News You May Have Missed: July 12, 2020

“DSF9537” by joaodanielper is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Black Lives Matter Protests, London, 2020.

Vox and the Center for Public Integrity have launched a six-month collaboration, System Failure, on how the Trump administration’s passion for deregulation got us where we are today. The opening pieces are on how his policies demolished public health infrastructure and how the administration declined to use a key tool to stop police violence.

Heather Cox Richardson’s post from July 8 provides some context around Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s resignation, below, and also has some interesting speculations on what the administration’s fierce insistence on school re-opening is about. On July 9 she analyzed the recent Supreme Court decisions and called attention to some new evidence that confirms Russia offered the Taliban bounties for the death of Americans and that the administration knew it.

It’s critical to take action in the next few days for the detained children Judge Dolly Gee has ordered released by July 17; ICE has not committed to releasing their parents with them. This toolkit provides a clear set of steps to take. July 15 is the last day to comment on Trump’s proposal to end asylum as we know it. Instructions for getting your comment on record are here (from Martha’s list).


1. For Black lives, the Breathe Act

The Electoral Justice Project of the Movement for Black Lives has announced proposed federal legislation (summarized here) which is being presented in the House of Representatives by Representatives Ayana Pressley and Rashida Tlaib and supported by 150 organizations. The Breathe Act (number not available) would divest federal resources from incarceration and policing, invest in new approaches to community safety, provide funding in support of healthy, sustainable, and equitable communities, hold officials accountable, and enhance self-determination of Black communities, as Black Enterprise explains. Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, told the AP, “We are a generation that wants to make sure that the needs of all Black people are met. We believe the BREATHE Act is that legislation. It’s an act that is pushing us to look at the future of this country, an act that is is mandating and demanding a new future and policies that are courageous and visionary.” S-HP

You can urge your Congressmembers to support the Breathe Act: addresses are here.

2. Trump insists on in-person instruction, threatens schools and international students

Trump’s policy is governing by bullying, and right now he’s bullying both public schools and international students at our nation’s colleges and universities. As part of his fixation on reopening the economy and denying the significance of the COVID-19 pandemic (which as of Saturday, July 11 has infected over 3.2 million Americans and killed at least 135,000 of them), Trump is demanding that the nation’s public schools reopen for in-person instruction this fall. As Politico points out, he has, in fact, tweeted a threat to strip federal funding from schools that don’t physically reopen—something he probably does not have the power to do under Constitutional separation of powers. Heather Cox Richardson’s July 12 column has an explanation–based in politics and history–of why Trump and DeVos are so fiercely committed to reopening schools.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, whose original statement Trump has used in pressuring schools, has backed off from their position, now saying that school re-opening has to be based on evidence, not politics, and that “science and community circumstances must guide decision-making,” according to NPR. This policy turnabout is appropriate, given that–as an Esquire writer put it–“I also know they can’t handle a lice outbreak on a good day and are not equipped to handle COVID on a bad one.” And as Susan Rogan, of Rogan’s List points out, “Let’s remember that Cohen and Manafort were released from prison early due to COVID. If conditions are not good enough for them to return to prison, why are the lives of our children, teachers, and school staff less worthy?”        

Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced a new rule for international students in the United States: they must take at least one in-person course this fall or lose their F-1 visa status and leave the country. Given that many schools have opted for no in-person courses during the fall, this rule puts the million+ international students at U.S. colleges and universities in jeopardy. Responses from states and Universities have been swift. The states of California and Washington are filing suit to block implementation of these new rules as are Harvard, MIT, Johns Hopkins, and the University of California. As the New York Times reports, Trump has now ordered the Treasury Department the investigate the funding and tax exempt of universities that he claims are about “Radical Left indoctrination, not Education.” S-HP

You can tell your elected representatives that all students, including international students, should be appropriately protected from COVID-19 and that neither schools nor students be penalized for using remote instruction if they deem it best.

3. Brownshirts-in-training

ICE is preparing to offer a six-week course in immigration enforcement for civilians, according to Newsweek. To be piloted in Chicago, this “Citizen’s Academy” will include information on how to arrest a suspected undocumented immigrant, with training in “defensive tactics and firearms familiarization.” Assuming the program is successful, ICE plans to offer it nationwide. Newsweek quoted ICE as saying that the academy was “an extension of the community relations work ICE is already doing in the community.” As of this writing, only Democracy Now and NPR, in addition to Newsweek, have covered the issue. Chicago Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García, who said he had not been notified about the program, told Newsweek that the course appeared to be “inviting people to become an extension of ICE… to possibly surveil their neighbors who might be undocumented…appealing to right-wing individuals who might like the vigilante lifestyle.” RLS

If the concept of ICE training armed vigilantes troubles you, you may want to object to your elected officials and others.

