1. 58% of farmworkers who test positive for COVID continue to work
Those who keep food on our tables are working with COVID symptoms, according to a research study on the prevalence of COVID-19 infections among Salinas Valley (Monterey County, California) farmworkers released by U.C. Berkeley. Because of their role in the U.S. food system, farmworkers are considered essential employees, expected to work if healthy, despite workplace risks. The study involved 1,091 participants (more than 50,000 farmworkers are employed in the Salinas Valley), over half of whom were part of families living on incomes of less than $25,000 a year. The study found a number of factors that made farmworkers likely to contract COVID-19 and also noted that almost half of the participants had risk factors—such as diabetes or high blood pressure—that could have made a COVID-19 infection particularly dangerous.
The report included good news: over 90% of participants reported receiving information on distancing, staying home from work if symptomatic or if ill, and how to protect themselves from infection at work. On the other hand, only 72% received information on getting tested for COVID-19 and only 69% received information on getting paid sick leave to which they are legally entitled. And while most employers provided several workplace protections, only 29% of workers were screened for symptoms and temperature before starting a shift, while 45% received no testing at all. The remaining 27% received testing for either temperature or symptoms, but not both, at the start of shifts. A significant proportion of workers acknowledged working while symptomatic for one or more of the following reasons (listed from most- to-least cited): feeling well enough to work, concern about losing pay, assuming the illness was not COVID-19, fear of job loss, or being told by an employer to come in to work anyway. The study’s authors make four recommendations:
◉Provide culturally and linguistically appropriate education about benefits and sick leave.
◉Offer rapid testing in clinics, neighborhoods, and fields, and follow up on this with culturally and linguistically appropriate contact tracing.
◉Provide on-the-spot “wrap-around” services, including income replacement, mental and family health services, housing, and child and food support.
◉Prioritize rapid testing and vaccinations for farmworkers to protect that population and secure the U.S. food supply.
Reporting on the study in Watsonville’s weekly newspaper, the Pajaronian noted that Jimmy Panetta, U.S. Representative for the region, has cited this study in calls for greater COVID-19 education, personal protective equipment, and vaccinations for farmworkers. The newspaper also quoted one of the study’s authors: “We have failed to protect this population, while they have continued to engage in essential work through the pandemic.” S-HP
Join the study’s authors and Representative Panetta in calling for more education, more personal protective equipment, increased services, and priority for vaccines—everything presented in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner—for the farmworkers who continue to provide our nation’s food. Explain to your elected representatives that employers, too, need to be informed about the services and rules–which must be enforced.
2. Food insecurity among small children
Since the pandemic, at least 12% of families with children under five have become food insecure, according to the Brookings Institution, meaning that their children do not have enough to eat and their parents do not have the money to purchase sufficient food for them. 17% of families with school age children report not having enough food. Food insecurity persists even when people have access to SNAP and food banks.
Back in April, chef José Andrés offered an editorial responding to the food scarcity engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic in which he argued that:
◉We need to admit the U.S. has a food crisis;
◉We need to treat food security as a national security issue;
◉We need a “food czar” on the National Security Council.
Not surprisingly, we didn’t move an inch closer to any of these goals during the Trump administration, but we can urge Biden to take on the challenge. S-HP
Tell President-elect Biden that food security and the quality of the American diet are national security issues and urge him to put a “food czar” on the National Security Council: President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @joebiden.
Food banks are stretched thin trying to assist people who are food-insecure. For a close-up look at Loaves and Fishes, an organization that provides food for farmworkers, as well as unhoused and elderly people, see the video by City on a Hill press.
3. US government hacked–including US Nuclear Agency
A number of U.S. government agencies, including Commerce, Homeland Security and Treasury and the State Department, were hacked over eight months, according to the Washington Post, which says it has sources confirming that Russian hackers were responsible. Most alarmingly, the US Nuclear Agency, which oversees the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, was hacked, according to Time magazine. Software from the SolarWinds Orion Platform was invaded, possibly via Microsoft 365, and possibly because the SolarWinds password was…solarwinds123. The hack was possible in part because FireEye, a cybersecurity firm, itself was hacked, the Post explained in another article. Though the Canadian government also uses SolarWinds, its ministries appear not to have been hacked, according to the Toronto Star.
