News You May Have Missed: April 24, 2022

Deportees waiting to go through the doors” by bbcworldservice is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

Last issue, we told you how we were thinking about the situation in Ukraine; many of these sources will have updates. We would add just a few recommendations:

Two months into this devastating war, Foreign Policy in Focus proposes an end to binary thinking about it and insists that we think not just about the horrors that Russia is perpetrating but the danger to Europe as a whole of NATO expansion. And the Nation reminds us that we are on the precipice of nuclear war and urges the US to support Ukraine in negotiations, not in a fight to the death of its people and its country. Noam Chomsky articulates this position well: “There are two ways for a war to end: One way is for one side or the other to be basically destroyed. And the Russians are not going to be destroyed. So that means one way is for Ukraine to be destroyed. The other way is some negotiated settlement. If there’s a third way, no one’s ever figured it out.” Chomsky’s concern, the Intercept points out, is that US policy appears to reject negotiations.

Supporting those who have lost their homes and country is clearly a priority; a Canadian scholar argues that Canada should in particular welcome international students who were studying in Ukraine and may not be able to return to their home countries; Black students in particular have been discriminated against in the relocation process, according to the Toronto Star. The Star also notes what while we think about the survivors and the dead, there are many people missing–perhaps simply out of reach, perhaps captured by Russian forces, perhaps dead. The Star describes them this way: “They are people who went out for food or help and never returned. Children who boarded evacuation buses bound for safety and instead vanished. Those who have suffered injuries or succumbed to them, somewhere unknown, far from family and loved ones.”

It might be a good time to read “To Go to Lvov” by Adam Zagajewski, which speaks to all that once was and that now is being lost in a place continually cut out of its context. (Lvov was once in Poland; it is now in Ukraine and called Lviv.)

NY Magazine has a kind of collaborative diary by young Ukrainians about the beginning of the war. You can read additional Ukrainian writers in the journal Elsewhere.
We also recommend that you look at Peter Turnley’s extraordinary documentary photographs (posted in Mother Jones) of people going back to–and leaving–Ukraine.

In our resources section, we identify places to donate to assist Ukrainians who have had to flee their country. We also note that refugees are still waiting desperately at the southern border of the US, and that the organizations who serve them still need support.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Ukrainians were exempted from Title 42. Will the policy really be lifted?

More than 1.5 million people have been deported under Title 42, the Trump-era CDC law under which almost everyone seeking asylum at the southern US border was immediately sent to Mexico with no due process nor appeal–in complete violation of asylum policy and practice. Biden continued Title 42, only permitting unaccompanied children and a few particularly vulnerable applicants to stay. Now the administration has announced that it will end Title 42 on May 23–though anyone who arrives before that time will continue to be turned back, Al Jazeera reports.

As the date when Title 42 is set to expire, both Republicans and electorally vulnerable Democrats have expressed dismay, and a number have signed on to a bill intended to delay the lifting of Title 42 for sixty days, according to NPR, which has a clear summary of the policy. The concern is that there will be a surge of people trying to cross the border–as many as 18,000 a day, immigration officials estimate. A district court judge in Louisana has indicated that he will likely issue a temporary restraining order on lifting Title 42, in response to a lawsuit by Republicans, Politico reports. A group of immigration organizations have published an open letter, “We Are Ready to Welcome,” urging the government to drop Title 42.

 At the same time, the consequences for those deported have been dire: Human Rights First has documented “nearly 10,000 reports of kidnapping, torture, rape, and other violent attacks against people sent to Mexico under Title 42 from the start of last year through mid-March.” Moreover, the Border Patrol did not send people back to where they had come from, but completely different areas, meaning that they ended up in camps without any kind of community support–just the sort of crowded areas guaranteed to spread COVID 19, which Title 42 was supposedly intended to prevent, according to Immigration Impact.

Although immigration officials say that Title 42 is being ended because pandemic conditions have changed, it also solves the contradiction of Ukrainians being exempted from Title 42. Those at the Southern border are being permitted into the country within hours or days, BuzzFeed points out, while those from other countries have been waiting up to a year. These and other disparities, detailed by BuzzFeed, have not gone unnoticed. As Kennji Kizuka, an associate director at Human Rights First told CBS News, “Where were the exemptions for Haitian asylum-seekers arriving last fall? Where are those exemptions for Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan asylum-seekers, for asylum-seekers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras?”

2. Biden administration continues to incarcerate asylum seekers: new report

Human Rights First has released a comprehensive report on the high costs of the Obama/Trump/Biden administrations’ asylum policy. While we may imagine that perhaps families are no longer being separated at the border and that due process has been restored, in fact the US government has incarcerated tens of thousands of asylum seekers fleeing horrific situations around the world. Even those asylum-seekers who have successfully argued that their fear of persecution is well-founded spend an average of nearly 11 months in jail. While incarcerated, asylum-seekers access to legal counsel is limited and they are often subjected to abuse of various kinds; Black asylum-seekers endure harsh, racist treatment. Attorney Rebecca Gendelman’s twitter feed includes a series of quotes from asylum-seekers; Gendelman works with Human Rights First. Read at least the report’s table of contents; the situation is worse than most of us ever imagined.

3. Cameroonians given Temporary Protected Status

In part because of the way refugees from Ukraine have been prioritized, the U.S. government has finally given Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to asylum-seekers from Cameroon, who cannot return to their country due to civil war there, Democracy Now reports. 40,000 are eligible to apply for this status, which would permit them to stay in the country for 18 months and legally work. In February, Human Rights Watch released a report demonstrating that asylum-seekers from Cameroon were denied due process in the US and abused in ICE custody, then deported back to the country where they and members of their families were subjected “to serious human rights violations including rape, torture and other physical abuse, arbitrary arrest and detention, inhuman and degrading treatment in detention, extortion, and threats,” the report stated. Human Rights Watch argues that those who were improperly deported should be given the opportunity to return and apply for asylum again, this time under humane conditions.

4. Incarcerated people are also imprisoned by climate change

As summer approaches, the Intercept’s series on the impact of the climate crisis on incarcerated people deserves revisiting. In “Climate and Punishment,” the Intercept looked at the climate risks that impact 6,500 detention institutions. In Texas, 21 state prisons have no air conditioning–in a state where outdoor temperatures can reach 127 degrees F (52.7 Celsius), a serious danger to imprisoned people with chronic illnesses. The Intercept says that the person most responsible for the lack of air conditioning is Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

Those incarcerated are also vulnerable to wildfires, the Intercept reports, and to floods; last summer in Florida, people waited in cells filling with sewage from overflowing drains before being led out through knee-deep filthy water. 52 jails and prisons in Florida are vulnerable to extreme flooding, the Intercept discovered, but 621 other facilities around the country are also at grave risk. The Intercept’s interactive map of more than 6000 facilities identifies where incarcerated people are endangered by heat, wildfires and/or flooding; a video sketches the impact on family members.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

5. $10/day childcare in Canada

Canada will soon have nationwide childcare for $10 per day, now that Ontario’s straggling premier Doug Ford has signed on, according to the Toronto Star. The federal government has allocated over $10 billion for the program, which in the first year will cut the current cost of childcare in half, and by year four will reach the $10 per day goal. The government also plans to spend millions more to create new childcare spaces. On average, childcare in Canada costs $10,000 per year, although in major cities such as Toronto, it can cost $20,000, according to a 2018 CTV study. The deal includes a “floor” of $18/hr for daycare workers (about $14.40 in US dollars), the CBC says, which advocates point out is not enough to keep workers in the field, where the average tenure is about three years.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

6. New treatments for COVID

In the last issue, we also alerted you to new treatments for COVID, as well as a preventative treatment for immuno-compromised people. The CDCs recommendation for a second booster for immuno-compromised people and people over 50 has since led to numerous questions as people assess their own risk. The Washington Post’s Dr. Leana Wen answers a series of questions that may be of interest to you (no paywall).

If you’re in Canada, note this article from the Toronto Star about Paxlovid–a quite effective treatment for COVID that is available but not getting distributed adequately. Similarly, it is available in the US but supplies are unevenly distributed, according to the Lever. The short version, if you get COVID and you have vulnerabilities of any kind, advocate for it–but make sure the pharmacist evaluates possible interactions with other drugs you might be taking.

Note as well that on April 14, Health Canada finally approved Evusheld, which protects people who are immuno-compromised, don’t produce antibodies to COVID from the vaccine, or are unable to be vaccinated against COVID and its variants. If you’re in one of these categories, alert your doctor that you now have an additional way to stay well–especially important as masks come off.

7. Research on long COVID

Long COVID is a troubling phenomenon, especially since with reduced testing, it is difficult for patients to document that they had COVID and therefore that the subsequent problems are COVID-related, according to the Toronto Star. Still, researchers in Canada believe recovery is possible–and common; they recommend that people pace themselves, allow time for rest, re-enter full activities slowly. In addition, there is some anecdotal evidence that Paxlovid will help relieve Long COVID, according to Reuters. Long COVID is generating new research on the phenomenon–with patients and patient advocacy groups central to the enterprise, the Washington Post reports. Long memories of the AIDS epidemic remind patients, families, and researchers that patients themselves have insights that are invaluable in shaping studies. 

RESOURCES

See this page on The Cut (regularly updated–refresh often) for a summary of where things stand now and how you can help. In particular, see ways to assist Black and LGBT Ukrainians who are being turned away as they try to flee the country. 

Amnesty International is trying both to document human rights abuses and to assist civilians under fire.

Doctors Without Borders describes what they are doing in Ukraine: https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/countries/ukraine

The IFAW is aiding animals and people in Ukraine. The Humane Society International is also assisting people and their animals affected by the war.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) describes how it is providing food and other support for displaced Ukrainians inside and outside of the country.

UNICEF is supporting children in Eastern Ukraine.

World Central Kitchen is providing meals at border crossings out of Ukraine.

Al Otro Lado’s site contains a statement on the 2nd anniversary of Title 42, identifying its devastating effects. Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

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

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors; they have helped numerous people–particularly but not only Cameroonians–travel to their families once released. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project provides free legal and social services to detained adults and children under threat of deportation.

Team Brownsville also assists asylum-seekers in Brownsville, Texas, as well as those in camps just over the border, providing food, water, medical care and legal assistance.

No More Deaths provides water, food and first aid to migrants crossing the desert; they also help locate people lost in the desert and document the Border Patrol’s failure to do so.

News You May Have Missed: March 27, 2022

Ukraine” by Vranz-Toni is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

At first glance, there isn’t much to miss about Ukraine, which occupies our headlines and for many, our hearts. Given how overwhelming information can be, what we can offer is some directions:

Choose among the news:

The Washington Post has live updates on the war: We won’t try to reproduce these here, but you can click back day by day to see them unfold. The Post also has a newsletter you can sign up for.

The AP site has multiple updates daily and is not behind a paywall.

Mother Jones is trying to support one of the last surviving independent Russian newsrooms. You can donate via their page. Meduza, the newsroom, is still broadcasting, as its servers are based in Latvia.

While you are on Mother Jones’ page, look at Peter Turnley’s extraordinary photographs, documenting people going back to–and leaving–Ukraine.

Beware Disinformation

NewsGuard is tracking 140 Russian disinformation sites regarding Ukraine, and also debunks a variety of assertions about the war.

Mother Jones has a piece on leaked memos from the Kremlin which encourage Russian media to feature clips from Fox News, particularly Tucker Carlson.

