In these difficult days, when news stories are falsified and facts are contested, it is a great gift to find news sites with integrity. Some you may have missed:
The Daylighter, which runs in-depth stories not easily accessible elsewhere. Their piece on human rights abuses by anti-poaching activists affiliated with the World Wildlife Fund is harrowing.
ColdType reprints articles that you might very have missed from around the world–December’s issue has a piece on the British journalists who are serving as a cheering squad for Boris Johnson, the role of the U.S military during a climate catastrophe, the spread of nuclear weapons worldwide–and more. Subscriptions are free.
The North Star, originally launched by Frederick Douglas in 1847 and relaunched by Shaun King and Benjamin Dixon last year, has a solid round-up of news affecting marginalized communities.
If you’re on the Central Coast of California, don’t miss Voices of Monterey Bay. They have great coverage of local politics and culture; in November they did a particularly good piece on the path to legal residency for farmworkers.
Haven’t gotten around to reading the Mueller report yet? The Washington Post has an illustrated version–on-line and in print.
1. DHS intended to separate five times as many families as they did–knowing they had no way to track them
When the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) began to separate families at the border, they knew that they lacked the technology to track individuals—technology that would be essential to familial reunification. They also intended to separate five times as many families as they did, according to the DHS’s own Inspector General, according to NPR. This new report notes that more than 5,000 children were separated from their parents under this policy, that the program cost nearly $1 million taxpayer dollars in overtime work, and that the practice persisted, even after an executive order was assigned to end the practice in June 2018. S-HP
To speak up about the separation of families, you can write the acting Secretary of Homeland Security and your elected representatives.
2. Army lieutenant’s mother deported; new bill would protect family members
Rocio Rebollar Gomez, mother of US Army 2nd Lieutenant Gibran Gomez, was ordered to self-deport to Mexico in 30 days after the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) denied her deferred action protections offered to family my members of service members, veterans, enlistees, and their families, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. The program is entirely at the discretion of USCIS.
A bill introduced by Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) in November, Military Times reported, would protect the policy and require the secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs to sign off on deportation plans,. It would also prevent the Trump administration from acting on rumors that they intended to terminate the deferred action program. According to reporting from 2018 (Military Times), the Trump Administration is denying significantly more requests from veterans and their dependents for protection from deportation than the Obama Administration. JM-L
You can speak up about the deportation of veterans and family members of active service members. Addresses are here.
3. Department of Education refuses to forgive student loans for disabled borrowers
Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education continues to excel at denying loan forgiveness to qualified applicants. One loan forgiveness program, intended to benefit those who go into public service, has denied relief for 99% of applicants, according to Salon.com. The Department of Education has also failed to provide information about and to approve loan forgiveness for disabled applicants. As WNYC explains, “For over half a century, student loan borrowers… with a significant, permanent disability… have been protected by federal law. If they can no longer work enough to support themselves, they can ask the U.S. Department of Education to erase their debts.”
This year, the Department of Education told Congress it had forgiven loans for 40% of eligible borrowers. In fact, an NPR investigation found that between March 2016 and September 2019 only 28% of eligible borrowers had received or were on track to receive loan forgiveness. Student loan debt, which currently tops $1.5 trillion, is the second largest source of consumer debt in the United States, exceeding both auto loan and credit card debt, according to Forbes. The only type of debt larger than student loans is mortgages. S-HP
A bi-partisan investigation has been launched following the NPR investigation. You can let relevant committee chairs know that you support debt relief for disabled borrowers and those in public service: addresses are here.
4. 3.7 million people will lose food stamps under new rules
The Republican administration has launched a three-pronged attack on recipients of food stamps. Prong one: A new rule stipulates that able-bodied adults between the ages of 18-49 without dependents cannot receive more than three months of food stamp assistance in any three-year period, according to the Washington Post. This rule is accompanied by new limitations on a program that allowed states to distribute food stamps more widely in areas under economic pressure or where employment is difficult to obtain. According to the administration’s own estimates, these moves would deny food stamps to 688,00 people.
Prong two: A proposed rule change, not yet final, would cap the utility allowance families could deduct from their incomes when applying for food stamps—a move that would hit people in regions with extreme weather (and there are more of these all the time, thanks to the climate crisis) and people in areas with a high cost of living, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. According to the Urban Institute, this change would end food stamps for 500,000 households with children.
Prong three: a move that would require a separate application for food stamps from families who currently automatically qualify for them because of their enrollment in other state or federal programs. All told, Urban Institute figures indicate that these changes would take food stamps away from 3.7 million people. These changes were all considered and rejected by Congress during approval of the 2018 federal Farm Bill. S-HP
If you wanted to let your elected representatives know what the cost will be of these cuts in food stamps, you can write to them. Contact information here.
