News You May Have Missed: April 11, 2021

“‘I Can’t Breathe'” by sniggie is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

IDOMESTIC NEWS

1.. Keep people breathing: Banning chokeholds and carotid restraints

As we watch the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, appalled by the level of brutality involved in the killing, Congress has an opportunity to take some actions that would begin to address the use of deadly and excessive force by law enforcement. The Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Act H.R.1347 would ban the use of choke holds or other moves that apply pressure to the throat or windpipe, restrict blood oxygen flow to the brain, or carotid restraints that interfere with breathing—exactly the kind of excessive force that led to the deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd. H.R.1347 is currently with the House Judiciary Committee and has 79 cosponsors, all of them Democrats.

 Presently, there is no national database of the use of deadly force by law enforcement, but H.R.1336, the National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act, would create one by requiring the Attorney General to issue rules regarding the collection and compilation of this data. This data would include race or ethnicity, gender, age, perceived or actual religious affiliations of both persons who are the target of deadly force and the law enforcement officers who use deadly force. These rules would also require written explanations for the use of deadly force, the deadly force guidelines under which any officer using deadly force was operating, and a description of all non-lethal efforts made to subdue an individual before the use of deadly force. States or localities that fail to comply with the rules for reporting use of deadly force data will have the Justice Department grants they receive reduced. H.R.1336 is with the House Judiciary Committee; it currently has no cosponsors. S-HP

If you want to make sure those suspected of a crime will survive to their trials and to make sure instances of deadly force are tracked, urge swift, positive action on H.R.1347 and H.R.1336 by the House Judiciary Committee: Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler.

You can also check whether your representative is a cosponsor of H.R.1347 and thank or nudge accordingly; you could also urge your Representative to become a cosponsor of H.R.1336: Find your representative here.

2. Child deported, kidnapped, released without his mother

If you want to grasp one element of the situation of children at the border, watch the video of ten-year-old Wilton Obregón explaining through sobs why he is walking alone through the desert. In March, Wilton and his mother Meylin left Nicaragua to apply for asylum in the U.S. Under Title 42, the Trump-era CDC rule requiring the deportation of asylum-seekers without due process on the pretext that they are a risk for COVID, they were immediately deported to Mexico, where both of them were kidnapped and held for ransom. Family members couldn’t gather the $10,000 ransom the kidnappers asked for, but did put together $5,000. So Wilton was released—on his own in a desert region of Texas. As of this writing (4/10) Wilton’s mother was still being held by the kidnappers.

Despite the fact that Title 42 disregards the U.S.’s Constitutional duty to provide asylum to those seeking refuge in our country, the Biden administration continues to use the rule to send vulnerable families to await hearings in dangerous border towns. S-HP

The most important thing you could do for families seeking asylum is to insist on an end to Rule 42. When you write, tweet or call, note that controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. does not require putting the lives of asylum-seekers at risk. Contact information is here. You can also sign the petition being circulated by Every.Last.One and support their work.

3. Pathways to citizenship

As we noted last week, the migrant “surge” along the U.S.’s southern border is the result of a number of factors: U.S. support for violent regimes in Central America, and a U.S. focus on military, rather than humanitarian aid; the increasing power of Central American gangs, whose growth reflects the increasing economic desperation of Central Americans; and changing and violent weather as a result of global climate change. Any humane, effective immigration policy in the U.S. will have to acknowledge and respond to these challenges in Central America—challenges for which the U.S. should take a significant part of the blame. H.R.1117, the U.S. Citizenship Act, attempts this sort of broad-based response by providing an earned pathway to U.S. citizenship; addressing the root causes of migration, responsibly managing the southern border, and reforming the immigrant visa system. This legislation includes:

◉ Protections for “Dreamers,” young, non-citizen Americans who were brought to the U.S. in infancy or childhood;

◉ A pathway to permanent resident status for those in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status, a status that can result from the devastation wrought by extreme weather;

◉ A lawful permanent resident status for agricultural workers and their families;

◉ Adjustments to immigration-related judicial procedures and elimination of immigration court backlogs

◉ A renewed commitment to aid for Central American nations that focuses on economic development, working around corrupt systems within Central American nations, and strengthening democracy in the region;

◉ Improved status for permanent partners, fiancés, spouses, and children of permanent residents:

◉ Elimination of visa backlogs.

Not surprisingly, given its scope, H.R.1117 is currently with multiple House committees: Judiciary; Ways and Means; Armed Services; Education and Labor; House Administration; Financial Services; Natural Resources; Oversight and Reform; Foreign Affairs; Homeland Security; Intelligence; and Energy and Commerce. The Central Coast’s Jimmy Panetta is a cosponsor of this legislation. S-HP

If you would like to urge these committee members to act on H.R. 1117 and provide pathways to citizenship, the addresses are here.

4. Hondurans temporarily protected by TPS

Under the Trump administration, on January 4 people from Honduras were scheduled to lose their Temporary Protected Status, which protects from deportation and allows them to work legally in the U.S., Vice reported in December. Under the Biden administration, their eligibility has been extended through October of 2021, while the hope is that that American Dream and Promise Act, which has already passed the House, and/or HR 1117, would enable them to regularize their status.

The Honduran Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act, S.388, attempts to address some of the same problems addressed by H.R.1117, but with a more limited focus. S.388 is intended to enable Hondurans to stay safely at home by addressing the conditions that lead them to flee. It would “suspend certain United States assistance for the Government of Honduras until corruption, impunity, and human rights violations are no longer systemic, and the perpetrators of these crimes are being brought to justice.” In addition to addressing corruption and governmental violence, S.388 would set up a partnership with the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights to document and respond to human rights violations in Honduras. This legislation is currently with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP

If you would like to help Hondurans stay home, you can urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to move S. 388 forward. Call, write or tweet Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 423 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-4651. @SenatorMenendez.

5. Public housing repairs at last in sight

The Trump administration had wanted to eliminate the fund that pays for repairs of public housing in the United States, according to a 2019 NPR story. Families in public housing all over the country deal with black mold, overflowing sewers, electrical systems not up to code, and more; a series the Houston Chronicle ran in March detailed the long struggle of tenants to challenge their living conditions. Now, some legislation is in progress that would at last address these problems.

As the proposed legislation itself points out, as of October, 2019, the U.S. public housing repairs backlog was at $70 billion. These repairs would address problems like leaks and poor ventilation, which can lead to respiratory conditions, and lead paint, which harms the development of infants and children. The COVID-19 pandemic affects communities differentially, with communities with inadequate housing suffering higher illness and mortality rates than those with adequate housing. In response to these issues, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has introduced S.598, the Public Housing Emergency Response Act, which would earmark $70 billion for upgrading public housing in the U.S. S.598 is currently with the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. S-HP

If you want to see these long-overdue repairs funded and finished, you could urge swift, positive action on S.598 by the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chair, Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, 534 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-7391. @SenSherrodBrown.

6. Restoring the right to vote

69% of Americans agree that those convicted of felonies should regain their right to vote once they’ve completed their sentences; yet, in the majority of states, a felony conviction means permanently losing the right to vote. The Democracy Restoration Act, S.481 (DRA), would establish a nation-wide right to vote regardless of conviction, with a provision pausing that right for convicted felons while they serve their sentences and restoring it upon completion of sentences. S.481 has been endorsed by many civil rights and criminal justice reform organizations. As Myrna Perez, Director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and elections programs explains, “The DRA is a critically important piece of civil rights legislation. The DRA makes our country more just, our democracy more inclusive, and our elections more participatory. The DRA makes space in the public square for second chances, for forgiveness, for redemption, and for love.” The Democracy Restoration Act is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee. S.481 currently has 23 cosponsors; the Senators from California are not among them. S-HP

If you’d like to see the right to vote restored for those convicted of felonies who have served their sentences, encourage swift, positive action on the Restoration of Democracy Act by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee, 224 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-7703. @DickDurbin. If your senator is not a co-sponsor, encourage them to sign on. Find their contact information here.

7. First responders to mental health crises

One of the goals of the Defund the Police movement—which isn’t about ending all police funding, but is about having other, better-qualified professionals take on duties currently assigned to police—is to have mental health professionals, rather than law enforcement officers, dispatched as first responders in emergencies involving one or more persons with a mental illness or an intellectual or developmental disability. The Mental Health Justice Act, H.R.1368, introduced by Representative Katie Porter, would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services, along with the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, to set up a program to fund training and employment of mental health first responders and to study the impact of such programs. We’ve repeatedly seen the deadly consequences of asking law enforcement to respond to situations involving those with mental illness or intellectual or developmental disabilities. H.R.1386 would give us a chance to see what safer, better alternatives are available. H.R.1386 is currently with two House Committees: Judiciary and Energy and Commerce; it has 78 cosponsors. S-HP

To make sure appropriate people show up in a mental health emergency, you can urge swift, positive action on H.R.1386 by the appropriate House committees. You might also thank Katie Porter for introducing this legislation. Addresses are here. You could also check whether your representative is a cosponsor and thank or nudge accordingly.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Children, poets, journalists killed by Myanmar military

Aye Myat Thu, an eleven-year-old in Myanmar, was shot while her father was handing her a piece of coconut on his own land,. She was buried on March 28 with her drawing of Hello Kitty. You can read more about her in this Times story.

She was one of 700 civilians who have been killed since the coup in Myanmar, according to NPR, 100 of them in the week of March 29. Seven of them were children under 16, the Washington Post reports. Thirty-five children have been killed in the last two months, according to UNICEF.

The military junta has tried to keep information about its atrocities out of view. Journalists were told by the Myanmar Ministry of Information to stop referring to the “State Administration Council” as a junta, according to Myanmar Now. Security forces began arresting and imprisoning journalists, and shutting down the country’s independent press, until no newspapers remained. At least 30 journalists face lengthy prison sentences, Columbia Journalism Review reports. Citizen journalists are trying to fill in; as one told CJR,“I know I might get killed at some point for taking a video record of what is happening. But I won’t step back.” 

Nine poets have also been arrested by security forces, and two have been killed, Vice reports. On April 1, the military government shut down the internet, according to the Post. RLS

If you are appalled by the deaths of civilians and by the threats to free information and to democracy in Myanmar, you can urge swift, positive action on H.R.1112 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. You can also insist to Congress and the Administration that we want them to keep finding and acting on ways to support democracy in Myanmar. Addresses are here. You can also donate if you’re able to Myanmar Now so that it can continue to publish outside the country.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Perma-pandemic

Many of us are quite desperate to have the pandemic restrictions and fears ease, to return to a world which–with all its profound flaws–permitted smiles and hugs outside the household, in-person work and school, more economic options, cross-generational visits, and a brief break from contemplating death or disability.

However, according to an article in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association), “the public and health systems need to plan for the possibility that COVID-19 will persist and become a recurrent seasonal disease.” Partly because “herd immunity” is unlikely (since a quarter of people in the US are likely to refuse vaccination) and partly because of the variants, the virus is not about to go down in defeat.  Indeed, Canada–where the vaccination roll-out is far behind the US–is in the middle of a third wave of cases driven primarily by the UK variant, the CBC reports. ICUs are full and Ontario is under a stay-at-home order.

In addition, mainly wealthy countries have received the vaccine, as the United Nations points out; 75% of all vaccines have been delivered by just 10 countries. “130 countries have not received a single dose,” the secretary-general of the UN said:  “If the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the global South, it will mutate again and again,” he warned. As Bloomberg points out, the virus could mutate to become less virulent but more contagious, or just as contagious but less severe. RLS

10. And the next virus is…

Meanwhile, an article to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on April 13 makes it clear that variants of COVID-19 are not the only challenge ahead. The authors have developed a risk-assessment tool that can evaluate viruses originating from animals in terms of how likely they are to move to human populations–in scientific terms, their  “zoonotic spillover and spread potential.” Originally developed at the University of California Davis, the tool–called SpillOver–”can help advance our understanding of viral health threats and enable us to act to reduce the risk of spillover before pandemics can catch fire,” as one of the authors–Jonna Mazet, a professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine–told EurekaAlert, which is put out by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. High on the list of viruses to worry about is a new coronavirus, provisionally named PREDICT_CoV-35. 

The theory is, of course, that if we are forewarned, we are forearmed. However, in September 2019, science writer Laurie Garret alerted the world about a United Nations report, “A World At Risk,” compiled by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, which raised an alarm about the likelihood of “a rapidly spreading, lethal respiratory pathogen pandemic.” The World Health Organization launched many initiatives in response, but noted that various countries’ research and health care infrastructure was not nearly prepared to deal with it.  RLS

RESOURCES

A 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 Moms Rising site is packed with information about how to access benefits from the American Rescue Plan, quick actions you can take to address COVID relief and to encourage Congress to pass tax cuts for families, not corporations–and more.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly.

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.

News You May Have Missed: April 4, 2021

“Easter Egg Tree” by cobalt123 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As the holidays celebrating liberation and resurrection come to a close, we note that both Passover and Easter are steeped in the symbolism–and the substance–of food. Yet access to food is becoming increasingly unstable, driving refugees to the border and Americans to food banks. A sweeping policy initiative will help feed Americans; elsewhere, putting food at the center will address a myriad of other concerns. Preserving people’s access to food quite literally preserves the future

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. At the border: refugees from the climate crisis, failed US policies, hunger

Severe malnutrition is one reason children and their families arrive at the US border. In Guatemala in particular, there are over three times as many documented cases of acute malnutrition among children in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a report from the Guatemalan government. Seventy percent of Indigenous children in Guatemala have chronic malnutrition. The reasons have to do with failed harvests, a consequence of climate change, according to the Washington Post; a series of (un)natural disasters and an inadequate national infrastructure are also responsible. The Post quotes 12-year-old Oscar, who told an Agence France-Presse videographer, “I came because we didn’t have anything to eat.”

In an interview Salvadoran journalist Roberto Lovato gave to Democracy Now, he explained that the economic crises and violence that children and their families are fleeing in Latin America were caused by decades of catastrophic economic policies and by disastrous military interventions by the very country they are fleeing to, As he puts it, “the border is the ultimate machete of memory. It cuts up our memory so that we forget 30 years of genocide, mass murder, U.S.-sponsored militarism and policing, failed economic policies, neoliberal policies backed by the IMF, the World Bank…The new animal and the new beast in the room is climate change.”

Thinking of the problem of people arriving at the US border as one that the US created–by being an instigator of climate change and a driver of political violence–shapes our responsibility to those people. Kamala Harris could begin addressing the enormous numbers of people attempting to cross the border by providing food assistance to the countries hardest hit by Hurricanes Eta and Lota, which displaced 590,000 people in Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, the Hill suggests. RLS

The International Rescue Committee has an explainer detailing the many issues that bring people to the border and the policies that–for better and for worse–are being applied to them. You can use the form on their page to write to your member of Congress.

2. New bill would protect kids in immigrant detention

We’ve spent the last four years hearing horror stories about five-year-old children representing themselves in immigration court. And, even with the change in administration, we are a long way from providing effective care for children in immigration. Pramila Jayapala’s (D-WA) PROKID Act—short for Protection of Kids in Immigration Detention Act (H.R.1238)—would create an office of the Ombudsperson for Immigrant Children in Government Custody charged with preventing family separation; honoring the Flores Agreement, which limits the time children can be held in immigration detention; establishing and maintaining safe, nurturing environments when children are in immigration custody; prioritizing release to and with family members; and advocating for immigrant children. This office would function separately from the Office of Health and Human Services and the Office of Homeland Security, although the ombudsperson would report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Currently the PROKID Act is with the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees. This legislation has only two cosponsors in addition to Representative Jayapala: Delegate [in other words, non-voting House member] Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Delegate Michael F. San Nicolas (D-GU). S-HP

If you think this would be a viable way to help protect children, you can urge swift, positive action on the PROKID Act by the appropriate committees. You can also ask your Representative to become a cosponsor of the PROKID Act if they aren’t already and tell them you want to see them actively support this legislation when it makes it to the House floor. Addresses are here.

In addition, RAICES represents children arriving at the border in Texas. You can support their work here.

