News You May Have Missed: March 7, 2021

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

2. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders endure assaults, discrimination

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

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

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

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

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

3. Addressing immigration by stabilizing Latin American economies

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

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

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

4. Legislation would preserve the right to organize

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

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

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

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

• Prohibit lockouts and retaliation against striking workers;

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

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

• Provide civil penalties for failure to honor NLRB orders

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

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

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

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

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

• barring contracts for employers who illegally oppose union organizing;

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

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

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

5. A 51st State: D.C.

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

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

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

6. Universal background checks save lives

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

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

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

8. Fracking under any other name…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Biden asked to release federal funds for abortion

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed: February 28, 2021

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

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

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Endangered Sharks

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed: February 21, 2021

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Miles and Miles of (Frozen) Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Prisoners, too, lack water and heat

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

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

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

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

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

4. No first strike with nuclear weapons.

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

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

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

7. Other preconditions making people more susceptible to COVID

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed: February 14, 2021

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Deportations to Haiti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Reparations on the table

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

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

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

5. Legislative proposal to protect voting rights

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

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

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

6, You haven’t got mail–here’s why

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

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

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

7. Racketeering law a strategy for the January 6 insurrection

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

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

8. Body cams for Capitol police

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

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

9. Thank the House impeachment managers

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

11. Medication for abortion

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

NEWS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: FEBRUARY 7, 2021

“Trump Zero Tolerance” by Dan Lacey

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Plans for family reunification proceed–but slowly

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

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

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

2. Refugee system broken under Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. ICE gone rogue

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

6. Temporary Protected Status extended to Syrians

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

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

7. Restoring the Fairness Doctrine could rein in Fox

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Right-wing extremism at home in America

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

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

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

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

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

9. Anti-vax protestors block mass vaccination site

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

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. Myanmar’s military coup lethal to Rohingya

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed: January 31, 2021

Climate Change by Riccardo Maria Mantero

Many of us would like to feel that that four-year nightmare is over. But for people on the border, it is not. For people suffering unnecessarily with COVID, it is not. For people whose jobs have not returned or are unsafe, it is not. And for all of us, looking down the barrel of the climate crisis, it is not. Continued vigilance, continued action, is essential.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Climate crisis and environmental justice

Biden’s climate plan will focus on environmental justice, on reducing the impact of fossil fuels, toxic waste, uranium mines and industrial pollution on the most vulnerable communities, the Washington Post reports. The result of these patterns has been poorer health and higher mortality rates. Among the reasons that communities of color are more vulnerable to the coronavirus have to do with the higher asthma rates resulting from poor air quality. As the Post reports, however, whether Biden’s commitment will translate into more jobs in renewable sectors remains to be seen.

Biden has expressed a commitment to producing jobs through fossil fuel alternatives, according to Bill McKibben’s recent piece in the New Yorker. McKibben quoted Gina McCarthy, Biden’s climate “czar” who was head of the Natural Resources Defense Council: “We’re going to make sure that nobody is left behind,” she told reporters. “We need to put people to work in their own communities. That’s where their home is. That’s where the vision is. So we are creatively looking at those opportunities for investment, so that we can get people understanding that we are not trying to take away jobs.” RLS

2. Some deportees reunited with family, others continue to be expelled, including Walmart shooting survivor and witness

A few parents who had been separated from their young children for two years were permitted to return from Guatemala last week to reunite with their children, the LA Times reported in a heartbreaking story. Their return was made possible by a federal judge who had ruled that they were deported illegally because they had not been able to present their case for asylum, according to the AP. Though the decision in response to an ACLU lawsuit came down in 2019, the families were only now permitted to reunite. One father had sought asylum because his life was threatened for evangelical preaching, the AP said; border patrol agents gave him a form that he couldn’t read to sign, telling him that it would permit him to be deported with his son; they kept his son in custody anyway.

Despite this heartening news, there are still hundreds of thousands of people who were damaged by U.S. policies for whom no recompense has been organized. ​As Witness at the Border writes, “Between April and December, 417,000 people have come to our southern border to seek protection. 373,000 of them were summarily sent back by land into Mexico (I estimate 320,000) or by air to their countries with no due process.” Witness at the Border has also tracked the deportations by air in 2020, some 1008 flights. Twenty additional fights have gone out since January 22, perhaps because Biden’s 100-day moratorium on deportations has been blocked by a judge in response to a lawsuit from the Texas attorney general, according to CNN. Among those deported was Rosa, a young woman who survived the El Paso Walmart shooting and was serving as a witness. A traffic stop revealed that she had two citations from 2015, so she was summarily sent to Mexico, reported KFOX news.

Many of these deportations and expulsions have been conducted under the CDC order (Title 42) permitting the US to expel people from countries where a communicable disease is present. Harvard Law has a clear explanation of how the CDC order operates and says that the ACLU, Texas Civil Rights Project, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, and Oxfam have challenged the Title 42 process in court. A Biden-appointed CDC head could also end these expulsions. RLS

Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, is the 19th Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You could let her know that you would like to see Title 42 rescinded and expulsions stopped. @RWalensky. 800-232-4636.

3. Members of the Capitol police investigated for collaborating with rioters

The Brennan Center quotes Georgetown University law professor Vida B. Johnson, “The [law enforcement] system can never achieve its purported goal of fairness while white supremacists continue to hide within police departments.” Trust in the police remains low among people of color for good reason. We have seen over and over the double standard in policing white communities and communities of color. We have seen over and over how little value too many law enforcement members place on the lives of people of color. The Capitol police have had a disappointing record dealing with bigotry in the ranks, according to ProPublica.

While coverage remains sparse, USA Today points out that twelve members of the Capitol police are currently being investigating for possible cooperation/collaboration with the January 6 rioters. And reporting by the Center for Public Integrity explores the presence of bigotry within law enforcement across regions and ranks. Besides encouraging investigations of the violence at the Capitol, we can encourage our state leaders to demand that law enforcement recognize neo-Nazi groups and white supremacist groups as terrorist organizations and bar membership in these organizations for officers of the law. S-HP

To act on this , you could urge your state legislators to make it clear that membership in hate groups is unacceptable for those charged with fairly and impartially enforcing the law. • Find your state lawmakers here.

4. Who (else) incited the January 6 insurrection?

One of the elected officials to address the January 6 Capitol rioters before their rampage was Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL). Brooks exhorted the crowd of soon-to-be rioters: “I’ve got a message that I need you to take to your heart and take back home—and along the way, stop at the Capitol….Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass! Our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes, and sometimes their lives to give us, their descendants, an America that is the greatest nation in world history. So I have a question for you: are you willing to do the same? Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?… The fight begins today!”

Brooks claims he was speaking metaphorically, but the rioters and many of those who had to shelter from their attack are convinced he was speaking literally. The House does have a way to deal with this kind of sedition: removing a Representative from office. H.Res.46, “Removing Representative Mo Brooks from the House of Representatives,” currently has 21 cosponsors and is with the House Ethics Committee. S-HP

If you think Brooks should be removed from office, you can urge quick, positive action by the House Ethics Committee on H.Res.46 • Representative Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL), Chair, House Ethics Committee, 1015 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-7103. @RepTedDeutch. You can also see whether your representative is a co-sponsor, and thank or nudge them as you feel called to do so. You can find your representative here.

5. Mitigating Citizens United

Since the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations’ campaign donations are a form of protected free speech, it will take a Constitutional amendment to get corporate money out of elections. H.J.Res.1 would do exactly this: amend the Constitution to allow States and the federal government to set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of campaign money. (The Brennan Center had a good piece in 2019 explaining Citizens United.) H.J.Res.1 currently has 42 cosponsors and is with the House Judiciary Committee. S-HP

Consider urging. swift, positive action by the House Judiciary Committee on H.J.Res.1 • Representative Jerrold Nadler: (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2141Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler. Also consider seeing whether your representative is a co-sponsor, and nudging them if not.

