POLITICS

Underdog of the Month: Democratic Candidate Michael Bennet

Why are we overlooking the brightest hope for America's future?

With 17 Democratic candidates vying for the chance to oust Trump in the 2020 presidential election, we're witnessing divides within the party that hammer home the fact that politics are infinitely nuanced, complicated, petty, and—forgettable? For some reason, Michael Bennet, the 54-year-old Colorado Senator whose face is as symmetrical and innocent as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, is often overlooked in the race for the White House. But you are doing yourself a disservice—nay, an offense—if you haven't familiarized yourself with his campaign platform, his experiences as a Senator and as superintendent of Denver's school system, and his initiatives as a member on the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; as well as the Committee on Finance and the Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure.

Basically, Michael Bennet might covertly be the sh*t. Consider the evidence:

Look at that face! He looks like the Brave Little Toaster!

He's Good with His Hands

Listen: Bennet's home state of Colorado has a lot of land to farm. In fact, agriculture contributes up to $40 billion to the state's economy each year and accounts for over 173,000 jobs. As state Senator, Michael isn't afraid of dirty work. In 2019, he penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling out the ways that "Trump Has Been Bad for Farmers." What's the farmer's equivalent to throwing down a gauntlet? Throwing down a...hoe? Anyway, Michael's pushed for legislation to create jobs and protect dairy farmers, as market instability has endangered their livelihood, and he openly "believes a resilient agricultural sector is vital to a strong economy. This is certainly true in Colorado, where farming and ranching are a proud tradition and generate more than $40 billion in economic output each year. As a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Michael is working to bring the diverse voices of Colorado to the debate in Washington."

Additionally, Michael's family owns a 1,500 acre farm in Arkansas; and sure, he rents it out to contribute to his notable wealth, but he probably owns at least one pair of overalls. Picture it: Michael Bennet in denim overalls. Wouldn't he look like such a happy little farmer? Hot.

He's Down-to-Earth and Down to Save the Earth

When it comes to land conservation, Michael doesn't mess around. Partly to advocate for America's 2 million farmers and partly because he's adorable and probably has a favorite species of flower, "Michael believes protecting public lands and wild places is an integral part of Colorado's heritage. It's why he brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed, and why he has stood up for sacred places and critical wildlife habitat across the country. From hiking to hunting, Michael also recognizes that outdoor recreation is vital to Colorado's economy."

Similarly, he's serious about converting American industry over to clean energy. In the last two years alone, he's cosigned or cosponsored multiple letters and legislation calling for improvements to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Land and Water Conservation Act, and proactive government action to combat climate change (like providing incentives to produce more solar panels in the U.S.). Always the good farmer, he wants to cut down hazardous emissions from farming and ranching with clean energy initiatives, and he supports plans that could conserve nearly one-third of U.S. lands.

We're DEFINITELY not looking at his butt...We're DEFINITELY not looking at his butt...DEFINITELY not.The Gazette

Per his campaign team, "He recognizes this moment in our country as an opportunity to modernize our energy system, transition to low-cost renewable sources of energy, increase energy independence, and provide reliable and affordable energy for every American. Michael knows climate change is not a problem we can push off to the next generation. He believes in a comprehensive approach to combat climate change that includes commonsense actions to reduce carbon pollution and increase the resiliency of our communities, all while growing the economy."

Do you see? He's a happy and environmentally conscious farmer! (So screw you, Jay Inslee, you look like Bruce from Finding Nemo. We don't need you when we have Mike).

He's Almost Definitely into Weed

Speaking of loving plants, as the Colorado Senator, of course Mike is down with 4/20. Specifically, he's an advocate for legalizing marijuana for the sake of job creation, more health care options, and a fairer justice system. In fact, he's one of many supporters of the Affordable Care Act and supporting rural communities with less access to health care; but he's also a member of the U.S. Senate Committees on Finance and Agriculture. Through the committee, "Bennet championed the legalization of hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill and is a cosponsor of the SAFE Banking Act and Marijuana Justice Act, which would end the federal prohibition on cannabis and reverse decades of drug policies that have disproportionately affected low-income communities and communities of color."

