News You May Have Missed: January 17, 2021

To see which Republican members of Congress have been embedded in the project of trying to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, see our attached chart, newly updated. You’ll be able to see who voted to invalidate the Pennsylvania and Arizona votes, who spoke at the January 6 rally, who voted against impeachment–along with who refused to wear a mask in lockdown. You can write, tweet or phone them if you are so inclined.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. A possible repeat of the January 6 insurrection

On Sunday night, defense officials told the AP that “they fear a possible inside attack at inauguration, will have National Guard troops vetted.” 25,000 National Guard troops are in Washington for the event. Attacks are also expected at state capitals, according to a January 14 piece in the Washington Post.

While Inauguration Day is the center of the concern, the Post reported that various federal and state experts fear that “President Trump’s incitement of his supporters before their attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 has galvanized a nationwide extremist movement and fueled those determined to disrupt the transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden and violently challenge the legitimacy of the election for months — and possibly years.”

While it has become difficult to ascertain these extremists’ plans since Parler does not have a host and thousands of Twitter accounts have been shut down, security researchers downloaded 70 terabytes of data before it was closed, according to Cyber News, so information could emerge from that data. RLX

2. Who they were and what they did

Trump may have thought that the rioters on January 6 were a ragged bunch, but in fact the rallies before the assault on the Capitol were organized by former congressional staff, White House aides, and the Republican Attorneys General Association,  according to the Washington Post. A number of well-paid former campaign staff were involved, the AP reported, including the Trump campaign’s Director of Operations. The campaign told the AP that if any former staffers took part in the event, “they did not do so at the direction of the Trump campaign.” However, the Director of )perations is still on the books as of January, 2021. A GOP fundraiser who helped organize the rally was paid $20,000 a month until November.

The AP also reviewed a great deal of publicly available documentation on 120 of those attending, including social media posts, public records, court filings, and so forth. As the AP put it, based on that review, “the crowd was overwhelmingly made up of longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials, GOP political donors, far-right militants, white supremacists, off-duty police, members of the military and adherents of the QAnon myth that the government is secretly controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophile cannibals.”

At least 13 off-duty police officers from around the country participated in the riot, the Washington Post reports, along with 21 former members of the military. In another article, the Post notes that a number of veterans see the various conspiracy theories surrounding the election as congruent with their service. One veteran told a Roanoke television station, “I am a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan where I was wounded severely. I fought and bled for the rights of all Americans.”

If you want to see what the scene looked like from the point of view of the riots, ProPublica stitched together publicly available video from Parler before the site was taken down. It’s unnerving. RLS

3. Complicity and failures of security in the January 6 insurrection

On January 5, an FBI office in Virginia issued a warning that “extremists” intended to travel to Washington to engage in violent acts and “war”; however, a senior FBI official had claimed that there was no such intelligence, according to the Washington Post, and the FBI had dismissed any concerns about a security threat on the 6th. The Post quotes the document as including an on-line post which read, “‘Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal.”

The Capitol police chief who resigned after the insurrection said he never received the FBI warning. However, on January 3, the Capitol police intelligence service released a report warning of a violent assault on Congress; the Washington Post published a picture of the warning, which talked about the likely presence of lethal weapons and the fact that Trump had encouraged rioters to act. The FBI claims that it did not receive the Capitol police warning.

The Capitol police chief said he requested on January 4 that the National Guard be on standby, but the House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger rejected the idea. The police chief said he urgently requested National Guard support when rioters broke through the barricades, but they did not arrive for four hours.

Unusual tours of the Capitol complex took place in the days before the January 6 insurrection, even though tours have been prohibited since March. These visitors had to have been given access by a member of Congress, Rep Mikie Sherrill (D New Jersey), a military veteran, explained in an interview with Rachel Maddow. Sherrill was not prepared to say which members of Congress had authorized these tours.

ProPublica has collected “scores” of tweets advocating violence at the Capitol in the weeks leading up to the insurrection. RLS

4. Democrats get COVID from sheltering with unmasked Republicans.

It’s not news that many Congressional Republicans have been refusing to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, putting their colleagues at risk. During the January 6  insurrection as lawmakers were sheltering in tight quarters, a group of six maskless Republicans were offered masks, but refused to take them. The Washington Post reports that Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) left the secure room before the Capitol had been cleared, saying, “we’re not going to survive a terrorist attack to be exposed to a deadly virus.” Since then, three Democratic members of the House have tested positive for COVID-19 and believe they contracted the virus while in close proximity with maskless Republicans: Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), a 75-year-old cancer survivor; Pramila Jayapal (D-WA); and Brad Schneider. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has since imposed stiff, daily fines for those not complying with House mask requirements. S-HP

Let the maskless Republicans know what you think about the way they put the health of their colleagues at risk in an already-fraught situation.

5. Capitol police exempt from the Freedom of Information Act

You may not have known that the Capitol Police are exempted under law from the Freedom of Information Act, which means that journalists, policy organization employees, and ordinary Americans will not be able to request access to documents relating to the January 6 insurrection.

You can urge Congress to eliminate the Capitol Police’s FOIA exemption while they are in the process of investigating all that went wrong on January 6—we want and deserve access to those documents. You can find your Senators here and your Representatives here.

6. News you may have missed during the insurrection

The insurrection, the pandemic, climate change, the impeachment–it’s all linked together, of course. But as Columbia Journalism Review pointed out, many stories have fallen off the media radar since the insurrection on January 6. Partly, of course, this is because there could be another one on Wednesday. But it’s also the function of the news cycle, and the way that the news about the insurrection keeps unfolding, becoming worse with every new revelation. Still, it’s newsworthy that US deaths from COVID will hit 400,000, likely on Monday, CJR points out. 2020 (along with 2016) was the hottest year on record. The Michigan governor, along with eight other officials, are being charged in Flint for neglect of duty for their handling of the water crisis. And Trump succeeded in getting everyone on his list from federal death row executed–for reasons that defy speculation. The CJR article has links to all these stories and more. RLS

7. Midnight policy changes

The outgoing Trump administration is making major policy changes on their way out the door; ProPublica is tracking 69 of these. Among them: the H1B visa process will be changed to prioritize the most highly paid workers rather than the most needed workers, eg., in healthcare. Disabled veterans will be less likely to qualify for assistive medical devices. Faith-based organizations will be shielded from having to observe federal funding conditions that conflict with religious practices. Judges’ discretion around immigration orders will be removed, so that they will no longer be able to stop deportations. Asylum eligibility will be drastically reduced. Wages will be lowered for immigrant farmworkers. You can read about these in more detail in ProPublica.

A Securities and Exchange Commission whistleblower has blown the whistle on the government’s plan to lower the fees paid to whistleblowers, according to ProPublica. These fees are necessary to offset the risks that whistleblowers take, risking their jobs to bring corporate wrongdoers to justice. Without them, high-level white collar crime would go undetected.

In a particularly cruel rule change, a mentally ill prisoner at Guantanamo has been denied a medical examination. A judge ordered that rules in place since 2002 must be changed so that detainees could receive a medical review, according to the New York Times, but outgoing  Secretary of the Army, Ryan D. McCarthy, established a new rule excluding Guantanamo prisoners from the order. Without the review, the prisoner cannot be sent home to Saudi Arabia for psychiatric care.  RLS

You can urge Congress, President Biden, Cabinet Departments and agencies to complete a review of cruel, corrupt and unfair Trump administration actions and to nullify them as quickly as possible. Remind Congress that they have the power to use the Congressional Review Act, if they move swiftly enough. See key figures to write or call here.

8. On the way out the door, Trump turns back the clock on civil rights

The Trump administration also is attempting to eliminate protections for minority groups–including women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people–which the New York Times said “would mark one of the most significant shifts in civil rights enforcement in generations.” Essentially, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act now prohibit discrimination against a number of protected groups by organizations who receive federal funding. The new rule would prohibit discrimination only if it were intentional, not if the action simply had a “disparate impact.” Civil rights groups point out that the “disparate impact” element of civil rights law is essential, as “intent” is so difficult to prove. Maintaining the “disparate impact” section of the law is essential in addressing inequities in education, policing and housing.  President-elect Biden will not be able immediately to reverse this policy, though a new attorney general can put the brakes on enacting it. RLS

9. Katie Porter is needed

To the disappointment of those who are paying attention, Katie Porter will not be serving on the House Financial Affairs Committee during this session of Congress. The reasoning underlying this change is a bit arcane. Democratic caucus rules identify certain committees with demanding workloads as “exclusive” committees—meaning anyone assigned to one of those committee may not have any additional committee appointments.

Congressmembers can, however, request exceptions to this rule. Porter was granted one in the previous session of Congress that allowed her to serve on both the Financial Services Committee and the Oversight and Reform Committee. She requested a second such exception, which was denied, and she is now assigned to the Oversight and Reform and the Natural Resources Committees. Porter will do well, wherever she’s placed, but we will desperately miss her ability to explain financial concepts clearly—and the presence of her whiteboard that she used to crunch numbers to illustrate her points as she made them. The Washington Post notes that moving Porter could be connected to complaints from financial industry figures, who did not appreciate her ability to demonstrate that they didn’t understand how interest is compounded or why $16.50 isn’t a livable wage. Washington Post columnist Helaine Olen mourns the loss of Porter from Financial Services: “If you are an American desperately seeking help with your finances and looking for someone, anyone in Washington to listen, arcane congressional protocols are the least of your concerns. You want a champion. You want a Katie Porter.” S-HP

You can urge members of the Democratic Caucus Steering and Policy Committee, which appoints committee members, to keep Porter on Financial Services because we need her intelligence, concision, and commitment to ordinary Americans

INTERNATIONAL & FOREIGN POLICY NEWS

10. Aid workers at risk from terrorist designation of Houthi rebels in Yemen

The State Department declared the Houthi rebels in Yemen terrorists, doubtless to impede Iran from sending them military and medical supplies, according to the New York Times. However, in his rush to get the policy through, outgoing Secretary of State Pompeo neglected to put legal protections in place, so that aid workers who get food and medical supplies to the Houthi people could be accused of aiding terrorism. Representative Gregory W. Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee told the Times that “the terrorism designation makes it harder to deliver lifesaving assistance in a country already experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. People will suffer and die, and those deaths are entirely preventable.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. What Congress needs to do first

