Amazon Grants Authoritarian Facial Recognition Technology to Police

Another reminder that Amazon doesn’t care about its harmful effects on communities. Its CEO is the world’s richest person, yet its workers often work in horrible conditions for pay that’s low enough to make them request food stamps in order to survive. And in terms of the facial recognition technology, it increases repression in communities by allowing police to increase their targeting of vulnerable minority groups.

After internal emails (pdf) published by the ACLU on Tuesday revealed that Amazon has been aggressively selling its facial recognition product to law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S., privacy advocates and civil libertarians raised grave concerns that the retailer is effectively handing out a “user manual for authoritarian surveillance” that could be deployed by governments to track protesters, spy on immigrants and minorities, and crush dissent.

“We know that putting this technology into the hands of already brutal and unaccountable law enforcement agencies places both democracy and dissidence at great risk,” Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, said in a statement in response to the ACLU’s findings. “Amazon should never be in the business of aiding and abetting racial discrimination and xenophobia—but that’s exactly what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is doing.”

First unveiled in 2016, “Rekognition” was explicitly marketed by Amazon as a tool for “tracking people,” and it has already been put to use by law enforcement agencies in Florida and Oregon.

While Amazon suggests in its marketing materials that Rekognition can be used to track down “people of interest” in criminal cases, ACLU and dozens of pro-privacy groups argued in a letter (pdf) to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Tuesday that the product is “primed for abuse in the hands of governments” and poses a “grave threat” to marginalized groups and dissidents.

Highlighting “the possibility that those labeled suspicious by governments—such as undocumented immigrants or black activists—will be targeted for Rekognition surveillance,” the coalition of advocacy groups urged Amazon to “act swiftly to stand up for civil rights and civil liberties, including those of its own customers, and take Rekognition off the table for governments.”

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” the groups concluded. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”

The ACLU investigation found that Amazon has not been content to simply market and sell Rekognition to law enforcement agencies—it is also offering “company resources to help government agencies deploy” the tool.

Glyphosate is a Significant Public Health Threat — Doses Previously Considered Safe Now Shown as Harmful in New Study

Glyphosate (found in the dangerous Monsanto Roundup) is a carcinogen that’s now being shown to be harmful in other ways too. It shouldn’t be allowed to be used, and it has already contaminated such large amounts of food supplies.

A chemical found in the world’s most widely used weedkiller can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteria at doses considered safe, according to a wide-ranging pilot study in rats.

Glyphosate is the core ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and levels found in the human bloodstream have spiked by more than a 1,000% in the last two decades.

The substance was recently relicensed for a shortened five-year lease by the EU. But scientists involved in the new glyphosate study say their results show that it poses “a significant public health concern”.

One of the report’s authors, Daniele Mandrioli, at the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, said significant and potentially detrimental effects from glyphosate had been detected in the gut bacteria of rat pups born to mothers, who appeared to have been unaffected themselves.

“It shouldn’t be happening and it is quite remarkable that it is,” Mandrioli said. “Disruption of the microbiome has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, such as obsesity, diabetes and immunological problems.”

Prof Philip J Landrigan, of New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, and also one of the research team, said: “These early warnings must be further investigated in a comprehensive long-term study.” He added that serious health effects from the chemical might manifest as long-term cancer risk: “That might affect a huge number of people, given the planet-wide use of the glyphosate-based herbicides.”

Analysis Finds Only 6% of Corporate Tax Cut Gains Spent on Workers

Tax cuts for the large corporations who wrote the Republican tax scam legislation haven’t even lead to any increase in investment. In January, orders for non-defense capital goods actually fell by about 1.5 percent, and since orders take little time to initiate, they should have increased if the tax cuts were to spur investment. The reality of what a scam this whole ordeal was must be remembered for fighting off the same problem in the future.

While many corporations immediately launched aggressive PR campaigns crediting the tax plan Trump signed in December with new “investments” in employees, a study by the nonprofit group JUST Capital published on Wednesday found that the sensational headlines touting worker bonuses obscured the fact that the vast majority of the law’s benefits have gone straight to the pockets of wealthy shareholders.

