It is pretty difficult to keep track of all that is happening and to sort out the reliable information from the dreck. Luckily, some remarkable thinkers and scholars are making sense of it all. Science journalist Laurie Garrett, who received a Pulitzer for her coverage of the Ebola virus in 1995 and who predicted the situation we are now in, in her book The Coming Plague is among these.. She had a comprehensive piece which clarifies the parallel roles of Xi Jinping and Donald Trump with regard to the coronaviru in The New Republic earlier in April; TNR will only give you three free articles, but this should be one of them.
We mention Heather Cox Richardson regularly; the worse things get, the more cogent and essential her analysis becomes.
The Atlantic has a project, “The Battle for the Constitution,” which features a myriad of impressive stories on how the coronavirus, the Trump administration and the Supreme Court are jeopardizing constitutional rights.
1. Trump threatens press freedom
Trump tweeted last week that news outlets should return their “Noble” prizes for their coverage of the Russian election interference story, as the Hill notes. (Just to be clear, newspapers don’t get Nobel prizes but Pulitzers–but have not gotten them for stories about Russia and the election.) Though the tweets are absurd, they should remind us that in March he filed libel lawsuits against the Washington Post, CNN, and the New York Times for publishing opinion pieces that demonstrated how Trump collaborated with Russia, as Vice reported. In April, he sued an NBC affiliate for writing that he said that the coronavirus was a hoax, according to the New York Post. Though these suits are widely regarded as frivolous, unable to succeed because of First Amendment protections, they are likely to have a chilling effect on smaller media outlets without the budget to fight them, the Atlantic reports.
Local news is already jeopardized, as the New York Times reported last year. A detailed 2019 report from PEN explains that as print advertising revenue has fallen (and as readers resist paywall/subscription models), 1800 news outlets have closed since 2004, impeding democratic processes and allowing false news to flourish. Also in 2019, a PEW report indicates that people value local news (though they prefer to access it on TV) but don’t understand that it is in jeopardy.
Thirty states have laws prohibiting “SLAPP” suits (strategic lawsuits against public participation)–that is, those filed with the intent to silence public voices, according to the Cornell Law School. But these are not helpful in dealing with Trump’s suits against newspapers, because he filed them in federal court, where SLAPP does not apply, according to the Hill. RLS
You can tell your Congressmembers it’s time for a national SLAPP law. Addresses are here.
2. US deporting asylum-seekers ill with COVID-19 back to the countries they fled.
The U.S. has been turning back all asylum seekers at the border, claiming this is a coronavirus prevention measure. And up until mid-April, when Guatemala barred flights from the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had been returning asylum seekers to their countries of origin from which they had sought asylum. Reuters reports that at this point, more than 100 individuals testing positive for coronavirus—or over 20% of all Coronavirus cases in Guatemala as of May 1—have been deported from the U.S. to Guatemala. Many of these are deportees who come from indigenous communities, which are spurning the returnees. Groups in the Guatemala highlands, from whence many asylum-seekers come, have attempted to burn down a migrant shelter and are threatening the families of those who return from the U.S. Carlos Cunes, flown back to Guatemala after his U.S. asylum claim was denied, told Reuters that when he tried to return home, “[villagers] threatened to set my family on fire…. If I had stayed, they would have burnt down my house and who knows what else,” this despite the fact that Cunes had documentation showing he had tested negative for coronavirus. Mexico has not stopped deportations, so despite the cancellation of flights from the U.S., Guatemalans seeking asylum in the U.S. continue to be returned to the country they are fleeing. S-HP
3. Long-standing flaws in nursing home oversight led to thousands of COVID-19 deaths
16,000 nursing home residents and staff in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus–more than 25% of the U.S. deaths overall, USA Today reported on May 1. Some 97,000 are known to be positive, though this is likely an undercount, given insufficient testing, data and reporting. California’s flaws in tracking cases are detailed in a Santa Cruz Sentinel story. Inadequate safety precautions, improper procedures and missing safety equipment, severe staff shortages, unavailability of tests, lack of regulation and reporting, and a culture of secrecy driven by financial priorities all set the conditions for nursing homes to be over-run by COVID-19, according to CNN. Residents are already at high risk because of their age and medical situations. Information about the status of nursing homes in terms of the coronavirus has been hard for residents and families to obtain, CNN reported.
