News You May Have Missed: August 18, 2019

News You May Have Missed tries to help with information overload by calling your attention to noteworthy but undercovered stories–or stories which badly need context. At the same time, we look for significant good news. See in particular the first story in the Science & Technology section, which tells us something about how we got here.


1. States suing the administration over rules blocking immigrants from services

Following Oregon, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, Maine has joined the lawsuit California has brought against the Trump administration for its policy blocking legal status for those who use or are thought likely to use public services such as federal housing assistance, food stamps, or Medicaid, according to the Press Herald. As Vice points out, the new rules will hit low-income immigrants with disabilities especially hard, making it impossible for them to access caregivers and wheelchairs, for example. As a result of the proposed policy, immigrants are not accessing programs that would provide food and medicine for their U.S. citizen children, for fear that their own legal status will be jeopardized. RLS

If you wish to write your senators and representatives about this issue, you can find the link here.

2. “Reprogramming” money meant for FEMA

Once money is allocated to a federal agency, that agency may request to transfer (or unilaterally transfer) some of those monies from one account within the agency to another. Last year, for example, the Department of Homeland Security “reprogrammed” (that’s the official term for the process) $200 million to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from a variety of other accounts including FEMA (this transfer was made at the start of hurricane season), the Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration, Politico reports. DHS has indicated it intends to do the same in the coming fiscal year and has filed reprogramming requests with the House. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, Chair of the Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security subcommittee, has confirmed the submission of the reprogramming request. It is not clear how essential Congressional approval to this transfer of funds is. The Democratic House is likely to reject increased ICE funding by whatever means, but the administration may try to make the moves unilaterally. S-HP

To voice your opinion on this issue, write to relevant committee chairs.

3. Cops working with/for ICE

In 2017, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Values Act, SB-54, into law. SB-54 prohibited California’s local law enforcement agencies (LEAs) from using resources to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) identify, detail, arrest, and/or transfer custody of immigrants. In SB-54’s first five months (January-May 2018), California saw a 41% decrease in ICE arrests in local jails, but further study has revealed a pattern of non-compliance with the California Values Acts by many LEAs. A repost released by Asian Americans Advancing Justice—Asian Law Caucus, the University of Oxford Centre for Criminology, and Oxford’s Border Criminologies Program shows that some 40% of 169 LEAs are out of compliance with the California Values Act.

The most common method LEAs use to evade SB-54 requirements is a cynical exploitation of a rule that allows the release of “information generally available to the general public” to ICE and CBP. These LEAs have adopted new, post AB-54 practices of posting information online about release dates, court hearing dates and locations, and identifying information for immigrants. The agencies frequently supply information about to be posted to ICE and CBP in advance, according to Rewire. Any transfer of an immigrant from an LEA to ICE is required to be reported to the California Attorney General, but in fact LEAs are providing ICE with non-reported access to non-public, secure areas of jails to arrest detained persons immediately before they are released. A movement is now underway to ask for the following practices from the California Attorney General and Department of Justice:

  • auditing of LEA compliance with SB-54 and advice in modifying practices to comply with SB-54
  • establishing a clear, accessible process for reporting and reviewing alleged SB-54 violations
  • providing full public access to all data on SB-54 compliance and all materials from SB-54 violation reviews. S-HP

Californians can write their representatives about this issue. Here is how to find them.

4. State Department employees routinely bullied, report says

Numerous State Department employees, most of them junior, were harassed by senior management, particularly Assistant Secretary Kevin Moley and former senior adviser Mari Stull. According to a report by the State Department’s inspector general, employees thought insufficiently loyal to Trump were berated, retaliated against, and had promotions denied. RLS

5. Christian books exempted from tariffs

The Republican administration recently announced a new series of tariffs to be levied against goods produced in China. The new tariffs included a 10% levy on books published in China—where a quarter of all books sold in the U.S. are produced. Shortly after, the Republican administration back-pedaled on some of the tariffs, saying they would delay putting these in place in order to “not ruin Christmas.” The goods allowed this tariff delay included children’s books and Bibles and religious texts. Almost all other types of books remain on the current tariff list, including art books, text books, dictionaries and encyclopedias, and technical, scientific, and professional publications, according to the Washington Examiner.

These actions are cause for concern for two reasons. First, they show a deliberate governmental action in support of religion that violates the First Amendment. Second, as Shelf Awareness (a major publishing news source) explains, “A tariff on books is a tax on information, and at odds with longstanding U.S. policy of not imposing tariffs on educational, scientific and cultural materials.” S-HP

If you are troubled by the concept of tariffs on books, here’s how to intervene.


6. 25% of Hong Kong’s population marched in the pouring rain

In the face of a threatened five-year jail term, 1.7 million people marched from a rally to the government center in Hong Kong, undaunted by torrential rain. Protestors demand the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill which would have permitted people to be sent to China for trial. According to the Guardian, they are asking for independent investigations of police violence and the free election of Hong Kong’s leaders–a measure which was provided for in the handover agreement of 1997, in which Britain returned control of the territory to Beijing, but never implemented. RLS

7. Silence on nuclear issue

On August 5, India revoked the special status of Kashmir that had given it limited political autonomy; at the same time, it silenced all communications, shutting down newspapers, telephones and the internet. Some 4,000 people have been arrested, according to Al Jazeera, under a law which permits people to be imprisioned for up to two years without being charged or tried. Pakistan has condemned India’s actions. The BBC has a useful background piece clarifying the origins of the conflict between India and Pakistan over the state of Kashmir. However, the BBC, along with most media outlets other than Al Jazeera, does not mention the acute danger of the conflict, given that both countries have nuclear weapons, as Foreign Policy in Focus explains. RLS

