NewsYou May Have Missed: September 27, 2020

“U.S. Constitution – Illustration” by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY 2.0


1. Will the taxpayer-in-chief refuse to concede?

On Wednesday, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition if he lost the election. Look closely at the quote NPR provided: “We’re going to have to see what happens. You know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster… Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there’ll be a continuation.”

He is not only hedging about the transition; he is telling us that he could stay in power if he could get rid of the ballots–mail ballots, presumably. Clearly, he understands that his presidency depends on reducing the vote as much as possible. 

Trump also is clear about why he is rushing to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg; as the BBC and others quoted him as saying, “I think this [the election] will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,”

75 per cent of Biden voters believe thatTrump will refuse to relinquish power and Biden told CNN in June that if that were to happen, “I promise you, I’m absolutely convinced, they [the military] will escort him from the White House in a dispatch.” 

Waging Nonviolence offers some suggestions for stopping a coup–the true name for what it would mean for Trump to refuse to leave office.  Building on a document from the Transition Integrity Process, Waging Nonviolence provides a number of excellent suggestions but argues that a show of (non-violent) people in the streets will be essential to stop a coup. Given the dynamics in which people affiliated with Anti-fa are unjustifiably being accused of causing violence (Washington Post) and groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer are showing up at locations in the Northwest (Seattle Times) and Boogaloo Bois elsewhere (Washington Post) provoking violence, that approach may be a risky one.

Heather Cox Richardson, always the voice of reason, suggests that Trump is making these assertions to take the attention away from how far ahead Biden is and Biden’s platform. 

Other writers are less sanguine. The New Yorker has a meticulous description of how both parties are preparing for the post-election struggle, and the Atlantic has a chilling piece making an argument that Trump will refuse to concede, no matter what. Read to the end of it, if you can; the writer proposes a nightmare scenario in which there are dueling slates of electors and hence two people with claim to the presidency. Because there are so many ways mail ballots can be challenged, the Atlantic ends up exhorting us to vote in person after all, if there is any way we can do so. Or–if we live in states where absentee ballots can be counted early, send them early. One critique of the Atlantic article was posted by Teri Kanefield, an elections lawyer in Georgia, on Twitter; she asks us to think about why the Trump-campaign legal adviser the Atlantic quoted went into such detail about the strategy: it may be that the spectre of Trump refusing to concede is designed to derail and discourage us.  RLS

Progressive Change Campaign Committee/Bold Progressives has contacted all the Secretaries of State and is hiring organizers to plan a response. They are looking for donations. Daily Kos is looking for Election Protection volunteers. Bernie Sanders has a strategy to suggest, which you could review if you are going to write your elected officials. You also might want to write your governor to find out how he or she is preparing.

2. The Alternative

While Trump grabs headlines by refusing to state that he will abide by the results of November’s election, Joe Biden’s team has assembled a number of detailed proposals outlining what Biden hopes to accomplish as President and how he intends to do this. The topics covered include: Racial Equity Across the American Economy; Sustainable Infrastructure and a Clean Energy Future; Recovery, Renewal, and Respect for Puerto Rico; LGBTQ+ equality; Older Americans and Retirement; and Criminal Justice Reform. Unfortunately, Trump’s tweets trump careful thought about just and productive policy, leaving Americans aware of the latest vitriol from the White House, but with no sense of the detailed and coherent goals Biden has set for his presidency. The language of policy isn’t “sexy,” so considering Biden’s proposals requires a willingness to read without being entertained–but that willingness pays off with a vision of an America very different from the present day. Until November, we’ll be highlight one of these policy proposals each week, but you can see them all for yourself here.

We’ll start with the “Biden Plan to Build Back Better by Advancing Racial Equity Across the American Economy,” which covers thirteen subtopics. For small businesses, Biden plans to increase small business creation and expansion in economically disadvantaged areas, particularly for Black-, Latino-, AAPI-, and Native-American owned businesses, to modify federal contracting service practices to improve access to these contracts for small disadvantaged businesses (SDBs, a term used throughout the document), and to create incentives encouraging state and local governments and the private sector for contracting with SDBs.

To increase home ownership, especially for families traditionally excluded from the market, Biden proposes allocating a one-time tax credit of up to $15,000 for first-time home buyers; developing new more inclusive credit-rating systems through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that take into account things like rental history and utility payments; rolling back Trump policies that gutted fair lending and fair housing protections; and holding financial institutions accountable when they use practices that deepen the impact of systematic housing discrimination.

In the area of education, Biden proposes including student debt relief in additional COVID-19 legislation; doubling the maximum value of Pell grants college students can receive, creating simpler, more generous income-based loan-repayment programs; and increasing support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific-Islander Institutions, and others—and for graduates of these institutions.

The above provides an incomplete summary of Biden policy proposals in three of the thirteen areas discussed in the “Biden Plan to Build Back Better by Advancing Racial Equity Across the American Economy.” The quality, imagination, and thoroughness of these proposals give evidence of the Biden team’s experience governing. S-HP

You might thank Biden for any of these proposals you find particularly valuable and suggest to your Congressmembers that you’d like them to work toward the same goals, regardless of who is elected in November.

