News You May Have Missed: May 17, 2020

Did you believe it when you heard that Dr. Anthony Fauci was on the board of Microsoft? What about when you read on Facebook that Nancy Pelosi’s bill HR6666 would allow government officials to remove family members from your home for quarantine? The AP is doing a immense service for us all by running weekly “Not Real News: A look at what didn’t happen this week” columns. It’s a great, quick way to cope with the onslaught of false information.

Heather Cox Richardson has her usual erudite insights into the morass in Washington, if you want to catch up on the week. And Chrysostom has an excellent overview of federal and state election issues. You’ll find it here.

“alameda county ballot” by citymaus is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


1. Vote by mail

We don’t know what the coronavirus situation will be like when November’s election rolls around, but we should all be doing what we can to avoid a situation like that in Wisconsin, where many voters who were unable to get absentee/vote-by-mail ballots were forced to wait in line, in a very non-socially-distanced way, in order to vote. Now would be a great time to request an absentee/vote-by-mail ballot for November. Political Charge has made the process easier by putting together an easy-to-use web page where you can find out how to go about getting an absentee/vote-by-mail ballot in your own state—whatever that state is. If you are not currently signed up for vote-by-mail, start here and request your ballot. Then, share this information with everyone you know. For all we know, the deciding factor in November’s election may be which party has the most people approved for absentee/vote-by-mail ballots. S-HP

Progress America has a petition you can sign to support the Postal Service–on which vote-by-mail depends.

2. Only two people granted asylum between March and May

According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data, in September 2019, the U.S. conducted 2,799 asylum interviews. One hundred and ninety-nine of these were initial screening interviews, and as a result of these interviews 101 recommendations of asylum approval were issued, representing 51% of all screenings at this level. Also during September 2019 the USCIS adjudicated 4,453 cases, with 1,501 (or 34%) approved.

Now let’s move forward to the period between March 21 and May 13 of this year. The Washington Post reports that during this nearly two-month period only 59 screening interviews took place. Fifty-four claims were rejected, three remain pending, and two (or 4%) were approved. This immense change in numbers and results of interviews can be attributed to new, “emergency” immigration protocols established in response to the oronavirus pandemic. These new protocols include a suspension of almost all due-process rights for those seeking to enter the U.S., including asylum seekers and children. During the March 21-May 13 period, at least 20,000 migrants attempting to enter the U.S. have been rejected without any kind of interview under the “Migrant Protection Protocol” and have been forced to remain in Mexico.

According to ProPublica analysis of a new Border Patrol memo, at this point, almost the only way a migrant at the border can gain admission to the U.S. is if they “spontaneously” state that they fear torture in their home country. Protocols do not require that agents ask about fear of torture, so those who don’t speak out will not gain temporary admission, even though they would be entitled to it. In response to a question from the Washington Post, immigration-law scholar Lucas Guttentag, who served in the Obama administration and now teaches at Stanford and Yale universities, observed, “The whole purpose of asylum law is to give exhausted, traumatized and uninformed individuals a chance to get to a full hearing in U.S. immigration courts, and [the current U.S. procedure] makes that almost impossible. It’s a shameful farce.” S-HP

You can demand a return to asylum protocols in line with international law and decry the near termination of admission to the U.S. for migrants along the southern border. Addresses are here.

3. Supporting HEROES

The House has passed the HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act, H.R.6800. This bill provides additional coronavirus relief measures, directed to ordinary Americans. Its provisions include a second round of direct payments to individuals up to $1,200; expanded sick days, family medical leave, and unemployment compensation; increased food, nutrition, and housing assistance; payments to farmers; student loan debt forgiveness; and increased funding for coronavirus testing. It expands funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, designed to help employers continue to pay employees during the pandemic; includes $3.6 billion to help states improve election security; and earmarks $25 billion to continue postal services. Some provisions, including continuing payments for individuals, were cut from the final version of the legislation, cuts which threatened passage at one point. The HEROES Act will face a much more difficult battle in the Senate. S-HP

You can urge your Senators to support the HEROES Act when it reaches the Senate. Find them here.

