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United Airlines might require its employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine

From today’s New York Times:

The chief executive of United Airlines told the company’s employees this week that the carrier — and other businesses — could make the coronavirus vaccine mandatory for all workers.

“It’s the way to ensure the safety of our employees,” United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby said.

“The worst thing that I believe I will ever do in my career is the letters that I have written to the surviving family members of co-workers that we have lost to the coronavirus,” the executive, Scott Kirby told employees at a virtual town hall on Thursday, according to a transcript of the remarks. “And so, for me, because I have confidence in the safety of the vaccine — and I recognize it’s controversial — I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory.”

Some states, such as New York, have already made the vaccine available to flight attendants, pilots and other airline and airport employees. United has encouraged employees to get the vaccine as soon as they can.

Mr. Kirby’s comments, first reported by CNBC, do not reflect actual corporate policy. The airline would need to overcome logistical hurdles before requiring its tens of thousands of employees to get vaccinated and would need other businesses to join it in requiring vaccination, he said.

A spokesman for Delta Air Lines declined to comment on whether it will require the vaccine, but said the carrier is advocating that flight crews are considered essential workers for the purposes of vaccine distribution. American Airlines said on Thursday that it is encouraging its employees to get the vaccine, but won’t require it unless necessary for employees who fly to destinations where it is mandated.

Read the complete article here.

Democrats Push Voting-Rights Expansion With Fresh Urgency

From today’s New York Magazine:

When the House passed the For the People Act, a package of voting, redistricting, and campaign-finance reforms, in March of 2019, it was a symbolic and aspirational effort. It passed on a strict party-line vote. Its significance as a Democratic “messaging” vehicle was reflected in its designation as HR 1, the first bill introduced in the 116th Congress.

The bill is back as HR 1 in the 117th Congress, but this time it will also be the first bill introduced when Democrats take over the Senate this week. The Republican majority in the Senate over the past four years made democracy-reform legislation a nonstarter. But now a Democratic governing trifecta in Washington gives such reforms a new impetus, as does the baleful experience of the 2020 election cycle, in which Republicans aligned with the Trump administration doubled down on a strategy of suppressing as many votes as possible and then trying to keep votes already cast from being counted or reflected in the final Electoral College balloting for the presidency.

Here’s a list of reforms in the legislation, as compiled by Daily Kos’s Stephen Wolf when it passed the House last year:

• Automatic voter registration at an array of state agencies

• Same-day voter registration

• Online voter registration

• Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they’ll be on the rolls when they turn 18Allowing state colleges and universities to serve as registration agencies

• Banning states from purging eligible voters’ registration simply for infrequent voting

That’s a lot of reforms, and many are at cross-purposes with the GOP’s renewed determination to make voting more, not less, difficult — especially via mail balloting — and the latter-day Republican conviction that massive spending on elections by wealthy interests is not a travesty but a cherished First Amendment right.

So unless Republicans experience some sort of radical post-Trump conversion to enthusiasm for democracy, passage of these reforms in the Senate will almost certainly be blocked by its GOP minority, barring filibuster reform (which in turn would require unanimous Democratic support, which it does not appear to have at the moment). This also isn’t the kind of legislation that can be moved around the filibuster barricades by a budget reconciliation bill, because it doesn’t involve significant fiscal issues.

Read the complete article here.

CA’s unemployment fraud may top $9 billion, doubling estimate, expert warns

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

As an army of investigators tries to pin down the scope of unemployment benefit fraud in California, the head of a security firm working for the state is warning that payments of fraudulent claims could more than double the $4 billion previously estimated, and that a flood of those claims involve overseas crime rings.

At least 10% of unemployment claims may have been fraudulent before controls were installed in October, according to Blake Hall, founder and chief executive of the company ID.me., which has been hired by the state Employment Development Department to weed out fraud. A 10% fraud rate could total $9.8 billion of the benefits paid from March through September.

Much of the fraud in California and other states is coming from organized criminal gangs operating in some 20 foreign countries, including Russia, China, Nigeria, Ghana, Turkey and Bulgaria, Hall said.

“When the Russians and the Nigerians and the Chinese are the players on the field, they are going to put up some points,” Hall told The Times. “This is a very sophisticated cyberattack that’s being run at scale.”

Hall’s firm was hired by the EDD to begin checking unemployment claims in October, and since then 30% of the claims it screened turned out to be fraudulent. Between Oct. 1 and Jan. 11, Hall said his firm blocked 463,724 fraudulent claims, which he said would represent more than $9 billion if the EDD had paid $20,000 on each claim.

