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May 27, 2021: Citizen Scraps Private Police App; Biden Orders Review Of Virus Origins; Exxon Shareholders Revolt Over Clean Energy

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One of the sketchiest libertarian venture capitalists in America planned to launch an app to summon a private police force by smartphone. Today we are pleased to report that, thanks to negative publicity, the rent-a-cop app is being scrapped.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has given US intelligence agencies ninety days to figure out where the coronavirus came from. And he says they’ll be entertaining a theory favored by many Republicans, that the virus somehow escaped from a lab in China.

And lastly, activist shareholders, with the support of public pension funds, won a vote forcing Exxon Mobil to hire directors who favor clean energy. It’s a massive defeat for Exxon management and a repudiation of the company’s old, planet-destroying ways.


This dispatch from the dystopia comes from CBS News. The crowdsourcing crime- tracking app Citizen, whose earliest backers include the venture capitalist billionaire Peter Thiel, is ditching plans to develop a private police force that could be summoned by users via the smartphone app. The company began offering the service in Los Angeles last month as a pilot program. For the service, Citizen partnered with a private firm called Los Angeles Professional Security, which describes itself as a provider of subscription law enforcement. But on Tuesday, Citizen ended the program, stating it has no plans to launch a similar service elsewhere. The company's decision follows more than a week of negative publicity for the popular app, which uses cellphone-location data to alert users of potential safety hazards, emergencies and criminal activity in their area.

CBS reports that as Citizen's popularity has grown, so, too, has its number of critics, who say the app raises privacy issues as well as racial bias. Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the app "a digital superhighway for racial profiling," In mid-May, the app misidentified a homeless person as the source of a recent wildfire in Los Angeles. Citizen posted pictures of the man, and offered a $30,000 reward to anyone who could provide information leading to his arrest. A few days later, a different man was arrested for the crime. If you think the regular police are bad, wait until you see what Silicon Valley comes up with.

Biden Orders Review Of Virus Origins

This update on the politics of the pandemic comes from the Washington Post. President Biden said yesterday that he has asked the intelligence community to determine the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a major departure from the previous White House position that the World Health Organization should lead efforts to uncover the contagion’s origin. Biden has asked for a report within ninety days. The new message from the White House reflects the rapidly changing views about the origins of the virus. In recent weeks, a theory has gained more support that the source of the coronavirus may have emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, though that is far from proved. Some Republicans pushed the idea early on, including Donald Trump. But the idea was dismissed by many influential scientists and Democrats.

The Post says that in recent weeks, some prominent researchers have begun arguing that the lab theory should remain on the table until more is known. And a series of reports in the Wall Street Journal, including one that highlighted how several people who work at the Wuhan lab became sick in fall 2019 with Covid-like symptoms, has been part of a reexamination. Biden said one element of the US intelligence community leans toward the view that the novel coronavirus came from a laboratory accident. Two other components, on the other hand, believe the virus came from animal-to-human contact. But are American spies really well- suited to make this determination, especially without Chinese cooperation?

Exxon Shareholders Revolt Over Clean Energy

You love to see it. The New York Times says Big Oil was knocked down a peg yesterday. Shareholders of Exxon Mobil dealt the company’s management a stunning defeat by electing at least two board candidates who pledged to steer the company away from oil and gas and toward cleaner energy. The success of the campaign, led by a tiny hedge fund against the nation’s largest oil company, could force the energy industry to confront climate change. Analysts could not recall another time that Exxon management had lost a vote against company-picked directors. The vote reveals the growing power that giant Wall Street firms now have to press corporate managements to pursue social goals.

According to the Times, the hedge fund leading this campaign, Engine Number One, was seeking to defeat four of the company’s twelve director candidates. Its victory is the culmination of years of efforts by activists to force the oil giant to change its environmental policies. Some big pension funds, including the New York State Common Retirement Fund and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, had joined the effort. In another sign of change, shareholders of Chevron, the second largest US oil company, yesterday voted for a proposal to reduce emissions from the fuel the company makes and sells. And in the Netherlands, a court required Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its emissions by forty five percent by 2030.

One day these companies will be only a memory, and the world will be better for it.


The Los Angeles Times reports that nine people were killed, including the gunman, in a shooting yesterday morning at a San Jose rail yard. The suspect set his own house on fire, then drove to a Valley Transportation Authority union meeting and began shooting, law enforcement sources said. Sympathy and solidarity to all affected.

The Washington Post reports that Amazon will buy MGM Holdings from its investment- group owners, paying $8.45 billion billion to put the historic studio in the hands of the retailing giant. The Post is also owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, but we aren’t, so we can say he has enough money, power and cultural influence, already.

According to the Associated Press, President Biden is nominating former senior State Department official Nicholas Burns to serve as his ambassador to China, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to be his ambassador to India. Prominent Democratic fundraisers Denise Bauer, Jane Hartley and David Cohen have also emerged as leading contenders for postings in France, Italy and Canada, respectively. Gotta love those patronage jobs!

Good news! The New York Times reports that immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year, possibly a lifetime, improving over time – especially after vaccination. That’s according to two new studies, both in the journal Nature. The results suggest that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and later been vaccinated will continue to have high levels of protection against emerging variants, even without a vaccine booster. So there’s a silver lining for survivors.

AM QUICKIE - MAY 27, 2021

HOSTS - Sam Seder & Lucie Steiner

WRITER - Corey Pein

PRODUCER - Dorsey Shaw