Complicate the History:

For those of us in North America, the history behind Russia’s war on Ukraine may seem moot, given all that has happened. However, we have to understand something about how it evolved–or this kind of catastrophe will again be inevitable.

Keeping in mind the “the Holodomor”–the famine engineered by Stalin which killed 4 million Ukrainians in the 1930s–might illuminate the intense resistance of the Ukrainians to the Russian invasion. Vox has an explainer.

A few things that are easily missed:

The issue of Ukraine and NATO is not just an excuse for Putin to exercise his ambitions. The US has planned NATO’s expansion for decades. Declassified documents held by the The National Security Archive at George Washington University describe then-President Clinton leading Boris Yeltsin to believe that expansion was not on the agenda–when it always was.

Early on in the invasion, two thoughtful commentators–Zeeshan Aleem in MSNBC  and Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher of the Nation–pointed out that the US’s refusal to take Ukraine joining NATO out of the equation had predictable consequences. The US–and others–gambled that Putin would not invade Ukraine over the issue, Aleem points out, a gamble for which Ukrainians have paid with their lives and their country. Certainly Putin might have found another reason to invade. Certainly nothing excuses what he is doing now. But more methodical analysis was called for.

In addition, vanden Heuvel points out that Zelensky is not entirely blameless:  “President Volodymyr Zelensky promised voters when he ran for Ukraine’s presidency in 2019 that he would pursue a path to peace and end the war in the Donbas. Upon taking office, however, his government refused to implement the provisions of the 2015 Minsk Protocols—signed by Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany, and the EU—that essentially would have guaranteed Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity in exchange for Ukrainian neutrality,” she writes.

While this is over-simplified, vanden Heufel’s editorial suggests that Zelensky has not always been the hero he is cast as now and that he missed a significant opportunity for stability in Ukraine. The Minsk protocols would have provided for a path to peace between Ukraine and separatist areas, two of which Putin formally recognized on the 21st. The Washington Post offers an explainer on this issue.

Say the obvious: Nuclear war

You probably haven’t missed that Ukraine president Zelensky asked for–and then stopped asking for–a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Writing for Foreign Policy in Focus, Michael Zimmerman points out that nuclear war is a too-possible outcome of a no-fly policy.

Juan Cole reminds us that ordinary citizens and power plant workers got the stakes–when they blocked the Russian military from advancing on the access road to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

Note the silences:

Among them are the impact of the war–and sanctions–on everyday Russians. It is difficult to find this news in the US press; no one in the mainstream has remarked recently on their likely suffering; in mid-MarchBBC had a quick piece on how the price of milk has doubled in the last two weeks, along with the prices of laptops and basic consumer goods; the pull-out of major corporations is leading to massive job losses. The BBC quoted one Russian, whom it calls Natasha, on the upheaval in everyone’s life:”This is a completely new kind of crisis which makes us all feel lost and bewildered. Not just in business but in our own lives. The loss of income, having to give up a whole way of life, reduced connections, including on social media, and not being able to travel to see family and friends who live abroad. There are a lot of things we have already lost and haven’t yet fully understood.”

End the War:

Foreign Policy in Focus has some theories of what it might take to end the war, including Ukraine agreeing to neutrality.

Support Refugees:

As of March 19, one in four Ukrainians had been displaced from their homes, according to Slate; either they are internally displaced in that their homes have become too dangerous or were reduced to rubble, or they are refugees in transit or in a neighboring country. That number is surely higher today.

This strategy of bombing and dislocating civilians is entirely purposeful on Putin’s part, according to Foreign Policy in Focus; editor John Feffer believes that Putin has been counting on the tide of refugees to divide European countries, who would then back off from supporting Ukraine. As Feffer points out, European countries have embraced Ukrainians while rejecting refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere.

Note the disparity between the welcome of white Ukrainians and that of Ukrainians of color, as well as the wide and appropriate sympathy for Ukrainian refugees in contrast to that offered to refugees of color worldwide. As Mother Jones points out, while neighboring countries in Europe are stretching themselves thin to welcome Ukrainians, Syrians and others have been given no such welcome.

Writing for the Toronto Star, Robin Sears points out that Canada agreed to take only 40,000 Afghan refugees–and has only actually admitted 20% of that number. Certainly, he says, Canada should offer places to Ukrainians, as Trudeau says he will do. At the same time, the Canadian government has said it will not offer the settlement services to Ukrainians that it ordinarily offers to refugees–including access to health care, according to the CBC, which does not disclose why the government would be withholding these services.

And the US is refusing to admit Ukrainians without visas, even though it has given them temporary protection status. The earliest interview for a visa is in September, according to the Washington Post. That’s why Ukrainians flew into Mexico, which does not require a visa, and why some of them are dealing with being rejected at the US Southern border, under the Title 42 protocols we have commented on before. Time says, however, that many Ukrainians and Russians have been exempted from Title 42, allegedly because the US does not have the resources to send them all back!

Al Otro Lado, which has for years being doing support work for asylum-seekers on the border, says that thousands of Ukrainians and Russians are arriving there: “Right now there are families with small children, and persons who are elderly or have a disability, that are sleeping on the ground outside the US port-of-entry, and the streets of Tijuana, waiting to gain entry to the US after being turned away. Many of the asylum seekers do not speak any English or Spanish.” They are seeking volunteers–who need not speak Ukrainian or Russian; they will be guided by remote interpreters.

The absence of services and the refusal to admit Ukrainians without visas makes women and children especially vulnerable. Al Jazeera reported on the risk they face from traffickers in Romania–they appear to be offering help but are in fact intending harm. The Seattle Times reported on an initiative by former right-wing representative Matt Shea to organize the adoptions of Ukrainian children via an orphanage in Poland. But Shea refuses to provide information on how he knows the children are indeed orphans and who might adopt them, and the references he gives cannot be located by authorities. Shea’s alliances with right-wing, apocalyptic extremists are well known, the Daily Beast says.

OXFAM has a petition advocating for the human treatment of refugees, including those now being kept waiting on the US southern border.

Donate as you can:

See this page on The Cut (regularly updated–refresh often) for a summary of where things stand now and how you can help. In particular, see ways to assist Black and LGBT Ukrainians who are being turned away as they try to flee the country. 

Amnesty International is trying both to document human rights abuses and to assist civilians under fire.

Doctors Without Borders describes what they are doing in Ukraine: https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/countries/ukraine

The IFAW is aiding animals and people in Ukraine. The Humane Society International is also assisting people and their animals affected by the war.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) describes how it is providing food and other support for displaced Ukrainians inside and outside of the country.

UNICEF is supporting children in Eastern Ukraine.

World Central Kitchen is providing meals at border crossings out of Ukraine.

Al Otro Lado’s site contains a statement on the 2nd anniversary of Title 42, identifying its devastating effects.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

1. New drugs for high-risk COVID patients are approved: how to find them

Another monoclonal antibody, bebtelovimab, has been given emergency authorization for use among high-risk COVID patients, the New York Times reported on Friday; now there are four treatments that have been shown to be effective against the omicron variant, increasing supply. As we noted last month, effective FDA-approved treatments are in short supply; in another article, the Times noted that supplies of the Paxlovid pill are depleted in many locations and the GlaxoSmithKline antibody Xevudy, mostly used in hospitalized patients, is extremely hard to find. However, a federal database identifies where these treatments are available.

And Evusheld, a very promising protective treatment for immunocompromised patients–is likely to be available only to one-tenth of the number of patients who are eligible for it, as the US government ordered too few doses–a pattern of neglect, immunocompromised patients told CNN. However, immunocompromised patients report that persistence in advocating for themselves can result in the treatment they need, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. A database of Evusheld doses and whether they are already allocated can be found at this site. Rules for access to the drug varies region by region.

Bebtelovimab has been givem interim authorization by Health Canada, according to Abcellera, the Canadian company that produced it, and Health Canada has also–rather belatedly–approved Paxlovid. As of December 2021, Evusheld was still under review in Canada.

Just launched, the Biden Administration’s “Test to Treat” program may ease some of these challenges. According to CNN, designated pharmacy sites are supposed to have health care providers at hand who can prescribe antivirals; paxlovid for people 12 and older, and Merck’s molnupiravir are supposed to be available. The Times provided an update on March 25. Watch for a website to be up shortly. RLS

2. Devastating number of deaths from COVID in North American long-term care facilities

Earlier this month, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reported that 201,000 people living or working in long-term care facilities had died from COVID since the beginning of the pandemic. They note that this number is likely an undercount, since CDC data, on which their calculations were based, did not receive reports from all states on deaths in facilities other than nursing homes after July of 2021. In addition, the federal government only requires data from Medicare and Medicaid certified facilities, KFF notes.

In Canada, where 16,000 residents of long-term care facilities have died of COVID, according to the CBC, new standards for infection control in long-term care facilities have just been issued. (About 4,800 of these deaths were in Ontario, according to the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care COVID tracker.) According to Reuters, 35,231 people have died of COVID since the beginning of the pandemic–so nearly half were long-term care residents. This percentage (45%) is considerably lower than it was last March, when 69% of those dying of COVID in Canada were residents of long-term care, according to the CBC. Deaths from COVID in long-term care are falling because of vaccination campaigns among staff and residents, as well as stringent lock-down policies–though these may have contributed to the higher death rate from non-COVID causes, as residents lacked access to medical and family care. The new standards call for “single rooms with private bathrooms for long-term care residents, dedicated hand-hygiene sinks and better contingency plans for staffing shortages when “catastrophic” events occur.” Whether funding will be found to improve conditions in long-term care is yet to be seen. RLS

3. Middle-aged Black Americans also at disparate risk of COVID death

Though a great deal of justificable concern has surrounded the risks older people face from COVID-19, a researcher from U.C. Santa Cruz, Alice Riley, points out that Black people from 40-64 have continued to be at high risk. In an article published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. she and her co-authors explain that at the beginning of the pandemic, working-class Latinos/as were at very high risk from COVID-19 because of their life circumstances–front-line jobs, multi-generational housing–but because they were targeted for vaccination, their risk level dropped. By contrast, deaths among mid-aged Black people increased from 6 to 21%.

Despite these risks, conservative groups have mounted successful campaigns against allowing doctors to use race as a criteria in calculating patients’ risk of death or severe COVID 19. As the AP explained, America First Legal, a conservative law firm, filed suit against the state of New York for using race as a factor in its criteria for treatment, and warned Utah and Minnesota for doing so as well. Minnesota now uses a lottery to determine who gets scarce treatment. RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

4. It’s all over but the second thoughts

The “trucker” protest in Ottawa now seems increasingly absurd in the face of possible world war. Still, there is much to be unpacked. The Emergencies Act was used for the first time ever in response to the occupation of the country’s capital by truckers and others, according to the Toronto Star--permitting the trucks to be cleared and their drivers cited. What its use will mean for future protests is yet to be seen. This first use of the Emergencies Act has already been the subject of some critique. Matt Taibbi, writing in Substack, finds one aspect of the Act, freezing the bank accounts of anyone involved, quite chilling. Though the RCMP is apparently working with the finance minister to unfreeze the accounts, according to the Star, it sets a dangerous precedent.

Beginning to surface are the stories that did not make the headlines, such as this one in Spring, which describes how a small group of first 200 and then a thousand counter-protestors bloomed–and kept truckers away from the centre of Ottawa for seven hours. Others–perhaps not the dog-walkers, moms and seniors described in the Spring article–interrupted the truckers’ Zello channels with renditions of “Ram Ranch,” a raunchy gay cowboy song. #RamRanchResistance succeeded in shutting down the truckers’ communication channels, according to Rolling Stone.

