News You May Have Missed: January 3, 2021

“My ‘To Do’ List: Yay for functional tattoos!” by robstephaustralia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The incoming Biden administration is already has a to-do list as long as your arm, but among the lessons of the Obama years is that it is essential to advocate early and often for progressive commitments. To that end, over the next few weeks, News You May Have Missed will be noting key issues Biden must address and ways to encourage him to do so.


1. Surviving January 6

For Biden to be able to get to work, he needs to weather January 6, when Congress has to certify the electoral college vote. Eleven senators have vowed to challenge the certification, insisting–with no credible evidence–that widespread voter fraud needs to be investigated. Five of those senators were elected with the same ballots they are now claiming are fraudulent. As CNN notes, ” not one of the Republican officeholders objecting to Biden’s victory have objected to Trump’s wins, or in some cases their own wins, on the same day.”

The illogic continues: One of Trump’s attorneys, Lin Wood, wrote on Twitter that Pence was at fault for the so-called theft of the election, saying “If Pence is arrested, @SecPompeo will save the election. Pence will be in jail awaiting trial for treason. He will face execution by firing squad. He is a coward & will sing like a bird & confess ALL.” Wood insists that he is not “insane,” according to Business Insider. Pence himself says he “welcomes” the intervention of the eleven senators, according to Slate and other sources.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has the tape of an hour-long call Trump made to Georgia’s Secretary of State, railing at him with untrue allegations of election fraud and imploring him to find 11,780 votes (one vote more than the number of votes by which Biden won Georgia). You can hear the entire call at this site. The problem with its release is that the Secretary of State allows Trump to talk for a full half hour before he refutes Trump’s claims in the mildest terms. Thus, Trump offers those inclined to believe Trump many, many claims to repeat. Trump says he is going to file a lawsuit over the recording of the conversation, but Georgia is a one-party consent state, meaning that only one party to the call needs to be informed that it is being recorded; D.C. also only requires one party to consent.

Trump has urged those who object to the results of the 2020 election to descend on Washington on January 6, according to the Washington Post; the Proud Boys have said they will attend disguised as anti-fa protesters, according to Business Insider, and have threatened violence. They are not without support; after his lawsuit asking that Pence be empowered to overthrow the results of the election was rejected, Representative Louie Gohmert told NewsMax that “you’ve got to go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and BLM,” Forbes reported.

All ten living defense secretaries published an opinion piece in the Washington Post Sunday night calling on the transition at the Defense Department to unfold smoothly and noting the disastrous consequences of involving the military in election disputes. RLS

2. How Biden can raise funds

Once he’s inaugurated, Joe Biden will face all sort of challenges as President. Among these is the question of how to gain revenue without a tax increase—which will probably be a non-starter in the Senate, even if both Democratic candidates in Georgia win their runoffs this week. Given Trump administration tax cuts, the need for heavy expenditure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effect that both of these are having on the national debt, more funding will be essential, but only Congress can raise taxes. As the New York Times points out, however, Biden has another option: improved enforcement of existing tax laws. Biden could encourage reassignment of IRS employees from less-lucrative audits of middle-class and low-income taxpayers to a focus on wealthy taxpayers.

Over the past decade, IRS audits have increasingly focused on documenting tax-credits claimed by low-income workers. Taking credits away one by one from those who have little to start with is not going to build government coffers. True, wealthy taxpayers have better lawyers and their cases are harder to prosecute, but a successful audit of one very wealthy taxpayer generates far more income for the U.S. than a slew of tax-credit denials for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. And let’s remind ourselves that the point of an audit is to be sure all taxpayers are honoring the provisions of existing tax law. This isn’t about seizing assets; it’s about preventing the privileged from avoiding paying their fair share. A Congressional Budget Office report that the New York Times refers to concluded that increasing the IRS budget by $20 billion over the next decade could increase tax revenue by as much as $60.6 billion. S-HP

You might urge Biden to call for increased audits of wealthy taxpayers: President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @JoeBiden. You can call on Congress to support this priority by increasing IRS funding: Directory for the 117th Senate. Directory for the 117th House of Representatives.

3. Citizenship for front-line workers

As is the case in the U.S., France has a significant proportion of workers, particularly in settings like nursing homes, retail businesses, and cleaning services, who have had to continue working during the pandemic and who are not yet citizens. In response, reports the BBC, France’s ministry has encouraged these frontline workers to apply for accelerated citizenship. As of the end of December, more than 700 such residents of France have been given or are in the process of being given accelerated citizenship. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues with summary deportations and expulsions that tear apart families that have been long-term residents of our country. A move like this would be complex, but accelerated citizenship—or extended residency—for those taking the greatest risks to keep our country functioning during this pandemic would be worth exploring once Biden has Secretaries of Labor, State, and Homeland Security in place. S-HP

If you agree, you could urge Biden to have his cabinet explore this possibility. President-elect Joe Biden, 1401 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @JoeBiden. You could also urge your Congressmembers to consider ways to protect frontline workers, particularly those who are not yet U.S. citizens. Directory for the 117th Senate. Directory for the 117th House of Representatives.

