News You May Have Missed: May 31, 2020

“File:Black Lives Matter Minneapolis Protest (28246559695).jpg” by Andy Witchger is licensed under CC BY 2.0


1. Black Lives Matter: What you might have missed

You won’t have missed the news of George Floyd, killed by Minneapolis police, nor of the eruptions of rage and anguish around the U.S. But elements of this situation are essential to keep in focus.

  • Over a thousand people are killed each year in the U.S by police, according to the New York Times. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people.
  • Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd, had been involved in a fatal shooting of another suspect and had multiple complaints against him, the Washington Post reports. Over the years, the Minneapolis police department ignored numerous calls for reform, according to the Marshall Project.
  • In at least some cities, white people are instigating the looting and burning which are being attributed to black people, according to Buzzfeed. Minnesota officials also asserted that “white supremacists” were active in the uprisings there, according to Patheos, though they later retracted statements that most of those arrested were from out of town,
  • White supremacists are hoping to turn the protests over Floyd’s death into a “civil war,” according to Vice, and are showing up at protests with guns.
  • Trump seemed to be encouraging violence, saying in one tweet that protestors outside the White House would have been met with “the most vicious dogs” and “most ominous weapons” if they had crossed the fence, Bloomberg reported, and appeared to be inviting Trump supporters to clash with protestors: “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???”
  • Trump says he will designate antifa as a terrorist organization, blaming people associated with that coalition, not white suprematists, for instigating riots, according to NBC News.
  • Enforcing an 8 PM curfew in Minneapolis, National Guard troops have been shooting paint canisters at residents in their neighborhood, KARE reports. 
  • The press–especially journalists of color–have been targeted by police, according to Pen America. A freelance photographer is permanently blind in one eye after being shot by police, the New York Times reports. The Times goes on to note that “The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press logged about 10 different incidents that ranged from assaults to menacing in Phoenix, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Minneapolis.”
  • Buzzfeed is keeping track of disinformation and hoaxes about the protests.
  • In Louisville, where seven people were shot during protests, a line of white women locked arms and stood between police officers and black protesters mourning the March 13 death of Breonna Taylor, whom police shot to death in her apartment, according to the Courier-Journal.
  • Also in Louisville, a police officer who became separated from his squad was surrounded and protected by a group of protesters, according to The Grio.
  • In Santa Cruz, California, the police chief took a knee with peaceful protesters.
  • Heather Cox Richardson points out how very convenient it is for Trump that these protests have erupted at a time when so much else in the news undermines Trump’s agenda. RLS

To support protesters in Minneapolis, you can contribute to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which provides funds for bail. You may also want to write to your legislators on every level about George Floyd’s death and the need for safety and justice for African Americans. Ask them what they’re doing to respond. Tell them what you want to see them doing. You can find your Congressmembers’ addresses here.

2. Facial recognition software and non-white faces

The unreliability of facial recognition software, particularly in the identification of non-white faces, has been well documented. As the New York Times reported in 2018, facial recognition software developed by Amazon and in use with police departments and other organizations incorrectly matched photos of 28 Senators and Representatives, mostly Black and Latino, with photos of arrestees. Now, the ACLU has drawn attention to the dubious methods by which images used to create facial recognition/biometric databases are collected. The organization has just filed a suit in Illinois against Clearview AI, which collected some three billion photos from online sites to build its biometric database. The ACLU contends this is in violation of an Illinois law that forbids the use of fingerprints or facial scans of state residents without permission. Clearview AI says this collecting is protected under the First Amendment, but the ACLU has countered that even if the collecting is legal, Clearview AI has done more than collect images. Clearview AI’s analyses of these images is conduct, not speech and constitutes “nonconsensual and unlawful capture of individuals biometric identifiers.” Similar suits have been filed in New York and Vermont. The Attorneys General of Vermont and New Jersey have issued orders for Clearview AI to stop collecting images of state residents.

The development and use of facial recognition software are not federally regulated, but several pieces of legislation before Congress could remedy this absence. S.3284, the Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act, would establish a Congressional commission to recommend “rules governing the use and limitations on both government and commercial use of this technology” and would require federal employees to obtain a warrant to use facial recognition technologies until such guidelines are developed. S.3284 is currently with the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

S.2878, the Facial Recognition Technology Warrant Act, would place limits on the use of facial recognition technology by federal agencies for the purpose of ongoing surveillance, except under specific conditions. This legislation is with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

H.R.4021, the FACE Act, would prohibit federal agencies from using facial recognition technology without a Federal court order. This legislation is currently with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. S-HP

If you want to ask the appropriate committees to take swift, positive action on these bills and also tell your Congressmembers that you want to see strict limits placed on the development and use of facial recognition technology, the addresses are here.