Less heartening stories are also emerging. Some businesses had to close for three weeks–this after closures and losses due to the pandemic. Mask-wearing people and people of color were harrassed, even assaulted, as this story on CBC describes. Stories of what Ottawa residents endured during the protest and the dread that continues to beset them are beginning to be told, according to the Ottawa Citizen, with more surely to come. The lack of efficacy of police and politicans around the demonstration was striking, especially in contrast to the agressive actions provincial police and the RCMP have taken toward Indigenous and other social justice activists. A possible explanation is that the police were either sympathetic to the protest and/or outfoxed by strategists who knew how they worked. As the New York Times explains, “While the trucks themselves are the purported cause, symbol and tool of the protest, only a few of the self-proclaimed leaders are actually truckers. Some are, in fact, former police officers and army veterans who many believe have used their expertise to help organize the occupation.” Indeed, at least a dozen Ontario police officers donated to the protest, according to leaked documents obtained by the Toronto Star.

The degree to which the protest originated in the U.S. is not yet clear; certainly 44% of the funding came from the U.S., according to NPR, with the richest zip codes in the U.S. contributing the most, the Washington Post reports. Now a contingent of American truckers have set up camp in Maryland; Terry Bouton, associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, cautions against dismissing the trucker protest in the US; in an opinion piece for NBC News, he points out that the trucker convoy “has been a great success as a movement-building event for the far-right. And it should be taken seriously, despite its absurdities.” RLS

RESOURCES

News You May Have Missed: February 6, 2022

“BorderEncuentro2017_Day3_IMG_1343-1” by rawEarth is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Butterfly Center forced to close due to right-wing threats

The National Butterfly Center has been forced to close indefinitely as a result of false claims that it is a site used for human trafficking and illegal migration. Speaking with the Guardian, Marianna Treviño-Wright, the executive director of the National Butterfly Center, explained that these claims are not merely “conspiracies, they’re just outright lies. I think that’s a very important point that needs to be made. As long as they’re called ‘conspiracies,’ then it seems like there’s some plausibility.”

 False claims about the National Butterfly Center first rose when the Center opposed the building of Trump’s border wall, which would have devastated the preserve. The situation worsened significantly in late January, leading up to and during a “We Stand America” event along the border. Ominously, center employees were warned by event planners to be armed or out of town during the event. Brian Kolfage, founder of We Build the Wall (now facing corruption and fraud charges) has distributed photos of the Center’s dock with a raft labeled “inflatable raft used by sex traffickers to smuggle through the Butterfly Center” on right-wing media.  On January 21, the Center was visited by Republican extremist congressional candidate Kimberly Lowe, who was recorded demanding to see “illegals crossing on rafts” and claiming that Treviño-Wright was “OK with children being sex-trafficked, raped and murdered.” S-HP

If you are aghast at these falsehoods and threats, you can demand that the administration and Congress ensure adequate protection for the National Butterfly Center and cancel plans, still being legally contested, to build a border wall section through the Center. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your senators here and your representative here.

2. Mass deportations of asylum-seekers continuing under Title 42

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that Title 42 should remain in effect along the U.S.-Mexico border. As the Los Angeles Times explained in the fall, under Title 42, the U.S. border can be closed because of a “public health emergency,” and this closure supersedes all the usual rules governing border crossings, including those pertaining to asylum seekers. Normally, individuals crossing the border in order to seek asylum due to a credible threat of violence in their country of origin have the right to remain in the U.S.—either released or in immigration detention—until they are granted an asylum hearing. Ordinarily, the U.S. cannot return asylum seekers to their country of origin, where they may face life-threatening danger. Under Title 42, those crossing the border do not have a right to apply for asylum and can be immediately expelled. For those from Mexico and Central America, that expulsion generally means being forced back across the border into Mexico. Asylum seekers from other countries are generally being flown back to their country of origin. S-HP

3. Venzulans turned away at the border, sent to Colombia

The Biden administration is also using Title 42 to send Venezuelans to Colombia if they have ever resided in that country, according to the Washington Post. The Border Patrol stopped 24,819 Venezuelans from entering the country in December, 2021; in December 2020, 206 were stopped. The lack of services in that country, a precipitous drop in employment, violence, waves of evictions, and the effects of COVID-19 have devastated the social landscape; in one of the largest diasporas in recent history, 5.9 million people have fled the country, most of them going to Colombia or Peru–or to the US border.

Because most people in Venezuela have no formal rental agreements and no access to rental assistance, evictions and subsequent homelessness are endemic.  “No Home Away from Home,” a data visualization, details the devastating effects of evictions on families, most of whom are headed by women. It was produced by the Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V), with funding from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, which argues that the world community and aid organizations must focus on the cost of homelessness on children’s educations, families’ safety, health (especially in the pandemic), and access to food and water. RLS

You can demand an end to the use of the Biden administration’s use of Title 42 and to its willingness to put asylum seekers in danger, either by forcing them to remain in improvised camps on the Mexican side of the border or by returning them to the country they fled in an attempt to escape violence and social chaos. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence SW, Washington DC 20201, (877) 696-6775. @SecBecerra. Find your senators here and your representative here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

4. Major corporations advertise during the Olympics, ignore genocide against the Uyghur Muslims

Major corporations are advertising during the winter Olympics being held in China without acknowledging ongoing Chinese genocide against Xinjiang Uyghur Muslims. These companies include Coca-Cola, Intel, Airbnb, Procter & Gamble, and Visa. Many nations, including the U.S., have sent athletes, but not diplomatic representatives to the game as a protest against the Uyghur genocide. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is leading a campaign demanding that Olympics advertisers speak out against the genocide. It’s also worth knowing that Tesla recently opened a new showroom in Xinjiang, despite the ongoing genocide in the region. S-HP

5. Who are the protesting truckers–really?

The so-called “Freedom Convoy” of truckers opposed to the vaccine mandate is making Ottawa residents miserable. A judge has imposed a moratorium on honking, but with diesel exhaust pouring into their houses, protesters harassing them, even assaulting them on the streets, and the streets themselves in gridlock, life is not as they knew it. More alarming is Canada’s inability to deal with the invasion of trucks. Indicating that the situation is out of control, according to the CBC, Ottawa’s police chief Peter Sloly has declared a state of emergency, saying “This is a siege. It is something that is different in our democracy than I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network says that some of the truck protestors and those who support them have ties to the right-wing. They point out that a neo-Nazi was a featured speaker; the anti-immigrant group the Northern Guard was present; and that among the event’s supporters is the Diagolon network, which the Anti-Hate Network describes as “an accelerationist movement, which means they believe a revolution is inevitable and necessary to collapse the current system. It’s also rife with neo-Nazis.” Much has been made of Go Fund Me’s freezing of several million dollars raised for the protesters, but as the Washington Post points out, the group raised 3.5 million dollars in two days on a Christian fundraising site.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, most of whose members are vaccinated and not opposed to vaccination requirements, says that many of the people at the protest are not connected to the trucking industry, and Police Chief Sloly says that “a significant element” are Americans, according to the Washington Post.

If the police are overwhelmed, politicians seem paralyzed as well. Canada seems to have no trouble rooting out those who protested the G20 Summit in Toronto or preparing to shoot Indigenous people who have protested against pipelines through their territory–but it has seemed unable to act against the truckers. As Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation told Fort McMurray Today, the RCMP could surely use the legislation that was passed to prohibit protests against infrastructure, legislation aimed at the Indigenous protests. As Chief Adam put it, “My question to the premier is if the law does not apply here, then who does the law apply to? If it only applies to First Nations, then the premier and his caucus should do away with it altogether.”

The trucker protest has identified some of the fault lines in Canadian politics today. The Progressive Conservative (PC) party is split, with significant voices  in support of the protest, according to CTV.  Doug Ford, the Premier of Ontario who may run for the leadership of the PCs, finally spoke out against the protest after days of silence, the Toronto Star reported: “Asked about a rally that saw protesters dance on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, urinate on the National War Memorial, place signs on the Terry Fox statue, and brandish Nazi banners and rebel flags of the pro-slavery Confederacy,” Ford criticized the actions of “some individuals.” Prime Minister Trudeau, who was isolating after a positive COVID test, was also incommunicado until the 7th, when Trudeau finally appeared and called for unity across party lines. He declined, however, to call out the military. RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

6. Clean-up of abandoned oil and gas wells underfunded

A 2019 study indicated that the U.S. had a total of 56,500 abandoned oil and gas wells, but according to a survey released this year by the Department of the Interior (DoI), that number was too small by more than half. The number of abandoned oil and gas wells in the U.S. is actually 130,000, and those wells are spread across 30 U.S. states.

 The infrastructure legislation passed in November included $4.7 billion to restore and plug abandoned wells. By early January, twenty-six of the states with abandoned wells had registered their intent to apply for the infrastructure funds.

 However, those funds may be nowhere near enough. In a survey of 19,500 abandoned oil and gas wells by Resources for the Future, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology, the cost of simply plugging a well is around $20,000. If restoration as well as plugging is required, the median cost rises to $76,000. If all 130,000 wells required only plugging—an unlikely scenario—$4.7 billion would be more than sufficient. On the other hand, if restoration and plugging were needed for all those wells, $4.7 billion would be less than half the necessary funds. If we assume and average price for remediating abandoned oil and gas wells at around $48,000 (an off-the-cuff estimate based on our ability to add $20,000 and $76, 000, then divide by two, not a peer-reviewed datum), that $4.7 billion would cover remediation of approximately 75% of those abandoned oil and gas wells. S-HP

If you want to address this issue, you can tell the administration and your Congress members that while that $4.7 billion may seem like ample funding, it is almost certainly too little to solve the problem of abandoned oil and gas wells and call for additional funding. through the Center. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Deb Haaland, Secretary of Interior, Department of Interior, 1849 C St. NW, Washington DC 20240, (202) 208-3100. @SecDebHaaland. Find your senators here and your representative here.

7. Black women more likely to die of cervical cancer

Black women are one and a half times more likely to die of cervical cancer and more likely to have it diagnosed at a late stage, according to a report cited by NPR, which explained that lack of insurance, lack of sex education, and the “historic mistreatment of minorities at the hands of medical professionals” are at fault. The report, “We Need Access: Ending Preventable Deaths from Cervical Cancer in Rural Georgia,” was produced by the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Economic and Social Justice (SRBWI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW); the writers point out that if it is caught early, cervical cancer is 90% curable. Nonetheless, approximately 4,290 women died of cervical cancer in 2021, the National Cancer Institute estimated. A myriad of political choices contribute to the vulnerability of women in Georgia, the report points out; because Georgia refused to opt for Medicaid expansion, 255,000 Georgians are without health care. The number of OB/GYNs has dropped precipitously and 38 labor and delivery units have closed since 1994. 

Lack of access to medical care and sex education also deprives people in Georgia–particular those in predominantly Black rural areas–of access to the HPV vaccine, which protects against the HPV virus; only 50% of adolescents in Georgia have gotten it, even though pharmacists there can give it. In other US communities, parents’ refusal to allow their children to receive the vaccine, either because they do not believe the vaccine is safe, they do not think their children will engage in sexual activity, or they fear the vaccine will encourage them to do so. Since 2013, vaccine hesitancy around HPV vaccination has risen 200% in the US, according to the UPI. RLS

RESOURCES

The ACLU has a new page, updated weekly, on legislation affecting LGBTQ+ people.

