We’ve tried to include as many opportunities as possible to speak out on issues in the news; as we noted last week, many of those opportunities are missed. Thus, your voice has more weight. For example: Last week we told you about the government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Guatemala and other Latin American countries; only seven comments about the plan had been received as of November 29. Comment online before December 12 here.
Though most news stories have been grim and are becoming more so, there has been some good news as well. The coal miners who blocked train tracks for six weeks in Kentucky were finally paid at the end of October, according to the New York Times, though negotiations over health care and retirement payments are ongoing.
Although the Senate has thus far refused to reauthorize the Violence against Women Act, as we’ve noted previously, it did allocate funds to investigate the patttern of missing and mudered Indigenoous women, according to KTOO radio in Alaska.
And not only was Scott Warren–a geography teacher and volunteer with No More Deaths/ No Más Muertes—acquitted in his second trial for providing water, shelter and directions to refugees walking through the Arizona desert, but a district judge acknowledged that his efforts to save lives were protected by the principles of religious freedom, one of the first times that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was used in favor of someone on the left, the Huffington Post reported.
1. Humanitarian crisis for 11,000 refugees in Matamoros, Mexico
Asylum-seekers at the Matamoros camp just over the US-Mexico border are enduring unsanitary and hazardous conditions. In extensive reporting, the AP documented persistent smoke from fires burning human waste, a scarcity of potable water, only e. coli-contaminated river water for bathing and washing clothes, and waste leaking in puddles outside toilets. The AP noted reports from Doctors Without Borders that during 178 medical consultations held over three weeks in October, health concerns treated included diarrhea, hypertension, diabetes, psychiatric conditions and asthma—and that over half of those treated were under the age of fifteen. As of October 1, over 11,000 asylum seekers had been redirected from the U.S. to the Matamoros camp. Helen Perry, a nurse practitioner and Global Response Management’s operations director, warns that “Speaking from having seen other humanitarian crises in the world, this is one of the worst situations that I’ve seen. It is only going to get worse, and it is going to get worse rapidly.” S-HP
If you want to speak up about conditions at the Matamoros camp, here are some addresses.
Latinas earn 53 cents for every dollar earned by white men
Recent reporting by Fortune highlights the ongoing gender pay gap. Women earn eighty cents on the dollar in comparison with men. As Fortune points out, some women are even more severely impacted by this gap. In 2017, for example, Latinx women earned just fifty-three cents on the dollar in comparison with white men, and this number has been dropping since 2013. It has been more than 200 days since the House passed the Bipartisan Paycheck Fairness Act, H.R. 7 that would make sure women and men are paid equally, but in the Senate this legislation has not yet been assigned to a committee, the first step toward a vote of the full Senate. S-HP
If you want to take action on the gender pay gap, you could write your Senators to press for consideration of H.R.7.
National parks would be privatized under new rule
National park campgrounds would be privatized under a proposed federal rule, “Federal Acquisition Regulation: Recreational Services on Federal Lands.” The rule would then extend similar privatization to the Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation. The rule would allow electrification of campgrounds via expanded utilities, food trucks and camp stores within parks, and blackouts and restrictions on senior admissions discounts, according to the Western Values Project. These changes will incentivize profit over conservation, benefitting wealthy investors, while raising costs and reducing opportunities for ordinary Americans to enjoy our country’s natural beauty. As of November 29 only three comments had been received on this proposal. Comments can be submitted through December 20. S-HP
Information on how to comment on the proposed rule to privatize national parks is here.
