News You May Have Missed: October 13, 2019

Foreign policy too often seems brutal, thoughtless, short-sighted. But Trump’s latest move–to permit Turkey to invade the Kurdish-held territory of Syria, with no provision for security of Isis fighters and family members the Kurds were holding, no plan for the safety of civilians and no thought for the Kurds themelves who had battled Isis and served as a US ally–is beyond comprehension. Historian Heather Cox Richardon has a useful, if chilling, summary on her Facebook page.


1. Turkey invades Kurdish-held areas of Syrian. Isis prisoners escape.

100,000 people have fled the Turkish invasion of northern Syrian and numerous civilians have been killed or injured in the fighting between Turkish forces and Syrian Kurdish fighters, who had been essential to the battle to defeat Isis, according to the AP. Last week, Trump—confounding even his loyalists—told Turkish president Erdogan that he would move US forces out of the area and allow the assault. According to Al Jazeera, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) called Trump’s decision “a stab in the back.”

Absurdly, Trump tried to justify his betrayal of the Kurds saying, ‘they didn’t help us in the Second World War. They didn’t help us in Normandy.’ The Washington Post points out that the U.S. is aligned now with various countries who were enemies during WW II, and that the Kurds did not have a state then (or now), so could not assist as a state. Nonetheless, many Kurds opposed the Nazis and fought them with the British and Soviet armies.”

In addition:

  • Havrin Khalaf, a Kurdish politician and advocate for women’s rights, was killed during the Turkish invasion. Some factions claim that she—along with her driver—was killed by Turkish forces while others say she was killed by Isis, according to Rudaw, an Iraqi Kurdish publication.
  • Five Isis militants were broken out of a Syrian prison during the fighting, while twenty Isis women attacked officials at a camp in Syria, the Independent reported; Isis also claimed responsibility for a car bombing. On Sunday morning, hundreds of Isis families appeared to have left a detention camp, according to the Washington Post. The Independent noted the warning of a Kurdish official “that Isis detainees could break out of detention as Kurdish-led security forces confront the Turkish offensive and their ability to guard detainees is weakened.”
  • Democracy Now points out that among the terrible losses in this invasion is that of Rojava, a progressive democracy in Kurdish territory based on feminist principles.
  • In desperation, as of October 14 the Kurds seem to have forged an alliance with the Russian and Syrian governments, changing the dynamics of the regions, according to the New York Times. RLS

If you want to speak up about this incomprehensible turn of events, here are some suggestions.

2. China’s sexual abuse of Muslim women

Muslim minority women in China, including Uighurs, Kazakhs, and others who have taken refuge in Kazakhstan, report having been raped, sexually tormented, forcibly implanted with contraceptive devices and forced to have abortions while in China. Aiman Umarova, a Kazakh human rights advocate, told the Independent that “Sexually violating women, including stopping them from reproducing, has become a weapon for China against its Muslim population.”

Over a million Muslims have been detained in re-education camps for the last two years. Even Muslim countries have been reluctant to object to the treatment of women. The U.S. is blacklisting some police departments and eight companies involved in the production of surveillance equipment because they do business in Xinjiang, in northwestern China, which Uighurs live and are detained. The blacklist would prevent them from obtaining US-made electronics, the New York Times reports. Mike Pompeo also announced that Chinese officials suspected of detaining or abusing Uighurs will have their visas restricted.

Meanwhile, The China Tribunal has told the UN Human Rights Commission that China has been killing members of political minorities and extracting their organs, according to the Independent. The Tribunal says it has clear evidence that members of the Falun Gong group have been targets, and possibly the Uighur Muslims as well. A number of countries have already outlawed organ tourism to China, and a bill in the UK is pending. RLS

If you want to urge the Secretary of State and Senate leadership to pressure China on its treatment of Muslim women, here are the addresses.

3. Genocide against Brazil’s Indigenous people

A group of experts has warned that “genocide is underway” against Brazil’s indigenous peoples as President Bolsonaro attempts to undercut indigenous rights and to open significant portions of the Amazon rain forest to mining and large-scale agriculture. According to EcoWatch, the letter was issued after the firing of the coordinator for uncontacted tribes, Bruno Pereira, and warns that “this upheaval [as a result of Pereira’s firing] will provoke the genocide of uncontacted and recently contacted indigenous people.”

At the same time, the Brazilian Mining Minister, Bento Albuquerque has announced that “draft legislation to allow mining and agriculture on indigenous lands should be ready later this month.” Brazil has more uncontacted indigenous tribes than any other country and the policy, at least on paper, has been to forbid contact with these tribes and to leave the areas of the Amazon rainforest they inhabit untouched. In practice, there were 111 documented incursions into indigenous territories during 2018. That number since Bolsonaro took office in January, 2019, has jumped to 160, which suggests that by the end of this year there may have been as many as 240 incursions. S-HP

If you would like to see the Secretary of State and heads of appropriate congressional committees take up this issue, here are the names of whom to contact.