3. CARES Act I: Lunches for children due to expire

The CARES Act, H.R.748, passed in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, established a Pandemic-Emergency Benefits Transfer Program (P-EBT), supporting food benefits for children who would normally receive free or reduced-price meals at school and who had no access to these meals when classroom teaching moved primarily online. A study by the Brooking Institute’s Hamilton Project found this program to be highly effective, reducing food insecurity among low-income children by 30% during its first week, and reaching 2.7 to 3.9 million children. Though some states were able to initiate P-EBT programs earlier than others, P-EBT ultimately functioned effectively in all fifty states. Now, explains Fern’s Ag Insider, the program is set to end on September 30, despite the fact that many children continue to attend school remotely and do not have access to free or discounted school meals. S-HP

If you feel strongly about this, urge your Congressmembers to support and extension of P-EBT to ensure that all children are adequately fed as the pandemic continues.

4. CARES Act II: Funds go to the Pentagon, not to PPE

In March, Congress allocated funding to the Pentagon to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus” through H.R. 748, the CARES Act. One would expect such funding to be spent on medical supplies that remain scarce: personal protective equipment, for example. Instead, as reported in the Washington Post, the Pentagon diverted $1 billion of that money to defense contractors to pay for things ranging from jet engine parts to drone technology to body armor to dress uniforms. The Pentagon argues that supporting the defense industry is an essential part of its coronavirus response, regardless of the fact that defense contractors would have had access to the significant funding available for businesses. According to follow-up Washington Post reporting, Congressmembers have called for an investigation of the ways this money was used. S-HP

If you are dismayed by this misuse of coronavirus funds, you can write those on the link below. It would also be worth calling for an investigation by the appropriate Congressional committees of this diversion of funds.

5. Impeach Barr?

William Barr has been serving as U.S. Attorney General for seventeen months and has racked up a considerable number of accomplishments. Let’s look at some of them:

◉Barr subverted the Special Counsel investigation both of Russian interference in the 2016 election and of Trump for obstruction of justice by writing an unsolicited memorandum arguing against the Mueller investigation, claiming that investigating a president for obstruction would be “fatally misconceived,” based on a “novel and insupportable reading of that law” that it would do “lasting damage to the Presidency and to the administration of law within the Executive branch.” (Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington—CREW)

◉In the words of Federal Judge Reggie Walton, Barr misrepresented the findings of the Special Counsel by making “misleading public statements” and distorting the Special Counsel report in ways that “show[ed] a lack of candor,” deliberately spinning the report’s findings in ways beneficial to Trump. (AP)

◉Barr gave misleading testimony to Congress: He claimed he had no knowledge whether Mueller supported Barr’s presentation of the Special Counsel’s findings (Mueller did not) and claimed that the White House “fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation” (CREW)

◉Barr interfered with the lawful functioning of the Department of Justice by overturning career prosecutors’ decisions in the cases of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn and by falsely claiming U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman had resigned and subsequently firing Berman when he refused to play along with Barr’s false claim. (CREW)

◉Barr oversaw violations of the First and Fourth Amendments—freedom of speech and assembly and protection from unreasonable search and seizure—by authorizing the presence of federal officers in Portland, Oregon, and through the actions of those officers, using the legally questionable justification of “defending the federal function,” an overly broad claim with no precedent beyond Barr’s earlier use of it. (CREW, Just Security)

◉Barr has interfered with Congressional direction of funds by accepting and acting on Trump’s call for specific cities to be identified as “anarchist jurisdictions” as a prelude to depriving these cites of federal funding. (NBC)

If Barr were to be impeached, the confirmation process for a new Supreme Court justice would be stalled. On September 20, according the Mother Jones, Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to rule out that possibility. S-HP

You don’t have to sit still for this. You can condemn Barr’s partisanship and political theatre and demand a House impeachment hearing of Barr for these and other actions that are contrary to the Constitution and that violate the rights of citizens. Appropriate addresses are here.

6. Another of the usual suspects

Since November, Chad Wolf has been serving illegally in his position as Acting Homeland Security Secretary according to a federal judge (see our story #3 last week). Now he is finally having a confirmation hearing. He has been responsible for a number of atrocities: He was the architect of family separation in 2017, according to documents Mother Jones made available, and he was responsible for rushing to deport asylum-seekers without a hearing. He ignored intelligence reports about Russian claims that Joe Biden had a mental illness, according to ABC News, as well as Russian threats to the election, according to Mother Jones. Indeed, a whistleblower complaint filed by Brian Murphy, who headed the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, said that he modified these reports in order to suit Trump’s agenda, CNN reported. He also sent Homeland Security agents to Portland to take down unarmed protestors. At his confirmation hearing, Wolf lied about having done these things, according to Border Rights organization Al Otro Lado. It is not clear whether a confirmation vote for Wolf will be held in the Senate before the November election. RLS

If you want to get a word in, remind your Senators of Wolf’s disastrous and inhumane (also illegal) tenure at the Department of Homeland Security and insist on a “no” confirmation vote.

7. Foreshadowing of voting issues in LA

Primary elections in Los Angeles County this spring were chaotic, with many of the problems being traced back to issues with the voter check-in system the county used and inadequate training of and communication among poll workers. LA elections also revealed weaknesses in the voting machines themselves and the process by which they tally votes. Before the California primary, a coalition of thirty-one organizations and an additional thirty-six individuals—including academics and directors of nonprofit organizations—wrote a letter to Secretary of State Alex Padilla outlining weaknesses in the Voting Solutions for All People 2.0 (VSAP). The writers acknowledged that these problems couldn’t be remedied before the primary election, but urged that they be addressed before November’s presidential election. Unfortunately, several weaknesses remain:

◉Voters using VSAP receive a printout of their choices before their votes are finalized, which is good, but the document voters approve is not the actual text used to tally votes, as votes are “translated” from text to QR codes before tallying. This leaves open a window for manipulation of votes via changes to QR codes between the confirmation and the tallying. In fact, the State of Colorado specifically disallows voting machines that do a text-to-QR “translation.” Instead Colorado requires the tallying to be done via optical character recognition (OCR), which means tallying is done using the format voters receive when confirming their ballots.

