This week we’re trying to remember that there is much more going on than the coronavirus. Trump has closed the border and essentially ended the possibility of asylum. Pipelines are being constructed and challenged. Essential workers are going without essentials. And as our colleague Crysostom reminds us, we are careening toward an election. See his site for news you won’t have seen about downballot races.
1. Freezing aid to the WHO possibly illegal, certainly unwise
As he flails about in an effort to draw attention away from his Administration’s failed Coronavirus response, Trump has settled on the World Health Organization (WHO) as a target. Politico reports that Trump claims WHO was not honest in reporting on the Coronavirus outbreak in China, going so far as to call WHO “very China centric.” Now Trump has ordered a halt to U.S. funding of WHO, a move similar to the one he made in freezing foreign aid to Ukraine.
The General Accounting Office determined in January that Trump violated the 1974 Impoundment Control Act by withholding funds for a policy reason. It is the legislative branch of the government, not the administrative, that controls appropriations. And, of course, it was that freezing of aid and the subsequent cover-up that led to Trump’s impeachment by the House. Besides its potential illegality, Trump’s decision to withhold WHO funding in the midst of a pandemic is hugely shortsighted. WHO led the global response to Coronavirus and produced and distributed Coronavirus test kits—which were offered to and rejected by the U.S Moreover, the Washington Post reported on April 19 that American employees of the WHO were transmitting updates as they were available. S-HP
You can ask for Congressional censure of Trump for illegally withholding WHO funding and insist that the U.S. continue funding WHO to protect the health of the nation and the world. Contact your elected representatives–addresses are here.
2. Federal government seizing PPE from states that had purchased it
State governments have faced severe difficulties in obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE) for those working on the frontline of the coronavirus response. On a number of occasions, the federal government has seized PPE shipments before they could be delivered to the governments that were the original purchasers, a New York Magazine story explains, and has redistributed these supplies using opaque criteria that appear to have more to do with Trump’s whims (and those of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is leading the administration’s Coronavirus response) than with actual need.
The Chairs of the House Homeland Security and Oversight and Reform Committees have asked Peter Gaynor, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to explain the seizure of medical supplies from states, as have Virginia’s senators, according to the Virginia Mercury. They have also asked him to clarify Jared Kushner’s role in handling supplies, especially given rumors that distribution depends on personal connections. They have asked FEMA to provide all documents related to these two issues. One response to this irresponsible administration behavior would be passage of the Medical Supply Chain Emergency Act, S.3568, which is currently with the Senate’s Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. S.3568 would require Trump to use his powers under the 1950 Defense Production Act to generate emergency production of medical equipment, including PPE, to address the coronavirus outbreak. S-HP
You can thank House Committee Chairs for investigating federal seizure of PPE, urge swift, positive action on S.3568 by the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and encourage your Congressmembers to continue pushing for an increase in the production of medical equipment and supplies and for an investigation into federal disruption of existing supply chains. Addresses are here.
3. Remain (infected) in Mexico
As of April 17, 17 of the 3,000 asylum-seekers required to wait in the crowded camp in Matamoros, Mexico, have symptoms of coronavirus, according to Border Report. The camp does not have testing facilities so these cases and those to come cannot be confirmed. Though asylum-seekers with symptoms have been quarantined, the camp lacks sanitary facilities and running water; what medical care there is is provided by a volunteer organization, Global Response. Human Rights First has urged the Department of Homeland Security to permit those required to “Remain in Mexico” to enter the US, where many of them have families, rather than having to risk both violence and infection both in the camp and when they must travel as immigration courts reopen. RLS
4. Deporting COVID-19
The US has deported thousands of asylum-seekers since the coronavirus became a concern, including children and teenagers without their parents–and refused to admit 377 children so far during the pandemic, according to the Intercept. They are most often being sent away without testing, the AP reports, endangering the local populations and the fragile local health care systems Some number of asylum-seekers sent to Guatemala have tested positive for the virus, according to the New York Times. Guatemala’s health minister said that the deportees have driven up the infection rate in Guatemala, ABC News reported, noting that on one flight, 75% of those deported tested positive.
While Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico have asked the US to halt the flow of asylum-seekers back to their countries, Trump instead declared that any country that doesn’t accept these deportees will incur sanctions, regardless of the ability of their health care systems to manage an outbreak. Father Juan Carbajal, the director of the Catholic Church’s Pastoral of Human Mobility in Guatemala, told El Faro, an on-line newspaper in El Salvador, “[The deportations] show a lack of ethics and a lack of respect for international rights, especially amidst this crisis.” Carbajal added, “there have been deportations that are being carried out without any concern for their health.” Earlier in April, the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) launched an inquiry into the Trump administration’s decision to unilaterally shut the border and freeze all asylum proceedings. RLS
5. Detaining COVID-19
As of April 14th, there were 19 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the San Diego Otay Mesa Detention Center, where masks were not distributed to asylum-seekers until two weeks after a staff member tested positive. At first, detainees were asked to sign a release of liability before being given masks; those who objected were pepper-sprayed and put in isolation, according to KPBS.
In the Heartland Alliance facility in Chicago, 37 children and two staff members had tested positive for the virus as of April 14, the number of cases having doubled overnight, ProPublica reported. As Holly Cooper, co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California, Davis, pointed out, the priority should be to release the children, since protecting them against the virus is impossible when they are in close quarters.
On March 28, U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered that children in detention be released to families and sponsors as quickly as possible and told the government to report on April 9 what the progress had been. No information is available on how many children have been released, but the lawyers for the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, which is representing detained children, announced on Twitter April 10 that they were back in court. RLS
ISLA (Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy) in Louisiana is urging people to write the governor to ask that those in detention be released. The address is here.
6. Price-gouging in a pandemic
At least two different sets of anti-price gouging legislation have been introduced in Congress. The chief difference between them appears to be the way in which they define price-gouging. The Disaster and Emergency Pricing Abuse Prevention Act (H.R.6457/S.3576) defines price-gouging during an emergency as an increase in price greater than 20% and provides for civil penalties of up to $10,000 per incident. Text for the second, the Price Gouging Prevention Act (H.R.6450/no number yet in the Senate), is not yet available, but press releases indicate that it will define price gouging as an increase of 10% or more in essential goods or services; it was introduced in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, CNBC reports. The material currently available does not indicate what penalties for violations might be. The committees receiving this legislation are Energy and Commerce in the House and Commerce, Science, and Transportation in the Senate. S-HP
If you are inclined to tell leadership of the appropriate committees and your Congressmembers that you want to see swift action on anti-price-gouging legislation, their addresses are here.
7. Biden and Warren’s visions for coronavirus recovery
Both Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have recently had proposals for coronavirus recovery in the New York Times. Biden’s piece calls for measures we can all support: increased testing; preparing hospitals for likely virus flare-ups; establishing worker safety protections; and addressing racial disparities in the impact of coronavirus. However, his proposal does not outline specific protections for ordinary Americans facing the challenges of coronavirus: job loss; inability to pay rent or make mortgage payments; water and utility shut-offs; the lack of universal healthcare and family leave; and the impact on small businesses.
Warren’s piece addresses these topics and more. Besides protections for ordinary Americans, Warren highlights necessary systemic protections and changes. Warren calls for strengthened oversight of coronavirus relief funds. She wants conflict-of-interest rules attached to coronavirus funding and wants companies receiving government relief to commit to retaining employees as their primary concern. Finally, Warren emphasizes the importance of establishing election protections before November so that all eligible voters can safely and easily vote in the Presidential election. S-HP
You might want to suggest that Biden to take a closer look at Warren’s proposals for protecting workers, small business owners, and voters, and ask him to incorporate some of Warren’s provisions in his own plan. Joe Biden, PO Box 58174, Philadelphia, PA 19102.
8. Essential Workers Bill of Rights
Current reports indicate that workers in essential services—healthcare, transportation, grocery workers, and more—are contracting COVID-19 at higher rates than the general public. In response, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ro Khanna have proposed an “Essential Workers Bill of Rights” that should be added to any new coronavirus response/relief funding. Warren explains, “Essential workers are the backbone of our nation’s response to the coronavirus. We have a responsibility to make sure essential workers have the protections they need, the rights they are entitled to, and the compensation they deserve.” The Essential Workers Bill of Rights would include:
- Access to adequate health and safety protections
- Robust premium compensation
- Protection of collective bargaining agreements
- Truly universal sick leave, as well as family and medical leave
- Whistleblower protections
- An end to the inappropriate use of the “independent contractor” title to deprive workers of health and other benefits
- Health care security
- Support of childcare
- Treatment of workers as experts in the fields
- Corporate accountability from those receiving Coronavirus relief funds, including giving taxpayers and workers a say in how these funds are used. S-HP
If you want to tell your elected representatives that any new Coronavirus legislation include the Essential Workers Bill of Rights, you can find their contact information here.
