News You May Have Missed: May 9, 2021

“Mother o’ Mine .. Happy Mothers Day” by Nick Kenrick.. is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Writing in the Guardian, Rebecca Solnit has some bracing words for those who find Mother’s Day difficult, noting how many people and elements of the natural world can be our “mothers”: “May you locate the 10,000 mothers that brought you into being and keep you going, no matter who and where you are. May you be the mother of uncounted possibilities and loves.”

Mother’s Day reminds us of the many sorrows surrounding mothers as well. The press is starting to cover the reunions of those families who were separated at the border; the New Yorker has a strong piece on the reunion of one of the first families separated–in 2017. The New York Times sketches the story of a mother who had to leave her daughter behind–for seven years. The Washington Post reports that 20,000 children and teenagers are being held in Health and Human Services shelters and 2,200 are being detained in border facilities until there is room in shelters for them. 40% have a parent already in the United States, while others have other relatives waiting for them–but it takes the border services a month to release them.

To help the more than 10,000 mothers stranded along the Mexico border with their children and the thousands of children waiting in detention to reunite with their mothers, you can donate to Al Otro Lado, which provides legal and social services to families on both sides of the border. Every.Last.One also does advocacy work for detained children and families, as well as for children who have been deported.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Demanding action on murdered and missing Indigenous women

Indigenous communities in Canada held grieving ceremonies May 5 for the over 4,000 Indigenous women who have been murdered or have gone missing in Canada over the last 30 years, a phenomenon called genocide in a comprehensive report. May 5 is Red Dress day, which commemorates those losses and calls for action. Despite the release of the report a year and a half ago, no national action plan has been launched by the Trudeau government; its 231 recommendations have been somehow stalled by COVID considerations, according to the National Indigenous Times.

In the US, family members of missing Indigenous women are cautiously hopeful with the steps Secretary of the Interior Debra Haaland is taking. She has stated that the creation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ recently-announced Missing and Murdered Unit demonstrated that the federal government is finally addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Native American women and girls. At least 1500 Native American people are currently missing in the U.S., and thousands of homicides have been reported to a national database, the Guardian reports. In a press call reported on by The Hill, Haaland explained that “For too long this issue has been swept under the rug…. [however] I believe we are at an inflection point. We have a president who has promised to prioritize this issue and ensure that Native American leaders have a seat at the table…. for too long, Indian issues were relegated to tribal offices within federal agencies. Every federal agency is taking our commitment to strengthening tribal agency and self-government seriously. We’ll keep working until our people stop going missing without a trace.” S-HP/RLS

In the U.S, you can share your concern that this issue of missing and murdered Native American women and girls remain in the spotlight and that all branches of government be active in resolving this ongoing crisis. Canadians can find more information on this issue at the University of British Columbia library’s website, as well as a phone number for support; they can also let Prime Minister Justin Trudeau know that COVID should not stall the implementation of an action plan. @JustinTrudeau.

2. Protecting incarcerated and detained people against COVID

Incarcerated individuals were infected by COVID-19 at more than three times the national rate, and an estimated 27,000+ individuals in prisons, jails, and detention centers have been killed by COVID-19. Now, reporting by the New York Times estimates that among those numbers were dozens of individuals who had either been approved for parole or who had not yet been convicted of any crime. While some states—including California and New Jersey—sent selected inmates home early to avoid unnecessary infections and deaths, most states chose not to free inmates and also resisted calls to speed up parole processes.

One case discussed by the Times was that of a 62-year-old man who was paroled in 2019, but required to complete a six-month drug treatment program available only in prison. He would have finished that program in June or July of last year, but instead died as a result of COVID-19 on June 2. Another case involved a 76-year-old man, a diabetic with diabetes-associated amputations. According to his cellmate, he waited months to receive his insulin supplies, by which time he had lost so much weight and was so weakened, he could not administer injections to himself. He had planned to contest the charges against him on the grounds that a search of his auto was unlawful. He couldn’t afford bail, and because he requested materials like police body-cam footage, his trial date kept being pushed back. He died of COVID-19 complications on September 2.

Other federal prisoners who were released–those who were at high risk for COVID, low-risk for re-offending, and for the most part elderly–might have to return to prison under a policy established by the Trump administration, according to the Washington Post, which profiled a 75 year old woman serving a 24 year sentence for selling a kilogram of heroin. Those released–approximately 4,500 people–are closely supervised, some with ankle monitors.

 Congress is considering some legislation that could address the problem of prisoner and detainee COVID-19 deaths and the lack of accurate data regarding the numbers of these individuals, as well as possible future epidemic threats within the prison system:

1) The COVID-19 Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act—S.681 in the Senate; H.R.1861 in the House—would require immigration detention facilities and local correctional facilities that contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to provide COVID-related data to the federal government. The Senate version of this legislation is with the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. The House version of this legislation is with three committees: Judiciary, Homeland Security, and Ways and Means.

2) The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act—S.324 in the Senate; H.R.1072 in the House—would require the Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshal Service, and state and local correctional facilities to publish COVID-19-related data, including numbers of cas vaccinations, and outcomes, on their websites, as well as reporting them to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Senate version of this legislation is with the Judiciary Committee. The House version of this legislation is with the Judiciary and the Energy and Commerce Committees.

3) H.R.831, the Health STATISTICS Act, would “encourage the rapid development of certain public health data standards, authorize epidemiological surveillance grants, and authorize a data linkage demonstration project.” This legislation is currently with the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. S-HP

If you want to address these inequities, you can call for expedited parole releases, for release of those awaiting trial for non-violent offenses during the current pandemic and for the reversal of the Trump-era policy which would require those released during the pandemic to return to prison. You can also urge the relevant Senate and House committee members to act on pending legislation. Addresses are here.

3. Should the history curriculum focus on diversity and critical literacy?

The Department of Education’s (DoE) Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, has invited public comments on priorities for the teaching of American History and Civics. The DoE’s first proposed priority is projects that incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives into teaching and learning and that “reflect the diversity, identities, histories, contributions, and experiences of all students [in order to] create inclusive, supportive, and identity-safe learning environments.” The second proposed priority is promoting information literacy skills, including standards of proof, individual biases, synthesis of information for communication, and “understanding how inaccurate information may be used to manipulate individuals, and developing strategies to recognize accurate and inaccurate information.”  Conservatives, including Mitch McConnell have been weighing in on the priorities. A letter to the DoE—on which Senator McConnell is the first signatory and which is cosigned by 38 additional Republican Congressmembers—warns that including materials like the New York Times’ 1619 Project (which looks at the history of this nation from the arrival of the first slave ship to the American colonies) that put “ill-informed advocacy ahead of historical accuracy” to create a “a politicized and divisive agenda.” S-HP

You can comment on the content of U.S. history and civics education, particularly on the ways in which students’ many cultures have contributed to this nation’s history and identity and discuss what topics and approaches you feel would best serve our diverse student population [note that all comments must be received by Wednesday, May 19, and should include Docket ID Number ED-2021-OESE-0033]. Write to Mia Howerton, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave. SW, Room 3C152, Washington DC 20202 or use online comment submission button

4. An X-gender option for passports

While running for President, Joe Biden issued an LGBTQ+ policy document that included a proposal to add an X gender designation to passports, which would mean non-binary individuals would not have to declare themselves specifically male or female. Since President Biden took office, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been urging Biden to make that proposal a reality. According to the ACLU, many states already allow individuals to select an X gender identification and the ACLU has filed six cases on behalf of transgender individuals who want to see themselves accurately represented on IDs. Currently, 68% of transgender people report that none of their IDs accurately present both their name and their gender. As a result of this, they can find themselves, harassed, denied services, or attacked—by law enforcement as well as individuals and businesses. Life is also more complex for these individuals because of discrepancies among medical, financial, and personal records. President Biden has the power to issue an executive order adding an X designation to passports; the ACLU is asking for support in convincing Biden to take this action soon. S-HP

You can join the ACLU in asking President Biden to issue an executive order creating an X gender designation on passports. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. In addition, you can sign the ACLU’s petition: https://action.aclu.org/petition/they-people-access-accurate-ids-now.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

5. Making it safe for Hondurans to stay home

Aid to Honduras has been seen as essential to enable Hondurans to stay home rather than fleeing the effects of climate change, along with gang and police violence, and arriving at the US/Mexico border. However, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act, would halt U.S. aid to Honduras “until such time as human rights violations by Honduran security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice,” as explained in the legislation’s opening. The legislation is named to honor Honduran indigenous rights and environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who cofounded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. Cáceres led campaigns in response to illegal logging, the plantation system, and the presence of U.S. military bases on indigenous land. After years of receiving death threats, Cáceres was assassinated in her own home. Those who killed her were linked to US-backed forces, according to the Guardian.

