Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Facebook will allow users to flag articles as fake news

Facebook is making good on its promise to try to eradicate "fake news". One of the techniques Facebook will use for doing so is a tool that will allow users to flag anything that they consider to be fake news.

The 1.8 billion users of Facebook will be able to click the upper right-hand corner in any post to flag the content as fake news. There is one huge problem right off the bat according to an article in Zero Hedge. Not all posts can be flagged, only those not from "legitimate news sources". Which outlets are legitimate news sources and why? Even if a new source has an excellent reputation it can still carry fake news especially if the news is produced by the government as in the coverage of the issue of Hussein's having WMD. Zero Hedge asks of the list of legitimate news outlets: ".. does it include the likes of NYTs and the WaPos, which during the runup to the election declared on a daily basis, that Trump has no chance of winning, which have since posted defamatory stories about so-called "Russian propaganda news sites", admitting subsequently that their source data was incorrect, and which many consider to be the source of "fake news". " Who exactly would make the determination of which sites are legitimate news sites? The elimination of legitimate news sites from flagging blocks users from identifying any fake news reports on these sites. Yet these are the very sites that people have become more skeptical about.
The many remaining sites will be subject to a type of "crowd sourced" censorship in which as a result of flagging by members of the crowd of Facebook users a post can then be reviewed by Facebook researchers and then relayed to a fact-checking organization for further verification or it could be marked as false. Zero Hedge wonders what this process could evolve into in practice: ".. how much good will checking will take place considering that these "researchers" will be bombarded with tens of thousands of flagged articles daily, until it ultimately become a rote move to simply delete anything flagged as false by enough disgruntled readers, before moving on to the next article, while in the process not touching the narrative spun by the liberal "legitimate news outlets", the ones who would jump at the opportunity to have dinner with Podesta in hopes of becoming Hillary Clinton's public relations arm. " As I understand it, flagged articles are not deleted.
Adam Mosseri, Facebook vice-president of News Feed said in a blog post: "We believe in giving people a voice and that we cannot become arbiters of truth ourselves, so we're approaching this problem carefully." Yet in selecting "legitimate news sources" as not subject to crowd-sourced flagging, Facebook has been already an arbiter of truth.
If a story is determined by fact-checkers to be fake the item will still appear and can even be shared however there will be a warning and you can connect through a link to know why. The stories cannot be promoted or turned into advertisements and will no doubt appear lower in News Feed.
The fake news issue trended just days after the election. At the time, Facebook head Zuckerberg said that it was "pretty crazy" to think that fake news could have influenced the election. He said that Facebook "must be extremely cautious about becoming arbiters of truth". However as pointed out earlier by eliminating the legitimate news services from flagging, Facebook is already an arbiter of truth. The Facebook team claims it does not want "censorship" but it is carrying out something similar in a crowd-sourced vetting process supplemented by fact-checking. While posts are not deleted they are clearly downgraded.
The fact-checkers are working under the banner of the Poynter International Fact-Checking Network, a group that also owns the Tampa Bay Times. However, the Tampa Bay Times in no doubt a legitimate news outlet so they need not worry about being fact-checked. Those working as fact-checkers will follow the Poynter principles. Facebook's plans can be found here.
After finishing this article. I checked some of the articles about the new techniques being used by Facebook. I found no reference to legitimate news sources being an exception to the flagging. I then read the Zero Hedge article and it actually gives a link to NBC news as mentioning that legitimate news sources would not be flagged. However, I could find no place in the article that claimed this. Perhaps, this is partially fake news. Lets see! If all posts are included, the system could be a great job creator for fact-checkers.

Production to re-start from two oil fields in western Libya

Protesters who have been blocking pipelines from Sharara and El Feel oil fields have agreed to reopen them. Oil industry and security officials claim that production could start again within days.

