1. Voting rights legislation needs traction
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that 2021 was a very bad year for election integrity in the U.S.—not because of any actual election fraud, but because disinformation about election fraud has provided an excuse for gaming election laws for partisan (Republican) advantage. In an end-of-the year report, the Guardian cites what it sees as top threats to U.S. electoral system: the injection of partisanship into “under-the-radar election jobs; attacks on election officials; partisan campaigns for secretary of state positions; and the lingering distrust in elections that, for different reasons, has significantly affected both of the U.S.’s major political parties. We can all think of concerns that need to be added to this list: partisan redistricting; limits on accessible voting practices, like voting from home, weekend and evening voting, ballot drop-boxes, and drive-through polling sites.
Coverage of voting rights seems to have been superseded in the mainstream media by reporting on Build Back Better, which Senator Joe Manchin has subjected to death by 1,000 cuts. Yes, a humane economy that recognizes the costs of the climate crisis and that provides healthcare, childcare, and other protections for working families is essential; however, if our electoral system is derailed, we may not have another chance to consider such legislation.
We’ve been tracking 89 pieces of proposed federal election legislation (now 91). Since early October, when we post the database, none of them has changed status; most of them have been in stasis for longer than that. H.R.1, the For the People Act, was passed by the House in March; it has not yet been assigned to a Senate committee. H.R.4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, was passed by the House in September; it has not yet been assigned to a Senate Committee. Unfortunately, neither H.R.1 nor H.R.4 is apt to make it through the Senate, which raises the question of why more pieces of less-sweeping election legislation haven’t made it through the House. Logic would suggest that the more election legislation passed by the House, the more opportunities Senate Majority Leader Adam Schiff would have to assign such legislation to committees and ultimately to place such legislation on the Senate calendar, forcing repeated Republican votes against fair, secure elections—votes that could be cited in 2022 election campaigns.
We have added a new topic to our database of election legislation: Stop Foreign Interference in Ballot Initiatives Act (S.3136 in the Senate; H.R.1516 in the House). Not originally included in our database, the bill would make it illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to contribute funds to state or local ballot initiatives or local ballot referenda. These pieces of legislation have their origin in a 2018 Montana Ballot initiative that would have strengthened water protections. A Canadian subsidiary of an Australian company—involved in resource extraction, sales, and processing—contributed significantly to the campaign against this initiative, which ultimately failed by 58%. Foreign entities are barred from contributing to campaigns for elected offices; this legislation would provide similar protections for ballot campaigns regarding topics other than elected offices. S-HP
To protect the vote, you could urge President Biden and your Congressmembers to move voting rights to the top of their legislative agenda and explain that you want to see ballot initiatives given the same protections from foreign financial interference that elections for political office currently have. You could also suggest to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer that they do all they can to support the movement of additional election legislation through the House, even if it is less-sweeping than H.R.1 and H.R.4. Finally, you could exhort Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to keep placing voting rights on the Senate calendar whenever possible. All addresses are here.
2. Legislation to address Islamophobia
This week the House passed H.R.5665, the “Combatting International Islamophobia Act,” which would create an office within the Department of State charged with monitoring and combatting international acts of Islamophobia. H.R.5665 would also establish the position of Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Islamophobia to head this office. It would also require that reports to Congress about human rights and religious freedoms in other countries include information on Islamophobia. H.R.5665 is now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP
You can check on how your representative voted on H.R.5665 and respond appropriately. Find your Representative here. You can also urge swift, positive action on H.R.5665 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and ask your Senators to actively support this legislation: Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 423 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20519, (202) 224-4651. @SenatorMenendez. It’s time to object again to the proposed sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and urge your Congressmembers to support these resolutions: President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your Senators here.
3. Remaining in Mexico–Still and again
Ordered by a federal court, the Biden administration has reluctantly reinstated Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which has meant that tens of thousands of asylum applicants have been waiting over the border in filthy, unsafe conditions for months. Many of these are parents who sent their children ahead into the US and have been living in the faint hope that their asylum applications will be granted so they can reunite with their children, the Guardian reports. 13,000 children unaccompanied by their parents are currently in government custody; about 500 a day are released to family members or sponsors in the US.
The flaws in the new program are already evident; Buzzfeed points out that while immigrants who are particularly vulnerable for reasons having to do with a medical condition or sexual/gender identity are not supposed to be required to wait in Mexica, but two dozen or so were sent anyway. Other people sent to Mexico report that they have been asked to sign documents in English that they could not read and were mocked in hearings that were supposed to assess their “credible fear,” according to the Washington Post. RLS
A number of volunteer organizations provide aid to asylum seekers at the border. Team Brownsville provides support to people in Brownsville, Texas or on the bridge between Brownsville and the camp in Matamoros. The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers in the Matamoros camp. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted. Al Otro Lado provides assistance to people on either side of the border near Tijuana.