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist this week has a series of encouraging notes. They also provide a list of other short, effective actions you can take.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

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

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

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

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

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

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: January 30, 2022

“Migrant graves at Holtville Cemetery – 5” by steev hise is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“No Olvidado” translates as “Unforgotten,” a reference to those who died, unnamed, in the desert. Though the news moves on, we do not intend to forget them–nor the children who died in the bombing of an innocent man outside his home in Afghanistan, nor those civilians who were killed by one of the 112,000 bombs dropped on ISIS targets.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Death in the desert: Unforgotten

We’ve become familiar with scenes of people in line, in detention, in camps at the border. But outside our view are those who die trying to cross–either while they are being chased by the Border Patrol or while they are walking across the desert without water. High speed chases led to 22 reported deaths of immigrants in 2021, reports the New York Times, a practice criticized by the ACLU. The organization provides a fact sheet on this subject, in which they point out that the information is often deleted or tampered with in official reports.  Customs and Border Protection also reported 700 “use of force incidents”–but did not report how many resulted in death. In one instance, a woman was shot in the back of the head while sitting in a patrol car. Though this woman survived, it is unknown how many people did not. Too often, families are never notified.

Countless immigrants have also died off the record, as No More Deaths / No Más Muertes has documented in the three-part report, Disappeared: How US Border Enforcement Agencies are Fueling a Missing Persons Crisis. The report details how border patrol agents have destroyed thousands of water bottles, chased people into difficult terrain and intervened in 911 calls. This story is not new; CNN produced a documentary, “No Olvidado”–Unforgotten–in 2019 on people who search for and bury the dead in the desert.

Beyond Borders describes the work of searching for people in Brooks County, Texas, and provides the names of organizations who do it. Among others, the local sheriff sponsors a recovery and rescue organization that in 2021 found 119 people in that county alone who had died in the desert. Forensic students from the University of Illinois  are returning to the area to search ranch land for missing people and build water stations: Among the many sorrows relatives endure are when their family members who die attempting to cross the border are buried in unmarked graves and never identified.  A documentary about families looking for their lost loved ones in the desert, “Missing in Brooks County,” is premiering January 31 on PBS.

2. Surveillance of journalists’ and activists’ phones continues

Journalists and human rights activists–along with the wife and fiancee of murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi–had their smart phones hacked by Pegasus Spyware, produced by the Israeli NSO group, the Post reported last summer. NSO leases its software to governments around the world, especially those with alarming human rights records. NSO itself was quoted as saying that its software is only supposed to be “deployed against terrorists and criminals. It says it operates ethically and monitors its clients for human rights abuses”; however, in other contexts it says that its software is set up so that it cannot see what users do with it.

The Post’s investigation built on the work of Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and Amnesty International, which turned their work over to a media consortium, now called The Pegasus Project. As the Post notes, among those targeted were “politicians, human rights workers, journalists, dissidents and family members of opposition figures.” The list of phones infected with surveillance software included journalists working overseas for “CNN, the Associated Press, Voice of America, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Le Monde in France, the Financial Times in London and Al Jazeera in Qatar.”

Last month, after an extensive investigation, Meta announced that some 50,000 Facebook users had also been surveilled using Pegasus–the report is posted online. As the Post explained, “Pegasus and other forms of spyware allow operators to remotely turn smartphones and other computers into surveillance devices capable of listening to calls and tracking user locations, as well as stealing photos, videos, contact lists and other files.” It can be downloaded into users’ phones without them being aware of it.
This is a long-standing issue; in 2018, Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, identified worldwide issues with Pegasus. Last month, Citizen Lab also identified another surveillance company, Cytox, noting that the iPhone 12 of a former Egyptian presidential candidate and opposition leader, Ayman Nour, was doubly infected with both Pegasus and Cytox software–it became apparent when the phone was running hot from the demands of both. RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

3. Civilian casualities–unacknowledged deaths

112,000 bombs were dropped by the US military on ISIS targets between 2014 and 2019, NPR reported recently. The problem, of course, is that though the military has the capacity to do precision targeting, it doesn’t–and indeed, it evades the protocols that would preserve civilian lives. As Dave Philipps, a correspondent covering the military for The New York Times, told NPR, a review of civilian casualties in 2018 revealed that whenever a secret unit called Talon Anvil was involved, more civilians died. Very often the incidents–and the number of deaths–went uninvestigated and undocumented.

Civilian deaths continue elsewhere. In September, we described the mistaken attack on a civilian family in Afghanistan. Through the Freedom of Information Act, the New York Times obtained drone footage of the attack. As Times reporter Azmat Khan told NPR in another story last week, the footage makes it absolutely clear what happened:  “He [Zemari Ahmadi] is doing his job. He’s picking up his boss’ laptop. He’s bringing it to where he’s supposed to bring it. He’s bringing water home to his family. And he’s pulling into his home, where his children and nieces and nephews are running to greet him – where the family told me and many other journalists that one of these little boys wants to help drive the car and gets into it with him. And they rush, they crowd him as he’s coming back. And then they’re all engulfed in flames.”

The errors, one general told Khan, consisted of “execution errors, confirmation bias and communication breakdowns.” Khan argues that civilian deaths are what led to the distrust of the American government and as a consequence, the resurgence of the Taliban. The deaths, she points out, go unrecorded. “They don’t show up in U.N. numbers. They don’t have death certificates. I verified many of these deaths through tombstones, going to graveyards that are just littered across the desert.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

4. New treatments for COVID-19

More treatments have become available for COVID-19, but accessing them is complex. The FDA notes that “Paxlovid, sotrovimab, Veklury (remdesivir), and molnupiravir…are expected to work against the omicron variant, and are authorized or approved to treat patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk for progression to severe disease, including hospitalization or death.” 

Pfizer’s oral antiviral Paxlovid is about 90% effective in preventing hospitalization and death–but only 30,000 courses of treatment have arrived in Canada, where only patients at the highest risk will have access to it, according to the Toronto Star. In the US, the government has bought enough Paxlovid for 20 million Americans; a course of treatment costs $530 per person but it is supposed to be free.  (A similar drug, molnupiravir, produced by Merck, works like Tamiflu, targeting the virus’s ability to replicate, according to Yale Medicine. It is less effective at keeping people out of the hospital than Paxlovid, as NPR reported in December.) The New York Times ran a first-person essay in which the writer–who covers COVID vaccines and treatments for the paper–(virtually) scours her mother’s neighborhood and beyond to fill a Paxlovid prescription, ending up paying an Uber driver to pick it up (so much for free).

Yet another drug, Evusheld, is very helpful for immunocompromised patients who are at risk if they get COVID, but there are so few doses that some hospitals are running lotteries to decide who gets it, according to NPR. This site can be used to locate doses of Evusheld; if you are immunocompromised. Dr. Vivian Cheung, who advocates for patients who need Evusheld, recommends that you get a letter now from your doctor that you are eligible for it and then contact the centers who have it repeatedly until you find it. 

CADTH, is a Canadian organization that collates information on evidence-based drugs for COVID–it is worth reviewing periodically.  Health and Human Services has an interactive map for those looking for monoclonal antibodies, which as we have described before are effective with patients with significant COVID symptoms–but because two of the combinations do not work against the Omicron variant, the FDA has withdrawn approval for those. The FDA recommends Paxlovid, sotrovimab, Veklury (remdesivir), and molnupiravir instead–as well as getting vaccinated and boosted. RLS

RESOURCES

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist this week has a series of encouraging notes. They also provide a list of other short, effective actions you can take.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

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

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

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

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

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

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: January 23, 2022

“Emergency room” by KOMUnews is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Building back bit by bit

So much depended on Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan–Medicaid coverage for new mothers, $35 insulin, tax credits for local newspapers and public housing repairs, CNN points out. The Biden administration’s climate change initiatives are locked up in the bill, Vox reminds us, and of course, the Child Tax Credit–which lowered poverty by 40% last year, the Washington Post reports. But Senator Joe Manchin opposes it–in part because higher income taxpayers are eligible for it. However, it was Republicans who insisted on the higher income limits, CNN reports–because their agenda was to lower taxes in general. Manchin is now insisting not only on an income cap but on a work requirement for parents or guardians to receive it, according to CNBC–thus excluding disabled parents or older grandparents raising children from receiving the credit and raising the obvious problem of what parents forced into the workplace would do about childcare. The dilemma is that Democrats have one shot at getting some version of Build Back Better through the reconciliation process, which only requires 50 votes. To do that, they have to figure out what Manchin will accept, since he holds that 50th vote.

The alternative is to break Build Back Better into chunks, which Biden alluded to in his speech January 19. However, any “chunk” not in the reconciliation package would require 60 fillibuster-proof votes–extremely unlikely in an evenly divided Senate. Biden’s calculation, then, will likely be to drop the Child Tax Credit in order to get anything else past Manchin. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has done the math on the kind hardship that will result. Among other calculations, they note that: “A mother with two children, one a toddler and one in elementary school, who works full-time at the federal minimum wage is currently receiving $6,600 in the Child Tax Credit. Without enactment of Build Back Better, that credit amount would fall by $4,800, to just $1,800.” RLS

2. Families separated at the border still suffering

Expect issues around the border to be a mid-term election issue, says the Hill. Republicans are persisting in identifying a “border crisis,” weaponizing people’s suffering. The real border crisis, some immigration activists say, is that “5,400 children are still separated from family and 1,150 are unaccounted for,” according to the Americans of Conscience checklist.  And families are still being separated–or dealing with the trauma of being separated. A study by Physicians for Human Rights found that nearly all the parents and children they interviewed expressed “feelings of confusion, general upset to severely depressed mood, constant worry/preoccupations, frequent crying, difficulty sleeping, difficulty eating (loss of appetite), recurring nightmares, and overwhelming anxiety. The asylum-seekers also reported physiological manifestations of anxiety and panic (racing heart, shortness of breath, and headaches) as well as experiencing “pure agony,” emotional and mental despair, hopelessness, and being ‘incredibly despondent’.” The settlement of a lawsuit by a number of families seeking financial compensation was scotched when it became a political hot potato; the Washington Post suggests that Biden can only compensate families if he is forced to do so by the courts.

Biden has certainly taken significant steps around immigration. He has raised the cap on the number of refugees who can be admitted to 125,000 for fiscal 2022–and, the Hill points out, the administration has “…refocused interior immigration enforcement, so that federal agents prioritize violent criminals and national security threats for deportation. They have ended mass workplace raids, and no longer use the “public charge rule” to make it harder for immigrants to apply for legal status.” The public charge rule had kept many immigrants–those whose children were citizens, for example–from accepting public benefits for fear that their own immigration applications would be denied. However, the Biden administration is still using Title 42 to justify deporting nearly everyone except unaccompanied children, and–having been forced to retain the Remain in Mexico policy–he has included Haitians in the immigrants who must wait there, living in poor conditions and at risk of kidnapping and assault, circumstances detailed by the Guardian. RLS

If you want to support the work of the Task Force Biden appointed to reunite families–which reunited 100 families in its first year–you can comment by the 25th. The Americans of Conscience checklist supplies the link and talking points.

