News You May Have Missed August 4, 2019

It has been a week of terrible news–and yet we have to go on. We hope that News You May Have Missed will give you the overview you need on the news, as well as ways to take action rather than just feeling besieged. We recommend the action items suggested by Sarah-Hope, Martha and Susan–see the links at the end of this page and on the Resources page. And for sustenance, we recommend art–see Melissa’s Arts and Cultures listings.

Our elections correspondent, Crysostom, has added some new items; his takeaway message: “Based on the president’s current net approval rating and the current House generic ballot, the Democrats would be likely to make modest gains in the House elections and have a real chance to win control of the Senate.” This outcome requires hard work and constant vigilance, of course.


1. FBI memo outlines danger of internet-propagated conspiracy theories

Yahoo News obtained an FBI memo published within the department in May describing how “conspiracy theory driven domestic extremists” are a growing threat. The memo specifically mentions both the Pizzagate and Q-Anon conspiracy theories, saying that internet-fed extremists radicalized by these theories will become a growing threat. It is noteworthy that both of these theories originate in the right wing of the US political spectrum, Pizzagate targeting the Clinton family as a cabal of pedophiles and Q-Anon depicting an incredibly convoluted and confusing set of beliefs that boil down to an effort by Donald Trump to take down the so-called “Deep State” Both of these theories have gained a high level of exposure and notoriety thanks to the efforts of Alex Jones’ InfoWars and other alt-right media figures. Adding into the mix is the Russian program to promote divisive conspiracy theories within the United States, even creating one in the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. This is the first document that specifically highlights the alt-right as an emerging terrorist threat in the United States.  JC

2. Trump ending family reunification programs

The Republican Administration has announced that it is ending two immigration “parole” family-reunification programs. Despite the name, “parole” programs have nothing to do with criminal justice. Under immigration parole, candidates for family-reunification immigration may enter the U.S. before receiving green cards and can then do the waiting in the U.S. alongside family members. The first of the programs being cancelled was established in 2016 and allows Filipino WWII veterans to bring family members to the U.S.—a move that is clearly time-sensitive due to the age of these veterans. Senator Mazie Hirono who advocated for this program, has argued for its importance due to the “decades long visa backlog” for individuals in this category. The second cancelled program, which has been in place since 2014, allows family members of some Haitian refugees to move to the U.S. while their green cards are in process. The logic underlying this program was that a facilitated immigration process would allow those Haitians in the U.S. to make more significant contributions to earthquake recovery and rebuilding efforts in their country of origin, CNN reports. S-HP.

If you think “parole” programs should be continued, here’s whom to write.

3. Guns from Nevada

While California has among the strictest gun laws in the country, nearby states like Nevada and Arizona have no such laws. As a result, these border states have become hotspots for gun traffickers and criminals eager to bring weapons into California, accordin to the New York Times. In fact, the gun used on July 29 at the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival was procured in exactly this way. In California, the weapon the gunman purchased is illegal, regardless of the purchaser’s age—and rifles cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 21 (the shooter was 19). What’s needed is a national law that allows gun sales to individuals only in accordance with the laws of that person’s state of residence. Had such a law been in place, the Nevada arms dealer who sold the weapon used would have been prohibited from making that sale. S-HP

To speak about the necessity of state-of-residency gun legislation, write to the people listed here.

4. Good news/bad news for Syrian refugees

In a win-lose decision, the Republican administration’s Department of Homeland Security has approved an eighteen-month extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for some seven thousand Syrians in the U.S. , according to Think Progress. That’s the “win” part of the decision. TPS grants temporary work authorization to some individuals from countries affected by war, natural disasters, or disease. It does not provide a path to U.S. citizenship. The decision’s “lose” half is that there will be no TPS redesignation for Syria, which means that those living in Syria will not be eligible for TPS status, despite the ongoing military conflict and humanitarian crisis in that country. S-HP.

If you want to speak up about the situation of Syrians, you can write to those on this list.

5. Protecting trans students

During the Obama administration, the Department of Education (DoE) developed guidance for protecting transgender students. In 2017, early on in her work as Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos revoked this guidance, the New York Times explains. In 2018 DeVos officially confirmed that the Department of Education was no longer investigating complaints regarding a range of anti-transgender discrimination. These actions were taken despite the fact that courts have repeatedly held that Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex, applies to discrimination against transgender students.