Before the uprising against Gadaffi in 2011, Libya was producing up to 1.6 million barrels per day. While production has doubled since September when eastern oil crescent ports began to export again, it is still just around 600,000 barrels a day. Opening the new fields could boost production by another 365,000 barrels a day.
A faction of the Libyan Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) has blockaded one pipeline since November of 2014 and another from April of 2015. A tweet claims an even longer blockade: "The blockade of El Feel was on 31-May-2013, Elshara on 25-June-2013 Both by Zintanis. Jadran blocked terminals after July-2013". Jadhran blocked ports in the east. The group said it had agreed to unblock both: "The National Oil Corporation should start its work as soon as possible and we, as the Petroleum Facilities Guard, pledge to protect and defend the wealth of the Libyan state." The western section of the PFG is not headed by Ibrahim Jodhran who was head of the eastern PFG until the oil crescent ports were seized from him by troops loyal to eastern commander Field Marshal Khalfa Haftar. Indeed, the western faction are allied with the Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by Haftar. The area is secured by the Zintan brigades. Idris Madi, who heads the LNA commander center at Zintan said the blockade should be ended by Thursday.
As mentioned, the PFG faction is aligned with the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), a force based in eastern Libya. Its statement was confirmed by the office of Idris Madi, head of the LNA's command center in its western outpost of Zintan. Madi's office said the blockade would end by Thursday. The National Oil Company(NOC) based in Tripoli also confirmed that a deal had been made. However, it noted that similar deals in the past had fallen through. No details were released of the agreement.
A refinery at Zawiya and a complex at Mellitah were readying for a restart. They receive oil from the two fields. A spokesperson for the NOC said that both places had been preparing to restart production and that work to resume delivery of oil was also taking place in the fields. Production would only gradually increase. However, the NOC said that it hoped to reach a goal of 900,000 barrels a day soon and 1.1 million barrels next year. However the NOC needs new funds for its operating budget as well as ending of blockades before it could reach its goal.
The Libya Observer reports that the Rayayna Patrols Brigade of the PFG had reopened the Rayayna oil pipeline on Wednesday after they were instructed to do so by the western operations room of Khalifa Haftar's LNA. The pipeline feeds oil from the Al-Sharara and Al-Feel fields into the two main western oil terminals. The Observer speaks of the brigades as Zintani armed groups. Mustafa Sanallah had filed a lawsuit last October against the militia. He claimed that closure had lost Libya over 27 billion dollars in revenue. Khalid Shakshak said last November that reopening of the Rayayna pipeline to resume pumping oil through it would solve 70 percent of Libya's economic crisis.
However, there is as yet no sign of any solution to the political crisis with the eastern government of the House of Representatives (HoR) and its armed forces commander Khalifa Haftar having control of most of Libya's oil resources. There is no information as to how oil revenue is being divided. However, the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) complains that it is not receiving sufficient funds from the Central Bank in a timely fashion to pay for essential services.
UPDATE: There is already a problem with the El Feel field, with guards their rejecting the agreement apparently.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

North Korean You Tube Channel closed down due to US sanctions

YouTube has decided to block the channel of North Korean state television as a consequence of U.S. sanctions on the country. The ban will not only be a blow to the propaganda efforts of North Korea but also to those doing research on the country.

Apparently the channel was not removed because of the propaganda it produces, but because North Korea could actually make money through Google's built in advertising system. Under the sanctions it is not legal to do business with those in North Korea who operate the channel. The U.S. Treasury Press Center says: "OFAC has designated the Workers’ Party of Korea, Propaganda and Agitation Department (the “Propaganda and Agitation Department”) as an agency, instrumentality, or controlled entity of the Government of North Korea. The Workers’ Party of Korea has full control over the media, which it uses as a tool to control the public." OFAC is the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
What is not clear is if North Korea actually participates in the advertising program. Apparently even the potential that YouTube could do business with the North Korean entities is sufficient grounds to ban the channel. TaJ Meadows, head of communications for Google said: “We don’t comment on individual videos or channels...but we do disable accounts that violate our terms of service or community guidelines, and when we are required by law to do so.”
Researchers who study North Korea were disappointed in the Google decision. The channel provided in a timely fashion some of the daily content aired on North Korean TV. Researcher David Schmerler said: “This led to a better understanding of an event, even if the North Koreans tried to hide or spin a particular event as being a success when it may not have been.”
A message on the Korean Central Television channel's page says: "This account has been terminated for violating YouTube's Community Guidelines". Usually this would involve videos that contain violent, sexual images or that breach copyright but in this case Google may worry that they are breaking the law and violating sanctions. The company will not explain their action except to note that they disable accounts when they are required by law to do so.
Joshua Stanton a lawyer who approves the sanctions said: “Having reviewed the sanctions in March, they would have said that this is risky, we are potentially in violation. It’s good that they have done this, although it’s a fairly small piece of the picture." Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation said that the North Koreans could get around the ban in that they could post the videos without making money off them or simply have some supporters post them.
There is still plenty of material from North Korea on YouTube. There are old movies such as the Flower Girl from 1972 that had seven views when last checked. More recent productions include popular videos showing Kim Jong Un's favorite woman's band. I enclose a video of a performance with tens of thousands of views. There are many popular TV "soap operas" as they were called in the old days as well with subtitles.

Free from the Islamic State Libya's Sirte has both a mayor and military governor

(Dec. 13)Just the other day, councilors from the city of Sirte elected Mukhtar al-Madani as mayor of Sirte. Today the military commanders of Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous (Solid Structure or BAM) named Brigadier Ahmed Abu Shahma as military governor of Sirte.

