News You May Have Missed: November 22, 2020

“File:Iran nuclear program map-en.png” by Yagasi, translation of the original work by Sémhur is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Look closely at the above map when you hear that Trump is considering bombing Iran’s nuclear sites. The Tehran Research Reactor, which the U.S. gave to Iran in 1967, is about 45 minutes away from the center of Tehran, with its 9 million people–just a little bigger than New York. (Al Jazeera published a video tour of the facility in 2019.) Likely you see the problem. As Foreign Policy in Focus put it, “…bombing Iranian nuclear facilities is like setting off nuclear weapons on the ground.”

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Trump explores bombing Iran’s nuclear sites, draws down troops in Afghanistan

In the waning days of his regime, Donald Trump has fired Pentagon and security officials, withdrawn 2,500 troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and had his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, explore the possibilities of bombing Iran’s nuclear sites before Trump leaves office. The Natanz uranium enrichment plant, which was the subject of sabotage in August, is a likely target, since a number of sources note that it has increased its production. Natanz’s population is some 14,000 people.

While the New York Times sketches the issue, it leaves much unsaid, as Portside points out, noting that an attack on Iran could lead to an all-out regional war. Democracy Now explains that Trump is intensifying the sanctions on Iran which have devastated its economy in the midst of the pandemic; in addition, though it is not clear who is carrying them out, there have been cyber-attacks on the national gas company–just as winter is arriving. Portside quotes a tweet by Assal Rad of the National Iranian American Council: “To be clear, Trump wanted to (& still could) attack Iran to stop its ‘growing nuclear program,’ which is only growing [because] Trump quit the deal that set limits on it. This is the definition of a manufactured crisis. Trump wants to bomb away what he created.” 

The hope is that the military would balk at an all-out attack on Iran, but Trump may be intending to make it much harder for Biden to re-enter the Iran nuclear agreement, as he says he would do. If Trump does attack Iran, it will likely improve the prospects for hard-liners in Iran to win the summer 2021 election.

Some analysts are also concerned not only about what it means for Trump to be considering bombing Iran and replacing high-level defense officials in his last weeks in office, but about what he will do with the nation’s intelligence data, according to the Harvard Gazette–whether he will declassify it, share it with foreign leaders (as he did with Russian in 2017), or what. RLS

2. Michigan legislators trump Trump

Biden won the presidential contest in Michigan by more than 154,000 votes, but that hasn’t ended efforts to flip the state’s electoral votes to Trump. First, two Republican canvassers from Michigan’s Wayne County, the largest county in the state, temporarily blocked certification of Biden’s substantial win in that county claiming that the results might be tainted by voter fraud. Then, after an outcry from the county’s voters and political and religious leaders, they backed down and voted for certification. The next day, they tried unsuccessfully to rescind their votes. Now that those efforts to stymie the will of Michigan voters has failed, Trump has summoned members of the Michigan GOP to the White House in a bid to continue his attempts to invalidate U.S. election results. Two legislative leaders traveled to meet with the president: Michigan’s State Speaker of the House and Michigan’s Senate Majority Leader. However, according to CNN, they released a statement after the meeting saying that “We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election.” Trump apparently hopes to prevent the state’s certification process, pushing election results to the state House and Senate, where he hopes Republicans will hand the state’s electoral votes to him. S-HP

3. Pennsylvania judge slaps down Trump’s efforts to undo election result

In a scathing rebuke, a Pennsylvania judge dismissed Trump’s lawsuit asking that millions of votes be set aside. The judge wrote, “this Court has been presented with strained
legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative
complaint and unsupported by evidence. In the United States of America, this
cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its
sixth most populated state.”

While Trump is not gaining any legal ground through his some 25 lawsuits, David Gergen and Caroline Cohen–in an opinion piece for CNN–caution that there is considerable cause for concern, pointing out that according to a recent poll, “32% of Americans think Biden won as a result of voter fraud.” Those who hold this point of view are abandoning Fox News and turning to purveyors of conspiracy theories, such as Newsmax (see the introduction to our issue last week). If a third of Americans do not believe in the legitimacy of the election, they point out, it will be difficult for Biden to govern. Going forward, Politico suggests, Trump’s purpose in all this is to disrupt and thereby maintain control over the GOP, freezing out other potential presidential candidates in 2024. RLS

4. Employees on Medicaid and food stamps while corporations make billions

Walmart. McDonald’s. Dollar Tree. Dollar General. Amazon. Burger King. FedEx. What do these major corporations have in common? Reporting in the Washington Post shows that they are the U.S. employers with the highest number of employees depending on Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—or food stamps) for healthcare and to make sure their families have enough to eat—this according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study undertaken at the request of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Initially, the GAO sought information on the employers of Medicaid and SNAP recipients in all fifty states, but the study focused on nine states in the case of Medicaid and six states in the case of SNAP (for a total of eleven states participating in one or both areas) because their data was determined to be most reliable.

In all eleven states, Walmart was among the top employers to have employees relying on Medicaid or SNAP. McDonald’s was in the top five in at least nine states. The study looked at the proportion of non-elderly, non-disabled people employed by these corporations in the states studied. In Georgia, Walmart employees (3,959) make up 2.1% of that group. McDonald’s employs another 1,480 or 0.8% of that cohort. In Oklahoma, Walmart employees (1,059) comprised 2.8% of that cohort, and McDonald’s accounted for another 1.4% (536). 3.1% (1,318) of Arkansas’ non-elderly, non-disabled people receiving SNAP benefits were employed by Walmart; another 2% (865) were employed by McDonald’s. Sanders, not surprisingly, was sharply critical of the “corporate welfare” claimed by these employers: “Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize some of the largest and most profitable corporations in America. And what kind of profits do those corporations make? In the third quarter of 2020, Walmart reported income of $5.1 billion; McDonald’s reported $1.76 billion. S-HP

If you’re outraged, you can urge your Congressmembers to read and heed this GAO study and demand reductions in corporate welfare and increases in the minimum wage.

5. Supreme Court hears case on whether LGBTQ2s+ people can be foster parents

On November 4, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case testing whether social service agencies operating foster parent programs can exclude lesbians and gay men as potential foster parents because of the agencies’ religious objections. The case arose in response to a Philadelphia decision to end a fostering contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) because they would not accept applications from same-sex couples. Lower courts have upheld Philadelphia’s decision, with the Court of Appeals ruling that the decision was not targeting CSS for their religious views, but was ensuring that agencies the city does business with adhere to the city’s 40-year-old nondiscrimination policy. Reporting on the story, the Washington Post cited Stanford law professor Jeffrey L. Fisher who said the decision can’t come down to “judicial assessments of whether religious views are honorable or offensive” because if such an exemption prevailed, “police officers could decline on religious grounds to enforce particular laws, prison guards could insist on evangelizing to inmates.”

A key part of the arguments focused on which sorts of discrimination the government had a compelling interest in preventing. When asked repeatedly by Justice Kagan whether the government had a compelling interest to end discrimination against lesbians and gay men, Justice Department lawyer Hashim M. Mooppan said the government might have such an interest in the abstract, but that this was not Philadelphia’s only motivation. Justices also asked Mooppan if a religious fostering agency could exclude mixed-race couples from their programs if that was part of their beliefs. Mooppan responded that “race is unique in this country’s constitutional history, and eradicating that type of racial discrimination . . . presents a particularly unique and compelling interest.” Justice Stephen G. Breyer appeared to be looking for a compromise of sorts when he suggested that if CSS objects “to being required to evaluate and provide written endorsements of a same-sex relationship, add something onto any response you make and say that you do not endorse same-sex marriages. Say it.” As the Washington Post explains, one of the ironies here is that Philadelphia’s case rests on a precedent-setting. S-HP

6. Ban on conversion therapy struck down.

Meanwhile, Forbes reports on a November 20 ruling in Florida by Federal Judges Britt C. Grant and Barbara Lagoa, who were both appointed by President Donald Trump, that the City of Boca Raton, Florida, and Florida’s Palm Beach County do not have a right to ban controversial treatment of “minors with ‘any counseling, practice or treatment performed with the goal of changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity’”—in other words, Conversion Therapy. The widespread consensus is that such “therapy” causes serious harm, but the Florida ruling says that conversion therapy cannot be banned because doing so would “violate the First Amendment because they are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.” This case also involved an unexpected irony in that the Judges argued that even though professional organizations have determined a therapeutic practice to be harmful, that is not sufficient reason to ban it–because such agencies can later reverse policy as the American Psychiatric Association did when it reversed its opposition to homosexuality. In a fierce dissent Judge Beverly C. Martin wrote that the conversion therapy ban was backed up by a mountain of rigorous evidence,” and that organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association Council of Representatives, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American School Counselor Association, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have all found [conversion therapy] “pose[s] real risks of harm on children.” S-HP

You may want to seize this precarious time to remind your Congressmembers that the U.S. needs nationwide antidiscrimination legislation for LGBTQ+ individuals.

