News You May Have Missed: February 23, 2020

On February 22, Heather Cox Richardson answered the question of whether we have been here before, whether the political situation in the U.S. has ever before been in such crisis, and if so, how democracy was preserved. If you dozed through 9th grade civics, she reviews the history succinctly and tells us what we need to do.

“Forgotten Classroom” by ne* is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


1. Medicare for all would save $450 billion and 68,000 lives

According to a new report published in the Lancet, the plan proposed by Warren and Sanders, “Medicare for All” “…will save Americans more than $450 billion and prevent 68,000 deaths every year,” Democracy Now reported. The authors of the report, researchers at Yale University, say that Medicare for all is more “cost-effective” than “Medicare for All Who Want It,” the option preferred by Buttigieg. They write, “The entire system could be funded with less financial outlay than is incurred by employers and households paying for health-care premiums combined with existing government allocations. This shift to single-payer health care would provide the greatest relief to lower-income households.”

Just for the sake of comparison, the LA Times reported in January that the U.S. health care system costs four times as much to operate as the Canadian system. A 2017 study in Annals of Internal Medicine found that health care costs every American (including children) $2,497 per year, while in Canada, it costs $551 per person. (Makes you wonder where that extra $1,940 goes.) You can look at the study in Annals if you want to see how it breaks down: note “insurers’ overhead” and “hospital administration,” for example. RLS

2. Border volunteers acquitted: Judge objects to  deterence by death

Earlier this month, the conviction of four volunteers from No More Deaths/No Más Muertes who had left food and water for immigrants in the desert was reversed by a federal judge. Hundreds of bodies have been found in the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge, where the volunteers had left life-saving supplies, the Tucson Sentinel reports. Central to their defense was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA: They persuaded the judge that they were acting on their religious convictions. According to the Intercept, the judge wrote that “In other words, the government claims a compelling interest in preventing defendants from interfering with a border enforcement strategy of deterrence by death…This gruesome logic is profoundly disturbing.” RLS

If you want to read about the wide-ranging work that No More Deaths /No Más Muertes does or to contribute to the organization, start with this page.

3. Notes from children’s therapy sessions used in deportation proceedings

Since a 1997 court-ordered settlement which established minimum detention standards for the detention of immigrant children, children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) have been provided with therapy to help them deal with the traumas that have led them to flee their countries of origin and of their migration and detentions. After policy changes in 2017 and 2018, notes from those therapy sessions have been used by ICE in asylum and removal processes, despite therapists telling children that their sessions would be confidential. According to the Washington Post, the therapists sometimes were themselves unaware of how their notes would be used by the ICE. JM-L

The head of the American Psychological Association condemned the use of therapy notes in asylum and deportation decisions. The letter is here; you can also write to the Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Health and Human Services–addresses are on the letter. You can also see Rogan’s list for whom you might write.

4. Are you now or might you ever be?

The Supreme Court this week permitted the Trump administration to deny green cards to immigrants who might at some point in the future become a “public charge.” Quartz points out that despite public misconceptions about immigrants who receive benefits, most of them are employed and work in industries where they are much needed. A 2019 study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found that “immigrants help fill key gaps in the U.S. economy,” partly because they are more mobile; in addition, they address the labor shortage left by the baby boomer generation and raise upwardly mobile children. CBPP notes that “the rule will discourage their families from receiving health care, nutrition, and housing assistance that can improve their ability to contribute as future members of the adult community and workforce.” 

In her dissent to the decision, Justice Sotomayor noted that cases are being rushed to the Supreme Court without being fully heard in lower courts, thereby “putting a thumb on the scale in favor” of the Republican administration, Bloomberg news reported. RLS

5. Officials lied when they said there was no room at the inn

The catastrophic “Remain in Mexico” policy was justified in part by the idea that facilities for asylum-seekers on this side of the border were out of space. They were not, according to a Customs and Border Protection official in a deposition for a legal case brought by the immigrant support organization in Tijuana, El Otro Lado; the official said he was told to lie when turning back those applying for asylum. Buzzfeed quotes the testimony: Attorney: “In fact, it was obvious to everybody who was implementing this policy at Tecate that the capacity excuse was a lie, right?” CBP officer: “Correct.” RLS

El Otro Lado’s website has more information about what they do. In 2019, Mother Jones reported that their staffers routinely receive death threats, some presumably from the cartels their clients are fleeing.

