Friday, March 31, 2017
wikileaks | Today, March 31st 2017, WikiLeaks releases Vault 7 "Marble" -- 676 source code files for the CIA's secret anti-forensic Marble Framework. Marble is used to hamper forensic investigators and anti-virus companies from attributing viruses, trojans and hacking attacks to the CIA.
Marble does this by hiding ("obfuscating") text fragments used in CIA malware from visual inspection. This is the digital equivallent of a specalized CIA tool to place covers over the english language text on U.S. produced weapons systems before giving them to insurgents secretly backed by the CIA.
Marble forms part of the CIA's anti-forensics approach and the CIA's Core Library of malware code. It is "[D]esigned to allow for flexible and easy-to-use obfuscation" as "string obfuscation algorithms (especially those that are unique) are often used to link malware to a specific developer or development shop."
The Marble source code also includes a deobfuscator to reverse CIA text obfuscation. Combined with the revealed obfuscation techniques, a pattern or signature emerges which can assist forensic investigators attribute previous hacking attacks and viruses to the CIA. Marble was in use at the CIA during 2016. It reached 1.0 in 2015.
The source code shows that Marble has test examples not just in English but also in Chinese, Russian, Korean, Arabic and Farsi. This would permit a forensic attribution double game, for example by pretending that the spoken language of the malware creator was not American English, but Chinese, but then showing attempts to conceal the use of Chinese, drawing forensic investigators even more strongly to the wrong conclusion, --- but there are other possibilities, such as hiding fake error messages.
The Marble Framework is used for obfuscation only and does not contain any vulnerabilties or exploits by itself.
gabbard.house.gov | Continuing her commitment to common sense criminal justice reform, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) spoke on the House floor today urging Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to federally decriminalize marijuana. If passed, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (H.R.1227) would take marijuana off the federal controlled substances list—joining other industries such as alcohol and tobacco. Gabbard introduced the legislation with Rep. Tom Garrett (VA-05), an Army veteran and former prosecutor.
“Our outdated policies on marijuana are having devastating ripple effects on individuals and communities across the country. They have turned everyday Americans into criminals, torn apart families, and wasted huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate people for non-violent marijuana charges,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “Differences in state and federal law have also created confusion and uncertainty for our local businesses, who face contradictory regulations that affect their bottom line and ability to operate. I urge our colleagues to support our bipartisan legislation which would decriminalize marijuana, bringing about long overdue and common sense reform."
“There is growing consensus acknowledging that the effects of marijuana are less harmful than its criminal prohibition, which has increased incarceration rates, divided families, and burdened state governments with the high cost of enforcement, prison and probation. It’s clear that there are more vital needs that we as a society need to allocate our precious resources towards, such as education, mental health, and homelessness. Decriminalization is a step forward in making needed criminal justice reforms, which should also include more diversion to substance abuse treatment,” said Karen Umemoto, Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and juvenile justice researcher.
“As long as marijuana is federally illegal, FDIC regulations make it impossible for banks to provide any services to the eight Hawaiʻi Medical Marijuana Dispensary licensees. Federal decriminalization will enable professional dispensaries to provide much needed patient access and cost savings,” said Richard Ha, CEO of Lau Ola, a medical marijuana dispensary on Hawaiʻi Island.
“Descheduling cannabis will benefit Hawaiʻi patients by allowing for more rapid research to identify the best medical marijuana strains and dosages for individual medical conditions. Also, eliminating the barriers to banking will make it easier and safer for Hawaiʻi patients to purchase the medicine they need and eliminate unnecessary expense and complexity for dispensaries,” said Brian Goldstein, Founder and CEO of Mānoa Botanicals, a licensed medical marijuana dispensary on Oʻahu.
Background: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard supports the full legalization of marijuana on the federal level as part of her overall effort toward criminal justice reform. Last month, she visited correctional facilities throughout the state, and met with inmates, criminal justice advocates and experts, health professionals, educators and others to discuss reducing recidivism and her continued efforts to pass federal criminal justice reform legislation like the SAFE Justice Act and the Sentencing Reform Act.