◉The ballot confirmation process requires inserting a ballot into the system before receiving a print-out of votes for confirmation; then this print-out must be reinserted after confirmation. This creates two problems: it doubles the opportunity for paper jams that can slow down voting and it also means that the confirmation print-out actually passes under the system’s print-out head an additional time, creating another window (besides the QR code “translation”) for ballot manipulation.

◉During the 2013-14 session, the California Legislature passed SB-360, a bill requiring that source code for voting systems be made publicly available. While this might seem counterintuitive, the availability of code opens the possibility of multiple independent tests of the system’s security. Nonetheless, the VSAP source code has not been released.

◉LA used VSAP in the primary under a provisional certification of the system, with modifications required before the system would be fully certified. Some of these modifications, however, will not be made until 2021, meaning that known weaknesses will remain in place for the presidential election.

◉Finally, there is no plan for a new round of full testing of VSAP once these modifications are completed, which means any new weaknesses introduced during the modification process may remain unidentified until the next time the system is used during a 2021 election. S-HP

You could ask Secretary of State Padilla for a summary of the progress made on addressing weaknesses in VSAP (and which weaknesses will have actually been addressed by November 3) and urge a full round of testing of VSAP once changes have been made with the intention of moving the system from being provisionally certified to fully certified–because election interference by is a reality, not just a possibility. Alex Padilla, Secretary of State, 1500 11th St., Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 653-6814


8. Post office victory for voters and workers

It’s pretty difficult to find good news this week, but this news might foreshadow more: A federal judge in New York ordered the U.S. Postal Service to expedite election mail, treating it as first-class or priority, regardless of its actual designation, Reuters reported. The judge also ordered the Post Office to pay overtime as needed. RLS


9. Trump body count

How many people would be alive today if Trump had acted decisively instead of trying to make political use of COVID-19? In early September, a columnist for the New York Times speculated that 145,000 of the 185,000 people dead by then would be alive if Trump had done a merely average job of managing the country’s response. To come to this conclusion, he compared the US deaths per population size to those in other developed countries, where masking was routine and bizarre cures and solutions (such as “herd immunity”) were not touted at the highest levels. A “herd immunity strategy,” notes the Washington Post, “could lead to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lost American lives.”

Writing on Twitter, Bob Wachter, Chair of the UC San Francisco Department of Medicine, powerfully compares the now 200,00 dead to other catastrophic losses. He points out, “If the U.S. had Canada’s death rate, we’d be at 82,000 deaths, not 200,000. That’s 118,000 Americans who would still be alive. If the U.S. had Germany’s death rate, we’d be at 37,106 deaths, not 200,000. That’s 162,894 Americans who would still be alive. Not fair, you say. Those are very different countries, with different laws, cultures, economies, and history. OK, if the U.S. had San Francisco’s death rate, we’d be at 36,101 deaths, not 200,000. That’s 163,899 Americans who would still be alive.” RLS

10. Governor Newsom’s strategy for global warming: mixed blessings

California Governor Gavin Newsom has taken a lot of flack for the executive order he signed to combat global warming. Rather than being too radical, the changes he’s making may be far from adequate. According to the New York Times, the executive order does the following [emphases added]:

◉Requires increasing proportions of new passenger vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emissions, with a 2035 cutoff, when all new passenger vehicles must be zero-emissions;

◉Sets a goal of making all heavy-duty trucks on California roads zero-emissions by 2045, where possible;

◉Sets a goal of ending all new hydraulic fracking permits by 2024;

◉States his intention to work with the legislature to establish health and safety setbacks to protect vulnerable communities from the impacts of fossil fuel extraction.

In announcing the executive order, Newsom stated that he does not have the power to end all gas and oil drilling in California on his own. A mailer from outlines several weaknesses in Newsom’s executive order:

◉While he sets a goal of ending hydraulic fracking permits, goal-setting is not the same as creating a requirement—and, in fact, a number of California counties have already barred fracking, suggesting that this goal could be made a requirement;

◉His executive order leaves the issue of other forms of fuel extraction unaddressed;

◉While the governor has announced his intention to add protections to communities affected by fossil fuel extraction, he has not set specific requirements or expectations, although several California counties (and the entire state of Colorado) have enacted such protections, suggesting that he could have gone significantly further than stating an intention;

◉His order has no plan for ending all new oil and gas extraction permits in the state, so that even if a fracking ban is in place by 2024, the state will still be able to approve new permits for extraction by other means—which not only continues California’s economic reliance on fossil fuels, but also does not protect communities from the health and safety problems posed by fossil fuel extraction. S-HP

One approach to moving forward is to thank Newsom for the actions he has taken and point out areas where you’d like to see him go further, for example, broader bans of fossil fuel extraction and significant and immediate community protections: Governor Gavin Newsom, c/o State Capitol, Suite1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841. You can also sign’s petition calling for further climate action from Newsome.


The Americans of Conscience Checklist has a variety of things you can do in the five weeks before the election–helping displaced voters, encouraging young people to vote, focusing on local elections.

Rogan’s list has the demands for justice for Breonna Tayler–from Black Lives Matter Louisville, how to acertain whether accounts on twitter are fake or real, and various options to encourage voter turnout.

