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.


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]


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


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]


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.


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].


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]


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.


  • 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.


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]


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.


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.


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.


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]


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.


  • 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.


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.


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]

NYMHM for 2 Dec 2018

News You May Have Missed for 2 December 2018, as well as tracking the less-known elements of major stories, has a comprehensive overview, meticulously sourced, of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes against girls and how people at the highest levels of government (and in both political parties) were involved. Who needs conspiracy theories when the facts are so disturbing?


Some great sources on the Mueller investigation:

  • Sheila Markin Nielson, a former assistant U.S. attorney, puts out the Markin Report, a blog with clear, readable explanations of what’s going on.
  • Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler writes “Empty Wheel,” a blog with solidly sourced reporting.
  • Martha’s list this week includes opportunities to comment on specific pesticides and underground storage of hazardous waste. In addition, comments are open on Betsy DeVos’s proposal to weaken federal Title IX protections for sexual assault and harassment survivors in K-12 schools as well as colleges and university. Comments are closing soon on the Inadmissibility on Public Charge that can be applied to some permanent residents who may use services—even perhaps school lunches and ACA.
  • Whether you care most about education, ethics, the environment, or other issues, Sarah-Hope’s list on her blog, Whatifknits, has snapshots of the most pressing issues and people to write to make your voice heard. See the link in the Resources comments.


1. Trump undercuts the Affordable Care Act—again

Trump administration policies continue to hammer on ACA effectiveness, as we have detailed before. Now Politico is reporting that sign-ups for 2019 have experienced a steep drop of 9.2%. The article notes, “Just 1 in 4 Americans who buy their own health insurance or are uninsured are aware that the deadline for enrolling in coverage is Dec. 15, according to the latest polling data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.” To sign up, go to healthcare.gov by December 15th. [Politico]

2. Thousands of teenagers in a detention camp in Texas

The AP reports that Tornillo, a “desert detention camp for migrant kids” has grown to house 2,349 teens and is still growing. These aren’t children taken from their parents, but those who arrived alone at the US border hoping to join family who already live here. In those cases where a parent lives in the US, they are likely eligible for permanent resident status under family reunification policies, even if they are not eligible for asylum.

The camp is being run by a San Antonio nonprofit, BCFS, along the same lines as the evacuation centers it normally runs to house people displaced by natural disasters. The migrant teens are apparently receiving no formal education, and there’s a severe shortage of mental health clinicians (one for every 50 children, vs. the one for every dozen children required by federal policies). BCFS claims that every child is seen every day, which would allow about 10 minutes per child. Further, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement waived the normal child abuse and neglect background checks for Tornillo workers. Perhaps most troubling is the unusual secrecy surrounding the facility, which rarely allows visitors and which, astonishingly, requires workers to sign non-disclosure agreements, prompting NYMHM to wonder what they are hiding, beyond the fact that we’re now keeping thousands of children in a concentration camp.

3. What refugees are fleeing: political violence, thanks to us, and climate

The tear-gassing of asylum seekers by the U.S. at the U.S. border with Mexico has received a lot of attention in mainstream media. What has received less attention is the role of the U.S. in creating the conditions asylum seekers are fleeing, and the role of climate change in exacerbating the poverty that makes those conditions so unbearable. Articles by Esquire on the former, and the Guardian and Washington Post on the latter, are linked in the comments. A brief quote:

“It didn’t rain this year. Last year it didn’t rain,” a caravan migrant from Honduras named Jesús Canan told the Guardian. “My maize field didn’t produce a thing. With my expenses, everything we invested, we didn’t have any earnings. There was no harvest. . . In past years, it rained on time. My plants produced, but there’s no longer any pattern [to the weather].”

[Esquire, Washington Post, Guardian, Reuters]

4. Iranian families separated by the travel ban meet in Canadian/American library

Though the horrors at the U.S. border with Mexico are in the foreground, other families are still wracked from the separations caused by the travel ban, upheld by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision this summer. Under the ban, immigrants and visitors cannot receive visas if they come from the following Muslim-majority countries: Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — plus North Korea and Venezuela. The ban keeps out refugees from Syria and Yemen, as well as the families of the many students in the U.S. from Iran. In the tiniest of loopholes, Iranian families have been permitted to meet in the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which straddles the border between Quebec and Vermont. US residents from Iran can visit the library without leaving the U.S., and Iranians can visit it via Canada, which does not bar visitors from Muslim countries. [Reuters, NY Times]

