News You May Have Missed: October 25, 2020

“Polling Place @ the Belmont Library!” by San Mateo County Libraries is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


1. Challenges in voting

We probably won’t know the results of the November 3 presidential election by November 4. In fact, when we get them and whether they pass first through the Supreme Court are both up for grabs. And once we have them, who knows when or if we’ll know the full story of the election: particularly which ballots were counted and what pressures voters faced at polling places. Last month, Trump supporters rallied outside a Virginia polling place. They didn’t block the entrance, but prospective voters had to move around them as they approached the entrance. Earlier this week, Trump operatives filmed Philadelphia voters leaving their ballots at secure ballot drop boxes, a practice that Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, called “blatant violations of the Pennsylvania election code” in a letter to the Trump campaign.

 Meanwhile, mail-in ballots are already being rejected. Using data from the Democracy Fund Voter Study (DFVS), the New York Times has assembled a slide show comparing rates of ballot rejection for key voting blocs—voters in the 18-25 year age range, Black and Hispanic voters, and first-time users of mail-in ballots—in swing states. All three of the groups lean Democratic. This is a change for mail-in ballots projected by DFVS using survey data. In the past the majority of mail-in ballots were cast by Republicans, but this year 71% of first-time mail-in ballots will be submitted by Democrats. In Florida voters in the 18-25 age range are two times more likely to have their ballots rejected than are voters in the 26-65 age range and four times more likely to have their ballots rejected than voters in the 66+ age range. In Florida, Black and Hispanic voters’ ballots are being rejected at over two times the rate for white voters.

In North Carolina, where data from ProPublica and the Guardian show that 6,779 ballots had been rejected as of October 15. Drawing once again on New York Times reporting, Hispanic voters were over 2 times more likely to have ballots rejected than white, while for Black voters that frequency of rejection was over four times greater. First time-Florida mail-in voters are more than two-and-a-half times likely than experienced mail-in voters to have their ballots rejected. In the most recent race for one of Florida’s two Senate seats, a Republic won by a margin of just over 10 thousand votes; 5.7 thousand Democratic votes have already been rejected by that state.

  The good news is that in Florida, voters whose ballots are rejected have an opportunity to “cure” their ballots. Voters whose ballots are rejected must be informed. They then have until 5p.m. on November 5 to submit a signed affidavit that the ballot is theirs along with a copy of their ID. North Carolina does not have a similar policy. S-HP

You can write to your Secretary of State and insist that every ballot be counted. You can also let your Members of Congress know that we need national legislation creating a voter’s bill of rights. Addresses are here.

2. “Well-regulated” militias are not protected by the Constitution unless controlled by the state

The so-called “Boogaloo Bois,” who have been responsible for several instances of domestic terrorism—the murder of a federal security officer in Oakland, a threat to supply arms to Hamas to use against US troops, the firing of an AK-47 into a Minneapolis police building during a protest against the murder of George Floyd—are now alleged to be part of a nationwide organization, according to a federal indictment. Their purpose, according to Buzzfeed, is to incite violence around the country. Though Boogaloo has been banned from Facebook, it was on there long enough to establish networks which have now moved to encrypted channels.

Meanwhile, a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a security think-tank, found that white supremacist groups were responsible for 67 per cent of “terrorist plots and attacks,” according to the New York Times. The Times raises the concern that if Trump loses the election, these groups will erupt into widespread violence, with people of color, Jews and Muslims the likely targets. Indeed, a Proud Boys supporter posted a You-Tube video promising Civil War if Biden won, Newsweek reported. On the video, the supporter says that the Proud Boys understood Trump’s statement during the debate that they should “stand back and stand by” to mean that “the president is telling them to ‘wait for my orders’ And that’s exactly what we’re waiting for,” he says on the video, which is posted on Newsweek’s website.

