 3 years in office, there have been three acting secretaries, with no nominee in sight, including Cuccinelli’s boss, Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, who has been serving in that role since November 13, 2019. In February of 2019, Trump told CBS Face the Nation, “I like ‘acting’ because I can move so quickly. It gives me more flexibility,” NPR noted. Because these individuals have not been subject to Senate confirmation, their qualifications and actions have not been subject to the same degree of scrutiny as those of permanent appointees. JM-L

5. House vote to end the Muslim ban

On Wednesday, July 22, the House will be voting on the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act (H.R.2214, also known as the NO BAN Act). This legislation responds to the Trump administration’s blanket prohibition on visas for people living in a number of predominantly Muslim countries and to the Supreme Court ruling upholding that ban. H.R.2214 repeals Trump’s Muslim ban that targeted refugees for extreme vetting. It amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to explicitly prohibit religion-based discrimination in the issuing of visas, and makes it clear that all nondiscrimination protections for visa applicants apply to both immigrants and nonimmigrants. H.R.2214 would require that such restrictions not be enacted until after both the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have demonstrated that they respond to a specific (not generalized) threat to U.S. security or public safety and after both Departments have consulted with Congress. Both Departments must also report to Congress within 48 hours of such a restriction being put in place or the restriction will be immediately invalid. S-HP

The timeline for this issue is tight, but you can call or email your representative about it and you can use this link to generate an electronic letter in support of H.R.2214 for your Representative.

6. Farmworkers endangered by COVID-19

Cronkite News has reported on a United Farmworkers’ campaign to ensure farmworkers are given appropriate COVID-19 protections. One of the employers failing to provide such protections is Primex Farms in Wasco, California. A total of 97 Pemex workers and additional 63 of their family members, at least 28 of them children, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Primex Farms manages 5,000-plus acres of pistachio orchards and processes millions of pounds of nuts each year and employess some 400 workers. When employees first heard about positive COVID-19 at the site, a few workers went to human resources in early June. But, according to UFW secretary-treasurer Armando Elenes, officials dismissed their concerns as rumors.

On June 23, Primex confirmed 31 workers had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. A group of about 50 workers staged a one-day strike, demanding improved transparency and sanitation and protective gear like face coverings and gloves. Primex then closed its facility for a deep cleaning, reopening at partial capacity on July 2. Primex tested workers, insisting all be present at once for the tests, including those who had already recently tested positive, essentially guaranteeing further infections. Primex is now providing workers with gloves and masks, but that was only after the company had told workers it would have to buy them at a cost of $8. On July 1, Primex announced employees 65 and older who did not want to continue working could stay home and get paid for the time they took off. Those with symptoms and who tested positive would also be paid for their time off. But later, workers received paychecks that reflected only the time they had worked.

This issue and others would be addressed by the HEROES Act, H.R.6800, which has already been passed by the House. H.R.6800 would accomplish a number of things: it would require employers to develop and implement infectious disease control plans, would create a fund for providing premium pay for essential workers (farmworkers are considered essential), and would extend and expand the existing foreclosure moratorium. It also would expand the Paycheck Protection Program, allow for additional payments to individuals, provide coverage for medical expenses, extend the freeze on student loan collections, and provide support for the post office and for federal elections (see below for another HEROES Act write-up). On June 1, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell placed H.R.6800 on “general orders,” which means it is not being forwarded to any Senate committees and will almost certainly not be considered by the full Senate. S-HP

Ontario–and much of Canada–also depends on migrant workers to harvest their food. In Canada, migrant workers are particularly vulnerable because they are only permitted into the country if they have a contract with one employer; if the employer proves neglectful or abusive, they risk deportation if they complain and are fired. Because they live in close quarters, they are at risk for COVID-19. At one farm, TVO reported, 164 out of 222 workers had tested positive for COVID-19. Despite the risk of the coronavirus, employers are continuing to house workers who are positive for the virus along with those who are not. Workers are given only one mask per week, and inspections these days are conducted only virtually, according to the Globe and Mail. RLS

The UFW is now encouraging that calls and letters be directed to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, asking him to investigate condition at Primex and to ensure the company obeys the law. You can also ask your Senators to vocally advocate for passage of the HEROES Act. Addresses are here.

7. Deporting the virus

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has continued to deport asylum seekers to other nations, including asylum-seekers with the novel Coronavirus. It has also moved individuals in immigration detention across state lines, regardless of their COVID-19 status. Both the Marshall Project (in collaboration with the New York Times), and Palabra (with support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism), have documented the impact of these failures to follow what should be ordinary safety procedures during a pandemic. The New York Times has identified four deportees who tested positive for the novel Coronavirus shortly after arriving at the destination to which they were sent—deportees from India, Haiti, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Given the extended incubation period for the novel Coronavirus, it is a near certainty that these deportees were carrying the virus before they were removed from the U.S. As a result, US deportations have been spreading COVID-19 across the world. Even with limited testing, ICE has identified at least 3,000 individuals in its custody who are Coronavirus-positive.

From March through June, ICE has overseen 750 flights within the U.S. moving asylum-seekers, including an undetermined number with COVID-19 symptoms, across state lines. In the same period, it has overseen over 200 deportation flights, again with an undetermined number of individuals displaying COVID-19 symptoms among the deportees. Several news sources, among them the Center for Economic Policy and Research, report that at least eleven countries have confirmed that deportees have returned home with the Coronavirus, among them Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. Palabra reports on one case in which 22 deportees on a single flight to Colombia tested positive for the Coronavirus within ten days of their arrival.        