6. Ending the Filibuster

Whether or not legislation will be frozen for (at least) the first two years of the Biden administration has in part to do with whether the filibuster remains a tool the Senate can use. For the moment, former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has backed away from a demand that the Senate commit to retaining the filibuster before undertaking any other work, but the issues may well rise again, and we might do well to contact those Democratic Senators (and one Independent) who seem most willing to give Mitch what he wants. S-HP

You might tell (or tweet) these waffling Senators, who should be well aware of the obstructionism of the Republican party, that you want an active, productive Senate, and that requires ending the filibuster.

7. Trump tries to erase the Russia Investigation–Reality Winner still in prison

Less than a day before he left office, former president Trump ordered certain documents relating to the investigation of Russia’s interference in the election declassified, though the Justice Department believes they still need to be redacted, according to Politico, which also points out that Trump seems to be trying to make the investigation disappear with his raft of pardons of key players.

Still unpardoned and still suffering from her role in revealing Russian interference in the 2016 election is Reality Winner. NBC has an analysis of how the story emerged and why she is still in prison. New York Magazine ran an in-depth profile of her in 2018 that illuminates her conscience and her commitments. As the Intercept explains, Winner is the last year of her sentence and has had her petitions for compassionate release due to COVID outbreaks in prison denied. Since she performed a crucial service to the nation when she brought attention to Russian interference in the 2016 election, President Biden has been asked to pardon her.

You can sign the petition for clemency for Winner, and ask for Biden to pardon her. • President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @JoeBiden.

INDIGENOUS NEWS

8. Wood for Life: Saving freezing elders

Hopi and Navajo elders in Northern Arizona are in danger of freezing to death, given the recent closure of a coal mine which gave residents on the reservation free coal. Coal enabled them to stretch scarce, expensive wood for their wood stoves and avoid equally expensive space heaters, according to a wide-ranging story in Slate. It’s not that the Hopi nation wants the coal mine back–it depleted 45 billion gallons of water from their local aquifer. But the cleanup from the mine was supposed to bring new jobs, according to the National Defense Resource Council. Instead, the remnants of the mine sit empty. And because of the pandemic, the kinds of jobs–such as child care–that elders have done to supplement their income from Social Security–have dried up. As a result, people are burning things they cannot spare, like their sheep corrals. A new initiative, called Wood for Life, permits people to thin timber in overgrown forests prone to massive fires and to take the wood to people with little access to heat. The hope is that Wood for Life will sustain these communities until they can move toward solar power, for which the Navajo nation is advocating. RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Two arthritis drugs may ease COVID 19

A new study, released in advance of publication and not yet peer reviewed, suggests that two arthritis drugs may increase the likelihood of surviving COVID-19.  REMAP-CAP (Randomised, Embedded, Multi-factorial, Adaptive Platform Trial for Community-Acquired Pneumonia) investigators who are trying innovative new treatments looked into using the arthritis medications tocilizumab and sarilumab to reduce the inflammatory process that leads the body to attack its own organs. Some 400 critically ill patients in ICUs who were given the drugs were more likely to survive and had better outcomes overall. According to Docwirenews, however, previous studies found that tocilizumab had more mixed effects and that sarilumab was not effective–so clearly, more research will be required before these two drugs–or others–are an option. So far, only intravenous hydrocortisone seems to increase the survival rates of ICU patients with COVID, though the main study investigating it was stopped early, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). RLS

RESOURCES

MomsRising is suggesting that we take five actions this week, the most important one focused on getting Biden’s COVID relief plan passed.

Heather Cox Richardson continues to illuminate the news, explicating everything from the GameStop story last week to the past twenty years of Republican ideology and action.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has clearly explained, useful actions you can take, this week focused around the integrity of elections.

News You May Have Missed: January 24, 2021

“Draw the Line National Day of Action Against the Keystone XL 9/2013” by Overpass Light Brigade is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Like Biden himself, these days we need to do an awkward two-step in the coming months, moving backward and forward to make sure that Biden’s agenda to restore a humane, just democracy remains intact, and to challenge the forces that would upend or impede all the work his administration might do. Thus, we’ll continue to let you know what anti-democratic forces are doing and how you can engage them, as well as what issues will require continuing pressure on the Biden administration.

As the Washington Post points out, however, “gridlock” has already hit the Senate, with Mitch McConnell’s dead hand freezing appointments and preventing legislation from advancing. Indivisible is suggesting that we write our senators to insist that the Democrats not give in to McConnell on the Organizing Resolution, required when the Senate split 50-50. Their link has a message you can send.

Amy Siskind’s List, which for four years has weekly documented the not-normal practices and policies of the previous administration, is coming to end as of the Inauguration. Still, her January list is perhaps the most breath-taking yet.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has specific action items for how you can manage the new dance we are in; we suggest others below.

We offer more reading in the Resources Section, below.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Work has begun on immigration issues

President Biden promised immediate action on immigration following his inauguration. So far, he has acted in two areas: He has submitted proposed legislation on immigration on issues that fall under the purview of Congress–so he can make suggestions and try to broker agreements, but cannot act unilaterally. Most comprehensively, the day after he was inaugurated, he sent the Citizenship Act of 2021–which essentially would provide an eight-year pathway to citizenship–to Congress. The New York Times delineates the proposal but the Times and the Wall Street Journal detail the kinds of opposition it will meet from Republicans.

Where Biden can act unilaterally is in responding to Trump’s immigration-related Proclamations and Executive Orders. He has already cancelled at least six changes to immigration policy ordered by Trump:

Executive Order on the Revision of Civil Immigration Enforcement Policies and Priorities and the Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to the United States end the Muslim ban, cancel “terrorism prevention” rules that were designed to prevent people from specific regions of the world from entering the U.S., and call for an immediate review of all changes to immigration policy made by the previous administration.

Preserving and Fortifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) reinstates the Obama-Biden era policy that “deferred… removal of certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, have obeyed the law, and stayed in school or enlisted in the military.

Reinstating Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians extends the ban on deportation of Liberians who ca to the U.S. during civil strife in that country, guaranteeing that they will have an opportunity to apply for lawful permanent resident status.

Executive Order on Ensuring a Lawful and Accurate Enumeration and Apportionment Pursuant to the Decennial Census  ends Trump’s effort to purge undocumented Americans from the census population count used to determine distribution of House seats to individual States.

Proclamation on the Termination of Emergency Order with Respect to the Southern Border of the United States and Redirection of Funds Diverted to Border Wall Construction will prevent further transfers of funds from the military budget to pay for a border wall and seeks to undo previous transfers of funds for this purpose.

         We can thank Biden for his prompt action on these issues—and can also urge him to end some of the dangerous, unnecessary practices used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We can add requests that deported veterans be immediately invited back, innocent people thrown out of our country after decades also be invited back, and that cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE—such as the 287(g) agreements that delegate federal immigration authority to State and local police—be eliminated. S-HP

You can thank Biden for what he has done already and urge him to do more. • President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @JoeBiden. See a sample letter here.

2. Work yet to do on immigration priorities

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a list of clear, detailed priorities for immigration reform, among them: ending discriminatory immigration policies; restoring a humane asylum application process; enabling applicants for asylum and immigration to once again have access to the courts and to representation in them; imposing a moratorium on deportations; eliminating detention while substituting case management; and ending the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which have required thousands of people to wait for their hearings in unstaffed, unstable camps vulnerable to inclement weather and criminal behavior just over the southern border.

Biden has already declared a 100 day moratorium on deportations, according to CBS news, but various exceptions mean that asylum-seekers and other immigrants are still being deported on the grounds of public safety.