In short, we're confident that Mike loves more than one type of grass.

underdog michael bennet CNN

He Hates Washington

Who doesn't love the passion of a man who's running for the nation's highest office while publicly calling that office "broken." When it comes to government reform, "Michael knows that Washington is broken, and he has worked since 2009 to make Congress more functional. Michael has fought to hold lawmakers accountable to their promises and the rule of law. He supports overturning the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and placing commonsense limits on campaign spending. Michael also believes that democracy depends on transparency and public access to information, and has lobbied federal agencies to swiftly comply with the Freedom of Information Act."

Michael's also called out the failures of America's immigration policies and our education system. Remember that he was Denver's superintendent for four years, during which time enrollment grew, dropout rates decreased, graduation rates increased, and college enrollment rose, leading The Denver Post to praise, "Bennet has been a force—pushing reforms and steering the state's second-largest district to a culture of success."

So he's proven his ability to helm a broken system and turn it around. He also managed to run a public school system to the public's satisfaction. If that's not a testament to the charm of his boyish freckles and a face that belongs on the label of some hipster's artisanal butter, we don't know what is.


He's a Sagittarius

Obviously, you're not going to exercise your civic duty based on something as whimsical as a candidate's astrology sign. But to peer into the unassuming genius of Michael Bennet's brain, you must know his origins. Born on November 28, 1964, Michael is a through-and-through Sagittarius. Just ask Buzzfeed; they point out his "particularly Sagittarius trait: Bennet overcame dyslexia as a child and went on to graduate from Wesleyan University and Yale Law School, where he served as the Editor In Chief of the Yale Law Journal. That's some big Sagittarius energy!"

More tellingly, very credible and not at all bogus horoscopes for Sagittarius in 2020 foretell a year of professional strides and great success! Those born under the sign of the Archer are expected "to make more progress at work this year. You will work more this year than usual. But it will also help you to become more successful as the year goes on. If anything drains your energy this year, it will be your job!" Thanks, SunSigns.org, our gut's telling us that Michael's in for a future of glory, too!

No Scandals and No Game

Let's face it: We love that he looks like George H. W. Bush was genetically spliced with our childhood hamster. He's the kind of boomer who just wants to drive you home from soccer practice and remind you to call your mother more often, without trying to smell your hair or mouth-breathing heavily with some rancid breath (JOE!). He's not creepy or even slick. In fact, he has zero moves that could remotely seem suspicious. Think about it: Obama danced like he knew he was hot. Everyone knows Trump has the most delicate, fluttery hands. Bennet? He has no distracting characteristics, no deceptive grace, and no smooth-talking rhetoric that raise any of our suspicions. Bill Clinton may have won over voters by pushing some "cool" image by playing saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show, but that's not what we want in 2020.

We want a wholesome, dad's-golf-buddy type with a face that laughs even when he's trying to cry and who boldly tries new things. We want Bennet. After all, how could we be duped or betrayed as a nation by a man who dances this purely—as if a camera has never captured his quiet-uncle energy before, as if time and space were just illusions and he is that little boy beside him—as if he's never lost a race in his life and never will?

POLITICS

What Trump Could've Meant by Tweeting "Impeach the Pres."

It's a cry for help?

Donald Trump once again confused all of Twitter on Tuesday when he ended a Tweet with "Impeach the Pres." After seeming to all-caps brag that "MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME IS AT THE HIGHEST POINT EVER, EVER, EVER!," he claimed there are "MORE PEOPLE WORKING TODAY IN THE USA THAN AT ANY TIME IN HISTORY!" Despite these putative wins for his administration, he did not use the popular hashtag #ImpeachthePres; rather he wrote out the full sentiment, begging the question: What did he mean?