One individual battling COVID-19 while attempting to gain asylum in the U.S. is Maura “Katty” Hernandez Chan, who has been placed in quarantine four times at the ICE El Paso Processing Center after repeated exposures to the novel Coronavirus while in the facility. “Quarantine” in this case means isolation of an entire barracks after a single occupant tests positive, which may hinder the spread of Coronavirus to other barracks, but almost guarantees that virus-free residents of that barracks will be infected. According to the Texas Tribune, Katty and her sister Maria were born in Guatemala. Maria, then age 18, left the country in 2013 to seek asylum in the U.S. because her family was receiving repeated threats from gangs, who said they would attack her siblings if she did not provide regular payoffs. Maria was granted asylum. Now, in 2020, twenty-year-old Katty is seeking asylum in the U.S. after being kidnapped by a gang who claimed her parents were not paying monthly “fees.” Katty, who speaks K’iche’ Mayan, was ordered deported after failing a credible fear interview that was conducted in Spanish. Katty was lucky enough to have that deportation order rejected by a judge, a rare occurance, but she remains in immigration custody. Katty’s sister has been fighting to have Katty released as soon as she no longer tests positive for Coronavirus. The one person who can approve that release is Corey Price, the director of the ICE El Paso Processing Center. S-HP

The Free Katty resource page has information on how you can help her. You can also urge your Congressmembers to prioritize the issue of ICE flights’ impact on U.S. and global health. Information about this and other actions you can take is here. You can also follow Witness at the Border (formerly Witness: Tornillo) on Facebook; their members regularly track deportation flights.

8. Corruption in the Cares Act–billions gone to big companies, Trump associates

The CARES Act, passed on March 27, established a number of COVID-19 relief programs, including the $484 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses and the $32 billion Payroll Support Program (PSP) for companies in the airline industry. Data on the distribution of the funds allotted to these programs was initially difficult to get—multiple newspapers and public-interest groups have filed multiple Freedom of Information Act; requests for data and several lawsuits for materials not yet released are pending. But even with the limited information available, it is clear that in many instances the loans (which can be converted to grants) awarded through these programs often don’t support the types of businesses or business practices for which they were intended.

The PPP was intended to provide support for small businesses (defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees) that would prevent layoffs or firing, and the program’s success was to be measured by the number of jobs saved. Some of the PPP monies did make it to small businesses, but large dollar amounts went to businesses that only fit the definition of “small” by manipulating numbers and that are owned by individuals who cannot honestly be described as small-business owners. The applications for these monies contain significant omissions or uninvestigated conflicts of interest, and many of the loans/grants have gone to religious organizations, raising questions about First Amendment protections regarding separation of church and state. Some examples (note that figures given by the Small Business Administration are generally represented as a range, $1-3 million, for example. In every case, this write-up uses the lowest amount mentioned):

  • The Washington Post reports that 90,000 recipients of PPP loans did not include a promise to rehire workers or create jobs.
  • Applications required that borrowers indicate how many jobs would be retained as part of the application. A Washington Post analysis found that 8,922 loan recipients reported that no jobs would be retained. Another 40,506 loan recipients left this part of the application blank.
  • As reported by the Washington Post, the Trump administration–supported by the Small Business Administration and at least one Democratic member of Congress–added language to the CARES Act waiving the usual conflict of interest rules, which at a minimum would have been subject to interviews by the SBA’s Standards of Conduct Committee before loans could be awarded to individuals connected with the current administration and Congress.
  • $350+ million was awarded to the family of Transportation Secretary Elaine Cho to support their shipping business.
  • PPP loans were received by at least seven members of Congress or their spouses, including three car dealerships owned by Representative Mark Kelly (R-PA), which received a minimum of $450,000.
  • Three plumbing businesses affiliated with Representative Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) received between $350,000 and $1 million each.
  • ProPublica reports that a minimum of $1.78 million went to businesses affiliated with the Kushner family (Jared Kushner, husband of Ivanka Trump, is an adviser to the President).
  • The law firm at which the lawyer who represented Trump during the Mueller investigation received at least $5 million.
  • Multiple tenants at Trump-owned buildings received PPP loans according to the Washington Post. These included 22 companies housed at Trump’s 40 Wall Street (as a group, they received a total of $16.6+ million), the Jean-Georges restaurant at Trump’s Central Park West hotel ($2+ million), and Sushi Nakazawa at Trump’s Washington DC Hotel ($150,000+).
  • Forbes notes that at least 50 companies, backed by 17 billionaires, received PPP loans. Six companies at least partially owned by Virginia’s billionaire Governor Jim Justice received PPP loans, as did 13 hotels and 6 additional businesses belonging to hotel magnate Robert Rowling. In a two-fer of shoveling money to billionaires and ignoring church-state issues, $2+ million was awarded to the Museum of the Bible, founded by David Green who has an estimated net worth of $7.9 billion.
  • Reuters found that some 88,400 of these loans went to religious organizations. The First Baptist Church of Dallas, whose pastor sits on Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, received at least $2 million. Cross Church of Arkansas, which has a pastor emeritus who sits on Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, received $1.8+ million. City of Destiny, Inc., which lists Trump’s “Spiritual Advisor” as an oversight pastor, received at least $150,000. The Pat Roberts-founded Nonprofit American Center for Law and Justice, which describes its focus as “Defending Churches, Praising God, and Religious Liberty” received $1+ million. (Fun fact: this organization is also represented by the lawyer who represented Trump during the Mueller investigation).
  • According to ProPublica, the airline- and air travel-focused PSP loan recipients included three companies (Gate Gourmet, Flying Food Fare, and G2 Secure Staff) worth a total of $338 million, which laid off thousands of employees immediately before applying for PSP loans in order to meet the no-layoffs expectation, but then applied for funds based on the size of their pre-layoff staffs.
  • A Washington Post analysis shows that, while the administration claims over 51 million jobs have been saved through these programs, the documentation provided thus far by the Small Business Administration (SBA) is so unreliable as to make that claim worthless. Some of their findings:
  • 4.9 million loans went to companies that the SBA claims have retained more employees than they actually employ (three businesses with 20 or fewer employees are cited by the SBA as having saved over 500 jobs each).
  • The SBA reported 114,000 jobs saved in the field of landscape architecture, more than three times the number of individuals employed in that field in 2019 according to Labor Department figures.
  • 875,000 loan recipients (roughly three in every seventeen) listed zero jobs to be retained or listed no job retention figures in their PPP applications.        

