Blogs

Wait? The Robots Aren't Coming After All?

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 11:58 AM EDT

Over at Vox, Matt Yglesias laments that, contrary to scare stories in the media, robots aren't taking away our jobs. In fact, productivity has dropped steadily over the past few decades. That wouldn't be true if automation were taking away work while producing more goods and services.

True enough. But what about the future?

Of course, all this might change. The power of Moore's Law — which states that the power of computer chips doubles roughly every two years — is such that the next five years' worth of digital progress will involve bigger leaps in raw processor power than the previous five years. It's at least possible that we really will have a massive leap forward in productivity someday soon that starts substantially reducing the amount of human labor needed to drive the economy forward.

But robots are never going to take all the jobs.

I have one question: Why not?

There are a couple of possible answers to that question. The first is that we'll never manage to invent true AI, which will prevent robots from ever being able to perform a wide range of tasks that humans perform easily. The second is that we will invent AI, but....something something something. I don't really understand the second answer. I'll grant that humans might continue to be CEOs and legislators and a few other things just to make sure that we're still ultimately in charge of the world ourselves. And who knows? We might even decide that we prefer human art even if we can't tell the difference, the same way an original Rembrandt is worth a lot more than even a perfect copy.

But that would still mean robots taking over 99 percent of the jobs. If you don't believe AI is coming anytime soon, then I understand why you think this will never happen. But if you do accept that AI is coming in the medium-term future, then why won't robots take essentially all the jobs? What exactly is it that they won't be able to do?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

China's Stock Market Back In Trouble

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 11:07 AM EDT

Thanks to government support, the Shanghai stock index has rallied for the past few weeks after a month of losses. Today it plummeted again, apparently due to the government withdrawing its support. From the Wall Street Journal:

Authorities may want to “test whether the market has recovered its resilience,” said Fu Xuejun, a strategist at Huarong Securities. “The government wants to use state funds to stabilize the market, not to prop it back to 5000 points overnight.”

Well, I guess that test didn't work. According to the Journal, Monday's drop came as a big surprise. "I am positive that we will see state support emerging again in the next two days," said Jacky Zhang. Maybe so. But if the fundamentals aren't there, even the Chinese version of government support can't keep things propped up forever. It's only a matter of time until we see the market plummeting again.

John Oliver Explains How Cruel Mandatory Minimum Laws Ruin Lives

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 9:57 AM EDT

Earlier this month, President Obama granted clemency to 46 nonviolent drug offenders, which saw the largest number of presidential commutations granted in a single day since the 1960's. As John Oliver noted on the latest Last Week Tonight, the move was particularly significant because each offender was subjected to harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which require low-level offenders to be locked up regardless of the crime's context.

"Ridiculously long sentences are not a great deterrent to crime," Oliver explained in his take-down of unfair sentencing laws on Sunday. "Prison sentences are a lot like penises: If they're used correctly, even a short one can do the trick.

"The truth is that mandatory minimums didn't just not work, they ruined lives."

While failing to reduce crime, mandatory minimum laws also disproportionately target minority groups across the country.

"There should be a lot more pardons and commutations," Oliver said. "But if we really want to address this problem permanently, we need states and the federal government, not just to repeal mandatory minimums going forward, but to also pass laws so that existing prisoners can apply for retroactively reduced sentences."

35 of Bill Cosby's Accusers Posed for a Powerful New York Magazine Cover Story

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 9:48 AM EDT

New York magazine just released its newest cover story, which features 35 women who have publicly accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault for one powerful photo series. The arresting black and white cover photo presents each accuser seated in a chair with one final empty seat remaining at the end.

The magazine spoke to all 35 women separately over the course of six months. Noreen Malone writes:

Each story is awful in its own right. But the horror is multiplied by the sheer volume of seeing them together, reading them together, considering their shared experience. The women have found solace in their number—discovering that they hadn't been alone, that there were others out there who believed them implicitly, with whom they didn't need to be afraid of sharing the darkest details of their lives.

On Monday morning, just hours after the story was published online, the magazine's website appeared to be hit by a DDoS attack blocking any attempt to successfully read any article coming from New York. The alleged hacker told the Daily Dot the hacking had nothing to do with the cover story and it was instead motivated by a recent bad trip to New York City.

People have since responded on social media by using the hashtag #EmptyChair to praise the story and to speak out against sexual assault.

