Hillicon Valley: Amazon VP resigns in protest | Republicans eye university ties to China | Support rises for vote by mail

Hillicon Valley: Amazon VP resigns in protest | Republicans eye university ties to China | Support rises for vote by mail
© Getty Images

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don’t already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

RESIGNING IN PROTEST: Tim Bray, a vice president and senior engineer at Amazon Web Services, has resigned over the firings of activist workers at the online retail giant.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised,” Bray wrote in a blog post.

“So I resigned."

Amazon has fired several employees that have protested the workplace conditions at warehouses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bray wrote that the "victims weren’t abstract entities but real people; here are some of their names: Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls."

Smalls's was the first high-profile dismissal during the pandemic. He was fired after organizing a walkout at a Staten Island, N.Y., facility where a worker had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Costa and Cunningham, members of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group that protested the company's climate policies, were fired in early April after criticizing warehouse conditions on Twitter.

Mohammed was fired the same weekend as the two tech designers after organizing workers at a Minnesota warehouse for more rigorous cleaning and safety.

ADVERTISEMENT

Amazon has defended the firings, alleging that the workers broke internal policies while emphasizing support for employees that speak out.

"I’m sure it’s a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both," Bray wrote. "Right?"

Read more here. 

UNIVERSITIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: House Republicans are seeking information from the Education Department on China's ties to leading U.S. universities, as tensions mount between the two countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Republicans, led by House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDemocrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe, eyeing new GOP reinforcements S.E. Cupp: 'The politicization of science and health safety has inarguably cost lives' GOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto MORE (Ohio), sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos on Monday asking for details on what he characterized as the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) efforts to influence American colleges.

“We write to seek a better understanding of the Department’s efforts to address unreported foreign direct investment into the U.S. higher education system,” the House Republicans wrote. “This joint inquiry is in furtherance of Congressional Republican’s efforts to investigate the Chinese government’s propaganda and cover-up campaign surrounding this pandemic.”

The House members asked DeVos to provide documentation on all U.S. universities under investigation for receiving foreign gifts since 2018, and any preliminary findings from those investigations.

The letter was signed by ranking members on other House committees, including Reps. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxEthics panel dismisses GOP lawmaker's ,000 metal detector fine House Ethics panel upholds ,000 metal detector fine against GOP lawmaker House passes bill to ease standards for age discrimination cases MORE (N.C.), Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (Texas), Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersOvernight Defense: Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dies at 88 | Trump calls on Milley to resign | House subpanel advances Pentagon spending bill Pentagon punches back against GOP culture wars Defense contractors ramp up donations to GOP election objectors MORE (Ala.), Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesLawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection Tucker Carlson claims NSA leaked private emails to journalists McCarthy calls for investigation into claims NSA was spying on Tucker Carlson MORE (Calif.), and Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulAfghan evacuees to be housed at Virginia base Passport backlog threatens to upend travel plans for millions of Americans US lawmakers express shock at Haitian president's assassination MORE (Texas).

The Department of Education has launched an investigation of its own into at least one major school system. It is looking into ties between the University of Texas and the Chinese lab being investigated by U.S. intelligence officials for potentially being linked to the COVID-19 outbreak. A university spokesperson told The Hill they would cooperate with the investigation.

Read more about the investigation here. 

SUPPORT FOR VOTE BY MAIL INCREASES: Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they would support voting by mail as an alternative to in-person voting on Election Day if the coronavirus continues to pose a public health threat in November, according to a poll released Monday.

The USA Today-Suffolk University poll found that 65 percent of respondents endorsed mail-in voting as an alternative, while just 32 percent said they opposed it. Three percent said they were undecided.

Opinions broke primarily along partisan lines, with Republicans being far more wary of voting by mail. Forty-three percent of GOP respondents said they supported vote-by-mail as an alternative during the pandemic, while 53 percent opposed it. Among Democrats, 84 percent said they supported it, with 14 percent opposed.

Sixty-six percent of independents said they supported vote-by-mail.

ADVERTISEMENT

The survey results come amid a heated debate over mail-in voting, with proponents voicing concerns about having large gatherings at polling stations during the pandemic. Some Democratic lawmakers are calling for states to expand mail-in voting ahead of November.

President TrumpDonald TrumpNew Capitol Police chief to take over Friday Overnight Health Care: Biden officials says no change to masking guidance right now | Missouri Supreme Court rules in favor of Medicaid expansion | Mississippi's attorney general asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade Michael Wolff and the art of monetizing gossip MORE, meanwhile, has come out against mail-in voting, arguing it has “tremendous potential for voter fraud” and gives Democrats an advantage.

Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — already hold elections almost entirely by mail. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia give voters the option. Voting by mail is only available in certain circumstances in the remaining states.

Read more about the poll here. 

SUPREME COURT ADJUSTS: The Supreme Court on Monday broke with tradition and held oral arguments by conference call, a first for the famously tech-averse tribunal as the justices adapt to the global pandemic.

A live audio feed of the argument — a trademark dispute concerning the travel service Booking.com — gave the general public unprecedented access to the hearing in real time.  

As arguments opened, the justices allowed counsel two minutes of speaking time before posing questions, which began with Chief Justice John Roberts and proceeded to the other justices in order of seniority.

ADVERTISEMENT

In another rarity, conservative Justice Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasNo reason to pack the court Beyond Trump's flimsy lawsuits, there's a proper path for regulating social media Cuomo's 'gun emergency': Illusion disguised as action MORE, who typically remains mum during arguments, posed a series of questions, the first time he has spoken this term. When Thomas spoke during arguments last year, he snapped a three-year silence.

The court’s embrace of teleconferencing represents a dramatic step for a court that has traditionally been wary of adopting new technologies and comes after the court postponed arguments in March and April in order to abide by social distancing policies.

Read more. 

Lighter click: Monday calls for cute animals

An op-ed to chew on: Strong broadband matters more than ever. Let’s build it right

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

U.K. steps up cyber defense of institutions involved in coronavirus research (Wall Street Journal / Jenny Strasburg and Denise Roland) 

ADVERTISEMENT

Candidates can’t campaign, so they’re trying to go viral (Verge / Makena Kelly)

The Promise—and Risk—of a Career in TikTok (Motherboard / Lauren Kaori Gurley)

One of Amazon’s Most Powerful Critics Lives in Its Backyard (New York Times / David McCabe)