5. Medications seized from children at the border, doctors say
Customs and Border Protection officers have been seizing possessions, including medications, from migrants arriving at the border to request asylum, according to Yahoo News. This issue is now the subject of an article in Pediatrics, the official publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which calls the practice both “prevalent and underreported” and “a human rights violation.” Further reporting by Reuters, based on the Pediatrics article, recounts the story of two pediatricians who treated children arriving at their hospital in part because their asthma medication, albuterol, had been seized by CBP officers and neither returned nor replaced. These pediatricians, Drs. Noy Halevy-Mizrahi and Ilana Harwayne-Gidansky are calling on physicians to report similar cases to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Information Center, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and the DHS Office of the Inspector General. They also write “pediatricians should feel empowered to work with representatives in Congress and their local districts” to address this practice by CBP. S-HP
If you think that the Border Patrol should not be taking medications from children, you can write them here–and ask your members of Congress to investigate.
6. Senate waters down Violence Against Women Act
The Senate is playing a little game of presto-change-o with important implications for women. Instead of taking up the House-passed renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, H.R.1585, the Senate has drafted their own “alternative” version, S.2920. The Senate version strips essential protections including a provision which would preclude individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanor stalking and/or domestic abuse crimes from purchasing guns. S.2920 also removes provisions for preventing discrimination against LGBTQ people in shelters and strips protections for Native American women, according to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. S-HP
You can tell your Senators you want them to pass legislation with all the protections included in H.R.1585, not the watered-down S.2920.
7. LGBTQ information deleted from government websites
Researchers tracking changes on government web sites have found that over half of these sites have “had significant alterations to LGBTQ-related terms” according to the Web Integrity Project (WIP), which is overseen by the Sunshine Foundation. The changes to and erasure of content began hours after Trump’s inauguration. According to the Sunshine Foundation, “examination of key case studies…identified two key trends: the removal of access to resources about discrimination protections and prevention, especially for transgender individuals, [and] the removal of resources containing LGBTQ community-specific information.” This reduction of information has been observed on government-supported web sites in the areas of health, labor, education, and housing. As an example, WIP’s co-director, Rachel Bergman referenced the Center for Disease Control (CDC) web site, which has replaced “LGBTQ” with “LGB” and deleted transgender statistics from multiple Youth Risk Behavior Surveys. The Department of Labor has removed information about the protection of federal contractors from gender identity-based discrimination. The Department of Education’s Civil Rights website has removed information on the rights of transgender students. S-HP
If you want to call for a congressional investigation of these changes that obscure basic information needed by LGBTQ Americans, here is where to find your representatives.
8. Park rangers sent to the border–despite staff shortages in national parks
Despite staff shortages in the national parks, the Trump administration has insisted that park rangers be sent to the border to assist with enforcement. With a 20% drop in staffing since 2011, there are only 1,800 law enforcement rangers responsible for the safety of the 320 million visitors to the nation’s 419 national parks, according to USA Today. There already are 20,000 border patrol agents. Trump issued the order after the House refused to authorize funding for Trump’s border operations; he had requested 18.2 billion, which included 5 billion for the wall.
The park rangers are untrained and unaccustomed to the desert. “If the goal is to secure the border, these rangers aren’t going to be it,” Laiken Jordahl, a former park service contractor who now works for the Center for Biological Diversity, told USA Today. “One hundred percent, it’s a publicity stunt that has very real consequences for the national parks across the country. It’s totally clear it’s putting a strain on already limited resources. … That doesn’t serve any of us.” RLS
To speak up against the reassignment of park rangers, you could write to the Secretary of the Interior and your elected representatives.
9. Bill would promote fairness in on-line political ads
Under Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, all qualified political candidates have the opportunity to purchase television air time at the same cost—the network’s lowest advertising rate. Groups running political ads are required to identify themselves in such advertising and must clarify whether the advertisement is part of a candidate’s official campaign.
None of these regulations apply on the internet. The FCC offers “guidance” on disclaimers that online political ads should include, but service providers, like Google and Facebook, can easily request exemption from this guidance, according to The Conversation. Television advertising is also expensive in comparison with online advertising. A thirty-second spot on a popular television show can cost upwards of half a million dollars. Facebook advertisements cost much less and can be targeted to specific audiences in ways television advertising cannot. The Honest Ads Act, S.1356, would ensure that political advertising on television and online be subject to the same rules. This legislation is currently with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. S-HP
To urge the Senate to take quick action on the fairness of internet ads, write the relevant committee chairs.
10. Germany bans arms sales to Saudi Arabia, U.S will not
Germany has banned arms sales to Saudi Arabia and asked manufacturers to cancel orders already in place, in light of reliable reports that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) ordered the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate. Germany has also banned the 18 suspects linked to the murder from the 26 countries in the EU’s passport-free Schengen Zone (which includes France but not Britain), Axios reports.
MBS has denied responsibility for the murder, but an extensive CIA investigation found that he must have directed the killing; among the evidence is a recording from a device that Turkey had placed in the embassy where he was killed. MBS is friends with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; Trump has said that he does not want to break off relations with Saudi Arabia because the country is important in containing Iran and because he does not want to see their oil production interrupted, according to the Washington Post.