News You May Have Missed, September 19, 2020

“Ruth Bader Ginsberg” by The Aspen Institute is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Most likely, everyone reading this has been deeply saddened by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an exceptional jurist who devoted her life to defending the concept that all people are equal under the law. You might look at Heather Cox Richardson’s moving tribute to her. She argued six cases before the Supreme Court (and won five of them!) between 1973 and 1976. She founded the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project. The Senate confirmed her appointment to the Supreme Court by a vote of 96 to 3, with 38 of the “aye” votes being cast by Republicans. The opinions she has written while serving on the Supreme Court, whether agreeing with or dissenting from a ruling, have been exceptionally clear and carefully reasoned.        

When a Supreme Court seat became open eight months before the 2016 election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow a Senate confirmation vote on Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. McConnell based this refusal on the claim that the Senate should not vote on Supreme Court nominees during an election year, when the people are about to “speak” via voting. Twenty-two Republican Senators spoke in support of McConnell’s decision, with most of them arguing that a Supreme Court appointment should not be made so close to a presidential election. (Individual Republican statements on this issue can be accessed via the previous link.) Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s final wish was that this precedent be honored and that her replacement not be considered until the new President and Senate chosen by the people in the 2020 election were in office. Despite the fact that we are just six weeks from an election, Mitch McConnell is now calling for speedy confirmation of the Supreme Court Justice nominated by Donald Trump claiming that the people “spoke” when electing a Republican Senate in 2018.

If you wish to urge the Republican Senators who refused to consider the confirmation of Merrick Garland to follow that logic this time around and to wait for a nomination to be made by the winner of the 2020 presidential election, their addresses and phone numbers are here. If you want to see a strategic list of Senators to call, phone numbers are here. You can also text RBG to 50409 and Resistbot will sign you on to a petition telling your US senators not to confirm a new Supreme Court justice until the new president takes office. Note: there’s a queue.


1. Women in ICE detention sterilized

Hysterectomies have apparently been performed either unnecessarily and/or without appropriate consent on women in immigration detention. NPR reports that a nurse at the Irwin immigration detention center in Georgia filed a whistleblower complaint alleging lack of appropriate medical care, including questionable hysterectomies. In response, a group of 168 Congressmembers are calling for an investigation by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the alleged actions “a staggering abuse of human rights. This profoundly disturbing situation recalls some of the darkest moments of our nation’s history, from the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks, to the horror of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, to the forced sterilizations of Black women that Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others underwent and fought.” An overview of the use of forced sterilization in the U.S. can be found on Truth Out, which notes that “These disturbing reports from Georgia are not surprising within the larger context of human rights abuses in the U.S. since 2016.”

 According to Vice, the nonprofit Project South has collected multiple reports from women working at the detention center alleging that hysterectomies have been frequently performed there. One of these women said she knew of five women who had been subject to hysterectomies in the three-month period from October through December 2019. Vice reports that Dawn Wooten, the nurse who filed the complaint, “said she’d talked to several detained immigrants who’d had hysterectomies but didn’t know why. One detained immigrant told Project South that, ahead of the scheduled procedure, she was given multiple different explanations about what would happen and why it was necessary.” When asked to comment on the allegations, ICE explained in a written statement that it does not comment on matters before the Inspector General. LaSalle Corrections, which runs the center, did not respond to a Vice request for comment. S-HP

If you want to join the call for investigations both by the DHS Inspector General and by Congress, the addresses are here.

2. Meat Packing

The story of meat packing plants and COVID-19 isn’t pretty. In a tweet last spring, the eminent science writer Laurie Garrett noted how COVID-19 cases mapped onto the locations of meat-packing plants. Published in 1994, her book The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance warned of the inevitability of emerging pandemics. Her book was written for a popular audience and used scientific studies produced before 1994. In other words, pandemics had been predicted for well over 25 years before COVID-19 emerged.

  As ProPublica reports, the U.S. government issued written warnings in 2006 to essential businesses, including meat-packing and chicken-processing plants, of the need to develop plans that would keep the food system—and food workers—safe during a pandemic. The warnings told businesses that they should be prepared to lose 40% of their workforce at the peak of a pandemic, when workers would be sick and/or would be caring for sick family members.

That same ProPublica piece points out that in 2009 the Department of Homeland Security provided essential businesses with an 84-page guide to pandemic planning prepared by Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Among the recommendations of this document was that businesses should stockpile enough protective masks for 120 days. Assuming each worker would use two masks during a shift; OSHA recommended that businesses keep 240 masks per worker on hand.

 The meat-packing plants contacted in 2006 and 2009 chose not to develop pandemic response plans.

  The ProPublica piece goes on to quote a letter written in late June to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, who were investigating COVID-19 outbreaks in meat-packing plants, by Kenneth Sullivan, CEO of Smithfield Foods. Sullivan told the Senators: “What no one had anticipated, and has never happened in our lifetimes, is the scenario we are living through today [the COVID-19 pandemic].”

On September 13, the Washington Post cited data from the Food and Environment Reporting Network that since March 42,500+ meat-packing and chicken-processing plants workers had tested positive for COVID-19. More than 200 have been killed by the virus. In early September, the Foster Farms plant in Livingston, California, said it had closed its facility; at least 392 employees had tested positive for COVID-19 as of September second, according to the Fresno Bee. However, other facilities in the complex continued their operations. Foster Farms, which provides between 50 and 60% of the chicken consumed in California, has been slow to test employees, having tested only 10% of them by July despite orders from the county. The UFW threatened a boycott of Foster Farms after 9 workers died of COVID-19.

