News You May Have Missed: January 5, 2020

We know you won’t have missed the news about Trump’s decision to assassinate a senior Iranian military commander while he was in Iraq. We’re recounting the story to date so you will have all the puzzle pieces; where we can, we have embedded them in the history of US intervention in Iran.

We recommend that readers continue to follow Heather Cox Richardson, as she is putting the pieces together around the Iran situation, as she does with everything else. Richardson alludes to the work of New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi, who has covered ISIS & al-Qaeda and is very much worth following on Twitter.

On another topic, an eagle-eyed reader recommends ProPublica’s letter to partner newsrooms about Documenting Hate, the project it has just concluded, documenting three years of hate and discrimination. Anyone exhausted by conversations with family, friends or students about how much better things are could send them to that link. As ProPublica explains, “We saw a large number of hate incidents in schools, particularly after the 2016 election. Latinos have been targeted based on the (often erroneous) belief that they are immigrants or for speaking Spanish. People of color reported being victimized by people who referred to the president or his border and immigration policies. We found people of color harassed by their neighbors and targeted in hate incidents at superstores. We heard from Muslims and people of Arab descent targeted in road rage incidents…” With the news out of Iran and Iraq, this is only going to get worse.


1. Iranian general assassinated: Why now? Fallout to come.

On January 2, Trump authorized a drone attack in Iraq which killed Iran’s top military commander, Major General Qassim Suleimani and an Iraqi official, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, along with those accompanying them. Trump claimed that “Suleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him,” according to the New York Times. He offered no evidence that Suleimani was plotting something in particular. Suleiman has been an agent of attacks against American troops in Iraq since 2003, so it is not clear why Trump chose this moment to make this move. Vox has a useful discussion about whether the attack was legal and the New Yorker has a good piece on the implications of assassinating Suleimani.

The attack followed violent protests at the American Embassy in Baghdad by those angry about US air strikes against Iran-backed forces; the attack on the embassy echoed the 1979 hostage-taking at the embassy in Iran, which followed the U.S.’s decision to accept the ousted Shah into the United States. New documents reveal that David Rockefeller and others lied to then-President Carter, telling him that the Shah was deathly ill and could only be treated in the U.S., according to NPR. In 2019, the CIA finally admitted that the U.S. was behind the 1953 coup in Iran that had installed the Shah in the first place, deposing a democratically elected leader who had nationalized the Iranian oil industry. In May of 2018, the U.S. unilaterally exited the nuclear pact that it and other countries had negotiated with Iran; the U.S. went on to impose devastating economic sanctions on Iran. In short, there is a long history of U.S. intervention in Iran and Iranian fury about it, as well as of dubious diplomacy; writing for Esquire, Charles Pierce has a useful reflection on this history.

The US is sending 750 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne to the region, and another 4000 are preparing to deploy, the Washington Post reported. Thousands of people in Iraq were mourning Suleiman following his funeral January 4, and hundreds of thousands more were protesting his killing in Iran, according to Common Dreams and CBS.  The BBC quoted the Supreme National Security Council of Iran as saying that  “the US would be held responsible for its ‘criminal adventurism’: ‘This was the biggest US strategic blunder in the West Asia region, and America will not easily escape its consequences.’”

Trump apparently notified Republican leadership–as well as a few friends at Mar-a-Lago–prior to the attack but did not notify or request approval from Congress. A resolution which would prevent Trump from engaging in acts of war or military action against Iran without authorization from Congress–but not from responding to an “imminent attack”–was proposed by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine on January 3, the Hill reported, while Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna introduced legislation that would prohibit Trump from going to war against Iran without Congressional approval, Common Dreams notes.  In December, draft language that would have denied authorization for war against Iran was taken out of the military funding bill that allocated $738 billion for the military, according to Truthout. Trump was apparently offered a range of actions he could take vis a vis Iran; concerned that the attack on the embassy would be seen as his “Benghazi,” he chose the most extreme one. “Top Pentagon officials were stunned,” wrote the New York Times.

