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Archive for the ‘GOP’ Category

A New AI Hub In Canada Is Welcoming the Scientists Trump Is Pushing Away

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Jordan Pearson reports at Motherboard:

Thanks to President Donald Trump’s abhorrent stances on immigration and science, a new AI research hub in Canada stands to gain the brainpower that the US is now repelling.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that artificial intelligence as we know it was largely developed in Canada. For years, a core group of computer scientists like Geoffrey Hinton, Yann LeCun, and Yoshua Bengio worked in relative obscurity at Canadian universities, until US-based giants like Facebook and Google took notice and hired them.

Now, Canada is committing $150 million to fund an AI research hub that will bring that ingenuity back home. The Toronto-based Vector Institute will serve as a research and commercialization hub for artificial intelligence tech, and has already convinced Hinton to move back to the city. But tech is global, unconstrained by nationality, and so Vector will also look for talent in the places targeted by US travel restrictions.

“I’ve spoken to a few people while gauging interest in who we want to hire, asking why they’re interested, and one of the things they’ve mentioned is the political climate in the US,” said Richard Zemel, a computer scientist at the University of Toronto and Vector’s director of research, in an interview. “That’s to our benefit right now. It could change, but the long-term thing is they’ll have the flexibility to both work on research and with companies.”

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Hinton also suggested that Trump’s intolerance will help Vector attract top global talent. Two members of his team are Iranian. . .

Continue reading.

So Trump is driving away talent that could help the U.S. develop AI, which is the next big thing, so far as I can see. And by pulling out of the TPP, it does create a business-relationships vacuum that China will happily fill. And killing off all the clean energy initiatives in effect withdraws the US from the Paris agreement and from the nations that are fighting climate change (and China is a player here as well). Trump is single-handedly removing the US from its former position as a global leader.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2017 at 11:52 am

Crowdfunding campaign seeks to purchase search history of lawmakers who killed internet privacy

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The GOP House and Senate both voted to remove privacy protection so that ISPs can track your browsing history (and, presumably, your on-line purchases) and sell that information on the open market. So this initiative, to purchase the browsing history of those voting in favor, is very interesting.

Tom Cahill reports in Resistance Report:

Republicans in Congress just voted to allow Americans’ browser history to be bought and sold. A genius crowdfunding campaign wants to use that against them.

The website searchinternethistory.com is attempting to raise $1 million in order to put in bids to purchase the internet history of leading Republicans and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) members. The first histories the site aims to buy are those of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“If it takes a million dollars to get real change, I am sure a million people are willing to donate $1 to help ensure their private data stays private,” wrote Adam McElhaney, who launched a GoFundMe campaign for the endeavor.

McElhaney clarified on the GoFundMe campaign’s site that while he understands the privacy risks of using social media, the privacy rules Congress just eliminated goes far beyond what he feels is acceptable.

“I understand that what I put on the Internet is out there and not private. Those are the risks you assume. I’m not ashamed of what I put out on the Internet,” he wrote. “However, I don’t think that what I lookup on the Internet, what sites I visit, my browsing habits, should be bought and sold to whoever. Without my consent.”

McElhaney, who describes himself as “a privacy activist & net neutrality Advocate,” argues that since both houses of Congress have passed bills allowing anyone’s browser history to be sold and purchased by major telecom giants like Verizon, that the American people should be able to buy the browser records for their elected officials. If successful, the site aims to publish a searchable database of browser history for every member of Congress who voted to gut former President Barack Obama’s regulations prohibiting corporations from viewing Americans’ browser histories.

“Everything from their medical, pornographic, to their financial and infidelity. Anything they have looked at, searched for, or visited on the Internet will now be available for everyone to comb through,” the site promises, next to a survey of which public official’s browser history should be published first. “Since we didn’t get an opportunity to vote on whether our private and personal browsing history should be bought and sold, I wanted to show our legislators what a democracy is like. So, I’m giving you the opportunity to vote on whose history gets bought first.”

“Help me raise money to buy the histories of those who took away your right to privacy,” McElhaney adds. . .

Continue reading.

They are also looking for contributions of legal talent. I contributed money.

See also: I Spent A Week Trying To Make The Broadband Lobby Answer A Simple Question About Selling Your Data, by Sam Biddle, which appears in The Intercept:

House Republicans last night voted to overturn an FCC rule that bars your internet provider from telling advertisers which websites you visit and what you search for in exchange for money; the Senate voted along the same lines last week. The decisions were immediately praised by lobbying groups like the NCTA, which represents broadband companies like Verizon and Comcast — and which for some reason framed the gutting of federal privacy regulations as good for privacy, a choice that the organization seemingly cannot explain, no matter how many times you ask.