The congresswoman has also supported legislation like the Industrial Hemp Farming Act to support the cultivation of industrial hemp in Hawaiʻi and nationwide.
prospect | Rob Frankil of Sellersville, Pennsylvania, followed his father into the family business after college. “My entire life,” he said, “I’ve been involved with managing and owning independent pharmacies.” He now owns two stores, a traditional community pharmacy and another that caters to long-term care facilities.
Like any retail outlet, Frankil purchases inventory from a wholesale distributor and sells it to customers at a small markup. But unlike butchers or hardware store owners, pharmacists have no idea how much money they’ll make on a sale until the moment they sell it. That’s because the customer’s co-pay doesn’t cover the cost of the drug. Instead, a byzantine reimbursement process determines Frankil’s fee.
“I get a prescription, type in the data, click send, and I’m told I’m getting a dollar or two,” Frankil says. The system resembles the pull of a slot machine: Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. “Pharmacies sell prescriptions at significant losses,” he adds. “So what do I do? Fill the prescription and lose money, or don’t fill it and lose customers? These decisions happen every single day.”
Frankil’s troubles cannot be traced back to insurers or drug companies, the usual suspects that most people deem responsible for raising costs in the health-care system. He blames a collection of powerful corporations known as pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs. If you have drug coverage as part of your health plan, you are likely to carry a card with the name of a PBM on it. These middlemen manage prescription drug benefits for health plans, contracting with drug manufacturers and pharmacies in a multi-sided market. Over the past 30 years, PBMs have evolved from paper-pushers to significant controllers of the drug pricing system, a black box understood by almost no one. Lack of transparency, unjustifiable fees, and massive market consolidations have made PBMs among the most profitable corporations you’ve never heard about.
Americans pay the highest health-care prices in the world, including the highest for drugs, medical devices, and other health-care services and products. Our fragmented system produces many opportunities for excessive charges. But one lesser-known reason for those high prices is the stranglehold that a few giant intermediaries have secured over distribution. The antitrust laws are supposed to provide protection against just this kind of concentrated economic power. But in one area after another in today’s economy, federal antitrust authorities and the courts have failed to intervene. In this case, PBMs are sucking money out of the health-care system—and our wallets—with hardly any public awareness of what they are doing.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
consortiumnews | As those paying rudimentary attention to modern methods of surveillance know, “wiretapping” is passé. But Trump’s use of the word allowed FBI and Department of Justice officials and their counterparts at the National Security Agency to swear on a stack of bibles that the FBI, DOJ, and NSA have been unable to uncover any evidence within their particular institutions of such “wiretapping.”
At the House Intelligence Committee hearing on March 20, FBI Director Comey and NSA Director Michael Rogers firmly denied that their agencies had wiretapped Trump Towers on the orders of President Obama.
So, were Trump and his associates “wiretapped?” Of course not. Wiretapping went out of vogue decades ago, having been rendered obsolete by leaps in surveillance technology.
The real question is: Were Trump and his associates surveilled? Wake up, America. Was no one paying attention to the disclosures from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 when he exposed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as a liar for denying that the NSA engaged in bulk collection of communications inside the United States.
The reality is that EVERYONE, including the President, is surveilled. The technology enabling bulk collection would have made the late demented FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s mouth water.
Allegations about the intelligence community’s abuse of its powers also did not begin with Snowden. For instance, several years earlier, former NSA worker and whistleblower Russell Tice warned about these “special access programs,” citing first-hand knowledge, but his claims were brushed aside as coming from a disgruntled employee with psychological problems. His disclosures were soon forgotten.
However, earlier this year, there was a stark reminder of how much fear these surveillance capacities have struck in the hearts of senior U.S. government officials. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that President Trump was “being really dumb” to take on the intelligence community, since “They have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”
Maddow shied away from asking the logical follow-up: “Senator Schumer, are you actually saying that Trump should be afraid of the CIA?” Perhaps she didn’t want to venture down a path that would raise more troubling questions about the surveillance of the Trump team than on their alleged contacts with the Russians.
ibankcoin | Aside from what appears to be a brazen confirmation of spying on the Trump team, the bigger red flag here is Dr. Farkas wasn’t employed by the Obama administration at the time the Russian allegations arose.
According to Pentagon records, Dr. Farkas resigned in September of 2015.
