News You May Have Missed: January 19, 2020

This week we’re rejoicing in small victories. The National Archive repented in response to the outcry over the way they blurred pictures of signs from the Women’s March, according to the New York Times. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Lindey Graham agreed to pause judicial nominations until after the impeachment trial, something that both Martha’s list and Americans of Conscience had called for, Bloomberg Law reports. Earthjustice posted a list of the 33 legal victories it has won as a result of the 40 of its lawsuits that have been heard. These rulings will restore a ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, protect grizzly bears from trophy hunting, continue a ban on coal leasing, and much more. And a federal judge blocked Trump’s order allowing states and municipalities to refuse to accept refugees (Texas was the first state to do so), according to NBC.

All this is to say that as grim as the worldwide picture is, organizing works. Lawsuits are effective. And individual acts of protest or advocacy matter. To that end, see our Resources section at the end of this week’s issue, which offers numerous quick, easy actions you can take. You might start by commenting on the proposed changes to disability regulations that we discussed in our December 23 issue; see the link here for an explanation and the location for comments–due January 31.

“2014” by DrGarageland is licensed under CC PDM 1.0


1. “Forever chemicals” will not be addressed by the Senate

Senator John Barrasso, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told Bloomberg News that a House bill addressing “forever chemicals” has “no prospects in the Senate,” according to the Hill. Forever chemicals, which Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found present in a wide range of common foods, resist breaking down over time and have also been linked to health problems like kidney and thyroid cancer, by the FDA, the Hill reports. At the same time, as reported in the Intercept, political appointees in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are planning multiple processes for rolling back regulation of chemicals that its own scientists have found to be carcinogens, as well as chemicals linked to autism and neurodevelopmental problems. The Intercept details some of the health consequences of these rollbacks. A few examples:

-EPA rollbacks have included clean air and clean water regulations. The damages from these rollbacks will most impact Black and Latino people, who produce less pollution that white Americans, and who live with a higher burden of pollution because they are more likely to live near facilities using dangerous chemicals.

-The EPA has been pulling funding from centers researching the effects of chemicals on children. One such center, the Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Leukemia and the Environment, had identified associations between childhood leukemia and exposure to pesticides, traffic emissions, tobacco smoke, and solvents.

-The 2016 Toxic Substances Control Act, which requires the EPA to identify and restrict dangerous substances, is being undermined by the current administration. As Ever Gartner, an Earthjustice attorney explains in the Intercept, “We’re seeing massive exclusions of known pathways for exposure. EPA is finding that chemicals that are universally understood to present massive risk are fine.”

-The EPA is also proposing a federal rules change, the disingenuously named “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” which would prohibit the use of studies based on the private health data. Without that data, scientists would be unable to prove a connection between cigarette smoke and cancer, for example. This would end the use of anonymous medical information to create study populations in the thousands—which is currently a standard practice in ethical medical research. S-HP

If you want to urge the Senate to take action against these changes, write Barrasso and his colleagues here.

2. Trump administration send asylum-seekers to Guatemala–without telling them where they are going.

Under the administration’s so-called “safe third country” policy, the Border Patrol is sending some asylum-seekers–including families with small children–to Guatemala, without telling them whre they are going or what they should do when they get there. They are required to apply for asylum within 48 hours, but they do not know to do so, according to the Washington Post. Guatemala itself is no place of refuge; in fiscal 2019, 264,000 Guatemalans sought asylum in the United States, the largest number from any country. Guatemala is plagued by the same gangs as the countries the asylum-seekers have fled. RLS

3. House Judiciary Committee investigates “Remain in Mexico” Program

The House Judiciary Committee has announced an investigation into Homeland Security’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which this past year have forced 57,000 asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed; in a letter to the most recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acting Secretary, Chad Wolf, the Judiciary Committee asserts that the program is “exposing thousands of people to threats of murder, sexual violence, and kidnapping…. [and] depriving them of already-scare due process protections.” The Committee also pointed out that “As of today [1/12/2020], there are 31 active travel advisories for Mexico…. It is difficult to understand why this administration is sending children and families to areas where they will face certain harm.” (If you want to know more, the New York Times reported on the investigation; the New Yorker had an eloquent piece on MPP in October, and we covered the issue November 10, if you want to scroll down.) S-HP

If you want to write the DHS secretary, here’s his address–and others.