5. Radioactive waste spread by wildfires?

Toxic material and radioactive waste may have been spread by the Woolsey fire, which burned 100,000 acres in Southern California. A former rocket testing site where a partial nuclear meltdown took place sixty years ago may have been the epicenter of the fire, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility. The site was supposed to have been cleaned up by 2017, but cleanup has not yet begun. Rain that has since fallen on the site will have washed toxic ash toward surrounding communities. [Truthout, Forbes]

6. The Senate votes to allow a vote on Yemen to advance

The civil war in Yemen, led by the Saudis and supported by the U.S., has killed 50,000 people and resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe, with children starving and the whole population suffering from lack of supplies and medical care. In an unprecedented bipartisan vote, the Senate agreed to allow a resolution to go forward which would withdraw all unauthorized U.S. military support. According to Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), the vote represents a significant break with Saudi Arabia. [The Intercept]

7. Women make half of men’s wages

We’ve heard it said that American women make 80 cents to male workers’ dollar, but apparently the news is much worse. A report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that over 15 years, women make 49 cents to men’s dollar. The gender gap is due to in part to women taking time out of the workforce to care for children and sick family members; the longer women stayed out, the lower their wages. [IWPR, Vox]

8. Extraordinary web of crime involving Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump and others highly placed

Several women will testify against billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in December 2018. They allege that he “paid them for nude massages, and sometimes sex, at his mansion in Palm Beach” while they were underage, and further that hiding details of a 2008 plea agreement violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. [Miami Herald]

This story involves potential crimes by multiple people:


In 2008, he was convicted of solicitation of a minor. His defense was provided by Kenneth Starr (yes, that Kenneth Starr) and Alan Dershowitz. A former Bear Stearns banker, Epstein served a mere 13 months in the Palm Beach Jail from the 2008 conviction, due to an unusual sealed non-prosecution agreement he made with Alexander Acosta, who in 2008 was a U.S. Attorney and is now Secretary of Labor, apparently as a reward for information against Bear Stearns in the subprime crisis. Epstein’s alleged victims were not told of the agreement, which also provides immunity to federal prosecution for sex-trafficking and to any co-conspirators (unnamed in the agreement). An FBI investigation of his crimes was shut down, and any co-conspirators were never charged. [Miami Herald, QZ, Palm Beach Post, Slate, Mother Jones]

Epstein has “reached over two dozen out-of-court settlements with young women who have accused him of prostituting them to his friends and clients” [Sun Sentinel].


At least one of Epstein’s victims was introduced to him at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property. [Miami Herald]

Trump allegedly attended at least four of Epstein’s sex parties. The filings in Doe v. Trump and Epstein make for rather grim reading, including sections like this (trigger warning: graphic content):

During the course of this savage sexual attack, Plaintiff loudly pleaded with Defendant Trump to stop but with no effect. Defendant Trump responded to Plaintiff’s pleas by violently striking Plaintiff in the face with his open hand and screaming that he would do whatever he wanted.

A second witness (“Tiffany Doe”) stated that Trump knew Jane Doe #1 was 13 at the time. Doe #1 dropped her lawsuit following death and bomb threats and her firm’s website being hacked, apparently by Anonymous. Doe #1’s story has not seemed entirely credible to many journalists, partly due to two men she is associated with, Steve Baer and Al Taylor, whose antics are described in a well-sourced 2016 Vox story linked in the comments. [Vox, Guardian]

Separate from cases involving Epstein, Trump has been accused of more than 20 incidents of sexual misconduct, including multiple allegations of groping*, multiple allegations of forced kissing, multiple allegations of Trump entering changing rooms unannounced while underage beauty contestants were naked [Guardian], and at least one alleged attempted rape, of business associate Jill Harth [Newsweek]. Ivana Trump, his first wife, has also said he raped her while they were married.

*NYMHM notes that the media widely reports many of these allegations of groping as simply “groping,” but some of them may rise to the level of rape, at least under the definitions used in Tennessee law, where this writer is based, if Trump’s fingers caused “intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person’s body or of any object into the genital[s].” It’s beyond our expertise to evaluate.


Alan Dershowitz was one of Epstein’s defense attorneys in 2008. In 2014, he was named in a December 2014 filing from Jane Doe #3. He has retired from the law and from Harvard Law School, and is now a frequent CNN and Fox News commentator.


