In trying to make what sense we can of careening events, we have tried to note the key elements of the Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory, below. We suggest you read at least the end of Fred Kaplan’s commentary on Slate, in which he explains what seems to constitute Trump’s foreign policy. Robin White has a useful analysis of the situation in Syria as well in the New Yorker.
.Once again, we recommend historian Heather Cox Richardson’s nightly summaries. On Sunday she had a clear analysis of the Clinton/Gabbard dust-up and also notes the silences around the refusal of administration officials to honor subpoenas (see story below on the Constitutional crisis we seem to be in).
Even in the face of events like these, other critical events are unfolding. We offer you a selection below, along with ways to engage.
1. Turkey targeting civilians
According to the Red Cross, tens of thousands of civilians in the pathway of the Turkish invasion are at risk. Al Jazeera has stark photographs of people fleeing and the Guardian has vivid descriptions of civilians–dead and injured–being unloaded at hospitals. The ceasefire announced by Pence on Thursday appears only to have given Turkey carte blanche to accumulate and hold territory, CNN reported, quoting an unnamed “senior US official very familiar with operations in Syria” as confirming that the ceasefire was simply “validating what Turkey did and allowing them to annex a portion of Syria and displace the Kurdish population.”
Turkey says that the pause in fighting–which has since resumed, according to Democracy Now–was not a ceasefire, only an opportunity for Kurds to leave the area. Amnesty International, however, says that Turkish forces are committing war crimes, shelling civilians and impeding humanitarian aid. In particular, civilians have come to hospitals with terrible burns suggesting that Turkey is using white phosphorus against them, according to Newsweek. The Secretary General of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo, said that “Turkey’s continued military offensive has driven thousands of already displaced people from what had been places of safe shelter. Turkey’s actions risk hampering the delivery of life-saving assistance and medical aid to those in need, causing a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe in a country already ravaged by war.”
The Kurds have been holding 10,000 Isis fighters and 60,000 family members in detention, the Intercept reports; the conditions for family members have led to the deaths of several hundred children. According to Democracy Now, Trump says that Turkey will take over but experts on the region are alarmed, saying that Isis fighters could escape in the invasion.
The way in which Trump’s decision to cede the territory to Turkey came about has startled many. Mitt Romney had posed the theory that Erdoğan simply announced he was invading and Trump caved. The withdrawal has troubled current and recently retired military officials, the Washington Post reports.
Of particular concern are the 50 nuclear weapons now at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, especially since Erdoğan said recently that he could no longer accept the requirement that Turkey not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, according to the New York Times. Turkey is a signer on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Writing for Slate, Fred Kaplan explains how those nukes got there and why they are still there.
Among Trump’s chilling remarks on the situation in Syria was “We’ve taken control of the oil in the Middle East … the oil that everybody was worried about.” Heather Cox Richardson, the historian who produces reasoned nightly commentaries on the most recent events, asks who “we” refers to. As she puts it, “I have spent hours today researching the oil industry in the region and can come up with no scenario in which the US has gained control of oil in the course of the past ten days. The country that has gained control of oil fields is Russia.” In speaking of “we,” the president apparently meant Russia.
Nancy Pelosi is leading a bipartisan delegation to Jordan for a meeting on security in the area, according to Axios, in particular to talk with Jordanian officials about the issue of Isis fighters, the Washington Post reports. RLS
The House passed a resolution 354-60 condemning Trump for the troop withdrawal, but the Senate refused to consider it. If you want to suggest that your senator revisit the question, contact information is here.
2. Trudeau campaign undermined by fake news
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau is in a tight race against the Conservatives’ Andrew Scheer, with the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh making an unexpectedly strong showing. A website in Buffalo, the Buffalo Chronicle is regularly putting out disinformation about Trudeau, among other things that he paid millions to suppress reports of sexual misconduct. The story–debunked by multiple reliable sources–was widely shared on Facebook, which refuses to take it down. RLS
Avaaz is running a petition asking the RCMP to investigate. The election is October 21.
