Businesses

Many Amazon Warehouse Workers are on Food Stamps (theintercept.com) 131

Many of Amazon's warehouse workers have to buy their groceries with food stamps through America's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, reports the Intercept. In Arizona, new data suggests that one in three of the company's own employees depend on SNAP to put food on the table. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, the figure appears to be around one in 10. Overall, of five states that responded to a public records request for a list of their top employers of SNAP recipients, Amazon cracked the top 20 in four.

Though the company now employs 200,000 people in the United States, many of its workers are not making enough money to put food on the table... "The average warehouse worker at Walmart makes just under $40,000 annually, while at Amazon would take home about $24,300 a year," CNN reported in 2013. "That's less than $1,000 above the official federal poverty line for a family of four."

In addition Amazon uses temp workers who may also be on food stamps, notes the article, adding that in 2017 Amazon received $1.2 billion in state and local subsidies, while effectively paying no federal income tax.

"The American people are financing Amazon's pursuit of an e-commerce monopoly every step of the way: first, with tax breaks, subsidies, and infrastructure improvements meant to lure fulfillment centers into town, and later with federal transfers to pay for warehouse workers' food."
The Almighty Buck

What Happens When Restaurants Go Cashless (usatoday.com) 216

There's a new trend starting: restaurants that won't accept cash. USA Today reports: Restaurant owners say ordering is faster from customers who slap down plastic instead of dollars, cutting a few seconds out of the process. But most of the benefits appear to accrue to the restaurants: less time taken counting bills, reduced pilferage, no armored-car fees or fear of stickups. It's a risky strategy. For starters, upscale Millennials -- among the most coveted of diners because of their youth and affluence -- prefer to pay in cash, according to Bankrate.com data. Also, more than a third of Americans between the ages of 18 and 37 do not have a credit card. For customers, patronizing restaurants that don't take cash means one less payment option when they need a quick meal during an all-too-short lunch hour. Plus, it raises questions about whether it discriminates against cardless teens and the poor... A committee in Chicago is weighing Alderman Edward Burke's proposed requirement that merchants accept cash. Massachusetts has had a Discrimination Against Cash Buyers rule on the books since 1978... Lana Swartz, co-editor of the book Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff, says "One of the cornerstones of American capitalism is everyone's money is equal."
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports: Many business owners would rather be cashless. Cash actually costs money -- banks charge fees for cash deposits and to handle coins... And counting and checking cash and preparing it for deposit takes up time a manager could spend with staff or customers... Millions of consumers use little or no cash. In a survey released last month by the financial services company Capital One, only 21 percent of 2,000 people questioned said cash was their most common way to pay for things. But going cashless isn't a slam-dunk. Some customers who want to use cash point to a statement on paper money: "This note is legal tender for all debts public and private." However, the Federal Reserve says on its website that private companies can make their own policies about cash unless there is a state law saying otherwise.
One Houston restauranteur changed his mind about going cashless, saying "You can't compete if you think you're going to create a whole set of rules and expect people to follow them." One Chicago restauranteur admits that "it has generated the most negative pushback of anything we've ever done," estimating revenue fell 2% just from angry cash customers who never returned.

But he persisted because his eight restaurants had experienced six burglaries, break-ins or armed robberies over the last eight years -- and got "dozens and dozens" of counterfeit bills from customers -- while by going cashless, he no longer has to pay for bank fees and armored car pickups.
Earth

Lyft Announces It Will Make All Rides Carbon Neutral (cnn.com) 33

Lyft announced it will spend millions of dollars to make all its rides carbon neutral. An anonymous reader quotes CNN Money: The San Francisco-based ride-hailing company announced Thursday that it will pay for a range of environmentally beneficial projects to compensate for the emissions from the millions of car journeys it provides every week. The tactic, known as carbon offsets, is a way for Lyft to do something about climate change without changing its business model. Lyft will fund initiatives including forestry projects, renewable energy ventures and capturing emissions from landfills.

The efforts will put Lyft among the 10 largest voluntary offset programs in the world, according to 3Degrees, the renewable energy company Lyft is partnering with to find suitable projects... Lyft will track how many miles its drivers cover -- and the make and model of their vehicles -- to calculate exactly how many emissions it must offset. The company will not limit itself just to the carbon footprint from when passengers are in Lyft vehicles, but will also include the mileage its drivers rack up on their way to pick people up.