While there is general agreement that minority-owned businesses have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears that only a small proportion of such businesses are included among PPP loan recipients according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis. Provision on the race or ethnicity of business owners was optional on loan applications and only 14% of applicants provided such data. Among the businesses that included such ownership information and that received PPP loans, 83% were white-owned, 6.6% were Hispanic-owned, and just 2% were Black-owned. A study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, reported on by Politico, found that Black and white applicants for PPP loans experienced statistically significant differences in encouragement to apply for PPP loans, in loan “products” offered, and in the information provided by loan officers, with Black potential applicants receiving poorer treatment on all three measures. S-HP

You can tell the Administration and your Congressmembers how you feel about this mix of violations of program requirements, self-dealing, First Amendment conflicts, and inaccurate data and point out that small businesses owned by those in the middle and lower economic classes are still lacking the support the CARES Act was intended to provide them with: Addresses are here.

9. Victory for Indigenous groups in the U.S.

A landmark decision by the Supreme Court declared that the Eastern half of Oklahoma is–for the purposes of criminal prosecution–Native American land, according to Vox. The Court decided that despite various government violations of the treaty with Muscogee (Creek) people, the treaty itself remained intact. Therefore, in that section of Oklahoma–to which Native American people were driven on the Trail of Tears–Indigenous people accused of a crime must be tried in Federal court, not state court. And it may permit the reservation to provide independent social services. The decision, written by conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, does not–contrary to what Ted Cruz tweeted–“give away half of Oklahoma.” Indian Country today celebrated the decision as a victory for sovereignty. Scotusblog offers several webinars on the legal arguments made in the case. RLS

10. Heroes Act would prevent evictions, forstall foreclosures, save the Post Office

The HEROES Act, H.R.6800, addresses important concerns including conditions for farmworkers (see story above). It extends and expands current limits on foreclosures and evictions—an estimated 20-28 million people in the U.S. will face eviction between now and September, according to CNBC. The “foreclosure crisis” of 2008, which affected 10 million individuals over the course of several years, pales in comparison to this current threat.

         The HEROES Act would also provide a much needed $25 billion to the post office, which is under new leadership by a Trump appointee who seems determined to create enough inefficiencies to justify privatizing U.S. mail services, the Daily Kos points out. Louis DeJoy, the new Postmaster General, has issued a plan that would cut overtime pay for hundreds and thousands of workers, thereby lengthening and delaying mail delivery times. The state of the U.S. Post Office (USPS) is a matter of particular concern this year because we have federal elections coming up in November and will likely see a larger-than-usual number of mail-in ballots submitted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In general, mail-in ballots are counted only if they are received by election day, regardless of when they were mailed. At the moment, mailing a ballot in a week before election day would probably be sufficient to have one’s vote counted, but if mail services are deliberately slowed, even people who are careful to mail ballots in advance may not find their votes counted.

Two recent Supreme Court rulings emphasize the vulnerabilities of mail-ballots. In April, hours before election day, the Court ruled against Wisconsin advocates for an extended acceptance period for mail-in ballots (an additional week after election day) because of increased pressures on mail delivery, as the New York Times noted. This month, as NPR reported, the Supreme Court blocked an effort to make voting by mail easier in Alabama—where casting a mail-in ballot requires providing a copy of one’s ID to apply for the ballot and either notarization or two witness signatures for any received mail-in ballots to be counted. Post Office funding isn’t just about sending Aunt Thelma a postcard from your latest vacation (whenever we’re able to go on vacations again); it’s about preserving our democracy and ensuring that all eligible individuals have an opportunity to vote easily and safely during a pandemic.  On June 1, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell placed H.R.6800 on “general orders,” which means it is not being forwarded to any Senate committees and will almost certainly not be considered by the full Senate.

Rise and Resist urges you to ask your senators to ask them to insist that H.R. 6800 be considered. You can also find their addresses here.

11. Russian interference

The 5th and final report of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Russian election interference was sent to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on May 15. That office is run by John Ratcliffe, a Trump loyalist, who would likely consider it in his personal interest to delay the public release of this report. The report is immense, and the Senate Intelligence Committee attempted to speed its release by providing redaction recommendations for almost 1,000 pages of the document, as the Hill reported. But on the cusp of a national election, the redactions have not been released. S-HP

You can call for the expedited release of Volume 5 of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report by the ODNI: Contact John Ratcliffe, Director of National Intelligence, Washington DC 20511, (703) 275-3700.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

12. CDC sidelined

Coronavirus information will now no longer go to the CDC but to a database overseen by the Department of Human Services, where information is private. Researchers, reporters and ordinary citizens will now no longer have access to it, according to the Chicago Tribune. Health officials trying to make decisions about reopening will not have the information that they need. Former heads of the CDC say that this politicization of the CDC is disastrous, PBS reports. Bad news about the virus is inconvenient for Trump, so he retweets those who say that the CDC and others are “lying,” according to Politico.

Move On has a petition you can sign to insist that data continue to be forwarded to the CDC. You can also insist that Health and Human Services is not the appropriate site for COVID-19 data collection and demand both a return to CDC data collection and public access to this data. See the addresses here.

13. Trump dismantles Environmental Protection Act

Trump began to dismantle the fifty year old National Environment Protection Act (NEPA) last week, according to the BBC, cutting down the time the public has to comment and speeding up the approval process of infrastructure projects. The BBC quoted the The Center for Biological Diversity, as saying that the changes will “weaken safeguards for air, water, wildlife and public lands.” And a writer for the Washington Post points that the loss of NEPA will disproportionately damage communities of color, because companies have deliberately located polluting operations near communities with less political power. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences points out that Black people have a “pollution burden” that is “56 per cent higher than that of other Americans,” and that Latinx people have a pollution burden that is 63 per cent higher. 