3. Biden addressing hunger in America

Before the pandemic, one in ten families in the U.S. did not have enough food. In 2020, that number rose to one in four, according to NPR. (A recent study from Northwestern University explains how food insecurity and food insufficiency are calculated.) More than a million more people would have become food-insecure if a federal court had not allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop a Trump policy which would have imposed impossible work requirements–at a time when jobs were disappearing, businesses were closing, parents had no access to childcare, and 31,420,331 people had COVID-19–on families applying for food aid, Truthout reports. A new Biden initiative will increase funds for food stamps to a billion dollars a month, according to the New York Times, provide more fruits and vegetables to pregnant women and children, and vastly expand summer food programs for children. The long-run difference for Americans will be profound: as the WHO points out, malnutrition in children has severe consequences for brain development and for health, with concomitant behavioral difficulties and loss of earning potential. RLS

Biden is already receiving pushback from critics of these programs, who say that these kinds of programs “increased single parenthood and reduced marriage.” If you believe otherwise, you might send a message of support to @POTUS.

4. Who supports the right to vote in Georgia?

Some corporations have begun to speak out against the recently passed voter suppression measures in Georgia, including Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines. In a memo to company employees, the CEO of Delta wrote: “Last week, the Georgia legislature passed a sweeping voting reform act that could make it harder for many Georgians, particularly those in our Black and Brown communities, to exercise their right to vote…. The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.” Coca-Cola’s CEO stated in an interview, “Let me be crystal clear and unequivocal. This legislation is unacceptable. It is a step backward and it does not promote principles we have stood for in Georgia around broad access to voting, around voter convenience, about ensuring election integrity.”

 After Delta’s opposition to the Georgia legislation became public, the Georgia House voted to strip Delta of millions of dollars in tax breaks—a move that will not take effect because the House vote came at the end of the Georgia’s legislative session and could not be taken up by the Georgia Senate. The quick attempt to penalize Delta makes it clear that Georgia is committed to these new voter suppression tactics. If you would like a close-up look at what the Georgia legislation would do, the New York Times has an analysis. Three voting rights groups have sued Georgia over the bill.

The Major League Baseball Association has taken the most dramatic action in response, pulling the All-Star game from Georgia. More corporations need to be speaking out against Georgia voter suppression—and voter suppression efforts across the nation—in the way Coco-Cola, Delta, and MLB have. And corporations, including these three, can go further by refusing to offer financial support to any politicians attempting to make voting more difficult. S-HP

You can thank Major League Baseball for its quick response to Georgia’s voter suppression legislation: Major League Baseball, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020, (866) 800-1275. @MLB. You can also thank Coco-Cola and Delta for speaking out against voter suppression and urge them to follow their statements with action by refusing to fund politicians supporting voter suppression legislation. You can also urge other Georgia-based corporations to speak out against voter suppression, not just with words, but with actions that directly affect politicians willing to suppress voting rights. Addresses are here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

5. Biden declares Uyghur Muslims to be victims of genocide

The Biden administration has acknowledged human rights abuses against China’s Uyghur Muslims, declaring China’s actions genocide in an annual human rights report, according the Washington Post. In presenting the report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken also cited human rights abuses in Russia, Uganda, Venezuela, Ethiopia, and Belarus. The report refers to “the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of China’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.”

Naming human rights abuses is a minimum response to the Uyghurs’ plight. Legislation in the House would add concrete actions to the administration’s statement. A currently unnamed and unnumbered bill (language can be found here) is identical to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, H.R.6210, passed by the House, but not voted on by the Senate, in last year’s session of Congress. A summary from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) highlights five of the bill’s provisions:

– A prohibition on “all imports from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China unless the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection can certify that the goods being imported to the U.S. are not produced, either wholly or in part, with forced labor”;

– Authorization for President Biden to “apply targeted sanctions on anyone responsible for the labor trafficking of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities”;

– A requirement of “financial disclosures from U.S. publicly traded businesses about their engagement with Chinese companies and other entities engaged in mass surveillance, mass internment, forced labor and other serious human rights abuses in the XUAR”;

– Directions to the Secretary of State to “make a determination whether the practice of forced labor or other human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR constitute crimes against humanity or genocide”;

– Directions for the Secretary to “develop a diplomatic strategy to address forced labor in the XUAR.”

If you want to engage with this issue, you could insist to the Secretary of State that you want to see a response involving actions, as well as words, to the violation of Uyghur rights: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State, Department of State, 2201 C St. NW, Washington DC 20520, (202) 647-4000. @SecBlinken. You could also urge your Congressmembers to support the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. Find your Senators here and your representatives here–or you can use CAIR’s online form.

6. Famine in Yemen

More than half the population in Yemen is living in “crisis” or “emergency” food conditions, with 16,500 in a “catastrophic” situation–that is, in imminent danger of starvation, CNN reports. Food aid trucks are lined up outside the border, but lack fuel to enter the country, due to a fuel blockade imposed by the Saudi government. The Saudis blame the rebel Houthis for the situation. Over three years ago, CNN points out, UN Security Council criminalized “intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare,” and demanded that “access to supplies that are necessary for food preparation, including water and fuel” be maintained in Yemen.

Medical supplies, too, cannot be transported, according to the WHO, which told CNN that “From March 2021, WHO will have to stop distributing fuel to 206 facilities across the country, over 60 percent are hospitals providing services not available at the already fragile primary level. This will lead to the stoppage of life-saving services, such as emergency rooms and intensive care units, including COVID-19 ICUs.”

The Biden administration is apparently developing a new strategy for Yemen, having withdrawn military support for Saudi Arabia in its offensive; however, the Houthi rebels have since intensified their air strikes, according to the Washington Post. Foreign Policy in Focus has a series of articles detailing the conflict and the American role in it. RLS

Doctors without Borders announced on March 25 that there has been a drastic increase in the numbers of COVID-19 patients. The organization continues to provide care to patients in Yemen, although its hospitals have been bombed. In part because international donors have withdrawn, Doctors without Borders says that medical care and humanitarian aid are collapsing in Yemen, and is asking for funds to save lives. Avaaz is asking for funds to feed the children at risk of starvation in Yemen.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT7.

7. Keeping Black moms alive, supporting all pregnant workers

In March, the number of Black women looking to give birth outside of a hospital setting rose, the New York Times reported. Why? The Times offers two primary reasons: racial inequities in health care and COVID-19—also related to racial inequities in health care. The U.S. has the worst rate of maternal mortality among industrialized nations, largely as a result of racial inequities that permeate our medical system. Black women are four times more likely to die giving birth than white women. In New Jersey Black women giving birth face a risk of mortality seven times greater than that faced by white women.

  The Black Maternal Momnibus Act (H.R.959 in the House, S.346 in the Senate) addresses a number of those disparities. Among the provisions of the House version of this ambitious piece of legislation are a housing for moms grant program; investments in community-based organizations addressing Black maternal outcomes and mental health; prenatal and postpartum childcare; support for veterans giving birth; grants to grow and diversify the perinatal workforce; protections for incarcerated moms; funding for data collection, analysis and studies to determine causes and solutions to the race-based differences in maternal outcomes. In the House, this legislation is with a number of committees and subcommittees: Energy and Commerce; Financial Services; Transportation and Infrastructure; Education and Labor; Judiciary; Natural Resources; Agriculture (and its Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Departmental Regulations); and Veterans’ Affairs (and its subcommittee on Health Actions). The provisions of the Senate legislation are essentially similar, though differently organized in places. The Senate version is with the Help, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

  The House is also considering Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, H.R.1065, which is currently with Education and Labor, Oversight and Reform, Judiciary, and House Administration committees. The official House summary explains that this bill “prohibits employment practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. A qualified employee is an employee or applicant who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position, with specified exceptions.” S-HP

If you want to support Black moms and pregnant workers, tell your Congressmembers that we need immediate action on Black maternal health and ask them to cosponsor the legislation in their house of Congress. Urge quick, positive action on both H.R.959 and H.R.1065 by the appropriate House Committees. All addresses are here.

8. Potential catastrophe in Florida years in the making

400 million gallons of polluted, radioactive water from a former phosphate plant are poised to flood Tampa Bay. As of Saturday night, evacuation orders for 300 households had been ordered and a state of emergency declared, according to the Bradenton Herald. Under an emergency order, 22,000 gallons of the contaminated water a minute are being released into Tampa Bay, in order to prevent a complete collapse of the storage site. While the focus has been on keeping neighborhoods from being flooded, the nutrients in the water–phosphorous and nitrogen left over from mining–will lead to a red tide that will kill fish or make them too dangerous to eat.

The problem began in 1966, when the Borden Chemical company began mining in the area for phosphate to use as fertilizer, according to the Miami Herald.. Subsequent owners of the property simply added to the mix of toxic waste; the company that bought it in 2006 was supposed to clean it up but did not. Meanwhile, families are being housed in motels and are anxiously waiting to see whether their homes survive the next few days or whether they will be filled with twenty feet of water laden with heavy metals and radioactive particles. RLS

RESOURCES

On April 4, Heather Cox Richardson meditated on the response of corporate America to voter suppression, and the panic in the Republican party over what Americans appear to want. See her nightly letters for historical context on contemporary events.

The Americans of Conscience checklist this week suggests that you take just 10 minutes this week and do three things to protect the midterm elections.

News You May Have Missed: March 28, 2021

“Cartoon – Voter Suppression Crime Scene” by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Voter suppression and its history in racist practices are the topics of Heather Cox Richardson’s most recent three columns. As she puts it, “The story today—and always—is the story of American democracy.” Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon, a Black woman, was arrested for continuing to knock on the Georgia governor’s door while he was signing the draconian voter suppression act, NPR reports, a signing witnessed by six white men sitting under a painting of the Calloway plantation where 100 Black people had been enslaved, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. President Biden points out that the fact that the legislation prohibits giving water to people waiting in line to vote proves that it is simply punitive, not about voter fraud at all. 253 voter suppression bills have been introduced around the country, as the Brennan Center notes, while 704 bills which would expand voting rights have been introduced. Fair Fight, the organization that Stacey Abrams started, has more information on the Georgia bill and how people can fight back.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Mass murder takes out bright lights

In another season of tragedy, those killed in the Boulder shootings as well as the shooter himself had been caught in history. The family of the first person killed, 23 year old Neven Stanisic, had fled violence in Serbia for what they thought would be safety in the US. The shooter himself, 21 year old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, had come to the US as a small child from Syria (years before Obama-era asylum policies, contrary to right-wing assertions). In 2002 when they arrived, reform efforts in Syria were being crushed by the then-new president, Bashar al-Assad. Alissa’s brother told CNN, “He always suspected someone was behind him, someone was chasing him.” Each of his victims had a unique story, a unique light that they brought to the world, from Eric Talley, the officer who was killed, the father of seven children, to a Central California coast journalist’s father, Kevin Mahoney, who volunteered at the food bank, to Suzanne Fountain, an actress who worked signing seniors up for Medicare. Boulder’s ban on assault weapons had been overturned by a federal judge just 10 days before the massacre, the Washington Post points out. RLS

President Biden has called on the Senate to pass two background-check bills approved by the House and for Congress to launch another effort to pass a ban on assault weapons. If you support this initiative, you could contact your senators and your representative. In addition, Mom’s Rising is working on a campaign for universal background checks.

2. Restoring the right to organize

“From 1979 to 2019, relentless attacks on workers’ rights cut union membership by more than half. During the same time, average incomes for the bottom 90 percent of households increased just 1.1 percent, while average incomes for the wealthiest 1 percent increased more than 184 percent.” So explains a Fact Sheet from the House Education and Labor Committee, detailing why H.R.842, Protecting the Right to Organize, passed by the House, is necessary. The bill affirms workers’ rights to unionize; makes it more difficult for employers to categorize workers as independent contractors, which is a means of preventing worker organization; and sets clearer, stricter expectations for employer-union relationships. H.R.842 is with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has an important piece in Common Dreams on union organizing and in particular the Amazon opposition to unionization.

 Meanwhile, a New York Times opinion piece by Steven Greenhouse lays out an agenda of actions President Biden can take that do not require Congressional action to improve workers’ rights.

– Biden can install a $15 minimum wage for federal contractors;

– Biden can issue an executive order barring federal contracts for companies that fight against unionization;

– He can appoint union advocates to the National Labor Relations Board;

President Biden has taken some pro-union actions already. Marty Walsh, his nominee for Secretary of Labor, used to lead Boston’s federation of building trades unions. He fired the National Labor Relations Board anti-union general counsel Peter Robb.

 As with so many other issues, the extent to which unions and workers benefit over the next four years will depend on overcoming the Senate super-majority requirement, either by ending or modifying the filibuster or by finding a work-around to the super-majority requirement. S-HP

If you want to support the right to organize, you can urge quick, positive action on H.R.842 by the Senate HELP Committee: Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, 428 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-5375. @PattyMurray.

You can also thank President Biden for what he’s done so far to support workers’ rights and call on him to continue to take the actions he can to support U.S. workers: President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS.

3. Children arriving alone swamp border facilities. Families continue to be deported.

As we noted last week, the Biden administration is being criticized for the numbers of people arriving at the border, though in fact, most of them who are not unaccompanied children are being turned away. A PBS graph of the numbers of asylum seekers demonstrates that spikes of people arriving occurred in previous administrations–including the most recent one. The Washington Post , too, says that the numbers represent a predictable pattern. The American Immigration Council (AIC) clarifies this situation as well, insisting that the primary challenge is a humanitarian one. Mexico is refusing to accept the deportation of families with young children at particular locations, so the U.S. is flying them to other locations on the border and deporting them there.

Still, because families are not being permitted in, children and young people–about 550 per day–are coming alone to seek asylum, leading the administration to open huge facilities, as Mother Jones explained last week.. And the AIC explains that “logistical challenges in getting these children into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement have led to thousands of children backed up in inadequate conditions in Border Patrol facilities.” The surge is also leading to cutting corners that some find alarming. In particular, the Biden administration while still requiring criminal background checks for caregiving staff, is a waiving the more rigorous FBI background checks, WGME reported. The New Yorker, in a piece this week, clearly sketches the history of asylum-seeking at the border and the Biden administration’s multiple dilemmas. RLS

With the arrival of so many unaccompanied children–and the deportation of desperate families–organizations that assist people on the border are hard-pressed to cope. The Al Otro Lado bail fund makes it possible for asylum-seekers in detention to be released to sponsors. The fund revolves, so that when the asylum-seeker has met all their obligations, the funds become available to someone else. The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project in Arizona provides free legal and social services to detained men, women, and children under threat of deportation. RAICES believes that “no child should go to court alone,” and so represents children and families pro bono on immigration issues in Texas–over 37,000 of them in 2018.

4. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied

Lest you think that the ERA is a vestige of second-wave feminism that need not be revived, listen for a moment to Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), quoted in Ms. Magazine: “For those who still question the need for the ERA, they need look no further than the gender wage gap that continues to keep women and families from achieving their full potential, pregnancy discrimination that forces women out of the workforce, persistent and insidious violations of the rights of survivors, and more.”  Speier introduced the resolution to extend the deadline for ratification, H.J.Res.17, which the House passed but which only four Republicans supported. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. If you want to read about the history and purpose of the ERA, Equal Rights Amendment.org is a good source. Only one more state is needed to ratify the amendment. Section 1 reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”  RLS/S-HP

If you’d like to see the ERA move forward at last, urge the Senate Majority Leader to assign the ERA deadline extension and the renewal of VAWA (see below) to the appropriate Senate Committee(s) and explain that we’ve already waited far too long: Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader, 322 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6542. @SenSchumer.

5. Violence Against Women Act reauthorized by the House


Just a day after seven women were murdered in Atlanta and six more women (of ten victims) were killed in Boulder, the Violence Against Women Act, H.R.1620,  was reauthorized by the House. It has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. According to Ms. Magazine, this version of the act has significant improvements: “Ensuring Indigenous tribes’ jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault and domestic violence on tribal lands; strengthening enforcement of court orders that require convicted abusers to relinquish their firearms, and extending protections to immigrant women and transgender women. In a provision adamantly opposed by the National Rifle Association, VAWA reauthorization broadens protections from firearm homicide for victims of dating violence. Under current law, only spouses or formerly married partners convicted of stalking or abuse are prevented from purchasing guns.” President Biden advocated strongly for the reauthorization. RLS/S-HP

If you want to help VAWA move forward, you can email the Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations, Diane DeGette, who represents the 1st district of Colorado, and urge her to act swiftly on VAWA, getting it moved to the Senate.