So how did this non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, gain knowledge of intelligence regarding members of Trump’s team and their relations with Russia, when she was the senior foreign policy advisor for Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton?
Farkas was the prime driver behind the anti-Russia phobia inside the Pentagon during the Obama years — shilling hard for the Ukraine — requesting that the President send them anti-tank missiles — which, essentially, would mean outright war with Russia.
Back to the interview with Mika Brzezinski. Dr. Farkas said ‘we’ had good intel on Russia. Who does she refer to when she says ‘we?’
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
WaPo | The first known published description of Donald Trump’s hair, as an entity that deserved its own description, was mild. “His sandy hair is probably a bit long by standards of the corporate world,” read a 1984 newspaper profile of the then-38-year-old mogul. “With the sides slicked back just a bit.”
Three decades later, describing the headstuff of the leading Republican presidential candidate has been elevated to an art form. Is is swirled or swooped? Animal or vegetable? (Mineral?) Burnt sienna or orange Creamsicle? Last week Gawker published an extensive investigation asserting that the whole concoction might actually be a $60,000 weave.
Fist tap Rohan
GQ | And this is why Dave Chappelle’s recent Netflix specials are so disappointing.
Perhaps my expectations were too high. I hoped that Chappelle, now entering his mid-40s, would have used his signature slyness and world-weary insights to tackle subjects more daunting than the low-hanging and dated comedic fruit of trans people, rape, and famous black men (O.J. Simpson and Bill Cosby) accused of horrific crimes against (mostly) white women. Especially after taking a full decade away from the public microscope. And especially during a time when there seems to be so fucking much—politically, culturally, and racially—for a black comedian as sharp and shrewd as Chappelle to dive into. His focus on the horror of political correctness, instead, felt like something you’d expect to come from a megarich 43-year-old man from the outskirts of Ohio. Who, instead of evolving with the world, has remained stagnant and believes the world has gone mad while pining for time when things were simpler. Which is who he is.
I recognize the presumption and perhaps even self-indulgence of suggesting that I know what Chappelle should have been talking about better than he does. There are no emails and comments I hate worse than “Why did you write about this thing instead of this other thing I wanted you to write about?” and I’m doing this now. I do not wish to be that guy, especially when discussing Chappelle, a man whose break from the public came as a result of corporate forces trying to tell him what he could and couldn’t—and should and shouldn’t—talk about. He is a public figure whom we (black people) have collectively and justifiably circled the wagons for; sensitive to his wish for peace of mind, and his attempt to possess it; ultimately aiming to protect one of our icons from the scourge of capital letter Whiteness attempting to transmute him.
I just... I don’t know, I just would like for him to join us in 2017. There’s so much he can do here.
thefederalist | The flyer reflects the ideology of anti-Israel student groups and their leftist allies who seek “intersectionality,” the common bond of all “oppressed people.” This ideology brings together Muslims who love Sharia and its denigration of women, and rabid feminists who see their problems as a consequence of male privilege. Yes, politics does make for strange bed companions.
Intersectionality has resulted in an upsurge of anti-Semitism. Whether it is support for the Jew-bashing Israel Apartheid Week or the campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the one democracy in the Middle East, these initiatives are thinly disguised anti-Semitic hate fests. Whenever they occur there is a surge in physical and verbal attacks on Jewish students.
So, it is not surprising that just days after the first flyer was distributed, a second one appeared, this one focused on denying the Holocaust. Like the Iranian government, which is always denying the first Holocaust but actively promising a second, both flyers’ tropes threaten Jewish existence.
The larger issue is not the flyers or even their threat to Jews. The issue is that the flyers reflect a dominant ideology that is inculcated on campuses to a captive audience in frequently required classes that resemble the Workmen’s Circle of early Marxism. These courses teach that all gain, except that achieved by oppressed classes, is ill gotten.
In Middle East studies courses, Israel is seen as the one illegitimate state in the world, a last bastion of British imperialism. Obviously, the professors who teach this do not recall that Britain supported the Arabs in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
Canards such as “Jews control the media and Hollywood” are commonplace among leftist professors who spoon-feed their own ideology rather than facts. If professors were teaching that slavery is a benign institution that benefited blacks, there would be such public outcry that universities would not be able to open their doors. But about Jews, almost anything can be said with impunity.