The U.S. has not banned arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite the CIA report and despite the fact that US bombs are being used against civilians in Yemen, a CNN investigation found in 2018. CNN also found that US arms sold to Saudi Arabia ended up in the hands of “al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions,” including Iranian rebels. Indeed , the U.S. sold nuclear technology to the Saudis, 16 days after Khashoggi’s death, according to the Times of London. RLS
If you think that the U.S. should follow Germany’s lead and discontinue arms sales to Saudi Arabia, you can write to your representatives at these addresses.
11. Ontario premier “proud” of cancelling renewable energy contracts
Ontario premier Doug Ford cancelled 750 renewable energy contracts last July, but only now is he acknowledging that it will cost the province 231 million dollars. Ford says he is “proud” of the action he took. He claims that the province doesn’t need power and that he is particularly pleased to be rid of those “terrible, terrible, terrible wind turbines,” the CBC reported. He expects to be refurbishing ageing nuclear power plants instead. Most of the cancelled projects were small and community-based, according to MacLean’s.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
12. The oceans are suffocating
A study released at the culmination of an international climate conference shows that the world’s oceans have lost 2% of their oxygen since 1960, the New York Times reports. That decline is somewhat misleading as the oxygenation levels vary widely in the oceans, with some tropical areas having suffered a 40-50% loss in oxygenation. Some of this may be laid at the feet of climate change, as warmer water has less capacity to carry oxygen than colder waters while other causes include agricultural runoff which fuels oxygen-sapping algal blooms. The plunging oxygen levels are also causing a disturbance in the mixing of ocean layers, with colder dark waters not becoming mixed with the warmer water needed to provide nutrients and oxygen to the deep seas. Oceans have absorbed the vast majority of waste heat as a result of climate change; these measurements reveal the impact. JC
13. Birds have been getting smaller as the world warms
A study spanning forty years done by the Field Museum in Chicago has found that birds have been getting smaller as the climate warms. Since 1978, the Field Museum has been meticulously gathering and measuring birds that die from striking buildings in flight, collecting over 78,000 of them in that time. The study focused on 52 species of migratory birds and found that over the years, birds have been getting smaller, weighing less while their wingspans have slightly increased, according to Reuters. The study theorizes that the increase in wingspan allows the lighter-bodied birds to make the strenuous migratory flights; smaller bodies also shed excess heat more easily. This is just another data point to show the profound impact the changing climate has had on America’s birds, whose populations have fallen by almost 30% since the seventies. JC
14. Bill would require stringent environmental impact reports for oil and gas leases
No new oil and gas leases could be offered on the Central Coast of California unless a new, supplemental environmental impact report had been approved, under a new bill proposed by Rep Jimmy Panetta (D-California). As Panetta’s website puts it, “the review must consider potential impacts on air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, groundwater, surface water, seismicity, wildlife and plant species, low-income communities, communities of color, and indigenous communities.” The bill, called the Central Coast Conservation Act, was drafted in response to the Trump administration’s insistence on opening up 720,000 acres in central California to oil and gas exploration. As the San Francisco Chronicle explained, up to 37 new wells could be drilled, adding to the 110 already in operation on federal land, and 18,200 wells on private and state land. The state has not withheld approvals of oil and gas drilling. .
The Center for Biological Diversity has sued the Trump administration over the policy to open up public land to drilling, arguing that the administration had not considered the dangers to groundwater and the possibility of earthquakes caused by fracking. As Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, put it, “Oil and gas extraction is a dirty, dangerous business that poisons our water, kills wildlife and worsens the climate crisis. It’s reckless and illegal for Trump officials to open our public lands to oil companies without considering the human and environmental costs. We’re taking them to court to keep this planet livable for our kids.” RLS
If you want to thank Panetta for introducing this legislation and urge your representative to support it, here are addresses.
15. Possible protections for humpback whales
Parts of the waters off California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska would be protected Distinct Population Zones for humpback whales, if a rule proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) goes through. Comments on Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: Critical Habitat for the Central America, Mexico, and Western North Pacific Distinct Population Segments of Humpback Whale can be submitted through January 32. The good news is that, if this rule is adopted, humpback whales will receive addition protections for specific pods whose small size puts them at risk. The bad news is that NOAA has left lots of wiggle room in this proposal. To quote from background information provided by NOAA, “Based on consideration of national security and economic impacts, we also have proposed to exclude multiple areas from the designation for each DPS.” In other words, “we’re protecting this habitat, except when we don’t want to—including when there’s money to be made.” S-HP
You can comment for the public record on these new protections for humpback whales–and speak up about the exclusions.
- The Americas of Conscience Checklist has a list of organizations to support and clear. focused actions to take.
- If you’re in a postcard writing mood, see Sarah-Hope’s entire list for actions and addresses.
- Martha’s list has many opportunities to comment for the public record. And as we noted last week, stunningly few people comment, so your comment will have proportionately more weight than you might think.
- Rogan’s list has numerous recommended action on climate, immigration, healthcare and more.
- Our colleague Chrysostom has a full election round-up, weekly and then some. This time he remarks on how the first people to have endorsed Trump seem to have been indicted, points out some scary news on election security, and provides important state-level information.
- Don’t forget to read Heather Cox Richardson this week. Her nightly commentary on events in Washington make sense out of the chaos.