1. Women at particular risk from partners with guns
In the U.S., a woman is fatally shot by a current or former partner every sixteen hours; gun homicides by intimate partners have risen 58% over the last decade; and in 2020, during the COVID pandemic, gun homicides involving intimate partners increased by 25%, according to reporting from the Guardian. More than two-thirds of those killed in these 2020 gun homicides were women. The Guardian piece was based on work by Reveal, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting.
A particularly painful aspect of these murders is that many times the killers were legally barred from possessing guns. Reveal discovered that because of the lack of enforcement measures for such laws—on both the federal and state level—and failure by law enforcement to follow through on gun removal, at least 110 killings by intimate partners who were legally prohibited from possessing guns occurred from 2017 to 2020. There are no requirements for tracking murders by intimate partners barred from possessing guns, and Reveal only had access to (incomplete) data from 21 states, so the actual number of such murders is unknown and certainly much higher. The Guardian quotes Natalie Nanasi, an associate professor of law at Southern Methodist University: “Every one of these deaths is preventable. It’s absolutely outrageous that we’re losing people in this way, because we know what we need to do in order to prevent it from happening. We have laws on the books. We’re just not actually enforcing them.”
According to the American Journal of Public Health, gun possession increases by five times the likelihood an individual will kill an intimate partner. According to Biomedical Central (BMC), a clearinghouse of published scientific research, perpetrators of more than two-thirds of mass shootings had killed partners or relatives or had a history of domestic abuse.
Unfortunately, with the lack of universal gun registration and poor enforcement of existing laws, the number of such murders is not likely to decrease. While 33 states and the District of Columbia prohibit domestic abusers from possessing firearms, most of these laws do not “address how to get the guns away from people who aren’t supposed to have them. They don’t say how offenders who are banned from possessing firearms should surrender them. They don’t spell out procedures for confiscating them. They don’t create the legal infrastructure that is essential for keeping abuse victims, their families and communities safe from dangerous offenders,” as the Guardian puts it. Only seventeen of these 33 states require that those legally barred from own guns as a consequence of domestic abuse actually relinquish those weapons, and only three require proof of surrender. To put it simply, these gun laws depend, instead, upon an unofficial “honor system” by which abusers would know they are not allowed to possess guns and would voluntarily surrender them to law enforcement. S-HP
News You May Have Missed has developed a database of 39 pieces of gun-related legislation stalled in committee. If you want to address the issue of gun violence, here are a series of steps you can take. In addition, you can sign the petition asking the Senate to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which would close the loophole in which domestic abusers who are not legally married to their victims are allowed to buy guns.
2. American use of torture
For the first time, U.S. use of torture (“enhanced interrogation techniques”) against a detainee has been explicitly described in court. Majid Khan, a Pakistani citizen, born in Saudi Arabia, raised in Pakistan, had lived as a U.S. resident from the time he turned 16, before returning to Pakistan after 9/11 to join Al Quaeda. Captured in Pakistan in 2003, Khan was first held at a U.S. “black site,” then in 2006 was flown to the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, where he has been held since.
As part of a plea deal, Khan has pled guilty to war crime charges and will provide testimony in coming trials of other Al Quaeda figures. At his sentencing hearing this week, he was allowed to describe the conditions under which he was held and his treatment at the hands of the U.S. According to the New York Times, among the horrifying abuses he described included:
• Being held in dungeon-like conditions
• Periods when he was kept naked with only a hood on his head
• Having his arms chained to an overhead beam in a way the made sleep impossible
• Suffering hallucinations as a result of sleep deprivation
• Twice being nearly drowned
• Being waterboarded
• Being beaten
• Being duct-taped into a diaper and having his eyes duct-taped shut when he was moved from one detention site to another
The military jury for Khan’s sentence, who were not told of his plea agreement, recommended a sentence of 26 years, one year over the minimum sentence for the crimes he was accused of. With time served (3 years in “black sites” and 15 years at Guantanamo) and with consideration of his cooperation in other prosecutions, he may be released at some time in the next year. Seven of the eight jurors who convicted him–all senior military officers–drafted a letter to Pentagon authorities calling for clemency because of the conditions he experienced as a detainee. S-HP
If you want to tell the administration “Not in our name!” and demand a commitment to permanently abandon the use of “enhanced interrogation,” addresses are here.
