We’re doing a mid-week issue–instead of Sunday & Sunday–to mark January 6. We know you won’t have missed all the news and commentary, but we will flag a few pieces here that are worth looking at. In addition, we note that Democrats are trying to use the anniversary to energize their ranks around voting rights, as NPR points out. They seem determined to advance their big election package, which in our view is doomed to fail. Instead, as we noted December 19, we think they should they should advance smaller pieces that are more likely to advance. To that end, we’ve been tracking 91 pieces of proposed federal election legislation. Since early October, when we posted the database, none of them has changed status; most of them have been in stasis for longer than that. Unsurprisingly, according to NBC News, Mitch McConnell says it is “distasteful” that Democrats are pivoting new voting rights legislation on the anniversary, describing them as “breaking the Senate.”
Instead of watching news clips again, we recommend that you check out the virtual vigil (starting at 6 PM PST), sponsored by Fix Democracy First, the League of Women Voters of Washington and Seattle Supports Democracy. You could also read the New York Times editorial, “Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now,” that summarizes their view of the state of things; it has a number of excellent interior links, including to Rebecca Solnit’s essay on gullibility and complicity. On Slate, Jeremy Stahl summarized the status of all 733 criminal prosecutions stemming from the insurrection. Short version: “Jan. 6 defendants have been sent home to await trial at a far greater rate than the rest of the federal jail population in 2019”; they have received lighter sentences as well. Heather Cox Richardson’s overview on January 2 was extremely useful; she will no doubt have important commentary later tonight as well.
Finally, to strengthen your heart, watch Amanda Gorman’s new year’s poem. Start at 3:00 to avoid the banter.
1. Voting rights threatened by 262 bills in 41 states
Over the past year, States United Democracy Center (SUDC), a coalition of voting rights organizations, has been tracking attempts in U.S. states to limit voting rights, politicize election administration, criminalize certain election decisions that could previously made by non-partisan election administrators, and interfere in other ways with election administration. As of December 15, 2021, SUDC had identified a total of 262 bills—across 41 states—placing new limits on voting rights or election administration. Nine states have had no such legislation introduced. Twenty-eight states have seen 1-5 pieces of such legislation introduced. Six states have seen 6-10 pieces of such legislation introduced. Seven states have seen 11 or more such legislation introduced. Overachievers in introducing such legislation include Texas (59 new laws proposed), Arizona (20), Wisconsin (19), Georgia (15), and Michigan (14).
Thirty-two of those 262 bills—across 17 states—have now become law. In Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas state legislatures have taken control of election oversight. In Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas, legislatures have imposed criminal or other penalties for decisions made by election administrators. In Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas have passed legislation that places new limitations on the minutiae of election administration. Overachievers here, with passed legislation in all three categories are Kansas, Tennessee, and Texas. Texas, an overachiever’s overachiever in the area of election manipulation has just instituted a new version of a program that had been stopped by a judge in 2019. Under this program, explains the Guardian, the Texas Secretary of State provides counties with lists of voters whose citizenship they must verify or from whom they must demand proof of citizenship. While the process by which these lists are assembled is not completely clear, about 12,000 voters have received these demands since September. Voters who are subsequently contacted by county officials are given 30 days to provide proof of citizenship or be removed from voter rolls. The Guardian quotes Thomas Buser-Clancy, a senior staff attorney with the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who said his organization was trying to understand why eligible voters were being flagged, because “something is not going right…. Even if your system flags one eligible voter and threatens to remove them, that’s a problem. If you have hundreds, and if you add it up across counties, you’re probably getting to thousands of eligible voters, being threatened with removal.” Depending on issues with mail delivery, locating documents, and time constraints that can affect provision of these documents to officials, there will almost certainly be a “percentage of people who are going to be removed from the rolls even though they’re eligible voters.” S-HP
If you want to protect the right to vote, you could highlight the anti-democratic legislation being passed on the state level and insist on consistent protections for all voters in federal elections and for all state and local officials administering federal elections. Contacts are here.