 Under H.R.1574, conditions for resuming aid to Honduras would include trial and conviction of Cáceres’ killers, the killers of over 100 activist small farmers, those responsible for post-election killings and arrests in Honduras. It would also require the withdrawal of the military from domestic policing in Honduras; protection of trade unionists, journalists, human rights defenders, indigenous and Afro-indigenous Hondurans, LGBTI activists, and government critics; and the establishment of a justice system capable of investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights violations. S-HP

If you support this move, you can urge swift, positive action on H.R.1574 by the appropriate committees. You can also insist to your Congressmembers and to Vice-President Harris, who has been charged with leading U.S. Central American policy, that justice in Central America must be a key component of U.S. policy in the region, particularly if we want to end pressure on individuals from the region to flee their home countries because of violence and lack of justice. Addresses are here.

6. Disappearing the opposition in Myanmar.

Thousands of people, primarily boys and young men, are being disappeared in Myanmar as the now three-month-long military coup there continues, the Associated Press (AP) reports. The AP reports at least 3,500 arrests—most without documentation, so that family members cannot be certain who has been taken, what charges they face, or where they are being held. According to UNICEF, there have been at least 1000 arbitrary detentions of children and young people. The AP quotes Matthew Smith, a cofounder of Fortify Rights, a human rights group, as saying that his organization has been gathering evidence of detainees being killed in custody: “We’ve definitely moved into a situation of mass enforced disappearances. We’re documenting and seeing widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests.” The military has been conducting sweeps both during night and also in daylight, often beating detainees in front of witnesses. The military is also using its own television channel to broadcast “photos of young people detained by security forces…. their faces bloodied, with clear markings of beatings and possible torture,” indicating that this is a campaign of deliberate intimidation. S-HP

If you want to intervene in this situation, you can insist that the Biden administration and Congress continue to pursue meaningful, effective responses to this violence—and not just resolutions that have little real-world impact. President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State, Department of State, 2201 C St. NW, Washington DC 20520, (202) 647-4000. @SecBlinken. Find your senators here and your representatives here.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. Preventing drilling in the Arctic, reversing Trump’s environmental policies

The Hill reports on a decision by the Department of the Interior to withdraw Trump administration proposals that would have made it easier to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic. The Obama administration had placed a permanent prohibition on offshore Arctic Ocean oil and gas drilling, which the Trump administration sought to undo. In another significant move, the Environmental Protection Agency has asked that the Justice Department (DoJ) end any remaining cases in supporting Trump-era environmental rules. The Hill separately reported that Lawrence Starfield, the EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assistance, has ordered his staff to step up enforcement of environmental regulations in communities particularly hard hit by pollution—communities that are disproportionally low income and inhabited by people of color. S-HP

If you want to thank the Secretary of the Interior for protecting the Arctic,
thank the EPA Director for asking for an end to Department of Justice defense of Trump-era changes to environmental protections, tell the Attorney General that you’re looking forward to an end to DoJ defense of remaining Trump-era environmental rollbacks and thank Lawrence Starfield for defending the rights and health of communities threatened by pollution, addresses are here.

RESOURCES

If you want to understand what is going on with the Republican attack on Liz Cheney and why Republicans continue to assert that Trump won the election, Heather Cox Richardson’s column for May 7 will explain. You’ll find it quite chilling, the way she adds it all up.

trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.

The Moms Rising site this week focuses on the rights and needs of mothers. See their list of quick actions you can take.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. This week’s list will advise you how to help protect the mid-term elections in a few quick actions.

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

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed: May 2, 2021

“Women’s Bazaar (Afghanistan) [Image 3 of 3]” by DVIDSHUB is licensed under CC BY 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Racism as a public health crisis

The cases of 43 Black people killed by the police in the United States were investigated by an international team of experts, which found–unsurprisingly–that racism contributed to excessive force in policing. The ​International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence against People of African Descent in the United States has just released its report, in an extensive project developed in conjunction by the United Nations and produced with the National Lawyers Guild and other organizations. If you’re short on time, just read the Executive Summary: it is devastating. The Commission calls on the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation into crimes against humanity and urges the U.S. to be bound by the ICC’s findings. 

The Commission found violations in the rights to: “life, security, freedom from torture, freedom from discrimination, mental health, access to remedies for violations, fair trial and presumption of innocence, and to be treated with humanity and respect.”

Racism has become a public health crisis in other ways as well, as the pandemic has made ruthlessly clear. As the Harvard Medical School noted last year, “Between March and June of 2020, Latinx and non-Hispanic Black people were hospitalized for COVID-19 at a rate of up to four and a half times that of non-Hispanic white people. Indigenous people were hospitalized at five and a half times that of white people.” The reasons are structural: income inequality and job discrimination, which means in the U.S. an unequal access to health insurance; unsafe crowded housing; lack of access to education which relegates people of color to risky front-line jobs. The American Medical Association last year agreed, committing the organization to “…Recognize racism, in its systemic, cultural, interpersonal and other forms, as a serious threat to public health,” In April, the CDC made the same commitment. 

In this context, H.Res.344 – Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis is relevant. It has been referred to the  Committee on Energy and Commerce, and to the Committee on the Judiciary. We ordinarily don’t follow resolutions, but this one deserves attention. RLS

2. Trump officials signed agreements preventing Biden from changing immigration policy

Among the many reasons that the situation at the border has been so complex since the Biden administration has taken office are the strategies Trump officials used to hamstring Biden’s efforts to change immigration policy, the Dallas Observer explains. Before leaving his position as Secretary of Homeland Security, Kenneth Cuccinelli signed “Sanctuary for Americans First Enactment” (SAFE) agreements with Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, West Virginia, and a sheriff’s office in North Carolina. These agreements “allow participating states to halt nationwide immigration policy for 180 days by requiring DHS to communicate with states before taking actions or making decisions ‘that could reduce immigration enforcement, increase the number of [undocumented immigrants] in the United States, or increase immigration benefits or eligibility for benefits for [undocumented immigrants].'” Texas, Arizona, and Montana have all sued the Biden administration to block changes to immigration policy under the Biden administration.

