News You May Have Missed: October 6, 2019

With a second whistleblower having emerged and more appeals to foreign government being reported, the plot continues to curdle around the impeachment investigation (see last week’s post below for a complete run-down, packed with sources). In this new(s) atmosphere, it can be hard to know what to read. This week we recommend:

♦ “Unfit for Office,” a meticulous piece in the Atlantic by George Conway, the attorney who is famously married to Kellyanne Conway, who since 2017 has advised the president.

♦ Heather Cox Richardson’s Facebook posts. Richardson is a professor of History at Boston College who has been producing lucid reports and analyses of recent events. Her posts are public and she’ll help you catch up without being overwhelmed.

Do keep up with our colleague Crysostom’s summaries of elections news; you’ll be amazed by what is going on under the radar.


1. The NRA-Russsia connection

The National Rifle Association (NRA) apparently connected Russian officials with American elected officials in exchange for profitable business deals for NRA leaders. An investigation by Senate Finance Committee Democrats found that top officials at the NRA used the organization’s financial resources—largely collected via member dues—to curry favor with Russians. These activities included an NRA leadership trip to Russia, the NRA arranging meetings between Russians and elected officials, and lucrative business deals between NRA leadership and Russians. The NRA also paid for lodging and travel of Russian nationals throughout 2015 and 2016, as part of a relationship that supported foreign actors looking to influence the U.S. elections.

NBC News reports that “Former NRA President David Keene and his wife, Donna Keene, organized the trip [to Russia] with the promise of new business opportunities by the Russians, including access to a Russian arms manufacturer that was under U.S. sanctions….” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking member of the Finance Committee that conducted the investigation, said that the NRA may have violated numerous tax laws. “The NRA,” he said, “has abused its tax-exempt status and essentially become a business enterprise that its board members and leadership use for lucrative personal business opportunities, including in Moscow.’”

More recently, according to the New York Times, Trump and NRA head Wayne LaPierre met at the White House for a discussion that included both ways the NRA might help Trump fight the current impeachment inquiry and Trump could help prevent action on gun reform. The NRA has responded to the New York Times story, claiming the meeting did not include any “quid pro quo” arrangements.

If you want to see the NRA’s political activities, its relationship with Trump, and its tax-exempt status fully investigated, tell your members of Congress.

2. Who should recuse himself?

Attorney General Barr’s conduct related to the whistleblower’s complaint and the Mueller Report and intelligence investigations have been deeply concerning, according to the New Yorker. He has repeatedly misrepresented his own actions and the Department of Justice’s decision-making process; he has also repeatedly refused Congress access to materials to which the Constitution grants them access. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had the professional ethics to recuse himself at the slightest suggestion of a conflict of interest in the Russia investigation. Barr is certainly equally compromised, both in terms of the Russia investigation and the new impeachment investigation regarding interactions between the Trump administration and Ukraine. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect Barr to at least match Sessions’ (not all that high) level of ethical behavior in his role as Attorney General. S-HP

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has admitted that he was on the infamous phone call in which Trump asked the Ukrainian president to intervene in the election by digging up dirt on Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son, MSNBC reports. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has asked him to recuse himself from any Ukraine-related issue.

Should Barr and Pompeo recuse themselves from the impeachment investigation? Let them know!

3. Blocking asylum-seekers

“This Week in Terrible Immigration News” on the Current Affairs website outlines many of the means by which the Trump administration is trying to limit both the number of asylum claims and the actual granting of asylum. Among the moves the administration is attempting:

  • -Make indefinite detention the norm for all asylum seekers, including children, and extend that detention throughout the entire asylum proceeding.
  • -Close legal ports of entry for asylum seekers while refusing to process asylum claims for those who enter the U.S. at a point that is not an official port of entry.
  • –Force all asylum seekers not from Mexico to remain in Mexico for the duration of their asylum proceeding, while simultaneously making it illegal for asylum seekers not from Mexico to travel through Mexico in their journey to seek asylum.
  • -Reverse precedents giving rights to asylum seekers. S-HP

Do you have something to say to Democratic candidates and congressmembers about these ongoing efforts to block pathways to asylum? Addresses are here.

4. Legal immigrants denied entry without health insurance

In addition to blocking those seeking asylum, Trump is trying to cut the number of immigrants overall. His latest strategy is a requirement that people already approved to immigrate legally must be able to show that they will have health insurance within 30 days of arriving in the country, either through a family member or an employer, or that they are wealthy enough to cover the costs of any healthcare expenses that might arise. As the Washington Post explains, the measure is clearly designed to cut the numbers of immigrants who have been waiting to join family members in the United States. RLS

If you want to speak up about this policy, which is clearly designed to prevent family reunification, you can write to the addresses here.

5. US wants to delay approval of asylum-seekers’ work permits

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has submitted notice of a federal rules change that would eliminate the requirement that asylum seekers’ initial work permit applications be processed within 30 days. According to Immigration Forum, if implemented, this rule change is apt to have a number of negative consequences. It will limit asylum seekers’ ability to find legal work and encourage participation in “under the table” employment; will lower tax revenues, due to the drop in legally employed asylum seekers; will make it more difficult for businesses to hire workers with needed skills; and will facilitate exploitation of asylum seekers. S-HP

If you want to speak up about this proposed rule change and its likely consequence, here is how you can get your comment on the public record.

