#newsyoumayhavemissed for September 30, 2018 keeps track of the news that has slipped by us while the extraordinary Judiciary Committee hearings have captured our attention. Thanks to our tireless activist colleagues, we also offer you numerous ways to comment on what is and what should not be. See the links under “Resources.” And note our hopeful news in Science & Tech.
- This is an excellent week to revisit the Americans of Conscience checklist. Jen Hofmann offers categories of ways you can engage, including in support of sexual assault survivors and against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. She provides some much needed good news as well, occasions when activism worked.
- Once again, Sarah-Hope of whatifknits provides a summary of multiple action items—ways to fight the Muslim ban, challenge family separation, support raspberry workers and people with disabilities—along with addresses. A link on her pages lets you locate your representatives if you are not from California.
- Want to comment on the denial of green cards to legal immigrants who receive any kind of public assistance? Want to object to the rollback of EPA standards on methane. Have something to say about Kavanaugh? Martha will tell you how.
- And Chrysostom has a new round-up of election returns. With the midterms creeping closer, it’s a good time to tune in.
1. LGBTQ employees of NGOs may only bring families to the US if married
The LGBTQ partners and dependents of diplomats and employees of NGOs may no longer be able to receive visas to the U.S. unless the partners are legally married, under a new policy that appears to have been released by the Trump administration. Some of these employees come from countries that do not recognize gay marriage—or even impose the death penalty on LGBTQ people. For these employees, their work in the U.S. is a haven. Since the policy has not been formally released, only sent to some U.N. organizations, many issues surrounding it remain unknown, e.g., whether marriages contracted in the U.S. will be recognized. (The “Dorf” of the source is Michael Dorf, a law professor at Cornell, whose blog has important pieces by various credible authors.) [Dorf on Law, UN Globe]
2. Tariffs raising Walmart’s prices by 25%
Walmart has submitted a letter to the Office of the US Trade Representative noting that tariffs on Chinese goods and component parts will force them to raise their prices by as much as 25%. [Regulations.gov]
3. Trump can be sued for payments by foreign governments
A lawsuit brought by 200 congressional Democrats against Trump alleging violations of the emoluments clause for his dealings with foreign governments will go forward by a federal judge, who ruled that they have legal standing to sue. Trump argues that these deals were business-related, not payments. [Washington Post]
4. Children stealthily relocated to tent city by border
Children being held by ICE in shelters across the country have been quietly moved to a tent city on the Texas border, where the Weather Network says it will be in the mid- to high-eighties this week. Until now, they have been in small groups in foster care, where they have been able to attend school. The tent shelters are unregulated, offer no access to schooling, and provide extremely limited legal services. The children are given no notice about the moves and tend to be moved in the middle of the night for fear they will run away. Advocates for these children worry about the trauma to them, as well as the possibility that children in need of assistance will fall through the cracks, given the size of the facility. NYMHM wonders whether the main attraction of the tent shelter—which ICE says is needed to relieve overcrowding—is its proximity to the border, 35 miles away; is the shelter just a step away from deportation? [NY Times]
5. Nielsen lied about family separation policy
On June 17, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” Danielle Brian of Project on Government Oversight has located a DHS family separation policy through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request: “The memo states that DHS could ‘permissibly direct the separation of parents or legal guardians and minors held in immigration detention so that the parent or legal guardian can be prosecuted.’ It outlines three options for implementing ‘zero tolerance,’ the policy of increased prosecution of immigration violations. Of these, it recommends ‘Option 3,’ referring for prosecution all adults crossing the border without authorization, ‘including those presenting with a family unit,’ as the ‘most effective.’” [Open the Government, government memo]
