News You May Have Missed: February 2, 2020

If you are in despair about the vote in the Senate not to allow witnesses, read Heather Cox Richardson’s last few columns. Her long view is quite bracing. And if you want to thank the House Impeachment Managers, who have performed impeccably– documenting all claims and insisting on respect for the Constitution–their names and addresses are here.

“Influenza virus” by Sanofi Pasteur is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Just a word about the other “big” story, the new coronavirus: There is understandable concern about the new virus, but less worry about influenza, though as many as 25,000 people have died in the U.S. so far this flu season, according to the Washington Post. (3500 die annually in Canada; numbers from this season are not available.) See award-winning science writer Laurie Garrett’s piece from last fall on the connection between climate change and pandemics and on how the most vulnerable people and countries will suffer most. As with everything–political or seemingly non-political–it is important to focus not (only) on the sensational but on the news that doesn’t make the headlines (or that disappears quickly from the headlines). To that end, we bring you News You May Have Missed.


1. Trump authorizes the use of landmines

In 2014, Barack Obama issued a directive prohibiting U.S. production or acquisition of anti-personnel landmines (APLs). Landmines are a notorious weapon of war, designed to kill or main and often used in areas with significant civilian populations. In addition, landmines don’t disappear when a conflict ends. Vox reports that, according to the watchdog group Landmine Monitor, there were over 130,000 landmine casualties between 1999 and 2018. More than 160 countries—but not the U.S.—have signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, known as the Ottawa Treaty, which prohibits production, stockpiling, use, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines; Canada signed it as well and has not reneged. Now, a cable from the Trump administration indicates that the U.S. has given itself a blanket authorization to use landmines in current or future conflicts. S-HP

If you are aghast at the revival of landmines, consider objecting. You can write to the Secretary and Undersecretary of Defense as well as to your elected representatives; addresses are here.

2. Abuse of immigrants in detention centers authorized

“Hog-tying, fetal restraints, [and] tight restraints” are now all permitted at immigration detention centers; minors may be handcuffed, and the reasons for using solitary confinement have been broadened under new rules governing these facilities, according to the Texas Observer. Even more ominously, guards only need to notify ICE that an inmate needs to be transferred to a hospital “as soon as practicable,” rather than immediately. In addition, non-profit organizations, such as those that represent immigrants in their asylum appeals, will have less access to prisoners, the ACLU notes. One of the reasons for these lowered standards is to enable local jails and prisons to serve as detention centers, according to Rolling Stone. RLS

You can object to lowered standards at immigration detention centers and point out that seeking asylum is a right under international law, not a crime. Appropriate addresses are here.

3. Medicaid cuts would jeopardize elders and babies

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)–the government insurance programs that serve 70 million Americans, including a third of all children–would be seriously undercut under new proposals from the Trump administration. As the LA Times reports, these programs cover half of all births in the South and 62% of nursing home residents nationwide. The new Republican proposal would permit states to convert their Medicaid allocation to block grants, according to the LA Times, allowing them to use the funds as they wished. The grants would be capped, likely diminishing access to medical care for low-income people. RLS

If you want to let your members of Congress know that cuts to Medicaid are inhumane, you can find your addresses here. You can mention your grandma, if appropriate.

4. Supreme Court won’t stop Republicans from using public benefits to keep out immigrants

The Supreme Court, in a typical 5-4 split, has determined that Trump’s “public charge” rule can be enforced while it makes its way through the courts, according to Politico and other new outlets. Under this rule, potential immigrants can be denied residency in or admission to the U.S. because they have used or because it is deemed likely that they may in the future use public-assistance programs, meaning an immigration official’s predictions of individuals’ future income could determine their fate. As numerous commentators have pointed out, this kind of regulation is what kept some 300,000 Jewish refugees out of the US during World War II. H.R.3222, the No Federal Funds for Public Charge Act, would end this program by prohibiting paying for it with federal monies. This legislation has 118 co-sponsors, including the Central Coast’s Jimmy Panetta. It is currently with the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. S-HP

You can urge appropriate committee leadership to support H.R. 3222. Addresses are here.

5. “Saving” Social Security

Trump tweeted recently that he is going to “save” Social Security, but then had the following exchange with a CNBC interviewer at the World Economic Program in Davos: Interviewer: “One last question: Entitlements ever be on your plate?” Trump: “At some point they will be.”