4. Water shut-offs continue during pandemic

The impact of COVID-19 has been particularly brutal for minority and low income communities. One of the key ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus is increased handwashing and similar hygiene measures, but about two-fifths of the U.S., including many of those hard-hit communities, rely on water utilities that have not suspended shutoffs for nonpayment, despite public health warnings that good hygiene is crucial to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Guardian and Consumer Reports. The House CARES Act included funding for water-bill assistance and a termination of water shut-offs during the Coronavirus pandemic, but these provisions were removed from the bill ultimately approved by the Senate. S-HP

You can tell your Congressmembers that the removal of water-access protections from coronavirus legislation was both cruel and dangerous to public health and demand action now to ensure access to clean water for all. You can also sign a petition calling for an end to water shut-offs at this link.

5. More guns in wildlife refuges

If a pair of proposed federal rules changes are approved, we may be seeing many more guns in National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) and Army Corps of Engineers projects, according to Oregon Live. The first of these, “Station-Specific Hunting and Sport-Fishing Regulations,” proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service would newly open eight NWRs to hunting and fishing, expand hunting and fishing at another eighty-nine NWRs, allow expansion of hunting within the National Fish Hatchery System; and create forty-one new easements in North Dakota, intended to increase hunting on federal lands accessible via privately held lands. This rule change is open for public comments through June 8.

The second of these, “Rules and Regulations Governing Public Use of Water Resource Development Projects Administered by the Chief of Engineers” (federal rule-makers do have a way with woThosrds), would impact 400 lake and river projects in forty-three states that currently allow firearms for the purpose of hunting, but require written permission for possession of firearms not intended for hunting. Under the new rules, all firearms would be allowed, not just those intended for hunting. If you wonder what the impact of this proposal might be, take a moment to consider the title of an Ammoland article celebrating this possible change: “Trump Administration to Abolish One of America’s Biggest Gun-Free Zones.” This proposal is open for public comments through June 12. S-HP

You can comment for the public record on the proposals to increase hunting in National Wildlife Refuges, perhaps pointing out the contradiction between the concept of “refuge” and the use of firearms. Follow the instructions carefully.

6. Sexual assault survivors in school sports lose protections

The Department of Education has revamped Title IX standards, which protect gender equity in school sports, claiming the changes rebalance “the scales of justice.” These changes received overwhelming, critical public commentary when they were proposed, with over 124,000 public comments submitted. Key changes include:

  • Removing coaches and other university employees from the list of mandated reporters, who have a legal obligation to file complaint when the receive allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct;
  • Narrowing the definition of sexual harassment;
  • Allowing colleges to choose the standards of proof they use when adjudicating sexual harassment allegations.

Inside Higher Education quotes Senator Patty Murray’s (D-WA) statement on these changes, “Let me be clear: this rule is not about ‘restoring balance,’ this is about silencing survivors. This rule will make it that much harder for a student to report an incident of sexual assault or harassment—and that much easier for a school to sweep it under the rug. There is an epidemic of sexual assault in schools—that’s not up for debate. But instead of responsibly working with advocates, survivors, students, K-12 schools, and colleges to address the issue, Secretary DeVos and this Administration are going out of their way to make schools less safe.” S-HP

If you wish to object to these changes that weaken student protection from sexual harassment, find your members of Congress here.

7. Preserving gender equity on college campuses

While Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been undermining protections against sexual harassment and assault on college campuses, Congress has been offered legislation that would improve such protections and address gender equity in multiple ways. The Patsy T. Mink and Louise M. Slaughter Gender Equity in Education Act (H.R.3513 in the House; S.1964 in the Senate), is currently with the House’s Education and Labor Committee and the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. According to the American Association of University Women, the Gender Equity in Education Act (GEEA) would:

  • establish an Office of Gender Equity within the Department of Education
  • provide training and resources for Title IX compliance
  • establish competitive grants at all educational levels to support gender equity work
  • provide funding for identifying and disseminating best practices in avoiding stereotypes and bias in education; addressing sex-based harassment and violence on campuses; mitigating bias in teaching and counselling; and addressing the needs of students facing discrimination based on multiple characteristics.

