Amazon to Begin Accepting Food Stamps

Internet-based retail giant Amazon is among the seven online food retailers that will soon start accepting food stamps, as part of a pilot program instituted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The two-year program, set to launch this summer, will test online ordering and payment methods.

The USDA, which oversees the $74 billion food stamp program, also known as SNAP or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, says it plans to expand the online program nationwide and eventually add more retailers.

Participating retailers include Safeway, ShopRite, Hy-Vee, Hart’s Local Grocers, and Dash’s Market, and will serve  food stamps recipients in seven states: Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, Iowa, and Oregon.

However, Amazon is by far the largest online food distributor participating in the federal government’s new program.

“Amazon is excited to participate in the USDA SNAP online purchasing pilot,” the Seattle, Washington-based company said in a press release. “We are committed to making food accessible through online grocery shopping, offering all customers the lowest prices possible.”

For years, government watchdog groups have demanded tighter regulations as food stamp fraud remains a common and costly problem.

The USDA, seemingly aware of the risks for fraud, says “online payment presents technical and security challenges that will need to be examined and fully addressed before it is offered nationwide.”

News of the USDA’s pilot program comes as a new report reveals Americans used food stamps to buy more than $600 million worth of “sweetened beverages,” and bought hundreds of millions more of junk food and sugary snacks.

Overall, $1.3 billion in food stamps were spent on “sweetened drinks, desserts, salty snacks, candy, and sugar,” which accounted for about 20 cents of every dollar spent on food items purchased by 26.5 million households in 2011, according to a recently released report from the USDA.

What’s more, the USDA’s plan to allow tens of millions of food stamps recipients to purchase products from Amazon is the latest example of mega-corporations profiting from poverty.

Big banks like J.P. Morgan have made millions providing electronic benefits transaction (EBT) services for state governments and their respective food stamps programs.

“Since 2004, 18 of 24 states who contract with J.P. Morgan to provide welfare benefits have contracted to pay $560,492,596.02,” an investigation by the Government Accountability Institute (GAI) found.

Christopher Paton, the company’s former managing director of treasury services, told Bloomberg News in 2011:

This business is a very important business to JP Morgan. It’s an important business in terms of its size and scale. We also regard it as very important in the sense that we are delivering a very useful social function. We are a key part of this benefit delivery mechanism. Right now volumes have gone through the roof in the past couple of years or so … The good news from JP Morgan’s perspective is the infrastructure that we built has been able to cope with that increase in volume.

Walmart, which wasn’t selected to participate in the USDA pilot program, hopes to be added to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service online purchasing program in the future.

“We look forward to working with FNS as they continue to explore this opportunity,” the company said, CBS reports. “We’ve expanded our highly popular online grocery service from five markets to more than 100 markets over the past 18 months in both large and small communities across the country.”

GoFundMe Donations for Chicago Torture Victim Surpass $150,000

Reddit users contributed to the GoFundMe campaign for a Chicago disabled man who was tortured during a Facebook Live stream while his accused attackers shouted, “F*** Trump,” and, “F*** White People,” pushing donations to over $150,000.

In a post to the subreddit /r/UpliftingNews, moderator Razorsheldon posted a thread titled “Call To arms #4 – Let’s Show the Chicago Victim Some Love.” The moderator wrote in the thread, “It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these in this subreddit, but for those of you who have seen the recent horrific facebook live video of the young special needs victim tied up and getting tortured by 4 others, your immediate reaction is complete disgust and your second reaction is to want to help this young man.”

“Below is a link to a GoFundMe fundraiser with 100% of the proceeds going directly to this young man and/or his family/guardians. Let’s prove to him that there is far more good in this world than the evil he recently endured,” said Razorsheldon.

An outpouring of empathy for the young man could be seen in the comments. One user said, “It’s bad enough to gang up on someone, let alone someone with special needs. My heart goes out to him and his family.” Another user replied, “And then livestream it on top of that. Absolutely disgusting. At least they provided evidence against themselves.”

As Breitbart previously reported, GoFundMe’s regional communications manager Bartlett Jackson told the Associated Press the account is legitimate and that its creator has been working directly with the victim’s family. The fundraising campaign had reached $80,000 on January 7, and the total donations have nearly doubled in the last four days with $157,328 raised at the time of this article’s publication.

The four attackers in the incident have been arrested and bail has been denied.

