#Newsyoumayhavemissed for January 27, 2019 is grateful for the hiatus in the shutdown drama, but wary. Over the next three weeks, we hope some government employees and contractors will get paid, government services will be restored and government lands preserved. But we suspect that Shutdown II could be equally troubling. Meanwhile, we note that the Trump administration’s pattern of putting people in charge of what they prefer to destroy has reached its apex, with the appointment of Elliott Abrams as special envoy to Venezuela (see the first story in International News below).
1. Immigrant children used as “bait” to catch and deport sponsors
Sponsors who offered to take in immigrant children—usually family members—were deliberately targeted for deportation, according to a lawsuit (pdf) filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and two other organizations. A 2017 memo (pdf) indicates the government knew the policy of investigating and deporting sponsors would result in fewer coming forward and more children saying in detention longer.
2. Migrant children held in unlicensed shelters
Meanwhile, migrant children are being housed in a dozen unlicensed shelters, according to CBS. Under the law, detained children must be held in the least-restrictive facilities possible, facilities must be licensed, and parents must be told where their children are. Attorney Peter Schey, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, the only non-governmental organization which may evaluate shelters where children are held, told CBS, “We have a team of over 250 lawyers, doctors and paralegals visiting these places. We’ve interviewed hundreds of detained children. We think there are violations across the board.” The Center is fundraising to continue its work.
Lawyers are particularly concerned about a facility in Homestead, Florida, whose parent company, Comprehensive Health Services (CHS), has no Florida license and thus can’t conduct background checks on employees.
3. Laid-off reporters receive death threats from trolls
When Buzzfeed laid off 15% of its reporters and the Huffington Post announced it would lay off 7%, the reporters were besieged by anti-semitic and sexist threats generated by the right-wing message board 4chan. [NBC] Journalists say that the repetitive quality of the threats suggests that they should be easily identified, but instead they are lingering on Twitter and other social media sites.
4. Median net-worth of non-Caribbean Black people in Boston: $8
That is, half of non-Caribbean Black Bostonians have a higher net worth, half have lower; net worth is calculated by subtracting debt from assets. [Boston Globe] A report (pdf) from Duke University, the New School, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston identified the wealth gap in the Boston area. According to the report, “the median household net worth in the Greater Boston region is $247,500 for whites, $8 for US blacks, $12,000 for Caribbean blacks, $3,020 for Puerto Ricans and $0 for Dominicans.” Black Bostonians fare worse on all measures of wealth: more likely to have medical debt, less likely to own homes or even have checking accounts—and thus are disadvantaged, along with their children, in terms of future planning and opportunities.
5. Security clearance probe at White House
Rep. Elijah Cummings, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, launched an investigation last week into security clearance issues at the White House and among the transition team, looking to (pdf):
determine why the White House and Transition Team appear to have disregarded established procedures for safeguarding classified information, evaluate the extent to which the nation’s most highly guarded secrets were provided to officials who should not have had access to them, and develop reforms to remedy the flaws in current White House systems and practices. The investigation also will seek to determine why the White House is currently defying federal law by failing to provide to Congress information about its security clearance process required by the SECRET Act
6. Judicial nominations
In December, Democrats refused to cross the aisle to provide bipartisan support to a slate of ultra-conservative judicial nominees, and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake blocked judicial nominations until the Senate voted on a law protecting special counsel Robert Mueller (which didn’t happen).
Trump has released a list of his intended judicial nominees (Law360, Buzzfeed). They include:
- Matthew Kacsmaryk, who Alliance for Justice called “fiercely hostile” to LGBT rights;
- Paul Matey, former ethics counsel for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose role (if any) in Christie’s plentiful scandals (e.g. Bridgegate; NJ’s settlement of Trump casino tax debt) is unclear;
- Eric Miller, who was criticized by the National Congress of American Indians because he “chose to build a law practice on mounting repeated challenges to tribal sovereignty, lands, religious freedom and the core attribute of federal recognition of tribal existence” [5 Calls’ script to oppose];
- anti-LGBTQ+ and torture advocate Howard Nielson Jr. [5 Calls’ script to oppose];
- Neomi Rao, who faces criticism for her college writing about affirmative action, race, and date rape [5 Calls’ script to oppose];
- Chad Readler, who has argued in favor of the citizenship census question, that protections for pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional, worked to undermine voting rights (pdf), defended the transgender military ban (pdf), and a host of other issues [5 Calls’ script to oppose];
- Allison Jones Rushing, who interned with anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom and has argued that same-sex couples are not guaranteed to equal liberty by the constitution, and who only has 8 years’ experience (the American Bar Association says federal bench nominees should have at least 12);
- and Wendy Vitter, who promoted a theory that women who take birth control are more likely to be abused and otherwise promotes fake science as fact, and refused to say if she believed racial desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided [5 Calls’ script to oppose].
Flake has retired, and in the new Congress, Republicans now have 53 votes in the Senate (plus Pence’s tie-breaking vote, if needed) so protests would need to be vigorous to prevent the worst nominations from being approved. This seems like an impossible battle, but some of the nominees from the 2018 list have been removed, including Thomas Farr, Patrick J. Bumatay, Daniel P. Collins, and Kenneth Kiyul Lee, reportedly due to objections by Senators Tim Scott (R-SC, Farr) and Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris (D-CA, Bumatay, Collins and Lee).