3. Indigenous protesters in Ecuador stop bad IMF deal
Indigenous people in Ecuador forced the government to restore fuel subsidies and reject an International Monetary Fund loan, after two weeks of protests in which eight people were killed and more than two thousand were arrested and/or wounded, according to Democracy Now. Protestors were resisting austerity measures to be imposed in order to meet IMF requirements, the Washington Post reported. Salaries for public workers would also have been cut to pay the IMF, Common Dreams noted. New proposals to address Ecuador’s economic issues will soon be under discussion. Jacobin has an excellent backgrounder on the situation underlying the conflict and in particular on the choices President Lenín Moreno has made that undermined previous successes in addressing inequality. RLS
4. Muslim ban keeps 31,000 people out of the US
Over thirty-one thousand people have been denied entry to the U.S. under Trump’s Muslim ban, according to CNN and the Root. During the first 11 months of the ban, visitors and immigrants from the Muslin majority countries Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen—along with Venezuela and North Korea—have been prohibited from entering, with a small percentage admitted on appeal. The Supreme Court permitted the ban to be implemented last December.
In April, Democrats in both houses introduced “No Ban Bills,” but they are not expected to pass in the Senate. CNN quoted House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, as saying, “The Muslim ban has not made us safer. It has weakened our standing in the world and runs contrary to our country’s moral and philosophical foundation. The United States has always been, and must continue to be, a place that welcomes and embraces people of all religions and nationalities.” RLS
If you want to write your representatives about the Muslim ban, addresses are here.
5. Refusal to honor subpoenas a Constitutional crisis
How many administration figures and government agencies are refusing to provide House committees with material they have a right to access under the Constitution—some of them refusing even when that information has been subpoenaed? Let’s see… Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Secretary Mike Pompeo and the Department of State, Attorney General William Barr and the [ironically named, it appears] Department of Justice, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary Rick Perry and the Department of Energy, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Pentagon, Director Russ Vought and the Office of Management and Budget, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, and no doubt some others, according to the New York Times.
Given the breadth of this refusal to cooperate with Constitutional authority, let’s call the situation what it is—a Constitutional crisis. We have a Constitution. That Constitution and its provisions have been repeatedly violated. If a country with which the U.S. was on less-than-friendly terms had an executive branch so flagrantly violating both Constitution and the legislative branch, we would be denouncing this recalcitrance as a threat to global security and proof that that country’s government was illegitimate. S-HP
If you’d like to remind legislators and administration figures about the significance of the Constitution and their obligations to it, here is a list.
6. No relief from crushing student loans
As NBC News points out, 1 in 5 American adults is paying off student debt—debt that totals $1.6 trillion nationally (yes, that’s trillion with a t). “Sallie Mae” used to be a federally chartered organization processing government loans, but in 2004 it was privatized and now offers private loans, although some Sallie Mae employees also process separate federal loans. Some borrowers have found paying off their debt particularly difficult because, while they thought they were applying for low-interest Federal loans, they have wound up with higher-interest, variable-rate private loans.
Meanwhile, Sallie Mae has celebrated a record year of 374,000 student loans processed, which total $5 billion. The organization celebrated by flying more than 100 of its employees to the Fairmont on Wailea Beach in Maui. Ray Quinlan, CEO of Sallie Mae, did tell NBC that this Hawaii stay was not an “incentive trip.” Rather, it was “a sales get-together for all of our salespeople.” Quinlan also pointed out Sallie Mae has been funding such trips since its founding in the 1972.
A number of pieces of legislation before Congress could address some of the problems with student loans. Among the most significant are H.R.3887, the Student Loan Debt Relief Act of 2019, which would eliminate up to $50,000 in student debt for every person with a gross household income under $100,000, and H.R.3257, the Student Loan Fairness Act, which would set maximums on the proportion of a borrower’s income that could be assigned to student loan debt payments and provides the opportunity for $45,000 of student loan debt to be cancelled once a borrower has made ten years of consecutive loan payments. H.R.3887 is currently with the House Education and Labor, Ways and Means, and Judiciary Committees. H.R.3257 is currently with the House Education and Labor, Financial Services, and Ways and Means Committees. S-HP
You can let key committee chairs know that you’d like to see these bills pass. Addresses are here.