4. Some Trump anti-immigrant initiatives blocked

Several of Trump’s more egregious immigration policies have been blocked in court. In refusing to allow the Trump administration to keep children incarcerated for longer than the 20 days provided for in the Flores agreement, Judge Dolly Gee of Federal District Court for the Central District of California called the government’s reasoning “Kafkaesque.” The judge’s ruling–a response to a lawsuit by the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, will likely be appealed, the NY Times reports.

In addition, the so-called “public charge rule,” which would deny visas and green cards to immigrants whom the government thinks might use public benefits, was blocked by Judge George Daniels of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, as well as by judges in San Francisco (in response to lawsuits by Northern California counties) and Washington State, according to CBS News. The “public charge” rule has already had an impact on immigrant communities, with enrollment in the Affordable Care Act dropping and parents declining food and other assistance for their citizen children.

However, the American Immigration Lawyers Association says that a state department official says they plan to implement the public charge rule on October 15 anyway, despite the injunctions. RLS

5. Dangers to disabled and LGBTQ asylum-seekers in Mexico

Under Trump administration policy, asylum-seekers have been forced to stay in Mexico, rather than entering the U.S. to begin the asylum application process, as is the norm under international law. With over 50,000 asylum-seekers currently forced to stay in Mexico, conditions are horrible: overcrowded, with improvised and inadequate housing, food scarcity, and violence, including rape, kidnapping, and torture.

As highlighted by Presidential candidate Julian Castro, these conditions are particularly dangerous for disabled and LGBTQ asylum-seekers, who can be seen as easy targets for assault. On October 7, as the LA Times reported, Castro led a group of eight lesbian and gay asylum-seekers from Cuba, Guatemala, and Honduras, along with a deaf asylum-seeker from El Salvador and three of her family members. While this action helped highlight the situation at the border, it did not lead to any change in status for the asylum-seekers accompanying Castro, who were all returned to Mexico by the end of the day. S-HP.

If you think that asylum-seekers who are LGBTQ, disabled or children should be able to wait for their hearings in the United States, here is whom to write.

6. Immigrants following legal process deported after marriage interviews

There’s a new twist in the administration’s anti-immigrant moves. Married couples with one partner who is a citizen or legal resident and another who is not must come in for “marriage interviews,” part of the process of gaining legal status for the partner without it. Now federal agents are arresting and deporting undocumented individuals leaving their marriage interviews, even when the result of the interview was positive, according to NBC News. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a pair legal cases in response to this move. The best-known suit involves six couples from Maryland, all of whom have been separated immediately after marriage interviews. The ACLU is pursuing a similar complaint in Massachusetts and says similar detentions have occurred in New York, Virginia, Florida, Illinois, and California. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the detention and deportation of immigrants following legal procedures, write your representatives.

7. Challenges to for-profit detention centers

According to a report from PBS and the Associated Press, Comprehensive Health Services (CHS), the company that runs the children’s migrant detention center in Homestead, Florida, has received almost $300 million in contracts to shelter migrant children, compared to $1.3 million they received in 2015. In June, 20% of children in immigration custody were in CHS centers. CHS currently operates six detention facilities, including three “tender age” shelters that house infants and toddlers. CHS is also working to establish a facility in El Paso that could house up to 500 individuals. There are currently some 5,100 children housed in private immigration detention facilities. California Governor Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, has just signed legislation that will lead to an end of all state contracts with privately run prisons and immigration detention centers. S-HP

If you want to thank Governor Newsom and urge your representatives to close for-profit detention centers everywhere, here are some addresses.

8. Billionaires pay taxes at lower rate than workers

The Washington Post, using information from the recently published report The Triumph of Injustice, has reported that in 2018, the super-rich paid a lower tax rate than working class (in this case the bottom 50% of all Americans). In 1960, the typical tax rate for the wealthiest 400 families in the U.S. was 56%. By 1980, that had dropped to 47%. This year, that had plummeted to 23%—less than the typical 24.2% paid by the bottom half of households. S-HP

If you have something to say about the current rate of taxation, you can write to your senators and representatives at these addresses.

9. Betsy DeVos facing jail time?

In June, 2018, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim issued a ruling that blocked the U.S. Department of Education from pursuing collection on student debts for former students at Corinthian Colleges, Inc. Corinthian filed for bankruptcy protection in the face of multiple investigations for fraud. At that time, an agreement was reached allowing Corinthian students with student loan debt to file a form that would prevent additional debt collection and refund monies already collected.

