News You May Have Missed July 28, 2019

Our elections correspondent, Chrysostom, is back–and just in time! This week he analyzes the effect of retirements, critical Virginia elections, and the gerry-mandering decision. And he speculates on what Susan Collins is really going to do. Find him here.


1. Heather Heyer’s murderer sentenced

James Alex Fields Jr., a self-described white supremacist, was sentenced to life plus 419 years for killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens during the August 12, 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Vox reports. JM

2. McConnell receives donations from voting machine companies, blocks election security measures

Despite repeated warnings of Russian election interference (including a very clear warning from Robert Muller during his House testimony on July 24), Mitch McConnell continues to block Senate votes on election security measures, using the specious justification that Democratic election security legislation is being championed for “political benefit” and is “partisan legislation,” reports the Hill. McConnell’s position disregards the Senate’s own report, which came out hours after the vote, which concludes that “leading up to the 2016 election, Russians hacked voting machines and registration rolls in all 50 states, and they are likely still doing so,” according to reports from PBS and Slate.

One piece of election security legislation McConnell is currently blocking is H.R.1, the For the People Act, which expands voter registration and voting access, makes Election Day a national holiday, limits the removal of voters from voting rolls, establishes nonpartisan redistricting commissions, supports improvement of election-related cyber-security systems, expands federal code of ethics requirements for candidates and others, requires release of presidential candidates’ tax returns. McConnell is also blocking Senate action on H.R.2722, the SAFE Act, which would provide grants for election system upgrades and paper ballots and mandate particular election security minimums. Earlier this year, McConnell received donations from voting machine companies, according to Newsweek. S-HP

If you have something to say to McConnell about election security, you can write to him here.

3. Another assault on immigrants

The Trump administration has announced a new “expedited removal” process, which has been posted on the Federal Register for public comments. Undocumented immigrants who cannot prove they have been continuously present in the U.S. for the previous two years will be subject to immediate deportation. As Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project Omar Jadwat put it, in a written statement cited by Politico, “Under this unlawful plan, immigrants who have lived here for years would be deported with less due process than people get in traffic court.” S-HP

If you would like to comment for the public record on the “expedited removal” policy, see the instructions here.

4. Ruling could invalidate thousands of convictions

Thousands of people were prosecuted for crossing the border illegally, prosecutions which made possible the separation of children from their parents. Now a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidates part of the statute on which those prosecutions were based, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Hundreds of families could be affected by the ruling. RLS

5. Rule change would limit access to food stamps

Some three million people could have their access to food stamps limited if a proposed federal rule change goes through, according to the Washington Post.. At the moment, people who qualify for federal or state aid also automatically qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The rule change would require that SNAP benefits only be given after a separate income verification, in addition to those already used by the federal and state governments. The Republican administration claims that SNAP benefits are being misused and inappropriately given to people whose income doesn’t merit the support. However, given the difficulty of qualifying for federal and state aid programs, it’s unlikely that anyone is getting “underserved” food assistance via current SNAP qualification practices. Instead, this looks to be the deliberate creation of a new “hoop” for those qualifying for aid to jump through, in the hopes of preventing qualified applicants from accessing SNAP by creating additional an additional barrier to program participation. S-HP

If you wish to submit a comment for the public record about this rule change, or want to write relevant people in Congress, here is how to do it.

6. Who might be implicated by Epstein documents?

A hearing in the Epstein case scheduled for July 24 has been postponed, according to Bloomberg. Documents in the case have been ordered unsealed by an appeals court, the Miami Herald reports. Bloomberg suggests that names of Epstein’s associates may be revealed. Epstein himself was found injured in jail three days after being denied bail; the New York Times says it is not clear whether he was assaulted or whether the marks on his neck were self-inflicted.

Florida Senator Lauren Book told the Miami Herald that she had asked for help from the Capitol police after receiving anonymous threatening phone calls telling her to stop pressing for an inquiry into Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s handling of Epstein’s work release.

