RE-UPDATED POST – What’s the Deal With Pre-Existing Conditions – AHCA Redux

Hello All, another update on the health care legislation,

This past week (5/4/2017), the House of Representatives passed the updated American Health Care Act (AHCA), a bill that is the latest in the many-part series of repealing and replacing the current health care law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or “Obamacare.”

the group that benefits from the bill celebrates its passage

The previous version of the AHCA back in March, which was the first effort by the new administration to repeal the current law, did not even make it to a vote due to the public pushback along with a less than favorable CBO accounting score (see this post for more on that version).

The updated version that passed is intended to win over more “fiscally conservative” Republican sponsors (who were dismayed at the amount of coverage still offered by the new bill) along with the “Freedom Caucus” members of the House who have made their primary effort to repeal the current law (ACA).  The new AHCA promises to also make sure all pre-existing conditions are still covered while pleasing the needed votes in the House.  So, all the boxes checked right?

The problem is (and this is a big problem), the bill was never introduced to the House floor for debate* (it was just debated within a committee prior to the vote). This means that most House members did not even read the full text of the bill before voting on it. The quick turn vote basically turned it into a party line vote (all democrats opposed with 20 Republicans joining the dissent, for a very narrow majority passage). In addition, because insufficient time was given for the CBO to “score” the bill, representatives and the public were not able to see what type of impact the bill would have on the Federal budget or on the overall impact of the bill on the health care market.

*”Normally, ample time is given for the submission of the reports and they are accorded serious consideration.” –

Pre-Existing Conditions Protections – Subject to Elimination

Thin ice on these high risk pools

In an effort to decrease rising health costs for consumers and businesses (the biggest flaw with the ACA) the new bill copies many of the previous efforts by eliminating the expansion of Medicaid and by creating “high risk pools” to help people with health issues to be able to afford health insurance while at the same time eliminating the federal requirements for insurers for charging higher premiums for pre-existing conditions.

An amendment by Thomas McArthur seems to keep the pre-existing condition protections in place by giving states the option of mandating insurers to not charge higher premiums. This, however, would be a return to a pre-ACA health care landscape discussed in the original post by this name.

Prior to the ACA, states were free to put these requirements in place for insurers, but just as now they had little incentive to do so because the costs were not sustainable without an individual mandate or subsidies payed for by taxes on wealthier Americans. Both the mandate and subsidies would be eliminated or phased out in the coming years and the high risk pools would be insufficient to cover those in need.

High Risk Pools – Pre ACA 

The basic idea for high risk pools is to mitigate the inequitable spending of health care by the population. Most high cost enrollees are a small proportion but account for a large amount of health care costs. So all types of enrollees help pay for the larger costs of the small high cost group with help from subsidies. In the past the high risk pools insulated healthier people from high health costs which encouraged them to purchase insurance.

As mentioned earlier, prior to the ACA, insurers could exclude people with pre-existing conditions or charge them higher premiums. Beginning in 1976, states had made high risk pools available as a source of insurance for individuals who may have been excluded by insurance groups for pre-existing conditions or if they had lost group health plan coverage per the 1996 HIPAA Law.

Most pools adopted standards that limited possible enrollment, leaving some eligible enrollees from having insurance, making premiums unaffordable, or making having insurance unattractive such as:

  • Higher premiums above the market rate
  • Exclusion periods of 6 – 12 months for preexisting conditions
  • Lifetime limits on covered services
  • High deductibles

Each of these was eliminated by the ACA. Limiting enrollment was a goal for states to make the high risk pools affordable for the states to fund even with Federal grants and state tax subsidies helping to foot the bill. Federal government subsidies needed to cover the losses within the high risk pools cost $1 billion per year prior to 2010 – and this was with limited enrollment.

For the states where the high risk pool was well funded, such as in Maryland, the pools could theoretically provide a working model. If high risk pools are to adequately cover people with preexisting conditions as the newly House – passed AHCA contends, it will need a lot of funding. Unfortunately, the bill would fall short with funding*, with only $13 billion annually provided for high risk pools. As stated earlier, the new amendment would give states the option of whether to mandate to insurers whether preexisitng conditions are still covered – bringing us back to a health care landscape that replicates the pre-ACA setting.

Well said, The Onion


Given the changes in Medicaid, tax cuts (elimination of subsidies), inadequate funding for high risk pools, and more, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Hospital Association, the Catholic Hospital Association, the March of Dimes, AARP, and others — all oppose the bill.

Until the next repeal and replace attempt,

Your Faithful Historian,

Eric G. Prileson

*For subsidies to cover 68 percent of enrollees’ premium costs, as ACA tax credits do now in the individual market exchanges, the government would have to put up $32.7 billion annually. And even after applying that subsidy, high-cost consumers would still owe $10,000 annually toward premiums

Sources and Further Reads:

CBO Analysis:

American Health Care Act Bill HR 277 text

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UPDATED POST: “What’s the Deal With ‘Pre-Existing Conditions'”

Hello All, a brief-er post for you –

Due to the arrival of the newly touted bill through the house to replace the Affordable Care Act, called the American Health Care Act, a quick update should be added as an addendum to the previous post.

Expected uninsured increases 2017 – 2026

Last week, Republicans in the House of Representatives put forth a new bill (HR 277) designed to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”). The new bill’s release was likely in response to the public’s disapproval of Congress’s attempts to dismantle the current health care law and its laudable elements without a formal replacement.

The bill’s objectives are to save the Federal Government money (reduce the deficit) and to provide cheaper health care for Americans. As of now, the bill has been introduced and passed through an initial committee within the House. The bill still needs to be passed by both houses of Congress and then signed by the President before it can become law and replace the ACA.

Speaker Ryan introducing HR 277

On Monday 3/13, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the score-keeper for legislation, released its analysis of how the new bill would affect health care costs, the Federal Budget, and the numbers of insured Americans. In its analysis, the CBO found that the American Health Care Act would:

  • The bill would save the Federal government $337 Billion (from 2017 – 2026)
  • The bill would eliminate certain taxes that affect high income earners such as the surtax on high income earners investment income, the Hospital Insurance payroll tax for high earners, and delaying an excise tax for high earner’s plans.
  • By 2020, 48 million Americans would be uninsured in health care, with that number rising to 52 million people by 2026 (roughly, 19 % of the population – under current law, about 10 % of the population is uninsured, which is projected to remain the same through 2026). This is an increase of uninsured of 24 million Americans.
    • the biggest reasons for the decrease in coverage would be the decrease in Medicaid spending and loss of certain health care subsidies
  • The cost of non-group health care plans would on average increase, but with a specific Patient Stability fund, rates would level out by 2020.
  • By 2026, premiums are expected to be 20 – 25 % lower for younger, healthier people, but about 20 – 25 % higher for older folks (age 64+)

So to sum up, the bill would save the Federal government money, but would increase the number of uninsured and leave higher health care costs for older and sicker folks while decreasing taxes (from the ACA) for wealthier people.

Sources and Further Reads:

CBO Analysis:

American Health Care Act Bill HR 277 text

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What’s the Deal With “Pre-Existing Conditions”?

Hello all,aca

Welcome to another edition of “What’s the Deal?” the blog that has a very, very big HSA.

In this week’s post, we’ll discuss the possibility of Congressional and Presidential “Plans” to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, ACA, or more commonly called “Obamacare”) and discuss the possible outcomes of such actions.