Unsurprisingly, the attack complicates the impeachment process; though Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would transfer the articles of impeachment to the Senate once she was assured that a fair trial could be conducted, the dynamics have now radically changed, the Washington Post notes, given that the trial would take place while the U.S. is on the brink of war.

Fallout from the attack has already begun; Iraq has said it will expel all US troops while Iran has withdrawn from the nuclear pact, which had been provisionally in place with other signers. A group of Iranian-Americans–citizens–says they were detained at the U.S.-Canada border when returning home from a rock concert. Border Patrol officials says that these claims are false, the Vancouver Sun reports. RLS

If you have concerns about the march to war with Iran, you can take a variety of actions, listed here. In addition, Rogan’s list this week has links with information and actions you can take.

2. Crisis in immigration courts

In a report issued in June, “The Attorney General’s Judges: How the U.S. Immigration Courts Became a Deportation Tool,” the Innovation Law Lab and Southern Poverty Law Center describe the ongoing failure of U.S. Immigration Courts across multiple administrations. The Immigration and Nationality Act requires the Attorney General to establish and maintain an impartial immigration court system, but that system has consistently been neglected and subject to administration biases. The report executive summary contends, “Overwhelming evidence shows that the Office of the Attorney General has long allowed immigration judges to violate noncitizens’ rights in a systemic, pervasive manner that undermines the integrity of the court system.” The report ends by calling for the formation of a new immigration court system outside of the Attorney General’s control.

At the same time, CNN has documented a crisis within the immigration court system. CNN cites the forty-five immigration judges who have left their positions in 2019. Compare this with twenty-one departures in 2017 and twenty-four in 2018. Some of these departures are the result of deaths, but most result from retirements, resignations, and transfers to other government positions. In interviews, CNN found that departing judges cited “frustration over a mounting number of policy changes that, they argue, chipped away at their authority”: the imposition of case quotas, transfer of power from judges to the director overseeing the courts, reversed rulings, curtailment of judicial discretion, and efforts to decertify the National Association of Immigration Judges, the union representing immigration court judges.

If you want to speak up about the misuse of the immigration court system and the policy changes affecting immigration judges, here are appropriate people to write.

Funds for prisoners health care and job training misappropriated

In a complex piece of reporting, ProPublica and the Sacramento Bee have investigated irregularities in the spending of billions of dollars in “realignment” funds, funds intended to compensate for the state’s transfer of prisoners from state prisons to county jails. This funding was first authorized in 2011, when California began the transfers (aka realignment), hoping to satisfy a Supreme Court ruling that required the reduction of the state prison population by at least 46,000 to mitigate the effects of overcrowding. Realignment funds were to be used for two purposes: first, modernization of facilities and second, improving medical care, addiction treatment, education, and job training in jails.

Since 2011, the state has issued $8 million in realignment monies. While such funding is not supposed to be used for non-realignment purposes, lax spending rules and limited oversight have allowed significant abuse. For example, in Shasta and Monterey counties. civil grand juries identified misuse of realignment funds and requested county-level investigations, which were never held. At issue in Monterey was the use of monies granted for a specialist to direct pretrial inmates to education courses that we actually spent to cover the salary of a single guard. In Contra Costa County, realignment funds were used to pay for police foot patrols. At the close of 2019, the California prison population remained above the limit set by the 2011 court ruling. S-HP

Whether or not you are a Californian, you can object to this misuse of funds.

LGBTQ+ seniors could be denied nutrition assistance

Faith-based organizations providing government-funded nutrition services to seniors could exclude LGBTQ+ individuals from their programs, under a proposal from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of Dignity, the largest U.S. Catholic organization supporting “justice, equality and full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and intersex (LGBTQ+) people in the [Catholic] church and in society,” has written to Secretary of HHS Alex Azar to object to the proposal. Duddy-Burke cites the particular vulnerability of LGBTQ+ elders, who may not have family support and are more likely to live in poverty, and argues that the proposal will put tens of thousands of such elders at risk. In addition, exclusion of LGBTQ+ elders will deprive them of socialization and wellness checks these nutrition programs also provide. The letter notes the large role Catholic institutions play in nutritional programs for the elderly and the “exclusion of LGBTQ+ people by [some] Catholic and other faith-based organizations.” S-HP