The EDD has so far paid out $113 billion in unemployment benefits during the 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, including $43 billion as part of an expedited — and less secure — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed.

State officials were recently warned by Bank of America, which is under contract with the EDD to issue debit cards to distribute benefits, that there is evidence that fraud could total more than $4 billion in California. A task force of county, state and federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors is continuing an investigation to identify all of the fraud, which has also involved claims in the names of prison inmates.

Read the complete article here.

OnlyFans: Jobless from the Pandemic, Selling Nudes Online and Still Struggling

From today’s New York Tiimes:

Savannah Benavidez stopped working at her job as a medical biller in June to take care of her 2-year-old son after his day care shut down. Needing a way to pay her bills, she created an account on OnlyFans — a social media platform where users sell original content to monthly subscribers — and started posting photos of herself nude or in lingerie.

Ms. Benavidez, 23, has made $64,000 since July, enough not just to take care of her own bills, but to help family and friends with rent and car payments.

“It’s more money than I have ever made in any job,” she said. “I have more money than I know what to do with.”

Lexi Eixenberger was hoping for a similar windfall when she started an OnlyFans account in November. A restaurant worker in Billings, Mont., Ms. Eixenberger, 22, has been laid off three times during the pandemic and was so in need of cash by October that she had to drop out of dental hygiene school. After donating plasma and doing odd jobs, she still didn’t have enough to pay her bills, so at the suggestion of some friends, she turned to OnlyFans. She has made only about $500 so far.

OnlyFans, founded in 2016 and based in Britain, has boomed in popularity during the pandemic. As of December, it had more than 90 million users and more than one million content creators, up from 120,000 in 2019. The company declined to comment for this article.

With millions of Americans unemployed, some like Ms. Benavidez and Ms. Eixenberger are turning to OnlyFans in an attempt to provide for themselves and their families. The pandemic has taken a particularly devastating toll on women and mothers, wiping out parts of the economy where women dominate: retail businesses, restaurants and health care.

“A lot of people are migrating to OnlyFans out of desperation,” said Angela Jones, an associate professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Farmingdale. “These are people who are worried about eating, they’re worried about keeping the lights on, they’re worried about not being evicted.”

But for every person like Ms. Benavidez, who is able to use OnlyFans as her primary source of income, there are dozens more, like Ms. Eixenberger, who hope for a windfall and end up with little more than a few hundred dollars and worries that the photos will hinder their ability to get a job in the future.

Sen. Ron Wyden: Capitol riots prove we must strengthen American democracy by protecting voting rights for all

From NBC News Online:

On Jan. 6, at the behest of the outgoing president of the United States, domestic terrorists attacked the legislative branch of the government of the United States. Bombs were left apparently targeting us, gunshots rang out, Molotov cocktails were brought to the building, and five deaths resulted from the melee on the Capitol grounds. It remains unclear who — if anyone — was in command of the military when officials were pleading for help from the National Guard, which didn’t receive orders to assist for several hours. It’s a miracle that the insurrection failed, that the building didn’t burn and that many more people weren’t killed.

At 8 p.m. on Wednesday, my colleagues and I walked past shards of glass and refuse left behind by the insurrectionist mob to resume debate on the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Some of my fellow senators said they felt that returning to the chamber and finishing the Electoral College count was a signal that America was already turning the page.

Not in my book.

In the wake of this attack, Democrats must use our majorities in Congress to pass reforms that will defend our democracy from the forces that supported, incited and fueled the riots — which means making it easier for every American to vote. Congress cannot — must not — move forward in the belief that the end of Donald Trump’s presidency means all is well in our country.

After all, what happened after police cleared the Capitol building and workers began cleaning up the wreckage and blood? Republicans walked right back into the House and Senate chambers and continued spreading the same lies about voters and voting rights that had drawn the mob to the Capitol in the first place.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for instance, claimed that he just wanted an election commission to study the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania — where Biden won decisive victories. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., claimed that he was just giving voice to his constituents’ concerns about election integrity by attempting to throw out the legally cast ballots of millions of Pennsylvanians. It was all nonsense.

Wednesday’s phony debate about counting the Electoral College ballots was just about two elected officials laundering a violent, fanatical conspiracy — one that had already done great harm to the country and the institution in which they serve — to further their own ambitions. It was nothing more than self-promotion and a barefaced, ham-handed attempt to delegitimize the next administration.