In 2008, when he struck the plea deal with Epstein, Alexander Acosta was a U.S. Attorney. He is now Secretary of Labor, which means he oversees international child labor and human trafficking laws.

Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants “the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate whether Acosta engaged in misconduct when he made the secret plea deal.” [Mcclatchy, Mother Jones]


In his mansions and on his sex jet, the “Lolita Express,” Epstein is alleged to have facilitated the rape and molestation of underage girls by Prince Andrew, Duke of York [Guardian, Telegraph], president Donald Trump, former president Bill Clinton, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, director Woody Allen, actors Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker, Harvard economist Larry Summers, and lawyer Alan Dershowitz [Gawker, Daily Beast].

Others named in suits against Epstein as participating in sex with underage girls include modeling agency owner Jean Luc Brunel [Jezebel] and Epstein’s ex-girlfriend, British philanthropist Ghislaine Maxwell [Vanity Fair, Telegraph].

It’s possible that Epstein may also have blackmailed at least some of the hundreds of powerful people he entertained, whether or not they were involved in sex with minors [Gawker].


9. Climate change may bring snowballing health challenges

A study issued by the United States government in conjunction with UN agencies and published in the public health journal “The Lancet” paints a grim future of compounded health problems associated with human-caused climate change. Higher global temperatures will mean more heat stress not only on farms but on farm workers, decreasing yields and leading to dangers of famine and malnutrition overwhelming current health infrastructure. On the other end of the spectrum, torrential downpours and massive floods may cause contaminated drinking water and the spread of water-borne illnesses from vectors such as mosquitoes spreading into wider, warmer areas that were once inhospitable. This study adds one more piece of evidence that while making the necessary economic changes to combat climate change are going to be costly, doing nothing will be even more so. [New York Times, Lancet]

10: Tariffs on Chinese rare earth materials backfire and harm US producer

China has for years had a dominant position as the global supplier of so-called “rare earth” metals, which are in high demand for high tech products, but tariffs put in place by the Trump administration to curtail their hold on the market might only be helping them. The issue is refining capacity, as the largest supplier China has most of the production capacity for refining the rare earth ores, so US mines actually ship their ore to China to be refined more cheaply than could be done here. In response to tariffs placed on Chinese rare earth metals, China has put in place tariffs on US goods entering their country, including rare earth ores, which makes China a more expensive proposition to provide refining. In the long run, this market pressure might induce more refining capacity here in the United states but as manufacturers devise ways to become less dependent on these scarce minerals for their products and other countries including Australia come into the market, the room for US companies to operate profitably seems to be shrinking. [Ars Technica]

11: Dirty water is the culprit for E. Coli outbreak, as is the Trump administration

The most recent outbreak of E. Coli, spread via lettuce and causing at least 210 hospitalizations and five deaths can be traced to an irrigation canal in Yuma, Arizona. The water from that canal was likely contaminated by runoff from a large cattle feedlot upstream. This didn’t have to happen: there was a similar outbreak involving spinach in 2006 that resulted in legislation requiring farmers to test their irrigation water for pathogens such as E. Coli; however, under pressure from farmers the Trump administration has pulled back on regulations due to go into effect this year. Now the rules are set to be delayed by as much as an additional eight years, leaving a gaping hole in our food safety system. The cost for complying with these regulations? 12 million dollars. The cost to provide healthcare for outbreaks such as these? An estimated 210 million dollars. [Wired]

NYMHM for 25 Nov 2018

News You May Have Missed for 25 November 2018 is also news you need to know. Look in particular at the climate change story, the neo-Nazis, the closed border…


  • If you want to be heard quickly—about the teargassing of children at the border, say—text “resist” to 50409, and a bot will turn your text into a fax and send it to your appropriate elected officials. It takes about three minutes.
  • If you have more than three minutes, Sarah-Hope has a new, very informative list of people to write: Family separation, gun control, asylum issues, the underpayment of incarcerated firefighters, and much more.
  • Martha tells us that the comment period is open on oil drilling in Alaska federal waters. See her list for opportunities to comment on environmental regulations, access to contraception, sales of public lands—among other issues.


