A Meaty New Report
February 5, 2021
It’s time to play… Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader (if that 5th grader read a TON of news). Test your knowledge of recent world news with this short quiz. Submissions must be made by 12pm EST Monday, 2/8. The winner, announced Wednesday, will win bragging rights for the week as well as a free Daily Pnut t-shirt.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin
House Subcommittee Files A Meaty New Report
(Mark Reinstein via Getty Images)
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the meat industry in the U.S. has struggled to contain the spread of Covid-19 in its facilities. Meatpacking plants, rife with long-standing hazards, have been home to some of the worst workplace outbreaks in the country. This week, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis launched an investigation into the industry’s lack of preparedness and failure to stop the spread.
The subcommittee’s investigation will focus on JBS, Smithfield Foods, and Tyson Foods, all of which the subcommittee claims have “refused to take basic precautions to protect their workers” and have “shown a callous disregard for workers’ health.” The workers, many of whom are immigrants and refugees, are not granted any sick leave. To date, more than 50,000 meatpacking workers have been infected, resulting in at least 250 deaths.
The companies under scrutiny claim they spent hundreds of millions of dollars to put in place coronavirus protections and temporarily increase benefits and pay, but the House subcommittee says they could — and should — have done more.
15 years ago, the White House worked with food and agriculture executives to create a plan to sustain the country’s critical services in the event of a pandemic. The report instructed companies to prepare for significant numbers of workers to be absent due to illness, support social distancing in manufacturing plants, and collaborate with local health officials to maintain safe plants. 15 years later, the companies under investigation had enacted almost none of the recommendations for pandemic readiness.
So, when the pandemic started tearing through the U.S. last March, meatpacking plants found themselves scrambling to enable social distancing for workers and find enough masks for workers, many of whom reportedly had to wear old t-shirts and sleep masks to cover their faces.
Under the last presidential administration, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the federal agency tasked with penalizing companies for such hazardous behavior, issued only a “few meager fines” and waited months after receiving complaints from meatpacking plants before conducting any investigations.
It’s unclear what will come of this House investigation. If the past is any clue, after many public hearings, these gargantuan meat companies will be forced to pay fines that, while large, make up only a small fraction of their annual revenues. And the foundational hazards will remain unchanged. But it’s a new administration, a new Congress, and anything is possible. (ProPublica)
Will These Farmers Beat Their Swords Back Into Plowshares?
(Amal Ks via Getty Images)
- After negotiations between Indian labor protestors and the government paused last week due to clashes between protestors and police, the US embassy to India has called for both sides to resume talks in order to end one of the largest strikes in human history.
- On January 26th, protestors fought police in the heart of New Delhi, India’s capital city, leading to the pause in negotiations, increased military presence and fortifications, and Internet and social media shutdowns. After the skirmishes, international celebrities and public figures including Rihanna and Greta Thunberg spoke out to bring attention to the protests.
- The conflict originally erupted two months ago, when the Indian government introduced legislation weakening government regulation of agriculture in the name of economic growth. The new laws would repeal minimum prices for certain crops and allow private companies more free reign, which farmers see as an attack on their already-weak protections under previous labor rules. Over 60% of India’s 1.3 billion people are dependent on agriculture for their income. (Reuters)
Misery Loves Company. Apparently So Does Democratic Decline
- According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), an economic and political research group, democracy took a step back in 2020. According to the group’s annual Democracy Index, just 8.4% of the world lived in fully democratic countries last year, while over a third lived under authoritarian rule, with the global average democracy index score sinking down to 5.37 out of 10, its lowest point since the Index was established in 2006.
- In 2021 alone, the world has seen many examples of this democratic decline: a military coup occurred on Monday in Myanmar, Russian dissident Alexei Navalny was sentenced to 32 months in jail for supposedly violating probation after seeking medical treatment for an assassination attempt that almost killed him, the Indian government has targeted protestors with social media and Internet shutdowns, and former US President Trump attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and sparked a violent invasion of the Capitol.
- One possible reason for this decline was the need for increased government restrictions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year’s results are part of a longer global trend. According to Freedom House, a nonpartisan organization also dedicated to studying democracy, over 100 countries have seen their freedoms decline since 2016 while only a few have trended upwards. The EIU’s Democracy Index has shown a similar pattern, with its global democracy index declining each year since 2015. (WaPo, $)
Additional World News
- Myanmar coup: army blocks Facebook access as civil disobedience grows (Guardian)
- Mexican police charged in massacre of Guatemalan migrants near U.S. border (WaPo, $)
- Ukraine, Iran and Taiwan are banning vaccines made by geopolitical rivals (WaPo, $)
- Former Uganda Militia Leader Is Convicted of War Crimes (NYT, $)
- Inside the Shadowy Militias Luring Unsuspecting Afghans to Fight, or Die (NYT, $)
- Canada has designated the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization (Vox)
- Dublin and EU reject call to scrap Northern Ireland Brexit protocol (Guardian)
- Biden to pursue arms control, seeks to engage China, U.S. envoy says (Reuters)
- Why jailing Navalny may mean more problems for Putin (BBC)
- UK pulls license of Chinese state-owned broadcaster CGTN (CNN)
- Bangladesh jails 50 for 2002 attack on PM Sheikh Hasina’s convoy (Al Jazeera)
- A quarter of people in France, Germany and the US may refuse Covid vaccine (Guardian)
- Class cancelled: how Covid school closures blocked routes out of poverty (Guardian)
- Home workers putting in more hours since Covid, research shows (Guardian). It’s not like we have anything better to do.