Those of us uncomfortable with what a Republican “save” of Social Security might look like can urge passage of the Social Security 2100 Act (S.269 in the Senate; H.R.860 in the House). The legislation would provide an increase of about 2% of the average benefit to all beneficiaries; would improve the annual cost of living adjustment to better reflect the costs incurred by older Americans; would protect low income workers by setting a new minimum benefit at 25% above the poverty line; would cut taxes for beneficiaries by raising the threshold for non-Social Security income before benefits are taxed; and would ensure that any increase in benefits from the bill don’t result in a reduction in SSI, Medicaid or CHIP benefits. The measure would also gradually phase in an increase in the contribution rate to keep the system solvent (for the average worker, this would mean paying an additional 50 cents per week every year), and would allow income up to $400,000 to be taxed for Social Security (these taxes currently tax income earned up to, but not beyond $132,900 a year). S.269 has been languishing in the Senate Finance Committee for over a year now. House action on H.R.860 has been similarly nonexistent, except for one referral to a subcommittee: the House Ways and Means Committee sent it to their Subcommittee on Social Security. In the House H.R.860 is also with the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. S-HP

You can urge the appropriate Congressional committees to take quick action on these bills. Addresses are here.

6. HUD finds tracking discrimination “burdensome”

Originally passed in 1968, the Fair Housing Act outlawed discrimination in housing, but federal enforcement was lackluster. In 2015, the Obama administration moved to increase enforcement of the act by requiring local governments to track patterns of poverty and segregation. Federal funds could then be withheld from cities that did not address segregation. Calling this tracking “burdensome,” Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson is now moving to eliminate it. HUD has also cancelled efforts to end unintended discrimination in home loans caused by banking algorithms. According to Politico, this past November every Senate Democrat signed on to a letter to Carson, saying they were “deeply troubled by the direction this administration is heading in relation to fair lending and fair housing protections.” Currently homeownership rates are 73% for Whites and are a bit under 43% for Blacks. According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Treasury Department’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) saw an 8% increase in housing discrimination cases in 2018 (the 2019 annual report is not yet available), but according to Politico, the administration has filed only a single fair lending enforcement case since Trump appointees took over management of the CFPB. S-HP

If you want to remind the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development that addressing segregation isn’t burdensome but essential, and tell appropriate officials that CFPB’s poor record of fair lending enforcement is unacceptable, you will find addresses here. In addition, if you want to post a comment for the public record, see Martha’s list, here.

8. Trump pleases the crowd at the March for Life, threatens to punish California

Undermining abortion rights is a key strategy in Trump’s re-election campaign. His latest move is to threaten California with the loss of some federal funding if the state continues to require that health plans cover abortion services, according to the L.A. Times. Five other states already have this requirement, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The announcement was intended to coincide with Trump’s appearance at the March for Life rally in January, Politico reports, the first sitting president to do so. There, according to the BBC,  he told the crowd, without irony, that “We’re here for a very simple reason: to defend the right of every child born and unborn to fulfill their God-given potential.” RLS

If you want to urge your Congressmembers to defend women’s right to make their own healthcare decisions and let California officials know not to cave in to this blackmail, addresses are here.

9. Boy Scouts still working with Border Patrol

Last August, we wrote about the Border Patrol Law Enforcement Explorer Program, a program for 14-to-20-year-olds, jointly run by the Boy Scouts and the Border Patrol. Its ostensible aim is to teach survival skills and first aid, and to participate in training exercises in which they “play” either Border Patrol agents or the immigrants they target. The Boy Scouts, which claims to “train youth in responsible citizenship [and] character development” continue to participate in the program. S-HP

If you would like to ask the Boy Scouts in what ways targeting minorities, separating families, and ignoring international law regarding the rights of asylum seekers improve their members’ citizenship and characters, addresses are here.


