News You May Have Missed October 4, 2020

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by vpickering is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

With Trump’s illness, we’re missing all the other news–his tax returns, his diversion of coronavirus funds (see our story last week), his incarceration and deportation of children, his Supreme Court nominee… If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, NPR points out, she will be one of six Catholics on the bench. But she is a particular kind of Catholic; People of Praise, the branch she is affiliated with, emerged from the Catholic charismatic movement of the 60s, according to the Guardian; participants believe that wives should defer to husbands, opposes sex outside of marriage, and has established what the Guardian describes as an authoritarian structure. On the other hand, it seems to have strong collectivist leanings, at least for unmarried people. In addition to how she would handle Roe-related cases, the big concern is whether Barrett would vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act–in the middle of a pandemic.


1. Trump keeps out more refugees

As he campaigns for reelection, Trump is resorting to a trope that served him well among some voters during the 2016 campaign: the vilification of refugees, whom he depicts as dangerous and violent. The claim that refugees are more apt to engage in criminal behavior than native-born Americans has been debunked any number of times, as the Washington Post points out. According to the Washington Post, on Wednesday evening, just hours before the 2021 fiscal year began, the State Department announced the lowest admission numbers for refugees since the 1980 Refugee Act took effect: 15,000. This administration’s refugee admissions numbers have been consistently below those established by previous administrations.

For example, in Obama’s final year, the refugee “cap” was 116,000. During the Trump administration that cap has been reduced every year, beginning at 45,000 in 2017, then moving downward to 30,000 and 18,000 before this year’s record low. The Hill reports that the State Department claims it will offset that lower total through increases in overseas humanitarian aid and efforts to end conflicts driving the movement of refugees, a claim that appears improbable given the administration’s lack of interest in global, humanitarian politics. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) is quoted in the Hill article as observing that “We have a long history of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers from around the world. It’s who we are when we are at our best. Trump’s cruel and continued draconian cuts to refugee programs not only turn our back on refugees but on this country.” Much of the justification for reducing the refugee cap is placed on the COVID-19 pandemic, which in the past six months has also been used to justify the preemptive return of 90% of Mexico-US border crossers to the Mexican side of the border. Since March, according to CBS News, 9,000 children arriving without their parents have been turned away from the border, with the pandemic as the excuse. S-HP

If you would like to remind Trump, his associates, and your members of Congress that we are a nation of refugees and need to remain so, their addresses are here.

2. Not the lesser of two anything: Biden’s environmental justice platform

This week, let’s take a look at “The Biden Plan to Secure Environmental Justice and Equitable Economic Opportunity.” The introduction to this plan explains that “any sound energy and environmental policy must advance public health and economic opportunity for all Americans, in rural, urban, and suburban communities, and recognize that communities of color and low-income communities have faced disproportionate harm from climate change and environmental contaminants for decades. It must also hold corporate polluters responsible for rampant pollution that creates the types of underlying conditions that are contributing to the disproportionate rates of illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 among Black, Latino, and Native Americans.”  Some of the specifics in the plan for achieving these goals include:

◉Make decisions driven by data and science.

◉ Establish an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the Department of Justice.

◉ Overhaul the Environmental Protection Agency’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office and legal decisions that have allowed state EPAs to issue dangerous permits in the face of community resistance and reinstate the rights of communities to file environmental justice claims, which were voided in a 2001 court ruling.

-◉ Elevate the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and charge it with creating a data-driven Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to identify and support communities that have faced the cumulative impacts of climate change, economic and racial inequality, and multi-source environmental pollution.

◉ Direct the Environmental Protection Agency to create a community notification program ensuring communities receive timely notice of toxic releases and mandating community participation in remediation plans.

◉ Improve preparation for public health emergencies like heat waves, sea level rise, wildfire, air pollution, infectious disease, hurricanes, and flooding, particularly in communities of color and low-income communities.

◉ Create a Task Force to Decrease the Risk of Climate Change to Children, the Elderly, People with Disabilities, and the Vulnerable, identifying climate change impacts posing the largest risks for these vulnerable Americans.

◉ Establish an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity within the Department of Health and Human Services to launch an Infectious Diseases Defense Initiative, predicting infectious diseases most likely to be worsened by climate change and to accelerate development of vaccines and other responses.

◉ Create a Health Care Readiness Task Force to assess U.S. health care system resilience, considering both the delivery of health care and protections for health care workers.

This is an ambitious list, but most of these actions could be accomplished via executive order using existing agency funding. 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. Addresses are here.