If you don’t know about the Congressional Review Act (CRA), you may want to get familiar with it. The CRA allows regulations from U.S. departments and agencies to be cancelled within sixty days of enactment via a majority vote in Congress and the President’s signature. The Republican Trump administration has been racing to achieve a major roll-back of environmental regulations and wildlife protections before Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20. The Washington Post and Politico offer a sampling of some of these recent actions that will need immediate attention from Congress and the executive branch as soon as possible. Recent Trump Administration moves reported by the Washington Post:

◉A“discretionary” decision by interior secretary David Bernhardt to expand logging land within the range of the threatened northern spotted owl from an original—and already substantial—205,000 acres to 3.4 million acres. The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife recently declined scientific recommendations to move the owl’s listing from threatened to endangered;

◉A draft decision from the U.S. Forest Service to allow two mining companies to develop the Resolution Copper Mine on land in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest—land that is sacred to San Carlos Apaches;

◉The opening of 550,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for energy development;

◉The opening of another 9.7 million acres in Alaska to mineral leasing;

◉Approval of a four-lane highway to run through Utah’s Red Cliffs National Conservation Area—lands that have been under federal protection for twenty-five years;

◉An EPA rule that exempts oil refineries, steelmakers, and landfills from future carbon emission limits;

◉The abandonment of an Obama-era plan to restrict the use of three toxic chemicals;

◉Energy Department approval to keep less-efficient furnaces and water heaters, scheduled to be eliminated, on the market;

◉An Interior Department decision to overturn an Obama administration measure that increased federal royalties that oil, gas, and coal have to pay the federal government;

◉A pending Treasury rule that would penalize big banks that refuse to lend to fossil fuel operations.

Recent Trump Administration moves reported by Politico

◉An order from the Office of Management and Budget reinstating a rule from the George W. Bush era that requires “gold standard” health assessments to undergo White House review before release;

◉The overruling of career scientists’ recommendations regarding safe levels of the highly toxic chemical PFBS, which is currently in the drinking water of some 860 thousand Americans. S-HP

You can urge Congress, President Biden, Cabinet Departments and agencies to complete a review of Trump administration actions threatening our environment and/or unfairly catering to the wishes of corporations in the fossil fuel and related industries–and to nullify them as quickly as possible. Remind Congress that they have the power to use the Congressional Review Act, if they move swiftly enough. Key contacts to write or call are here.

12. Want some propaganda with your essential oil?

QAnon is finding its way to adherents by way of wellness sites, reports Cosmopolitan (remarkably but appropriately). The early days of the pandemic were fertile times for this convergence. People off work or working from home were online more, searching for “wellness” in the pandemic. And the government at the time was clearly untrustworthy, so people inclined to mistrust “authoritative” sources were vulnerable to these alternatives. Cosmo describes how trusted wellness advisors talking about ways to stay well and how to protect children began slipping in QAnon content, possibly without knowing it. A central reason why “QAnon messaging was so successful on social media is that many influencers didn’t know (at least at first) that the language they were slipping in between stories on meditation and essential oils was linked to a conspiracy theory whose main goal was to prop up Donald Trump.” RLS

RESOURCES

◉The Guardian has a collection of letters, “Dear America,”  by a variety of thinkers and writers with a vision of what America could become. Rebecca Solnit talks about the importance to teaching critical thinking, while Dedrick Asante-Muhammad writes about the need for reparations to end the wealth disparity. Bill McKibben recommends divestment from fossil fuel companies, and Alejandra Gomez argues for grassroots democatic organizing.

News You May Have Missed: January 10, 2021

Photo Credit: Noelle Cook

We know you haven’t missed the news that a loose coalition of conspiracy theorists and Republican legislators did their best to undermine the election of Joe Biden on January 6. And they are by no means finished their work. A “Million Militia March” is planned on inauguration day, according to the Washington Post, “for the purpose of preventing any attempt by the treasonous domestic enemy Joe Biden, or any other member or members of the Communist Organized Crime Organization known as the Democratic Party from entering the White House belonging to We The People,” as a post on wimkin.com put it (now removed). NPR notes that posts on Parler have called for an armed march on January 19, and Gun and Game features a poster urging people to come to a rally on January 17 to “refuse to be silenced.”

What you might not know is exactly what role various Republican Congressmembers had in challenging the outcome of the election and setting the stage for–and in some cases participating in–the insurrection. We summarize our research below.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Members of Congress who worked to undermine the election: a full list

There is much to be learned about the siege of the Capitol January 6 and what the fallout will be. We do know that the following members of Congress took part in actions intended to undermine the democratic process. These efforts included:

◉A lawsuit by Rep. Mike Kelly (PA) and other Pennsylvania Republicans seeking to overturn the vote in his own state;

◉An amicus brief signed by 126 members of Congress supporting a suit by the Texas Attorney General attempting to invalidate votes in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin;

◉A lawsuit by Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX) and a group of Arizona Republicans arguing that Vice President Pence should be given “absolute discretion” over the counting of electoral votes on January 6 and specifically taking aim at the votes in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Nevada;

◉An attempt by members of Congress to invalidate Arizona’s electoral votes;

◉An attempt by members of Congress to invalidate Pennsylvania’s electoral votes;

◉Speeches given by members of Congress at the “Save America” rally immediately preceding the attempted insurrection;

Our list of which members of Congress took which action doesn’t include individual statements by members of Congress while Congress was in session, while they were campaigning, or at any other time, only what they supported and what they did. Given that these Congressmembers felt justified in challenging election results not just in their own states, but in other states as well, you shouldn’t let your state of residence keep you from letting them know how you feel about their efforts to rob Americans of their vote. S-HP

Here is a spreadsheet of who exactly did what when. And here is a list of multiple contact addresses and Twitter handles for most of these individuals. You can, of course, also use Congressmembers’ addresses available in the Congressional directory: Senators and Representatives. (Note: if you see errors in either the spreadsheet or the list, please post a comment on our Facebook page,)

2. The unusual suspects

If you think for a second that the rioters on January 6th were a small band of extremists wearing horns and furs, think again. In addition to the various Republican lawmakers who set the conditions for it, various legislators and officials (in addition to Trump) participated in or encouraged the riot on January 6. Among them was Rep Lauren Boebert (R-CO), an advocate of QAnon who is famous for insisting that she would bring her Glock to Congress. According to Raw Story, she tweeted the exact location of Speaker Pelosi after the Capitol Building was breached, apparently to assist rioters in finding her and her staff (the tweet has been removed). Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, tweeted her “love” for those at the MAGA rally, according to Yahoo News. The Rule of Law Defense Fund which sent out robo-calls mobilizing people to come to the Capitol is run by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, reports the Alabama Political Reporter.

More than a dozen state legislators also participated, according to NPR. Derrick Evans, a newly elected Republican state delegate from West Virginia, was among those who stormed the Capitol; the New York Times describes the video he posted. Evans now faces charges. Off-duty police and members of the military also were there, according to Politico, covertly flashing their badges. Politico quotes an unnamed Metro D.C. police officer as writing on Facebook, “If these people can storm the Capitol building with no regard to punishment, you have to wonder how much they abuse their powers when they put on their uniforms.” RLS

3. The revealing lack of security on January 6

We are by no means the first to compare the police presence at the Black Lives Matter protest in DC in the summer of 2020 to the paltry security response on January 6, 2121.  The reasons, even beyond the white privilege of the rioters in the Capitol, illuminate how deeply embedded Trump followers are in the country’s power structures.

As News You May Have Missed noted in our January 3 issue, it was widely known that anti-democracy activists planned an action for January 6. The NY TImes maps their planning announcements and the Washington Post describes the openly posted information about plans for the January 6 insurrection, down to the zip ties. In another piece, the Post retroactively follows three participants including Ashli Babbitt, who was killed, tracing the posts and claims that persuaded them that the election had been stolen from them.

Nonetheless, as Al Jazeera points out, the Capitol police force declined to request help in advance and it took over an hour for reinforcements to arrive. The Post describes the lapses and explains that a quick-response force was ready to come in but did not, because the lack of agreement between the Capitol Police and the Department of Defense. Rachel Maddow, on MSNBC, describes vividly how the National Guard was held in abeyance when they were most needed. The Post provides a link to a Department of Defense timeline that shows what forces were not called in when. Note that the timeline refers to these events as the “First Amendment Protests.”

Al Jazeera cites an anonymous source who said, “Some Democratic members of Congress, worried about the prospects of violence, tried for more than a week to press agencies for information about what they knew about threats or countermeasures. But there was no sign anyone was gathering serious intelligence about possible disturbances or planning to counter them,” this source said. Representative Val Demings (FL), a former police chief told Al-Jazeera that there are  “a lot of unanswered questions and I’m damn determined to get answers to those questions about what went wrong today.” RLS

4. Chickens roosting

Various participants in the January 6 riot are now having to calculate the costs of their actions. Richard Barnett, famous for posing in Speaker Pelosi’s office, has been arrested, according to NPR. Lonnie Coffman, from Alabama, has been charged with possessing a destructive device; the truck with 11 Molotov cocktails was registered to him. (NPR and the New York Times have lists of those facing federal charges.) A Savannah car salesman, Dominic Box, has lost his job over his actions, reports the Current, a coastal Georgia publication. The Current quotes a Democratic Party organizer as pointing out that “It’s upsetting that our congressmen voted …to disenfranchise millions in Georgia,” she said. “I think we get distracted by people on the bottom and miss people on top. I just keep coming back again and again, [Congressman] Buddy Carter is a million times more culpable here than Dominic Box.” RLS

5. The real election scandal

The belief–whether cynically held or deeply felt–that the election was somehow stolen from Donald Trump and therefore from those who voted for him propelled last week’s action, Just to put the claims of voter fraud in perspective, in Georgia, Kemp purged 90,000 voters from the rolls in 2018, according to the Atlantic; many of these voters were purged because they had not voted in a previous election. Another 53,000 voters were moved to the “pending” category because of typos in their registration. 80% of these voters were Black.  For perspective, in Georgia, Biden received 11, 779 more votes than Trump, which of course is why Trump pressured the Georgia Secretary of State to “find” 11,780 votes, the CBC noted. News emerged last week that Trump made an earlier phone call to the lead investigator conducting the audit of Georgia’s votes, the CBC reported, saying that if the investigator “found” the votes, he would be “a national hero.” RLS.

