Society's Child


Nearly half of all US jobs are threatened by robotics

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According to a study by University of Oxford researchers, nearly half of all US jobs could be lost to robots in the future.

Researchers studying over 702 detailed occupation types to find how susceptible jobs are to computerization found that jobs in transportation, logistics and administrative support are at "high risk" of automation. The findings also revealed that even occupations in the service industry were highly susceptible to losing their positions to robotics.

"We identified several key bottlenecks currently preventing occupations being automated," Dr Michael A. Osborne, from the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford, said in a statement. "As big data helps to overcome these obstacles, a great number of jobs will be put at risk."

According to the findings, about 47 percent of US employees are at risk from losing their jobs to computerization in the future. They also said they found evidence that wages and educational attainment exhibit a strong negative relationship with an occupation's probability of computerization.

"We note that this finding implies a discontinuity between the nineteenth, twentieth and the twenty-first century, in the impact of capital deepening on the relative demand for skilled labour," the authors wrote.

More mass protests in France as 'Socialist' government imposes severe austerity measures

The banner reads: "Wages frozen, jobs cut, personnel disrespected: enough!"
Yesterday's trade union protests called against the social cuts of Socialist Party (PS) President François Hollande were a political dead end for workers seeking to fight the austerity measures and the rising threat of fascism and war facing the working class. The Stalinist General Confederation of Labor (CGT) called the protest last month, while stressing that they were "not against" Hollande's Responsibility Pact, which cuts tens of billions of euros in Social Security funding and in corporate taxes.

Such protests, designed to let off steam and hide the unions' role in negotiating and designing Hollande's cuts, offer nothing to workers. They highlight the social gulf between complacent, chauvinist bureaucrats and workers concerned and angry about social cuts, the rising influence of the neo-fascist National Front (FN), and the belligerent, far-right regime the PS is supporting in Ukraine.

The class tensions between these two social layers are increasingly coming to the fore. The unions and the pseudo-left political parties endorsed the PS in the final round of the 2012 elections and are desperate to block opposition to Hollande. CGT leader Thierry LePaon stressed yesterday that this was not an "anti-Hollande protest". Among workers, however, there is escalating anger at the PS.

Five former Madoff aides convicted as part of $17.5 billion Ponzi scheme

© Photographers: Michael Nagle, Louis Lanzano, Jin Lee, Peter Foley/Bloomberg
The five former aides to Bernard Madoff accused of aiding his $17.5 billion Ponzi scheme are (L-R) Daniel Bonventre, Jerome O'Hara, Annette Bongiorno, George Perez, and Joann Crupi.
Five former aides to Bernard Madoff, who spent decades working for his firm, were found guilty of helping run the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history, a $17.5 billion fraud exposed by the 2008 financial crisis.

The three men and two women, hired by Madoff with little financial experience, were convicted on all counts. The defendants failed to persuade a federal jury in Manhattan they were ignorant of the fraud despite being part of the inner circle at his New York-based firm.

Hatched in the 1970s, Madoff's fraud targeted thousands of wealthy investors, Jewish charities, celebrities and retirees. It unraveled in 2008 when the economic crisis led to more withdrawals than Madoff could afford to pay out. In addition to $17.5 billion in principal, it erased about $47 billion in fake profit that customers thought was being held in their accounts.

Today's verdict, after five months of testimony and four days of deliberations, is a major victory for the U.S. government, coming in the only criminal trial brought in the five years since the scam was revealed. Madoff refused to cooperate with prosecutors.

Some clients learned they lost their life savings after Madoff's confession and arrest on Dec. 11, 2008, leading to criticism of regulators who repeatedly overlooked the scam. Madoff, 75, pleaded guilty the next year and is serving 150 years in a North Carolina prison.

Mission creep: America's police have become too militarized

police raid
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From the way police entered the house - helmeted and masked, guns drawn and shields in front, knocking down the door with a battering ram and rushing inside - you might think they were raiding a den of armed criminals. In fact they were looking for $1,000-worth of clothes and electronics allegedly bought with a stolen credit card. They found none of these things, but arrested two people in the house on unrelated charges.

They narrowly avoided tragedy. On hearing intruders break in, the homeowner's son, a disabled ex-serviceman, reached for his (legal) gun. Luckily, he heard the police announce themselves and holstered it; otherwise, "they probably would have shot me," he says. His mother, Sally Prince, says she is now traumatised.

Gary Mikulec, chief of the Ankeny, Iowa police force, which raided Ms Prince's home in January, said that the suspects arrested "were not very good people". One had a criminal history that included three assault charges, albeit more than a decade old, and on his arrest was found to have a knife and a meth pipe.

Protestors in Taiwan clash with riot police at government buildings in Taipei; Dozens detained as tensions over China pact rise

© Wally Santana
Dozens of people were detained in Taipei late Sunday after violent clashes erupted between police and protesters, following the Taiwanese president's refusal to scrap a contentious trade agreement with China.

Hundreds of protesters who had been staging a demonstration against the trade pact pushed past riot police in full gear to storm the government headquarters, before the crowd was dispersed shortly after midnight.

Tensions exploded into the open on Tuesday when around 200 demonstrators, mostly young students, broke through security barriers and took over parliament's main chamber, the first such occupation of the building in the island's history.