Lyft co-founder John Zimmer believes that within their first year they'll offset over a million metric tons of carbon -- "equivalent to planting tens of millions of trees or taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road."

Zimmer told CNN that "With great scale comes great responsibility."
The Almighty Buck

Wells Fargo Agrees to $1 Billion Fine Over Home and Auto Loan Abuses (reuters.com) 56

Wells Fargo got hit with a $1 billion fine Friday -- the largest ever issued by America's consumer protection agency. An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: Taken together, the mortgage and auto programs ensnared more than 600,000 customers and will require nearly $300 million in refunds, the bank has said. The programs allowed Wells Fargo to earn fees from unneeded car insurance and penalties on mortgage paperwork that the bank had botched. For homebuyers, Wells Fargo promised to "rate lock" or freeze the interest rate for borrowers who got their mortgage paperwork finished within a few weeks. When that deadline slipped and it was the bank's fault, Wells Fargo could blame the customer. The penalty for late mortgage paperwork often topped $1000, according to a borrower lawsuit...

Drivers stung by insurance fees were wrongly pushed into policies that they did not need... Insurers working for Wells Fargo pushed policies onto more than 500,000 customers who already had coverage, the bank has said.

The penalty comes 18 months after Wells Fargo "admitted it opened sham accounts for customers -- a practice that likely ensnared millions...

Wells Fargo agreed to the new $1 billion fine "without admitting or denying wrongdoing."
The Almighty Buck

Kurzweil Predicts Universal Basic Incomes Worldwide Within 20 Years (hackernoon.com) 249

Google's director of engineering Ray Kurzweil made a startling prediction at the 2018 TED conference. Hacker Noon reports: "In the early 2030s, we'll have universal basic income in the developed world, and worldwide by the end of the 2030s. You'll be able to live very well on that. The primary concern will be meaning and purpose," he said onstage at the annual event...

Kurzweil believes that by 2029, computers will have human-level intelligence. It's not inconceivable then that AI will be distributing UBI to humans based on algorithms that are capable of crunching numbers in ways we cannot follow. Indeed, what we call the "State" in even just 10 years time may have been transformed by AI and blockchain tech in a way whereby even our experience of consensus decision making and democracy itself may have evolved.

Government

Senate Confirms Climate Denier With No Scientific Credentials To Head NASA (nytimes.com) 386

On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Trump's NASA nominee Jim Bridenstine, seven and a half months after being nominated to lead the agency. "The Senate confirmed Mr. Bridenstine, an Oklahoma congressman, as the new NASA administrator in a stark partisan vote: 50 Republicans voting for him and 47 Democrats plus two independents against," reports The New York Times. "The vote lasted more than 45 minutes as Republicans waited for Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona to cast his lot." Slashdot reader PeopleAquarium writes about some of Bridenstine's anti-LGBT and non-scientific views: Bridenstine ran a planetarium once, and peddled a debunked argument made by climate change skeptics, claiming that global temperatures "stopped rising 10 years ago." He said "the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept" an apology from then-President Barack Obama for what Bridenstine called a "gross misallocation" of funds for climate change research instead of weather forecasting. In further news, our rockets will now be coal powered, and gay people aren't allowed in space.
Government

Government Accidentally Releases Documents On 'Psycho-Electric' Weapons (popularmechanics.com) 80

schwit1 shares a report from Popular Mechanics: The government has all kinds of secrets, but only a true conspiracy theorist might suspect that "psycho-electric weapons" are one of them. So it's odd that MuckRock, a news organization that specializes in filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with state and federal government bodies, received mysterious documents about mind control, seemingly by accident. Journalist Curtis Waltman was writing to the Washington State Fusion Center (WSFC), a joint operation between Washington State law enforcement and the federal government to request information about Antifa and white supremacist groups. He got responses to the questions he asked, but also a file titled "EM effects on human body.zip." At least some of the images appear to be part of an article in Nexus magazine describing a 1992 lawsuit brought by one John St. Clair Akewi against the NSA. Akewi claimed that the NSA had the "ability to assassinate U.S. citizens covertly or run covert psychological control operations to cause subjects to be diagnosed with ill mental health" and was documenting their alleged methods.
Earth