1. Tear gas fired on children trying to cross border

Trump closed the border between Tijuana and San Diego after a few migrants tried to get through the fence; US border agents fired tear gas on the whole group. Migrants have been waiting in Tijuana for their asylum applications to be considered; only about 100 per day have been processed, though about 5000 are waiting. [Guardian, AP] Meanwhile, legal residents returning to the U.S. after the Thanksgiving break cannot get through; some 90,000 people cross the border legally each day and the closure jeopardizes jobs and schoolwork.

Migrants who arrived at the border have already weathered violence in their home countries and in Mexico; crimes against migrants in Mexico quadrupled between 2015-2017—which is why people travel in caravans. Shakedowns, sexual assault, and random gunfire are common. See the Texas Tribune for a glimpse of what migrants have been through.

Meanwhile, NBC reports that the Department of Homeland Security has undercover informants among the migrant caravan, and that it is monitoring their text massages as well. NBC does not speculate on whether paid informants were among those storming the fence earlier today. [Mother Jones, Vanity Fair]

2. Neo-Nazis uniting, forming paramilitary groups

A neo-Nazi who calls himself Norman Spear is developing a network, both digital and in-person, of people committed to fighting what he says will be an upcoming race war. He calls the digital network “The Base,” and members are organizing through meet-ups and weapons trainings. Vice has an extensive description on what is on the website, from methods of guerrilla warfare to survival tactics to manuals for creating explosive devices. Last year Spear said, “We don’t need to convert or transform every weak-willed white person into a great Aryan warrior in order for us to win. We just need to unite the best of us who are willing to fight to do what’s necessary.”

3. Native American tribe who created Thanksgiving deprived of land

In September, the Department of Interior formally ruled to reverse an Obama-era decision that placed 321 acres of land into a federal trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, the tribe credited with aiding the Pilgrims in the Thanksgiving myth. Despite evidence that the federal government was aware of the Mashpee prior to the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, the tribe wasn’t recognized by the federal government until 2007, which forms the legal basis for the DOI’s decision. The decision and related court cases are wrapped up in competing gaming interests trying to eliminate competition on native land. [HuffPost, Lakota Law]

If you want to comment on this issue, see Sarah-Hope’s list.

4. Indigenous sites in Arizona bulldozed

Ancient stone tools, some more than 12,000 years old, were dug up and archaeological sites bulldozed at several Arizona state parks. The State Parks director and deputy director have been suspended, while archaeologists and Native American politicians are pressing for investigations. As the director of the Arizona State Museum put it, these kinds of actions are:

destroying the unwritten history of their people, affecting real human beings who have descendants, ancestors who need to be cared for in a respectful and dignified way.

[Indian Country Today]


5. As Trump makes nice, Saudi women’s rights activists tortured in prison

While Trump sided with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite the CIA’s allegations that he ordered the killing of assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, imprisoned advocates for the repeat of the driving ban in Saudi Arabia have been beaten, tortured with electric shocks and sexually harassed, according to separate investigations by the Washington Post and Amnesty International. Even though the driving ban has been repealed, the women remain in prison. [WaPo, WaPo]

6. Significant incident between Russia and Ukraine

Tensions have flared between Russia and Ukraine after Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels in waters off the Crimean peninsula. Russia has also placed a tanker vessel directly under a bridge in the Kerch Strait, blocking access to the Sea of Azov, which is shared by Russian-occupied Crimea and Ukraine. Ukraine is set to declare martial law on the 26th. [BBC]

7. Surprise! Steven Bannon and Cambridge Analytica were involved in Brexit

As NYMHM reported a number of months ago, Cambridge Analytical was involved in shaping the eventual vote in Britain to leave the U.K. While Cambridge executives deny that Cambridge was involved, emails show that the company was engaged in planning; Steve Bannon was copied on some of the emails the New Yorker obtained. One strategy was that Cambridge Analytical targeted Americans with British relatives. Yet to be determined is whether foreign money was used in the Brexit campaign, a practice that would have been illegal. [New Yorker]

8. Buy too many video games? No flights for you!

China is continuing to roll out its social credit scheme, blocking millions of people from bookING flights or train trips, according to the Independent, which based its reporting on a Chinese government website. People gain points by volunteering or giving blood, and lose points for traffic infractions or purchasing too many video games. Other penalties are expected to include being banned from particular kinds of employment, restricting children from better schools, prohibiting people from moving, and so forth, creating a downward spiral. [Independent]