2. Members of Congress refuse to work with Ethics Committee
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) of the U.S. House of Representatives describes itself as “an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the U.S. House of Representatives and, when appropriate, referring matters to the House Committee on Ethics.” Established in 2008, the OCE’s first investigations were conducted during 2009-2010. That year, the OCE undertook 68 investigations. In three of those investigations (just over 4%) lawmakers refused to work with the OCE and to provide requested information. This year, while the OCE is conducting many fewer investigations—just fourteen—six law makers, representing 43% of those investigations have refused to participate. In the New York Times, the head of the OCE explains the reduction in the number of investigations to a commitment to focusing on the cases that are potentially most serious. This could help explain the higher level of non-cooperation, but given that the OCE is nonpartisan significant non-cooperation is problematic. S-HP
If you find congressmembers’ refusal to work with the Committee on Ethics rather appalling, ask your Representative whether they are aware of the increasing pattern of non-cooperation with OCE investigations and insist that they commit themselves to cooperating with the OCE should the situation arise. Find your Representative here
3. Legislation needed to address the intensifying crisis in Myanmar/Burma
Let’s start by noting that Burma and Myanmar mean essentially the same thing, as PBS explains. Most of the world refers to the nation as Myanmar, rejecting the name Burma, which is associated with British colonialism. The U.S. tends to refer to the nation as Burma, because the change to Myanmar in 1989 was instituted under the military dictatorship. Arguments can be made for and against both names. We raise this point just to clarify the difference between news reporting on the nation (Myanmar) and Congressional legislation regarding the nation (Burma). For want of a better solution, we will refer to the nation as Myanmar/Burma.
After very gradual steps toward democracy, on February 1, 2021, Myanmar/Burma was once again subjected to military rule following a coup justified by claims that the most recent national election has been riddled with fraud (sound familiar?). Before the coup, the human rights situation in Myanmar/Burma was already grim for the country’s Rohingya Muslims, who were being attacked and killed by the nation’s non-Muslim majority with no resistance from the democratic government led by San Suu Kyi. The military coup has not lessened the violence against Rohingya Muslims; instead it has led to broader violence against a wider range of civilians.
The Washington Post, using analysis 300+ videos and photos, announced in late December that the town of Thantlang was subjected to bombing, arson, and murder of civilians beginning in September, 2021, because of refusals to cooperate with the military coup. One day after the Washington Post’s announcement, the New York Times reported the killing of a group of at least 35 villagers in another part of the country, who had fled their homes to avoid fighting between the military and civilian resistance. The military acknowledge the attack, but characterized it as a defensive manoeuvre and denied accusations that it had burned buildings and bodies following the killings. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates 1,393 civilians killed by the military and another 8,344 arrested, charged and/or sentenced. Follow-up reporting by the New York Times described the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar/Burma. The military are blocking aid convoys, deaths due to lack of medical assistance are increasing, and some 30,000 people have fled the country as refugees in the last few months.
The U.S. Congress is considering four pieces of legislation that attempt to address the military coup in Myanmar/Burma. H.R.1112, the Protect Democracy on Burma Act requires State Department reporting to Congress on U.S. efforts to engage with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to support a return to Democracy in the nation and to hold those responsible for the coup accountable in the United Nations. This legislation has passed the House and is now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The BURMA Act (H.R.5497 in the House; S.2937 in the Senate) would authorize humanitarian assistance and efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Myanmar/Burma, as well as the imposition of sanctions against those responsible for the coup. H.R.5497 has been assigned to four committees in the House. The Committee on Foreign Affairs has ordered the legislation reported. It is still in committee with the Judiciary, Financial Services, and Ways and Means Committees. S.2937 is with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The final piece of legislation in this group, H.R.6340, To Establish the United States Policy on Burma in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group, and the Asian Development Bank, would do as the title suggests and make it clear to each of the organizations listed the U.S. policy does not support recognition of the military government. This legislation is with the House Financial Services Committee.
Charity Navigator lists a number of organizations working in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis and includes its rankings on the effectiveness of each organization’s use of funds.S-HP
You can engage with and push forward these legislative actions–information is here.
4. Canadian government at last required to address contaminated water in Indigenous communities
At long last, the Canadian government has been forced into a settlement with Indigenous communities over undrinkable water. The Federal Court of Canada has approved the government’s plan to spend $6 billion (Canadian) to develop water infrastructure and another $1.5 billion to compensate 140,000 Indigenous Canadians for decades of unsafe water, the New York Times reported. Water in First Nations communities has been contaminated with bacteria and with toxics, leading to gastrointestinal illnesses and cancer.