Facebook’s Senior Engineers Block ‘Diversity’ Hires

A new report from Bloomberg suggests that Facebook failed to meet its own “diversity” goals because of the role of white and Asian engineers in final hiring decisions.

In 2015 Facebook, the report claims, began incentivizing recruiters to bring in women, blacks and Latinos, but final hiring decisions from senior engineers allowed their workplace diversity to stagnate in the single digit and teen percentage range for these demographics.

Facebook had heralded its own efforts to remedy what it identified as a diversity problem in its own workforce. It began incentivizing recruiters with “double points” to seek out engineering candidates that belonged to targeted demographic groups. The highly valuable points were energizing to recruiters, reported Bloomberg; however, when it came time to hire, “decision-makers were risk-averse, often declining the minority candidates.”

Two former recruiters identified “a group of about 20 to 30 highly-ranked engineering leaders,” of which about two at a time would make final hiring decisions on candidates considered in candidate review process meetings. Bloomberg reported that the engineering leaders were nearly exclusively white and Asian men.

The report highlights the company’s employment levels for three demographics in light of the recruiting initiative. “Facebook’s demographics in technology roles — which includes engineers and some other job categories – has barely changed, according to its yearly diversity reports. From 2015 to 2016, Facebook’s proportion of women in tech grew from 16 percent to 17 percent, and its proportion of black and Latino U.S. tech workers stayed flat at 1 and 3 percent, respectively,” the report states.

A Facebook spokesperson fired back in a statement to Bloomberg, “Once people begin interviewing at Facebook, we seek to ensure that our hiring teams are diverse. Our interviewers and those making hiring decisions go through our managing bias course and we remain acutely focused on improving our ability to hire people with different backgrounds and perspectives.”

“Nearly 100% of people at the manager level and above — and 75% of all US employees — have taken our Managing Bias class,” read a Facebook statement on diversity from July 2016. That statement also reported a hiring increase of these demographics that outpaced current percentages. As of June 30, 2016, in the U.S., Facebook employed 52 percent whites, 38 percent Asians, 4 percent Hispanics, 2 percent blacks, 3 percent who claimed two or more races, and 1 percent “other.” Men made up 67 percent of global employees.

Facebook posted its “Managing Bias” course videos along with its July 2016 report, insinuating that other companies wished to learn more from Facebook on diversity.

The Bloomberg report also cited tech company diversity consultant Joelle Emerson, who derided the engineering leaders’ practice of probing candidates based on where they attended college or whether they had worked for a top tech firm, characterizing it as “like the most baffling waste of time.”

USC Female Empowerment Group Removes ‘Women’ From Name to Be More Inclusive

Members of the University of Southern California Women’s Student Assembly unanimously voted this week to remove the word “women” from the group’s name in an effort to be more inclusive.

The students voted on Tuesday to change the name of the group from Women’s Student Assembly to the Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment (SAGE).

SAGE Assistant Director Maddie Hengst claimed that the changes were made so that the group could become a resource for not only women but transgender students as well.

“Our mission statement recognizes that we do not just cater to female-identified students, but also cater to students of all gender identities,” Hengst said. “We also don’t want to alienate any of our constituency by focusing exclusively on women.”

Considering that transgender women were welcome in the student group before the name change, it seems like the rebranding effort was done in order to attract non-binary students, meaning students who don’t identify as male or female.

Hengst added that the changes better reflect the mission statement of the group. “I hope that in the future women wouldn’t feel alienated by our organization or feel inadequately represented by our organization,” Hengst said in response. “I think right now the organization wasn’t appropriately representing our mission statement, so this name change isn’t really changing the purpose of our organization at all — it’s just better reflecting what our mission statement has been and the work we’ve been doing for the past few years.”

Microsoft Employees Sue Company over PTSD Suffered from Filtering Child Porn, Murder

Two members of Microsoft’s Online Safety Team are suing the company, citing post-traumatic stress and auditory hallucinations after being made to filter through and remove videos and pictures of child porn, murder, and bestiality as part of their job.

“Members of Microsoft’s Online Safety Team had ‘God-like’ status, former employees Henry Soto and Greg Blauert allege in a lawsuit filed on Dec. 30. They ‘could literally view any customer’s communications at any time,’” reported the Daily Beast. “Specifically, they were asked to screen Microsoft users’ communications for child pornography and evidence of other crimes.”