The Trump administration signed a series of last-second agreements explicitly designed to impede Biden’s immigration reforms from being implemented for six months, NBC reported on Inauguration Day, quoting a former Trump administration official as saying that the agreements were “an attempt at undemocratic sabotage.” Whether they will be legally enforceable is not yet clear.

In October, Biden promised to establish a task force to reunite the hundreds of children with their parents who have been deported, Reuters reported. The key element which would make reunification possible is permitting the families to legally return to the U.S. Mother Jones says that Biden is expected to make an announcement next week regarding the reunification of families and sketches the complexities of what will be necessary to do so. RLS

3. Biden launches COVID economic relief

A WhiteHouse.gov fact sheet and New York Times reporting enumerate President Biden’s actions to provide COVID-19-related economic relief. President Biden has already sent a COVID-19 relief economic proposal to Congress, which controls much of the COVID-19 response because it holds the “purse strings” of the U.S. government. Biden has, however, begun taking those actions that are possible within the purview of the executive branch. He has issued an executive order that calls for an across-the-board “effort to provide equitable emergency economic relief to working families, communities, and small businesses across the nation.” This and related executive orders include:

◉ A call for expanded Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) support for those needing it.

◉ A request that the Treasury Department change the means by which it provides COVID-19 relief payments to individuals. Currently, these payments are distributed through the IRS, so individuals whose incomes aren’t sufficient to require the payment of taxes are still awaiting payments authorized in March and December of 2020.

◉ A call to the Department of Labor to clarify that workers who refuse unsafe working conditions are still eligible for unemployment benefits, noting “that workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health.”

◉ An expansion of benefits to help families still sheltering in place to provide meals for their children that would otherwise be provided at their school sites.

◉ A request that the Department of Agriculture begin “the process of revising the Thrifty Food Plan to better reflect the modern cost of a healthy basic diet.”

◉ An order to lay the groundwork to require federal contractors to provide a $15 minimum hourly wage and paid emergency leave for employees.

◉ Restoration of collective bargaining powers for federal employees that were withdrawn during the Trump administration.

         Not surprisingly, Republicans have begun fighting these efforts, which a tweet from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) characterized as “A radical leftist agenda in a divided country [which] will not help unify our country, it will only confirm 75 million Americans’ biggest fears about the new administration.” S-HP

If you support these actions, your Senators and Representative need to hear about it. Find them here.

4. Voting Rights Act

The For the People Act was one of the many pieces of legislation passed by the House in the 116th Congress on which Mitch McConnell prevented Senate action. This act has been re-introduced in the House now that the new session of Congress is underway and has been given, as it was last year, the designation H.R.1. This legislation would affirm and improve voting rights by providing for automatic voter registration, requiring the availability of online registration, requiring same-day voter registration, improving mail voting and other practices that make casting a vote easier, and set limits on the purging of voters from the rolls. H.R.1 would provide for states to use independent commissions to conduct redistricting, rather than leaving this in the hands of the party in power in each state. It would close loopholes that allow spending by foreign nationals on U.S. elections and require increased disclosure of campaign spending. It would require alerting states to disinformation campaigns by foreign governments and prohibit the use of “deepfake” audios and videos by campaigns. H.R.1 would provide for an alternative, government-funded system for campaigns for some federal offices. It also would strengthen ethics rules regarding elected and appointed officials. Many are asking that the For the People Act be renamed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to honor the recently deceased Senator and civil rights activist. S-HP

If you want to see consistency in voter registration rules and voting rights restored, you can urge House committee leadership to take swift, positive action on H.R.1. Addresses are here.

5. The “Real-ID” Act provided cover for waiver of environmental provisions and Indigenous rights

You may not know that the legislation that brought us the 2005 Real ID Act, which requires either a passport or new federal ID for air travel within the U.S., also “included an unprecedented provision that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive all local, state and federal laws that the secretary deems an impediment to building walls and roads along U.S. borders,” as the Sierra Club explains. Under the Trump administration this provision was repeatedly used to waive 48 federal laws in construction of the border wall, including the National Environmental Protection Act; the Endangered Species Act; the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts; the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; the Archaeological Resources Protection Act; the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act; the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act; the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act; and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Biden has said he does not support any additional construction on the border wall, but that promise does nothing to prevent future use of the Real ID Act to avoid complying with laws intended to protect environmental, archaeological, and Native American resources. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the misuse of the Real ID act, tell President Biden to ask Congress to repeal the Secretary of Homeland Security waiver power under the Real ID Act and ask your Congressmembers to introduce and/or support legislation to repeal the Secretary of Homeland Security waiver power under the Real ID Act.• President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111• Find your senators here, and find your representative here.

6. Student loan payments suspended till September

Following through on a request from President Biden, the Education Department has extended the suspension of student loan payments through September 30. Loans will not accrue interest over this period. A House stimulus package last year included cancellation of student debt, but the then-House Majority Leader never allowed consideration of that possibility. S-HP

You can thank Miguel Cardena, the Acting Secretary of Education for taking this action and urge him to work with Congress to support debt cancellation, not just suspension. You might also want to let the new Senate Majority Leader know that we want to see him approach student debt and COVID-19 relief the way McConnell dealt with judicial appointments—using the majority to get things done quickly rather than negotiating with those who have no intention of supporting such programs. Addresses are here.

7. Farmworkers working in smoke without adequate protection

One significant concern during California’s wildfires this past summer, was the lack of consistent protections for farmworkers, whose employment prevented them from sheltering indoors on days with poor air quality. AB-73, the Farmworker Wildfire Protections Act would require checks of air quality conditions at agricultural worksites during wildfires, would direct the Department of Industrial Relations to create a stockpile of N95 filtration respirators sufficient for California’s population of farmworkers, and guarantee access to the state’s stockpile of N95 filtration respirators. It would also create policies for and training in responding to poor air quality conditions in agricultural workplaces during wildfires. This legislation is currently with the California Assembly Committee on Labor Employment. S-HP

You can urge quick, positive committee action on AB-73, because California’s fire season is now year-round and farmworkers need protections as soon as possible. Addresses are here.

9. It’s not over till it’s over…

We need to know what happened regarding security preparation for the counting of electoral votes, planning for the capitol siege, the siege itself, the roles played by and command of law enforcement and National Guard, and potential collusion by members of Congress. We also need to know about Congressional collusion in the effort to oust Cting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen in order to put in place an Attorney General who would cooperate with Trump’s campaign of election disinformation.

As the New York Times explains, around the time of his call to the Georgia Secretary of State, Trump pressured Rosen to act on a variety of fictive theories around election fraud, and conspired with Justice Dept. attorney Jeffrey Clark to fire Rosen and replace him with Clark. But when Trump convened the rest of the Justice Department attorneys and announced his plan, they said they would resign en masse if he fired Rosen. S-HP

If you want to act on this, tell appropriate committee chairs that you want to see immediate action on these investigations and call for public release of all findings: addresses are here.

10. Biden’s new Secretary of Defense will work against sexual assault, radicalization among troops

The Senate has confirmed President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, a retired four-star general and former commander of the U.S. Central Command. In his first act in that position, he gave military leadership two weeks to provide him with a study of military efforts to prevent sexual assault and the successes or failures of those efforts. He also asked for novel approaches to the problem. During his confirmation hearing, Senator after Senator questioned Austin about his commitment to fighting sexual assault in the military, which has increased steadily since 2002. Austin agreed, telling Senators: “This starts with me and you can count on me getting after this on day one.” In addition to the issue of sexual assault, the military is currently struggling with white supremacist radicalization among its troops. According to Pentagon information reported by the Washington Post, the military does not screen recruits’ social media posts–for better and for worse. Finally, the Trump administration’s ban on transgender troops remains in place, despite the objections of military leadership. S-HP

You might find it timely to welcome Austin to the cabinet, thank him for his initial action to understand the problem of sexual assault in the military, and urge him to take swift action to end sexual assault and far right radicalization among the troops, as well as the ban on transgender troops• Lloyd J. Austin III, Secretary of Defense, 1400 Defense Pentagon, Washington DC 20301-1000

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Biden moves against climate change by cancelling Keystone XL.