 So, given the early warnings by the government regarding the need for pandemic planning, what consequences have meat-packing and chicken-processing plants faced for their failure to plan and the resulting infections and deaths of workers? According to the Washington Post, as of September 13, federal regulators had cited a total of two meat-packing plants—a Smithfield Foods plan in South Dakota and a JBS plant in Colorado—for a total of three citations, levying a total of $29,000 in fines.  One other item of interest: The executive order Trump issued on April 28 declaring meat-packing and poultry-processing plants as essential businesses is strikingly similar to a “suggested executive order” provided to Trump by the North American Meat Institute (a trade group) one week earlier. The Washington Post’s article on this similarity between trade group suggestions and Trumps order notes six essentially identical passages between the two documents. S-HP

You might point out to your Congressmembers, the Department of Labor, and OSHA that meat-packing and poultry-processing businesses were given ample waning that pandemic planning was necessary and that their failure to do this planning be reflected in the consequences the face for COVID-19 illness and deaths among their workers. Addresses are here.


3. Judge finds that the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security is serving illegally

Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, has been serving illegally in the position, since the line of succession was not followed when his predecessor was appointed, so he did not have the authority to appoint him, a federal judge ruled on Friday. Thus, according to CNN, he did not have the authority to issue rules around asylum; he was the one who declared that asylum-seekers had to wait a year to seek employment. As News You May Have Missed noted on August 16 (story 5), the Government Accountability Office also announced that Wolf’s appointment was irregular and in any case, he has been in the office longer than an acting appointee is permitted to be. Thus far, Wolf has declined to leave his position. RLS.

4. Betsy DeVos tries, fails to funnel coronavirus aid to private schools

The CARES act was supposed to send $13 billion to the public schools to help cover their coronavirus losses, allowing private schools some limited funds for “equitable services” such as tutoring or transportation for their low-income students. However, according to NPR, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos insisted that the funds should go to private schools based on their total enrollment. In the first week of September, a federal judge ruled against DeVos, saying that “it is difficult to imagine how Congress could have been clearer” that funds were intended only for low-income students. RLS


5. Justice at last: Spanish judges find Salvadoran colonel guilty of murders in the 80s civil war

In the Salvadoran civil war that raged from 1979-1992, 75,000 people were known to have been killed and an incalculable number were disappeared; death squads and the Salvadoran army funded by and in league with the U.S. government were responsible for 85% of the deaths, according to the UN sponsored Truth Commission. Among the atrocities was the torture and murder of clergy people. A 1993 amnesty law was found unconstitutional in 2016, and the perpetrators could thus be brought to justice.

Among those murdered in 1989 were five Spanish Jesuits, a Salvadoran Jesuit and two Salvadoran women. Operating under a principle of universal jurisdiction, a panel of Spanish judges found Inocente Orlando Montano guilty of the murders on September 11, 2020; he was sentenced to 26 years, eight months and one day for each murder, though he will not serve more than 30 years in total, according to the Guardian. The Guardian reported that the eight were ordered killed in order to derail peace talks; the death squad used a rifle from the opposition, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), to try to cast blame on them. Those killed were Spaniard Jesuits, among them Father Ignacio Ellacuría, who was a leader among peace activists, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Segundo Montes, Ramón Moreno, and Amando López. A Salvadoran Jesuit, Joaquin López y López, was also killed, as was a housekeeper, Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter, Celina, aged 15. RLS

6. Greek asylum-seekers forcibly deported on rafts

Over 1000 refugees have been turned away from Greece–put into overfull, unmotorized rubber rafts that cannot be steered and sent out to sea. As one refugee , a teacher from Syria who survived the ordeal, told the New York Times in August, “I left Syria for fear of bombing — but when this happened, I wished I’d died under a bomb.” She had been ordered onto a raft with 22 other people, including 2 babies. On other occasions documented by the Times, Greek officials disabled the engines on refugees’ boats and set them adrift. Greece authorities have also been refusing to allow refugees to apply for asylum or to appeal their expulsion.

For the last six years, Greece has been beset by tens of thousands of refugees, mostly from Syria; European nations have not been stepping up with sufficient aid. A refugee camp housing 13,000 people that burned on the island of Lesbos has been replaced by a new one, where conditions are unsafe and unsanitary, according to Al Jazeera. One resident, a young Afghan woman, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview that “There is no water, no toilet, no food.”

Describing the deportation of asylum seekers on rafts as “unprecedented,” Niamh Keady-Tabbal, a graduate student researcher at the Irish Center for Human Rights, and one of the first to document the phenomenon, told the Times that “Greek authorities are now weaponizing rescue equipment to illegally expel asylum seekers in a new, violent and highly visible pattern of pushbacks.”

A few weeks after this report emerged, a three-year-old at a beach in southern Greece drifted out to sea on a unicorn float. She was rescued by a Greek ferryboat captain, according to the New York Times, and Greeks were captivated by the video of her rescue. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis praised the captain. RLS


7. Reliable Sources

An excellent list of 50 reliable individuals who are writing about the sciences has been published by the editors of Elemental on Medium. The list is remarkable and contains links to some of their articles. Another good source is Brief 19, edited by Jeremy Faust, an emergency room doctor and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. The September 18 issue describes the CDC’s ambiguous messaging on school re-opening, their quite good directive on evictions, and the White House’s efforts to interfere in their directives. RLS

8. Scientific American endorses a presidential candidate for the first time

Scientific American has been around for 175 years and, in that time, has never endorsed a presidential candidate. Now Scientific American has broken with the tradition and is endorsing Joe Biden for the office of president. In a piece in the “Policies and Ethics” section the editors explain this decision: “The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges…. Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures have been catastrophic in the U.S.” S-HP

If you want to thank Scientific American for this decision at a time when our planet and its people need public officials who accept science, their address is: Scientific American—Editors, 1 New York Plaza, Floor 56, New York, NY 10004


The Americans of Conscience Checklist has an excellent list for actions around voting, including how to report voting-related misinformation.

