NYMHM for 13 Jan 2019

After an especially heavy week, we’ve got a roundup of good news and several other positive items scattered throughout the darker news below, including a possible Ebola treatment and a method for a 40% increase in crop yields. Actions and resources will follow the news.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Some much-needed good news:

a. Ruth Bader Ginsberg

RBG is cancer-free and will return to the Supreme Court soon (she’s currently working from home). [Elle; Reuters]

b. SNAP is funded through February

If you’ve been worrying that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be shut down by the government shutdown, don’t worry yet. SNAP has enough money to provide food stamps through the end of February. However, be careful if you receive food stamps—to issue February stamps, the government is using a workaround that requires early issuance, so recipients will need to plan carefully so that stamps distributed by Jan. 20 (that would normally be distributed Feb 1-10) don’t run out. [Chicago Tribune, Indianapolis Star]

c. Medicare For All would save the US money

In an analysis that has received almost no attention in the news despite several conversations sparked by comments from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) [e.g. WaPo], The Political Economy Research Institute at University of Massachusetts Amherst published “Economic Analysis of Medicare for All” which found that, “Medicare for All could reduce total health care spending in the U.S. by nearly 10 percent, to $2.93 trillion, while creating stable access to good care for all U.S. residents.” [Sojourners]

d. Guaranteed healthcare access in NYC

Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced guaranteed comprehensive healthcare access for uninsured New Yorkers to be rolled out this year. [The Hill]

e. Re-enfranchisement of ex-felons in Florida.

As of Jan. 8, about 1.2 million ex-felon US citizens living in Florida can register to vote, if they “have completed their terms of sentence, except those convicted of murder or sexual offenses.” [Miami Herald] Now only Kentucky and Iowa disenfranchise ex-felons [Vox].

f. Another voting rights victory

The ACLU and NAACP have prevailed in their 2014 lawsuit over weighted voting for the Ferguson-Florissant Board of Education, since the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) has declined the case. [ACLU on Twitter; St. Louis Public Radio]

g. SCOTUS has also declined hearing an appeal by ExxonMobil

So, ExxonMobil will have to turn over documents which may prove they actively worked to discredit legitimate climate-change science. [Vox]

h. Facebook is a public forum

The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals have decided that Facebook is enough like a public forum that elected officials who block citizens from commenting on their pages are violating the First Amendment. [Ars Technica]

i. MS-13 mostly gone from eastern MA

The Trump-appointed US Attorney for Boston says eastern Massachusetts has “all but eradicated” MS-13. [Boston Globe] ProPublica notes that the gang has stayed at about 10,000 members (or 0.7% of the 1.4 million total gang members in the U.S.) for the past decade.

j. GoFundMe to buy ladders to go over the wall

You’ve likely heard about the GoFundMe to fund Trump’s Wall, which GoFundMe is refunding back to donors after it failed to raise the money. Now there’s a GoFundMe in response [ABC]: “Ladders to Get Over Trump’s Wall“:

…all funds raised will go to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) , a Texas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees…. This GoFundMe isn’t really about ladders at all. It’s about lifting people up.

2. Good news for the environment, bad news for coal miners

CNN reports that “more coal-fired power plants have been deactivated in Trump’s first two years in office then [sic] in Obama’s entire first term.” Roughly 50,000 coal miners and another 25,000 are employed in the industry in the U.S., whose industry is unlikely to rebound.

3. Gerrymandering roundup.

ABC has a roundup of current gerrymandering cases, affecting voters in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 2020 Census data will be used for redistricting; see last week’s story (#6) about the Census.

4. Pentagon’s Chief of Staff has resigned

Retired Rear Admiral Kevin Sweeney has resigned. He was chief of staff to James Mattis, who resigned as Defense Secretary last month. [Axios, DoD] Sweeney follows Brett McGurk (whose departure we mentioned in the 30 Dec roundup) and Dana White (the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson who left under a cloud amid accusations she mistreated employees) and of course Mattis himself. Eric Chewning (deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial policy) is taking over as chief of staff.

5. US approving immigration requests from men with child brides  

Thousands of men who want to come into the country with their child or adolescent wives were approved: 5,556 requests from adults (almost all men) with child or adolescent spouses, and 2,926  from minors asking to bring in adult spouses, from 2007 to 2017. Approvals included 149 cases where the adult was over 40 years old, and 28 over 50; some applicants were as young as 8 years old. Another 4,749 minor spouses or fiancees were granted permanent resident status in the same ten-year period. The data was collected by the Homeland Security Committee at the request of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and then-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who raised concerns about whether these girls were being abused or had been forced into marriage. Officials have since created a system to flag birthdates in applications, but there’s no data yet to show if it’s working. [NBC/AP]

6. Death reveals need for a broader range of translators at the US border

On December 8, 2018, 7-year-old Jakeline Caal died in US Customs and Border Control custody. Her death has drawn attention to an issue facing many migrants at the southern border. Caal and her father both spoke the Mayan language Q’eqchi. Her father, who speaks what linguist Geoff Nunberg calls “market Spanish,” signed an English-language form read to him in Spanish by a CBP translator. Many of the Central American migrants arriving at the border speak indigenous languages of Mayan origins and have little or no Spanish fluency and may not understand the documents they sign. [NPR; Portland Press Herald]

6. New documents reveal how and why the Border Patrol can do what they do 

Lawyers, this one’s for you: Border Patrol training documents obtained by the Intercept illuminate how the Border Patrol systematically extends its authority. A powerpoint explains occasions when those stopped have no expectation of privacy and identifies various in-practice strategies. When boarding a bus, for example, passengers have the right not to answer questions, but agents have no obligation to advise them of that right. It details the way that the border is defined as a 100-mile swath, within which border patrol officials have wide discretion. 

The documents were acquired by the ACLU after four years of litigation (and the ACLU Border Litigation Project would like to hear from you about your experiences with the Border Patrol). If you have access to Lexis, the case number is:  8:15-cv-00229-JLS-RNB. If you subscribe to Case Text, you can see  it here. The Intercept says that the ACLU shared the training documents exclusively with them. 

7. Trump administration downgraded EU delegation’s diplomatic status

With no announcement or notification, the State Department downgraded the European Union’s delegation from member state to international organization. No comment from the State Department due to the shutdown, but the EU says [Deutsche Welle]

The demotion apparently only came to the attention of EU officials when the ambassador to Washington, David O’Sullivan, was not invited to certain events last year. 

[Independent]

George W. Bush’s former undersecretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, called the move, “a gratuitous and entirely unreasonable swipe at the EU by the Trump administration.”

8. The US is refusing to cooperate with the UN regarding human rights violations inside the country  

The State Department has stopped responding to human rights inquiries coming from United Nations rapporteurs (independent experts who investigate issues of inequality, freedom of expression and human rights around the world). As the Guardian explains it, State stopped responding when Philip Alston, the UN’s expert on extreme poverty, critiqued the United States for intensifying inequality. The outgoing UN ambassador Nikki Haley was very much offended by Alston’s report, calling it “patently ridiculous” that the UN would concern itself with the US rather than developing nations.

The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner has a tool that lets you search the issues the UN raised for yourself. UN rapporteurs raised questions about sanctions against Iran; arbitrary detention of immigrants at private detention centers (including pregnant women); separation of families at the border; exposure of Puerto Ricans to toxic chemicals generated by American companies; targeting of Black Americans called “Black Identity Extremists” by the FBI—and more.

As the Guardian points out, the US’s decision to ignore the UN sends a dangerous message to countries around the world—that they need only ignore the UN when it tries to involve itself.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Friction between US and South Korea

The U.S. has demanded a 50% increase in South Korea’s annual payment to defray costs for about 28,500 U.S. troops based in the country, which Seoul is resisting. [Stars and Stripes] Higher-level talks are expected to continue. [Korea Herald]

10. Ebola in Congo & some hope on the horizon

Amidst unrest over the election of Felix Tshisekedi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, accusations of an election coup, and the potential creation of a unity government, the second most deadly Ebola outbreak in history has risen to 630 cases as of January 10th.

The World Health Organization is now coordinating a randomized control multi-drug trial for Ebola treatments, and, separately, antibody cocktails MBP134 and MBP134 AF were found effective in various animals including non-human primates.

11. RCMP forcibly breach Indigenous checkpoint in British Columbia

Members of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) are being accused of using excessive force by protestors objecting to the placement of a pipeline through Indigenous territory in British Columbia—sovereign territory never ceded to Canada, never conquered, never relinquished through treaty. [CBC]

Protestors had established a blockade that was forcibly breached by RCMP members carrying assault weapons; some were injured. The chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en territory had agreed to honor an injunction requiring access to Coastal GasLink for preconstruction work, saying that they were still adamantly opposed to the pipeline but that they were concerned about safety, but protestors nonetheless set up a checkpoint at Gidim’ten. [CBC] Some Indigenous people don’t recognize the chief and council structure, saying it was imposed by colonial law. [CBC]

Coastal GasLink is proposing to build a pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory carrying liquified natural gas and—according to one commentator, Kai Nagata—is trying to do so before the Wet’suwet’en claims of sovereignty over their extensive historical territory are heard in court. [Vancouver Star]

12. Round-up of some other international news

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

13. Inhalable RNA may be on the way

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a way to deliver mRNA therapies via inhalation, which paves the way for groundbreaking new treatments for lung diseases. mRNA is the “messenger” form of RNA which tells cells which proteins to make and in what quantities. Protein therapies are a promising type of treatment for many lung diseases, cystic fibrosis in particular, but mRNA is delicate and breaks down easily requiring a means of direct delivery and a protective “carrier.”