The NCTA’s statement after last week’s vote read as follows:

“We appreciate today’s Senate action to repeal unwarranted FCC rules that deny consumers consistent privacy protection online and violate competitive neutrality. … Our industry remains committed to offering services that protect the privacy and security of the personal information of our customers. We support this step towards reversing the FCC’s misguided approach and look forward to restoring a consistent approach to online privacy protection that consumers want and deserve.”

Emphasis added. It should be immediately puzzling to anyone reading that statement how the broadband industry “remains committed” to personal privacy while also encouraging (and celebrating) a regulatory change that would allow your ISP to make a buck by telling a third party which websites you visit so that they can try to sell you things. Privacy is generally understood as a state defined by offering less disclosure about oneself, not more. Seeking clarity, I asked the NCTA to explain how it squares this commitment with its apparent antithesis. What’s ensued has been a week-long semantic maze navigated by myself and Joy Sims, a (very patient) spokesperson for the NCTA, reproduced below: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2017 at 10:05 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Law, Technology

Trump in the Middle East: The New Brutality

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Ahmed Rashid writes in the NY Review of Books:

In the opening months of the Donald Trump administration, there has been little sign of a coherent foreign policy taking shape. What is happening, however, is a dramatic militarization of US policy in the Middle East—one that is occurring largely without the consultation of American allies, and with hardly any public scrutiny. In the case of the war in Yemen and the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, these developments could have extraordinary consequences for US security and even the stability of the Middle East itself.

The disastrous January raid on an al-Qaeda target in central Yemen, just days after Trump took office, resulting in the death of a Navy SEAL and two dozen civilians, has been widely discussed. But since then, US actions have, if anything, escalated. In early March, US aircraft and drones carried out over thirty strikes against Islamic militants across central Yemen, almost equaling the total number of air strikes that were carried out in the whole of 2016. Many civilians were also killed. In Iraq and Syria, meanwhile, there have been numerous reports of civilian casualties in US bombing raids. On Friday, it was reported that as many as two hundred civilians were killed in US airstrikes in Mosul.

Meanwhile, four hundred US troops are on their way to Syria to set up an artillery base for the retaking of the ISIS capital Raqqa; another one thousand troops may soon be sent to Kuwait to act as a reserve force. More troops will soon go to Iraq in addition to the five thousand already there. And the Pentagon has demanded more troops for Afghanistan in addition to the 8,400 already there.

The most startling example may be occurring in Yemen, where the US is intervening with almost no public discussion, debate in Congress, or even—as Western diplomats told me—coordination with NATO allies. The violent civil war in Yemen between the government and Houthi rebels who are Shia Muslims is now a regional conflict involving Iran on the side of the Houthis and the Arab Gulf states backing the government. Yemen is facing the “largest humanitarian crisis” in the world, with two thirds of its eighteen million people in need of aid, according to Stephen O’Brien, a senior UN official.

But the new US military deployments are taking place without any sign of US diplomatic initiatives or discussion of the future of peace talks in conflict zones, or a more rounded strategy and narrative to woo Muslims hearts and minds in order to defeat the Islamic State. The only discussion appears to revolve around how to escalate military action—something that is deeply disheartening to allies around the world.

On March 26, The Washington Post reported that the Defense Department is asking the White House to remove restrictions on providing military aid to Gulf allies who are fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Already, unspecified US Special Operations Forces (SOF) are operating not only in Yemen, but also in dozens of other countries in Africa and Central Asia.

The most disturbing discussion to date revolves around the US military being allowed to create free-fire zones in which US forces could target and bomb potential enemies without regard to civilian casualties or damage to economic infrastructure—a stark repudiation of counter-terrorism rules set down by the Obama and Bush administrations. The New York Times has reported that three provinces in Yemen have been declared ”an area of active hostilities”—in other words a free-fire zone—and that parts of Somalia will soon be added the list. Western diplomats in Brussels say areas of Afghanistan where the Taliban are strongest may also be added. Such a policy, encouraging indiscriminate strikes, will undoubtedly produce thousands more Muslim radicals, undermine humanitarian relief and destroy hopes of economic reconstruction.