The issue of the flyers is less that they are the product of the twisted minds of some brainwashed students, but that they are the logical outcome of what is taught on our campuses.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
theverge | SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is backing a brain-computer interface venture called Neuralink, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company, which is still in the earliest stages of existence and has no public presence whatsoever, is centered on creating devices that can be implanted in the human brain, with the eventual purpose of helping human beings merge with software and keep pace with advancements in artificial intelligence. These enhancements could improve memory or allow for more direct interfacing with computing devices.
Musk has hinted at the existence of Neuralink a few times over the last six months or so. More recently, Musk told a crowd in Dubai, “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.” He added that “it's mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output." On Twitter, Musk has responded to inquiring fans about his progress on a so-called “neural lace,” which is sci-fi shorthand for a brain-computer interface humans could use to improve themselves.
wired | The Voice of God weapon — a device that projects voices into your head to make you think God is speaking to you — is the military’s equivalent of an urban myth. Meaning, it’s mentioned periodically at defense workshops (ironically, I first heard about it at the same defense conference where I first met Noah), and typically someone whispers about it actually being used. Now Steven Corman, writing at the COMOPS journal, describes his own encounter with this urban myth:
At a government workshop some time ago I head someone describe a new tool that was described as the “voice of Allah.” This was said to be a device that would operate at a distance and would deliver a message that only a single person could hear. The story was that it was tested in a conflict situation in Iraq and pointed at one insurgent in a group, who whipped around looking in all directions, and began a heated conversation with his compatriots, who did not hear the message. At the time I greeted this story with some skepticism.
Is there any basis to this technology? Well, Holosonic Research Labs and American Technology Corporation both have versions of directed sound, which can allow a single person to hear a message that others around don’t hear. DARPA appears to be working on its own sonic projector. Intriguingly, Strategy Page reports that troops are using the Long Range Acoustic Device as a modified Voice of God weapon:
It appears that some of the troops in Iraq are using "spoken" (as opposed to "screeching") LRAD to mess with enemy fighters. Islamic terrorists tend to be superstitious and, of course, very religious. LRAD can put the "word of God" into their heads. If God, in the form of a voice that only you can hear, tells you to surrender, or run away, what are you gonna do?
And as Corman also notes, CNET recently wrote about an advertisement in New York for A&E’s TV show Paranormal State, which uses some of this technology. Beyond directed sound, it’s long been known that microwaves at certain frequencies can produce an auditory effect that sounds like it’s coming from within someone’s head (and there’s the nagging question of classified microwave work at Brooks Air Force Base, that the Air Force stubbornly refuses to talk about).
That brings us back to the Voice of God/Allah Weapon. Is it real or bogus? In one version — related to me by another defense reporter — it’s not just Allah’s voice — but an entire holographic image projected above (um, who decides what Allah looks like?).
Does it exist? I’m not sure, but it’s funny that when you hear it brought up at defense conferences, no one ever asks the obvious question: does anybody think this thing will actually convince people God is speaking to them? I’m thinking, not.
wikipedia | From January 2002 to August 2003, Poindexter served as the Director of the DARPA Information Awareness Office (IAO). The mission of the IAO was to imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate and transition information technologies, components, and prototype closed-loop information systems. This aimed to counter asymmetric threats (most notably, terrorist threats) by achieving total information awareness and thus aiding preemption; national security warning; and, national security decision making
consortiumnews | The Psychological Operations Committee took formal shape with a “secret” memo from Reagan’s National Security Advisor John Poindexter on July 31, 1986. Its first meeting was called on Sept. 2, 1986, with an agenda that focused on Central America and “How can other POC agencies support and complement DOD programs in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama.” The POC was also tasked with “Developing National PSYOPS Guidelines” for “formulating and implementing a national PSYOPS program.” (Underlining in original).
Raymond was named a co-chair of the POC along with CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, who was then Deputy Director for Intelligence Programs on the NSC staff, according to a “secret” memo from Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Craig Alderman Jr. The memo also noted that future POC meetings would be briefed on psyops projects for the Philippines and Nicaragua, with the latter project codenamed “Niagara Falls.” The memo also references a “Project Touchstone,” but it is unclear where that psyops program was targeted.