MIT succeeded in making tiny nanospheres of a bio-degradable polymer entangled with the mRNA and aerosolized it so that it can be inhaled and applied directly to lung cells where it’s needed. In experiments with mice, they successfully delivered mRNA containing directions to produce a bioluminescent protein which was shown to spread evenly throughout the lungs. As the lungs cleared, the mRNA that was delivered the bioluminescent proteins gradually diminished—which allows for the possibility of scalable doses. [MIT]

14. Federal government shutdown hitting science hard

The impact of the budget impasse and resulting shutdown of the federal government is being felt throughout the science community as long-standing planned research is scrapped at the last moment, data piles up without being examined and projects are in limbo waiting for promised funding. New lab staff can’t be vetted because E-verify is down.

Among the immediate effects, the National Science Foundation has suspended approving and reviewing grant proposals or judging and awarding post doctorate fellowships. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has taken down weather and climate databases widely used for industrial and agricultural purposes. NASA is preparing for delays in planned launches and has been unable to fix the Hubble telescope, which broke this week, the EPA has been hamstrung with only 733 employees considered ‘essential’ out of 14,000 and a number of scientific conferences are expecting a plunge in attendance with government-employed scientists being unable to attend. It’s worth mentioning that these delays, abandoned experiments, canceled travel plans and empty conference seats cost the US taxpayer since much of this has already been paid for. [BBC, Nature (1, 2), Union of Concerned Scientists]

15. Scientists fix plant “glitch” for 40% increase in crop yield.

The planet is due to hit 10 billion people by mid-century. The problem of how to feed everybody will only get tougher as climate change hurts agriculture. A new breakthrough from the USDA and University of Illinois may help. Most plants have what could be considered a glitch in their DNA which makes photosynthesis less efficient. (Photosynthesis is the process by which plants turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugars—ultimately it’s how everybody gets fed.)

The protein that allows this magic trick in plants, Rubisco, sometimes has trouble telling CO2 from O2. About 20% of the time, the protein grabs up oxygen instead of CO2 and instead of producing nourishing sugars makes plant-toxic compounds, which then have to be disposed of via photorespiration. Photorespiration takes a lot of plant energy, with an inefficient chemical cycle requiring compounds to be processed by three different parts of the plant.

The breakthrough involves genetically engineering a more efficient means for plants to discard toxic compounds, resulting in more efficient photorespiration. Experiments so far on tobacco plants (the botanists’ version of the ubiquitous white lab mouse), resulted in a 40% increased yield in crops under real-world farming conditions, and a huge increase in biomass including 50% larger stems. They’re due to be duplicated in soybeans, tomatoes, rice and potatoes. Funding comes from a variety of sources including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, so results must be provided royalty-free to subsistence farmers. [phys.org; Science]

RESOURCES

  • Grist has a calculator to help you consider which individual actions to mitigate climate change are worth doing. Big collective changes are called for, but you can make changes on your own as well.
  • Martha reports that in the shutdown, federal sites including regulations.gov are not being updated and public meetings to discuss regulations are on hold—though open comment opportunities are still working. Stay tuned for options to comment on Medicaid block grants (yet to be posted). Meanwhile, there’s lots to comment on, including changes to FOIA, arctic drilling, disposal of depleted uranium—and more.
  • Sarah-Hope has 27 new ways to comment on things as they are and shouldn’t be. See her blog for ways to respond to incorrect information about immigrants, the warming of the oceans, the failures of HUD, and much more. Type in—don’t click on—the url: whatifknits.com.
  • Daily Doublespeak offers a rhetorical analysis of political speech and various links that do so as well.
  • Columbia University tracks the federal actions targeting scientific work in climate and other environmental fields.
  • NYMHM advocates laughing even/especially when things are at their worst. Foreign policy writer Conn Hallinan offers his annual “Are You Serious” awards, for events and statements that are so incredibly awful that we have to laugh or we will weep. He includes such items as the “Little Bo Peep Award” for the Pentagon for losing track of $21 trillion dollars and the U.S. Air Force for losing a box of grenades.

NYMHM for 6 Jan 2019

It’s 2019, and that means it’s time for endless think-pieces about the 2020 presidential election, because our news media likes a horse race better than anything. So, let’s talk just for a moment about how we talk about 2020: remember that:

  • when you see a politician criticized as unlikable, shrill, or bossy …often it just means she’s female;
  • while mainstream news is good at a lot of things, it’s run by people largely unaffected by Trump’s policies, and reflects their bias;
  • and, at this point, reporting about the 2020 elections is mostly-fact-free speculation and can be safely ignored.

The primaries will matter when they happen, but for now, let’s keep our focus on preventing our world from becoming an uninhabitable hellscape, and on preventing our government from killing people with lack of affordable health care, police brutality, and malign neglect. Opportunities for action are listed under our news round-up.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Some good news!

a. Medicare expansion in Maine.

Maine’s new Democratic governor, Janet Mills, started her tenure by signing an order to expand Medicaid in the state, retroactive to last July. Expansion was approved in 2017 by referendum, but the former Republican governor, Paul LePage, refused to implement it. An estimated extra 70,000 Mainers will be covered. [Bangor Daily News]

b. Minimum wage increases.

Twenty states (listed here) are increasing their minimum wages. The federal government hasn’t raised the minimum wage of $7.25/hr since 2009. [AP]

Adjusting for inflation, $7.25 in 2009 dollars is $8.65 now. The U.S. minimum wage was $1.25/hr in 1966, $2/hr in 1974, and $3.10/hr in 1980; if minimum wage had kept up with inflation at any of those starting points, it would currently be, respectively, $9.91, $10.82, or $10.04/hr.

c. No raises during shutdown.

Top Trump administration officials won’t be getting their raises in the middle of the shutdown after all. The raises—including Vice President Pence ($230,700 to $243,500), cabinet secretaries ($199,700 to $210,700), and deputy secretaries ($179,700 to $189,600)—were a consequence of the shutdown, as the budget deal that had frozen wages lapsed.

d. Congressfolk donating their salaries during shutdown.

White House staff and Congressional members continue to receive pay during the shutdown. Many members of Congress are donating their salaries during the shutdown to various causes to help those affected. (Roll Call has a list; so does The Hill).

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) calls these donations “gimmicky” and will keep his salary. Of course, members of Congress aren’t living hand-to-mouth, so these donations are symbolic, but they may make a huge difference to people helped by the charities receiving donations.

On Thursday, Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) introduced the “No Work, No Pay Act of 2019” to freeze pay to Congress during government shutdowns.

e. Cambodian immigrants to get 14-day pre-detention notice

US-to-Cambodia deportations increased by 279% in 2018. On Thursday, Judge Cormac J. Carney issued a temporary injunction barring ICE from unannounced raids on Cambodian immigrants. [Buzzfeed; court docs]

Also see item #12 below for another bit of good news!

2. Ultra-conservative judicial nominees stalled.

Foreign service nominees and 270 other nominees, including 70 judicial nominees, were sent back to the President to renominate at the opening of the 116th Congress on Thursday. Nominees will be re-considered by the new Senate under Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the new Judiciary Committee Chair. Even though leaving federal positions open is generally bad for government, some nominees are a nightmare. To keep our news round-up from bloating completely out of control, we’ve put our list of nominees to watch out for in a separate post.

3. More on the decline and fall of the American empire.

At the end of 2018, the U.S. (and Israel) officially left UNESCO, the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency which protects World Heritage sites, defends media freedom, improves education for girls, promotes scientific collaboration, and fights anti-Semitism. No comment from the U.S. State Department due to the government shutdown. According to the AP:

The withdrawals will not greatly impact UNESCO financially, since it has been dealing with a funding slash ever since 2011, when both Israel and the U.S. stopped paying dues after Palestine was voted in as a member state. Since then officials estimate that the U.S. — which accounted for around 22 percent of the total budget — has accrued $600 million in unpaid dues, which was one of the reasons for President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw. Israel owes an estimated $10 million.


4. Trump is hurting…

a. …federal workers,

Not only are federal government workers not getting paid during the shutdown (whether or not they are working), but they’re also not getting a raise in 2019. Trump signed an Executive Order to that effect on the Friday between Christmas and New Year’s, when people are at their most distracted. The cost of living adjustment was set at 2.8%, and the salary increase they’re no longer getting was set at 2.1%. Troops will still receive a 2.6% raise (which almost, but not quite, covers the rise in the cost of living).

b. …farmers,

Provisions negotiated by Obama’s administration for the benefit of American agriculture under the Trans-Pacific Partnership are benefiting countries like Australia and Canada, with American farmers shut out by Trump’s decision to pull out of the TPP. It went into effect without the US last week.

c. …and Indian Country.

The government shutdown is especially hard on Native American Nations who are owed services from the federal government via treaty agreements, but whose services are perversely not considered “essential” under the shutdown definitions that keep essential services open, such as an Agriculture Department program that helped feed 90,000 Native Americans last year. The New York Times notes:

The Interior Department’s Indian Affairs bureau provides basic services to about 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, often by funneling funds to the tribes to administer the services themselves or by employing federal workers to run the programs. This means that services from law enforcement to tribal courts, disaster relief and road maintenance are often completed by tribal employees whose salaries rely on federal funding — or by federal workers, some of whom are tribal citizens.

5. Introducing a profit motive unsurprisingly makes government services more expensive.

An analysis by ProPublica and PolitiFact of Veteran’s Administration claims data shows that increasing privatization of the VA through the Veterans Choice program has led to ballooning overhead costs (because of course it does, where else would the profit come from?) and longer wait times. The purpose of the Choice program was to address waits over 30 days, but the program takes longer than 30 days 41% of the time.

