The 2018 AUMF: Meet the new law, worse than the old law?

For most Americans, when Trump decided to bomb Syria a few weeks ago, no alarm bells went off. After all, whether or not you agree with the decision, it’s the President’s prerogative to take such action — even without any prior authorization from Congress required. Right?

Actually, not exactly. You may be forgiven for believing the President has this power, because it has seemed to be this way since — well, forever. The truth, as so often happens, is more complicated.

Time was, Congress retained the sole authority to declare war on another country. However, the last time Congress exercised its authority was back in 1942 — following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that marked our entry into World War II. “Wait!” you may be wondering, “What about the Korean War and the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War?” Yup, those were indeed all “wars.” But they were never declared as such. Rather, by labeling them “Extended Military Engagements,” the administration bypassed the requirement for a Congressional declaration. The difference in language may seem trivial — but it made a world of difference in Washington.

Following September 11, 2001, Congress decided that even Extended Military Engagements were not sufficient. The attack on our soil led to Congress ceding more explicit authority to the President, so he could deal with the (again, not formally declared) War on Terror. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of 2001 gave the President the power to use military force, without seeking prior Congressional approval — but only in response to attacks by entities (primarily Al Qaeda and the Taliban) deemed directly or indirectly responsible for the Septamber 11 terrorist attacks.

While it seems that the AUMF would greatly limit the President’s powers to wage war, it didn’t work out that way. Rather, we’ve slid down a slippery slope over the ensuing years to the point where the AUMF can now justify an attack on almost anyone the President chooses. Notably, the AUMF has been interpreted to extend to terrorist entities, such as ISIS, that had no direct connection to 9/11. With our recent bombings of Syria (also in no way involved in 9/11), many in Congress have begun to question whether the AUMF’s authority has gone too far.

Enter the “Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2018” — often referred to as the Corker-Kaine draft — which supposedly reasserts Congress’ role in “authorizing and conducting oversight of the use of military force.” While renewed oversight is a worthy goal, and one that Indivisible East Bay solidly supports (especially with someone as erratic and reckless as the Current Occupant of the White House), it is unclear that the new AUMF truly accomplishes this goal.

In fact, some claim it does almost the opposite.

For example, the 2018 AUMF allows the President to designate new groups as military enemies, and such a designation would remain in force until and unless Congress subsequently rejects it. If Congress fails to take any action (a too common outcome in today’s polarized climate), the President’s unilateral decision would stand. Congress could exert greater and more appropriate oversight if its approval was required before the President could engage in military combat. While the President should retain some ability to act quickly in a crisis, most responses can wait for this Congressional approval. 

The 2018 AUMF broadens the scope of the President’s power by untethering future U.S. military actions from any requirement that they be linked to 9/11 or any other attacks against our country. As Representative Barbara Lee argues, the new AUMF “effectively consents to endless war by omitting any sunset date or geographic constraints for our ongoing operations.”

Please contact Senators Feinstein and Harris and let them know that you oppose the 2018 AUMF as currently worded. What to say:

My name is ___________, my zip code is ____________, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m concerned about the current draft of the Corker-Kaine AUMF bill. The draft AUMF has no territorial or time limits and no meaningful limit on who the president may prosecute wars against. This gives gives far too much of Congress’ decision-making power to the president. I support repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMF but any replacement needs clear limits, not fewer limits, on what the president can do. I want the Senator to oppose the draft Corker-Kaine AUMF bill as it’s now written.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

IEB meets with Feinstein State Director April 17, 2018

On April 17, 2018, a dedicated group of about 25 Indivisible East Bay, Indivisible Central Contra Costa County, and Together We Will Contra Costa members sat down with Senator Diane Feinstein’s State Director, Sean Elsbernd, at the Concord Public Library. After a week filled with news of scandals and investigations in the White House, as well as some major foreign policy developments, the participants were eager to talk to someone with inside knowledge of what’s going on in D.C.

As is typical of our meetings with Sean, IEB came prepared with a checklist of items to discuss. Our goals are to inform Sean of our position on various issues and request actions for the Senator to take — as well as to allow Sean to provide us with his reaction to our requests. This is never dull. Sean is not shy about asserting his views on the agenda topics, whether or not those views align with ours.

In this latest meeting, our checklist was ambitious — it included more than 20 items. Here are some highlights:

The Mueller probe

With Trump frequently commenting about the possibility that he may fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller or otherwise attempt to shut down the Russia investigation, there’s pressure on Congress to pass legislation to protect Mueller. Senators Tillis, Graham, Booker and Coons of the Judiciary Committee, of which Senator Feinstein is a Ranking Member, have sponsored the bipartisan Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act to do just that. Senator Grassley scheduled a Committee vote, though it may be for naught, as Mitch McConnell will not bring the vote to the floor and the House apparently has no plans to do anything on this matter.