RESOURCES

It’s been a remarkable week for commentary. For analyses of last week’s events, start with Heather Cox Richardson’s nightly letters, beginning with January 7 and 8.

Historian Terry Bouton’s Twitter feed has a series of pictures and observations from the event, recording the spirit of the participants and noting the absence of federal law enforcement.

Melissa, a YA writer on Twitter, monitored the planning of the event and the event itself.

Americans of Conscience offers several ways you can advocate for democracy and provides a roundup of events.

Rebecca Solnit, writing in the Guardian, makes an argument for the riot as an intended coup.

JoAnne Silver Jones, author of Headstrong: Surviving a Traumatic Brain Injury, reminds us of what she learned as a child in the McCarthy era: there are not always two sides to every story.

The ever-perspicacious Paul Krugman argues that it is time to stand up against fascism.

News You May Have Missed: January 3, 2021

“My ‘To Do’ List: Yay for functional tattoos!” by robstephaustralia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The incoming Biden administration is already has a to-do list as long as your arm, but among the lessons of the Obama years is that it is essential to advocate early and often for progressive commitments. To that end, over the next few weeks, News You May Have Missed will be noting key issues Biden must address and ways to encourage him to do so.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Surviving January 6

For Biden to be able to get to work, he needs to weather January 6, when Congress has to certify the electoral college vote. Eleven senators have vowed to challenge the certification, insisting–with no credible evidence–that widespread voter fraud needs to be investigated. Five of those senators were elected with the same ballots they are now claiming are fraudulent. As CNN notes, ” not one of the Republican officeholders objecting to Biden’s victory have objected to Trump’s wins, or in some cases their own wins, on the same day.”

The illogic continues: One of Trump’s attorneys, Lin Wood, wrote on Twitter that Pence was at fault for the so-called theft of the election, saying “If Pence is arrested, @SecPompeo will save the election. Pence will be in jail awaiting trial for treason. He will face execution by firing squad. He is a coward & will sing like a bird & confess ALL.” Wood insists that he is not “insane,” according to Business Insider. Pence himself says he “welcomes” the intervention of the eleven senators, according to Slate and other sources.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has the tape of an hour-long call Trump made to Georgia’s Secretary of State, railing at him with untrue allegations of election fraud and imploring him to find 11,780 votes (one vote more than the number of votes by which Biden won Georgia). You can hear the entire call at this site. The problem with its release is that the Secretary of State allows Trump to talk for a full half hour before he refutes Trump’s claims in the mildest terms. Thus, Trump offers those inclined to believe Trump many, many claims to repeat. Trump says he is going to file a lawsuit over the recording of the conversation, but Georgia is a one-party consent state, meaning that only one party to the call needs to be informed that it is being recorded; D.C. also only requires one party to consent.

Trump has urged those who object to the results of the 2020 election to descend on Washington on January 6, according to the Washington Post; the Proud Boys have said they will attend disguised as anti-fa protesters, according to Business Insider, and have threatened violence. They are not without support; after his lawsuit asking that Pence be empowered to overthrow the results of the election was rejected, Representative Louie Gohmert told NewsMax that “you’ve got to go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and BLM,” Forbes reported.

All ten living defense secretaries published an opinion piece in the Washington Post Sunday night calling on the transition at the Defense Department to unfold smoothly and noting the disastrous consequences of involving the military in election disputes. RLS

2. How Biden can raise funds

Once he’s inaugurated, Joe Biden will face all sort of challenges as President. Among these is the question of how to gain revenue without a tax increase—which will probably be a non-starter in the Senate, even if both Democratic candidates in Georgia win their runoffs this week. Given Trump administration tax cuts, the need for heavy expenditure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effect that both of these are having on the national debt, more funding will be essential, but only Congress can raise taxes. As the New York Times points out, however, Biden has another option: improved enforcement of existing tax laws. Biden could encourage reassignment of IRS employees from less-lucrative audits of middle-class and low-income taxpayers to a focus on wealthy taxpayers.

Over the past decade, IRS audits have increasingly focused on documenting tax-credits claimed by low-income workers. Taking credits away one by one from those who have little to start with is not going to build government coffers. True, wealthy taxpayers have better lawyers and their cases are harder to prosecute, but a successful audit of one very wealthy taxpayer generates far more income for the U.S. than a slew of tax-credit denials for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. And let’s remind ourselves that the point of an audit is to be sure all taxpayers are honoring the provisions of existing tax law. This isn’t about seizing assets; it’s about preventing the privileged from avoiding paying their fair share. A Congressional Budget Office report that the New York Times refers to concluded that increasing the IRS budget by $20 billion over the next decade could increase tax revenue by as much as $60.6 billion. S-HP

You might urge Biden to call for increased audits of wealthy taxpayers: President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @JoeBiden. You can call on Congress to support this priority by increasing IRS funding: Directory for the 117th Senate. Directory for the 117th House of Representatives.

3. Citizenship for front-line workers

As is the case in the U.S., France has a significant proportion of workers, particularly in settings like nursing homes, retail businesses, and cleaning services, who have had to continue working during the pandemic and who are not yet citizens. In response, reports the BBC, France’s ministry has encouraged these frontline workers to apply for accelerated citizenship. As of the end of December, more than 700 such residents of France have been given or are in the process of being given accelerated citizenship. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues with summary deportations and expulsions that tear apart families that have been long-term residents of our country. A move like this would be complex, but accelerated citizenship—or extended residency—for those taking the greatest risks to keep our country functioning during this pandemic would be worth exploring once Biden has Secretaries of Labor, State, and Homeland Security in place. S-HP

If you agree, you could urge Biden to have his cabinet explore this possibility. President-elect Joe Biden, 1401 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @JoeBiden. You could also urge your Congressmembers to consider ways to protect frontline workers, particularly those who are not yet U.S. citizens. Directory for the 117th Senate. Directory for the 117th House of Representatives.

4. Online gender-based violence is increasing

Gender-based violence is intensifying, according to Human Rights Watch, as is online gender-based violence in particular, yet governments around the world are not responding. We•news reports on the prevalence of online gender-based violence and the work that is needed to combat it. Their article cites a 2018 statement by the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women that the need to protect women’s rights “has now spread to the digital space of social media…. New forms of violence have also developed, such as the non-consensual distribution of intimate contents… obtained with or without consent with the purpose of shaming, stigmatizing or harming the victim.” Among the responses We•news calls for are making the justice system more supportive for survivors by developing legislation that acknowledges the many forms and the severity of online gender-based violence and developing programs that actively combat the normalization of online gender-based violence. S-HP

You can ask your Congressmembers and the President-elect what they’re doing to educate themselves about, draw attention to, and fight online gender-based violence. President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @JoeBiden.Directory for the 117h Senate.  Directory for the 117h House of Representatives.

5. The Flores Agreement survives Trump lawsuit but much work remains

The Trump administration filed a lawsuit to end the Flores Agreement, which does not allow asylum-seeking families to be detained indefinitely and which establishes standards for children in immigrant detention. The  9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the suit, Reuters reported. For an simple explanation of what Flores is and does, see the explainer by Project Lifeline. However, the siege against immigrants continues. Witness at the Border has tracked 990 deportation flights since January 1, 2020–the latest one New Year’s Eve. Biden has pledged to end deportation flights for 100 days and on “day-one” to end the policy that requires asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their cases to be heard–but said that other reforms will take time, the Washington Post reports. RLS

Witness at the Border has a postcard campaign to press the Biden administration to address the many issues around asylum, detention and deportation. Instructions and images are here.

6. Taking back notions of religious freedom

The Trump administration has devoted significant energy to weakening church-state separation, particularly as Biden’s inauguration approaches. Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) observes in its “Agenda to Restore and Protect Religious Freedom” that the Trump administration has used religious freedom to “sanction discrimination, deny access to health care, require taxpayers to fund religion, and allow houses of worship to endorse political candidates.” As ProPublica reports, these changes, including some made by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which Biden will have difficulty challenging because EEOC Commissioner positions are not tied to specific administrations, and the current set of commissioners will be in place through 2022. Recent rule changes coming from the EEOC include codification of Trump’s 2018 executive order giving faith-based organizations full access to government grant programs without requiring any change to practices to avoid faith-based discrimination. Via the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, private companies that receive federal contracts and grants can now qualify as religious employers, allowing them to refuse those not of their particular faith.

 The AU’s religious freedom agenda includes the following provisions:

◉ A repeal of the Muslim Ban.

◉ An executive order to restore religious freedom for all Americans.

◉ Religious freedom protections for those receiving federally funded social services through private agencies.

◉ Protection from religious discrimination for all workers employed with federal funds.

◉ Ensure people cannot be denied healthcare services based on health care workers religious beliefs.

◉ Passage of legislation equivalent to the Do No Harm Act proposed by then-Senator Kamala Harris, which codifies the right of all Americans not to be harmed by actions based in “religious freedom” arguments.

◉ Use federal funds to support public—not private—schools..

◉ Protect and enforce the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits religious nonprofits from endorsing political candidates.

◉ Ensure the make-up of the U.S. government reflects the religious diversity of America.

◉ Nomination of federal judges who will support church-state boundaries.

You might urge Biden and your Congressmembers to take every opportunity to restore—and strengthen—church-state separation: President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @JoeBiden. Directory for the 116th Senate. Directory for the 116th House of Representatives.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

7. Feminist Saudi activist imprisoned

Saudi activist and Nobel Peace prize nominee Loujain Al-Hathloul has been sentenced to almost six years in prison for her work as an activist in support of women’s rights. (Canadians might want to know that Al-Hathloul graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2014. The University has released a statement of dismay and support.) The Saudi government has prosecuted her using what the Associated Press calls “a vague and broadly worded antiterrorism law” that has been used to imprison a number of activists in that nation. Al-Hathloul has been in Saudi prison since May, 2018. During that time, she has spent several stretches in solitary confinement. Al-Houthloul and other women activists have alleged that torture, sexual abuse, and threats of rape are being used in prisons to coerce “confessions.”

  Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been working hard to depict Saudi Arabia as a place of freedom, but frequent use of antiterrorism laws to jail nonviolent activists contradicts those assertions. One of Al-Hathloul’s actions that was specifically cited in the government’s case against her was that fact that she had contacted Amnesty International about her situation. Joe Biden has said that as President he will review US-Saudi relations, taking into account human rights and democratic principles. According to U.S. government research, bin Salman was the force behind the murder and dismemberment of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi.

  Under the current administration, Saudi Arabia has been an important purchaser of U.S. weaponry, despite ample evidence of its ongoing disregard for human rights. The most recent sale was opposed by both houses of Congress, but Trump used an “emergency declaration” to override Congressional objections. Now, the Washington Post reports that the administration has announced plans to sell $500 million worth of precision-guided bombs to the Saudis, as well as $97,000 worth of internal security communications systems. One of the administration’s claims is that this sale to Saudis will benefit Yemeni civilians because the Saudis, who are a major force in the civil struggle within Yemen, will be able to avoid hitting civilian targets using these precision-guided bombs. But the Saudis already have weaponry of this sort and as William Hartung, director of the Center for International Policy’s Arms and Security Program, points out “Saudi access to tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions thus far has not diminished the civilian death toll in Yemen.” S-HP

You can urge your Congressmembers to oppose this new sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia because of its unacceptable record of human rights abuses within Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. You can also tell President-elect Biden (@JoeBiden) that you support his review of U.S.-Saudi relations and that you want to see more attention paid to Saudi human rights abuses. Addresses are here.

Amnesty International is suggesting various actions in support of Hathloul, among them that you send a tweet to authorities in Saudi Arabia. There is a sample tweet on their page.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. Don’t throw away your masks…

The WHO has indicated that current pandemic may not be “the big one,” the Guardian reports. COVID-19 is likely to become endemic, it says, controlled by but not wiped out by the vaccine. As biologist Laurie Garrett wrote years ago in The Coming Plague, our complex, globalized life and our irresponsible relationship to nature will likely result in waves of viruses yet to come.

Writing for the New Yorker, Lawrence Wright details how the last year might have unfolded differently if more people had paid attention early on. It has been widely noted that the pandemic playbook provided by the Obama administration was ignored by the incoming Trump administration. in 2019, the “Crimson Contagion,” a pandemic simulation and investigation, identified the shortage of PPE–but nothing was done. Even before the CDC was silenced by Trump, it did not warn of asymptomatic transmission because officials there thought that the evidence published in the New England Journal of Medicine was insufficient. If you can possibly get a copy, read the whole thing–it reads like a detective story about one of the tragedies of our time. RLS

9. Birds dead of starvation

In September, nearly 10,000 migrating songbirds fell out of the sky in the American Southwest, according to citizen reports, and hundreds of thousands more may also have died. The cause has now been ascertained: Long-term starvation and an unexpected cold snap. They did not have diseases nor did they have smoke in their lungs from fires. According to the Guardian, the twenty-year mega-drought in the Southwest could account for the absence of food for birds, a drought which scientists say is in part due to climate change. Commentator Juan Cole notes that this megadrought is just the first of many, while Guardian has a regular series called “The Age of Extinction.” RLS

10. Microwave attacks on diplomats

American diplomats and their families in Cuba, China, Russia and elsewhere were victims of a directed microwave attack, “directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy,” the New York Times explains, not the diffuse microwaves that emerge from your cell phone. The “dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and loss of hearing, memory and balance” they experienced were downplayed by the Trump administration, and some were denied medical care and leave. Now that new research from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine confirms that their illnesses were not psychological, it will be interesting to see how the Biden administration handles the problem. Long-term benefits for those afflicted were included in the defense bill that Trump vetoed. but since his veto was overridden, they should stand. The report urges the State Department to put plans in place to address future attacks: “The larger issue is preparedness for new and unknown threats that might compromise the health and safety of U.S. diplomats serving abroad. The next event may be even more dispersed in time and place, and even more difficult to recognize quickly.” RLS

RESOURCES

Amy Siskind’s Weekly List–in which she has tracked all the not-normal things the Trump administration has done from the beginning–has a summary of the weirdness as of the end of December.

There are still a few days in which you can contribute to Fair Fight, founded by Stacey Abrams, which is trying to preserve voting rights in Georgia.

Heather Cox Richardson is a critical resource at this precarious time. She has an analysis of what the motivation is of those trying to call into question the results of the election.

News You May Have Missed: December 27, 2020

Claremont United Methodist Church, 2019. Photo credit Tom Marshall.

As the Claremont United Methodist Church wrote when this display appeared last year, “In a time in our country when refugee families seek asylum at our borders and are unwillingly separated from one another, we consider the most well-known refugee family in the world. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Holy Family. Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary were forced to flee with their young son from Nazareth to Egypt to escape King Herod, a tyrant. They feared persecution and death. What if this family sought refuge in our country today?
“Imagine Joseph and Mary separated at the border and Jesus no older than two taken from his mother and placed behind the fences of a Border Patrol detention center as more than 5,500 children have been the past three years…In the Claremont United Methodist Church nativity scene this Christmas, the Holy Family takes the place of the thousands of nameless families separated at our borders.”

News You May Have Missed is taking the week off–but the news is not. To keep up efficiently, we recommend the indefatigable Heather Cox Richardson, whose nightly letters guided us over the last year. On December 23, she had some plausible theories on why Trump refused to sign the relief bill until December 27.

If you are planning some end-of-year donations, here are some possibilities:

The Al Otro Lado bail fund (scroll down) makes it possible for asylum-seekers in detention to be released to sponsors. The fund revolves, so that when the asylum-seeker has met all their obligations, the funds become available to someone else.

The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project in Arizona provides free legal and social services to detained men, women, and children under threat of deportation.

ALDEA–the People’s Justice Center, represents families in detention in Pennsylvania, including the 28 families who refused to relinquish their children.

RAICES believes that “no child should go to court alone,” and so represents children and families pro bono on immigration issues in Texas–over 37,000 of them in 2018.

In Canada, the Migrant Rights Network organizes against immigrant detention and for the rights of migrant workers who work in the fields and in care settings. Many have fallen ill with COVID but are deprived of access to governmental relief funds.

The Innocence Project works to free people who are wrongfully convicted and to reform the justice system. Take a look at the cases and notice how long people served before they were exonerated.

If you want to make sure that the Biden agenda has a chance of succeeding, Fair Fight is a good place to donate; they are working on the Georgia runoff elections and for electoral justice in Georgia in general.

As you know, millions of people in the U.S. will be missing a week of unemployment payments and several weeks delay in receiving subsequent checks because of Trump’s refusal to sign the COVID relief bill on time–so if you are in a position to assist, your local food banks will need your help right away.

We join everyone here in hoping for a much better 2021, especially for those hit hardest by 2020.

News You May Have Missed: December 20, 2020

“Farmworkers” by Jacob Anikulapo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. 58% of farmworkers who test positive for COVID continue to work

Those who keep food on our tables are working with COVID symptoms, according to a research study on the prevalence of COVID-19 infections among Salinas Valley (Monterey County, California) farmworkers released by U.C. Berkeley. Because of their role in the U.S. food system, farmworkers are considered essential employees, expected to work if healthy, despite workplace risks. The study involved 1,091 participants (more than 50,000 farmworkers are employed in the Salinas Valley), over half of whom were part of families living on incomes of less than $25,000 a year. The study found a number of factors that made farmworkers likely to contract COVID-19 and also noted that almost half of the participants had risk factors—such as diabetes or high blood pressure—that could have made a COVID-19 infection particularly dangerous.

The report included good news: over 90% of participants reported receiving information on distancing, staying home from work if symptomatic or if ill, and how to protect themselves from infection at work. On the other hand, only 72% received information on getting tested for COVID-19 and only 69% received information on getting paid sick leave to which they are legally entitled. And while most employers provided several workplace protections, only 29% of workers were screened for symptoms and temperature before starting a shift, while 45% received no testing at all. The remaining 27% received testing for either temperature or symptoms, but not both, at the start of shifts. A significant proportion of workers acknowledged working while symptomatic for one or more of the following reasons (listed from most- to-least cited): feeling well enough to work, concern about losing pay, assuming the illness was not COVID-19, fear of job loss,  or being told by an employer to come in to work anyway. The study’s authors make four recommendations:

◉Provide culturally and linguistically appropriate education about benefits and sick leave.

◉Offer rapid testing in clinics, neighborhoods, and fields, and follow up on this with culturally and linguistically appropriate contact tracing.

◉Provide on-the-spot “wrap-around” services, including income replacement, mental and family health services, housing, and child and food support.

◉Prioritize rapid testing and vaccinations for farmworkers to protect that population and secure the U.S. food supply.

 Reporting on the study in Watsonville’s weekly newspaper, the Pajaronian noted that Jimmy Panetta, U.S. Representative for the region, has cited this study in calls for greater COVID-19 education, personal protective equipment, and vaccinations for farmworkers. The newspaper also quoted one of the study’s authors: “We have failed to protect this population, while they have continued to engage in essential work through the pandemic.” S-HP

Join the study’s authors and Representative Panetta in calling for more education, more personal protective equipment, increased services, and priority for vaccines—everything presented in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner—for the farmworkers who continue to provide our nation’s food. Explain to your elected representatives that employers, too, need to be informed about the services and rules–which must be enforced.

2. Food insecurity among small children

Since the pandemic, at least 12% of families with children under five have become food insecure, according to the Brookings Institution, meaning that their children do not have enough to eat and their parents do not have the money to purchase sufficient food for them. 17% of families with school age children report not having enough food. Food insecurity persists even when people have access to SNAP and food banks.

