News You May Have Missed: August 22, 2021

“Capitol Hill, Washington DC” by KP Tripathi ( is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Our main project this week is a database of 90 pieces of federal legislation that would affirm voting rights and protect the integrity of elections. We would prefer to see comprehensive pieces of legislation, notably the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, go through, but by time Congress amends those pieces of legislation enough to pass them (and who knows if that’s possible?), they’re probably going to be significantly less comprehensive than there were at the onset. A glance at this document will show how many separate pieces of legislation it would take to have the same effect as the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

There may, however, be some sense in going for things piecemeal. Breaking voting rights up into many smaller issues should mean we can get some things accomplished—and we definitely need to accomplish some things by 2022. And bringing up legislation one piece at a time will force those opposed to go on the record again and again and again as refusing to protect the vote.

If we take a piecemeal approach, we can also focus our efforts on one or more specific committees. If we want increased voter registration opportunities, we can look at the database and see that we need to be putting pressure on the House Administration Committee (with other committees added for specific pieces of legislation). If we’re concerned about the number and accessibility of polling places, we can look at the database and see that we need to be putting pressure on the House Administration and Judiciary Committees and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. And we can offer members of those committees lists of specific pieces of legislation they could choose among.

Here is a list of the relevant committees, their contact information and their chairs to make your job a little easier. Note that you may have to expand some of the columns to see all the committees involved with a particular piece of legislation. S-HP


1. Gunshot detection algorithms result in false arrests

Data from the gunshot detection firm ShotSpotter has been used in 200 court cases nationwide, according to a comprehensive investigation by the AP. However, its algorithms, which it keeps as a proprietary secret, are significantly inaccurate, as the AP was able to demonstrate, miscounting the number of gunshots or mistaking fireworks or cars backfiring for gunshots. Even more alarming, employees changed the data ShotSpotter produced at the request of police. 

These flaws are not abstractions. The AP recounts the heartbreaking story of Michael Williams, an innocent black man accused of killing someone who had asked him for a ride. He was arrested not based on witness identification or any information other than the data from ShotSpotter, and spent a year in jail, during which he had COVID twice, episodes which left him with a tremor that prevents him from feeding himself. SpotShotter data in fact do not work in cars, but still Williams was imprisoned; later information emerged that ShotSpotter analysts do not receive any formal training and that ShotSpotter employees had changed the report on the sound from a firecracker to a gunshot at the request of police, and altered the location from where it had actually been detected to Williams’ street.

On top of its inaccuracies and vulnerability to manipulation, ShotSpotter does not reduce gun violence or gun homicides, according to a study cited by the AP from the Journal of Urban Health; in contrast, the study authors wrote, “Counties in states with permit-to-purchase firearm laws saw a 15% reduction in firearm homicide incidence rates; counties in states with right-to-carry laws saw a 21% increase in firearm homicide incidence rates.” RLS


2. What they knew, when they knew it and what they would (not) admit to knowing in Afghanistan

In a report this week, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction mapped the failures of American efforts in Afghanistan, according to an investigation by ProPublica, which wrote, “The U.S. effort was clumsy and ignorant, the report says, calling out the hubris of a superpower thinking it could reshape a country it didn’t understand by tossing gobs of money around.” Noting that the war cost the lives of 2,443 U.S. servicemembers and more than 114,000 Afghans, ProPublica also notes that the Inspector General has been pointing out the flaws in America’s Afghan strategy for 13 years. In 2019, the Washington Post drew on confidential documents that demonstrated that “senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.” See reporter Sarah Chayes’ quite remarkable analysis and history of the region. “The Ideas of August.” RLS

3. Evacuations from Afghanistan

Heather Cox Richardson has a quiet summary of where things stand vis a vis the evacuation of Americans and their allies from Afghanistan. She points out: “Yet, on CNN this morning, Matthew Dowd, who was the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2004, noted that more than 20,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan without a single loss of an American life, while in the same period of time, 5000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and 500 have died from gunshots.” Twelve Afghan civilians died as people rushed the airport.

Still, American veterans are getting frantic messages from the Afghan interpreters who worked with them, imploring the veterans to help them get out of the country with their families, Business Insider reports. The State Department says it had a backlog of 17,000 visas from the Trump administration, though it only issued 134 between January and March of 2021. The US says it is committed to evacuated 50,000 – 60,000 Afghans. 

Canadian interpreters and others who worked for Canadian forces are equally frantic, as the Toronto Star points out, describing the case of a man and his family who have appropriate documents but who are not being permitted to board an aircraft, as flights out had been delayed for a week. Outside the airport, it is cold at night; food and water are scarce. Still, Canada has authorized its special forces to go outside the borders of the airport to bring in Canadian citizens and some 6,000 Afghan nationals and their families who assisted Canadian forces, which Britain and the US has not, according to the Globe and Mail. In addition, Canada has authorized 15,000 Afghans who are in refugee camps outside the country to resettle in Canada. RLS


4. Treatment for prevention and treatment of COVID vastly underused.

COVID deaths occurred much earlier than was generally thought–in January 2020–and in disparate locations, at least in California, Georgia, Alabama and Oklahoma, according to an article in the Mercury News. The Mercury suggests that COVID cases probably first appeared in November and December, though researchers have not been able to confirm this possibility. The newspaper provides a table of deaths from pneumonia, flu and COVID

If you think we’re out of these woods, read ProPublica’s remarkable story about the exhaustion and frustration of the EMTs transporting COVID-19 patients to overcrowded hospitals. The reporter, Ava Kofman, spent three weeks riding with EMTs, documenting how long their patients had to wait in the halls and how depleted basic supplies were, from masks to oxygen. This piece was produced in April, when we thought we were emerging from the pandemic and well before the Delta variant took hold. 

As we noted previously, monoclonal antibodies are a proven treatment for COVID; they have also just been shown to be effective among high-risk people who have been exposed to COVID, according to the Washington Post. They are free and available as an infusion in most hospitals, but they have been very much underused. The treatment needs to be given within 10 days after symptoms begin. RLS


The International Rescue Committee is working to assist refugees caught in the violence in Afghanistan.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

Mom’s Rising  has a summer postcarding campaign that may interest you, along with a five simple, clear actions you can take each week.

Data on refugees in the US: Pew Research Center. Refugee statistics worldwide: UNHCR.

No More Deaths/No Más Muertes‘ three-part report, Left to Die, details how asylum-seekers in the desert are abandoned by the Border Patrol. Though 911 calls are routed to them, they did not respond in 63% of cases. Lee Sandusky’s piece of literary journalism, “Scenes from an Emergency Clinic in the Sonoran Desert,” eloquently describes the work No More Deaths/No Más Muertes does.

The National Lawyers Guild has a series of webinars on issues from the global repression of voting, the local suppression of voting and the detention of immigrants.

trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. In addition, they have a good news section that will help you keep going.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.