Rogan’s list has essential information, including how to donate to fire relief, how voters impacted by the fires should manage their registration, how you can help ex-prisoners in Florida pay their fees so they can vote, and how Spanish-speakers are needed to text for Biden. She links to a Black-led get-out-the-vote project. She notes that the Campus Votes project is trying to reduce barriers to student voters.

Postcards to Voters is focusing on McGrath for Senate in Kentucky and Cunningham for Senate in North Carolina. Once you are approved, they will send you voter addresses and sample scripts.

Sarah-Hope’s list also identifies postcarding possibilities, most of them integrated in the stories above.

News You May Have Missed: September 13, 2020

We know you must be exhausted both by the news and in anticipation of the work ahead, with only 50 days before the election. Hence, we’ve added a good news section, not to offer comfort food but to illustrate that concerted action pays off.

Not a California sunset. Photo credit, Peggy Mena


1. Deadly fires, unbreathable air in California and the Pacific Northwest

28 large fires in Oregon have burned over a million acres, demolishing entire neighborhoods in the Southern Oregon communities of Phoenix and Talent, according to Oregon Live. 10 people have died. The fires, like the coronavirus, have hit the most vulnerable the hardest, as Street Roots points out. Evacuation is difficult for elderly people, and too many people need to get out of the intolerable air: As Street Roots put it, “The scale of need is extraordinary…The uneven distribution of shelter and wealth has always been a public health crisis and the need right now is acute as people are evacuated from still-standing homes, evacuated from ruins, and evacuated from the streets.”

Twenty-two people have died in California fires, some of which are under control. The massive SCU Lightning Complex fire in central California is almost contained, having burned some 400,000 acres and leaving almost a thousand homes destroyed, according to the Mercury News. Smoke, dangerous air and eerie light as the smoke piles on the marine layer plague residents. Also almost contained is the LNU Lightning Complex in the North Bay, leaving 375,000 acres charred. The largest fire in the state’s history, the August Complex in Northern California, has burned over 877,000  acres.

In Big Sur, the Dolan fire has injured a number of firefighters and burned 111,000 acres of beautiful country, filling Monterey County with smoke. Communities near Lucia, South Coast Ridge Road, Gorda and Prewitt Ridge have been evacuated; the Zen Center Tassajara could be in the fire’s way. Set by an arsonist, according to the Monterey Herald, the Dolan fire is on its 27th day at this writing, and 14 homes have been destroyed. Big Sur Kate’s blog is an excellent source on the Dolan fire.

How the fires are connected to the climate crisis is clearly described in a recent LA Times article. Though forest management strategies, dry lightning, and human maliciousness and carelessness are all factors, no combination of these would result in fires this extreme aside from the climate crisis. As  Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland-based think tank, told the Times, “We have seen the rapid warming of California summers really turbocharge the type of conditions that are suitable for rapid growth of wildfires. We see fires growing from essentially nothing to a quarter of a million acres in one day. And that’s because the conditions are ripe, and temperature plays a large role.” RLS

Those who want to donate could think about Big Sur Fire, which provides emergency services across the Big Sur Coast. Resources and fire information for California can be found at the Cal Fire website. Donations can be made to the California Community Foundation. Resources and information about the Oregon fires can be found at the Jefferson County website. You could also donate to your favorite organization working on the climate crisis.

2. ICE relocated detained immigrants in order to police protests, spreading COVID

This summer, the Trump administration used both Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officers to quash protests in Washington DC and other cities. How did those ICE agents make it to Washington DC and elsewhere? ICE agents are prohibited from travelling on chartered flights unless they are accompanying detainees. According to reporting by the Washington Post and based on interviews with current and former Department of Homeland Security employees, ICE resolved this dilemma in the case of Washington DC protests by using charter flights to unnecessarily transfer detainees from Arizona and Florida to Virginia; this allowed ICE officers who are members of “Special Response Teams” to accompany those detainees–then join other federal agents monitoring and attempting to shut down protests.

The stated reason for the detainee transfers was to reduce overcrowding that might facilitate the spread of COVID-19, but dozens of those transferred detainees tested positive for COVID-19 after their arrival. The Farmville, Virginia, immigration jail, to which the detainees were transferred, subsequently suffered an outbreak of COVID-19, with 300 inmates infected; one of the infected inmates died as a result of the disease. The Washington Post notes that ICE officials in the Washington office objected to the transfers before they were made; they also noted that many ICE detention facilities besides the one in Farmville had room for transfers at the time. A lawsuit has now been filed on behalf of four inmates, three of whom contracted COVID-19, who were already housed at Farmville when the transferred detainees arrived. The Washington Post points out that in a hearing related to that lawsuit, an ICE attorney told a judge that one reason for the transfer was that “ICE has an air regulation whereby in order to move agents of ICE, they have to be moved from one location to another with detainees on the same airplane.” S-HP

If you want to intervene, you can object to this disingenuous use of transfers to deliver ICE agents to suppress Washington DC protesters, which resulted in a surge of COVID-19 cases at Farmville and ask your Congressmembers to investigate this dangerous and unnecessary transfer used as a pretext to deliver ICE agents to Suppress Washington DC protesters. Addresses are here.