Instead of pursuing a comprehensive approach that involves diplomacy, economic aid, conflict resolution and alliance building, Trump has reverted to a dangerous dependence on the military while undermining all other US state institutions that deal with the wider world. Apart from bombing, what exactly is the Trump strategy for Yemen? Does the administration support continuing UN efforts to mediate between the Yemeni government and the Houthis? Now that the Defense Department wants to remove the arms embargo in Yemen, what will that mean for the conflict itself? What diplomacy does the administration plan for dealing with the escalating regional rivalry? And who, in fact, is in charge of Yemen policy at the State Department or the National Security Council? None of these questions are being answered or even addressed.

Yet Yemen is still a minor issue compared to what the US plans next in Syria. Here too civilians are dying from US air strikes—thirty-three civilians were killed on March 22, when US led coalition bombers hit a school.) Will Trump support the Russian-dominated, UN-led peace process in Geneva? Is the US interested in forming a stronger Arab-Western alliance against the Islamic State, while also trying to broker a political solution? Is the US prepared to let President Bashar al-Assad stay in place? Who will pay for the flood of refugees still coming out of Syria or its future reconstruction? None of these questions appear even to be being asked by the White House.

Clear answers become even more unlikely when the Trump administration is considering a possible one third cut in the $50 billion budget of the State Department and the Agency for International Development in order to fund a $54 billion increase in the Defense budget. Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management Budget said on March 4 that the cuts would see “fairly dramatic reductions in foreign aid.” There has been widespread opposition from Congress, aid groups, and the media to these proposals. . .

Continue reading.

He concludes:

. . . Trump’s growing dependence on a military strategy around the world will reduce US influence with its allies and all major powers. It also makes it less likely that they will join what Trump hopes will be a crusade against the Islamic State. Autocrats around the world will follow the American example and be encouraged to abandon diplomacy and politics and use force to get their way. We will be left with a US that is set on inflaming conflicts rather than ending them, a US that abandons any sense of global responsibility and pays no regard to international agreements. A new global era has begun in which American allies can no longer rely on American leadership. It may be the most dangerous period we have seen in our lifetimes.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2017 at 4:09 pm

A Louisiana Town Plagued by Pollution Shows Why Cuts to the EPA Will Be Measured in Illnesses and Deaths

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Sharon Lerner reports in The Intercept:

When the Environmental Protection Agency informed people in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, last July that the local neoprene plant was emitting a chemical that gave them the highest risk of cancer from air pollution in the country, the information was received not just with horror and sadness but also with a certain sense of validation.

For years, many of the people living on this little square of land between the train tracks and the Mississippi River levee have felt they suffered more than their share of illnesses. Troyla Keller has a rash and asthma that abate every time she leaves the neighborhood and worsen when she returns. Augustine Nicholson Dorris had breast cancer and seizures. And David Sanders has trouble breathing, a tumor on his thyroid, and neurological problems. “It took a lot away from me,” said Sanders, whose speech is slurred, when I visited the area a half-hour west of New Orleans in February. Several people spoke of shuttling their children and grandchildren to the nearby ER for asthma treatments. And many residents also frequent the neighborhood’s two busy dialysis centers. A third is under construction.

“Everybody felt there was too much sickness,” said Robert Taylor, 76, whose wife had breast cancer and is now struggling with multiple sclerosis. Taylor’s daughter Raven suffers from gastroparesis, a relatively rare autoimmune disorder that has left the 48-year-old unable to digest food and bedridden, after an attempt to treat the condition surgically led to a staph infection. But there were plenty of other unusual conditions, too. Trollious Harris, who has spent most of her life a few blocks from the Taylors, suffers from myasthenia gravis, another autoimmune condition, which has caused her muscles to weaken. Kellie Tabb has a rapid heartbeat and recently met two other people in the area who have the same condition.

“Everybody has had someone that has died of cancer,” said Taylor’s daughter Tish as she stood in the doorway of the family’s home on East 26th Street. To an outsider like me, the neighborhood looked festive, with kids playing on neatly mown lawns and Mardi Gras beads adorning many of the doors. But when Tish, who is 53 and has lived on the block since she was 4, looked at the nearby houses, she saw the people who had fallen ill. “Mr. Henry died of cancer, and he had two sons who were diagnosed with it, too. And Miss Sissy, who lives down the block toward the river, she had pancreatic cancer and died this month. Ms. Diane died of cancer, too,” Tish said, ticking off the casualties on her fingers.