 These agreements are illegal twice over. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the Government Accountability Office have both ruled that Cuccinelli was never properly appointed to his position, meaning he lacked authority to enter into agreements on behalf of the agency. Also, an outgoing administration “cannot agree to cede federal power to states, local jurisdictions, or other third parties before a new administration assumes office, because the executive branch cannot contract away the constitutional power of its successors. Such tactics are antithetical to the orderly transition of executive authority demanded by our Constitution,” as the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) explains. CREW has called for an Inspector General investigation of former Secretary of Homeland Security Kenneth Cuccinelli. S-HP

If you want to address this issue, you can support calls for an investigation of Cuccinelli’s illegal tenure in office and the last-minute agreements he signed in order to prevent the Biden administration from taking timely action in response to the arrival of undocumented immigrants. Joseph V. Cuffari, Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, 245 Murray Dr., Building 410, Washington DC 20528, (202) 981-6000.

3. Some relief funds for Puerto Rico held up until last month, investigation quashed

$20 billion in hurricane aid to Puerto Rico following 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria was held up by the Trump administration, which then refused to cooperate with a Congressional investigation of the roadblocks it had put up. The Washington Post reports on a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Inspector General’s (IG) report on how the roadblocks were established under the aegis of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and appear to have been created in response to White House demands, as Trump made it clear he did not want to provide funds to Puerto Rico and instead wanted to increase funding to Texas and Florida. The OMB added new steps to the normal disaster-relief distribution process that significantly slowed release of the funds and prevented timely publication by HUD of a notice of the funding. The OMB also refused to allow HUD to issue a single funding notice that would have applied to all 16 jurisdictions in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and instead required a separate funding notice for each jurisdiction. The White House demanded changes to Puerto Rico’s property-management records system and created a prerequisite for the release of funds to federal contractors that suspended federal minimum wage requirements. In fact, many restrictions were only removed in April, well after President Biden had been sworn into office. These requirements included incremental release of funds and oversight by several government boards that went beyond the oversight required under federal law.

The Inspector General’s report also documents Trump administration resistance to the Congressional investigation on the slow release of disaster relief funds. HUD officials refused to be interviewed by investigators. The Office of Management and Budget refused to provide information Congress requested regarding the ways decisions regarding the distribution of relief funds were made. In fact, the HUD IG Report noted “Delays and denials of access and refusals to cooperate negatively affected the ability of the [Office of Inspector General] to conduct this review.” As Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), who requested the inspector general’s investigation, put it, Trump’s roadblocks were “a way to prevent the people of Puerto Rico from access to so much needed money to prevent people from dying.” S-HP

To make sure disaster relief funds cannot be withheld, you can insist to your congressmembers that procedures be put in place to prevent executive branch interference. Find your Senators here and your representative here.

4, Crucial legislation heading for the Senate

As has been true in the past, the House is passing legislation at a faster rate than the Senate.

1) H.R.1333, the No BAN Act, narrows the reasons for which the President can announce a travel ban blocking individuals of a specific nation from entering the U.S. and specifically bars the use of religion as the justification for a travel ban. H.R.1333 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 2) H.R.1573, Access to Counsel, also with the Senate Judiciary Committee, provides protections for individuals entering the U.S., including U.S. nationals, lawful permanent residents, aliens in possession of a visa, returning asylees, and refugees, who are subject to secondary or deferred inspections. H.R.1573 would ensure that these individuals have access to counsel and others (such as family members already in the U.S.) within an hour of the initiation of any secondary inspection.

 3) H.R.7, the Paycheck Fairness Act, would, as explained in the Congressional summary, “addresses wage discrimination on the basis of sex, which is defined to include pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics…. [and] limits an employer’s defense that a pay differential is based on a factor other than sex to only bona fide job-related factors in wage discrimination claims, enhances nonretaliation prohibitions, and makes it unlawful to require an employee to sign a contract or waiver prohibiting the employee from disclosing information about the employee’s wages. The bill also increases civil penalties for violations of equal pay provisions.” H.R.7 has not yet been assigned to a Senate committee.

4) H.R.51, the Washington, D.C., Admission Act, would, as the title indicates, make Washington D.C. the 51st state of the U.S., giving currently unavailable federal representation to residents of the district. H.R.51 has not yet been assigned to a Senate committee. S-HP

If you want to nudge the Senate to follow up on House legislation, you can write, call or tweet Dick Durbin, Chair or the Senate Judiciary Committee or Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer. Addresses are here.

GOOD NEWS

5. A few people to thank

As complicated and difficult as so many things are, the Biden administration has been chipping away at Trump policies and launching its own projects.

 1) NBC reports that the Department of Homeland Security is placing limits on civil immigration arrests and other enforcement actions in or near courthouses, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday. Mayorkas explained that the Trump administration’s policy of using courthouses as arrest locations “had a chilling effect on individuals’ willingness to come to court or work cooperatively with law enforcement.”

 2) Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has launched a new effort to uncover and eliminate right-wing extremism in the military, according to the New York Times.

 3) The Department of Agriculture, reports Axios, is extending a pandemic program providing meals to children through the summer.

4) The New York Times reports that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is withdrawing a Trump-administration-proposed rule that would have allowed single-sex homeless shelters to turn away transgender individuals. HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge explains “We are taking a critical step in affirming HUD’s commitment that no person be denied access to housing or other critical services because of their gender identity…. HUD is open for business for all.” 

5) We have two items we can thank President Biden for—no doubt there are more. First, according to the New York Times, President Biden is creating a White House task force to promote labor organizing in hope of ending a steady decline in union membership. Second, as the Hill reports, President Biden has cancelled the Trump administration diversion of Department of Defense funds to pay for the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Instead, the funds will be used as originally intended by Congress. S-HP

If you want to thank the people behind these initiatives, addresses are here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. How to help in India

You won’t have missed the catastrophic COVID situation in India; as we explained last week, with some 20 million cases, the country’s infrastructure is overwhelmed, with shortages of everything from oxygen to kindling to burn the dead. 218,959 people have died, according to Worldometer. The situation in India will have ripple effects; it will not be sending its AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada, which has counted on it, and it cannot contribute to COVAX, the world-wide vaccine-sharing mechanism sponsored by the WHO. At long last, the US is considering lifting patent restrictions on the vaccines in order to permit developing countries to make their own, the Washington Post reports. Indian novelist Arundhati Roy has a devastating essay in the Guardian on what people in India are experiencing and what the political context is that made this surge of cases inevitable: “So here we are now, in the hell of their collective making, with every independent institution essential to the functioning of a democracy compromised and hollowed out, and a virus that is out of control.” RLS

Avaaz is collecting funds for oxygen and other supplies; Canada’s MacLean‘s magazine has a list of reliable organizations where you can contribute to oxygen, PPE, and food.

7. Women and Children Last

Women and children are especially vulnerable to policy shifts, and in three areas of the world this dynamic is especially pressing. In a much delayed move, President Biden has declared that the U.S. will withdraw from Afghanistan by the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, when the U.S. retaliated for the attacks on the Twin Towers by commencing a bombing campaign in October of 2001. Among the weapons used were cluster bombs, leading to substantial civilian casualties both in the moment and as a result of unexploded ordnance; according to Human Rights Watch, in the first week alone, “the US dropped fifty CBU-87s (cluster bomb units), containing 10,100 bomblets, in five missions.”

Successive US administrations believed that the Taliban, which had held off foreign invaders since at least 1979, could be defeated and that a Western-friendly government could be installed. As the BBC explains, however, the Taliban seems likely to inherit that earth, and the concern is whether gains in women’s education and employment will be sustained. In none of the peace talks have women’s rights been central to the discussion and Biden has not made the withdrawal of troops contingent in any way. Girls in Afghanistan told the Guardian that they are scrambling to finish their academic programs, as they fear they will not be allowed to do so if the Taliban takes power again. Fatima Ayub, an eloquent policy analyst who is herself a refugee from Afghanistan, writes in the Conversationalist that the American decision is an “acknowledgement of absolute failure.” that the entire war in/against Afghanistan was “a carnival of bad faith, bad choices, bad actors, and death.”