The Libya Observer claims the move is happening because BAM believes that Madani is loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar and a supporter of his Dignity Operation. While this may have been true in the past, as reported in a recent Digital Journal article Madani said that the would be not be involved in the dispute between the UN-brokered Government of National Accord and the rival House of Representatives(HoR) government with its commander Haftar. He would be concentrating on rebuilding Sirte. Six of seven councilors who had earlier opposed Madani when he was appointed interim mayor by the HoR government supported him in the election. The election was organized under the auspices of the GNA. The present defense minister Al-Mahdi al-Bargathi was also a supporter of Operation Dignity but now supports the GNA and is a foe of Haftar.
Eastern authorities were furious that the election took place under the auspices of the GNA. According to a spokesperson for Operation Dignity: "Sirte was not for the sake of the nation, it was intended to raise Al-Qaeda over ISIS" Haftar and his Operation Dignity supporters have a habit of branding any Islamist foes as terrorists.
Such statements can only exacerbate the conflict between the mayor and the military governor. Last April, Madani appeared in a video showing support for Haftar and his Dignity Operation. He received military vehicles and weapons for the Sirte police department. However, BAM forces now provide security for Sirte, and the territory is now controlled by the GNA not the HoR. Appointing a military governor to replace elected officials is exactly what Haftar does in the east for which he has been roundly criticized. The mayor and councilors are in Tripoli. BAM may prevent them from moving to Sirte. So far the GNA has said nothing about this development.
There has been considerable discussion of the military governor appointment on twitter. One tweet points out the hypocrisy of appointing a military governor: It's contradictory. "A military ruler & elected Sirte municipal council?! Either be a consistent of opposing military rulers or be hypocrite." Another tweet notes: " Ahmed Abu Shahma is military governor of #Sirte, "elected" by the commanders of al Buyan al Marsous operation (GNA) yesterday. " Earlier, the UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler had tweeted: "‏@KoblerSRSG Congratulate new #Sirte Mayor Al-Maadani 4 his election. Timely & highly-needed step towards the recovery & re-stabilization of the city 1/2 " Obviously, the GNA authorities should have consulted with BAM before having the Sirte councilors elect a new mayor. One tweet suggests the two roles could be complementary: ‏"@ArmchairArab.@elfaitur as I understand the military head is basically in charge of security while mayor in charge of civil administration"

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Obama refuses to declassify torture report

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, along with many human rights and transparency advocates have been pressing President Obama for some time to declassify the unabridged version of the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report.

The Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program as it is called is nearly 7,000 pages. The report was approved on December 13, 2012 by a vote of nine to six, with seven Democrats, one Independent and one Republican voting in favor of publication and six Republicans voting against.
Instead of declassifying the report or having it declared an official record of one of the agencies that has a copy, Obama has decided to place the report in his official presidential records. The records will be subject to public requests only after 12 years in 2029 which could then trigger a declassification process. Obama passed up options to declassify large swathes of the document. Far from being open and more transparent about the subject Obama has ensured that the public cannot learn the details of the torture program for more than a decade. A letter to Dianne Feinstein was sent by White House Counsel Neil Eggleston outlining Obama's decision. Eggleston wrote: "I write to notify you that the full Study will be preserved under the Presidential Records Act. The determination that the Study will be preserved under the PRA has no bearing on copies of the Study currently stored at various agencies. ... At this time, we are not pursuing declassification of the full Study."
Feinman reacted by reiterating her belief that the report should be declassified but was pleased that the report would go into Obama's archives and would not be subject to destruction. She also noted that one day it would be available for declassification. Feinstein was chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that produced the report. The move does prevent incoming president Trump from destroying the document. Given Trump's statements approving torture, he along with a number of Republicans might favor destruction of the report. However, Trump is also at odds with the intelligence community, does not trust them or attend briefings, and is angry at their presentation of evidence of Russian intervention in the U.S. election. Perhaps Trump might actually want to preserve the report, change his tune on torture, and use the report against the intelligence community or as a defense against any attempt to attack him by the intelligence community. However, given his views on torture, Trump appears unlikely to declassify the report as he could if he wished.
An executive summary of the report was released back in 2014, but the Obama administration fought against a Freedom of Information lawsuit that requested release of the full report. The administration argued that it was a congressional record, and not a record of the executive branch. Courts accepted that argument.
The executive summary is about 500 pages but is heavily redacted. The entire report cost about $40 million to prepare. The report shows that the program failed on the whole to produce anything useful and it also shows that the CIA lied about the program. The current chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator Richard Burr far from wanting the full report declassified, would like to see the report destroyed.
Burr claims that the report is a Congressional Record not a federal one. He wants all copies to be returned. People in the executive branch are being told not to read it and not to enter it as a federal record. This keeps it away from Freedom Of Information Act Requests. Obama's move prevents Burr from destroying every single copy even if he manages to get them back. The CIA has somehow managed to destroy its only copy of the report, as indicated on the appended video.
Obama has refused to move ahead to declassify the report and the letter indicates there are no attempts at declassification at this time. Perhaps, Obama has a soft spot for incoming president Trump and does not wish to embarrass him by making public information that torture does not work.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Newly freed from the Islamic State, Sirte has new mayor