At 21-24% (depending on how it’s measured), overhead is so high that it wouldn’t be allowed in a private program. In contrast, the private sector aims for 10-12%, and the Department of Defense’s Tricare health benefits program has 8% overhead. In many cases, overhead exceeded doctors’ bills. Per the Pacific Standard:

“That’s just unacceptable,” Rick Weidman, the policy director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in response to the figures. “There are people constantly banging on the VA, but this was the private sector that made a total muck of it.”

Trump’s promises to veterans were a central message of his campaign. But his plans to shift their health care to the private sector put him on a collision course with veterans groups, whose members generally support the VA’s medical system and don’t want to see it privatized. The controversy around privatization, and the outsize influence of three Trump associates at Mar-a-Lago, has sown turmoil at the VA, endangering critical services from paying student stipends to preventing suicides and upgrading electronic medical records.

One of the contractors, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, and another, Health Net (which no longer services Veterans Choice), are under federal investigation for overcharges. TriWest is under investigation in Arizona for misused government funds and wire fraud. In the mid-’90s, TriWest’s president and CEO David J. McIntyre Jr. was a senior aide to Sen. John McCain. In 2013, TriWest lost its TriCare contract. In 2014, McCain sponsored the bill that created the Choice program with Bernie Sanders. Despite numerous problems with TriWest detailed in a thoroughly-sourced story by Pacific Standard, their CEO, McIntyre, successfully lobbied to have a bill pass this past May to permanently replace the Choice program with a new program for which they are currently the sole contractor.

6. Yikes. If the Census Bureau is allowed to ask about citizenship, they’ll share that data with redistrictors.

The Census Bureau, currently engaged in litigation regarding the addition of a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census, is willing to provide citizenship data to states for redistricting, according to a federal registry notice published on 28 December, in which they say:

The Census Bureau intends to work with stakeholders, specifically “the officers or public bodies having initial responsibility for the legislative apportionment of each state,” to solicit feedback on the content of the prototype redistricting data file.  If those stakeholders indicate a need for tabulations of citizenship data on the 2020 Census Public Law 94-171 Redistricting Data File, the Census Bureau will make a design change to include citizenship as part of that data.

Redrawing districts by eligible voters (rather than by residents) generally shifts districts from Democratic to Republican control, according to a study (pdf) cited by Talking Points Memo (1, 2).

New Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham was unanimously confirmed on January 2nd by the Senate, after a year and a half of leadership under acting director Ron Jarmin (who will become deputy director). Dillingham avoided taking a public position on the census citizenship question during his confirmation hearing. The question is controversial in part because it discourages participation, according to the Census Bureau’s own research.

The new Democratic chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Elijah Cummings (D-MD) will investigate the Trump administration’s decision to include the question.

7. Flint water emergency criminal cases

Michigan’s new Attorney General Dana Nessel requested this week that Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy take over the Flint Water Emergency criminal cases from Special Prosecutor Todd Flood. The Flint water crisis has been ongoing since 2014 when water was sourced from the Flint River which turned out to be 19 times more corrosive to the city’s lead pipes than Detroit water. Residents stopped receiving free bottled water in April 2018, with officials claiming water is safe and critics pointing out that many lead pipes are still in place.

8. The US fired tear gas across the Mexican border again.

For the second time (since November), just after midnight on New Year’s Day, the US fired tear gas into Mexico at migrants attempting to cross the border in Tijuana.

Accounts vary as what actually happened. According to the AP:

An Associated Press photographer saw at least three volleys of gas launched onto the Mexican side of the border near Tijuana’s beach that affected the migrants, including women and children, as well as journalists. The AP saw rocks thrown only after U.S. agents fired the tear gas.

Customs and Border Protection say migrants were passing “toddler sized children” across concertina wire (large coiled razor wire fencing) at the border, and that they couldn’t help the children because of the rock-throwing that the AP photographer says hadn’t started yet. CBP say they responded to rock-throwing with smoke, pepper spray and tear gas, whereas the AP journalist says they initiated the violence, and also fired plastic pellets.

Mexico wants an investigation.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

9. Update on Ebola in Congo

Last week we reported on the ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Deaths have doubled (to over 600) amidst election-related violence, which also prompted the government to shut down the internet after “fictitious results” circulated online. Election result announcements have been postponed. The epicenter of the outbreak, North Kivu and Ituri provinces, borders Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda.

10. UN envoy expelled from Somalia

Nicholas Haysom, the UN secretary general’s special envoy to Somalia, was asked to leave the country after he asked the government to “exercise its authority in conformance with the law and provide explanation about the atrocities committed in Baidoa last month and the detention of Mukhtar Robow.”

SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE ENVIRONMENT

11. Cairo water supply in jeopardy

Egypt is one of the most “water-stressed” countries in the world, and the nearly-complete Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), upstream of Egypt, will exacerbate water shortages. They may run out of water by 2025 (pdf).

12. We might be able to save the coral reefs.

Dr. David Vaughan of the Florida Mote Marine Laboratory (which specializes in coral reef restoration) has discovered how to make coral grow forty times faster than it does in the wild. Watch a BBC video about the discovery here.

Coral reefs, like rainforests, are depositories of biodiversity; they support more species than any other comparably-sized marine environment [NOAA page – cached due to the shutdown] and a quarter of all fish depend on them for some part of their life cycle. They help protect coastlines from storms and waves and are essential to many marine food chains and marine organisms. They’re also a source of new medicines. They’re being killed by overfishing, global warming, and oceans becoming increasingly acidic and polluted, and will likely turn intoslimy mats of algae and bacteria” if they’re not saved. Half a billion people rely on them for food, jobs and recreation.

Up to 85% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean, which depend on coral reefs.

Support the 501(c)3 nonprofit Mote Marine Laboratory‘s work with a donation. Florida drivers can support Mote by getting a Protect Our Reefs plate.

RESOURCES AND ACTIONS

  • Postcards to Voters is still encouraging Florida voters to register for Vote by Mail. Text JOIN to 484-275-2229 if you’re not already signed up.
  • Jennifer Hofmann’s Americans of Conscience Checklist recommends writing your state’s election officials about election security, calling your members of Congress to demand accountability from U.S. immigration agencies, and thanking Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario for donating their $10M corporate tax break, No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes for risking their personal freedom to save lives, and Samantha Bee for focusing attention on cruel border policies, and other actions at this week’s list.
  • Sarah-Hope’s whatifknits list recommends a host of actions related to immigration and border policies and abuse, affordable housing (with a shout-out to this Nation article), calling your member of Congress to express support for a Green New Deal, congratulating incoming FEC Chair Democrat Ellen Weintraub on her new job and thanking her for plans to address the “threat of foreign money influencing U.S. elections” and more.
  • Rogan’s List recommends calling our members of Congress about the lapsed Violence Against Women Act, to keep limits on the level of mercury emissions in place, to investigate GEO Group and CoreCivic‘s slave wages, and more.
  • 5Calls has a script to ask your Member of Congress to only vote to confirm William Barr as the new U.S. Attorney General if he recuse himself on the Russia investigation.
  • Martha’s list (google drive) offers ways to comment for the federal register despite the federal shutdown: you can address the continuing state of emergency (theirs, not ours), some significant environmental issues, the danger to marine mammals, the damage to Title IX, treatment of farm animals, and much more. 

Judicial Nominees to Watch

From our 6 January 2018 news round-up, here’s an incomplete list of Trump judicial nominees to watch out for.

Background

Foreign service nominees and 270 other nominees, including 70 judicial nominees, were sent back to the President to renominate at the opening of the 116th Congress. Democrats refused to cross the aisle to provide bipartisan support, and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s had vowed to block judicial nominations until the Senate voted on a law protecting special counsel Robert Mueller, which didn’t happen.

Flake’s term ended this week after he decided not to run again, saying that “our politics is not healthy“; he has since warned Republicans of the dangers of “fear and conspiracy theories” within the party.

The nominees will be re-considered by the new Senate under Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the new Judiciary Committee Chair. Republicans now have 53 votes in the Senate (plus Pence’s tie-breaking vote, if needed) so protests would need to be vigorous to prevent the worst nominations from being approved. Trump may decide not to re-nominate some of the 2018 nominees.

Even though leaving federal positions open is generally bad for government, it’d be better to leave them open than fill them with these people, since these nominees aren’t merely the conservative jurists you’d expect of any Republican president, but would be particularly bad for the country.

Of note, McConnell restricted President Obama to 2 circuit court and 22 district court nominations in his last two years in office—creating Trump’s unusually high number of opportunities for nominations. The 115th Congress confirmed 85 judges.

Watch out for:

Patrick J. Bumatay, Daniel P. Collins, and Kenneth Kiyul Lee

Three nominees to the Ninth Circuit, Patrick J. Bumatay, Daniel P. Collins, and Kenneth Kiyul Lee. All are members of the ultra-conservative Federalist Society, which largely constructed Trump’s list of judicial nominees. Bumatay is a prosecutor who has never served as a judge. He’s gay, and a member of the Tom Homann LGBT Law Association, which concerns some social conservatives but not the Log Cabin Republicans, who endorse him. Collins has defended companies like Shell from allegations of infrastructure damage from climate change. Lee is anti-affirmative action and in favor of denying felons voting rights, and failed to disclose controversial writings to judicial selection committees. Together, they represent an effort by Trump to move the 9th Circuit sharply to the right, despite the objections of their homestate senators, another norm the Trump administration is breaking.

Roy K. Altman

Roy K. Altman, who wrote this op ed in favor of allowing U.S. border agents to search travelers’ personal computers “at random and indiscriminately.”