Sean offered little hope. He encouraged us to keep public pressure on the Senators and to keep these bills and the importance of protecting Mueller in the public eye. Consistent with news reports and the perception of groups who are mobilizing to protect the investigation (including Indivisibles), Sean believes the real immediate danger is that Trump will fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, as an indirect route to stopping Mueller.

Meanwhile, two committees in the Senate have been investigating Russian interference into our elections: the Intelligence Committee is focused directly on what happened in the 2016 election, while the Judiciary Committee is looking into obstruction of justice concerning the Russian interference. The report from the Intelligence Committee is close to completion. Their findings, when published, need to get to Secretaries of State across the country ASAP, so they can address possible voting obstruction/interference issues. Sean reports that Senator Chuck Grassley (chairman of the Judiciary Committee) has not been helpful in his committee’s investigation. We should be prepared to exert pressure for action here.

Judicial appointments

For judicial appointments, there is a longstanding tradition in the Senate whereby the nominee’s home state Senator is sent a form called a “blue slip” and can signal their support for a nomination by returning a positive blue slip to the Judiciary Committee. Declining to return a blue slip indicates the Senator does not support the nominee; this has traditionally doomed a nomination.

During the Obama administration, GOP Senators often withheld blue slips to prevent confirmation of judges that the Republican party opposed. Breaking with this tradition, Grassley has recently allowed two nominees to go forward without a blue slip. Feinstein has thrown down a marker on respecting the blue slip tradition. We at IEB see this as critical, especially because there are currently seven vacancies in the influential Ninth Circuit, which includes California. Blue slips may be the only way Democratic Senators can influence nominations to this Circuit.

Bombing of Syria

Feinstein believes that, while the President can unilaterally authorize limited strikes, sustained military action should require authorization from Congress. Last year, she voted to debate repealing the 2001 AUMF Authorization for Use of Military Force), but that vote failed. Senators Corker and Kaine on the Foreign Relations Committee have introduced a bipartisan bill to repeal and replace the current AUMF. Feinstein plans to review that bill and continues to support having that debate. IEB also wants Congress to have this debate, but considers the terms of the proposed replacement AUMF very problematic and has asked Feinstein not to support it.

Pompeo nomination

Feinstein opposes the nomination of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. We concur — see our article for action you can take to oppose Pompeo’s nomination.

Offshore drilling in California

Donald Trump continues to push to open the California coast to offshore drilling. Not surprisingly, Feinstein is strongly opposed to this. State Senator Hanna-Beth Jackson has introduced SB 834, which would designate as state land the entire California coast, from beaches to three miles out to sea. The bill would also prohibit “the State Lands Commission from approving any leases of submerged lands that would result in an increase of oil or natural gas production from federal waters.” This would effectively prevent federal authorization of offshore drilling in California. Feinstein supports this bill and additionally wants all California counties to pass resolutions opposing offshore drilling.

We at IEB need to call our state representatives in support of this bill!

Immigration reform

A California woman spoke about her husband who was born in Brazil and had been adopted by Americans as a child. The couple recently learned that, despite the adoption, the husband is not a U.S. citizen. Shockingly, at this point, there is no clear pathway to citizenship for him, nor for others in a similar position. As a result, such individuals could be sent back to their country of origin — where they know no one and do not know the culture. Faced with this prospect, some have committed suicide.

To address this injustice, the woman advocates for passage of the Adoptee Citizen Act of 2018 (S. 2522H.R. 5233), introduced on March 8, 2018 by Senators Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). A similar bipartisan bill has been introduced in the House. The acts “would provide U.S. citizenship to individuals born outside of the United States who were adopted as children by American parents.” She asked Senator Feinstein to support this legislation.

The bill would fix a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) of 2000. This existing legislation does guarantee citizenship to adoptees born outside of the U.S. under the age of 18. However, the CCA did not apply to adoptees who were over 18 when the law went into effect on February 27, 2001 — leaving out an estimated 35,000 adoptees. These adoptees remain “susceptible to deportation, unable to travel outside of the U.S. and unable to work legally.”

Everyone in the room was very moved by the woman’s story. We were shocked to hear that so many adoptees are being denied citizenship, and baffled that Congress would find this a difficult problem to solve. Sean rushed over to carefully take down the woman’s contact information, so hopefully Senator Feinstein will take action both on this case and the larger issue. IEB plans to advocate for this bill. So please contact your members of Congress today, and look out for more details and calls to action to come. 

Make those phone calls!

While your calls to our representatives continue to come in, Sean says call volume is down from last year. This is concerning, since if anything our call volume needs to increase — especially on these issues we are most concerned about. Make those phone calls! Today! 

