News You May Have Missed July 22, 2019

Be inspired–by the protestors in Puerto Rico, by the four activists who have hounded Big Pharma for twenty years, by the attorneys working doggedly to protect the rights of asylum-seekers, by the reporters who uncover these stories, and by Martha, Sarah-Hope and Susan Rogan, who offer significant ways to respond to the news.


1. New Rule blocks most asylum-seekers

A new rule, published in the Federal Register, bars asylum-seekers who pass through another country on the way to the U.S. from seeking asylum in the U.S., according to the LA Times. Unless civil rights organizations succeed in getting it blocked, as of Tuesday asylum requests on the southern border could only be made by Mexican citizens. All other asylum-seekers would be expected to request asylum from the first nation they enter. This rule would apply to all asylum-seekers, including unaccompanied children. Individuals who are refused asylum in the first nation they enter could then continue to the U.S. to request asylum, but the asylum process can take years. For example, if this rule holds, a Guatemalan or Honduran asylum-seeker could not come directly to the US to request asylum; they would have to request asylum in Mexico or any other country they passed through, a process which would take a very long time. A coalition of organizations that serve immigrants filed suit in federal court the day after the policy was announced, according to the NY Times. S-HP

If you want to ask your members of Congress to keep the U.S. a welcoming country, here is how to find addresses. If you want to comment for the public record, here is the Federal Register site.

2. ICE won’t release detainees to family, sponsors

Congresspeople visiting the detention center in McAllen, Texas were horrified by the cries of babies and toddlers, by the level of filth, and by the refusal of ICE to release detainees, even children, to family members or sponsors–even though the facilities are overwhelmed and overcrowded, according to People magazine. California representative Jackie Speier’s twitter feed has details. RLS

If you wish to speak up about conditions in detention centers, addresses are here.

3. FBI and ICE using drivers’ license photos without permission

In early July, the Washington Post reported that over the past five years the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been making use of state drivers’ license databases, scanning photos into their facial recognition program without consent of state legislators or individual license holders. While law enforcement can have access to data taken from criminal suspects, the vast majority of citizens whose data is now being taken are law-abiding citizens.

As has been repeatedly reported, facial recognition software is still unreliable, particularly in identification of people of color. For instance, in a test of facial recognition software last year by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amazon’s facial recognition software falsely identified thirty-eight members of Congress as people who had been arrested for crimes. California, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have privacy legislation on the books preventing this sort of sharing of Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) databases—and Oregon asserts that it has privacy legislation of a scope that would also prohibit such database use. However, as the Vermont ACLU recently revealed, while the state has privacy legislation that should prevent this sort of data sharing, the state’s DMV has allowed law enforcement full access to license databases on a number of occasions. In fact, the Vermont use of DMV databases disproportionately focused on individuals of color. Blacks were targeted in such database searches at seven times the rate whites were. Hispanics were targeted at rates twelve times higher than were whites. S-HP

If you want to speak up about privacy protection vis a vis drivers’ licenses, the addresses are here.

4. Puerto Rico’s government shaken by chat messages, inaction, corruption

Protestors have rocked Puerto Rico for over a week, demanding an end of corruption and lack of action on long-standing economic and social issues following Hurricane Maria, the Washington Post reports. Igniting the protests was the release of 889 pages of chat messages, in which Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his associates make fun of their opponents, female journalists, and those who lost everything in the hurricane. You can read the messages (in Spanish) here. Though thousands of people have been in the streets and the governor faces impeachment, the mainstream media noticed only yesterday (July 20), as Columbia Journalism Review points out. RLS

5. Opioid epidemic

76 billion opioid pills, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths, were distributed across the US, according to new data obtained following a lawsuit by the Charleston Gazette-Mail and the Washington Post. The chain of responsibility runs from manufacturers–the original producer, Purdue Pharma and the three generic companies who now produce most of the pills–to distributors to unethical pharmacies and doctors to desperate patients and addicts. The DEA had devolved regulatory responsibility to the industry, for the most part, and when it tried to intervene found its hands tied by members of Congress who pushed through legislation favorable to the industry. When companies were fined, the fines were miniscule compared to profits.

