We hope that all of our California readers–and your households and animals–are safe from fire and smoke. For context on the fires, see the story on PG&E below.
Since you won’t have missed the news about Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, we simply want to recommend that you read Heather Cox Richardson’s post on the subject. She collects the troubling moments about the announcement–that the scene in the situation room was apparently staged, that Trump did not notify Congress as required by law. Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria jeopardized the whole operation, says the New York Times. Three of al-Baghdadi’s children were killed in the raid; 11 were saved.
Tune in to election issues at the federal and state level by reading our colleague Chrysostom’s posts. Other sources of information and opportunities for action are under the Resources tab and below.
1. Documented: Children abused in ICE custody
Children have described being beaten while handcuffed, being run over by ATVs, being bitten by dogs, being forced to strip, and being left in “icebox” rooms nearly naked for hours at a time, according to 35,000 heavily redacted pages documenting claims of Border Patrol abuse of underage asylum seekers between 2009 and 2014 obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) received after a lengthy legal battle. Public radio station KPBS reports that many of these cases have already been “resolved”—at least as far as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are concerned—though civil cases may still be pursued for some. The range of alleged abuses is deeply disturbing and presents a culture of abuse that significantly predates the current administration.
ABC News also reports that, according to the ACLU, another 1,500 children were separated from their families before the June, 2018, ruling barring the practice. When a judge ordered that all separated children be reunited with their families, the administration said that it had identified 2,814 such children. The judge also gave the administration until October 25 to release the names of any additional separated children. The new list of 1,500 children was released by the government on October 24, one day before the legal deadline. That number includes 207 children under the age of 5. CBS News also reported that the administration separated an additional 1,090 children from families since the court ordered an end to the practice, except in limited circumstances. The current number of separated children is now more than 5,400. S-HP
If you want to challenge the detention of young asylum-seekers and speak up about the conditions in which they are held, here is whom you might write.
2. Evidence destroyed in death of trans asylum-seeker
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is one of the federal agencies required to preserve evidence when it anticipates litigation. The death of transgender asylum-seeker Roxsana Hernández while in ICE custody would seem to be such a case. However, Buzzfeed News reports that according to internal emails, ICE chose to delete surveillance footage that included Hernández. What did the footage show? We don’t know—and even if it didn’t document abuse, it could have provided a valuable benchmark of Hernández’s health and physical condition in ICE detention. Lynly Egyes, legal director at the Transgender Law Center, said that CoreCivic, which ran the detention center, and ICE should have anticipated there would be a lawsuit because Hernández’s family requested an independent autopsy that was performed on June 8. “That autopsy alone made it clear there was interest in this case,” Egyes told BuzzFeed News. “When a detainee death review is conducted, it’s important to keep track of all the documents to understand why someone died, and for that reason alone, they should’ve been keeping all of this evidence.” S-HP
To call for a Congressional investigation of this destruction of evidence that should have been preserved under federal law, see this list of whom to write.
3. A million fewer children uninsured
More than one million children disappeared from Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) rolls btween December 2017 and June 2019, 3% of the children who had been insured before that period. Administration officials insist that these children have not lost health insurance, but that their parents now hold jobs through which the children are insured. However, a New York Times analysis of census data shows that “administrative changes aimed at fighting fraud and waste—and rising fears of deportation in immigrant communities—are pushing large numbers of children out of the programs, and that many of them are now going without coverage.” Some of the states with the highest drops in children’s insurance rates are those that have changed coverage rules to require more frequent checks of family eligibility or have reset their lists with new computer programs. Families who are dropped from insurance as a result of one of these checks often don’t realize their status has changed until the insurance is needed and periods for contesting removals are often brief. S-HP
If you want to raise concerns about the number of children covered by Medicaid, you can find your members of Congress here.
4. Fake pique: Republicans had access to testimony
Congressional Republicans continue to fight the impeachment investigation being undertaken by the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Government Reform Committees. In particular, Republican have been complaining about the process for the investigation, claiming that Republicans are being excluded from the process. This is simply untrue. Only members of the investigating committees are allowed to hear testimony, but as with all Congressional committees, members of both parties sit on these three committees. In fact, nearly one quarter of all House Republicans are members of one of those committees. Despite this, on October 23 a group of Republican Representatives stormed a secure room where testimony was scheduled and shut down operations for more than five hours. Eleven of those participating in this act of “resistance” were already members of one of the committees conducting the investigation and had access to the testimony. S-HP
Do you want to ask some of these Republicans what they were thinking? Here is a list.