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Tell Our Senators: Positively No Pompeo, Hell No Haspel

The Senate could vote on Mike Pompeo’s nomination for Secretary of State before the end of April, and if he’s confirmed, would vote on Gina Haspel’s nomination to succeed him as CIA Chief. Both would be disasters:

  • Pompeo is an Islamophobe who hates the Iran nuclear deal. He supports the NSA collecting Americans’ communications data. He has supported torture as an “interrogation technique,” and has expressed openness to waterboarding, though at his CIA chief confirmation hearing he told Senator Feinstein he wouldn’t restart using the techniques. He has lied about the intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in our elections.
  • Gina Haspel’s CIA career includes documented connections with torture, including connections with the torture of terrorism suspects in a secret prison and destroying evidence of the torture. She was denied a CIA promotion in 2013 because of her history with torture, in part thanks to Sen. Feinstein.

In an April 17 press release titled “Pompeo Not Qualified to Serve as Secretary of State”,  Senator Feinstein detailed why Mike Pompeo would not be “capable of proudly representing all of America in the pursuit of peace” – citing the exact reasons we’ve been calling on her to bring up.

Feinstein also recently said that Haspel has been a good CIA deputy director, but on March 14, 2018 said that Haspel “was involved in one of the darkest chapters in American history. Senators who will vote on her nomination MUST know the exact role she played in the CIA’s torture program.”

Senator Harris voted against Pompeo in his CIA confirmation hearings, but to date has said nothing about his nomination. Senator Harris, this should not be hard!

What you can do:

  • Please contact both senators.
  • Thank Senator Feinstein for standing up against torture in the past and for speaking out strongly against Pompeo.
  • Thank Senator Harris for voting against Pompeo in the past and ask her to speak out against him now. Tell her you are disappointed that she has not yet spoken out on this crucial issue.
  • Ask both Senators to vote against Pompeo and Haspel’s confirmations. 
  • Tell our Senators that since they stand against torture, they must stand against putting people who condone torture at the head of the State Department and CIA—they must vote NO on Pompeo and Haspel.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (email)
(415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841

Sen. Kamala Harris (email)
(415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

“Mission Accomplished” in Syria? Tell Trump He’s Not Above the Law

By Alice Towey

On Friday, April 13, 2018, the Current Occupant of the White House announced that the United States was launching a missile strike against Syria. Trump said that he had ordered U.S. armed forces to launch strikes on targets associated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program. It was the culmination of a tumultuous week in the White House. But the military strike on Syria did not eliminate concerns about Trump and the rule of law; rather, it added to them.

The previous week had been rough for Trump. On Monday April 9, the FBI raided the office and home of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, seizing information that – we later learned – might include recordings of private conversations. Later in the week, it was reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had evidence that Cohen had visited Prague in 2016, lending credence to the Steele Dossier. On Wednesday House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he will not seek reelection. And on Thursday, excerpts of former FBI Director James Comey’s forthcoming memoir leaked to the press, including salacious details about his time working for Trump. By Friday, America was poised on the edge of its seat, and there were rumors that Trump might fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

In the midst of the chaos the White House abruptly scheduled a press conference, and Trump announced that the U.S, France, and Great Britain were launching missile strikes on Syria, in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

Make no mistake: the Assad regime has committed repeated atrocities against its own people, and the use of chemical weapons is inexcusable. However, the timing of this action, and Trump’s process for implementing it, are highly troubling:

  • Just last week, Trump announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from Syria. Why become even more enmeshed now? Was the decision to use military force influenced by a desire to distract the country from the ongoing scandals and legal turmoil surrounding him?
  • Trump’s sudden concern for Assad’s victims is highly suspect in light of his repeated efforts to ban Muslims and Syrian refugees from entering this country. So far this year, only eleven Syrian refugees have been accepted for resettlement in the U.S. (compared to almost 800 by this time in 2016).
  • Trump blatantly circumvented Congress in launching this hostile military act. Under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, only Congress has the authority to declare war; not the President. Unless the U.S. is in imminent danger, the President must seek Congressional approval before undertaking military action. So far, the Trump administration has neither sought Congress’s approval nor explained its rationale for bypassing Congress to strike Syria.
  • Trump is not above the law. Every illegal action that he is allowed to get away with sets a dangerous precedent, bringing us a step closer to Mueller or Rosenstein getting fired.

What You Can Do Now:

Our Members of Congress (MoCs) must make sure Trump knows that they hold him accountable, now. They need to assert their role in our government and insist that Trump not launch military offensives without consulting Congress, and they need to press for an actual strategy on Syria that includes diplomacy and real, significant humanitarian aid. And they need to make Trump understand clearly that any action to interfere with or distract from the Russia investigation will not be tolerated. 

