News You May Have Missed for May 26, 2019: We’re continuing to draw on the meticulous work of Sarah-Hope and Martha, so that if you want to act on the news you read, you can see how you might do so. In addition, Melissa has discovered more art that offers rsistance and sustenance in the world we find ourselves; see her listings below.
1. Protections eroding for trans, LGBTQ+ people in health care
Health-care providers could discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, if new rules from Health and Human Services go into effect. Discrimination on these grounds had been prohibited by the ACA, though these regulations have been continuously litigated. The new rules have not yet been published for public comment, but you can read HHS’s comprehensive argument here. Look in particular at page 44 and 103, where HHS writes, “It is also the position of the United States government that “Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination . . . does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status.”
As the New York Times explained it last year, “The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.” For more discussion, see this piece by Charlotte Clymer, as well as her twitter feed, @cmclymer.
The Transgender Law Center says you can write to HHS here. If you’d like to see how HHS describes this initiative, you can read their press release. See Martha’s list for a more full discussion of a range of transgender discrimination issues.
2. More apprehended children dying in custody
On May 20, the Associated Press reported that a fifth Central American child, a sixteen-year-old boy from Guatemala, had died in U.S. custody. But on May 23, CBS News revealed that child was actually the sixth to die in U.S. custody. The administration had not previously announced the death of a ten-year-old Salvadoran girl on September 29, 2018. The girl’s name had not been released as of this writing. In an interview with CBS News, Representative Joaquin Castro, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus responded to the girl’s death, “I have not seen any indication that the Trump administration disclosed the death of this young girl to the public or even to Congress, and if that’s the case, they covered up her death for eight months, even though we [the Hispanic Caucus and Congress at large] were actively asking the question about whether any child had died or been seriously injured. We began asking that question last fall.”
Manuel Castillo, Consulate General of El Salvador in Aurora, was also surprised by the report of the September death. He told CBS News his office had no knowledge of the girl’s death and was hoping the CBS News report would help him track down the family. Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, the boy who died, had been held in custody for six days —twice as long as federal law permits—and had been transferred to a second holding facility, even though it was known he had been diagnosed with influenza. As The New Yorker puts it, in the system of border enforcement, “the quality of mercy is under extreme strain.”
If you want to comment on the deaths of minors in custody, here are some options.
3. More children separated from their parents
Meanwhile, 1,700 additional children–so far–have been identified as possibly having been separated from their parents before the so-called “zero tolerance policy” went into effect, according to NBC News. Under court order, the Trump administration is reviewing 50,000 files on children and families to determine whether the children might have been separated; the Department of Homeland Security will then review the files to confirm whether they were. The ACLU, which brought the case, is trying to locate the families.
4. People arrested for giving food and water to migrants
People protesting the border policy and the treatment of immigrants are being targeted by the Border Patrol, according to documents obtained by Shadowproof. Those involved in peaceful protest–such as at the United States Border Patrol museum–are being hit with felony charges. Border Patrol units are attending seminars with Paul Laney, “a leading architect of the militarized police response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests on the state’s Great Plains in 2016 and 2017,” according to Shadowproof. In addition, the Border Patrol has recently admitted that it surveilled journalists, protesters and legal aid workers on the border, according to the Intercept.
People who give food and water to migrants in the desert have been arrested and convicted. And one woman–not an activist but a parent and a city attorney–who stopped to help three ill young people on a Texas highway was arrested but not charged earlier in May, according to the New York Times. The Intercept ran a long, evocative, detailed piece earlier in May on the history of the Arizona sanctuary movement and on Scott Warren, an Arizona community college teacher who helps identify bodies found in the desert so that families can be notified and who has organized humanitarian volunteers to leave food and water for migrants through the organization No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes. Warren goes to trial next week, facing three felonies. His parents have written a plea for people to make phone calls to support him.
To stay tuned to this and other stories, you can follow investigative reporter Will Parrish on Twitter, @willparrishca.
5. Pipeline protest criminalized
In other efforts to criminalize protest, five states–Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa–have passed laws “making trespassing on “critical infrastructure” property” a felony, carrying heavy fines and jail time, according to Grist. Other states are poised to do the same. The intent here is to prevent protests under the guise of protecting infrastructure. The laws are close to identical, suggesting the involvement of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) an organization backed by the Koch Brothers which produces “model” conservative legislation. The International Center for Not-For-Profit law has been tracking this legislation.
6. New immigration rules changing the face of the country
Trump’s proposed new immigration rules would vastly reduce the number of people admitted to join family members, give preference to people based on skills and education, and require English fluency for Green Cards. They make no provision for Dreamers, long-term undocumented immigrants, and people with Temporary Protected Status. The language requirement could “definitely change the racial makeup of who’s coming here,” said Peter Isbister, an attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center. In addition, he says, “the family-based immigration system is so central to who we are as a country.”
7. California teachers pay their own subs
If they are sick longer than ten days, California teachers must pay for their own substitutes, up to up to $240 per day, Buzzfeed reports. Teachers have endured this situation since 1976, but it has not been well-known until a Go-Fund-Me campaign was organized for a San Francisco elementary school teacher who had to go out for the rest of the year for breast cancer treatment. To add injury to injury, teachers nationwide have not recived an increase in real wages since 1996, according to Daily Kos. And to compound the injury, teachers in California and fourteen other states cannot receive Social Security–even if they paid into it through other jobs. Even their spousal Social Security payments have their retirement pensions deducted from them, NPR reported in 2018.
If you want to speak up on behalf of teachers, you might press the state-wide offices of teachers’ unions–National Education Assocation or American Federation of Teachers–to take this up. It’s been over 40 years.