9. What an election in a pandemic could look like
South Korea had record voter turnout–66.2%–in last week’s election, despite the country’s recent bout with the coronavirus, the South China Morning Post reported. Voters were required to stand three feet apart, wear disposable gloves and have their temperatures checked. President Moon Jae-in won by a landslide, as tensions in his administration were outweighed by perceptions that he had successfully handled the coronavirus outbreak. The country had just eight new cases of the virus on April 19, according to CTV. RLS
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
10. Poor quality tests are muddying already murky waters.
Readers may have seen a news story about a study from Santa Clara county in California claiming that a very large number of asymptomatic cases were found, suggesting that the virus’ spread is much further along than expected and lowering the case fatality rate for COVID-19 all the way down to something slightly more deadly than seasonal flu, as an article in the journal Nature explains. This would be very positive news were it true; however, there have already been serious criticisms of the study on the basis of the kind of test it used to gather its data. In the rush to fill the insatiable demand for accurate data about this outbreak, many different types of serum antibody tests have been devised and manufactured under relaxed quality control standards, one of which was used in the California study. These tests look for an immune response in blood serum that indicate that the person had been exposed to the covid-19 virus.
Unfortunately it has become clear that the accuracy standards for these tests can be quite lacking, with very high rates of false positives. Even a very few false positives in these types of studies can skew results to the point of being meaningless. As the Washington Post points out, more than 90 antibody tests are on the market, none of which have been vetted by the FDA. Additionally, simple observation of real numbers in New York City make the study’s proposed findings very implausible: if the virus were that much more widespread with commensurate lower fatality rate, then in order for New York City to have had 15,000 deaths in a month, it would require that the entire city be infected plus another 50%. Given that there is currently a serious push to re-open the economy, complete with “astroturfed” protests, there is danger in cherry-picking these kinds of studies based on potentially fatally flawed data. JC
11. Constructing pipelines under cover of COVID-19
In early April, Trump signed two executive orders intended to speed up construction of pipelines and other projects for the production and transportation of oil and gas at a time when the wise move would be to reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. As the New York Times explains, one order would make it more difficult for states to use the Clean Water Act to fight federally approved projects. The other proposal would remove the State Department from the process used to approve international projects. These executive orders will exacerbate an ongoing rush by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to implement eminent domain allowances for private energy companies to complete and expand pipeline projects. One current proposal is “Double E Pipeline, LLC; Notice of Availability of the Environmental Assessment for the Proposed Double E Pipeline Project” (because federal regulators are not hired for their ability to coin clear, concise proposal titles), which would allow a pipeline running from New Mexico to Texas. Comments must be received by May 1.
If you have something to say about this pipeline project, you can comment for the public record here. [Note: be sure to refer to Document Number 2020-06560 in your comment]
12. Pollution clearing but standards dropping
While air, water and noise pollution is dropping markedly during the slowdown of economic activity due to the coronavirus, the Atlantic reports, the administration has formalized its rollback of Obama-era fuel efficiency regulations, according to the AP. President Obama responded to this announcement noting “We’ve seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic. We can’t afford any more consequences of climate denial.” This rollback will ultimately cause more deaths from air pollution and exacerbate the climate crisis. While many automakers have confirmed a commitment to raised fuel standards in a deal brokered by the state of California, others, including Ford, GM, and Chrysler, have not. S-HP
You could ask automakers who have not yet committed to improved fuel standards to put the health of the planet before profits and keep the standards as close as possible to the Obama-rule levels. Addresses are here.
- See the Americas of Conscience Checklist for an update on the primaries and to advocate for safe ways for Native Americans to vote.
- Martha offers ways to comment for the public record. About this week’s list, she says to look for more border wall land grabs, more ways the Trump administration is using COVID-19 as cover to waive rules, including EPA waiving pesticide regulations. There are some urgent deadlines for commenting–including tomorrow.
- Sarah-Hope’s list for postcarding has some of the above action items–and more.
- Rogan’s list offers clear, concrete actions you can take.