Most likely, everyone reading this has been deeply saddened by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an exceptional jurist who devoted her life to defending the concept that all people are equal under the law. You might look at Heather Cox Richardson’s moving tribute to her. She argued six cases before the Supreme Court (and won five of them!) between 1973 and 1976. She founded the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project. The Senate confirmed her appointment to the Supreme Court by a vote of 96 to 3, with 38 of the “aye” votes being cast by Republicans. The opinions she has written while serving on the Supreme Court, whether agreeing with or dissenting from a ruling, have been exceptionally clear and carefully reasoned.
When a Supreme Court seat became open eight months before the 2016 election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow a Senate confirmation vote on Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. McConnell based this refusal on the claim that the Senate should not vote on Supreme Court nominees during an election year, when the people are about to “speak” via voting. Twenty-two Republican Senators spoke in support of McConnell’s decision, with most of them arguing that a Supreme Court appointment should not be made so close to a presidential election. (Individual Republican statements on this issue can be accessed via the previous link.) Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s final wish was that this precedent be honored and that her replacement not be considered until the new President and Senate chosen by the people in the 2020 election were in office. Despite the fact that we are just six weeks from an election, Mitch McConnell is now calling for speedy confirmation of the Supreme Court Justice nominated by Donald Trump claiming that the people “spoke” when electing a Republican Senate in 2018.
If you wish to urge the Republican Senators who refused to consider the confirmation of Merrick Garland to follow that logic this time around and to wait for a nomination to be made by the winner of the 2020 presidential election, their addresses and phone numbers are here. If you want to see a strategic list of Senators to call, phone numbers are here. You can also text RBG to 50409 and Resistbot will sign you on to a petition telling your US senators not to confirm a new Supreme Court justice until the new president takes office. Note: there’s a queue.
1. Women in ICE detention sterilized
Hysterectomies have apparently been performed either unnecessarily and/or without appropriate consent on women in immigration detention. NPR reports that a nurse at the Irwin immigration detention center in Georgia filed a whistleblower complaint alleging lack of appropriate medical care, including questionable hysterectomies. In response, a group of 168 Congressmembers are calling for an investigation by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the alleged actions “a staggering abuse of human rights. This profoundly disturbing situation recalls some of the darkest moments of our nation’s history, from the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks, to the horror of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, to the forced sterilizations of Black women that Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others underwent and fought.” An overview of the use of forced sterilization in the U.S. can be found on Truth Out, which notes that “These disturbing reports from Georgia are not surprising within the larger context of human rights abuses in the U.S. since 2016.”
According to Vice, the nonprofit Project South has collected multiple reports from women working at the detention center alleging that hysterectomies have been frequently performed there. One of these women said she knew of five women who had been subject to hysterectomies in the three-month period from October through December 2019. Vice reports that Dawn Wooten, the nurse who filed the complaint, “said she’d talked to several detained immigrants who’d had hysterectomies but didn’t know why. One detained immigrant told Project South that, ahead of the scheduled procedure, she was given multiple different explanations about what would happen and why it was necessary.” When asked to comment on the allegations, ICE explained in a written statement that it does not comment on matters before the Inspector General. LaSalle Corrections, which runs the center, did not respond to a Vice request for comment. S-HP
If you want to join the call for investigations both by the DHS Inspector General and by Congress, the addresses are here.
2. Meat Packing
The story of meat packing plants and COVID-19 isn’t pretty. In a tweet last spring, the eminent science writer Laurie Garrett noted how COVID-19 cases mapped onto the locations of meat-packing plants. Published in 1994, her book The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance warned of the inevitability of emerging pandemics. Her book was written for a popular audience and used scientific studies produced before 1994. In other words, pandemics had been predicted for well over 25 years before COVID-19 emerged.
As ProPublica reports, the U.S. government issued written warnings in 2006 to essential businesses, including meat-packing and chicken-processing plants, of the need to develop plans that would keep the food system—and food workers—safe during a pandemic. The warnings told businesses that they should be prepared to lose 40% of their workforce at the peak of a pandemic, when workers would be sick and/or would be caring for sick family members.