9. Climate Change: What did they know and when did they know it?

As early as 1954, the American Petroleum Institute knew that fossil fuels were leading to climate change. According to a Stanford historian, the Institute commissioned a study which showed that CO2 levels had risen 5 per cent in the previous hundred years. The president of the Institute said at the time, “The substance of the report is that there is still time to save the world’s peoples from the catastrophic consequence of pollution, but time is running out.” [Democracy Now]

64 years later, the National Climate Assessment, produced by 300 respected scientists, came out on Black Friday. Its 1,656 pages detail the devastating effects of climate change, from California’s wildfires to billions of dollars of economic losses. The Trump administration is unfazed: Steven J. Milloy, a member of Mr. Trump’s E.P.A. transition team, summed up the Trump administration’s view on the report: “We don’t care,” he said. “In our view, this is made-up hysteria anyway.” [Atlantic, FAIR]

10. Why you can’t eat Romaine: deregulation

Six months ago, the FDA placed an Obama-era regulation on hold that would require the testing of farm irrigation water for pathogens such as E. coli. The implementation of this regulation could have prevented the recent outbreak of a particularly virulent strain of E. coli that has sickened 32 people in the United States and 18 in Canada. [Wired]

11. Sea turtles frozen in icy water

146 sea turtles, including some from endangered species, died after they were found frozen off the coast of Cape Cod, following a sudden temperature drop. Another 54 were saved. According to the Daily Beast, a change in their migration patterns has put them at risk; warming waters leads them to expand their range, into some territories where they cannot be sustained:

The Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary has said that ‘once in a lifetime’ weather—including high winds and tide—effectively incapacitating these turtles.

[Daily Beast, Buzzfeed]

12. Ecological devastation from palm oil plantations

Palm oil along with other biofuels was supposed to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, but it has instead lead to environmental catastrophe. In Borneo, slashing and burning of carbon-rich forests to grow palm trees released “more carbon than the entire continent of Europe,” according to the New York Times. Corporations which owned palm-oil plantations are very profitable, relying on abusive labor practices and quasi-legal appropriation of land from villages and small farmers. Though the Bush-era initiative to produce palm oil was intended to support American farmers currently producing corn and soy and to reduce American dependence on foreign oil, those crafting the policy did not consider how land would actually be used. In addition to carbon release, another consequence of the destruction of forests has been out of control wildfires.

As the Times put it:

This was what an American effort to save the planet looked like. It was startlingly efficient, extremely profitable and utterly disastrous.

NYMHM for 18 Nov 2018

#newsyoumayhavemissed is in transit—so late. Still, we’ve been picking up the news stories you might have missed and locating the context of stories you might have read. Read up on the Pentagon audit, the flu vaccine, air quality and other issues around the California fires, and more—including a story on a previously undiscovered form of life on earth (in Canada, of course!).



1. Air quality in California—mask information

The fires in California have become a tragedy, with 71 people dead and almost 1300 people unaccounted for in the Camp Fire, most of them older; three people have been confirmed dead in the Southern California fires, with almost 100,000 acres burned. Along with countless animals, 26,000 people have lost their homes, and in Chico, those now homeless have been asked to leave the Walmart parking lot where they have been staying—and many have nowhere to go.

The long-term risks of smoke inhalation could add to the losses; on November 16 the air quality in San Francisco was the worst in the world. In Sacramento, the air quality on November 18 was the equivalent of inhaling 14 cigarettes per day. Masks and air purifiers are recommended, though there are specifications for both you should know (details are in the comments, along with an air-quality tracker).

Most at risk, of course, are people who work outdoors and who do not have the option to stay home. However, in the San Joaquin Valley, volunteers attempting to hand out masks to farmworkers were turned away by farm managers. And people of color are most at risk from wildfires, according to a study by a University of Washington graduate student: Emergency messages tend to be in English; Native American reservations are located in fire-prone areas; and lower income people are less likely to have insurance or funds to relocate.

