As always, we focus on news that’s being overwhelmed by the press of events.
1. It gets worse.
The Independent reports that the US is looking at military bases to house migrants, and has even considered Guantanamo Bay (though with no “immediate” plans “because of the optics involved”). The media keeps reporting on a “surge” in immigrants, buying into the Trump administration’s framing of the issue, but any housing difficulties are manufactured by the Trump administration’s resistance to what they dehumanizingly call “catch and release” programs, where immigrants are released while they wait for their legal status to be adjudicated. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) currently imprisons 50,223 migrants, more than the congressionally-mandated limit of 45,274.
In fact, the “surge” is still a historic low: while illegal border crossings are at a decade-long high, they are still less than half the numbers routinely seen from the 1980s into the mid-2000s.
In addition, there’s no immediate shortage of housing: The Guardian reports, there were “nearly 2,000 empty beds in two detention centers last week, with a facility in Dilley, Texas, at 26% capacity and a facility in Berks county, Pennsylvania, at 19% capacity.”
CNN’s Jim Acosta reports, “Family separations are still under discussion inside the WH, I’m told. Stephen Miller is still driving those discussions and Trump remains receptive to the policy, a WH official said.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is preparing to expand the military’s role on the southern border, including military lawyers to be detailed to ICE to work on deportation hearings, as well as troops to “hand out snacks and refreshments to migrants in detention, where families often receive items such as cookies, crackers and juice boxes between meals. CBP agents often complain such tasks amount to ‘babysitting’ duties and say their time would be better spent guarding the border.”
The government continues to target immigration activists, attorneys, and journalists, according to the Boston Review, referencing an NBC affiliate report on a leaked Homeland Security database, listing in part attorneys stopped during travel, allegedly in retaliation for work on immigration matters.
2. Republicans supporting anti-vax & so-called “conscience” movement.
Politico reports that Republicans in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and Washington are trying to prevent Democrats from limiting vaccination exemptions, and in some states (Mississippi and West Virginia) are even introducing bills to expand exemptions. This despite widespread outbreaks spread at least in part by the anti-vax movement and online medical misinformation.
Apparently Republican resistance to vaccination is tied to abortion. Vice has a well-sourced explainer; yes, laboratory-grown fetal-derived cell lines are involved in the production of some vaccines, but there’s no good alternative for chickenpox, rubella, and hepatitis A, and even the Catholic Church says, “the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine.” (We here at NYMHM don’t find those concerns as legitimate as the Catholic Church does: nobody is getting an abortion just to supply a lab with fetal-derived cell lines.)
Additionally, Health & Human Services (HHS) is planning to roll back transgender protections, reports Politico. New rules would eliminate existing protections for transgender patients and allow health care workers to refuse transition-related care, as well as other care (for anybody) based on religious objections, potentially affecting abortion care, contraception, sterilization procedures, advance directives, and vaccinations.
The Center for American Progress points out that HHS’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR)’s new (as of 2018) Conscience and Religious Freedom Division (CRFD) is diverting funds from other civil rights areas:
- OCR’s Civil Rights Division (CRD) already enforced conscience and religious freedom laws effectively.
- Conscience-related complaints historically average 1.25 per year (not 1.25%, but 1.25 complaints), which increased abruptly after the 2016 election to the still very low number of 34 complaints in slightly over a year (in contrast to, say, the 1,523 cases closed with corrective action).
- HHS reported a 48% increase in civil rights cases and an 18% increase in health information privacy cases from FY 2016 to FY 2017, but Trump administration’s proposed FY 2020 budget asks for cuts to the Civil Rights Division and the Health Information Privacy Division, and over $1 million in additional funding for the CRFD.
3. States rights for the environment.
A coalition of 21 more-progressive states are working to uphold the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement through the United States Climate Alliance. Also, the Climate Mayors consists of over 400 cities populated by almost 1 in 5 US residents.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture is requiring that peer-reviewed work include a confusing statement that their work is “preliminary.”