President Biden has cancelled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which presented “pervasive threats to climate, ecosystems, drinking water sources, and public health, and advancing a national commitment to decreasing our reliance on dirty energy,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The cancellation of KXL has caused tensions with Canada; the province of Alberta invested heavily in the project, committing some 1.5 billion, according to the Globe and Mail. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said that Canada should apply sanctions, or counter-measures, against the U.S. for cancellation of the project.

Now indigenous leaders and others are calling for Biden also to cancel the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), construction of which has been ruled a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. Activists have protested the construction of DAPL because it threatens the water source of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. S-HP

Consider thanking President Biden for halting Keystone XL and urge him to bring a halt to DAPL as well–for the sake of environmental justice and in recognition of Native American sovereignty• President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111.

12. Tracking Biden’s actions to preserve the environment and address the climate crisis

Biden has already taken a series of steps to regain lost ground around environmental and climate issues. He has re-committed to the Paris Climate Accord, paused gas and oil drilling, restored the use of science for decision-making, established a process for re-evaluating national monuments–and much more, the AP reports. The Washington Post has an excellent piece which sketches the many, many actions Trump took to undermine evidence-based policies and practices, dismantling environmental protections and contributing to the risk in greenhouse gasses. The Post has an analysis of how each of these can be reversed, and at what pace.

The Environmental and Energy Law Program (EELP) at Harvard Law School has an even more comprehensive list of environmental regulations that Trump dismantled and where they stand in terms of being restored. They also have a list of other environmental law and policy trackers. RLS

13. Biden to challenge ruthless anti-choice policy

President Biden has committed himself to reversing a Trump administration policy that prohibits U.S. funding for international nongovernmental groups that provide or refer patients for abortions. NPR reports that Dr. Anthony Fauci has told the World Health Organization that President Biden will be taking this action “as part of his broader commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality at home and around the world.” A study in the Lancet has concluded that the Trump policy, also known as the “gag rule,” has actually led to increased rates of abortion in Sub-Saharan Africa and other regions—an increase of approximately 40% among the countries included in the study. Trump also cut off federal funding to Title X family planning programs that provide or refer patients for abortions. As a result, many organizations like Planned Parenthood, a major provider of women’s healthcare in the U.S., that refused to end abortion services and referrals are no longer receiving government funding. That rule is still in place. S-HP

Consider thanking President Biden and Dr. Fauci for standing up for women’s health and urging them to do all they can to see that every woman has access to safe affordable family planning that includes the option of abortion. You might also urge Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra to begin working immediately to change the Title X gag rule put in place by the Trump administration. Addresses are here.

14. Transgender Assistant Secretary of Health nominated

President Biden has nominated Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s top health official as Assistant Secretary of Health. In a statement, President Biden said, “Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic—no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability—and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond.” If confirmed, she will also be the highest-ranking transgender official in the federal government. S-HP

You can welcome nominee Levine and share your support for a broader understanding of gender and quality healthcare for all• Rachel Levine, Nominee, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence SW, Washington DC 20201, (877) 696-6775. @SecretaryLevine

RESOURCES

Daniel Morrison, writing for the Journal Blog has a well-researched piece on how QAnon captured the imagination of so many people and how people became persuaded that Donald Trump was going to save the world.

Megan Boler from the University of Toronto writes incisively about the dismissal of Trump from social media sites–and why it is too little, too late.

The Boston Review has an interesting piece on how the Trumpists are not who we think they are.

Heather Cox Richardson’s nightly letters continue to be essential.

News You May Have Missed: January 17, 2021

To see which Republican members of Congress have been embedded in the project of trying to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, see our attached chart, newly updated. You’ll be able to see who voted to invalidate the Pennsylvania and Arizona votes, who spoke at the January 6 rally, who voted against impeachment–along with who refused to wear a mask in lockdown. You can write, tweet or phone them if you are so inclined.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. A possible repeat of the January 6 insurrection

On Sunday night, defense officials told the AP that “they fear a possible inside attack at inauguration, will have National Guard troops vetted.” 25,000 National Guard troops are in Washington for the event. Attacks are also expected at state capitals, according to a January 14 piece in the Washington Post.

While Inauguration Day is the center of the concern, the Post reported that various federal and state experts fear that “President Trump’s incitement of his supporters before their attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 has galvanized a nationwide extremist movement and fueled those determined to disrupt the transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden and violently challenge the legitimacy of the election for months — and possibly years.”

While it has become difficult to ascertain these extremists’ plans since Parler does not have a host and thousands of Twitter accounts have been shut down, security researchers downloaded 70 terabytes of data before it was closed, according to Cyber News, so information could emerge from that data. RLX

2. Who they were and what they did

Trump may have thought that the rioters on January 6 were a ragged bunch, but in fact the rallies before the assault on the Capitol were organized by former congressional staff, White House aides, and the Republican Attorneys General Association,  according to the Washington Post. A number of well-paid former campaign staff were involved, the AP reported, including the Trump campaign’s Director of Operations. The campaign told the AP that if any former staffers took part in the event, “they did not do so at the direction of the Trump campaign.” However, the Director of )perations is still on the books as of January, 2021. A GOP fundraiser who helped organize the rally was paid $20,000 a month until November.

The AP also reviewed a great deal of publicly available documentation on 120 of those attending, including social media posts, public records, court filings, and so forth. As the AP put it, based on that review, “the crowd was overwhelmingly made up of longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials, GOP political donors, far-right militants, white supremacists, off-duty police, members of the military and adherents of the QAnon myth that the government is secretly controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophile cannibals.”

At least 13 off-duty police officers from around the country participated in the riot, the Washington Post reports, along with 21 former members of the military. In another article, the Post notes that a number of veterans see the various conspiracy theories surrounding the election as congruent with their service. One veteran told a Roanoke television station, “I am a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan where I was wounded severely. I fought and bled for the rights of all Americans.”

If you want to see what the scene looked like from the point of view of the riots, ProPublica stitched together publicly available video from Parler before the site was taken down. It’s unnerving. RLS

3. Complicity and failures of security in the January 6 insurrection

On January 5, an FBI office in Virginia issued a warning that “extremists” intended to travel to Washington to engage in violent acts and “war”; however, a senior FBI official had claimed that there was no such intelligence, according to the Washington Post, and the FBI had dismissed any concerns about a security threat on the 6th. The Post quotes the document as including an on-line post which read, “‘Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal.”

The Capitol police chief who resigned after the insurrection said he never received the FBI warning. However, on January 3, the Capitol police intelligence service released a report warning of a violent assault on Congress; the Washington Post published a picture of the warning, which talked about the likely presence of lethal weapons and the fact that Trump had encouraged rioters to act. The FBI claims that it did not receive the Capitol police warning.

The Capitol police chief said he requested on January 4 that the National Guard be on standby, but the House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger rejected the idea. The police chief said he urgently requested National Guard support when rioters broke through the barricades, but they did not arrive for four hours.

Unusual tours of the Capitol complex took place in the days before the January 6 insurrection, even though tours have been prohibited since March. These visitors had to have been given access by a member of Congress, Rep Mikie Sherrill (D New Jersey), a military veteran, explained in an interview with Rachel Maddow. Sherrill was not prepared to say which members of Congress had authorized these tours.