Call or email your Members of Congress. The following actions are based on the statements each of our MoCs has made, beginning with their tweets immediately following the bombing:

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841

Thank Senator Feinstein for her statement that Congress “must be consulted about the use of force,” which is an improvement over her statements following last year’s missile strikes. Ask her to insist that Trump come before Congress prior to launching any further action in Syria, and to vote NO on any authorization for further force in Syria, based on Trump’s demonstrated recklessness and lack of a full strategy. Thank her for her opposition to Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

Senator Harris tweeted from her personal account: “The president needs to lay out a comprehensive strategy in Syria in consultation with Congress — and he needs to do it now.” Please call Senator Harris and thank her for this statement, and tell her you’d like her to make a stronger, official statement condemning Trump for bypassing Congress. And please ask her to vote NO on any authorization for further force in Syria, based on Trump’s demonstrated recklessness and lack of a full strategy, and to vote against Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who does not think Trump needs Congress’ approval to strike Syria.

  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095

Representative DeSaulnier penned a very thoughtful piece in the Chronicle about the president needing Congressional approval for further military involvement in Syria. Please call Rep. DeSaulnier and thank him and tell him that you agree that we need a cohesive strategy around Syria, and that you want him to push for hearings to assess the U.S. government’s own global war operations and the resulting ramped-up civilian body count across the world.

  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661

As ever, Barbara Lee comes through; please thank her for her strong statement criticizing Trump’s use of military force without Congressional authorization. Tell her you agree that only Congress has the power to authorize use of force and that you want her to push for hearings to assess the U.S. government’s own global war operations and the resulting ramped-up civilian body count across the world.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Rep. Swalwell also made a strong statement condemning Trump’s action; please thank him and tell him that you agree that we need a cohesive strategy around Syria, and that you want him to push for hearings to assess the U.S. government’s own global war operations and the resulting ramped-up civilian body count across the world.

Concerned About the Humanitarian Crisis in Syria?

Consider supporting a group like the International Rescue Committee that is providing vital support to people within Syria, as well as to refugees around the world fleeing violence. Here is a list by Charity Navigator of charities providing humanitarian aid in Syria, along with their ratings of the charities’ efficacy.

Alice Towey is a Civil Engineer specializing in water resource management. She lives in El Cerrito, where she and her husband are active in Indivisible CA-11 United.

Keep Calm and Postcard On

How to follow up your Cinco de Mayo Saturday? Come to Indivisible East Bay’s second postcard party on Sunday, May 6, from noon to 2 PM. Our first postcard party in March was a huge success, with 50 IEB members & friends coming together to write 300 postcards:

  • 60 for Emily Antul (local MA race) – won on 4/4/18!
  • 62 for Rebecca Dallet (WI Supreme Court) – won on 4/4/18!
  • 164 for Dr. Hiral Tipirneni (US Congress AZ) – election is 4/24/18

This is what a pile o’ 300 postcards looks like:

Postcard party

Perfect for blue state activists, postcards are a fun and effective way to help get the message out to faraway red districts and states. Postcard resisters meet in cafes and living rooms, around tables full of snacks and a rainbow assortment of pens and markers that make even the most artsy-challenged among us grin.

All are welcome — from the postcard-curious to committed carders. Bring a friend, and make some new ones there! We’ll explain everything and have newbies up and writing in a few minutes. We provide addresses and samples of what to write for each campaign — most from Postcards to Voters, and we can also give you the lowdown on other options.

  • You can bring your own postcards (if there’s an image or text it should be content-neutral) or we’ll have some there for you to use – designed and donated by IEB’s super postcard party organizer Michael.
  • If you have postcard stamps (.35 ea for cards a max of 6″ x 4.25″) please bring them, or we’ll have stamps for you (not donated, so we’ll just ask you to reimburse us for the cost).
  • We’ll also have pens, markers, stickers, washi tape, and most importantly – snacks and friendly chat as we write to resist!

Already a verified postcard writer? Bring your own addresses if you want. Like to learn more about activist postcard-ing? See our article “The Pen (plus .35 stamp) Is Mightier Than Yelling At Your TV.” 

The El Cerrito Royale is a short walk from El Cerrito Del Norte BART station and is wheelchair accessible. Free parking.