Trump has also eliminated 68 significant environmental regulations and is attempting to eliminate 32 more, according to the NY Times, which is tracking the rollbacks closely, using date from Harvard and Columbia law schools. The Times provides a summary of the 100 regulations that have been or will be deleted–in areas ranging from air pollution and emissions to drilling to animal protection to toxic substances. Even though we are in the midst of a pandemic that affects the lungs, 27 of the regulations he is challenging have to do with air pollution and rules around what automobiles and power plants can emit. Trump’s initiatives have undermined efforts to address the climate crisis; “carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3.4% in 2018,” according to the BBC. RLS

If you want to insist to your Congressmembers that they refuse to accept these destructive policies and continue to fight Trump’s cuts to environmental regulations, their addresses are here.

14. Fracking ends, environmental damage persists

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a collapse of oil prices, which has many fracking companies either declaring bankruptcy or considering doing so. The problem is that abandoned and unrestored fracking sites can lead to massive environmental damage from unplugged methane leaks and other maintenance issues left unaddressed when the company declares bankruptcy. As Vice reported last year, the Trump administration deregulated the release of methane by the fossil fuel industry. According to the New York Times, the U.S. already has over three million abandoned oil and gas wells, two-thirds of which are unplugged and currently releasing annual emissions equivalent to those produced by 1.5 million cars. S-HP

You might ask your national and state environmental agencies and your legislators to assure that fracking companies applying for bankruptcy are required to clean up the sites they abandon. Addresses are here.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience checklist is tracking good news this week–on the national, state and local level; there are dozens of items.
  • Rogan’s list warns us about an upcoming PPE shortage (again), upcoming evictions and homelessness,  McConnell’s plan to provide federal immunity from lawsuits for owners of nursing homes, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s intention to release a human rights report (?).
  • Amy Siskind’s weekly list of not-normal events has 268 items on it.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list is mostly integrated above, but she has some additional California-specific items.
  • Martha’s list: See item number 4. The Trump administration is trying to demonstrate that it is following the Administrative Procedures Act (not following it is why they lost the Supreme Court decision). This invitation to comment is very weird, in that they are requesting to seek information on eligibility when they have no intention of considering new applications. Is this the first step in following the APA – with the ultimate aim of a rule rescinding DACA? You can comment that people brought here as children are eligible for DACA and that DACA is a legitimate program. You can also comment on a number of the environmental regulation rollbacks described above. You can also comment on DeVos’ efforts to permit CARES act funding for religious schools, efforts to prevent ICE violence against women in detention centers and more.

News You May Have Missed: July 12, 2020

“DSF9537” by joaodanielper is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Black Lives Matter Protests, London, 2020.

Vox and the Center for Public Integrity have launched a six-month collaboration, System Failure, on how the Trump administration’s passion for deregulation got us where we are today. The opening pieces are on how his policies demolished public health infrastructure and how the administration declined to use a key tool to stop police violence.

Heather Cox Richardson’s post from July 8 provides some context around Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s resignation, below, and also has some interesting speculations on what the administration’s fierce insistence on school re-opening is about. On July 9 she analyzed the recent Supreme Court decisions and called attention to some new evidence that confirms Russia offered the Taliban bounties for the death of Americans and that the administration knew it.

It’s critical to take action in the next few days for the detained children Judge Dolly Gee has ordered released by July 17; ICE has not committed to releasing their parents with them. This toolkit provides a clear set of steps to take. July 15 is the last day to comment on Trump’s proposal to end asylum as we know it. Instructions for getting your comment on record are here (from Martha’s list).

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. For Black lives, the Breathe Act

The Electoral Justice Project of the Movement for Black Lives has announced proposed federal legislation (summarized here) which is being presented in the House of Representatives by Representatives Ayana Pressley and Rashida Tlaib and supported by 150 organizations. The Breathe Act (number not available) would divest federal resources from incarceration and policing, invest in new approaches to community safety, provide funding in support of healthy, sustainable, and equitable communities, hold officials accountable, and enhance self-determination of Black communities, as Black Enterprise explains. Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, told the AP, “We are a generation that wants to make sure that the needs of all Black people are met. We believe the BREATHE Act is that legislation. It’s an act that is pushing us to look at the future of this country, an act that is is mandating and demanding a new future and policies that are courageous and visionary.” S-HP

You can urge your Congressmembers to support the Breathe Act: addresses are here.

2. Trump insists on in-person instruction, threatens schools and international students

Trump’s policy is governing by bullying, and right now he’s bullying both public schools and international students at our nation’s colleges and universities. As part of his fixation on reopening the economy and denying the significance of the COVID-19 pandemic (which as of Saturday, July 11 has infected over 3.2 million Americans and killed at least 135,000 of them), Trump is demanding that the nation’s public schools reopen for in-person instruction this fall. As Politico points out, he has, in fact, tweeted a threat to strip federal funding from schools that don’t physically reopen—something he probably does not have the power to do under Constitutional separation of powers. Heather Cox Richardson’s July 12 column has an explanation–based in politics and history–of why Trump and DeVos are so fiercely committed to reopening schools.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, whose original statement Trump has used in pressuring schools, has backed off from their position, now saying that school re-opening has to be based on evidence, not politics, and that “science and community circumstances must guide decision-making,” according to NPR. This policy turnabout is appropriate, given that–as an Esquire writer put it–“I also know they can’t handle a lice outbreak on a good day and are not equipped to handle COVID on a bad one.” And as Susan Rogan, of Rogan’s List points out, “Let’s remember that Cohen and Manafort were released from prison early due to COVID. If conditions are not good enough for them to return to prison, why are the lives of our children, teachers, and school staff less worthy?”        

Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced a new rule for international students in the United States: they must take at least one in-person course this fall or lose their F-1 visa status and leave the country. Given that many schools have opted for no in-person courses during the fall, this rule puts the million+ international students at U.S. colleges and universities in jeopardy. Responses from states and Universities have been swift. The states of California and Washington are filing suit to block implementation of these new rules as are Harvard, MIT, Johns Hopkins, and the University of California. As the New York Times reports, Trump has now ordered the Treasury Department the investigate the funding and tax exempt of universities that he claims are about “Radical Left indoctrination, not Education.” S-HP

You can tell your elected representatives that all students, including international students, should be appropriately protected from COVID-19 and that neither schools nor students be penalized for using remote instruction if they deem it best.

3. Brownshirts-in-training

ICE is preparing to offer a six-week course in immigration enforcement for civilians, according to Newsweek. To be piloted in Chicago, this “Citizen’s Academy” will include information on how to arrest a suspected undocumented immigrant, with training in “defensive tactics and firearms familiarization.” Assuming the program is successful, ICE plans to offer it nationwide. Newsweek quoted ICE as saying that the academy was “an extension of the community relations work ICE is already doing in the community.” As of this writing, only Democracy Now and NPR, in addition to Newsweek, have covered the issue. Chicago Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García, who said he had not been notified about the program, told Newsweek that the course appeared to be “inviting people to become an extension of ICE… to possibly surveil their neighbors who might be undocumented…appealing to right-wing individuals who might like the vigilante lifestyle.” RLS

If the concept of ICE training armed vigilantes troubles you, you may want to object to your elected officials and others.

4. Public health workers under siege

Nationwide, public health workers–especially women–have been mercilessly harassed for trying to do their jobs, according to the Washington Post. It isn’t only random cranks who are doing this; public health officials have even had to change their recommendations around masks due to pressure from business leaders. Georgia’s public health official, Doctor Kathleen Toomey, receives daily threats and has armed protection, according to 11Alive. Amy Acton, Ohio’s public health director, backed down into an advisory role after months of armed protestors showing up at her home shouting anti-Semetic slogans. Adding insult to injury, Fair points out, however, that many media outlets have been critical of pubic health.workers for not sticking to a sufficiently narrow mandate. All this comes as the CDC agreed to revisit its guidelines for school reopening after Trump criticized them as being too stringent, the Post reported on July 8. RLS

Similar events have been reported in California. The public health officer of Orange County was threatened and had her home address announced at a public meeting, after which protestors gathered outside of her home. In fear for her safety, she resigned from her position, the LA Times reported. Other health officials have been subjected to similar protests at their homes, including the Contra Costa County public health officer and the director of the Los Angeles Department of Public Health. In all, as of July 1 eight California Public Health Officials have resigned. Now, State Senator Dr. Richard Pan has introduced SB-843, which would grant public health officials the same address confidentiality provided for city council members, board of supervisors members and other officials in the state, whose home addresses are excluded from publicly accessible Department of Motor Vehicles records. Health Officers would still be accessible through their workplaces, as only home addresses are protected in this way. In introducing the legislation, Pan explained, “Public health officials shouldn’t have to choose between their own safety and livelihood and the public’s health.” This legislation has been passed by the Assembly and is awaiting consideration by the California Senate. S-HP

You can advocate for national legislation to protect public health officers from this kind of harassment, and if you are a Californian, urge your California State Senator to protect our health officers by voting in favor of SB-843. Addresses are here.

5. Republicans resisting mail ballots

Trump and the Republicans are depicting broader use of mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 epidemic as an invitation to fraud and foreign interference in our elections, and Trump has claimed that foreign governments could flood our nation with fraudulent ballots if we expand mail-ballot use, the Washington Post reports. At the same time, the Republican Senate has once again removed a requirement that presidential campaigns report attempted foreign interference from legislation, in this case removing the proviso from national intelligence policy and the National Defense Authorization Act, according to CNN. Apparently, placing restraints on voters’ opportunity to exercise the franchise and exposing them to epidemic disease on the grounds of “election security” is just fine, but asking campaigns to report actual attempts at foreign interference is not.

Let’s take a look at that claim that mail-in ballots raise the risk of election fraud. To successfully forge mail-in ballots, a foreign (or domestic) entity would need to have a list of absentee voters in a state, know who had already voted, and be able to replicate key details like precinct and voter ID numbers and the local races on each ballot. It would have to also access the precinct’s signature files, match the forged signature on the envelope to the one on file, and then mail them locally to ensure a proper postmark, the Post notes. Once we acknowledge those facts, mail-in ballots don’t seem so vulnerable. S-HP

Are you in favor of mail ballots? If so, insist to your state and federal representatives, your Governor, and your Secretary of State that all voters be given access to mail-in ballots because, even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, facilitating voter participation in elections should always be seen as beneficial to our democracy. Addresses are here.

6. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified on impeachment, resigns under pressure from Trump

In the opening remarks of his testimony during the Trump impeachment investigation, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman compared the U.S. to the Soviet Union, from which his family had immigrated. Addressing his father, as well as the committees holding the hearings, he explained, “my simple act of appearing here today, just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before this Committee, would not be tolerated in many places around the world. In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offering public testimony involving the President would surely cost me my life. I am grateful for my father’s brave act of hope 40 years ago [bringing the family to the U.S.] and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety. Dad, my sitting here today, in the US Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision forty years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United State of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

Unfortunately, Vindman’s America has proven to be a bit more like the former Soviet Union than Vindman had anticipated. Vindman’s lawyer explained that after a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation,” Vindman has decided to retire from the U.S. Army, in which he had served for twenty-one years, because political retaliation meant his career in the military “will be forever limited.” This persecution of a man who took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” is a failure of our democracy. As long as Trump remains in power, Vindman will be sidelined, but a change in administration might give him a chance to provide another kind of service to this nation he loves. S-HP

If you want to thank Vindman and suggest that Biden, if elected, find a place for Vindman in his administration, addresses are here.