3. Bittersweet victory: Surviving same-sex partners can receive Social Security benefits

At long last, long-term gay and lesbian partners who would have married if they could are eligible for Social Security survivor benefits, the New York Times reports. The Social Security administration dropped its opposition in response to a lawsuit brought by several members of long partnerships who either married too late to obtain benefits or were unable to marry at all; the suits were carried by Lambda Legal and other firms. Lambda Legal provides the guidelines for applying, which is still possible even if the partner died years ago. Ordinarily the surviving partner has to demonstrate that the relationship was a committed one, showing evidence of a shared home, a commitment ceremony, children, and so forth. Benefits can be retroactive. Social Security recommends that surviving partners apply right away. RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

4. Traumatic brain injury and domestic violence: “An invisible epidemic”

“About 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime,” according to the CDC

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) often follows from intimate partner violence; however, until recently, there was very little research on the issue; most of the research on traumatic brain injury involved men. Dr. Eve Valera, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard, has worked on this issue throughout her career; she was stunned to learn early on that of 99 survivors of intimate partner violence whom she interviewed, at least 75% of them had endured at least one TBI–and yet there was no awareness of it in the medical community or elsewhere. In a 2020 report, the Government Accountability Office also noted the need for–and absence of–more research.

Valera also has an entry on the Harvard Health Blog, in which she refers to the “invisible epidemic” of traumatic brain injury, writing “All that is required for someone to sustain a TBI or concussion is an alteration in consciousness after some type of external trauma or force to the brain. For example, either being hit in the head with a hard object (such as a fist), or having a head hit against a hard object (such as a wall or floor), can cause a TBI. If this force results in confusion, memory loss around the event, or loss of consciousness, this is a TBI. Dizziness or seeing stars or spots following such a force can also indicate a TBI. A loss of consciousness is not required, and in fact does not occur in the majority of mild TBIs.”

Last week, NPR interviewed a survivor they call only Freya Doe; she describes the circumstances in which the brain injury occurred and the consequences of it–the ongoing headache and light sensitivity, and ultimately some cognitive challenges. Another eloquent survivor’s story illuminates how surviving the initial assault is only the first step; dealing with subsequent symptoms and getting a diagnosis took years.

The work of Valera and others is summarized in the journal Head Trauma Rehabilitation, which also clarifies the sex differences in head trauma in general, from sports to military injuries. The Center on Partner-Inflicted Brain Injury at Ohio State University has recommendations and resources for those dealing with it. RLS

As the Harvard Health Blog advises, “If you or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner violence, The Hotline is a 24/7 support service that has a wealth of resources, including access to service providers and shelters across the US.”

5. How the health care system broke during COVID

That COVID has exposed the fault-lines in the health care system is no surprise–but the devilish details are important. A report on NPR’s On Point explains. Hospitals are run on razor-thin margins of 2% to 3%, while most businesses have a margin of 8-10%. Thus, emergency room staffing–for example–is very lean, with only exactly enough staff that the ER is expected to need. Any crisis can overwhelm it. Key to coping with this situation, says NPR’s source, Dr. Vivian Lee, is some kind of early warning system for infectious diseases, available through wastewater analyses. The shortage of hospital beds, she says, could be addressed by more home care, which is less profitable for hospitals but which could ease the stresses on hospitals and hospital staff. She also advocates a shift in incentives to preventative care, broadly defined. (Dr. Lee is the author of “The Long Fix: Solving America’s Health Care Crisis with Solutions that Work for Everyone.”)

And, as the New York Times explains, chronic and deliberate understaffing of nurses is a critical piece of the picture. Despite claims of a nursing shortage, there had not been one, nurses themselves say, but as an article in BMJ points out, understaffing before COVID hit meant that nurses were already in a burnout state when COVID began. Mandating nurse/patient ratios is one solution, but only California does that. RLS

RESOURCES

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist this week has a series of encouraging notes. They also provide a list of other short, effective actions you can take.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

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

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

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

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

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

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: January 16, 2022

“Martin Luther King, Jr. San Francisco June 30 1964” by geoconklin2001 is
licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Martin Luther King Day is behind us but the issues remain. Family members of Martin Luther King, Jr spent the weekend in Arizona rallying for voting rights. Martin Luther King III, his wife and their 13-year-old daughter spoke out about U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who will not vote to reform the fillibuster so that voting rights legislation can pass, according to ABC News. Sinema claims that the fillibuster fosters bipartisanship, so should not be undercut–an old and incorrect myth, according to Vox. Martin Luther King III has an editorial on CNN urging elected officials “to legislate, not celebrate.”

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Chess move in the House will force Senators opposed to voting rights legislation to go on record.

Back in March, the House passed H.R.1, the For the People Act. In fact, it also passed the For the People Act in the previous congressional session: we’ve been here before. In August, the House passed H.R.4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. H.R.1 would expand voter registration and voting access, limit the removal of voters from the rolls, and would require independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting. H.R.4 would reinstate limits on the changes those states with history of voting rights violations could make to voting rules. without approval of the Department of Justice (DoJ)

In an interesting move last week, the House passed additional voting rights measures by modifying H.R.5746, legislation originally intended to allow NASA to lease facilities to other companies or organizations. The original version of this legislation was passed by both the House and the Senate in December, but because the Senate version of the bill was authorized in different form than the House version, this legislation was returned to the House in order to reconcile the differences between the two. This time around, the House removed all NASA-related provisions from the bill, renamed it the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act and folded into it provisions of both H.R.1 and H.R.4 (details for this new version of the legislation are explained in this Business Insider piece.

As The Hill explains, the revised H.R.5746 now returns to the Senate, where—thanks to the Senate rules of procedure—Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can bring it to floor debate without needing the 60 votes required to block a filibuster. The legislation itself can still be, and no doubt will be, filibustered, but the filibuster can’t be used to prevent debate, allowing Congressmembers to go on the record regarding the legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Schumer has promised to bring voting rights legislation to the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, the first day the Senate will meet following the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. SH-P

You can urge your Senators to defend voting rights by supporting H.R.1, H.R.4, the revised H.R.5746, and the 24 pieces of election-related legislation that have been sitting idle in Senate committees. Find your Senators here. You can also thank Senate Majority Leader Schumer for—finally—focusing on voting rights and urge him to keep the issue before Congress using all possible means: Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader, 322 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6542.

2. Corporations support legislators who challenged the 2020 election and supported voting restrictions–after saying they wouldn’t

This time last year, corporate America was decrying the January 6 attack on the Capitol and declaring that lawmakers claiming attempting to overturn the 2020 election results would not be receiving their support. The New York Times notes that at a business summit last January, Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced in response to the attack, “There are some members [of Congress] who, by their actions, will have forfeited the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Period. Full stop.”

Two months later, continues the New York Times, the Chamber of Commerce had reversed course. In a memo, the chamber’s senior political strategist, Ashlee Rich Stephenson, stated, “We do not believe it is appropriate to judge members of Congress solely based on their votes on the electoral certification.”

 One hundred forty-seven Republican legislators (sometimes referred to as the “Sedition Caucus”) joined in the effort to challenge the 2020 election results. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has now published a comprehensive report looking at how those early-January promises have held up over the past year. The CREW report’s findings include the following

• One hundred forty-three of those 147 have received corporate donations totaling $18 million in the last year, with 717 corporations providing this support.

• $4.8 million of those donations came from corporations that had committed to stopping or pausing their support of Sedition Caucus politicians.

• Among the companies pledging not to support the Sedition Caucus, Boeing, Koch Industries, American Crystal Sugar, General Dynamics, and Valero Energy have made the largest donations to members of that group

• Toyota, Cigna, and AT&T were quickest to reverse course on a policy of not funding Sedition Caucus members.

The CREW report also includes a number of corporations pledged to stop making donations to politicians supporting state-level efforts to disenfranchise voters by limiting access to ballots, removing ballot drop boxes, purging voter rolls, and other means. The “pro-democracy” stances many of them took publicly disappeared as the U.S. returned to business as usual. These include Home Depot, JP Morgan, Delta Airlines, and UPS.

 Additionally, corporations who signed on to a full-page New York Times ad condemning discriminatory voting legislation—including Merck, American Airlines, Ford, General Motors, and Johnson & Johnson—continued to donate to politicians responsible for those laws.

If you are outraged by these corporations who pledged to support voting rights and then reneged, corporations who said they would not donate to the “Sedition Caucus” and then did, you can write to them and tell them what you think. Addresses are here.

3. Justices Unmasked

Last week, the Supreme Court heard—and supported via a 6-3 ruling—challenges to President Biden’s requirement that businesses with over 100 employees require those employees by vaccinated against COVID or that they undergo weekly testing to determine their COVID status. Six Supreme Court Justices attended the hearing and wore masks in response to the easily spread Omicron variant. One Justice—Neil Gorsuch—attended, but did not wear a mask. In non-pandemic times, Justice Sonia Sotomayor would have been sitting beside Gorsuch and Justice Breyer would have been sitting next to Sotomayor, but both chose to attend remotely, CNBC reports. Sotomayor is diabetic. At 83, Breyer is the oldest Justice on the Court. Diabetes and advanced age greatly increase the likelihood that an individual will be infected by COVID and that that infection will have severe consequences. We don’t know with certainty why Sotomayor and Breyer chose to attend remotely, but the fact that Gorsuch chose to be unmasked in a workplace situation where colleagues with COVID risk factors might have been present certainly may have played a role. S-HP

If you are appalled by Justice Gorsuch’s behavior, you can castigate him for his indifference to the health of his colleagues on the Supreme Court: Justice Neil Gorsuch, U.S. Supreme Court, 1 First St. NE, Washington DC 20543.

You can also urge Chief Justice John Roberts to insist that all Justices be required to mask during hearings: Chief Justice John Roberts, U.S. Supreme Court, 1 First St. NE, Washington DC 20543

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

4. All cities are sister cities

If you had any doubt that the people of the world are connected, the undersea volcanic eruptions of the coast of Tonga January 15th and 16th should persuade you. From the resulting tsunami, harbors (and cars parked near them) were swamped on the California coast while at least two people died in Peru, 6,000 miles away, caught by high waves. The people of Tonga have sent out a desperate plea for fresh water and food, Al Jazeera reports, as the water supply has been contaminated. Frantic family members outside the country have be unable to find out how their loved ones are faring, according to the New York Times. Ascertaining conditions there has been difficult, as the country’s communication lines were destroyed in the first eruption and the ashy haze limits visibility. NBC News has before and after aerial photos that illuminate what the country looks like today, compared to the period before the eruption. RLS

5. Canada finally settles with Indigenous children

The Canadian government–under a court order–has finally agreed to stop fighting Indigenous children who were or will be removed from their homes between April 1, 1991 and March 31, 2022, and agreed to compensate them, according to the CBC. Some 200,000 children and some parents and guardians will be eligible for compensation. For 15 years, the government has been refusing to compensate Indigenous children who were pulled from their homes and put into the foster care system, effectively severing them from their communities and their culture since there are very few Indigenous foster homes. In general, Indigenous children are removed from their homes for reasons related to poverty–inadequate housing and food–but instead of supporting families with basic needs, child welfare authorities have apprehended children and put them into foster homes, a costly solution that reproduces the trauma of residential schools. As the CBC quoted Assembly of First Nations Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse as saying, “First Nations from across Canada have had to work very hard for this day to provide redress for monumental wrongs against First Nation children.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

