Surveillance On The Side
March 3, 2021
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“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” — Frederick Douglass
“Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” — Edward Snowden
Surveillance On The Side, Please
(Wiktor Szymanowicz via Getty Images)
“Do you want fries with that? How about surveillance?”
One week ago, Vice reported the following about McDonald’s secretive intelligence unit that spies on union activists and workers wanting to be paid a near-living wage: “For years, McDonald’s has internally labeled activists and employees working with the Fight for $15 campaign a security threat and has spied on them. McDonald’s says that this work is designed to identify protests that ‘could put crew and customer safety at risk.’” Included in the secret agent toolkits of the fast-food giant’s “team of intelligence analysts in the Chicago and London offices” is data collection software that monitors employees and their networks through social media.
Similar efforts by Amazon to prevent their employees from unionizing have included job postings for intelligence analysts to monitor and report on “labor organizing threats;” social media monitoring; interactive “heat mapping” tools to anticipate and pre-empt strikes or union drives; Pinkerton operatives; and most recently, coordinated efforts with county officials to change the traffic lights outside Amazon’s facility in Bessemer, Alabama to prevent organizers from speaking to workers during shift changes.
Surveilling labor organizers in America isn’t new, but the ever-increasing role of technology in that surveillance is. Some of these egregious practices surely violate federal labor law, but past administrations have condemned neither the illegal practices nor the ever-widening wealth gap between megacorporations and the underpaid workers whose labor they need.
On Sunday, President Biden bucked the trend by speaking out in a video address directed at “workers in Alabama.” It was one of the strongest pro-union statements of any president in modern US history. “You should remember that the National Labor Relations Act didn’t just say that unions are allowed to exist, it said we should encourage unions,” Biden said. “There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda. Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice.”
Biden is walking a very fine line. On the progressive side he conveys strong support for unions and for a substantial raise in the minimum wage. But to keep those wealthy corporate donors placated, he’s assured them that under his presidency “no one’s standard of living will change, nothing will fundamentally change.” We wish the President good luck with all that. (Vice, Guardian, Vox)
Israeli Health Officials: Sharing Is Caring
- Israel has vaccinated half of its population against Covid-19 with the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine, including special categories of Palestinians, such as relatives of people who live in Jerusalem, and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. On Sunday, Israel said it would vaccinate about 110,000 Palestinian day laborers who work in Israel. However, the vast majority of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip have not been vaccinated.
- Israel has faced calls from international and Israeli aid groups and rights advocates to help facilitate vaccines for Palestinians in occupied territory, arguing Israel is obligated to do so by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israeli political leaders say the Oslo Peace Accords make the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority responsible for its own population.
- On Monday, Israeli health officials said it was a public health imperative that the entire Palestinian population be vaccinated, and urged their country’s leaders to help make that happen. Itamar Grotto, former deputy director general of Israel’s Health Ministry who helped lead the country’s pandemic response, said Israel is giving Palestinians unused supplies of the Moderna vaccine, and more is expected to arrive. (NPR)
Burqa Ban: The Swiss Miss On Tolerance
- Voters in Switzerland will cast ballots March 7th on a referendum mandating that “no one shall cover their face in public” and that “no one is permitted to force someone to cover their face based on their gender.” There are some exceptions to the ban, including for health reasons and traditions, like a carnival.
- The proposed legislation is known locally as the Burqa ban. It doesn’t specifically mention the facial coverings worn by many Muslim women, but is largely seen as targeting them.
- The bill was introduced by the Egerkinger Komitee, a group that includes right-wing politicians of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which says it organizes “resistance against the claims to power of political Islam in Switzerland.” Polls suggest voters will narrowly approve the law. (Al Jazeera)
Additional World News
- Taiwanese urged to eat ‘freedom pineapples’ after China import ban (Guardian). Ah, the sweet taste of resistance.
- Criminal Inquiries Loom Over al-Assad’s Use of Chemical Arms in Syria (NYT, $)
- Biden administration sanctions Russia over Navalny poisoning and arrest (Politico)
- How a five-second social media clip took India, Pakistan by storm (Al Jazeera). Who wants to Pawdi?
- Inside Xinjiang’s Prison State (New Yorker)
- 2 Americans Extradited To Japan On Accusation Of Aiding Carlos Ghosn Escape (NPR)
- Farmer Protests In India: Why Are They Angry? (NPR)
- Nigeria: Kidnapped schoolgirls released, says governor (Al Jazeera)
- How Can I Convince Someone to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine? (Atlantic)
- Why Ventilation Is a Key to Reopening Schools Safely (NYT, $)
- In Quest for Herd Immunity, Giant Vaccination Sites Proliferate (NYT, $)
- WHO official says it’s ‘premature’ to think pandemic will be over by end of year (The Hill)
- Stop doing anal Covid tests on our citizens, Japan tells China (Guardian)
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Reunited And It Feels So Good
- The Biden administration has been working hard to correct as many of former President Trump’s shamelessly cruel immigration policies as possible. Topping the list is reuniting the families of hundreds of migrant children still separated from their parents.