4. Online gender-based violence is increasing

Gender-based violence is intensifying, according to Human Rights Watch, as is online gender-based violence in particular, yet governments around the world are not responding. We•news reports on the prevalence of online gender-based violence and the work that is needed to combat it. Their article cites a 2018 statement by the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women that the need to protect women’s rights “has now spread to the digital space of social media…. New forms of violence have also developed, such as the non-consensual distribution of intimate contents… obtained with or without consent with the purpose of shaming, stigmatizing or harming the victim.” Among the responses We•news calls for are making the justice system more supportive for survivors by developing legislation that acknowledges the many forms and the severity of online gender-based violence and developing programs that actively combat the normalization of online gender-based violence. S-HP

You can ask your Congressmembers and the President-elect what they’re doing to educate themselves about, draw attention to, and fight online gender-based violence. President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @JoeBiden.Directory for the 117h Senate.  Directory for the 117h House of Representatives.

5. The Flores Agreement survives Trump lawsuit but much work remains

The Trump administration filed a lawsuit to end the Flores Agreement, which does not allow asylum-seeking families to be detained indefinitely and which establishes standards for children in immigrant detention. The  9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the suit, Reuters reported. For an simple explanation of what Flores is and does, see the explainer by Project Lifeline. However, the siege against immigrants continues. Witness at the Border has tracked 990 deportation flights since January 1, 2020–the latest one New Year’s Eve. Biden has pledged to end deportation flights for 100 days and on “day-one” to end the policy that requires asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their cases to be heard–but said that other reforms will take time, the Washington Post reports. RLS

Witness at the Border has a postcard campaign to press the Biden administration to address the many issues around asylum, detention and deportation. Instructions and images are here.

6. Taking back notions of religious freedom

The Trump administration has devoted significant energy to weakening church-state separation, particularly as Biden’s inauguration approaches. Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) observes in its “Agenda to Restore and Protect Religious Freedom” that the Trump administration has used religious freedom to “sanction discrimination, deny access to health care, require taxpayers to fund religion, and allow houses of worship to endorse political candidates.” As ProPublica reports, these changes, including some made by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which Biden will have difficulty challenging because EEOC Commissioner positions are not tied to specific administrations, and the current set of commissioners will be in place through 2022. Recent rule changes coming from the EEOC include codification of Trump’s 2018 executive order giving faith-based organizations full access to government grant programs without requiring any change to practices to avoid faith-based discrimination. Via the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, private companies that receive federal contracts and grants can now qualify as religious employers, allowing them to refuse those not of their particular faith.

 The AU’s religious freedom agenda includes the following provisions:

◉ A repeal of the Muslim Ban.

◉ An executive order to restore religious freedom for all Americans.

◉ Religious freedom protections for those receiving federally funded social services through private agencies.

◉ Protection from religious discrimination for all workers employed with federal funds.

◉ Ensure people cannot be denied healthcare services based on health care workers religious beliefs.

◉ Passage of legislation equivalent to the Do No Harm Act proposed by then-Senator Kamala Harris, which codifies the right of all Americans not to be harmed by actions based in “religious freedom” arguments.

◉ Use federal funds to support public—not private—schools..

◉ Protect and enforce the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits religious nonprofits from endorsing political candidates.

◉ Ensure the make-up of the U.S. government reflects the religious diversity of America.

◉ Nomination of federal judges who will support church-state boundaries.

You might urge Biden and your Congressmembers to take every opportunity to restore—and strengthen—church-state separation: President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @JoeBiden. Directory for the 116th Senate. Directory for the 116th House of Representatives.


7. Feminist Saudi activist imprisoned

Saudi activist and Nobel Peace prize nominee Loujain Al-Hathloul has been sentenced to almost six years in prison for her work as an activist in support of women’s rights. (Canadians might want to know that Al-Hathloul graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2014. The University has released a statement of dismay and support.) The Saudi government has prosecuted her using what the Associated Press calls “a vague and broadly worded antiterrorism law” that has been used to imprison a number of activists in that nation. Al-Hathloul has been in Saudi prison since May, 2018. During that time, she has spent several stretches in solitary confinement. Al-Houthloul and other women activists have alleged that torture, sexual abuse, and threats of rape are being used in prisons to coerce “confessions.”

  Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been working hard to depict Saudi Arabia as a place of freedom, but frequent use of antiterrorism laws to jail nonviolent activists contradicts those assertions. One of Al-Hathloul’s actions that was specifically cited in the government’s case against her was that fact that she had contacted Amnesty International about her situation. Joe Biden has said that as President he will review US-Saudi relations, taking into account human rights and democratic principles. According to U.S. government research, bin Salman was the force behind the murder and dismemberment of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi.

  Under the current administration, Saudi Arabia has been an important purchaser of U.S. weaponry, despite ample evidence of its ongoing disregard for human rights. The most recent sale was opposed by both houses of Congress, but Trump used an “emergency declaration” to override Congressional objections. Now, the Washington Post reports that the administration has announced plans to sell $500 million worth of precision-guided bombs to the Saudis, as well as $97,000 worth of internal security communications systems. One of the administration’s claims is that this sale to Saudis will benefit Yemeni civilians because the Saudis, who are a major force in the civil struggle within Yemen, will be able to avoid hitting civilian targets using these precision-guided bombs. But the Saudis already have weaponry of this sort and as William Hartung, director of the Center for International Policy’s Arms and Security Program, points out “Saudi access to tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions thus far has not diminished the civilian death toll in Yemen.” S-HP

You can urge your Congressmembers to oppose this new sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia because of its unacceptable record of human rights abuses within Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. You can also tell President-elect Biden (@JoeBiden) that you support his review of U.S.-Saudi relations and that you want to see more attention paid to Saudi human rights abuses. Addresses are here.

Amnesty International is suggesting various actions in support of Hathloul, among them that you send a tweet to authorities in Saudi Arabia. There is a sample tweet on their page.


8. Don’t throw away your masks…

The WHO has indicated that current pandemic may not be “the big one,” the Guardian reports. COVID-19 is likely to become endemic, it says, controlled by but not wiped out by the vaccine. As biologist Laurie Garrett wrote years ago in The Coming Plague, our complex, globalized life and our irresponsible relationship to nature will likely result in waves of viruses yet to come.

Writing for the New Yorker, Lawrence Wright details how the last year might have unfolded differently if more people had paid attention early on. It has been widely noted that the pandemic playbook provided by the Obama administration was ignored by the incoming Trump administration. in 2019, the “Crimson Contagion,” a pandemic simulation and investigation, identified the shortage of PPE–but nothing was done. Even before the CDC was silenced by Trump, it did not warn of asymptomatic transmission because officials there thought that the evidence published in the New England Journal of Medicine was insufficient. If you can possibly get a copy, read the whole thing–it reads like a detective story about one of the tragedies of our time. RLS

9. Birds dead of starvation

In September, nearly 10,000 migrating songbirds fell out of the sky in the American Southwest, according to citizen reports, and hundreds of thousands more may also have died. The cause has now been ascertained: Long-term starvation and an unexpected cold snap. They did not have diseases nor did they have smoke in their lungs from fires. According to the Guardian, the twenty-year mega-drought in the Southwest could account for the absence of food for birds, a drought which scientists say is in part due to climate change. Commentator Juan Cole notes that this megadrought is just the first of many, while Guardian has a regular series called “The Age of Extinction.” RLS

10. Microwave attacks on diplomats

American diplomats and their families in Cuba, China, Russia and elsewhere were victims of a directed microwave attack, “directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy,” the New York Times explains, not the diffuse microwaves that emerge from your cell phone. The “dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and loss of hearing, memory and balance” they experienced were downplayed by the Trump administration, and some were denied medical care and leave. Now that new research from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine confirms that their illnesses were not psychological, it will be interesting to see how the Biden administration handles the problem. Long-term benefits for those afflicted were included in the defense bill that Trump vetoed. but since his veto was overridden, they should stand. The report urges the State Department to put plans in place to address future attacks: “The larger issue is preparedness for new and unknown threats that might compromise the health and safety of U.S. diplomats serving abroad. The next event may be even more dispersed in time and place, and even more difficult to recognize quickly.” RLS


Amy Siskind’s Weekly List–in which she has tracked all the not-normal things the Trump administration has done from the beginning–has a summary of the weirdness as of the end of December.

There are still a few days in which you can contribute to Fair Fight, founded by Stacey Abrams, which is trying to preserve voting rights in Georgia.

Heather Cox Richardson is a critical resource at this precarious time. She has an analysis of what the motivation is of those trying to call into question the results of the election.