Stephen Clark

Stephen Clark, whose work with Lawyers for Life promotes lawyers using legal strategies to obstruct providers he’s called “abortionists”.

Thomas Farr

Thomas Farr, who “stands out for his decades-long crusade to disenfranchise African Americans” [NAACP]—he was the main author of a voter disenfranchisement law struck down by a federal appeals court for “target[ing] African Americans with almost surgical precision”—and whose 2018 nomination was prevented by the only African-American Republican Senator, Tim Scott (R-SC).

Eric Murphy

Eric Murphy, who argued against marriage equality and defended Ohio’s voter purge.

Ryan Nelson

Ryan Nelson, whose nomination as an Interior Department solicitor was held up by Democrats, has been general counsel for a decade at multi-level marketing (and historically anti-LGBT) “wellness” company Maleleuca, “which has faced investigation from state regulators and accusations of being a pyramid scheme.” He supports Trump’s fossil-fuel-heavy America First Energy Plan and has waffled on whether or not climate change is caused by human activity.

Chad A. Readler

Chad A. Readler, who has argued in favor of the citizenship census question, argued that protections for pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional, worked to undermine voting rights (pdf), defended the transgender military ban (pdf), and a host of other issues.

Allison Jones Rushing

Allison Jones Rushing is being criticized by Equality North Carolina, Free State Legal of Maryland, and Lambda Legal for ties to anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom, where she interned, and for her record, which includes arguing that same-sex couples are not guaranteed to equal liberty by the constitution. Democrats also objected to her inexperience: the American Bar Association says federal bench nominees should have at least 12 years’ experience, but Rushing only has 8.

Wendy Vitter

Wendy Vitter, wife of former Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who promoted a theory that women who take birth control are more likely to be abused and otherwise promotes fake science as fact.

News You May Have Forgotten

To celebrate the New Year, we present a round-up of some of the most concerning or most ignored (or both!) stories of 2018:

1. A little matter of the survival of our species.

The world has just over a decade to drastically rein in carbon emissions to prevent catastrophic warming to the planet, according to a UN study released by the Intragovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [also: BBC, Media Matters, Washington Post]

It’s important to note that the IPCC stressed that it’s not too late to turn things around and listed ways we can take action, including deploying a wide portfolio of technologies for carbon dioxide removal (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage [BECCS], afforestation, reforestation, enhanced weathering, biochar, and soil carbon sequestration) paired with “measures to conserve land carbon stocks, limit the expansion of agriculture at the expense of natural ecosystems, and increase agriculture productivity,” plus technologies to remove other greenhouse gases (like methane) from the atmosphere, as well as mitigation efforts focusing on “strongly limiting demand for land, energy and material resources, including through lifestyle and dietary changes.”

Cities and municipalities will need to focus on “reducing and managing disaster risks due to extreme and slow-onset weather and climate events, installing flood and drought early warning systems, and improving water storage and use,” and rural and agricultural areas “need to address climate-related risks by strengthening and making more resilient agricultural and other natural resource extraction systems.”

And, of course, we need to vote for politicians who will take action.

2. The DEA and ICE are spying on us.

Documents obtained from the federal government show that the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency are concealing video cameras inside street lights, traffic barrels and other roadside infrastructure. Given the agencies’ aggressive use of facial recognition and tracking software, one can imagine the kinds of mass surveillance that can be made possible with such a network of cameras. [Quartz]

3. Concentration camps for children and families are big business.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) relies on for-profit contractors to run at least 24 for-profit immigration facilities, 94 for-profit contracted facilities, and 4 for-profit family detention centers, totaling 72% of detained immigrants (as of Nov 2017—these numbers have increased since), not counting those being held in tent cities—who profit from immigrant detention and “whose financial incentives conflict with the criminal justice goals of reducing crime and incarceration” [Urban Justice Center‘s Corrections Accountability].

They include: The GEO Group (2017: $541 million, or 24% of revenue, from ICE contracts); CoreCivic (2017: $444 million, or 25%), Accenture Federal Services (recruitment and hiring, $297 million), G4S Secure Solutions ($234 million), and Southwest Key ($458 million in 2018cited by state inspectors for at least 246 violations including “burns, a broken wrist, and sexually transmitted diseases” going untreated). In 2018, $800 million in taxpayer money went to for-profit immigration detention [Daily Beast].

The GEO Group and CoreCivic have received loans from JPMorganChase, SunTrust, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, US Bank and Wells Fargo, and are dependent on institutional investors, primarily Vanguard, BlackRock, Fidelity, Hotchkis & Wiley, Barrow Hanley Mewhinney & Strauss, and State Street [“Immigration Detention: An American Business“], all of whom could be contacted to request that they divest from funding detention facilities.

4. Suspicious deaths are occurring among Ferguson activists & families.

Danye Jones, son of Ferguson activist Melissa McKinnies, was apparently lynched on 17 October 2018; he was found hanging from a tree in his mother’s backyard with his pants around his ankles (a common feature in lynchings). Essence notes at least three previous Ferguson-activist-related deaths, including Deandre Joshua (shot in the head and set on fire inside his car the same day a grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown); prominent Ferguson activist Darren Seals (also shot inside a burning car); and the activist in the iconic photo tossing a canister of tear gas away from protesters, Edward Crawford (police say he died of a self-inflicted wound while in his car). [Essence (1, 2, 3), Atlanta Black Star, NY Times]

5. Asbestos found in baby powder; manufacturer knew for decades.

Johnson & Johnson was aware for decades that its signature talc baby powder was occasionally contaminated with carcinogenic asbestos. [Reuters]

6. Facebook is selling our phone numbers.

Facebook prompts users to provide a phone number for two-factor authentication—so would-be hackers would need possession of your phone to take control of your account. Facebook is selling users’ phone numbers for advertising purposes, claiming that its Data Use Policy outlines its ability to do so; Engadget says Facebook’s Data Use Policy doesn’t list security information as fair game. Data security experts are dismayed that this may discourage people from using two-factor authentication.

Buzzfeed presents a list of “Literally Just A Big List Of Facebook’s 2018 Scandals“: including its lax data security which allowed Cambridge Analytica to steal user data and use it to manipulate voters, its role in spreading misinformation and fascist/ethnonationalist propaganda, and giving special data-sharing access to companies like Huawei, Lenovo, and Oppo which have ties to the Chinese government, as well as Microsoft, Netflix, and Spotify.

7. Jill Stein might be a Russian asset.

Russia boosted Jill Stein’s campaign to help Trump win (by splitting votes on the left). An NBC analysis found that the Putin-allied Internet Research Agency tweeted her name “over 1,000 times around the time of the election” and that state-run propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik published “more than 100 stories, on-air and online, friendly to Stein and the Green Party” in 2015 and 2016. Stein was also at the same RT dinner with Putin that Michael Flynn was [Salt Lake Tribune, NBC].

Buzzfeed reported a year ago that Mueller would investigate her involvement, and in April, we found out that she’d refused to provide requested documents [The Hill]. Since Mueller’s team never leaks, any information about her involvement in the Special Counsel’s investigation would have to come from her or her lawyers, but it seems likely that she was either colluding with Russia, or a useful idiot.

It’s important to note that, Russian efforts notwithstanding, Stein didn’t cost Clinton the 2016 election, according to data analyst Nate Silver at 538.

8. The GOP tax cuts did nothing they promised.

The $1.5 trillion-with-a-T Republican tax cut has failed to pay for itself [AP, Center for American Progress, CBO, The Hill – the federal deficit has continued to climb], failed to create jobs [Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, WaPo – existing unemployment trends continued] or raise wages [Bloomberg, Center for American Progress, LA Times, Vox – wages fell], failed to boost the stock market [Mother Jones, NYT, Vox], and failed to simplify the tax code [Center for American Progress, NYT].

Many businesses used the money to buy back stock [Vox (1, 2)], instead of creating jobs as Republicans had promised. In 2018, corporations paid $119 billion less in taxes than they would have without the tax cuts [Center for American Progress], adding to the budget shortfall.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the top 20% of earners get 70% of the tax cut’s benefits, and even the conservative Tax Foundation recognizes the tax cuts failed to produce higher wages, though they blame Trump’s tariffs.

Combined with this predictable failure of trickle-down policies (again), The Washington Post predicts a Trump recession:

After all, his new trade barriers have lifted manufacturing costs, closed off markets and clouded the future for American firms with global supply chains. Economists say Trump’s trade war is the biggest threat to the U.S. economy in 2019. In loonier moments, the president has also threatened to default on our debt, ramp up the money-printing press, reinstate the gold standard or deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants. Some of those policies would ignite not just a recession but an immediate, global financial crisis.

Newsweek (citing the U.S. Federal Reserve and various economic analysts) and CNBC (citing Goldman Sachs) are also reporting predictions that 2019’s economy will be slow. The LA Times reports that new home sales fell every month from June to October 2018 and that the “tax cut is estimated to sap government revenue by as much as 8.1% in inflation-adjusted terms and is expected to drive the federal deficit above $1 trillion for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.”

9. The Trump administration is stripping immigrants of citizenship using technicalities.

With Operation Janus, begun under Obama and vastly expanded under Trump, and Operation Second Look which scours already-vetted records for discrepancies, ICE is going after naturalized American citizens. There’s no statute of limitations, and the constitutional standards of guaranteed counsel and defense against unreasonable search and seizure don’t apply to civil cases like these. There’s also no standard for who should be investigated (so, anybody can be) and even those who are eventually found not to have committed even unintentional or minor fraud will still have to bear the costs of their immigration lawyer, if they can even afford one. In about 150,000 cases [Hoppock Law], the “second look” is occurring because USCIS failed to upload and compare fingerprint data, so the error (if there was any) was theirs.