Now the the Islamic State(IS) or ISIS have been defeated in Sirte, the city is attempting to return to normal with the election by city councilors of mayor Mukhtar Al-Madani

Six of seven Sirte councilors voted in Al-Madani at a meeting in Tripoli. The meeting was called by the Committee for Municipal Council Elections (CCMCE) and was supervised by the chair Otman Gajiji. Sirte's municipal councilors were originally elected in May of 2014.
The last time an election for mayor was to be held was two years ago on the third of December. CCMCE officials on their way to Sirte to hold the election were intercepted and seized by gunmen who did not want the election to go ahead. Madani is close to Abdullah al-Thinni head of the House of Representatives (HoR) government and a rival to the UN-brokered Government of National Accord. Al-Thinni had appointed Madani acting mayor of Sirte early this summer. This appointment was not accepted by other councilors, the Al Bunyan Al Marsous mostly Misratan forces who liberated Sirte, or by the UN-brokered Government of National Accord. Now in a rare display of agreement Madani has been accepted by opposing sides.
Peter Millet, the U.K. ambassador for Libya said that Madani could request international help in rebuilding the town. The Misrata 166 Brigade has been given the task of looking after Sirte's security by the Bunyan Marsous Operations Room. Mayor Madani said that the municipal members are in constant contact with the Operations Room in order to set a date as to when they can move from Tripoli back to Sirte. Madani said: “The municipality will be busy providing services for the residents of Sirte and will avoid being involved in the political conflict that is going on in Libya.” Baddad Gansu, Minister of Local Governing of the GNA was dismayed by the invitation of the eastern government ministry of the HoR which urged the councilors to elect a mayor in the eastern region under the supervision of HoR authorities. Gansu said: “The eastern local governing ministry is trying to twist facts and advocate for division by such attempts.”
Another sign of normalization in Sirte was the opening of the first bank since the IS were driven out.
Sirte is being given $7.6 million by the Stabilization Fund for Libya(SFL) to rebuild its Ibn Sina hospital, badly damaged in August fighting with the IS forces. The money is also supposed to fund the reconstruction of four health centres, mobile clinics, ambulances and generators for the hospitals and two schools. The SFL is run under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme by a committee including representatives of the Government of National Accord and the international community.
The Sirte offensive that began in May took a heavy toll with 715 having been killed according to, Akram Qaliwan, a spokesperson for the Misrata General Hospital. He said that more than 3,250 fighters had been wounded.

Dogs in small Finnish town to be fitted with special wolf-protection vests

A small town in the east of Finland, Nurmes, is to have its dogs equipped with special vests that residents hope will protect them from wolf attacks.

The vests contain chili cartridges. An attacking wolf biting into the vest will hopefully be deterred when it gets a chili blast in its face and mouth and cease its attack. The devices are to be ready for testing this spring. This year alone 52 dogs have been injured by wolves.
You might think that it would be much simpler just to shoot or trap the wolves. However in Finland the grey wolf is a protected species. They cannot be killed without special permission. There are as few as 250 wolves in Finland most in the east as near the town of Nurmes.
The chili vests were invented by Jussi Aro, who has been striving to develop a non-lethal means to stop wolf attacks on dogs for nearly a decade. He is not a Nurmes local but chose the town as a trial spot because of the large number of attacks on dogs and the many wolves reported in the area. In Nurmes, residents fear allowing their pets or their children out of doors.
Prototypes of Aro's chili vests were available in 2014 but their first trial will be in Spring of 2017. People who are taking part in the test have been asked to keep a list of the benefits and defects in the vests. Aro describes his invention laughing: "It's my own one-man war." Local police report that a wolf was illegally killed in Nurmes late last month.
Earlier this year, the Finnish government authorized a month-long cull from late January to February 21. Conservationists oppose the cull claiming that the wolf population in Finland is already too small and a cull puts their genetic base even further at risk. However, wolf packs kill numbers of livestock, and many dogs. People in residential areas fear them.
There are about 35 known packs in the country most in the east. In 2016, 46 permits were issued to hunt wolves as part of the cull. Authorities claim the cull cuts down on illegal poaching. A decision as to whether the cull program is to be continued is to be made the end of this year. Wolves are becoming braver and are now seen more often in inhabited areas. The cull and special permits resulted in 46 wolves being killed this year. Many dogs that are killed are accompanying elk hunters. Ake Haittunen a hunter himself says that hunters who let their dogs loose in the forest simply are taking their chances. He claims that game management of the wolves in Finland is actually against several laws including the Hunting Act that is based upon sustainability.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Big Brother bills passing through US Congress

One recent bill in the U.S. Congress is designed to crack down on websites suspected of spreading Russian propaganda. However, another more extensive bill goes even further establishing what Zero Hedge calls a de facto Ministry of Truth.