“Post-tax cut raises, bonuses, and other worker investments announced by 90 of the largest publicly-traded corporations average just six percent of the total windfall these companies have received from the biggest tax cut in U.S. history,” the group found.

The analysis also showed that 56 percent of these worker investments came in the form of one-time bonuses, not permanent pay raises.

Additionally, the vast majority of companies examined invested none of their windfall into new jobs, while just a few companies said they invested a large percentage—making it appear that all of the companies invested more in jobs than they actually did.

Bolstering JUST Capital’s study was a New York Times analysis published on Monday, which found that rather than investing their tax windfalls, companies are using the extra cash to buy their own shares—a practice that further enriches already wealthy executives and investors but does little to nothing for workers or the overall economy.

“American companies have announced more than $178 billion in planned buybacks—the largest amount unveiled in a single quarter, according to Birinyi Associates, a market research firm,” notes Matt Phillips of the Times.

That amount dwarfs the relatively small gains workers are seeing from the tax law.

As the economists Rick Wartzman and William Lazonick noted in a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, the “nation’s workers are getting woefully little, at least relatively speaking.”

“Peeking beyond the PR, our analysis finds that major corporations are planning to spend more than 30 times what they are putting in the wallets of employees on buying back their own stock,” Wartzman and Lazonick concluded.

EU Set to Approve Monsanto-Bayer Merger

Monsanto is among the most dangerous corporations in history. The EU granting it even more power is a disconcerting possibility.

Of course, the strong public opposition to this merger is an example to see how democratic a society is. In an actual democracy, strong majority public opinion support will have a significant impact on policy. Contrast that with what’s often been seen in practice.

“The planned merger between these giant agribusiness corporations has very little public support,” noted Adrian Bebb, a food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. “EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager has built her reputation on holding powerful corporations to account, and she must seize the opportunity to block this dangerous and unpopular merger.”

Opponents have sent more than 50,000 emails and more than 5,000 letters to Vestager, according to Reuters. More than 200 advocacy groups have come out (pdf) against the merger, and more than a million people have signed a pair of petitions by SumOfUs and WeMove.eu.

Friends of the Earth Europe, on Twitter, highlighted a YouGov poll that found a majority of respondents from Germany, France, Spain, Denmark, and the U.K. believe it is “very” or “fairly important” for the European Commission to block the merger.

Amazon Patents Wristband that Tracks Movements of Warehouse Workers

These wristbands would increase worker repression levels that are already far too high. Amazon’s CEO is the richest person in the world by net worth, but he still insists on mistreating his workers in their quasi-totalitarian workplaces.

Amazon’s CEO could simply sell $1 billion of stock and give a $2,000 bonus to Amazon’s 500,000 employees, and that’s only one example of what could be done to remedy the mistreatment of its workers. It doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon though, unfortunately.

Amazon has patented designs for a wristband that can precisely track where warehouse employees are placing their hands and use vibrations to nudge them in a different direction.

The concept, which aims to streamline the fulfilment of orders, adds another layer of surveillance to an already challenging working environment.

[…]

Amazon already has a reputation for turning low-paid staff into “human robots” – working alongside thousands of proper robots – carrying out repetitive packaging tasks as fast as possible in an attempt to hit goals set by handheld computers.

This month, the 24-year-old warehouse worker Aaron Callaway described having just 15 seconds to scan items and place them into the right cart during his night shifts at an Amazon warehouse in the UK. “My main interaction is with the robots,” he said.

Danger of ISDS in Trans-Pacific Partnership Countries

The Investor-State Dispute Settlement is an absurd mechanism that undermines a country’s legal sovereignty. Additionally, it should be noted that the TPP isn’t a free trade agreement — it’s an investor rights agreement. Increased protectionism for pharmaceutical corporations in the form of stronger patent enforcement is a notably prominent example that’s the opposite of free trade.

Thanks to years of organizing, we in the United States saved ourselves from the corporate-dominated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by ensuring that the controversial deal was universally reviled across party lines and could never gain a majority in Congress.

