News You May Have Missed: November 17, 2019

The losses over the last three years are legion. But so are the heroes–activists, lawyers, political analysts, reporters, and ordinary people trying to survive these times. We continue to recommend Heather Cox Richardson’s nightly analyses of the day’s news. See her astonishing summary (November 16) of a speech by Attorney General William Barr–and shudder.

With her permission, we are quoting health journalist Heather Boerner‘s post on reporters: “My main gratitude right now and every day is the quality of reporting happening in news organizations right now. This is what we were all trained for, and few of us ever thought we’d see this day. Covering breaking news is an exhausting, altruistic act of self-neglect on the part of journalists.

“I guarantee you that the people reporting this news at big organizations but also at small, are not eating or eating candy bars out of vending machines, not sleeping, and on constant adrenaline and caffeine. My closest experience with this was when I was at the Santa Cruz Sentinel during 9/11, and, earlier, when I stood outside an elected official’s office in Cathedral City, California, as FBI agents ran a search warrant. I was small potatoes, and I wasn’t in the fire every day for three years the way these reporters are.

“Send them food. Send them gift certificates for massages. Send them encouraging messages. This work is demanding. Reporters’ energy levels are not a renewable energy if they are running at full speed for weeks and months on end. That’s what this administration has been.

“So my wish is that you thank a journalist today. Find a journalist’s Twitter account or Facebook, and thank them for doing this work. And if you can’t manage that, because you believe the stories of the conspiracy against a certain president, at least just shut up for a day. Reporters know what they’re signing up for, yes. But they’re also human. And they deserve to be treated as human.”


1. Possible one-year amnesty for undocumented family members of veterans

ICE does not know how many veterans it has deported, nor has it followed its own policies, according to a Government Accountability Office report. On Veteran’s Day, an editorial in USA Today on the continuing deportation of veterans opens with a description of the privately funded Deported Veterans Support House, located across the border in Tijuana, and those who use its services: “Once inside, you might be greeted by veterans who are miles away from their homes and their families and denied access to the benefits they earned, need, and are still eligible for under the law…. These brave men and women have protected our freedoms and swore an oath to defend our Constitution against all enemies. In return, America made these recruits a promise: citizenship in exchange for service. Our government and our military have failed these veterans.”

Senator and wounded war combat veteran Tammy Duckworth spent Veteran’s Day in Mexico with some of these veterans. Along with a group of nine Democratic Senate colleagues, Duckworth has introduced the Military Family Parole in Place Act (S.2797), which is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee. This legislation would not prevent the deportation of veterans, but would allow a series of one-year amnesties for veterans’ immediate family members who are undocumented and hope to become citizens. S-HP

To advocate for an end to deportation of U.S. veterans and for their right to access veterans’ services, and/or to support the Military Family Parol in Place Act, you can write the appropriate committee chairs–addresses are here.

2. Trump would charge asylum-seekers to apply

Asylum-seekers would have to pay a $50 to apply for asylum, as well as a $490 fee for a work permit, under new rules proposed by the Trump administration. Historically, asylum seekers, who come to the U.S. fleeing persecution and life-threatening violence, are not charged fees. In fact, at the moment, only three countries charge a fee for asylum applications: Iran, Fiji, and Australia. The U.S. would become the fourth. In addition, the new rules would raise citizenship fees by more than 60%, from $725 to $1170, with even larger increases in some cases. Participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) would be charged $765, rather than $495, for renewal applications. As the New York Times reported, Doug Rand, a founder of Boundless Immigration, a technology company in Seattle that supports immigrants, described the new rules this way: “It’s an unprecedented weaponization of government fees.” S-HP

These new rules are open for public comment until December 16.

3. Labor shenanigans: Half-pay for overtime?

If your hours vary weekly and you work overtime, your employer could pay you half your hourly salary for hours over 40, not time-and-a half, under new rules proposed by the Department of Labor. The Department says it is updating “the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “fluctuating workweek” compensation method, according to Bloomberg.

This new rule on overtime is open to public comment. Here’s how to get your comment on record.

4. Graduate student instructors: They aren’t really working?

Graduate students who teach and do research at private universities would not be considered employees, under new rules proposed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The rules would treat paid work students perform in their fieldsas part of their studies, rather than as employment. This would take away the right to unionize for many, many student employees performing functions vital to universities. In particular, this would hurt graduate students, who are often responsible for a significant proportion of undergraduate courses—including all classroom instruction and grading—at most large colleges and universities. Science has the context and history of this debate. S-HP

If you want to affirm that student employees are employees and have the right to be treated as such, including the right to union representation, instructions on commenting are here.