- Why India’s coronavirus cases are plummeting (WaPo, $)
McKinsey Pays (A Little Bit To) The Piper
- Global business consulting firm McKinsey & Company has agreed to a $573 million settlement (For reference, McKinsey’s annual revenue is over $10 billion) after a long battle with nearly 50 state governments over its role in the opioid crisis, which saw more than 81,000 overdose fatalities just last year. The firm helped market and boost sales of high-risk opioids, including Oxycontin.
- The settlement comes after a wave of apologies by McKinsey, with new affirmation that the company will not advise clients on “any opioid-related business anywhere in the world.” “We chose to resolve this matter in order to provide fast, meaningful support to communities across the United States,” Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner of McKinsey, said in the statement.
- McKinsey is one of many companies caught up in the typhoon of legal and financial battles linked to the opioid industry. In October 2020, Purdue Pharma reached a settlement of $8.3 billion with the Justice Department. Once a major source of profits for pharmaceutical companies, prescription opioid medications have contributed to a storm of addiction, leaving more than 400,000 Americans dead. (NPR)
Additional USA News
- Senate Democrats have begun the budget reconciliation process for Covid-19 relief (Vox)
- US to start distributing vaccines directly to pharmacies (WaPo, $)
- Biden administration to restart permitting for major U.S. offshore wind project (Reuters)
- Andre Hill shooting: Ohio Officer Adam Coy charged with murder (WaPo, $)
- Toll Worker Job Losses Highlight Long-Term Fallout of Pandemic (NYT, $)
- ‘It let white supremacists organize’: the toxic legacy of Facebook’s Groups (Guardian).
- Mexican Law Halts U.S. From Turning Back Some Migrant Families (NYT, $). A good old-fashioned Mexican standoff, except migrants suffer every way.
- Biden administration drops Trump-era discrimination lawsuit against Yale (Guardian)
- Union leaders backing Amazon election in Alabama discuss effort with White House (Reuters)
- At Least 5 Capitol Rally Participants Were In A Violent ‘Patriot March’ In San Diego (The Appeal)
- Wisconsin Prosecutors Seek Kyle Rittenhouse’s Arrest And Higher Bond (NPR)
- Pennsylvania Sentencing Case Challenges ‘Felony Murder’ (NPR)
- Opinion | The Senate Has Become a Dadaist Nightmare (NYT, $). Two options: You could read the article… or enter a Google rabbit hole on the meaning of “Dadaist”
- Joe Biden Has to Walk a Fine Line When Fighting Disinformation (Wired)
- Why Aren’t More Health-Care Workers Getting Vaccinated? (Intelligencer)
- QAnon Is Now Too Big To Fail (Intelligencer). Please tell me the government isn’t planning to bail them out too.
- Examining the Case Against the Filibuster (New Yorker)
- Sam Goodwin, American Who Was Jailed In Syria, Lives To Tell His Harrowing Story (NPR
- Your Daily Dose Of Data: Poll: Most Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (Vox)
Professors Are Dying To Be Digitally Replaced
- Do you ever feel like someone is sending you messages from the grave? For some college students, that happens every week.
- Some students at Concordia University this year have tried to contact their professors with follow-up questions after an online lecture, only to find that the professor is no longer alive. Don’t you hate it when that happens? The university repurposed the pre-recorded lectures from previous years and sent out all course communication from a “do-not-reply” address. They took care of everything… except tell the students their professor was dead.
- This bizarre discovery has brought scrutiny to a number of intellectual property policies schools require professors to sign. While it is legal for universities to use recorded lectures as they please, many professors on the ground are scared their material will be used in ways they didn’t intend. Especially this year, with most courses required to be taught in an online, recorded format, universities have access to a significant amount of intellectual property they would not have if there had been no pandemic.
- The discovery has also raised concerns of how much transparency institutions are giving their students and questions of what those students are really paying for, if they can’t communicate with their instructors outside of a Ouija board. For many students, the opportunity to interact and form relationships with professors is a crucial benefit of the undergraduate experience. Critics have also pointed out that a deceased professor will have trouble responding to the present moment and improving their teaching style based student feedback. (Verge)
- Off-road, off-grid: the modern nomads wandering America’s back country (Guardian)
- Amazon begins delivering packages with prototype electric trucks (ArsTechnica)
- The pandemic left a Russian clown with no audience. He created his own whimsical world. (WaPo, $). Meanwhile, French mimes remain stuck in their glass boxes.
- The Skin-Deep Physics of Sidewinder Snakes (NYT, $)
- 5 Minutes That Will Make You Love String Quartets (NYT, $)
- Are we all living in the Matrix? Behind a documentary on simulation theory (Guardian). Whoever made this simulation has a dark sense of humor.
- The Plan to Build a Capital for Black Capitalism (New Yorker)
- Could Climate Change Be More Extreme Than We Think? (Atlantic)
- Lack Of Diversity Mars Golden Globe TV Nominations (NPR). I may destroy Emily In Paris.
- So, Jeff Bezos, You Really Want to Fix the Planet? (Wired)
- Pornhub brings in third-party “identity verification” system for users (ArsTechnica
- Listen: The Loophole: Inside Yellowstone’s ‘Zone of Death’ (Atlantic). ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ could have been a whole lot shorter.
- The Next Cyberattack Is Already Under Way (New Yorker)
- How the work ethic became a substitute for good jobs (Aeon)
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