7. Battle over military bases with Confederate names

Both houses of Congress have passed—with what would be veto-proof majorities—a defense spending authorization bill that includes a provision requiring that military bases named after Confederate leaders be renamed. Military leaders also support the renaming of these bases. However, as the New York Times reports, James Inhofe (R-OK), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is demanding that the renaming provision be cut from the bill before it is sent to the White House to avoid a veto. Even now as the Trump administration is in its final death throes, Republicans are doing all they can to avoid crossing Trump, even when that means abandoning their own values and disregarding the wishes of military leadership. S-HP

You can take various actions to address this issue. Tell Inhofe that his attempt to remove the renaming provision is blatant pandering to Trump against the wishes of Congress and the military and demand that he abandon the effort. You may want to urge the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to do all possible to fight this capitulation to Trump’s bigotry, and insist to your Congressmembers that they fight to retain the renaming clause. You may need to explain to them that having military bases named after Confederates glorifies men who attempted to end the United States as it existed at that time in order to preserve slavery and continues to send a message that slavery is an aspect of U.S. history that we can refuse to acknowledge, even during this time when we have repeatedly seen deadly disregard for Black lives. Relevant addresses are here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Trump is selling billions of dollars of arms to the U.A.E.

Last week, we discussed the Trump administration’s planned sale of $23 billion in advanced weapons technology to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Not only is the UAE located in a volatile region with absolutely no need for additional advanced weaponry, but the UAE also has a dangerous record of human rights violations. According to Human Rights Watch:

◉The UAE plays a lead role in the Saudi-led military coalition responsible for some 90 unlawful attacks in Yemen, a number of which could be potentially classified as war crimes.

◉The UAE has a record of detainee abuse both within the nation itself and internationally.

◉The UAE blocks visits by representative of international human rights organizations.

◉The UAE’s 2015 anti-discrimination law does not bar discrimination on the basis of sex or gender.

◉In the UAE, critics of the government are subject to detention, torture, and disappearance.

◉UAE law permits domestic violence with Article 53 of the penal code allowing the imposition of “chastisement by a husband to his wife and the chastisement of minor children” so long as the assault does not exceed the limits of Islamic law.

◉Marital rape is not a crime in the UAE.

◉In 2010, the UAE Federal Supreme Court issued a ruling, citing the penal code, that accepts husbands’ beating and infliction of other forms of punishment or coercion on their wives, provided they do not leave physical marks.

Three U.S. senators have said that they will introduce legislation in opposition to the sale: Democrats Bob Menendez and Chris Murphy and Republican Rand Paul. S-HP

You can tell tell Senate and House Committee leadership and your own Congressmembers that any U.S. sale of advanced weaponry to the UAE is unacceptable. Addresses are here.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. One in 1,293 Americans are dead from COVID. Trump won’t permit Biden’s COVID response team to coordinate

Johns Hopkins’ most recent (as of midday, November 20) COVID-19 data shows the U.S. at nearly 12 million total cases and over 253,000 deaths. A little basic math—we’ll assume a U.S. population of 328.2 million—shows us that already one in every 1,293 Americans has been killed by COVID-19. And the case numbers and deaths continue to rise. President-elect Biden has quickly assembled a team to direct the nation’s COVID response once Biden is sworn in, but what that team can accomplish is limited at this moment by the refusal of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work with it or to supply crucial data, such as the size of the national stockpiles of Personal Protective Equipment and ventilators or the nation’s current hospital bed capacity. Alex Azar, Secretary of HHS, is refusing to allow his department to work with the transition team because of the General Services Administration’s refusal to acknowledge the Biden win. In fact, HHS staffers have been ordered not to speak with any Biden team members who contact them and to immediately report attempted contact to the Deputy Surgeon General. The voices raised against this life-threatening policy decision include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and the American Nurses Association. S-HP

You can join Dr. Fauci and leading medical organizations in calling for immediate and full cooperation between HHS and the Biden transition team to allow for the most effective possible ongoing response to the pandemic. Write or call Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Ave. SW, Washington DC 20201, (877) 696-6775

10. Trump tries to force banks to invest in Alaska drilling

The Trump administration seems determined to create the maximum possible destruction and havoc in the two months it has remaining. The Washington Post reports that among the likely casualties of this executive branch destruction derby are vast tracts of publicly held land in Alaska, including parts of both the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA) and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The NPRA is some 23 million acres in size and almost half of it is already open to drilling. Plans announced in June would open nearly 7 additional million acres of that expanse to drilling, making 82% of the refuge potential drill sites. Yes, there are petroleum reserves under the NPRA, but its surface has been subject to wildlife protections for over forty years, and it provides critical habitat for polar bears and for migrating caribou and waterfowl.

This plan is currently being fought in the courts by a consortium of environmental groups. And even big banks are resisting; according to Common Dreams, five of the six large banks do not want to fund drilling projects due to objections from activist shareholders, but the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has passed a new proposal to force them to do so. This past Tuesday, the administration announced the first step in opening ANWR lands to drilling, posting a “call for nominations” in the Federal Register. Under a call for nominations, petroleum companies identify specific tracts of land they would be willing to bid on in future drilling lease sales. The Washington Post notes that the ANWR provides “habitat for more than 270 species, including the world’s remaining Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, 250 musk oxen and 300,000 snow geese.” The small bit of good news in all this is that while the call for nominations focuses on identifying tracts to open up for drilling leases, the comment document soliciting these “nominations” is also open to comments critical of the idea of endangering this territory on which so many wild lives depend. S-HP

You can post a formal comment in opposition to the proposed auctioning off of drilling leases in ANWR; follow the instructions exactly. You can also inform your Congressmembers that you oppose opening these Refuge lands to drilling and ask them to fight against the creation of new drilling leases.

RESOURCES

The Americans of Conscience checklist has a set of valuable things you can do to ensure the peaceful transition of power, advocate for the health of people in prisons, and support the rights of young voters. They calculate that you can get through the list in 25 minutes.

News You May Have Missed: November 15, 2020

“Piss Off the GOP and Vote” by Overpass Light Brigade is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

While Americans did heed the exhortations to vote–a higher percentage of the population voted than at any time in the last hundred years–false claims of voter fraud are rampant. While these are being systematically struck down in the courts, and by government elections officials, what these claims tell us is that we live in two different worlds, as Hank Williams so vividly explains: “That’s why we’re so far apart.” Whenever–or whether–Trump acknowledges that Biden won, these differences are likely to pervade the next four years.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. A world of “alternative facts”

The alternate reality in which Donald Trump won the election is being sketched by officials on leave from their government positions, among them the chief information security officer, Camilo Sandoval, according to the Washington Post. And it is being loudly proclaimed by right-wing militia groups, among them the Oath Keepers, which has tens of thousands of members, reports the Independent, many of them emerging from the military or police forces. As founder Stewart Rhodes told the Independent, ““I think about half this country won’t recognize Biden as legitimate. They won’t recognize this election. What that means is that everything that comes out of his mouth will be considered not of any force or effect, anything he signs into law we won’t recognize as legitimate.”

