NYMHM for 2 June 2019

Whether you have missed it or not, the news continues to become more and more incredible. ICE is separating newborns from mothers who give birth in detention, and it is not clear whether they are being returned when the women are released. At the same time as the abortion debate rages, ICE does not count a stillbirth as a death in custody. Like a low hum, other–even more ominous–policy changes emerge and the costs of climate change become clearer. At the same time, there are scraps of good news–and a myriad of ways to address the national issues. See the Resources page for ideas–and our new Arts & Culture page for ways to be sustained in this troubling present.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. The military as civilian police

Trump has in mind to invoke the Insurrection Act, which would permit military personnel to serve as civilian police. In particular, he would authorize them to detain and remove immigrants. The Insurrection Act is an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act, which says that the military cannot do domestic policing. The Insurrection Act gives the president broad powers: federal troops can be used “whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.” There is no option for Congressional or judicial review, according to Slate. RLS

2. Permanent War

In his speech to West Point graduates, Vice President Mike Pence said that “It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life.  You will lead soldiers in combat.  It will happen.” Pence went on to speculate that the graduates would fight in Afghanistan or Iraq, on the Korean Peninsula, in Europe, or in “this hemisphere.” Days before, Trump had sent 1,500 troops to the neighborhood of Iran. In Afghanistan, 2,400 Americans along 62,000 Afghan troops and police have died since the war there began in 2001; 24,000 civilians have been killed in the last ten years, according to Newsweek. RLS

3. Newborns taken from asylum-seekers

Women asylum-seekers who give birth while in the custody of the U.S. Marshalls in West Texas have been required to give up their newborn babies. Women who were released from custody and obtained legal help from organizations such as Annunciation House were able to be reunited with their babies, but it is not known how many mothers were not able to retrieve their babies. Rewire News, which is the only news outlet to break this story, had this information from the doctor who delivered many of the babies.

As the legal coordinator of Annunciation House, Taylor Levy, explains it this way: “Just think about it. You’re 18, 19, 20 years old. You’re in an entirely new country. You just gave birth and your baby is taken from you after two days. You have no clue what is going to happen to your baby or if your baby is safe. You’re taken back to prison, your breasts are leaking milk, you’re in pain, and you sit in a prison cell with no idea when you’ll get released or if you’ll see your baby again. All of this because you crossed a line without permission.” RLS

4. A stillbirth in ICE custody not considered an in-custody death

Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released information about a 24 year-old Honduran woman who suffered a stillbirth while in ICE custody, the New York Times reports. ICE officials released a statement that they do not view the stillbirth as an in-custody death. This has happened amid scrutiny over the medical care given inmates in immigration custody after several deaths of children and teens in ICE or Border Patrol custody. According to the Refugee and Immigrant Center of Education and Legal Services, interviews with women recently released from detention call into question the medical care received by pregnant women in custody. JML

5. 8,400 detainees kept in solitary confinement

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have made extensive use of solitary confinement in immigration detention centers—with nearly a third of those subjected to solitary confinement described as having a mental illness. This practice has come to light through extensive interviews with Ellen Gallagher, former policy adviser for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights, and documented by research done by the Intercept and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists ICIJ.

The general consensus is that solitary confinement should only be used as a last-resort measure and can be particularly dangerous for those with mental vulnerabilities. Gallagher described detainees sent to solitary confinement, often as a first option, rather than a last resort, for actions such as being assaulted (the detainee in question did not retaliate, but was placed in solitary nonetheless), engaging in a consensual kiss, and threatening suicide, according to Democracy Now. The Intercept/ICIJ data show 8,400 reported uses of solitary confinement from 2012 to early 2017. Among these cases, 373 were because detainees were potentially suicidal—and more than two hundred additional detainees were placed on suicide watch after being put in solitary.

Gallagher says she reported her concerns about misuse of solitary confinement to the DHS, the Homeland Security Secretary’s Office of Inspector General, the Office of Special Counsel (which solicits reports of wrongdoing from government employees), and the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (these two committees oversee ICE). The only significant response she knows of that was taken in response was a letter from then-Judiciary Committee members Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Democrat Senator Al Franken to the then-Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, citing Gallagher’s findings and demanding an explanation. S-HP

If you are inclined to call for an investigation and on-going monitoring of the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention centers, write the people on this list.