Back in April, chef José Andrés offered an editorial responding to the food scarcity engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic in which he argued that:

◉We need to admit the U.S. has a food crisis;

◉We need to treat food security as a national security issue;

◉We need a “food czar” on the National Security Council.

Not surprisingly, we didn’t move an inch closer to any of these goals during the Trump administration, but we can urge Biden to take on the challenge. S-HP

Tell President-elect Biden that food security and the quality of the American diet are national security issues and urge him to put a “food czar” on the National Security Council: President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @joebiden.

Food banks are stretched thin trying to assist people who are food-insecure. For a close-up look at Loaves and Fishes, an organization that provides food for farmworkers, as well as unhoused and elderly people, see the video by City on a Hill press.

3. US government hacked–including US Nuclear Agency

A number of U.S. government agencies, including Commerce, Homeland Security and Treasury and the State Department, were hacked over eight months, according to the Washington Post, which says it has sources confirming that Russian hackers were responsible. Most alarmingly, the US Nuclear Agency, which oversees the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, was hacked, according to Time magazine. Software from the SolarWinds Orion Platform was invaded, possibly via Microsoft 365, and possibly because the SolarWinds password was…solarwinds123. The hack was possible in part because FireEye, a cybersecurity firm, itself was hacked, the Post explained in another article. Though the Canadian government also uses SolarWinds, its ministries appear not to have been hacked, according to the Toronto Star.

As Heather Cox Richardson points out, among the sources of vulnerability has been the Trump administration’s systematic dismantling of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, firing precisely those officials who would know how to protect the country. On top of that, the fact that this level of cyber-invasion is possible has been known for decades, Slate points out in a carefully researched article, and the vulnerabilities that made it possible were baked in to the origins of the internet. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has cancelled transition meetings with Biden while the Trump administration is proposing to split up the the National Security Agency and Cyber Command–in the middle of the hacking crisis, Politico points out. After days of silence on the topic of the hack, Trump is now insisting that China, not Russia, is behind the hack, contradicting Secretary of State Pompeo, according to CNBC. Time quoted Biden as saying, “I want to be clear: My administration will make cybersecurity a top priority at every level of government — and we will make dealing with this breach a top priority from the moment we take office.” RLS

4, Finding the parents, deporting families

The difficulty of finding the parents deported away from their children is clear in a story by Freethechildren.org, which explains that the parents may be in hiding from the very gangs they fled from in the first place. They may also live in rural areas with minimal civic infrastructure, and information that might have been used to locate them was deliberately withheld by the US government, as we explained on December 6.

Of the twenty-eight families we wrote about who refused to relinquish their children, 15 families from the Dilley facility in South Texas have been scheduled for immediate deportation–or have been deported already, according to the AP. Among these families is a girl whose arm desperately needs surgery. The child’s arm was broken on purpose by the man who was threatening her mother. Thirteen families have had their “credible fear” confirmed and will appear before an immigration judge, according to Texas Public Radio. According to Amy Maldonado, an attorney representing them in a federal lawsuit, the hope is that under a Biden administration, the deported families will be able to return–if they survive and if they can be found.

Amnesty International has a letter you can customize and send, protesting the deportations.

5. Dangers to asylum-seekers intensify with new agreement

The Trump administration has made an agreement with El Salvador to accept asylum-seekers that the U.S. deports, despite a statement from El Salvador’s president last year that they could not accommodate them, Buzzfeed reports. According to a Human Rights Watch report last February, in 2018, 101,000 Salvadorans had applied for asylum in the U.S., and 129,500 had applied for asylum elsewhere. As Buzzfeed, explained, “People are fleeing El Salvador in large numbers due to the violence and serious human rights abuses they face at home, including one of the highest murder rates in the world and very high rates of sexual violence and disappearance.” RLS

6. Asylum-seekers in solitary confinement

Some adult asylum-seekers have been kept in solitary confinement for more than two months, with two of them kept in solitary for 300 days, DHS inspectors ascertained, according to a draft report obtained by Buzzfeed. The inmates had received no recreation breaks nor medical checks, and were fed expired and moldy food. These are not the only asylum-seekers held in solitary; an earlier report indicates that asylum-seekers with mental illness were kept in solitary confinement, one for 904 consecutive days. RLS

7. Launching a to-do list for representatives in the next session

At the start of each new Congressional session, the House of Representatives votes on the rules it will operate under. Indivisible is calling on us to ask that our Representatives commit to the following rule changes:

◉Eliminate the Motion to Recommit, which allows the opposition to introduce a “poison pill” amendment that can sink promising legislation. Indivisible provides an explainer, which reminds us that Republicans have used this strategy to delay legislation or implicate Democrats in legislation they would otherwise not support–as when House Republicans attached to a crucial resolution about the war on Yemen language about confronting anti-Semitism. Democrats are not opposed to confronting anti-Semitism, but the addition delayed approval of the resolution–as it was intended to do.

◉Eliminate PAYGO, which requires that any new spending be balanced by an equal, specific cut elsewhere. Republicans eliminated Pay-Go when they wanted to pass tax cuts for rich people. Pelosi restored it–but now it is tying legislators’ hands from launching progressive initiatives. The point isn’t to rack up deficit spending, but to realize that a proposal with up-front costs–especially in a pandemic–can lead to significant pay-offs later. S-HP

You can call for House rules that eliminate the motion to recommit and PAYGO. Find your U.S. Representative here.

8. Another way to save the Senate

The Georgia runoff elections are crucial to ending the paralysis in the Senate, as most News You May Have Missed readers know. Stacy Abrams’ organization, Fair Fight, is a primary source to get information and offer help.

But there is another route to end Senate gridlock. As Indivisible points out, granting statehood to the District of Columbia could be a significant part of democracy reform. First, it would grant D.C. residents equal voting rights compared with residents of other parts of the country. Second, it would add two new members to the Senate, opening up new opportunities for collaboration and action. Finally, D.C. as it is currently comprised would be the only state in the nation to have a plurality of Black voters. S-HP

Consider urging your Congressmembers to make D.C. statehood an important part of next year’s legislative agenda. You can find your U.S. Senators here and your representatives here.

9. Rage and chaos in the White House

With the government hacked and the pandemic raging–317,667 people are dead as of this writing, according to Johns Hopkins University–it is incredible to think that Trump continues to rage about voter fraud, proposing to appoint conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell as a special prosecutor to investigate, according to the New York Times. Michael Flynn, whom Trump pardoned, is suggesting that Trump declare martial law and rerun the election in the contested states, the Atlantic and other sources reported. Trump is proposing to challenge the election results on January 6, when the House and Senate meet to confirm them, according to the Washington Post. The Post has a chilling analysis of how Trump persuaded millions of people that the election was rigged. Senior White House officials are said to be alarmed about Trump’s state of mind, as Axios explains. RLS

GOOD NEWS

10. Facial recognition technology banned by New Orleans City Council

Various kinds of surveillance technology, including facial recognition and predictive policing, has been banned in New Orleans, the Lens reports. As the Washington Post pointed out last year, facial recognition technology tends to misidentify people of color more than it does white people. Police departments in New Orleans said they were not using facial recognition technology, but dozens of emails, brought to light through an ACLU suit, made it clear that they were. RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

11. Children murdered in Afghanistan to further Trump’s agenda

At least 51 civilians in Afghanistan,, including children as young as eight, were massacred by a CIA-backed death squads, an Intercept investigation reveals. Beginning in 2018 and continuing for over a year, militias targeted mosques and madrassas; in one raid, twelve boys were massacred. The militias appear not to be under the control of the Afghan government and are being paid in American dollars. The purpose of these killings, the author of the Intercept piece told Democracy Now, is apparently to terrorize the Taliban into coming to some sort of agreement which would permit Trump to keep his promise to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of his term. RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

12. Endangered Monarch butterflies are not on the endangered list

The Monterey Herald reports that during the annual Thanksgiving count of <onarch butterflies in 2018, around 30,000 individuals were sighted. In 2019, that number remained stable: around 30,000 individuals. This year, only 2,000 individuals were sighted during the count. In 1997 the Monarch butterfly population was at 1.2 million. Scientists estimate the eastern Monarch population has fallen by about 80% since the mid-1990s. The drop in the western population has been even more precipitous.

 However last week, the Monarch was once again denied endangered species status by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), despite the fact that DFW’s director, Aurelia Skipwith, acknowledges that Monarchs meet the listing criteria. So, why the hold-up? Skipwith claims “before we can propose listing [monarchs], we must focus our resources on our higher-priority listing actions.” An article in USA Today points out that there are currently 161 such higher-priority species awaiting endangered listing—which would require that the federal government develop and fund a comprehensive, nation-wide recovery program for the species.

 Currently, Monarchs are scheduled for reconsideration in 2024. If they are approved for endangered status, a one-year public comment period is required before a final rule can be published confirming the monarchs’ endangered status. Basically, Monarchs are endangered now, but any action in response won’t occur until 2025, if then. S-HP

You can urge the Department of Fish and Wildlife to act on the Monarchs’ status before it is too late and demand that Congress fund DFW at a level that allows identification of and planning for recovery of endangered species as soon as it’s needed, rather than allow the unconscionable waiting list to become a list of dying species we will no longer be able to try to save. Addresses are here.

RESOURCES

If you want to mourn 2020, see these extraordinary photographs by AP photographers.

Johns Hopkins has a risk calculator that will let you see whether you have elevated risk for COVID-19.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has quick, effective actions you can take, among others to protect sacred land, release those in prisons and immigration detention to save them from COVID-19, and to give asylum-seekers enough time to find lawyers. The AoC suggests language and provides addresses.

News You May Have Missed: December 13, 2020

“I’m a #Georgia voter #vote #america” by KennyS2468 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Control of the Senate–and hence what the Biden administration will be able to get done–both depend on the outcome of the two runoff elections in Georgia, where polls suggest those races are extremely close, according to FiveThirtyEight. The stakes are high not only globally but locally; just this weekend, Kelly Loeffler posed with a former KKK leader.