Right-wingers who believe the election was somehow fraudulent have been massing on Parler, a Facebook-like social media site, where their assertions won’t be flagged as false. Parler, which now has 10 million members, is funded by Rebekah Mercer and her father Robert Mercer, long-time Trump supporters and funders of Breitbart, NPR notes. Parler has welcomed Steve Bannon, who is energetically promoting the claims of fraud.

Gab is another Facebook look-alike; its followers are notoriously anti-Semitic and white nationalist. Donald Trump or someone posting in his name continually posts on Gab alleging the theft of the election; a frequent motif that Trump himself has repeated is that that Dominion’s electoral software was hacked to throw the election to Democrats, an allegation that Snopes has carefully refuted. As Reuters points out, the claim that Dominion software was only used in the five states (Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia) whose results Trump is challenging is demonstrably false; it is used in 24 states. The Times reports some glitches in Dominion software, none which would have changed the outcome.

Some of these fraud claims have been constructed by Dennis Montgomery, the same guy who persuaded the Bush administration that he could discern that Al Jazeera was broadcasting terrorist code, according to the Daily Beast. He claims that “a deep-state supercomputer named ‘Hammer’ and a computer program named ‘Scorecard’ were used to change the ballot count.” (Keep track of these claims–once you know what to look for, you will see them repeated everywhere.) One of the more alarming outlets for invented news is “Distributed News,” which insists that because Trump declared a national emergency in 2018 to address the potential of foreign interference in the election, we are still in that emergency, and because Dominion was designed in Canada, their involvement in the election constitutes foreign interference. Therefore, Distributed says that “all top Democrats and deep-state traitors” can be arrested and their assets seized, while “all the Big Tech corporations and left-wing media propaganda” can also have their assets, including their domain names, seized.

There’s no way to know how many of the 73,125,600 people who voted for Donald Trump believe this stuff. But we must contend with the world they have invented. RLS

One way to preserve the reality you know is to donate to the Democratic candidates in the Georgia run-off elections, which will determine the fate of the Senate–and in significant ways, the Biden administration. Fair Fight Action--founded by Stacey Abrams–is good organization to follow. NPR has an informative piece on it.

See the Americans of Conscience checklist for quick, focused actions you can take to ensure the smooth transfer of power, insist on the factual accuracy of the election results, and engage in the Georgia run-off elections.

2. Charges of election fraud refuted by Trump’s own DHS

Politico reports that one of the voices raised in opposition to Trump’s claims of election fraud belongs to the Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency (CISA)—an agency overseen by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). CISA’s “Protect 2020 Rumor vs. Reality” website, which is still being updating regularly, is debunking election-fraud rumors as they arise, explaining that large numbers of dead people are not voting, that differing numbers of votes cast in down-ballot races are not an indication of election fraud, and that changing vote tallies after election night does not mean the final vote count cannot be trusted. S-HP

You might thank the Director of CISA for the agency’s provision of real-time factchecks in response to election rumors: Chris Krebs, Director, Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency, Stop 0380, Department of Homeland Security, 245 Murray Lane, Washington DC 20528-0380, (888) 282-0870

3. Election challenges for Black voters

In a piece in Slate, the NAACP’s Sharrilyn Ifill points out that, while many major news organizations reported that the November 3 election went smoothly, this was not the case, particularly for Black voters. Among the problems Ifill notes:

◉Hours-long lines at early voting locations and election day polling places;

◉Acts of voter intimidation in all of the ten states NAACP was closely monitoring;

◉Over 31,000 calls to a civil rights Election Protection hotline;

◉Armed Trump supporters at polling places on election day in Florida, North Carolina, and Louisiana;

◉A non-partisan poll watcher evaluating accessibility at Georgia polling places being threatened with arrest by a sheriff’s deputy if she continued in her work;

◉State barriers to mail voting that affected primarily Black voters;

◉A USPS refusal to honor a federal judge’s order that twelve mail centers be “swept” for ballots on election day after 300,000 ballots were found untraceable’

◉Robocalls to primarily Black voters in Flint, Michigan, telling them they should vote on Wednesday, November 4, by which time the election would have ended.

In other words, the U.S. is facing a voting rights crisis that can continue to disenfranchise voters unless Congress enacts new voting rights legislation. S-HP

If you want to insist that all Americans should be able to exercise the right to vote safely and simply and demand stronger voting rights protections, appropriate addresses are here.

4. In waning days, Trump shakes up the Pentagon and other departments

Since the November 3 election, a high-speed version of musical chairs has been taking place in the U.S. government under the direction of Donald Trump.

◉Most significantly, the Washington Post and many other sources have reported on a major shake-up at the Pentagon that unnamed sources are calling a takeover of the Pentagon by Trump’s Nation Security Administration staffers. The changes follow the replacement of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper by Christopher C. Miller. Follow-up reporting in the Washington Post notes that, while he has extensive experience in special operations, Miller has never served in the Pentagon’s upper ranks and had only just become the director of the National Counter Terrorism Center. Anthony J. Tata, a retired one-star general has taken over as acting undersecretary for policy—he had previously been nominated for, but not confirmed as, Undersecretary of Defense because of frequent tweets supporting conspiracy theories and claiming President Barak Obama is a terrorist. Speculation is that Trump has multiple motives for shaking up the Pentagon. First, he continues to consider withdrawing all U.S. troops currently serving in conflict areas overseas, a move seen as unwise and potentially dangerous by Pentagon leaders. Next he has made clear his resentment at not being allowed to use military equipment in parades and other public displays. Finally, the appointment of Trump loyalists will almost certainly make the transition to the Biden presidency more difficult.

As we pointed out last week, a number of significant heads of agency were fired or asked to resign by the outgoing president. Defense News reports that Lisa Gordon-Hagerty resigned (the New York Post claims she was fired) from her position as head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Both Defense News and Bloomberg say she resigned because of ongoing struggles with Secretary of Energy Dan Brouilette over issues of budget and the independence of the NNSA, which is only under nominal control by the Department of Energy. The Las Vegas Review-Journal claims that Brouilette told Gordon-Hagerty that Trump has “lost confidence in her.” Gordon-Hagerty was the first woman to lead the NNSA.

◉CNN reports on the ouster of Bonnie Glick from her position as Deputy Administrator (the #2 position) at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Glick received a note from the White House demanding that she resign from her position or be “terminated without cause at the pleasure of the U.S. President.” Glick refused to resign and was subsequently fired. CNN sources suggest that Glick’s firing was designed to allow Acting Administrator of USAID John Barsa to continue directing the agency. Barsa had reached the end of his legal term as acting head of USAID under the Federal Vacancies and Reform Act. Now that Glick has been removed, Barsa has been appointed to her position. As long as no one is named to Barsa’s former post as USAID head, this will allow Barsa to continue directing the agency from his new, number two spot.

Inside Climate News reports on the demotion of Neil Chatterjee, former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), who will now serve as a commissioner, with the Commission’s other Republican member, James Danly. Chatterjee, who has generally been viewed as fossil fuel-friendly had voted in favor of two actions by the FERC that were opposed by the White House: a September order making it easier for small groups of solar and solar storage owners to sell electricity to the grid, potentially increasing the profitability of solar energy, and an October statement encouraging states and regional grid operators to explore the benefits of carbon pricing, under which energy producers are charged fees based on the amount of CO2 they release. Daly voted against both of these actions.

◉The Washington Post reports that climate scientist Michael Kuperberg had been demoted from his position as executive director of the US Global Change Research Program (USGRP), a program established by Congress to provide a regular National Climate Assessment looking at current and potential future harms caused by greenhouse gases. The Washington Post described USGCRP’s latest report as “detail[ing] the potentially dire consequences for Americans should the country take little action to cut emissions and prepare for climate change’s effects, such as sea-level rise, droughts and hotter, longer-lasting heat waves.” Speculation is that leadership of USGCRP will now go to meteorologist David Legates, who is a climate change denier.