President Ma Ying-jeou moved Sunday to denounce the "illegal" occupation of parliament by students opposed to the trade agreement's ratification.

Local TVBS news network showed protesters pulling down barbed wire barricades surrounding the government building, with some using ladders to break into offices on the second floor of the building.

Homeless man shot to death by police while "illegally camping" in the foothills of New Mexico

The moment police opened fire on James Boyd. Note he was turning away.
A homeless New Mexico man who was illegally camping in the Albuquerque foothills was fatally shot by police.

New helmet camera video released by the Albuquerque Police Department on Friday shows the moment 38-year-old James Boyd turns his back to officers and then gets shot dead. Despite overwhelming criticism to the shooting, the department says its officers were justified, KRQE reported.

Boyd was shot on Sunday, March 16. Police Chief Gorden Eden said officers approached Boyd, who was sleeping, to speak to him about illegally camping in an open space, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

According to authorities, Boyd began arguing with officers for more than three hours before the fatal shooting. Graphic video released by the department shows cops yelling at Boyd to "get on the ground" moments before he's shot.

Texas man wins sexual harassment case against female boss: Jury awards James Gist $567K in Pam Matranga case

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A Texas jury found Pam Matranga sexually harassed her deputy.
A Texas law enforcement official was awarded $567,000 by a jury who found that he was the victim of sexual harassment from his female boss

Former Galveston County Deputy Constable James Gist, 51, sued the county and claimed ex-Constable Pam Matranga repeatedly sexually harassed him from May 2011 to October 2011 by asking him to touch her breasts, pulling her shirt over his head and pretending to give him a lap dance. The Galveston County jury awarded damages to Gist on Friday.

Anthony Griffin, Gist's attorney, told the Houston Chronicle that the jury awarded Gist $200,000 more than what the 51-year-old former deputy constable was seeking in damages. He also said the jury's decision showed that gender didn't play a role in the case.

Debt Slavery! The student loan problem is worse than you think

piggy bank
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The Federal Reserve Bank of New York published its latest Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit recently, and, as usual, the real story about student loans is buried in its back pages.

The report highlights the fact that loan-payment delinquency rates continue to improve (i.e. decline). On average, a little over 7% of all outstanding consumer debt obligations are in some stage of delinquency (30 or more days past due), and roughly 70% of those are seriously so (90 or more days past due).

The executive summary also notes that student loan balances that are 90 or more days past due represent 11.5% of the total outstanding. Sure, it's a troubling metric. But when the FRBNY juxtaposes that amount with the 9.5% of comparably delinquent (and equally uncollateralized) credit card debt, it doesn't seem so out of whack - until you dig a little deeper.

Unlike credit card balances, not all outstanding student loans are due at any given moment in time. In fact, of the approximately $1.2 trillion of education debt that's currently on the books, only about half that amount is actually amortizing (the other half pertains to loans for students who are still in school).

Texas city pays Ted Nugent $16k to not perform at Fourth of July celebration

© Torin Halsey
Longtime rocker Ted Nugent speaks to a crowd of Greg Abbott supporters during a campaign stop in Wichita Falls, Texas on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014
The city of Longview put the stranglehold on "Cat Scratch Fever" - but it cost thousands of dollars.

The city paid out $16,250 last month to end contract negotiations with rocker Ted Nugent, who was under consideration as the headliner for the city's Fourth of July celebration.

The payoff came as Nugent's earlier incendiary comments and song lyrics became an issue during a campaign swing with Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.

City spokesman Shawn Hara said the campaign-trail controversy was just one of several factors that led to the city pulling the plug.

"(There were) a variety of reasons. Cost, structure, is it the right musical act for this type of event - a city-sponsored, family-oriented overall event," Hara said. "They decided no, we don't want to move forward, it is not the right act for this. At that point we decided to end discussions."

Comment: One has to think that the city had second thoughts after reading a host of inflammatory comments Ted Nugent has made, including calling President Obama a "chimpanzee and sub-human mongrel", that Hillary Clinton had "spare scrotums", and that apartheid wasn't "cut-and-dry".


Scarce in Venezuela: Flour, cooking oil, butter, milk, diapers, toilet paper

© Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty Images
People line up to buy goods at a store in Caracas, Venezuela.
Alvaro Villarueda starts his morning the same way every day - putting in a call to his friend who has a friend who works at a Caracas, Venezuela, supermarket.

Today, he's looking for sugar, and he's asking his friend if he knows if any shipments have arrived. As he talks on the phone, his wife Lisbeth Nello, is in the kitchen.

There are 10 mouths to feed every day in this family - five of them children. The two youngest are still in diapers.

"The things that are the scarcest are actually what we need the most," Nello says. "Flour, cooking oil, butter, milk, diapers. I spent last week hunting for diapers everywhere. The situation is really tough for basic goods."

Student-led demonstrations have been roiling Venezuela for more than a month. At least 28 people have been killed and dozens wounded in confrontations between security forces and those who have taken to the streets.

The list of grievances - rising crime, inflation - is long, but the main one for many is the scarcity of basic foodstuffs.

Comment: Food prices skyrocketed 72% in Venezuela in 2013: International financiers' currency speculation to blame?