4. Arms are still being sold to Saudi Arabia
We’ve reported previously on U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite its role in the civil war in Yemen and its horrific record on human rights. While the administration claims that any weapons being sold to the Saudis are purely defensive, not offensive, given the destructive capacity and the range of the weapons being sold to the Saudis, this distinction seems more like clever wordplay than an actual difference in the potential uses of the weaponry.
S.J.Res.31, “Providing for Congressional Disapproval of the Proposed Foreign Military Sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of Certain Defense Articles” (currently with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), and H.R.Res.63, “Providing for Congressional Disapproval of the Proposed Direct Commercial Sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of Certain Weaponry and Munitions” (currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee), both introduced in November, would bar these sales. What’s unusual here, as GovTrackInsider points out, is the team behind these resolutions: the Senate resolution’s sponsor is Rand Paul (R-KY); the House resolution’s sponsor is Ilhan Omar (D-MN). In other words objecting to weapons sales to the Saudi is one of those rare topics that has supporters on both sides of the aisle. S-HP
It’s time to object again to the proposed sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and to urge your Congressmembers to support these resolutions: President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your Senators here and your Representative here.
You can also urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take swift, positive action on S.J.Res.31: Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 423 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20519, (202) 224-4651. @SenatorMenendez. In addition, you can advise the House Foreign Affairs Committee to take swift, positive action on H.R.32: Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2170 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5021. @RepGregoryMeeks.
5. Canada’s new defense minister apologizes to assault survivors
The new head of Canada’s armed forces issued an apology to the women and men who were sexually assaulted while in the military. As many as 19,000 claims alleging sexual assault have been filed, according to the Toronto Star; these are consolidated in a massive lawsuit which was settled recently. Claimants can request up to $155,000 in damages as well as restorative justice, a process in which they will discuss their experience with senior officials. In her formal apology last week, new Defense Minister Anita Anand said, ““I apologize to the thousands of Canadians who were harmed because your government did not protect you, nor did we ensure that the right systems were in place to ensure justice and accountability.” RLS
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
6. One monoclonal antibody works against Omicron
Previously we’ve reported on the recommendation that people who contract COVID and have symptoms–but are not hospitalized–should request monoclonal antibodies, a verified treatment for COVID that tends to go underused. At one infusion clinic in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, fewer than 100 treatments were given in November, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which speculates that patients either did not know about the treatment or associated it with Donald Trump, who was administered the drug along with discredited treatments such as hydroxychloroquine.
If they are given within 10 days of coming down with COVID, most monoclonal antibodies are effective against the Delta variant. However, only one–sotrovimab–works against Omicron, according to the Public Health Emergency (PHE) website of Health and Human Services, which has arranged for 55,000 new doses to be sent out for use among the highest risk individuals. Doses should arrive on Tuesday. Given that Omicron multiplies 70 times faster in human respiratory tissue than the Delta variant, as NPR reports, a treatment that had been underused may soon be in short supply. RLS
7. Biden didn’t have to auction leases after all
In our November 21 issue, we noted that the Biden administration had been forced by a court ruling to auction off 80 million acres of new oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time, White House press secretary Jen Paski was cited by CNN as explaining, “We’re required to comply with the injunction; it’s a legal case and legal process. But it’s important for advocates and other people out there to understand that it’s not aligned with our view, the President’s policies or the executive order that he signed.”
However, as the Guardian now reports, the Administration did not have to move to immediate sales of leases following the court ruling—and the Justice Department had, in fact, produced a memo explaining that immediate auctions were not necessary. The Guardian cites language from that memo: “While the order enjoins and restrains (the department of) interior from implementing the pause, it does not compel interior to take the actions specified by plaintiffs, let alone on the urgent timeline specified in plaintiffs’ contempt motion.” In other words, while the court ruling obviated the Biden Administration’s pause on new leases, it did not eliminate the many other procedures and regulations affecting these sales—for example full environmental review prior to the lease sales. S-HP
You can express your disappointment about both to the new lease sales that contradict Biden’s campaign promise and the Biden administration’s disingenuousness in claiming these sales were unavoidable. You can also demand a clearer, stronger commitment to addressing the climate crisis by using all means available to delay or prevent further sales of oil and gas leases.
President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW.. Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS; Deb Haaland, Secretary of Interior, Department of Interior, 1849 C St. NW, Washington DC 20240, (202) 208-3100. @SecDebHaaland; Merrick Garland, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20530-0001, (202) 514-2000.
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 urges you to contact your Senators and try to persuade them to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. They have a list of other short, effective actions you can take.
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.
Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.