USA Today has a searchable database of nursing homes with cases of COVID-19, though not all states provided data.You can look up the inspection reports for the nursing home your family member or friend is considering, thanks to a tool from Kaiser Health News; as KHN explains, infection control–handwashing and protective equipment–is the biggest lapse.
In Canada, half of the 3,391 COVID-19 deaths have occured in long-term care homes (as nursing homes are called there), according to the New York Times. The situation has revealed long-standing faultlines in the system, from underpaid workers with precarious status who must work even when they are sick to the lack of protective equipment in an industry which is fundamentally unregulated, NOW magazine reported. Five long-term care homes in Ontario, Canada were in such difficulty with staff shortages and critically ill patients that the province called in the military to help, according to CTV. The hardest-hit nursing home in Ontario had numerous previous violations involving–among other things–dirty laundry and recorded patient abuse. What should have happened throughout Ontario–and everywhere–was universal testing of all nursing home residents. A few nursing homes have done this with the help of local hospitals, revealing residents who had the coronavirus but were asymptomatic, according to the Toronto Star. Universal testing permitted the facilities to quarantine those who otherwise would be infecting others. RLS
Ask your members of Congress for immediate action—and appropriate funding—to protect nursing home residents. Addresses are here.
4. $500 billion in loan money to businesses entirely unregulated
Most coronavirus aid for businesses is being distributed under guidelines adopted in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which places limits on dividend payments and executive compensation for businesses and calls on businesses to prioritize maintaining pre-Coronavirus workforce. These limits have not been placed on a federal program set up by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department that will lend up to $500 billion in the form of bond purchases to large, publicly traded companies, according to Stripes. While the companies will be required to pay back these loans, there are no limitations on how the monies can be used. In an interview with the Washington Post, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed “a lot of these companies have stopped their share buybacks and slashed their dividends,” implying that restrictions on the use of these funds were unnecessary. Of course, we were also assured that the 2017 corporate tax cuts would be used to increase worker pay and provide benefits, not for executive bonuses, stock buybacks, and shareholder dividends. S-HP
If you want to intervene, you could demand that the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department set up limits on the use of the monies in this $500 billion fund so the general public, rather than shareholders and executives will benefit. Addresses are here.
5. Meatpacking plants–coronavirus hotspots–required to stay open, per Trump
In mid-April, Trump finally used the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of masks and personal protective equipment. Now he has invoked it once again—to classify meatpacking plants as “essential infrastructure,” which means they will be required to remain in operation. Trump’s move will also prevent local health officials from closing facilities that are significant sources of coronavirus infections. Meatpacking plants generally provide poor working conditions, including lax safety requirements. Workers in these plants stand close together and make significant use of knives and other cutting implements—injuring both themselves and others, as Common Dreams described the situation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not yet issued any guidelines for protecting workers in meatpacking facilities. In addition, a Department of Agriculture (USDA) federal rule change in September, 2019, reduced inspection requirements for pork processing plants and gave plant owners the option of hiring their own inspectors, rather than requiring inspections by federal employees, according to NPR. Meatpacking plants have been identified as hotspots for coronavirus transmission. As of April 30, at least 20 workers at meatpacking plants has died of COVID-19 and another 6,500 either tested positive for COVID-19 or were symptomatic at a level to require their quarantine, the Washington Post reports.. Trump may call meatpacking plant workers “essential,” but essential is starting to sound a lot like expendable. S-HP
If you think that essential should not mean expendable, ask your Congressmembers to investigate conditions at “essential” workplaces. Addresses are here.