Areas where people are suffering from work injuries and from economic stress–such as Appalachia–were flooded with opioids. You can see how many pills (per person per year) went to your county between 2006-2012 at the Post’s site. The truth about Big Pharma’s culpability in oxycontin addiction was first articulated twenty years ago by activists–just four of them–who had lost family members to the disease. As their numbers grew, they became an implacable force, according to the New York Times.

Canada, which also has an opioid crisis, has launched a new initiative to make naloxone, which can reverses overdoses, more readily available, according to the CBC. Already, anyone can get a free naloxone kit at any pharmacy. Canada’s very detailed Pain Task Force Report, released in June, clearly identifies the suffering of people who live with chronic pain and cannot get opioids or who become addicted to them, describes how acute pain becomes chronic pain, and explains options for treatment. RLS

6. Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Pramila Jayapal have introduced a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights (S.2112 in the Senate; H.R.3760 in the House). This legislation would include domestic workers in basic workplace protections like overtime pay and freedom from harassment and discrimination, from which they are now excluded, according to Elle. It requires written contracts for such workers and access to healthcare and retirement benefits. The legislation also includes enforcement provisions including “know your rights” information and a confidential hotline for reporting violations of the act. S.2112 Is with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. H.R.3760 is with five (!) House committees: Education and Labor; Energy and Commerce; Ways and Means; Judiciary; and Oversight and Government Reform. S-HP

If you want to urge prompt action on these bills, write to these folks.

7. Accounting firms supporting ICE

McKinsey Consulting has ended its contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but several major accounting firms continue to work with ICE, often despite employee objections, according to Newsweek. A quick rundown on some of these:

-Ogilvy and Mather has contracts with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to recruit new CBP employees. In defending these contracts Chief Executive Officer John Seifert has claimed that Ogilvy and Mather is not doing any work against its values and beliefs.

-Deloitte U.S. has $140 million in ICE contracts. Chief Executive Officer Joe Ucuzoglu has been a strong advocate for workplace diversity and for LGBTQ rights. U.S. Board Chair Janet Foutty worked on behalf of girls, via MakerGirl and Storycatchers, during corporate Impact Day.

-PricewaterhouseCoopers has $5 million in ICE contracts for “detention compliance and removals.” Their corporate human rights statement notes “we depend on each other to be mindful of our ethical responsibilities.” S-HP

If you want to inquire how corporate values are served by child detention camps, here are the relevant addresses.


8. Humanitarian aid diverted to the opposition in Venezuela

A July 11 memo, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, notified Congress that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is transferring $41.9 million earmarked for humanitarian aid to Juan Guaido and his party, who have been operating in opposition to the country’s President Nicolas Maduro. According to the Los Angeles Times, “All of the money being diverted will go to Guaido and his faction, the memo said, to pay for their salaries, airfare, ‘good governance’ training, propaganda, technical assistance for holding elections and other ‘democracy-building’ projects.” The humanitarian aid was previously earmarked for Guatemala and Honduras and would have been used in anti-poverty and anti-violence projects. The logic of the transfer is questionable, given the administration’s focus on ending the movement of asylum-seekers from these two nations to the U.S. If there is no hope of improving conditions in Guatemala and Honduras, asylum-seekers have all the more reason to begin the journey north. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the re-routing of humaniarian aid, here are the addresses.

9. Syrian refugees may be deported

In less than two weeks, Syrians with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the U.S. will hear whether they’re at risk of deportation to a war zone. There aren’t many options left for Syrians fleeing humanitarian crises created by eight years of war. Syrian families with TPS were already forced to flee nearly a decade of incessant attacks from the Assad regime, Iran, Russia, the Islamic State, and the United States’ bombing campaigns in cities like Raqqa. If TPS is ended, Syrians will be vulnerable to deportation—to a war zone amidst humanitarian crises of mass food insecurity, lack of access to health care, and torture that the U.S. hasn’t meaningfully helped stop. So far, the most effective strategy to pressure the Homeland Security and State Departments to keep TPS for Syria—is for Congress to make noise, issue statements and defend TPS. S-HP

If you’re in favor of TPS status for Syrian refugees, you can speak up here.