Postcard parties
Postcard parties, photo by Heidi Rand

Want to get started writing on your own? Go to Postcards to Voters or the P2V Facebook page: volunteers in every state have collectively written over half a million postcards to voters in dozens of key, close elections. After you sign up you have to get verified: follow the directions to write your first postcard, take a photo and send it to be checked. Get started using one of these options:

  • Click here to fill out a volunteer form, or
  • Send an email to join@TonyTheDemocrat.org or
  • Text HELLO to ABBY The Address Bot at 1-484-ASK-ABBY (1-484-275-2229)

Once you’re verified, request the number of addresses you’d like:

  • Click here, or
  • Send an email to postcards@TonyTheDemocrat.org, including the number of addresses you want, or
  • Text ABBY The Address Bot at 1-484-ASK-ABBY (1-484-275-2229), or
  • New! Use Facebook Messenger to send a direct message to Abby the Address Bot (it’s free for Postcards to Voters, whereas they pay for texting). You must provide a texting phone number even if you’re using the FB Messenger feature because Abby is a texting robot. Click here for more info about Abby.

Or you can use another great group to write about specific issues. At Postcards for America and its main Facebook group and state sub-groups — ours is Postcards for America / California — people write postcards to their own federal and state elected officials, or other targeted parties, on issues that concern them. Search the master issues list at Postcarder Calls to Action,

Read our original article for more complete info about postcard activism.

Interested? Want to let us know about your own postcard parties? Email us or contact @heidirand on Slack.  

Are You Watching Big Brother TV?

Never heard of Sinclair Broadcast Group before? The largest owner of television stations in the country, Sinclair currently owns or operates more than 170 stations in nearly 80 markets, with affiliate stations on networks including ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. Sinclair, which struck a deal in 2016 with the Trump campaign to give it better coverage, has a strong right-wing slant.

If you didn’t already know about Sinclair, we bet you got a rude intro on March 31, when a video by Timothy Burke of Deadspin went viral — the blood-curdling Orwellian mashup shows dozens of local Sinclair affiliate “news” anchors reading in lock-step a promotional campaign condemning national news outlets for pushing “fake stories,” an obvious echo of Current Occupant’s inflammatory tweets and remarks about “fake news.” John Oliver lambasted the move, calling the anchors “members of a brainwashed cult.”

This list of Sinclair stations shows that many are in rural areas which often have no alternative stations for people to choose. And as Media Matters’ Pamela Vogel pointed out in an April 2, 2018 video interview:

For poor, working class folks or black and Latino communities specifically, they’re less likely to have cable which means that the choices for trusted news are very limited to the local stations for the most part, if you’re still using TV to get your news. It really just sort of magnifies the exploitation level, in my opinion, of what’s going on here. And I think what’s also interesting when you tune into– if you’re somebody who watches cable news and you tune into CNN, or Fox, or MSNBC you kind of know what you’re getting yourself into, you know what you want to watch.

Not content with its current monopoly, Sinclair is trying to buy Tribune Media, a merger that would put Sinclair’s right-wing programming, including must-run stories, in front of more than 70 percent of households. Tribune owns 42 stations in many of the country’s largest cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Denver, and reaches more than 50 million households. Their application is currently pending before the Federal Communications Commission. 

House Resolution 3478, introduced in July 2017 by Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA 2) and David Price (D-NC) “would protect local television markets across the country from corporate consolidation by permanently ending the so-called ‘UHF discount,’ an obsolete FCC loophole that the Trump administration wants to revive to benefit right-wing media conglomerates. If the UHF discount is allowed to go into effect, a series of pending corporate mergers, including one with the Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media, would dramatically reduce competition among local TV stations across the country.” Representative Mark DeSaulnier (CA 11) was an early co-sponsor of H.R. 3478, but Reps Lee and Swalwell have not yet co-sponsored.

There are many ways you can help preserve independent media. What you can do:

Call your Members of Congress and urge them to prevent the Sinclair-Tribune merger. Thank Rep DeSaulnier for co-sponsoring H.R. 3478, and ask Reps Lee and Swalwell to co-sponsor it.

My name is _______ and my zip code is ________. I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to urge the Senator/Representative to oppose the merger of Sinclair Broadcasting and Tribune Media. The merger would expand Sinclair’s reach to a massive 72% of US households, and threatens the fundamental principles of local broadcasting and independent media. Thank you.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Or send your MoCs the same message through Countable or the Coalition to Save Local Media. They both have great info and talking points, and you can also tweet or post to FB at the Coalition’s page.

File a public comment opposing the merger on the Federal Communication Commission’s website. The proceeding number is 17-179. You can also call the FCC at (888) 225-5322, but you may be directed to the website.

And there’s more!

Read Media Matters‘ Short History of the Right-wing Politics of Sinclair Broadcasting.

Use the cool Sinclair Finder app to find and contact your nearby Sinclair stations: just enter a location and the app gives you the closest stations, their phone numbers, and a suggested script. Pass it on to your friends and family!