Another “secret” memo dated Oct. 1, 1986, co-authored by Raymond, reported on the POC’s first meeting on Sept. 10, 1986, and noted that “The POC will, at each meeting, focus on an area of operations (e.g., Central America, Afghanistan, Philippines).”
The POC’s second meeting on Oct. 24, 1986, concentrated on the Philippines, according to a Nov. 4, 1986 memo also co-authored by Raymond. “The next step will be a tightly drafted outline for a PSYOPS Plan which we will send to that Embassy for its comment,” the memo said. The plan “largely focused on a range of civic actions supportive of the overall effort to overcome the insurgency,” an addendum noted. “There is considerable concern about the sensitivities of any type of a PSYOPS program given the political situation in the Philippines today.”
Earlier in 1986, the Philippines had undergone the so-called “People Power Revolution,” which drove longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos into exile, and the Reagan administration, which belatedly pulled its support from Marcos, was trying to stabilize the political situation to prevent more populist elements from gaining the upper hand.
But the Reagan administration’s primary attention continued to go back to Central America, including “Project Niagara Falls,” the psyops program aimed at Nicaragua. A “secret” Pentagon memo from Deputy Under Secretary Alderman on Nov. 20, 1986, outlined the work of the 4th Psychological Operations Group on this psyops plan “to help bring about democratization of Nicaragua,” by which the Reagan administration meant a “regime change.” The precise details of “Project Niagara Falls” were not disclosed in the declassified documents but the choice of codename suggested a cascade of psyops.
Other documents from Raymond’s NSC file shed light on who other key operatives in the psyops and propaganda programs were. For instance, in undated notes on efforts to influence the Socialist International, including securing support for U.S. foreign policies from Socialist and Social Democratic parties in Europe, Raymond cited the efforts of “Ledeen, Gershman,” a reference to neoconservative operative Michael Ledeen and Carl Gershman, another neocon who has served as president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), from 1983 to the present. (Underlining in original.)
Although NED is technically independent of the U.S. government, it receives the bulk of its funding (now about $100 million a year) from Congress. Documents from the Reagan archives also make clear that NED was organized as a way to replace some of the CIA’s political and propaganda covert operations, which had fallen into disrepute in the 1970s. Earlier released documents from Raymond’s file show CIA Director William Casey pushing for NED’s creation and Raymond, Casey’s handpicked man on the NSC, giving frequent advice and direction to Gershman. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “CIA’s Hidden Hand in ‘Democracy’ Groups.”]
Another figure in Raymond’s constellation of propaganda assets was media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who was viewed as both a key political ally of President Reagan and a valuable source of funding for private groups that were coordinating with White House propaganda operations. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Rupert Murdoch: Propaganda Recruit.”]
Monday, March 27, 2017
technologyreview | Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.
For psychologists who study humor, this statement is a classic. It embodies the ambiguity of language that much humor exploits. In this case, the words “flies” and “like” have different meanings that come into conflict in the reader’s mind. The way our cognitive processes resolve this conflict lies at the heart of the nature of humor, say theorists.
Humor showcases the speed and flexibility of human cognition at its most impressive. Clearly, the ability to reproduce this behavior would be hugely useful in machines that could appreciate humor and generate laughs.
So psychologists and computer scientists would dearly love to understand and reproduce the cognitive processes behind humor. Sadly, progress in this area has been slow, not least because it is hard to properly model this cognitive conflict.
Today, that changes, at least in part, thanks to the work of Liane Gabora at the University of British Columbia in Canada and Kirsty Kitto at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia. These guys have created a new model of humor based on the mathematical formalism of quantum theory. They then apply it to verbal puns and cartoons.
The basic problem with modeling humor is to find a way to represent a joke at the moment it is understood. That’s tricky because it requires the ability to able to handle two or more conflicting interpretations at the same time.
In the joke above, the brain first assimilates the set-up statement “time flies like an arrow,” in which flies is verb meaning “to travel through the air.” It then assimilates the punch line statement “fruit flies like a banana,” in which flies is a noun describing flying insects.