5. No “buffer” from pesticides for farmworkers

Farmworkers will be at greater risk of pesticide exposure if new rules from the EPA reducing the size of buffer zones go through. As Bee Culture explains, “At present, a buffer zone of 25 feet is required around sprayer rigs that release large droplets more than 12 inches above the ground, and a 100-foot zone is required for aerial, air blast, and ground applications that release fine or very fine droplets as well as fumigations, mists, and foggers.” Under current regulations, buffer zones can extend beyond a farmer’s property line if spraying is being done along property borders and must be immediately halted if anyone enters the buffer zone, regardless of property ownership, according to the trade journal Successful Farming. Under the proposed change, buffer zones would end at property boundaries–but of course, pesticides do not recognize boundaries. Pesticide draft is known to be a source of illness among farmworkers, according to a 2017 article in Mother Jones, as well as among school chidren, when schools are built near agricultural fields. S-HP

If you want to go on record explaining that pesticides don’t recognize property lines, the information on how to do so is here.

6. Publishing giant Macmillan squeezes out libraries

The publisher Macmillan has instituted a new “embargo” policy regarding e-book sales to libraries, allowing for only one “copy” to be sold to each library for the first eight weeks after a book is released. The company claims, drawing on unknown sources, that 45 percent of all “reads” of their e-books are consumed for free via libraries–which they say depresses sales, Publishers Weekly reports. Libraries have responded that the change makes very little sense, pointing out that libraries traditionally spur demand for literature and as a result book sales. In an era where every consumer has a vast variety of entertainment options, theconcern is that without libraries to instill a love of reading people will simply cease reading.  JC


7. Evidence that Down Syndrome may be treatable

Some of the cognitive deficits caused by Down Syndrome can be reversed with drugs, at least in mice, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California San Francisco and Baylor College of Medicine. According to their research, published in the journal Science, mice genetically engineered to have the same physiological changes as are found in humans with Down Syndrome were able to have much of their cognitive impairment reversed via a drug therapy that restored a key protein production in the brain’s hippocampus. The hippocampus is a key part of both the formation of long-term memories and learning. The protein produced in hippocampus cells is up to 39% reduced in the altered mice, and similar reductions have been found in human brains with Down Syndrome as well. It is thought that a stress response is the mechanism inhibiting protein production; the cell’s self monitoring system detects the extra chromosome found in people with Down Syndrome and in a protective measure reduces protein production. The drug therapy reduces the stress response, thereby raising protein production and allowing the treated mice to markedly improve on two memory and learning tests, UCSF reports. JC

8. EPA’s new rule would permit it to overlook research in public health policy

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be able to set aside research when making public health policy, if it decides that the public has insufficient access to the data on which the policy was based, Science reports. Especially alarming is that policy could be re-evaluated on this basis retroactively. The proposed policy–which should be open for public comment next year–is particularly aimed at policies to reduce pollution that damages health, according to the Washington Post. While public access to evidence, seems like it should be a good thing, it could compromise the confidentiality of patients and research subjects. The New York Times quoted Linda Birnbaum, who just retired as director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences , as saying, “It will practically lead to the elimination of science from decision-making.” RLS

9. Clean Water Act in danger of repeal

Under new Trump administration rules, the Clean Water Act would be effectively repealed, making it much easier for pollution to enter drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed undoing what is called “the 2015 Waters of the United States” rule, crafted during the Obama administration, as the New York Times explains. This change would drastically reduce the number of streams, headlands, and wetlands subject to clean water protections, making it easier to discharge chemicals into bodies of water without requiring a federal permit. The move would also end rules on types of ploughing, planting, and pesticide use intended to prevent dangerous agricultural runoff into bodies of water. Some of the provisions of the Clean Water Act may be protected by state law, as in California, according to the National Law Review. Official comments on this proposal are due by December 23.

If you want object to this destructive rule change and its likely effect on the quality of drinking water and groundwater, the information on how to do so is here.


  • The Americas of Conscience Checklist offers a number of positive advocacy opportunities.
  • If you want to systematically work through some opportunities to comment on pending rules, Sarah-Hope’s entire list is here.
  • Martha’s list provides opportunities to comment on Keystone XL, the reduction in food stamps, cuts to food stamps, fast-tracked nuclear reactors, restrictions on LGBTQ adoptions, and much more.
  • Rogan’s list also has a number of ways to speak up–about detained children, voter suppression, Stephen Miller’s white nationalism–and more.
  • Chrysostom has a comprehensive round-up of election news.