5. Trump won’t reject “illicit offers” of help
One would think that legislation requiring federal election campaigns to report “illicit offers” of assistance from foreign entities would be a no-brainer. Such assistance is already illegal, and now the House has passed the SHIELD Act, H.R.4617 to mandate reporting. It is not clear, however, whether the Senate will even take this legislation under consideration and Trump has announced that if such legislation is passed by Congress, he will veto it. S-HP
To advocate for safe and fair elections, write your senators–addresses here.
6. Aid to Puerto Rico deliberately delayed
NBC News has reported that “two top officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development admitted at a Congressional hearing [on October 17] that the agency knowingly missed a legally required deadline that would have made desperately needed hurricane relief funding available to Puerto Rico.” That Congressionally mandated deadline would have begun a months-long process of helping Puerto Rico obtain billions in federal housing funds that had already been allocated by Congress to the U.S. territory. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had been directed to notify Puerto Rico and seventeen disaster-affected states of the available funds by September 4, so that each could begin developing methods for distributing the much-needed funding. All of the states were properly notified; Puerto Rico was not. Congress allocated approximately $43 billion in disaster funding for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Two year later, some two-thirds of that funding remains undistributed. S-HP
If you want to advocate that aid for Puerto Rico be released without further delay, here is a list of people to write.
7. California public utility implicated in fires knew its equipment was unsafe
185,000 people are being evacuated in Northern California this weekend, fleeing the uncontrolled 25,500 acre Kincade fire that has ravaged the wine country and contaminated the air for miles around, according to the Press Democrat, the best source on this ongoing story. The fire was apparently sparked by a PG&E high-voltage transformer which had not yet been shut off; PG&E, the local utility has pre-emptively shut off power to nearly a million people in light of expected high winds, according to NPR.
PG&E has known for years that its transmission lines were unsafe but declined to upgrade them, a Wall Street Journal investigation in July revealed. Some of its 8,500 miles of line as well as its towers are a hundred years old; the Journal notes that it did not even have workers climbing the towers to inspect them and that it spent money on other kinds of less critical upgrades. The state and federal regulatory system appear to have been hands-off, permitting PG&E to regulate itself. The Journal article is behind a paywall, but the Naked Capitalism blog has the story, along with comments from the U.S. district court judge who is overseeing PG&E’s probation following its conviction in other safety-related charges. As NPR points out, PG&E paid out 4.5 billion to shareholders instead of upgrading infrastructure. RLS
Undocufund is raising money to assist undocumented residents of the area, as they will not have access to federal aid.
8. Veterans Affairs retaliates against whistleblowers
A Veterans Affairs (VA) office designed to protect whistleblowers instead stifled claims and retaliated against employees, according to a recently released Inspector General report. The Washington Post reports that the VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection—created with much fanfare by Trump in 2017—was found to have “significant deficiencies,” including poor leadership, skimpy training of investigators, a misunderstanding of its mission and a failure to discipline misconduct. S-HP
You can write members of the Veterans Affairs committees–see this list.
9. Student loan system “fundamentally broken”
A senior student-loan official appointed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has resigned, reports the Washington Post. Arthur Wayne Johnson was charged with overhauling the student loan repayment system for the Department of Education, but the Washington Post now quotes him acknowledging his failure to effect the overhaul: “When … somebody has $40,000 in student loan debt and, because of forbearances or deferments and the accrual of interest, they wind up with $120,000, you have to step back and say this is fundamentally broken….You have no idea how proud I am of what we’ve done to make the existing process better … but we’re making a broken system better.” Johnson has called for canceling most of the U.S.’s student debt. S-HP
If you want to speak up about the need for an overhaul of the student loan program, here is how.
10. Led by high school students, Chileans protest inequality
The Chilean president has declared a state of emergency and Congress has been evacuated as hundreds of protestors stormed the grounds, the Guardian reported on Sunday. As many as a million people have been demonstrating in Santiago over the last week, as well as in cities all over the country. Human rights observers say that 2000 people have been arrested and more than 500 have been injured in the protests; 19 people have died. Not only has there been a massive military response, but the Guardian reports that masked men are shooting protestors. In contrast to President Pinera’s decision to escalate enforcement against the protests, most of the protestors have been peaceful, according to Al Jazeera, demonstrating by banging on pots with cooking spoons, a tradition called cacerolazo (casserole).
High school students initially launched the protests over a 30 Chilean peso (about 40 cents US) fare hike in the transit system, but larger issues of inequality quickly became central. For perspective, the average income in Chile is about $450 US per month, and most families spend around $65 per month on transportation. Fare-dodging demonstrations followed, which the government addressed by closing the Metro and imposing a police crackdown. Chile is among the most unequal countries in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). A comprehensive discussion of conditions in Chile is available at Alborada.net–it’s a two-part series. RLS
11. Bill would provide Protected Status for Bahamians
In August, Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas, displacing some 14,000 people. The administration has refused to allow Bahamians Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which would allow them to legally live and work in the U.S. for a specified period of time. As a result, there is now a movement in Congress to provide TPS to Bahamians through legislation. The Bahamas TPS Act, H.R.4303 in the House; S.2478 in the Senate) would do just that. The House legislation is currently with the Judiciary and Budget Committees. The House Judiciary Committee has assigned the legislation to its Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. The Senate legislation is with that body’s Judiciary Committee S-HP
To urge that TPS be offered to Bahamians, write the people on this list.
