Who does our elections correspondent describe as an “odious troglodyte”? It’s not who you think. Find out here and see his exhaustive summary of the primary results.
See Heather Cox Richardson’s August 8 letter on Trump’s efforts to suspend the payroll tax (see below) and that the strategy is behind his plan to provide coronavirus relief.
1. Undermining the Postal Service threatens the November election
This can’t be said often enough: the fate of U.S. democracy may well be determined by the fate of the U.S. Post Office (USPS). The COVID-19 epidemic will certainly remain at play when the presidential election arrives on November 3, and mail-in ballots are the best way to protect the health of voters while allowing them to exercise the franchise. While the Republican administration insists that voting by mail is prone to fraud (it isn’t), there are other, legitimate concerns about voting by mail—particularly given the current state of affairs at the USPS. According to Fortune, new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has introduced “cost-saving measures,” like prohibiting all overtime, regardless of whether mail has been sorted and delivered, that are significantly slowing mail delivery. Democratic leadership has objected to these changes, but they remain in effect.
And what if a voter sends a mail-in ballot on or after election day because that ballot arrived late? Answer as of now: that ballot most likely won’t be counted. That would be in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling regarding Wisconsin’s primary election. Wisconsin Republicans were unwilling to make adjustments to the ballot-counting procedure that would have allowed late-arriving ballots to be counted, despite the increasing reports of voters not having received ballots and entire crates of ballots misplaced, due to the increase in mail-in voting and the reduced postal staff as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A federal judge ruled in support of a request that ballots arriving up to six days after the election be counted. That ruling was appealed by Republicans. The Supreme Court agreed to an expedited hearing on the issue and ruled, along straight party lines, that the only late-arriving ballots that would be counted were those that were postmarked on or before election day—regardless of when a voter received a ballot.
At least eight states have made plans to send mail-in ballots to all voters. Given deliberately slowed mail services and the Supreme Court ruling, many voters may have to choose between last-minute, in-person voting at a risk to their own health or the possibility of their vote not being counted. According to reporting by the New York Post, in the New York primary election, some 84,000 mail-in ballots were not counted, one-quarter of them due to late arrival. The House COVID-19 HEROES Act would include an additional $25 billion to save the post office, maintaining services and allowing for timely delivery of mail. No such provision is included in the analogous Senate legislation, the HEALS Act. Another threat lurks as well, the Washington Post reports: The Republican Party has filed suit against the state of Nevada in an attempt to block its decision to send mail-in ballots to all voters, claiming (here we go again) that mail-in voting is prone to fraud. S-HP
If you want to work to ensure that mail ballots will be viable, you can write to the President, Senate and House leadership, and your Senators, telling them that any new COVID-19 stimulus must include support to maintain the USPS and to ensure that ballots will arrive early and be returned promptly because every vote should be counted. See this link for addresses and other ideas.
2. Eviction crisis and internet access for on-line schooling
As the House, Senate, and White House wrangle over new COVID-19 stimulus legislation, the American public faces a housing crisis as eviction protections expire. A CNBC report using data analysis by Stout Risius Ross shows that between 22% (Vermont) and 59% (West Virginia) of renters in each state are at risk of eviction due to an inability to make rental payments. Nationally, more than 40% of all renter households are at risk of eviction. CNBC points out that the effects of this crisis will not be evenly distributed: “People of color are especially vulnerable. While almost half of White tenants say they’re highly confident they can continue to pay their rent, just 26% of African-American tenants could say the same.”
Renters who can manage to keep up payments also face a potential shutoff of services like power, water, and internet access if they are unable to meet these bills. This last set of problems could be addressed by legislation proposed by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR). S.3695, the CONNECT at Home Act, would prevent termination of internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic and for 180 days thereafter. Some may think of internet as a luxury, but remote schooling has made it a necessity across much of the country. S.4362, would prohibit power cutoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic and would provide drinking and waste water assistance. S.3695 is currently with the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. S.4362 is with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. S-HP
If you want to act on this, you could tell the Speaker of the House and your Representative that any final COVID-19 stimulus must include protections from evictions and power, water, and internet shutoffs and urge swift, positive action on S.4362 by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Addresses are here.
3. New immigration and asylum application fees imposed
Last week, News You May Have Missed reported on the Trump administration’s refusal to print green cards for immigrants who have been granted residency or need to renew their cards. The administration’s latest assault on immigrants is a raise in fees of all kinds, including a $50 fee to apply for asylum, which has always been free. The fee to apply for citizenship has almost doubled, while fees to submit petitions for employment authorization have increased by 34 percent, the Miami Herald reports. The Herald has a complete list of the fee increases. The U.S. is now one of only four signatories, from a total number of 145, to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which charges fees for asylum applications. The others are Fiji, Iraq, and Australia.In addition, fee waivers have almost been eliminated, so these fees will hit low-income immigrants the hardest. RLS
If you want to speak up about these fee increases, particularly the new decision to charge for asylum applications, appropriate addresses are here.