6. How long should legislators wait to lobby?

Lobbying is the most popular occupation for legislators when they leave office, the Atlantic reported in 2018, and the “revolving door” in which lawmakers arrive from industries they are expected to oversee and then return to them as lobbyists has long undermined the integrity of the House and Senate. Currently, representatives may work as lobbyists after a one-year “cooling off” period, while senators must wait two years. The Halt Unchecked Member Benefits with Lobbying Elimination (HUMBLE) Act, H.R.459 would prohibit former members of Congress and elected officers of Congress from lobbying Congress at any point after they have left office. It would also prohibit members of Congress from owning individual stocks. The complete prohibition on lobbying is likely to doom the bill; however, an alternative bill, H.R. 2389, which would have prohibited lobbying for five years, appears not to have moved forward. This legislation is currently with four House committees: Administration; Rules; Ethics; and Judiciary. Within the Judiciary Committee, it is with the Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.

If you’d like to put a stop to the revolving door, you can urge swift, positive action on H.R.459 by the appropriate committees and subcommittee, the addresses are here.

7. Clemency for Reality Winner

Reality Leigh Winner is currently serving a sentence of five years and three months for leaking the documents that brought to light Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. As she has been suffering a number of health complications from COVID-19 as well as the trauma of having been sexually assaulted by a guard, Friends of Reality Winner, the Facebook presence of Stand with Reality, has called for letters to the U.S. Pardon Attorney and President Biden: “When Reality Winner first petitioned for clemency in Feb 2020, former President Trump was in office and there were over 13k petitions backlogged due to Trump skipping over the U.S. Pardon Attorney and taking his cue of whose petition to grant from celebrities and those with money. The current U.S. Pardon Attorney is Rosalind Sargent-Burns, who was appointed by Bill Barr in May 2019. With so many petitions backlogged, U.S. Pardon Attorney Sargent-Burns has a lot of work in front of her. Advocates need to help her and President Biden become aware of Reality Winner’s petition for clemency that has been in pending status for over a year.” Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency who was also a whistleblower, told Military.com, “She was treated as an enemy combatant within our own country. She paid the ultimate price for what was her final act of public service.” S-HP

You can sign the petition for clemency and write the US Pardon Attorney–instructions are here. Please call 202-616-6070 (option 4) and leave a message in support of #RealityWinner, prisoner 22056-021, clemency petition C289645.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. Unused treatment for Covid-19

High-risk people who test positive for COVID-19, who have symptoms and are not yet hospitalized can benefit from monoclonal antibodies, Dr. David Kessler, chief science officer for the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response, told Rachel Maddow in February. Trump was treated with one of these; Kessler says there is a supply which is not yet being used–70% of what has been shipped has not been used. In the U.S., the FDA approved this use in November, noting that for patients who are hospitalized or on oxygen, their use may backfire. Health Canada has not yet approved the use of the combination of monoclonal antibodies approved by the FDA, according to iPolitics, but has approved one of them, bamlanivimab, according to CTV. (In case you were thinking about taking the Ivermectin that was prescribed for your horse, please don’t. Here is the explanation from the FDA. Basically, it’s that Ivermectin is not an anti-viral–it is used for parasites in animals and topically on people for conditions such as rosacea.) RLS

You may want to print out this page from Health and Human Services: keep it handy in case you get COVID-19–and send it to high-risk family and friends.

9. Counting COVID cases in prisons

COVID-19 cases have been rampant in American prisons, with 390,951 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Marshall Project. 2,501 people have died. In Canada, there were as many new cases in jails and prisons in the month of January as there were in the previous nine months, according to CTV. The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act (H.R.1072 in the House; S.324 in the Senate) would require federal, state, and local correctional facilities to begin providing a publicly accessible standardized set of COVID-19 data. H.R.1072 is with the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce Committees. S.324 is with the Senate Judiciary Committee. S-HP

If you want to act on this issue, you can insist that the public, health professionals, and government leadership all need consistent accurate data on COVID-19 transmission and urge swift, positive action by the appropriate committee. Addresses are here.

10. California waterways too polluted to drink from, swim in

Roughly 95% of all waterways in California remain too polluted for safe swimming, fishing, and drinking. California Coastkeepers Alliance (CCKA) states that the California Clean Water Act, AB-377, would “eliminate impaired waterways and make all California waters drinkable, swimmable, and fishable by 2050. Specifically, the bill will require the State and Regional Water Boards to close permit loopholes, ensure that all dischargers are in compliance with water quality standards, and direct a larger proportion of existing funding toward cleaning up impaired waterways. The effects of this bill will be especially significant in underserved communities, where water is disproportionately likely to be polluted or even undrinkable.” AB-377 is currently with the California State Environmental and Toxic Materials Committee, which will be holding a hearing on the legislation on April 7.

If you are a Californian, you can urge quick, positive action on AB-377 by the California State Environmental and Toxic Materials (ESTM) Committee:Addresses are here.

RESOURCES

Moms Rising, whose members made over 230,000 calls and email contacts to support the passage of the American Rescue Plan, suggests that we all now thank the people we wrote. They also have other quick, effective actions you can take.

The Americans of Conscience Checklist also has a new list of quick, effective actions you can take.

News You May Have Missed: March 21, 2021

“A Vigil Against Hate Crime – 7” by lewishamdreamer is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Compounding the heartbreak of the murders in Atlanta–six Asian American women, one white woman, and one white man–are the stories that have emerged since. The husband of one of the murdered women was kept handcuffed by police, not given any information about his wife, and treated like a suspect–because he is Latino, he suggests. Another woman, Hyun Jung Grant, was a single mother who left two sons behind–the only other family members are in South Korea and they cannot come. 33,500 people have contributed to a fundraiser so that the older son–Randy, age 23–can provide for the younger son; they would otherwise have had to leave their home in two weeks. Asked what he would tell his mom if he could, Randy Park told NBC News, “You did a good job. You’ve done enough and finally get some sleep and rest.”

As we noted earlier in March, Asian Americans have been targeted since the beginning of the pandemic. 3,795 incidents of anti-Asian hate were reported to the website Stop AAPI Hate between March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021. Verbal assaults constituted 68% of these; 11% were physical assaults. Most of the victims are women and many are older. An extraordinary 75 year old San Francisco woman fought back against her attacker and put him in the hospital, SF Gate reported; the same attacker assaulted an 83 year old man and may have broken his neck.

Independent journalist @SarahBelleLin has published a critical list of resources for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. You can message her on Twitter if you have resources to add. Electric Lit offers a reading list on the history and context of anti-Asian racism. And Hollaback, an organization committed to ending harassment in all its forms, worked with Asian Americans Advancing Justice to produce a training on bystander interventions. New York Magazine has additional information on the pattern of assaults as well as a list of where to donate to Asian American, South Asian and Pacific Islander organizations. And Cathy Park Hong’s insights in an Atlantic interview are very illuminating.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Family separation–still and again

Just across the border, tens of thousands of families are in tents, hoping to apply for asylum in the United States. Politico tells the story of one such family fleeing torture by a gang in Honduras. They have not been permitted to cross the border to make their case for asylum. The only option to preserve any of them seems to be to send the children, including a baby, over the border alone.

These are the costs of the Biden administration’s new policy–to cease deporting unaccompanied children but to refuse to admit or to expel families under the CDC’s “Title 42,” invoked in the name of the pandemic. The result is that thousands of children need to be housed and placed–as many as a hundred thousand this year, Mother Jones projects. Mother Jones includes a most informative interview with Jennifer Podkul, an international human rights lawyer who is also vice president for policy and advocacy at the national organization Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). She explains that “the administration needs to be working on two tracks. In the short term, they have to get those kids out of border patrol stations and into loving homes as quickly as possible. Simultaneously, they have to prioritize reimagining the system. Is the reception of migrant children the way it really should be, or could the US do better?”

Republicans–with the help of Trump–are predictably trying to use this situation as a way to regain political capital, the Guardian notes, refusing to acknowledging how much of it was caused by Trump’s dismantling of the asylum system. In addition, according to a former Border Patrol officer quoted by the Independent, some border guards loyal to Trump and the union that represents them are actively trying to undermine new policies at the border. The Independent quotes another Border Patrol official as saying, ““You have way too many scenarios where the secretary or the head of CBP issues a directive, and there’s just an absolute recalcitrance in the organization. There is a lack of command and control in a way that is dangerous.”

Biden appears to be trying to address the ways in which aid goes to the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to the LA Times, so that instead of sending funds to governments, which have not addressed the economic privation and violence which drive their citizens to leave, the administration will fund NGOs that support the most vulnerable people. RLS

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) asks people who care about this issue to sign their petition, write your members of Congress, and contribute to KIND’S work with children on both sides of the border. They connect children and those who care for them with essential medical care, mental health care, educational opportunities, and crisis intervention to ensure their well-being and safety. 

2. Citizenship opportunities for Dreamers and farmworkers

A major theme this week has been “Action in the House; Not So Much in the Senate.” It’s true that the Senate is spending a great deal of necessary time on confirming Biden’s cabinet appointments, but a number of pieces of important legislation now lie with the Senate, where the 60-vote requirement to override the filibuster means they’ll be difficult to pass. Two pieces of citizenship-related legislation are among the most critical of these.

The House has passed H.R.6, the American Dream and Promise Act, which would allow DACA youth, who were brought to the U.S. as children, to apply for citizenship. H.R.6 also repeals a restriction that makes providing financial support for DACA students difficult by requiring that any state education benefits DACA students may apply for must also be made available to all out-of-state students—which creates a much larger pool within which DACA students have to compete for financial aid. As of 3/20, H.R.6 has not been assigned to any Senate Committees.

  H.R.1603, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, has also been passed by the House. This is actually a piece of bipartisan legislation, bringing together both immigration advocates and representatives of agricultural states, regardless of their political party. H.R.1603 has four key provisions:

-Creates more predictable wages and reduces housing costs

-Streamlines the H-2A application process by consolidating processes and petitions

-Creates a 5-year renewable visa for farmworkers and their families

-Creates a pathway to optional permanent resident status.

One of the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic is that farmworkers are truly essential workers and their status in the U.S. should reflect this. Like H.R.6, as of 3/20 H.R.1603 has not been assigned to any Senate committees. S-HP.

If you’d like to see this legislation move forward, ask the Senate Majority Leader to place H.R.6 and H.R.1603 with committees expeditiously and add (should you wish) encouragement for either returning to a “talking filibuster” or elimination of the filibuster altogether: Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader, 322 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6542. @SenSchumer. You ca also tell your Senators you want their support for H.R.6 and H.R.1603 and (if you wish) for limitations on or an end to the filibuster. Find your Senators here.

3. Legislation for Black farmers and other farmers of color

In the past, Black and small farmers have had more difficulty receiving farm loans that did white and larger-scale farmers. A piece just out from the Center for Public Integrity recounts this history of discrimination. In reporting from WBUR, John Boyd Jr., President of the National Black Farmers Association, describes systematic discrimination by “a USDA employee in charge of giving Black farmers loans in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, who would only meet with Black farmers on Wednesdays and took more than 370 days to process Black farm loans, compared to less than 30 days for white farmers…. The employee spat on [Boyd], tore up and threw his application in the trash, and slept through the application period.”

To redress this, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry has the opportunity to support truly historic pieces of legislation, Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color, S.278, and Justice for Black Farmers, S.300. S.278 requires the Secretary of Agriculture to provide assistance for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. Provisions of the legislation include debt forgiveness, the establishment of a National Center for Minority Farmer Agricultural Law Research and Information, and support for students and programs at land-grant colleges and other colleges serving populations with a history of unequal treatment by the Department of Agriculture. S.300 calls for specific “reforms within the Department of Agriculture to prevent future discrimination,” including an Independent Civil Rights Oversight Board, and Equity Commission, and an Assistant Secretary of Labor for Civil Rights Reforms. 

This legislation is particularly important given Black and small farmers’ discomfort with the appointment of Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture has a long record of failing to serve Black and small farmers well, leaving them out of the farm subsidy and lending programs—a record that Vilsack did little to change during his years as Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture. In reporting by KQED, Secretary Vilsack cites provisions of the American Rescue Plan that earmark $4 billion of debt relief for “socially disadvantaged” farmers as proof of his commitment to Black and small farmers; the Plan will also create a racial equity commission within the Department of Agriculture. S-HP

You can urge swift, positive action on S.278 and S.300 by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Commission: Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chair, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, 731 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-4822. @SenStabenow.

It would be a good time to tell Secretary Vilsack that you appreciate the provisions of the American Rescue Plan that support Black and small farmers and insist that he continue developing programs to support farmers who have historically been ignored by the Department of Agriculture: Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence SW, Washington DC 20250, (202) 720-2791. @SecVilsack.

4. Ending private prisons: Justice is not for sale

In 2019, 115,954 people–8% of the total state and federal prison population–were in private, for-profit prisons. The number of people in private private prisons varies state by state, with Montana incarcerating 47% of its prisoners in private facilities, while 19 states did not place anyone in for-profit prisons. In eight states, the number of people incarcerated in for-profit institutions has doubled since 2000, all according to a study by The Sentencing Project released earlier this month. A 2016 Department of Justice Inspector General study concluded that private prisons had a 28 percent higher rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults and more than twice as many inmate-on-staff assaults compared with federally run or operated prisons, NPR reported.

Raúl Grijalva’s (D-AZ) Justice Is Not for Sale Act, H.R.994, would prohibit federal, state, and local governments from contracting with private prison companies, end immigrant family detention, prevent companies from overcharging inmates and their families for services like phone calls and banking, and increase oversight of immigrant detention centers. In a statement about the legislation, Grijalva explains “For too long, private prisons and detention centers have benefited from lucrative government contracts and taxpayer dollars to profit off the pain and suffering of adults and children. They created perverse profit incentives that helped facilitate a mass incarceration crisis that has disproportionately impacted immigrants and communities of color. Unfortunately, the private prison industry continues to expand its scope of operations and influence and spend millions of dollars in lobbying efforts to weasel its way into new profits streams that include providing ‘restorative’ services that are traditionally performed by community and nonprofit organizations.” H.R.994 is currently with four House committees: Judiciary; Energy and Commerce; Finance; and Homeland Security. S-HP, RLS

If you oppose private, for-profit prisons, you can call for an end to profiteering from incarceration and urge swift, positive committee action on H.R.994. Contact information is here.

5. Equality Act would prohibit discrimination based on sex, LGBTQI+ status

Last week, we reviewed the nearly identical legislation being passed by (and challenged in) various states, bills undermining rights of trans people, especially kids. Rather than targeting bathrooms, this new wave of legislation would prevent trans kids from accessing gender-affirming care–by making it a felony for their doctors to treat them. Non-partisan Freedom For All campaign has identified all this legislation and reports on its status. In late February, the House passed the Equality Act, H.R.5, which would prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system. H.R.5 would also allow the Department of Justice to intervene in equal protection actions in federal court on account of sexual orientation or gender identity. H.R.5 is now with the Senate Judiciary Committee. S-HP

To help this bill go forward, you could urge swift, positive action on H.R.5 by the Senate Judiciary Committee and point out that for some people, these protections will make the difference between life and death: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee, 224 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-7703. @SenatorDurbin.

6. Legislation would address discrimination and violence against LGBTQI+ people worldwide

In recognition of the violence, discrimination, hatred, and bigotry that LGBTQI+ people face globally, the International Human Rights Act, H.R.1201, would create a Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Peoples within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. This envoy would serve as the principal advisor to the Secretary of State regarding human rights for LGBTQI+ people internationally, represent the U.S. internationally in regards to LGBTQI+ rights, and engage in the development and support of programs protecting the rights of LGBTQI+ people.