Included in this edition are talks on what is at stake to be lost by the public including a return to previous health insurance practices that restricted access for millions of Americans based on a “pre-existing condition.”

See, I told you I read it

See, I told you I read it

Previous posts at “WTD” have looked at many parts of the ACA, aka “Obamacare,” here, here, here, and here.  But now with a new administration that campaigned on eliminating health care reform, a post should be made that discusses what stands to be lost (or what needs to be replaced) if the ACA is actually repealed.

What Works and What is Popular (not necessarily the same)

Since its passage in 2010 and its initial implementation in 2014 the ACA has had three major impacts on health care that most people generally accept as positive:

  • increasing available coverage to the general public (mainly through expansion of Medicaid)
  • Allowing young adults to stay on parents’ plans until they are 26 – especially helpful during the recession*
  • Eliminating discriminatory insurance practices such as excluding coverage or biasing coverage based on pre-existing conditions (like having certain illnesses, or simply being a woman).

    It says here that since you're a woman, it is going to cost twice as much

    It says here that since you’re a woman, it is going to cost twice as much

These impacts have led to the expansion of health care coverage for more than 20 million Americans since 2014 and more importantly have opened the door to specific groups to have vital health care including the sick, impoverished, and more women overall.

Some of the more unpopular parts of the law that are attacked most frequently have to do with what allows the law to function:

  • the individual mandate (the requirement of having health insurance or to pay a penalty)
  • The requirement that all employers and insurance plans to allow access to birth control and abortion services (very controversial)
  • The state based Health Insurance Exchanges (marketplaces) that allow individuals to purchase insurance aren’t available everywhere and require many working pieces. (if state governments chose not to set up an exchange, the Feds set up one for them anyways)
*Including me!

Repeal and Replace?

President Trump and Republican allies in Congress have talked and made extensive efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and have more recently proposed certain ideas for replacing the health care law. Prior legislative and judicial efforts at repeal during the Obama administration strictly focused on repealing the law and not on replacing the law with any alternative. During the election and under the new administration, the constituents of lawmakers (both Republican and Democratic) have been vocal in their support of the above mentioned elements of the law and so lawmakers have spoken of and have written outlines of plans.

Newly appointed HHS secretary Tom Price, readily awaiting his turn to dismantle his cabinet department

Newly appointed HHS secretary Tom Price, readily awaiting his turn to dismantle his cabinet department

Four major plans to replace the ACA have been proposed since the beginning of 2015 including from House Speaker Paul Ryan, newly appointed HHS secretary and Senator Tom Price, Senator Bill Cassidy, and Senator Rand Paul. Here are the highlights (though not all) from each:

  • Paul Ryan: “A Better Way”
    • Eliminate the individual mandate, repeal private market rules and standards for benefits, keep some rules such as eliminating preexisting conditions and allowing patients to stay on parents plan until age 26, convert Medicaid expansion funding to a block grant.
  • Tom Price: “Empowering Patients First”
    • Eliminate the law entirely, no individual mandate, preexisting conditions can apply, insurers must allow continuing coverage (“grandfathering in”), state high risk pools for low income and the sick to purchase insurance in.
  • Rand Paul: “Obamacare Replacement Act
    • Repeal most major ACA market rules such as coverage standards and preexisting exclusion periods, but retain dependent coverage til 26 and retain medicaid expansion.
  • Bill Cassidy: “Patient Freedom Act
    • States have the option of keeping the rules of the ACA, medicaid expansion is not repealed. Some private market rules kept overall including dependent age 26, prohibitions on discrimination based on sex, race, age, or disability. (most rules of ACA are retained if states choose)

Close analysis of the repeal plans show that the promise of keeping the popular parts of the law (dependent age 26, elimination of preexisting conditions, etc..) will not be easy or possible to keep.

Prior to the ACA – A Chilling Reminder

pre-ACA was as H-A-F

pre-ACA was as H-A-F

Before the healthcare law was passed in 2010, the landscape of insurance markets, affordable access to basic care, and the probability of an individual having health insurance was very different. Having access to health care be priced in a market economy instead of universally guaranteed is one of the starkest contrasts between America and most industrialized countries. The culture of belief in universal health care (or lack there of) was certainly most evident prior to the ACA.

Because covering the cost of expensive medicines, surgical procedures, and testing for sick people is expensive, individuals with long term illnesses, severe disabilities, and other preexisting conditions were charged much more for health care than healthy people. Often folks in poorer health are also poor – so health insurance was often unaffordable even when group plans through employers are available – though having insurance through an employer is a much rarer commodity than it used to be especially for low-income folks who may work multiple jobs. Having to pay for a procedure, medication, or just a PCP annual check-up could be an enormous expense for someone without insurance often leading to endless rounds of monthly payments, cash advances, collection agencies and debt collections. A person without insurance could have had to choose whether to see the doctor and risk financial ruin, or to save money.

These issues, as described above, felt by low income folks, but also included women – who as was described earlier – were charged more for insurance simply because of their gender – known as the gender rating. Insurance rates were higher because women generally use health care more when they are younger compared to men. This is a preventative behavior measure. Men use health care more when they are older and have accumulated more health issues – leading to higher cost health care procedures, and arguably, a shorter life span. Women also have unique health needs such as trips to OB/GYN doctors, fertility clinics, family planning medicine, and pregnancy. In addition to rejecting insurance applicants for being a survivor of domestic violence, charging women more for the same care (even when the man was as smoker), insurance plans intentionally excluded health  needs such as  maternity care from their plans.

Hard to put yourself in their shoes, when it's the Pharma Bro

Advocate for the Devil: Hard to put yourself in their shoes, when it’s the Pharma Bro

From the insurance business industry’s perspective (I’m playing devil’s advocate in case you couldn’t tell) it made perfect business sense to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions – it was not profitable to provide insurance to sick people. In the end though, it was all consumers who ended up footing the bill.

Though the insurance market may not be universally guaranteed, emergency rooms at public hospitals must provide care to people in need even when they do not have insurance. When folks used that care (such as a sick child, mother, or homeless person) it was the county who footed the bill resulting in higher local taxes for everyone. This is one of the reasons why the ACA insisted on an individual mandate (like the one built for the Massachusetts state health care law) – if everyone pays into the pot, including healthy people, then you have a financial pool from which to help cover sicker folks.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation review, 27% of adult Americans under age 65* or approximately 52 million people have a preexisting condition that under pre-ACA rules would likely leave them uninsurable.

*a conservative estimate

The PPACA – A Flawed Model that is Working (for the moment)

The PPACA is not a model law by any means – there are several flaws with the legislation since its inception in 2010 and rollout in 2014 – not to mention the many stumbles by the Obama administration during its roll out (such as the ill prepared or lack of marketing) – including the very high rise in cost for health plans that have priced some people out of the market. This is a serious issue and should be considered in editing the original legislation as it pertains to providing health care in the long run.

A rising issue

A rising issue

It should be noted, however, that the extreme opposition to the law from many states and Congress have severely impeded the law’s successful implementation and have been part of the issue that has led to higher costs for all. The refusal of many states to set up market exchanges forced the Federal government to cover them – the continuous barrage of “repeal” acts that were never going to be passed hurt the viability of a successful market and repelled some insurers from participating – and the intense legal battles that made it to the supreme court also hurt the laws successful chances and led to the issues with the law we see today.