Read the complete article here.

Grocery chains nationwide ditching in-house delivery drivers in wake of Prop 22

From today’s Business Insider:

Albertsons and some of its subsidiaries, including Vons and Pavilions, are discontinuing their in-house delivery services in parts of California and other states starting in February. The grocery chains will instead rely more heavily on third-party delivery apps, including DoorDash, to handle grocery deliveries, local news outlet KNOCK reported Monday.

“In early December, Albertsons Companies made the strategic decision to discontinue using our own home delivery fleet of trucks in select locations, including Southern California, beginning February 27, 2021,” Albertsons spokesperson Andrew Whelan told Business Insider.

“We will transition that portion of our eCommerce operations to third-party logistics providers who specialize in that service. Our HR teams are working to place impacted associates in stores, plants, and distribution centers,” Whelan said.

Albertsons didn’t respond to questions about employees losing their jobs. In Texas, the company told the Dallas Morning News that it will also fire nearly 100 employees at Tom Thumb locations.

“With COVID-19 outbreaks spiraling out of control and overwhelming hospitals across California, it is stunning that Albertsons would fire these courageous and hard-working men and women keeping our food supply secure,” Marc Perrone, international president of United Food and Commercial Workers, a major union that represents many Albertsons workers, said in a press release, calling on Albertsons “to immediately halt these plans.”

The move comes weeks after a new California law went into effect that eliminated labor protections for app-based food delivery workers and rideshare drivers, which was authored and bankrolled by gig companies.

As DoorDash, Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and Postmates waged a $200 million battle last year to pass the bill, known as Proposition 22, they pointed to “independent” research claiming it would save as many as 900,000 jobs across the state (it turned out the companies had paid a combined $411,599 to the researchers behind the study).

Albertsons’ plans to cut in-house delivery and route new business to delivery companies like DoorDash, however, shows how Prop 22’s passage potentially pushes adjacent industries to consider cheaper labor options.

Read the complete article here.

Members of Trump Cabinet discussing invoking 25th Amendment

From ABC News Online:

There have been discussions among some members of Donald Trump’s Cabinet and his allies over invoking the 25th Amendment, a potential vehicle for removing the president from office, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the discussions told ABC News.

Un-American.' 'Treasonous.': North Texas leaders decry mob breach at U.S.  Capitol

It’s unclear how extensive these conversations have been or whether Vice President Mike Pence is supportive of such action. Many were horrified by Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol as well as Trump’s apparent lack of urgency in marshaling resources to stop the mob, the sources said.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., on Thursday became the first Republican to publicly call for the invocation of the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

The 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967 in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, lays out the procedures for replacing the president in the event of death, removal, resignation or incapacitation.

“The president not only abdicated his duty to protect the American people and the people’s house, he invoked and inflamed passions that gave fuel to the insurrection we saw here,” Kinzinger said in a video posted to Twitter. “When pressed to move and denounce the violence he barely did so, while of course victimizing himself … all indications are that the president has become unmoored, not just from his duty, or even his health, but from reality itself.”

“It is for this reason that I call for the vice president and members of the cabinet to ensure that the next few weeks are safe for the American people, and that we have a sane captain of the ship,” Kinzinger said.

Read the complete article here.

Electoral Vote Count to Resume After Pro-Trump Mob Storms US Capitol

From today’s NBC News Washington:

A mob supporting President Donald Trump forced its way into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, surging past security barriers and delaying the constitutional process to affirm Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.

A woman died after being shot by law enforcement at the Capitol, sources told NBC News, and several officers and others were injured.

Rioters used chemical irritants on police in order to gain access to the Capitol grounds — D.C.’s acting police chief said — broke glass and waved Trump flags. 

Officials declared the U.S. Capitol complex “secure” at nearly 6 p.m. after heavily armed police moved to end a violent, nearly four-hour occupation. An announcement saying “the Capitol is secure” rang out Wednesday evening inside a secure location for officials of the House. Lawmakers applauded.

Members of Congress said they were stunned by the violence. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said she had expected the day to be tense.

“Them actually entering the United States Capitol is not something anyone would have expected to see here in the United States of America. It it is a shameful and sad day for our democracy,” she said.

Rioters will be held responsible for the chaos, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

“The behavior that we are witnessing is shameful, unpatriotic and, above all, it is unlawful,” she said at a news conference. “Anyone who has engaged in these activities, continues to engage in these activities, will be held accountable.”

Read the complete article here.