News You May Have Missed: November 22, 2020

“File:Iran nuclear program map-en.png” by Yagasi, translation of the original work by Sémhur is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Look closely at the above map when you hear that Trump is considering bombing Iran’s nuclear sites. The Tehran Research Reactor, which the U.S. gave to Iran in 1967, is about 45 minutes away from the center of Tehran, with its 9 million people–just a little bigger than New York. (Al Jazeera published a video tour of the facility in 2019.) Likely you see the problem. As Foreign Policy in Focus put it, “…bombing Iranian nuclear facilities is like setting off nuclear weapons on the ground.”


1. Trump explores bombing Iran’s nuclear sites, draws down troops in Afghanistan

In the waning days of his regime, Donald Trump has fired Pentagon and security officials, withdrawn 2,500 troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and had his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, explore the possibilities of bombing Iran’s nuclear sites before Trump leaves office. The Natanz uranium enrichment plant, which was the subject of sabotage in August, is a likely target, since a number of sources note that it has increased its production. Natanz’s population is some 14,000 people.

While the New York Times sketches the issue, it leaves much unsaid, as Portside points out, noting that an attack on Iran could lead to an all-out regional war. Democracy Now explains that Trump is intensifying the sanctions on Iran which have devastated its economy in the midst of the pandemic; in addition, though it is not clear who is carrying them out, there have been cyber-attacks on the national gas company–just as winter is arriving. Portside quotes a tweet by Assal Rad of the National Iranian American Council: “To be clear, Trump wanted to (& still could) attack Iran to stop its ‘growing nuclear program,’ which is only growing [because] Trump quit the deal that set limits on it. This is the definition of a manufactured crisis. Trump wants to bomb away what he created.” 

The hope is that the military would balk at an all-out attack on Iran, but Trump may be intending to make it much harder for Biden to re-enter the Iran nuclear agreement, as he says he would do. If Trump does attack Iran, it will likely improve the prospects for hard-liners in Iran to win the summer 2021 election.

Some analysts are also concerned not only about what it means for Trump to be considering bombing Iran and replacing high-level defense officials in his last weeks in office, but about what he will do with the nation’s intelligence data, according to the Harvard Gazette–whether he will declassify it, share it with foreign leaders (as he did with Russian in 2017), or what. RLS

2. Michigan legislators trump Trump

Biden won the presidential contest in Michigan by more than 154,000 votes, but that hasn’t ended efforts to flip the state’s electoral votes to Trump. First, two Republican canvassers from Michigan’s Wayne County, the largest county in the state, temporarily blocked certification of Biden’s substantial win in that county claiming that the results might be tainted by voter fraud. Then, after an outcry from the county’s voters and political and religious leaders, they backed down and voted for certification. The next day, they tried unsuccessfully to rescind their votes. Now that those efforts to stymie the will of Michigan voters has failed, Trump has summoned members of the Michigan GOP to the White House in a bid to continue his attempts to invalidate U.S. election results. Two legislative leaders traveled to meet with the president: Michigan’s State Speaker of the House and Michigan’s Senate Majority Leader. However, according to CNN, they released a statement after the meeting saying that “We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election.” Trump apparently hopes to prevent the state’s certification process, pushing election results to the state House and Senate, where he hopes Republicans will hand the state’s electoral votes to him. S-HP

3. Pennsylvania judge slaps down Trump’s efforts to undo election result

In a scathing rebuke, a Pennsylvania judge dismissed Trump’s lawsuit asking that millions of votes be set aside. The judge wrote, “this Court has been presented with strained
legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative
complaint and unsupported by evidence. In the United States of America, this
cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its
sixth most populated state.”

While Trump is not gaining any legal ground through his some 25 lawsuits, David Gergen and Caroline Cohen–in an opinion piece for CNN–caution that there is considerable cause for concern, pointing out that according to a recent poll, “32% of Americans think Biden won as a result of voter fraud.” Those who hold this point of view are abandoning Fox News and turning to purveyors of conspiracy theories, such as Newsmax (see the introduction to our issue last week). If a third of Americans do not believe in the legitimacy of the election, they point out, it will be difficult for Biden to govern. Going forward, Politico suggests, Trump’s purpose in all this is to disrupt and thereby maintain control over the GOP, freezing out other potential presidential candidates in 2024. RLS

4. Employees on Medicaid and food stamps while corporations make billions

Walmart. McDonald’s. Dollar Tree. Dollar General. Amazon. Burger King. FedEx. What do these major corporations have in common? Reporting in the Washington Post shows that they are the U.S. employers with the highest number of employees depending on Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—or food stamps) for healthcare and to make sure their families have enough to eat—this according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study undertaken at the request of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Initially, the GAO sought information on the employers of Medicaid and SNAP recipients in all fifty states, but the study focused on nine states in the case of Medicaid and six states in the case of SNAP (for a total of eleven states participating in one or both areas) because their data was determined to be most reliable.