4. Good news/bad news immigration updates
On July 19, we summed up the situation of the children in detention whom Judge Dolly Gee ordered released. At this writing, ICE continues to refuse to release them, despite the federal court order, Law 360 reports.
Asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico while waiting for their cases to be heard have pleaded with the U.S. to permit them to enter the country, as the camp where they have been staying is being flooded by the rising Rio Grande river, according to Newsweek.
In one significant piece of good news, the National Immigration Law Center reported that a federal judge imposed an injunction on Trump’s public charge rule, which prevented anyone who might be expected to use government-funded services, including the ACA or food stamps, from applying to enter the country legally or to regularize their status. In a pandemic, the rule was keeping families already in the country who hoped to apply for citizenship away from health care. In our February 23 issue (story 4), we explained how the Supreme Court permitted this rule to go forward. RLS
The No Family Separation Action Toolkit is still relevant. Find it here.
5. Trump threatens to “terminate” Social Security and Medicare
As the administration, Senate, and House wrangle over COVID-19 relief, Donald Trump has announced he is taking unilateral action and will issue an executive order suspending the payroll tax—the primary funding mechanism for Social Security. He also said on a live television program that he would “terminate” the payroll tax if he were reelected in November, Raw Story reported. Common Dreams reports that organizations like Social Security Works and the Alliance for Retired Americans are warning that this could be a first step toward defunding Social Security. It may well also be illegal because Congress is the branch of government charged with legislating tax rates, but blocking the move might require a prolonged court battle during which payroll taxes might not be collected, weakening Social Security.
Congress, meanwhile, has an opportunity to stabilize Social Security via the Social Security 2100 Act (S.269 in the Senate; H.R.860 in the House). This legislation would increase Social Security payments by adjusting the way they are calculated, would tie cost-of-living adjustments to the Consumer Price Index, would create an alternative minimum benefit for those who have worked for ten or more years, and would include income above $400,000 annually when calculating Social Security taxes and benefits. S.269 is currently with the Senate Finance Committee. H.R.860 is currently with the House Ways and Means Committee and its Social Security Subcommittee, the House Education and Labor Committee, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. S-HP
If you want to object to any suspension of payroll tax collection, here is whom to write.
6. Private Border Protect agents shared violence racist, sexist content
Last summer, ProPublica broke a story about a private Facebook group where Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents shared violent, offensive content, images, and memes, reflecting a pervasive culture of racism and misogyny. These included racist insults about Central American immigrants, jokes about migrants who died on their journey to the U.S. and doctored images depicting Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being sexually assaulted. The group membership, according to ProPublica, included 9,500 current or former CBP agents. At the time the story broke, the agency announced that it would be investigating the group and would hold all agents engaging in misconduct online accountable. The House Oversight and Reform Committee also launched its own investigation.
Last month CBP told the Los Angeles Times it had investigated 138 employees (of the at least 9,500 individuals). Four were fired, 38 were suspended without pay for periods ranging from three days to two weeks, over two dozen were given warnings or reprimands, and sixty were cleared of any wrongdoing. Neither ProPublica nor the House Oversight Committee have received any information about who the punished agents were, what their specific actions were, or where they worked. The last of these was essential to determining whether there were clusters of agents or supervisors at particular CBP posts engaging in this activity. The agency has provided the House Oversight Committee with two batches of documents, but has not included many requested documents and has heavily redacted the documents it turned over. In the words of Oversight Committee member Representative Veronica Escobar (D-TX), who, like Ocasio-Cortez, was a target of many of the Facebook group’s postings: “CBP continues to obstruct a congressional investigation into the results of the agency’s findings, blatantly shielding agents that have dehumanized immigrants and fostered a culture of cruelty and violence.” S-HP
You might want to thank the Oversight Committee for the investigative work it has done thus far and urge them to continue investigating until CBP has provided all requested material and the Committee is able to make its own determinations about this group of rogue agents and the culture within CBP: Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Chair, House Oversight and Reform Committee, 2157 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5051
7. No parenting while Black
India Johnson and Yazmeen Winston, two Black Washington DC mothers, best friends since 7th grade, planned to take their infant children to splash in the fountains at the World War II memorial. Unfortunately, the Washington Post explains, they never made it that far. As they parked the van they were driving, Secret Service agents deliberately drove into their vehicle’s front bumper, trapping them in place. They were swiftly surrounded by officers initially not wearing masks to limit coronavirus spread, who pointed guns at them and yelled “Get out!” and “Put your hands in the air.” Neither woman was read her Miranda rights and both spent the next hour handcuffed and separated from their babies, who were in tears as a result of the car being struck. The doors of their cars were left open and the babies remained strapped in their car seats, which made the mothers worry they might overheat. Their vehicle was searched without their giving consent. Eventually, the women were told the vehicle had been reported stolen and the suspects were two African American men. Johnson pointed out that there were no men in their car and provided proof that she was the car’s owner. Winston asked the officers for their cards and was told they didn’t carry any, so she wrote down the badge names and names of all of them. The women remain shaken by the experience and are asking for an investigation—by the Secret Service or by Congress—of the incident. S-HP
You may join Johnson and Winston in their demands for an investigation of their treatment and tell your Congressmembers you would like to see them investigate as well. Addresses are here.
