Category: Opinion

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AMAZON hiring fewer holiday workers, a sign robots replacing…


Amazon is staffing up for the holiday rush with around 100,000 additional hires. As big as that number sounds, it’s actually fewer people than the e-commerce giant added in either the 2016 or 2017 holiday seasons, when it brought in 120,000 additional workers.

Citi analyst Mark May says he thinks the reduction in seasonal hiring is strong evidence that Amazon is succeeding with plans to automate operations in its warehouses.

“We’ve seen an acceleration in the use of robots within their fulfillment centers, and that has corresponded with fewer and fewer workers that they’re hiring around the holidays,” May told CNBC on Nov. 2. He added that 2018 is the “first time on record” Amazon plans to hire fewer holiday workers than it did the previous year.

“Since the last holiday season, we’ve focused on more ongoing full-time hiring in our fulfillment centers and other facilities,” Amazon spokesperson Ashley Robinson said in an email, adding that the company has “created over 130,000 jobs” in the last year. “We are proud to have created over 130,000 new jobs in the last year alone.”

Amazon bought robotics company Kiva Systems for $775 million in 2012, and began using its orange robots in warehouses in late 2014. By mid-2016, it had become clear just how big a difference those robots were making. The little orange guys could handle in 15 minutes the sorting, picking, packing, and shipping that used to take human workers an hour or more to complete. In June 2016, Deutsche Bank predicted Kiva automation could save Amazon nearly $2.5 billion (those savings dropped to $880 million after accounting for the costs of installing robots in every warehouse).

Robinson said Amazon has added 300,000 full-time jobs since 2012. ”It’s a myth that automation replaces jobs and destroys net job growth,” she said by email. “Our teams work alongside more than 100,000 robots at over 26 fulfillment centers worldwide and we are excited to continue increasing the technology we use at our sites while growing our global workforce.”

The success of robots thus far may also have contributed to Amazon’s Oct. 2 decision to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all US employees, affecting around 250,000 full-time employees and 100,000 seasonal workers. That move is less financially risky if Amazon sees itself rapidly replacing these human workers with robots and other automated systems.

In an Oct. 15 research note, Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak was optimistic about Amazon’s ability to offset higher wages through automation. Nowak noted that Kiva robots were already enabling smaller Amazon warehouses to handle the same capacity as other centers, and leading to a drop in fulfillment costs. “We think improved fulfillment efficiency is set to offset the aforementioned wage increase,” he wrote.

In other words, the 2018 holiday season could be a harbinger of what’s to come.



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Bus ride from Hell: Panicked passengers jump out windows…


A frightful bus ride that was supposed to be a short jaunt from a downtown Long Beach parking lot to the Queen Mary’s “Dark Harbor” event wound up in Carson instead.

The incident wasn’t an attempted kidnapping – as at least some panicked passengers on board feared – but the result of a driver getting lost, police said on Friday.

The 60-year-old driver, who lives in Los Angeles, left the parking structure at The Pike with 20 to 30 revelers headed to the annual Halloween attraction at about 7:30 p.m. Thursday, when he became disoriented by street closures and missed his destination, police said.

As the bus drove through Carson, passengers started getting worried that they were being kidnapped and one of them confronted the driver, police said.

“Patrons began exiting the bus through various emergency exits while stopped at a traffic light,” said Officer Alvino Herrera, a Long Beach police spokesman. “We understand how this situation evolved into fear. … However, through their investigation, detectives learned the driver was simply lost.”

The driver pulled into a gas station at Central Avenue and Del Amo Boulevard in Carson, and sheriff’s deputies detained him until Long Beach police arrived to question him, Herrera said. Someone had called police.

A passenger signed a private-person arrest for the driver for suspicion of battery, police said. Police did not detail the confrontation, but did say the driver had previously had a disagreement when the passenger tried to bring an open container of alcohol aboard.

The driver was released pending an investigation.