A Canadian newspaper has a pertinent information identifying the history of disasters associated with P G & E, the utility company. While their role in these fires has not been confirmed, the writer’s speculation on the effects of deregulation is worth considering. [NY Times (1, 2, 3), Bay Area Air Quality, Vox, Chico Enterprise, the Star, PSmag]

2. Trump administration pondered handing over US resident to protect Saudi prince

NBC news reported that the Trump administration directed the Justice Department to re-examine ways to extradite the Turkish cleric and critic of the current president of Turkey, Fethullah Gulen, to Turkey, possibly in a bid to alleviate international pressure against crown prince Mohammed bin Salman over the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi. Turkey has been persistent over the years in its demands for extradition of Gulen, whom current Turkish president Recep Erdogan blames for a failed 2016 coup attempt. In previous reviews of the case against Gulen, supposed evidence supplied by Turkey was found not to meet standards for extradition and it is unclear what has changed that would warrant another look into the extradition request. Turkey has supported a sustained international outcry over the extrajudicial killing of Kashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, part of a larger row over colliding spheres of influence within the Middle East, a killing which has badly hurt the reputation of the Saudi crown prince and Saudi Arabia’s attempts to economically diversify its economy. [NBC]

3. GOP dominated state legislatures scramble to hamstring elected Democratic governors

Republican-led state legislatures in four states now face the prospect of Democratic governors as a result of the mid-term elections held this month. Taking a lead from the North Carolina playbook, they are now looking at ways to negate or circumvent the incoming Democratic governor’s power so as to preserve their agenda and legislation. In Michigan they’re feverishly working to water down an increase in minimum wage, having quickly passed legislation to do so only to prevent a voter initiative that they would be unable to alter from becoming law.

Wisconsin legislators are working to strip executive powers from the office of governor after Republican Scott Walker leaves office so that incoming Democrat Tony Evers will be limited in his ability to make appointments, set rules and strip proposed work requirements from an expanded Medicaid program within the state. Readers may recall a very similar situation in North Carolina when governor Cooper took office, requiring Cooper to fight through the courts to reinstate his powers. In these states, as far as the GOP is concerned, a delay through the courts is almost as good as a win. [AP]

4. Pentagon fails first ever audit of its finances, as expected

After almost a year and 413 million dollars spent on it, the first-ever full audit of the US military’s estimated 2.7 trillion dollars in assets has been completed and the Pentagon failed just as expected. The audit is actually 21 different audits of various departments throughout the Department of Defense; of those 21 audits, only five made a passing grade. The Pentagon claims that the simple existence of an audit at all is a win, as it had been sought for decades and never completed. The good news is it appears military payrolls are in order and no obvious fraud or large scale theft was discovered. The worst violations were in the areas of inventory control and IT security, with the latter being particularly disturbing giving the sensitive nature of military computer networks. It’s now estimated that a further 500 million dollars will be required to address the areas of concern found by the audit; the US military budget runs to 700 billion dollars annually. [Defense News]

5. For asylum-seekers, Trump’s double bind

Under Trump’s new proclamation, asylum-seekers are prohibited for applying for asylum for 90 days if they enter the U.S. illegally. They are being required to enter only at official ports of entry. However, those locations require people to wait for weeks because of lack of staffing, which the Trump administration refuses to provide.

2,500 from the so-called “Caravan” have arrived in Tijuana, where they are waiting in refugee camps to apply for entry; some residents of Tijuana have protested their arrival, insisting that Tijuana’s own poor population be addressed first.

The ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center have filed suit to block the imposition of the new rules. However, they may be reinstated by the Supreme Court, given its new configuration. [Mother Jones, NY Times, WSJ]

6. The effect of voter suppression

Vox posted an interesting piece right after the election on how voter suppression may have affected the results, noting the differential effect on poor voters, voters of color, and voters with less mobility and work flexibility.


7. Climate-change protestors block bridges

Thousands of climate-change protestors blocked five bridges in London on November 17, 85 of whom were arrested. Organized by the new Climate Change action group, Extinction Rebellion, which we reported on a couple of weeks ago, the protests are calling on the government “to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a “citizens assembly” to devise an emergency plan of action similar to that seen during the second world war.” [The Guardian]


8. Running the numbers: 1 percent rise in flu vaccination rates saves 807 lives

Last year was considered a “bad” flu season and was directly responsible for 80,000 lives lost in the United States. Currently the vaccination rate for the flu stands at about 45 percent, but if that rate could be raised to around 70 percent, the benefits of so-called “herd” immunity would be delivered, eliminating a majority of deaths and economic losses from the flu. The majority of those who die are over the age of 75, so convincing younger healthier people to get a flu shot is a tall order: this is why there have been some discussion of using monetary incentives to increase the vaccination rate. Relatively small payments have been proven in studies to substantially increase the numbers of those willing to be vaccinated and when measured against the lost of productive work hours it would more than pay for itself. [Conference (pdf), Chicago Tribune]

9. New kilogram for an ultra-precise future

The kilogram as a standard international unit of measurement had a surprisingly old-school definition: until recently, all kilograms everywhere were measured against a single cylinder of platinum-iridium alloy kept in a vault in France called the International Kilogram Prototype. It served its purpose well for decades but has been coming up short (and occasionally over) in an era where scientific measurements can be performed up to including single atoms.