The two bills are discussed in a recent article in Zero Hedge. The first bill H.R. 6393 the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 can be found here. I put in the reference since Zero Hedge is among those listed as a "fake news" site peddling propaganda in a source cited by a recent Washington Post article discussed in a Digital Journal Op Ed.. The bill passed with a large majority according to Zero Hedge but you can verify this fact on the GovTrack website, which shows the official count! The bill seeks to crack down on websites that are promoting Russian propaganda without indicating they are funded by Russian authorities.
However, a second bill that is likely to affect the Internet even more and tries to control what Americans will read, hear, or view passed the House just recently. The bill H.R. 5181 calls for a "whole-government approach without bureaucratic restrictions" and is designed to counter foreign disinformation and manipulation which is believed to threaten global "security and stability". When introduced into the Senate the bill was called the Countering Information Warfare Act of 2016 (S. 2692). The Zero Hedge article claims that the bill represents a return to Cold War-era propaganda battles. Where has Zero Hedge been? The battle has been going on for some time now in news coverage of the Crimea, Syria, eastern Ukraine etc.
Senator Rob Portman notes that countries such as Russia spend enormous sums funding political movements and other efforts to influence key audiences and populations including generous funding of news organizations such as RT. Of course, all countries do this — as exemplified by Iran's Press TV, France 24, Deutsche Welle, and China's CCTV. The U.S. has its own Voice of America. Apparently the U.S. does not like the competition.
What the U.S. needs is a single agency "charged with the national level development, integration and synchronization of whole-of-government strategies to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation". Perhaps as Zero Hedge suggests it should be called the Ministry of Truth. The House bill H.R. 5181 speaks of establishing a "Center for Information Analysis and Response" which would find sources of misinformation and then develop and disseminate "fact-based narratives' to counter the propaganda. This sounds fine except that we know that government itself is a prime source of propaganda and misinformation as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article. We need protection against the government which is provided by counter-narratives.
The "Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act" was quietly included in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This was passed in Senate December 8. The bill is described as follows:The bipartisan bill, which was introduced by Senators Portman and Murphy in March, will improve the ability of the United States to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation by establishing an inter-agency center housed at the State Department to coordinate and synchronize counter-propaganda efforts throughout the U.S. government. To support these efforts, the bill also creates a grant program for NGOs, think tanks, civil society and other experts outside government who are engaged in counter-propaganda related work. This will better leverage existing expertise and empower local communities to defend themselves from foreign manipulation.
The role of U.S. mass media in Manufacturing Consent is obviously not sufficient in an age where different narratives on the Internet are ubiquitous and the public are becoming skeptical of not only government narratives but of the mainstream media in general. Legislation is needed to better control the flow of information. Senator Portman's bill increases the authority, resources and mandate of the Global Engagement Center to include not just violent extremists but state actors such as Russia and China:The Center will be led by the State Department, but with the active senior level participation of the Department of Defense, USAID, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Intelligence Community and other relevant agencies. The Center will develop, integrate, and synchronize whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign disinformation operations and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests.
The legislation would also help fund local journalists, provide grants to NGO's, think tanks, private sector companies, media organizations and other experts in identifying and analyzing latest trends in foreign government disinformation techniques:This fund will complement and support the Center’s role by integrating capabilities and expertise available outside the U.S. government into the strategy-making process.
The U.S. being a competitive country will no doubt use the latest successful foreign disinformation techniques to produce a superior American Truth version of fake news. Should these new attempts to control the flow of information not work the government may attempt to imitate the techniques of countries such as Egypt or Turkey and simply make anti-government news promotion a crime while trying to restrict public access to alternative outlets.

Net neutrality may be threatened by Trump administration

While the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved a number of rules that are pro-consumer during the last few years, they were often passed by a meager three to two margin.