4. Farmers hit hard by tariffs are being devastated by floods.
US farm profits “fell last year to $69.4 billion, half of the $136.1 billion in 2013.” NET Nebraska reports that Midwest “farm bankruptcies jumped 19% last year” and the Rural Response Hotline, which provides mental health and other assistance to farmers and ranchers, “set four new all-time monthly highs for the most new first-time high-stress phone callers.”
PBS reports that the federal government hasn’t begun implementation of the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), reauthorized in the 2018 farm bill. The FY 2019 budget for the FRSAN was $2 million. A coalition of farm groups including the American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union is urging full funding of $10 million for the FRSAN.
5. Thank a Millennial.
The Washington Post reports that new Census Bureau data indicates that 2018 voter turnout was at a 100-year high, and that citizens aged 18-29 went from 20% turnout in 2014 to 36% in 2018, followed by citizens aged 30-44 whose participation rose from 36% in 2014 to 49% in 2018.
6. Airport body scanners discriminating against black hair.
ProPublica reports that full-body scanners are prone to false alarms for thicker hair, resulting in more searches of especially women of color, pointing to a need for more diversity amongst designers of these technologies.
7. UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for concrete commitments to end rape as a weapon of war
TThe Guardian reports that the UN has passed a watered-down version of a resolution to support victims of rape as a weapon of war, because the US threatened to veto if references to “sexual and reproductive health” were retained.
Also removed from the resolution’s original language: strengthening laws to protect LGBT people targeted in combat, and specific mention of access to safe abortions.
For the first time, the resolution made specific calls for greater support for children born due to rape during conflict, and for their mothers.
8. Could INSTEX be used to circumvent sanctions imposed via SWIFT?
A brief aside about Iran and sanctions, which are being otherwise better-covered by mainstream media than we can manage here: China and Russia have set up an international financial payments system as an alternative to SWIFT, explicitly due to threats of sanctions and tariffs. France, Germany, and the UK have likewise set up INSTEX to “facilitate legitimate trade between European economic operators and Iran and thereby preserve the Iran Nuclear Deal.”
9. Update on Haiti
We’ve reported before on the causes of the February riots in Haiti stemming from government corruption. Now the Jamaica Observer reports that Judge Brédy Fabien has cleared President Jovenel Moise of involvement in money laundering for lack of evidence. The country has a new prime minister, Jean-Michel Lapin, as of March 21. Gang violence continues. The Miami Herald reports the UN is due to remove peacekeepers on October 15, 2019, leaving only a special political mission, though elections are expected around that time. The US State Department has a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory in place for Haiti.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
10. Ocean winds and waves increasing
A 33-year study at University of Melbourne shows that the world’s oceans are getting stormier. Extreme winds in the Southern Ocean have increased by 8% over the past 30 years, and extreme waves by 5%. Combined with sea level rise, storm surges and coastal flooding will become more serious.
11. Fracking linked to earthquakes
Small earthquakes in Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia can be linked to hydraulic fracturing wells in those regions, according to researchers speaking at the Seismological Society of America annual meeting, due to “injection of wastewater produced by extraction back into rock layers, which increases pore pressure within rocks and can affect stress along faults in layers selected for disposal.”
- Postcards to Voters is writing for a Congressional special election: Marc Friedenberg in PA.
- Andrea Chalupa and Sarah Kendzior have posted free access to their Gaslit Nation podcast Mueller Report Special, Part 1 as well as a Gaslit Nation Action Guide.
- If you’d like to take an important action but not drown in an issue or a project, take a look at Martha and Sarah-Hope’s lists. Martha vets the opportunities for public comments and highlights the most pressing. Among the issues this week that would warrant your attention is a proposal around election security and another that would permit Hilcorp Alaska to allow marine mammals to be harmed in its search for oil and gas. Still others would weaken groundwater standards and allow importing “trophies” of endangered species, as well as allowing private donors to contribute to gov’t employees legal expenses: who benefits, would you guess?
- Sarah-Hope suggests that you take a stand against the “icebox” detention centers which are so crowded that detainees can neither sit nor lie down. She also thinks you might have something to say about the Trump administrations’s plan to open the California Coast to oil and gas drilling or about mass executions in Saudi Arabia. She offers summaries of numerous issues and people to write to.