If you share Dignity’s concerns about the health of LGBTQ+ seniors, you can tell the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Time to thank civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis

John Lewis, a civil rights pioneer and seventeen-term Representative to the House from Georgia’s 5th congressional district, has announced that her is being treated for stage four pancreatic cancer. From 1963-1966 Lewis chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of six groups that organized the famous March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. In fact, Lewis is the last remaining living speaker from the March on Washington. As a college student he organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. He was one of the thirteen original Freedom Riders who challenged segregation on interstate public transportation. Over this period, Lewis was repeatedly assaulted by both law officers and civilians who opposed the movement for Black civil rights. He suffered a skull fracture in one incident, was knocked unconscious in another, and was a passenger on a bus that was fire-bombed by the Klan. His entire life has been characterized by a fearless advocacy for equality and justice. S-HP

You can send best wishes for successful treatment and thanks for a lifetime of fighting for civil rights to: Representative John Lewis, 300 Cannon House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3801


#. Ambassador to Zambia recalled after criticizing homophobia

Earlier this year two Zambian men were sentenced to fifteen years in prison each for engaging in gay sex, what Zambian law calls “crimes against the order of nature.” In December, U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote issued a strongly worded statement in response to the sentencing and objecting to rampant homophobia in Zambia. He noted that when he arrived in Zambia “I was shocked at the venom and hate directed at me and my country, largely in the name of ‘Christian’ values, by a small minority of Zambians,” and that “I cannot imagine Jesus would have used bestiality comparisons or referred to his fellow human beings as ‘dogs,’ or ‘worse than animals;’ allusions made repeatedly by your countrymen and women about homosexuals. Targeting and marginalizing minorities, especially homosexuals, has been a warning signal of future atrocities by governments in many countries.” Now, the U.S. has recalled Foote after Zambian officials, including the president, refused to continue working with him. Foote has received death threats limiting his participation in international events. S-HP

You can tell the Secretary of State that you appreciate Foote’s decency and courage: Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520, (202) 647-4000

Efforts to force Trump to oppose human rights violations in China

The New York Times reports on an upcoming bipartisan effort in Congress to force Trump to take a stance in opposition to Chinese violation of the human rights of Chinese Uighurs, a minority Muslim population. The Council on Foreign Relations has outlined a wide range of Chinese abuses against Uighurs: internment of between 800,000 and 2 million Uighurs in internment camps it calls “vocational training camps”; forced renunciation of Islam; forced abortions and contraception; torture; the placement of Communist Party members in Uighur homes to report on “extreme” behaviors, like fasting during Ramadan; and destruction of mosques. Despite this, as the New York Times notes, Trump continues to refer to Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a “terrific guy.” The Uyghur [sic] Human Rights Policy Act, S.178 in the Senate and H.R.649 in the House, has been passed by Congress, but not sent on to Trump while differences in the final versions of the two pieces of legislation are reconciled. The hope is that the final version of this legislation will be embraced by a veto-proof majority in Congress. S-HP

If you want to explain to Trump that “terrific guys” don’t engage in persecution of religious minorities and to urge Congress to pass the two Human Rights bills, pertinent addresses are here.


11. Ten million acres burned so far in Australia fires

First Nations peoples in Australia are in danger of becoming climate refugees, according to the Guardian. Temperatures are routinely about 40 Celsius, 104 Fahrenheit, with some summer days at 120 Fahrenheit (over 48 Celsius). Indigenous communities are running out of water, electricity is unreliable, and most homes do not have air conditioning. Their historic connection to the land is threatened by the immense fires, the largest in Australia history.

Fifty million animals have died in the fires, including perhaps some entire species. Koalas in particular have suffered, as they move slowly and live in the flammable eucalyptus trees, Australian reports. The Sydney Morning Herald ran a heartbreaking piece by a veterinarian about the devastating cost of the fires to farmers, wildlife, farm animals and the land itself.