1. He's mocking the Left without the literacy to do so effectively

2. It's his unconscious desire to be free

3. He believes Barack Obama is still president

4. He meant "Impeach the Press" but his little thumbs made a typo

5. He means, "I'm Peach, the Pres," perhaps in response to "Orange man bad"


6. He wanted to end with a question mark but ran out of characters

7. Seriously, maybe he just wants to go home

POLITICS

Billionaire Sex Offender Jeffrey Epstein Pleads Not Guilty to Sex Trafficking

This past weekend, registered sex offender #JeffreyEpstein was once again arrested under new charges of sex trafficking dozens of minors as young as 14 years old.

On Monday morning, Jeffrey Epstein, the 66-year-old financier and reported friend of Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, was arraigned in federal court for luring underage young girls to his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida and soliciting them for sex.

The billionaire was first arrested in 2005 for engaging in sex with minors. The hedge fund manager pleaded guilty to soliciting an underage prostitute and served only a year in prison—with a condition of work release that permitted him to leave the facility six days a week to continue employment.

This past weekend, the registered sex offender was once again arrested under new charges of sex trafficking dozens of minors as young as 14 years old. In a public statement, the U.S. Attorney's office said that between 2002 and 2005 Epstein lured young girls to his homes under the guise of paying for a "massage": "In this way, Epstein created a vast network of underage victims for him to sexually exploit, often on a daily basis." Indeed, of the nearly 80 young girls thought to be molested by the billionaire, most were from low-income households and particularly vulnerable to his cash-exchange ploy.

If found guilty, Epstein faces up to 45 years in prison for one count of sex trafficking and an additional count of sex trafficking conspiracy. But the prominent figure has been under investigation since last year. When authorities searched the man's Manhattan townhouse, nude photographs of underage girls were seized as evidence of Epstein's exploitation of minors. According to the indictment, which was unsealed on Monday, he not only assaulted young girls in his mansion but recruited them to return for repeated abuse and asked them to bring their friends.

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney in Manhattan, appealed to any other young women who have been abused by Epstein to come forward. "They deserve their day in court and we are proud to stand up for them by bringing this indictment," he told The New York Times. He said Epstein's "alleged behavior shocks the conscience."

On Monday afternoon, Epstein pleaded not guilty to all charges. Prosecutors are requesting that Epstein be held without bail until his trial.

POLITICS

How Rarely Does Congress Overrule a Veto?

Historically, fewer than 10% of all presidential vetoes have been overturned, or 106 in total.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted 245-182 to overrule Donald Trump's declaration of national emergency regarding immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump declared a national emergency on February 15 in hopes to redirect up to $8 billion from military funds and the Treasury to fund a border wall. While unprecedented, the tactic could theoretically manipulate the Constitution's funding laws to successfully bypass Congress and allow a sitting president to reallocate funds without congressional permission. Even though the House passed the resolution to terminate the declaration of emergency, Trump has vowed to veto the resolution if it should make it to his desk. So how can Congress overrule a veto, and how rarely is it done?

When a president vetoes a bill, Congress can only override the veto by taking a second vote in both chambers and passing the bill with a two-third majority in both houses. Historically, fewer than 10% of all presidential vetoes have been overturned, or 106 in total. The last time Congress over-ruled a veto was October 11, 2000, when Bill Clinton's bill Energy and Water Development Appropriations.

The rarity of a veto override is attributed to the bipartisan conflict of each chamber of Congress. For example, in 2000, the Republicans held a majority in both the Senate and the house when they overruled the sitting Democrat president. The current Congress is divided between a Democrat-lead House (235-199) and a Republican-led Senate (53-45). Achieving a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress is simply unlikely when they are led by separate parties.

As for the resolution to overrule Trump's national emergency, the Senate is set to vote on the resolution before March 18. Since it's a privileged measure, no filibustering is allowed; only a majority will pass or defeat the resolution. The crux of the matter is whether enough Republican Senators can be swayed to vote with the Democrats. As of Friday, three Republican Senators have vowed to to do so: Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Only four more would be needed to send the resolution to Trump, assuming all Democrat Senator voted with their party. According to Five Thirty Eight, if Trump vetoes the measure, then both chambers of Congress are short of the votes needed to override (50 short in the House and 20 short in the Senate).