Huge Facebook site reveals law enforcement’s complicity with ICE
California is a sanctuary state, under the California Values Act, which went into effect in 2018. Among other things, that means that the state’s law enforcement officers are prohibited from making use of an individual’s immigration status as the sole justification for stopping, investigating, or arresting that individual. In addition, state law enforcement officers are prohibited from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers seeking to arrest and deport individuals solely on the basis of their immigration status. The Appeal, a criminal justice newsletter, has reported on a 12,000-plus member Facebook group on which California law enforcement officers brag about the refusal to comply with sanctuary law and their cooperation with ICE in the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants. “There’s ways around stupid-ass liberal state policy,” noted one member of the group. Another described what was essentially an ongoing exchange with border patrol officers, in which state police who turned over individuals with uncertain immigration status were rewarded with boxes of ammunition. The group page also refers to the Governor of California as “Gavin Nazisom.” S-HP
You can ask California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate these activities and other violations of sanctuary laws by state law enforcement: 1300 “I” Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 952-5225.
The “right” to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people to be enshrined in federal rule
Faith-based organizations’ “right” to deny services to LGBT individuals could take precedence over those individuals’ right to be treated in a nondiscriminatory manner. A proposed federal rule, “Office of the Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources; Health and Human Services Grants Regulation,” would “align” grants with “new legislation, nondiscrimination laws, and Supreme Court decisions,” which sounds sensible until one discovers whom these “alignments” would privilege.
A significant portion of federal healthcare spending on human services is provided not by the government itself, but by providers receiving grants from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Logic would dictate that such federal spending should honor the concept of separation of church and state as embodied in the First Amendment, but the current administration apparently wants to allow church-state crossover to become easier. According to the Bay Area Reporter, “Sharon McGowan, legal director for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the proposed grant rule ‘rolls back critical protections against discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion, and in doing so, puts at risk some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, including LGBT people who are poor or experiencing homelessness; LGBT seniors and LGBT youth in out-of-home care, including foster children in need of loving families; people living with HIV; and many others.’” Comments are due by December 19 and must be made electronically “because of staff and resource limitations.” S-HP
You can comment on this proposal which would undermine the right to be free from religious discrimination in favor of here.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
Greenhouse gas emissions increasing in China, US
Greenhouse gases are continuing to rise, with catastrophic consequences predicted, according to a new U.N. report on the climate crisis. The Emissions Gap Report points out that greenhouse gas emissions will need to fall by 7.6% each year between 2020 and 2030 to attain the 1.5 degree temperature rise goal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Emissions from the United States and China have increased, according to the New York Times. The report comes as world leaders prepare to meet in Madrid to discuss how to implement provisions of the Paris Climate Agreement–from which the US has begun to withdraw. Though the report is grim, there are a few hopeful signs. The climate has not warmed as much as it would have if current climate policies had not been in place. Coal emissions have dropped and renewable energy is increasing. Still, countries such as Canada intend to reduce their own emissions while selling fossil fuels to other countries, a contradictory policy undercutting the climate goals to which it is committed. Alden Meyer, director of policy and strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists told the Times, “We are sleepwalking toward a climate catastrophe and need to wake up and take urgent action. RLS
The “Tomb” in the Marshall Islands leaking plutonium
Leaks in the cement dome which houses 3.1 million cubic feet of radioactive waste–including lethal plutonium–on the Marshall Islands are due to rising oceans, the Los Angeles Times reports. From 1946 to 1958, the United States tested 67 nuclear bombs on the islands; the fallout rained down on the islanders and and then buried the resulting waste–including waste from biological weapons testing and radioactive material from the Nevada Test Site–in the dome, called “the Tomb.” The soldiers who bulldozed the waste into a crater to house it and then sealed it with cement to form a dome were not issued protective equipment and have since developed cancers of various kinds.
The islanders, too, suffer cancers, birth defects, and the stress of displacement, from having had to leave the site of the testing–immediately afterward for other islands with an inadequate food supply, in recent years for the U.S.–according to a 15 month investigation by the Times. They were not told that biological testing had been conducted, nor that waste from the Nevada test site had been buried in the Tomb. Three years after the testing, the islanders were encouraged to return to Rongelap, one of the islands where the bombs were dropped, so that researchers could study the effects of radiation on humans. A study by Columbia University found that parts of the Marshall Islands are still more radioactive than Chernobyl.