7. Free lunches at risk under proposed policy
Three million people could lose access to food stamps and one million children could lose their free lunches, according to a Department of Agriculture analysis, if a Trump proposal goes through. Children who receive food stamps automatically have access to free lunches—so application paperwork does not become a barrier, the New York Times explains. Trump sees it as problematic that currently, people whose income is 200% of the poverty line have access to food assistance. In a rare moment of reconsideration, the administration has re-opened public comment on the proposal—just for 14 days. RLS
You can write an official comment on this proposal: the deadline is November 1. Be sure to include the rule title; instructions and addresses are here.
8. New Trump proposal could bankrupt Medicare
Trump has issued an executive order aimed at requiring Medicare to pay amounts equal to those private insurers pay for services, rather than negotiating lower prices for Medicare recipients. This is a move that genuinely could bankrupt Medicare. The language of the executive order frequently cites the “threat” of Medicare-for-All to consumer choice, the LA Times reports. In the executive order, Trump explains his rationale, claiming that the changes will “modify Medicare FFS [fee-for-service] payments to more closely reflect the prices paid for services in MA [Medicare Advantage] and the commercial insurance market, to encourage more robust price competition, and otherwise to inject market pricing into Medicare FFS reimbursement.” How forcing Medicare to pay higher reimbursements will lower healthcare costs is a conundrum that defies logic. At some point, this should be posted as a federal rule change on which we can make official comments, but for now we can seek opposition to this change from our Congressmembers. S-HP
Addresses for members of Congress are here.
9. LGBTQ rights at risk
The rights of LGBTQ Americans are particularly vulnerable at the present moment. A federal judge has overturned health protections for transgender individuals that were part of the Affordable Care Act. The conservative-heavy Supreme Court recently heard arguments on whether or not the Civil Rights Act covers job discrimination against LGBTQ workers. S-HP.
Since we do not have a way to pressure the Supreme Court, urging your members of Congress to pass legislation is the next route toward preserving LGBTQ rights.
10. “Religious freedom” rule upheld
On Tuesday, federal judge Reed O’Connor in the Northern District of Texas ruled against a regulation under Obama Care that prohibited healthcare providers from denying care based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, or pregnancy termination, reports the Hill. O’Connor, who had previously ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, said that the regulation violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The ruling will likely be appealed. JM-L
11. Refugees: Not in our town
An executive order announced by the Trump administration on September 26 requires both state and local governments to consent in writing before refugees can be placed in their jurisdictions. As Forbes explains “Donald Trump’s new executive order appears designed to give veto power over resettling refugees to people who don’t like refugees and elected officials willing to play on those fears…. The executive order could play out in ways that might be characterized as ‘ugly.’ If several African refugee families have been resettled in a town in recent years, some residents could organize and argue to local or state officeholders against new admissions. Some people may not want anyone from the Middle East – or Asian or Jewish refugees – to live near them. The executive order may provide a government-sanctioned outlet for personal animosity toward foreign-born individuals and families.”
The order would also seriously undercut sanctuary legislation on the state and local level. This executive order probably violates existing law—at least if refusals by states or cities target specific refugee groups—but nonetheless promises another long-term court battle of the kind this administration is continually provoking. The Secretaries of State and of Health & Human Services have been directed to implement this new policy in the next 90 days. S-HP
If you object to implementation of this order, here are addresses for whom to write.
12. British family detained for 11 days after accidental detour into US
A British family–two couples, two young children and a 3 month old baby–were held in US Immigration custody for eleven nights, after crossing the US/Canadian border accidentally while vacationing in British Columbia, according to NPR. They were held at a family detention center in Pennsylvania, where they complained of inadequate facilities, including a lack of heat and infant-care supplies. They had a visa waiver to visit the US, the New York Times reported. One of the parents told the Times, “No one should have to suffer this kind of treatment. This would never happen in the United Kingdom to U.S. citizens, or anyone else, because people there are treated with dignity.” JM-L
13. Fewer families to be eligible for public housing
Federal rules changes have been proposed affecting how the Department of Housing and Urban Development would determine eligibility for public housing (also referred to as “means testing”). The changes are abstruse, but boil down to requiring a broader examination of “assets” and financial records in ways that would reduce the number of families qualifying for such assistance. S-HP
If you want to write an official comment about these changes, the instructions are here.