3. Postal Service error undercuts voter rolls

At this point, most of us know about the late summer slowdown of mail delivery, along with the removal of sorting machines and mail drop-off boxes and have wondered about the ways these might impact November’s presidential election, but the threats to our voting system due to postal service error and mismanagement go beyond those issues. Time reports that during the month of August, the United States Postal Service (USPS) failed to update at least 1.8 million change-of-address requests—this at a time when most states were preparing to send voters request forms for mail-in ballots or similar documents. The USPS database is used by 43 states and the District of Columbia to update their voter rolls. The USPS says the error was remedied by September 19, but unknown numbers of mailers would have gone out to voters in the first half of September using the incomplete data. The USPS has stated that election materials sent to incorrect addresses can be forwarded as “eligible.” The eligible is important because many states have laws specifically banning the forwarding of election documents as a protection against election fraud. S-HP

You might tell the USPS Board of Directors that you object to this dereliction of duty and ask your Secretary of State whether this failure to update address records affected distribution of voting material in your state and, if so, how they plan to remedy the problem. Addresses are here.

4. Newsom blocks bill to support emergency services. In 2020.

This session, the California Legislature passed AB-2054, the Community Response Initiative to Strengthen Emergency Systems (CRISES), which, in the language of the bill itself, was designed for “the purpose of expanding the participation of community organizations in emergency response for specified vulnerable populations…. The bill would require a community organization receiving funds pursuant to the program to use the grant to stimulate and support involvement in emergency response activities that do not require a law enforcement officer, as specified.”

With minimum awards of $250,000 per grantee, the legislation would have allowed communities to pilot programs that would take responsibility for problems like mental health and homelessness crises from police. The goal of the legislation would have been twofold: to reduce police responsibilities, allowing them more time to address criminal activity, and to prevent the risk of police violence against vulnerable populations. Unfortunately, as explained in a statement from the California State Assembly Democratic Caucus, this legislation was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom who objected to the placement of the pilot program within the California Office of Emergency Services (COES). This appears a rather thin line of reasoning, given that the legislation would only be funding pilot programs and would end in 2024. If, at that point, the state determined that these programs could be more effectively housed with a different government agency, those changes could be made in follow-up legislation. S-HP

You might express your disappointment to Governor Newsom for blocking this valuable pilot program that had the potential to benefit both police and local communities. Governor Gavin Newsom, c/o State Capitol, Suite1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841.


5. Mueller report must be published

This week is not redolent with good news. There is this, though: A federal judge has ordered the Department of Justice to publish redacted information from the Mueller Report, which investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election. In response to a lawsuit filed by BuzzFeed News and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the judge objected to the removal of sections discussing how Mueller’s team made decisions not to charge particular people with crimes, according to the Hill. RLS


6. 54,000 Latinx people dead from COVID-19, many of them immigrants

Arresting, detaining and deporting immigrants has been the hallmark of Trump’s strategy to appease his base. Missing from his narratives of immigrants as criminals and job-stealers is the undeniable fact that they are essential to the survival of all Americans. From the poultry plants of Georgia to the broccoli fields of California, immigrants are keeping food on the country’s tables. An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, published in partnership with Mother Jones, estimated that some 790,000 of the 1.87 million food processing workers and farm laborers are immigrants; one third of those 1.87 workers are undocumented–and therefore ineligible for any of the COVID-19 relief funds others can apply for.

As we discussed in our September 19th issue (story 2), meat and poultry processing workers are at high risk for COVID-19, as are farmworkers. A high percentage of all these workers are Latinx, and Latinx people account for twenty-six per cent of the deaths from the coronavirus, as NPR points out. As essential workers, they are more likely to be exposed to the virus; they have less access to health care, health insurance, and medical leave. Growers and owners have been mandated to provide farm and food processing workers with PPE, but–as we noted on July 19 (story 6)–they often do not. A large group of advocates for agricultural workers wrote a carefully detailed letter to the Secretaries of Labor, State and Homeland Security asking for safety protections for this vulnerable group; all three declined to act. RLS


◉ For stats about the COVID-19, the Johns Hopkins site is most useful.

◉If you have been fuming about recent events and want to take some kind of action quickly, The Americans of Conscience checklist has easy, focused things you can do. They also keep track of how many people act, so you have a sense of your efficacy.

◉If you want to speak up about white supremacy, presidential corruption, Trump’s tax returns, or Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, Rogan’s list will tell you how.