Before Trump, denaturalization proceedings were primarily used to remove human-rights abusers and war criminals, and averaged 22/year. ICE asked for $207.6 million for this work, for what Law at the Margins estimates at 20 million citizens.

So far, the bulk of defendants have been nonwhite. [The Nation]

10. Roundup of roundups

If you’d like more stories, several news outlets and interested amateurs have provided 2018 roundups, or provide ongoing updated tracking tools. Here are just a few:

NYMHM for 30 Dec 2018

Watch this space on January 1: #Newsyoumayhavemissed is emigrating to a website! We’ll still flag the key issues here and will post the site weekly, but people who don’t use Facebook will be able to find us. Our fierce founder Joanne has not only designed the site but posted all the archives as well. So if February 2018 has become blurred in hindsight, you can look up the key stories. Our site will be easier to use as well, as you’ll be able to click directly on the sources.

The government has shut down but you don’t have to: you can still post comments for the federal register. Martha’s list has an interesting note about the state of emergency the U.S. has declared regarding human rights abuses around the world—but of course, there’s a state of emergency right here at home. Her list addresses the issue of coal-fired power plants, which we reported on last week; the denial of endangered species status, hazardous waste, asylum, immigration

If you want to comment on the shutdown, Sarah-Hope’s list will tell you how—as well as how to address multiple issues (docx) in addition: Church-state separation, seismic testing in the ocean, oil and gas drilling, and much more.

Meanwhile, NYMHM hasn’t shut down either: see particularly our international stories this week.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. Some victories!

It’s not all bad news! Check out the Activism Yearbook from Political Change, an organization that endeavors to reach young voters.

2. ICE released hundreds of migrants: Rooms opened at the Inn

Possibly because of the government shutdown (we can’t know for sure because public relations staff are furloughed), Immigration & Customs Enforcement dropped off hundreds of migrants at the El Paso greyhound station—on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—without notifying the social service agencies which would ordinarily have helped them. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and other volunteers from El Paso and elsewhere worked to help them find places to stay and to give the children in the group toys and stuffed animals for Christmas. People locally and around the country paid for motel rooms and sent bus tickets so they could contact family members prepared to take them in. Key coordination was and will be provided by Annunciation House (link if you want to contribute). In addition, a Muslim charity is funding medical exams and baby care items. [El Paso Times]

3. Trump is partying on our dime during the government shutdown.

Taxpayers are paying at least $54k for party tents for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago New Year’s Eve party while roughly 800,000 federal employees are on unpaid leave for the government shutdown. [GovExec]

4. Violence Against Women Act has lapsed.

Trump’s shutdown has prevented the renewal of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which provides “funding for programs that help victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse and stalking.” [Washington Post]

5. Migrant deaths in U.S. custody.

Another migrant child has died in U.S. custody. That’s two deaths that we know of. This week, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen refused to, or was unable to, tell the House how many people have died in their custody. While the government is claiming it is doing everything it can, CNN reports that doctors disagree. Icy holding cells, lack of access to basic hand-washing facilities, and the absence of monitoring by people who know how illness presents in children all contribute to health risks. [Vox, Washington Post, CNN]

6. Sexual assaults on children in our care.

Some children in immigrant children’s shelters are being sexually assaulted, and their cases are being ignored. Propublica has collected hundreds of police reports alleging sexual assault, but cases are being closed almost as soon as they are opened. Parents of children in shelters feel powerless to intervene because of their own legal situation. [Propublica]

7. Trump’s conflict of interest in attacking the Federal Reserve’s rate hikes.

Why is Trump attacking the Fed? As Bloomberg put it:

President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s interest-rate increases as a drag on U.S. economic growth. … Every time the Fed raises rates, Trump’s payments on some $340 million in variable-rate loans go up.

Trump has speculated that he might fire Powell, a move that would significantly destabilize markets [Bloomberg, CNBC]

8. HIV+ service members.

The military is kicking out HIV positive service members. Two members of the Air Force have filed suit, alleging a violation of their equal protection rights. The military claims that members of the Air Force destined to serve in the Middle East cannot be HIV positive, but the two members point out that if they take a supply of anti-retrovirals with them, the virus is suppressed. [WaPo, Hill Reporter]

9. It’s not those on government assistance who are voting Republican.

It’s a common observation of poor Republicans that they vote against their own interests, for example in this New York Times piece. But Data for Progress dug into the numbers and found that while aggregate data shows that while the more government assistance a county receives, the more likely its voters are to skew Republican, the individuals in those counties voting Republican are not likely to be those receiving the aid. That is, well-off voters in those counties tend to vote Republican, and those who receive government assistance tend not to vote. That’s how we get a county where 60% are on Medicaid, but 80% vote for the guy who wants to destroy Medicaid. [NYT, Data for Progress]

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

10. China is hacking corporate computers across the globe.

If it weren’t for everything else that’s happening right now, this would be big news: the U.S. has indicted Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong, alleged to be members of a Chinese-government-affiliated hacking group known variously as the APT10 Group, MenuPass, and Stone Panda “for a 12-year campaign of cyberattacks that vacuumed up technology and trade secrets from corporate computers in 12 countries, affecting almost every major global industry.” [WaPo]

According to ABC:

The Justice Department said that through the ‘technology theft campaign’ that reached into companies and organizations in several U.S. states, APT10 ‘stole hundreds of gigabytes of sensitive data’ from a ‘diverse array’ of industries, from space and satellite technology to pharmaceuticals.

Ars Technica reports that Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK have all criticized China for breaking a 2015 economic espionage agreement. Not mentioned in the Ars Technica article: with the U.S., these are the members of the post-WWII Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, which are also sharing information on China’s activities with “other like-minded countries” including France, Germany, and Japan, to counter China’s espionage, foreign lobbying, influence operations, and investments in technology. [Reuters]

This concern about China has also led the United States to pass the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA) as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which blocks some kinds of foreign investments, especially into technology, and requires the president to try to convince our allies to adopt similar legislation, as Australia has already done and Germany is investigating doing. [Lawfare, Reuters] “While China has been the main focus, discussions have also touched on Russia,” according to officials interviewed by Reuters. [Treasury Dept]

11. Russia, Syria, Mattis and McGurk

Mattis

Speaking of Russia, Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned (or was pushed out) in part due to Trump’s Russia policies. [The Atlantic, CNN, text of Mattis resignation letter]

Syria

Putin supports the US leaving Syria [Politico], and Trump has been talking about withdrawing from Syria since April [CNN] and has finally decided to do it [WaPo] without consulting aides, allies, or the usual internal agencies [WaPo, AP], according to CNBC’s Christina Wilkie. Officials are trying to slow things down [Daily Beast].

ISIS militants in Syria

Abandoning Syria means abandoning our allies, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, to Turkey’s on-again-off-again [NYT] threats of ethnic cleansing [Reuters], with NATO membership and UN sanctions the only leverage against them absent U.S. support for the Kurds. Without U.S. support, the Kurds lack the capacity for war crimes trials and will likely be unable to continue to detain about 2,700 ISIS militants and their family members currently being held in Kurdish prisons in Syria [WaPo].

The 44 countries the militants come from (largely Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, and Russia) don’t want to repatriate ideologically-extreme citizens, or, like Germany, will allow their citizens to return but won’t provide consular assistance to those imprisoned in Syria due to the ongoing fighting.

Afghanistan

The Syrian government’s primary supporters are Russia and Iran [NYT]. Putin also wants the US out of Afghanistan [NYT] and we’re withdrawing about half of our troops [WSJ, Bloomberg].

McGurk

Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, who has served in the region since Bush was president, has resigned in protest, in another blow to US institutional memory [WaPo]. Before he left, he warned that ISIS will take years to defeat [CNBC]. ISIS has at least $400 million in funding hidden away [WaPo]. Trump says he doesn’t know McGurk; from any other president, it would be an astonishing admission that you’d never bothered to even meet your own expert in a region before making sweeping decisions there. [Twitter]

12. 70th anniversary of NATO downplayed so Trump won’t ruin it.

NATO’s 70th anniversary, instead of being celebrated at a leaders’ summit as you would expect, will instead “occur at the foreign-ministers level (it will be hosted by Pompeo in Washington, D.C.),” because other countries don’t trust Trump not to mess it up. They’ve noticed “that things went off the rails whenever the president was directly engaged, which was usually on a foreign trip” and “decided to deliberately reduce the opportunities for him to be involved.” [The Atlantic]

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

13. US military bases poisoning water around the world

At least 126 military bases around the world and in the US have contaminated local water supplies with the chemicals PFOS and PFOA, according to Truthout, which has posted a story which has been almost invisible in mainstream media, as far as we can tell. (Note: Truthout says that you will find multiple references if you google the issue, but we didn’t find them.) PFOS and PFOA are contained in firefighting foam; once they sink into the groundwater, they are implicated in miscarriages, birth defects, kidney cancer, liver damage, low sperm counts, and more. The Military Times has covered this story in a series by Tara Copp. Note, too, this attached DOD document containing the EPA’s list (an earlier incarnation of the EPA) of all affected bases.

14. News organizations hacked—distribution impeded

A number of major news organizations, including the LA Times, were affected by a malware attack, one which interfered with distribution of the Times, as well as the West Coast edition of the NY Times, the San Diego Union Tribune and many other papers. Because newspapers around the country share production platforms, the virus spread widely and quickly. The LA Times believes that the attack originated outside the US, but has no information (that it is publishing) about perpetrators [LA Times].