◉NBC News reports that Richard Polger resigned from his position as Director of the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) Election Crimes Branch in response to Attorney General William Barr’s authorization for federal prosecutors to investigated claims of election fraud. DoJ policy in the past has been to avoid any overt investigation until all recounts are completed and final election results are certified. Polger saw Barr’s decision to break from this policy as politically motivated. In his letter of resignation, Polger explained, “Having familiarized myself with the new policy [to begin investigation before certification]… I must regretfully resign from my role as Director of the Election Crimes Branch.” Polger will remain at the D-J in another capacity. S-HP

Given everything, you might want to raise your concerns about these rapid turnovers, the politicization of what should be neutral agencies, and the effect this may have on the transition to a Biden Presidency with your Congressmembers.

GOOD NEWS

5. New hope for DACA recipients

As we have been noting, the appointment of Chad Wolf–the acting secretary of Homeland Security–was not legal, as has now been affirmed by a second federal judge, according to the Washington Post. Thus, the memo he issued reducing the length of residence permits for those immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) from two years to one was also illegal. The judge has ordered both sides into a conference on the issue, so permits will not immediately be restored. RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Following removal of Pentagon leadership, US sells $23 billion in weapons to the UAE

Following U.S.-brokered negotiations leading to the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) recognition of the state of Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced administration plans to sell over $23 billion in advanced weaponry to the UAE, including $10.4 billion worth of F-35 aircraft, $3 billion worth of drones, and $10 billion worth of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions according to reporting by CNN. Foreign Policy points out that this sale is inadvisable for several reasons. The UAE has been accused of committing war crimes in Libya, including the bombing of a refugee detention center, and of running a torture center in Yemen. In addition, the UAE has close ties to Russia, and Foreign Policy calls for a “tangible decoupling” of the UAE from Russia before any advanced weaponry sales proceed. CNN quoted House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-NY), who said Congress would not rush approval of the sale, explaining “The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a game-changing stealth platform…. The export of this aircraft requires very careful consideration and Congress must analyze all ramifications.” S-HP

You might thank Engel for his cautious approach to this sale and urge that the House Foreign Affairs Committee take all the time it needs to study this sale and related issues before considering approval: Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2170 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5021

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Turkish immigrants developed Pfizer’s vaccine without funds from Trump

The promising vaccine developed by Pfizer, according to Trump, was developed under his “Warp Speed” program. This is not true. While Pfizer has a contract to deliver doses to the US, it took no US money at all to develop its vaccine, as the AP notes, instead using its own money and relying on a partnership with BioNTech, a company in Germany. In fact, as Bloomberg explains, BioNTech was founded by Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, spouses who were immigrants from Turkey to Germany, where they weathered discrimination against immigrants to become scientific innovators. RLS

8. Very bad news about the pandemic

Some hospitals (in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee) are almost at capacity and mobile morgues are being set up in El Paso. As we explained last week (Story 5), we don’t tend to know this because there is no requirement that this data be reported except to a small circle of people in the Trump administration. Among the news that is being withheld is that hospitals in 43 states are nearing capacity, Laurie Garrett, the Pulitzer-prize science journalist, told WBUR. Because so many states are affected, states can’t ask for staff, PPE and ventilators from other states. Even the coronavirus task force, whose reports the Center for Public Integrity has gathered, says that all but eight states are in the red zone.

In addition to the lack of administrative leadership, this surge is partly caused by the way the coronavirus manifests; as much as 60 per cent of the transmission, she says, is coming from people with no symptoms. While, as Garrett points out, Canada has been much more protected than the US because of strict controls, the virus is likely to start leaking across the border. By Christmas, Garrett says, the US “could well have 400,000 cumulatively dead Americans, be seeing death rates at about 2,000 or more daily, and have such an out of control situation that when Joe Biden steps in, he’ll inherit the sort of disease equivalent of what Barack Obama inherited from George Bush in the financial sector.” RLS

RESOURCES

◉The care that people who work with ballots at any stage demonstrate is evident in the New York Times Magazine’s photo essay this week; it is packed with “who knew” information and stunning photographs.

◉Keep reading Heather Cox Richardson for insights into the present moment and how we got here.

News You May Have Missed: November 8, 2020

“Crop Circle Art: 📮 Biden Harris 2020 🇺🇸” by jmf1007 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

At this writing, Trump has declined to acknowledge that Biden won. He is claiming that observers were not allowed to watch the counting and suggesting that fraudulent votes were counted–remaining silent, of course, about how many votes from likely Democratic voters were suppressed. In contrast, Biden is signaling his attention to put things right by releasing a list of executive orders he’ll issue, according to the Washington Post: to rejoin the Paris climate accords and the World Health Organization, to permit DACA applicants to stay in the country, to repeal the Muslim travel ban. Politico has an excellent outline of what Biden would like to do and what obstacles he will face. With the pandemic out of control, a New Deal-type stimulus package is essential, Politico notes. For more detail, see the Biden and Harris transition website, Build Back Better. Of course, what Biden can do depends on the two Senate runoffs in Georgia; according to The Hill, Stacey Abrams says that Democrats “absolutely” can prevail in those races.

At the same time, Trump is continuing to do damage, as NPR reports. He fired the heads of three crucial agencies (two of them women): the head of the  National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons; the deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development; and the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He has allowed his supporters to believe a QAnon conspiracy theory that the federal government watermarked ballots and so is able to track those that are fraudulent (impossible, Politifact explains–states print ballots). And Trump supporters–some of them armed–have shown up at the Maricopa county elections office in Phoenix, Arizona, according to Al-Jazeera. Others have massed in Lansing, Michigan and other state capitals as part of a campaign called “Stop the Steal,” according to USA Today. Trump supporters continue to be guided by their own media; according to the Daily Beast, right-wing outlet Newsmax has refused to call the election for Biden.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Central American children deported to Mexico–where they know no one

Among the long list of things to be mended in a Biden administration is immigration policy, beginning with how it is applied to children. While Biden said he would establish a task force to reunite the 545 children with their parents who have been deported, according to CNN, there is much more to do. Children unaccompanied by parents are even now being deported to Mexico–whether not they are from Mexico–in violation of international agreements, the NY Times reports. At least 200 Central American children have been sent to Mexico during the pandemic, even though they are from elsewhere and have no family connections in Mexico, according to NPR. They are now in the hands of Mexican child welfare authorities, and no information is available about whether their parents are being sought. As Witness at the Border points out, they are at risk of exploitation and trafficking (Witness has a chilling document identifying deportation flights in August.) RLS

58 House Democrats have asked the Trump administration to stop the summary deportation of both children and adults under the guise of the pandemic, according to USA News and World Report. If you want to add your voice, addresses are here.

2. Trump staff likely in violation of the Hatch Act

Reuters reports that, at the request of Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) has launched an investigation into possible Hatch Act violations by the Trump administration, which reportedly used areas of the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building as “command centers” during last week’s elections. If staffers from the White House or the Eisenhower Executive Office Building participated in election night activities, they would likely be in violation of the Hatch Act, which places strict limits on partisan political activities by federal employees, with the exception of the President and Vice President. The OSC is currently investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for his speech at the Republican National Convention in August. Also in August, Forbes explained the multiple violations of the Hatch Act, pointing out that there would only be prosecutions if the Justice Department decided to pursue them. In 2019, the OSC recommended that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be fired for repeated violations of the Hatch Act. S-HP

If you want to object to repeated Hatch Act violations by the Trump Administration, addresses are here.