To remedy this unacceptably various standard, the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles convened and has voted unanimously after years of heated debated to define a kilogram using a strict and ultra-precise amount of electricity. In addition to the newly revised kilogram, there is also now a revamped ampere, kelvin and mole—all now referenced against universal and immutable constants in physics. [Science Daily]

10: Walk in the woods leads to discovery of an entire new category of life on earth

Dalhousie University graduate student Yana Eglit was taking a hike in Nova Scotia, Canada and on a whim collected a vial of dirt along her path. That dirt has rewritten the family tree of life on earth, giving it an entirely new main branch. In the dirt she collected, she found tiny organisms called hemimastigotes, a very rare kind of microbial life that has been known for over a hundred years but until now had never had a genetic study done to one.

It turns out that hemimastigotes are entirely unlike any animal, fungal or plant life, to the extent that one would have to go back a billion years to the very beginnings of life on earth to find a shared ancestor. This means they constitute their own mega branch of life among eukaryotes (life with cell membranes and nucleus). In an additional coup, Ms. Eglit was able to learn how to cultivate and raise one of the two kinds of hemimastigotes so as to have a stable population to further study. [CBC]

NYMHM for 11 Nov 2018

#newsyoumayhavemissed thinks Yogi Berra had it right: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” With recounts in Florida, Arizona and Georgia, key races are still undecided, even while Americans are tallying up some remarkable wins and heartbreaking losses. See Chrysostom’s summary—link in the Resources comments. Still, in what has become a pattern, we hardly had time to find our footing when tragedies hit—the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, the fires in California.


  • Want to say something about Trump’s attempt to block asylum claims? Drilling in Alaska? Prohibiting potential immigrants from using public services? Martha’s list has the sites where you can comment.
  • Sarah-Hope’s list of issues to address from November 2 is still relevant: lunches for children, preschool programs for low-income children, vaccines against diarrhea for children in developing countries.
  • Chrysostom, our elections correspondent, has a round-up of where the mid-term election stands as of November 9—it’s on Metafilter.


1. California wildfires the face of climate change

With the most destructive fire in California history still burning, the effects of climate change are painfully evident. Almost the entire town of Paradise has been destroyed, so quickly that most people could not collect possessions or protect their pets; many horses were released simply to fend for themselves. As of November 9, 6,453 homes and 260 businesses had been demolished; 29 people are known to have died, although many more are still missing. Elderly and disabled people may not have been able to dash out of their houses quickly enough.

Meanwhile, the Woolsey fire in Southern California has burned 130 square miles, with 177 homes destroyed. Increasing winds on Sunday fanned the flames. Firefighters had obtained some control over a smaller fire, near Ventura.

A 2016 study by scientists from the University of Idaho and Columbia University found that wildfires have become “twice as destructive over the past three decades due to climate change,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. And last summer, the State of California issued a comprehensive report identifying the consequences of climate change, among them wildfires. As the LA fire chief put it:

…it’s evident from that situation statewide that we’re in climate change and it’s going to be here for the foreseeable future.

[SF Chronicle (1, 2, 3), Ca.gov, The Guardian]

2. Trump tries to cancel the 14th Amendment

The ACLU is suing Trump for attempting to cancel the portion of the 14th Amendment that permits children born in the U.S. to be citizens, regardless of the status of their parents. The ACLU argues that the constitution cannot be changed by executive fiat, as amending the constitution requires that both houses concur with a 2/3 majority and that ¾ of the states ratify. The ACLU reminds us of the origins of the 14th Amendment: in 1898, it repealed the Dred Scott decision, thereby permitting the children of former slaves to be citizens. Thirty other countries grant citizenship to children born there. For a more in-depth look at this issue, see the Harvard Human Rights Journal study (pdf). [ACLU, Axios]