We don’t usually include signing petitions in our calls to action, but this Credo Action page gives valuable info and shows the petition it previously delivered to the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice Antitrust Division. Credo Action told us it hopes to update the petition, but their script is a good concise summary that still works as a quick talking point:

Block Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed purchase of Tribune Media, which would create ‘the largest TV broadcast company in the nation’ and result in unacceptable levels of media concentration.

Listen, watch, support, and donate to progressive media:

  • Progressive Voices provides politically progressive content to consumers via mobile device and online.
  • Free Speech TV is a national, independent news network committed to advancing progressive social change.

Graphic copyright Timothy Burke, Deadspin

It’s time for Scott Pruitt to go

By Christina Tarr

Let us name the reasons.

He is corrupt.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is almost literally in bed with the oil and gas folks. He has been paying a measly $50 a night for a two-bedroom Washington D.C. apartment, charged only for the nights he was actually present. How’s he getting such a great deal? Maybe because the apartment is owned by the wife of Pruitt’s lobbying buddy Steven Hart, who represents a stable of energy industry clients like Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., which paid Hart’s firm $400,000 in 2017. Since Hart’s clients may well be regulated by the EPA, Pruitt might just be inclined to return this little favor to his friend. Fun fact: below-market-rate accommodations can fall into the category of prohibited gifts under ethics rules for Executive Branch officials and experts stress that officials like Pruitt should decline even permissible gifts to maintain the appearance of propriety.

On the other hand, Pruitt doesn’t mind spending the taxpayers’ dime for first class flights (to avoid unpleasant interactions with the hoi polloi) and pricy trips around the world. One such trip to Morocco last December included discussions of potential sales of liquid natural gas to Morocco. Liquid natural gas is the product of Cheniere Industries, a client of … wait for it … Steven Hart. Cheniere claimed no knowledge of the trip and also claimed to have ended its relationship with Hart’s firm in December. We think that none of this passes the smell test.

And what exactly is Pruitt talking about to his buddies? Whatever it is, he’s ordered a soundproof security booth for his office that, when all’s said and done, is going to cost the taxpayers over $40,000.

He is destroying the EPA

In a recent report, Pruitt states:

We have been hard at work enacting President Donald Trump’s agenda during my first year as EPA Administrator. His courage and leadership have been key to our success. From his decision to exit the Paris Accord to his executive order empowering EPA to review and rescind the Clean Power Plan, the President is delivering on his promises and getting results for the American people.

The EPA’s job, lest we forget, is to protect human health and enforce environmental regulations; here, from Vox, is a list of some of Pruitt’s accomplishments at its helm:

  • The EPA announced it was seeking a two-year delay in implementing the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which defines the waterways that are regulated by the agency under the Clean Water Act.
  • In May 2017, the EPA dialed back tracking the health impacts of more than a dozen hazardous chemicals.
  • The agency has said nothing about counties that failed to meet new ozone standards by an October 2017 deadline and now face fines.
  • Environmental law enforcement has declined overall: by September 2017, the Trump administration launched 30 percent fewer cases and collected about 60 percent fewer fines than in the same period under President Obama.
  • The EPA punted on regulations on dangerous solvents like methylene chloride, a paint stripper, that were already on track to be banned, instead moving the process to “long-term action.”
  • The EPA asked for a six-year schedule to review 17-year-old regulations on lead paint.
  • The implementation date of new safety procedures at chemical plants to prevent explosions and spills was pushed back to 2019.
  • Pruitt issued a directive to end “Sue & Settle,” a legal strategy that fast-tracks settlements for litigation filed against the EPA to force the agency to do its job. The agency will now spend more time in courts fighting cases that it’s likely to lose.
  • The agency’s enforcement division now has to get approval from headquarters before investigating potential violations of environmental regulations, slowing down efforts to catch violators of laws like the Clean Water Act.

We don’t have time to wait.

Pruitt has announced terrifying plans to act in the very near future to restrict the EPA’s use of science in regulation, in the name of “science reform.” Most likely, the EPA will be required to rely only on scientific studies where the underlying data are made public, a plan Congressional Republicans have been pushing for decades. Many scientific studies, however, rely on data that can’t be made public for reasons like patient privacy concerns or industry confidentiality. Relying only on publicly available results will severely hamstring the EPA’s attempts to do its job – to protect human health and the environment.

Pruitt’s next plan is to roll back emissions regulations and fuel economy standards for automakers. This move, which undercuts one of President Obama’s signature moves to confront climate change, will be couched in terms of cutting bothersome regulations and providing affordable cars to Americans – and, according to Fortune magazine, is “a solution to a problem that doesn’t seem to exist.” According to the EPA, Obama’s rules would require automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Fully implemented, the rules will cut oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels and reduce carbon dioxide pollution by about six billion tons over the lifetime of all the cars affected by the regulations. If Pruitt weakens the regulations, not only will all that carbon reduction not happen in the U.S., but other countries may also weaken their standards as well. (Read this New Yorker article, which discusses the lab the EPA has to test auto emissions, allowing them to compute the cost of required changes down to the last screw.) And, the $100 the consumer saved by not being required to buy a car with a catalytic converter will be dwarfed by the thousands of dollars spent on illness caused by pollution and a changing climate.