Fair Fight Action--founded by Stacey Abrams–can suggest ways you can be helpful in the Georgia runoff. NPR has an informative piece on the organization.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Georgia on our minds

Despite the good news coming out of Georgia, where the Republican attorney general and governor have refused to capitulate to Trump’s claims of voter fraud there, the state serves as an example of Republican efforts to win elections by limiting the franchise and impeding voting. Cobb County, the third-largest county in Georgia–which has a large Black and Latinx population and is a Democratic stronghold–had 11 early voting sites for the November election.

For the January runoff, which will determine that party that controls the U.S. Senate, only five early voting locations had been scheduled–though under pressure from the NAACP and other voting rights organizations, elections officials have added two more. The Washington Post reports that civil- and election-rights groups are protesting these cuts, many of which are in Black or Latinx neighborhoods. The cuts mean those voters will now have to travel 5-12 miles to access an early voting location—and the county has limited public transportation options. The Republican National Committee, the Georgia Republican Party, and other Republican organizations have also filed suit to require additional signature reviews on absentee ballots and stricter limits on the use of ballot drop boxes. These moves demonstrate the continued need for a new voting rights act. S-HP

Is it time to call for new voting rights legislation or an executive order to prevent these kinds of efforts to disenfranchise voters and impede voting? Here’s whom you can contact.

2. Senators in Georgia runoff sold stock based on insider information

You’ll likely remember that Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who are currently in runoff elections in Georgia., were among those Congressmembers investigated for selling stocks likely to be`hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. The inquiries were dropped, but served as another reminder of the kinds of insider information Congressmembers have access to and of the possibility that they might take advantage of this information—whether deliberately or unintentionally—to make a profit. There have been regular calls for legislation that would ban Congressmembers from trading stock while in office or would ban stock holding by Congressmembers altogether. Now the Washington Post reports on research by political scientists Jordan Carr Peterson and Christian Grose published in Legislative Studies Quarterly which found that Congressmembers tend to vote in ways that benefit their portfolios. The Washington Post quotes these researchers as noting that Congressmembers’ votes are “significantly associated with the legislators’ ownership interests in the very companies subject to regulation, intervention, and potential rescue…. [and they tend to] maximize their wealth and the size of their asset portfolios.” The 2012 Stock Act prohibits insider trading by Congressmembers, but does not prohibit their voting in ways that profit them financially. S-HP

You can tell current House and Senate leadership that you want to see significant legislation prohibiting Congressmembers from voting on legislation that could benefit their stock portfolios—whether this means selling off portfolios or recusing themselves from such votes.

3. 19 Attorneys General ask for votes to be voided

No doubt you’re aware of the lawsuit the Texas Attorney General filed asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the Presidential Election Results in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Yes, the Supreme Court treated it like the non-starter it was, but it’s deeply disturbing to think that not just Texas’s Attorney General, but also the Attorneys General of 18 other states joined this suit asking for millions of votes—legally cast according to the rules of the voters’ states—to be invalidated. We need to reckon with the fact that 19 of the top lawyers in this country could take such a stance.

See Heather Cox Richardson’s December 11 column for historical context on all this. S-HP

If you find it appalling that these state Attorneys General were willing to betray the Constitution in the effort to give Trump a second term in office following an election he clearly lost, you can tell them so. Their addresses are here. The good news with regard to the Texas lawsuit is that a larger group of Attorneys General from 24 states and territories joined the Attorneys General of the affected states in condemning this unconstitutional move. If you want to thank these Attorneys General for their defense of the Constitution, their addresses are here.

4. US is taking DNA samples from asylum seekers over 14

We’ve previously written about proposals to collect DNA samples from asylum-seekers entering the U.S. and about the problematic nature of facial recognition technology as it currently exists (there was that embarrassing moment in 2018 when an Amazon-produced facial recognition algorithm incorrectly identified 28 members of Congress, who were predominantly people of color, as other individuals who had been arrested for a crime). Such DNA collection and use of facial recognition algorithms are no longer just proposals. Recent press releases from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) describe the ways the techniques are currently being put to use.

 One press release describes a “pilot program” in use by CBP to “collect DNA samples from certain populations of individuals in [CBP] custody for submission to the Combined DNA Index Systems (CODIS) maintained by the FBI.” Who are these individuals? Those between ages “14-79, who are a [sic] non-U.S. citizens detained under United States authority and are being processed for inadmissibility or removal.” Now that the U.S. is using COVID-19 as an excuse to refuse admission to asylum seekers, forcing them to stay in Mexico, that means basically every individual hoping to claim asylum in the U.S. And what is CODIS? A criminal database, meaning that these individuals are being treated as criminals simply for applying for asylum as they are allowed to do under international law.

DNA has been collected and added to CODIS by many government agencies, but until this year the Department of Homeland Security, and therefore Customs and Border Patrol, had been exempt from the requirement. Now DHS has been given a three-year timeline to put a DNA sample gathering program in place. The press release, issued on December 3, describes a pilot program for DNA collection that began on January 6 in accordance with the publication of a Department of Justice (DoJ) final rule issued on March 9 that was to go into effect on April 8. In other words, the DNA collection began before the DoJ rule was in place.

 A second press release describes a new “Simplified Arrival” program being introduced at Las Vegas’ McCarren International Airport. Simplified Arrival is presented as “touchless experience”—clearly playing on fears of COVID-19 transmission. However, Simplified Arrival doesn’t involve social distancing or mask wearing. What it does involve is photographing individuals entering and leaving the U.S. so that those photos can be compared with passport and visa photos already on file. CBP assures us that the algorithm they’re using is “one of the industry’s highest ranked facial recognition algorithms (as assessed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology).” U.S. citizens and “select foreign nationals” may opt out of the program by notifying a CBP officer as they approach the “primary inspection point” that they do not want to be participate and be photographed. CBP promises that “New photos of U.S. citizens will be deleted within 12 hours. Photos of most foreign nationals will be stored in a secure Department of Homeland Security system.” S-HP

If you want to object (yet again) to DNA collection from asylum-seekers and to government use of demonstrably unreliable facial recognition algorithms, addresses are here.

5. Hate groups got Paycheck Protection Program funds

As part of the government’s COVID-19 response, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds were supposed to keep small businesses and their employees afloat. But new data from the Small Business Administration makes it clear that these intentions were not carried out. One of the most disturbing stories comes from NBC News, which reports that at least $4.3 million of PPP funds were given to organizations recognized as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Recipients of PPP funds include:

◉The American Family Association (received $1.39 million), which leads national boycotts of businesses with what they call “pro-gay policies”;

◉The Federation for American Immigration Reform (received $683,600), an anti-immigrant group with ties to white supremacists and eugenics supporters;

◉ Liberty Counsel, (received almost $428,000), which pursues an anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ agenda;

◉The Church Militant/Saint Michael’s Media, (received $301,000), which supports “gay conversion” therapy and equates homosexuality with pedophilia;

◉The American Renaissance/New Century Foundation (received $51,600), a “think tank” promoting “scientific” studies that purportedly demonstrate white superiority over Blacks;

Other groups receiving PPP funds include the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, the Ruth Institute; the anti-LGBTQ Pacific Justice Institute, the American College of Pediatricians, the anti-immigrant Remembrance Project; and the anti-Muslim Center for Security Policy. S-HP.

If this list troubles you, you could object to this use of federal funds to support hate groups and call for more careful vetting of groups receiving COVID-19 relief in any future legislation.

6. Being Evil: Google’s employment practices

Google’s record as an employer has been something less than stellar. In 2018, after management failed to seriously address claims of sexual harassment by senior executives, thousands of employees walked out in protest. Reporting by Ars Technica reveals that in 2019, the company took several actions that either impeded unionization by workers or failed to follow through on agreements the company had made after previous NLRB complaints (Ars Technica does not make clear the sequence in which these actions were taken):

◉Google lost an NLRB case, which was settled when the company agreed to inform employees of their rights under federal labor law—and of their right not to be retaliated against for exercising those rights.

◉Google brought in IRI Consultants, a firm well known for impeding unionization efforts.

-◉Google fired several workers during unionization attempts. Four of these workers went on to file the unfair labor practices complaint that resulted in a recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint upheld against the company. While Google claimed these employees were violating data security policies, the NLRB has now found that these policies were created in order to “discourage employees from forming, joining, [or] assisting a union.”

◉Google separately fired an employee who had developed a Chrome tool that would notify workers of their right to organize. This employee has also filed a NLRB complaint.

 Columbia Journalism Review now reports that just this month Google fired one of the key members of its AI (artificial intelligence) ethics teams: Dr. Timnit Gebru, a Black, female researcher and founder of the Black in AI research initiative. Gebru has posted to a Google employee group, Brain Women and Allies, complaining about “all the micro and macro aggressions and harassments I received after posting my stories here” and telling others to “stop writing your documents [here] because it doesn’t make a difference… they don’t matter. Because there is zero accountability. There is no way more documents or more conversations will achieve anything.” Dr. Gebru followed this up with an email to company leadership outlining conditions that would have to be met for her to continue working at Google. Rather than engaging with Dr. Bebru, the company treated her email as a letter of resignation and fired her, effective immediately, because her posts to Brain Women and Allies “reflect behavior that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.” Some 1,200 Google employees and 1,500 academic researchers have protested her firing. S-HP

You can object to Google’s union-busting and violations of federal labor law and also insist that Dr. Gebru be rehired. Addresses and phone numbers are here.

7. Police hold scientist at gunpoint for insisting on the truth

 Holding her and her children at gunpoint, police raided the home of Rebekah Jones, who was fired from Florida’s Department of Health for refusing to change information on the Department’s public portal, the Washington Post reported. Jones said that the portal undercounted cases and overcounted tests in order to justify reopening, according to the Washington Post. After she was fired, she set up her own dashboard; she also is the co-founder of covidmonitor.com, which tracks cases in schools across the U.S. Police took her computers and her phone–which she said she would replace and get back to work. A Republican lawyer resigned from a Florida judicial panel in protest, saying the raid was “indicative of the state’s ‘reckless and irresponsible’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic,” according to another article in the Post. On Twitter, Jones wrote, “This is what happens to scientists who do their job honestly. This is what happens to people who speak truth to power.” RLS

If you want to condemn this harassment of Dr. Jones for her efforts to provide Floridians with accurate COVID-19 data, addresses are here.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. The media are the message

In the midst of this pandemic that has resulted in almost over 1.6 million deaths worldwide and almost 300,000 U.S. deaths, too many Americans are COVID-19 deniers, refusing to socially distance and to wear a mask. The longer it takes to convince these people to take COVID-19 seriously, the longer it will take to get the disease under control. One way of accomplishing this might be a commitment by news sources to increase their coverage of what life is like for front-line healthcare workers and for patients on COVID-19 wards—and to be sure this coverage reports on a wide variety of U.S. regions, both urban and rural. The Johns Hopkins’ map makes the magnitude of the problem unmistakable. S-HP

You could ask these news outlets for increased coverage of the real life battle against and consequences of COVID-19.