15. New Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo

319 people (271 confirmed) are reported to have died in an Ebola outbreak in the North Kivu province of the Congo. 542 cases have been reported of which 494 have been confirmed. WHO efforts to contain the outbreak have been hampered by an unwillingness to engage by local communities and armed conflict in the region. This is the Congo’s 10th Ebola epidemic since 1976 and their second this year. [CNN]

NYMHM for 23 Dec 2018

#newsyoumayhavemissed for December 23 is conscious of the many gifts we’d like to see under everyone’s tree: Health care. Affordable housing. Secure food. Safe workplaces and schools. Freedom from violence. A planet without catastrophe. Time with those we love. Our stories this week sketch the costs when these things are missing.

RESOURCES

  • If you want to preserve marine mammals or endangered species, to weigh on changes to various EPA regulations, and/or to comment on oil and gas leases (or pre-emptively purchase one yourself), see Martha’s list.
  • If you have time to write letters this week, go back to Sarah-Hope’s 12/14 list.

NEWS

1. Affordable Care in jeopardy

A Texas court has ruled that the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is both unconstitutional and cannot be severed from the rest of the law. [Bloomberg] University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley tweets that there’s no injunction, so the government isn’t in contempt if it continues to implement the ACA. The ruling is expected to be overturned, and since it doesn’t apply only to the states suing to overturn the law, blue states like California can (and probably will) appeal.

HuffPost reports that the Trump administration decided to cut funds advertising the open enrollment period, knowing that it would depress enrollment. Although open enrollment ended December 15 in most states, several states have extended the enrollment period to, variously, December 31, January 15, January 23, and January 31. The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board predicts that continuing to fight the ACA “may boomerang politically on Republicans.”

2. Medicaid Expansion and housing

In a related story, states that agreed to a Medicaid expansion saw a 25 per cent decline in housing delinquencies (rent and mortgage payments), according to a study conducted by professors at the University of Colorado and Washington University, along with the Federal Reserve Bank. That is, forced to choose between paying rent and paying for health care, poor people sometimes have to choose health care–leaving them unable to pay rent. {People eligible for Medicaid in “expansion” states were able to receive it if their income was up to 138 per cent of the poverty line.) This study shows that the Medicaid expansion can help keep people in housing as well as to prevent all the other catastrophes that follow from unpaid bills. See Martha’s list in the Resources section for a way to comment on Medicaid expansion. [CityLab]

3. Miners dying younger from black lung

Complicated black lung disease is killing and disabling thousands of miners; many of them are being diagnosed in their thirties, according to an investigation by NPR/Frontline. Not only coal dust but silica dust are the culprits; silica dust is produced when miners cut through rock in order to get to thin seams of coal. Regulators did not take account of the dangers of silica dust, and every measure that was imposed was flawed, according to NPR/Frontline. Dust masks, for example, had to be provided but they were not required to be worn, and in any case, they quickly clogged and became unusable. The whole story is heart-breaking: link in the comments.

The Trump administration has been a champion of coal, easing regulations to control mercury and carbon emissions as well as coal ash. Most recently, the EPA has said it plans to lower carbon emissions standards, permitting more coal plants to be built, according to the industry. [NPR]

4. Children still in large detention facilities

Consider this your weekly reminder that the United States is running concentration camps for children: five Democrats* toured a tent city in Tornillo, Texas which houses “2,700 immigrant teens … at a cost of roughly $1 million per day” and one of them (Jeff Merkley) described it as a “child prison camp.” Their request to speak with the children was denied. The lawmakers want the facility shut down, and say the Trump administration is making it unnecessarily difficult to place the children detained there with sponsors. *Senators Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Tina Smith (D-MN) and Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA-27) and Beto O’Rourke (D-TX-16). [Oregon Live, KTVZ, Jeff Merkley’s Twitter]

According to experts in the field, children who have to be separated from their parents do better in smaller facilities, which used to be the norm for detained children. Three months into the Trump presidency, 2,720 children were in federal care, most in foster homes or facilities with fewer than 15 children. Now, some 14,300 children are in detention, 5,400 in facilities with more than a thousand other children and 9.800 with more than a hundred, according to an investigation by the AP. Most crossed the border without their parents, though some are those forcibly separated from their parents at the border. Some have endured significant trauma while in custody—being beaten or berated by staff—or have been overtreated for mental health problems. Trauma tends to have long-term mental health consequences. [AP]

5. Freezing cells, no medical care

A five-year-old from the migrant caravan has been hospitalized with pneumonia after being held with her mother in freezing cells and denied the amoxycillin that she had been taking. Her mother is fleeing domestic violence and threats from gangs in Honduras; she has requested asylum. The child was denied medical care while in detention; she and her mother are now in North Carolina with family members. [Buzzfeed]

6. The Wall: What will be destroyed?

Inviting people to post their pictures of communities or habitats endangered by Trump’s wall, Beto O’Rourke wrote on Twitter:

Where would they build the wall? Whose home or ranch or farm are they going to take to build it? Which communities and habitats are they going to destroy?

For the most part, the government is permitted to waive environmental regulations for projects involving border security; however, a letter the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent to U.S. Customs and Border Protection warning of the dangers to habitat was heavily redacted by the Interior Department, so that CBP never saw the most serious concerns—among them that in areas prone to flooding, animals could be trapped against the wall. [Houston Chronicle]

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

7. Effects of pollution from wildfires extends very far from the blaze.

A groundbreaking study by researchers at the University of Exeter and the University of Beijing has determined that the negative influence of pollutants originating from severe wildfires extends far beyond the immediate vicinity of the blaze. The study, which was published in the journal “Nature Communications” shows that surface ozone and aerosols produced by intense wildfires negatively impacts plant growth hundreds of kilometers away from the fires themselves. The team used advanced computer modeling based on combined data sets spanning from 2002-2011 and determined that Gross Plant Production, primarily photosynthesis, was significantly reduced in areas showing higher pollutants stemming from wildfires. In areas on the brink of food insecurity and marginal farming areas, these factors could make global warming fueled wildfires a direct threat to global food security and unrest. [Science Daily]

8. Hundreds reported dead from Indonesian tsunami—numbers rising

At least 222 are reported dead from a terrifying tsunami that struck without warning in Indonesia’s Sunda strait, with numbers expected to rise considerably. The tsunami struck beaches late Saturday evening, with horrifying footage of a large beach concert being hit while music still played. Indonesia’s vast archipelagos and location on the so-called ring of fire make it particularly vulnerable to tsunamis, it took the brunt of the loss of life inflicted by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, for example.

Tragically, despite the improvements made in early warning technology and systems put in place since 2004, no warning was given for this most recent disaster because it appears to be volcanic in origin rather than seismic. When seismic detectors find an underwater earthquake occurring they can predict a tsunami and give advance warning to land masses that might be impacted by the tsunami to follow. However, when an underwater volcano erupts and creates underwater landslides that can also create tsunamis, the detectors are useless. See the blog at Discover magazine for more information. [Gizmodo, Discover]

9. Example of ecological failure dominoes: Salt Lake dust and snow melt.

The Great Salt Lake from which Salt Lake City derives its name is shrinking, which puts it in the company of hundreds of bodies of water around the globe whose surface areas are rapidly contracting from upstream diversions of water for the use of people. When a lake dries, especially a saline lake, it leaves a lot of dust behind. A study by a University of Utah professor of geology has found that dust blown from the lake bed that has landed on a snow pack that Salt Lake City depends upon for drinking water is causing the snow pack to melt prematurely, bad news for people that depend on that water.

The issue isn’t the salt, as you might think, rather an optical quality altered by the dust called albedo. The darker dust absorbs more sunlight than pristine snow and causes it to melt more quickly, specifically 5 days more quickly for the most recent dust event. The sum total of all dust deposited from all sources across the snow pack is estimated to have pushed the melt up by 25%. When snow melts more quickly, more moisture is lost via evaporation to the atmosphere, which means less water for people. So, we have a thirsty city taking water from a lake which dries up and blows its dust to another water source for the city, degrading it. It’s not hard to see how the end result will be a dry lake and a very dry Salt Lake City. [Salt Lake City Tribute]

NYMHM for 16 Dec 2018

#newsyoumayhavemissed for December 16 suggests that if you want to weigh in on the deportation of 46 Cambodians, you can make a phone call Monday to the California governor’s office. In addition, you might want to call your senators to urge them to permit a mother of a dying child to come to the US to see him. See the stories below, as well as our pieces on voting rights in the US and Canada, journalists and journalism, and new news about the origins of life.

RESOURCES

It is hard to know how to respond to the death of a child at the border. There is an abyss between what we ought to do and what is actually possible for most of us. We can, however, act on behalf of the living, The opportunities to act are legion and it can be overwhelming to respond. But any action is useful: drops in the bucket eventually fill it.

  • Sarah-Hope has once again identified issues that merit our attention, issues that affect farmworkers, college students, dolphins—and all of us. The link is whatifknits.com—it’s best to type it in rather than click.
  • Three of the opportunities Martha has offered to be heard on the record are closing today: drilling off the coast of Alaska, weakening of methane reduction regulations, and pesticide regulations.

NEWS

1. Another child caught in US policies

The mother of a Yemeni two-year-old, named Abdullah, on life support in San Francisco has been prohibited from visiting him; he had been brought to the U.S. for medical treatment. Yemen is one of the Muslim-majority countries whose residents are not allowed to travel to the U.S. without a waiver. The mother has been waiting for a year for a waiver. The Council on American Islamic Relations is asking people to contact their representatives in Congress. [CBS]

2. 46 Cambodians scheduled for deportation

The adult children of Cambodians—legal residents—who survived the murderous Khmer Rouge regime are now being deported back to a country they do not remember. Protected under a 1995 agreement which has now been rescinded, the deportees will be separated from their families and severed from their jobs. Those scheduled for deportation were convicted of felonies in the past, in some cases decades ago. (Email the Governor of California to request that he block their flight.)