7. Goya Foods head praises Trump–boycott ensues

In a Rose Garden ceremony announcing the “White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative,” Robert Unanue, head of Goya Foods, a leading Latino food company in the U.S., sang Trump’s praises: “We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder, and that’s what my grandfather did. He came to this country to build, to grow, to prosper. And so we have an incredible builder, and we pray for our leadership, our president, and we pray for our country that we will continue to prosper and to grow.” Within hours, calls for a boycott of Goya had flooded the internet, according to ABC News. Unanue claimed a double standard because Goya had not faced consumer backlash when praising President Obama. Former presidential candidate and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro responded in a tweet, noting that unlike Obama, Trump “villainizes and maliciously attacks Latinos for political gain,” the Washington Post reported. Others critical of Unanue’s remarks and calling for Goya boycott include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Lin-Manuel Miranda. S-HP

If you want to join #Goyaway, you can write to Mr. Unanue at: Goya Foods, 350 County Road, Jersey City, New Jersey, 07307, (210) 348-4900.

8. FedEx no longer wants to be associated with the Redskins

In 1999, FedEx agreed to pay the Washington Redskins $205 million for stadium naming rights. Now, the general counsel of FedEx has written to counsel for the Redskins’ corporate organization to say that, if the team does not it change its name, FedEx will remove its name from all stadium signage at the end of this season. The Washington Post, which received a summary of the unreleased letter’s contents, reported that FedEx had indicated that the team’s name posed a risk to FedEx’s brand reputation and to its commitment to a more inclusive society. The language suggests that FedEx is considering removing itself from the contract “for cause,” which would free it from the obligation to make any additional naming rights payments after the end of the 2020 season. S-HP

If you wish to thank FedEx for taking this stand, write to Frederick W. Smith, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, FedEx, 942 South Shady Grove Rd., Memphis, TN 38120, (901) 818-7500.

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Black Lives Matter: Patients, newborns, mothers

Have you ever gotten medical test results and noticed that the standard for your eGFR–estimated glomerular filtration rate (a measure of kidney function)–is different depending on whether you are African American or not? A new study has shown that the algorithms that doctors rely on to evaluate a patient’s health are often race-based, leading to disparities in health care, the New York Times reports; the Times quotes the study as saying that the effect “has been to direct medical resources away from Black patients and to deny some Black patients treatment options available to white patients.” The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, points out the many ways in which the algorithms influence care: Black patients are thought to be at lower risk for heart failure, so they are less likely to be referred to specialists. Black women and Latinas are more likely to be referred for Cesarean sections for a subsequent delivery after an initial C-section (VBAC). The authors note that because Black patients tend to have worse health-care outcomes, health researchers have persuaded themselves that the disparity is due to genetics, overlooking the social conditions that have been shown to be the cause.

The differential between Black and white patients is especially visible among babies and new mothers. Infant mortality for Black babies is twice that of white babies, according to the State of Babies yearbook, and the death rate among Black mothers is three times as high. Access to health care and paid maternity leave would interrupt this cycle, according to Parentology.

Among the most horrific examples of structural racism in medicine is the treatment of Black people’s pain, the Washington Post reports. In an assumption going back to slavery, Black people are thought to have a higher pain tolerance, a belief which was used to justify the pain inflicted on enslaved Black people, but which persists today–so that Black people are less likely to be prescribed pain killers for the same conditions for which white people receive pain medication. A study of 222 medical residents at the University of Virginia found that one third of them believed the myth about Black patients’ pain tolerance. Even Black children are one-fifth as likely as white children to receive medication for severe pain with appendicitis. 

The undertreatment of Black people for kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes may–in addition to profoundly unequal social conditions–may explain why the death rate from COVID-19 of people of color under 65 is twice that of white people. RLS

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is focusing on voter registration this week.
  • Sarah-Hope’s postcarding list is here and itemized above.
  • Martha’s list identifies a series of challenges to asylum and opportunities to comment on them.
  • See Rogan’s list for ways to advocate for DACA recipients, international students, children in detention and others.



News You May Have Missed: July 5, 2020

“Families should not be separated.…by ClevrCat is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Note that the deadline is July 15 to comment on the Trump administration’s proposal to end asylum completely (see our fourth story in the June 14th issue). Comment for the public record at this link--follow all instructions so that your comment will be counted.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Asylum-seekers: Good news/bad news

Any good news around asylum is mitigated by bad news that undercuts it–and by the tragedy of the whole story. Here are some key issues:

  • A federal judge blocked the Trump administration policy saying that asylum-seekers had to seek asylum first in any country they passed through. The policy was aimed especially at keeping Latin Americans out of the US. As the Washington Post reports, the judge said that the administration failed “to show it was in the public interest to stealthily implement the change and bypass the Administrative Procedure Act.” However, now that the Republican administration has effectively ended asylum entirely under the guise of protecting the country from the coronavirus, it is not clear what the practical effect of the judge’s ruling will be.
  • A judge told the Trump administration that they had to stop the practice of imprisoning detained immigrants in adult centers when they turned 18. According to Courthouse News, the judge said that ICE was required to find the least restrictive environment for these young people–for example, their parents or other relatives already settled in the U.S. As the judge put it, “ICE has acted in a manner that is ‘arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion’ and—most clearly—‘otherwise not in accordance with law.’”
  • As we reported last week, a judge has ordered that detained children be released by July 17. However, the judge did not have the authority to order that their families be released with them, and some observers believe that the government will not do so, thereby separating another group of families, according to Border Report. There are 138 parents and 139 children in the facilities covered by the order (861 additional children continue to be detained without their parents). Eighty members of Congress signed a letter asking that families be released together. RLS

You can sign this petition from RAICES calling for families to be released together, and you can insist to your Congressmembers and the current head of Homeland Security that families be released along with their children. Addresses are here.