3. Immigration documents and prescription medications held up by Postal Service delays

Previously, we’ve reported on the potential effects of cuts and policy changes at the United Stated Postal Service (USPS) on election security and an accurate vote count, but we have additional reasons to be concerned. Documented notes that, like our elections, the U.S. immigration system depends upon an efficient postal system. In a radio interview cited by Documented, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employee and American Federation of Government Employees union member Kenneth Palinkas explained that “our work [at USCIS] and the USPS go hand in hand.” The USPS carries immigration paperwork, notices, visas, work authorizations, and naturalization documents on a daily basis—all of which are time sensitive. If immigration paperwork doesn’t reach USCIS on time, an individual’s immigration application may be derailed. Immigrants can’t look for employment until they receive work authorizations. Immigrants also can’t register to vote until they’ve received their naturalization documents.

 Another area of concern is delivery of prescription drugs. The Washington Post notes that in 2019, upwards of 170 million prescriptions were filled by mail. That number will be increasing this year with more people isolating (whether under orders or for personal health reasons) due to the CIVID-19 pandemic. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) have released a report, based on data provided by major pharmacies and pharmacy benefits managers, documenting the effect of changing postal practices on the delivery of prescription drugs. With the exception of one pharmacy, which makes almost exclusive use of private carriers, all pharmacies reported delivery delays, usually of 1-2 days, though one pharmacy reported it regularly experiences delays of an entire week.

Pharmacies reported significant increases in complaints about delayed medication delivery. They also pointed out the increased costs they face as increasing numbers of prescription orders have to be reshipped because of delivery issues. One pharmacy reported an increase of 35% in the number of reshipments this year and noted that July 2020 was particularly problematic; in that month their reshipment numbers increased by 80% and cost the pharmacy $700,000. These delays can threaten the health of Americans, particularly those with chronic conditions—like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and high blood pressure—who depend on daily medications. In the long run these delays may also result in increasing drug costs, as pharmacies are forced to spend more time fielding complaints and reshipping orders that have not been received. S-HP

Consider asking your Congressmembers to address the impact of mail delays on both immigration and healthcare. Maybe the USPS Board of Directors also needs to hear from you that mail service must be maintained at a level that guarantees not just safe voting, but also reliable delivery of medications and timely processing of immigration documents.

4. Immigrants’ biometric data captured

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed federal rule changes that would significantly increase both the occasions in which the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) collects biometric data and the kinds of biometric data it collects. Nextgov explains that the USCIS currently collects fingerprints and uses these when conducting background checks. Under the changes, USCIS would collect palm prints, photos to be used in conjunction with facial recognition software, voice prints, iris images, and DNA samples. These data would be collected not just for background checks, but also for much broader identification purposes, such as the production of identity documents. As we’ve reported repeatedly, biometric identification software is highly unreliable, particularly for people of color, producing significant false identifications. These proposed rule changes are open for public comment through October 13. DHS is only accepting online comments on this proposal. S-HP

If this use of biometric data troubles you, you can object to DHS’s attempt to increase the use of technologies that invade individual privacy and that regularly result in false identifications by going to this web address.

5. Former intelligence officer who blew the whistle on information suppression also revealed catastrophic policy decisions on Latin America

Reporting on Brian Murphy’s whistle-blower complaint filed against the State Department has focused on Murphy’s claim that the State Department deliberately suppressed information on Russian election interference, instead promoting a narrative that presents China and Iran as the main players in attempts to undermine U.S. elections. However, this was not the only type of intelligence misrepresentation Murphy highlighted. Roll Call reports that Murphy’s complaint also alleges that intelligence regarding Central American nations was similarly distorted. Murphy claims that Kevin Cuccinelli, then the Department of Homeland Security’s second highest official, ordered him to fire or reassign intelligence analysts working on Central America because they were part of a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine administration restrictions on asylum. Intelligence reports at that time detailed corruption, violence, and poverty in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

  The Trump administration has been openly critical of the government in another Central American nation, Nicaragua. The U.S. State Department describes the government of Nicaragua, headed by former Sandinista Daniel Ortega, as violently repressive. According to the State Department, Nicaraguan police and para-police, “arbitrarily detain pro-democracy protesters.” The State Department considers reports of Nicaraguan torture and disappearances “credible.” However, this criticism of the Ortega regime has not had any impact on U.S. asylum policy.

  In late August, the Washington Post reported on a number of Nicaraguan activists who arrived to the U.S. to apply for asylum, but were quickly returned to Nicaragua without asylum hearings. Under rules put in place in response to COVID-19, current U.S. policy is to immediately return all asylum applicants from Nicaragua to their country of origin. One of the individuals featured in the Washington Post story was Valeska Alemán, 22, who posted video footage online of Nicaraguan police firing at student protesters. The footage went viral, and Alemán’s photo appeared in newspapers throughout Nicaragua. Alemán was detained twice and tortured: interrogators pried off her toenails. Because the U.S. government has been a vocal critic of the Nicaraguan’s crackdown on protesters, Alemán chose to seek asylum in the U.S. However, seventeen days after she entered the U.S. in July, Alemán was put on a flight back to Nicaragua with more than 100 other Nicaraguans, most of whom had protested against the government of Daniel Ortega. The 100+ were not allowed to submit asylum requests. Alemán and others of these deportees are now in hiding in Nicaragua; some have had their identity and travel documents seized, which would make a new attempt at applying for asylum much more difficult.