The protections and changes to the industry that have protected consumers and allowed many people to access health care for the first time are too big of steps to ignore or to eliminate – evidenced by the adversarial town hall meetings that lawmakers have faced in their districts. Unfortunately for the Republican side, in order to keep a lot of the health care laws popular items, the unpopular items (read: the mandate) seem to be quite necessary to fund the process.

Creating a Repeal and Replacement Plan is a dangerous business, especially when there is no plan

Sources and Further Reads:


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What’s the Deal With Executive Orders on Immigration?

Hello all,

Welcome to another edition of “What’s the Deal” the blog that is seeing the highest readership of any blog ever! [citation needed]

Campaign soundbites = Presidential policy (so far)

Campaign soundbites = Presidential policy (so far)

In this week’s post we’ll discuss President Donald Trump*’s latest executive order halting immigration from 7 different countries that are predominantly Muslim. The public criticism and protest of the order has been widespread and large as many people feel that the order is the first step on the way to Trump’s promised “Muslim Registry” from the campaign trail.

Following the public backlash, the White House issued a press release on the executive order intending to clarify and justify the action. Trump cited a previous halting of immigrants by President Obama as legitimate reasoning for the action which is intended to “protect the nation from foreign terrorist entry.”

Since it has been issued, a lower federal court and a ninth circuit federal appeals court have prevented the order from being enforced by the Executive Branch, so at the moment, the order is blocked by the Judicial system though Mr. Trump has promised to fight the block all the way to the Supreme Court.

There have been many well-written briefs on the legal grounds, strategic folly, incoherence, and poor implementation. This blog will focus instead on the historical precedents on executive orders in the realm of immigration.

….Wait, there already was research and analysis done on this in the one week since the order by a group of respected historians at the University of Minnesota? …Dang.  Well, let’s write one anyways!

*yes, he actually is the President of the United States – kind of like when Doc Brown won’t believe Marty when he tells him that in 1985 Ronald Reagan is President of the U.S. – except much worse.

Historical Presidential Actions on Limiting Immigration

not a total ban from Iraq

not a total ban from Iraq

Unfortunately for Mr. Trump, his justification based on Obama’s order – “my policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months” – does not hold up to scrutiny. First off, refugees do not travel on visas and secondly, the executive order from 2011 from President Obama was not a complete ban – it was a narrow more intense vetting of refugees and those applying for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs).  In addition, the Obama order was grounded in a specific threat from intelligence information that included the arrest of two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky and was an organized process that involved the intelligence and defense departments – not a direct order from an inexperienced White House staff.

This is not very “similar” to what the Trump order implements which is a near-total ban on immigrants with the exception of diplomats.

Have other presidents taken a similar draconian approach to banning immigration from certain countries or regions?

The answer, in the long and often exclusionary history of the United States is yes, with both the Executive Branch and Congress playing a role in excluding and enforcing draconian immigration laws and quotas. Instead of listing every single law or order that was put forth, we’ll highlight a few that exemplify the ban on certain immigrants – something that resonates with Trump’s executive order which suggests a ban on Muslims given his rhetoric and the countries involved but that does not explicitly say religion.

Exclusion – An American Tradition in Congress

The closed gate - the U.S. has explicitly denied entry to some before

The closed gate – the U.S. has explicitly denied entry to some before

The exclusion of certain immigrants by laws passed by Congress and signed by the President in the U.S. is well known, from the Alien and Seditions Acts of 1798 passed during President John Adam’s administration (which restricted migrants to the U.S. based on political beliefs) to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1880 which excluded all Chinese laborers from entering the U.S. for longer than 90 days, to the Immigration Act of 1917 and 1924 which more broadly restricted migrants from the “Asiatic Barred Zone”* to the introduction of literacy tests and immigration quotas to limit the total number of immigrants.

The quotas were based on current U.S. population, which meant that the quotas favored allowing more migrants from the British Isles and Northern Europe than Southern and Eastern Europeans. Interestingly, Congress has also sought to prevent immigration based on religion, though of course not explicitly. A good example of this is the Wagner – Rogers Act of 1939 which sought to admit 20,000 Jewish children from Germany. Congress prevented its passage but then passed a bill admitting British children endangered by German attacks. Congress has also passed bills allowing immigrants that were in the national interest – such as scientists and professors.

quota chart 1925 - 27

quota chart 1925 – 27

Finally, the case of the U.S. and Philippines (examined here)  by the Tydings-McDuffie Act changed the status of Filipinos from official U.S. citizens to aliens and created a quota of 50 Filipino immigrants admitted / year.

Exclusion has less commonly been a tradition from the pen of the White House and the Executive Order (although Presidents have signed draconian immigration laws). A 1952 law that overrode President Truman’s veto gave the President power to block immigrants or prevent full citizenship to whose political beliefs were “detrimental to the U.S.” – clearly a measure directed at Communists or Fascists. From the 1980 Refugee Act, the President gained powers to control numbers of refugees admitted to the U.S. but the Executive Branch has more commonly focused on increasing the inclusion of immigrants such as when President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1965 Immigration Act which banned discrimination of immigration based on sex, religion, nationality, race, and background.

President Johnson at Liberty Island to sign the Immigration Act

President Johnson at Liberty Island to sign the Immigration Act

Any quotas set by the President since the 1980 Refugee Act have been made in consultation with Congress – except for Mr. Trumps. The one area where the Executive Branch has been top in line in preventing or restricting  migrants has been since 9/11  when the responsibility of immigration moved to the Department of Homeland Security. The huge increase in intelligence from the “war on terror” along with the Patriot Act gave the Executive Branch and newly swollen intelligence agencies new powers that disproportionately affected Arabs, South Asians, and Muslims.

*Interestingly this included barring migrants and refugees from Syria (which the current executive order includes as under the ban)

Conclusion: A Dangerous Precedent, Mr. President

Mr. Trump’s order is new in its sweeping effect (only diplomats excluded from the 7 country ban) and in its lack of accountability and participation from the Legislative Branch. The claims made by the President in the order such as the pressing need for national defense against terrorism, the similarity to President Obama’s executive order, and the exclusion of immigrants from specific countries do not hold up to scrutiny, or even some basic reading. On the count of the last point (exclusion from specific country), the order breaches the law (1965 Immigration Act – which prevents discrimination of immigrants based on national origin). Given Mr. Trump’s statement during the campaign and after winning about instituting a “Muslim Ban” this executive order comes close to doing this (which would violate the Constitution) – but does so without explicitly saying it.

The order, though currently blocked, is a dangerous step for the Trump Administration because it likely is counterproductive in reducing terrorist acts, prevents many qualified professionals such as scientists from Iran or professors from Sudan from entering the country – not to mention the splitting of families with dual citizenship and in general putting America under a very negative lens from the international community.

Until the next controversial executive order,*

Your Faithful Historian,

Eric G. Prileson

*won’t be long

Sources and Further Reads:

Sorry, Mr. President: The Obama Administration Did Nothing Similar to Your Immigration Ban


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What’s the Deal With an Authoritarian in Manila?

Hello All!

The Filipino Archipelago

The Philippine Archipelago

Welcome to another edition of “What’s the Deal?” the blog that knows the difference between archipelagos and atoll formation (thanks, Darwin).

In this edition, we’ll discuss the fascinating and irascible new Filipino leader Rodrigo Duterte and his new stance on Pacific relations with both China and the United States. We’ll examine if there is a possible connection between Filipino-U.S. historical relations and Duterte’s posturing for his country.

