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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Civil Rights

Boston Dynamics' robotic dog

Tick-tick-tick ... Big Tech's clock continues to move around and around nonstop to enhance corporate power and profits, but each sweep of its hands also captures more of our own privacy, labor and other civil rights.

At first, each new surge of artificial intelligence and robotic technologies can seem perfectly benign, beneficial ... even playful. Take "Spot," the robotic, four-legged "doggy" that actually has no spots, no endearing puppy eyes, can't bark, has no tail to wag and is very un-doggy despite its classic doggy name. In fact, this electronic critter is rather creepily nightmarish, but it's marketed by cute videos, including one of Spot mixing margaritas (admit it, that beats training your real dog to bring your slippers to you).

But you can't just adopt a Spot at your local animal shelter. Each artificial canine — manufactured by Boston Dynamics, which is owned by Korean auto giant Hyundai Motor Company — sells for about $75,000. So, who's for these pricey technetronic hounds? Mainly such big corporate outfits as oil refineries, mining operations and electric utilities that want an unblinking eye to monitor and record workers, visitors, intruders, protesters and all others who approach their facilities. Just one more layer of our cycloptic surveillance society.

But the point at which Spot loses all cuteness and turns into a menacing beast of authoritarianism is when it's turned into a police dog. There's been quite a public backlash, for example, against the Honolulu police department for deploying one of the robotic canines in a tent city for homeless people. In addition to outrage at the obvious class bias in siccing Spot on the homeless, the public outcry grew hotter when it was revealed that the police had used federal pandemic relief funds to buy their Spot!

As usual, corporate and government officials assure us that this latest tech marvel will be a good dog — it won't be used to spy on innocent people, be weaponized or otherwise bite us on the butt. Trust us, they say.

If you're a corporate employee, you know that something unpleasant is afoot when top executives are suddenly issuing statements about how committed they are to the dignity and respect of their employees.

For example, the public relations chief of a global outfit named Teleperformance, one of the world's largest call centers, was recently going on and on about how they're "committed to fair practices, equity ... ethics, and transparency" in the workplace. He practically pleaded for the world to "trust us," exclaiming that, "We value our people and their well-being, safety and happiness." Why did the corporation feel such a desperate need to proclaim its virtue? Because it's been caught in a nasty scheme to spy on its own workers.

Teleperformance — a $6.7 billion global behemoth that handles customer service calls for Amazon, Apple, Uber, etc. — saves money on overhead by making most of its 380,000 employees around the world work from their own homes. That can be a convenience for many workers, but a new corporate policy first imposed in March on thousands of its workers in Colombia puts an intolerable, "1984"-ish price on that convenience.

Teleperformance is pressuring their workers to sign an eight-page addendum to their employee contracts, allowing corporate-controlled video cameras, electronic audio devices and data collection tools to be put in their homes to monitor their actions. "I work in my bedroom," one employee noted. "I don't want to have a camera in my bedroom."

Neither would I, and I doubt that Teleperformance's $20-million-a-year CEO would allow one in his mansion. Uglier yet, the privacy-obliterating contract mandates that even the children of employees can be spied on at home and any images or audio of children picked up by the surveillance devices can be kept by the corporation. Nonetheless, the Colombian worker signed, because her supervisor said she could lose her job if she refused.

Of course, Teleperformance assures us that the data it collects on children is not shared elsewhere, and Apple also rushed out to state that it treats all of its contract employees "with dignity and respect." But how do we know that? Trust us, they say. Do you?

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Photo from Greg Abbott's verified Facebook

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Already trying to peel away voting rights in the state, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is also pushing a bill that would practically remove women and people of color from a portion of required social studies curriculum. Senate Bill 3 would no longer require teachers to teach civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream," the Emancipation Proclamation, and women's suffrage; What's worse the Senate in a 18-4 vote along party lines on Friday passed the governor's racist political vendetta branded as a ban on critical race theory.

The list of social studies elements stripped from required teachings includes "Native American history, work by civil rights activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, historical documents related to the Chicano movement and women's suffrage, and writings by Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass," according to The Texas Tribune.

Texas Senate Committee advances Critical Race Theory Bill | KVUE www.youtube.com

Sen. Bryan Hughes, author of the bill, wrote in its text that a teacher or other school district employee may not "require or make part of a course inculcation" any concept that holds one race or sex superior to another, define a "hard work ethic" as racist or sexist, or assigns moral character with a particular race or sex. The bill would also prevent teachers and school employees from teaching that: "the advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States; or (...) with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality..."

The Senate bill follows earlier House legislation that similarly banned instruction that holds one race or sex superior to another or defines a "hard work ethic" as racist or sexist, or assigns moral character with a particular race or sex, and Abbott signed the bill into law during the regular legislative session. That legislation, however, added the requirement that diverse literature on race be included in school instruction. Abbott wants to change the law back to a version that doesn't include the diverse literature requirement, KVUE reported.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released the following statement obtained Friday by ABC-affiliated KVUE:

"Texans roundly reject 'woke' philosophies that espouse that one race or sex is better than another and that someone, by virtue of their race or sex, is innately racist, oppressive or sexist.
"Senate Bill 3 will make certain that critical race philosophies, including the debunked 1619 founding myth, are removed from our school curriculums statewide. Texas parents do not want their children to be taught these false ideas. Parents want their students to learn how to think critically, not be indoctrinated by the ridiculous leftist narrative that America and our Constitution are rooted in racism.
"Final passage of this bill into law will require the House Democrats who have fled the state to return to the House for a quorum. If they do not, this bill will die, but the Senate will pass Senate Bill 3 over and over again until the House finally has a quorum. I am grateful for Sen. Hughes' leadership on this important issue."

Hughes said in debate The Texas Tribune covered on the chamber floor that the Senate bill counteracts the "pernicious, wrong, harmful" effects of critical race theory. The race theory, however, is not taught in Texas schools and has been defined by scholars as a framework that suggests the U.S. legal system and laws that govern this nation are rooted in race and racism.

"When a fire starts in the kitchen, we don't wait for it to spread to the living room and bathroom, but we start to put it out," the Republican said. Democratic Sen. Juan Hinojosa countered with: "I don't see a fire in the kitchen."