One passenger, identified by KABC-TV as Brian Corbitt, told the station that the driver “nailed” him in the stomach, knocking him back into a seat.

“I told him straight up, I’m like, ‘Listen, at this point it’s kidnapping, you can’t hold us like this,’ ” Corbitt told the station.

Corbitt declined to speak with a reporter Friday morning, saying he needed to consult his attorney. It is unclear if he was the passenger who filed the private-person arrest form.

The shuttle bus was run by a private contractor.

Lee Piatelli, of San Pedro, said he was so unnerved by the ride he’s considering getting a lawyer, too. The driver was still moving the bus as Piatelli and others jumped out of the windows, he said.

“When you’re trying to drive a bus and people are trying to get off, that’s (expletive). Somebody’s going to get run over and get hurt,” Piatelli said.

If the driver was lost, he should have said so and pulled over, Piatelli said. Instead, the driver ignored everyone who was frantically asking what was going on, he said.

“We all started freaking out,” he said. “All we wanted was one more night of Halloween, and we got the bus ride from hell.”

Piatelli said he never saw an altercation on the bus over alcohol.

“His job is to get us from point A to point B and he took us to point outer space,” he said.

Piatelli’s group, he said, never made it to the event.

In a statement, a representative for the Queen Mary said, “The safety and security of our guests are paramount. We are working with all parties involved to learn more about the incident with this vendor, and will provide updates as more information develops.”



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Japanese island disappears…


TOKYO: Missing – A tiny island in northern Japan. Or so authorities fear, prompting plans for a survey to determine if the outcrop has been washed away, ever-so-slightly shrinking the country’s territorial waters.

The island, known as Esambe Hanakita Kojima was only officially surveyed and registered by Japan’s coastguard in 1987, who couldn’t even say exactly how big it was.

Until recently, it rose 1.4-metre above sea level, and was visible from the very northern tip of Japan’s northern Hokkaido island.

But now, it has disappeared.

“It is not impossible that tiny islands get weathered by the elements,” a coastguard official told AFP.

The disappearance of the island “may affect Japan’s territorial waters a tiny bit”, she added, but only “if you conduct precision surveys”.

Japan pours resources into protecting its outer islands, particularly the remote Okinotori islands in the Pacific, which secures a significant portion of the nation’s exclusive economic zone.

It is also locked in disputes with neighbours, including China and South Korea, over the sovereignty of several islands in the region.

Prone to earthquakes and severe weather, Japan has found itself not only losing, but sometimes gaining territory thanks to natural disasters and extreme weather.

In 2015, a 300m strip of land emerged from the sea and attached itself to the coast of Hokkaido.

Initially, the phenomenon raised fears of mysterious seismic activity, but geologists said it was probably the result of a landslide that pushed the underwater surface up.

And in 2013, a volcanic island appeared around 1,000km south of Tokyo, engulfing an existing island and continuing to grow.



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'New Age' beliefs more popular? Fewer follow traditional religions…


The growing popularity of “New Age” beliefs likely stems in part from fewer Americans following traditional religions, according to political analyst Ruy Teixeira.

“The data suggests this is the fastest growing religious group in America, are people who don’t hold any firm religious beliefs,” Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said Wednesday on Hill.TV’s “What America’s Thinking.”

“Perhaps these New Age beliefs are in a sense, at least partially, a reflection of more and more people not having an orthodox religious set of beliefs,” he added.

Teixeira was discussing a recent Pew Research Center poll that found 62 Americans hold New Age beliefs, such as astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in trees or mountains.

Seventy-eight percent of those who held at least one New Age belief said they did not affiliate with any particular religion.

The survey also found that those who identify as Christian were more likely than atheists and agnostics to hold at least one New Age belief.

Sixty-one percent of respondents who identified as Christian said they held at least one New Age belief, compared with 22 percent of atheists and 56 percent of agnostics who said the same. 

Sixty-seven percent of mainline Protestants, 47 percent of evangelicals and 70 percent of Catholics said they believed in a New Age belief. 