ProPublica has collected “scores” of tweets advocating violence at the Capitol in the weeks leading up to the insurrection. RLS

4. Democrats get COVID from sheltering with unmasked Republicans.

It’s not news that many Congressional Republicans have been refusing to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, putting their colleagues at risk. During the January 6  insurrection as lawmakers were sheltering in tight quarters, a group of six maskless Republicans were offered masks, but refused to take them. The Washington Post reports that Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) left the secure room before the Capitol had been cleared, saying, “we’re not going to survive a terrorist attack to be exposed to a deadly virus.” Since then, three Democratic members of the House have tested positive for COVID-19 and believe they contracted the virus while in close proximity with maskless Republicans: Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), a 75-year-old cancer survivor; Pramila Jayapal (D-WA); and Brad Schneider. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has since imposed stiff, daily fines for those not complying with House mask requirements. S-HP

Let the maskless Republicans know what you think about the way they put the health of their colleagues at risk in an already-fraught situation.

5. Capitol police exempt from the Freedom of Information Act

You may not have known that the Capitol Police are exempted under law from the Freedom of Information Act, which means that journalists, policy organization employees, and ordinary Americans will not be able to request access to documents relating to the January 6 insurrection.

You can urge Congress to eliminate the Capitol Police’s FOIA exemption while they are in the process of investigating all that went wrong on January 6—we want and deserve access to those documents. You can find your Senators here and your Representatives here.

6. News you may have missed during the insurrection

The insurrection, the pandemic, climate change, the impeachment–it’s all linked together, of course. But as Columbia Journalism Review pointed out, many stories have fallen off the media radar since the insurrection on January 6. Partly, of course, this is because there could be another one on Wednesday. But it’s also the function of the news cycle, and the way that the news about the insurrection keeps unfolding, becoming worse with every new revelation. Still, it’s newsworthy that US deaths from COVID will hit 400,000, likely on Monday, CJR points out. 2020 (along with 2016) was the hottest year on record. The Michigan governor, along with eight other officials, are being charged in Flint for neglect of duty for their handling of the water crisis. And Trump succeeded in getting everyone on his list from federal death row executed–for reasons that defy speculation. The CJR article has links to all these stories and more. RLS

7. Midnight policy changes

The outgoing Trump administration is making major policy changes on their way out the door; ProPublica is tracking 69 of these. Among them: the H1B visa process will be changed to prioritize the most highly paid workers rather than the most needed workers, eg., in healthcare. Disabled veterans will be less likely to qualify for assistive medical devices. Faith-based organizations will be shielded from having to observe federal funding conditions that conflict with religious practices. Judges’ discretion around immigration orders will be removed, so that they will no longer be able to stop deportations. Asylum eligibility will be drastically reduced. Wages will be lowered for immigrant farmworkers. You can read about these in more detail in ProPublica.

A Securities and Exchange Commission whistleblower has blown the whistle on the government’s plan to lower the fees paid to whistleblowers, according to ProPublica. These fees are necessary to offset the risks that whistleblowers take, risking their jobs to bring corporate wrongdoers to justice. Without them, high-level white collar crime would go undetected.

In a particularly cruel rule change, a mentally ill prisoner at Guantanamo has been denied a medical examination. A judge ordered that rules in place since 2002 must be changed so that detainees could receive a medical review, according to the New York Times, but outgoing  Secretary of the Army, Ryan D. McCarthy, established a new rule excluding Guantanamo prisoners from the order. Without the review, the prisoner cannot be sent home to Saudi Arabia for psychiatric care.  RLS

You can urge Congress, President Biden, Cabinet Departments and agencies to complete a review of cruel, corrupt and unfair Trump administration actions and to nullify them as quickly as possible. Remind Congress that they have the power to use the Congressional Review Act, if they move swiftly enough. See key figures to write or call here.

8. On the way out the door, Trump turns back the clock on civil rights

The Trump administration also is attempting to eliminate protections for minority groups–including women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people–which the New York Times said “would mark one of the most significant shifts in civil rights enforcement in generations.” Essentially, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act now prohibit discrimination against a number of protected groups by organizations who receive federal funding. The new rule would prohibit discrimination only if it were intentional, not if the action simply had a “disparate impact.” Civil rights groups point out that the “disparate impact” element of civil rights law is essential, as “intent” is so difficult to prove. Maintaining the “disparate impact” section of the law is essential in addressing inequities in education, policing and housing.  President-elect Biden will not be able immediately to reverse this policy, though a new attorney general can put the brakes on enacting it. RLS

9. Katie Porter is needed

To the disappointment of those who are paying attention, Katie Porter will not be serving on the House Financial Affairs Committee during this session of Congress. The reasoning underlying this change is a bit arcane. Democratic caucus rules identify certain committees with demanding workloads as “exclusive” committees—meaning anyone assigned to one of those committee may not have any additional committee appointments.

Congressmembers can, however, request exceptions to this rule. Porter was granted one in the previous session of Congress that allowed her to serve on both the Financial Services Committee and the Oversight and Reform Committee. She requested a second such exception, which was denied, and she is now assigned to the Oversight and Reform and the Natural Resources Committees. Porter will do well, wherever she’s placed, but we will desperately miss her ability to explain financial concepts clearly—and the presence of her whiteboard that she used to crunch numbers to illustrate her points as she made them. The Washington Post notes that moving Porter could be connected to complaints from financial industry figures, who did not appreciate her ability to demonstrate that they didn’t understand how interest is compounded or why $16.50 isn’t a livable wage. Washington Post columnist Helaine Olen mourns the loss of Porter from Financial Services: “If you are an American desperately seeking help with your finances and looking for someone, anyone in Washington to listen, arcane congressional protocols are the least of your concerns. You want a champion. You want a Katie Porter.” S-HP

You can urge members of the Democratic Caucus Steering and Policy Committee, which appoints committee members, to keep Porter on Financial Services because we need her intelligence, concision, and commitment to ordinary Americans

INTERNATIONAL & FOREIGN POLICY NEWS

10. Aid workers at risk from terrorist designation of Houthi rebels in Yemen

The State Department declared the Houthi rebels in Yemen terrorists, doubtless to impede Iran from sending them military and medical supplies, according to the New York Times. However, in his rush to get the policy through, outgoing Secretary of State Pompeo neglected to put legal protections in place, so that aid workers who get food and medical supplies to the Houthi people could be accused of aiding terrorism. Representative Gregory W. Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee told the Times that “the terrorism designation makes it harder to deliver lifesaving assistance in a country already experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. People will suffer and die, and those deaths are entirely preventable.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. What Congress needs to do first

If you don’t know about the Congressional Review Act (CRA), you may want to get familiar with it. The CRA allows regulations from U.S. departments and agencies to be cancelled within sixty days of enactment via a majority vote in Congress and the President’s signature. The Republican Trump administration has been racing to achieve a major roll-back of environmental regulations and wildlife protections before Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20. The Washington Post and Politico offer a sampling of some of these recent actions that will need immediate attention from Congress and the executive branch as soon as possible. Recent Trump Administration moves reported by the Washington Post:

◉A“discretionary” decision by interior secretary David Bernhardt to expand logging land within the range of the threatened northern spotted owl from an original—and already substantial—205,000 acres to 3.4 million acres. The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife recently declined scientific recommendations to move the owl’s listing from threatened to endangered;

◉A draft decision from the U.S. Forest Service to allow two mining companies to develop the Resolution Copper Mine on land in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest—land that is sacred to San Carlos Apaches;

◉The opening of 550,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for energy development;

◉The opening of another 9.7 million acres in Alaska to mineral leasing;

◉Approval of a four-lane highway to run through Utah’s Red Cliffs National Conservation Area—lands that have been under federal protection for twenty-five years;

◉An EPA rule that exempts oil refineries, steelmakers, and landfills from future carbon emission limits;

◉The abandonment of an Obama-era plan to restrict the use of three toxic chemicals;

◉Energy Department approval to keep less-efficient furnaces and water heaters, scheduled to be eliminated, on the market;

◉An Interior Department decision to overturn an Obama administration measure that increased federal royalties that oil, gas, and coal have to pay the federal government;

◉A pending Treasury rule that would penalize big banks that refuse to lend to fossil fuel operations.