Women’s gains in employment and education are at risk in Iran as well, as a result of sanctions the US has imposed on that country. As Azadeh Moaveni and Sussan Tamhasemi wrote recently in the New York Times, though the US has been full of rhetoric around women’s rights in Iran, the way that sanctions have demolished the economy has made it increasingly difficult for women to make a living; during the pandemic, women lost 100,000 more jobs than men did, although only 17.5% of them participate in the workforce. Young women who had been able to live independently, with rising rents and inflation–30% at this writing–now have had to move back home. Women in abusive situations have been unable to leave. The Times writers quote Faezeh Tavakoli, a historian with the Institute of Humanities and Cultural Studies in Tehran, as saying, “The pressure on women, on the middle class, is utterly oppressive. I just don’t find the justifications for sanctions at all persuasive, certainly not from a feminist perspective. You can’t tell people, ‘Starve and then seek freedom.’”

Elsewhere, as a video posted by Vice illustrates, the battle against Isis in Iraq continues. You need only to look at the first few minutes to see how vulnerable women and children are in these conditions. Tens of thousands of women and children once connected to Isis are in refugee camps in Syria, according to the Guardian, camps which are fraught with political tension and risk. Small groups of women and children have been repatriated to their home countries, although the women in one group sent to Tunisia were interrogated and beaten when they got there, according to Human Rights Watch. To understand why women might have affiliated with Isis–voluntarily and not–in the first place, you can watch an interview with Azadeh Moaveni, or read her book Guest House for Young Widows. RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. Environmental legislation to watch

The Trump administration rolled back around a hundred pieces of environmental policy, with devastating effects, as the New York Times noted on Biden’s inauguration day. Now, a number of pieces of environmental legislation are working their way through Congress and will begin to reverse the damage.

  1) H.R.241, the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act, would extend a program that allows countries with debts owing to the U.S. to participate in “debt-for-nature swaps” to promote conservation in those nations. Analogous legislation, S.335, also titled the Tropical Forest and  Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act, has been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, meaning that it can be brought to a vote of the full Senate.

  2) H.R.1144, the Puget Sound SOS Act, would support restoration and protection of Puget Sound, an environmentally important estuary off the coast of Washington. H.R.1144 has been approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and can now be brought to a vote of the full House.

  3) H.R.6479, the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex Establishment Act, would direct the Secretary of the Interior to create such a complex and to announce its establishment in the Federal Register. H.R.6479 is currently with the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Waters, Oceans, and Wildlife.

  4) S.806, the MPH (Monarch Pollinator Highway) Act, would create grants through the Department of Transportation to carry out pollinator-friendly practices on roads and highways, including the planting and seeding of native, locally-appropriate grasses, wildflowers, and milkweed. S.809, the Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act, would establish a fund for the protection of Monarch butterflies. Monarchs are currently under consideration for endangered species status as their population has been dropping precipitously in recent years. Both S.806 and S.809 are with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. You can also sign a National Wildlife Federation petition to governors in Monarch regions calling for increased creation of and support for Monarch habitats. S-HP

If you are inclined to take action on these items, addresses of appropriate people whom you can call, write or tweet are here.

RESOURCES

trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.

The Moms Rising site this week focuses on paid leave, trans rights, support for immigrants, and the needs of breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. The site has varied important actions that you can take quickly.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. They will advise you how to help protect the mid-term elections and how to fight systemic racism, among other issues.

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

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed: April 25, 2021

“sinixt” by kootenayvolcano is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Asylum-seekers kidnapped, miss court date, cannot reapply

Thousands of people fleeing violence and starvation in Central America were turned away at the border and forced to wait for months for their court dates in dangerous camps like Matamoros. Some were kidnapped and held for ransom. Because they were not in court on the designated day, their cases were closed. 28,000 people lost their opportunity to apply for asylum under circumstances like these, according to the Washington Post. They had medical emergencies, could not travel, were attacked-or were kidnapped. Those who are now in legal limbo–and in danger–include the most vulnerable asylum seekers: those who suffered terribly in their countries of origin, many of them women and children. Though the Biden administration has ended the program, no provisions have been made for this group of applicants. RLS

If you want to intervene, ask the Biden administration to issue an executive order allowing those whose cases were closed because they missed their court dates due to unavoidable circumstances to reopen them. President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Vice-President Kamala Harris, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. Online contact form here. @VP. Also contact Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Washington, DC 20528 202-282-8000. @SecMayorkas.

2. Conspiracy charges for those involved in the Capitol insurrection

Whether an independent commission will ever investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol is in doubt. Nancy Pelosi has been trying to establish one, according to the BBC, but her first efforts were rejected as too narrow. Republicans are reluctant to admit that supporters of Donald Trump were behind the attack and so a bipartisan initiative is difficult to launch, the Washington Post noted.

A new independent report auditing the Capitol police found that they had earlier advance warnings of violence than had previously been acknowledged, and that higher-ups had directed them to hold back on using aggressive tactics against the rioters, according to the New York Times, which noted that the FBI and the Capitol police had received this anonymous posting on a social media thread the day before the insurrection: ““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,” the message read. “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.”

Meanwhile 410 charges have been filed, with more to follow, CBS reports. About 30 people so far have been charged with conspiracy. You can track the progress of the case against the Capitol rioters here: https://twitter.com/seditiontrack. It may be difficult to see the significance of these tweets at first, but they lead to profound revelations. Look at this one from emptywheel, a blog by Marcy Wheeler, who wrote Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy. Wheeler identifies how charging Proud Boy Matthew Greene with conspiracy widened the possibility for conspiracy charges in the case as a whole. S-HP, KCB

If you want to see an investigation of the events of January 6 by an independent commission, you can tell your Congressmembers, Republican and/or Democrat, that the American people insist on it. Find your Senators here and your representative here.

3. Preserving religious freedom, prohibiting religious discrimination

We’re all too familiar with how religious freedom legislation has been used to discriminate against others. Unmarried women teaching at religious schools have been fired when they became pregnant; pharmacists have declined to provide women with birth control; wedding venues have refused to serve LGBTQ2S+ people, the ACLU reminds us. However, new legislation may put a stop to at least some of these practices.

As explained by Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was established to protect religious freedom, particularly for members of minority faiths. Rachel Laser, AU’s president and CEO observes that “Despite the intent of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to protect free exercise and religious minorities, some are misusing what they call ‘religious freedom’ to ignore nondiscrimination laws and deny people access to health care, jobs and government-funded services. This exploitation of religious freedom especially harms LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities and the nonreligious by undermining their civil rights and equality.”

The Do No Harm Act, H.R.1378, is written to ensure that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used to justify discrimination and specifically bars its use to violate child labor laws, deny access to healthcare, refuse to provide government-funded services, or refuse to perform specific parts of duties as a government employee—as did Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples following the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision that the right to marry could not be denied based on the gender of the two people entering into the marriage. During the Trump administration the RFRA was used to allow government-funded sectarian adoption/fostering agencies to refuse to place children in homes of non-Christians, LGBTQ individuals and individuals of specific Christian denominations that the agencies found unacceptable (for example a refusal to place children in homes of Catholics because the placement agency supported only protestant denominations). The Do No Harm Act has 118 cosponsors. It is currently with the House Judiciary Committee. S-HP

To get involved in this issue, you can urge swift, positive action by the House Judiciary Committee on H.R.1378. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler. You can also check to see if your representative is a cosponsor of H.R.1378 and praise them or prod them as appropriate. Find your representative here.