6. Inequities among students intensified by on-line learning
The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating existing educational inequities because students without adequate internet access cannot engage in remote learning. The Emergency Education Connections Act, H.R.6563, would address this gap by granting $2 billion to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use in its E-Rate Program that helps provide schools, students, and teachers with affordable internet and appropriate devices, such as laptops and tablets. H.R.6563 is currently with the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
We can advocate for H.R.6563 by using the this link to contact House leaders or we can contact those listed here, making the point that internet access for students and teachers be prioritized in any further coronavirus legislation and point out that H.R.6563 would do just that.
7. Protections for transgender patients to be eliminated–in a pandemic
The Affordable Healthcare Act barred discrimination on the basis of gender, under which it included transgender people as a protected class. The Trump administration is about to remove those protections for transgender people through a federal rules change by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), according to Politico. The final rule has not been released publicly, but has been circulated to the Department of Justice (DoJ), one of the final steps before a rule change is enacted. This rule change comes in the middle of a pandemic and affects a community that has been treated poorly by some in the healthcare community, Transgender Planet wrote. A Center for American Progress survey of transgender individuals found that 29% of them said a healthcare professional had refused to see them on the basis of their gender identity. In other circumstances one might hope that Health and Human Service’s Office of Civil Rights might object to the removal of a protected class, but that office is currently run by Roger Severino, a former staffer at the Heritage Foundation and a long-time anti-LGBTQ activist. S-HP
You can decry this invitation to discriminate, particularly as it comes during a pandemic. Addresses are here.
8. $8 billion earmarked for Native Americans–none distributed after a month
Under the CARES Act, Native American tribal governments were to receive $8 billion in emergency Coronavirus relief through the Treasury Department; however, almost a month later, none of that funding has been distributed, according to the Huffington Post. There appear to be two reasons for this failure. First, there is a legal battle underway regarding whether Alaska Native corporations, which hold most native land in the state, can receive money earmarked for tribal governments [emphasis added]. Tribal governments are arguing that Alaska Native corporations do not engage in the types of public services needed to fight coronavirus. Second, as pointed out by Senator Tom Udall, Vice Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the Treasury Department generally doesn’t interact with tribes and as a result “They don’t know how to interact in the appropriate way with tribes and they’re just not getting the job done,” the Huffington Post reported. All this is occurring as coronavirus devastates Native American communities.
Insist on prompt distribution of coronavirus relief funds, and ask Senate Indian Affairs committe leadership to take any actions possible to see that these funds are distributed swiftly and appropriately. Addresses are here.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
9. COVID-19 hits Black people harder than others
A study of 305 adults hospitalized with COVID-19 in eight Georgia hospitals found that 83.2% of them were Black, while in the same period only 47% of people hospitalized for all causes–including COVID-19–were Black. Seven of the eight hospitals were in Atlanta, where Black people constitute 54% of the population, according to World Population Review. Previous discussions of the coronavirus have suggested that Black patients were more likely to have risk factors, such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma, but in the study of Georgia patients, published by the Center for Disease Control, Black and non-black patients were equally likely to have these risk factors. High blood pressure was the only risk factor that Black patients were more likely to have. Black patients were no more likely to die than non-black patients. The study suggests that social and economic factors–including occupation–may explain why Black people are more likely to contract COVID-19.
You can call for a Congressional investigation of disparities in coronavirus mortalities and urge additional funding for hospitals caring for over-represented minority communities. Addresses are here.
- With 26 weeks to go before the presidential election, the Americans of Conscience Checklist prioritizes what we need to do–starting with taking care of ourself.
- See Sarah-Hope’s whole list for more opportunities to intervene.
- Martha’s list this week has the news that 10,000 Federal employees tested positive for coronavirus. She also notes the EPA’s refusal to regulate particulate matter as well as to regulate neurotoxin methyl bromide Proposed Rule on HHS OIG . And under closing soon, you’ll want to see that the”Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” comment period was extended, enough time for their own Science Advisory Board to criticize the proposal.
- See Rogan’s list for ways to object to the treatment of prisoners, asylum-seekers, the Navajo nation, and more.