Thom Tillis wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post explaining his position to vote against party: "As a U.S. senator, I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress," Tillis explained. "As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms."

Prior to the House vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed House Republicans, "Is your oath of office to Donald Trump or is it to the Constitution of the United States? You cannot let him undermine your pledge to the Constitution."

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

CULTURE

7 Famous Asylum Seekers

While U.S. policies block many refugees from entering the country based on arbitrary or prejudicial criteria, Asylum remains a federal protection from persecution or fear from persecution.

When Joe Biden spoke at the 2019 Munich Conference in Germany, he spoke highly of America's participation in the global community. He told the European leaders, "The America I see…does not wish to turn our back on the world or our allies." This stands opposed to the policies Donald Trump's administration has enacted. As Biden added, "The America I see values basic human decency, not snatching children from their parents or turning our back on refugees at our border," he said. "The American people understand…because it makes us an embarrassment. The American people know, overwhelmingly that it is not right. That it is not who we are."

While U.S. policies block many refugees from entering the country based on arbitrary or prejudicial criteria, Asylum remains a federal protection from persecution or fear from persecution. Individuals may file on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Asylum has actually saved the lives of multiple high profile figures.

Here are seven famous asylum seekers:

1. Albert Einstein (physicist)

The Nobel Prize-winning scientist fled Germany in 1933 in order to escape persecution from the Nazis. After his safe arrival in the. U.S., Einstein notably said, "I shall live in a land where political freedom, tolerance, and equality of all citizens reign."

2. Mila Kunis (actress)

Kunis and her family fled Soviet Ukraine during the Cold War. That 70s Show actress was seven years old when she was granted a refugee visa.

3. Gloria Estefan (singer)

Born in Havana, Cuba, the "Queen of Latin Pop" fled the country with her family when she was just two years old. After Fidel Castro led the Communist revolution in 1959, her family moved to Miami.

4. Madeleine Albright (former Secretary of State)

Born in 1937 in what was then Czechoslovakia, her family fled Nazi persecution during World War II. Although they attempted to return, they had to leave permanently in 1948. She later became the first female Secretary of State.

5. Henry Kissinger (former Secretary of State)

After spending the first 15 years of his life in Germany, his family fled in 1938 during the early years of the Holocaust.

6. Marlene Dietrich (actress)

The Hollywood beauty started her film career in Germany in the 1920s. When the Nazis gained power, she fled to Hollywood, where she became an American citizen and made a point to perform for troops during World War II. Later, she said, "America took me into her bosom when I no longer had a native country worthy of the name."

7. Regina Spektor (singer)

After being raised in Moscow, the singer's family fled the Soviet Union when she was nine years old in fear of religious persecution. They settled in New York, where Spektor would later begin her singing career

This week, immigrant advocacy groups lobbied to block an order under the Trump administration that would force asylum seekers to stay in Mexico until their case files were seen in immigration courts. Based on the fact that lives could be endangered if the order were executed, the group stated that asylum seekers "are being returned to Mexico without any meaningful consideration of the dangers they face there, including the very real threat that Mexican authorities will return them to the countries they fled to escape persecution and torture." The federal courts have yet to make a decision on overturning the order.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

Healthful or Harmful: How to Read Organic Labels

Food labels boasting "organic" ingredients don't guarantee protection from unwholesome ingredients, preservatives, or manufacturing processes.

With food blogs and news outlets continually reporting conflicting information about the safety of GMOs, organic and raw foods, and even infected lettuce, it's all to easy to become confused as to what's healthful and what's harmful. While some food producers find it within their best interest to provide healthier options, many companies unwilling to change their product methods have resorted to changing their marketing. As a result, misleading labels regarding "organic" foods are meant to confuse consumers.

To be clear, truly organic foods in the U.S. have been certified as such by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Their requirements are as follows:

  1. Produced without excluded methods, (e.g., genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge).
  2. Produced using allowed substances.
  3. Overseen by a USDA National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations.

Thus, any food can technically be "organic," from produce and milk to deli meats and seasoning. However, the limitations of the definition lead some companies to advertise their products as "organic" while still using unwholesome ingredients, preservatives, or manufacturing processes.