Mary B. McCord, who was the acting assistant attorney general for national security at the Department of Justice from 2016 to 2017, wrote an opinion piece for the Times on the plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan. She says that “’well regulated’ in the Second Amendment meant that the militias were “trained, armed and controlled by the state,” not that unregulated militias are sanctioned anywhere in the U.S. RLS

3. Cameroonian asylum-seekers tortured in US detention

Asylum-seekers fleeing torture in Cameroon were apparently tortured by immigration officials in the US, who choked, beat, and pepper-sprayed them in an effort to get them to sign their own deportation orders, the Guardian reports. Many refused to sign, as they had asylum hearings scheduled and feared they would be killed if they were sent back. Some had their fingerprints forcibly applied to the documents in lieu of a signature. English-speakers are a minority in Cameroon and have been severely persecuted. Nonetheless, many were deported anyway. Witness at the Border tracked the flight which left October 13. One detainee, who was taken off that flight, said, ““I was crying, ‘I can’t breathe,’ because they were forcefully on top of me pressing their body weight on top of me. My eyes were so hot … I was dragged across the ground,” he told the Guardian. “The officers told me to open my eyes. I couldn’t. My legs and hands were handcuffed. They forcefully opened my palm. Some of my fingers were broken. They forced my fingerprint on to the paper.” RLS

Miles4Migrants flies Cameroonians and others who have been granted asylum to their destinations in the United States; using donated miles; immigration officials tend to simply drop them off without money or bus tickets. See their Facebook page for information on how to donate miles (their web page is down). Witness at the Border tracks deportation flights and works to restore asylum. They too are on Facebook.

4. Social workers in Texas may reject LGBTQ+ clients.

Until recently, ethical guidelines from the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners (BSWE) prohibited social workers from turning away clients because of disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity, reports the Houston-based Chron. However, following a recommendation from the office of Governor Greg Abbott that these anti-discrimination protections should be removed because “the code [of conduct’s] nondiscrimination protections went beyond protections laid out in the state law that governs how and when the state may discipline social workers,” BSWE unanimously voted to withdraw these protections. This move raises the question of the differences between what is legally required and what is ethically responsible. Much of Texas suffers from a systematic shortage of social workers, which means that those turned away due to disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity may find accessing mental health services extremely difficult—which is particularly problematic given the documented risk of trauma and related mental health conditions within the LGBTQ+ community. S-HP

You can write–or call–members of the BSWE to object to this abandonment of ethical responsibility—which can quite appropriately extend beyond legal requirements. Addresses are here.

5. US concealed information from those trying to find immigrant children’s parents

1,100 additional children were separated from their parents in 2017, under a pilot program that presaged the “zero tolerance” policy of family separation that has become well known. Now, a draft Justice Department Inspector General’s report has revealed that 545 of those children have parents who were deported and cannot be found—in large part because the U.S. government kept information from agencies who were searching for them, including volunteers who are going door-to-door in Guatemala and Honduras. 60 of these children were under 5 at the time. They are now living with relatives or foster parents while the search for their parents continues. As a lawyer for the ACLU told the New York Times, “The fact that they kept the names from the court, from us, from the public, was astounding. We could have been searching for them this whole time.”

The policy to separate children from their parents was entirely strategic, intended to deter terrified people from seeking asylum, the New York Times reports. Even after the costs of family separation were clear from the 2017 pilot, in a 2018 conference call, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “We need to take away children,” according to the notes of those who were on the call. In a second conference call, Rod J. Rosenstein, who was then  the deputy attorney general, told federal prosecutors that “it did not matter how young the children were.” Even federal prosecutors were aghast. According to the Inspector General’s report, one wrote, “We have now heard of us taking breastfeeding defendant moms away from their infants.”

A Washington Post editorial points out that “family separation” is a misnomer: “For all intents and purposes, these children were kidnapped by the U.S. government.” RLS

You can donate to the ACLU, which is trying to track down every child’s parents and assist them in reuniting. Al Otro Lado assists people who have been deported.