Finally, Pruitt has instructed the EPA to discuss climate change in the language of the deniers. A recent memo to employees lists eight things they may say publicly about climate change, including acknowledging the impact of human activity but asserting that “[t]he ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue … clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it. … it is important for the Agency to strive for a better understanding of these gaps given their potential significant influence on our country’s domestic economic viability.” The vast weight of reputable scientific evidence, of course, says nothing of the kind; this is the language of the deniers, and those with financial interests in

The time to act is NOW

Congress has oversight over the EPA, and to quote Richard Painter, “It’s time for them to get off their butts and act.” There is precedent. During the Reagan years, the agency was run by Anne Gorsuch, a conservative state legislator from Colorado (and mother of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch). Gorsuch, like Pruitt, cut enforcement, accommodated polluters, and antagonized career staff. According to the New Yorker, “she resigned after being held in contempt of Congress, for refusing to comply with a corruption investigation targeting a Superfund administrator.”

What you can do:

  • Call your Members of Congress and tell them you want them to exercise their oversight responsibility and take action against Scott Pruitt who is decimating the EPA.
    • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
    • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
    • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
    • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
    • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065
  • Call the governor of California, and your state representatives, and tell them you want them to fight for California’s stricter emission control standards. Needing to maintain two standards may make auto manufacturers more open to manufacturing to California’s higher standards, which are followed by 12 other states, including New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Jerry Brown (916) 445-2841; find your state representative here
  • Call the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and tell them you are interested in innovation and want to buy a car that will meet Obama’s CAFE standard, and will not buy a car that does not. (202) 326-5500; (916) 447-7315
  • Sign the Boot Pruitt petition, sponsored by a coalition of progressive and environmental groups including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Green Latinos, Defend Our Future, Hip Hop Caucus, and others (more info here).

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.

The Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge was saved, let’s preserve more wildlife

By Christina Tarr

Bad news: to absolutely no one’s surprise, Congress passed an Omnibus spending bill on March 22, 2018 that included funding for new sections of Trump’s big, beautiful (???) border wall. But there’s good news: to everyone’s surprise, the bill exempted the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a 2,088-acre patch of extraordinary biodiversity just south of Alamo, Texas, from those new funded sections. But there’s more bad news: while this is fantastic, it isn’t enough – the omnibus bill sends the wall through other important wildlife habitats along the Texas border.

For example, Congress allocated $1.6 billion to build 33 miles of new wall sections around the refuge in the Rio Grande Valley, and these barriers will disrupt land that is home to rare animals, plants, and birds. The affected land includes the National Butterfly Center, a state park, and several other tracts of land in the federal wildlife refuge system. The 33 new miles of wall will further fragment wildlife habitat along the border, will create 6,500 acres of no man’s land, and will trap wildlife and people the next time the Rio Grande floods.

Here are the wildlife areas that will be affected by new wall construction in Hidalgo County alone; another 8 miles of wall in Starr County will cause yet further destruction not included in this list:

  • La Parida Banco Refuge Tract (447 acres)
  • Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park (797 acres)
  • El Morillo Banco Refuge Tract (654 acres)
  • National Butterfly Center (100 acres)
  • Cottam Refuge Tract (1,037 acres)
  • Pharr Settling Basin (720 acres)
  • Milagro Refuge Tract (846 acres)
  • Marinoff Refuge Tract (432 acres)

Read our original article about the ecological disaster that is this wall here. Read this report by the US Fish and Wildlife about what an amazing place the Lower Rio Grande Valley is, and why these refuges are needed.

But let’s end with good news: our success in saving the Santa Ana is a sign that we can make a change! Call your members of Congress now and ask them to preserve all the important wild lands along the Texas border.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.

Graphic of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas, copyright U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Tell Congress: For Students to Prosper, Ditch the PROSPER Act

Not sure who House Republicans had in mind when they came up with the higher-education targeted PROSPER (Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform Act) Act, H.R. 4508 – but a close look suggests it might be financial institutions and for-profit colleges, rather than students, who would be prospering.

In December 2017, the 590-page PROSPER Act cleared the House Committee on Education, with NO hearings. The higher education community’s calls for additional time and input went unheeded, and Democrats say they were not included in any aspect of drafting the bill.