As Human Rights Watch wrote in 2016, though hundreds of communities have been under “boil water” advisories for decades, boiling is not feasible for all household uses, and so community members have suffered with skin disorders from the water–or the chemicals used to clean it. The lack of water infrastructure has contributed to the lack of housing in First Nations communities, as housing cannot be built with inadequate provision for water, Human Rights Watch further explained, noting that the problems with drinking water had been noted as early as 1977, and had been serious for decades before that. I
In November 2021, a report commissioned by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) on water and wastewater systems in First Nations’ communities found that there were 99 communities currently under “boil water” advisories, some for as long as 25 years. The report identifies various sources of the problem–extractive industries located near water sources (or communities relocated near extractive industries, such as uranium mining; lack of funding for infrastructure; lack of involvement of Indigenous people; lapses in government responsibility. The report also notes the particular impact of contaminated water on First Nations people, who are culturally mandated to protect water; as the writers note, “From an indigenous worldview, water is considered to be the lifeblood of Mother Earth, a sacred gift from the Creator that connects all things, and a spiritual resource that must be respected, kept clean, and protected for the future generations of all life.” RLS
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
5. Over half a century of damaging nuclear waste yet to be safely stored
The Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington contains 54 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste held in 177 underground storage sites. This waste began being produced during the Manhattan Project that led to U.S. development of a nuclear bomb. At one point, the site included nine nuclear reactors and twelve plutonium processing complexes. More than 60,000 U.S. nuclear weapons have been built using plutonium processed at Hanford. At the end of the Cold War, the plutonium production complexes were decommissioned, but at that point the site held the high-level liquid waste mentioned above, as well as 25 million cubic feet of solid radioactive waste.
The Hanford Nuclear Site is located along the Columbia River, which was used to cool reactor-produced heat, and where–from the beginning of production at the site–radioactive waste, cleaned of short-lived isotopes, but still containing long-lived isotopes, was released. In the 1960s, the U.S, Public Health Service published reports regarding this radioactive waste, which was exposing those living downstream to elevated doses of radiation that placed them at increased risk for various cancers and other diseases. Decades of litigation and remediation proposals have followed.
The U.S. Department of Energy is in the process of planning retrieval and treatment of 2,000 gallons of this radioactive waste as a next step in clean-up efforts. This sounds good, but the latest version of this proposal—Draft Waste Incidental for Reprocessing (WIR) Evaluation for Phase 2 of the Test Bed Initiative (TBI)—is now opened for public comments, and Columbia Riverkeepers is pointing out several crucial unknowns in this proposal and is asking that the public submit comments on these.
◉The plan does not, and needs to, provide plans to deal with potential health and environmental issues that may arise off-site.
◉The process being used, grouting, is unpredictable with the possibility of rapid leaks where the grouting does not set as planned. The plan does not discuss how grout stability will be monitored to identify and prevent such leaks.
◉The plan depends upon waste currently classified as High-Level Waste to Low-Level Waste, a power the Department of Energy does not have.
◉The plan would increase soluble tank wastes by 70% and states that some of this waste would be sent to off-site facilities in other states—which are under no obligation to accept this waste.
◉The draft Environmental Assessment for the plan received comments from solicited groups, but the general public did not have an opportunity to comment at this point in the plan’s development. S-HP
If you want to engage with this issue, you can join Columbia Riverkeepers in asking that Energy address these key safety and environmental concerns: (1) the accountability of offsite grouting and disposal facilities, (2) the efficacy of grout, (3) Energy’s unacceptable attempt to reclassify High Level Waste to Low Level Waste, (4) the possibility of orphaned waste on site, and (5) the lack of public engagement throughout the TBI environmental review process• Jennifer Colborn, HMIS, P.O. Box 450, H6-60, Richland WA 99352 [Note, you can also submit online comments to https://bit.ly/hanford-2022 or via the Columbia Riverkeepers web site]
6. New option for HIV prevention
In 2018, 78 percent of HIV diagnoses among cisgender women in the US were among Black women and Latinas, reports Heather Boerner, writing in Web MD. However, among those who most could benefit from medication for HIV prevention–known as Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP–those who take it are most likely to be white. The disparity is acute: in 2018, 16 percent of white people at risk of acquiring HIV had prescriptions for PrEP, while only 1 percent of Black people did, and 3 percent of Latino/as. Many fewer women for whom the drug regimen would be appropriate take it. Some of the disparity is caused by class issues, Boerner points out; people with insurance can get prescriptions and deal with the cost, while poorer people have to depend on community organizations to get grants and then to target the medications appropriately.
Apretude, a new drug, which is given as a shot every two months, was approved by the FDA on December 20. It is approved for people of all genders and sexual orientations, teenagers as well as adults. The shot, however, is expensive, and various levels of reimbursements–especially for low income people–have yet to be approved. Apretude has not yet been approved in Canada (or anywhere outside the US), though a generic PrEp has been, making the drug more affordable. RLS
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.