'Sea Nomads' Are First Known Humans Genetically Adapted To Diving (nationalgeographic.com) 97

schwit1 shares a report from National Geographic: Most people can hold their breath underwater for a few seconds, some for a few minutes. But a group of people called the Bajau takes free diving to the extreme, staying underwater for as long as 13 minutes at depths of around 200 feet. These nomadic people live in waters winding through the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, where they dive to hunt for fish or search for natural elements that can be used in crafts. Now, a study in the journal Cell offers the first clues that a DNA mutation for larger spleens gives the Bajau a genetic advantage for life in the deep.
AI

AI Will Wipe Out Half the Banking Jobs In a Decade, Experts Say 106

Experts in the industry say that current advances in artificial intelligence and automation could replace as many as half the nation's financial services workers over the next decade, though it will take a big investment to make that happen. The Mercury News reports: "Unless banks deal with the performance issues that AI will cause for ultra-large databases, they will not be able to take the money gained by eliminating positions and spend it on the new services and products they will need in order to stay competitive," James D'Arezzo, CEO of Glendale-based Condusiv Technologies, said. Intensive hardware upgrades are often cited as an answer to the problem, but D'Arezzo said that's prohibitively expensive.

Speaking to an audience last year in Frankfurt, Germany, Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan predicted a "bonfire" of industry jobs as automation moves forward. "In our bank we have people doing work like robots," he said. "Tomorrow we will have robots behaving like people. It doesn't matter if we as a bank will participate in these changes or not, it is going to happen." Increased processing power, cloud storage and other developments are making many tasks possible that once were considered too complex for automation, according to Cryan. D'Arezzo, whose company works to improve existing software performance, said the financial industry is being swamped by "a tsunami of data," including new compliance requirements for customer privacy and constantly changing bank regulations.
Bhagwan Chowdhry, a professor of finance and economics at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, offers a less bleak view of the future. "Technology will eliminate some jobs that are repetitive and require less human judgment," he said, "But I think they will get replaced by other jobs that humans are better at. Anything that requires judgment is something humans will continue to do. We are not good at multiplying 16-digit numbers, but we're good at judging people and detecting if someone is telling the truth."
Businesses

Qualcomm Cutting 1,500 Jobs At Its California Offices (reuters.com) 31

As part of its promise to investors to cut annual costs by $1 billion, Qualcomm is cutting 1,500 jobs across multiple divisions at its offices in California. Reuters reports: The company, which has about 33,800 employees as of Sept.24, informed about its job cut plans in California in a regulatory notice that was filed with the state on April 18. Qualcomm said it plans to cut 1,231 jobs in its San Diego office and 269 from its San Jose and Santa Clara offices in the state. Though the company first considered cost reductions without layoffs, it concluded that job cuts are needed to support long-term growth and success, a Qualcomm spokesperson said on Wednesday.
Canada

Engineers Are Leaving America For Canada (bloomberg.com) 283

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Bloomberg: The H-1B was created in 1990, part of an immigration overhaul signed into law by President George H.W. Bush that also created the EB-5 investor visa -- the subject of a fracas involving Kushner Cos. seeking Chinese investment -- and the diversity lottery, which Trump has attacked. Today, an estimated half a million H-1B holders live in the U.S. No one tracks exactly how many ditch their skilled visas for the permanent residency Canada offers, but during the first year of Trump's presidency, the number of tech professionals globally who got permanent residency in Canada ticked up almost 40 percent from 2016, to more than 11,000.

In 1967, Canada became the first country to adopt a points-based immigration system. The country regularly tweaks how it rates applicants based on national goals and research into what makes for successful integration: A job offer used to come with 600 points, but now it's worth just 200. Other factors like speaking fluent English or French -- or, even better, both -- have been given more weight over the years. Country of origin is irrelevant. In 2016, Canada increased national immigration levels to 300,000 new permanent residents annually. Last year, in consultation with trade groups, it created a program called the Global Skills Strategy to issue temporary work permits to people with job offers in certain categories, including senior software engineers, in as little as two weeks. Since the program started in June, more than 5,600 people have been granted permits, from the U.S., India, Pakistan, Brazil, and elsewhere.