Also, Witness at the Border and the ACLU are urging people to ask ICE to release the last three teenagers in Cowlitz County Washington, rather than waiting for them to turn 18 and then imprisoning them in an adult detention center.

2. Protesters injured by “rubber” bullets and tear gas

Rubber bullets and tear gas may no longer be exported by the UK to the US if 160 members of Parliament have their way, Buzzfeed reports. According to Kaiser Health News, a 2017 study demonstrated that rubber bullets (which can have a metal core) can result in disability or even death. During recent protests, police have been shooting them randomly into crowds, causing serious injury–a reporter was blinded and other protesters have been hospitalized. Dr. Douglas Lazzaro, a professor and expert in eye trauma at NYU Langone Health told Kaiser Health News that when fired at close range, “rubber bullets can penetrate the skin, break bones, fracture the skull and explode the eyeball.” The British army developed them to use in Northern Ireland fifty years ago, but they no longer use them. Teen Vogue has recommendations for what to do if you are hit by one.

Protesters are also endangered by tear gas, especially during the pandemic. As ProPublica explains, it can damage the mucous membranes in the lung and make the lungs more vulnerable to infection. The Centers for Disease Control say that tear gas in a closed setting–such as a prison or detention center–can lead to “Blindness, glaucoma (a serious eye condition that can lead to blindness), immediate death due to severe chemical burns to the throat and lungs, and respiratory failure possibly resulting in death.” They recommend that people exposed to tear gas leave the area if at all possible, carefully remove contaminated clothing and double-bag it in plastic, rinse their eyes for ten-fifteen minutes, leave contact lenses out, use asthma inhalers, and treat skin burns. RLS

You can insist on an end to law enforcement use of rubber bullets and tear gas, which can be life-threatening and are not “safe” options as many law enforcement groups claim, and call for Congressional action to prohibit the use of these dangerous “crowd control” measures. Addresses are here.

3. Protecting women’s health

For the moment, women can breathe a bit easier thanks to the Supreme Court ruling supporting women’s right to access to abortion, but this gain truly may be momentary. Dozens of cases are working their way through the court system with intent of limiting or denying access to abortion, as NPR explains. Women will always be one court ruling away from losing access until their right to make their own health care decisions and health care workers’ right to provide a full range of reproductive healthcare services are confirmed under law. The Women’s Health Protection Act (S.1645 in the Senate; H.R.2975 in the House) does exactly this. It would bar regulations regarding the provision of abortion that do any of the following:

  • delay access to abortion services
  • directly or indirectly increase the cost of providing or obtaining an abortion
  • decrease the availability of abortion services in a State or geographic region
  • add medically unnecessary tests or procedures before, during, or after the provision of abortion services
  • require presentation of medically inaccurate information
  • limit the ability of abortion providers to prescribe medications
  • subject medical providers of abortion to additional costs not borne by other health care providers
  • ban specific pre-viability abortion procedures
  • limit a woman’s rights to abortion services post-viability if her health or life are at risk
  • place a limit on the reasons for which a woman may seek abortion services

Basically, The Women’s Health Protection Act eliminates all the many hoops women are often required to jump through before receiving an abortion. When this legislation is passed, women will not see their right to full reproductive health care threatened with each new court case. S.1645 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee; H.R.2975 is currently with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. S-HP

Consider protesting the limitations on women’s right to make their own healthcare decisions. Urge your senators to pass S.1645 through committee and on the Senate floor and your representative to pass H.R.2975 through committee and on the House floor.

4. Church and state become less separate

The wall separating church and state has lost a brick following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that state-funded scholarship programs could not exclude students from faith-based institutions. The ruling responded a decision by the state of Montana, which had begun providing tax credits to parents sending children to private schools, that those schools could not be religious in nature because of Montana’s legal prohibitions of state payment for religious education, the Deseret News explained. In the majority decision, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that “a state need not subsidize private education. But once it decides to do so it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” At least forty states have laws barring state funding of religious education and will likely be subject to the provisions of this ruling. S-HP

You can tell your Congressmembers that state funding of religious schools is unacceptable in any form and ask for Congressional legislation to keep the wall between church and state solid.

5. Child care is Essential: funding bills in the House and Senate

The costs of child care have increased with new restrictions put in place in response to the COVID-19 emergency. The Child Care Is Essential Act (H.R.7027 in the House; S.3874 in the Senate) would create a $50 billion fund to cover increased costs to child care providers with the intention of avoiding increases in child care costs for working parents. These monies would be managed within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Childcare and Block Grant Development Program. In the House, this legislation is currently with the Appropriations and the Budget Committees. In the Senate, it is with the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

You can urge swift, positive action on H.R.7207 in the appropriate House Committees and on S.3874 in the Senate HELP Committee. Addresses are here.

6. House tries to mend the country

Recently, the House has passed a number of important pieces of legislation that will now move on to the Senate:

  • H.R.2, the Investing in a new Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act (INVEST Act), maintains funding for highway, transit, safety programs, provides programs specifically for isolated rural communities, and initiates a study of the best ways to respond to the damaging effects of climate change on the U.S. transportation system.
  • H.R.1425, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act, provides additional funds for medical payments and individuals’ out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • H.R.5332, the Protecting Your Credit Score Act, calls for the creation of a single online site where consumers can request free credit reports and scores, dispute errors, and place or lift security freezes.
  • H.R.7301, the Emergency Housing and Protections Relief Act, places limits on evictions, foreclosures, and unsafe conditions in housing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • H.J.Res.90, Providing for Congressional Disapproval Under Chapter 8 of Title 5, United States Code, of the Rule Submitted by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Relating to “Community Reinvestment Act Regulations, objects to administration weakening of the Community Reinvestment Act that was designed to make banks respond to the credit needs of low- and moderate-income communities. S-HP

One strategy is to tell your representative how much you appreciate this legislation (regardless of whether that representative supported it) and tell your senators that you want to see swift, positive action as this legislation moves to the Senate. Addresses are here.