In all eleven states, Walmart was among the top employers to have employees relying on Medicaid or SNAP. McDonald’s was in the top five in at least nine states. The study looked at the proportion of non-elderly, non-disabled people employed by these corporations in the states studied. In Georgia, Walmart employees (3,959) make up 2.1% of that group. McDonald’s employs another 1,480 or 0.8% of that cohort. In Oklahoma, Walmart employees (1,059) comprised 2.8% of that cohort, and McDonald’s accounted for another 1.4% (536). 3.1% (1,318) of Arkansas’ non-elderly, non-disabled people receiving SNAP benefits were employed by Walmart; another 2% (865) were employed by McDonald’s. Sanders, not surprisingly, was sharply critical of the “corporate welfare” claimed by these employers: “Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize some of the largest and most profitable corporations in America. And what kind of profits do those corporations make? In the third quarter of 2020, Walmart reported income of $5.1 billion; McDonald’s reported $1.76 billion. S-HP

If you’re outraged, you can urge your Congressmembers to read and heed this GAO study and demand reductions in corporate welfare and increases in the minimum wage.

5. Supreme Court hears case on whether LGBTQ2s+ people can be foster parents

On November 4, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case testing whether social service agencies operating foster parent programs can exclude lesbians and gay men as potential foster parents because of the agencies’ religious objections. The case arose in response to a Philadelphia decision to end a fostering contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) because they would not accept applications from same-sex couples. Lower courts have upheld Philadelphia’s decision, with the Court of Appeals ruling that the decision was not targeting CSS for their religious views, but was ensuring that agencies the city does business with adhere to the city’s 40-year-old nondiscrimination policy. Reporting on the story, the Washington Post cited Stanford law professor Jeffrey L. Fisher who said the decision can’t come down to “judicial assessments of whether religious views are honorable or offensive” because if such an exemption prevailed, “police officers could decline on religious grounds to enforce particular laws, prison guards could insist on evangelizing to inmates.”

A key part of the arguments focused on which sorts of discrimination the government had a compelling interest in preventing. When asked repeatedly by Justice Kagan whether the government had a compelling interest to end discrimination against lesbians and gay men, Justice Department lawyer Hashim M. Mooppan said the government might have such an interest in the abstract, but that this was not Philadelphia’s only motivation. Justices also asked Mooppan if a religious fostering agency could exclude mixed-race couples from their programs if that was part of their beliefs. Mooppan responded that “race is unique in this country’s constitutional history, and eradicating that type of racial discrimination . . . presents a particularly unique and compelling interest.” Justice Stephen G. Breyer appeared to be looking for a compromise of sorts when he suggested that if CSS objects “to being required to evaluate and provide written endorsements of a same-sex relationship, add something onto any response you make and say that you do not endorse same-sex marriages. Say it.” As the Washington Post explains, one of the ironies here is that Philadelphia’s case rests on a precedent-setting. S-HP

6. Ban on conversion therapy struck down.

Meanwhile, Forbes reports on a November 20 ruling in Florida by Federal Judges Britt C. Grant and Barbara Lagoa, who were both appointed by President Donald Trump, that the City of Boca Raton, Florida, and Florida’s Palm Beach County do not have a right to ban controversial treatment of “minors with ‘any counseling, practice or treatment performed with the goal of changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity’”—in other words, Conversion Therapy. The widespread consensus is that such “therapy” causes serious harm, but the Florida ruling says that conversion therapy cannot be banned because doing so would “violate the First Amendment because they are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.” This case also involved an unexpected irony in that the Judges argued that even though professional organizations have determined a therapeutic practice to be harmful, that is not sufficient reason to ban it–because such agencies can later reverse policy as the American Psychiatric Association did when it reversed its opposition to homosexuality. In a fierce dissent Judge Beverly C. Martin wrote that the conversion therapy ban was backed up by a mountain of rigorous evidence,” and that organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association Council of Representatives, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American School Counselor Association, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have all found [conversion therapy] “pose[s] real risks of harm on children.” S-HP

You may want to seize this precarious time to remind your Congressmembers that the U.S. needs nationwide antidiscrimination legislation for LGBTQ+ individuals.

7. Battle over military bases with Confederate names

Both houses of Congress have passed—with what would be veto-proof majorities—a defense spending authorization bill that includes a provision requiring that military bases named after Confederate leaders be renamed. Military leaders also support the renaming of these bases. However, as the New York Times reports, James Inhofe (R-OK), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is demanding that the renaming provision be cut from the bill before it is sent to the White House to avoid a veto. Even now as the Trump administration is in its final death throes, Republicans are doing all they can to avoid crossing Trump, even when that means abandoning their own values and disregarding the wishes of military leadership. S-HP

You can take various actions to address this issue. Tell Inhofe that his attempt to remove the renaming provision is blatant pandering to Trump against the wishes of Congress and the military and demand that he abandon the effort. You may want to urge the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to do all possible to fight this capitulation to Trump’s bigotry, and insist to your Congressmembers that they fight to retain the renaming clause. You may need to explain to them that having military bases named after Confederates glorifies men who attempted to end the United States as it existed at that time in order to preserve slavery and continues to send a message that slavery is an aspect of U.S. history that we can refuse to acknowledge, even during this time when we have repeatedly seen deadly disregard for Black lives. Relevant addresses are here.


