#newsyoumayhavemissed for September 16, 2018: We’re reflecting on how (un)natural disasters illuminate political faultlines—inequality, toxicity, criminal (in)justice. See our hurricane roundup below. And see, at last, a bit of good news for asylum seekers as well as some truly surreal science & tech stories.
- Want to be heard? See Sarah-Hope’s September list of people and places to write—on voting rights, the environment, family separation—she names it.
- Martha’s list of invitations from federal agencies to comment on a wide variety of critical issues is on a google doc.
- And see Chrysostom’s extensive tally of election news.
1. Prisoners not evacuated—again
South Carolina is choosing not to evacuate prisoners in the path of Hurricane Florence, particularly those in higher-security institutions, claiming that historically it has been safer to shelter prisoners in place than to move them. In the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Texas inmates braved flooding, lack of clean drinking water, and sewer flooding.
During Hurricane Katrina, guards simply walked away from prisons, leaving prisoners locked in cells while water contaminated with sewage rose. Some spent several days in chest-high water, according to a report by the ACLU. A suit by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of thousands of prisoners led to a consent decree mandating reforms in New Orleans.
2. Trump funding ICE with cuts to FEMA, Coast Guard
According to budget documents provided by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) to Rachel Maddow, the Department of Homeland Security transferred 10 million dollars from FEMA to ICE, just in advance of Hurricane Florence. In addition, 29 million was transferred from the Coast Guard to ICE. The DHS denied that any of the transfers came from disaster recovery funds, saying that it came from administrative accounts instead. If you have something to say about this, the ACLU has a petition you might like to consider. And see the link to whatifknits in Resources for other ways to weigh in. [MSNBC, ACLU, NY Times, USA Today]
3. Hurricane dangers you may have missed
Coal ash ponds, pig manure “lagoons,” 11 Superfund sites, one thousand sites with tanks of toxic waste, nuclear reactors: all these are in the path of Hurricane Florence, which is expected to spew toxic soup all around the area. [NY Times]
4. The most powerful storm of the year
At least 59 people died when Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into the Philippines and many more have disappeared in landslides. Next, it headed for Hong Kong and Macau, where it led to cancelled flights, power outages, submerged vehicles, and a virtual halt to ordinary life. Called the most powerful storm of 2018, Mangkhut then headed for southern China on Sunday night. [NY Times]
5. Zinke: leaving us with the wreckage
If you didn’t see Rolling Stone’s piece last summer on Ryan Zinke, the United States Secretary of the Interior, look at it now. His war on the environment is devastating: shrinking national monuments, eviscerating the Endangered Species Act, opening the coastlines to oil drilling, permitting fracking on public land. (The New Yorker covered some of this same ground last April.)
Now, as Outside Magazine reports, Zinke is proposing to open three million acres of public lands for oil and gas extraction. The leases are going for very little money and, due to the chaotic and inattentive ways in which parcels are chosen, can do maximum damage for very little return. Senior attorney for the Wilderness Society Nada Culver puts it this way: “We’re risking this heritage so that the Secretary of the Interior can have a messaging moment. And his moment will pass, and we will be left with the wreckage.” [Outside, Rolling Stone, New Yorker]
6. Children still separated from their parents
Seven children under five are still separated from their parents because of their parents’ alleged crimes. The ACLU has challenged these separations, pointing out that American parents accused of crimes do not automatically lose custody of their kids. 390 older children have yet to be reunited with their families as well, some who have already been deported.
Meanwhile, the number of migrant children in federal custody reached 12,800 this month. Most of these are children who crossed the border alone, predominately teenagers from Central America. The fourfold increase in the number of children in federal shelters is not due to an increase in the number coming into the country but to a decrease in the number being released to family members in the US. [NY Times, Vice]
7. Asylum seekers get a second chance
As many as a thousand asylum seekers, some already deported, who were rejected based on interviews done after their children were taken away from them will have their cases reconsidered, according to a settlement won by Muslim Advocates and the Virginia-based Legal Aid Justice Center. The trauma of losing their children had made these applicants unable to articulate their stories to immigration officials. [NY Times] As Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center, said in a statement:
Our government forcibly ripped children from the arms of asylum-seeking parents, and then asked them, debilitated by trauma, all by themselves, unrepresented by lawyers, to articulate complex legal claims without any support or accommodation.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
8. Still no explanation for closure of solar observatory by federal agents.
The National Solar Observatory in tiny Sunspot, New Mexico located within the Lincoln National Forest has been ordered vacated by federal authorities and is now guarded by a private security firm since September 6th with no explanation given to the public. The National Solar Observatory is hardly a secret installation; they provide regular guided tours to the public and have educational outreach programs frequently. Conjecture about why such a facility would be subject to such a serious ‘security threat’ or what that threat might be varies widely.
Reports of the FBI on the premises and a Blackhawk helicopter have raised eyebrows, as there is some proximity to sensitive military installations but no clear link. Large quantities of mercury are used in the observatory apparatus and it’s possible the issue could be a contamination issue. There is no communication about when the facility might be reopened and research into our host star resumed. [Washington Post]
9. Another day, another Shkreli
The CEO of a small pharmaceutical company has garnered headlines for himself and his company by dramatically raising the price of an antibiotic listed among ‘essential’ medicines by the World Health Organization. The price for nitrofurantoin has gone from $474.75 for a dose to $2392, an increase of 400% for the legacy drug that has been used for decades to treat specific urinary tract infections by gram negative bacteria. The CEO, a Mr. Nirmal Mulye defended his actions, and referenced infamous “pharma-bro” Martin Shkreli when asked by the Financial Times saying that it was a “moral requirement” to sell the drug at the highest possible price and that similar actions by Martin Shkreli (who is now in prison for unrelated fraud charges) were absolutely correct.
In addition to the rapacious pricing of necessary drugs that these companies paid no part in developing, Mr. Mulye went after FDA regulatory fees calling them ‘highway robbery’. The FDA in response issued a statement saying that there is no moral imperative to price gouge. [Ars Technica]
10. New ‘Presidential Alert’ system to be tested September 20th.
A new unified emergency alert system will go live and test the first use of a ‘Presidential Alert’ created during the George W. Bush administration. The new system will combine the preexisting Emergency Alert System (the tone you hear on your radio and televisions as a test) and the Wireless Emergency Alerts System (which use text message notifications throughout wireless networks, such as Amber Alerts) into the Integrated Emergency Alerts System. Concern has naturally been raised about misuse of the system by a sitting President very fond of directly communicating with the public through services like Twitter. FEMA, which runs the system, has made assurances that it is unlikely to be abused; however. such alerts are at the discretion of the President. [The Verge]