Here are five tips to decode organic labeling jargon:

1. "All natural" doesn't mean it's organic

In truth, many products are technically "natural," due to government regulations that forbid food producers from adding hormones or steroids to many animals. In terms of poultry and their eggs, for instance, "natural" only means that the birds are are not given hormones or steroids. In contrast, "organic" poultry denotes that birds are raised with more space than in traditional poultry farms, they only consume on organic (vegetarian) food, and no animal byproducts are allowed.

Thus, "organic" eggs are from uncaged birds who haven't been fed any chemicals. It's important to note that even an "organic" certification doesn't guarantee that the animals were raised in cruelty-free environments. Even "organic" birds are raised on factory farms, and they're still subject to beak cutting and forced molting through starvation.

2. There are different degrees of "organic"

If a label says it's "made with organic ingredients," then the product is composed of 70% organic ingredients. The remaining, non-organic ingredients may still be closely monitored (for example, GMOs aren't allowed), but they don't qualify for certification. Likewise, an "organic" label still gives leeway, as only 95% of the ingredients must be organic to qualify. In reality, only a label that says "100% Organic" can guarantee that a food product is comprised of completely organic ingredients.

3. Are there still nitrites?

Sodium nitrite is a preservative often used in meats. You can sometimes recognize the use of nitrites in deli meat that has a distinctly pink coloration. However, some studies suggest that too many nitrites can damage cells or cause cancer. As The New York Times reports, "Some products that claim to be 'natural' or 'organic' may say they are processed without nitrites or nitrates, and the label may say the item has 'no artificial preservatives' or is 'uncured.' But nutritionists warn that food manufacturers may still add vegetable powders or juices such as celery juice or beetroot juice that contain naturally occurring nitrates, which are converted to nitrites either in the food itself or when they interact with bacteria in our bodies."

4. Look for other certifications

The healthiest animal products come from the healthiest animals. As such, look for certifications from animal wellness groups. For example, Animal Welfare Approved is a credible label considered to be "the gold standard." The United Egg Producers' label certifies egg-laying hens have been treated well, and the Fair-Trade label indicates that workers' rights were seen to during the production process.

5. Larger companies are more likely to be organic

Unfortunately, some companies will not only label their products misleadingly, but forge the Organic certification. Larger companies cannot commit such fraud without quickly being noticed, but smaller companies, like those that earn less than $5,000 a year, are often too insignificant to be noticed. As The Washington Post describes, "The official USDA certificates guaranteeing that a product is organic are relatively easy to forge. And because the organic rules are designed for larger-scale commercial operations, mom-and-pop farmstands may be exempt from inspections if they yield no more than $5,000 a year in sales. So, whether food really meets organic standards is more a matter of trusting purveyors than trusting the organic label."

Mark Kastel is co-founder of the organic watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute. He notes, "There's a higher authority on these issues than the USDA. And that's the consumer." Demand is everything; the more consumers choose "organic" and hold companies accountable for inaccurate labeling, the tighter regulations can become.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

POLITICS

The Subjectivity of the Fifth Amendment

While the Fifth Amendment is a crucial marker of individual rights, the lack of clear definitions and changing political landscapes make its application dangerously subjective.

Your right to "plead the fifth" is a constitutional protection against self-incrimination, but it's only one component of the legal provision that safeguards your rights from unjust criminal prosecution.

The Fifth Amendment protects against double jeopardy, being forced to incriminate oneself, prosecution without a jury of one's peers, and eminent domain. The legal precedents establishing due process protect more than just criminals; everyday citizens are protected from abuse of the justice system.

The provision, in full, dictates: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

In 2019, what are the limitations of these protections? Are there exceptions? What situations would require you to invoke them? What should you say to activate these rights?

While some may see "pleading the fifth" as tantamount to admitting guilt, it symbolizes your protection from self-incrimination. Cornell Law School defines the term to mean, "The act of implicating oneself in a crime or exposing oneself to criminal prosecution." When questioned by law enforcement during an investigation or during a criminal trial, an individual may refrain from answering questions or submitting requested materials to officials if it's believed that doing so may result in new criminal charges.