By themselves, these phrases are not particularly amusing. The humor arises when the meaning from the set-up phrase clashes with the meaning in the punch line. This clash requires the brain to hold both meanings at the same time.
Gabora and Kitto say the process of holding two ideas simultaneously in our brains is analogous to the process of quantum superposition. This is the bizarre quantum phenomenon in which a single object can exist in two places at the same time. The object’s position only becomes localized when it is measured and the superposition collapses.
Similarly, the brain holds two meanings in mind at the same time and the process of getting a joke resolves this conflict as the brain settles on one meaning or the other. Gabora and Kitto’s idea is that the mathematics behind quantum superposition can also model this kind of double-think.
They are not saying that the brain relies on quantum processes, only that quantum formalism can be used to model it. “The quantum approach enables us to naturally represent the process of ‘getting a joke,’ ” they say.
technologyreview | On Thursday Alphabet released a machine-learning-based service, called Perspective, intended to identify toxic comments on websites. It’s from Jigsaw, a unit working on technologies to make the Internet a safer and more civil place. But when I toyed with Perspective, the results were erratic.
Perspective rates comments on a 1 to 100 scale for “toxicity,” defined as “a rude, disrespectful, or unreasonable comment that is likely to make you leave a discussion.” “Screw you, Trump supporters” is judged to be highly toxic, while “I honestly support both” is not, for example. But Perspective has trouble detecting the sentiment behind a comment—a problem I predicted would trouble Jigsaw when I examined its ambitions in December (see “If Only AI Could Save Us From Ourselves”).
“Trump sucks” scored a colossal 96 percent, yet neo-Nazi codeword “14/88” only scored 5 percent. “Few Muslims are a terrorist threat” was 79 percent toxic, while “race war now” scored 24 percent. “Hitler was an anti-Semite” scored 70 percent, but “Hitler was not an anti-Semite” scored only 53%, and “The Holocaust never happened” scored only 21%. And while “gas the joos” scored 29 percent, rephrasing it to “Please gas the joos. Thank you.” lowered the score to a mere 7 percent. (“Jews are human,” however, scores 72 percent. “Jews are not human”? 64 percent.)
According to Jigsaw, Perspective was trained to detect toxicity using hundreds of thousands of comments ranked by human reviewers. The result appears to be a system sensitized to particular words and phrases—but not to meanings.
technologyreview | At Google, the scientific charge has been spearheaded by DeepMind, the high-concept British AI company started by neuroscientist and programmer Demis Hassabis. Google acquired it for $400 million in 2014.
Hassabis has left no doubt that he’s holding onto his scientific ambitions. In a January blog post, he said DeepMind has a “hybrid culture” between the long-term thinking of an academic department and “the speed and focus of the best startups.” Aligning with academic goals is “important to us personally,” he writes. Kording, one of whose post-doctoral students, Mohammad Azar, was recently hired by DeepMind, says that “it’s perfectly understood that the bulk of the projects advance science.”
Last year, DeepMind published twice in Nature, the same storied journal where the structure of DNA and the sequencing of the human genome were first reported. One DeepMind paper concerned its program AlphaGo, which defeated top human players in the ancient game of Go; the other described how a neural network with a working memory could understand and adapt to new tasks.
Then, in December, scientists from Google’s research division published the first deep-learning paper ever to appear in JAMA, the august journal of America’s physicians. In it, they showed a deep-learning program could diagnose a cause of blindness from retina images as well as a doctor. That project was led by Google Brain, a different AI group, based out of the company’s California headquarters. It also says it prioritizes publications, noting that researchers there “set their own agenda.”
Sunday, March 26, 2017
medium | In her speech to the 2016 Conservative Party conference, British Prime Minister Theresa May pointedly said:
“…if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”
May is currently leading her government to implement a nationally divisive break of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Nationalist sentiment here serves political expediency and despite the fact that a British Prime Minister turned her back on centuries of Enlightenment values of the sort that made Britain the place where the Industrial Revolution began and appeared to embrace rhetoric that pays lip service to that most vile of all antisemitic texts, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion my focus is not on politics or Brexit.
theverge | As part of a probe into Russian influence on the 2016 election, an FBI-led investigation is seeking more information on social media bots that spammed “millions” of pro-Trump posts from far-right news organizations, according to a report published this week by McClatchy.