4. Consent degrees revived, more to come

Consent decrees allow an administration to respond to violent, discriminatory, or unethical actions within law enforcement. These are, as the New York Times explains, “court-approved deals between the Justice Department and local governmental agencies that create a road map for changes to the way they operate.” Consent decrees are powerful tools, reports New York Magazine in a recent article, which noted that the Newark, New Jersey police department has been under a consent degree since 2016. As a result, in 2020, ”no Newark police officer fired his or her weapon, a feat that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago.” Although the Trump administration had a policy against using consent decrees, eliminating the federal government’s strongest tool for addressing localized abuses by law enforcement, some consent degrees already in force continued to be enforced, a practice which testifies to their stability. Now, in the context of the murder of George Floyd, Attorney General Merrick Garland has rescinded that policy and signaled the Justice Department’s intention to investigate and respond to racist or illegal behavior by law enforcement–notably in Minneapolis, where police used force against Black people seven times more often than against white people, according to the New York Times .S-HP

Consider thanking Secretary Garland for this important policy reversal. Merrick Garland, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20530-0001, (202) 514-2000.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

5. Canada’s Supreme Court upholds Indigenous rights across borders

A descendant of the Indigenous Sinixt people just won the right to hunt on his ancestral lands, even though the Sinixt have been described as “extinct” and even through he is an American hunting in British Columbia. Hunter Rick Desaute, who is also a conservation officer, shot an elk on traditional Sinixt lands and turned himself in, the Guardian explains, signing himself up for an eight-year court battle. The last Canadian member of the Sinixt people died in 1956; earlier generations had been killed in smallpox epidemics. The Court ruled that as a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, who are descended from the Sinixt, Desaute had a constitutional right to hunt in his traditional territory. As the B.C. judge who initially supported his claim said, “I am left with no doubt that the land was not forgotten, that the traditions were not forgotten and that the connection to the land is ever present in the minds of the members.”

The Court’s decision opens the door to many significant claims having to do with Indigenous rights to ancestral land, claims which could have implications not just for hunting but for water rights and pipelines, as an earlier piece in the Guardian notes. There are, however, no comparable rights in the U.S.–Indigenous Canadian people’s rights to their ancestral lands stop at the American border. But the Court’s finding has enormous substantial and symbolic significance. As Desaute told the Globe and Mail, “It’s a declaration of non-extinction. A declaration that your homeland is now your homeland again.” RLS

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

6. Biden proposes to lower carbon emissions, provide alternative jobs. Activists caution against “climate cages.”

At last week’s climate conference, the Biden administration pledged to lower carbon emissions to half of 2005 levels, according to NPR, double the reduction specified under the Paris climate accord. Simultaneously, he proposed to move jobs currently in fossil fuels to alternative forms of production, saying “I see autoworkers building the next generation of electric vehicles. I see the engineers and the construction workers building new carbon capture and green hydrogen plants.” Other world leaders made their own proposals and pleaded with the world community to address the needs of those whose lives are upended by the climate crisis, the Washington Post reported.

As Heather Cox Richardson noted in her column on Sunday, this moment may finally be one in which the fossil-fuel based economy can change. Despite Trump’s support for coal, the coal mining industry lost 10% of its workforce between 2016 and 2020. The United Coal Workers, she said, supported Biden’s proposal as long as coal workers can be moved into comparable jobs. Over the last four years, the U.S. lost ground in terms of alternative energy and any viable climate policy requires a worldwide effort. China, however, has been working on solar energy during the years when there was no government support for it in the U.S., and so nations hoping to move from fossil fuels to alternative energy will be dependent on China to provide the technology.

Activists are the real heroes of this story, Vox points out. Without their pressure, these commitments might still be far away. Xiye Bastida, a 19 year old climate justice activist who is herself an Indigenous climate refugee from Mexico, gave an eloquent speech at the conference, insisting that climate actions must not continue to target the global south. Bastida is an organizer with the Re-Earth Initiative and with Fridays for the Future, both of which have future climate actions planned. Common Dreams also has a strong piece by Nadia Ahmad ,a law professor at Barry University School of Law, about how important it is to see the issues at the border as connected to the climate crisis, to see people incarcerated in the border as climate refugees. She writes, ” I use the phrase, climate cages, to describe how public policy responses to climate change limit mobility, worsen prison conditions, and increase incarceration. These public policy responses can include immigration detention, deportation, self-deportation, and harsh sentencing guidelines.” RLS

7. One in four people in high-income countries have been vaccinated–compared to one in 500 in low-income countries.

High-income countries have only 16% of the world’s population but have administered 47% of the world’s coronavirus vaccine. Low-income countries have given only 0.2 percent of the world’s doses, Al Jazeera reported, drawing on data from the United Nations. Twelve countries have delivered no doses of the vaccine at all: Tanzania, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, Chad, Burundi, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Vanuatu, Samoa, Kiribati, North Korea and Haiti. There are still disparities among high-income countries; a chart of the percentage of the population that is vaccinated in various countries is available on the New York Times website. In the U.S., 41% of the population is vaccinated, while in Canada only 29% are.

Among the most acute situations is in India, which is facing a catastrophic surge in cases and shortages of medical supplies; there, only 8.9% of people are vaccinated and people are suffocating for lack of oxygen, according to the Independent. On April 26, the US finally agreed to send “therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and personal protective gear” to India and to ease restrictions on exporting vaccine supplies to India so that it can continue to manufacture the vaccine. Without these, India cannot continue to vaccinate its own people and to export vaccine to Africa, according to the New York Times, which reported that in India, “Funeral pyres have lit up the night sky.” RLS

RESOURCES

trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.

The Moms Rising site this week focuses on justice for Adam Toledo, calling for “transformative change, real police accountability, and investments that address the root causes of violence and foster community-based alternatives to policing and incarceration.” The site has varied important actions that you can take quickly.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. They will advise you how to help protect the mid-term elections and how to fight systemic racism, among other issues.

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

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

News You May Have Missed: April 18, 2021

“Moms Demand Action against gun violence” by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Amidst continuous gun violence, the Senate still resists gun legislation

Two grandmothers were among the Sikh victims of the shooter at the FedEx facility in Indianapolis, according to the BBC.Also killed were two nineteen-year-olds; each of the eight victims is being mourned by a circle of family, friends and co-workers. The New York Times also has pictures and bios of those who were shot. As the Times points out, the white nineteen-year-old man who ended their lives and then killed himself was able to purchase two rifles even after having had a gun taken away from him when his mother raised concerns that he was planning a “suicide by cop”; somehow, he was not thought dangerous enough to be covered by Indiana’s “Red Flag” law.

Even before the ghastly shootings of the last month, the House passed a bill, HR 1446,  to require background checks for gun purchases, but it is widely expected to fail in the Senate, according to Vox. Still, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn) said at the end of March, “Don’t count us out,” the Washington Post reported, but even Murphy acknowledged that the House bill would have to be modified; among the points that Senate Republicans–and even some Democrats–resist is the extension of time that potential gun purchasers have to wait for the background check to be completed. Now, if it is not complete in three days, the purchaser can acquire the gun by default. This is precisely the situation that enabled the person who shot nine Black people during a service at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, according to the Giffords Law Center.  The New York Times notes that the bankruptcy of the NRA may make it more possible for gun control legislation to be passed. RLS

If you want to let your senators know that their political future depends on them passing–not blocking–legislation requiring background checks in any context where guns are sold, you can find their contact information here.