A report by the Center for American Progress has reviewed DoE action in response to transgender students’ complaints over the past eight years—which includes part of the Obama administration, as well as all of the Trump administration. Key findings for this period included the fact that transgender students are over-represented in sexual orientation and gender identity complaints. While only an estimated 6-21% of the LGBTQ student community is transgender, 42.6% of complaints involved anti-transgender discrimination, indicating the pervasiveness of this type of discrimination. Among transgender students, 75.9% of complaints alleged sexual or gender harassment. That percentage was slightly lower for the LGBTQ student population overall, at 72.5%. Among the general student population, only 19.9% of complaints alleged sexual or gender harassment. When the research is narrowed to the current administration, only 2.4% of complaints by transgender students received corrective action, as opposed to a rate of 22.4% under the Obama administration. S-HP

To advocate for trans students, you can write to the addresses listed here.

6. Bill would impose minimum standards for imprisoned immigrants

Current minimal standards for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention facilities are that CBP must take “every effort to provide food and water” to detainees. As we’ve seen, even these minimal requirements are not always met in meaningful ways with detainees being poorly fed or underfed and often having access only to toilet water for drinking and hygiene. Two pieces of legislation recently passed by the House and now before the Senate would make these minimal standards more specific and comprehensive. H.R.3670, the Short-Term Detention Standards Act, is currently with the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. This bill would require shelter, bathrooms, showers, water, nutrition, personal grooming items, and appropriate sanitation for CBP detainees. H.R.3239, the Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act, is now being considered by the Senate as S.2135 and is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee. In addition to making requirements like those in H.R.3670, S.2135/H.R.3239 also calls for unannounced Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspections of CBP detention facilities, with follow-up reports to Congress. The Government Accountability Office has the power to assess DSH and CBP compliance with this bill. S-HP

To support legislation requiring minimum standards in prison camps at the border, write to the elected officials listed here.

7. Citizenship for international adoptees

The Child Citizenship Act guarantees citizenship to children adopted internationally by U.S. citizens. Unfortunately, when it was passed, it was not made retroactive, so international adoptees who were 18 or older when the legislation was made law have not received citizenship via this means., Big Island Now reports. H.R.2731, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019, would close this loophole, granting citizenship to international adoptees who had already reached adulthood when the Child Citizenship Act went into effect. H.R.2731 is currently with the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. S-HP.

To advocate for legislation providing citizenship for international adoptees, write to those listed here.

8. Danger to family members no basis for asylum

Individuals can apply for U.S. asylum on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a “social group.” In the past, the term “social group” has included family units. Because of this inclusive definition a girl whose brother had been killed for refusing to join a gang would have a right to seek asylum under the “social group” criteria. The same would be true of the child of a mother who had been raped and killed for refusing to engage in drug trafficking. Now Attorney General William Barr has announced that families are not necessarily “social groups” as referred to in immigration law, Time reports. As head of the Department of Justice, Barr has the right to overturn immigration court rulings, so he likely has the ability to exclude family members from “social group” asylum, a move that may  result in thousands of asylum requests being denied and those asylum seekers being returned to locations of life-threatening violence. S-HP

Write to object to this change in policy–addresses are here.

9. Miners hold the line: “No Pay, We Stay.”

Miners in Harlan County, Kentucky, blocked a coal train with 100 cars from leaving the mine after they learned their paychecks had bounced. The owner of the mine, Blackjewel LLC, is a subsidiary of Revelation Energy LLC, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 1st, according toe WYMT in Eastern Kentucky. The train has about a million dollars worth of coal on it, according to WSAZ. The mines went up for auction August 1 but media were not permitted to be there. Labor Notes is a good source on this issue, with links to the twitter feeds of the two radio stations in the area. RLS


10. US sells arms likely to be used against Yemenis to Saudi Arabia

Eight billion in arms will be sold to Saudi Arabia, now that the Senate has failed to over-ride Trump’s veto of bills intended to stop the sale, according to the Hill. Part of the plan is for the U.S. to co-produce weapons with Saudi Arabia, giving them access to sensitive technology, NBC News reported in June. According to William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Washington-based Center for International Policy, these weapons “…will almost certainly be used in the war in Yemen. ‘The weapons are going to be put to use in a civilian slaughter.’ ” RLS

11. Syria’s Assad is starving refugees

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is deliberately starving 11,000 displaced Syrians in an effort to get them to leave a refugee camp on the Jordan border, according to Foreign Policy. Since February, Assad has refused to allow the U.N. to bring humanitarian aid to the camp. A refugee organization reported that residents “are suffering from severe malnutrition, surviving on bread made with ingredients normally used to feed animals.” Many have food poisoning. The Washington Post reported that the U.S. is also refusing to feed them, though there is a U.S. military garrison 10 miles away and the military has the capability to feed them. James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria, told the Post why the United States won’t feed the residents of the camp: “First of all, if we feed them, it will look like we are going to stay there forever…” RLS


12. Twelve billion tons of ice melt in one day

This is not a typo: twelve billion tons of ice melted in Greenland on Wednesday, science writer Laurie Garrett reported on Twitter. The recent heat wave accounts for the catastrophic melting, reports CBS news; July 2019 was the hottest month on record, according to the  World Meteorological Organization . It’s worth reading Democacy Now’s interview with Jason Box, professor and ice climatologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, on this and other indicators of the climate crisis. RLS

13. “Exterminating the Future”: Brazil’s new government permits destruction of the Amazon.