3. Young evangelicals disenchanted with the GOP

The Republican Party has long counted on the support of evangelical Christians, but demographic data shows that younger evangelicals are increasingly disillusioned with the traditional hard line stances on moral issues, and by 2024 will no longer make up a significant voting block for the Republican Party. NYMHM would like to call your attention to “In God We Trump,” a documentary on Trump and evangelicals available on iTunes and Amazon Prime. [Newsweek]

4. Monday-morning suing

Arizona is suing to stop the count of mail-in ballots in the Senate race, a process which in Arizona (and elsewhere) is arduous, because voter registrars must verify the signatures and may contact the voter to verify them if they cannot be otherwise confirmed. Urban counties which are likely to favor Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema are particularly targeted in the suit. As of 11/10, Sinema was 28,000 votes ahead of Republican Rep. Martha McSally, with 49.5% of the vote for Sinema and 48.2% for McSally. [CNN, NBC]

5. Troops on the border: mission impossible

On Veterans Day (Remembrance Day in Canada), 5600 troops were stationed along the southwestern border, awaiting the arrival of the migrant caravan and providing photo ops of barbed wire to hearten Trump supporters before the midterms. They will likely be there through Thanksgiving, though their mission is ambiguous. Under U.S. law, they are not able to enforce immigration law; unless Trump declares martial law, they will not be able to do more than string wire. [NY Times]

6. Judge blocks Keystone XL pipeline

Saying that Trump ignored its potential effect on climate change, a Montana judge has blocked construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run for 1,200 miles—from Canadian oil sands to Texas refineries. As the Washington Post explained, “the administration ran afoul of the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires “reasoned” explanations for government decisions.” The restriction is temporary; the government now must do a thorough study of the project’s “adverse impacts,” including its effects on climate change. See the Post’s detailed analysis of the decision in the link below.

The company in charge of the Canadian leg of the pipeline, TransCanada, said it continued to be committed to the project. Indigenous groups in both Canada and the US have opposed the pipeline. [Washington Post, the Star]


7. Possible peace in Afghanistan

Thirty years after the Soviet Union was forced out of Afghanistan, Russia is hosting peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s High Peace Council. These talks come at a time when civilian casualties are at a record high, the Afghans are exhausted, and the Taliban controls ever-increasing territory.

The main demand of the Taliban is the removal of foreign troops, but the United States is not involved in the talks, though an observer is present. Writing in Cold Type, Conn Hallinan maps what a peace plan might look like and what some of the barriers to peace are, among them whether women’s rights can be preserved. [Washington Post, BBC, Cold Type]


8. DNA study tells a new story about South and Central America

A study on the genomes of 49 human remains conducted by experts at Harvard University and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany has found that there have been three major waves of migration into the continent of South America over 11,000 years. The first came with the so-called Clovis culture peoples, the first major identifiable Native American culture found in the archaeological record, at around 11,000 years ago. The Clovis people were completely displaced about 9,000 years ago by a people originating from the Channel Islands of California. A further migration completed the modern DNA makeup, starting around 4000 years ago.

A second study published in Science described the migration of peoples across the Americas. All of this presents a dynamic and fast moving picture of pre-Colombian migrations in the Americas, with quite few mysteries left unresolved including some markers of Australasian ancestry whose origin is completely unknown. [Quartz, Phys, Science]

9. Add droughts to hurricanes as climate-change induced threats to the Caribbean

Research done by Cornell University and published in Geophysical Research Letters shows an increase in severity and length of droughts occurring across the Caribbean, pointing to a severe widespread drought during 2013-2015 as an example of what can be expected to become more common. Data indicates that human-driven climate warming contributed to about a 15-18% increase in severity for the drought, which cost over half of Haiti’s agricultural output and put over a million people into food insecurity.

Additionally, water use problems are certain to be exacerbated as water tables become contaminated with sea water due to overpumping from aquifers during drought conditions. These factors combine to put around 2 million people into chronic food insecurity as a direct result of climate change. [Science Daily]

10. DEA and ICE are watching you

A piece written by Quartz using documents obtained from the federal government shows that the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency are spending large sums on concealed video cameras that are being hidden inside street lights, traffic barrels and other roadside infrastructure.

There is very little oversight or regulation regarding these cameras as they are placed in public areas using government-owned property; however, given the agencies’ extensive and aggressive use of facial recognition and tracking software, one can imagine the kinds of mass surveillance that can be possible with such a network of cameras. [Quartz]