However, as reported in Bloomberg, in early October the Judge discovered that the Department of Education had repeatedly violated that order. In fact, more than 16,000 former Corinthian students had been contacted by the Department of Education and incorrectly informed that they had payments due on their student loans. At least 1,800 of those former students had wages or taxes garnished by the Department of Education. Judge Kim warned Department of Education lawyers, “At best it [the failure to stop collecting these student debts] is gross negligence, at worst it’s an intentional flouting of my order. According to Newsweek, Judge Kim is now in the process of deciding whether to find Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in contempt of court, which could lead to the Secretary serving jail time. S-HP

Do you think Betsy DeVos should resign? If so, you can tell her so here.

9. Russian interference in election confirmed; McConnell still resists election security

The GOP-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a report affirming that Russian operatives made significant use of social media to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to provide support to “Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin,” according to the New York Times. The goal of this social media campaign was to alienate significant proportions of the American electorate so that they would choose not to go to the polls. African Americans were the most frequent targets.

The Senate investigation also determined that this interference via social media continued—at an even greater rate—after the election. Richard Burr the Republican head of the committee has explained, “Russia in engaging in an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election.” This social media interference was facilitated by the fact that U.S. election laws do not require the disclosure of the funders of online political advertisements. The Senate Intelligence Committee report comes at a time when virtually all election-related legislation has been blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, despite the House’s passage of a number of pieces of legislation addressing the subject. S-HP

If you are inclined to write to McConnell and the Senate Intelligence Committee about election security, you can do so at these addresses.

10. Impeach Kavanaugh?

If you’re still disturbed by the hurried confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice last year, you’ll be interested to know about H.Res.560, a resolution currently before the House of Representatives calling for investigation of possible impeachment of Kavanaugh. This legislation currently has 14 cosponsors, including Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Jimmy Panetta is not among the cosponsors. H.Res.560 is currently with the House Rules Committee. S-HP.

If you would like the House to pass H.Res.560 and begin impeachment proceedings to look into Kavanaugh’s possible perjury during those hearings, you can write the Chair of the Rules committee here.


11. Mass-produced fake comments

Millions of comments for the public record were submitted around the net-neutrality debate—and oddly, given that public opinion polls showed strong support for net neutrality, the comments swung the other way. Of the 22 million comments submitted, 9.5 million were fake, according to the New York Attorney General’s investigation. The FCC [Federal Communications Commission] demolished net-neutrality regulations anyway, a huge gift to big broadband companies.

How could that many fake comments be produced? An investigation by Buzzfeed found that “In a key part of the puzzle, two little-known firms, Media Bridge and LCX Digital, working on behalf of industry group Broadband for America, misappropriated names and personal information as part of a bid to submit more than 1.5 million statements favorable to their cause.” Both companies have been involved in other campaigns, overwhelming public agencies with their submissions; LCX digital is associated with Christian right strategist Ralph Reed, who was also working for Broadband for America, and with right-wing political consultant Mary Cheney. Many of the emails used came from the Modern Business Solutions data breach, Buzzfeed found. Several million pro-net neutrality comments were also identical sentences from suspect addresses. RLS

If you would like to write the chair of the FCC and the congressional committees with oversight over the FCC, here are the addresses.

12. Herbicide plus other triggers leads to aggressive breast cancer, study shows

The commonly used herbicide glyphosate has been shown to cause tumor growth when combined with oxidative stress–“a chemical reaction that results from aging, diet, smoking, and alcohol,” researchers wrote in Frontiers in Genetics. Scientists from the Purdue Center for Cancer Research and an institute in France found that glyphosate alone did not cause breast cancer, but alarmingly, the combination led to an especially aggressive form of breast cancer, luminal B, found in younger women.

Glyphosate was also linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma in a 2017 meta-analysis, Science Direct reported then. In 2015, the EPA found that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic while in 2017, the EPA declared it “not carcinogenic,” according to Indiana Environmental Reporter.

The lead scientist, Sophie Lelièvre,  a professor of cancer pharmacology in Purdue, said,  “Showing that glyphosate can trigger tumor growth, when combined with another frequently observed risk, is an important missing link when it comes to determining what causes cancer.” RLS


  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has a number of well-focused action suggestions for voter empowerment and election security.
  • Amy Siskind’s list of not-normal events for week 151 is particularly illuminating this week.
  • Sarah-Hope’s complete list is at this site, though her action items follow the stories above.
  • On her list, Martha calls our attention to item 7 under “NEW”; SEC is massively undoing Dodd-Frank in ways which would de-regulate banks. There are numerous other opportunities to weigh in on proposals to open wilderness areas to roads, lower environmental standards, much more.
  • Rogan’s list for Monday has a number of good opportunities to comment.
  • Our colleague Chrysostom’s column on elections is on hiatus this week; check it out in a few days.