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]