But it is deeply unfortunate for our international partners that this week the remaining 11 TPP countries — including Canada and Mexico — agreed to move forward the deeply flawed TPP model for their countries in a cynically renamed “Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.” We know from our years-long, internationally-coordinated TPP campaign that our sisters and brothers in those nations fought against the corporate-rigged TPP model as hard as we did. We stand in solidarity with them as they continue to mobilize to block the implementation of any newly agreed TPP deal in their countries.

While some of the most egregious provisions pushed by Big Pharma that would have further threatened access to life-saving medicines were fortunately set aside (for now) in the revised TPP-11 deal, most of the TPP’s dangerous rules remain intact. It is shocking, for instance, that Canada, Mexico and others apparently agreed to maintain the infamous investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system (with only some minor tweaks), that empowers multinational corporations to attack public interest laws before panels of three corporate lawyers.

We dodged a bullet here in the United States — the TPP would have doubled U.S. exposure to investor-state attacks against U.S. policies by newly empowering more than 1,000 additional corporations in TPP countries, which own more than 9,200 additional subsidiaries in the United States, to launch investor-state cases against the U.S. government.

But, it is beyond perplexing that Canada and Mexico would agree to expand their liability to these ISDS attacks on their laws in the TPP-11. In the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations, the United States has proposed to radically roll back ISDS, which should be good news for Canada and Mexico, since Canadian and Mexican taxpayers have paid $392 million to mostly U.S. corporations who won ISDS attacks against their public interest laws using NAFTA.

The corporate lobby, which has been doing all it can to block the positive NAFTA proposal to roll back ISDS, is undoubtedly rejoicing that the TPP-11 countries have signaled their willingness to accept expansion of the controversial ISDS system.

But the diverse consensus to end ISDS in NAFTA and elsewhere spans the political spectrum, with stark criticism coming from voices as disparate as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John RobertsReagan-era associate deputy attorney general Bruce Fein, the pro-free-trade libertarian Cato Institute think tank, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitzunions and environmental groups.

The Misconduct of the “World’s Most Admired Companies”

In terms of misconduct, usually what is found among the biggest multinational corporations is exploitation and benefits from immense public subsidy without providing adequate returns to the public. There are numerous examples showing that to be true, but they often manifest as the use of super-exploited workers and the highly profitable use of technology that was originally developed through public investment.

For example, Walmart long hasn’t paid workers living wages, resulting in those workers (among other things) having to use publicly-funded programs such as SNAP. Then there’s computers, which were developed in large part through taxpayer-funded research at the Department of Defense in the latter half of the 20th century. And speaking of the military, Lockheed Martin’s weapons manufacturing has been complicit in U.S. war crimes that violate international law for decades, and Lockheed likely wouldn’t even exist today if it hadn’t been bailed out by the public under the Nixon administration in 1971.

Literally trillions of dollars worth of taxpayer research and subsidies over the past several decades has been fundamental to the advancement of industries such as the aerospace industry, the computer industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the biotechnology industry, and the telecommunications industry. Much of this taxpayer funding into developments that otherwise probably wouldn’t exist today has often translated into the phenomenon known as public costs and private profits, which is hardly a fair return on investment.

Fortune magazine recently released its 2018 list of the World’s Most Admired Companies. From a pool of roughly 1,500 candidates, Fortune picked the 50 “best-regarded companies in 52 industries.” Apple topped the list for the eleventh year straight. General Electric plummeted in the last year from number 7 to number 30. Lockheed Martin and Adidas both cracked the top 50 for the first time.

Of course, Fortune’s ranking is somewhat skewed and self-serving. It is based on a survey of corporate executives and financial analysts. “Admiration” is measured according to criteria that emphasize companies’ financial shape over their track record of integrity and business ethics.

So, we took it upon ourselves to document the dark side of the world’s 50 most admired companies. Ten of the companies are in our Federal Contractor Misconduct Database (FCMD), which includes civil, criminal, and administrative misconduct instances dating back to 1995 for 220 of the federal government’s largest contractors. All but 3 of the top 50 are in Good Jobs First’s Violation Tracker corporate misconduct database, which includes enforcement data from the federal regulatory agencies and the Justice Department dating back to 2000 for over 2,800 companies. Both databases show that most of the companies have multiple instances of misconduct for which they paid millions of dollars in fines, penalties, judgments, and settlements.