10. Travel ban extended–who will be next?

Trump has extended the travel ban to six more countries with significant Muslim populations: Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania . Set to go into effect February 21, this move is likely to further endanger Myanmar’s Rhohingya Muslims, who face genocide in Myanmar and misery in refugee camps elsewhere, the New York Times notes. Nigeria is likely to be particularly hard-hit, as 7,920 Nigerians were given immigrant visas in 2018. Student visas would still be permitted, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, which provides detailed information on its website. Most people from China are now being denied entry, but this prohibition is due to the coronavirus and hence is temporary. The previous travel ban was upheld by the Supreme Court, so it is hard to see what legal challenges will prevail against this one. Families separated by borders will particularly suffer, explained Doug Rand, who worked on immigration policy in the Obama White House: “It has become a de facto family separation policy besides the obvious one at the border,” he said. “This will just magnify the pain to extend it to other countries.” RLS


11. Astronomers observe warping of the fabric of space and time

An international team of astrophysicists has published data in the journal Science showing an effect called “frame dragging,” observed in a neutron star rapidly spinning around a white dwarf companion star, chalking up yet one more validation for Einstein’s theory of relativity. When a quickly spinning, quickly orbiting and very massive body moves, it bends the fabric of time and space around it, affecting the light radiating through the area of space around the object. This can have some unusual apparent effects. For example, if you were to throw an enormous spear right at the neutron star, it would appear that the spear would actually be moving in an orbit opposite the orbit of the star, away from the target. This is because the tip of the spear would actually be moving at a slower rate than the end of the spear, warping its image from any observer’s point of view. This observed and confirmed phenomenon can be added to the historic observation of light deflection during solar eclipse in 1919 and 1922 as proof that general relativity continues to make accurate predictions about the nature of the universe, Phys. Org notes. JC

12. Protecting migratory birds

As explained by Audubon, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) makes it illegal to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect migratory birds or their eggs or nests—or attempt to do so—without a permit. For decades, both deliberate acts and “incidental take” (accidental or inadvertent killing of birds) were considered violations of this legislation. In 2018, the Interior Department announced that it would no longer enforce rules against incidental take.

The problem is that “incidental take” is not necessarily accidental or inadvertent. For example, if a property owner decides to knock down a barn that contains an owl nest, the killing of nestlings is no longer considered a violation of the MBTA because the “intent” of the action was to tear down the barn, not to kill the nestlings. In other words, come up with the right story and you have a free license to kill and injure migratory birds and their nestlings. That decision to allow incidental take is being challenged in the courts by several wildlife and ecological protection organizations that argue that this new interpretation is clearly in conflict with the intent of the original legislation. The Migratory Bird Protection Act, H.R.5552, would affirm that the intent of the MBTA was to prohibit incidental take of birds without a permit and would require that the Fish and Wildlife research the impact of ongoing commercial activity on bird populations and that it identify and/or develop best practices to minimize this impact. The House Committee on Natural Resources had approved H.R.5552, which can now go to a vote of the full House. S-HP

If you want to encourage your representative along with the Speaker of the House to support H.R.5552, addresses are here. You can also see Martha’s list, below, to post a comment for the public record.

Amazon passes 500k employees, 1 trillion dollar valuation 

It’s fair to say that most people know that Amazon is a huge company. With its quarterly earnings report, it’s possible to more clearly define exactly how huge and influential the company is in the US marketplace. This past year saw Amazon add 150,000 workers to its payroll (more than Apple’s entire workforce), a 42% increase over the previous year.  While stocks tumbled this past week, Amazon stock reached over $2000 per share, doubling in value over the past two years. 150 million people are paying to be Amazon Prime members. Amazon has attracted criticism from Democratic presidential candidates for paying little tax relative to its size, a claim the company attempted to rebuff with a disclosure released this past week detailing the various taxes paid. While the company has indeed paid billions in payroll taxes and customs duties to the federal government, and has a tax bill of one billion dollars for 2019, it has deferred paying 900 million of those taxes, Geekwire reports. The amount paid in federal income tax for 2019 so far? 162 million dollars on an operating revenue of 14.5 billion. JC


  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist not only has quick, clear-cut actions you can take but a long list of good news!
  • Our colleague Crysostom is back–with a comprehensive round-up of election news.
  • Sarah-Hope’s whole list has some California specific items, plus everything above.
  • If you get your health insurance through the ACA, you really need to look at the first item on Martha’s list.
  • Rogan’s list has great information on actions state-by-state, as well as ways to engage in upcoming primaries and an action you can take to restore asylum.