The GEEA has seven cosponsors in the House and fifteen cosponsors in the Senate—you can use the links above to see whether your Congressmembers are among them. S-HP

You can call for positive action on H.R.3513 and S.1964 by the appropriate committees and urge your Congressmembers to support the GEEA, including by co-sponsorship if appropriate. You can also sign the American Association of University Women’s Petition in support of GEEA.


8. Boats carrying Rohingya refugees disappear

The plight of the Rohingya continues, despite being displaced from news reports by the coronavirus pandemic. The Rohingya originate in Myanmar, and those who are still in that country have been placed in internment camps. Bangladeshi refugee camps currently house the largest refugee population of Rohingya. Rather than live in Bangladeshi camps, many Rohingya are trying to escape to Malaysia where they hope to find work as undocumented laborers. In April, a boat with 400 Rohingya refugees locked in its hold was liberated by the Bangladesh Coast Guard. Those aboard were malnourished and dehydrated and had suffered physical abuse, the New York Times reports. Those rescued had seen the bodies of others who died on the journey thrown overboard. International organizations had been tracking another three boats, each carrying hundreds of Rohingya refugees. The boat had left from Bangladesh and headed to Malaysia, but was refused docking in Malaysia and then refused docking in Bangladesh when it attempted to return. At the start of May, these boats could not be found via the satellite systems that had been tracking them. S-HP

If you wish to insist that the U.S. continue to support and shelter refugees, including the Rohingya, during this pandemic and ask your Congressmembers what they are doing to ease conditions for the Rohingya, addresses are here.

9. Sweden not a role model for coronavirus response

While Sweden is often invoked as an argument against social distancing measures due to the country’s anti-lockdown strategy, the chief epidemiologist of the nation’s public health agency has admitted to Newsweek that he was “not convinced” that it was the appropriate strategy to take. Sweden has seen over 3000 deaths, which places the number dead per million at around 343 deaths per million population (their population is about 10 million), which is a higher rate than the United States (257 deaths per million in population). While the anti-lockdown strategy was intended to develop herd immunity, and was implemented under the assumption that children do not get critically ill from coronavirus infections. Sweden currently has the highest rate of infections in Scandinavia. JM-L


10. More electricity coming from renewable sources than from coal

According to the New York Times, a decade ago coal-burning plants provided 50% of U.S. electricity. In the past three years, the administration has gone to great lengths to shore up the coal industry by reducing rules for coal-burning power plants, which continue to struggle. New government projections now show that for the first time ever, the U.S. is expected to use more electricity from renewable sources rather than from coal. Coal is projected to drop by one-quarter this year, providing only 19% of U.S. electricity. In the period that coal’s share of the U.S. electricity market has been dropping, costs of renewable energy have been dropping: by 40% for wind farms and by 80% for solar, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboraatory. S-HP

Do you want to tell the administration and your Congressmembers that our coronavirus economic recovery should emphasize cheaper, less polluting renewable energy sources so that we can simultaneously address the climate crisis? Addresses are here.


  • The Americans of Conscience Checklist reports that their subscribers have doubled the number of actions they have taken. See the list for many quick, direct ways to intervene politically.
  • See Sarah-Hope’s list if you want to work through her recommendations for actions.
  • Martha’s list offers weekly opportunities to comment on policy changes for the public record. Closing this week are: the misnamed “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science”; new policy on coal ash disposal; biometric data collection on undocumented immigrants; FEMA management of medical resources; and small but significant: redefining the word “healthy” on food labels to include more fat. You can also sign up for the Consumer Product Safety Commission meeting on setting priorities for fiscal years 2021 and 2022.
  • Rogan’s list this week is chock-full of information and action items–everything from the movement for justice for the family of Ahmaud Arbery, to re-opening guidelines, to the strategy behind ICE’s refusal to release migrant children.