4. House Democrats call for release of transgender people held by ICE

According to The Hill, a group of House Democrats–“arguing that the U.S. has failed to follow guidelines to protect individuals who face more perilous conditions in detention than other migrants”–is calling for the release of all transgender individuals currently held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The letter goes on to note that “Transgender migrants and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, solitary confinement, physical assault, and medical neglect. These inhumane conditions and systematic abuses are evidenced in countless reports and accounts by formally detained people.” A 2015 ICE memo calls for specific accommodations to be made when housing individuals who identify as transgender—policies which ICE has never put into practice. This effort is being led by Representative Mike Quigly (D-IL). S-HP

If you want to thank Rep. Quigly and urge your members of Congress to follow suit, here are the pertinent addresses.

5. The Census: from the frying pan into the fire

As follow-up to an executive order from Donald Trump, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that it is providing the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce, which oversees the census, with records that can “assist in determining the number of citizens, lawfully present non-citizens, and unauthorized immigrants in the United States during the decennial census (2020 Census).” Participating agencies will include DHS, as well as a number of agencies it oversees, including the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), NPR reports. In essence this data-sharing will replace the controversial citizenship question that was struck from the census after court challenges. (Fun fact: note that only one of the individuals directing these agencies has actually been confirmed by the Senate.) S-HP

If this effort to weaponize the census troubles you, here are the various (acting) heads of agencies that you can write.

6. Military equipment used to evict mothers in Oakland

A few facts about Oakland, California. Housing in Oakland, California, as is true of most California Housing, is high-priced and scarce. According to the site Rent Jungle, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland is $2551, for a two-bedroom apartment $3171. The average rent by neighborhood in Oakland ranges from $1939 to $4122. Move-in fees reach $8000 or more. Oakland has a homeless population of 8,000, which is 47% higher than two years ago. In Alameda County, where Oakland is located, you need to make $48 an hour to afford the median rent, but minimum wage in the County is just $14 an hour. Of 9.304 housing units recently built or in construction in Oakland, only 628 were subsidized affordable housing. When a new group of 28 affordable units became available, more than 4,000 people applied for them. Estimates are that there are 32,000+ unoccupied houses in Oakland—or four empty houses per homeless person.

This is why last November a group of homeless mothers moved into an unoccupied house on Magnolia Street (not one of Oakland’s better addresses), Vice explains. That house was owned by Wedgewood, a real estate company that specializes in “flipping homes” and that owns 125+ homes in the Bay Area; “flipping” partly accounts for the increase in home prices. For fifty-seven days the struggle between Moms4Housing (the name the occupying women gave themselves) and Wedgewood played out with intense news coverage. Then in a pre-dawn raid, Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputies stormed the house and evicted the mothers, SF Gate reports. The equipment they used included tanks and AR-15s. They blasted open the door to the house using a battering ram, according to KTVU. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said she was “shocked” by the use of force. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the excessive force used in these evictions, and about the evictions themselves, here are the addresses for the Alameda County Sheriffs and for Wedgewood.

7. Bar Association calls for investigation of Attorney General Barr

Bloomberg reports that the New York Bar Association, in a letter to the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, has called for a Congressional investigation of Attorney General William Barr because of his “willing[ness] to use the levers of government to empower certain groups over others.” This follows last year’s chastisement of Barr by 450 former federal prosecutors, who had been appointed by both Republican and Democratic administrations, for his misleading handling of the Mueller report. According to PBS, the letter stated that “The duties to act impartially, to avoid even the appearance of partiality and impropriety, and to avoid manifesting bias, prejudice or partisanship in the exercise of official responsibilities are bedrock obligations for government lawyers. Mr. Barr has disregarded these fundamental obligations in several public statements during the past few months…. Mr. Barr launched a partisan attack against ‘so-called progressives’ for supposedly waging a ‘campaign to destroy the traditional moral order…. [and] vowed to place the Department of Justice ‘at the forefront’ of efforts to resist ‘forces of secularization.’” S-HP

If you want to join the New York Bar Association in calling for an investigation of the Attorney General, the appropriate committee chairs can be found here.