Since Jair Bolsonaro became president of Brazil in January, 2019, deforestation has been intensifying. Compared to June of 2018, deforestation in June of 2019 had increased by 88%. According to Democracy Now, Bolsonaro has allowed illegal logging and burning and reversed regulations protecting the Amazon–the Amazon is critical to addressing the climate crisis. In an interview with Carlos Rittl, the executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a network of Brazilian civil society organizations, Democracy Now pointed out that the recent attacks on indigenous people in the Amazon are entirely connected to the issue of deforestation. RLS

14. Regulating Alexa and Siri

Right now, devices like Alexa and Siri can record your conversations and the information contained in those conversations can be sold without your consent. A bill in California, AB-1395 would require manufacturers of smart speakers—which would include voice command systems built into tablets and mobile phones—to obtain permission from a consumer before the device saves recordings of commands or conversations it hears. It would create an opt-in system for consumers to consent even when the device hears certain “trigger” words designed to alert it to take action. AB-1395 had made it through the Assembly and is now with California Senate Judiciary Committee. Hearings on AB-1395 were set on July 9, but then cancelled. S-HP

15. Gene-editing technique successful at treating blood disorders

A paper submitted by a team at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and published in the July issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine outlines a gene therapy technique utilizing CRISPR case 9 technology and a type of blood stem cell to effectively treat several blood disorders such as sickle cell and beta-thalassemia. CRISPR is a gene editing technology that uses a specific tailor-made enzyme to snip out precisely targeted segments of DNA and replace them with edited versions; it has revolutionized gene therapy and genetic medicine in the relatively short time it has existed. The proof of principle study took a subset of adult blood stem cells, which create all the blood supply in the human body, and using the CRISPR technology, reactivated a sequence of DNA that normally gets deactivated in people by the age of one that produces a fetal version of hemoglobin.

The production of fetal hemoglobin shuts down the production of abnormal hemoglobin carrying cells that cause disease, and once edited, reproduce themselves with the edited DNA providing a continuous reservoir of modified blood. With just a 30% replacement of blood with the healthier fetal hemoglobin, people with these blood disorders would see their symptoms reverse–effectively providing a cure, Science Daily reports. The team hopes that similar approaches can be used to treat blood cancers and HIV. Because the number of blood cells needed is relatively small, only 5% of human blood cells are this particular variety of stem cell, so the amount needed to be modified would be small and potentially less expensive. JC

Arts & Cultures

New cartoon features indigenous girl

For the first time in US history, a tv show features a Native girl as the main character.  Molly is Gwich’in/Koyukon/Dena’ina Athabascan, and the cartoon explores what it means to be Native American in modern American culture. Molly of Denali is on PBS, Sojurners explains.

“Resistance is fertile”

With the motto “Resistance is Fertile,” Rise Up Review publishes poetry “meant to be disseminated like tiny manifestos.”  The summer issue features the work of 29 poets.

In 2020, a year of exhibitions of work by women

Despite tweets to the contrary, there is a lot of good going on in Baltimore, including its art museum’s effort to address gender diversity in its exhibition space.  During 2020, the Baltimore Museum of Art will focus on the work of women artists.

A font out of gerrymandered districts

Connoisseurs of typefaces will be amazed by Ugly Gerry. As Melissa says, “this is the sort of genius response to political issues that makes my heart sing.  I suggest you download this font and use it to create postcards to send to all Congressional Republicans.”

Unity across the wall

Children and adults on both sides of the border wall were brought together with this set of seesaws that that architects designed to use the wall itself as a fulcrum.: An ingenious use of existing infrastructure to comment on and re-imagine what divides us.


  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist recommends that you take some time to re-inspire yourself. Americans with Conscience also recommends this list of actions you can take to support those imprisoned at the border.
  • Many of Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the news summaries above–but there are more! See her list.
  • Martha’s list for this week includes ways to comment for the public record on cuts to food stamps, Trump’s asylum ban, expedited removal of aliens, drinking water, nuclear weapons, defense installations, pesticides residues allowed, RoundUp, right of federal employees to unionize, exposing miners to diesel exhaust, the ACA and more!
  • Rogan’s list suggests ways to comment on the fact that 911 more children have been separated from their parents since a judge prohibited the practice. She recommends ways to address gun laws, strategies for supporting immigrants, and much more.