The U.S. pays compensation to the islanders, but not nearly what a tribunal established by the U.S. and the Marshall Islands has said should be paid. And now that the “Tomb” is leaking radioactive waste and lethal plutonium into the Pacific, the U.S. has said it is the responsibility of the islanders to deal with it. As Hilda Heine, the president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told the LA Times, “We don’t want it. We didn’t build it. The garbage inside is not ours. It’s theirs.” RLS
Polluting power plant supported by new policy
Coal power plants are responsible for 30% of all toxic pollution dumped into surface waters. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), under new proposed rules, that percentage could be much higher. While the title may sound snooze-worthy, the proposed government rules change called “Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category” will have a huge impact. Under this proposal the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would relax waste standards for coal-fired power plants, a rollback of Obama-era regulations on water pollution and waste management that could help struggling coal plants stay in operation. It would also roll back an Obama administration regulation outlining the types of technology that coal-fired power plants must use to capture and treat the wastewater that flows out of their facilities. John Devine, the NRDC’s director of federal water policy, explains “The EPA’s proposal would expose millions of people to a toxic brew of mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium—pollutants that can cause neurological disorders and cardiovascular disease and increase the risk of cancer.” As of November 29, only thirty-one comments had been filed in response to this proposal. Comments are due by January 21, 2020.
To argue against the relaxing of standards for coal-fired plants, use the commenting site here.
Mining in the Alaskan rain forest
Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the world’s largest remaining temperate rain forest, would be open for mining, logging, energy extraction, and the road-building that accompany those activities, if a proposed rule change goes through. Called “Special Areas, Roadless Area Conservation: National Forest System Lands in Alaska,” it would exempt Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The proposal is open for official comments through December 17. Not only would the proposed rule change lead to deforestation of a key part of the global ecosystem, it would also enable continued reliance on fossil fuels at a time when we need to be developing sustainable energy options, Slate reported. Unlike many other proposed rules changes, this one has garnered a great many comments (27,522 as of November 29), probably because there are big profits to be made destroying wilderness. S-HP
If you want to advocate for the preservation of the Tongass National Forest, you can do so here.
Seismic blasting lethal to beluga whales
Since September, the government has permitted nighttime air gun blasting in Cook Inlet, Alaska, home to beluga whales. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Beluga whales are vulnerable to many stressors and threats, including pollution, habitat degradation, harassment, interactions with commercial and recreational fisheries, oil and gas exploration, disease, and other types of human disturbance such as underwater noise.” All beluga populations are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and those of Cook Inlet are supposed to receive special protections because of the small size of that breeding population. Air gun blasting, which is used for oil exploration, can be heard for miles and reaches volumes up to 250 decibels (for comparison, a loud rock concert might reach a level of 120 decibels). During the first two weeks of air gun blasting at Cook Inlet, four beluga—a bit over one percent of the Cook Inlet population—washed up dead. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Cook Inletkeeper have filed suit to end air gun blasting in the area. S-HP
To express concern about how air gun blasting undermines protections for Cook Inlet belugas, there are various administrators and committee chairs you can write to.
- Chrysostom has a comprehensive round-up of elections news, interwoven with some oblique Bloom County references.
- Sarah-Hope’s list includes ProPublica’s list of thirty-one examples of the ways the current administration is systematically undoing guarantees of rights for LGBTQ Americans, as well as some California-specific items.
- Martha’s list offers further opportunities to comment–including on proposed changes to Medicare and Medicaid, plus an extension of time to comment on student workers ability to unionize–and much more.
- Rogan’s list has further opportunities to comment, in addition to other actions you can take to promote the ACA, work against conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth, protect abortion rights, and much more.
- Heather Cox Richardson’s analysis for December 1 posits a reason why Trump does not want to be impeached. It’s not obvious.