14. Cummings’ last work
Hours before his death, the late Elijah Cummings (D-MD) signed subpoenas relating to the policy shift around delayed deportations for immigrants and visitors who were in the U.S. for treatment of medical conditions when treatments were not available in their home countries. In August, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services sent letters to family members reversing the policy that undocumented visitors might stay to complete their treatment and telling them they would be deported. As CNN reports, a House oversight committee could not get USCIS to explain the origins or rationale for the policy. The testimony resulting from Cummings’ subpoenas may bring clarity. RLS
Share your appreciation for Cummings’ commitment to justice and an America that serves all: Family and Colleagues of Elijah Cummings, 1010 Park Ave, Suite 105, Baltimore, MD 2120
15. Voter purges undermining fair elections
Many state governments are trying to limit access to the right to vote by passing laws allowing regular voter purges. Most states that purge voting rolls, however, are not particularly transparent about the purge process, leaving people who wish to vote disenfranchised and making mistaken purges difficult to spot and rectify.
Ohio offers a case in point. According to the New York Times, Ohio had a list of 235,000 people it proposed to purge from voter rolls, but it did send the list of those who would be purged to voting advocacy groups, including the League of Women Voters. What these groups found in working their way through this massive database is that the list included around 40,000 people, roughly 17%, who should not have been purged under the state’s own rules. One of those slated for purging was Jen Miller, the Ohio Director of the League of Women Voters, who told the New York Times, “I voted three times last year. I don’t like to think how many other individuals this has happened to.” S-HP
If you want to urge your members of Congress to initiate or act on bills intended to preserve election security, here are addresses.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
16. Terminology around climate matters
The Guardian has taken the lead in describing the climate situation with more precision, declaring that “climate emergency” or “climate crisis” are to be used instead of “climate change.” When a specific mechanism is in operation, the publication suggests we use exact terminology when possible. It further recommends using “climate science denier” or “climate denier” rather than “climate sceptic,” and that we use “wildlife,” not “biodiversity” and “fish populations” instead of “fish stocks,” as being more respectful of our fellow creatures. RLS
17. Environmental destruction as a war crime
Calls have been made for a Fifth Geneva Convention for the past two decades. The Fifth Convention would define particular kinds of environmental destruction as war crimes, attempting to protect the planet, in addition to people, during times of war, Global Citizen explains. As Nature reports, “military conflict continues to destroy megafauna, push species to extinction and poison water resources.” It also allows for easier global distribution of arms that can lead to “unsustainable hunting of wildlife.” S-HP
If you want to advocate for this proposal, here’s how.
18. Farmers coping with climate crisis ignored by Department of Ag
Farmers suffering from the consequences of the climate crisis have received almost no help from the Department of Agriculture. Earlier this fall, a “bomb cyclone” in the Midwest destroyed crops and livestock, ruined stored grain and meant that 20 million acres could not be planted. Extreme weather and fires elsewhere in the country have been financially catastrophic, but the Agriculture Department devotes only 0.3 percent of its $144 billion budget to helping farmers cope with climate issues, according to Politico. Though it offers resources—called “hubs”—most farmers are not aware of them because the political atmosphere in the USDA is so hostile to any discussion that relates to climate. Thus, changes in farming strategies that might help them adapt are unavailable to them. The Politico story has a wealth of documentation and the detailed backstory on the silences on climate. RLS
If you would like to urge key committee chairs to make sure that farmers have the information they need, here are the addresses.
- The Americas of Conscience Checklist has a set of clear, important actions you can take on various issues, from election security to immigration to women’s safety.
- Amy Siskind’s weekly list of not-normal things is once again dis/re-orienting.
- Most of Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the stories above, but other possibilities of particular interest to Californians can be found here.
- Rogan’s list suggests whom you might contact about oil production, the situation of the Kurds, the Turkish invasion, the Democratic silence on the climate crisis, and much more.
- Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record. She notes that there seems to be a good deal of behind the scenes rewriting of manuals and regulations, so a “proposed rule” is not always announced. She observes, too, the persistent undoing of the Clean Air Act. Her list has other Alaska anti-environmental proposals as well, available for comment.
- Our colleague Chrysostom offers an election round-up news and polls from the House, Senate and states, as well as the latest on election security.