8. Books & writers endangered in Turkey

Publishers have been closed, writers have been silenced, and books have been destroyed since the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey. Now Turkey’s education minister, Ziya Selçuk, announced that the destruction of some 300,000 books that are claimed to reference Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Muslim cleric whom the Erdogan administration believes was behind the 2016 coup attempt. 50,000 people have been detained over the last three years, the Guardian reports. For a backgrounder on Turkey, see Conn Hallinan’s piece in Foreign Policy in Focus. RLS


9. A beautiful discovery hints at the origin of life

One of the great mysteries in science is exactly how and under what conditions life first arose on Earth. Thanks to research submitted to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States (PNAS) by a team at the University of Washington in Seattle, we may understand the process a little better. All life is composed of cells, which are essentially bags of fatty acids containing proteins and DNA/RNA. Without cell walls, it would be impossible for a cell to perform the activities of life. How exactly that winning combination of container and contents managed to arise and self organize from a primordial soup of ingredients has been an open question, and contentious, reports the Atlantic. One major problem is that fatty acids, which can naturally form balloon-like structures in water, don’t form membranes in the presence of salts. Since life arose in our salty oceans and amino acids require salt ions, explaining that contradiction was necessary.

The team at the University of Washington discovered that the key is in the ingredients of life themselves. When fatty acids are combined in the presence of amino acids (the base ingredients of DNA and RNA) in a salt water solution, they will form bubbles of fatty acids containing amino acids, the first step to a rudimentary cell. The amino acids provide structure for the fatty acids to assemble while the enclosing fatty acid bubble serves to concentrate the amino acids together into a self-reinforcing structure. Indeed, not only do the amino acids allow for the formation of fatty acid membranes it, for reasons yet unknown, forms them into a layered double wall somewhat resembling an onion. This double fatty acid layer is the same as is found in our own cell walls. JC

10. Feeding the world will mean more beans

A recently released UN report found that 25% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions come from agriculture, with the production of meat being a significant portion of that total. Feeding a still-growing world population with plant-based proteins will be a formidable challenge but achievable with legumes like chickpeas and beans taking a leading role, according to Currently only 10% of cropland is devoted to the production of legumes, in order to replace animal-based protein with vegetarian protein, that total will need to increase to 25%. This presents some challenges as the amount of money spent on genetic research for legumes has been dwarfed by that spent on cereal grains used to feed livestock. Additionally, legumes are harder to grow and more susceptible to disease and pests than most cereal crops. The change will be necessary, however, as predictions indicate that by 2050 we will have to feed each person on Earth with just half as much land devoted to farming as we did in 1960.  JC

11. Impending water shortages

By 2030, four out of ten people worldwide will not be able to access clean water, according to a 2016 U.N. report cited by Alternet. Water shortages have become particularly acute in the Middle East, due to climate change and mismanagement. In response, various countries have been building dams and canals which deprive other countries of water; privatization and illegal wells exacerbate the problem, according to Foreign Policy in Focus, which earlier this month wrote that only international cooperation and water treaties will address the issues. RLS

12. Endangered species even more so

A million species are facing extinction, according to the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which came out this spring. An immense effort involving hundreds of researchers from 50 countries, the Report makes it clear that only intensive intervention worldwide will prevent massive losses to biodiversity, with acute consequences to human life as well. Nonetheless, the Trump administration announced a series of new rules this past week which would significantly weaken the endangered species act. Notably, as the New York Times points out, the new rules go to great lengths to avoid taking account of how the climate crisis might affect endangered species. RLS

If you would like to suggest that Congress take on this threat to endangered species, here is how to contact your legislators.

13. Keeping pesticides away from endangered species

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a rule change affecting the process for approving the use of hazardous chemicals that “may affect” endangered species or critical habitats. The change would make the “may effect” determination more difficult, meaning it would be applied less often. Current practice requires that when the “may affect” determination is made for a specific chemical, the EPA must consult with wildlife agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, to determine the likely impact of a chemical and methods for mitigating that impact. Essentially, this change will shut federal agencies beyond the EPA out of many applications for pesticide use. A group of Attorneys General and affiliated legal and scientific figures from California, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington have submitted a letter opposing the proposed changes. The formal title for this document is “Receipt of a Pesticide Petition Filed for Residues of Pesticide Chemicals in or on Various Commodities for June 2019.” The public comment period ends on September 3. S-HP

If you want to comment on this issue for the public record, here is how to do it.


  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is an excellent source of action items.
  • Americans of Conscience also  recommends this list of actions you can take to support those imprisoned at the border.
  • Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the stories above, but here’s her whole list if you’d like to have it.
  • Martha tells us that there are two particularly alarming items on her list this week: The DOJ “Privacy ACT” on creating a new court database for immigrants to be used by ICE and DHS and the “Implementing Legal Requirements Regarding the Equal Opportunity Clause’s Religious Exemption.” She lists many more policies and rules in process to be aware of.
  • Rogan’s list is on hiatus until after Labor Day, but there are still many useful and topical suggestions on it.
  • Margaret Atwood recommends that you follow @projectdrawdown on Twitter, and indeed it is a great source for the many evidence-based reports that have emerged recently.