2. Legislation would stop “ghost guns”

Over 40% of the guns seized by police in Los Angeles are “ghost guns”–unregistered firearms produced by 3D printers, according to the BBC. The Ghost Guns Are Guns Act, H.R.1454, does exactly what its title suggests: makes it clear that firearm assembly kits—that allow the assembly of a gun without any serial numbers—must be considered firearms. Biomed Central’s Injury Epidemiology lays out the current threat presented by ghost guns. An estimate by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives indicates that in just a single year, 2019, law enforcement confiscated more than 10,000 ghost guns. A GhostGunner3, a desk-top laser three-dimensional printer which can be purchased for just over $2000, can produce “nearly finished” firearms frames at a rate of almost two a minute. These near-complete firearms are currently not regulated as firearms. The rise in armed extremist groups in the U.S. increases the already deadly possibilities offered by ghost guns. The Biden administration is exploring executive actions to deal with ghost guns, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. H.R.1454 currently has 88 cosponsors and is with the House Judiciary Committee. S-HP

If you would like to see swift, positive action on H.R.1454 by the House Judiciary Committee, write, call or tweet Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadlerYou can also check to see if your representative is a cosponsor of H.R.1454 and praise or prod as appropriate. Find your representative here. 

3. Police misconduct is costly–and untracked

As we await a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin and continue to see Black Americans killed by law enforcement, we can urge Congressional action that recognizes this deadly disparity in treatment of Americans. Even beyond equity and justice, huge sums are paid out of government bonds and tax revenues to compensate victims of police violence and corruption–when false confessions are coerced, for example, according to the Washington Post. The Cost of Police Misconduct Act, H.R.1481, would require that all federal law enforcement agencies report cases of alleged misconduct to the Department of Justice, and that rulings on those cases of alleged misconduct be made publicly available. A database would also include information on any settlements resulting from federal law enforcement misconduct. Failure to comply with the requirements of H.R.1481 could result in cuts to grants to law enforcement agencies. This legislation is currently with the House Judiciary Committee. It has no cosponsors.

  H.R.1470, the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, would address changes in the interpretation of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, which allowed the filing of lawsuits as a result of denial of federal and constitutional rights by state or local officials. A 1967 Supreme Court ruling on the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act granted qualified immunity to those violating rights if they were acting under “good faith.” Initially the ruling applied only to actions by law enforcement, but later rulings expanded qualified immunity to include a wide range of government officials. The opening to H.R.1470 goes on to explain that “This doctrine of qualified immunity has severely limited the ability of many plaintiffs to recover damages… when their rights have been violated by state and local officials. As a result, the intent of Congress in passing the law has been frustrated, and Americans’ rights secured by the Constitution have not been appropriately protected.” H.R.1470 would eliminate the use of qualified immunity by holding accused violators to a standard of being held liable for actions that violate federal and/or constitutional rights. H.R.1470  is currently with the House Judiciary Committee. It has thirty-nine cosponsors. S-HP

If you would like to see these bills go forward, urge swift, positive action on H.R.1481 and H.R.1470 by the House Judiciary Committee. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler. You can also check to see if your Representative is a cosponsor of H.R.1470 and praise or prod them as appropriate; you might urge them to become a cosponsor of H.R.1481 as well. Find your Representative here.

4. Raising refugee caps, protecting women and girls against violence

After a public outcry over its announced intention to maintain the record low Trump administration refugee caps, the Biden administration is backpedaling from its initial announcement that the U.S. would take in only 15,000 refugees this year, according to the LA Times. Biden justified the low numbers by saying that the entire system for vetting and accepting refugees had been dismantled by the Trump administration. The administration has now stated that it will raise those caps by May 15, but has not given additional specifics beyond a statement that the new caps would probably be lower than those Biden proposed while campaigning for the presidency and in initial proposals to Congress: 62,000 this year and 125,000 next year.

Meanwhile, legislation is before both houses of Congress that could make conditions for refugees outside the U.S. more secure. The Refugee Sanitation Facility Act, H.R.1158, would add a new paragraph to the 1994/1995 Foreign Relations Authorization Act calling for “the provision of safe and secure access to sanitation facilities, with a special emphasis on women, girls, and vulnerable populations.” The Keeping Women and Girls Safe from the Start Act, S.765, is intended to “improve United States consideration of, and strategic support for, programs to prevent and respond to gender-based violence from the onset of humanitarian emergencies and to build the capacity of humanitarian actors to address the immediate and long-term challenges resulting from such violence.” S.765 would commit the U.S. to systematically fighting gender-based violence in emergencies through support of U.S. and international assistance organizations, training assistance workers in preventing gender-based violence, establishing standards for prevention of gender-based violence, and provision of services for both survivors of and those at risk of gender-based violence. H.R.1158 is with the House Foreign Affairs Committee; S.765 if with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP

If you want to act on these issues, tell President Biden that at a minimum we want to see refugee caps expanded to 62,000 for this year and 125,000 for next year as he had earlier proposed. You can also urge swift, positive action on H.R.1158 by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and ask your representative and senators to co-sponsor. All addresses are here.

5. Poultry processing speeds endanger workers

Could you process 140 chickens per minute? What about 175? Because meat and poultry plant employees who have been designated as essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic have been working dangerous jobs at close quarters throughout the pandemic, high levels of work-to-worker transmission of COVID-19 have resulted. In January, the Trump administration allowed 15 plants to increase their line speeds, and moved swiftly to make this provision permanent and more widespread, according to the Washington Post. Plants with faster line speeds–in the range of 175 birds per minute–have 10 times the rate of COVID 19, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, which points out that “nearly 90,000 workers have contracted the virus and 378 have died.”

The Biden administration rolled back the increase in line speeds, according to Safety and Health Magazine, and S.713, the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act, would suspend any line speed increases that have been instituted during the pandemic, Politico notes. It would also require an examination of whether actions by the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Health and Human Services have been effective in protecting animal, food, and worker safety. S.713 is currently with the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. It has twelve cosponsors. S-HP

To protect poultry and meat processing workers from COVID-19 and injuries from speed-up on the job, urge quick, positive action on S.713 by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chair, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, 731 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-4822. @stabenow. You can also check to see if your Senators are cosponsors of S.713 and praise or prod them as appropriate. Find your Senators here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Biden negotiates with Guatemala and Honduras to use military force against asylum-seekers

People fleeing violence and starvation in Central America will find it harder to arrive at the U.S. border, under a deal that the Biden administration negotiated with Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, according to the Guardian. Mexico has 10,000 troops already deployed, while Guatemala has set up 12 checkpoints along migrant routes and sent 1,500 troops to its border. Honduras sent 7,000 police and military officers to its border. However, “Security forces in all three countries have been frequently accused of using excessive violence against migrants, and targeting them for extortion and robbery,” the Guardian explained, pointing out that half the people traveling from Honduras and Guatemala are families with children. When they arrive at the US border, these families are being summarily deported to Mexico, where they face further violence and lack resources. See this New York Times story for a snapshot of what it means to families to be sent to Mexico after a desperate trek from Central America. In March, as we noted, Biden made aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador conditional on reducing corruption and enhancing human rights, according to Bloomberg, but it is not clear how those conditions are being monitored. RLS

The Access to Counsel Act, HR 1573, would give those who have made it to the border access to a relative and to legal advice. The bill has made it out of the House Judiciary Committee; if you would like to see it go forward, tell your representatives to support it when it comes to the full House. Find your representative here. 

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. COVID “catastrophe” in Ontario, chaotic provincial response

Seniors in long-term care homes in Canada previously have borne the brunt of the pandemic, with almost 70% of the deaths so far occurring among that group. However, an unexpectedly slow roll-out of the vaccines, an explosion of COVID variants and provincial mismanagement have led to a sudden escalation of cases among the general population in some provinces. In Ontario, the pandemic is at crisis level, with ICUs full and doctors exhausted. Dr. Kali Barrett, a member of the provincial health council, describes the situation as catastrophic, according to the CBC, with what she calls a “triage scenario” impending.