“Something is clearly not right with this area,” said Lydia Gerard, whose husband developed kidney cancer at age 64 that recently metastasized and spread to his chest. Gerard herself suffers from sudden bouts of diarrhea and anemia as well as vitiligo and other autoimmune problems. Her lips and eyes often swell inexplicably and she has itchy welts on her arms and legs that get better when she goes to work 30 miles away — and come back with a vengeance when she returns home. While I was interviewing Gerard and her husband in their two-story home, I also broke out in hives.

Besides being a likely human carcinogen, chloroprene, the gas the plant has been releasing into this community for 48 years, is known to weaken immune systems and cause headaches, heart palpitations, anemia, stomach problems, impaired kidney function, and rashes. So the EPA’s news, bad as it was, provided a form of relief. After all these years, a government agency was helping to explain the residents’ strange predicament. The people living next to the plant might be sick, but at least they weren’t crazy. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2017 at 2:46 pm

Did the Justice Department Try to Keep Sally Yates from Testifying?

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Quinta Jurecic writes at Lawfare:

This morning, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department sought to prevent former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) as part of the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election.

According to the Post, the department informed Yates that many of the topics on which she was set to testify, including former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States, were likely protected by executive privilege. Yates’s lawyer responded with letters to Acting Assistant Attorney General Samuel Ramer and White House Counsel Don McGahn asserting that Yates’s testimony was not privileged.

Yates had been scheduled to testify in an open hearing before HPSCI today, along with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan. However, on Friday March 24th, the day after Yates’s lawyer mailed his letter to Ramer and the same day that the letter was sent to McGahn, HPSCI Chairman Devin Nunes canceled the committee’s scheduled open hearing in which Yates was set to testify. The Post also reports that by the day before Nunes canceled the hearing, both Yates and Brennan had informed government officials that their scheduled testimony on Tuesday would likely contradict statements by the White House.

Nunes originally announced that the open hearing with Yates, Brennan, and Clapper had been canceled to make way for a closed hearing with testimony from FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers in response to Nunes’s hazy concerns about possible incidental collection of Trump transition team communications. Yesterday, however, Nunes stated that the closed hearing had been canceled as well.

HPSCI Ranking Member Adam Schiff has suggested that Yates’s response was connected to Nunes’s decision to cancel the hearing. Earlier reports indicated that Nunes publicly declared the hearing’s cancellation without first informing Schiff or the other members of the committee, and Schiff stated publicly in a press conference following Nunes’s announcement of the canceled hearing that Nunes had previously tried to cancel or close the hearing, only to face pushback from Schiff.

The latest Post report is particularly noteworthy given concerns in recent days over Nunes’s possible coordination with the White House regarding his series of public disclosures on incidental collection. Yesterday, CNN reported that Nunes was seen on the White House grounds the night before his twin press conferences on March 22nd. Additionally, in his press conference on Friday, Schiff also suggested that Nunes had canceled the hearing after “strong pushback from the White House” following the first HPSCI open hearing, asking, “What other explanation can there be?”

Schiff, who last night called on Nunes to recuse himself from the committee’s investigation, has released the following statement in response to the Post’s story: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2017 at 2:37 pm

The White House says it’s “not familiar” with the economic impacts of climate change.

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Emily Atkin writes in The New Republic:

The whole reason President Donald Trump is releasing a wide-ranging executive order today to dismantle a bunch of America’s climate change policies is because he says it will be good for the economy. On a call with reporters Monday night to discuss the executive order, one unnamed senior White House official said Trump is “not going to pursue climate or environmental policies that put the U.S. economy at risk.”

But when this official was pressed with the fact that climate change poses grave economic risks of its own, he froze. “I’m not familiar with what you’re talking about,” he said, challenging the reporter to show him the research. Here’s the full exchange:

REPORTER: What about all the scientists who are saying climate change is going to have adverse economic consequences—things like rising sea levels, more hazardous hurricanes—how do you address those economic arguments?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, you’ll have to talk to those scientists.  Maybe I can talk to you afterward.  I’m not familiar with what you’re talking about.  But again, the President’s policy is very clear about addressing—making sure we’re addressing the economy, providing people with jobs, and we’re making sure that EPA is sticking to its core mission.

REPORTER: Are you saying you’re not aware that scientists are concerned about rising sea levels or more violent storms might impact the economy—

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would want to see the research.  Sure, that would be good.  Show it to me.