3. Immigration judges lose collective bargaining rights

Business Insider has reported that on election day, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) issued a ruling that revoked the collective bargaining rights of immigration judges. The immigration judges’ union was first recognized in 1979 and the judges’ unionization rights depend on a recognition of the judges as workers, not managers. Immigration judges have fought hard to maintain their independence—and their union rights—in the face of Trump administration’s increasingly draconian immigration policies. In January, the Department of Justice (DoJ) asked for decertification of the union, but in a July ruling Susan Bartlett, the Washington DC regional FLRA director, said that the DoJ had not convincingly demonstrated that immigration judges work as managers and upheld immigration judges’ collective bargaining rights. Now FLRA leadership has overridden the July ruling, declaring that because immigration judges’ decisions affect the implementation of policy, they are management. The FLRA’s leadership group is composed of a chair and two additional members. Not surprisingly, two Republican appointees voted to approve the decertification, with the single Democratic appointee dissenting. S-HP

You can object to this move to limit the independence of and workplace protections for immigration judges by writing the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Addresses are here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

4. Canada seeks new immigrants

Faced with the loss of revenue and a youthful workforce that comes with immigration, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday that he was offering a new path to citizenship for immigrants already in the country who are working, studying, or seeking asylum, according to the Financial Post. Health Care workers are especially needed. According to Immigration Canada, 1.2 million newcomers will be admitted between 2021 and 2023 in order to assist with the pandemic recovery; most of those admitted will be in the high-skill or family reunification categories.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

5. Is your local ICU at capacity? The (present) government won’t tell you.

If you knew whether nearby ICUs were at capacity, would you take extra precautions against COVID-19? Very possibly. However, you don’t have access to that information because the government–at least as presently constituted–hides it from you. Documents obtained by NPR indicate that while hospitals are required to report this information to Health and Human Services, it is not released beyond a small circle of people. Health officers, state and local officials, and potential patients therefore have no way to plan. The most recent report NPR obtained, October 27, noted that in Atlanta, Minneapolis and Baltimore, “in-patient hospital beds are over 80% full, while particular hospitals in Tampa, Birmingham and New York “are at over 95% ICU capacity and at risk of running out of intensive care beds.” RLS

If you want to speak up about the refusal of Health and Human Services to release data about hospital capacity, you can write to the head of HHS and to your elected representatives. Addresses are here.

6. How will Biden deal with COVID-19?

Biden made it very clear in his speech that he has a plan to address COVID-19. NPR describes it: He’ll make sure that scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make recommendations based on evidence, invest in the distribution of vaccines and PPE, hire people to do extensive contact tracing, increase testing, develop the workforce of caregivers, and work with the governors to establish when and where masks are mandatory. Scientific American has a good piece from before the election that will make it clear the impact president-elect Biden will have on science and the environment.

Meanwhile, you might find the COVID-19 risk tracker from Brown University’s Alpert Medical School useful. You can put in an activity–such as grocery shopping–and tweak your plans to lower your risk. RLS

7. The United States dumps between 1.1 and 2.2 million metric tons of plastic into the oceans

U.S. contribution to worldwide coastal plastics pollution may be five times greater than previously understood, according to an article published in Scientific Advances, a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As the New York Times noted in October, the study reflects increasing U.S. use of plastics, but the larger number is also a result of the study’s authors’ decision to include plastic waste that the U.S. ships to other countries, where that waste is often mishandled. As much as 88% of exported U.S. plastic waste is sent to countries that simply do not have adequate waste management infrastructure to recycle those materials. As the Times article explains, in 2016, “the United States contributed between 1.1 and 2.2 million metric tons of plastic waste to the oceans through a combination of littering, dumping and mismanaged exports.” S-HP

You can alert your Congressmembers to the findings of this study and remind them that we are long overdue for a serious reduction in the use and discarding of plastics.

8. Grey wolves losing federal endangered species protection

In an act that Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife called “premature and reckless,” the Trump administration announced that it would be removing endangered species protections this month, leaving the scattered populations of grey wolves under the management of individual states. Washington Post coverage of this action notes that gray wolves were originally listed as an endangered species in 1967, when the population of the wolves in the 48 contiguous U.S. states had dropped to 1,000. While the gray wolf population has increased since then, there are still fewer than 8,000 gray wolves in the 48 states: a total of about 6,000 individuals living in the Midwest states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota and much smaller, isolated populations in California, Oregon, and Washington. Ranchers and hunters are delighted with the decision. Defenders of Wildlife and several other environmental organizations have announced plans to file a suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to challenge this decision. S-HP

If you wish to join environmentalists in opposing the removal of endangered species protections for the still-vulnerable gray wolves, you can write the Secretary of the Interior and the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Addresses are here.

RESOURCES

◉ The Americans of Conscience checklist provides ways to make sure your ballot was counted and ways to help Georgia residents vote on the upcoming runoffs.

◉ Week after week since the 2016 election, Rogan’s List has provided clear, comprehensive analyses of the problems that beset us and quick, focused actions we can take. For the moment, Susan Rogan has ceased publishing but may revive the List in a somewhat different form. This week’s edition recommends other activist lists to follow. News You May Have Missed is very grateful to Susan for her consistent inspiration and concrete suggestions.

NEWS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: NOVEMBER 1, 2020

“Philadelphia PA – Liberty Bell 03” by Daniel Mennerich is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Like the Liberty Bell, the nation must be cast and recast, at risk of splitting along its visible cracks. With our world about to change–again–on Tuesday, the future rings with possibilities. Here are some ways to think about the days and months ahead, especially given that Trump has said he will declare victory if he thinks he is ahead–even if all the votes are not yet counted.

Re: Voting–the ACLU posted this: If someone is attempting to interfere with your or anyone’s right to vote, it may be voter intimidation and a violation of state and federal law. You should contact your local elections official to report the issue. You should also save the number for the Election Protection hotline and call or text if you witness voter intimidation: 866-OUR-VOTE (687-8683). The hotline is also available in other languages: Spanish 888-VE-Y-VOTA and Asian languages 888-API-VOTE..

If you still need to know where and how to vote in your state, the Washington Post can advise. 

Choose Democracy.us, the people who brought you Ten Things you Need to Know to Stop a Coup, has a list of actions to stave one off. Their main message is: be prepared. Don’t expect results on election night. Don’t believe outrageous claims. Be ready to act.

You might check Protect the Results for their take on appropriate action if the election is undermined. The Atlantic recommends three strategies: Keeping protest action non-violent, reaching out to the center, and slowing things down–through rolling strikes, for example.

We see five possible outcomes of Tuesday’s election–which are not mutually exclusive. 

1. BIDEN WINS–THE RIGHT WING EXPLODES AND LEGAL STRUGGLES ENSUE:

The Washington Post points out that gun sales are skyrocketing, right-wing groups are muttering on the internet about civil war, and Trump is openly praising a MAGA caravan in Texas that tried to run a Biden bus off the road, CNN reports. A white supremacist group, the Patriot Front, is preparing for civil war, according to the UK’s Independent. On the upside, the LawFare Blog argues that right-wing extremist groups are splintering.

Insiders in the Trump administration are also worried, as several of them told the New York Times on condition of anonymity. An FBI official the Times writer spoke to said “We’ve been talking to our state and local counterparts and gearing up for the expectation that it’s going to be a significant law-enforcement challenge for probably weeks or months. It feels pretty terrifying.”

The National Guard is to be deployed to cities across Texas before the election, according to the Texas Tribune, and Homeland Security agents are on standby, CNN reported.

Trump is planning to argue that mail-in ballots not counted by the end of the evening on election day are not legitimate and should not be counted, Axios reports, quoting Trump’s comments to reporters that “We’re going to go in the night of, as soon as that election’s over, we’re going in with our lawyers.” In a decision about a proposed six-day extension for the receipt of mailed ballots in Wisconsin, Justice Kavanaugh signalled support for Trump’s position. As SF Gate wrote,  “Kavanaugh suggested sympathy for Trump’s unsubstantiated contentions that votes received after Election Day would be tainted by fraud, warning that ‘charges of a rigged election could explode’ if late-arriving ballots change the perceived outcome.” 

As Slate notes, “This is the entire Republican strategy in 2020: not to win the election but to make the winner unknowable, so that Trump can claim victory.”