FCC board member Ajit Pai was often one of the two dissenters. Pai is likely to become the chairman when the Trump administration takes power in January. He has made it known that he hopes to do away with the Open Internet Rule, popularly known as net neutrality. Wikipedia describes net neutrality as follows:
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. The term was coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003, as an extension of the longstanding concept of a common carrier, which was used to describe the role of telephone systems.
It often includes related ideas such as the open Internet:
The idea of an "open Internet" is the idea that the full resources of the Internet and means to operate on it should be easily accessible to all individuals, companies and organizations. This often includes ideas such as net neutrality, open standards, transparency, lack of Internet censorship, and low barriers to entry.
Net neutrality has been fought tooth and nail by industry giants such as AT&T which filed suit against the net neutrality rule. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments a year ago in December and decided in June to side with the FCC and uphold the rule. Pai considers this ruling an error.
In a speech before the Free State Foundation Pai claimed the FCC needed to scale back regulation and spoke against several FCC rules and also against regulation in general. Pai said: “In the months to come, we need to remove outdated and unnecessary regulations. We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation and job creation.” Notice there is no mention of increasing corporate profits — it is all about job creation, investment and innovation!
Pai argues that if harms are not already proved to have happened the FCC should not regulate the market. Of course what is really involved has nothing to do with a free market and everything to do with the interests of giant corporations in remaining unregulated. Pai pontificates: “Proof of market failure should guide the next Commission’s consideration of new regulations. And the FCC should only adopt a regulation if it determines that its benefits outweigh its costs.” Of course cost-benefit analysis often is slanted in the interests of those doing the analysis. If the costs to corporations is more than the benefits to consumers does that mean you should not regulate? This would be special pleading masquerading as objective economics.
Yet Pai continues: “Today, I am more confident than ever that this prediction will come true. And I’m hopeful that beginning next year, our general regulatory approach will be a more sober one that is guided by evidence, sound economic analysis, and a good dose of humility.” Pai never mentions the relationship of regulation to the profit interests of corporations.
Pai's views on the review process contain a number of positive suggestions. He wants the FFC review process to be more transparent and open and also to release more information to the public on its operations. The text of documents being voted on should be released to the public.
The present chair of the FCC Tom Wheeler will step down as chair when Trump becomes president. He said: “When so-called controversy is the result of choosing between the broader common good or those incumbents preferring the status quo, I believe the public interest should prevail. I think it’s an important thing to remember that taking a fast, fair and open Internet away from the public and away from those who use it to offer innovative new services to the public would be a real mistake.” It would not be a mistake, but a government agency operating to advance corporate interests. Pai has the correct line that the regulation was a mistake.
The present net neutrality rules are as follows:Broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices. They may not impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of content, application, services, or any classes thereof. They may not favor some internet traffic over other internet traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind — no paid prioritization or fast lanes.
Corporate providers are unable to make profits that they could if the net were not neutral. For example they could set up fast access to the Internet material on the basis of paying a premium. The regulation ensures the rights of the Internet user but at the same time commits the mortal sin, not of interfering with the free market, but of backing consumer rights over corporate profits.

US Defense Minister Ashton Carter announces 200 more troops for Syria

(December 10)Manama - US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that another 200 troops will go to Syria in order to aid an offensive by Kurdish and Arab fighters, the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), to free the city of Raqqa a stronghold of the Islamic State(IS) in Syria.

Speaking in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, Carter said: "I can tell you today that the United States will deploy approximately 200 additional US forces in Syria." There already are 300 US special forces operating in Syria backing the SDF troops. The offensive began in recent weeks and is taking place at the same time as an offensive against the IS-held city of Mosul in Syria. These two cities are the last two urban centers held by the IS after the Libyan city of Sirte fell to Libyan forces just recently. Their other Libyan stronghold of Derna was won by rival Islamist groups earlier this year. Carter said that bomb disposal experts, and trainers, will be included with the special forces. The IS have used car bombs, booby traps, and mines as well as snipers as they have put up fierce resistance when attacked in what they term is their caliphate. The US has used extensive airstrikes to help the advancing SDF forces. Carter said: “By combining our capabilities with those of our local partners, we’ve been squeezing Isis by applying simultaneous pressure from all sides and across domains, through a series of deliberate actions to continue to build momentum."
Carter criticized other Middle East partners for not adding more military support for the fight against the IS while themselves complaining about US efforts: “I would ask you to imagine what US military and defence leaders think when they have to listen to complaints sometimes that we should do more, when it’s plain to see that all too often, the ones complaining aren’t doing enough themselves.” He said it was reasonable that the US should expect regional powers opposed to the IS and other extremists in the Middle East to do more to help fight them. Carter said of the additional troops that they would "continue organizing, training, equipping and otherwise enabling capable, motivated local forces".
Carter also said that if Sunni regional powers were concerned about Iran's influence in the region they needed to become more involved in the area: “The fact is, if countries in the region are worried about Iran’s destabilising activities – a concern the United States shares – they need to get in the game. That means getting serious about starting to partner more with each other, and investing in the right capabilities for the threat.” Saudi Arabia has been busy intervening in the Yemen civil war on behalf of the former government, which until recently was in exile in Saudi Arabia, with disastrous humanitarian results. The opposition Houthi rebels are supported by Iran. Carter said that President Obama had approved sending the extra troops.
Carter said that Russian intervention in the Syrian war had "only inflamed the civil war and prolonged suffering". Russia's intervention not only appears to have saved the Assad regime but to have enabled it to achieve a major victory in Aleppo which may have turned the tide against the rebels supported by the US and many Arab states.
The US support for the Kurdish fighters is complicated by the fact that even though the US considers them to be the most effective partners of the US, they are viewed by Turkey, a US ally, as a terrorist threat. The US has slowly been increasing the number of its troops both in Iraq and Syria since 2014. Troops have not had a direct combat role. This could result in casualties and a negative political reaction within the US. Their main role is as advisors to Sunni fighters and Kurdish militia.
Carter noted that US strategy was to divide IS territory and taking out its leadership:"Leaders of the terrorist group can no longer travel between Raqqa and Mosul without the risk of either being struck from the air or hunted down by the coalition’s Expeditionary Targeting Force. In fact, since we began accelerating our campaign last year, we’ve killed the majority of ISIL’s most senior leaders.”
US Secretary of State, John Kerry is in Paris meeting with EU and Arab foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Syria. He is due to hold talks with Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister. Kerry said he was tired of trying to negotiate with the Russians. Kerry complained:“I know people are tired of these meetings. I’m tired of these meetings. And people are sort of: ‘Oh, another meeting. OK. This one will end the same way the other one did.’ I get it, folks... But what am I supposed to do? Go home and have a nice weekend in Massachusetts while people are dying? Sit there in Washington and do nothing? That’s not the way you do business.”
With the Assad regime appearing near victory in Aleppo, negotiations may be difficult. The UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said that even if Assad takes all of Aleppo the war will not end. He said a serious discussion about the political future of Syria was the only way to peace.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Filters used to detect fake news could be used to censor news