Government

North Korean Leader Says He Will Suspend Arms Tests, Shut Nuclear Test Site (cnn.com) 233

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced early Saturday morning that the regime no longer needs nuclear tests or intercontinental ballistic missile tests. Kim said Saturday that "under the proven condition of complete nuclear weapons, we no longer need any nuclear tests, mid-range and intercontinental ballistic rocket tests, and that the nuclear test site in northern area has also completed its mission," state-run KCNA reported Saturday. CNN reports: A North Korea source told CNN that Kim has finally decided to open up a new chapter for his nation. Kim has committed himself to the path of denuclearization and will now focus solely on economic growth and improving the national economy, the source said. The North Korean leader has realized the best path forward is to normalize relations with other countries, the source added. He is finally being recognized by the international community, and this is a historic, timely opportunity, the source said. The decision to halt nuclear and missile testing comes just one week before the leaders of South and North Korea are due to meet at the demilitarized zone between the two countries. U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the news, tweeting: "North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World - big progress! Look forward to our Summit."
AT&T

AT&T, Verizon Under US Investigation For Collusion To Lock In Customers (nytimes.com) 33

bongey writes: AT&T and Verizon are currently under investigation for colluding with the GSMA standards group to thwart eSIM technology and hinder consumers from easily switching wireless carriers. eSIM technology lets people remotely switch wireless providers without having to insert a new SIM card into a device. According to The New York Times, the two companies "face accusations that they colluded with the GSMA to try to establish standards that would allow them to lock a device to their network even if it had eSIM technology." The Justice Department opened the investigation roughly five months ago after at least one device maker and one wireless carrier filed formal complaints.
Government

Palantir Knows Everything About You (bloomberg.com) 108

Palantir, a data-mining company created by Peter Thiel, is aiding government agencies by tracking American citizens using the War on Terror, Bloomberg reports. From the report: The company's engineers and products don't do any spying themselves; they're more like a spy's brain, collecting and analyzing information that's fed in from the hands, eyes, nose, and ears. The software combs through disparate data sources -- financial documents, airline reservations, cellphone records, social media postings -- and searches for connections that human analysts might miss. It then presents the linkages in colorful, easy-to-interpret graphics that look like spider webs.

[...] The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses Palantir to detect Medicare fraud. The FBI uses it in criminal probes. The Department of Homeland Security deploys it to screen air travelers and keep tabs on immigrants. Police and sheriff's departments in New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Los Angeles have also used it, frequently ensnaring in the digital dragnet people who aren't suspected of committing any crime.

United States

No One Knows How Long the US Coastline Is (discovermagazine.com) 178

How long is the U.S. coastline? It's a straightforward question, and one that's important for scientists and government agencies alike. From a report: The U.S. Geological Survey could give you an answer, too, but I'm going to tell you right now that it's wrong. In fact, no one could give you the right answer, and if you look around, you'll find a number of estimations that differ by seemingly improbable amounts. One government report lists the number as 12,383 miles. The same report admits that a different government agency says the figure is actually 88,612 miles. That's an almost eight-fold disparity for a fact that seems simple to obtain. We all know how to use a ruler, right?

Well, we all know how to measure a straight line, but what about a curve? And what if that curve has curves? The crux of the problem comes down to geometry, and the fundamentally uneven nature of coastlines. Though the border between land and sea may look fairly straight when seen from far away, they're anything but. Coastlines jut and dip, curve and cut, and each deviation from a straight line adds distance. Some of these features are massive, like bays, while others are miniscule.

United States

Democratic Party Files Suit Alleging Russia, the Trump Campaign, and WikiLeaks Conspired To Disrupt the 2016 Election (cnbc.com) 637

The Democratic Party is suing Russia, the Trump campaign and the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks for conspiring to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. From a report: The multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court says that "In the Trump campaign, Russia found a willing and active partner in this effort" to mount "a brazen attack on American Democracy," which included Russian infiltration of the Democratic Party computer network. The Trump campaign, according to the lawsuit, "gleefully welcomed Russia's help." The suit says that "preexisting relationships with Russia and Russian oligarchs" with Trump and Trump associates "provided fertile ground for [the] Russia-Trump conspiracy." The common purpose of the scheme, according to the Democratic National Committee, was to "bolster Trump and denigrate the Democratic Party nominee," Hillary Clinton, while boosting the candidacy of Trump, "whose policies would benefit the Kremlin." Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the party's suit "is not partisan, it's patriotic."
Communications

End of the Landline: BT Aims To Move All UK Customers To VoIP by 2025 (siliconrepublic.com) 95