3. Mail ballots don’t solve everything

In many instances, given the Coronavirus pandemic, the safest way to vote in the 2020 election may be by mail. However, as the Guardian points out, mail ballots are not a panacea, given that many people living on Native American reservations and in rural areas do not have mail service, making receipt and return of mail ballots difficult, if not impossible. S.3529, the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act, would provide protections for both mail and in-person voting during times of disaster, including pandemics. The provisions of S.3529 require that voters have a period of at least twenty days in which to cast early ballots, both in person and by mail; that states accept voter applications until at least twenty-one days before elections; that voting applications, absentee voter applications, and mail ballots include prepaid postage; and that accommodations be developed to meet the needs of voters on Indian lands. S.3529 is currently with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee; its cosponsors include both Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. S-HP

You might urge key members of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and your own Senators to support S.3529.

4. Students defrauded by for-profit colleges must still repay loans

On Friday, President Trump vetoed a bi-partisan resolution designed to reverse a Department of Education policy that makes it harder for students who claim to have been defrauded by colleges to have their federal student loans forgiven, according to the Washington Post. Rules regarding the forgiveness of loans taken out by students at schools that used deceptive practices to encourage them to borrow to attend the school were established under the Obama administration and significantly restricted by Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Under the new rules, more borrowers will be responsible for paying back loans even when their schools closed due to fraud, Forbes reports. DeVos has claimed that the Obama era rules were too broad and allowed too many borrowers to qualify for student loan forgiveness. The previous rules made student loan forgiveness automatic when a school closed due to fraud; DeVos’s rules required that borrowers impacted by a school closure needed to apply for forgiveness and prove financial harm; they also potentially limit the amount of forgiveness that defrauded students can receive. 

Veteran’s groups have been among the groups who have come out against this veto, along with consumer groups, and lawmakers. JM-L

5. Hypocrisy in the NFL

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodall has issued a statement (aka posted a tweet) on the death of George Flyod: “The protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel…. As current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league. These tragedies inform the NFL’s commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action. We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners.” S-HP

You may wish to remind Mr. Goodall that Colin Kaepernick opened up the perfect opportunity for the NFL to address these issues years ago. Roger Goodall, Commissioner, National Football League, 345 Park Ave., NY, NY 10154, (212) 450-2000.

6. Planned Parenthood threatened for receiving Paycheck Protection Program loans

Planned Parenthood’s state and local affiliates each function as separate non-profits with their own leadership and fundraising programs, a structure which allowed individual Planned Parenthood clinic to apply for small business through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) of Coronavirus loans for small businesses. In fact, individual Planned Parenthood clinics were granted a total of $80 million in PPP funding—out of $669 billion being distributed by the Small Business Administration (SBA). In other words, funds going to Planned Parenthood clinics represent just 12/100ths of 1% of the total monies available, hardly a mother lode of funding.

Nonetheless, Republicans in Congress, always eager to turn any political situation into an opportunity to limit women’s reproductive choice, are now demanding that these funds be returned and calling for an investigation into their original allocation, according to The Hill. The Washington Post quotes Senator Marco Rubio as saying, “[Planned Parenthood clinics] need to return the money, and if they did this knowingly, they need to be held accountable, and whoever helped them do this knowingly needs to be held accountable. That includes, potentially, people on staff at the SBA, the banks and anybody else.” In other words, there is not just a politically motivated campaign to withdraw the funding received by clinics; there are also threats of repercussions for workers in the public and private sector who help the clinics apply for and receive these funds. S-HP

You can tell the Treasury Secretary and the head of the SBA that we want these funds to remain with the individual Planned Parenthood clinics that were awarded them. You can also insist that your Congressmembers stand up for the independent Planned Parenthood clinics that were appropriately awarded Coronavirus loans under the PPP. Addresses are here.

