Despite everything else that is going on–fires in the Amazon, incarceration of children in the U.S.–all eyes also need to be on the economy: see our round-up below. And note that in addition to rule changes that would undermine the well-being of vulnerable people, there are also viable Senate bills to support Social Security and procure dental care for seniors and children. See the Resources tab and the links below the news items for actions you can take.
‘Tis the season: see our colleague Crysostom’s regular upates on elections here!
1. Tank the economy; blame the incoming president.
We at NYMHM are worried that a recession may be inevitable largely due to the Trump administration’s absolutely bonkers trade and economic policies. Many economists expect recession by the end of 2021 (pdf), when it would most hamper the first term of a Democratic president if Trump doesn’t win in 2020. This week, in the largest revision since 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics corrected job growth figures downwards by roughly 500,000 jobs. The Congressional Budget Office raised its 2019 budget deficit projection by about 7% ($63 billion, for a total of $960 billion) and estimated that the Trump administration’s planned tariffs could lower U.S. GDP by 0.3% in 2019. Goods-producing employment (warning: autoplaying video) is lower than almost any year under Obama and has fallen precipitously in the past year. Trump is floating a payroll tax cut (warning: autoplaying video) which would increase the federal budget deficit—and 50% of its benefits would go to the top 20% of income-earners. (JM)
2. New rules would keep families locked up indefinitely
The 1977 Flores settlement sets minimum standards for holding minors in immigration detention, prohibiting holding them beyond twenty days and mandating provision of food, water, toilets, sinks, emergency medical care and more. The Republican Administration has repeatedly violated Flores, holding children significantly beyond the twenty-day limit and claiming that Flores only applies to unaccompanied minors, despite a court ruling affirming Flores rights for all minors in immigration detention. Now the administration has announced that it is abandoning the Flores settlement. Pending judicial approval, Flores protections could be abandoned by the second half of October. Since this move has been posted as a rule change, there is no official comment period and Congressional action would be necessary to block it. S-HP
If you want to speak up about the Flores settlement, addresses are here.
3. Employees prosecuted. Employers go free.
In general, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raids on places of employment using undocumented workers make hundreds of arrests of individual workers, but rarely prosecute the employers, who are legally required to confirm workers’ immigration status. Time notes that between April 2018 and March 2019 (a period during which a total of 120,000 people were prosecuted for illegal entry), only eleven employers were prosecuted for hiring undocumented workers, and only three of those were sentenced to any prison time. Results have been similar for the sweeping ICE raids of Mississippi poultry processing plants and other workplaces during August: 680 workers were arrested (with 300+ later released), but no arrests of employers have been made. S-HP
If you want to speak up about the unequal treatment ICE gives to employers and employees, the addresses are here.
4. Proposal to narrow rights for LGBTQ people
The Justice Department is pressuring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to reverse its position; Justice wants the EEOC to tell the Supreme Court that employers can discriminate against LGBTQ people, according to Bloomberg.
The Supreme Court is preparing to take up three cases having to do with LGBTQ rights and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects individuals from sex-based discrimination, the Huffington Post reports. In the past, protections against sex-based discrimination have occasionally, but not consistently, been used to protect the rights of LGBQ and Transgendered individuals. In the first case, the use of “sex” has been taken to embrace sexual and affectional orientation because it is, essentially, the sex of the individuals involved in LGBTQ relationships that is used to justify discrimination. In the second case, “sex” has been accepted not just as a matter of perceived gender at birth, but as a matter of individual identity, which may or may not align with physical characteristics at birth. The Republican administration has recently presented two amicus briefs to the Supreme Court arguing for a narrow interpretation of “sex” in upcoming cases, an interpretation that could make discrimination on the basis of LGBQ or transgendered status legal. S-HP
If you want to address the use of public money to eliminate protections for LGBTQ people, you can write to key people here.
5. Rule changes would allow religious organizations to discriminate
The Department of Labor has announced rules changes that would allow that would allow “religious-exercising organizations” with federal contracts much broader freedom to discriminate. The proposal specifically classifies as “religious-exercising organizations” not just companies engaged in some aspect of the business of religion, but also businesses whose owners have such beliefs, regardless of the services or products the business provides, according to the Washington Post. Among those likely to be negatively impacted (in other words, subject to firing) would be LGBTQ individuals, unmarried women who are pregnant, perhaps even divorced individuals, individuals with children born out of wedlock, or individuals using birth control—since there are “sincerely held” beliefs condemning all of these groups. As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) points out, one-quarter of all employees in the U.S. work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government. Put those two facts together and you get a sense of the potential destruction that could be wreaked as a result of these rules changes. S-HP
If you want to challenge the idea that religious freedom permits discrimination, you can write the head of the Office of Federal Compliance.