The Current: Popular and Unpredictable

In a recent speech and meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping back in the fall, newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte said he wanted the Philippines and United States to push toward splitting ties, a big blow to the United States’ “pivot” to Asia and the 100+ year alliance between the two countries. Following this, Duterte said he wanted the alliance to continue, but just to have U.S. troops based in the Philippines out. This severing of relations now seems to be tempered even further after significant briefings on the military alliance and the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency in Washington, D.C.

Xi meets Rodrigo

Xi meets Rodrigo

Duterte is extremely controversial internationally, calling President Obama a “son of a whore,” comparing himself to Adolph Hitler in his quest to rid his country of drug dealers and hustlers, but also confusing, saying that “God warned him off swearing,” and then proceeding to curse a reporter investigating the anti-drug campaign.

His back and forth and unpredictable actions along with his populist flavor that brought him to the highest office in the island nation have had some people calling him the “Filipino Donald Trump”, referencing the unpredictable political style peppered with many invectives and offensive comments made by the United States’ president elect.

another victim of extra-judicial killing

another victim of extra-judicial killing

Last week, the New York Times issued a photojournalist account of the strong anti-drug crackdown that has been violent and brutal in its extrajudicial killing of drug kingpins and accused drug users – a total of 3,500 estimated people have been killed. The Anti-drug crusade was a campaign promise by President Duterte prior to his election and received popular support from many Filipinos whose lives have been deeply impacted by the drug trade. Indeed, many Filipinos wrote in to the Times to support the President and the crackdown saying their fear from kingpins and for their general safety is greatly reduced.

The case of the of the drug crackdown is an interesting one as it shows an unwavering popular support of a strongman whose “popular cause”  violates international law (he has been indicted by the ICC) and the Filipino constitution. Their support could come from a feeling of inaction by the preceding government of Benigno Aquino and the stigma from a feeling of high levels of corruption.

Duterte's plays the strong security role

Duterte’s plays the strong security role

To understand the popular support of Duterte and his large shift against the U.S., let’s explore historical relations and the more recent political history of the archipelago nation.

From One Colonial Landlord to Another

The American “acquisition” of the Philippines following the Spanish – American War in 1898 via the Treaty of Paris was no mere handover of the reins of colonial power from a has-been (Spain) to the strengthening newby (U.S.). During the initial war, the U.S. Navy secured control around the islands by pummeling the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay allowing a resistance / independence leader Emilio Aguinaldo to declare an independent Philippines on July 12, 1898. As U.S. ground forces took Manila, they promptly excluded Aguinaldo from the negotiation talks with the Spanish (ignoring the independence declaration) and took 400 years of brutal colonial rule and simply changed hands to a new imperial power.*

Aguinaldo as the stoic leader

Aguinaldo as the stoic leader – of the continuing resistance

The resistance movement that followed proceeded to last almost 4 more years and cost the lives of 4,374 American soldiers and 36,000 Filipino soldiers and civilians. The resistance was particularly brutal as the Filipinos (who were outnumbered and outgunned) used guerrilla hit and run tactics – which were responded in kind by ruthless American repercussions. The war became a matter for moral debate in the U.S. as the atrocities on both sides became known. Finally on July 4, 1902, newly sworn in President Theodore Roosevelt declared the resistance resolved as most fighters had been captured or killed and Aguinaldo had acquiesced to the Philippine becoming an American colony.

*Interestingly, the Philippines were unknown to most Americans upon defeating the Spanish including President McKinley himself who infamously could not find the islands on a map. McKinley struggled with what to do with the Philippines after defeating the Spanish – wavering between granting independence and semi-autonomy – but then ultimately decided to maintain American colonial control as it was in America’s business interest. A devout man, McKinley may have been divinely inspired to “christianize” the Filipino islanders as an impetus, but this doesn’t seem relevant since most Filipinos were already Catholic after 400 years of Spanish dominion.

Filipino – U.S Relations:  An Ocean Apart, Yet an Omnipresence

America's first imperial president

America’s first imperial president

The U.S. stance on overseeing the Philippines was officially titled “Benevolent Assimilation” – based on a proclamation by then President William McKinley to set up a civilian government under U.S. control that would bring religious freedom, set up judicial systems, secure private property, and upgrade transport and civilian systems “for” the Philippines. All this, was of course, decided without the consent of the 7,107 islands of 7 million disparate, mainly impoverished peoples within the “nation” which contain hundreds of distinct ethnic groups.

The installed civilian government was overwhelmingly in favor of independence led by the Nationalist Party (following the movement led by Aguinaldo) – but this demand was ignored by the U.S. for decades until 1934 when the U.S. Congress approved a proposal with the Tydings-McDuffie Act (Philippine Independence Act) of 1934 to grant independence within 10 years. This was delayed a couple of years by the end of World War II, but then was realized for the Philippines in 1946.

Subic Bay Naval Station

Subic Bay Naval Station

Despite allowing the Philippines to lead its own government after 1946, the United States maintained two major military bases: Subic Bay and Clark in order to maintain a strategic presence in the region. Following the second world war, General Dwight Eisenhower recommended that these bases be transferred to Filipino control but was overruled.

Eisenhower saw that the bases would be a sore spot for most Filipinos – the bases would be come to seen as continuing American imperialism and control – despite bringing in money for the local economy*. The bases became an even more vital to U.S. interests following the escalation of the Vietnam conflict under the Lyndon Johnson administration in 1965. The bases were finally relinquished to the Philippine government in 1992.

From this short history of U.S. – Filipino relations, we should take away the following:

  • Instead of allowing self-determination and independence following a centuries long colonization by Spain, the U.S. imposed their dominance to use the Philippines as an outpost colony in the Pacific. 
  • The Philippine War was the initial stepping stone for an enlarged American global presence in the Pacific
  • While the war quickly faded from memory in the U.S., in the Philippines it is remembered for its bloody years and the fomenting of subsequent decades of continuing imperial control by a foreign power.
*the same phenomenon could be applied  to the Okinawan islands south of Japan that came under American military control at the end of WWII and thereafter was an air force base for the United States. The pushback by the Okinawans (a distinct group native to the islands) following economic repression and crimes perpetrated by U.S. servicemen, has made both Japan and the U.S. consider the social cost of maintaining military bases around the world.

The Philippines Since Independence

Between independence and 1965 Filipino governments had peacefully transferred and saw high levels of economic growth but had suffered from internal uprisings and corruption and graft – all while social problems among most Filipinos remained. In 1965, the election of Ferdinand Marcos brought forth a period of authoritarianism, corruption and repression that may help explain the interesting connection to Duterte’s government.

Marcos was elected to two four year terms, but during his tenure, his indifference to the injustices experienced by most Filipinos touched off armed rebellions. In response, in 1971 Marcos declared martial law, suspended Congress and the constitution, cancelled the upcoming presidential election and ordered mass arrests of opposition figures. Using his enlarged power for the next 16 years, Marcos ran a series of protected monopolies through the government to steal billions of dollars – enriching himself at the expense of his people.

Marcos increases power

Marcos increases power

While Marcos repelled all sitting U.S. Presidents through his corruption and repression, the U.S. government continued to give billions in military aid – likely because of the continued need for the military bases and a presence in southeast Asia. The U.S. was able to proctor the release from prison of the main opposition leader, Benigno Aquino in 1980, who came to the U.S. for medical treatment following a heart attack while awaiting a death sentence by a military commission. Upon his return to Manila in 1983, Aquino was assassinated by a military squad soon after landing.