9. The effectiveness of masks demonstrated

Preliminary research from the Mayo Clinic demonstrates that the combination of a mask plus a distance of six feet really does reduce the transmission of particles. However, a piece in the Washington Post piece uses infrared photography to watch breath particles; the videos you’ll see make it clear that more distance is preferable and that snug-fitting masks are more effective than regular surgical masks. RLS

10. Meat-packing workers endure bloody masks, must work while ill

We’ve reported earlier on the way meatpacking plants have become COVID-19 hotspots, on efforts to close plants or provide strict worker-safety measures, and the decision to classify meatpacking workers as essential employees, expected to continue working during the pandemic. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has now filed suit against meatpacking company Noah’s Ark Processors for its egregious disregard of worker safety, alleging that the company offers “a glaring example of the dangerous and abusive treatment meatpacking workers have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Specific allegations against Noah’s Ark Processor include:

◉pressuring workers to remain on shift when symptomatic;

◉failing to replace blood-stained masks during worker shifts;

◉failing to take any social distancing measures;

◉failing to provide onsite testing to identify emerging infection clusters. S-HP

Meatpacking work is dangerous even during healthy times. To increase its danger during a pandemic is unconscionable. You can excoriate Noah’s Ark Processors for their failure to provide reasonable pandemic protections for workers [be sure to mention the Hasting, NE plant as Noah’s Ark Processors operates many plants around the country].

RESOURCES

The Americans of Conscience checklist offers quick, clear things you can do to feed hungry families this winter, advocate for COVID-19 relief for families and for prisoners, and volunteer to help with the Georgia runoff.

News You May Have Missed: December 6, 2020

“Silent Night, Holy Night — Claremont United Methodist Church Nativity Scene, 2019” by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

For some of you, it is the second Sunday in Advent, when Western Christians anticipate the birth of Christ and his second coming. It is perhaps fitting on this day to remember the families who did not find room at the inn.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a timeline of the family separation. Even if you have been reading the news daily, it is an unbelievable story.

1. Children at the Border: What can you do?

The 28 refugee children and their families who were scheduled to be deported without even having hearings for asylum have gotten a stay of removal; their attorneys, the People’s Justice Center (Aldea PJC), are waiting for a decision from the panel of judges. The parents were given the choice to be deported without their children and refused, according to NBC and MSN News. If the panel does not permit the families to stay until their hearings can be scheduled, no further appeals are possible. RLS

You can support their lawyers, ALDEA, a non-profit legal organization in Pennsylvania, or cover the costs of phone calls for detainees. Find their projects on Facebook. The Evangelical Lutheran Church has a letter-writing campaign asking that the families not be deported.

2. 1000 children in ICE custody have had COVID since March

More than 1000 children in ICE custody without their parents have been diagnosed with the coronavirus; 118 are still in medical isolation. Until a judge put a stop to it, COVID was used as an excuse to deport children without a hearing, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement claims that children are arriving at the border with COVID, according to CNN; however, they may very well be acquiring it in these facilities, where social distancing is a fiction. RLS

3. Pregnant women turned away at the border, required to give birth in shelters in Mexico

In a previous era, women who arrived seeking asylum at the border were permitted to give birth in American hospitals while they waited for their hearings. Now they are being sent back across the border, even in advanced stages of pregnancy. As the New York Times points out, women have already fled dangerous situations in Central America; they now must give birth in camps and shelters, where they cannot get prenatal care and where there have already been outbreaks of COVID-19. RLS

Witness at the Border offers a list of organizations working to assist children and families caught in the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols who are required to wait over the border in Mexico for hearings.

4. Data that would have helped find children’s parents only now released

Data that would have helped locate the parents of over 600 children has finally been released by the government–which has had it all along. About half the parents have probably been deported, while the other half are likely somewhere in the U.S. As Time magazine reported last week, this information includes phone numbers and addresses. A California judge has asked the government’s lawyers to account for their decision to withhold the data all this time; the families were separated in 2017 and 2018. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) has been representing the children. Justice in Motion has called on President-Elect Biden–who has pledged to reunite the families–to find ways to grant them legal status. RLS

To help with legal fees, you can donate to KIND. Every.Last.One also works to get children released from detention and reconnected to families or sponsors; you can sign their petition at this link. You can get food to families waiting for hearings on the other side of the border; Team Brownsville is coordinating.

5. Presidential records: What did they keep and how did they keep it?

Following the legal seizure of Nixon’s presidential records during the unfolding of the Watergate scandal, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act (PRA), which requires the preservation of all records of “the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of the president’s constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties.” Any records or documents from a president’s administration are the property of the U.S. people, not the president or other members of that president’s administration.

In 2017, near the start of Trump’s term in office, an internal White House memo called for preservation of electronic records via screen shot—a practice that has been repeatedly challenged. Screen shots are problematic for at least two reasons. They do not include the actual text of any attachments transmitted with a particular electronic communication. Screen shots also make setting up the kind of metadata used to search presidential records much more difficult. These metadata categories include things like internal document citations, including citations of U.S. Statutes or U.S. Code. Despite the great noise made about Hilary Clinton’s use of private email, the Trump administration has made extensive use of non-official channels, such as WhatsApp, to engage in official business. Now the Washington Post reports on a suit filed by the American Historical Association, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Policy, the National Security Archive, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to require compliance with public records rules and to rescind the policy treating screen shots as sufficient records. Records preservation is of particular concern given the ways the administration may try to make inaccessible documents related to legal or financial disclosure regarding Trump. S-HP

You can call on your elected representatives to strengthen the Presidential Records Act and insist that screen shots are not adequate records of government communications and actions.

6. Hazard pay for health workers

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, many (though certainly not all) retail workers received an increase in hourly wages as “hazard pay,” in recognition of the risks of their extended indoor work with significant public contact. However, as winter COVID-19 numbers begin to eclipse those of the spring, very few retail workers are receiving hazard pay. Some are receiving “flexible bonuses,” which can come in the form of store credit, rather than an actual cash payment. Brookings calculates that following the late-spring spike in COVID-19 cases, the average U.S. retail worker has gone 126 days without hazard pay.

At the same time, many large retail businesses have seen a significant increase in profits. The New York Times quotes a statement from the Kroger’s grocery chain: “2021 results [earnings] will be higher than we would have expected prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.” Amazon, which ended hazard pay early this summer and has not reinstated it, saw third quarter profits almost triple over last year. Walmart reports third quarter profits of $6.7 billion, with COVID-19 costs for the business totaling $0.6 billion. Kroger ended pandemic pay raises and bonuses in June, though it has just issued employees with $100 store credits as “holiday appreciation bonuses.” Kroger’s third quarter profits rose by 50% over last year’s. According to Brookings, profits at all of the top ten U.S. retail companies were up by more than 50% over last year in the first half of this year.

Congress has had opportunities to mandate hazard pay for retail workers since the start of the pandemic, but has never followed through. The March CARES Act, which Congress passed, did not include a hazard pay provision. The original version of the House’s HEROES Act included hazard pay, but this provision was dropped during unsuccessful negotiations with the White House in September. In May, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) proposed “Patriot Pay”: hourly wage increases with 75% funded by the government, 25% by employers. The Senate’s failed HEALS Act never included a hazard pay provision.

In Ontario, Loblaw’s and Metro decided to end the extra $2 per hour pandemic pay for their workers, despite skyrocketing profits, according to the Toronto Star. S-HP

In the US, you can advocate for ongoing hourly hazard pay for retail workers, rather than occasional bonuses—or no additional pay at all—and insist that this be part of the continuing U.S. COVID-19 response. You can find your elected representatives here. In Canada, you can sign North 99 ‘s petition to reinstate pandemic pay at Loblaw’s.

7. Pardon Reality Winner

Reality Leigh Winner has roughly one year left to serve of her 63-month sentence for leaking information about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election to the Intercept. This past summer, she contracted COVID-19 in prison, from which she still suffers occasional difficulty breathing. Had Winner not leaked this information, the U.S. citizenry might never have learned of or might have learned much less about this election interference, which led to the impeachment of Trump by the House of Representatives. S-HP

You can ask President-elect Biden to consider pardoning Reality Winner for the “crime” of bringing the truth to light: President-Elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230

GOOD NEWS

8. Provisional good news for DACA applicants

A judge told the Trump administration to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, accepting new applications and processing renewals for the some 700,000 people who were brought to the US as children. As we have been explaining (see our September 27 issue), because the limits on DAVA were imposed by someone who was not legitimately in the position (Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf), the limits themselves were illegitimate. However, DACA is still before the Supreme Court, and the last vote on it when Trump tried to end the program was 5-4, when Ruth Bader Ginsberg was on the court, Vox points out. RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Fatal consequences of climate change

“The overarching theme I stress to the incoming administration is making health central…. Climate action is a prescription for health.” Those are the words of Dr. Rene N. Salas, as cited in the New York Times. Salas is one of the authors of a recent Lancet report on health and climate change. The message of the report—which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention—is that climate change is already having a significant negative impact on human health and that we are on the cusp of a “pivotal” five-year period for stemming the worst effects of climate change: extreme heat, wildfires, and air pollution, according to he New York Times. In 2019, we lost an estimated 302 billion productive work hours globally due to climate change. The past 20 years have seen a global 50% increase in deaths among those older than 65. Crop yields have been dropping since 1981, due to climate-related factors. The warming brought by climate change favors the insect vectors of deadly diseases: for example, the mosquitoes that transmit dengue fever. The report also makes several key recommendations: an end to all fossil fuel subsidies, investment in public transportation and reduced use of nitrogen fertilizers in farming. S-HP

Call on your legislators to take action on climate change now, while there’s still time–and call for the three changes recommended above: no fossil fuel subsidies, increased investment in public transportation, and substantially reduced use of nitrogen fertilizers.