Think about this for a second. The Trump administration is unraveling the best chance we have at slowing human-caused climate change, solely because he says it will improve the economy. But Trump’s advisers have apparently not considered how climate change’s impacts on agricultural productivity, human health, and property value will hurt the economy. Hell, they’re not even “familiar” with the idea that it might.

This isn’t just some environmental talking point: Huge public companies regularly file risk disclosures saying climate change threatens their bottoms lines. Big insurance companies like Allianz, Liberty Mutual, and SwissRe warn the government must prepare for climate-fueled extreme weather events to avoid passing costs on to them. In the 2014 report “Risky Business,” bigwigs like billionaire Michael Bloomberg and former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson warn of dire economic consequences if warming isn’t tackled. By 2050, it says $106 billion worth of coastal property could sink below sea level, while crop yields could be reduced by up to 70 percent in some states because of extreme heat.

For a presidential administration that is basing its climate policy on the idea that it’s good for the American economy, these seem like ridiculous things to not be “familiar with.”

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2017 at 1:58 pm

Golden boy tarnished: Trump keeps giving Jared Kushner more jobs — but is he any good at any of them?

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Heather Digby Parton has a really good column in Salon. It begins (and do click the link in that Tweet—you’ll have to turn the sound on, but it is stunning now):

For a few days last week the scuttlebutt held that President Donald Trump’s most trusted adviser might be on the outs with the boss because he decided to take the family skiing in Aspen, Colorado, just as the White House entered its first big legislative fight, which of course it ignominiously lost. I’m speaking of Jared Kushner, the boyish 36-year-old husband of favorite offspring Ivanka and, by all accounts, the man who is the last person Trump talks to before he makes a decision.

The pictures of Jared and Ivanka posing for Instagrams like a bunch of Kardashians hawking designer ski gear while the embattled president called up wavering Republican congressmen and prattled on about “his damn election” didn’t exactly show a serious, hardworking image to the nation. And we know how Trump feels about that, right?

As it turns out Trump’s actually a yuuuge believer in taking vacations. He has been to his Florida resort seven times already (at taxpayer expense) and last weekend the White House tried to pretend the president was having meetings at his Virginia golf club. It was later revealed that he was hitting the links again.

So it’s not surprising that Trump was quick to forgive his favorite daughter and son-in-law for their little getaway. Not only did he forgive Jared; yesterday he put him in charge of a bold new initiative to run the country like a business with what the Washington Post described as  a “SWAT team of strategic consultants” that “will be staffed by former business executives.” If the first couple of months of the Trump administration are any indication of what that might look like, we’re in for a bumpy ride. As Salon’s Simon Maloy observed:

Innovation! What a concept. And who better to head up a team of business innovators and power brokers than Jared Kushner, a child of privilege who inherited his father’s real estate business and fell ass backward into a position of authority? Kushner will take the lessons he learned from being born rich and marrying the right person and use them to disrupt the American government.

And this tired old GOP mantra about running government like a business is like saying that you should build boats like you wash dishes. They are completely different tasks. And Kushner is a particularly poor choice, even if you buy the argument. As Maloy pointed out, Kushner is a lot like his father-in-law in that he inherited his father’s New Jersey real estate business and, well, that’s about it.

Actually, after Chris Christie put Kushner’s father in jail for corruption (it’s a long story), Jared took the reins of the business and jumped into Manhattan real estate where he is known for one very big deal. Unfortunately, also like his father-in-law, it turns out Kushner is not very good at what he does. Kushner sold his stake in that project to his family recently, ostensibly to avoid a conflict of interest. It was actually a smart business decision because the building’s finances are in big trouble at the moment. The Kushners may receive a bailout from a powerful Chinese insurance company. So it’s a good thing that we’ve decided that Republicans enriching their immediate family while in office isn’t corruption — or that might look bad.

Kushner’s new job is just an addition to his already bulging portfolio. Recall that a while back he was given the special task of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. One might assume he’s even less qualified for that job than he is for heading up a “SWAT team” of business leaders, but apparently being an observant Jew is all that’s required. It’s surprising that nobody ever thought of that before.

On Monday we found out from White House press secretary Sean Spicer that “throughout the campaign and the transition, Jared served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials until we had State Department officials up.” That’s correct: This 36-year-old with no experience in government or foreign affairs served as the new president’s primary contact with foreign governments. Apparently, no one who knew what he (or she) was doing was available.

This important task seems to have landed young Kushner into a spot of trouble, however. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2017 at 1:33 pm

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