Recent Trump Administration moves reported by Politico

◉An order from the Office of Management and Budget reinstating a rule from the George W. Bush era that requires “gold standard” health assessments to undergo White House review before release;

◉The overruling of career scientists’ recommendations regarding safe levels of the highly toxic chemical PFBS, which is currently in the drinking water of some 860 thousand Americans. S-HP

You can urge Congress, President Biden, Cabinet Departments and agencies to complete a review of Trump administration actions threatening our environment and/or unfairly catering to the wishes of corporations in the fossil fuel and related industries–and to nullify them as quickly as possible. Remind Congress that they have the power to use the Congressional Review Act, if they move swiftly enough. Key contacts to write or call are here.

12. Want some propaganda with your essential oil?

QAnon is finding its way to adherents by way of wellness sites, reports Cosmopolitan (remarkably but appropriately). The early days of the pandemic were fertile times for this convergence. People off work or working from home were online more, searching for “wellness” in the pandemic. And the government at the time was clearly untrustworthy, so people inclined to mistrust “authoritative” sources were vulnerable to these alternatives. Cosmo describes how trusted wellness advisors talking about ways to stay well and how to protect children began slipping in QAnon content, possibly without knowing it. A central reason why “QAnon messaging was so successful on social media is that many influencers didn’t know (at least at first) that the language they were slipping in between stories on meditation and essential oils was linked to a conspiracy theory whose main goal was to prop up Donald Trump.” RLS

RESOURCES

◉The Guardian has a collection of letters, “Dear America,”  by a variety of thinkers and writers with a vision of what America could become. Rebecca Solnit talks about the importance to teaching critical thinking, while Dedrick Asante-Muhammad writes about the need for reparations to end the wealth disparity. Bill McKibben recommends divestment from fossil fuel companies, and Alejandra Gomez argues for grassroots democatic organizing.

News You May Have Missed: January 10, 2021

Photo Credit: Noelle Cook

We know you haven’t missed the news that a loose coalition of conspiracy theorists and Republican legislators did their best to undermine the election of Joe Biden on January 6. And they are by no means finished their work. A “Million Militia March” is planned on inauguration day, according to the Washington Post, “for the purpose of preventing any attempt by the treasonous domestic enemy Joe Biden, or any other member or members of the Communist Organized Crime Organization known as the Democratic Party from entering the White House belonging to We The People,” as a post on wimkin.com put it (now removed). NPR notes that posts on Parler have called for an armed march on January 19, and Gun and Game features a poster urging people to come to a rally on January 17 to “refuse to be silenced.”

What you might not know is exactly what role various Republican Congressmembers had in challenging the outcome of the election and setting the stage for–and in some cases participating in–the insurrection. We summarize our research below.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Members of Congress who worked to undermine the election: a full list

There is much to be learned about the siege of the Capitol January 6 and what the fallout will be. We do know that the following members of Congress took part in actions intended to undermine the democratic process. These efforts included:

◉A lawsuit by Rep. Mike Kelly (PA) and other Pennsylvania Republicans seeking to overturn the vote in his own state;

◉An amicus brief signed by 126 members of Congress supporting a suit by the Texas Attorney General attempting to invalidate votes in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin;

◉A lawsuit by Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX) and a group of Arizona Republicans arguing that Vice President Pence should be given “absolute discretion” over the counting of electoral votes on January 6 and specifically taking aim at the votes in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Nevada;

◉An attempt by members of Congress to invalidate Arizona’s electoral votes;

◉An attempt by members of Congress to invalidate Pennsylvania’s electoral votes;

◉Speeches given by members of Congress at the “Save America” rally immediately preceding the attempted insurrection;

Our list of which members of Congress took which action doesn’t include individual statements by members of Congress while Congress was in session, while they were campaigning, or at any other time, only what they supported and what they did. Given that these Congressmembers felt justified in challenging election results not just in their own states, but in other states as well, you shouldn’t let your state of residence keep you from letting them know how you feel about their efforts to rob Americans of their vote. S-HP

Here is a spreadsheet of who exactly did what when. And here is a list of multiple contact addresses and Twitter handles for most of these individuals. You can, of course, also use Congressmembers’ addresses available in the Congressional directory: Senators and Representatives. (Note: if you see errors in either the spreadsheet or the list, please post a comment on our Facebook page,)

2. The unusual suspects

If you think for a second that the rioters on January 6th were a small band of extremists wearing horns and furs, think again. In addition to the various Republican lawmakers who set the conditions for it, various legislators and officials (in addition to Trump) participated in or encouraged the riot on January 6. Among them was Rep Lauren Boebert (R-CO), an advocate of QAnon who is famous for insisting that she would bring her Glock to Congress. According to Raw Story, she tweeted the exact location of Speaker Pelosi after the Capitol Building was breached, apparently to assist rioters in finding her and her staff (the tweet has been removed). Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, tweeted her “love” for those at the MAGA rally, according to Yahoo News. The Rule of Law Defense Fund which sent out robo-calls mobilizing people to come to the Capitol is run by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, reports the Alabama Political Reporter.

More than a dozen state legislators also participated, according to NPR. Derrick Evans, a newly elected Republican state delegate from West Virginia, was among those who stormed the Capitol; the New York Times describes the video he posted. Evans now faces charges. Off-duty police and members of the military also were there, according to Politico, covertly flashing their badges. Politico quotes an unnamed Metro D.C. police officer as writing on Facebook, “If these people can storm the Capitol building with no regard to punishment, you have to wonder how much they abuse their powers when they put on their uniforms.” RLS

3. The revealing lack of security on January 6

We are by no means the first to compare the police presence at the Black Lives Matter protest in DC in the summer of 2020 to the paltry security response on January 6, 2121.  The reasons, even beyond the white privilege of the rioters in the Capitol, illuminate how deeply embedded Trump followers are in the country’s power structures.

As News You May Have Missed noted in our January 3 issue, it was widely known that anti-democracy activists planned an action for January 6. The NY TImes maps their planning announcements and the Washington Post describes the openly posted information about plans for the January 6 insurrection, down to the zip ties. In another piece, the Post retroactively follows three participants including Ashli Babbitt, who was killed, tracing the posts and claims that persuaded them that the election had been stolen from them.

Nonetheless, as Al Jazeera points out, the Capitol police force declined to request help in advance and it took over an hour for reinforcements to arrive. The Post describes the lapses and explains that a quick-response force was ready to come in but did not, because the lack of agreement between the Capitol Police and the Department of Defense. Rachel Maddow, on MSNBC, describes vividly how the National Guard was held in abeyance when they were most needed. The Post provides a link to a Department of Defense timeline that shows what forces were not called in when. Note that the timeline refers to these events as the “First Amendment Protests.”