- During Trump’s time in office, more than 5,500 migrant children were taken away from their parents when they entered the country, and more than 1,400 parents were deported without their children. The separations occurred without any plan to subsequently reunify the families.
- When Biden took office on January 20th there were over 600 children still separated. Since then the committee of pro bono lawyers and advocates has reduced that number to just under 500. On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said: “We are hoping to reunite the families either here or in the country of origin,” explaining the government hopes to give migrants the choice.
- “And if, in fact, they seek to reunite here in the United States, we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain … and to address the family needs so we are acting as restoratively as possible.” (NPR)
Catholics Try To Abort J&J Vaccine Rollout
- On Friday, the Archdiocese of New Orleans told thousands of local Catholics to avoid the Johnson & Johnson single-shot Covid-19 vaccine, because its early development used “morally compromised cell lines created from two abortions.” The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were acceptable to use, even though they had been developed with “some lab testing that utilized the abortion-derived cell line.”
- The statement put the Archdiocese at odds with the Vatican. Last December, Pope Francis said it was “morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,” as the use of such vaccines “does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive.”
- Cell lines derived from aborted tissue were used in the development of the polio, chickenpox, hepatitis A, and shingles vaccines. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine subsidiary Janssen used a proprietary cell line derived from aborted tissue in 1985. (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- Biden to announce ‘historic partnership’: Merck will help make Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, officials say (WaPo, $)
- House Lawmakers Launch Fresh Efforts To Overhaul Nation’s Gun Laws (NPR). Getting anything passes will be tough, but they’re shooting high.
- California Offers $2 Billion Incentive In A Push For In-Person Learning (NPR)
- Trump’s Republican Hit List at CPAC Is a Warning Shot to His Party (NYT, $)
- The Useful Idiot: Why We’re Not Done With Trump Yet (HuffPost)
- Amazon Workers’ Union Drive Reaches Far Beyond Alabama (NYT, $)
- Congressional delegation heads to Amazon’s Alabama facility to support union vote (Reuters)
- Georgia House Passes Elections Bill That Would Limit Absentee And Early Voting (NPR). If voting is so important, why let it be so easy?
- Miguel Cardona Confirmed By Senate To Be Biden Education Secretary (NPR)
- The Supreme Court case that could end affirmative action, explained (Vox)
Some Farmers Are Growing A Hempire
- Texas has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country. But entrepreneurs of the hemp persuasion aren’t about to let their creativity be curtailed by strict marijuana codes. Take Texan Lukas Gilkey, for example, CEO of Hometown Hero CBD, based in Austin. His company sells joints, blunts, gummy bears, vaping devices, and tinctures that offer a recreational high some have christened “marijuana light.” His business is booming, in his storefront and online, where he sells to many people in other states with strict marijuana laws like Texas.
- These entrepreneurs aren’t violating the law. Gilkey and some others have just figured out how to benefit from a loophole. They’re selling byproducts derived from hemp, a close relative — in fact, the same plant as marijuana — only hemp doesn’t have the higher concentrations of Delta-9-THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient, and explicitly outlawed.
- Hemp has a slightly chemically different ingredient, Delta-8-THC, which is not outlawed. In fact, Delta 8 isn’t even mentioned in the enormous 2018 Farm Bill, which among other things legalized widespread hemp farming and distribution, and specifically allowed the sale of the plant’s byproducts. (The bill allowed four states to ban any hemp production within their borders: Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and South Dakota.)
- Clever entrepreneurs in some of the other 46 states started having ah-ha moments. Because Delta-8 in hemp is so closely related to Delta-9 in marijuana, they should begin extracting and packaging it as a legal edible and smokable alternative…yesterday.
- Joe Salome’s Georgia Hemp Company began selling Delta-8 locally and shipping nationally last October. His website says Delta-8 is “very similar to its psychoactive brother THC,” giving users the same relief from stress and inflammation “without the same anxiety-producing high that some can experience with THC.” Salome says sales have “taken off tremendously.” (NYT, $)
- Reading A Letter That’s Been Sealed For More Than 300 Years—Without Opening It (NPR). They didn’t want to open it without permission from the original recipient.
- How The Military Helped Bring Back The Red-Cockaded Woodpecker (NPR)
- Yuval Noah Harari: Lessons from a year of Covid (Financial Times)
- Lab-grown black hole behaves just like Stephen Hawking said it would (Livescience). Non-physicists might not understand the gravity of this discovery.
- 6 Dr. Seuss books won’t be published for racist images (AP)
- Bitcoin: Revolutionary Breakthrough, Or Mother Of All Bubbles (NPR)
- How can architecture help rather than harm blackness? (Guardian)
- Nearly four in 10 university students addicted to smartphones, study finds (Guardian). And the other six are lying.
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