7. People with disabilities and the coronavirus

Globally, people with disabilities have less access to education, healthcare, income opportunities, and community participation. They are also more likely to live in poverty and to suffer high rates of violence, neglect, and abuse, Forbes points out. With the onset of COVID-19 disabled people in care homes are also dying at disproportionately high rates. The United Nations has now issued a policy brief, “A Disability-Inclusive Response to COVID-19.” This brief focuses on four areas:

  • ensuring mainstreaming of people with disabilities;
  • ensuring accessibility to COVID-19 information, facilities, and programs for people with disabilities;
  • ensuring consultation with and participation by people with disabilities and organizations representing them in all stages of COVID-19 response and recovery;
  • establishing accountability mechanisms to ensure the participation of people with disabilities in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. S-HP

You can ask your Congressmembers to examine the U.N. report and to make use of its recommendations as they continue to develop legislation and programs in response to COVID-19.


8. The Withdrawal Doctrine

Heather Cox Richardson’s daily report, Letters from an American, provides historically informed reflections on current events with a focus on the state of American democracy. In her post for May 29, Richardson examined the U.S. withdrawal from the position of global leadership it has held since World War II:  “Trump has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact designed to pressure China to meet international rules; the Paris climate accord; the 2015 Iran nuclear deal; the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, limiting nuclear weapons; UNESCO, the U.N.’s educational, scientific, and cultural agency; the Open Skies Treaty that allowed countries to fly over each other to monitor military movements. He pulled U.S. troops away from our former Kurdish allies in Syria, and has threatened to leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—NATO—that ties 30 North American and European countries into a military alliance. Now he has withdrawn the US from the World Health Organization that combats global disease and pandemics.” The Washington Post calls this “The Withdrawal Doctrine,” and sees no good outcome. S-HP

If you wish to speak up against these isolationist policies pulling the U.S. out of the community of nations, here are the people to write or call.

9. State Department Inspector General removed to facilitate arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Likely reasons that Trump “lost confidence in” and called for the removal of the former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick include the fact that Linick had begun investigating the process by which Trump had declared a state of emergency that allowed the State Department to move forward with arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, despite votes in both houses of Congress barring these sales. The Daily Beast reports that the Trump administration is now planning additional arms sales to the Saudis. Additional arms sales are apt to contribute to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and may make the U.S. vulnerable to war crimes charges if the Saudis use those weapons in the Yemen Civil War—a problem first pointed out by the State Department itself in 2019. S-HP

You can demand that your Congressmembers once again stand up to Trump and Pompeo to block these arms sales and call for continuing investigation into the firing of Steve Linick and the means by which Trump and Pompeo evaded appropriate Congressional oversight of arms sales.


10. Over a million children could die as a result of the pandemic

A new report from the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says that as many as 1.1 million children could die as result of the pandemic–not from the illness itself but from disruptions to health care and the food supply, Democracy Now reports. 60,000 mothers could die as well. Fear of vaccinations or inability to obtain them could lead to a catastrophic drop in herd immunity, while the fear of accessing health care facilities or lack of access to them along with malnutrition could put children at risk. The study’s authors were dismayed by the U.S. decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization, telling Democracy Now that “the WHO plays a crucial role for maternal and child health around the world. It’s a vital mechanism for coordinating work in the global health space. Also, I think what people don’t realize is the technical assistance that WHO provides to different governments and ministries of health around the world.” RLS

11. Groundbreaking study identifies multiple risk factors for breast cancer

A new study from Silent Spring illustrates how ionizing radiation contributes to breast cancer. Ionizing radiation comes from X-rays, CT scans and radiation treatment, along with testing and use of nuclear weapons. Researchers reviewed 467 studies and developed a map of how ionizing radiation not only damages DNA but “wreaks havoc” inside the cells themselves. Published in the Archives of Toxicology, the study also shows how estrogen and progesterone make breasts more vulnerable to cancer, and how chemicals can function as carcinogens. RLS


  • Don’t miss the Americans of Conscience Checklist for quick, effective actions you can take. Take a look at their inspiring inpact report as well.
  • See Sarah-Hope’s full list for additional post-carding opportunities.
  • Rogan’s list suggests ways to respond the George Floyd’s killing, thank Twitter for fact-checking Trump, and to engage productively with various other issues, such as the education gap during the pandemic.
  • Of particular importance this week, Martha calls particular attention to the EPA proposed guidance regulation that would govern all EPA guidance documents and petitions henceforth. It’s number 4 on her list: “Comments due 6/20/2020. EPA Proposed Rule. Guidance: Administrative Procedures for Issuance and Public Petitions.” It has major implications for how the EPA listens to, or doesn’t regard, public input on policy. See her whole list here.
  • If you missed Chrysostom’s extraordinarily comprehensive election coverage, his May 21 column is available here.