However, there are significant legal barriers to Kavanaugh and Trump colluding to prevent ballots arriving after November 3 from being counted: States have the right to establish their own electoral procedures, according to lawyer (and biographer of RBG) Teri Kanefield. Check out her “Things to do” tab.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, various corporations–among them Blackstone and Charles Schwab–have funded the many almost-identical lawsuits brought by the Republican National Committee against mail ballots, despite the fact that according to an investigation by the Brennan Center for Justice, voter fraud is very rare, amounting to 0.0009% of votes.

2. BIDEN WINS–BUT TRUMP WREAKS HAVOC BEFORE THE INAUGURATION:

The interregnum–the period between regimes–is especially dangerous this election cycle. 

Politico points out that when Trump has nothing left to lose, “nearly everyone expects an unprecedented flurry of presidential pardons in his last 77 days — a way both to reward friends, protect his family, tweak his opponents and curry favor with those who may help him when he is back in private life.” These could include pre-emptive pardons for his family and friends.

He could also, Politico suggests, continue his assault on the so-called “deep state,” with executive orders like those he already has issued, depriving civil servants of basic job protections. Mass firings, destruction of documents, and covert military actions are also possible.

The chances of a COVID-relief bill, stalled just before the election, will drop precipitously once Trump sees no political advantage in it. The costs–to people who are ill from the virus, unemployed and at risk of losing their housing due to the virus and the economic downtown, desperately in debt due to the virus–are immeasurable.

Meanwhile, a report from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and MilitiaWatch warns that right-wing violence is likely in several states following the election: “Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Oregon are at highest risk of increased militia activity in the election and post-election period, while North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, California, and New Mexico are at moderate risk,” they say. 

3. BIDEN WINS–BUT DEMOCRATS FAIL TO WIN THE SENATE:

If Biden wins but Republicans take the Senate, paralysis ensues. Bloomberg thinks this is not a bad thing, grumbling about “partisan overreach.” Certainly there would be no more seats on the Supreme Court. Legislation would be entirely stalled (compare Obama’s first two years to his last six). Trump has certainly fouled the nest, with a pandemic raging, the economy struggling, and the basic safety of BIPOC, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, women and children at risk. Would there be COVID relief? What would happen to the 400+ bills the House has passed but refused to consider? Without the stranglehold Trump and McConnell have on the Senate, would some bipartisan legislation pass? The Atlantic thinks not, musing that Biden has ideas about collegiality that simply won’t hold up.

4. BIDEN WINS, DEMOCRATS WIN THE SENATE–AND THE PIECES HAVE TO BE PUT BACK TOGETHER:

Hint: Biden can’t do it alone. We can’t relax during a Biden administration.

Biden has said that one of his first actions as president would be to establish a task force to reunite the 545 children with their parents who have been deported, according to CNN. He would also need to establish a pathway to citizenship for those children’s parents, establish speedy immigration hearings for those now in detention and those trapped in the refugee camps in Matamoros, Mexico, stop deporting unaccompanied children, re-establish humane asylum policies for people who have been terrorized in their home countries, make provision for the Dreamers, and rapidly process applications from those who were excluded by the Muslim ban.

The comment at the end of the piece by Lawyers Defending American Democracy is worth reading. They recommend that we look closely at the bill Amy Klobuchar sponsored, the Protect Our Democracy Act, pending in both houses. They also suggest we think about the 12 recommendations in the massive “Report on the Department of Justice and the Rule of Law” from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL).


Trump has reversed 72 rules pertaining to the climate crisis, toxic substances, and environmental protection; he is in the process of reversing 27 more, according to the New York Times. This will be a list for Biden (and the rest of us) to work from.

5. TRUMP WINS. NOW WHAT?

Discovered having contributed white supremacist talking points to Brietbart, Steven Miller, architect of Trump’s cruel immigration policy, has made it clear that there will be more of the same–and worse–to come, according to an interview with NBC News. “Limiting asylum grants, punishing and outlawing ‘sanctuary cities,’ expanding the so-called travel ban with tougher screening for visa applicants and slapping new limits on work visas,” are on the agenda. Refugee admissions would be eliminated entirely. Add that to what is already going on–children who are not from Mexico deported to Mexico without a hearing; planes full of asylum-seekers forced to agree to their own deportation, sometimes to death; women given hysterectomies without consent.

The cost to Black Americans if Trump wins would be high. As Politico points out, Black people are more likely to work at the front-line or essential jobs that put them at risk for COVID-19. They are also less likely to have access to health care and may encounter racism when they do access it. Black employment rates are recovering from the pandemic much more slowly than white employment rates, while regulations to prevent discrimination in housing are being scrapped. Most critically, when anti-Black violence appears to have support at the highest levels, violence against Black people increases.

Foreign Affairs suggests that a second Trump term would eliminate America’s position as a world leader–if the first term has not done so already. His America First policies and his decimation of anyone in the administration with foreign policy expertise, Foreign Affairs points out, means that foreign policy will be chaotic at best.

Closer to home, the criminalization of dissent that has already prevailed will likely intensify. Reveal News (from the Center for Investigative Reporting) vividly describes the ways in which Black Lives Matter protesters (especially those of color) are targeted by the justice system, given federal charges for small infractions–or no infractions at all. The Intercept provides the history of how the Trump administration has imposed harsh charges on protestors–but not on his right-wing supporters. About BLM protesters, Trump told the Governors in a conference call in June that “These are terrorists. They’re looking to do bad things to our country.” 

Already Trump is punishing his perceived enemies, threatening to withhold funds for COVID and HIV, even screenings for newborns, in so-called “anarchist cities,” Politico reports. New York, Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., and Seattle are likely targets. We can expect more of this.

Lawyers Defending American Democracy has a comprehensive list of the damage Trump has done, from the (mis)use of acting appointments, the violation of the separation of powers, the use of the Justice Department as his personal agents, retaliation against government officials who disagree with him, nepotism, supporting right-wing terrorist organizations–and much more. 

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has recorded Trump’s 3,400 conflicts of interest. Expect more of the same.

The New Yorker suggests that the 25th Amendment might need to be invoked, if Congress agrees he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Of course, the vice-president would succeed him. House Speaker Pelosi introduced a bill to establish a Commission on Presidential Capacity to Discharge the Powers and Duties of the Office, which Trump claims was written in case Biden was incapable of serving. 

STILL, SOME GOOD NEWS:

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled against the Republican Party’s suit to block 127,000 drive-thru votes in Harris County, according to the Texas Tribune. Republicans, however, are banking on a similar suit they have filed in federal court.

The U.S. Supreme Court has–at least for now–allowed a ruling to stand permitting Pennsylvania to count ballots arriving up to three days after election day, even if the postmark is not legible, according to CNN. On Wednesday, the Justices also permitted North Carolina to count ballots arriving nine days after election day, as long as they were postmarked by November 3, another CNN story noted. You can read the orders on CNN’s website. Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate in either set of deliberations.

Children of same-sex couples were refused passports by the State Department, even though their parents were American citizens. State Department lawyers argued that the children had to have a biological connection to their citizen parents in order to have citizenship from birth. Federal judges found these policies to be illegal and the State Department withdrew its appeal, according to Lambda Legal.

The Texas regulatory board that oversees social workers has reversed its ruling allowing social workers to refuse services to LGBTQ+ clients, according to Pink News. For more information, note our story #4 on October 25, 2020.

A federal judge said that the Department of Justice could not defend Trump against a lawsuit by E. Jean Carroll accusing him of rape, the Hill reports. The judge wrote that because the alleged assault occurred over twenty years ago, “neither the media reports nor the underlying allegations have any relationship to his official duties.” 

News You May Have Missed: October 25, 2020

“Polling Place @ the Belmont Library!” by San Mateo County Libraries is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Challenges in voting

We probably won’t know the results of the November 3 presidential election by November 4. In fact, when we get them and whether they pass first through the Supreme Court are both up for grabs. And once we have them, who knows when or if we’ll know the full story of the election: particularly which ballots were counted and what pressures voters faced at polling places. Last month, Trump supporters rallied outside a Virginia polling place. They didn’t block the entrance, but prospective voters had to move around them as they approached the entrance. Earlier this week, Trump operatives filmed Philadelphia voters leaving their ballots at secure ballot drop boxes, a practice that Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, called “blatant violations of the Pennsylvania election code” in a letter to the Trump campaign.