3. Attack helicopters sold to Saudis–against policy
The White House purportedly has a policy barring the sale of “offensive” weapons to Saudi Arabia in order to protect the Yemeni Houthis. Nonetheless, reports the Guardian, the U.S. has just approved a $500 million contract with the Saudis to maintain its fleet of attack helicopters. These are the type of helicopters Saudi Arabia has used in past attacks against the Houthis in Yemen. This new, two-year agreement will support Saudi Arabia’s Apache helicopters, Blackhawks, and a future fleet of Chinook helicopters. It will involve training and service by 350 U.S. contractors and a pair of U.S. government staff.
The end to offensive weapons sales was, as the Guardian explains, “one of Joe Biden’s first foreign policy objectives, and reflected what the US president called his commitment to ‘ending all support’ for a war that had created ‘a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.’” Earlier this year, the Biden administration exempted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from sanctions, despite the fact that U.S. intelligence services had determined that bin Salman was the guiding force behind the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and journalist.
Current legislation in the House, H.R. 4718, the Stop Arming Human Rights Abusers Act, might make it more difficult for the administration to continue arms sales to the Saudis. H.R.4718 would prohibit security assistance to, the sale or commercial export of arms to, or the exchange of law enforcement with a foreign country that has committed genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. In its 2020 World Report, Human Rights Watch notes that Saudi and UAE-led Coalition forces have since “March 2015 … conducted numerous indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes killing thousands of civilians and hitting civilian structures in violation of the laws of war, using munitions sold by the United States, United Kingdom, and others…. Human Rights Watch has documented at least 90 apparently unlawful Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, including deadly attacks on Yemeni fishing boats that have killed dozens and appeared to be deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects.” During the period before the 2020 Human Rights Watch report, the Saudi-led coalition had conducted more than 20,100 airstrikes on Yemen. Targets have included hospitals, school buses, markets, mosques, farms, bridges, factories, and detention centers. S-HP
If you want to decry this move that violates the administration’s own declared policy and allows for continued human rights abuses and urge swift, positive action on H.R.4718 by the relevant House Committees, addresses are here.
4. Myanmar’s use of torture
In late October, the AP reported on systematic use of torture by the Myanmar military government. It identified dozens of “interrogation” centers across the country. Since the military coup in February, more than 9,000 people have been held in detention and more than 1,200 people have been killed. According to the AP, “The vast majority of torture techniques described by prisoners were similar to those of the past, including deprivation of sleep, food and water; electric shocks; being forced to hop like frogs, and relentless beatings with cement-filled bamboo sticks, batons, fists and the prisoners’ own shoes…” Since February, the [Assistance Association for Political Prisoners] says, security forces have killed 1,218 people, including at least 131 detainees tortured to death.
The U.S. Department of State expressed outrage and called for an investigation, but global posturing alone is unlikely to yield results. There are, however, further ways the Mayanmar government could be pressured. According to U.S. News and World Report, “While the U.S., United Kingdom and European Union have already placed sanctions on high-ranking Myanmar military members and state-owned enterprises, they have yet to sanction American and French oil and gas companies working in Myanmar. That has allowed the military to maintain its single-largest source of foreign currency revenue, which the Tatmadaw [the military] uses, in part, to purchase weapons.”
Congress could also take steps in response to these reports of torture. In March, the House passed the Protect Democracy in Burma Act [Burma is another name by which Myanmar is known], H.R.1112, which is now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The legislation calls for the State Department to report on the military coup and to describe U.S. efforts to engage with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to support a return of democracy to Myanmar and to encourage the United Nations to hold those responsible for the coup.