4. Public health workers under siege

Nationwide, public health workers–especially women–have been mercilessly harassed for trying to do their jobs, according to the Washington Post. It isn’t only random cranks who are doing this; public health officials have even had to change their recommendations around masks due to pressure from business leaders. Georgia’s public health official, Doctor Kathleen Toomey, receives daily threats and has armed protection, according to 11Alive. Amy Acton, Ohio’s public health director, backed down into an advisory role after months of armed protestors showing up at her home shouting anti-Semetic slogans. Adding insult to injury, Fair points out, however, that many media outlets have been critical of pubic health.workers for not sticking to a sufficiently narrow mandate. All this comes as the CDC agreed to revisit its guidelines for school reopening after Trump criticized them as being too stringent, the Post reported on July 8. RLS

Similar events have been reported in California. The public health officer of Orange County was threatened and had her home address announced at a public meeting, after which protestors gathered outside of her home. In fear for her safety, she resigned from her position, the LA Times reported. Other health officials have been subjected to similar protests at their homes, including the Contra Costa County public health officer and the director of the Los Angeles Department of Public Health. In all, as of July 1 eight California Public Health Officials have resigned. Now, State Senator Dr. Richard Pan has introduced SB-843, which would grant public health officials the same address confidentiality provided for city council members, board of supervisors members and other officials in the state, whose home addresses are excluded from publicly accessible Department of Motor Vehicles records. Health Officers would still be accessible through their workplaces, as only home addresses are protected in this way. In introducing the legislation, Pan explained, “Public health officials shouldn’t have to choose between their own safety and livelihood and the public’s health.” This legislation has been passed by the Assembly and is awaiting consideration by the California Senate. S-HP

You can advocate for national legislation to protect public health officers from this kind of harassment, and if you are a Californian, urge your California State Senator to protect our health officers by voting in favor of SB-843. Addresses are here.

5. Republicans resisting mail ballots

Trump and the Republicans are depicting broader use of mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 epidemic as an invitation to fraud and foreign interference in our elections, and Trump has claimed that foreign governments could flood our nation with fraudulent ballots if we expand mail-ballot use, the Washington Post reports. At the same time, the Republican Senate has once again removed a requirement that presidential campaigns report attempted foreign interference from legislation, in this case removing the proviso from national intelligence policy and the National Defense Authorization Act, according to CNN. Apparently, placing restraints on voters’ opportunity to exercise the franchise and exposing them to epidemic disease on the grounds of “election security” is just fine, but asking campaigns to report actual attempts at foreign interference is not.

Let’s take a look at that claim that mail-in ballots raise the risk of election fraud. To successfully forge mail-in ballots, a foreign (or domestic) entity would need to have a list of absentee voters in a state, know who had already voted, and be able to replicate key details like precinct and voter ID numbers and the local races on each ballot. It would have to also access the precinct’s signature files, match the forged signature on the envelope to the one on file, and then mail them locally to ensure a proper postmark, the Post notes. Once we acknowledge those facts, mail-in ballots don’t seem so vulnerable. S-HP

Are you in favor of mail ballots? If so, insist to your state and federal representatives, your Governor, and your Secretary of State that all voters be given access to mail-in ballots because, even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, facilitating voter participation in elections should always be seen as beneficial to our democracy. Addresses are here.

6. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified on impeachment, resigns under pressure from Trump

In the opening remarks of his testimony during the Trump impeachment investigation, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman compared the U.S. to the Soviet Union, from which his family had immigrated. Addressing his father, as well as the committees holding the hearings, he explained, “my simple act of appearing here today, just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before this Committee, would not be tolerated in many places around the world. In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offering public testimony involving the President would surely cost me my life. I am grateful for my father’s brave act of hope 40 years ago [bringing the family to the U.S.] and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety. Dad, my sitting here today, in the US Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision forty years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United State of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

Unfortunately, Vindman’s America has proven to be a bit more like the former Soviet Union than Vindman had anticipated. Vindman’s lawyer explained that after a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation,” Vindman has decided to retire from the U.S. Army, in which he had served for twenty-one years, because political retaliation meant his career in the military “will be forever limited.” This persecution of a man who took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” is a failure of our democracy. As long as Trump remains in power, Vindman will be sidelined, but a change in administration might give him a chance to provide another kind of service to this nation he loves. S-HP

If you want to thank Vindman and suggest that Biden, if elected, find a place for Vindman in his administration, addresses are here.