 Meanwhile, mail-in ballots are already being rejected. Using data from the Democracy Fund Voter Study (DFVS), the New York Times has assembled a slide show comparing rates of ballot rejection for key voting blocs—voters in the 18-25 year age range, Black and Hispanic voters, and first-time users of mail-in ballots—in swing states. All three of the groups lean Democratic. This is a change for mail-in ballots projected by DFVS using survey data. In the past the majority of mail-in ballots were cast by Republicans, but this year 71% of first-time mail-in ballots will be submitted by Democrats. In Florida voters in the 18-25 age range are two times more likely to have their ballots rejected than are voters in the 26-65 age range and four times more likely to have their ballots rejected than voters in the 66+ age range. In Florida, Black and Hispanic voters’ ballots are being rejected at over two times the rate for white voters.

In North Carolina, where data from ProPublica and the Guardian show that 6,779 ballots had been rejected as of October 15. Drawing once again on New York Times reporting, Hispanic voters were over 2 times more likely to have ballots rejected than white, while for Black voters that frequency of rejection was over four times greater. First time-Florida mail-in voters are more than two-and-a-half times likely than experienced mail-in voters to have their ballots rejected. In the most recent race for one of Florida’s two Senate seats, a Republic won by a margin of just over 10 thousand votes; 5.7 thousand Democratic votes have already been rejected by that state.

  The good news is that in Florida, voters whose ballots are rejected have an opportunity to “cure” their ballots. Voters whose ballots are rejected must be informed. They then have until 5p.m. on November 5 to submit a signed affidavit that the ballot is theirs along with a copy of their ID. North Carolina does not have a similar policy. S-HP

You can write to your Secretary of State and insist that every ballot be counted. You can also let your Members of Congress know that we need national legislation creating a voter’s bill of rights. Addresses are here.

2. “Well-regulated” militias are not protected by the Constitution unless controlled by the state

The so-called “Boogaloo Bois,” who have been responsible for several instances of domestic terrorism—the murder of a federal security officer in Oakland, a threat to supply arms to Hamas to use against US troops, the firing of an AK-47 into a Minneapolis police building during a protest against the murder of George Floyd—are now alleged to be part of a nationwide organization, according to a federal indictment. Their purpose, according to Buzzfeed, is to incite violence around the country. Though Boogaloo has been banned from Facebook, it was on there long enough to establish networks which have now moved to encrypted channels.

Meanwhile, a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a security think-tank, found that white supremacist groups were responsible for 67 per cent of “terrorist plots and attacks,” according to the New York Times. The Times raises the concern that if Trump loses the election, these groups will erupt into widespread violence, with people of color, Jews and Muslims the likely targets. Indeed, a Proud Boys supporter posted a You-Tube video promising Civil War if Biden won, Newsweek reported. On the video, the supporter says that the Proud Boys understood Trump’s statement during the debate that they should “stand back and stand by” to mean that “the president is telling them to ‘wait for my orders’ And that’s exactly what we’re waiting for,” he says on the video, which is posted on Newsweek’s website.

Mary B. McCord, who was the acting assistant attorney general for national security at the Department of Justice from 2016 to 2017, wrote an opinion piece for the Times on the plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan. She says that “’well regulated’ in the Second Amendment meant that the militias were “trained, armed and controlled by the state,” not that unregulated militias are sanctioned anywhere in the U.S. RLS

3. Cameroonian asylum-seekers tortured in US detention

Asylum-seekers fleeing torture in Cameroon were apparently tortured by immigration officials in the US, who choked, beat, and pepper-sprayed them in an effort to get them to sign their own deportation orders, the Guardian reports. Many refused to sign, as they had asylum hearings scheduled and feared they would be killed if they were sent back. Some had their fingerprints forcibly applied to the documents in lieu of a signature. English-speakers are a minority in Cameroon and have been severely persecuted. Nonetheless, many were deported anyway. Witness at the Border tracked the flight which left October 13. One detainee, who was taken off that flight, said, ““I was crying, ‘I can’t breathe,’ because they were forcefully on top of me pressing their body weight on top of me. My eyes were so hot … I was dragged across the ground,” he told the Guardian. “The officers told me to open my eyes. I couldn’t. My legs and hands were handcuffed. They forcefully opened my palm. Some of my fingers were broken. They forced my fingerprint on to the paper.” RLS

Miles4Migrants flies Cameroonians and others who have been granted asylum to their destinations in the United States; using donated miles; immigration officials tend to simply drop them off without money or bus tickets. See their Facebook page for information on how to donate miles (their web page is down). Witness at the Border tracks deportation flights and works to restore asylum. They too are on Facebook.

4. Social workers in Texas may reject LGBTQ+ clients.

Until recently, ethical guidelines from the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners (BSWE) prohibited social workers from turning away clients because of disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity, reports the Houston-based Chron. However, following a recommendation from the office of Governor Greg Abbott that these anti-discrimination protections should be removed because “the code [of conduct’s] nondiscrimination protections went beyond protections laid out in the state law that governs how and when the state may discipline social workers,” BSWE unanimously voted to withdraw these protections. This move raises the question of the differences between what is legally required and what is ethically responsible. Much of Texas suffers from a systematic shortage of social workers, which means that those turned away due to disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity may find accessing mental health services extremely difficult—which is particularly problematic given the documented risk of trauma and related mental health conditions within the LGBTQ+ community. S-HP

You can write–or call–members of the BSWE to object to this abandonment of ethical responsibility—which can quite appropriately extend beyond legal requirements. Addresses are here.

5. US concealed information from those trying to find immigrant children’s parents

1,100 additional children were separated from their parents in 2017, under a pilot program that presaged the “zero tolerance” policy of family separation that has become well known. Now, a draft Justice Department Inspector General’s report has revealed that 545 of those children have parents who were deported and cannot be found—in large part because the U.S. government kept information from agencies who were searching for them, including volunteers who are going door-to-door in Guatemala and Honduras. 60 of these children were under 5 at the time. They are now living with relatives or foster parents while the search for their parents continues. As a lawyer for the ACLU told the New York Times, “The fact that they kept the names from the court, from us, from the public, was astounding. We could have been searching for them this whole time.”

The policy to separate children from their parents was entirely strategic, intended to deter terrified people from seeking asylum, the New York Times reports. Even after the costs of family separation were clear from the 2017 pilot, in a 2018 conference call, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “We need to take away children,” according to the notes of those who were on the call. In a second conference call, Rod J. Rosenstein, who was then  the deputy attorney general, told federal prosecutors that “it did not matter how young the children were.” Even federal prosecutors were aghast. According to the Inspector General’s report, one wrote, “We have now heard of us taking breastfeeding defendant moms away from their infants.”

A Washington Post editorial points out that “family separation” is a misnomer: “For all intents and purposes, these children were kidnapped by the U.S. government.” RLS

You can donate to the ACLU, which is trying to track down every child’s parents and assist them in reuniting. Al Otro Lado assists people who have been deported.

6. Congressmembers not allowed to visit postal processing facilities

Here’s the latest from the United States Postal Service (USPS) under the leadership of new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy

At the end of the week, a federal judge affirmed a lower court ruling requiring the USPS to reinstall high-speed mail-sorting machines—which had been dismantled and removed under DeJoy’s order—at facilities that can’t process first-class election mail efficiently because of COVID-19 modifications.

 According to the Wall Street Journal, individual Congressmembers and Congressional groups have been attempting to tour postal processing facilities in recent weeks, concerned that changes put in place by DeJoy may interfere with timely processing of election mail. The USPS has been blocking these visits using a variety of justifications. The USPS claims a policy, never cited during previous election season visits, bars visitors from postal facilities for 45 days preceding an election. Some Congressmembers have been told that allowing them to visit would constitute a violation of the Hatch Act, which bans the executive branch from engaging in partisan political activity, a claim that is dubious for several reasons. First, Congressmembers are part of the legislative branch of government, not the executive. Second, Trump has been regularly using White House sites for election-related events. In addition, the Wall Street Journal notes that guidance issued by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel regarding the 2018 elections determined the Hatch Act doesn’t prevent lawmakers from visiting “federal facilities for an official purpose, to include receiving briefings, tours, or other official information.”