While the federal government has offered to send health workers and aid of various kinds to Ontario, the premier’s response to the problem has been contentious. In announcing a provincial shutdown, Doug Ford at first declared that playgrounds would be closed and police would randomly stop people to ascertain why they were not staying home. Given that outdoor transmission is the least of the problem and that random police stops tend to be imposed unequally on Black drivers, the resulting outcry led Ford to withdraw those policies. In fact, 30 Ontario police forces said that they would refuse to use those powers, the Toronto Star reported. Next, the Ford government announced plans to shut down the legislature, and then denied doing so, according to the CBC. NDP leader Andrea Horwath criticized Ford for imposing ineffectual policies but not offering paid sick leave to workers, so that people who had COVID could stay home; she said she would refuse to allow the legislature to cease work: “We are not prepared to help Doug Ford go home, leaving a police-state in place while he allows COVID-19 to run rampant, overrun hospitals, and steal the lives of Ontarians who would otherwise make it through this,” she told the CBC. RLS

RESOURCES

trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.

The Moms Rising site this week focuses on justice for Daunte Wright, pointing out that “Black people deserve to live and breath in a world where skittles, air fresheners, toys, cell phones or sleeping in your bed or opening your front door does not make you a criminal or someone whose life can be taken with no recourse or accountability.”

The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. They will advise you how to help protect the mid-term elections and how to fight systemic racism, among other issues.

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

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

News You May Have Missed: April 18, 2021

“Moms Demand Action against gun violence” by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY 2.0

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Amidst continuous gun violence, the Senate still resists gun legislation

Two grandmothers were among the Sikh victims of the shooter at the FedEx facility in Indianapolis, according to the BBC. Also killed were two nineteen-year-olds; each of the eight victims is being mourned by a circle of family, friends and co-workers. The New York Times also has pictures and bios of those who were shot. As the Times points out, the white nineteen-year-old man who ended their lives and then killed himself was able to purchase two rifles even after having had a gun taken away from him when his mother raised concerns that he was planning a “suicide by cop”; somehow, he was not thought dangerous enough to be covered by Indiana’s “Red Flag” law.

Even before the ghastly shootings of the last month, the House passed a bill, HR 1446,  to require background checks for gun purchases, but it is widely expected to fail in the Senate, according to Vox. Still, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn) said at the end of March, “Don’t count us out,” the Washington Post reported, but even Murphy acknowledged that the House bill would have to be modified; among the points that Senate Republicans–and even some Democrats–resist is the extension of time that potential gun purchasers have to wait for the background check to be completed. Now, if it is not complete in three days, the purchaser can acquire the gun by default. This is precisely the situation that enabled the person who shot nine Black people during a service at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, according to the Giffords Law Center.  The New York Times notes that the bankruptcy of the NRA may make it more possible for gun control legislation to be passed. RLS

If you want to let your senators know that their political future depends on them passing–not blocking–legislation requiring background checks in any context where guns are sold, you can find their contact information here.

2. Legislation would stop “ghost guns”

Over 40% of the guns seized by police in Los Angeles are “ghost guns”–unregistered firearms produced by 3D printers, according to the BBC. The Ghost Guns Are Guns Act, H.R.1454, does exactly what its title suggests: makes it clear that firearm assembly kits—that allow the assembly of a gun without any serial numbers—must be considered firearms. Biomed Central’s Injury Epidemiology lays out the current threat presented by ghost guns. An estimate by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives indicates that in just a single year, 2019, law enforcement confiscated more than 10,000 ghost guns. A GhostGunner3, a desk-top laser three-dimensional printer which can be purchased for just over $2000, can produce “nearly finished” firearms frames at a rate of almost two a minute. These near-complete firearms are currently not regulated as firearms. The rise in armed extremist groups in the U.S. increases the already deadly possibilities offered by ghost guns. The Biden administration is exploring executive actions to deal with ghost guns, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. H.R.1454 currently has 88 cosponsors and is with the House Judiciary Committee. S-HP

If you would like to see swift, positive action on H.R.1454 by the House Judiciary Committee, write, call or tweet Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler. You can also check to see if your representative is a cosponsor of H.R.1454 and praise or prod as appropriate. Find your representative here. 

3. Police misconduct is costly–and untracked

As we await a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin and continue to see Black Americans killed by law enforcement, we can urge Congressional action that recognizes this deadly disparity in treatment of Americans. Even beyond equity and justice, huge sums are paid out of government bonds and tax revenues to compensate victims of police violence and corruption–when false confessions are coerced, for example, according to the Washington Post. The Cost of Police Misconduct Act, H.R.1481, would require that all federal law enforcement agencies report cases of alleged misconduct to the Department of Justice, and that rulings on those cases of alleged misconduct be made publicly available. A database would also include information on any settlements resulting from federal law enforcement misconduct. Failure to comply with the requirements of H.R.1481 could result in cuts to grants to law enforcement agencies. This legislation is currently with the House Judiciary Committee. It has no cosponsors.

  H.R.1470, the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, would address changes in the interpretation of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, which allowed the filing of lawsuits as a result of denial of federal and constitutional rights by state or local officials. A 1967 Supreme Court ruling on the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act granted qualified immunity to those violating rights if they were acting under “good faith.” Initially the ruling applied only to actions by law enforcement, but later rulings expanded qualified immunity to include a wide range of government officials. The opening to H.R.1470 goes on to explain that “This doctrine of qualified immunity has severely limited the ability of many plaintiffs to recover damages… when their rights have been violated by state and local officials. As a result, the intent of Congress in passing the law has been frustrated, and Americans’ rights secured by the Constitution have not been appropriately protected.” H.R.1470 would eliminate the use of qualified immunity by holding accused violators to a standard of being held liable for actions that violate federal and/or constitutional rights. H.R.1470  is currently with the House Judiciary Committee. It has thirty-nine cosponsors. S-HP

If you would like to see these bills go forward, urge swift, positive action on H.R.1481 and H.R.1470 by the House Judiciary Committee. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3951. @RepJerryNadler. You can also check to see if your Representative is a cosponsor of H.R.1470 and praise or prod them as appropriate; you might urge them to become a cosponsor of H.R.1481 as well. Find your Representative here.

4. Raising refugee caps, protecting women and girls against violence

After a public outcry over its announced intention to maintain the record low Trump administration refugee caps, the Biden administration is backpedaling from its initial announcement that the U.S. would take in only 15,000 refugees this year, according to the LA Times. Biden justified the low numbers by saying that the entire system for vetting and accepting refugees had been dismantled by the Trump administration. The administration has now stated that it will raise those caps by May 15, but has not given additional specifics beyond a statement that the new caps would probably be lower than those Biden proposed while campaigning for the presidency and in initial proposals to Congress: 62,000 this year and 125,000 next year.

Meanwhile, legislation is before both houses of Congress that could make conditions for refugees outside the U.S. more secure. The Refugee Sanitation Facility Act, H.R.1158, would add a new paragraph to the 1994/1995 Foreign Relations Authorization Act calling for “the provision of safe and secure access to sanitation facilities, with a special emphasis on women, girls, and vulnerable populations.” The Keeping Women and Girls Safe from the Start Act, S.765, is intended to “improve United States consideration of, and strategic support for, programs to prevent and respond to gender-based violence from the onset of humanitarian emergencies and to build the capacity of humanitarian actors to address the immediate and long-term challenges resulting from such violence.” S.765 would commit the U.S. to systematically fighting gender-based violence in emergencies through support of U.S. and international assistance organizations, training assistance workers in preventing gender-based violence, establishing standards for prevention of gender-based violence, and provision of services for both survivors of and those at risk of gender-based violence. H.R.1158 is with the House Foreign Affairs Committee; S.765 if with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP

If you want to act on these issues, tell President Biden that at a minimum we want to see refugee caps expanded to 62,000 for this year and 125,000 for next year as he had earlier proposed. You can also urge swift, positive action on H.R.1158 by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and ask your representative and senators to co-sponsor. All addresses are here.