6. US refusal to take refugees has worldwide consequences

Despite the worldwide refugee crisis, the Trump administration has drastically cut the number of refugees the U.S. accepts–for example, from 9,000 Somali refugees in 2016 to 257 in 2018. About 320,000 Somalis were displaced due to confict in 2018. Kenya is housing many Somalis but has said it will have to close its camp in August. As Foreign Policy in Focus points out, the willingness of the U.S. to resettle refugees and to fund refugee camps has put pressure on countries housing refugees who will never come to North America, so that those countries will keep them safe until they can go home. Now, that pressure is gone. RLS

7. The census citizenship question was designed to benefit white Republicans

​We’re waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 census. This is an election issue because the distribution of House seats and a great many federal resources rely on census population data. The possible addition of citizenship question has become a contentious issue, since it would almost certainly discourage census participation by undocumented people living in the U.S.—and by people who fear being incorrectly labeled undocumented—who could be subject to deportation. 

Because this particular subset of the population resides primarily in California and New York, a decreased population count could lead to fewer House seats for those states. And because those states lean Democratic, a loss of House seats there could likely result in more House seats held by Republicans during the decade between the 2020 census and the next census in 2030. In a similar fashion, states with significant undocumented populations—or, again, anyone afraid of being labeled undocumented—would receive reduced shares of federal resources. 

The Commerce Department, which administers the census, claims the citizenship was added to the census to help with the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, but details from conversations and electronic documents–in particular, a hard drive belonging to a deceased Republican strategist–strongly suggest that the question was designed to suppress census numbers for undocumented communities and people of color, according to the Mercury News.

While the Supreme Court considers its ruling, Congress could act by supporting legislation that would sustain accurate population numbers and by rejecting legislation that would hinder accurate population numbers. The first, positive category includes H.R.732, which requires three years of testing for impact before any new question can be added to the census; H.R.1734, which would prohibit census questions on citizenship, nationality, or immigration status; S.201, which would also bar questions on citizenship, nationality, or immigration status; and S.358, which would require advance notification of Congress before any changes to census questions. The second, negative category includes H.R.1320 and S.1358, both of which would require an option to identify as a citizen on the census. All House legislation is with the Oversight and Reform Committee; all Senate legislation is before the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. S-HP

If you want to urge Congress to act on the citizenship question, here is whom you want to contact.

8. Trump punishes American consumers for migrants

Trump has declared he will impose a 5% tariff on all goods coming from Mexico unless Mexico stops the flow of migrants coming over the border, Mother Jones and many other outlets report. He says that the tariff will rise by 5% per month until it reaches 25%. As the CBC points out, his move threatens the new NAFTA agreement, yet to be ratified, and leads other countries to wonder whether the U.S. can be trusted. As Don Pittis, writing for the CBC, puts it, the question that  “must be echoing in Beijing, Brussels, Mexico City and Ottawa​ is​: “How can you trust Trump to honour deals?”

Indeed, China is setting up a “​​non-reliable entity list”​ which​ would include “foreign entities, individuals and companies that block and shut the supply chain, or take discriminatory measures over non-commercial reasons​,” according to China’s state newspaper, the CBC reports.

The Chicago Tribune has a useful fact-checker on tariffs and trade; Trump’s tweets suggest that tariffs are something one country pays another, but of course, they are paid by businesses and ultimately increase the price paid by consumers. CNBC reports on Goldman Sachs’ assertion that the cost of the tariffs imposed on Chinese goods “has fallen entirely on American businesses and households, with a greater impact on consumer prices than previously expected. ” RLS

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. A Canadian Genocide

The murders and disappearances of thousands of Indigenous Canadian women and girls constitute a “Canadian genocide,” according to the long-awaited 1200 page report to be released Monday. The report concludes that these deaths and losses are caused by  “state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies,” challenging previous claims by the RCMP that Indigenous men were responsible for most of the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women. Based on an inquiry that lasted two and a half years and that received testimony from the families of murdered and missing women as well as Indigenous elders, the report makes 230 recommendations, reports the CBC. RLS

10. Far-right extremists funded internationally

Right-wing extremists in the UK are being funded by international networks, but enforcement efforts are not focusing on these groups but on Muslims, according to a new report by the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi). PayPal has recently shut down accounts by extreme right-wingers, impeding the crowd-funding efforts that have supported them in the past; they may be turning to crypto-currency instead, reports the Independent. RLS

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT

11. An “unusual mortality event”: grey whales

Since the start of the year, at least seventy grey whales have washed up dead or stranded along the California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska coasts. Fifteen of these mammals were found dead. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared this cluster of events an emergency, according to the San Jose Mercury News. To be precise, the deaths are an “unusual mortality event,” language that automatically triggers funding for scientists to determine the cause of the die-off. The dead have included juvenile and adult, as well as male and female whales. Many of them were found malnourished, and Cascadia Research Collective Biologist John Calambokidis has pointed out that “We are seeing lots of live grey whales in unusual locations, clearly emaciated, trying to feed.” The current leading theory for the cause of these deaths is a disruption of the whales’ food supply, particularly in the Arctic, due to warming ocean waters. S-HP

If you want to urge action on this issue, the key contact people are here.


