Trump seems to be trying to pull the world down with him as he departs, leaving incalculable damage. Like dismantling a circus tent or a house of cards, he is pulling out key supports, leaving Biden’s people–and the rest of us–to rebuild from the wreckage.
1. Trump trashing-out the turf
Trump seems to be trying to do as much damage as possible–or return as many favors as possible–on his way out the door. As Mother Jones so eloquently describes it, what he is doing resembles how angry homeowners have “trashed-out” the homes they have lost to foreclosure. From allowing chicken producers to speed up processing lines (thereby increasing the risk of worker injuries and salmonella transmission), to permitting the current level of soot in the air (despite the cost to people with respiratory illnesses, such as COVID), to lowering efficiency standards for water fixtures to making it more difficult for people to claim asylum, he seems to be accommodating corporate interests in some instances, appeasing his base in others and indulging his own preoccupations in still others, ProPublica explains. Or–as the Daily Beast reports–he is laying the groundwork for his 2024 candidacy, which he may launch during Biden’s inauguration.
Allowing states to execute people using firing squads and electrocutions are among the rule changes that Trump is trying to force through. This option may never be used, as Biden says he will put a stop to capital punishment–but Trump plans to execute five more federal prisoners before Inauguration Day.
In addition, he is trying to cement environmental rollbacks, according to the New York Times and is continuing to open up federal lands for oil and gas leasing, with bids starting at a mere $2 per acre. Earthjustice–along with indigenous hunting communities–is suing to stop drilling in the Arctic. ProPublica quotes Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in steering committee representing indigenous hunting communities, as saying, “We have been protecting this place forever. This fight is far from over, and we will do whatever it takes to defend our sacred homelands.” RLS
Pro Publica has an app to track the progress of Trump’s last-minute (de)regulations. You might want to let your elected representatives know that you want these reversed as soon as they can do so. They will be able to use the Congressional Review Act–if Democrats win the Georgia runoffs and take the Senate.
2. Trump targets disabled workers in one of his last acts
Disabled people who need Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a form of Social Security, will find it more difficult to get and harder to hold onto under new rules to be finalized by the Trump administration on December 16. People with disabilities will be subject to more frequent reviews, and administrative law judges will be replaced by lawyers internal to the agency, Daily Kos reported. The purpose of these changes is apparently to save two billion by dropping people off disability. Lest you think that multiple reviews are in some way a good thing, keep in mind that attending disability hearings requires organizing transportation, obtaining documents from medical providers, and enduring the anxiety of losing one’s income–all an extreme hardship for people with disabilities. Only 20% of people denied disability and told to get a job are actually able to do so, according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. These new rules are targeted at older workers who become disabled on the job; very few workers in this category are able to find work at all, so they end up retiring with reduced Social Security benefits. RLS
3. Children continue to be detained and deported
Detentions and deportations continue at top speed. Over sixty children–some of them under a year old and one of them only a month old–were held for at least three days along the US-Mexico border over the last two months, according to CNN. The baby was held for sixteen days. An attorney visiting a border patrol substation last week said that social distancing measures were not being taken. In a declaration, she wrote, “Children reported sharing a cell with 16-20 other children. When I asked if there were social distancing measures being taken within the cells, the children told me there were not. Many children reported that they were very cold.”
Thirty-three children who came to the US without their parents were also expelled to Guatemala on November 26; their flight left minutes after a court issued an injunction against their expulsion. The children were released to Guatemalan officials rather than being brought back to the US, Buzzfeed reported. 13,000 unaccompanied children have been expelled from the country since March.
Also on November 26, CBS reported that almost 1,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended trying to cross the border during the previous six days. Trump is trying to persuade a court to overturn a ruling that refugee children can no longer be deported without a hearing or a screening for asylum. RLS
4. Government may shut down over Trump’s border wall
The U.S. government is scheduled to shut down on December 11 if Congress doesn’t reach a budget agreement. Legislators have agreed upon an overall budget of 1.4 trillion–but it is not clear whether there is any coronavirus relief money included. The deal has to be finalized in just 12 days, and according to Forbes, the Republicans’ demand for two billion in border wall money may well be the sticking point for Democrats.
Meanwhile, Trump’s people are dynamiting the desert, desperately trying to finish 450 miles of new wall before Trump leaves office. Cutting through rugged terrain, the construction costs $41 million per miles. A fifth-generation cattleman told the New York Times, “Wildlife corridors, the archaeology and history, that’s all being blasted to oblivion or destroyed already. Tragedy is the word I use to describe it.” RLS
5. No singing hymns in bike shops
Amy Coney Barrett will bring in an era of “post-truth jurisprudence,” as Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, put it in an article for CNN. That assessment was borne out last week, when Coney Barrett was the deciding vote to overrule New York State’s decision to restrict religious gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID. Blogger and lawyer Scott Pilutik pointed out that Justice Gorsuch argued that when bike repair shops can remain open but not churches, churches are unconstitutionally targeted.
As Justices Sotomayor and Kagan wrote in their dissent, Justice Gorsuch “does not even try to square his examples with the conditions medical experts tell us facilitate the spread of COVID-19: large groups of people gathering, speaking, and singing in close proximity indoors for extended periods of time … Unlike religious services, which ‘have every one of th(ose) risk factors,’ … bike repair shops and liquor stores generally do not feature customers gathering inside to sing and speak together for an hour or more at a time.”
6. Iranian scientist assassinated to forestall Biden’s re-entry into the nuclear pact
An eminent Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated last week–very suspicious timing given Trump’s eagerness to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites on his way out the door (see our lead story last week). As the Economist points out, four other Iranian nuclear scientists were killed between 2010 and 2012. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh may have been killed to make it difficult for Biden to re-enter the Iran nuclear agreement, as he has said he would do. The New York Times speculates that Israel is behind the attack and wonders whether outgoing VP Pompeo was alerted to the plan on his recent visit to Israel.
Meanwhile, just days before the attack, in what Forbes called a warning to Iran, the US sent two B52s to Iran’s border. In possibly unrelated news, various players have been in semi-secret meetings–Pompeo with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to the BBC, and perhaps with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though the Saudi foreign minister has denied that Netanyahu was there. RLS
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
7. EPA staff try to hold the line against Trump’s 11th hour dismantling of environmental regulations
There’s a reason why Trump is trying to eviscerate civil service. Trump tried to push through another regulatory nightmare before his departure, but Thomas Sinks, a senior scientist worked to stop him, as the New York Times reports. Trump was trying to prevent controls on air and water pollution as far as 10 years in the future; in his report, Sinks warned, “EPA scientists will be unable to practice scientific integrity, our agency will develop poor health-based rules, and the public may not be protected from environmental exposures.”
EPA staff also mailed out the results of a study that showing that half a million drivers of diesel pick-up trucks dismantled their emission control systems, allowing “570,000 excess tons of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant linked to heart and lung disease and premature death,” the Times explained. EPA staff are in back-channel conversations with Biden’s transition team, according to the Times, but EPA head Andrew Wheeler is racing the clock, trying to impede science-based decision-making at the EPA. RLS
8. COVID-19 contact-tracing app
As the pandemic surges, contact tracing is becoming increasing difficult. Both Canada and the US have apps you can download that signal you if you have been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19–provided that they also have the app. They use Bluetooth and maintain your confidentiality.
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.
The most crucial political action you can take now is to help get out the vote in the Georgia run-off elections, which will determine the fate of the Senate–and in significant ways, the Biden administration. If you’re inclined, you can write non-partisan postcards to Georgia voters to urge them to vote. Moms Rising will send you a packet of 20 pre-addressed postcards.