8. Cuts to Job Corps target marginalized youth
The Trump administration is planning to end its involvement in the Civilian Conservation Corps, laying off 1100 federal employees and cancelling a program that provided job training in rural areas for marginalized young people. There is bi-partisan opposition to the cuts, according to the Washington Post, but it is not at all clear that those opposed will prevail.
To advocate for Job Corps programs, see this link.
9. Russia plans for 2020 and beyond
Russia intends to create racial tension in the US and undermine the electoral process well beyond 2020, new documents obtained by NBC news through the Dossier Center suggest. (The Dossier Center is funded by Russian opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky.) Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and who saw the documents, commented that “Russia understands how critical the African American vote is to determining the outcome of elections. “And because we have not effectively dealt with racism as a country ourselves, I believe we’ve made ourselves vulnerable to foreign powers like Russia to continue to try to undermine us.”
10. Slouching toward war with Iran?
The Trump administration seems to be ambivalently but alarmingly moving toward war with Iran. It pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement, while other signers have stayed in. National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has long wanted a reason to press for regime change in Iran, said earlier this month that the U.S. has seen “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” coming from Iran. The US has sent “an aircraft carrier strike group and land-based bombers,” NPR reported, and is proposing to send another 5000 troops along with military equipment, including Patriot missiles. It is not clear what Bolton is referring to; apparently Iran loaded missiles onto small boats and then unloaded them, reported the New York Times.
The build-up of weapons is alarming, according to Colin H. Kahl, who was deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East from 2009 to 2011. His piece in the Washington Post sketches how easily the US and Iran could fall into a war through a tragedy of errors.
Last fall, Conn Hallinan, writing for Foreign Policy in Focus, reviewed a new book by Middle East reporter Reese Erlich, The Iran Agenda Today: The Real Story Inside Iran and What’s Wrong with U.S. Policy. The book, says Hallinan, “certainly provides enough historical context to conclude that an attack on Iran — which would likely also involve Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and possibly Israel — would unleash regional chaos with international repercussions.”
There are key differences between Iran and Iraq that would complicate any invasion, points out professor of history, Juan Cole, among them that “the US would need 2.4 million troops to occupy Iran”; the US has 281,900 active military personnel and 1,860,000 reservists, he says. (You can follow Juan Cole at @jricole)
If you’re worried about the looming threat of war with Iran, be aware that H.R.2354 and S.1039, both titled the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act, would explicitly deny Trump the authority he needs to go to war with Iran. H.R.2354 is with the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees; S.1039 is with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
If you want to urge your representatives to support these bills, you can locate them here.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
11. Rogue NSA program cripples Baltimore city government computers
A secret NSA cyberweapon was stolen by hackers back in 2017 and since then has caused havoc around the world, according to the New York Times.. First used by North Korean operatives in the Wannacry virus, which crippled the British healthcare networks and German train systems, the tool has now been leveled at US city governments, which suffer from old outdated software and lax IT standards.
The core of these attacks come from a program made to exploit a flaw found in Microsoft software called EternalBlue, named for the so-called blue screen of death which occurs when the Microsoft operating system crashes. This security flaw was not passed on to Microsoft for five years while the NSA made full use of it until it was appropriated by foreign actors. While Microsoft has now released a patch, many networks used by smaller city governments remain vulnerable. Baltimore is one of the latest victims with its ability to process real estate sales, water bills, health alerts or utilize city email compromised; the system is being held ransom for $100k which Baltimore—at least so far—refuses to pay.
12. FDA sat on 50,000 “hidden” reports of cardiac device malfunction
The FDA has decided to eliminate an “alternative” reporting system offered as a special exemption to some medical device manufacturers. Ordinarily medical devices are required to report any instances of malfunction or failure to a public database called MAUDE, Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience, but a number of devices acquired exemptions to this requirement and were permitted to use a private database accessible only to the FDA. This was done ostensibly to streamline reporting but since its inception, over one million reports have accumulated, all out of public view, including 50k reports of an implanted defibrillator in widespread use made by Medtronic. The device itself was recalled by the manufacturer in 2007 but tens of thousands of patients have not had access to information needed to make an informed decision about whether to remove the devices or continue with possible malfunction, Ars Technica reports.
- See Martha’s whole list for other issues affecting trans people, along with many opportunities to comment on the record, including proposals to loosen restrictions on RoundUp, frack California, tighten asylum rules and make eagle feathers available to non-indigenous people for non-indigenous religious observances.
- If you want challenge locking up asylum-seekers or requiring them to wait in Mexico while their cases are being heard, if you want to advocate for preserving NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System or for keeping the EPA’s system for monitoring the health of children, see Sarah-Hope’s full list.
Arts & Culture
A queer film festival in Tunisia
It is illegal to be queer in Tunisia–but nonetheless for four days in March, the
Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival was a sanctuary for LGBTQ+ people. Mawjoudin, the New York Times reports, means “we exist.”
Black Lives matter–in stained glass windows
Though the show, called Lamentations, has closed, you can still see Kehinde Wiley’s extraordinary stained glass windows representing the beauty and tragedies in Black lives at this site.
Charts and graphs about climate change become art
Alisa Singer, a data visualization artist, is turning scientific data about climate change into art pieces. Her work is part of a show, Environmental Graphiti, which you can see at this site.
Women prisoners healing from PTSD through dance
The “Dance to be Free” program, which uses dance as therapy to assist women prisoners coping with PTSD and which trains women prisoners to serve as teachers, has expanded to eight prisons in five states. You can get a sense of it here.
New Chicago major hangs piece in her office on red-lining
Lori Lightfoot, the new mayor of Chicago, hung an art piece on red-lining, just in time for her inauguration. Produced by the community print studio, Spudnik Press, the piece is one of a series produced by Amanda Williams and Natalie Y. Moore, all based on maps of Chicago.” You can see it here.