— Julia Manchester



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Teases new social media site…



Teases new social media site...

(Third column, 12th story, link)


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Obama rips Trump, GOP in fiery speeches…


DETROIT (AP) — Former President Barack Obama criticized President Donald Trump’s tenure in office Friday in fiery speeches in Milwaukee and Detroit that took aim at him and other Republicans for “making stuff up.”

The speeches were among Obama’s sharpest and most direct takedowns of Trump’s presidency, although the former president was careful to not mention Trump by name. He said the “character of our country is on the ballot” in the first midterm election since Trump took office.

Obama cited a recent Trump comment that he would pass a tax cut before the November election. Obama then told the crowds in high school gymnasiums that “Congress isn’t even in session before the election! He just makes it up!”

At one point Obama said in Wisconsin: “Here’s the thing. Everything I say you can look up.”

Obama’s visits were to urge people to vote for Michigan and Wisconsin’s Democratic candidates. While Trump was frequently the target of his criticism, he did not spare Republicans generally and said they are lying when they say they want to protect people with pre-existing conditions while trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“What we have not seen before in our public life is politicians just blatantly, repeatedly, baldly, shamelessly, lying. Just making stuff up,” Obama said. “Calling up, down. Calling black, white. That’s what your governor is doing with these ads, just making stuff up,” he said, referring to Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his assertions that he wants to protect health care for those with pre-existing conditions. Walker is being challenged by Democrat Tony Evers.

In Michigan, Obama credited Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer for helping to expand Medicaid and said “few people fought against it harder” than her Republican opponent, state Attorney General Bill Schuette. He said voters can trust Sen. Debbie Stabenow to protect people with pre-existing conditions because “she was there” to help pass his health law. She is facing a challenge from Republican John James, whom Obama criticized for saying he backs Trump’s agenda “2,000 percent.”

Obama used the subject of Hillary Clinton’s private email server to accuse Republicans of trying to “scare the heck out of people before every election” and also to mock Trump about the Chinese spying on his cellphone.

“In the last election, it was Hillary’s emails. ‘This is terrible’ … ‘This is a national security crisis.’ They didn’t care about emails and you know how you know? Because if they did, they’d be up in arms right now that the Chinese are listening to the president’s iPhone that he leaves in his golf cart.”

Obama spoke about the slow-moving migrant caravan from Central American bound for the United States as another example of a Republican scare tactic.

“Now the latest, they’re trying to convince everybody to be afraid of a bunch of impoverished, malnourished refugees a thousand miles away,” he said. “That’s the thing that is the most important thing in this election,” he said. “Not health care, not whether or not folks are able to retire, doing something about higher wages, rebuilding our roads and bridges and putting people back to work.”

“Suddenly,” he continued, changing his voice to a high-pitch to strike a mocking tone, “it’s these group of folks. We don’t even know where they are. They’re right down there.”

Referring to Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp,” Obama said that instead “they have gone to Washington and just plundered away.”

“In Washington they have racked up enough indictments to field a football team,” he said. “Nobody in my administration got indicted.”

Obama’s visit to Milwaukee was the first time he was in the city for a political event since March 2016, when he came to celebrate enrollment numbers in the Affordable Care Act. He did not campaign for Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin, a state she narrowly lost that proved crucial to Trump becoming president.

Michigan is another battleground state in the Midwest that Democrats lost in 2016, despite Obama’s visit the day before the election.

“I’m hopeful Michigan,” he said. “I’m hopeful that despite all the noise, despite all the lies, we’re going to come through all that. We’re going to remember who we are, who we’re called to be. I’m hopeful because out of this political darkness, I’m seeing a great awakening.”

___

Moreno reported from Milwaukee.



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Network unveils plan to replace…


Megyn Kelly will remain at NBC for now, but will exit her morning show.