6. New patent-free COVID vaccine

Patent battles over mRNA COVID vaccines—such as the one between Moderna and the National Institutes of Health—assume that vaccine manufacturing is a for-profit industry. The Guardian reports that at Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine, Drs. Maria Bottazzi and Peter Hotez are taking a different approach using simpler, decades-old technology to develop a simpler-to-produce vaccine. Their COVID vaccine requires only standard refrigeration, unlike vaccines that must be kept in ultra-cold storage. This new vaccine is already in production in India.  Bottazzi and Hotez’ research, which has not received government funding, has been funded via philanthropy, and the scientists have announced that they do not intend to patent the vaccine. The simpler production and storage of their vaccine, along with open access to the formula and means for producing it, should greatly improve developing nations’ ability to fight COVID. S-HP

You can thank Drs. Bottazzi and Hotez, and their coworkers and donors, for their work on this basic, affordable vaccine : Dr. Maria Bottazzi, Texas Children’s Hospital, 6621 Fannin St., Houston, TX 77030. Dr. Peter Hotez, Texas Children’s Hospital, 6621 Fannin St., Houston, TX 77030

RESOURCES


To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist urges you to contact your Senators and try to persuade them to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. They have a list of other short, effective actions you can take.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

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

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

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

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

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

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: January 6, 2021

“December 10 march for voting rights” by Michael Fleshman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We’re doing a mid-week issue–instead of Sunday & Sunday–to mark January 6. We know you won’t have missed all the news and commentary, but we will flag a few pieces here that are worth looking at. In addition, we note that Democrats are trying to use the anniversary to energize their ranks around voting rights, as NPR points out. They seem determined to advance their big election package, which in our view is doomed to fail. Instead, as we noted December 19, we think they should they should advance smaller pieces that are more likely to advance. To that end, we’ve been tracking 91 pieces of proposed federal election legislation. Since early October, when we posted the database, none of them has changed status; most of them have been in stasis for longer than that. Unsurprisingly, according to NBC News, Mitch McConnell says it is “distasteful” that Democrats are pivoting new voting rights legislation on the anniversary, describing them as “breaking the Senate.”

Instead of watching news clips again, we recommend that you check out the virtual vigil (starting at 6 PM PST), sponsored by Fix Democracy First, the League of Women Voters of Washington and Seattle Supports Democracy. You could also read the New York Times editorial, “Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now,” that summarizes their view of the state of things; it has a number of excellent interior links, including to Rebecca Solnit’s essay on gullibility and complicity. On Slate, Jeremy Stahl summarized the status of all 733 criminal prosecutions stemming from the insurrection. Short version: “Jan. 6 defendants have been sent home to await trial at a far greater rate than the rest of the federal jail population in 2019”; they have received lighter sentences as well. Heather Cox Richardson’s overview on January 2 was extremely useful; she will no doubt have important commentary later tonight as well.

Finally, to strengthen your heart, watch Amanda Gorman’s new year’s poem. Start at 3:00 to avoid the banter.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Voting rights threatened by 262 bills in 41 states

Over the past year, States United Democracy Center (SUDC), a coalition of voting rights organizations, has been tracking attempts in U.S. states to limit voting rights, politicize election administration, criminalize certain election decisions that could previously made by non-partisan election administrators, and interfere in other ways with election administration. As of December 15, 2021, SUDC had identified a total of 262 bills—across 41 states—placing new limits on voting rights or election administration. Nine states have had no such legislation introduced. Twenty-eight states have seen 1-5 pieces of such legislation introduced. Six states have seen 6-10 pieces of such legislation introduced. Seven states have seen 11 or more such legislation introduced. Overachievers in introducing such legislation include Texas (59 new laws proposed), Arizona (20), Wisconsin (19), Georgia (15), and Michigan (14).

 Thirty-two of those 262 bills—across 17 states—have now become law. In Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas state legislatures have taken control of election oversight. In Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas, legislatures have imposed criminal or other penalties for decisions made by election administrators. In Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas have passed legislation that places new limitations on the minutiae of election administration. Overachievers here, with passed legislation in all three categories are Kansas, Tennessee, and Texas.  Texas, an overachiever’s overachiever in the area of election manipulation has just instituted a new version of a program that had been stopped by a judge in 2019. Under this program, explains the Guardian, the Texas Secretary of State provides counties with lists of voters whose citizenship they must verify or from whom they must demand proof of citizenship. While the process by which these lists are assembled is not completely clear, about 12,000 voters have received these demands since September. Voters who are subsequently contacted by county officials are given 30 days to provide proof of citizenship or be removed from voter rolls. The Guardian quotes Thomas Buser-Clancy, a senior staff attorney with the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who said his organization was trying to understand why eligible voters were being flagged, because “something is not going right…. Even if your system flags one eligible voter and threatens to remove them, that’s a problem. If you have hundreds, and if you add it up across counties, you’re probably getting to thousands of eligible voters, being threatened with removal.” Depending on issues with mail delivery, locating documents, and time constraints that can affect provision of these documents to officials, there will almost certainly be a “percentage of people who are going to be removed from the rolls even though they’re eligible voters.” S-HP

If you want to protect the right to vote, you could highlight the anti-democratic legislation being passed on the state level and insist on consistent protections for all voters in federal elections and for all state and local officials administering federal elections. Contacts are here.

2. Members of Congress refuse to work with Ethics Committee

The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) of the U.S. House of Representatives describes itself as “an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the U.S. House of Representatives and, when appropriate, referring matters to the House Committee on Ethics.” Established in 2008, the OCE’s first investigations were conducted during 2009-2010. That year, the OCE undertook 68 investigations. In three of those investigations (just over 4%) lawmakers refused to work with the OCE and to provide requested information. This year, while the OCE is conducting many fewer investigations—just fourteen—six law makers, representing 43% of those investigations have refused to participate. In the New York Times, the head of the OCE explains the reduction in the number of investigations to a commitment to focusing on the cases that are potentially most serious. This could help explain the higher level of non-cooperation, but given that the OCE is nonpartisan significant non-cooperation is problematic. S-HP

If you find congressmembers’ refusal to work with the Committee on Ethics rather appalling, ask your Representative whether they are aware of the increasing pattern of non-cooperation with OCE investigations and insist that they commit themselves to cooperating with the OCE should the situation arise. Find your Representative here

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

3. Legislation needed to address the intensifying crisis in Myanmar/Burma

Let’s start by noting that Burma and Myanmar mean essentially the same thing, as PBS explains. Most of the world refers to the nation as Myanmar, rejecting the name Burma, which is associated with British colonialism. The U.S. tends to refer to the nation as Burma, because the change to Myanmar in 1989 was instituted under the military dictatorship. Arguments can be made for and against both names. We raise this point just to clarify the difference between news reporting on the nation (Myanmar) and Congressional legislation regarding the nation (Burma). For want of a better solution, we will refer to the nation as Myanmar/Burma.

 After very gradual steps toward democracy, on February 1, 2021, Myanmar/Burma was once again subjected to military rule following a coup justified by claims that the most recent national election has been riddled with fraud (sound familiar?). Before the coup, the human rights situation in Myanmar/Burma was already grim for the country’s Rohingya Muslims, who were being attacked and killed by the nation’s non-Muslim majority with no resistance from the democratic government led by San Suu Kyi. The military coup has not lessened the violence against Rohingya Muslims; instead it has led to broader violence against a wider range of civilians.

The Washington Post, using analysis 300+ videos and photos, announced in late December that the town of Thantlang was subjected to bombing, arson, and murder of civilians beginning in September, 2021, because of refusals to cooperate with the military coup. One day after the Washington Post’s announcement, the New York Times reported the killing of a group of at least 35 villagers in another part of the country, who had fled their homes to avoid fighting between the military and civilian resistance. The military acknowledge the attack, but characterized it as a defensive manoeuvre and denied accusations that it had burned buildings and bodies following the killings. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates 1,393 civilians killed by the military and another 8,344 arrested, charged and/or sentenced. Follow-up reporting by the New York Times described the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar/Burma. The military are blocking aid convoys, deaths due to lack of medical assistance are increasing, and some 30,000 people have fled the country as refugees in the last few months.

 The U.S. Congress is considering four pieces of legislation that attempt to address the military coup in Myanmar/Burma. H.R.1112, the Protect Democracy on Burma Act requires State Department reporting to Congress on U.S. efforts to engage with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to support a return to Democracy in the nation and to hold those responsible for the coup accountable in the United Nations. This legislation has passed the House and is now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The BURMA Act (H.R.5497 in the House; S.2937 in the Senate) would authorize humanitarian assistance and efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Myanmar/Burma, as well as the imposition of sanctions against those responsible for the coup. H.R.5497 has been assigned to four committees in the House. The Committee on Foreign Affairs has ordered the legislation reported. It is still in committee with the Judiciary, Financial Services, and Ways and Means Committees. S.2937 is with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The final piece of legislation in this group, H.R.6340, To Establish the United States Policy on Burma in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group, and the Asian Development Bank, would do as the title suggests and make it clear to each of the organizations listed the U.S. policy does not support recognition of the military government. This legislation is with the House Financial Services Committee.

Charity Navigator lists a number of organizations working in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis and includes its rankings on the effectiveness of each organization’s use of funds.S-HP

You can engage with and push forward these legislative actions–information is here.

4. Canadian government at last required to address contaminated water in Indigenous communities

At long last, the Canadian government has been forced into a settlement with Indigenous communities over undrinkable water. The Federal Court of Canada has approved the government’s plan to spend $6 billion (Canadian) to develop water infrastructure and another $1.5 billion to compensate 140,000 Indigenous Canadians for decades of unsafe water, the New York Times reported. Water in First Nations communities has been contaminated with bacteria and with toxics, leading to gastrointestinal illnesses and cancer.

As Human Rights Watch wrote in 2016, though hundreds of communities have been under “boil water” advisories for decades, boiling is not feasible for all household uses, and so community members have suffered with skin disorders from the water–or the chemicals used to clean it. The lack of water infrastructure has contributed to the lack of housing in First Nations communities, as housing cannot be built with inadequate provision for water, Human Rights Watch further explained, noting that the problems with drinking water had been noted as early as 1977, and had been serious for decades before that. I

In November 2021, a report commissioned by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) on water and wastewater systems in First Nations’ communities found that there were 99 communities currently under “boil water” advisories, some for as long as 25 years. The report identifies various sources of the problem–extractive industries located near water sources (or communities relocated near extractive industries, such as uranium mining; lack of funding for infrastructure; lack of involvement of Indigenous people; lapses in government responsibility. The report also notes the particular impact of contaminated water on First Nations people, who are culturally mandated to protect water; as the writers note, “From an indigenous worldview, water is considered to be the lifeblood of Mother Earth, a sacred gift from the Creator that connects all things, and a spiritual resource that must be respected, kept clean, and protected for the future generations of all life.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

5. Over half a century of damaging nuclear waste yet to be safely stored

The Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington contains 54 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste held in 177 underground storage sites. This waste began being produced during the Manhattan Project that led to U.S. development of a nuclear bomb. At one point, the site included nine nuclear reactors and twelve plutonium processing complexes. More than 60,000 U.S. nuclear weapons have been built using plutonium processed at Hanford. At the end of the Cold War, the plutonium production complexes were decommissioned, but at that point the site held the high-level liquid waste mentioned above, as well as 25 million cubic feet of solid radioactive waste.

The Hanford Nuclear Site is located along the Columbia River, which was used to cool reactor-produced heat, and where–from the beginning of production at the site–radioactive waste, cleaned of short-lived isotopes, but still containing long-lived isotopes, was released. In the 1960s, the U.S, Public Health Service published reports regarding this radioactive waste, which was exposing those living downstream to elevated doses of radiation that placed them at increased risk for various cancers and other diseases. Decades of litigation and remediation proposals have followed.