Aquino’s assassination touched off a huge rancor of protests from opposition groups and the majority of Filipinos who were tired of the corruption, intimidation, and repression at the hands of an authoritarian. Hoping to weaken the growing protest movement, Marcos called for an election on February 7, 1986, in which he claimed victory – but which only served to spark more protests as the results showed that Aquino was the winner and the election was clearly tampered with. The increased protests combined with the turn of 2 major military figures against Marcos forced his hand. The U.S. remained by his side until February 25th, when he escaped in exile to Guam and then to Hawaii until his death three years later.*

the widowed Corazon Aquino

the widowed Corazon Aquino

Taking the mantle of leadership was the widow of Benigno Aquino, Corazon Aquino. While difficult social and economic issues continued, she restored democracy and ended the term of U.S. ownership of the two major Naval bases at Clark and Subic Bay in 1992. The Aquino’s son, Benigno III, was elected president in 2010 and stayed in office until this past year 2015 with the election of Duterte.

The independent period of time of the Philippines shows:

  • The rise of the authoritarian Marcos led to extreme corruption, repression of freedoms, and a reduction in the pace of economic growth and prosperity.
  • The U.S. supported the Marcos dictatorship in order to maintain their military bases on the Philippoines – at the expense of democracy and economic
*Marcos made his escape in an American chopper to an American territory (Guam) and then to the U.S. itself. The U.S. was complicit in helping the dictator escape – just as they were implicit in their complacency to allow Marcos to impose his ruthless authoritarian government.

The Rise of Duterte: The Return of Authoritarianism?

The election of President Duterte in the Philippines at first look seems like an aberration. Many economic factors* indicating significant growth and stability during the Aquino III administration made many political scientists figure that a continuity candidate from the government establishment would continue the gains made by Aquino. In addition, on the foreign policy side, the increased aggression from China in the South China Sea would seem to warrant closer relations with the United States and its policy of freedom of navigation.

Duterte on the stump in Davao

Duterte on the stump in Davao

Throughout the electoral campaign process, however, it was the political outsider touting strong security (law and order), tough talk on drugs, departure from close relations to the U.S., and anti-corruption that eventually would prevail. Duterte’s message and political record on these issues from his time as mayor of the city of Davao on Mindanao island struck a chord with the majority of Filipinos – many of whom did not see the gains made by the country as a whole – Filipinos who experienced the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan, extreme poverty**, and whose urban communities experience the wrath of the drug trade, child labor, and even sex slavery.

Perhaps the violence against Filipino fishermen and the recent concessions by China have convinced many Filipinos that the direction of the future is a rising China and not the U.S. who many consider to still be the imperial power. The continuing memory of the United States as imperial overlord (from historical relations) may have indeed influenced the rise of Duterte. Given these factors, both domestic and international, Duterte’s populist appeal is understandable – yet does not erase his detestable behavior and brutal actions since he took office.160705-philippines-drugs-0424_6511015396fe9f74410fe81789a2b863-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

Duterte has certainly carried over his local crackdown on drugs from Mindanao over to the national sphere vowing to “kill criminals” including drug users and addicts. The crackdown on drugs has been called “state sanctioned killing” by Amnesty International as multiple reports allege that the police and military have been complicit in the extrajudicial killings. Major scandals from his mayoral days including charges of financial corruption and conflict of interest in addition to charges of human rights abuses.

The candidate with essentially no foreign policy or national governing experience has many hornets nests to handle including the challenge of China as an aggressor in the South China Sea (see previous posts for background), the long running war between minority Muslim rebels and the state within the Philippines, and major free trade agreements to consider. Finally, Duterte has controversially given former dictator Marcos an official burial in Manila’s cemetery of heroes, something that every sitting Filipino president has publicly refused to do.  Interestingly, this received quite a backlash from the public and from public figures such as his Vice President.

Did the arguments for Duterte justify his election? Corruption was already being tackled (although not completely eliminated) under the outgoing Aquino administration. And what of drugs – are they not an issue? The drug “menace” and the numbers related to drug users, actors, and dealers have been inflated. Duterte had claimed that there were 3.7 million drug addicts that Duterte said, “must be slaughtered.” The number inflation though has not been seen as a problem according to officials it is worth it to “increase awareness” and community involvement. These high numbers, more dangerously, have provided the impetus to increase the violent crackdown.

*factors such as total economic growth of 6.5%, a stable inflation rate of 2%, and a low national debt. Factors that would likely continue should foreign investment and other influences remain.
** the population earning $1.90 / day or less increased from 12% to 13% from 2009 to 2012.

Conclusion: Prescient Connections

Cut from the same mould?

Cut from the same mold?

If these descriptions of a rise of the Filipino president sound familiar to readers it is because they are eerily similar to those ascribed to Mr. Trump, the president elect in the U.S. Interesting connections can also be made to recent elections around the world including Narendra Modi in India where an outsider to current political trends won through populist appeal – although the level of incompetence, brutality, and boisterous disregard for decency to other human beings is not on the same level as Duterte and Trump.

What can we take away from our discussion of historical relations and recent presidential elections?

  • The Filipino election of Rodrigo Duterte has a connection to a populist backlash to the status quo – a status that ultimately was also recognized in the United States’ own election.
  • The United States’s century long relationship with the Philippines has at times been tenuous – and the imperial feeling overhanging the Philippines has continued with the adoption of the military bases and the inaction against the dictator Marcos
  • Both Duterte and President elect Trump have little / no political experience, are brutish and disregard issues related to human rights, and have financial connections that should be labeled as corruption.

Despite the issues surrounding Duterte, he does remain very popular among Filipinos – likely for his attitude of sticking with a campaign promise – something that Mr. Trump will likely have trouble doing.

Until the next upset election, your faithful historian,

Eric G. Prileson

Sources and Further Reads:,d.ZGg,d.ZGg

The Philippines’ vice president is passive-aggressively shaming Rodrigo Duterte on Twitter

Kinzer, Stephen. Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Times Books, 2006.


Image link:

Posted in American Intervention, Asia, colonialism, Elections, International Affairs, Justice, U.S. | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s the Deal With a Hot Middle East and Sahara?

Hello All,

leaving the comedy club deserted

leaving the comedy club deserted

Welcome to another edition of “WTD”, the blog whose humor is as dry as the Atacama.*

In this week’s post, we’ll chat about climate change’s effect on an already warm region of the world and how it may impact human migration and civilization patterns. We’ll also look at past migration patterns that have resulted from changing climactic events.

The Current: From Hot to Hotter to Unbearable

According to a new study, the regions of the Middle East and North Africa will experience a severe increase in extreme hot temperatures and dryness that may make human civilization in these areas unbearable. The study showed that by 2050, these regions will have hot days averaging 46 degrees Celsius (114 degrees Fahrenheit) and that these hot days will occur 5 times more frequently than present day.


Forecast for the next 3 decades

This warming trend as part of overall human induced climate change has occurred more drastically in the polar regions and in the desert regions. Since 1970, the number of extremely hot days in the Sahara and Middle East has doubled. If the current projections play out (even if the Paris agreements are followed), instead of 16 very hot days, this region will experience 80 such days. In the worst of projections (with current greenhouse gas emission levels), the number of hot days rises to 118, a frequency of temperature that would likely make the region unlivable for most human beings.