6. Who profits from immigrant detention? And who is fighting it?
In These Times has a comprehensive story about the corporations who profit from immigrant detention. The names will sound familiar, involved as they are in everything we do. ITT’s story includes the history of ICE and an inspirational discussion of which advocacy groups are targeting which corporations. It’s a great orientation to what’s happening and what’s possible. Their story is based on part on research done by the Urban Justice Center—also worth checking out. [In These Times, Corrections Accountability]
7. Huge tax cuts passed in the House during the Kavanaugh hearing
While all of us were distracted—with good reason—by the Kavanaugh hearings, the House passed a 3.1 trillion dollar tax cut, which would take effect in 2025. According to Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center, the cuts would mainly favor upper-income taxpayers—those in the 95-99th percentile—and “would add almost 3.8 trillion to the federal budget deficit from 2026-2038.” The bill is unlikely to pass the Senate but still warrants watching. [Fortune]
8. More news stories under the radar
While we were watching the Kavanaugh debacle, the news cycle raged on. The Free Thought project suggests five stories that we take note of: Other reasons Kavanaugh should not be on the Supreme Court; increased cannabis arrests despite legalization in a number of states; warrantless spying; and the Rite-Aid mass shooting. The fifth story is related to 9/11 conspiracy stories and is about how those posting about it were “quarantined” by Reddit. NYMHM is interested in the free-speech implications here but urges caution on the rest of the assertions. Still, the other four stories are important to note. [Free Thought Project]
9. Environmental non-profits targeted as “foreign agents”
Republicans are using the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) against US-based environmental non-profits. House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Bruce Westerman (R-AZ), both recipients of “more than $50,000 apiece in oil and gas industry campaign contributions in this election cycle, ” are accusing the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Center for Biological Diversity, and the World Resources Institute of being foreign agents. As the American Prospect explains, “Repressive regimes in Hungary and Russia have also used FARA to justify cracking down on civil society groups, the International Center for Not-for-Profit law has warned.” [The American Prospect; ICNL (pdf)]
10. The safety rules set up after the Deepwater Horizon disaster are being dismantled
In response to requests by the oil industry, all of the off-shore drilling regulations put in place following the Deepwater Horizon disaster are being dismantled by the Trump administration. No longer will drilling operations have to have independent safety assessments, have their equipment certified by professionals as safe, or have equipment that will function in extreme weather conditions.
In 2010, 11 people were killed and a million seabirds died when an oil rig malfunctioned, dumping 4.9 billion gallons of oil into the sea. BP paid 18.7 billion in penalties, but the environmental and economic costs to coastal communities were catastrophic. To see these costs close-up, read Connie May Fowler’s devastating memoir, A Million Fragile Bones. [NYT]
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
11. Newest estimates show more flu deaths but flu shots worked better than expected.
The Centers for Disease Control released the newest mathematical model estimates for the death toll during the 2017/2018 flu season, finding that the highly contagious illness was responsible for about 80,000 deaths and 900,000 hospitalizations—the worst outbreak in over a decade. The numbers have to be modeled because adult flu deaths are not reported by every state and can be difficult to pin down as flu often presages a weakened immune system which subsequently fails to stop subsequent illnesses such as pneumonia.
In a bit of a bright lining, the model predicted that the flu vaccine—which had been feared to have a success rate of around 10%—ended up being around 40% effective, which made it an important factor in keeping deaths lower than they otherwise would have been. This is despite a dismal rate of immunization across several key populations; only 38.5% of adults were vaccinated and only 58% of children, actually lower than the previous year. 180 children died of the flu during the 2017/2018 season, breaking the previous record held by the 2012/2013 season; of the children who died, 80% were not vaccinated. [Ars Technica]
12. In a medical breakthrough, implants allow paralyzed man to walk
For the first time ever, implanted electrodes were used to stimulate a paralyzed person’s spinal nerves, bypassing the injured section of the spinal cord, and allowed him to stand and walk with minor assistance. The text subject lost his ability to walk in a snowmobile accident and had undergone the procedure to place electrodes in his epidural region as well as a battery pack in his abdomen. After weeks of calibration, he has managed to go from standing in a harness to walking the length of a football field using a wheel walker, raising hopes that the technology may someday be able to restore significant mobility to spinal injury patients. [Independent]
13. New material offers a possible solution to beat the heat in a warming world
As global temperatures climb, methods of passive cooling become more and more important, especially in the developing world as most active cooling measures used today are energy intensive and expensive to maintain. A class of materials described as PDRCs (Passive Daytime Radiative Cooling) may be a key to meet the growing need, as they are surfaces that manage to shed heat even in direct sunlight. For centuries, white paints have been used to obtain some of these qualities as they are a cheap and easy method to reflect light, and therefore heat, away from buildings. But most white paints fail to reflect UV light and any cooling they might provide varies widely on the substrate.
Researchers at Columbia University have produced a high performance polymer coating riddled with microscopic air voids making it extremely porous; these extremely small cavities increase surface area and most importantly scatter more light, making the polymer appear white. The end result is a material that manages to be consistently cooler than the ambient air surrounding it, across a wide array of climate types. It produced a 6 c drop in temperature in Arizona type climates and 3 c in a hot and humid climate such as Bangladesh. [Phys.org]
14. Fetal tissue research put on hold
Health and Human Services (HHS) cancelled one contract involving fetal tissue and will audit all others, in a move celebrated by anti-abortion activists, who used the phrase “baby body parts” to describe the research. Buzzfeed notes that this debate is being raised again just ahead of the midterm elections. The project being cancelled would have used fetal tissue which otherwise would have been discarded to make a mouse’s immune system more like a human’s, an extremely valuable tool for research into immunity and disease. [Buzzfeed]