That same ProPublica piece points out that in 2009 the Department of Homeland Security provided essential businesses with an 84-page guide to pandemic planning prepared by Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Among the recommendations of this document was that businesses should stockpile enough protective masks for 120 days. Assuming each worker would use two masks during a shift; OSHA recommended that businesses keep 240 masks per worker on hand.
The meat-packing plants contacted in 2006 and 2009 chose not to develop pandemic response plans.
The ProPublica piece goes on to quote a letter written in late June to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, who were investigating COVID-19 outbreaks in meat-packing plants, by Kenneth Sullivan, CEO of Smithfield Foods. Sullivan told the Senators: “What no one had anticipated, and has never happened in our lifetimes, is the scenario we are living through today [the COVID-19 pandemic].”
On September 13, the Washington Post cited data from the Food and Environment Reporting Network that since March 42,500+ meat-packing and chicken-processing plants workers had tested positive for COVID-19. More than 200 have been killed by the virus. In early September, the Foster Farms plant in Livingston, California, said it had closed its facility; at least 392 employees had tested positive for COVID-19 as of September second, according to the Fresno Bee. However, other facilities in the complex continued their operations. Foster Farms, which provides between 50 and 60% of the chicken consumed in California, has been slow to test employees, having tested only 10% of them by July despite orders from the county. The UFW threatened a boycott of Foster Farms after 9 workers died of COVID-19.
So, given the early warnings by the government regarding the need for pandemic planning, what consequences have meat-packing and chicken-processing plants faced for their failure to plan and the resulting infections and deaths of workers? According to the Washington Post, as of September 13, federal regulators had cited a total of two meat-packing plants—a Smithfield Foods plan in South Dakota and a JBS plant in Colorado—for a total of three citations, levying a total of $29,000 in fines. One other item of interest: The executive order Trump issued on April 28 declaring meat-packing and poultry-processing plants as essential businesses is strikingly similar to a “suggested executive order” provided to Trump by the North American Meat Institute (a trade group) one week earlier. The Washington Post’s article on this similarity between trade group suggestions and Trumps order notes six essentially identical passages between the two documents. S-HP
You might point out to your Congressmembers, the Department of Labor, and OSHA that meat-packing and poultry-processing businesses were given ample waning that pandemic planning was necessary and that their failure to do this planning be reflected in the consequences the face for COVID-19 illness and deaths among their workers. Addresses are here.
3. Judge finds that the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security is serving illegally
Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, has been serving illegally in the position, since the line of succession was not followed when his predecessor was appointed, so he did not have the authority to appoint him, a federal judge ruled on Friday. Thus, according to CNN, he did not have the authority to issue rules around asylum; he was the one who declared that asylum-seekers had to wait a year to seek employment. As News You May Have Missed noted on August 16 (story 5), the Government Accountability Office also announced that Wolf’s appointment was irregular and in any case, he has been in the office longer than an acting appointee is permitted to be. Thus far, Wolf has declined to leave his position. RLS.
4. Betsy DeVos tries, fails to funnel coronavirus aid to private schools
The CARES act was supposed to send $13 billion to the public schools to help cover their coronavirus losses, allowing private schools some limited funds for “equitable services” such as tutoring or transportation for their low-income students. However, according to NPR, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos insisted that the funds should go to private schools based on their total enrollment. In the first week of September, a federal judge ruled against DeVos, saying that “it is difficult to imagine how Congress could have been clearer” that funds were intended only for low-income students. RLS
5. Justice at last: Spanish judges find Salvadoran colonel guilty of murders in the 80s civil war
In the Salvadoran civil war that raged from 1979-1992, 75,000 people were known to have been killed and an incalculable number were disappeared; death squads and the Salvadoran army funded by and in league with the U.S. government were responsible for 85% of the deaths, according to the UN sponsored Truth Commission. Among the atrocities was the torture and murder of clergy people. A 1993 amnesty law was found unconstitutional in 2016, and the perpetrators could thus be brought to justice.