Meanwhile, in a reversal of long-standing policy, the Trump administration has declared that immigrants from Vietnam who came to the country before the restoration of diplomatic relations with the country in 1995 can be deported if they are subject to final orders of deportation for reasons of criminal convictions or other matters; this could include up to 8000 people, including some war refugees. The administration initially suggested this policy in August, but backed away. [NY Times, the Atlantic, petition]

3. People of the year: Journalists

Time magazine has named journalists it considers “Guardians” as Person(s) of the Year, starting with murdered reporter Jamal Khashoggi. Among those journalists commended is Maria Ressa, the Filipina journalist who turned herself when a warrant was issued for her arrest. Ressa had launched the Rappler, an on-line start-up critical of the Duterte government; Rappler was accused—falsely, says Ressa, of tax evasion, which could result in a ten-year jail sentence for Ressa. Ressa recently received the 2018 Knight International Journalism award and the Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Rappler has been critical of Duterte’s crackdown on drugs, resulting in the deaths of thousands. In response, Duterte has called Rappler “fake news” and its lead investigative reporter has received death threats. [NY Times]

4. While these journalists have been exemplary, some media organizations have been less so.

A new report has just gone to the Senate on how the Russians used every available social media venue to influence the 2016 election. As the Washington Post reported in a comprehensive piece:

Social media have gone from being the natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike.

We think we’ve heard all we want to hear about Trump’s payoffs to various women, but this is new news: American Media, parent company of the National Enquirer, which made one of those payoffs in a “catch and kill” maneuver—buying a story in order to silence it—told a federal prosecutors in New York that the whole point of the payoff was to influence the 2016 election. We knew this . . . but . . . [Vice]

Fact-checkers at Facebook, including Brooke Binkowski, the former managing editor at Snopes, which had partnered with Facebook, have said that Facebook is not responding to their concerns quickly enough and seems to wants the appearance of fact-checking without actually restricting the flow of fabricated or misleading news. Binkowski now runs Truth or Fiction, an independent fact-checking site. [The Guardian]

An Alternative: Cold Type:

If you want to read reliable news, try a newish on-line magazine, Cold Type (pdf). The most recent edition has a piece by Conn Hallinan on what the lessons are of the Spanish election, a corrective piece on George H.W. Bush, an article on the protests in France, and much more. See the link in the comments.

5. Death at the border

The death of Jakelin Caal Maquin at the border needs to be seen in the context of what has been going on in Guatemala that would lead people to flee the country. As the Center for Public Integrity has pointed out, 18 Guatemalan Maya activists and journalists have been killed in 2018 alone. Violence against children is endemic. The U.S. began destabilizing the government in 1954, when it overthrew a democratically elected president. Decades of violent anti-leftist activity followed, further destablizing the country. The drug trade, made possible by US drug policy, has resulted in widespread violence. Jakelin is not the first child to die at American hands. [Center for Public Integrity, Washington Post]

6. Voting Rights in Florida

Florida officials, including the incoming Republican governor, are arguing that they need additional time for the state legislature to implement Amendment 4, which restores voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentence. The amendment, which passed with 64.5% of the vote, has no language requiring the involvement of the legislature. 23% of the state’s African-American adults have lost their right to vote because of previous felony conviction. [Business Insider]

7. Voting Rights in Canada

The Canadian Senate approved Bill C-76, which reverses several aspects of the previous Conservative government’s Fair Elections Act. It limits campaign spending, bans advocacy groups from using foreign money, and requires social media and other online platforms to maintain public digital records of all advertising during elections.

It will also restore the voting rights of Canadians living abroad, who were administratively disenfranchised prior to the passing of the Fair Elections Act. The Supreme Court of Canada still has the option of issuing a ruling on Frank and Duong v Canada (pdf); a ruling in favor of ex-pat voting would remove the threat of a future legislative reversal.

8. The NRA’s possibly illegal campaign contributions

In making its 30 million dollar contribution to the Trump Campaign, the NRA used an organization called Red Eagle Media, which ran ads that would reach a key voter demographic in Virginia. Through a firm called American Media & Advocacy, the Trump campaign bought ads to run on the same station in the same week, so that voters received complementary messages. Both firms are connected to a larger media consulting firm, National Media Research, Planning and Placement. The timing and placement of the ads suggests that there was collaboration—which is illegal. That is, any organization such as the NRA, may spend as much as it likes on a candidate, but once it collaborates with the campaign, it is subject to spending limits. [Mother Jones]

9. Trump and his father’s fiscal scams increased NY rents

The New York Times made the mistake of running its extraordinary investigative story on Trump and his father’s finances on the eve of the Kavanaugh confirmation—so it didn’t have the impact that it might have. But the story has enough tentacles to keep journalists in lattes for a long time. This week, the Times revealed that thousands of renters across New York saw their rents skyrocket—as a result of the Trumps’ strategy to inflate the value of their holdings. Inflating the value meant that they could increase the rents, even under New York’s stringent rent control laws. Some tenants are considering filing suit to regain the overpayments. If you haven’t read the original story, it’s still got legs (and teeth). [NY Times]

10. Utah Leases

Interior Secretary Zinke may be toast, but the policies he put into place are still demolishing the planet. 154,212 acres, some in pristine wilderness areas, were offered for oil and gas drilling across the state, netting a mere three million dollars. As the National Parks Conservation Area put it:

These decisions, happening with little to no opportunity for the public to weigh in, could irreparably damage these treasures for current and future generations.

[Deseret]

11. SNAP (food assistance) preserved in Farm Bill

The Farm Bill was passed without additional requirements for SNAP recipients to work additional hours. They already must work 20 hours per week to qualify; they would have been required to work more (parents of dependent children do not have a work requirement). Also cut from the bill was a provision that would have mandated forest thinning. The activist group Moms Rising was instrumental in preserving access to SNAP. [WOWKTV, LA Times]

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

12. Asbestos found in baby powder, manufacturer knew for decades.

Investigators from Reuters examined internal documents for pharmaceutical and personal products giant Johnson & Johnson and found that the company was aware for decades that its signature talc baby powder was occasionally contaminated with carcinogenic asbestos. Johnson & Johnson is facing thousands of lawsuits over instances of lung cancer and ovarian cancer known to be caused by asbestos; talc is a mined mineral product and often occurs naturally in deposits with asbestos containing minerals. Company testing shows that asbestos was found in the talc used in their baby powder since the 1950’s, with the company going so far as to hide information about positive asbestos tests from regulators in the 70’s when the talc used was sourced from Italian mines known to be sources of asbestos. Talc since 2003 has been sourced from China and, unsurprisingly, has been claimed to be completely safe. The World Health Organization recognizes *no* safe limit for asbestos exposure. [Reuters]

13. Life on earth extends kilometers beneath the surface

Scientists working in the Deep Carbon Observatory, which combines over 1200 scientists working in a myriad of disciplines across 52 countries has completed a ten year study in which they reveal that life on earth penetrates far deeper beneath the surface than was ever expected. The results suggest that the vast majority of the Earth’s bacteria and archaea exist underground, with a combined weight of biomass equivalent to hundreds of times the combined weight of every human being on the planet. This life is very different from the kinds we are accustomed to, existing in extreme environments and on a timescale best described as geological, spanning thousands of years. These tiny microbes exist in a sort of stasis, only displaying activity in brief bursts as scraps of energy come their way or tectonic activity allows.

The scale of the new biosphere is massive, extending kilometers below the deepest ocean and across all continents, with some life not requiring energy derived from the sun at all but thriving on chemical energy released by geological processes. This calls into question some assumptions we have made about the origin of life: did life begin in shallow pools on the surface as has been imagined until now or did it in fact arise deep underground, before the surface was every hospitable and gradually migrate its way up? [The Guardian]

14. Zinke to resign by year end, under cloud of corruption investigations

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, whose work we at NYMHM recently showcased (in his ridiculous choices for the National Park advisory council among other things), has announced he will be stepping down by the end of the year. The stated reason for stepping down is the cost of defending himself from numerous lawsuits filed for alleged corruption charges, among them a land deal in Montana involving himself and Halliburton that was reportedly completed in the offices of the Department of Interior and another accusation of improperly blocking a casino from approval in Connecticut under possible political pressure. These charges are in addition to long standing charges of frivolous and extravagant spending on “security” and travel. The likely successor is undersecretary David Bernhardt, who also enjoys an extremely cozy relationship to the oil and gas industry. [Ars Technica, NPCA]

NYMHM for 9 Dec 2018

When #newsyoumayhavemissed (December 9) writers make our rounds of reliable sources, we are amazed at what’s quietly behind the headlines: The news that universe may be made of dark liquid. Carefully wrought stories about climate change, Greenland’s ice caps, resource extraction, the undermining of the Department of the Interior. A piece from the Center for Public Integrity that weaves together the political history of Latin America and the consequences for individuals now at our borders. Keep the lights burning, y’all, and miracles may follow.

RESOURCES

  • The Americans of Conscience checklist is always worth checking out—but especially this week for the heartening list of good news.
  • Want to comment on the record? Martha’s list has a wide variety of issues calling for public comment, among them the proposal to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska as well as plans to sell oil leases on public land, divert water in environmentally damaging ways, and re-evaluate the issue of rodenticide that is toxic to wildlife.
  • For a comprehensive summary of the Trump administration’s rapacious approach to oil, gas and coal resources, see Antonia Juhasz’s excellent op ed in the LA Times.
  • Sarah-Hope has another excellent list of people to write on various topics, notably immigration, energy, education, ethics, and the environment.