8. A new strategy to obtain justice for Breonna Taylor
A campaign launched by UltraViolet suggests an interesting strategy for achieving justice for Breonna Taylor. As of now, the police who murdered her continue to work and face no charges in her death. Campaigns asking for justice from the Mayor and Chief of Police of Louisville and the Governor and Attorney General of Kentucky have not yielded tangible results. So, why not try using the power of the purse in the pursuit of justice for Breonna Taylor? Three major corporations—Ford, Humana, and UPS—have major operations in Louisville. Each has spoken out in support of diversity during this time when corporations are, purportedly, embracing the Black Lives Matter movement, and between them, they employ over 50,000 people living in the Louisville area.
Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford and CEO Jim Hackett have announced to their employees that Ford will “lead from the front” to create a fair and inclusive culture for workers, explaining “We know that systemic racism still exists despite progress that has been made. We cannot turn a blind eye to it or accept some sense of ‘order’ that’s based on oppression.” According to News Break, Humana “announced actions to support its hometown of Louisville in its efforts to address racial inequity and unite toward a stronger community.” President and CEO Bruce Broussard affirmed, “Caring for each other and respecting differences is who we are as a company, and we do not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind. At the core of our values is serving the communities in which we operate. The mission of our company has taken on particular significance in our hometown of Louisville that is reeling from the devastating loss of Breonna Taylor, protests and ensuing tragedies.” United Parcel Services (UPS) has signed on to the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s (NMSDC) “In This Together” campaign, which the NMSDC describes as “a portfolio of initiatives to help expedite recovery efforts within the Black business community.” A recent statement by UPS’s chief procurement officer, Joe Turkienicz, noted that UPS is “honored to stand with you [the NMSDC] to support our diverse communities.” Given the commitment they have voiced to racial justice and their standing in the Louisville community, the corporations are in a position to push for justice for Breonna Taylor. S-HP
You can join UltraViolent and ask these Louisville-affiliated corporations to move beyond lip service and to speak out for justice for Breonna Taylor. Addresses are here.
9. Did you receive COVID pay?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act required most small- and medium- sized businesses to pay a worker’s full salary for two weeks if they became infected with COVID-19. The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) reports that many companies failed to notify workers that they had this right to paid sick days and that nearly half of all workers in the U.S. did not know they had this right. Using a Freedom of Information Act request, CPI has identified nearly 700 companies who did not provide the mandatory sick pay—and that’s just through June 12. These companies include franchises for a number of major corporations, including McDonalds’s, Comfort Suites, Courtyard Marriott, and Red Roof Inn. To make matters worse, it’s unclear whether most of these workers will be able to receive the compensation they are due because they failed to file a complaint with the Labor Department. See the loop there? Workers aren’t informed of rights > workers take unpaid sick time, assuming that is the only option available, and do not file Labor Department claims > the businesses failing to provide information about worker rights don’t pay for the legally mandated sick time. S-HP
You can tell the major corporations whose franchises have denied workers mandated sick pay that they must track down all workers denied sick pay and see that they receive the monies owing to them and penalize franchises that chose to evade coronavirus sick pay rules. You might want to ask for a Congressional investigation while you are at it. The addresses are here.
10. Flush insurers should pay consumers back
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has a provision capping medical insurer profits. Under the act, 80% of all premiums paid by individuals and small employers and 85% of all premiums paid by large employers must go to the actual costs of providing healthcare. Overhead and profits cannot represent more than the remaining 15-20% of premiums paid in. Under the ACA, profits beyond this are to be returned to policy holders as refunds.