10. Plan to help agriculture sequestered

Politico has reported on a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plan, completed in 2017 in the early part of the Trump administration, for dealing with climate change. Public release of the plan, a follow-up to a 2010 plan that had been publicly released, was blocked by the new administration. The plan was intended to help agriculture anticipate and respond to the effects of climate change. It examined what would be necessary to make agriculture carbon neutral. It outlined essential research that should be conducted to meet the needs of the nation over the next five to eight years. It documented the ways climate change is already affecting U.S. farming and ranching. It specifically considered the impact of climate change on insect populations, crop maturation, and livestock reproductivity. Finally, the plan called on the USDA to “increase public awareness of climate change.” S-HP

If you would like to urge that this (publically funded) research be released, write to the addresses listed here.

11. Another toxic pesticide spared by Trump

In a victory for the chemical industry and agribusiness, the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump appointee Andrew Wheeler has decided not to ban the chemical chlorpyrifos, despite well-researched damage to children’s health. Conceding that the agency would continue to “monitor” the use of the chemical through 2022, the agency concluded that the data presented supporting a ban was not “sufficiently valid, complete or reliable,” according to the New York Times. Sold under the name Lorsban, it has already been banned for household use but remains in use in agriculture on hundreds of thousands of acres in California alone. The EPA had moved to ban the chemical in 2015 under the presidency of Barack Obama, citing research done by the agency itself showing potential harm to brain development in children. However, the ban had not yet come into effect when it was stopped by the Trump EPA in 2017. The move to regulate the use of chlorpyrifos now moves to the states where Hawaii has already banned it, with New York and California considering bans.  

If you would like to recommend stronger action on chlorpyrifos, the people on this list need to hear from you.

12. Popular browser extensions provide user data for sale 

An investigative report by the Washington Post has found that six popular web browser extensions offered for use by both the Firefox and Chrome browsers have been compiling user data and offering it for sale. The extensions are Hover Zoom, SpeakIt!, SuperZoom,, Helper, FairShare Unlock and PanelMeasurement, with over four million combined users. Consumers may be under the assumption that browser extensions must abide by the brower’s privacy policies; however, this is not so. Each has their own end-user agreements which explicitly state they collect user data, with two saying they collect browsing data. End-user agreements have long been criticized as insufficient for disclosure purposes as consumers simply do not read them in the vast majority of cases. Upon being informed, both Mozilla (the maker of Firefox) and Google (the maker of Chrome) deactivated the extensions, according to Digital Trends. Cited in the Post’s piece is a massive study revealing organizations that sell your data: scroll 3/4 of the way down and be amazed.


Art & Climate Change

What is the role of the artist and our art institutions during the climate emergency?  The keynote address of ART&CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019 features Beka Economopoulos and Jason Jones of the Natural History Museum, a collective that works at the intersection of art, activism, and theory.  You can skip the first 10 minutes of credits and donor thanks. To learn more about the Natural History (pop-up) Museum, take a look at their website.

As biodiversity is depleted, so is linguistic diversity

An interesting look at how we frame the world with our choice of words – and why it matters.  This piece from Jstor daily is one you’ll want to hold on to–and it is packed with useful links. A new word to learn: ecolinguistics.

“A Guide to Essential, Underrated, and Flat-Out Extraordinary Films by Black Women Directors”

The headline says it all: an amazing list of more than 50 films by black women directors, many with links for online viewing.


  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist recommends this list of actions you can take to address issues at the border.
  • Sarah-Hope’s recommendations for action are linked to the stories above; to see the whole list–including her brilliant riff on impeachment–look here.
  • Martha’s list offers opportunities to comment for the public record on a multitude of issues, including changes to long-term care, natural gas drilling in Alaska, increased plutonium production, and much more.
  • Rogan’s list is a weekly repository of news items and ways to respond to them–always responsible and reliable.