'Strange Wilds' Creates Disruptive Noise

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Strange Wilds
Subjective Concepts
Sub Pop

 

Nasty, brutish, and relentlessly thrilling, the Olympia, Washington, trio Strange Wilds grinds up abrasive rock'n'roll ingredients and spews 'em out as one glorious wave of disruptive noise. These raucous youngsters have thoroughly schooled themselves on early punk, thrash metal and grunge (with a big debt to Nirvana's pre-Nevermind vibe), but Subjective Concepts sizzles like a brand-new inspiration. And for all the bruising chords, crashing drums, and wounded-beast vocals, it's not hard to find some solid songs amidst the storm. "Starved For" echoes Chris Bailey's Saints, while "Oneirophobe" finds singer-guitarist Steven (no last names used here) growling, "I feel fine, I feel okay/Just so scared of the everyday" as he tries to make sense of it all.

Donald Trump Explained in Four Words

| Sun Jul. 26, 2015 12:02 PM EDT

If you want to understand Donald Trump—and I wouldn't blame you if you don't—this paragraph from the Post should do it:

“Finally, I can attack!” Trump said at a packed rally at Oskaloosa High School. “Wisconsin’s doing terribly. It’s in turmoil. The roads are a disaster because they don’t have any money to rebuild them. They’re borrowing money like crazy. They projected a $1 billion surplus, and it turns out to be a deficit of $2.2 billion. The schools are a disaster. The hospitals and education was a disaster. And he was totally in favor of Common Core!”

In a private email, Walker supporter Gregory Slayton wrote, "As you've seen Gov Walker is now well ahead of everyone not named DumbDumb (aka Trump) in the national polls." The Wall Street Journal made the email public, and that was that. Finally, Trump could attack.

This is what he lives for. But only if he can pretend that the other guy started it. John McCain called his supporters crazies. Lindsey Graham called Trump a jackass. And now a Walker fundraiser called him DumbDumb. Finally! It must have been killing Trump to hold back on Walker until he had the appropriate casus belli.

That's Trump. He lives for the fight. And despite being worth $10 billion (or whatever) he always manages to feel like he's the aggrieved party. If this reminds you of any particular bloc of voters, now you know why he's doing so well in the polls.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Health Update

| Sat Jul. 25, 2015 8:54 PM EDT

This has come up in comments a few times recently, so here's a quick update.

Short answer: I'm fine.

Slightly longer answer: As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I didn't respond to the stem cell transplant, so we're trying a new chemo med. The good news is that I don't seem to be suffering any side effects so far. But it often takes more than a month for these things to show up, so we're not out of the woods yet. As for whether it's working, it will be several more months before we know.

All that aside, I feel pretty good these days. Not totally back to normal, but 80-90 percent of the way there. I still have a bit of mild stomach nausea periodically, and my neuropathy shows no signs of going away, but my energy level is pretty good and I'm eating enough for two people. At the moment, my only real problem is that I'm tired from not getting enough sleep. But that's nothing to worry about. I've been taking sleep meds for the past six months, and wanted to wait until I was feeling better to get off them. That time has come, so I'm tapering off under my doctor's instructions. It's actually going better than I expected, but there's still a price to pay. Until my body gets back into the habit of falling asleep and staying asleep on its own, I'm going to be a little short on shuteye. With any luck, this will only last a few more weeks.

Republicans Is Weird, Summer 2015 Edition

| Sat Jul. 25, 2015 12:29 PM EDT

No, this isn't about Donald Trump. It's about Sen. Mike Lee of Utah—who plans to offer yet another amendment to repeal Obamacare, but this time with a special super-duper secret sauce added to the upcoming highway funding bill:

Lee said he will try to re-offer the Obamacare repeal as a special amendment that is directly related to highway funding. Under Senate rules, amendments that are directly related, or germane, to the underlying legislation can pass with just 51 votes.

Lee knows that the chair of the Senate is likely to reject his logic that Obamacare repeal is germane to highway funding, so he plans to use the nuclear option. That means he will formally object to the ruling of the chair, which requires a 51-vote simple majority — then he plans to move on to the coveted simple majority vote.

....If his plan works, Lee gets to tell his supporters that he’s responsible for a major vote to kill the health care law he reviles. The House voted to repeal the law in February, so the two chambers could then theoretically conference the bills — leaving it up to Obama to veto a bill to kill his own signature policy achievement.

So the plan is simple: have Republicans declare ex cathedra that repeal of Obamacare is germane to highway funding, and then pass Lee's amendment with 51 votes. It's brilliant! All that's missing are the sharks with lasers attached to their heads!

Aside from being mind-numbingly stupid1, it also won't work. Democrats will just filibuster the entire highway bill, or else they'll vote for it and then Obama will veto the entire mess. Result: Obamacare stays in place but our highways continue to crumble into dust. Nice work, Senator! It's good to see that the Republican Party remains committed to the sober, responsible kind of leadership that makes our great nation the envy of the world.

1It's times like this that I regret the recent banishment of "retarded" from polite conversation. Because I think we all know that it's the word that really fits here.2

2Though I suppose there's no reason to insult the developmentally disabled by comparing them to Mike Lee.