Small medical practices and rural clinics and hospitals have struggled to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Large health insurance companies, in contrast, have been raking in record profits, the New York Times reports. Anthem, Humana, and UnitedHealth Group have reported second-quarter profits that are double what they were a year ago. Anthem’s profits are $1.2 billion higher than they were for this quarter last year; Humana’s second-quarter profits rose by $860 million over last year; UnitedHealth’s profits beat last year’s quarterly earnings by $3.3 billion. CVS Health, which owns Aetna, had a net gain in second-quarter profits of $1 billion and has acknowledged that second-quarter spending on actual health care costs comprised only 70% of premiums taken in. This sudden rise in health insurance profits has been partially credited to people’s fears of seeking treatment at a medical facility because of the potential exposure to COVID-19 and to the number of elective surgeries being cancelled during the pandemic. Even the Trump administration has noticed. According to the New York Times, the Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter to health insurers on August 4 calling for a rapid rebate of excess profits. However, under current law, health insurers have three years to release any rebates—a delay put in to give the companies time to check for accounting errors. S-HP
You might want to point out to your Congressmembers that capitalism is clearly not regulating the health insurance market in a way that is fair for those insured and to suggest that it is time for higher caps on health insurance profits or for single-payer health care
11. More concessions in national parks would damage local communities
The National Park Service has posted a proposed rule change that would open up national parks to more commercial concessions. The term “Concessions” covers a range of services including lodging, food, retail, marinas, wireless service, parking management, and more. In particular, the rule proposes to identify and add new types of concessions not currently available in national parks. The proposal raises concerns for two reasons. First, many national parks are already overcrowded and increasing the number and variety of concessions available will likely contribute to this overcrowding and significantly impact the environment and species within the park. Second, many small, rural communities near national parks rely on park visitors for the health of their local economies. If additional options for lodging, food, retail purchases, and more are available within parks, this will almost certainly lead to less use of such services in local communities, many of which do not have alternate sources of income to turn to. S-HP
You can comment on the impact increased in-park concessions would have on the national parks themselves and on nearby communities. Comments are due by September 18. You can comment electronically here. If you comment, be sure to include the notations “NPS” or “National Park Service” and “RIN 1024-AE57” in your comment.
12. Explosion in Lebanon, already wracked by economic devastation
A section of Beirut was demolished and at least 158 people were killed, many of them firefighters, when a warehouse holding 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port area. Thousands of others were injured and some 300,00 homes were destroyed. The volatile chemical had been stored unsecured since 2013, when it was unloaded from a Russian ship, the Guardian reports. It is not yet clear what caused the chemical to ignite. Al Jazeera vividly describes the many warnings the government received about the dangers of the ammonium nitrate. Various news outlets, including the Irish Times, reported that “as recently as six months ago, officials inspecting the consignment warned that if it was not moved it would ‘blow up all of Beirut.’”
Since the explosion, protests have wracked the city, as many Lebanese are furious about a pattern of inaction by the government. According to Al Jazeera, 728 protesters have been wounded. Lebanon was already in a state of economic collapse, according to a New York Times writer, with inflation at 50 percent for three months in a row and 65 percent of its people in poverty. RLS
If you want to assist the people of Lebanon, Marshall Ganz, for decades a community organizer, provides this list of places to donate for relief work. In addition, a Middle-East scholar of our acquaintance recommends these NGOs.
13. Bangladesh takes the burden of climate change
Torrential rain. Flooding. A cyclone. Rising seas consuming villages. The climate crisis is overwhelming Bangladesh, whose people already were struggling to sustain their livelihoods. As the crisis gets worse, so will their suffering. Already, a million homes have been lost to flooding and 24-37 per cent of the country is under water, according to Reliefweb. The situation illuminates how those who contribute least to climate change suffer the most; as the New York Times points out, the average American contributes 33 times as much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as the average Bangladeshi. Advocates for the poor in Bangladesh argue that the countries which have caused the climate crisis should compensate those who suffer from it most. As Farah Kabir, the Bangladesh country director for ActionAid International, asked in the Times article, “When is the global community going to take responsibility?”
On top of extreme weather, the people of Bangladesh have been hit hard by the pandemic, the livelihoods of the poorest people demolished. Think about the challenges endured by Uber drivers, housekeepers and farmworkers in North America–and then look at the stunning photo essay the Washington Post recently ran, a piece which illuminates the beauty and resilience of the people while mapping the dimensions of their hardship. RLS
- The Americas of Conscience Checklist not only provides clear, focused actions you can take, but tracks what they get done and where they succeed.
- Sarah-Hope’s action items are woven in above, but if you want the whole list in one place for postcarding, here it is.
- Martha’s list identifies ways to comment for the public record. She notes that the window for commenting on the transport of liquified natural gas by rail is closing (see our write-up of this last week) and reminds us to comment on the closure of shelters to transgender people.
- Rogan’s list is on hiatus.