Climate Exodus and Migration

In addition to the extreme high temperatures, dust storms and particulates will also increase dramatically and likely increase pressure for human migration from those areas. If this is the future for the Middle East and North Africa, than more than 500 million people will be faced with the prospect of leaving their homes and parts of the roots of human civilization.

Big Populations light up the Middle East

Big Populations light up the Middle East

But the consequences of climate change are already inducing migration in the United States. This is the case especially in Louisiana where the state has lost a land mass the size of Delaware on the deltas in the Gulf of Mexico. For Isle de Jean Charles, a small island along the coast, has just received the first Federal Funds ($48 million) to move the entire community of 60 people to higher ground.

Although this is the first of its kind, it likely will not be the last resettlement for coastal communities or islands as there are 50 – 200 million people who will be the front lines to rising seas from the higher global temperatures and will face migration by 2050.

Has a changing climate affected human migration and survival before? What were the causes and results of those migratory patterns due to climate change? Let’s take a look at some historical and geological examples that could help shed some light on possible future events.

The Little Ice Age

A period of global cooling between the 14th and 19th centuries nicknamed the “Little Ice Age” saw global cooling occur on a scale of reduced temperature of about 1 degree Celsius. This had followed a Medieval Climate Anomaly that had lasted for 5 centuries. Popular accounts in the young United States include the “year without a summer” of 1816 in which New Englanders experienced snowstorms in June and severe crop shortages. The same time period also saw the River Thames ice over and good portions of Northern sea inlets freeze over, an unusual phenomenon. These are commonly depicted in popular European artwork.

ice skating on the Thames

ice skating on the Thames

More importantly, the global cooling period had a profound geopolitical effect.  Much of Europe depended on Cod (that’s right, the fish) whether salted as Bacalao or fresh for protein supplies. This vital resource began to migrate however as temperatures cooled and was one reason that seafaring nations began to construct ships capable of traveling further distances. This combined with the difficulties in trade and obstruction with the Islamic Empire which ruled the historical passages proved an impetus for exploration and the subsequent colonial expansion to the “New World.”

Though this large impact eventually brought about huge migrations (whether forced through bondage, religious persecution, or by choice) the most significant example of migration is the Irish Potato Famine which of course led to large Irish immigrants to the United States.

Note: The Little Ice Age and the Medieval Climate Anomaly are often cited as examples as to why current climate change and global warming are “nothing to worry about” and that Earth naturally experiences these changes and are not man-made. True enough that Earth does experience climactic changes, but they are due to natural occurrences such as increased volcanic activity and lower solar incidences (ie. solar flares, etc…).

Historical Responses to Climate Change

A recent study  from researchers at Washington State University on ancient civilizations between 500 AD – 1400 AD in the Pecos River region of current day New Mexico show that culture and geographic shift correlated with climactic shifts such as the 50 year long extreme drought that caused the abandonment of Chaco Canyon by the Chacoan peoples.

Chaco Canyon should not be confused with Choco Mountain

Chaco Canyon should not be confused with Choco Mountain

Using historical tree ring data and its effect on maize production, the authors argue that extreme droughts caused the peoples in the 4 corners area of the current day U.S. not only migrated, they changed their way of societal structure from one of economic hierarchy to one with a more communal emphasis. This is shown in the change in the physical living structures from one of differentiated home sizes to the more even “cookie cutter” variety.

A changing climate that upended tradition among agriculturally dependent societies must have resulted in intra-societal violence and in the end the authors argue that this changed the political situation significantly.

More to our current discussion of climate change’s effect on the Middle East, the historical record has an analogy for us to look to when it comes to climactic changes affecting major events in the Middle East. Another recent study looks at the fall of Constantinople (capital of the Eastern Roman Empire / Byzantium) and how a change of climate conditions may have contributed to the Byzantine collapse and fall of Constantinople in 1204 to the Islamic Empire.

Byzantium (Constantinople) with invasions included

Byzantium (Constantinople) with invasions included

The authors argue that continually arid winters and marked dryness in the 12th century followed by highly variable changes significantly affected the wheat production that had been so productive during more favorable conditions in the 10th and 11th centuries. This along with external political and military pressures was an important contributing factor to the Empire’s collapse. While Constantinople is not quite Syria, the pressures facing the people of that state also may include climactic pressures on food production and supplies. This of course was not a direct cause of the 2011 uprising and subsequent civil war, but could be a contributing factor.

Conclusion: The Migration Has Already Begun

Fresh off the boat, and influencing more xenophobic policies in Europe

Fresh off the boat, and influencing more xenophobic policies in Europe

The focus of the news the past 2 years has been on the refugee crisis on the Southern doorstep of Europe with people leaving behind conflicts and political turmoil in Syria, Afghanistan, Central Africa, and elsewhere. The refugees have already caused an uproar amongst the EU members and an economy that is still in the purgatory of recovery from the Great Recession. Imagine what the crisis will look like in 3 to 4 decades when temperatures force people to leave their homelands that will be suffering under an unrelenting sun.

the slowly fading isle and the new climate refugees of the U.S.

the slowly fading isle and the new climate refugees of the U.S.

As we discussed, many political turmoils have a background connection to climate changes, mostly in the realm of effects to agriculture. Now that we are beginning to the see the effects of human caused climate change to island nations from rising seas, record setting temperatures, and melting permafrost in tundra regions, the repercussions to human cultural change and migration patterns will be far more severe.

Many more people live on the planet than the historical examples given and especially in areas that will be hardest hit by the coming changes – from entire nations like the Philippines and Bangladesh, to regions such as the Middle East and North Africa. The difficulties that lie ahead even with more sanguine climate projections do not bode well for political calm.

Until the next heat wave,

Your Faithful Historian,

Eric G. Prileson

Sources and Further Reads:

Posted in environment, Science, Social Issues | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s the Deal With Public Health, The Environment and Race?

Hello All!

captured the general public's eye

Flint’s story has captured the general public’s eye

In this edition of WTD, we’ll discuss the high profile case of contaminated water in Flint, Michigan and how it connects with our community and social history of racial discrimination in housing and environmental concerns.

Throughout the history of the United States since the Industrial Revolution, the waste that we have produced from industry often has repercussions on our own people. What we have knowingly and sometimes purposely have done is contaminate residential areas where minorities live, or in the case of Flint, knowingly done nothing to easily fix a toxic system.

These stories are continuing examples of our struggle with providing equal opportunities for all people and of the large stumbling blocks that are ahead.

The Current: Toxic Lead – A Whole Generation in Flint Affected

The story of Flint, Michigan’s lead tainted water is a well known one thanks to the recent media coverage, so this will be a brief overview of events and current scenario:

In 2012, the management of the city of Flint passed over to a Governor appointed team of “Emergency Managers” whose goal was to reduce spending and make the city solvent because of a collapsing state pension and financial system. This was the case all over Michigan due to decreasing population and therefore a decreased tax base (a very brief synopsis).

In April 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan made the decision to switch their water from the Detroit system, which gets its water from Lake Huron, to getting water from the Lake directly. While the lengthy pipeline was being built, the city needed to get their water from somewhere, so in order to save money, the city managers decided to use water from the Flint River – a river long contaminated by the large GM auto manufacturer that was in Flint. Immediately, the Flint water showed issues such as E. Coli contamination, foul smells, and strange colors.