10. Evictions cause surge in coronavirus cases

Hundreds of thousands of coronavirus cases were caused by evictions, according to CNBC, and millions more could result as eviction moratorium bans end, according to research just published in SSRN. Kathryn Leifheit, one of the authors of the study, told CNBC that “When people are evicted, they often move in with friends and family, and that increases your number of contacts. If people have to enter a homeless shelter, these are indoor places that can be quite crowded.” The CDC had called for evictions to stop until the end of 2020 but not all states agreed to do so; to avoid an explosion of cases, experts say that they need to be banned well into 2021. RLS

11. The Wall destroys butterfly habitat, also

We’ve repeatedly noted the damage caused by Trump’s determination to expand the U.S.-Mexico border wall, which is being pushed into high gear as the end of Trump’s term in office approaches. The wall destroys habitat, pushes important plant and animal species closer to extinction, interferes with access to public water sources, destroys sacred Native American sites, and harms border communities. The National Butterfly Center is asking that we write president-elect Biden with a request that he “cancel all border wall contracts funded by and for Trump; declare an end to [Trump’s] fake state of emergency; and abandon property seizure proceedings against land owners.” You can use your own postcard or go to their web site (see article “Biden on Blast” on the homepage) to download a template for a preprinted “Mr. Biden, tear down this wall,” two-sided postcard template. S-HP

You can join the National Butterfly Center in asking Biden to immediately halt border wall construction, including land seizures: President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230

RESOURCES

The Americans of Conscience checklist offers quick, clear things you can do to feed hungry families this winter, advocate for COVID-19 relief for families and for prisoners, and volunteer to help with the Georgia runoff.

Heather Cox Richardson continues to make excellent, if grim sense. This week she tells us that the Trump administration has no plan for the distribution of vaccines and that Pentagon officials are refusing to cooperate with the Biden transition team.

News You May Have Missed: November 29, 2000

“House of cards” by Brett Jordan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Trump seems to be trying to pull the world down with him as he departs, leaving incalculable damage. Like dismantling a circus tent or a house of cards, he is pulling out key supports, leaving Biden’s people–and the rest of us–to rebuild from the wreckage.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Trump trashing-out the turf

Trump seems to be trying to do as much damage as possible–or return as many favors as possible–on his way out the door. As Mother Jones so eloquently describes it, what he is doing resembles how angry homeowners have “trashed-out” the homes they have lost to foreclosure. From allowing chicken producers to speed up processing lines (thereby increasing the risk of worker injuries and salmonella transmission), to permitting the current level of soot in the air (despite the cost to people with respiratory illnesses, such as COVID), to lowering efficiency standards for water fixtures to making it more difficult for people to claim asylum, he seems to be accommodating corporate interests in some instances, appeasing his base in others and indulging his own preoccupations in still others, ProPublica explains. Or–as the Daily Beast reports–he is laying the groundwork for his 2024 candidacy, which he may launch during Biden’s inauguration.

Allowing states to execute people using firing squads and electrocutions are among the rule changes that Trump is trying to force through. This option may never be used, as Biden says he will put a stop to capital punishment–but Trump plans to execute five more federal prisoners before Inauguration Day.

In addition, he is trying to cement environmental rollbacks, according to the New York Times and is continuing to open up federal lands for oil and gas leasing, with bids starting at a mere $2 per acre. Earthjustice–along with indigenous hunting communities–is suing to stop drilling in the Arctic. ProPublica quotes Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in steering committee representing indigenous hunting communities, as saying, “We have been protecting this place forever. This fight is far from over, and we will do whatever it takes to defend our sacred homelands.” RLS

Pro Publica has an app to track the progress of Trump’s last-minute (de)regulations. You might want to let your elected representatives know that you want these reversed as soon as they can do so. They will be able to use the Congressional Review Act–if Democrats win the Georgia runoffs and take the Senate.

2. Trump targets disabled workers in one of his last acts

Disabled people who need Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a form of Social Security, will find it more difficult to get and harder to hold onto under new rules to be finalized by the Trump administration on December 16. People with disabilities will be subject to more frequent reviews, and administrative law judges will be replaced by lawyers internal to the agency, Daily Kos reported. The purpose of these changes is apparently to save two billion by dropping people off disability. Lest you think that multiple reviews are in some way a good thing, keep in mind that attending disability hearings requires organizing transportation, obtaining documents from medical providers, and enduring the anxiety of losing one’s income–all an extreme hardship for people with disabilities. Only 20% of people denied disability and told to get a job are actually able to do so, according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. These new rules are targeted at older workers who become disabled on the job; very few workers in this category are able to find work at all, so they end up retiring with reduced Social Security benefits. RLS

3. Children continue to be detained and deported

Detentions and deportations continue at top speed. Over sixty children–some of them under a year old and one of them only a month old–were held for at least three days along the US-Mexico border over the last two months, according to CNN. The baby was held for sixteen days. An attorney visiting a border patrol substation last week said that social distancing measures were not being taken. In a declaration, she wrote, “Children reported sharing a cell with 16-20 other children. When I asked if there were social distancing measures being taken within the cells, the children told me there were not. Many children reported that they were very cold.”

Thirty-three children who came to the US without their parents were also expelled to Guatemala on November 26; their flight left minutes after a court issued an injunction against their expulsion. The children were released to Guatemalan officials rather than being brought back to the US, Buzzfeed reported. 13,000 unaccompanied children have been expelled from the country since March.
Also on November 26, CBS reported that almost 1,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended trying to cross the border during the previous six days. Trump is trying to persuade a court to overturn a ruling that refugee children can no longer be deported without a hearing or a screening for asylum. RLS 

4. Government may shut down over Trump’s border wall

The U.S. government is scheduled to shut down on December 11 if Congress doesn’t reach a budget agreement. Legislators have agreed upon an overall budget of 1.4 trillion–but it is not clear whether there is any coronavirus relief money included. The deal has to be finalized in just 12 days, and according to Forbes, the Republicans’ demand for two billion in border wall money may well be the sticking point for Democrats.

Meanwhile, Trump’s people are dynamiting the desert, desperately trying to finish 450 miles of new wall before Trump leaves office. Cutting through rugged terrain, the construction costs $41 million per miles. A fifth-generation cattleman told the New York Times, “Wildlife corridors, the archaeology and history, that’s all being blasted to oblivion or destroyed already. Tragedy is the word I use to describe it.” RLS

5. No singing hymns in bike shops

Amy Coney Barrett will bring in an era of “post-truth jurisprudence,” as Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, put it in an article for CNN. That assessment was borne out last week, when Coney Barrett was the deciding vote to overrule New York State’s decision to restrict religious gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID. Blogger and lawyer Scott Pilutik pointed out that Justice Gorsuch argued that when bike repair shops can remain open but not churches, churches are unconstitutionally targeted.

As Justices Sotomayor and Kagan wrote in their dissent, Justice Gorsuch “does not even try to square his examples with the conditions medical experts tell us facilitate the spread of COVID-19: large groups of people gathering, speaking, and singing in close proximity indoors for extended periods of time … Unlike religious services, which ‘have every one of th(ose) risk factors,’ … bike repair shops and liquor stores generally do not feature customers gathering inside to sing and speak together for an hour or more at a time.”

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Iranian scientist assassinated to forestall Biden’s re-entry into the nuclear pact

An eminent Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated last week–very suspicious timing given Trump’s eagerness to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites on his way out the door (see our lead story last week). As the Economist points out, four other Iranian nuclear scientists were killed between 2010 and 2012. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh may have been killed to make it difficult for Biden to re-enter the Iran nuclear agreement, as he has said he would do. The New York Times speculates that Israel is behind the attack and wonders whether outgoing VP Pompeo was alerted to the plan on his recent visit to Israel.

Meanwhile, just days before the attack, in what Forbes called a warning to Iran, the US sent two B52s to Iran’s border. In possibly unrelated news, various players have been in semi-secret meetings–Pompeo with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to the BBC, and perhaps with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though the Saudi foreign minister has denied that Netanyahu was there. RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. EPA staff try to hold the line against Trump’s 11th hour dismantling of environmental regulations

There’s a reason why Trump is trying to eviscerate civil service. Trump tried to push through another regulatory nightmare before his departure, but Thomas Sinks, a senior scientist worked to stop him, as the New York Times reports. Trump was trying to prevent controls on air and water pollution as far as 10 years in the future; in his report, Sinks warned, “EPA scientists will be unable to practice scientific integrity, our agency will develop poor health-based rules, and the public may not be protected from environmental exposures.”

EPA staff also mailed out the results of a study that showing that half a million drivers of diesel pick-up trucks dismantled their emission control systems, allowing “570,000 excess tons of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant linked to heart and lung disease and premature death,” the Times explained. EPA staff are in back-channel conversations with Biden’s transition team, according to the Times, but EPA head Andrew Wheeler is racing the clock, trying to impede science-based decision-making at the EPA. RLS

8. COVID-19 contact-tracing app

As the pandemic surges, contact tracing is becoming increasing difficult. Both Canada and the US have apps you can download that signal you if you have been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19–provided that they also have the app. They use Bluetooth and maintain your confidentiality.

The Canadian app is used in every province except for BC and Alberta, the CBC reports.

The US app is not yet being widely used, in part because Apple and Google buried it, according to the Washington Post. But with the pandemic, it could be a lifesaver.

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.

The most crucial political action you can take now is to help get out the vote in the Georgia run-off elections, which will determine the fate of the Senate–and in significant ways, the Biden administration. If you’re inclined, you can write non-partisan postcards to Georgia voters to urge them to vote. Moms Rising will send you a packet of 20 pre-addressed postcards.

You can also donate to Fair Fight Action--founded by Stacey Abrams. NPR has an informative piece on the organization.

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.