 In addition to creating the Special Envoy position, H.R.1201 would:

-Declare that the policy of the United States is “to take effective action to prevent and respond to discrimination and violence against all people on any basis internationally, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics, and that human rights policy includes attention to criminalization, hate crimes, and other discrimination against LGBTQI+ people;

-Require that United States foreign policy integrate efforts to prevent and respond to criminalization, discrimination, and violence against LGBTQI+ people internationally;

-Encourage U.S. cooperation with LGBTQI+ NGOs (non-governmental organizations);

-“Enhance training by United States personnel of professional foreign military and police forces and judicial officials to include appropriate and thorough LGBTQI+–specific instruction on preventing and responding to criminalization, discrimination, and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity”;

-Require that all Federal contractors and grant recipients in the United States Government’s international programs ensure the protection and safety of their staff and workplace from discrimination and violence directed against LGBTQI+ people;

-Support HIV/AIDS responses globally that respect the rights of LGBTQI people;

-Work toward global decriminalization of homosexuality.

H.R.1201 is currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee. At the moment, this legislation, proposed by Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), has no cosponsors. S-HP

If equity for LGBTQI+ people is important to you, you might thank Alan Lowenthal for introducing H.R. 1201. @RepLowenthal. If you support this bill, ask the House Foreign Affairs Committee to stand up for the rights of LGBTQI+ people globally by moving H.R.1201 to a vote of the House: Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2170 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3461. @RepGregoryMeeks. You might also urge your Representative to become a cosponsor of H.R.1202. Find your representative here.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. People of color are more likely to die from COVID, less likely to get the vaccine

As we noted on February 7, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black, Latinx, Asian American, and Native American peoples in terms of case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths. Research presented online this January in JAMANetwork (JAMA is the Journal of the American Medical Association) found that “as of July 20, 2020, the hospitalization rates and death rates per 10,000, respectively, were 24.6 and 5.6 for Black patients, 30.4 and 5.6 for Hispanic patients, 15.9 and 4.3 for Asian patients, and 7.4 and 2.3 for White patients.” Indigenous people were 2.4 times as likely to die from COVID-19 as White people, according to the CDC.

At the same time, White people have had disproportionate access to the COVID-19 vaccine as compared to other communities. Last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released state by state information on vaccinations by ethnicity, pointing out for example that “in California, 21% of vaccinations have gone to Hispanic people, while they account for 55% of cases, 46% of deaths, and 40% of the total population in the state.” Similarly, in the District of Columbia, Black people have received 31% of vaccinations, while they make up 49% of cases, 76% of deaths, and 46% of the total population. The COVID Community Care Act (H.R.1835 in the House; S.783 in the Senate) seeks to address these disparities by providing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with $8 billion in programs to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 in medically underserved areas. Of those monies, $60 million would be earmarked for the Office of Minority Health within HHS. H.R.1835 is currently with the Appropriations and Budget Committees. S.783 is currently with the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. S-HP

To support communities of color in dealing with COVID-19, you can urge swift, positive action on H.R.1836 by the appropriate committees and insist that the health disparities revealed by the COVID-19 epidemic in the U.S. be addressed. Addresses are here.

RESOURCES

Heather Cox Richardson has an important analysis of the murders in Atlanta and continues to provide the history of the events we are living through.

The Americans of Conscience Checklist has a new list of quick, effective actions you can take to oppose gender-based violence, advocate for a distribution of the vaccines in an equitable way internationally, and work toward the mid-term elections.

Moms Rising urges us to act on universal background checks for gun ownership–and tells us how to do so.

News You May Have Missed: March 14, 2021

“Rainbow & Trans Flag Raising”  at Toronto City Hall by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It’s unlikely you will have missed the one-year anniversary of the pandemic in the U.S., but it certainly is an occasion to reflect on how it brought inequality and political mendacity into sharp relief. Laurie Garrett, the science writer who has been expecting another pandemic since the SARS epidemic in 2003, shared a few choice words with Foreign Policy, which also reminds us of her prescient September 2019 piece in which she cites the many scientific bodies who warned that the pandemic was coming. Tom Dispatch calls our attention to a recent Guardian article on long COVID, which reminds us that 30% of people who have had COVID, even mild cases, have serious symptoms nine months later. So while we can celebrate those who are receiving the vaccine and with it their return to lives, their work, their connections to family, we need to prepare for a long reckoning–with the way any stress in a society exacerbates inequality and has the greatest impact on the most vulnerable people, with the impulse some Americans have to disregard basic science, with our citizens’ and our system’s susceptibility to political manipulation, and with those who are going to be disabled while others are celebrating a certain kind of spring.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. The right-wing threatens trans kids, their doctors and their parents

Not satisfied with having terrorized thousands of children seeking refuge from violence and hunger at America’s borders, right-wingers are now trying to solidify their conservative base by destroying the lives of trans children, their parents and their doctors. A wave of similar legislation has swept through 17 Republican states, which are clearly counting on the Trump-packed Supreme Court to back them up. In Georgia, for example, gender-affirming health care would be a felony under provisions which have been proposed for two years in a row, according to a comprehensive article in Mother Jones. While the most recent bill was stopped on a technicality, it will surely be back. 18 states have launched “Vulnerable Child Protection” bills which would also criminalize the parents who support trans kids.

Mother Jones cites Injustice at Every Turn, a report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, as pointing out that 19% of the 6,456 people they surveyed had been refused medical care for being transgender, and 50% had to explain transgender issues to their doctors. 41% had attempted suicide (the rate in the general population is 1.6%) Trans youth experience a high rate of homelessness (usually because they have been kicked out of their homes); one-sixth leave school because of harassment and assault. RLS

2. White youth more likely to be released from juvenile detention during the pandemic

Many thousands of young people spend time in juvenile detention each year: an average of 15,660 on any particular day. But fewer young people were in juvenile detention during 2020 and young people were also released at a greater rate than before the pandemic–24% more in the first month, as the Annie E. Casey Foundation noted in its monthly survey. However, white youth were released at a much higher rate than Black and Latinx youth, the Marshall Project ascertained, in research published by the Guardian. This disparity may occur because Black youth tend to be charged with more serious offenses, in part because of racism, and because both Black and Latinx young people tend to lack access to legal representation. Detention has been particularly damaging to youth during COVID-19; they not only endure the risk of infection but are deprived of visits from their families and of in-person courses due to COVID restrictions As the Marshall Project noted, juvenile detention is damaging to young people because “in these facilities, youths are exposed to a harsh, lifeless physical environment, solitary confinement, antisocial peers and high rates of violence and sexual abuse, stunting their ability to trust, engage, and learn.” RLS

3. Immigration roundup here

Border policy under Biden/Harris so far seems to be a collage of humane efforts to accommodate the thousands of desperate people arriving at the border and residual draconian efforts implemented by actors not working in good faith. Trumpist Republicans–and Trump himself–are seizing on what seems to be a certain amount of chaos to make political hay–once again–out of the immigration issue. Heather Cox Richardson details what is going on and what the history is of immigration to the U.S. in her March 13 letter.

Some number–at least 50–of asylum seekers were flown across Texas only to be deported from El Paso using the COVID excuse (the CDC’s article 42), according to the Dallas News. Among them was a seriously ill five year old who has since been admitted to the hospital. Volunteer organizations, including Annunciation House and Hope Border Institute in El Paso, had been poised to help them. Marisa Limon Garza, deputy director of Hope Border Institute, told the Dallas News, “I think the Biden administration has had a challenging time inheriting agencies and systems that were so deeply broken by the last administration, and even administrations prior to that and now, it’s a confluence of events that make it incredibly difficult to turn the tide and right some of those wrongs and so they’re having to do that in real time.”

In an effort to turn that tide, the Biden/Harris administration is bringing in FEMA for 90 days to help care for the thousands of unaccompanied children arriving at the border, who need to be housed until they can be placed with family members or friends. Border Patrol stations and Health and Human Services shelters are overcrowded with children and teenagers waiting to be placed, the Washington Post explained. The Governor of Texas, who opposes Biden’s new immigration strategy, would have to agree to permit FEMA to access disaster funding and monitor COVID testing.

Advocates for immigrant children have grave concerns about the continuation of the model in which they are housed in massive facilities, staffed by people who may not understand the trauma they are trying to escape. One pediatrician told the Washington Post that rather than mass shelters in isolated areas, smaller community shelters in urban areas are very much preferable; there, “high-contact case management and provision of medical and social services to ensure children’s ongoing safety,” especially from traffickers, can be initiated. 

Meanwhile, people in the MPP (the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols or the “Remain in Mexico” Program) are being admitted and having their cases processed, many thousands of other people who have been waiting at the border for months, even years, and who and are not in the program are at a loss, Reuters explains. They are crowded into unsafe border towns with no information about when or how they will be allowed to apply for asylum. Black asylum seekers from Haiti and from Africa in those towns are waiting as well, and face additional hurdles imposed by racism. About 1500 of them are in Tijuana, in limbo, as Reuters described it.

And Mexico itself is holding unaccompanied children outside the border, the Washington Post explained, and there appear to be no organized provisions to permit them to apply for asylum. While they wait in a center and take classes, they are permitted to call their parents in the US twice a week. As one Honduran sixteen year old, who was fleeing gang violence and hoping to join his uncle in the United States, told the Post, “They killed one of my uncles, then the other, then the other, and they were coming for me next. I know they’re coming for me next.” RLS

You may want to contact Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, telling him that you understand the pressures that the administration is under, with 100,000 asylum-seekers having been arrested by the Border Patrol in February, but that you urge him to regularize the asylum process for all asylum-seekers, especially children, whether they are inside or outside the U.S. 202-282-8000, @AliMayorkas.

4. The Muslim Ban has been repealed. Next steps.

The Biden Administration has ended the Trump era immigration “Muslim Ban.” ADD SENTENCE That’s good, but there’s more to be done. We can ask that immigration application fees be waived for those who were barred from the U.S. under the Trump ban. As Brittney Rezaei, Managing Attorney for the California’s branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations explains: “Asking impacted individuals denied prior to January 20, 2020, to pay fees again is disappointing given the expenses and heartache these individuals have already experienced being denied a visa based on these discriminatory bans.” S-HP

If you want to help right this injustice, you can call for fee waivers for those barred from the U.S. under Trump’s Muslim Ban and urge congressional action on the NO BAN Act: Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, 3801 Nebraska Ave. NW, Washington DC 20016, (202) 282-8000. @AliMayorkas. Find your Senators here and your representative here.

5. Biden/Harris asked to decriminalize sex work while addressing human trafficking

Unequivocal data show that the criminalization of the consensual exchange of sexual services between adults places a particular burden on women, people of color, transgender people, non-binary workers, people with disabilities, and the economically marginalized. In fact, while perpetrating harm on the above communities, criminalization of sex work does not prevent or minimize human trafficking. Given these facts, the organizers of Scientists for Sex Worker rights and an additional 250 members of the international community of scientists studying sexual commerce have written a letter calling on the Biden/Harris administration to reconsider U.S. policies on sex work as part of criminal justice reform. Their policy asks for the decriminalization of sex work while promoting international interventions to address all types of human trafficking, a study of the effect of the 2018 law criminalizing online ads for sex work, and the creation of a commission charged with proposing “new policies to protect and support both survivors of trafficking and voluntary sex trade workers.” S-HP

You can join this community of scientists in calling on the Biden/Harris administration to reconsider U.S. policies on sex work as part of criminal justice reform. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Vice President Kamala Harris, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington D20500, (202) 456-1111. @VP

6. Corporations funding new laws against voter fraud that would disenfranchise voters

A number of states controlled by Republican legislatures are considering new limitations on voting access with the stated intent of preventing fraud. Given the complete lack of evidence for significant voting fraud in the U.S. and the declining popular approval of the Republican Party’s growing extremism and divisiveness, it’s not hard to see the new wave of restrictions on voting as an effort to marginalize people of color and low-income voters, making voting more difficult for these communities in particular.

Georgia seems to be leading the way in developing “voting security” laws that actually promote disenfranchisement. The State’s legislature is currently considering legislation that would restrict the use of ballot drop boxes; end no-excuse absentee voting; require additional identification for absentee voting; limit weekend early voting days; and make it illegal to deliver food or water to people standing in line at the polls.  Corporations were quick to denounce the January 6th insurrection, and a number withdrew funding from politicians who supported the insurrection or promoted lies about voting fraud. Now we need to ask them to stand for the rights of the American people by refusing to support politicians attempting to limit access to the polls. Top donors to sponsors of these proposed changes in Georgia voting laws (and the amounts they’ve given) include AT&T ($99,000); Aetna/CVS/Caremark ($43,300); Delta ($41,600), Comcast )$40,600; Coca-Cola ($34,750); UPS ($34,500); Home Depot ($34,000); General Motors ($33,000); and Walmart ($23,100). S-HP

If you want to demand an end to corporate support of politicians seeking to disenfranchise voters, you can find contact information for key corporations here.

7. Foreign nationals are not aliens

Words matter. Recognizing that fact, H.R.467 would replace “alien” with “foreign national” and “illegal alien” with “undocumented foreign national” in materials from Congress and governmental agencies. While this won’t solve the immigration battle within the U.S., it will mean that, at least officially, human beings will be discussed in more human language. H.R.467 is currently with the House Judiciary and Oversight and Reform committees. S-HP

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Protesters defying military coup in Myanmar arrested, killed

Tens of thousands of people protested the military coup in Myanmar last week, according to the Guardian; on February 1, the military claimed the November election was fraudulent and detained government officials, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi, against whom they have brought charges. Governments with strong connections to Myanmar–Japan, India, Singapore and Indonesia–have refused to recognize the military government, an opinion piece in the Guardian reported. The military has imposed a reign of terror; the New York Times reports on the systematic rape of women and the use of civilians to walk through mine fields ahead of troops.

The Federal Reserve Board has frozen about $1 billion US of Myanmar’s assets, Reuters reported, following the military coup there and the military’s treatment of protesters. 59 people have been killed and 1,700 arrested. The death rate could have been even higher, according to Reuters: seven police officers were ordered to fire into a crowd of protesters with submarine guns, but refused, later fleeing into India. Journalists, too, have been arrested and the offices of a major media outlet raided, the Guardian notes. RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Racism as a public health emergency

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Brown University public health researcher Abdullah Shihipar declares that it’s time to call racism in the U.S. a public health emergency. He points out the COVID-19 data illustrating the deadly differences in healthcare for Black people, Latinx people and Native Americans. Together, Black and Latinx people represent 31% of the U.S. population, but they account for more than 50% of COVID-19 deaths. Native Americans are being killed by COVID-19 at rates nearly twice as high as white people. This disproportionate impact of COVID-19 offers glaring proof of the inequities resulting from structural racism in U.S. healthcare. Shihipar explains: “a declaration by H.H.S. that racism is a public health emergency would have immediate impact. Under the Public Health Service Act, the declaration would allow H.H.S. to allocate resources and personnel to tackle the issue, much as it has for the pandemic as a whole and for the opioid crisis. For instance, it could allow workers from hard-hit communities of color who lost their jobs because they had to take time off after becoming ill to use National Health Emergency Demonstration Grants to find employment.” Because public health emergency declarations must be reviewed every 90 days, the disparate impact of COVID-19 would be kept in the public eye—and in the eyes of our government. S-HP

10. Disparate access to vaccines

To address the disparate access to COVID-19 vaccines, California has earmarked 40% of its COVID-19 supply for communities scoring in the bottom 25% of its Healthy Places Index (HPI)—communities that represent 40% of California’s COVID-19 cases and deaths. The HPI ranks communities using measures like education, income, and health–and defines the boundaries of communities using census tracts. However, the Watsonville Pajaronian reports that California’s system for distributing the vaccine doses is organized via zip code. Because zip code areas are significantly larger than census tracts, this means that a community with a very low HPI index that shares a zip code with wealthier communities may not receive the doses it should qualify for. This inconsistency means that at the moment only 2% of the equity doses are directed to communities within the broadly defined “Bay Area,” which is home to 20% of the state’s population.