7. Senate Judiciary Committee votes to give Inspector General oversight over the Department of Justice. But…

In an unusual example of bipartisan pushback, in late June the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S.685, the Inspector General Access Act, 21 to 1, with the single dissenting vote being that of the committee’s chair, Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Similar legislation was passed by the House last year. This legislation would transfer responsibility for investigation of alleged misconduct by Department of Justice (DoJ) attorneys from the DoJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility to the D0J’s Office of the Inspector General, according to The Hill. This would allow someone independent from the Attorney General to make decisions about initiating ethics investigations. Opposition to this change is not new: similar legislation failed in the two previous administrations. Lindsey Graham opposed the legislation because it did not include his proposed amendment requiring that the Attorney General sign off on all such investigations before they begin—which would have undercut the clear intention that such investigations be undertaken by independent, non-political appointees. Attorney General William Barr also opposes the legislation. Given this opposition, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not choose to bring S.685 to a vote of the full Senate, but the near-unanimous bipartisan agreement among the Judiciary Committee makes this choice more difficult. S-HP

You might urge your senators to support S.685 as one way of mitigating the politicization of the office of Attorney General.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Life in Hong Kong changes overnight

As soon as Hong Kong’s new security law was passed, Hong Kong became a different place, according to the New York Times. The banners and slogans that were previously common suddenly became illegal, with those convicted under the security law at risk of life imprisonment. “Subversive” books have been removed from libraries and people have deleted their social media accounts, as speech ceased to be protected. Britain has offered to receive some three million Hong Kong residents, according to the Times. The Nation has a strong piece explaining the stakes of the security law–among many issues, Hong Kong had been a place of refugee for Chinese dissidents–and the history of how Hong Kong became vulnerable to it. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Coronavirus round-up

You likely haven’t missed the news about the explosion of coronavirus cases in Texas, Florida, Georgia, California and elsewhere, as states discover the terrible costs of reopening too early. NPR has a useful graphic which shows where cases are rising and by how much. Other coronavirus news might be under the radar:

  • Among the things that makes the coronavirus so deadly is the way it short-circuits the immune system, depleting the T-cells in the way HIV does, according to the New York Times. One study, yet to be peer-reviewed, suggests that the cells in charge of releasing T-cells overreact, causing a chaotic immune reaction in the body.
  • The White House cancelled the funding for a long-standing research project into how bat viruses jump to people–because the project had become the target of a conspiracy theory that the virus had been released by Chinese researchers in Wuhan, according to Ars Technica. The organization that wrote the grant, EcoHealth Alliance, Inc., works with a Chinese researcher who studies bat coronaviruses–and the project was the only one collaborating with Chinese scientists. It was Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, who finally told a Congressional hearing at the end of June who had cancelled the project.
  • Canada, which has kept its border with the US closed, has seen the number of new cases and new deaths fall in July, according to the New York Times. However, Indigeous communities have been impacted by the virus, and the travel time to medical care is significant. Of greatest concern is the risk to Elders, the National Post reports, whose historical memory is irreplaceable. Migrant workers, too, are at risk not only from the virus but from the lack of income supports that have sustained other workers. Protests in several cities on July 4 decried their lack of access to medical care, wage top-ups, and unemployment payments, according to CP 24. RLS

10. Comment to preserve clean air–and other environmental regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed changes to the Clean Air Act that are open to public comment though August 3. Under Obama regulations, cost-benefit analyses for pollution reduction regulations could consider all potential benefits of proposed regulations. If, for example, a measure designed to reduce carbon pollution also happened to reduce ozone and particulate pollution, all three of those impacts could be included in the cost-benefit analysis of that measure. Under the proposed rule change, if the rule were written to reduce carbon pollution, any additional reductions in pollution could not be included in the cost-benefit analysis, according to Energy and Environment (E&E) News.

The EPA is presenting its proposed changes as “Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rule Process,” but the actual impact of the change won’t so much increase consistency and transparency as it will make calculations more industry-friendly and environmental regulations more difficult to put in place, jeopardizing the ability of future administrations to fight climate change, according to E&E. The Union of Concerned Scientists and many other scientific and environmental groups have come out against this rule change. Hayden Hashimoto, a legal fellow at the Clean Air Task Force, sums up the proposed rule change as an “attempt [by the EPA] to tie its own hands…in a transparent effort to benefit industry at the expense of the American people, RollCall.com reported.The EPA is only accepting electronic comments on this proposal. You can use the link below to access the comment site. S-HP

You can object to this faux effort at “consistency and transparency” here (follow the letter of the instructions) and urge your Congressmembers to fight this and other regulatory sleights-of-hand by the current administration.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist tracks the impact of their suggested actions–quick, clear things you can do.
  • Martha’s list offers ways to comment for the public record on many crucial items, in particular a new rule closing homeless shelters to trans youth. She notes that the whole regulatory process is in chaos, as Trump will issue executive orders while the process is still underway: this is why the Supreme Court struck down the ban on LGBTQ+ employment rights.
  • Rogan’s list explains how to speak up for public health officials, seek justice for Breonna Taylor, challenge policing in schools, push for the election of people who will advocate for racial justice–and more.
  • Most of Sarah-Hope’s list is woven into the stories above, but if you would like to see all of it in one place, click the link above.
  • Chrysostom has interesting news from the Oklahoma, Utah, and Colorado primaries.