In addition, Flint residents began experiencing health issues such as rashes on the skin, clumps of hair falling out in the shower, and developing respiratory infections.

The river water is quite hard, meaning that it contains high levels of minerals (such as Magnesium, Calcium, etc…) and has a high pH that can be corrosive to metals. The water pipes carrying Flint’s potable water to houses and businesses are made of lead or are fitted using lead solder. As the corrosive Flint River water began flowing, it started to corrode the pipes allowing lead particulates into the drinking water of Flint residents. Usually, water officials add a chemical (corrosion inhibitors) that will prevent this corrosion, but this was not done until 2015 when the crisis had gone viral. Common corrosion inhibitors include silicates, carbonates, and hydroxides (eg. Sodium Hydroxide, NaOH). Important note: adding these chemicals is a FEDERAL REQUIREMENT and it was IGNORED. The corrosion of auto parts at the GM plant in Flint forced the hand of GM to use a different water source.

Levels of lead higher than the allowable 15 parts per billion (ppb) were first detected in Flint drinking water in 2013. Signs of the toxic heavy metal started showing themselves in Flint’s children in preschools and homes. The people of Flint were drinking, brushing their teeth, showering in, and cooking with water that was contaminated by lead.

See? It's fine!

See? It’s fine!

Meanwhile, officials were continuing to tout the water’s safety and more sinister, continuing to charge residents full water bills. In public, water officials and the Michigan Governor Rick Snyder claimed that to their knowledge, the water was perfectly safe.

This was even after tests by started showing that lead was indeed contaminating the water. Finally, in the fall of 2015, the Michigan government declared that there was indeed contamination of the water based on very recent testing and declared the water unsafe to drink and began adding the anti-corrosion agent and distributing bottled water.

Gov. Snyder was pretending to be blind to the crisis

Gov. Snyder was pretending to be blind to the crisis

At this time, major media coverage began focusing on the water contamination in Flint heavily, and the backlash against the Michigan government from the public outside of Flint was heavy. Then, it was revealed that Governor Snyder and his team of water managers knew many months before that the water was toxic, yet continued to claim its safety and collect bills for the tainted water. The National Guard was called in and began to distribute bottled water from public areas and people from around the country began donating bottled water and water filters to Flint.

But even the handling of the crisis has been an issue. The levels of lead in some homes are so high that the filters that have been handed out are useless. Even worse has been the mishandling of logistics. People having to cross town themselves on buses to pick up bottled water at fire stations and getting filters only to find that they don’t fit their faucets correctly.

Four questions from this unbelievable turn of events:

  1. Why, when the switch to Flint River water was made, was the anti-corrosive agent not added?
  2. Why was the lead contamination, though caught much earlier, not taken seriously by the Snyder administration?
  3. Why were water bills still collected and are still being collected now that the water is known to be toxic?
  4. Was Flint’s status as an economically depressed, poor, and mostly Black city play a role in its tainted water supply and subsequent government inaction?

As Governor Snyder declared in his state of the state address on January 19, his government failed the city of Flint and he apologized. But his apology fell on deaf ears for a city having been dealt a toxic hand and calls for his resignation being shouted outside the state house. Snyder’s government didn’t just fail Flint, they deliberately let the people of Flint be poisoned and then continued collecting money for tainted water.

bottled water: cases were donated

bottled water: cases were donated

Some people have come to the conclusion that given the state of Flint as 40% under the poverty line with a median salary level of $25,000, and majority African-American, that mainly voted for Governor Snyder’s opponent, that the city had little political clout. The city, because of financial issues, was being run under the auspices of un-elected officials who made the ultimate decision to switch to the Flint River water which led to the catastrophic results of water contamination and subsequent cover-up by the state.

Many lawsuits have since been drawn up against the state and an investigation by the justice department is underway to unravel what the state knew and to find those responsible. The future repercussions may be incalculable as a whole generation of young children in Flint are growing up with irreversible damage to their health and futures.

What’s So Bad About Lead?Water Contamination Crisis In Flint, Michigan

Lead is a neurotoxin, meaning that the heavy metal damages the nervous system in the body. In addition, lead can also negatively affect the kidneys and red blood cells. This is felt particularly in young children whose brains are developing at rapid rates and for pregnant women who are carrying a fetus or developing child. Development and growth can be stunted permanently by significant lead exposure. It can cause irritability, aggression, attention deficit, slow cognitive abilities,  and slow development that is irreversible. In addition, lead exposure can cause behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, anemia, and hearing problems.

The original safe level for drinking water was set at 50 ppb in 1991 under the Lead Copper Rule that is part of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, but has since been amended to 15 ppb as an “Action Level” where if the level is at 15 ppb or above, action must be taken to reduce lead levels. There is NO safe level of lead that can be consumed especially for children as the possible effects can have such devastating consequences.

Corroded lead pipe

Corroded lead pipe

As the New York Times recently reported, Flint is not the only place in the country where lead contamination of drinking water is a big issue. Many counties are dealing with older systems that use lead pipes are faced with funding shortfalls, and are seeing rising numbers of cases of lead in their people’s drinking water.

Have environmental toxins played a major role in shaping community development and causing action? Has environmental justice been an issue that showcases our fractured social history in the U.S.?

Let’s take a look at some examples from history that exemplify the correlation of race and poverty to environmental contamination and public failure of protection.

Environmental Contamination and Race: A Startling Connection

The events of the past and the data from them is clear enough to show definitively that people of color in the U.S. are more likely to live in areas exposed to toxic contamination and that many incinerators, trash dumps, toxic waste areas and industrial activity has been deliberately located in neighborhoods with people of color. The research done so far points to deliberate policy decisions on housing and segregation as major factors and not to market driven forces as reasons behind the disproportionate impact on minorities.

Rev. Ben Chavis, right, raises his fist as fellow protesters are taken to jail at the Warren County PCB landfill

Rev. Ben Chavis, right, raises his fist as fellow protesters are taken to jail at the Warren County PCB landfill

The oft-cited catalyst for the Environmental Justice movement is the case of a landfill to hold PCBs (poly-chlorinated bi-phenyls) in Warren County, North Carolina from 1982.  The landfill was chosen to be placed in the community of Afton which was 84% black and who primarily owned their own homes and operated single wells for water. Despite vehement opposition because of the possibilities of water contamination, the landfill went ahead as planned and demonstrations followed with hundreds of protesters arrested.

A Department of Defense depot in Memphis, Tennessee operated between 1942 – 1997 is situated very near many residential homes and schools (some within 100 yds) in communities that are predominately black. The depot drained toxic lead, PCBs, arsenic, chromium, and mercury in to the air and water. Many incidents of cancer and endocrine system diseases have resulted which many residents say have been ignored despite the efforts of clean up of the site since 1992 when the site was designated a superfund site by the EPA.

The trash incinerator in Miami known as "Old Smokey"

The trash incinerator in Miami known as “Old Smokey”

In the segregated black and Bahamian immigrant neighborhood of Coconut Grove in Miami, a trash incinerator was built in 1925 adjacent to neighborhood houses and local schools. The smoke stack known as “Old Smokey” belched black smoke and toxic chemicals from the trash it was burning into the air and contaminated the water and soil of the surrounding areas for 45 years until being shut down in 1970.