The U.S. Department of Energy is in the process of planning retrieval and treatment of 2,000 gallons of this radioactive waste as a next step in clean-up efforts. This sounds good, but the latest version of this proposal—Draft Waste Incidental for Reprocessing (WIR) Evaluation for Phase 2 of the Test Bed Initiative (TBI)—is now opened for public comments, and Columbia Riverkeepers is pointing out several crucial unknowns in this proposal and is asking that the public submit comments on these.

◉The plan does not, and needs to, provide plans to deal with potential health and environmental issues that may arise off-site.

◉The process being used, grouting, is unpredictable with the possibility of rapid leaks where the grouting does not set as planned. The plan does not discuss how grout stability will be monitored to identify and prevent such leaks.

◉The plan depends upon waste currently classified as High-Level Waste to Low-Level Waste, a power the Department of Energy does not have.

◉The plan would increase soluble tank wastes by 70% and states that some of this waste would be sent to off-site facilities in other states—which are under no obligation to accept this waste.

◉The draft Environmental Assessment for the plan received comments from solicited groups, but the general public did not have an opportunity to comment at this point in the plan’s development. S-HP

If you want to engage with this issue, you can join Columbia Riverkeepers in asking that Energy address these key safety and environmental concerns: (1) the accountability of offsite grouting and disposal facilities, (2) the efficacy of grout, (3) Energy’s unacceptable attempt to reclassify High Level Waste to Low Level Waste, (4) the possibility of orphaned waste on site, and (5) the lack of public engagement throughout the TBI environmental review process• Jennifer Colborn, HMIS, P.O. Box 450, H6-60, Richland WA 99352 [Note, you can also submit online comments to https://bit.ly/hanford-2022 or via the Columbia Riverkeepers web site]

6. New option for HIV prevention

In 2018, 78 percent of HIV diagnoses among cisgender women in the US were among Black women and Latinas, reports Heather Boerner, writing in Web MD. However, among those who most could benefit from medication for HIV prevention–known as Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP–those who take it are most likely to be white. The disparity is acute: in 2018, 16 percent of white people at risk of acquiring HIV had prescriptions for PrEP, while only 1 percent of Black people did, and 3 percent of Latino/as. Many fewer women for whom the drug regimen would be appropriate take it. Some of the disparity is caused by class issues, Boerner points out; people with insurance can get prescriptions and deal with the cost, while poorer people have to depend on community organizations to get grants and then to target the medications appropriately. 

Apretude, a new drug, which is given as a shot every two months, was approved by the FDA on December 20. It is approved for people of all genders and sexual orientations, teenagers as well as adults. The shot, however, is expensive, and various levels of reimbursements–especially for low income people–have yet to be approved. Apretude has not yet been approved in Canada (or anywhere outside the US), though a generic PrEp has been, making the drug more affordable. RLS

RESOURCES

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist urges you to contact your Senators and try to persuade them to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. They have a list of other short, effective actions you can take.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

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

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

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

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

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

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: December 19, 2021

“December 10 march for voting rights” by Michael Fleshman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Voting rights legislation needs traction

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that 2021 was a very bad year for election integrity in the U.S.—not because of any actual election fraud, but because disinformation about election fraud has provided an excuse for gaming election laws for partisan (Republican) advantage. In an end-of-the year report, the Guardian cites what it sees as top threats to U.S. electoral system: the injection of partisanship into “under-the-radar election jobs; attacks on election officials; partisan campaigns for secretary of state positions; and the lingering distrust in elections that, for different reasons, has significantly affected both of the U.S.’s major political parties. We can all think of concerns that need to be added to this list: partisan redistricting; limits on accessible voting practices, like voting from home, weekend and evening voting, ballot drop-boxes, and drive-through polling sites.

 Coverage of voting rights seems to have been superseded in the mainstream media by reporting on Build Back Better, which Senator Joe Manchin has subjected to death by 1,000 cuts. Yes, a humane economy that recognizes the costs of the climate crisis and that provides healthcare, childcare, and other protections for working families is essential; however, if our electoral system is derailed, we may not have another chance to consider such legislation.

We’ve been tracking 89 pieces of proposed federal election legislation (now 91). Since early October, when we post the database, none of them has changed status; most of them have been in stasis for longer than that. H.R.1, the For the People Act, was passed by the House in March; it has not yet been assigned to a Senate committee. H.R.4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, was passed by the House in September; it has not yet been assigned to a Senate Committee. Unfortunately, neither H.R.1 nor H.R.4 is apt to make it through the Senate, which raises the question of why more pieces of less-sweeping election legislation haven’t made it through the House. Logic would suggest that the more election legislation passed by the House, the more opportunities Senate Majority Leader Adam Schiff would have to assign such legislation to committees and ultimately to place such legislation on the Senate calendar, forcing repeated Republican votes against fair, secure elections—votes that could be cited in 2022 election campaigns. 

We have added a new topic to our database of election legislation: Stop Foreign Interference in Ballot Initiatives Act (S.3136 in the Senate; H.R.1516 in the House). Not originally included in our database, the bill would make it illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to contribute funds to state or local ballot initiatives or local ballot referenda. These pieces of legislation have their origin in a 2018 Montana Ballot initiative that would have strengthened water protections. A Canadian subsidiary of an Australian company—involved in resource extraction, sales, and processing—contributed significantly to the campaign against this initiative, which ultimately failed by 58%. Foreign entities are barred from contributing to campaigns for elected offices; this legislation would provide similar protections for ballot campaigns regarding topics other than elected offices. S-HP

To protect the vote, you could urge President Biden and your Congressmembers to move voting rights to the top of their legislative agenda and explain that you want to see ballot initiatives given the same protections from foreign financial interference that elections for political office currently have. You could also suggest to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer that they do all they can to support the movement of additional election legislation through the House, even if it is less-sweeping than H.R.1 and H.R.4. Finally, you could exhort Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to keep placing voting rights on the Senate calendar whenever possible. All addresses are here.

2. Legislation to address Islamophobia

This week the House passed H.R.5665, the “Combatting International Islamophobia Act,” which would create an office within the Department of State charged with monitoring and combatting international acts of Islamophobia. H.R.5665 would also establish the position of Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Islamophobia to head this office. It would also require that reports to Congress about human rights and religious freedoms in other countries include information on Islamophobia. H.R.5665 is now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP

You can check on how your representative voted on H.R.5665 and respond appropriately. Find your Representative here. You can also urge swift, positive action on H.R.5665 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and ask your Senators to actively support this legislation: Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 423 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20519, (202) 224-4651. @SenatorMenendez. It’s time to object again to the proposed sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and urge your Congressmembers to support these resolutions: President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your Senators here.

3. Remaining in Mexico–Still and again

Ordered by a federal court, the Biden administration has reluctantly reinstated Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which has meant that tens of thousands of asylum applicants have been waiting over the border in filthy, unsafe conditions for months. Many of these are parents who sent their children ahead into the US and have been living in the faint hope that their asylum applications will be granted so they can reunite with their children, the Guardian reports. 13,000 children unaccompanied by their parents are currently in government custody; about 500 a day are released to family members or sponsors in the US.

The flaws in the new program are already evident; Buzzfeed points out that while immigrants who are particularly vulnerable for reasons having to do with a medical condition or sexual/gender identity are not supposed to be required to wait in Mexica, but two dozen or so were sent anyway. Other people sent to Mexico report that they have been asked to sign documents in English that they could not read and were mocked in hearings that were supposed to assess their “credible fear,” according to the Washington Post. RLS

A number of volunteer organizations provide aid to asylum seekers at the border. Team Brownsville provides support to people in Brownsville, Texas or on the bridge between Brownsville and the camp in Matamoros. The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers in the Matamoros camp. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted. Al Otro Lado provides assistance to people on either side of the border near Tijuana.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

4. Arms are still being sold to Saudi Arabia

We’ve reported previously on U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite its role in the civil war in Yemen and its horrific record on human rights. While the administration claims that any weapons being sold to the Saudis are purely defensive, not offensive, given the destructive capacity and the range of the weapons being sold to the Saudis, this distinction seems more like clever wordplay than an actual difference in the potential uses of the weaponry.

S.J.Res.31, “Providing for Congressional Disapproval of the Proposed Foreign Military Sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of Certain Defense Articles” (currently with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), and H.R.Res.63, “Providing for Congressional Disapproval of the Proposed Direct Commercial Sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of Certain Weaponry and Munitions” (currently with the House Foreign Affairs Committee), both introduced in November, would bar these sales.  What’s unusual here, as GovTrackInsider points out, is the team behind these resolutions: the Senate resolution’s sponsor is Rand Paul (R-KY); the House resolution’s sponsor is Ilhan Omar (D-MN). In other words objecting to weapons sales to the Saudi is one of those rare topics that has supporters on both sides of the aisle. S-HP

It’s time to object again to the proposed sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and to urge your Congressmembers to support these resolutions: President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your Senators here and your Representative here.

You can also urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take swift, positive action on S.J.Res.31: Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 423 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20519, (202) 224-4651. @SenatorMenendez. In addition, you can advise the House Foreign Affairs Committee to take swift, positive action on H.R.32: Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2170 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5021. @RepGregoryMeeks.

5. Canada’s new defense minister apologizes to assault survivors

The new head of Canada’s armed forces issued an apology to the women and men who were sexually assaulted while in the military. As many as 19,000 claims alleging sexual assault have been filed, according to the Toronto Star; these are consolidated in a massive lawsuit which was settled recently. Claimants can request up to $155,000 in damages as well as restorative justice, a process in which they will discuss their experience with senior officials. In her formal apology last week, new Defense Minister Anita Anand said, ““I apologize to the thousands of Canadians who were harmed because your government did not protect you, nor did we ensure that the right systems were in place to ensure justice and accountability.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

6. One monoclonal antibody works against Omicron

Previously we’ve reported on the recommendation that people who contract COVID and have symptoms–but are not hospitalized–should request monoclonal antibodies, a verified treatment for COVID that tends to go underused. At one infusion clinic in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, fewer than 100 treatments were given in November, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which speculates that patients either did not know about the treatment or associated it with Donald Trump, who was administered the drug along with discredited treatments such as hydroxychloroquine.

If they are given within 10 days of coming down with COVID, most monoclonal antibodies are effective against the Delta variant. However, only one–sotrovimab–works against Omicron, according to the Public Health Emergency (PHE) website of Health and Human Services, which has arranged for 55,000 new doses to be sent out for use among the highest risk individuals. Doses should arrive on Tuesday. Given that Omicron multiplies 70 times faster in human respiratory tissue than the Delta variant, as NPR reports, a treatment that had been underused may soon be in short supply. RLS

7. Biden didn’t have to auction leases after all

In our November 21 issue, we noted that the Biden administration had been forced by a court ruling to auction off 80 million acres of new oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time, White House press secretary Jen Paski was cited by CNN as explaining, “We’re required to comply with the injunction; it’s a legal case and legal process. But it’s important for advocates and other people out there to understand that it’s not aligned with our view, the President’s policies or the executive order that he signed.” 