6. Workers unsafe at poultry processing plants

ProPublica and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have published a piece on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s issuing of line speed-up approvals to eleven poultry-processing plants, most of which have significant histories of worker injuries and deaths. How has the speed-up affected worker safety? We may never know because the Trump administration has ended a requirement that plants share their injury records with the government. Chicken processing plants in general have worse safety records than both coal mines and construction sites (workplaces typically viewed as hazardous) because workers are required to use extremely sharp knives at top speed with both these knives and other processing-line blades only inches from their hands. ProPublica and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution note, “Scientific studies, including both government-funded and industry-sponsored, have established that going faster worsens the risk of repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. There is also evidence that feeling rushed or struggling to keep up with the work pace are factors in traumatic injuries.” S-HP

You can speak up about poultry processing line speeds!

7. Auditing the poor

The past spring, ProPublica reported that IRS audit rates are comparable for the working poor and the top 1%, which is counterintuitive, since tax fraud by the wealthy is much more apt than similar activities by the poor to affect government income from taxation. This led Congressmembers to question IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig regarding this IRS practice and to ask for a plan to fix the “imbalanced balance.” Rettig sent a report to Congress, but said that any decrease in audits of low-income taxpayers and increase in audits of wealthier taxpayer could not be undertaken unless the funds that have been cut from the IRS in the past nine years were restored. The reasoning? It’s easier to audit the poor. These audits can be done by low-level employees and are often pursued via mail, rather than in-person meetings. Auditing the rich is hard. The tax filings are more complex and must be done by higher-level employees—and the IRS has had difficulty retaining employees at this level. According to ProPublica, “[Senator Ron] Wyden [D-OR] agreed in a statement that the IRS needs more money, ‘but that does not eliminate the need for the agency to begin reversing the alarming trend of plummeting audit rates of the wealthy within its current budget.’” S-HP

You can speak up about the importance of auditing the rich. Here’s how.

8. Voting security at risk again

At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised to hear about vulnerabilities in U.S. voting machines. The U.S. has no national cybersecurity requirements for voting machines, and vulnerabilities have been documented for years. In fact, some existing weaknesses were originally spotted as much as a decade ago. We also know about ongoing attempts by foreign governments to hack our voting systems, though the Hill thinks that the machines themselves are a higher security risk. Wired recently reported on Defcon Voting Village, a once-a-year gathering of hackers who attempt to compromise election machinery to identify its vulnerabilities so they can be addressed. The weaknesses they found included poor physical security protections, easily guessable hardcoded system credentials, potential for operating system manipulation, and vulnerabilies to remote attacks that could compromise the functioning of systems or bar access to those systems. S-HP

If you are concerned about cybersecurity for voting machines, you can address these officials.


9. How fracking endangers health

Fracking endangers both the environment and human health, and is associated with birth defects, cancer and asthma, among other health problems, according to a recent report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, which pulled together the results of 1700 studies. Pregnant women in areas where fracking is prevalent are at “higher risk for poor birth outcomes, including premature birth, certain kinds of birth defects and small-for-date births—infants born small for the number of months of pregnancy,” PRI noted. Sandra Steingraber, who worked on the study, said that there was no regulatory framework to deal with the issues. “In other words,” she said, “there’s no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly or without imperiling climate stability, on which public health, of course, depends.” A 2015 study from the previous EPA demonstrated the danger that fracking poses to drinking water, contaminating water at various stages in the process. RLS

If you want your congress members to address the issue of fracking, here are their addresses.

10. US cities bracing for hundred-year floods–annually

Some island countries and several U.S. cities–including Los Angeles, Miami, Savannah, Honolulu, San Juan, Key West and San Diego–can expect “hundred-year floods” annually if the release of greenhouse gasses continues at the present rate, according to a recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), summarized by the Washington Post. Oceans will rise by several feet by the end of the century; warming oceans have already damaged coral reefs and led to increasingly destructive storms. Science Alert quoted UN Secretary General António Guterres as saying at the most recent climate summit, “Even our language has to adapt: What once was called ‘climate change’ is now truly a ‘climate crisis.’ … We are seeing unprecedented temperatures, unrelenting storms and undeniable science.” RLS

11. Who funds climate deniers?

Meanwhile, the Smithsonian Magazine has identified who funds the climate deniers–and it’s not just Coors and Koch, along with associated billionaires donating through donor trusts, which keep their identities secret. The Vanguard Foundation, a progressive charitable organization, and the Annenberg Foundation, which funds all manner of arts organizations and community groups, are both on the list. The article links to a 2013 study by Robert Brule and published in Climatic Change; Brule explains exactly how the movement to suppress climate change knowledge evolved and who funded it. RLS

If you want to speak up about this, you could write the foundations listed in the article. And you could remind people in Washington that the climate crisis needs to be addressed–now.


  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has many clear, positive actions that you can take this week.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list is always worth reviewing, as there are usually a few items that haven’t made it into our summaries.
  • Rogan’s list has a series of excellent action items and resources.
  • Martha’s list this week is a compenium of policy changes and proposed changes that affect the environment, public safety, individual rights–and more. Read through it for an education into the fine print of all that is going on. She offers opportunities to comment for the public record as well.