6. Contracting rules waived for border wall

Among the laws being waived so that Trump’s border wall can be built are those governing contracting. Concerns about inflated prices and cronyism have been raised by critics of the project. The AP quotes Charles Tiefer, professor at University of Baltimore School of Law  as saying that the government “can just pick the contractor you want and and you just ram it through … The sky’s the limit on what they bill.” RLS


7. 900,000 civilians under assault by Syrian forces

As we noted last week, the last sanctuary for rebel forces opposed to President Bashar Al-Assad, Idlib province, is under relentless assault by Russian-backed Syrian forces. The Guardian has a devastating video of conditions there and Time points out that American inaction has allowed this catastrophe to continue. Turkish President Erdogan has said he will hold a summit about Idlib on March 5 with leaders of Russia, France and Germany, according to Al Jazeera. But March 5 is a long time away when 900,00 people are crowded into ever-shrinking zones, freezing and starving. The United Nations humanitarian chief has alerted the world to an “unfolding humanitarian catastrophe…In Idlib, nowhere is safe,” he said. RLS

Two links to rescue organizaions working to support civilians in Idlib can be found here. You’ll also find ways to contact your elected representatives if you want to tell them that no matter what is going on in Washington, we have a responsibility to the rest of the world.

8. Could the Irish re-unify post-Brexit?

The left-wing Sinn Fein Party in Ireland won the recent elections–but by a margin so narrow that they cannot form a government. The two center-right parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are in exploratory talks to form a coalition government, according the BBC, a coalition founded on vilifying Sinn Fein, the Irish Times reports. Foreign Policy in Focus has a piece usefully sketching Irish history since 1609 and speculating that the reunification of the Republic and Northern Ireland is now a possibility. In the Brexit vote, Northern Ireland and Scotland both voted to remain in the E.U.; now that Britain has left, if Northern Ireland follows, border complexities will seriously impede trade with the Republic, which remains in the E.U. Reunification would solve this issue–but whether a vote could succeed, given the history, depends on whether both countries could be persuaded that serious social issues–health care, housing, jobs, education–would be better addressed united, FPIF asserts. RLS


9. No country for young kids

A wide ranging report by the World Health Organization in cooperation with UNICEF and The Lancet has declared that not a single nation on earth is creating a healthy enough environment for our children. Compiled by a team of more than forty child heath experts, the report warns of extreme environmental degradation and irresponsibly aggressive marketing of unhealthy products to children, according to the Independent. Among the recommendations to correct the problems that threaten to reverse decades of global child wellness improvement: Deep cuts to CO2 emissions, child centered policy vision and much tighter regulations on marketing products to children. JC

10. Individual atomic interactions imaged for first time

A lab at the University of Otago in New Zealand has captured incredible images of individual atoms combining to form molecules, a process so far studied only by inference using statistical analysis of large numbers of atomic interactions. reports. The process involves blending a cutting edge variety of technologies using lasers, near absolute zero temperatures, a vacuum chamber and quantum imaging technology. The experiment was able to show in real time three atoms being brought together to unite two of them in combination to form a molecule, releasing energy (you can see a diagram of this at APS Physics). This heralds a new level of control that promises to one day allow us to build molecules from the individual atoms up, allowing for an almost unimaginable precision in material engineering. JC

11. 25% of all tweets on the climate crisis produced by bots

A quarter of all tweets on the climate crisis were produced by bots, according to a study coming out from Brown University, the Guardian reports. The researchers looked at 6.5 million tweets from around the time Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords. Tweets from bots tended to spread misinformation or downright climate crisis denial. Tweets such as “Get real, CNN: ‘Climate Change’ dogma is religion, not science,” and “Get lost, Greta” reached tens of thousands of followers. RLS


  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is on hiatus this week, but we recommend that you look at their new “We Make an Impact” feature, which charts the many victories people working for justice have had.
  • Sarah-Hope is away this week but there are lots of actions you can still take if you haven’t worked through last week’s list.
  • Rogan’s list has any excellent ideas for ways you can comment on and intervene in things as they are: on Trump’s “pardonapalooza,” disabled asylum-seeking children waiting in Mexico, Native American voting rights, and much more.
  • Martha’s list this week offers numerous opportunities to comment for the public record, along with important news on Gulf of Mexico region-wide oil and gas lease sales on all federal holdings (with some named exceptions) and the waiver of laws for the border wall across several states. There is no formal opportunity to comment so she recommends writing your legislators.