Why are the fires so serious this year? Increasingly hot temperatures, a very dry spring, years of drought and the ravages of climate change which have led to very dry vegetation, according to the New York Times. Australia has not summoned the political will to cut carbon emissions, in part due to the mining and coal lobbies. The Guardian has a timeline of how the government has resisted climate action and the government’s attitudes toward climate activism is clear: Michael McCormack, the deputy prime minister, referred to activists as “inner-city raving lunatics.” For a sane voice, read councillor Vanessa Keenan’s heartfelt letter to McComack in the Guardian

Recent climate talks in Madrid ended without consensus, according to the New York Times, as Australia, Brazil, China, India and the U.S. blocked any specific action items.

Vice has a page on how to help Australians, with some links specifically for First Nations peoples. RLS

Fish threatened by border wall

What do the Yaqui topminnow, Yaqui chub, Yaqui shiner, Yaqui catfish, Chiricachua leopard frog, Huachuca water umbel, Aplomado falcon, and San Bernardino spring snail have in common?

-All are endangered or threatened species.

-All rely on crucial habitat along the edge of Arizona’s San Bernardino Wildlife Refuge.

-All face catastrophic consequences from the construction of a twenty-mile section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall along the edge of the wildlife refuge, particularly because of the depletion of spring flow and groundwater.

Water in this area was scare before wall construction began due to the effects of the climate crisis and expanded planting of water-intensive crops. Twenty-eight federal statutes and thirteen state laws have been waived to facilitate construction of this section of the wall—construction that requires the use of 50 million gallons of water for each mile of wall constructed (or 1 billion gallons of water for this particular twenty-mile segment). The laws being waived include clean air and water protections, endangered species protections, public lands, and Native American rights, the Guardian reports. Now, bear in mind the havoc that will most likely result from the construction of this twenty-mile segment of wall and consider what the extent of the destruction will be if the full two-thousand-mile-long wall is completed. S-HP

If you want to argue that the survival of species is more important than the construction of a wall (that will not deter immigration), you can write appropriate officials at these addresses.

EPA takes down Toxmap

For fifteen years, Toxmap, an interactive map maintained by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), allowed the general public, as well as researchers and advocates, to pinpoint sources of pollution. The easily navigable map used dots of different colors to represent all U.S. facilities releasing certain toxic chemicals into the environment, as well as every Superfund program site. Now, the NLM has removed the site, claiming it has become redundant as the data it aggregated were all available elsewhere, according to Newsweek and Popular Science. However, Toxmap was the only site that provided this particular mix of data. Now, those wishing to identify environmental hazards will have to move among at least twelve different online sites, none of them as user-friendly as Toxmap was. S-HP

If you want to advocate for the restoration and updating of Toxmap, here is whom to write.

Trump’s own EPA says rollbacks contradict science

The members of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board, which includes many members chosen by the Trump administration, has identified three of the administration’s environmental regulation rollbacks to be at odds with established science. These include Obama administration regulations regarding waterways, an Obama administration effort to limit tailpipe emissions, and a plan that would limit the data that could be used to draft health regulations. The New York Times cited a letter from the EPA Science Advisory Board, saying that the rollback on water pollution “neglects established science” by “failing to recognize watershed systems” and that there was “no scientific justification” for exempting certain bodies of water from anti-pollution protections. The changes to emissions standards were marked by “significant weaknesses in the scientific analysis of the proposed rule.” Finally, the health rule would limit data used for decision-making to studies in which all participants are specifically identified, despite the fact that this violates the privacy of medical records required of ethical research. The EPA Science Advisory Board found that “key considerations that should inform the proposed rule have been omitted from the proposal or presented without analysis.” S-HP

To let the EPA know that they should pay attention to their own advisory board, contact appropriate officials and committee chairs.


  • Amy Siskind, who has been posting a weekly list of not-normal actions since the beginning of the Trump administration, has a round-up of particularly egregious behavior.
  • Martha’s list focuses on SSI and SDI proposed rules that would result in massive cuts to disability, the “remain in Mexico” comment deadline, and more.
  • For regular access to clear, well-defined actions, follow the Americans of Conscience checklist.