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
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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.

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“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.

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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 JordanGOP-Trump fractures on masks open up Democrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers Comer tapped to serve as top Republican on House Oversight 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 FoxxHouse fails to override Trump veto of bill blocking DeVos student loan rule The Hill's Coronavirus Report: BIO CEO Greenwood says US failed for years to heed warnings of coming pandemic; Trump: Fauci won't testify to 'a bunch of Trump haters' Hillicon Valley: Amazon VP resigns in protest | Republicans eye university ties to China | Support rises for vote by mail MORE (N.C.), Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House Armed Services votes to make Pentagon rename Confederate-named bases in a year House panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal MORE (Texas), Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersThe Hill's Morning Report - Capitol Hill weighs action on racial justice as protests carry on Bottom line Officials warn Chinese hackers targeting groups developing coronavirus treatments MORE (Ala.), Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesVoters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Sunday shows preview: With coronavirus cases surging, lawmakers and health officials weigh in Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down MORE (Calif.), and Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulNational security adviser says Trump was not briefed on bounty intelligence, condemns leaks Pentagon: 'No corroborating evidence' yet to validate troop bounty allegations The Hill's Morning Report - Officials crack down as COVID-19 cases soar 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.

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 John TrumpHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops 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.

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In another rarity, conservative Justice Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasSupreme Court rules Booking.com can trademark name Supreme Court hands win to religious schools Trump's mark on federal courts could last decades 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) 

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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)