Al Jazeera cites an anonymous source who said, “Some Democratic members of Congress, worried about the prospects of violence, tried for more than a week to press agencies for information about what they knew about threats or countermeasures. But there was no sign anyone was gathering serious intelligence about possible disturbances or planning to counter them,” this source said. Representative Val Demings (FL), a former police chief told Al-Jazeera that there are  “a lot of unanswered questions and I’m damn determined to get answers to those questions about what went wrong today.” RLS

4. Chickens roosting

Various participants in the January 6 riot are now having to calculate the costs of their actions. Richard Barnett, famous for posing in Speaker Pelosi’s office, has been arrested, according to NPR. Lonnie Coffman, from Alabama, has been charged with possessing a destructive device; the truck with 11 Molotov cocktails was registered to him. (NPR and the New York Times have lists of those facing federal charges.) A Savannah car salesman, Dominic Box, has lost his job over his actions, reports the Current, a coastal Georgia publication. The Current quotes a Democratic Party organizer as pointing out that “It’s upsetting that our congressmen voted …to disenfranchise millions in Georgia,” she said. “I think we get distracted by people on the bottom and miss people on top. I just keep coming back again and again, [Congressman] Buddy Carter is a million times more culpable here than Dominic Box.” RLS

5. The real election scandal

The belief–whether cynically held or deeply felt–that the election was somehow stolen from Donald Trump and therefore from those who voted for him propelled last week’s action, Just to put the claims of voter fraud in perspective, in Georgia, Kemp purged 90,000 voters from the rolls in 2018, according to the Atlantic; many of these voters were purged because they had not voted in a previous election. Another 53,000 voters were moved to the “pending” category because of typos in their registration. 80% of these voters were Black.  For perspective, in Georgia, Biden received 11, 779 more votes than Trump, which of course is why Trump pressured the Georgia Secretary of State to “find” 11,780 votes, the CBC noted. News emerged last week that Trump made an earlier phone call to the lead investigator conducting the audit of Georgia’s votes, the CBC reported, saying that if the investigator “found” the votes, he would be “a national hero.” RLS.

RESOURCES

It’s been a remarkable week for commentary. For analyses of last week’s events, start with Heather Cox Richardson’s nightly letters, beginning with January 7 and 8.

Historian Terry Bouton’s Twitter feed has a series of pictures and observations from the event, recording the spirit of the participants and noting the absence of federal law enforcement.

Melissa, a YA writer on Twitter, monitored the planning of the event and the event itself.

Americans of Conscience offers several ways you can advocate for democracy and provides a roundup of events.

Rebecca Solnit, writing in the Guardian, makes an argument for the riot as an intended coup.

JoAnne Silver Jones, author of Headstrong: Surviving a Traumatic Brain Injury, reminds us of what she learned as a child in the McCarthy era: there are not always two sides to every story.

The ever-perspicacious Paul Krugman argues that it is time to stand up against fascism.

News You May Have Missed: January 3, 2021

“My ‘To Do’ List: Yay for functional tattoos!” by robstephaustralia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The incoming Biden administration is already has a to-do list as long as your arm, but among the lessons of the Obama years is that it is essential to advocate early and often for progressive commitments. To that end, over the next few weeks, News You May Have Missed will be noting key issues Biden must address and ways to encourage him to do so.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Surviving January 6

For Biden to be able to get to work, he needs to weather January 6, when Congress has to certify the electoral college vote. Eleven senators have vowed to challenge the certification, insisting–with no credible evidence–that widespread voter fraud needs to be investigated. Five of those senators were elected with the same ballots they are now claiming are fraudulent. As CNN notes, ” not one of the Republican officeholders objecting to Biden’s victory have objected to Trump’s wins, or in some cases their own wins, on the same day.”

The illogic continues: One of Trump’s attorneys, Lin Wood, wrote on Twitter that Pence was at fault for the so-called theft of the election, saying “If Pence is arrested, @SecPompeo will save the election. Pence will be in jail awaiting trial for treason. He will face execution by firing squad. He is a coward & will sing like a bird & confess ALL.” Wood insists that he is not “insane,” according to Business Insider. Pence himself says he “welcomes” the intervention of the eleven senators, according to Slate and other sources.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has the tape of an hour-long call Trump made to Georgia’s Secretary of State, railing at him with untrue allegations of election fraud and imploring him to find 11,780 votes (one vote more than the number of votes by which Biden won Georgia). You can hear the entire call at this site. The problem with its release is that the Secretary of State allows Trump to talk for a full half hour before he refutes Trump’s claims in the mildest terms. Thus, Trump offers those inclined to believe Trump many, many claims to repeat. Trump says he is going to file a lawsuit over the recording of the conversation, but Georgia is a one-party consent state, meaning that only one party to the call needs to be informed that it is being recorded; D.C. also only requires one party to consent.

Trump has urged those who object to the results of the 2020 election to descend on Washington on January 6, according to the Washington Post; the Proud Boys have said they will attend disguised as anti-fa protesters, according to Business Insider, and have threatened violence. They are not without support; after his lawsuit asking that Pence be empowered to overthrow the results of the election was rejected, Representative Louie Gohmert told NewsMax that “you’ve got to go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and BLM,” Forbes reported.

All ten living defense secretaries published an opinion piece in the Washington Post Sunday night calling on the transition at the Defense Department to unfold smoothly and noting the disastrous consequences of involving the military in election disputes. RLS

2. How Biden can raise funds

Once he’s inaugurated, Joe Biden will face all sort of challenges as President. Among these is the question of how to gain revenue without a tax increase—which will probably be a non-starter in the Senate, even if both Democratic candidates in Georgia win their runoffs this week. Given Trump administration tax cuts, the need for heavy expenditure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effect that both of these are having on the national debt, more funding will be essential, but only Congress can raise taxes. As the New York Times points out, however, Biden has another option: improved enforcement of existing tax laws. Biden could encourage reassignment of IRS employees from less-lucrative audits of middle-class and low-income taxpayers to a focus on wealthy taxpayers.

Over the past decade, IRS audits have increasingly focused on documenting tax-credits claimed by low-income workers. Taking credits away one by one from those who have little to start with is not going to build government coffers. True, wealthy taxpayers have better lawyers and their cases are harder to prosecute, but a successful audit of one very wealthy taxpayer generates far more income for the U.S. than a slew of tax-credit denials for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. And let’s remind ourselves that the point of an audit is to be sure all taxpayers are honoring the provisions of existing tax law. This isn’t about seizing assets; it’s about preventing the privileged from avoiding paying their fair share. A Congressional Budget Office report that the New York Times refers to concluded that increasing the IRS budget by $20 billion over the next decade could increase tax revenue by as much as $60.6 billion. S-HP

You might urge Biden to call for increased audits of wealthy taxpayers: President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @JoeBiden. You can call on Congress to support this priority by increasing IRS funding: Directory for the 117th Senate. Directory for the 117th House of Representatives.

3. Citizenship for front-line workers

As is the case in the U.S., France has a significant proportion of workers, particularly in settings like nursing homes, retail businesses, and cleaning services, who have had to continue working during the pandemic and who are not yet citizens. In response, reports the BBC, France’s ministry has encouraged these frontline workers to apply for accelerated citizenship. As of the end of December, more than 700 such residents of France have been given or are in the process of being given accelerated citizenship. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues with summary deportations and expulsions that tear apart families that have been long-term residents of our country. A move like this would be complex, but accelerated citizenship—or extended residency—for those taking the greatest risks to keep our country functioning during this pandemic would be worth exploring once Biden has Secretaries of Labor, State, and Homeland Security in place. S-HP

If you agree, you could urge Biden to have his cabinet explore this possibility. President-elect Joe Biden, 1401 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @JoeBiden. You could also urge your Congressmembers to consider ways to protect frontline workers, particularly those who are not yet U.S. citizens. Directory for the 117th Senate. Directory for the 117th House of Representatives.

4. Online gender-based violence is increasing

Gender-based violence is intensifying, according to Human Rights Watch, as is online gender-based violence in particular, yet governments around the world are not responding. We•news reports on the prevalence of online gender-based violence and the work that is needed to combat it. Their article cites a 2018 statement by the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women that the need to protect women’s rights “has now spread to the digital space of social media…. New forms of violence have also developed, such as the non-consensual distribution of intimate contents… obtained with or without consent with the purpose of shaming, stigmatizing or harming the victim.” Among the responses We•news calls for are making the justice system more supportive for survivors by developing legislation that acknowledges the many forms and the severity of online gender-based violence and developing programs that actively combat the normalization of online gender-based violence. S-HP

You can ask your Congressmembers and the President-elect what they’re doing to educate themselves about, draw attention to, and fight online gender-based violence. President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @JoeBiden.Directory for the 117h Senate.  Directory for the 117h House of Representatives.