There is more and more concern about "fake news" as being responsible for events such as the election of Donald Trump, and Brexit. The Russians have been accused of using fake news to influence the US election.

An article in the Guardian by Jonathan Albright has an interesting analysis of the topic of "fake news". What he finds most interesting about the topic is not what many other stress, factual errors, misinformation, propaganda, or its relation to the election of Donald Trump. Albright claims:
What’s scary about fake news is how it is becoming a catch-all phrase for anything people happen to disagree with. In this regard, fake news is sort of the stepbrother of “post-fact” and “post-truth”  –  though not directly related, they’re all part of the same dysfunctional family.
Albirght notes that Facebook and Twitter have been accused of being responsible for the presidential election results in the US and events such as Pizzagate, described in a recent Digital Journal article. This implausible sex scandal conspiracy narrative resulted in many threats against a pizza shop owner. It led Hillary Clinton to declare that fake news is a danger that must be addressed.
Albright points out that fake news has been a fact of life since humans used language to communicate. What has changed Albright claims is the rise of the Internet. This has taken fake news to another level altogether. Yet it is not clear exactly what is fake news. When Google Maps does not give us the fastest route to our destination is that fake news? Is a deceptive review of a product the leads us to buy an inferior product "fake news"? The problem with ensuring that we are protected against fake news is this according to Albright: "As global technology companies move forward with solutions to protect us  –  and their advertising revenue – from the scourge that is fake news, they must ensure that the smaller, less visible, alternative news outlets are not caught in their operational cleansing." The filtering responses attempting to weed out fake news "could signal the end of legitimate news outlets that make an effort to draw attention to issues they feel are underrepresented or intentionally suppressed by the mainstream media."
A recent article in the Washington Post makes reference to a website that talks about websites that spread Russian propaganda during the election campaign. The article makes reference to a website PropOrNot that lists 200 websites that spread Russian propaganda. The article has been subjected to scathing criticism including an article in the Daily Beast, the Intercept and Digital Journal. The websites include virtually any site that produces content critical of Western governments and their policies. Ironically, one of the prime producers of fake news are governments themselves as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article.
Albright points out problems in filtering out what are regarded as pornographic images by Facebook. Facebook removed a Pulizer prizewinning Vietnam war photograph of a running, naked child. It was eventually restored. Albright remarks: "If a combination of human and machine detection has difficulty differentiating between child pornography and Vietnam war images, wait until we start pre-filtering (ie, preferentially censoring) news based on issue-based framing and community self-reporting."
Albright does not know if there is a practical solution to the problem of fake news but as articles such as that in the Washington Post indicate, there may be attempts to label any news out that is anti-government or is trying to influence people against the government as "fake news". Powerful corporations will also use similar tactics to suppress criticism. Albright concludes:The filters in the future won’t be programmed to ban pornographic content, or prevent user harassment and abuse. The next era of the infowars is likely to result in the most pervasive filter yet: it’s likely to normalise the weeding out of viewpoints that are in conflict with established interests.No doubt governments and other powerful interests such as large corporations have always attempted to control the flow of information so as to ensure that mainly positive information reaches the public about them, their policies and operations. The problem of filtering out fake news is simply another opportunity for control of information by pre-filtering it so that the public does not itself get to decide what is fake news and what is not. Big Brother will already have done this for the public.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Obama will break his promise to close Guantanamo Bay

Obama's top counterterrorism adviser appears to have ruled out any last minute dramatic move by the president to close down Guantanamo Bay before he leaves office.