However, issues unrelated to criminal matters are not always protected from self-incrimination rights. For example, tax issues are not covered under the law so as to prevent individuals from withholding materials from the IRS. Furthermore, the law becomes murky when external circumstances could easily influence a person's ability to remain silent. Egregious examples of this right being circumvented include forced confessions and unjust interrogations.

As to due process, it's well known that before you can be found guilty of a crime, a grand jury of 16 to 23 people must be presented the case in private and deem that criminal charges justified. While a grand jury acts as "a kind of buffer or referee between the government and the people," an individual has a right to trial by jury. However, the Constitution's vital dictum against citizens being "deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law" is only defined through a series of court rulings and provisions.

Of note is that due process protections are designed for individuals and application "in each case upon individual grounds." Sadly, this means that whole groups or communities are not, strictly speaking, as entitled to due process. For example, entire student bodies, teachers, or consolidated groups like protesters can be given treatment outside of lawful protections.

Lastly, eminent domain is the restricted power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use. Under the Fifth Amendment, the government can only use this power if they provide the private owners with fair compensation. However, abuse of eminent domain is fairly common.

For example, in 2019, Donald Trump defended his demand for a border wall separating the United States and Mexico under the right of eminent domain. While it was originally meant to be an economic benefit, there are no codified measurements of what constitutes "just compensation." The seizure of land by the government quickly becomes exploitative and a violation of privacy that's paramount to government theft.

While the Fifth Amendment is a crucial marker of individual rights, the lack of clear definitions and changing political landscapes make its application dangerously subjective. From due process to eminent domain, there are more exceptions than clear definitions of "justice."

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

ISSUES

Are Your Home Devices a Security Risk?

If companies like Amazon, Google, or Facebook fail to provide adequate protections, they could face lawsuits and government crackdowns over their technology

Alexa, Google Home, and Apple's Homepod are the convenient smart speakers that do our bidding within our homes, but who has access to the data we provide? Concerns over surveillance and data breaches have generated alarm over the amount of personal information we store in home technology, including our location, our home layout, and our voice. Such wariness is understandable, with Google Home Mini initially listening to its owners in the bathroom and uploading the data to Google's servers. After it was exposed as a glitch, the fault was quickly corrected, but the tech's capability of listening in when deactivated is proven.

However, Jake Williams, founder and president of cybersecurity firm Rendition Infoseek, says the average user isn't likely to be targeted by hackers. "Would-be attackers] don't care what you're talking about at home, they're looking to monetize data." He adds, "The level of effort to do it is too high in the vast majority of cases. Your average American just isn't that interesting."

In order to steal data from a home device, a would-be hacker would need "undetectable audio commands, eavesdropping software and targeting devices connected on a network." Since home tech doesn't store information as sensitive as credit card information, social security numbers, or passwords, it's simply not worth the effort. Of course, there are exceptions, as hackers could opt to target individuals in order to extort ransom payments for the data, but these instances are unlikely and rare.

Of greater concern is a massive data breach at one of the company clouds where customers' information is stored. While individual users can set up two-factor authentication and limit the number of external services they link to their home devices, once the information is collected and stored it's up to the company to provide protection. If companies like Amazon, Google, or Facebook fail to provide adequate protections, they could face lawsuits and government crackdowns over their technology, according to Bloomberg Law. Class action lawsuits, regulatory enforcement, and publicity damage could obviously harm company revenues if a data hack were not prevented.

Melissa Kern, piracy and information security law partner at FrostBrown Todd LLC,said, "If there is a security breach that results in unauthorized access to the personal data they have collected, whether due to a security flaw or not." As a result, Amazon and Google run product security tests to check for major flaws. Large tech companies also test the data transfer between personal devices and the cloud, in order to curb vulnerabilities to hacking.