“But Big Brother didn’t offer a good health care plan, the Microsoft employees allege. After years of being made to watch the ‘most twisted’ videos on the internet, employees said they suffered severe psychological distress, while the company allegedly refused to provide a specially trained therapist or to pay for therapy,” the report alleges. “The two former employees and their families are suing for damages from what they describe as permanent psychological injuries, for which they were denied worker’s compensation.”

Soto, who was one of the first employees in the department, claims to have been “involuntarily transferred” to the position, adding that he was “not informed prior to the transfer as to the full nature” of the job.

Soto was also forced to remain in the position for at least a year and a half before being able to request another transfer– the usual practice for any position at Microsoft.

As part of the job, Soto claimed that he had to watch and filter through “horrible brutality, murder, indescribable sexual assaults, videos of humans dying and, in general, videos and photographs designed to entertain the most twisted and sick-minded people in the world.”

“Many people simply cannot imagine what Mr. Soto had to view on a daily basis as most people do not understand how horrible and inhumane the worst people in the world can be,” proclaimed the lawsuit, adding, “He had trouble with sleep disturbance, [and] nightmares.”

“He suffered from an internal video screen in his head and could see disturbing images, he suffered from irritability, increased startle, anticipatory anxiety, and was easily distractible,” the lawsuit claims.

Microsoft defended the department and its employees, citing the importance of the job in an email.

“Microsoft applies industry-leading, cutting-edge technology to help detect and classify illegal images of child abuse and exploitation that are shared by users on Microsoft Services,” responded a Microsoft spokesperson to the Daily Beast. “Once verified by a specially trained employee, the company removes the image, reports it to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and bans the users who shared the images from our services. We have put in place robust wellness programs to ensure the employees who handle this material have the resources and support they need.”

However the “wellness program” allegedly consisted of just an “under-trained counselor,” which resulted in a “compassion fatigue” diagnosis, instead of the fully-fledged mental health program that was allegedly available for Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit.

Greg Blauert, who is also currently suing Microsoft, cited similar concerns about the job, declaring that he had to sift through “thousands of images of child pornography, adult pornography and bestiality that graphically depicted the violence and depravity of the perpetrators.”

“He began experiencing nightmares and intrusive images,” claimed the Daily Beast. “If he or a co-worker broke down at work, their employers allegedly encouraged them to merely ‘leave work early’ as part of the department’s ‘Wellness Plan.’”

Both men have been diagnosed with PTSD and are currently on leave from work.

European Parliament Committee Considering Legal Rights for Robots

The European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs has voted favorably on a draft report which proposes giving legal personage to robots.

With seventeen votes against two, along with two abstentions, the committee agreed that “the most sophisticated autonomous robots could be established as having the status of electronic persons with specific rights and obligations, including that of making good any damage they may cause.”

The forward-thinking report asserts that humanity stands “on the threshold of an era” in which artificial intelligence could be responsible for a “new industrial revolution.” It includes obligations that robots would be held to as well, which seem based on Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, introduced by the author in a 1942 short story. His visionary fiction is now on the road to becoming a legal reality.

Luxembourg MEP Mady Delvaux has further proposed a “kill switch,” a mechanism by which humans could deactivate any artificially intelligent entity that operates outside of the laws established. Different levels of accountability would be assigned robots based on their level of sophistication, with increased levels of personal responsibility commensurate with the complexity of the synthetic being in question.

Despite offering a semblance of humane treatment to robots, the draft report also proposes very stringent boundaries on their design. It clearly draws a line in the sand, where “a robot is not a human and will never be human. A robot can show empathy but it cannot feel empathy.” Furthermore, it declares that no robot should ever appear to be “emotionally dependent.” Robots should never be allowed to seem overtly human, or “that he loves you or he is sad.”

Delvaux addressed the need to solve the complicated problems arising from daily interaction with complex AI in a brief interview. Among those issues are things as obvious as safety and privacy, but as nuanced as “informed consent.”

The rise of artificial life will very likely be humanity’s first interaction with intelligent non-human entities. Despite being of our own creation, there is a distinct possibility that they could outstrip us both mentally and physically. It’s heartening to see such concepts addressed with the gravity they’re owed, even if such rules are somehow never necessary.

The draft report and its revolutionary proposals are now on their way to the house, which will vote on it in February.