DOMESTIC NEWS

1. No protection for LGBTQ workers in the new NAFTA

The newly signed United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaces NAFTA, initially included protections for LQBTQ individuals to be enforced by all three nations. In the version signed last week, those protections were watered down significantly after congressional Republicans signed a letter saying they would refuse to ratify the treaty with the original language in place. A footnote further clarified that the United States, where there is no federal protection for LGBTQ people against workplace discrimination, would not have to change existing laws. [Global News]

2. National Park Service appointees put public lands at risk

NYMHM previously reported that three-quarters of the members of the National Park System Advisory Board (which designates historical and cultural sites and advises the NPS Director and Interior Secretary on running NPS programs and existing parks) resigned in frustration back on January 23rd after Interior Department Secretary Zinke hadn’t bothered to meet with them for a year.

They’ve been replaced with a minimally-qualified group of 9 men and 2 women, all appearing to be white, and including three donors of more than half a million dollars to Republicans since 2008 (beer distributor John L. Nau III and two bona fide real estate tycoons, John C. Cushman III and Boyd C. Smith) as well as the Republican Mayor of Gulfport, Mississippi, of whom WaPo notes, “Hewes once served as the national chairman of the powerful American Legislative Exchange Council. The group, while nonpartisan, is best known for writing model bills for state legislatures that advance conservative policy goals such as cutting environmental regulations.” None of the new members have academic backgrounds, in contrast to the members who resigned, among them professors from Harvard, University of Kentucky, University of Maryland, and Yale.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report, “Science Under Siege at the Department of the Interior” (with title headings like, “Meet Ryan Zinke and His Oil and Gas Connections,” “Refusing to Acknowledge Reality,” and “Silencing Scientists and Other Agency Staff.”) which states that in the first ten months of 2018, 25% of Interior Department science advisory committees failed to meet as often as their charters require (an improvement over 2017, when it was 67%). The report notes a widespread pattern of environmentally-destructive actions (see their page 5 for a timeline), including making it easier for oil and gas companies to pollute and dramatically increasing the amount of public land used for oil and gas and coal extraction, all of which is likely to worsen the climate crisis. Scientific American states:

It is a desecration of the concept of public service for Zinke to ignore science aimed to protect the public’s best interest, and an insult to the taxpayers who pay his salary and those of his political colleagues. Zinke won’t be around forever, but he has filled the ranks of political appointees at DOI with like-minded industry lobbyists and climate deniers, so things are not likely to change at Interior anytime soon unless Congress, with a vocal public behind it, insists on transparency, scientific integrity and immediate climate action.

[WaPo, Scientific American, UCS (pdf)]

3. Some updates on Puerto Rico

Hero chef José Andrés (who flew to Puerto Rico post-Hurricane-Maria to serve four million meals, started World Central Kitchen, and wrote We Fed An Island) has been nominated for a Nobel peace prize. [NBC/WaPo]

The Washington Post reports in their Travel section that Puerto Rico is booming from a tourism perspective, though their News section reporting still refers to the island as “struggling to rebuild.” Four Democratic Senators are calling for “the Department of Homeland Security to broaden an ongoing investigation into contracting and hurricane relief problems in Puerto Rico.” [WaPo] The U.S. territory’s planning board assesses Maria’s economic impact at $43 billion, while consulting firm H. Calero estimates $139 to $159 billion [USA Today].

4. More Environment & politics stories:

A. Patagonia

Responding to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Patagonia is donating $10 million to fight climate change, using their entire tax cut from last year, according to CEO Rose Marcario’s open letter at Linked In.

B. Paris Agreement

Meanwhile, the U.S. has responded to the Fourth National Climate Assessment by reaffirming “its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement” while 19 other countries reaffirmed “that the Paris Agreement is irreversible and commit[ted] to its full implementation.” [Mother Jones]

In just one step that will undermine any effort to limit climate change, coal-fired plants will no longer be required to install technology that lowers their carbon emissions, the Trump administration announced last week.

And in a United Nations working group this past weekend, the U.S. declined to “welcome” the report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but instead to join a proposal by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia simply to “note” it. The U.S. government refuses to endorse the report, as Trump variously believes it is overblown, hysterical, or a “hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.” [Washington Post]

C. Energy & Natural Resources

In a tweet, Vox author David Roberts notes that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) “may become the ranking member of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee. If that happens, he would become chair of the committee when/if Dems take the Senate in 2020. That would be a DISASTER for climate policy.” Manchin is “the single worst Senate Dem on this issue.” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) would be the ranking member but her planned move to Commerce leaves Manchin as the most senior Democrat. Washington Governor Jay Inslee is petitioning Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer to block Manchin [Guardian]. If you want to comment on this issue, see Sarah-Hope’s list for details.

5. What launched the caravan? Facts and Fake News

In addition to US interference in Latin American politics, cocaine produced for United States consumers is at the center of the violence and corruption that has made life untenable for Hondurans, according to Vice. Individuals at the highest levels are involved in drug trafficking, and drug cartels lead to social breakdown. [Vice]

Departing chief of staff John Kelly at one point understood this; as the Center for Public Integrity reported, telling the Navy Times in 2015 that “In many ways [parents] are trying to save their children” from the violence in their own countries.

An imposter account on Facebook was used to increase the numbers in the so-called migrant caravan, according to Buzzfeed. A well-known Honduran activist and journalist, Bartolo Fuentes, said that his account was used to spread messages that the caravan had been organized by established migrant support groups–which would have led more people to join. The account has since been closed and Facebook will not reveal who was using it. [Buzzfeed]

For an overview of U.S. involvement in Latin America, the current political situation, the legal status of asylum seekers and the individual stories of migrants and those who try to assist them, see The Center for Public Integrity’s excellent piece.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

6. Universe may be mostly a “dark fluid” with negative mass

Scientists have known for years that the observable universe is missing something, quite a lot of something in fact. What we can see only makes up about 5% of the mass that should be in the universe. Based on observation, there isn’t enough “stuff” out there to keep everything together and moving, if we only take into account its own gravity. Hence, something is out there pushing and pulling things that we cannot see. Astrophysicists have used the terms “dark matter” and “dark energy” as descriptors for these phenomenon and have thought of them as separate things: dark matter to pull things together and some form of dark energy to explain the fact that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate.

A paper published in “Astronomy and Astrophysics” makes the case that both dark matter and dark energy can be explained using only one theoretical model and source; the key is something called “negative mass.” Negative mass is difficult to explain; however, it has been postulated and modeled before and physicists are very comfortable with the closely aligned concept of “negative energy,” which can be created and measured in labs. Negative mass would repel objects instead of attract them as “normal” matter does–a marble made of negative mass/energy would not roll away from you if you nudged it. Instead, it would nudge back with equal force.

One way of conceptualizing how a universe made mostly of negative matter would work would be to imagine a pot of bubbling syrup. The top of the surface is a foaming mass of bubbles growing, colliding, shoving each other out of the way and popping. Those bubbles can be thought of as negative mass while the syrup being pushed around and flowing together into larger droplets would be “normal” mass. Syrup wants to stick together but the bubbles want to push it apart and sometimes shove it out of the way faster than it might otherwise flow. If the theory is correct, this is why our galaxies hold together and don’t fly apart despite the speeds at which they rotate, despite not having enough mass to hold them together. We might have the means to prove this is the case when the largest telescope ever built, the Square Kilometer Array, is complete. It will survey and map the distribution of galaxies throughout the universe. [Phys.org]

7. Greenland’s ice cap is melting at historically unprecedented rates

Greenland is covered by an enormous sheet of ice, one of the largest repositories of fresh water in the world. So much water, in fact, that were it all to melt, world oceans would rise by 20 feet which would put cities like Miami, New Orleans, Charleston and most of New York and Boston completely underwater, displacing millions. Unfortunately, that seems to be the direction we’re headed, according to a comprehensive study of ice cores conducted by Rowan University. Ice cores can show when surface snow melted, sank down into deeper snow and refroze to eventually be compacted into glacial ice. Because the ice builds year by year in layers, we can date these melt/re-freeze events with precision; the data show that the number of such events has increased dramatically over the past thirty years.

2012 alone saw the *entire* surface of Greenland in a melt event, and compared to the 20th century we’re running 33% above average with the 2012 event standing out as the largest melting ever recorded, going back seven thousand years. Dramatic steps will have to be taken in order to slow the rate of melting and buy time to manage the safeguarding and or evacuation of coastal areas due to be lost to rising oceans. [Ars Technica]

8. But they seem so trustworthy… US Carriers may have lied about coverage areas.

The FCC has announced an investigation into whether or not US cell carriers misrepresented their coverage maps to profit from a federal program to boost high speed broadband coverage in rural areas. The 4.5 billion dollar program needed accurate coverage maps to best target which areas needed additional funding incentives to build up a network notoriously slow and lacking by global standards. While the announcement didn’t mention any carrier by name, the Rural Wireless Association has publicly accused Verizon of lying to the FCC about its 4G LTE coverage in rural communities. The Rural Wireless Association represents small rural carriers that operate in areas that larger companies have abandoned as not profitable enough, and so would stand to benefit from a larger share of the 4.5 billion dollars being given out. Verizon claiming to have robust, fast coverage in areas where they actually do not deprives the rural carriers in those areas from reaping any benefits. Considering the extremely cozy relationship between the current FCC and telecom companies, the lying must have been truly egregious to provoke an actual investigation. [Gizmodo]