Recall that a 2016 lawsuit was filed by a woman who says that she was sexually assaulted by Epstein and Trump when she was 13. Snopes has a good summary of the situation surrouning the suit: The suit was at first dismissed because of improper paperwork, then refiled, then dropped when the plaintiff said she was afraid to pursue it. Her affiavit in a court document from 2016 is unsettling. RLS

7. Greyhound: Working for ICE

Greyhound continues to let Border Patrol agents board its buses to question and arrest passengers without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing. As the American Civil Liberties Union puts it, “the company is throwing its loyal customers under the bus.” Because of Greyhound’s intransigence, the ACLU is urging that we pressure the owners of Greyhound: FirstGroup, a United Kingdom-based transportation group. The FirstGroup Code of Ethics and Corporate Responsibility reads, “We are committed to recognising human rights on a global basis. We have a zero-tolerance approach to any violations within our company or by business partners.” Greyhound’s continued participation in unwarranted, unjustified Border Patrol searches is a clear violation of FirstGroup policy. S-HP

If you would like to suggest that FirstGroup require Greyhound to honor its code of ethics, write to: Mike Murray, President and Chief Executive Officer, FirstGroup America Headquarters, 600 Vine St., Suite 1400, Cincinnati, OH 45202, (513) 241-2200.

8. Good blockades make good neighbors

In Hermitage, TN, this week, a man was confronted by ICE agents attempting to pull over the vehicle he and his son were in. After a 4 hour standoff where the agents called the Metro Nashville Police Department and neighbors and local activists formed a human chain around his vehicle, the ICE agents left to de-escalate the situation and the man was able to return to his home, surrounded by his neighbors, accordimg to CNN. JML

The ACLU won a suit earlier in July confirming that the Border Patrol may not require passengers on domestic flights to show identification and proof of citizenship. It also reminds us that they provide a “Know Your Rghts” pamphlet.
Scroll down–it is also available in Spanish.


9. Bill would provide support to Latin American countries

The movement of asylum seekers from Central America to the U.S. has a great deal to do with  U.S. foreign policy in the past: our focus on military assistance, which builds violence and government intransigence; our exporting of firearms; our collaboration in silencing the voices of those speaking out for representative government, social justice, and environmental protection. The U.S. looms like a huge shadow over Central America, and until we find ways to turn that shadow to light, asylum-seekers are going to continue northward because of the danger and hopelessness of life in Central America. An excellent way to shine that light would be to enact H.R.2615, the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act, which has made it through the House and is now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. H.R. 2615 has been almost completely ignored by the mainstream media; the Yonkers Tribune has the story. S-HP

If you want to encourage positive rather than punitive engagement with Central America, here are some senators you might write.


10. Green New Deal passes in New York

New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill described as New York’s own “Green New Deal,” focusing heavily on renewable energy production. The so-called “Green New Deal” endorsed by progressives in Congress is actually more of a platform, a host of wide-ranging policies advocating everything from a universal basic income to changes in agricultural policies. The New York version is much more focused on the expansion of renewable “green” energy in the state with a particular emphasis on boosting off-shore wind generation. With a signed contract for two new wind farms generating a total of 1.7 gigawatts, New York is poised to become the largest producer of off-shore power. The bill also provides for a Climate Justice Working Group in order to help ensure that the benefits of green energy are enjoyed by low-income communities as well as wealthier areas, according to Ars Technica.

11. Russian bots pushing anti-Vax “debate”

A study conducted by George Mason University on twitter bots from Russian troll farms found that the bots post about vaccine conspiracy theories far more than an average poster would, according to CBS News. This fits with the generally accepted theory that along with election interference, the goal of this disinformation blitz is to foster division among Americans. The bots also appear to be starting to propose conspiracies about health risks associated with 5G digital networks, suggesting they cause cancer, autism and Alzheimer’s. The United States is in the midst of the worst measles outbreak in decades; health agencies and social networks are pushing back and attempting to remove these dangerous bits of propaganda–but a lot of damage has already been done, just as with our political system. JC

12. “Unprecedented” fires in the Arctic

Last month, the Guardian reported that permafrost in the Canadian north is melting 70 years earlier than expect. Now, following the hottest June on record, wildfiles are raging in the Arctic, across Alaska, Siberia and Greenland., covering so much territory that they can be seen from space, according to Science Direct. Fires in Alaska have already burned 1.6 million acres, with no end in sight. The fires are both created by and contributing to global warming. Describing the fires as “unprecedented,” Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast, told the Independent that “the amount of CO2 emitted by Arctic wildfires between 1 June and 21 July 2019 is around 100 megatonnes and is approaching the entire 2017 fossil fuel CO2 emissions of Belgium.” RLS

Satellite photo of the wildfire in the Qeqqata Kommunia, Greenland (Pierre Markuse/Creative Commons)