5. Poultry processing speeds endanger workers

Could you process 140 chickens per minute? What about 175? Because meat and poultry plant employees who have been designated as essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic have been working dangerous jobs at close quarters throughout the pandemic, high levels of work-to-worker transmission of COVID-19 have resulted. In January, the Trump administration allowed 15 plants to increase their line speeds, and moved swiftly to make this provision permanent and more widespread, according to the Washington Post. Plants with faster line speeds–in the range of 175 birds per minute–have 10 times the rate of COVID 19, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, which points out that “nearly 90,000 workers have contracted the virus and 378 have died.”

The Biden administration rolled back the increase in line speeds, according to Safety and Health Magazine, and S.713, the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act, would suspend any line speed increases that have been instituted during the pandemic, Politico notes. It would also require an examination of whether actions by the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Health and Human Services have been effective in protecting animal, food, and worker safety. S.713 is currently with the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. It has twelve cosponsors. S-HP

To protect poultry and meat processing workers from COVID-19 and injuries from speed-up on the job, urge quick, positive action on S.713 by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chair, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, 731 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 225-4822. @stabenow. You can also check to see if your Senators are cosponsors of S.713 and praise or prod them as appropriate. Find your Senators here.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

6. Biden negotiates with Guatemala and Honduras to use military force against asylum-seekers

People fleeing violence and starvation in Central America will find it harder to arrive at the U.S. border, under a deal that the Biden administration negotiated with Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, according to the Guardian. Mexico has 10,000 troops already deployed, while Guatemala has set up 12 checkpoints along migrant routes and sent 1,500 troops to its border. Honduras sent 7,000 police and military officers to its border. However, “Security forces in all three countries have been frequently accused of using excessive violence against migrants, and targeting them for extortion and robbery,” the Guardian explained, pointing out that half the people traveling from Honduras and Guatemala are families with children. When they arrive at the US border, these families are being summarily deported to Mexico, where they face further violence and lack resources. See this New York Times story for a snapshot of what it means to families to be sent to Mexico after a desperate trek from Central America. In March, as we noted, Biden made aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador conditional on reducing corruption and enhancing human rights, according to Bloomberg, but it is not clear how those conditions are being monitored. RLS

The Access to Counsel Act, HR 1573, would give those who have made it to the border access to a relative and to legal advice. The bill has made it out of the House Judiciary Committee; if you would like to see it go forward, tell your representatives to support it when it comes to the full House. Find your representative here. 

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

7. COVID “catastrophe” in Ontario, chaotic provincial response

Seniors in long-term care homes in Canada previously have borne the brunt of the pandemic, with almost 70% of the deaths so far occurring among that group. However, an unexpectedly slow roll-out of the vaccines, an explosion of COVID variants and provincial mismanagement have led to a sudden escalation of cases among the general population in some provinces. In Ontario, the pandemic is at crisis level, with ICUs full and doctors exhausted. Dr. Kali Barrett, a member of the provincial health council, describes the situation as catastrophic, according to the CBC, with what she calls a “triage scenario” impending.

While the federal government has offered to send health workers and aid of various kinds to Ontario, the premier’s response to the problem has been contentious. In announcing a provincial shutdown, Doug Ford at first declared that playgrounds would be closed and police would randomly stop people to ascertain why they were not staying home. Given that outdoor transmission is the least of the problem and that random police stops tend to be imposed unequally on Black drivers, the resulting outcry led Ford to withdraw those policies. In fact, 30 Ontario police forces said that they would refuse to use those powers, the Toronto Star reported. Next, the Ford government announced plans to shut down the legislature, and then denied doing so, according to the CBC. NDP leader Andrea Horwath criticized Ford for imposing ineffectual policies but not offering paid sick leave to workers, so that people who had COVID could stay home; she said she would refuse to allow the legislature to cease work: “We are not prepared to help Doug Ford go home, leaving a police-state in place while he allows COVID-19 to run rampant, overrun hospitals, and steal the lives of Ontarians who would otherwise make it through this,” she told the CBC. RLS

RESOURCES

trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.

The Moms Rising site this week focuses on justice for Daunte Wright, pointing out that “Black people deserve to live and breath in a world where skittles, air fresheners, toys, cell phones or sleeping in your bed or opening your front door does not make you a criminal or someone whose life can be taken with no recourse or accountability.”

The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. They will advise you how to help protect the mid-term elections and how to fight systemic racism, among other issues.

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

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

News You May Have Missed: April 11, 2021

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

IDOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

2. Child deported, kidnapped, released without his mother

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

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

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

3. Pathways to citizenship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

◉ Elimination of visa backlogs.

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

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

4. Hondurans temporarily protected by TPS

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

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

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

5. Public housing repairs at last in sight

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

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

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

6. Restoring the right to vote

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

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

7. First responders to mental health crises

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

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Children, poets, journalists killed by Myanmar military

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

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Perma-pandemic

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

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

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

10. And the next virus is…

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

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

RESOURCES

A trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed: April 4, 2021

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

2. New bill would protect kids in immigrant detention

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

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

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

3. Biden addressing hunger in America

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

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

4. Who supports the right to vote in Georgia?

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

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

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

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

5. Biden declares Uyghur Muslims to be victims of genocide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Famine in Yemen

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

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

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

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT7.

7. Keeping Black moms alive, supporting all pregnant workers

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

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

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

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

8. Potential catastrophe in Florida years in the making

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

News You May Have Missed: March 28, 2021

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Mass murder takes out bright lights

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

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

2. Restoring the right to organize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Violence Against Women Act reauthorized by the House


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

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

6. How long should legislators wait to lobby?

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

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

7. Clemency for Reality Winner

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

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

8. Unused treatment for Covid-19

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

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

9. Counting COVID cases in prisons

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

News You May Have Missed: March 21, 2021

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

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

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Family separation–still and again

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

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

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

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

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

2. Citizenship opportunities for Dreamers and farmworkers

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

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

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

-Creates more predictable wages and reduces housing costs

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

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

-Creates a pathway to optional permanent resident status.

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

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

3. Legislation for Black farmers and other farmers of color

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

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

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

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

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

4. Ending private prisons: Justice is not for sale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Work toward global decriminalization of homosexuality.

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

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed: March 14, 2021

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

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

3. Immigration roundup here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Foreign nationals are not aliens

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

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

8. Protesters defying military coup in Myanmar arrested, killed

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

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

9. Racism as a public health emergency

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

10. Disparate access to vaccines

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

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

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

11. Indigenous opposition to pipelines

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

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

12. Legislation to protect wilderness

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

News You May Have Missed: March 7, 2021

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

DOMESTIC NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

2. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders endure assaults, discrimination

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

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

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

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

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

3. Addressing immigration by stabilizing Latin American economies

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

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

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

4. Legislation would preserve the right to organize

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

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

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

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

• Prohibit lockouts and retaliation against striking workers;

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

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

• Provide civil penalties for failure to honor NLRB orders

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

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

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

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

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

• barring contracts for employers who illegally oppose union organizing;

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

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

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

5. A 51st State: D.C.

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

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

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

6. Universal background checks save lives

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

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

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

SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

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

8. Fracking under any other name…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Biden asked to release federal funds for abortion

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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