12. You-Tube takes down evidence of war crimes
Under pressure not to broadcast hate speech, You-Tube is taking down videos which portray graphic violence. In doing so, however, the company has also deleted evidence of war crimes, in particular 200,000 videos of human rights violations in Syria. As Syrian human-rights activist and video archivist Hadi Al Khatib, who runs a site called The Syrian Archive, said in a video published in the New York Times, “All these takedowns amount to erasing history.”
The ability to upload video to You-Tube is crucial for recording events that are inaccessible to human rights observers and journalists. Some of the videos have been taken down when the Syrian government flags them–such as the videos that documented the government’s use of Sarin gas. The Columbia Journalism Review has a careful discussion of how this issue is playing out world-wide. RLS
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
13. Racial bias pervades algorithm used in hospitals
An algorithm used in a computer program that is commonly used in hospitals to allocate healthcare resources has been found to have a serious problem with racial bias, according to a study published in the journal Nature. At issue is the complex set of calculations performed to determine who most needs attention and who can wait, a proprietary formula that is not often available for study. Major bias negatively impacting African American healthcare emerged from a seemingly logical set of assumptions; if you paid more in healthcare costs you were less healthy than those who paid less and were therefore assigned a higher “risk score. “
However, the assumption breaks down in the face of long standing cultural beliefs and systemic racism in the healthcare system. It is known that the average African American who spends X amount of dollars on healthcare is far more likely to be in poorer health than a white person spending the same amount. Why is this? It’s because distrust of doctors is widespread in black communities, resulting in fewer opportunities to interact with the healthcare system. Also, inherent bias in care providers often minimizes the complaints of African American patients versus white patients. The company is working quickly to correct the issue and points out than human judgement is no better at weeding out these sorts of biases. What is needed is more thorough audits of the algorithms before they see widespread use. JC
14. The Americans with Disabilities act applies on-line
A victory for accessibility advocates emerged when the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal to a decision made by the 9th Circuit Court. The case involves the Domino’s Pizza company and its website and phone app. The plaintiff, who is visually impaired, found that neither were able to be parsed by his screen reading program which rendered them useless to those like him. The case was noted to be hugely important, determining whether or not the ADA extended to online accessibility. The law has long said that so-called “public accommodations” must be made accessible to the disabled; now it is clear than online services are considered “public accommodations” as well, Ars Technica reported. The cost to correct the issue is minor compared to the cost of litigation; the company apparently preferred to pay more money to be able to discriminate rather than to simply make their websites available to all. JC
15. Banning large-capacity magazines would save lives
Would banning large-capacity magazine (LCM) be effective in reducing high-fatality mass shootings? Yes, according to the American Journal of Public Health, which has just published a new study. Researchers looked at sixty-nine mass shooting events with more than six fatalities between 1990 (when LCMs first came into use) and 2017. 73% of those events involved LCMs and those events had death rates 63% higher than those that did not involve LCMs. S-HP
You can urge action on large-capacity magazines by writing those on this list.
A significant cause of death among California’s predators—owls, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions—is the consumption of rodents who have been poisoned by anticoagulants. These poisons cause catastrophic bleeding, not just in the rodents, but also to those higher up the food chain who eat them. Cats and dogs are also at risk from anticoagulant rat poison. California’s AB-1788, which would have prohibited the use of anticoagulant poisons, made it through the state Assembly, but died in committee in the California Senate. S-HP
Californians, if you want to speak up about rat poison, here is whom you should write.
- The Americas of Conscience Checklist offers clear, well-defined actions you can take.
- Amy Siskind’s list is paradoxically helpful in identifying how surreal things have become.
- Sarah-Hope’s list has an additional important story for Californians as well as cohesive opportunities for action.
- Martha’s list has some urgent items on it requiring comments right away: the reduction of energy efficiency standards, land policy in Alaska, EPA policy re: clean air, ominous-sounding policy changes re: Venezuela.
- As Martha notes, on Mondays, Rogan’s list features a listing of proposed rule and regulation changes that arecurrently accepting public comment. Commenting is the way to show government agencies howwe feel about these proposed changes. Our comments also become part of a record that will bereviewed by courts if and when a reg change is contested. Courts use comments to judge whether an agency is acting arbitrarily and capriciously.