Of course, there are steps consumers can take to protect their information. The straight forward protections include the smart user management. As consultants advise, "For those who are concerned that Google Bots are listening to everything you say, you might find some comfort in knowing that Google Home listens and even processes who is talking locally. It uploads information to the cloud when the wake word, 'OK, Google' or 'Hey, Google,' is spoken or when you long press the touch interface at the top of the device (except for Mini)." Google Home also has indicators that alert you when the device is listening in.

Ultimately, it's up to the consumer to make smart and secure choices with their data. Limiting how many devices are linked to private accounts is an easy but powerful first step. The data clouds hold all the information the device interprets, whether insignificant, unintentional, or highly sensitive.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

ISSUES

How Genetic Testing Compromises Your Rights to Privacy

By submitting your genetic material to a company, you're tacitly agreeing to share your identity and rights to your most private information.

From "fear of missing out" on social media to belligerent political differences, modern existence is increasingly alienating. As a result, more people are interested in "finding their tribe" by digging up their family origins. But genetics-testing companies like Ancestry and 23andMe take more than your DNA, they take your privacy to that information, as well. With the Golden State Killer finally arrested thanks to data mined from those genetic databases, law enforcement has proven their ability to access the company's records.

In the same vein, the government can gain access to personal information given to these sites for purposes they deem justified. For example, in 2019, Canadian immigration officials obtained DNA results from sites like Familytreedna.com and Ancestry.com in order to identify immigrants' nationality and trace their relatives. Subodh Bharati, a lawyer representing one targeted individual, told Vice, "I think it is a matter of public interest that border service agencies like the CBSA are able to obtain access to DNA results...There are clear privacy concerns. How is the CBSA able to access this information and what measures are being put in place to ensure this information remains confidential?"

While each site in question denies working with government agencies, if authorities argue that national security is at risk, then the websites "can't really say no," as immigration lawyer Jared Will explains. He condemns the exchange as "extorted consent." Bharati warns potential customers, "Individuals using these sites to look at their family tree should be aware that their confidential information is being made available to the government and that border agents may contact them to help facilitate the deportation of migrants."

Furthermore, accessing your data doesn't always take government measures. For instance, according to 23andMe's policy, "We do not share customer data with any public databases. We will not provide any person's data (genetic or non-genetic) to an insurance company or employer. We will not provide information to law enforcement or regulatory authorities unless required by law to comply with a valid court order, subpoena, or search warrant for genetic or Personal Information." Yet, there's an additional permission users are asked to agree to, reading, "By agreeing to the Research Consent Document, Individual Data Sharing Consent Document, or participating in a 23andMe Research Community, you can give consent for the use of your data for scientific research purposes."

In July 2018, 23andMe announced it was partnering with the world's ninth-largest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). The agreement grants GSK exclusive access to the genetic information of over 5 million users, and 23andMe received $300 million. GSK released a statement explaining their interest in genetic databases, saying, "The goal of the collaboration is to gather insights and discover novel drug targets driving disease progression and develop therapies."

While it's a universal good to create more effective and closely targeted medicine, the transactional exchange of people's most private information, their DNA, unsettles many. Peter Pitts, president of the Center of Medicine in the Public Interest, told NBC, "Are they going to offer rebates to people who opt in, so their customers aren't paying for the privilege of 23andMe working with a for-profit company in a for-profit research project?" In essence, people are paying the site to make money off their information, with no recompense.

Additionally, despite what's written in the company's policy, "the problem with a lot of these privacy policies and Terms of Service is that no one really reads them," says Tiffany C. Li, a privacy expert and resident fellow at Yale Law School's Information Society Project. While users can opt to close their 23andMe accounts or retract their permission once it's given, the company emphasizes, "Any research involving your data that has already been performed or published prior to our receipt of your request will not be reversed, undone, or withdrawn."

Lastly, there's the possibility of information leaks. In June 2016, the DNA testing service MyHeritage announced that its database of 92 million accounts had been hacked. The depth of the breach only revealed encrypted emails and passwords, but the company was targeted because the premium on genetic data is far more valuable than credit card or bank information. Hackers could hold DNA data for ransom, according to Giovanni Vigna, co-founder of the cybersecurity company Lastline. He says, "This data could be sold on the down-low or monetized to insurance companies. You can imagine the consequences: One day, I might apply for a long-term loan and get rejected because deep in the corporate system, there is data that I am very likely to get Alzheimer's and die before I would repay the loan."