8. Trump is selling billions of dollars of arms to the U.A.E.

Last week, we discussed the Trump administration’s planned sale of $23 billion in advanced weapons technology to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Not only is the UAE located in a volatile region with absolutely no need for additional advanced weaponry, but the UAE also has a dangerous record of human rights violations. According to Human Rights Watch:

◉The UAE plays a lead role in the Saudi-led military coalition responsible for some 90 unlawful attacks in Yemen, a number of which could be potentially classified as war crimes.

◉The UAE has a record of detainee abuse both within the nation itself and internationally.

◉The UAE blocks visits by representative of international human rights organizations.

◉The UAE’s 2015 anti-discrimination law does not bar discrimination on the basis of sex or gender.

◉In the UAE, critics of the government are subject to detention, torture, and disappearance.

◉UAE law permits domestic violence with Article 53 of the penal code allowing the imposition of “chastisement by a husband to his wife and the chastisement of minor children” so long as the assault does not exceed the limits of Islamic law.

◉Marital rape is not a crime in the UAE.

◉In 2010, the UAE Federal Supreme Court issued a ruling, citing the penal code, that accepts husbands’ beating and infliction of other forms of punishment or coercion on their wives, provided they do not leave physical marks.

Three U.S. senators have said that they will introduce legislation in opposition to the sale: Democrats Bob Menendez and Chris Murphy and Republican Rand Paul. S-HP

You can tell tell Senate and House Committee leadership and your own Congressmembers that any U.S. sale of advanced weaponry to the UAE is unacceptable. Addresses are here.


9. One in 1,293 Americans are dead from COVID. Trump won’t permit Biden’s COVID response team to coordinate

Johns Hopkins’ most recent (as of midday, November 20) COVID-19 data shows the U.S. at nearly 12 million total cases and over 253,000 deaths. A little basic math—we’ll assume a U.S. population of 328.2 million—shows us that already one in every 1,293 Americans has been killed by COVID-19. And the case numbers and deaths continue to rise. President-elect Biden has quickly assembled a team to direct the nation’s COVID response once Biden is sworn in, but what that team can accomplish is limited at this moment by the refusal of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work with it or to supply crucial data, such as the size of the national stockpiles of Personal Protective Equipment and ventilators or the nation’s current hospital bed capacity. Alex Azar, Secretary of HHS, is refusing to allow his department to work with the transition team because of the General Services Administration’s refusal to acknowledge the Biden win. In fact, HHS staffers have been ordered not to speak with any Biden team members who contact them and to immediately report attempted contact to the Deputy Surgeon General. The voices raised against this life-threatening policy decision include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and the American Nurses Association. S-HP

You can join Dr. Fauci and leading medical organizations in calling for immediate and full cooperation between HHS and the Biden transition team to allow for the most effective possible ongoing response to the pandemic. Write or call Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Ave. SW, Washington DC 20201, (877) 696-6775

10. Trump tries to force banks to invest in Alaska drilling

The Trump administration seems determined to create the maximum possible destruction and havoc in the two months it has remaining. The Washington Post reports that among the likely casualties of this executive branch destruction derby are vast tracts of publicly held land in Alaska, including parts of both the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA) and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The NPRA is some 23 million acres in size and almost half of it is already open to drilling. Plans announced in June would open nearly 7 additional million acres of that expanse to drilling, making 82% of the refuge potential drill sites. Yes, there are petroleum reserves under the NPRA, but its surface has been subject to wildlife protections for over forty years, and it provides critical habitat for polar bears and for migrating caribou and waterfowl.

This plan is currently being fought in the courts by a consortium of environmental groups. And even big banks are resisting; according to Common Dreams, five of the six large banks do not want to fund drilling projects due to objections from activist shareholders, but the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has passed a new proposal to force them to do so. This past Tuesday, the administration announced the first step in opening ANWR lands to drilling, posting a “call for nominations” in the Federal Register. Under a call for nominations, petroleum companies identify specific tracts of land they would be willing to bid on in future drilling lease sales. The Washington Post notes that the ANWR provides “habitat for more than 270 species, including the world’s remaining Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, 250 musk oxen and 300,000 snow geese.” The small bit of good news in all this is that while the call for nominations focuses on identifying tracts to open up for drilling leases, the comment document soliciting these “nominations” is also open to comments critical of the idea of endangering this territory on which so many wild lives depend. S-HP

You can post a formal comment in opposition to the proposed auctioning off of drilling leases in ANWR; follow the instructions exactly. You can also inform your Congressmembers that you oppose opening these Refuge lands to drilling and ask them to fight against the creation of new drilling leases.


The Americans of Conscience checklist has a set of valuable things you can do to ensure the peaceful transition of power, advocate for the health of people in prisons, and support the rights of young voters. They calculate that you can get through the list in 25 minutes.