The impact of the differences between census tract HPIs and zip code HPIs puts some already disadvantaged communities at a greater disadvantage. In Watsonville, California, for example, three census tracts fall into the bottom 25% of the HPI ratings, but the zip code they are located in has not been scheduled to receive equity vaccines because of incomes in surrounding census tracts. This discrepancy has been brought to the attention of state leadership, which has the power to fine-tune equity vaccine distribution, but it may take some pushing if this is to happen. S-HP

If you are a Californian, you might point out to Governor Newsom that zip code boundaries leave many low HPI census tracts without access to equity vaccines and insist that the distribution plan be adjusted to reflect HPI ratings for census tracts. Governor Gavin Newsom, 1303 10th St., Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841. @GavinNewsom.

11. Indigenous opposition to pipelines

President Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline received ample media attention at the start of his administration. The status of other pipeline projects remains unclear. Protests against the Dakota Access pipeline continue, with one recent protest involving Indigenous activists, tribal government leaders, and environmental groups as documented in the Daily Northwestern. Work on the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline continues, despite resistance—including resistance from a group of seven Minnesota Ojibwe bands whose land the pipeline crosses. The Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact assessment for Line 3 has been questioned and Line 3 is endangering wetlands associated with wild rice, which contributes to tribal economic security, and distresses sandhill crane populations. Lakota Law is assembling a petition in opposition to Dakota Access. The website Change offers several petitions challenging Dakota Access. Stop Line 3 is looking for supporters to add their names to a petition calling for a halt to the project. An additional line of resistance is calling on Chase, which is bankrolling Line 3, to stop funding the project. Chase, like a number of other lenders, is making commitments to fight climate change and funding of Line 3 belies that commitment. S-HP

To take action, sign these petitions against continued construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and Line 3: Lakota Law and Stop Line 3.

12. Legislation to protect wilderness

The House has passed H.R.803, Protecting Wilderness and Public Lands, which grants significant tracts of land in Colorado protected statuses of different kinds—with the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, or wilderness areas. H.R.803 is now with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

To make your voice heard, urge swift, positive action on H.R.803 by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chair, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, 306 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-3954. @Sen_JoeManchin.

RESOURCES

Heather Cox Richardson continues to be an essential resource. Friday’s column mapped where we are politically, one year into the pandemic, and future columns will almost certainly orient us to unfolding political events.

The Americans of Conscience Checklist continues to offer clear, effective actions we can take, this week focused on protecting the midterm elections, shuttering private prisons, closing immigrant detention centers, and supporting the right to self-identify. The checklist also include a long list of good news!

Moms Rising recommends some important actions for this week including advocating for food security for families and paid leave for all in the pandemic.

News You May Have Missed: March 7, 2021

“Welcome to America. You will never see your parents again.” “Bienvenido a América” by outtacontext is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Some asylum-seekers allowed to cross the border, while the search for deported parents continues

The Matamoros camp over the border from Brownsville, Texas, where so many asylum-seekers had been forced to wait for more than a year has emptied, with almost everyone released from the freezing, miserable conditions there and placed with family members or sponsors to wait for their hearings. Volunteers on the U.S. side of the border worked tirelessly to arrange transportation and services for those being admitted. Especially given the recent challenges with power outages in the area, the release is a great mercy. However, many people in other camps or who arrived at Matamoros more recently are stuck outside of it, with nowhere to stay and without support from Mexican authorities, who threatened to spray them with water if they did not leave, according to one report. Some families were separated in the process of admission to the U.S., according to NPR.

Teams of people continue to search Central American countries for the deported parents of children who were detained under the previous administration. It is an extraordinary challenge, as PRI explains; the parents may be in hiding from the same violent threats that drove them to the border or may have been displaced by weather or economic events.

In addition, increasing numbers of people seeking asylum and assistance are arriving at the border. President Biden reversed the policy under which asylum-seekers were immediately deported–ostensibly to reduce the spread of COVID-19. What this means is that many more people are requesting admission to the US, with 321 children unaccompanied by their parents arriving daily, according to Axios. Since only 174 children daily are being released to family members and sponsors, a leaked Health and Human Services report estimates that 20,000 shelter beds for children will eventually be needed. As we noted last week, the need for beds has led HHS to permit unsavory shelters to open. Josh Rubin of Witness at the Border offers some policy insights on this issue. RLS

One of the organizations trying to find deported parents is Justice in Motion; you can donate to support their work. You may also want to contact Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, telling him that you appreciate his efforts to restore the asylum process but that you urge him not to reproduce the devastating conditions under which immigrants have been detained. 202-282-8000, @AliMayorkas.

2. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders endure assaults, discrimination

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have intensified since the pandemic, leading to widespread anxiety in Asian communities, such as in California’s Bay Area, where there have been a number of assaults on elderly people, resulting in one death. Alameda County has established a special unit to deal with the problem, according to KCTV, and hundreds of people have offered to escort elderly Asian Americans who are in danger if they leave their homes, according to CNN.

The Los Angeles Times reports on vandalism and fire—probably hate-motivated—at the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles: “A 12-foot-high glass window was destroyed by a lime-sized rock; two 6-foot wooden lantern stands were burned, causing the electrical lamps above them to melt and fray; and two 30-pound metallic lanterns were ripped off their concrete bases. The damage led to shock and despair among the few priests and staff at the temple, which has been closed to in-person services since March because of COVID-19 precautions.” Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple runs important social programs for the local community.

These crimes were initially fueled by the former president and his insistence  on terms such as the “Wuhan Flu,” but they have also spiked in the Biden Administration. Asian-Americans have been assaulted in subways (New York), bakeries (Queens), and at bus stops (Southern California), according to PBS. Many incidents are going unreported, the LA Times reports, both because of language barriers and because Asian-Americans may feel they are safer if they stay silent. 

President Biden produced a resolution condemning violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders a week after he was inaugurated. Now, H.Res.153, Condemning Recent Hate Crimes Committed Against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders has been introduced to address the current spate of hate crimes against Asian Americans. The resolution notes the increase in anti-Asian violence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and condemns “expressions of racism, and anti-Asian and Pacific Islander or ethnic intolerance.” H.Res.153 also calls on all levels of law enforcement to “expeditiously and vigorously investigate all reports of Asian-American and Pacific Islander hate crimes and threats in the United States,” to encourage reporting of such crimes, and to hold the perpetrators of the acts to account. This legislation currently has only 10 cosponsors. RLS/S-HP

To address this issue, check this list to see whether your representative is a cosponsor and thank or nudge as appropriate. You can also send expressions of support to the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple: 505 East Third Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013, (213) 626-4200. You can report an incident of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at Stop AAPI Hate; the organization received 2808 reports of racism and discrimination in 2020.

3. Addressing immigration by stabilizing Latin American economies

As we noted last week, people are seeking asylum at the border in part because of hunger in Latin America. As ReliefWeb points out, people in Latin America have felt the acute effects of climate change, as they are impacted not only by hurricanes but by drought and other weather extremes–all of which destroy basic food crops. Hunger, of course, leads to desperation and social instability.

Biden’s immigration proposals—and the legislation that would implement them if they are passed—are still in the works. One important provision the current plan includes is an investment of $4 billion in Central American economies with the goal of improving quality of life in the region. One truth of immigration is that as long as parents feel unable to provide their children with secure and reasonably prosperous lives in their home countries, they will continue to look for other locations where security and prosperity are possible. Until economic conditions in Central America change, the pressure to immigrate will continue. S-HP

If this issue is important to you, you might tell President Biden and your Congressmembers that you appreciate the economic component of Biden’s immigration proposal and want to see it maintained as the legislation takes its final form. • President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your representatives here and your senators here. In addition, the World Food Program will be trying to raise $47.3 million U.S. to feed 2.6 million people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua in 2021.

4. Legislation would preserve the right to organize

The percentage of workers who are members of unions has dropped from about 20% in 1983, the first year for which data were available, to 10.8% in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S. In the private sector, union membership has dropped in part because industries which were heavily unionized have declined or been moved overseas, in part because of the resistance of employers. With less bargaining power, workers’ ability to challenge poor working conditions and low wages is reduced, leading to increased income inequality, CNN notes.

H.R.842, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, will be coming to the floor of the House this week. This legislation would: 

• Establish clearly defined limits on identifying employees as “independent contractors”—a move that can be used to prevent unionization;

• Strengthen expectations for recusal by members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) when certifying unions and investigating unfair labor practices;

• Prohibit lockouts and retaliation against striking workers;

• Set up timeline requirements for initial collective bargaining after a unionization vote is certified

• Give priority to LNRB investigation of allegations of unfair labor practices

• Provide civil penalties for failure to honor NLRB orders

This legislation is particularly timely given Amazon’s recent efforts to prevent what would be a first for the corporation–a vote to unionize at its Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse. The drive to unionize came after increased workplace pressures and risks resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and in response to the Black Lives Matter movement (more than 80% of warehouse workers at Bessemer are Black). The NLRB has certified the right of these workers to hold a unionization vote. Organizers allege that in response Amazon has begun holding “mandatory closed-door, captive-audience meetings during which managers spread lies about the benefits of unionizing [and]…. posting misinformation about unions in bathrooms, break rooms and across the internet.”

The New York Times cites recent remarks by Biden in a video statement supporting the Amazon workers in Bessemer: “Unions put power in the hands of workersThey level the playing field. They give you a stronger voice for your health, your safety, higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and nonunion, but especially Black and Brown workers. There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda. No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences. Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice. And it’s your right, not that of an employer, it’s your right.”

The New York Times goes on to point out that Biden can take a number of executive actions in support of unions including:

• raising the minimum wage for federal contract employees to $15 an hour;

• requiring contracts go to employers who remain neutral in union elections;

• barring contracts for employers who illegally oppose union organizing;

• filling vacancies on the five-member National Labor Relations Board, which sets rules for collective bargaining, conducts and certifies union elections, and adjudicates labor disputes (the nominees would require Senate confirmation).

You might want to encourage your representative to support H.R.842 and thank Biden for speaking out on behalf of workers’ unions, reminding him of the executive actions he can take in support of workers. • President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS.

You might also tell Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos that you support Amazon workers’ right to unionize, mentioning any union membership of your own and any purchasing you do via Amazon or Whole Foods (which is owned by Amazon)• Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon Corporation, 410 Terry Ave. North, Seattle, WA, 98109-5210, (206) 266-1000. @JeffBezos. Finally, you could sign this petition in support of Amazon workers’ right to unionize.

5. A 51st State: D.C.

If Washington D.C. were a state, the District would gain significant autonomy. The lack of state status affects the lives of those in D.C. in a number of ways. Though residents pay significant federal taxes, they lack voting representation in Congress: D.C. does have non-voting representation in the House, but has no representation in the Senate, which effectively denies residents a voice in all cabinet confirmations and ambassadorial appointments. In a year like this one when the Senate is split 50-50, statehood for D.C. would solidify Democratic control, as voters there are predominately Black and Democratic. We saw the complexities of non-statehood at play during the January 6 insurgency. Because D.C. is not a state, it could not mobilize its own national guard forces and instead had to wait hours while that decision worked its way through the Pentagon’s recalcitrant chain of command.

The S.51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, would grant statehood to most of what is currently Washington D.C., with the exception of a clearly defined central area that houses the majority of federal buildings and national monuments, which would retain status as the nation’s capital. In a 2016 referendum in D.C., 86% of those voting supported statehood. If D.C. became a state, it would be more populous than Vermont and Wyoming and similar in population to Delaware and Alaska. H.R.51 is currently with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. S-HP

If you favor the concept of statehood for D.C., you can urge quick, positive action on S.51 by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Check here to see if your Senator is a cosponsor of S.51 and thank or nudge as appropriate. Find your senators here.

6. Universal background checks save lives

Despite the fulminating of the NRA, universal background checks for those who wish to buy guns are supported by over 85 percent of voters–79 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Democrats, according to a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2015. Nonetheless, the Trump administration eliminated an Obama-era law restricting gun purchases by people “deemed by the Social Security Administration to be mentally unable to manage their affairs,” the LA Times reported during the recent election campaign. States with background checks have a homicide rate of 3.3. per 100,000 people, while those that do not have a rate of 5.2 homicides per 100,000, according to recent research by Boston University.

Two pieces of legislation that would strengthen background checks will be coming to the floor of the House this week. H.R.8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, would require a background check for almost all gun purchases—there are exceptions for law enforcement, security personnel, and gifts between spouses. This bill has 131 cosponsors: 128 Democrats and 3 Republicans. H.R.1446, the Enhanced Background Checks Act, strengthens existing background check laws. The 91 House members cosponsoring this bill are all Democrats. RLS/S-HP

Use the above links to check the lists of cosponsors, then call, text, email or tweet your representative to thank them for cosponsoring or to ask them to support these important pieces of legislation.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Protecting insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions

Pre-existing conditions–that is, a health condition that a person has before their insurance came into effect–likely affected some 54 million people before the pandemic, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated in 2019. Before the Affordable Care Act was enacted, people were routinely denied insurance or required to pay higher rates because they had such conditions as asthma, diabetes, cancer (even if in remission), and so forth, the New York Times reminded us in February. Now, with tens of thousands of people suffering from the long-term effects of COVID-19, according to the Harvard Medical School blog, the issue of pre-existing conditions is even more acute. A decision from the Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act is pending, the New York Times notes, and if they strike down the law altogether, millions of people with pre-existing conditions could lose their coverage or find it unaffordable.

The Continuing Coverage for Preexisting Conditions Act, H.R.145, would separate the preexisting conditions protection provided by the Affordable Care Act if the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional or unenforceable. Basically, it’s a bit of future planning to see that those with preexisting conditions won’t lose the availability and renewability of coverage and to maintain prohibitions against discriminatory coverage practices based on preexisting conditions or health status. This legislation is currently with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. RLS/S-HP

To keep this legislation moving, you might urge the Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to take swift, positive action on H.R.145 and share stories you have about coverage for preexisting conditions: • Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Chair, House Energy and Commerce Committee, 2107 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-4671. @FrankPallone.

8. Fracking under any other name…

Does the term “well stimulation treatment” mean anything to you? Well stimulation treatment is the insertion of materials into oil or gas well to increase the wells’ output—in other words, fracking. Other kinds of well stimulation treatment include acid well stimulation and cyclic steaming. Scientists have recently discovered why and how fracking releases compounds that are dangerous to people and the environment, but they do not yet know how this can be prevented.

California’s SB-647 would broaden the definition of well stimulation treatment to include both steam flooding and water flooding, injection methods currently not included in the definition. SB-647 would prohibit the renewal of or issuance of new permits for well stimulation treatments beginning January 1, 2022. It would bar all such well stimulation treatments as of January 1, 2027. SB-647 affirms the right of local governments to prohibit well stimulation treatments in their jurisdiction in advance of the timeline established by the legislation. SB-647 also includes incentives for the hiring of any workers who lose jobs because of the reduction in and elimination of well stimulation treatment. SB-647 is currently with the California Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee and is also scheduled for consideration by the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee. S-HP

To engage with this issue, urge the leadership of the appropriate California Senate committees to take swift, positive action on SB-647; if you don’t live in California, you can let them know you look to California for leadership on “well stimulation treatment.” Senator Henry I. Stern (D-27), Chair, California Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, State Capitol, Room 5046, Sacramento, CA 95814, (915) 651-4116. @SenHenryStern. Senator Ben Allen (D-26), Chair, California Senate Environmental Quality Committee, State Capitol, Room 2205, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 651-4108. @BenAllenCA.

9. Moratorium on oil and gas leases on California’s central coast

Overruling intense public opposition, the former administration insisted on allowing oil and gas drilling–including fracking–on public lands in California. The Bureau of Land Management received 35,000 comments opposing the first auction in Kern County, according to the Sierra Club. The leases the Trump administration insisted on auctioning in California brought in exactly $46,148.64 for taxpayers, Reuters reported–averaging out to $11 per acre. 

Now, H.R.479, the California Central Coast Conservation Act, would place a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on public lands along California’s Central Coast. The legislation cites several ongoing factors justifying this action: air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and the climate, groundwater and surface water quality and availability, seismicity, threatened and endangered wildlife and plant species, and the impact of oil and gas leasing on low-income communities. Already existing leases would remain in force. This legislation is currently with the House Natural Resources Committee. S-HP

This legislation is currently with the House Natural Resources Committee. To protect the beauty and biological diversity of California’s Central Coast, you can urge the leadership of the House Natural Resources Committee to take swift, positive action on H.R.479: Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Chair, House Natural Resources Committee, 1511 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-2435. @RepRaulGrijalva. You can also thank Representative Jimmy Panetta for introducing H.R.479: Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), 212 Cannon House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-2861. @JimmyPanetta.