7. Goya Foods head praises Trump–boycott ensues

In a Rose Garden ceremony announcing the “White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative,” Robert Unanue, head of Goya Foods, a leading Latino food company in the U.S., sang Trump’s praises: “We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder, and that’s what my grandfather did. He came to this country to build, to grow, to prosper. And so we have an incredible builder, and we pray for our leadership, our president, and we pray for our country that we will continue to prosper and to grow.” Within hours, calls for a boycott of Goya had flooded the internet, according to ABC News. Unanue claimed a double standard because Goya had not faced consumer backlash when praising President Obama. Former presidential candidate and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro responded in a tweet, noting that unlike Obama, Trump “villainizes and maliciously attacks Latinos for political gain,” the Washington Post reported. Others critical of Unanue’s remarks and calling for Goya boycott include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Lin-Manuel Miranda. S-HP

If you want to join #Goyaway, you can write to Mr. Unanue at: Goya Foods, 350 County Road, Jersey City, New Jersey, 07307, (210) 348-4900.

8. FedEx no longer wants to be associated with the Redskins

In 1999, FedEx agreed to pay the Washington Redskins $205 million for stadium naming rights. Now, the general counsel of FedEx has written to counsel for the Redskins’ corporate organization to say that, if the team does not it change its name, FedEx will remove its name from all stadium signage at the end of this season. The Washington Post, which received a summary of the unreleased letter’s contents, reported that FedEx had indicated that the team’s name posed a risk to FedEx’s brand reputation and to its commitment to a more inclusive society. The language suggests that FedEx is considering removing itself from the contract “for cause,” which would free it from the obligation to make any additional naming rights payments after the end of the 2020 season. S-HP

If you wish to thank FedEx for taking this stand, write to Frederick W. Smith, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, FedEx, 942 South Shady Grove Rd., Memphis, TN 38120, (901) 818-7500.


9. Black Lives Matter: Patients, newborns, mothers

Have you ever gotten medical test results and noticed that the standard for your eGFR–estimated glomerular filtration rate (a measure of kidney function)–is different depending on whether you are African American or not? A new study has shown that the algorithms that doctors rely on to evaluate a patient’s health are often race-based, leading to disparities in health care, the New York Times reports; the Times quotes the study as saying that the effect “has been to direct medical resources away from Black patients and to deny some Black patients treatment options available to white patients.” The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, points out the many ways in which the algorithms influence care: Black patients are thought to be at lower risk for heart failure, so they are less likely to be referred to specialists. Black women and Latinas are more likely to be referred for Cesarean sections for a subsequent delivery after an initial C-section (VBAC). The authors note that because Black patients tend to have worse health-care outcomes, health researchers have persuaded themselves that the disparity is due to genetics, overlooking the social conditions that have been shown to be the cause.

The differential between Black and white patients is especially visible among babies and new mothers. Infant mortality for Black babies is twice that of white babies, according to the State of Babies yearbook, and the death rate among Black mothers is three times as high. Access to health care and paid maternity leave would interrupt this cycle, according to Parentology.

Among the most horrific examples of structural racism in medicine is the treatment of Black people’s pain, the Washington Post reports. In an assumption going back to slavery, Black people are thought to have a higher pain tolerance, a belief which was used to justify the pain inflicted on enslaved Black people, but which persists today–so that Black people are less likely to be prescribed pain killers for the same conditions for which white people receive pain medication. A study of 222 medical residents at the University of Virginia found that one third of them believed the myth about Black patients’ pain tolerance. Even Black children are one-fifth as likely as white children to receive medication for severe pain with appendicitis. 

The undertreatment of Black people for kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes may–in addition to profoundly unequal social conditions–may explain why the death rate from COVID-19 of people of color under 65 is twice that of white people. RLS


  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is focusing on voter registration this week.
  • Sarah-Hope’s postcarding list is here and itemized above.
  • Martha’s list identifies a series of challenges to asylum and opportunities to comment on them.
  • See Rogan’s list for ways to advocate for DACA recipients, international students, children in detention and others.