The bill is a monstrous overhaul of the existing student loan program. It would end the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, under which teachers, social workers, and public defenders who work for the government and other non-profits now can qualify for student loan forgiveness after 10 years. It would also end subsidized student loans that permit low-income students to avoid interest while in school. In addition, it would require a minimum loan repayment, even for students at or under 150% of poverty level, who now have monthly payments of $0. 

The bill’s supporters point to its provisions for using grants to incentivize graduation in four years, abolishing loan origination fees, and expanding the work-study program for low-income students. The conservative Heritage Foundation claims that “[s]tudents and taxpayers win in the scenario where you have private lenders actually competing in the market, and ultimately we would hope that puts more pressure on inflated tuition prices.” However, an analysis by the American Council on Education – the nation’s most influential, respected, and visible higher education association – says an undergrad who borrows $19,000 over four years and makes payments on time would see a 44% increase in the cost of the loan if subsidies were eliminated under the PROSPER Act. A student who borrows $23,000 would experience a 56% increase. Nearly 6 million students would feel this effect.

PROSPER would also eliminate current safeguards that protect students from predatory lenders. It nixes the “90/10” rule, which bans for-profit institutions from collecting more than 90% of their revenue from federal aid. It would abolish the gainful employment regulation, which requires for-profit institutions  – like Trump U – to meet established debt-to-income ratios for students or risk losing federal financial aid. And it would remove states’ ability to oversee online schools and hold student loan providers accountable.

You’d think legislation this sweeping shouldn’t be rushed through in secrecy, but should rather be carefully weighed in a bipartisan fashion with expert input, time, and care. But sadly, this isn’t our first Rodeo; we’ve come to expect this rush-it-through bill behavior from the GOP (e.g. the tax scam). But it ain’t over yet.

What you can do:

It’s time for us to get loud about this legislation that would make it even harder for students to prosper. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on March 18 that he has joined the attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia to oppose the bill. Ask your MoC to join the volley of voices opposing the PROSPER Act (H.R. 4508).

What to say:

My name is ________________, my zip code is _________ and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay.  I’m calling to express my opposition to the PROSPER Act. It will make it harder for students, especially low-income students, to repay their loans, and would remove safeguards that protect students from predatory lenders. I’m asking you to speak out against this hastily drafted bill that has potential to block access to higher education for millions of students.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Count Every Person

Call us nerdy, but we’ve been worried for some time about the impact of the administration’s apparent plan to under-fund the 2020 United States Census, since that count will be critical in drawing political districts, allotting congressional representatives, and distributing billions in federal funds. Turns out our concerns were justified, and then some.

The Department of Justice has asked the Department of Commerce to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire. Many experts, including former census directors, believe that including a question about whether residents are citizens will discourage non-citizens from completing the census, resulting in reduced response rates and inaccurate answers. The likely result: states with large immigrant populations like ours would be under-counted and thus underrepresented in Congress and short-changed in getting state and federal funding for health care, education, infrastructure, and more.

California, which would be greatly impacted if non-citizens were leery of filling out the census forms, is leading the fight. CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra is on the case – literally. Calling the move “an extraordinary attempt by the Trump administration to hijack the 2020 census for political purposes,” Becerra filed a lawsuit in the name of the State of California, which 14 other AGs quickly joined on behalf of their states. Experts believe that a citizenship question could intimidate people into not participating in the census. But the U.S. Constitution requires the census to count the entire population every ten years, including citizens and non-citizens alike; non-citizens’ non-participation as a result of a citizenship question could “translate into several million people not being counted.” Such an undercounting of the state’s population could reduce everything from Congressional representation to funding for necessary services, all of which depend on the 10-year Census count. Is it just coincidence that the Administration wants to add a question that could diminish Congressional representation from states with high immigrant populations? Hmmm …

And the Senate is taking up its own attack with S. 2580: “A bill to amend title 13, United States Code, to make clear that each decennial census, as required for the apportionment of Representatives in Congress among the several States, shall tabulate the total number of persons in each State, and to provide that no information regarding United States citizenship or immigration status may be elicited in any such census.” (emphasis supplied). Senator Kamala Harris is one of the bill’s original sponsors.

What you can do: 

Thank Attorney General Becerra for filing the lawsuit, and for his strong public opposition to a citizenship question. Email: attorneygeneral@doj.ca.gov

Thank Sen. Harris for her sponsorship of S. 2580; thank our other Members of Congress for speaking out in opposition to the citizenship question and urge them to support legislation to prohibit a citizenship question.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Call the Department of Commerce, Office of Public Affairs (202-482-4883) and say:

I’m calling to urge you not to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Adding it will skew the census count by discouraging immigrants from participating, and that will block many states from being fully represented and receiving sufficient federal funding. Please tell Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that it is unconstitutional not to count everyone, everywhere.