10. Biden asked to release federal funds for abortion

The prohibition on the use of federal funds for abortions in the U.S. is a particular hardship for young and low-income as well as for women of color–those women who are most likely to need abortions, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report released last week. 72% of abortions are obtained by young adults and teenagers, and 75% were obtained by low-income women–women who are more likely to obtain their medical care through Medicaid or Affordable Care Act plans. In 2014, an abortion cost between $500 (at 10 weeks) and $1195 (at 20 weeks). Unless a low-income woman lives in a state that covers abortion, she must raise or save funds for the procedure–often delaying it so that it is less safe and more costly. In addition, some prenatal tests that would reveal that a fetus has severe anomalies such that it will not survive are not available until after 12 weeks–so an abortion at this stage is again more costly.

The Hill reports that on Tuesday, a group of 27 Congressmembers, including the leaders of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus and the Democratic Women’s Caucus, sent a letter to President Biden asking him to remove restrictions on federal funding of abortion from the fiscal 2022 budget. There are currently three sets of abortion funding restrictions on the U.S. budget: the Hyde Amendment bars federal funding of abortions; the Helms Amendment prohibits the use of foreign assistance funds to provide abortions; and the Weldon Amendment bars the use of federal money to penalize healthcare providers who do not provide abortions for reasons of conscience. The letter points out the systematic efforts by the Trump administration to undermine both national and global sexual and reproductive health care and calls for “ensuring all people can access reproductive health care, including abortion, no matter how much money they make, where they were born or live, their age, their immigration status, their race, or their sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity).” RLS/S-HP

You can join these members of Congress in asking President Biden to remove abortion restrictions from the 2022 fiscal budget by writing President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS.

RESOURCES

Heather Cox Richardson continues to be an essential resource. Sunday’s column provides the history of the Voting Rights Act, while Saturday’s analyzes the American Rescue Plan.

The Americans of Conscience Checklist continues to offer clear, effective actions we can take, this week focused on protecting the midterm elections, shuttering private prisons, closing immigrant detention centers, and supporting the right to self-identify. The checklist also include a long list of good news!

Moms Rising recommends some important actions for this week including advocating for fair immigration laws and supporting the re-opening of the Affordable Care Act to applications.

News You May Have Missed: February 28, 2021

Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. Cengiz was waiting outside the Saudi embassy where Khashoggi was killed; he had gone into the embassy to get documents for their wedding. “The Administration’s Inaction on the Killing of Jamal Khashoggi” by POMED is licensed under CC BY 2.0

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

1. U.S. intelligence report asserts Saudi Crown Prince ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Canadian dissident apparently forced to give up names of Saudi activists

The Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to an intelligence report that had been sequestered by the Trump administration and that Biden administration has now released, according to the LA Times. The Biden administration is sanctioning top Saudi officials–but not the Crown Prince. However, the State Department is imposing a “Khashoggi Ban” which will “limit travel visas for people who threaten or harm journalists and activists on behalf of foreign governments,” the Times reported. Biden is distancing himself from the Saudis–he has cut support for the war in Yemen that the Saudis have pursued and is working to re-establish the Iran nuclear agreement. As Amnesty International put it, using the arms the US has sent them, “the Saudi and UAE-led Coalition carried out scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate air strikes on civilians and civilians’ objects, hitting homes, schools, hospitals, markets, mosques, weddings and funerals.”

Saudi activists outside the country now feel even more endangered by the country’s treatment of dissidents. A 24-year-old activist, in an eerie echo of the Khashoggi killing, went to the Saudi embassy in Ottawa, Canada, where–he told friends–he was required to give up the names of Saudi activists who had been using pseudonyms. He then disappeared for several weeks, but reappeared in Saudi Arabia. His Twitter account, which had referenced Khashoggi and challenged various Saudi positions, was deleted–then replaced with a new Twitter account and a picture of the Crown Prince, according to the Washington Post. Other dissidents report having their families and friends in Saudi Arabia threatened, and fear that they will be further targeted. The Canadian government has not commented, according to the Post, and the Canadian media have been entirely silent about the case. RLS

DOMESTIC NEWS

2. Biden permits asylum-seekers in Matamoros to enter the country for hearings–but re-opens notorious shelters for children

Biden’s record on immigration is already mixed. He has reopened a camp to house up to 700 teenagers, aged 13-17, one that was only open for a month during the Trump administration, according to the Independent, which notes that 5,700 children were apprehended at the border in January. Administration officials say that more space is needed in order to maintain distancing requirements under COVID. The Biden administration is also preparing to re-open a Homestead facility in Miami, one that was notorious for sexual abuse allegations and for toxic waste in the area, as the Southern Poverty Law Center points out. An attorney for the SPLC argues that “There are community-based, humane alternatives to detention such as NGOs, nonprofits and community sponsors that are ready to safely care for migrant children from the safety of homes. These options are safer and less traumatizing and will end our reliance on profit-driven private detention corporations.”

On the other hand, asylum-seekers who had been stuck in a freezing camp over the border in Matamoros (see our story from last week) are being admitted to the U.S. to wait for their hearings and permitted to stay with family and friends. Witness at the Border describes the rejoicing as people who had been stranded come into the country. There are, of course, some very troublesome stories as well. Deportation flights continue, justified by the CDC’s order to remove people from the country to avoid the spread of COVID-19: Witness at the Border calculates that some 74 flights went to eight countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

It is no wonder that more people are trying to migrate, fleeing not only violence but hunger. As Reuters points out, four times as many people are hungry in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua compared to two years ago. The economic crisis triggered by COVID-19, in addition to two hurricanes that destroyed infrastructure in the area, mean that 15 per cent of people surveyed by the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) say that they intend to migrate. RLS

Witness at the Border urges everyone to send a postcard about the re-opening of detention centers for children. You can find the template here.

You can also donate miles (or money) to Miles for Migrants, to help people released from detention get to their families. ICE tends to release detainees with little or no notice and no form of transportation.

3. Unpacking the Capitol insurrection–and planning for the next one

You may want to be alert on March 4, when QAnon adherents believe that Trump will be inaugurated. Vox explains their complex narrative by which Trump is the “real” president who will be inaugurated on what should be Inauguration Day. Washington police say they have not seen evidence of a mass mobilization, but they are prepared nonetheless. Trump may well have fueled these kinds of plans with his speech at the CPAC convention, where as another article in Vox notes, he insisted again and again that he had won the election.

Meanwhile, Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting chief of the Capitol police force told a House appropriations subcommittee that extreme right-wingers and militia groups are still planning to attack the Capitol, aiming especially for when Biden gives his first address to Congress, reports the New York Times. She also says that phone records show that her predecessor had called for National Guard backup starting at 1 PM on January 6, the day of the insurrection, and called many times thereafter; the Pentagon did not approve the deployment of the National Guard until 3 PM, when it was very much too late. RLS

4. If all your exes live in Texas, they need a energy regulation

On February 25, a class-action suit was filed against Griddy, the power provider in Texas that charged customers whose power remained on up to $17,000, Forbes reports. Then, on February 28, the Texas power-grid operator, ERCOT, removed all customers from Griddy and transferred them to other power providers, according to the Mercury News. ERCOT, of course, is the body that ordered power cut, leaving 4.5 million residents without heat, lights or running water in a snowstorm. According to the CBC, at least 30 people died, including six homeless people, reported the Texas Tribune, which also notes that Texas officials understood after a major storm in 2011 that a significant storm could cause major power outages but left the decision about whether to upgrade in preparation to power companies. They declined to do so. As Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston noted about Texas’ insistence on opting out of energy regulation, “If you’re going to say you can handle it by yourself, step up and do it. That’s the incredible failure.”

Hourly workers in Texas were not paid for the days when they could not work, and now struggle to pay March rent, the Tribune noted, while the Hill points out that big corporations in the area are requiring workers to use vacations days to cover the days they were unable to work.  RLS

5. Incarcerated firefighters, others, would be protected from deportation under new bill

In last summer’s California fires, incarcerated firefighters risked their lives fighting the blazes. Two of these people were turned over to ICE after they finished fighting the fires and completed their sentences. One of them finished serving a 22-year sentence for a robbery he had committed when he was a teenager; he is scheduled to be deported to Laos, which he fled with his family as a two-year old refugee, the Guardian explains.

California’s AB-937, the Voiding of Inequality and Seeking Inclusion for Our Immigrant Neighbors (VISION) Act, would stop state prisons and jails from handing over immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after they have completed their sentences. Currently state prisons and jails are able to make such hand-overs because they are exempt from California’s sanctuary laws barring cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE. Governor Gavin Newsom has defended the practice. The Asian Law Caucus reports that, in 2020, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation transferred some 1400 people from its custody to ICE. In 2018 and 2018, some 3700 such transfers were made from local jails to ICE. AB-937 is currently with the California Assembly Public Safety Committee. S-HP

You can urge swift positive action on AB-937 by the Public Safety Committee, ask your Assemblymember and California Senator to support AB-937, and tell Governor Newsom (@GavinNewsom) that you oppose his support for this practice which subjects immigrants, both documented and undocumented, to a particularly cruel form of double jeopardy. Addresses are here.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Climate Map: What will your county look like in 2040?

Livable regions in the US will shift north, while southern regions will become uninhabitable according to a climate map produced by ProPublica and the New York Times magazine, drawing on data from the Rhodium Group, which has additional resources on flooding, climate and inequality, and more. Food production, too, will have to relocate northward, as extreme heat and flooding will undermine crops. Some areas–California for example–will be vulnerable to multiple catastrophes, such as fires and drought. You can put your own county in the search bar and see what the climate future is likely to look like where you live. RLS

8. Bill in the Senate would address the structural racism in health care

The COVID-19 pandemic is providing a heart-breaking and irrefutable example of the structural racism at the heart of the U.S. healthcare system. As we explained last week, Black, Latinx and Indigenous people are more likely to suffer from COVID-19. Many factors are behind this phenomenon: they are more likely to live in crowded conditions, do front-line work or high-contact work, lack health insurance, deal with racism in health care, and so forth, according to the Center for Pubic Integrity: “Black Americans have been more likely than whites to test positive for COVID-19, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show, almost four times as likely to be hospitalized, and nearly three times as likely to die of the disease,” the Center wrote.

S.162, the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, would begin to address this issue. It would amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for public health research and investment into understanding and eliminating structural racism and police violence. This legislation is currently with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

You can urge swift, positive action on S.162 by the HELP Committee. Addresses are here.

9. Endangered Sharks

Shark populations have declined by 70% in the past sixty years, and several shark species currently face the possibility of extinction. Sharks die at human hands in significant numbers for a variety of reasons, including the collection of their fins for cooking purposes. They also die as bycatch in commercial fishing, since the fish species sharks prey upon are often the same species humans consume (tuna, for example). They are also endangered by sport fishing and by a shark souvenir industry; shark teeth and jaws as well as bottled shark pups are popular tourist items. One easy source of shark souvenirs is Amazon.com. OceanKin Conservation is currently running a petition campaign aimed at ending the sale of shark souvenirs on Amazon. S-HP

Consider signing OceanKin Conservation’s petition or, better yet, write to Amazon founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos to demand an end to the sale of shark souvenirs on Amazon: Jeff Bezos, Chief Executive Officer, 410 Terry Ave. North, Seattle, WA 98109, (206) 266-1000. @JeffBezos.

RESOURCES

Heather Cox Richardson continues to document government policies and practices, putting them in historical context. She has particularly helpful insights into Biden’s approach to the intelligence report on the death of Jamal Khashoggi, Biden’s decision to bomb Syria, and the For the People Act, which would provide for automatic voter registration. 

The Americans of Conscience Checklist continues to offer clear, effective actions we can take, this week focused on protecting the midterm elections, getting asylum-seekers released and resisting anti-Black racism.

Moms Rising recommends some important actions for this week focused COVID relief, including getting Biden’s COVID relief bill passed

News You May Have Missed: February 21, 2021

“Jack Frost” by orangeacid is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Miles and Miles of (Frozen) Texas

How does the climate crisis connect to icy weather in Texas and other places? We talk about “global warming,” but “warming” is complicated. As parts of the Arctic warm (warmth in the Arctic is still cold!), more extreme weather elsewhere–including freezing weather–can follow, as an explainer by Vox clarifies. Due to what one scientist called a “meandering jet stream,” caused by the warming, colder Arctic air can whoosh south. A 2018 study in Nature Communications describes these dynamics well. Though these conclusions are controversial, that more extreme weather events of all kinds are on their way–and that governments at all levels need to improve their infrastructure–is not in dispute.

Without reprising the news you won’t have missed, we want to note how this event–like all profound environmental and economic events–encapsulates the many tensions that surround us. 

◉The power outages hit lower-income people the hardest, especially Black and Brown people, as environmental justice scholar Robert Bullard told Democracy Now, along with elderly people and people without mobility.  “If you have a generator that’s pumping in your backyard, or if you have a credit card and can drive to a hotel and wait it out, your hurt and pain may be less than those who feel the hurt and pain first, worst and longest.” In part the impacts have to do with toxic waste that was released by the failing plants, and the way that polluting sites are often located in Black and Latinx neighborhoods.

◉The outages also hit incarcerated people–including detained immigrants–extremely hard, as the story below explains.

◉The ideological commitment to deregulation–and to independence from the North American grids–in part led to this disaster, as the New York Times explains. Hence, the power companies had no reserves and no incentives to invest in more robust systems, as Reuters notes. 

◉Being part of an integrated grid is not an automatic solution–the power outage that overran the Northeast in 2003 meant that a small error in Ohio caused power to go out all over Ontario, as the US-Canada Power System Outage Task Force explains. Planning is still essential, and deregulation is a recipe for disaster.

◉The predatory corporations that did not plan for unusual weather events also sold customers on variable-rate plans–so some are looking at electricity bills of $5,000,  points out the Dallas Morning News, with at least one user reporting a bill of $16,700, according to the New York Times.

◉The absence of planning on multiple levels has led to untold suffering. This storm had been anticipated for days before it hit. But the power companies had taken several power plants off-line for maintenance; the equipment was long overdue for maintenance, and the pumps for natural gas to produce electricity froze, as the Guardian points out. Like the fires in California last summer, the power outages in Texas this week illustrate how essential it is to plan.

◉Not only was planning inadequate but communication was absent. The Governor told people to Google information, according to the Texas Monthlypeople whose power and internet were out.

As serious as the situation has been in Texas and elsewhere, some extraordinary efforts also highlight what people can do for each other. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others raised over four million dollars by February 20 for food, housing and elder-care assistance, according to NPR. Beto O’Rourke has been organizing relief efforts all over Texas–raising funds, arranging for water deliveries, organizing a massive group of teams to do door-to-door welfare checks. RLS

Vox has a list of places to get help and places donate to Texans. The Austin Disaster Relief Network is organizing efforts in that community. CBS has a list of ways to offer help and MoveOn is raising funds for the Workers Defense Emergency Project.

2. Prisoners, too, lack water and heat

The current freezing temperatures in Texas are hurting a broad swath of people who are essentially helpless in the face of unstable, unregulated power. Among these people are detained asylum seekers, prisoners, and Reality Winner, who is still serving time for having the courage to reveal foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Detainees at the Pearsall facility, located outside San Antonio, told RAICES, a support organization, that guards threw away their blankets when they complained about the cold, the Intercept reported. Inmates at the federal prison in Fort Worth including the Federal Medical Center Carswell, have been donning rubber gloves to scoop feces out of overflowing toilets, which stopped working because of the lack of water resulting from the freeze, so they can be disposed of in other manners. A Bureau of Prisons statement has claimed the inconveniences were minor, but reporting in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram substantiates claims of ongoing cold and water issues that are significantly more than “minor.” S-HP

You can demand immediate action to mitigate inhumane conditions in Texas prisons and detention centers, urge President Biden (@JoeBiden), the Department of Homeland Security (@AliMayorkas) and the Department of Justice (@michaelcarvajal) to take action now to do the infrastructure work needed to prevent a repeat of these conditions, and call for a presidential pardon for Winner. Addresses are here.