8. Conservative think tank masterminded plan to shrink Bears Ears National Monument

The successful campaign to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by 85 per cent was funded by the Sutherland Institute, a non-profit organization supported by private funding, according the Salt Lake Tribune, which obtained a considerable number of documents from the Department of the Interior, following a public records request. The Sutherland Institute tends to be staffed by people who are connected with the Koch brothers and takes positions opposed to public lands in principle. RLS

9. Trump releases aid for Puerto Rico–but with almost untenable restrictions

Trump has agreed to release the aid for Puerto Rico that was earmarked for them after the hurricanes two years ago, according to NPR (see our story last week). However, the aid comes with severe restrictions–it cannot be spent on the electrical grid; federal workers cannot be paid the mandated wage of $15/hr; its budget plans have to be approved by a fiscal control board. As the New York Times reports, a congressional aide suggested that these restrictions are designed to make it impossible for Puerto Rico to spend the money. RLS

If Trump won’t help, you can. Remezcla suggests some local organizations doing relief work there.


10. Legal complaints filed against RCMP for refusing to allow delivery of winter supplies

The territory of the Wet’suwet’en people in Northern B.C. was never ceded to Canada nor signed over in a treaty. Nonetheless, the Coastal GasLink/TC Energy (formerlyTranscanada) pipeline is scheduled to go through their land despite their objections. Barricades were removed and 14 people were arrested by the RCMP last year at this time, according to The Real News, and documents recently uncovered by the Guardian reveal that in 2018, the RCMP were prepared to shoot protestors (see our December 23 issue for details). Last week, the RCMP refused to allow deliveries of food and winter gear to the territory, and legal complaints have been filed as a result, the National Observer reports. Indigenous Climate Action articulates their support for the Wet’suwet’en people and identifies other sites where Indigenous sovereignity, climate issues and the fossil fuel industry collide. RLS

The Wet’suwet’en people have sent out a call for support.


11. Human-linked loss of biodiversity actually predates modern humans

A new study published in the journal Ecology Letters provides evidence that the loss of biodiversity that seems to follow humans wherever we live actually predates us as a species. An international team from Sweden, Switzerland and the UK studied fossil records in east Africa, the place with the longest continuous human presence, and found that the drop in biodiversity goes back millions of years. In particular they found that numbers and variety of predatory species fell with no obvious reason such as climate change to explain the loss. It seems likely that it was human ancestor species that out-competed predators in their overlapping habitats. This would also align with hominid’s development of stealing kills from predatory animals, a behavior called kleptoparasitism. Indeed, it may be the case that the lion’s social organization which is unique among felines and the leopard’s habit of carrying their kills up into trees may be tactics evolved to preserve their food from marauding hominids, Phys.Org explains. JC

12. SpaceX completes an apparently successful launch abort test.

The SpaceX Dragon crewed capsule has completed its final test on the road to carrying human beings into space. The rocket lifted off at 10:30 EST January 19 to perform a test on the safety system that should engage if the rocket suffers a catastrophic failure during launch. In the event the rocket explodes or shuts down for whatever reason, the capsule is designed to rapidly break free of the rocket and clear distance from any possibly debris before safely returning the capsule to earth under parachutes. The test utilized a Dragon rocket that had been flown three times previously, in itself an extraordinary achievement, and appeared to be completely successful with separation and safe splashdown exactly where predicted. The first human crew could launch as soon as a few months to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, Ars Technica reported.  JC


  • Vice provides a comprehensive guide to avoid getting hacked.
  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist has quick, easy actions you can take and an announcement about its 2020 strategy.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list includes some items above and others from last week that you might want to revisit, including the ERA, the machinations of Cambridge Analytica, and the issue of the changes to disability.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record on issues such as the additional barriers to asylum (see last week’s issue where we explain this), coal plant waste (also explained last week), farmworker protections, and much more.
  • Rogan’s list recommends that we call key senators to demand witnesses at the impeachment trial and suggests that we pressure the Senate on the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. See the list for other straightforward actions you can take.
  • As the impeachment trial proceeds, Heather Cox Richardson’s nightly columns will be an essential resource.