Ultimately, by submitting your genetic material to a company, you tacitly agree to share your identity and rights to your most private information. As Natalie Ram, a law professor in bioethics, says, "If there is data that exists, there is a way for it to be exploited.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

ISSUES

How to Be a Transgender Ally

In a time when trans people's safety, security, and integrity are subject to attack, here are the top 10 tips to being a good transgender ally.

In today's destabilized political climate, social progress in inclusivity and acceptance can seem glacially slow. On January 22, 2019, the Supreme Court allowed President Trump to ban transgender persons from serving in the military, despite a federal court ruling against it in 2018. LGBTQ+ activists condemn the ban as cruel and prejudiced, but people outside the queer community can play a crucial role combating transphobia.

Trans allies can enlighten cultural attitudes and shift discussions away from ill-informed or maligning stereotypes. PFLAG defines transgender as "a term often used to describe an individual whose gender identity does not necessarily match the sex assigned to them at birth." An ally, in the words of UC Berkeley's Gender Equity Unit, is "someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own; reaching across differences to achieve mutual goals."

In a time when trans people's safety, security, and integrity are subject to attack, here are the top 10 tips to being a good transgender ally:

1.Never "out" a transgender person.

You wouldn't want your most personal information shared freely with strangers. Demonstrate the same respect for the personal lives of your friends. This includes being sharply aware of your surroundings when discussing trans topics before mentioning names, as you could expose your friend without meaning to.

2. Use the names and pronouns your friends prefer.

Don't be afraid to ask if you aren't sure. If you make a mistake, politely correct yourself, and gently correct others if they do the same. It isn't infringing upon someone's freedom of speech to allow individuals to self-identify and called by that name.

3. Don't make assumptions about a transgender person's sexual orientation.

Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation. Gender identity is an individual's own understanding of their gender, and sexual orientation is who they feel attracted to. Transitioning is not an indication of any specific orientation.

4. Be patient.

Transitioning is a long process that may have long phases of questioning, exploring, and experimenting. Individuals may change their preferred pronouns, change their minds about their gender expression, and then change back. Be patient and accepting while they work it out for themselves.

5. Be willing to listen.

Transitioning can also be incredibly frustrating and emotionally turbulent. Be open and accepting when a friend wishes to talk. Respect their space when they ask for it, but make it clear that you're willing to listen.

6. Don't expect transgender people to educate you.

Don't expect your transgender friends to represent the entire community. Make use of resources to understand important issues. Books, films, blogs, and YouTube channels offer insight into the shared experiences in the community.

7. Challenge transphobic attitudes.

GLAAD advises you speak out against anti-trans remarks and backhanded compliments like, "She's so gorgeous, I would have never guessed she was transgender." Challenging these remarks and clarifying why they're inappropriate is a small step towards changing cultural attitudes.

8. Support all-gender public restrooms.

Advocate for unisex, all-gender, or single user restrooms at the workplace, schools, or businesses. Since some institutions still don't welcome gender non-conforming or transgender people, speaking up is one small way to shift attitudes towards acceptance.

9. Advocate for LGBTQ+ legislature.

As PFLAG states, People who are transgender or gender nonconforming can be fired from their jobs under state law in more than half of the states in the U.S. simply for being transgender." There's no federal law explicitly banning discrimination against transgender people, but a plethora of organizations are lobbying for that to change. You can get in touch with National Center for Transgender Equality or the Sylvia Law Project to help the cause.

10. Know your own limits as an ally.

It's never wrong to say you don't know. If you're unsure of what's appropriate, ask. If you don't feel comfortable discussing something, say so, and don't fake it. Otherwise, your reactions can range from insensitive to insincere without meaning to.

Other resources for information about the LGBTQ+ community and their allies include: Transequality.org, ACLU, Lambda Legal, Human Rights Campaign, and New York Civil Liberties Union.


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.