However, as the Guardian now reports, the Administration did not have to move to immediate sales of leases following the court ruling—and the Justice Department had, in fact, produced a memo explaining that immediate auctions were not necessary. The Guardian cites language from that memo: “While the order enjoins and restrains (the department of) interior from implementing the pause, it does not compel interior to take the actions specified by plaintiffs, let alone on the urgent timeline specified in plaintiffs’ contempt motion.” In other words, while the court ruling obviated the Biden Administration’s pause on new leases, it did not eliminate the many other procedures and regulations affecting these sales—for example full environmental review prior to the lease sales. S-HP

You can express your disappointment about both to the new lease sales that contradict Biden’s campaign promise and the Biden administration’s disingenuousness in claiming these sales were unavoidable. You can also demand a clearer, stronger commitment to addressing the climate crisis by using all means available to delay or prevent further sales of oil and gas leases.

President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW.. Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS; Deb Haaland, Secretary of Interior, Department of Interior, 1849 C St. NW, Washington DC 20240, (202) 208-3100. @SecDebHaaland; Merrick Garland, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20530-0001, (202) 514-2000.

RESOURCES

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist urges you to contact your Senators and try to persuade them to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. They have a list of other short, effective actions you can take.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

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

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

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

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

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

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.

News You May Have Missed: December 12, 2021

“At the Hospital” by courosa is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It’s hard to avert our eyes even momentarily from the twin catastrophes that voting rights and reproductive rights appear to be at the moment, but Congress is considering a great many issues beyond those. Critical legislation–including around children’s health–is stuck in Congress. See our summaries below–and our notes about how you can intervene.

From the House to the Senate–and then?

Here are summaries of seven pieces of legislation passed by the House that are now with the Senate—most of which shouldn’t be controversial, even in our fractured Senate. If you want to raise this issue with your Senators, addresses follow. S-HP

1.  H.R.5551: the Improving the Health of Children Act

This legislation reauthorizes funding for researching and preventing, birth defects, developmental disabilities, and other conditions and for education on the role of folic acid in preventing birth defects. This legislation is currently with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee.

2. H.R.5561: Early Hearing Detection and Intervention

This legislation reauthorizes programs and services that support screening and early intervention for newborns, infants, and young children who are deaf or hard of hearing. This legislation is currently with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee.

3. H.R.5487, the SHINE for Autumn Act

This legislation awards grants for data collection on stillbirths, provides education/awareness materials on stillbirths, creates a fellowship program for postgraduate training on perinatal autopsy, and supports research on stillbirths. This legislation is currently with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee.

4. H.R.3894, the CARING for Social Determinants Act

This legislation requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to regularly update guidance for states on socioeconomic determinants of health under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This legislation is currently with the Senate Finance Committee.

5. H.R.1155, the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act

This legislation imposes trade restrictions on China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region, where China is engaged in genocide—as determined by both the U.S. and international human rights organizations—against the region’s Muslim population. It would also impose sanctions for these human rights violations. This legislation has not yet been assigned to a Senate committee.

6. H.R.5720, the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act

This legislation requires regular reporting on and dissemination of financial disclosure statements of federal judicial officers. This legislation has not yet been assigned to a Senate committee.

7. H.R.5314, the Protecting Our Democracy Act

This legislation addresses abuses of presidential power and creates new checks and balances, accountability, and transparency requirements through multiple measures, including placing limits on presidential pardon powers; suspending the statute of limitations on federal offenses committed by a sitting president or vice-president; clarifying Office of Government Ethics and Office of Special Counsel’s jurisdiction and enforcement powers; authorizing actions to support Congressional subpoenas; requiring the Department of Justice to maintain a log of contacts between it and the White House; increasing whistleblower protections; penalizing political appointees who engage in prohibited political activities; requiring federal campaign reporting of foreign contacts; prohibiting the provision of non-public information to political campaigns by foreign entities; and requiring release of Presidential and Vice-Presidential tax returns for the ten most recent tax years. This legislation has not yet been assigned to a Senate Committee.

For all these pieces of legislation, urge support from your Senators: Find your Senators here.

For legislation not yet assigned to Senate committees (H.R.1155, H.R.5729, H.R.5314), ask the Senate Majority Leader to expedite committee assignments: Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader, 322 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6542. @SenSchumer.

For legislation with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee (H.R.5561, H.R.5487, H.R.5551), urge swift, positive action: 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.

For legislation with the Senate Finance Committee (H.R.3894), urge swift positive action: Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chair, Senate Finance Committee, 221 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-5244. @RonWyden.

Spinning our Wheels: Legislation stalled in the House

The twelve pieces of legislation listed below are all with the House, but appear to have stalled out at either being assigned to a committee or being brought to a floor vote. S-HP

1. H.R.1218, the Data Mapping to Save Mom’s Lives Act

This legislation directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to include data on maternal health outcomes in its broadband health mapping tool in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also requires the Government Accountability Office to study the effectiveness of internet connectivity in improving maternal health outcomes. This legislation was assigned to three House Committees in February. In November, it was ordered reported by all three committees, meaning it can be brought to a floor vote of the full House.

There’s no excuse for the House leadership not to bring this legislation to a floor vote: Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Speaker of the House, 1236 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-4965. @SpeakerPelosi. Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Majority Leader, 1705 LongworthHouse Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3141. @LeaderHoyer.

2. H.R.5031, the Parental Bereavement Act (also known as the Sarah Grace-Farley-Kluger Act)

This legislation would allow for unpaid leave of up to twelve weeks for parents mourning the death of a child. While this seems like a common-sense and humane piece of legislation, variations on it have been kicking about unsuccessfully in Congress for the past decade. Since August this legislation has been with three House committees: Education and Labor, Oversightand Reform, and Administration. You can find the addresses of the three committee chairs here.

3. H.R.669, Restricting the First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act

This legislation prohibits the use of federal funds for a first-use nuclear strike without Congressional authorization following a declaration of war. In February, this legislation was assigned to the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees where it remains.

Prompt, positive committee action on this legislation is essential. Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2170 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5021. @RepGregoryMeeks. Representative Adam Smith (D-WA), Chair, House Armed Services Committee, 2216 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-4151. @RepAdamSmith.

4 . H.R.1340, the Immigrant Detainee Legal Rights Act

This legislation would establish Department of Justice programs assisting immigrant detainees in making informed and timely decisions regarding their removal and eligibility for relief from removal; and identifying particularly vulnerable aliens, such as unaccompanied children, for right to counsel considerations. Since April, this legislation has been with the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.

This is critical legislation: urge prompt, positive committee and subcommittee action on this legislation: Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chair, Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepZoeLofgren.

5. H.R.1670, the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act

This legislation would authorize the use of foreign assistance funds for reproductive health care services, including abortion, training, and equipment. In March, it was assigned to the House Foreign Affairs Committee where it remains.

You can urge prompt, positive committee action on this legislation. Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2170 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5021. @RepGregoryMeeks.

6. H.R.2035, the Improving Access to Mental Health Act

This legislation would increase the Medicare reimbursement rate for social services workers and would expand the conditions under which such funds could be used. Since March, this legislation has been with the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and the House Ways and Means Committee Subcommittee on Health.

You can encourage prompt, positive committee and subcommittee action on this crucial legislation. Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Chair, House Energy and CommerceCommittee, 2107 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202)225-4671. @FrankPallone. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Chair, Health Subcommittee, House Energy and Commerce Committee, 2107 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-4671. @RepAnnaEshoo. Representative Richard Neal (D-MA), Chair, House Ways and Means Committee, 1102 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3625. @RepRichardNeal. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Chair, Health Subcommittee, House Ways and Means Committee, 1102 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3625. @RepLloydDoggett.

7. H.R.2805, the PROTECT Immigration Act

This legislation would limit immigration enforcement activities to immigration officers and specific Department of Homeland Security employees with specific exceptions. It also bars the Department of Justice from authorizing state or local government employees from engaging in immigration enforcement activities. In April, this legislation was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, which has sent the legislation to its Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.

Given the ways in which police and others have been expected to serve as agents of the Border Patrol, prompt, positive committee and subcommittee action on this legislation is urgent. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 214 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chair, Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepZoeLofgren.

8. H.R.3548, the Keeping Our Promises Act

This legislation would allow for the issuing of additional visas to Afghans who were employed by the U.S. and their family members. It has been with the House Judiciary Committee since May.

Given the risk to Afghan lives, anything but prompt, positive committee action on this legislation is inexplicable. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 214 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler

9. H.R.4176, the LGBTQ Data Inclusion Act

This legislation would require federal agencies that collect data via surveys including demographic data to assess changes needed to these surveys to be adjusted so that LGBTQ individuals have the opportunity to self-identify. It further requires that any publications including such data include gender identity and sexual orientation information. This legislation has been with the House Oversight and Reform Committee since June.

You can suggest that Representative Ro Khanna (D-NY), Chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, get this bill moving. 2308 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-7944. @RoKhanna.

10. H.R.4848, the Rescinding DHS’ Waiver Authority for Border Wall Act

This legislation would repeal waivers the DHS currently has that allow expedited construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall. This legislation has been with the House Homeland Security Committee since July.

Expedited construction of the disastrous wall makes no sense. You can urge prompt, positive committee action on this legislation. Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chair, House Homeland Security Committee, H2-176 Ford House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 226-2616. @BennieGThompson.

11. H.R.4766, the Supreme Court Ethics Act

This legislation would establish a one-year deadline for the Judicial Conference of the United States to issue a code of ethics, which would apply to both Justices (Supreme Court) and Judges (federal courts). This legislation has been with the House Committee on the Judiciary since July.

Need we say more? Ask Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, to move this bill forward. 214 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler.

12. H.R.5497, the BURMA Act

This legislation would authorize humanitarian assistance and civil society support, promote democracy and human rights, and impose targeted sanctions with respect to human rights abuses in Burma/Myanmar, It was ordered reported by the three House committees to which it was assigned and can now be brought to a floor vote of the full House.

You can urge the House leadership to bring this legislation to a floor vote: Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Speaker of the House, 1236 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-4965. @SpeakerPelosi. Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Majority Leader, 1705 LongworthHouse Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3141. @LeaderHoyer.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

Millions unable to afford prescription drugs

In 2018-2019, 13 million people were unable to pay for their prescriptions, according to a new study from the Urban Institute. Uninsured patients are not the only ones who could not pay for their medications or had to delay taking them; those who could not manage the cost included “2.3 million elderly Medicare beneficiaries and 3.8 million nonelderly adults with private insurance, 1.1 million with Medicaid, and 4.1 million who were uninsured at any point during the year,” the report said. Notably, most of these patients had multiple chronic conditions that needed to be managed with medications.

Legislation to get a cap on drug prices failed in 2019; the Elijah E. Cummings
Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3) passed in the US House of Representatives in December of 2019 but stalled in the Senate. It would have also allowed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate over drug prices on behalf of Medicare and private insurance plans.

Legislation to get a cap on drug prices failed in 2019; the Elijah E. Cummings
Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3) passed in the US House of Representatives in December of 2019 but stalled in the Senate. It would have also allowed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate over drug prices on behalf of Medicare and private insurance plans. The Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), which passed in the House of Representatives on November 19, would contain provisions like these. As WebMD points out in its very clear description of the bill, it would also make insurance more available to people in states which have declined to expand access to Medicaid. However, it faces an uphill battle in the Senate. RLS

RESOURCES

Over 929,000 people have died in the post-9/11 wars due to direct war violence, and several times as many due to the reverberating effects of war. Over 387,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting,” the project directors at the Watson Institute’s The Cost of War Project have ascertained. The Cost of War Project tracks all this and more.

To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist points out that there are only 55 weeks till the midterms, and suggests a series of actions you can take toward election security.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

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

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

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

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

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

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

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.