12. Severe heat wave hits northern India

Temperatures rose to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 Celsius) in the desert city of Churu in northern India, with temperatures expected to remain at a deadly high for the next week. Forty percent of India faces severe drought this year with the annual monsoon rains coming late and total rainfall projected to be less than normal. Weather patterns in India have been erratic the past decade, with lengthy droughts punctuated by severe flooding. Villages are now relying on trucked-in water as rivers and lakes have dried up, leaving farmers in fear of the prospects for the future. India has seen almost sixty thousand suicides of farmers in the past thirty years, a fact some attribute partially to the changing climate, phys.org reports.

13. For better or worse, climate change is impacting food production

A study led by the University of Minnesota in collaboration with Oxford University and the University of Copenhagen used weather and crop reports to detail a map of where and which crops have been most affected by climate change. The results are mixed but overall the world has seen a 1% drop in the calories supplied by the ten crops farmed, crops that provide 83% of all calories consumed by people. There are winners as well as losers, however, with Latin American yields coming out ahead while farms in Europe, southern Africa and Australia falling and North and Central America providing mixed results. Regarding specific crops, oil palm has been hit hardest with a 13% reduction in yield while soybeans have seen a bump of 3%. These data confirm that climate change impacts to food security aren’t a nebulous future threat; they are with us now. JC

14. Britain has gone two weeks without burning coal

For the first time since the 1880s, Britain has supplied all of its electrical power needs without burning coal for a record two weeks, the BBC reports. The good news comes from the regulatory board that monitors power production across the country. As coal plants take six hours to “warm up,” the board is notified well in advance of any being fired. That last happened on the 17th of May. This bit of good news happens as Britain continues to ramp up renewable production with the 14th of May seeing the record high share for solar power, at 25% of total electricity used. Britain is due to abandon the use of coal completely by 2025.  JC

15. Facebook fine in limbo as the FTC bickers

Last year, we summarized reports explaining how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook to siphon off the data of users’ friends and families, then targeted them with political ads that likely influenced the 2016 American election as well as the Brexit vote. Facebook has now been hit with a five billion dollar fine by the FTC.

However, as CNET reports, disagreements between Republicans and Democrats on the FTC have kept the fine from being imposed. Meanwhile, a Delaware court has ordered Facebook to turn over records on this privacy breach to shareholders.

Facebook has also refused to take down a doctored video of Nancy Pelosi in which she appears to be drunk. Representatives told politicians in Ottawa that it will not take down “false or misleading content,” saying that “it’s not Facebook’s role to decide the line between ‘free speech’ and ‘censorship.'” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg refused to honor a summons from a Canadian parlimentary committee, the Toronto Star reports. RLS

ARTS & CULTURE

“The House On Mango Street” to become an opera

The House on Mango Street tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, and has been a favorite worldwide for 35 years.  Author Sandra Cisneros is collaborating with composer Derek Bermel on the project, according to Bookriot.

Transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera featured on a monument in Greenwich Village.

Fierce transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will be recognized for their roles in the gay liberation movement, the New York Times reports. Johnson and Rivera were active in the Stonewall uprising, and also worked to assist homeless LGBTQ+ youth and people with HIV/AIDS.

The world’s largest protest banner produced by Sudanese artists

The textile banner will have hundreds of paintings, interspersed with the signatures of activists and portraits of protestors who died in the struggle in Sudan. 1.9 miles long, it will cover the length of the plaza in front of the military headquarters.

The Central Park Five now the subject of Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us”

Netflix presents a 4-part docudrama of the infamous case of five young men wrongly convicted for the rape of a woman in Central Park.  Then wise-guy, now president Donald Trump took out full-page advertisements in the local papers calling for their execution, according to the LA Times.

Survivors of sexual violence now have a national monument

The Monument Quilt is on display May 31 – June 2 on the National Mall in Washington DC, the Huffington Post reports.

RESOURCES

  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist is focusing on voter empowerment for the month of June. See their site for an explanation and easy actions you can take.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list also has some actions you can take around elections, as well as a way to pressure Justice Kavanaugh to rescue himself on the abortion issue, ways to address gun violence and more.
  • Martha’s list focuses on the attacks on LGBTQ+ civil rights; she says the big news is how the Trump administration is changing how it measures things – pollution deaths, poverty and a new standard called “natural law,” likely a further challenge to LGBTQ+ rights. See her list for ways to engage with these issues.
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