3. Asylum-seekers in “extreme circumstances” being admitted to the US; asylum-seekers in Montamoros dealing with extreme conditions

Asylum-seekers in “extreme circumstances” are being admitted to the US to wait for their hearings; the previous administration required a woman with Stage 3 breast cancer, a deaf man who could not navigate the system, and others in need of medical care to wait in tent camps over the border in Mexico. However, with the cold weather and power outages, conditions in the camps in Matamoros have become even more extreme. They were already difficult, as the NY Times reported in October–dirty and dangerous for women, with respiratory illnesses rampant in the close quarters. Now, though, with the power outages, the heaters they have do not work and the water supply is frozen. As a nurse practitioner told the Dallas News, “There is a real concern for frostbite, hyperthermia. With people anticipating that Friday is going to open to MPP crossings, people don’t want to move to a shelter with a roof. They are afraid they will lose their spot in the MPP line.” RLS

To assist those waiting for hearings in the tent camps, you can donate to various organizations on site: Team Brownsville, Angry Tias and Abuelas, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, Global Response Matamoros, or Rainbow Bridge (link at the end of the article).

4. No first strike with nuclear weapons.

Ted Lieu (D-CA) has reintroduced H.R. 669, which would restrict the U.S. from first-strike use of nuclear weapons without Congressional authorization. The 2021 version of this legislation does not yet have text available, but the 2019 text is available, and is brief and clear. This legislation is currently with the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees. Restricting the US from using nuclear weapons first has become increasingly important, given the $100 billion just allocated for a new generation of  intercontinental ballistic missiles, as we explained last week. S-HP

This legislation is currently with the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees. You can urge swift, positive committee action on H.R.669: • Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee. @RepGregoryMeeks. • Representative Adam Smith (D-WA), Chair, House Armed Services Committee, @RepAdamSmith. You can check here to see if your Representative is a cosponsor and thank or nudge as appropriate. Find your representative here and full addresses and phone numbers here.

5. Secretary of the Interior nominee Deb Haaland supported by Indigenous groups

If her nomination is confirmed, Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) would become the U.S.’s first Indigenous Secretary of the Interior. At least one Republican Senator, Steve Daines (R-MT), has already pledged his commitment to blocking Haaland’s confirmation. NativeNewOnline reports on opposition to Haaland’s nomination and a campaign by the Global Indigenous Council in support of Haaland. Daines, who receives significant support from the oil and gas industry, characterizes Haaland as “radical” because of her opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline, her advocacy for a Green New Deal, and her objection to the danger that camps of male pipeline workers pose for Indigenous women and girls, according to CounterPunch. As one of the letters in support of her nomination puts it, “After Zinke and Bernhardt, it probably is a radical idea to have a Secretary of Interior who will protect public lands and not plunder them. Preserve endangered species and not blow them away to hang as trophies on a wall. Who will uphold the federal-Indian trust responsibility and address the crippling disparities in federal services to Indian Country,” S-HP

The Global Indigenous Council suggests ways to support Haaland by demanding swift, positive action on Haaland’s nomination by the Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Joe Manchin (@Sen_JoeManchin) and telling your Senator that you want them to support Haaland when her confirmation comes to a vote of the full Senate. Find your senator here.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

6. California departs from the CDC in identifying people at risk from severe COVID

As of Sunday, 500,000 Americans had died of COVID, according to NBC News. The Washington Post has a graphic to try to illuminate how many people that is. As the Post wrote, “Carrying all 500,000 people would require a caravan of 9,804 buses that would stretch 94.7 miles. That’s the distance from the White House to Delaware…”

California has taken note of people with a number of conditions that increase the risk of COVID-19 infection and make the possibility of infection particularly life-threatening. This is a positive move, but the list of conditions the state is using is significantly shorter than the CDC’s list of increased risk-factor conditions, which include cancer, COPD, sickle cell disease, and many others. Among the groups not included in the California list are those on immunosuppressant medications and those with asthma. The stakes here are significant: As of March 15, those people who are 16-64 and on California’s list of particularly at-risk people can get the vaccine–but not those on the CDC’s full list, according to the California COVID information site.

Canada includes people who are immuno-compromised or have lung disease–as well as their caregivers–in Phase 2 of the vaccination plan, but glitches in delivery mean that Canada is nowhere near through Phase 1. S-HP

If you are a Californian, consider telling Governor Newsom and your state legislators that you want to see all medical conditions that the CDC considers likely to result in complications from COVID-19 infection included in California’s list for priority vaccination, including people on immunosuppressant drugs and people with asthma. Governor Gavin Newsom, 1303 10th St., Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841. @GavinNewsom. Find your CA legislators here.

7. Other preconditions making people more susceptible to COVID

We think of risk factors for COVID as relating to age or pre-existing medical conditions. What also make people more susceptible to COVID and more likely to have long-haul COVID effects are social conditions–being Black or Latinx, living in crowded conditions, doing front-line work, lacking health insurance, dealing with racism in health care, and so forth, according to the Center for Pubic Integrity: “Black Americans have been more likely than whites to test positive for COVID-19, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show, almost four times as likely to be hospitalized, and nearly three times as likely to die of the disease,” the Center wrote. Black people may appear to be less likely to have some long-haul symptoms, the Center says, because they less likely to survive in order to report them. RLS

8. The US has rejoined the Paris Accords, but the targets are way too low.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that we (both the U.S. and the world) have been falling far short of the emission reduction goals we agreed to when the Paris Accords were signed in 2015. If you have any doubts about that claim, check out the Climate Action Tracker, which provides data on the progress (or lack thereof) in hitting emission reduction goals country by country. According to the Washington Post, new research is now telling us that, even if we were meeting these goals, we would have only a five percent chance of staving off significant warming. In fact, to hit a sustainable climate trajectory, we would need to make emission reductions 80% greater than those called for in the Paris Accords. S-HP

You might remind the President and your elected representatives that we need to be aggressively reducing emissions now and point out that the longer we wait, the more painful and more substantial the necessary reductions will be. President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your senators here. Find your representative here.

RESOURCES

Heather Cox Richardson continues to document government policies and practices, putting them in historical context.

The Americans of Conscience Checklist continues to offer clear, effective actions we can take, this week focused on protecting the midterm elections, getting asylum-seekers released and resisting anti-Blackracism.

Moms Rising recommends some important actions for this week focused on preserving Black lives via the Breathe Act, getting counselors rather than cops in schools, ending youth incarceration, and more.

News You May Have Missed: February 14, 2021

“687129” by UT Moody College of Communication is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.  Photo by Carl Juste. Peterson Polidor, 22, was in Krome Detention Center, Miami – Dade, for sixteen months until a judge declared that he should not be deported to Haiti for a minor theft conviction. Polidor had been brought to the US legally as a child.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Deportations to Haiti

ICE is disproportionately targeting Black asylum seekers, according to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Daily Kos reported. As we noted last week, deportation flights were halted–but just briefly, resuming again last Monday. 22 children, including a two-month old baby, were among those deported, according to the Guardian. Haiti is beset by political turmoil; the president, whose term was to have ended February 7, has refused to step down, and journalists covering protests have been shot in the streets. The Caucus has written a letter to Biden asking that the deportations be stopped.

It is not clear why Biden seems to be unable to control ICE in this regard. Some of the deportees would have witnesses in the torture case against ICE, in which those detained were forced to sign their deportation orders, the Daily Kos reported last fall. The deportations also may be a function of the agreement Trump signed with the union representing ICE officers, one which allowed them essentially to over-rule immigration policies. The Caucus told Biden that to free his administration from these constraints, “you have until February 17, 2021 to exercise your authority under 5 U.S.C 7114(c) to disapprove this contract, thereby preventing it from taking effect, and restore the department’s power to set immigration enforcement policies and priorities.” RLS

If you want to support the Black Caucus as it tries to stop deportations, you might to send a message to @POTUS, and ask Biden to disprove the contract with ICE by February 17.

2. “Remain in Place” program being dismantled, but not quickly.

The Biden administration announced on February 14 that it was replacing the “Remain in Mexico” program that has caused so much hardship to the tens of thousands of people now waiting for hearings in cold, dangerous camps over the border. Biden said that he would open a new asylum system on February 19, NPR reported, and some border communities are preparing for an influx of asylum seekers. The mayor of El Paso and relief agencies are meeting bi-weekly to plan ways to absorb and assist those who come in, according to WANE.com.

However, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas implored new asylum seekers not to travel to the border now, as the asylum system has to be rebuilt “from scratch.” Immigration advocates worry that the new system will not work quickly enough, and indeed, the White House said on February 10 that most asylum-seekers will still be turned away at the border, BuzzFeed reported, ostensibly to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Even those asylum-seekers who make it out off MPP are still not being appropriately treated. Pointing out that in the first week of February 2021, a twenty-three year old mother from El Salvador and her newborn were detained in a freezing immigration cell for six days, Every.Last.One, an immigrant support organization, urges us to speak up about conditions at the border and tpdonate to help children get out of detention.

3. Over a thousand barriers to immigration reform in the fine print

In order to re-humanize the immigration and asylum system, Biden administration offices will have to fine-tooth comb through 1,064 policy changes made by the Trump administration, according to the New York Times. Apparently minor policy changes have meant that doctors certifying immigration applicants have to fill out forms that are twice as long as those previously used; immigrants from China have been turned away because of their membership in the Chinese Communist party, required in that country for many employment possibilities; service members have been prevented from obtaining the form they need certifying honorable service, required for them to apply for citizenship and avoid deportation, the Times noted. To keep track of all this, the ACLU developed an immigration policy tracker, documenting all the changes to immigration policy that the Trump administration had made, what the Times calls “land mines.” The person who developed the tracker, Lucas Guttentag, a law professor at Stanford and Yale, put it together with 70 of his students. He told the Times that “what goes on within the bureaucracy is often virtually buried. It’s knowable — as we demonstrate.” RLS

4. Reparations on the table

At long last, reparations are under discussion in the House Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday, February 17, the Committee will be discussing H.R.40, which would establish a committee to study and develop reparations proposals in response to our nation’s history of slavery. A committee doesn’t guarantee action, but could be a productive step in the reparations effort. A thoughtful history of the discussions around reparations was recently posted in Conversation.Com by Political Science professor Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann from Wilfred Laurier University in Ontario; Ta-Nahesi Coates’ 2014 piece in the Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” is essential reading.

If you want to post about this, #Reparations Now has a press kit, with detailed messages you can use. S-HP

If you want to act on this issue, you can check to see if your Representative is a cosponsor of H.R.40 and thank or nudge as appropriate.  You can find your representative here. You can also urge the four Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee that are not cosponsors to sign on. Addresses are here.

5. Legislative proposal to protect voting rights

Low-income voters and voters of color have been systematically disenfranchised in our election system. Finally there is a legislative remedy: H.R. 1, the For the People Act. The text of this legislation is now available online; a summary is still forthcoming. H.R.1 includes improved voter registration—online, same day, and automatic; voting rights protections—including limits on ID requirements and voter caging (the means by which voters are automatically removed from the rolls if material sent to them through the U.S. mail is returned as undeliverable). It provides for increased vote-by-mail and absentee balloting, and prohibits interference with voter registration; it also improves vote security—in the form of required paper ballots and guidelines for hand counts. It also addresses campaign finance and ethical rules for candidates. Not surprisingly, given its scope, it is currently before a number of House committees.

 Meanwhile, Republican-led efforts continue on the state level to limit voting access to a narrow (and not representative) proportion of the citizenry through increased voter ID requirements, limitations on mail, absentee, and early voting, and more. SH-P

You can urge the appropriate committee chairs to take swift, positive action on H.R.1 while we have a Democratic Congress: addresses are here. You can also check if your Representative is a cosponsor and thank or nudge them as appropriate.

6, You haven’t got mail–here’s why

Only 38% of non-local first-class mail arrived on time in December 2020, as reported by the Washington Post. In 2019, that figure was 92%. In fact, decreases in postal delivery reliability and timeliness have been cited in a number of voting-rights related court cases. The current Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, has proposed geographic pricing for mail (a practice currently used by shippers like United Parcel Service) which could raise rates for those living on both the east and west coasts and for isolated rural customers. These newer troubles are complicated by the fact that the United States Postal Service (USPS) has been required, via legislation, to prefund retiree health care—a huge liability given the costs of the U.S. healthcare system.

There are a number of ways in which the situation of the USPS could be improved. The composition of the USPS Governing Board could be changed via presidential appointments, as Biden has three upcoming appointments to make, as well as a possible fourth appointment in another year. Thus far, however, cabinet-level appointments have taken priority for the administration, which leaves any changes in the USPS Governing Board in limbo. Both the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and Action Network are running petitions urging quick action on these appointments. The USPS is supposed to be a nonpartisan body, but Trump appointees have a number of potential conflicts of interest, and a Congressional investigation of these might create more pressure to address USPS appointments. Congress could also remove the prefunding mandate for retiree health care, which would significantly change the bottom line at the USPS. The bipartisan S.145 would initiate this change; it is currently with the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. S-HP

Other ways to get this problem addressed are to ask President Biden. to prioritize USPS Governing Board appointments, @POTUS, and to urge Chair, Senate Homeland Security Chair Peters to take fast, positive committee action on S.145, @SenGaryPeters. You can also tell your Congressmembers that our postal system is a key component of our democracy and call on them to prioritize action to support the long-term health of the USPS. All addresses are here.

7. Racketeering law a strategy for the January 6 insurrection

Department of Justice (DoJ) arrests and some reporting indicate that they are looking at the attacks on the capitol and legislators (and the understaffing of protection) as racketeering, Reuters and other outlets report. Using The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, would allow prosecutors to charge those who instigated the attacks, not just the ordinary participants. That’s why many low-level folks have been arrested, but not charged at the highest level–since the RICO strategy is ordinarily to allow lower-level criminals to plea-bargain in exchange for testifying against higher-ups. You can expect superseding indictments for the low-level folks and efforts (which take time) to charge those who organized, enabled, or funded them. Those yet ti be charged would include people like Senators Hawley, Cruz, Biggs, Gosar and Representative Greene, but also potentially Ginni Thomas, wife of the Supreme Court justice (who promoted the protests) and possibly even another group of hooligans, equally incited by Trump as part of the long con: State GOP groups suddenly acting to “censure” members for the noncriminal act of disagreeing with or voting against Trump. KCB

If you want to encourage the DoJ to take this approach, ask your senator to refer the contents and supporting material from the impeachment trial to the DoJ. You can find your senators here.

8. Body cams for Capitol police

As we’ve been taught far too often in the last several years, requirements that law enforcement wear body cams can be the only way to ensure an accurate accounting of actions taken by officers, particularly in cases where allegations of unnecessary force and unethical behavior are involved. Two pieces of House legislation would expand requirements for body cam use: H.R.284 would require that body cams be worn by Capitol Police; H.R.531 would create body cam requirements for officers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol. H.R.284 is with the House Administration Committee. H.R.531 is with the House Homeland Security and Ways and Means Committees. S-HP

If you would like to see these laws go through, you can ask for swift, positive action on H.R.284 by the House Administration Committee, chair Zoe Lofgren, @RepZoeLofgren. You can also urge the House Homeland Security and Ways and Means Committees to act on H.R.531–addresses are here.. You can also check if your Representative is a cosponsor of H.R.284 and of H.R.531 and thank or nudge as appropriate. You can find your representative here.

9. Thank the House impeachment managers

The House Impeachment Managers’ work was impeccable, creating a public record of both the events leading up to and on January 6 and of Republican refusal to acknowledge this unprecedented attack on our democracy. If you want to thank the Impeachment Managers and the seven Republicans with the courage to vote for conviction, the addresses are here.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

10. The US has commissioned new nuclear weapons. 600 of them.

At a cost of $100 billion, the US is producing a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles which would replace the current fleet of Minutemen missiles. $100 billion “could pay 1.24 million elementary school teacher salaries for a year, provide 2.84 million four-year university scholarships, or cover 3.3 million hospital stays for covid-19 patients. It’s enough to build a massive mechanical wall to protect New York City from sea level rise. It’s enough to get to Mars,” according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The new weapons are intended to deter other nuclear powers from attacking the United States as well as to serve as a target, forcing an attacking country to use up its weapons over a widely dispersed area in the midwest. In this model, the scientists say, attacks would kill “10 million people and turn the area into a charred wasteland, unfarmable and uninhabitable for centuries to come.”