Despite its closure, exposure to the toxic area was not tracked and officials kept their mouths shut for many years until the information went public in 2011. The testing of soil in present day parks and schools continues but the repercussions have been permanently damaging. Clusters of cancer cases in the neighborhood seemed to be a mystery until the revelation of the contamination was made known.

These are but three of the cases of neighborhoods of color being disproportionately affected by the placement or location of waste dumps or toxic pollutants. The data collected by reports since the 1970s confirms the pattern is not isolated to a few cases.

A study conducted shortly after the Warren County protests by the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice found that 40% of the estimated capacity of hazardous waste sites were located in primarily black zip codes and that race was the predominant factor in the location of these sites – even when income was factored out, race was the largest factor, signifying that the phenomenon was not market 2016-02-13 12-28-40

A more recent study in Massachusetts in 2002 found that communities of color and low income communities are home to more hazardous waste sites and facilities and experience higher exposure to lead from paint or soil contamination. In Massachusetts, cumulative exposure in low income communities in 3 – 4 times higher than in other communities.

A California study from 2001 found strong links between race/ethnicity and exposure to toxic air pollutants. In Los Angeles schools, the researchers found that minority students suffered the most air pollution exposure and linked this exposure to poorer achievement in schools after factoring out income level and family education background.

Another 2001 study focused only in Los Angeles county researched the location of high capacity toxic waste storage facilities and found a positive correlation between minority community percentage and location of the facility. That is, the facilities were located disproportionately in minority 2016-02-19 10-52-41

The same study also found little evidence for the “Minority Move-In” hypothesis that suggests that location of waste areas and minority communities is market driven – meaning that since the area has a toxic landfill, the housing market is cheaper and attracts folks with lower incomes (which are more likely to be minority). Interestingly, the researchers of the LA study found a negative correlation for minority-move in, meaning that once a facility was installed, minority groups were less likely to move in.

The study’s central lesson: “Minorities attract TSDFs (toxic waste storage disposal facilities), but TSDFs do not generally attract minority residents.”

A 2004 study in Alabama found that of 29 garbage dumps considered in the study, 20 were in areas that were primarily African-American, low income, or both.

Most recently, a report from 2014 on Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) pollutant exposure found that there is a large disparity of exposure between white and non-white populations in the U.S. The study found that non-whites experience (4.6 ppb) 38% higher exposure levels of NO2 from pollution than whites do. NO2 is a pollutant mainly emitted from the burning of fossil fuels and from combustion engines of automobiles.

The Health Impact from Environmental Injustice

The disproportionate locale of pollution and toxic dumping sites in areas where minority groups live in the United States has had a significant impact on public health. Higher rates of asthma, incidents of cancer, and certain learning disabilities in communities of color are all correlated with toxin exposure from waste sites, incinerators, and dumps.

asthma mortality rates: black vs. white

Asthma mortality rates: black vs. white

One of the consequences of exposure to air pollution is an increase in asthma, a respiratory condition that if untreated can lead to serious issues or death. According to the American Lung Association, the hospitalization rate for asthma is three times as high for black children than white children and emergency room treatment is four times as high, and death rates for asthma are six to ten times as high for black children aged 10 – 14 than white children. (the high asthma rates minorities are compounded by a lower percentage of access to health care).

Exposure to toxins is also related to higher rates of cancer. Morello-Frosch and Jesdale used Census and EPA data to research the effects of segregation and risk of air toxin exposure and cancer rates. Their results showed that higher rates of segregation correlated with higher exposure rates for minority groups and that this may be impacting the health of those populations significantly.

As segregation increases, cancer rates increase, especially for Latinos, Asians, and Blacks

As segregation increases, cancer rates increase, especially for Latinos, Asians, and Blacks

Many of the toxins already discussed such as cadmium, arsenic, PCBs, and others are carcinogens or probable carcinogens according to the EPA and are present in higher concentrations in minority communities in the U.S. leading to the increased health issues and cancer rates.


Conclusion: Lack of Political Power Creates Segregation of Toxic Exposure

The story in Flint is heartbreaking and at the same time worrisome: How many other communities out there are being exposed to toxins because of mismanagement and frugality?

The explanation for why this happened, however, runs a bit deeper. The history of segregation and disproportionate exposure to toxins reveals specific patterns that the data backs up:

  • Minority groups live near and are exposed to toxins at much higher rates than whites.
  • Toxic waste areas have been located in minority neighborhoods at much higher rates than whites
  • Minorities suffer the health consequences of higher toxic exposure with higher rates of cancer from waste toxins and asthma from air pollution.

What are the explanations behind these facts and how does it connect to the Flint crisis?

limiting housing options for lower income Americans

limiting housing options for lower income Americans

Several key areas of public policy have helped to create the problem of segregated toxin exposure. The reduction in low income public housing options along with exclusionary zoning (which reduces the amount of land can be used for low income housing in urban areas), and infrastructure investment (such as reliable & effective transportation) are certainly partly to blame, but the concentration of political power from the use of gerrymandering has helped to take the political power away from communities of color.

This helps to explain the decision making on placement / location of toxic dumps as well as slow or lack of response for toxic exposure to things like tainted water.


Shouldn’t need political clout to clean up public drinking water

Although it is difficult to concretely prove, race clearly has also been a significant factor in placement of waste dumps and in slow public responses. Responses from white communities have more political clout as evidenced by Flint residents who remark that the crisis would have not happened or would have gotten a faster action in a majority white town. The filmmaker and activist Michael Moore has gone so far as to say that the city of Flint was left to be poisoned, to be ignored because it was majority black, poor, and had no political clout.

Many have attempted to explain away these issues as simply a result of the housing market and the purchasing power of the people who live there – meaning that since housing is cheaper in hazardous areas, it is simply the lower income folks who live in these areas out of their own financial decisions.

This argument does not stand up to the research and data collected which shows that race and not income is the determining factor for locations of waste dumps and toxin exposure. Lower incomes do seem to have an impact in a related arena, however, which may help to explain the data. The poor and minority groups (regardless of income) do not have as high an impact on politics because of their tax base and strategic interests. This lack of political clout therefore tends to leave out minority groups and lower income brackets when it comes to decision making in public policy.

So what have we learned from all this information? Or did we learn anything?

This article, aside from the current event aspect of the Flint water poisoning, is more of summary of facts that support a part of the growing realization for white America: that despite many gains including the leadership of the nation’s highest political office; discrimination, segregation, and unequal treatment for minority groups are alive and present. Looking at the current gaggle of Republican presidential candidates and their supporters is also clear evidence for this. While this article has focused on the issue of environmental injustice, it is part of a much larger overall pattern.

Until the next water crisis,

Your Faithful Historian,

Eric G. Prileson


Sources and Further Reads:

Josh Sanburn, The Toxic Tap, Time Magazine, January 2016, pg. 33-39.

Rachel Massey, Environmental Justice: Income, Race, and Health, Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University

Manuel Pastor, Jr., Jim Sadd, and John Hipp, “Which Came First? Toxic Facilities, Minority Move-In, and Environmental Justice,” Journal of Urban Affairs, Vol. 23, Number 1, pgs. 1 – 21. 2001.

Rachel Morello-Frosch and Manuel Pastor, Jr., “Pollution, Communities, and Schools: A Portrait of Environmental Justice on Southern California’s ‘Riskscape.’” DifferenTakes (Spring 2001).

John Davis, “Most Alabama Dumps Sit in Poor or Black Areas,” Montgomery Advertiser, Sept. 8, 2004

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