6. Legislation to preserve Social Security
This fall, assuming the legislation makes it through committee, the House will likely be voting on H.R.860, the Social Security 2100 Act. Currently, Social Security benefits average just $16,000 per year—while only about 20% of Americans have retirement pensions and only about half have retirement savings. Even at this level, Social Security faces a projected shortfall beginning in 2035. H.R.860 would address these problems. It would create a formula for increasing payments based on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). In addition, an individual’s full salary would be subject to Social Security withholding, rather than just the first $132,000 of that income as is currently the case. Currently this legislation is with several House Committees: the Social Security Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee; the Committee on Education and Labor; and the Committee on Energy and Commerce. S-HP
If you have something to say about this legislation, write to your representative and to the committee chairs.
7. Dental Care
There’s a pair of bills currently before Congress that would make minimal-cost dental care available to needy children, seniors, and others. S.22 and H.R.2951, both titled Medicare Dental Benefit Act of 2019, would expand Medicare to include oral health, in other words, dental care. As Dientes, one group supporting the legislation, points out, one in five seniors have lost all their teeth, and tooth loss and pain can create significant difficulties in eating and speaking, affecting not only physical health, but emotional health and social connectedness as well. S.22 is currently with the Senate Finance Committee. H.R.2951 is currently with the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees. S-HP
If you would like to articulate your position on dental care for seniors and children, you can contact the elected officials listed here.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
8. Europe exerts pressure to combat Amazonian fires
The Amazon rain forest in Brazil has a near record number of uncontrolled fires burning, an 83% increase over the number of fires last year. Most of the fires are intentional, set by farmers burning the forest to clear land for soy and cattle, a practice encouraged by current Brazilian president Bolsonaro. In response French president Macron along with Irish prime minister Varadkar have said they will block a proposed trade deal between the EU and several South American states including Brazil. Additionally Norway and Germany have slashed money provided to an Amazonian conservation fund, sighting the lack of protection for the forest in the wake of Mr. Bolsonaro’s presidency, the Independent reports. Bolsonaro has accused Europe of engaging in a colonialist mindset and interfering with Brazilian sovereignty. The Amazon basin is one of the world’s largest depositories of biodiversity and a huge carbon sink/oxygen producer. JC
9. Ultra fast lasers to weld ceramics — implications for space travel
Ceramics are a broad and remarkable class of materials with uses ranging from spacecraft to medical implants. Until now ,a serious drawback has been the fact that in order to fuse or weld two ceramic parts together, one had to heat the entire surfaces of both parts to extremely high temperatures. A team of engineers at the Universities of San Diego and California Riverside has succeeded in using extremely rapid pulsed lasers to weld ceramic materials together, using a very modest amount of energy and not requiring the rest of the material be heated at all., Science Daily reports. This is important because though ceramics would make for an ideal housing for something such as a smart phone, one could not enclose the electronics and have them survive the heat of a kiln. Welded ceramics open the door for things like metal-free pacemakers, super tough and scratch-resistant smart phones and electronics better able to withstand conditions in deep space. JC
10. Google employees to Google: “Don’t be evil.”
Google’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Values Statement promises that the company will not “build technologies whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights,” and the company has abandoned programs in the past, when they were found to conflict with this value. Now,a group of Google employees is petitioning Google to end all cooperation with Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement because “by any interpretation, CBP and ICE are in grave violation of human rights law.” As of mid-August, over 1,000 employees had signed on to the petition, according to CNBC. S-HP
If you would like to join Google employees in this petition, you can do it here.
- The Americas of Conscience Checklist has reliable and engaging information. See their site for an explanation and easy actions you can take.
- Most of Sarah-Hope’s recommendations for action items follow the relevant stories, but there are a few from last week that you might want to revisit.
- About her list, Martha says that the most important item is the first one in the “Closing Soon” section about the “National Environmental Policy Act Compliance” which applies to all National Forests.and would leave the public with no role in more than 90 percent of the decisions made for our national forests. This is a clear violation of the public trust and of major laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, and it’s designed to ramp up clearcutting and bulldozing of millions of acres in national forests, Also extremely important is the Final Rule allowing unlimited detention of immigrant children, “Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children” – there is no opportunity to comment as it’s final. But you can write your legislators.
- Rogan’s list is on hiatus until after Labor Day, but the items on her site are still pertinent.