“‘Megyn Kelly Today’ is not returning. Next week, the 9 a.m. hour will be hosted by other ‘Today’ co-anchors,” a spokesperson told Page Six on Friday.

The disgraced anchor’s lawyer Bryan Freeman added, “Megyn remains an employee of NBC News and discussions about next steps are continuing.”

Freeman held talks with NBC execs on Friday. Page Six reported that he’d requested Ronan Farrow be present at a Friday meeting, but a source told us Farrow had no idea about it.

Other sources said that the Friday talks wound up being over the phone.

Kelly is the middle of a 3-year contract at NBC at $23 million per year.

An insider told us Kelly’s staff of nearly 200 will continue working at the 9 a.m. hour.



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SILVER: 84% DEMS TAKE HOUSE…


The third-party candidates listed represent our best approximation of who will appear on each district’s general election ballot. The candidates listed will update as each race is finalized; some listed candidates may not ultimately qualify for the general election.

This analysis treats currently vacant seats as being held by the party that previously controlled them.

Forecast models by Nate Silver. Design and development by Jay Boice, Emma Brillhart, Aaron Bycoffe, Rachael Dottle, Lauren Eastridge, Ritchie King, Ella Koeze, Andrei Scheinkman, Gus Wezerek and Julia Wolfe. Research by Dustin Dienhart, Andrea Jones-Rooy, Dhrumil Mehta, Mai Nguyen, Nathaniel Rakich, Derek Shan and Geoffrey Skelley. Notice any bugs? Send us an email.

Download national data. Download district data.



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Lack steps back…


The anchor had met with network executives to discuss covering more news and politics.

Megyn Kelly is expected to wind down her 9 a.m. Today show hour by the end of the season, a source close to the situation tells The Hollywood Reporter. 

Sources tell THR that Kelly has met with network executives in recent weeks to discuss the future of the show and expressed a desire to cover more news and politics. It’s unclear what NBC News would put in place of Kelly’s show. But the discussions are at least an acknowledgement that the experiment is not working and that Kelly would prefer to be covering more as she did with the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Kelly met with NBC News chairman Andy Lack well before the controversy over her recent blackface comments erupted. 

Kelly has grappled with hard-news topics, including the #MeToo allegations against a series of powerful men. But her show is in a typically soft daypart, and she has often seemed to chafe at the lighter requirements of the job. Her clumsy comments about blackface on Tuesday’s Megyn Kelly Today — for which she apologized — have only exacerbated the situation. 

At a town hall with NBC News employees on Wednesday, Lack expressed dismay at Kelly’s remarks in which she brushed off the inherent racism of blackface during an on-air discussion about Halloween costumes. The backlash was immediate. And the controversy was covered in a segment on the NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt and also Wednesday morning on the flagship edition of Today. 

“There is no other way to put this, but I condemn those remarks — there is no place on our air or in this workplace for them. Very unfortunate,” Lack said at the town hall. “I think that Nightly covered the story well last night and appropriately so. I think this morning on the Today show, the team did an excellent job covering it properly. I thought Craig [Melvin] and Al [Roker] brought a thoughtfulness and a context to it that was sorely missing, and they really did this company and our audience a real public service. And that is the Today show and Nightly at their very best.”

Added Lack, “As we go forward, my highest priority remains, and as we sort through this with Megyn, let there be no doubt that this is a workplace in which you need to be proud and in which we respect each other in all the ways we know is foundational to who we are.”

Kelly has been under tremendous scrutiny since jumping from Fox News to NBC in early 2017 for a salary reportedly worth close to $20 million annually. Her exit came in the wake of widespread harassment allegations that forced the late Fox News chief Roger Ailes to resign, At Fox News, Kelly had built a reputation as a prosecutorial interviewer who sparred with then-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, earning her admiration and plaudits. But observers also questioned how she would adjust to the fluffier confines of morning TV.



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Minnesota at Crossroads of Divided America…



Minnesota at Crossroads of Divided America...

(Second column, 8th story, link)


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