  Finally, CBS News offers evidence that DeJoy’s business ties could lead to conflicts of interest. DeJoy left the board of shipping company XPO Logistics in 2018, but still holds a multi-million-dollar stake in the business. XPO is also currently leasing properties controlled by DeJoy for $2.3 million annually in a contract that doesn’t expire until 2025. Now, XPO has been awarded an eighteen-month, $5 million contract with XPO. CBS News reports that “The USPS database shows the contract has one of the highest annual rates out of more than 1,600 contracts the Postal Service initiated with outside firms in its most recent quarter, which is the first full quarter DeJoy has served as head of the agency.” S-HP

You can insist that Congressmembers be allowed access to USPS processing facilities and that mail processing be increased in compliance with the federal court order and request a Congressional investigation of DeJoy’s conflicts of interest in his position as Postmaster General. Addresses are here.

7. Loyalty tests in the federal workforce

Trump has frequently indicated a desire to be able to subject government employees to “loyalty tests,” claiming that many of these employees serve the “deep state” rather than Trump himself—though their real employers are the American people, who rely on their nonpartisan work to maintain fairness and transparency across different administrations. Now, using what Government Executive calls “the biggest effort in history to sweep aside 140 years of federal policy promoting professional expertise in government,” Trump has created a new class of federal employees via executive order: Schedule F employees.

Schedule F employees will have none of the usual protections guaranteed to federal employees, including protections against discrimination, forced reassignment and relocation, and the right to appeal personnel decisions, among others. Schedule F employees could also be summarily fired for any reason. And who will these Schedule F employees be? Anyone whose work can be classified as having “a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or a policy advocating character.” None of these terms are defined with any specificity in the executive order, which means almost any employee who has reason to write a memo making suggestions to a higher-up. Government Executive warns that “This is an aggressive effort to uproot the traditions of a highly skilled and politically impartial public service that have made the country great for more than a century. It is a bold effort to shift the constitutional balance of power, to weaken Congress, and to push aside the public’s right to participate in the process that shapes the regulations affecting them.” SHP

You can object to this attempt to make government employment a partisan business and to deny an unknown number of federal workers basic workplace protections they currently have. Find your Members of Congress here.

8. US collaborates with conservative nations to restrict abortion

In 2018 the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a document declaring access to abortion a universal human right. In a delayed response, a group of conservative nations, including Egypt, Uganda, Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Hungary—and the U.S.—has signed what it calls the “Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family.” This declaration is an interesting document. It opens by affirming the widely embraced human right of equality before the law, but then moves on to declare an increasingly convoluted series of “rights” premised upon this initial right. After identifying the right of equal access to resources and equal sharing of responsibilities within families it states that “women and girls must enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources, and political participation.” So far, so good. 

Then after affirming the “inherent right to life” and “dignity and worth of every human person,” it moves to a statement that “in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning” and that “any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process” and claims that “the child… needs special safeguards and care… before as well as after birth.” It goes on to call the family “the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” 

 Strangely enough, at this point the declaration moves from this “family values” assertion to a call for universal access to health care. Universal healthcare is hardly top-tier concern for Trump’s brand of Republicans, but the subsequent paragraph contextualizes that call for universal healthcare by affirming “the importance of national ownership and the primary role and responsibility of governments at all levels to determine their own path towards achieving universal health coverage, in accordance with national contexts and priorities.” In other words, universal healthcare may vary widely from nation to nation and is what national governments declare it to be. The fact that this declaration has been issued at the same time that the Trump administration seeks to end abortion access by creating a conservative majority on the Supreme Court through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett is not coincidence. S-HP

You can speak up about logic underlying this declaration that uses the language of human rights and healthcare access to affirm a governmental right to limit the health services women have access to. Contact information is here.

GOOD NEWS

9. Judge tosses lawsuit against states mailing ballots

A federal judge has dismissed the Trump administration’s efforts to stop the state of Nevada from mailing ballots to all residents. Trump had alleged that the mailing of ballots would lead to “widespread fraud.” The judge responded that the allegation was “impermissibly speculative,” according to Bloomberg. As we noted on August 1 and above, the issue will be whether, given the assault against the Post Office, the voters will be able to return their ballots. RLS

10. No more private prisons and detention centers by 2028

A federal judge has upheld California’s ban on private prisons and immigrant detention centers, with one exception: pre-trial facilities that are holding federal prisoners, the LA Times reported. Four immigrant detention centers holding some 5,000 people would have to be closed by 2028 and contracts with companies that were signed after the law was signed would be void. Private detention centers and prisons have been accused by immigrant advocates of having inexcusable conditions and of having a vested interest in keeping people incarcerated. RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

11. “Extinct” man challenges Canadian policy

Whether or not Native Americans have rights to hunt and fish without a license on their ancestral lands in Canada has just been heard before Canada’s Supreme Court. Richard Desautel, a U.S. citizen and member of the Lakes Tribe of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State, shot an elk in British Columbia on his ancestral lands, those of the Sinixt, a Canadian First Nation whose people had been declared “extinct” in 1956 by the Canadian government, according to the Seattle Times. In fact, their descendants live in Washington State and are scattered among other First Nations in BC. Crown prosecutors argue that because the successor groups of the Sinixt did not hunt in the area and because Desautel is not a Canadian, he does not have a right to do so. Two judges so far have disagreed, pointing out that the Sinixt did not leave their territory voluntarily and that they never relinquished claims to the area; British Columbia Provincial Court Judge Lisa Mrozinski wrote, “I am left with no doubt that the land was not forgotten, that the traditions were not forgotten and that the connection to the land is ever present in the minds of the members of the Lakes Tribe.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

12. Most of the nurses dying from COVID-19 are Filipino

Almost 70%  of the California nurses who die from COVID-19  are Filipino, according to the Mercury News, though only 20% of nurses are Filipino. Nationally, 30% of the nurses who have died are Filipino, though only 4% of nurses are Filipino. Their deaths are a tragedy not only for them, but for their families in the Philippines, whose hopes of seeing them are dashed and who have been counting on the money they send home. Filipino nurses are concentrated in critical care and other areas where they have intensive patient contact; they also have historically been relegated to lower wage jobs in health care so may have had to take second jobs elsewhere. Many are also caring for elders or others at home. The Mercury piece eloquently evokes the stories of those who have been lost and those who are still working. RLS

RESOURCES

Rogan’s List has excellent information on how to support families who are reunited, how to speak up about Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, how to get out the vote.

The Americans of Conscience Checklist has excellent ideas about how to get out the vote (including assisting people with transportation) and about how to protect the vote.

News You May Have Missed: October 18, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Covert lawmaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

4. Four million Yemenis at risk of starvation

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

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

5. No vaccine before the election

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed: October 11, 2020

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Trump wants documents declassified

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Biden’s platform would support asylum-seekers

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD NEWS

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Pence will not consider requiring masks on public transportation

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed October 4, 2020

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Trump keeps out more refugees

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

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

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

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

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

◉Make decisions driven by data and science.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Postal Service error undercuts voter rolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD NEWS

5. Mueller report must be published

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

NewsYou May Have Missed: September 27, 2020

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Alternative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Impeach Barr?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Another of the usual suspects

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

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

7. Foreshadowing of voting issues in LA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD NEWS

8. Post office victory for voters and workers

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

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Trump body count

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

News You May Have Missed, September 19, 2020

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

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

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Women in ICE detention sterilized

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

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

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

2. Meat Packing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD NEWS

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

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

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

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

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

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

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

6. Greek asylum-seekers forcibly deported on rafts

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Reliable Sources

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

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