Given these risks, very real concerns about hacking, and the enormous budget demands on the country now–Biden’s COVID relief package would run $1.9 trillion–why is the US spending $600 billion on missiles? The answer, the Bulletin says, is that “in a country where safety net programs are limited and health insurance is a patchwork, and where unemployment remains at nearly double the pre-pandemic rate, many people in the states where the new missile will be built and based see it as a lifeline.” In short, the weapons program is a very expensive, very risky jobs plan. RLS

11. Medication for abortion

Among the many moves by the outgoing Trump administration to restrict women’s access to health care was to reinstate a Food and Drug Administration requirement that patients travel in person to pick up mifepristone–a safe and effective medication used for early abortion and miscarriage treatment. As the American Civil Liberties Union explains, because of the rule reinstatement, “patients must risk needless exposure to [COVID-19] to access care. This is particularly harmful for people of color and people with low incomes, who make up the majority of impacted patients and are also dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates due to centuries of structural racism and inequities.” S-HP

You can sign this petition to urge the Biden-Harris administration to suspend the in-person requirement for mifepristone during the COVID-19 pandemic and to order a review of all regulations regarding mifepristone. You can also tell the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services that you want a suspension of the in-person requirement for mifepristone and a review to identify an unnecessary restrictions on this medication.

RESOURCES

Heather Cox Richardson continues to document government policies and practices, putting them in historical context.

The Americans of Conscience Checklist continues to offer clear, effective actions we can take, this week focused on protecting the midterm elections.

Moms Rising recommends some important actions for this week focused on preserving Black maternal health and abolishing the death penalty.

NEWS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: FEBRUARY 7, 2021

“Trump Zero Tolerance” by Dan Lacey

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Plans for family reunification proceed–but slowly

More than 600 children still remain separated from their families as a result of the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy, and the whereabouts of the families of many of them are unknown. President Biden is establishing a task force charged with reuniting these children and their families, but those reunions will not erase the damage done under Zero Tolerance. The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations are demanding that the U.S. do more than reunite these families. Lee Gelernt, the lead lawyer in an ACLU suit to end family separations, explains: “The incoming administration must reunite the separated families in the United States, but we cannot stop there. These families deserve citizenship, resources, care, and a commitment that family separation will never happen again.”

As Erika Pinheiro, the Litigation and Policy Director of Al Otro Lado, which provides legal services to people on the border , told the BBC, “The Biden administration is making this a lot more complicated than it is. We were able to reunify dozens of families under the Trump Administration and the Biden Administration could do the same for hundreds by just issuing visas for the parents to come back.” S-HP

Every.Last.One has a petition you can sign to ask the Biden administration to reunite families. You can join the call for appropriate reparations for separated families that include citizenship and support services • President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @JoeBiden. • Find your senators here, and your representative here.

2. Refugee system broken under Trump

President Biden has committed to admitting many more refugees into the U.S., after the Trump administration fundamentally shut down the system, according to the New York Times, allowing fewer than a thousand desperate people into the country last year. Nearly a third of resettlement offices in the U.S. were shut and many immigration offices abroad have been closed or are short-staffed, in part due to the pandemic. Biden’s efforts to admit more refugees may be stalled by the lack of infrastructure. RLS

3. Border Patrol deliberately causes deaths of immigrants, according to new report

In 2015 alone, 1,200 people attempting to cross the border in Arizona disappeared. The Disappeared report series, produced by two organizations based in Tucson–La Coalición de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths/No Más Muertes–looks at how the Border Patrol in Southern Arizona intentionally causes the deaths of those fleeing into the US. Border staff chase border crossers into dangerous terrain and over cliffs using low-flying helicopters, destroy containers of water left for them where it can easily be 112 degrees in the daytime, and refuse to respond to emergency calls, though 911 calls are routed to the border patrol. Some of the calls come from people who are lost and dying in the desert, or from family members who know where they are. The report describes logs of emergency calls received by the Coalición de Derechos Humanos 24-hour Missing Migrant Crisis Line, and notes that the Border Patrol responded to only 40 per cent of them, far fewer than to those calls regarding US citizens. This video offers a quick summary of the report. RLS

You can donate funds or supplies to No More Deaths/No Más Muertes to assist in their mission to save lives in the desert. (No More Deaths/No Más Muertes) is a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson.

4. 13,000 children arriving at the border without their parents were expelled last year

13,000 children came to the border asking for asylum between March and November of 2020 and were expelled, according to Buzzfeed, on the grounds that they might be bringing in the coronavirus. The policy was blocked by a federal judge and Biden has committed not to expel children. RLS

5. ICE gone rogue

Immigration legal teams and activists succeeded in getting deportation flights to Haiti stopped on February 5, according to the Guardian, and in particular were able to keep a flight intended to deport witnesses in an investigation regarding charges of abuse into ICE on the ground. ICE had been deporting people despite executive orders to the contrary, according to the Guardian. One man, who came with his American parents from Saint Martin when he was five, was deported to Haiti, where he is not a citizen and has never been. Like many others at the end of the Trump administration, he was caught in sweeps of black immigrants, the Guardian reports; two deportation flights a week took immigrations to Haiti, where they have no resources. Though that flight was stopped, Witness at the Border, which tracks deportation flights, points out that 102 other deportation flights took place last week, mostly to Guatemala and Honduras, despite new policies established by Biden. The New York Times notes that resistance to Biden’ agenda is embedded not only in ICE but in other government agencies. RLS

6. Temporary Protected Status extended to Syrians

President Biden has extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 7,000 Syrians living in the U.S, according to the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). TPS allows individuals from a country affected by armed conflict or natural disaster to remain and work in the U.S. for a specified period of time. President Biden has also used “re-designation” to make an additional 1,800 Syrians in the U.S. eligible to apply for TPS. S-HP

You can thank President Biden for extending and expanding TPS for Syrians whose nation has been engaged in a civil war since 2011 • President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @JoeBiden

7. Restoring the Fairness Doctrine could rein in Fox

How does Fox News get away with it? (“It” being the large-scale dissemination of disinformation and its 24-hour-a-day unapologetically partisan “reporting.”) To answer this question fully, we have to go back to 1987 and the Reagan administration. From 1949 to 1987, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had a policy requiring that broadcasters a) present controversial issues of public importance and b) do so in a manner that was honest, equitable, and balanced. The doctrine required the presentation of opposing views, but did not dictate what form that presentation should take, and did not require that every perspective on a controversial topic be given equal time. (The Equal Time rule applied to political candidates’ access to purchase time for paid political advertising.) What the Fairness Doctrine did do is prevent broadcasters from presenting crucial material from a single point of view. In 1987, the FCC stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine. In 2011, it removed the rule from the Federal Register.

Since 1987, and particularly in the last fifteen years or so, multiple unsuccessful efforts have been made to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine legislatively. A key argument in favor of the Fairness Doctrine is that informed decision-making requires exposure to multiple perspectives, preventing public discourse from being dominated by a single perspective. Opponents to the Fairness Doctrine argue that asking broadcasters to present a diversity of perspectives on controversial issues is unnecessary because, given the huge number of broadcasters, any individual can have access to multiple perspectives simply by changing the channel. But that changing of the channel isn’t happening as Americans on both sides of the political divide tend to “burrow into” the perspectives they favor and to deliberately avoid information that would challenge those comfortable views.

One example of a consequence of the end of the Fairness Doctrine is the rise of Fox News, with its highly partisan, highly charged “reporting” that often provides little or no evidence for its claims. Fox News was quick to join Trump’s claims of election fraud, including repeatedly disproven allegations of illegally cast ballots, corruption in vote counting, pro-Democrat programming in electronic voting systems, and even a claim that U.S.-based Dominion Voting Systems was actually controlled by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (who died in 2013). Fox only moderated its rhetoric when Dominion threatened to sue for libel.

Smartmatic, another company that makes voting machines, did sue Fox: for 2.7 billion dollars. Alleging defamation, the company said that Fox claimed that Smartmatic had participated in a fraudulent election, making “100 false statements and implications” that “damaged its business and future prospects,” according to the Poynter Institute.

Following the January 6 insurrection, Congress is again discussing restoration of the Fairness Doctrine. Any such legislation would likely be routed through the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Unfox My Cable Box is suggesting another means by which Fox News’ pervasive disinformation can be challenged. Approximately 65% of Fox News’ subscriber fees come not from individual subscribers, but via cable providers who include Fox News in their cable bundles. According to Unfox, “A typical household pays Fox News almost $2 per month—about $20 per year— via their cable or satellite provider, regardless of whether they actually watch the channel.” Since a number of large Fox news-cable provider contracts will be expiring in the next two years, Unfox is urging consumers to pressure cable providers not to include Fox News in their bundles. Media Matters for America is coordinating Drop Fox, an effort to reduce Fox News’ presence via pressure on advertisers and cable providers. S-HP

You can tell appropriate Congressional committee leadership and your Congressmembers that you want to see the Fairness Doctrine restored. You can also join efforts to reduce Fox News’ profits and pervasiveness by signing Unfox’s petition and by signing up for Media Matters for America’s Drop Fox campaign.

8. Right-wing extremism at home in America

On January 22, President Biden ordered a study of the threat of domestic violent extremism in the U.S. The Associated Press called the announcement of this move “a stark acknowledgment of the national security threat that officials see as posed by American extremists motivated to violence by radical ideology”—and the seriousness of this threat was underlined by the January 6 attack on the Capitol. This threat assessment is being coordinated by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. A second, separate study will be undertaken by the National Security Council. Once the studies are complete, the Biden administration will use them to guide policy development. Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said that in developing new domestic antiterror policies and practices, the administration will assure “respect for constitutionally protected free speech and political activities.”

During the previous Congress, the House passed H.R.5736 (which was forwarded to the Senate but never made it out of committee), which would have directed “the Office of Intelligence and Analysis of the Department of Homeland Security to develop and disseminate a threat assessment regarding threats to the United States associated with foreign violent white supremacist extremist organizations.” A January 22 New York Times opinion piece notes the growing threat of trans-national cooperation among far-right groups and goes on to argue for similar legislation on the domestic front: “Designating domestic terrorism as a federal crime would provide federal departments and agencies with more tools and resources to combat the threat. It would make reporting requirements for bias-motivated and hate crimes mandatory, which would provide more comprehensive data about incidents that may upon closer examination be racially or ethnically motivated. Further, it would allow federal agencies to disrupt extremist networks by investigating ancillary crimes like providing material support.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center released its annual report on hate and extremism this week, which points out that while the number of Klan chapters have decreased, many emerging groups were able to organize and form coalitions through on-line platforms. The SPLC points out that with numerous conspiracy theories and disinformation promulgated by the former occupant of the White House, the “fight over the frame of reality has polarized American society further and fundamentally ruptured trust in institutions and information.” The years ahead will be complicated by ideologies that refuse to see white racism as a central problem.

The New York Times this week nodded at the long history of extreme right-wing activities, referring to some of Sara Diamond’s work on the Christian right in the 1980s; her book, Roads to Dominion, clearly maps how we got here. S-HP

You can urge the Biden administration, chairs of the House and Senate Homeland Security Commitees and your Congressmembers to treat domestic terrorism with the seriousness it deserves and ask for federal action, including the possibility of legislation as well as studies

9. Anti-vax protestors block mass vaccination site

Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles has been turned into a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination site, a space where health care workers are able to vaccinate large numbers of people efficiently. Unless, of course, thirty or so anti-vaxxers block access to the site, delaying vaccinations—for people who wanted to receive them—for a full hour. Police ultimately cleared the protestors. No arrests were made, and no citations were issued. Days later, Los Angeles Police Chief Michael Moore told those present at a Police Commission meeting “Going forward, people that are walking in roadways around or confronting individuals attempting to get a vaccine, it’s my expectation and direction, that enforcement will be swift and certain,” according to ABC-7 News. S-HP.

If you find this threat to people’s right to choose health care dismaying, you can suggest to Chief Moore and Governor Newsom that anyone who blocks access to vaccines for willing individuals should be subject to immediate arrest. • Chief Michael Moore, Los Angeles Police Headquarters, 100 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012 . @LAPDChiefMoore • Governor Gavin Newsom, 1303 10th St., Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841. @GavinNewsom.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. Myanmar’s military coup lethal to Rohingya

On February 1, Myanmar’s military launched a coup that ended any pretense of democracy for the nation. The New York Times reports that the coup was probably spurred by the National League for Democracy’s (the country’s leading civilian party) success in Myanmar’s November election, where they won 83% of the seats in Parliament, and prevented the current Parliament from endorsing the election results and approving the new government, which would have happened in March. NBC has a detailed history of how the military was allowed to rise and the multiple failures, both internally and internationally, that made it possible.

The story of the coup ties to the story of Myanmar’s civilian leader Ang San Suu Kyi, the daughter of a hero in Myanmar’s fight for independence, as the BBC recently noted. She spent fifteen years under house arrest and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts to build democracy in Myanmar. Her international reputation has since become tarnished because of compromises she made with the nation’s military. These include her acceptance of ongoing genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim population. Under military leadership the Rohingya have been subject to extrajudicial killings, summary executions, gang rapes, arson, and infanticide. The estimated death toll is over 24,000; more than 18,000 Rohingya women and girls have been victims of sexual violence, and at least 116,000 Rohingya have been beaten. Since 2017 over one million Rohingya have fled Myanmar, becoming refugees in several neighboring countries with a particularly large proportion in Bangladesh. The coup will almost certainly worsen the already deadly situation faced by the Rohingya.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is urging President Biden and the Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, to “prioritize the safety and security of Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities.” President Biden has threatened to “take action against those responsible” if the coup is not reversed. The Diplomat reports that during confirmation hearings, Secretary Blinken affirmed that he would oversee a review process to determine whether the U.S. would officially recognize the violence against the Rohingya as genocide. The Diplomat goes on to observe that “A genocide review would… present Biden State Department with a choice between conflicting moral and strategic ends” as the U.S. has attempted to maintain relations with Myanmar in order to limit Chinese influence in the region. Not surprisingly, the steps that might follow such a recognition are unclear. S-HP

If you want to be heard on this issue, you can thank Biden and Blinken for their attention to the situation of the Rohingya Muslims and urge them to follow this attention with significant actions to protect the Rohingya in Myanmar and Rohingya refugees outside of that country. You can also urge the leadership of the House Foreign Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees to speak out on behalf of the Rohingya Muslims. Information on how to write, call or tweet them is here.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Indigenous people are dying of COVID–double the number of white Americans

Native Americans and Indigenous Alaskans are dying of COVID at twice the rate of white Americans, according to a study by the APM research lab–and the rates are rising. Reporting on the study, the Guardian wrote that “Nationwide one in every 475 Native Americans has died from Covid since the start of the pandemic, compared with one in every 825 white Americans and one in every 645 Black Americans.” The largest number of deaths have occurred in the Navajo Nation. Overcrowded housing, hard-to-access medical care, and lack of running water are among the reasons Native Americans are at particular risk. The Indian Health Services has never been fully funded, so activists are calling on Biden and Harris to do so.

Case numbers are climbing among Indigenous communities in Canada as well, with the rate 40 per cent higher among those living on reserve, where health care can be difficult to access and Indigenous people face racism as well. According to CTV, Ottawa expects to devote $1.2 billion to Indigenous communities across Canada, particularly aimed at providing more PPE and home-health care for elders. Across North America, the losses not only add more grief to already suffering communities, but they also risk the loss of languages in areas where there are only a few elderly speakers. RLS

RESOURCES

The American Immigration Lawyers Association has a table of Biden’s actions in immigration, updated daily. It’s an extraordinary resource.

Heather Cox Richardson continues to document government policies and practices, putting them in historical context.

The Americans of Conscience Checklist continues to offer clear, effective actions we can take, this week focused on protecting the midterm elections.