Among those murdered in 1989 were five Spanish Jesuits, a Salvadoran Jesuit and two Salvadoran women. Operating under a principle of universal jurisdiction, a panel of Spanish judges found Inocente Orlando Montano guilty of the murders on September 11, 2020; he was sentenced to 26 years, eight months and one day for each murder, though he will not serve more than 30 years in total, according to the Guardian. The Guardian reported that the eight were ordered killed in order to derail peace talks; the death squad used a rifle from the opposition, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), to try to cast blame on them. Those killed were Spaniard Jesuits, among them Father Ignacio Ellacuría, who was a leader among peace activists, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Segundo Montes, Ramón Moreno, and Amando López. A Salvadoran Jesuit, Joaquin López y López, was also killed, as was a housekeeper, Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter, Celina, aged 15. RLS
6. Greek asylum-seekers forcibly deported on rafts
Over 1000 refugees have been turned away from Greece–put into overfull, unmotorized rubber rafts that cannot be steered and sent out to sea. As one refugee , a teacher from Syria who survived the ordeal, told the New York Times in August, “I left Syria for fear of bombing — but when this happened, I wished I’d died under a bomb.” She had been ordered onto a raft with 22 other people, including 2 babies. On other occasions documented by the Times, Greek officials disabled the engines on refugees’ boats and set them adrift. Greece authorities have also been refusing to allow refugees to apply for asylum or to appeal their expulsion.
For the last six years, Greece has been beset by tens of thousands of refugees, mostly from Syria; European nations have not been stepping up with sufficient aid. A refugee camp housing 13,000 people that burned on the island of Lesbos has been replaced by a new one, where conditions are unsafe and unsanitary, according to Al Jazeera. One resident, a young Afghan woman, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview that “There is no water, no toilet, no food.”
Describing the deportation of asylum seekers on rafts as “unprecedented,” Niamh Keady-Tabbal, a graduate student researcher at the Irish Center for Human Rights, and one of the first to document the phenomenon, told the Times that “Greek authorities are now weaponizing rescue equipment to illegally expel asylum seekers in a new, violent and highly visible pattern of pushbacks.”
A few weeks after this report emerged, a three-year-old at a beach in southern Greece drifted out to sea on a unicorn float. She was rescued by a Greek ferryboat captain, according to the New York Times, and Greeks were captivated by the video of her rescue. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis praised the captain. RLS
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
7. Reliable Sources
An excellent list of 50 reliable individuals who are writing about the sciences has been published by the editors of Elemental on Medium. The list is remarkable and contains links to some of their articles. Another good source is Brief 19, edited by Jeremy Faust, an emergency room doctor and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. The September 18 issue describes the CDC’s ambiguous messaging on school re-opening, their quite good directive on evictions, and the White House’s efforts to interfere in their directives. RLS
8. Scientific American endorses a presidential candidate for the first time
Scientific American has been around for 175 years and, in that time, has never endorsed a presidential candidate. Now Scientific American has broken with the tradition and is endorsing Joe Biden for the office of president. In a piece in the “Policies and Ethics” section the editors explain this decision: “The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges…. Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures have been catastrophic in the U.S.” S-HP
If you want to thank Scientific American for this decision at a time when our planet and its people need public officials who accept science, their address is: Scientific American—Editors, 1 New York Plaza, Floor 56, New York, NY 10004
The Americans of Conscience Checklist has an excellent list for actions around voting, including how to report voting-related misinformation.
Rogan’s list has essential information, including how to donate to fire relief, how voters impacted by the fires should manage their registration, how you can help ex-prisoners in Florida pay their fees so they can vote, and how Spanish-speakers are needed to text for Biden. She links to a Black-led get-out-the-vote project. She notes that the Campus Votes project is trying to reduce barriers to student voters.
Postcards to Voters is focusing on McGrath for Senate in Kentucky and Cunningham for Senate in North Carolina. Once you are approved, they will send you voter addresses and sample scripts.
Sarah-Hope’s list also identifies postcarding possibilities, most of them integrated in the stories above.