BT aims to move its UK customers to IP telephony by 2025. From a report: BT is shutting its traditional telephone network in the UK, according to an email seen by The Register. The public switched telephone network (PSTN) closure is part of the company's plans to move in a fibre network direction in terms of its infrastructure. All phonecalls will eventually be made over broadband using VoIP systems, which means the company's existing wholesale line rental products, which are reliant on the PSTN, will need to be removed. BT Openreach runs the network used by all but one of the telecoms providers in the UK.
AI

AI Researchers Are Making More Than $1 Million, Even at a Nonprofit (nytimes.com) 82

One of the poorest-kept secrets in Silicon Valley has been the huge salaries and bonuses that experts in artificial intelligence can command. Now, a little-noticed tax filing by a research lab called OpenAI has made some of those eye-popping figures public [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: OpenAI paid its top researcher, Ilya Sutskever, more than $1.9 million in 2016. It paid another leading researcher, Ian Goodfellow, more than $800,000 -- even though he was not hired until March of that year. Both were recruited from Google. A third big name in the field, the roboticist Pieter Abbeel, made $425,000, though he did not join until June 2016, after taking a leave from his job as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Those figures all include signing bonuses.

[...] Salaries for top A.I. researchers have skyrocketed because there are not many people who understand the technology and thousands of companies want to work with it. Element AI, an independent lab in Canada, estimates that 22,000 people worldwide have the skills needed to do serious A.I. research -- about double from a year ago.

Android

ZTE Exports Ban May Mean No Google Apps, a Death Sentence For Its Smartphones (arstechnica.com) 139

New submitter krazy1 shares a report from Ars Technica: The U.S. government is going after another Chinese Android device maker. After shutting down Huawei's carrier deals and retail partners, the government is now pursuing ZTE. The U.S. Department of Commerce has banned U.S. companies from selling parts and software to ZTE for seven years. ZTE was caught violating U.S. sanctions by illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company then made things worse by "making false statements and obstructing justice, including through preventing disclosure to and affirmatively misleading the U.S. Government," according to the Department of Commerce.

The latest news from Reuters raises even bigger issues for ZTE, though. A source told Reuters that "The Commerce Department decision means ZTE Corp may not be able to use Google's Android operating system in its mobile devices." Android is free and open source and will probably remain free for ZTE to use without Google's involvement. Reuters' source is probably referring to the Google apps, which aren't sold to device makers but are carefully licensed to them in exchange for other concessions. The Google apps package includes popular services like Gmail and Google Maps, and it also unlocks the Play Store, Google Play Services, and the entire Android app ecosystem. For a market-viable Android device, the Play Store is pretty much mandatory in every country other than China. So while ZTE could conceivably source hardware components from non-U.S. sources, being locked out of the Play Store would devastate ZTE's smartphones worldwide.

Earth

Since 2016, Half of All Coral In the Great Barrier Reef Has Died (theatlantic.com) 215

A new paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, reports that the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its corals since 2016. The authors inspected every one of its reefs, surveying them on an almost species-by-species basis, and found the damage to be widespread across the entire ecosystem. "Two of its most recognizable creatures -- the amber-colored staghorn corals, and the flat, fanlike tabular corals -- suffered the worst casualties," reports The Atlantic. From the report: "On average, across the Great Barrier Reef, one in three corals died in nine months," said Terry Hughes, an author of the paper and the director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the Australian government's federal research program devoted to corals. "You could say [the ecosystem] has collapsed. You could say it has degraded. I wouldn't say that's wrong," Hughes said. "A more neutral way of putting it is that it has transformed into a completely new system that looks differently, and behaves differently, and functions differently, than how it was three years ago."

In the summer months of 2017, warm waters again struck the reef and triggered another bleaching event. This time, the heat hit the reef's middle third. Hughes and his team have not published a peer-reviewed paper on that event, but he shared early survey results with me. Combined, he said, the back-to-back bleaching events killed one in every two corals in the Great Barrier Reef. It is a fact almost beyond comprehension: In the summer of 2015, more than 2 billion corals lived in the Great Barrier Reef. Half of them are now dead. What caused the devastation? Hughes was clear: human-caused global warming. The accumulation of heat-trapping pollution in the atmosphere has raised the world's average temperature, making the oceans hotter and less hospitable to fragile tropical corals.

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