As Heather Cox Richardson points out, among the sources of vulnerability has been the Trump administration’s systematic dismantling of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, firing precisely those officials who would know how to protect the country. On top of that, the fact that this level of cyber-invasion is possible has been known for decades, Slate points out in a carefully researched article, and the vulnerabilities that made it possible were baked in to the origins of the internet. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has cancelled transition meetings with Biden while the Trump administration is proposing to split up the the National Security Agency and Cyber Command–in the middle of the hacking crisis, Politico points out. After days of silence on the topic of the hack, Trump is now insisting that China, not Russia, is behind the hack, contradicting Secretary of State Pompeo, according to CNBC. Time quoted Biden as saying, “I want to be clear: My administration will make cybersecurity a top priority at every level of government — and we will make dealing with this breach a top priority from the moment we take office.” RLS
4, Finding the parents, deporting families
The difficulty of finding the parents deported away from their children is clear in a story by Freethechildren.org, which explains that the parents may be in hiding from the very gangs they fled from in the first place. They may also live in rural areas with minimal civic infrastructure, and information that might have been used to locate them was deliberately withheld by the US government, as we explained on December 6.
Of the twenty-eight families we wrote about who refused to relinquish their children, 15 families from the Dilley facility in South Texas have been scheduled for immediate deportation–or have been deported already, according to the AP. Among these families is a girl whose arm desperately needs surgery. The child’s arm was broken on purpose by the man who was threatening her mother. Thirteen families have had their “credible fear” confirmed and will appear before an immigration judge, according to Texas Public Radio. According to Amy Maldonado, an attorney representing them in a federal lawsuit, the hope is that under a Biden administration, the deported families will be able to return–if they survive and if they can be found.
Amnesty International has a letter you can customize and send, protesting the deportations.
5. Dangers to asylum-seekers intensify with new agreement
The Trump administration has made an agreement with El Salvador to accept asylum-seekers that the U.S. deports, despite a statement from El Salvador’s president last year that they could not accommodate them, Buzzfeed reports. According to a Human Rights Watch report last February, in 2018, 101,000 Salvadorans had applied for asylum in the U.S., and 129,500 had applied for asylum elsewhere. As Buzzfeed, explained, “People are fleeing El Salvador in large numbers due to the violence and serious human rights abuses they face at home, including one of the highest murder rates in the world and very high rates of sexual violence and disappearance.” RLS
6. Asylum-seekers in solitary confinement
Some adult asylum-seekers have been kept in solitary confinement for more than two months, with two of them kept in solitary for 300 days, DHS inspectors ascertained, according to a draft report obtained by Buzzfeed. The inmates had received no recreation breaks nor medical checks, and were fed expired and moldy food. These are not the only asylum-seekers held in solitary; an earlier report indicates that asylum-seekers with mental illness were kept in solitary confinement, one for 904 consecutive days. RLS
7. Launching a to-do list for representatives in the next session
At the start of each new Congressional session, the House of Representatives votes on the rules it will operate under. Indivisible is calling on us to ask that our Representatives commit to the following rule changes:
◉Eliminate the Motion to Recommit, which allows the opposition to introduce a “poison pill” amendment that can sink promising legislation. Indivisible provides an explainer, which reminds us that Republicans have used this strategy to delay legislation or implicate Democrats in legislation they would otherwise not support–as when House Republicans attached to a crucial resolution about the war on Yemen language about confronting anti-Semitism. Democrats are not opposed to confronting anti-Semitism, but the addition delayed approval of the resolution–as it was intended to do.
◉Eliminate PAYGO, which requires that any new spending be balanced by an equal, specific cut elsewhere. Republicans eliminated Pay-Go when they wanted to pass tax cuts for rich people. Pelosi restored it–but now it is tying legislators’ hands from launching progressive initiatives. The point isn’t to rack up deficit spending, but to realize that a proposal with up-front costs–especially in a pandemic–can lead to significant pay-offs later. S-HP
You can call for House rules that eliminate the motion to recommit and PAYGO. Find your U.S. Representative here.
8. Another way to save the Senate
The Georgia runoff elections are crucial to ending the paralysis in the Senate, as most News You May Have Missed readers know. Stacy Abrams’ organization, Fair Fight, is a primary source to get information and offer help.