5. The Flores Agreement survives Trump lawsuit but much work remains

The Trump administration filed a lawsuit to end the Flores Agreement, which does not allow asylum-seeking families to be detained indefinitely and which establishes standards for children in immigrant detention. The  9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the suit, Reuters reported. For an simple explanation of what Flores is and does, see the explainer by Project Lifeline. However, the siege against immigrants continues. Witness at the Border has tracked 990 deportation flights since January 1, 2020–the latest one New Year’s Eve. Biden has pledged to end deportation flights for 100 days and on “day-one” to end the policy that requires asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their cases to be heard–but said that other reforms will take time, the Washington Post reports. RLS

Witness at the Border has a postcard campaign to press the Biden administration to address the many issues around asylum, detention and deportation. Instructions and images are here.

6. Taking back notions of religious freedom

The Trump administration has devoted significant energy to weakening church-state separation, particularly as Biden’s inauguration approaches. Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) observes in its “Agenda to Restore and Protect Religious Freedom” that the Trump administration has used religious freedom to “sanction discrimination, deny access to health care, require taxpayers to fund religion, and allow houses of worship to endorse political candidates.” As ProPublica reports, these changes, including some made by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which Biden will have difficulty challenging because EEOC Commissioner positions are not tied to specific administrations, and the current set of commissioners will be in place through 2022. Recent rule changes coming from the EEOC include codification of Trump’s 2018 executive order giving faith-based organizations full access to government grant programs without requiring any change to practices to avoid faith-based discrimination. Via the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, private companies that receive federal contracts and grants can now qualify as religious employers, allowing them to refuse those not of their particular faith.

 The AU’s religious freedom agenda includes the following provisions:

◉ A repeal of the Muslim Ban.

◉ An executive order to restore religious freedom for all Americans.

◉ Religious freedom protections for those receiving federally funded social services through private agencies.

◉ Protection from religious discrimination for all workers employed with federal funds.

◉ Ensure people cannot be denied healthcare services based on health care workers religious beliefs.

◉ Passage of legislation equivalent to the Do No Harm Act proposed by then-Senator Kamala Harris, which codifies the right of all Americans not to be harmed by actions based in “religious freedom” arguments.

◉ Use federal funds to support public—not private—schools..

◉ Protect and enforce the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits religious nonprofits from endorsing political candidates.

◉ Ensure the make-up of the U.S. government reflects the religious diversity of America.

◉ Nomination of federal judges who will support church-state boundaries.

You might urge Biden and your Congressmembers to take every opportunity to restore—and strengthen—church-state separation: President-elect Joe Biden, 1401Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20230. @JoeBiden. Directory for the 116th Senate. Directory for the 116th House of Representatives.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

7. Feminist Saudi activist imprisoned

Saudi activist and Nobel Peace prize nominee Loujain Al-Hathloul has been sentenced to almost six years in prison for her work as an activist in support of women’s rights. (Canadians might want to know that Al-Hathloul graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2014. The University has released a statement of dismay and support.) The Saudi government has prosecuted her using what the Associated Press calls “a vague and broadly worded antiterrorism law” that has been used to imprison a number of activists in that nation. Al-Hathloul has been in Saudi prison since May, 2018. During that time, she has spent several stretches in solitary confinement. Al-Houthloul and other women activists have alleged that torture, sexual abuse, and threats of rape are being used in prisons to coerce “confessions.”

  Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been working hard to depict Saudi Arabia as a place of freedom, but frequent use of antiterrorism laws to jail nonviolent activists contradicts those assertions. One of Al-Hathloul’s actions that was specifically cited in the government’s case against her was that fact that she had contacted Amnesty International about her situation. Joe Biden has said that as President he will review US-Saudi relations, taking into account human rights and democratic principles. According to U.S. government research, bin Salman was the force behind the murder and dismemberment of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi.

  Under the current administration, Saudi Arabia has been an important purchaser of U.S. weaponry, despite ample evidence of its ongoing disregard for human rights. The most recent sale was opposed by both houses of Congress, but Trump used an “emergency declaration” to override Congressional objections. Now, the Washington Post reports that the administration has announced plans to sell $500 million worth of precision-guided bombs to the Saudis, as well as $97,000 worth of internal security communications systems. One of the administration’s claims is that this sale to Saudis will benefit Yemeni civilians because the Saudis, who are a major force in the civil struggle within Yemen, will be able to avoid hitting civilian targets using these precision-guided bombs. But the Saudis already have weaponry of this sort and as William Hartung, director of the Center for International Policy’s Arms and Security Program, points out “Saudi access to tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions thus far has not diminished the civilian death toll in Yemen.” S-HP

You can urge your Congressmembers to oppose this new sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia because of its unacceptable record of human rights abuses within Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. You can also tell President-elect Biden (@JoeBiden) that you support his review of U.S.-Saudi relations and that you want to see more attention paid to Saudi human rights abuses. Addresses are here.

Amnesty International is suggesting various actions in support of Hathloul, among them that you send a tweet to authorities in Saudi Arabia. There is a sample tweet on their page.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. Don’t throw away your masks…

The WHO has indicated that current pandemic may not be “the big one,” the Guardian reports. COVID-19 is likely to become endemic, it says, controlled by but not wiped out by the vaccine. As biologist Laurie Garrett wrote years ago in The Coming Plague, our complex, globalized life and our irresponsible relationship to nature will likely result in waves of viruses yet to come.

Writing for the New Yorker, Lawrence Wright details how the last year might have unfolded differently if more people had paid attention early on. It has been widely noted that the pandemic playbook provided by the Obama administration was ignored by the incoming Trump administration. in 2019, the “Crimson Contagion,” a pandemic simulation and investigation, identified the shortage of PPE–but nothing was done. Even before the CDC was silenced by Trump, it did not warn of asymptomatic transmission because officials there thought that the evidence published in the New England Journal of Medicine was insufficient. If you can possibly get a copy, read the whole thing–it reads like a detective story about one of the tragedies of our time. RLS

9. Birds dead of starvation

In September, nearly 10,000 migrating songbirds fell out of the sky in the American Southwest, according to citizen reports, and hundreds of thousands more may also have died. The cause has now been ascertained: Long-term starvation and an unexpected cold snap. They did not have diseases nor did they have smoke in their lungs from fires. According to the Guardian, the twenty-year mega-drought in the Southwest could account for the absence of food for birds, a drought which scientists say is in part due to climate change. Commentator Juan Cole notes that this megadrought is just the first of many, while Guardian has a regular series called “The Age of Extinction.” RLS

10. Microwave attacks on diplomats

American diplomats and their families in Cuba, China, Russia and elsewhere were victims of a directed microwave attack, “directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy,” the New York Times explains, not the diffuse microwaves that emerge from your cell phone. The “dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and loss of hearing, memory and balance” they experienced were downplayed by the Trump administration, and some were denied medical care and leave. Now that new research from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine confirms that their illnesses were not psychological, it will be interesting to see how the Biden administration handles the problem. Long-term benefits for those afflicted were included in the defense bill that Trump vetoed. but since his veto was overridden, they should stand. The report urges the State Department to put plans in place to address future attacks: “The larger issue is preparedness for new and unknown threats that might compromise the health and safety of U.S. diplomats serving abroad. The next event may be even more dispersed in time and place, and even more difficult to recognize quickly.” RLS

RESOURCES

Amy Siskind’s Weekly List–in which she has tracked all the not-normal things the Trump administration has done from the beginning–has a summary of the weirdness as of the end of December.

There are still a few days in which you can contribute to Fair Fight, founded by Stacey Abrams, which is trying to preserve voting rights in Georgia.

Heather Cox Richardson is a critical resource at this precarious time. She has an analysis of what the motivation is of those trying to call into question the results of the election.