6. Congressmembers not allowed to visit postal processing facilities

Here’s the latest from the United States Postal Service (USPS) under the leadership of new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy

At the end of the week, a federal judge affirmed a lower court ruling requiring the USPS to reinstall high-speed mail-sorting machines—which had been dismantled and removed under DeJoy’s order—at facilities that can’t process first-class election mail efficiently because of COVID-19 modifications.

 According to the Wall Street Journal, individual Congressmembers and Congressional groups have been attempting to tour postal processing facilities in recent weeks, concerned that changes put in place by DeJoy may interfere with timely processing of election mail. The USPS has been blocking these visits using a variety of justifications. The USPS claims a policy, never cited during previous election season visits, bars visitors from postal facilities for 45 days preceding an election. Some Congressmembers have been told that allowing them to visit would constitute a violation of the Hatch Act, which bans the executive branch from engaging in partisan political activity, a claim that is dubious for several reasons. First, Congressmembers are part of the legislative branch of government, not the executive. Second, Trump has been regularly using White House sites for election-related events. In addition, the Wall Street Journal notes that guidance issued by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel regarding the 2018 elections determined the Hatch Act doesn’t prevent lawmakers from visiting “federal facilities for an official purpose, to include receiving briefings, tours, or other official information.”

  Finally, CBS News offers evidence that DeJoy’s business ties could lead to conflicts of interest. DeJoy left the board of shipping company XPO Logistics in 2018, but still holds a multi-million-dollar stake in the business. XPO is also currently leasing properties controlled by DeJoy for $2.3 million annually in a contract that doesn’t expire until 2025. Now, XPO has been awarded an eighteen-month, $5 million contract with XPO. CBS News reports that “The USPS database shows the contract has one of the highest annual rates out of more than 1,600 contracts the Postal Service initiated with outside firms in its most recent quarter, which is the first full quarter DeJoy has served as head of the agency.” S-HP

You can insist that Congressmembers be allowed access to USPS processing facilities and that mail processing be increased in compliance with the federal court order and request a Congressional investigation of DeJoy’s conflicts of interest in his position as Postmaster General. Addresses are here.

7. Loyalty tests in the federal workforce

Trump has frequently indicated a desire to be able to subject government employees to “loyalty tests,” claiming that many of these employees serve the “deep state” rather than Trump himself—though their real employers are the American people, who rely on their nonpartisan work to maintain fairness and transparency across different administrations. Now, using what Government Executive calls “the biggest effort in history to sweep aside 140 years of federal policy promoting professional expertise in government,” Trump has created a new class of federal employees via executive order: Schedule F employees.

Schedule F employees will have none of the usual protections guaranteed to federal employees, including protections against discrimination, forced reassignment and relocation, and the right to appeal personnel decisions, among others. Schedule F employees could also be summarily fired for any reason. And who will these Schedule F employees be? Anyone whose work can be classified as having “a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or a policy advocating character.” None of these terms are defined with any specificity in the executive order, which means almost any employee who has reason to write a memo making suggestions to a higher-up. Government Executive warns that “This is an aggressive effort to uproot the traditions of a highly skilled and politically impartial public service that have made the country great for more than a century. It is a bold effort to shift the constitutional balance of power, to weaken Congress, and to push aside the public’s right to participate in the process that shapes the regulations affecting them.” SHP

You can object to this attempt to make government employment a partisan business and to deny an unknown number of federal workers basic workplace protections they currently have. Find your Members of Congress here.

8. US collaborates with conservative nations to restrict abortion

In 2018 the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a document declaring access to abortion a universal human right. In a delayed response, a group of conservative nations, including Egypt, Uganda, Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Hungary—and the U.S.—has signed what it calls the “Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family.” This declaration is an interesting document. It opens by affirming the widely embraced human right of equality before the law, but then moves on to declare an increasingly convoluted series of “rights” premised upon this initial right. After identifying the right of equal access to resources and equal sharing of responsibilities within families it states that “women and girls must enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources, and political participation.” So far, so good. 