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Obama has continually promised to close the facility since he has become president but Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Counter-terrorism and Homeland Security, said:
"At the end of the day, the domestic transfer restriction remains in place, so until Congress lifts that we’re not able to bring detainees here even to serve a life sentence, even to undergo prosecution to render a life sentence, so those restrictions remain in place. There will be some number that remain, absent an ability and a lifting of the Congressional restrictions to bring them to the Unuted States, they will remain in Guantanamo."She made the remarks at a discussion promoted by the Christian Science Monitor. This in effect acknowledges that prison at Guantanamo Bay will not be closed during Obama's term as president in spite of his continual promises that it would be.
Some advocates of closure have claimed that Obama can use his executive authority to transfer the remaining prisoners to the US, including two lawyers who had worked on the issue for Obama. They claim he can simply ignore the Congressional ban on transfers. Obama is expected to sign into law a defense spending authorization bill that will maintain a prohibition to transfer Guantanamo prisoners to the US, as well as put limits on transfers abroad as well. Republicans in Congress were concerned that Obama might use his executive powers to override the ban but Monaco said that Obama has no intention of doing so even though he disagrees with the restrictions.
Monaco said that the Obama administration would continue to try to shrink the prison population at Guantanamo. It has shrunk from 240 when Obama became president to 59 now. Monaco said that Obama would transfer as many as he could before leaving office on January 20th. Monaco complained that the Congress would not act on the Obama plan to close Guantanamo submitted in February of this year.
The most recently planned transfer is of a prisoner accused of bombing an Israeli hotel in Kenya. However, the transfer is being held up by the refusal of US authorities to release documentation used to show his guilt. The prisoner is being transferred to Israel to be prosecuted and Israel obviously wants evidence the US has of his guilt.
Far from closing Guantanamo Bay, President-elect Trump might even make it bigger. Trump's pick for head of Homeland Security is retired general John Kelly. Kelly was opposed to Obama's plans to close the base while he was in command of the area of which Guantanamo Bay was part. Under Trump Guantanamo Bay could thrive. Obama's plans would still have retained the worst feature of Guantanamo, imprisoning people indefinitely without benefit of any trial and with no charges being laid. Instead of injustice being perpetrated in Guantanamo Bay it would occur within the US itself.

Trump pick for Secretary of Defense is a general who is on the board of defense contractor General Dynamics

Donald Trump's pick for Secretary of Defense, retired Marine General James Mattis, has plenty of experience in the armed forces but also serves on the board of General Dynamics, a prime U.S. defense contractor.

Dwight Eisenhower in a farewell address in January of 1961 warned that for security and liberty to prosper together that Americans must guard against the growth of unwarranted influence by what he called the "military industrial complex". Yet that is what has been happening for some time in the U.S. A study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2008 found:
In 2006, 52 contractors employed 2,435 former DOD senior and acquisition officials who had previously served as generals, admirals, senior executives, program managers, contracting officers, or in other acquisition positions which made them subject to restrictions on their post-DOD employment.The GAO found that more than 400 of those former military personnel took private sector jobs where they competed for specific Pentagon contracts that they previously oversaw.
Mattis would be moving directly to his job from his position as one of 13 independent directors of General Dynamics, a company that relies heavily on Pentagon contracts that are overseen by the Defense Secretary. Financial filings show that Mattis has been paid $594,369 by General Dynamics. He also owns stock worth about $900,000. While on the General Dynamics board Mattis testified against caps on defense spending, calling sequestration a national security threat. He said in 2015: “No foe in the field can wreak such havoc on our security that mindless sequestration is achieving.” The Defense Department directs more than $250 billion worth of contracts to private companies each year. Richard Painter, former chief ethics counsel to President George W. Bush said: “General Dynamics could try to use this relationships to get access into the Pentagon.I am very worried about this.”
General Dynamics routinely ranks among the top five Pentagon contractors receiving over $10 billion in contracts each year. The company offers a wide range of services and products from information technology to armored combat vehicles. It is a main exporter of tanks to such US allies as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The company has won a number of contracts to build a replacement fleet for present nuclear submarines costing up to $100 billion. The Center for Responsive Politics claims that General Dynamics has spent more than $100 million in lobbying over the last decade. Mattis will need to recuse himself from any decision involving General Dynamics for a period of year. But those below him would have no such prohibition. The law does not prevent Mattis from having close contact with General Dynamics.
In 2008, concern about the revolving door between the military and the corporate world resulted in the Pentagon being tasked with keeping a database to keep track of such connections. Six years later, an Inspector General's report found that the Pentagon simply failed to update its database. Mandy Smithberger, of the Project on Government Oversight said: “We really think it’s become corrosive how many senior military officers go to work for defense contractors."
While still part of the military in 2012, Mattis intervened to help the controversial blood-testing company Theranos to gain approval for military tests. On leaving the Marines he joined the Theranos board. Trump in his campaign pledged to tighten federal ethics rules and to slow down the revolving door between government and lobbying firms. However, the appointment of Mattis appears to signal that defense contractors can expect favorable relations with the government. Perhaps the Mattis appointment, plus Trumps' appointment of officials connected to Wall Street firms help explain the recent so-called Trump rally on stock markets.

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

Facebook finds its user base had gone down in Europe the company reported as it announced its third-quarter earnings. This is the second qu...