The Americans With Disabilities Act Is Turning 25. Watch the Dramatic Protest That Made It Happen.

| Sat Jul. 25, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Eight-year-old Jennifer Keelan, left, crawls up the steps of the Capitol in Washington on March 12, 1990.

Twenty-five years ago this weekend, the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law, officially outlawing discrimination against disabled people in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and government services. The law was a long time coming: Activists had fought for decades against unequal access to jobs and exclusion from public schools. But the ADA might never have gotten to President George H.W. Bush's desk were it not for a group of activists in wheelchairs who took matters into their own hands earlier that year.

On March 12, 1990, hundreds of people with disabilities gathered at the foot of the Capitol building in Washington to protest the bill's slow movement through Congress. Dozens left behind their wheelchairs, got down on their hands and knees, and began pulling themselves slowly up the 83 steps toward the building's west entrance, as if daring the politicians inside to continue ignoring all the barriers they faced. Among the climbers was Jennifer Keelan, an eight-year-old from Denver with cerebral palsy. "I'll take all night if I have to!" she yelled while dragging herself higher and higher.

Here's some footage of the protest, via PBS's Independent Lens:

The Capitol Crawl, as it became known, made national headlines and pushed lawmakers to pass the ADA into law. When Bush finally signed the landmark bill, it was seen as one of the country's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation to date. But it was not a total cure-all, according to Susan Parish, a professor of disability policy at Brandeis University. The Supreme Court later watered it down, she says, in a series of decisions that created a narrow definition of disability.

In 2008, lawmakers passed amendments to strengthen the ADA, but Parish says people with disabilities have still struggled to gain equal access to employment, in part because employers are expected to comply with the law but do not have to follow reporting requirements. "I feel that the country needs a full-scale affirmative action program for people with disabilities," she said in a recent interview.

President Obama issued an executive order in 2010 requiring the federal government to hire more people with disabilities. In a speech earlier this week, he said the West Wing receptionist, Leah Katz-Hernandez, is the first deaf American to hold her position. But despite some progress since 1990, he acknowledged, "We've still got to do more to make sure that people with disabilities are paid fairly for their labor, to make sure they are safe in their homes and their communities…I don't have to tell you this fight is not over."

Louisiana Has Some of the Weakest Gun Laws in the Country

| Fri Jul. 24, 2015 5:29 PM EDT

On Thursday night, 59-year-old John Russell Houser of Alabama walked into the Grand Theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, with a handgun and shot into a crowd, killing two and injuring nine more. At a press conference Friday, Democratic state Rep. Terry Landry Sr. called for stricter gun laws in Louisiana, saying, "It's our job as legislators to close the loopholes in these gun laws." Indeed, according to the National Rife Association, Louisiana has one of the most open gun policies around—from its unabashedly pro-gun governor to its concealed carry law. A 2014 report by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence rated the state as having "the weakest gun laws in the country."

Here's what you need to know about gun law in Louisiana:

  • Gun owners don't have to obtain a permit to purchase guns. Buyers don't have to register their firearms, and they don't need a license to possess them. State law requires a concealed carry permit for handguns, but there is no permit required to carry rifles or shotguns.
  • State law only restricts two kinds of people from possessing guns: those 17 and under, or those convicted of certain violent crimes (until a decade has passed since the completion of the sentence, probation, parole, or suspension of a sentence).
  • The state has enacted "castle doctrine", meaning deadly force is considered justifiable in a court of law to defend against an intruder in a person's home. The Louisiana state legislature also passed a "Stand Your Ground" law in 2006, stating that anyone in a place "where he or she has a right," including public spaces, is not obligated "to retreat" if faced with a threat and "may stand his or her ground and meet force with force." (Check out our map of how quickly "Stand Your Ground" laws spread across the United States).
  • Firearms may be stored in locked, privately owned motor vehicles. Louisiana is one of 22 states with similar policies that allow guns to be left in the office parking lot.
  • Gun owners have the right to carry in restaurants.
  • According to a 2012 state constitutional amendment, "[t]he right of each citizen to keep and bear arms is fundamental and shall not be infringed" and "any restriction on this right" will be met with maximum skepticism from the courts. The amendment, which was heavily backed by Gov. Jindal, also removed language that would allow the legislature to "prohibit the carrying of weapons concealed on a person." In a written statement, Jindal argued: "We are adopting the strongest, most iron-clad, constitutional protection for law-abiding gun owners. It's our own Second Amendment, if you will."

Given these laws, it's no surprise that nearly half of Louisiana households own a gun. Unfortunately, the state also sees high levels of armed violence: According to a Mother Jones investigation, the state has the country's highest gun homicide rate—9.4 per 100,000 residents. And that gun violence has cost each Louisiana resident at least $1,333 a year.