Then after affirming the “inherent right to life” and “dignity and worth of every human person,” it moves to a statement that “in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning” and that “any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process” and claims that “the child… needs special safeguards and care… before as well as after birth.” It goes on to call the family “the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” 

 Strangely enough, at this point the declaration moves from this “family values” assertion to a call for universal access to health care. Universal healthcare is hardly top-tier concern for Trump’s brand of Republicans, but the subsequent paragraph contextualizes that call for universal healthcare by affirming “the importance of national ownership and the primary role and responsibility of governments at all levels to determine their own path towards achieving universal health coverage, in accordance with national contexts and priorities.” In other words, universal healthcare may vary widely from nation to nation and is what national governments declare it to be. The fact that this declaration has been issued at the same time that the Trump administration seeks to end abortion access by creating a conservative majority on the Supreme Court through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett is not coincidence. S-HP

You can speak up about logic underlying this declaration that uses the language of human rights and healthcare access to affirm a governmental right to limit the health services women have access to. Contact information is here.


9. Judge tosses lawsuit against states mailing ballots

A federal judge has dismissed the Trump administration’s efforts to stop the state of Nevada from mailing ballots to all residents. Trump had alleged that the mailing of ballots would lead to “widespread fraud.” The judge responded that the allegation was “impermissibly speculative,” according to Bloomberg. As we noted on August 1 and above, the issue will be whether, given the assault against the Post Office, the voters will be able to return their ballots. RLS

10. No more private prisons and detention centers by 2028

A federal judge has upheld California’s ban on private prisons and immigrant detention centers, with one exception: pre-trial facilities that are holding federal prisoners, the LA Times reported. Four immigrant detention centers holding some 5,000 people would have to be closed by 2028 and contracts with companies that were signed after the law was signed would be void. Private detention centers and prisons have been accused by immigrant advocates of having inexcusable conditions and of having a vested interest in keeping people incarcerated. RLS


11. “Extinct” man challenges Canadian policy

Whether or not Native Americans have rights to hunt and fish without a license on their ancestral lands in Canada has just been heard before Canada’s Supreme Court. Richard Desautel, a U.S. citizen and member of the Lakes Tribe of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State, shot an elk in British Columbia on his ancestral lands, those of the Sinixt, a Canadian First Nation whose people had been declared “extinct” in 1956 by the Canadian government, according to the Seattle Times. In fact, their descendants live in Washington State and are scattered among other First Nations in BC. Crown prosecutors argue that because the successor groups of the Sinixt did not hunt in the area and because Desautel is not a Canadian, he does not have a right to do so. Two judges so far have disagreed, pointing out that the Sinixt did not leave their territory voluntarily and that they never relinquished claims to the area; British Columbia Provincial Court Judge Lisa Mrozinski wrote, “I am left with no doubt that the land was not forgotten, that the traditions were not forgotten and that the connection to the land is ever present in the minds of the members of the Lakes Tribe.” RLS


12. Most of the nurses dying from COVID-19 are Filipino

Almost 70%  of the California nurses who die from COVID-19  are Filipino, according to the Mercury News, though only 20% of nurses are Filipino. Nationally, 30% of the nurses who have died are Filipino, though only 4% of nurses are Filipino. Their deaths are a tragedy not only for them, but for their families in the Philippines, whose hopes of seeing them are dashed and who have been counting on the money they send home. Filipino nurses are concentrated in critical care and other areas where they have intensive patient contact; they also have historically been relegated to lower wage jobs in health care so may have had to take second jobs elsewhere. Many are also caring for elders or others at home. The Mercury piece eloquently evokes the stories of those who have been lost and those who are still working. RLS


Rogan’s List has excellent information on how to support families who are reunited, how to speak up about Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, how to get out the vote.

The Americans of Conscience Checklist has excellent ideas about how to get out the vote (including assisting people with transportation) and about how to protect the vote.