The BURMA Act, H.R.5497 in the House; S.2937 in the Senate, would “authorize humanitarian assistance and civil society support, promote democracy and human rights, and impose targeted sanctions with respect to human rights abuses in Myanmar.” H.R.5497 has been reported by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, meaning that the committee has approved bringing the legislation to the floor of the House. H.R.5497 is still with three additional House committees: Judiciary, Financial Services, and Ways and Means. S.2937 is with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Rohingya Genocide Determination Act, S.1142, would require “the Department of State to report to Congress an assessment of the persecution of the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim group in Burma (Myanmar), by Burma’s military and security forces, and whether the situation constitutes genocide under U.S. law, along with a description of U.S. government actions to ensure that those responsible are held accountable, and recommendations on further actions to take to ensure accountability and to prevent further mass atrocity crimes in Burma.” This legislation is also with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP
To intervene in this situation, you may want to insist that the administration take substantial action against the use of torture in Myanmar, including the possibility of sanctions on corporations functioning within the nation. In addition, you might urge swift, positive action on H.R.5497 by the House and the relevant House Committees, as well as on H.R.1112, S.2937, and S.1142 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. All addresses are here.
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
5. Chip shortages to continue indefinitely
The world economy has been hampered by a variety of product shortages but perhaps none so far reaching as the current shortage in computer chips, found in everything from toasters to luxury cars. The prevailing narrative has been that the shortage is due to ease sometime next year; however new analyses have brought some doubt to that optimistic prediction, according to Ars Technica. The problem is multi-faceted, involving a lack of industrial capacity combined with extreme expense in upgrading existing facilities, a fierce competition for scarce talent in the industry and compounding scarcity in related industrial products such as printed circuit boards (PCBs). The stage was set for a tight supply before the pandemic, but the uncertainty brought on by COVID delayed crucial investments in new manufacturing. The lag time in ramping up production combined with accelerating demand mean that the chip shortage is here to stay for the next few years. JC
6. Rich nations called upon to make good on their promises
At the upcoming Glasgow climate conference, countries will be pressed to commit to new targets for the reduction of emissions. Likely those commitments will be inadequate and countries will not honor them in any case, according to the Washington Post. The Post features a chart indicating what countries committed to in Paris and what they actually did. In September, the UN indicated that unless significant changes were made in methane emissions, the world would warm by 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit). It has already warmed past 2 degrees Celsius in some areas, according to the Post, leading to the catastrophic weather-related events–fires, droughts, floods–that so many have endured.
Several conversations are needed at once. Fossil fuel companies are heavily subsidized — to the tune of $826 billion in price cuts and tax breaks, according to Rolling Stone—not counting any of the money that goes to dealing with the damage they cause. Canada contributed $18 billion to that number, according to a report last spring from Environmental Defence–and proposes to spend $15 billion on climate initiatives over the next ten years. As the Brookings Institution argued last summer, for any change to be possible, the U.S. has to take a leadership role, establishing a working group of G-20 nations to begin eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.
Rolling Stone recites the argument that China and India need to commit to climate goals–but points out that the damage to climate is cumulative. Historically, the United States has contributed the largest share of climate-changing emissions, some 20%, as Carbon Brief points out; Russian and China are the next in line, at 7% and 11% respectively. (Carbon Brief also has a series of articles on climate justice.) And poorer countries–on whom the burden of the climate crisis falls most heavily–insist that richer countries must do much, much more to mitigate the damage rising temperatures cause and to help them develop alternatives to fossil fuels, as Al Jazeera notes. Rich countries pledged $100 billion but the money is not expected to arrive before 2023.
If you want to see how various countries are doing vis a vis their climate pledges vis a vis the Paris accord, the Climate Action Tracker has details. You’ll see that Canada’s responses are “highly insufficient” and the US’s are “insufficient.”
A recent piece in the New Yorker reviews several books with theories on why “climate politics are frozen. The first step: “changing the way we think about the planet and its peoples.” RLS
To be heard at this critical moment, you can sign Avaaz’s emergency appeal for climate action. Food and Water Watch has a form where you can write Biden directly. Canadians can send a letter to their government at the Environmental Defence site, asking that subsidies to fossil fuel companies be discontinued.
To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.
The Americans of Conscience checklist points out that there are only 55 weeks till the midterms, and suggests a series of actions you can take toward election security.
Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.
Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.
The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.
The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.
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.
Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.