7. Scholars condemn US-backed coup in Venezuela
On Wednesday, Juan Guaidó, the leader of a right-wing party in Venezuela declared himself president. The US and Canada promptly recognized him, along with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, and the UK. Though Guaidó is in the National Assembly, he was not even a candidate for president, though he might have won had the opposition not boycotted the election. The person who did win last May, Nicolás Maduro, has long incurred the wrath of Donald Trump, who met with dissident officers in September. It is not yet clear where the military stands on the coup-in-progress. China, Mexico, Russia, and Turkey have backed Mr Maduro.
Elliott Abrams—infamous for arranging funding of Contra rebels in Nicaragua and lying to Congress about it (he was convicted but pardoned by George H. W. Bush)—has been named US special envoy to Venezuela. Abrams also covered up the El Mozote massacre of a thousand men, women and children in El Salvador when he was assistant secretary of state for human rights during the Reagan administration.
Conditions in Venezuela are dire, with the economy in collapse, shortages of food and medicine, malaria on the rise, inflation of 1,300,000%; Maduro is widely blamed. At the same time, academics and experts point out the costs of supporting a coup: Paul Ortiz, Medea Benjamin, Noam Chomsky and others wrote, “The U.S. and its allies must cease encouraging violence by pushing for violent, extralegal regime change. If the Trump administration and its allies continue to pursue their reckless course in Venezuela, the most likely result will be bloodshed, chaos, and instability” [Common Dreams].
The BBC has a feature on what all this means for oil exports.
8. Canada detains low-risk immigrants in maximum-security prisons
Almost 1,500 non-violent detainees have been locked up in maximum security prisons in Canada—some for years—simply because they are thought unlikely to show up for immigration hearings. They are incarcerated with those already sentenced for violent crimes and frequently endure periods of lockdown. Immigration lawyer Jared Will: “You’re putting them in a terrifying and sometimes objectively dangerous environment when there’s no justification for doing it whatsoever.”
9. Sudan protests
Cuts to bread and fuel subsidies prompted protests in Sudan which have now morphed into hundreds of protests of President Omar al-Bashir 30-year rule. Doctors have become a target for arrests and extrajudicial murders by police, who have also used tear gas, stun grenades, and live ammunition to disperse crowds, and filled public squares with mud to discourage protests. Hundreds, possibly thousands, have been arrested.
10. Philippines church bombing
Twin bombings during a Sunday church service on the mainly-Muslim Jolo island killed 20 and wounded more than 100 people. Islamic State has claimed the attacks, which come six days after an overwhelming “yes” vote in the autonomy referendum to create a self-administered region to end decades of fighting between the Philippine army and Islamist separatists.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
11. Heat wave responsible for mass wildlife deaths in Australia
A severe heatwave across the eastern portion of Australia has resulted in mass die offs of feral horses, known locally as “brumbies,” around dried-up watering holes. In New South Wales, a third of spectacled flying foxes, a species of bat, have succumbed to the heat. The most recent heatwave has broken records and comes after record-breaking drought led to massive wildfires in 2018. It has hit over 100°F for over two weeks with lows only dropping into the high 90s. Readers may recall that the UN Intragovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned of precisely these types of events occurring with more and more frequency. [Guardian, BBC]
12. “Use it or lose it” not quite right regarding muscle strength.
A review of research published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology suggests that muscle once built remains, even if shrunk through atrophy or disuse.
When fitness levels drop, muscle tissue shrinks; however, the nuclei of muscle cells remain locked in a special tissue called syncytium. Syncytium allows a cluster of cells to effectively operate as one cell, and is seen in organs such as heart, bone and placenta, but are mostly found in skeletal muscle. This means it is much easier to regain muscle mass after disuse than to build it from scratch. This places a particular importance upon early fitness, as the ability of the body to build muscle deteriorates over time, which means the key to maintaining high strength and fitness levels might be the muscle you build as a teen and young adult.
13. Glacial retreat shows landscapes hidden for the last 40,000 years
Glacial retreat on Canada’s Baffin Island has revealed surfaces that have been continuously covered in ice for the last 40,000 years, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder sampled plant material found at the base areas recently revealed by melting glaciers and using radiocarbon dating, showed that they grew 40,000 years ago at the latest. The abrupt stop in the record at that time indicates that there was no pattern of growth and retreat which would have allowed for periods of newer plant growth over millennia; the area has been continuously covered with ice until now. This suggests that the arctic may be undergoing the warmest century experienced in 115,000 years.
RESOURCES FOR ACTION
- Postcards to Voters: text JOIN to 484-275-2229 to sign up; you can write as few as 4 postcards at a time, or as many as you like, so this is a very flexible commitment.
- Rogan’s List from 1/25 mentions commenting on changes to Title IX, the recent federal changes to definitions of domestic violence and sexual assault, an online form to support public schools, and more.
- 5 Calls has scripts for supporting legislation to protect transgender troops and reduce prescription drug prices, and more.
- Martha—who posts various invitations to comment at the federal level—is catching us up on new ACA changes (they want the health insurance marketplace to go directly to private insurers, an abortion clause, and more.) Deadline is tomorrow on the Title IX regulations and NLRB joint employer policies. Speak now, or…
- Sarah-Hope offers 49 opportunities to comment this week. Consider writing on asylum, the additional children discovered to have been in detention, Barbara Lee’s INVEST act, facial recognition technology, the security clearance process (see our story on the news page), and more! Type in whatifknits.com for the full list.