But there is another route to end Senate gridlock. As Indivisible points out, granting statehood to the District of Columbia could be a significant part of democracy reform. First, it would grant D.C. residents equal voting rights compared with residents of other parts of the country. Second, it would add two new members to the Senate, opening up new opportunities for collaboration and action. Finally, D.C. as it is currently comprised would be the only state in the nation to have a plurality of Black voters. S-HP
Consider urging your Congressmembers to make D.C. statehood an important part of next year’s legislative agenda. You can find your U.S. Senators here and your representatives here.
9. Rage and chaos in the White House
With the government hacked and the pandemic raging–317,667 people are dead as of this writing, according to Johns Hopkins University–it is incredible to think that Trump continues to rage about voter fraud, proposing to appoint conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell as a special prosecutor to investigate, according to the New York Times. Michael Flynn, whom Trump pardoned, is suggesting that Trump declare martial law and rerun the election in the contested states, the Atlantic and other sources reported. Trump is proposing to challenge the election results on January 6, when the House and Senate meet to confirm them, according to the Washington Post. The Post has a chilling analysis of how Trump persuaded millions of people that the election was rigged. Senior White House officials are said to be alarmed about Trump’s state of mind, as Axios explains. RLS
10. Facial recognition technology banned by New Orleans City Council
Various kinds of surveillance technology, including facial recognition and predictive policing, has been banned in New Orleans, the Lens reports. As the Washington Post pointed out last year, facial recognition technology tends to misidentify people of color more than it does white people. Police departments in New Orleans said they were not using facial recognition technology, but dozens of emails, brought to light through an ACLU suit, made it clear that they were. RLS
11. Children murdered in Afghanistan to further Trump’s agenda
At least 51 civilians in Afghanistan,, including children as young as eight, were massacred by a CIA-backed death squads, an Intercept investigation reveals. Beginning in 2018 and continuing for over a year, militias targeted mosques and madrassas; in one raid, twelve boys were massacred. The militias appear not to be under the control of the Afghan government and are being paid in American dollars. The purpose of these killings, the author of the Intercept piece told Democracy Now, is apparently to terrorize the Taliban into coming to some sort of agreement which would permit Trump to keep his promise to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of his term. RLS
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
12. Endangered Monarch butterflies are not on the endangered list
The Monterey Herald reports that during the annual Thanksgiving count of <onarch butterflies in 2018, around 30,000 individuals were sighted. In 2019, that number remained stable: around 30,000 individuals. This year, only 2,000 individuals were sighted during the count. In 1997 the Monarch butterfly population was at 1.2 million. Scientists estimate the eastern Monarch population has fallen by about 80% since the mid-1990s. The drop in the western population has been even more precipitous.
However last week, the Monarch was once again denied endangered species status by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), despite the fact that DFW’s director, Aurelia Skipwith, acknowledges that Monarchs meet the listing criteria. So, why the hold-up? Skipwith claims “before we can propose listing [monarchs], we must focus our resources on our higher-priority listing actions.” An article in USA Today points out that there are currently 161 such higher-priority species awaiting endangered listing—which would require that the federal government develop and fund a comprehensive, nation-wide recovery program for the species.
Currently, Monarchs are scheduled for reconsideration in 2024. If they are approved for endangered status, a one-year public comment period is required before a final rule can be published confirming the monarchs’ endangered status. Basically, Monarchs are endangered now, but any action in response won’t occur until 2025, if then. S-HP
You can urge the Department of Fish and Wildlife to act on the Monarchs’ status before it is too late and demand that Congress fund DFW at a level that allows identification of and planning for recovery of endangered species as soon as it’s needed, rather than allow the unconscionable waiting list to become a list of dying species we will no longer be able to try to save. Addresses are here.
If you want to mourn 2020, see these extraordinary photographs by AP photographers.
Johns Hopkins has a risk calculator that will let you see whether you have elevated risk for COVID-19.
The Americans of Conscience checklist has quick, effective actions you can take, among others to protect sacred land, release those in prisons and immigration detention to save them from COVID-19, and to give asylum-seekers enough time to find lawyers. The AoC suggests language and provides addresses.