  Seven members of Congress have sent the President a letter formally requesting that the U.S. discontinue deporting Nicaraguan political dissidents hoping to apply for asylum. The Washington Post includes excerpts from that letter: “Your deportations of politically persecuted Nicaraguans run counter to U.S. values and directly undermine the stated goals of U.S. policy towards Nicaragua…. We call for any such future asylum requests to be considered, in accordance with U.S. law, and urge your administration to cease collaborating with the Ortega regime in deporting Nicaraguans.” The United Nations have also criticized the deportations for violating the international refugee convention’s principle of non-refoulement, the practice of forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to countries where they are apt to face persecution.

   Reuters reports that the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are investigating this complaint. S-HP

You might thank the House and Senate Intelligence Committees for investigating Murphy’s whistleblower complaint and share your concerns about the deportation of Nicaraguan asylum-seekers. Addresses are here.


6. Trump’s efforts to avoid counting undocumented people thwarted by court

In July, Trump instructed Census administrators to exclude undocumented people from the count and to shorten the timeline, attempting to reduce the number of residents in each state for apportionment purposes. Last week, in response to a suit by the ACLU and the New York State attorney general, a judge told the Republican administration that they could not shorten the timeline and that they had to include undocumented residents. Had the administration been able to exclude them, state with high numbers of undocumented people would suffer in terms of federal funding and representation in the House. As Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project told the Washington Post, “President Trump has tried and failed yet again to weaponize the census against immigrant communities. The law is clear — every person counts in the census.” RLS

7. Migratory birds again protected

We’ve reported previously about Trump administration attempts to weaken protections for migratory birds established in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The administration attempted to eliminate penalties for “incidental” killing of migratory birds. Thus, a company or individual might kill any number of migratory birds without repercussions, if the birds’ deaths resulted from an action not intended to kill them. For example, a major leak of oil or toxins that resulted in bird deaths would not have carried penalties because the oil or toxins would not have been released for the specific purpose of killing those birds. Now the National Resources Defense Council is celebrating a federal court ruling overturning this weakening of the MBTA. The ruling noted that the language of the MBTA makes killing of migratory birds “by any means whatever or in any manner” unlawful. S-HP


7. Children of color are 5-8 times more at risk of hospitalization from COVID-19

Black, Latinx and Indigenous people are four and a half to over five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19, with Indigenous people being the most likely, according to the CDC (such as it is). Children of color are even more vulnerable; they are five to eight times more likely than white children to be hospitalized with COVID, and more likely to develop the most severe complication of the disease, multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C. Most of the children who have died from COVID are children of color, according to the New York Times. The reason for this disparity, the Times speculates, is that their parents are more likely to be front-line workers in health care or to have other jobs that cannot be done in person. They are less likely to have paid sick leave. Children of color are therefore more likely to have to attend school in person and to be more at risk as a result. RLS

8. Trump COVID body count: 193,723

We now know what Trump knew (about how dangerous the coronavirus was) and when he knew it, thanks to Bob Woodward’s unconscionably delayed reporting. We also know what the costs of that delay and Trump’s inaction have been. Many travelers returning to the US from China to Washington State around February 1 launched the virus into the US, according to a new study published in the journal Science. Exhaustive study of the genomics of the virus, travel patterns and computer models of the epidemic have definitively established this date and this route of transmission, according to Science Daily. Those outbreaks were contained by prompt testing, contact tracing and quarantining, Science Daily reports, and subsequent outbreaks could have been contained as well if rigorous responses had been in place. Trump’s interview with Woodward in which he revealed he knew how dangerous the virus was took place on February 7. 193,723 people have died in the US since February 23, according to Johns Hopkins.

PBS interviewed a number of public health experts at the end of July who said that deaths and hospitalizations could have been dramatically reduced if proper containment measures had been followed: Testing, adequate PPE and masking in public. The Johns Hopkins site has a wide range of resources on COVID-19. RLS


The Americans of Conscience checklist is determined to get out the vote. They offer clear, focused actions you can take.

Susan Rogan has her pulse on the issues. See Rogan’s list for ways you can weigh in on the need for COVID relief, speak out against Trump’s ban on anti-racism training, support Black Lives Matter.

Future Now has a list of eight critical Senate and House seats that you can help defend or flip.

If you want to find out what the government is proposing and how you can comment for the public record, Martha offers you a list of tracking sites.

Heather Cox Richardson analyzes the news from a historian’s perspective almost every night.

News You May Have Missed: September 6, 2020

“Protective medical mask on laptop. The end of the pandemic.” by shixart1985 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

News You Might Have Missed is on leave this week, but you don’t need to be.

We’re under the weather. If you aren’t, there are things you might do:

  • The Americans of Conscience checklist is determined to get out the vote. They offer clear, focused actions you can take.
  • Susan Rogan has her pulse on the issues. See Rogan’s list for ways you can weigh in on the Agriculture Secretary’s use of free lunches to force kids back to in-person school in January, admonish Wisconsin Republicans for refusing to act on police brutality, consider ways to take back the Senate–and more.
  • Speaking of the Senate, Future Now has a list of eight critical Senate and House seats that you can help defend or flip.
  • If you want to find out what the government is proposing and how you can comment for the public record, Martha offers you a list of tracking sites.
  • Heather Cox Richardson analyzes the news from a historian’s perspective almost every night.