The bots sent out stories from controversial conservative sources such as Breitbart and Infowars, as well as the Russia-backed outlet RT. According to McClatchy, many of the stories contained false or misleading information. As part of the effort, which included Facebook and Twitter posts, the bots also shared WikiLeaks links to stolen DNC and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta emails that ended up damaging the Democratic nominee’s campaign.
The investigation is also looking into what role the news sites themselves may have played in the social media campaign, although as McClatchy notes, the bots could well have been pushing the stories without the involvement of the sites themselves.
Earlier this year, the US intelligence community released a report on Russia’s influence on the 2016 election that alluded to several similar tactics, including the use of Russian trolls for spreading propaganda. Earlier this week, FBI director James Comey confirmed that the agency was investigating whether members of the Trump campaign had any coordination with Russian operatives during the election.
According to McClatchy, the investigation into bots is still in its early stages.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
Counterpunch | It’s always extremely sad and confusing when a massive propaganda campaign, like the one we’ve been subjected to for about the last year, comes to a sudden and ignominious end. You wake up one morning, and the billionaire asshat that more or less every “respected” organ of the corporatist media has been telling you was Hitler, or a Russian agent (and possibly both), as it turns out, is, well, just a billionaire asshat. An extremely repulsive billionaire asshat, but nonetheless just a billionaire asshat. This is extremely disorienting … because here you were, prepped for the End of Everything, or at least for the death camps, the Riefenstahlian rallies, and the Russian invasion of Martha’s Vineyard, and then all that stuff gets abruptly canceled like Season 4 of David Milch’s Deadwood.
We haven’t quite reached that stage of things yet, but it feels like we are inching up to it (as Glenn Greenwald pointed out in his recent piece). I know this sounds a little nuts, given the amount of Russia hysteria the media is pumping out this week as the KremlinGate hearings get underway, but this latest round of official propaganda distinctly reeks of desperation. The simple fact of the matter is, despite whatever got “hacked” by whom, Donald Trump, asshat that he is, is not a Russian sleeper agent or otherwise collaborating with Vladimir Putin, and anyone with half a brain knows this. Thus, it is going to be impossible to prove the blatantly ridiculous accusations the ruling classes and their media stooges have been making in order to delegitimize him. This is going to present a problem, because the way it works, when you accuse the President of treason (which is a capital offense), is that you kind of have to prove it at some point. The ruling classes cannot do this, and thus they need to adjust expectations, which is what they appear to be doing at the moment.
As Greenwald noted in his Intercept piece, deep state disinformation specialists like Michael Morrell and James R. Clapper are making the rounds of the talk shows and forums, preparing us for the official narrative changeover. (You remember Michael Morrell … the ex-CIA chief who in August of last year wrote that op-ed in The New York Times declaring that “Putin had recruited Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”) And it is not only spooks like Morrell and Clapper. Suddenly, the oracles we’ve to come rely on for the latest evidence that Putin Nazis have taken over the executive branch are adopting a distinctly less hysterical tone. Although they haven’t kicked the Russia paranoia cold turkey (as that might cause mass seizures or something), they have obviously begun to wean their followers off the groundless neo-McCarthyite nonsense they’ve been peddling straight-faced for over a year.
NationalReview | The bureau is conducting a counterintelligence investigation, which is a whole different beast. There is no ongoing criminal investigation of President Trump or his campaign. I realize that may not be what you expect to hear, if you’re only casually consuming the news. But it’s what FBI director Jim Comey told Congress, and no available evidence contradicts it. Democrats are desperate to draw a parallel between Comey’s testimony Monday before the House Intelligence Committee — about an ongoing FBI investigation that includes any connections between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election — and Comey’s statements in July and October 2016 about the criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server. But if you listen to what Comey actually told Congress under oath, you get a very different picture.
Let’s quote the key portion:
As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters, but in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so as Justice Department policies recognize. This is one of those circumstances.
I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.
Because it is an open ongoing investigation and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining. At the request of congressional leaders, we have taken the extraordinary step in coordination with the Department of Justice of briefing this Congress’ leaders, including the leaders of this committee, in a classified setting in detail about the investigation but I can’t go into those details here. [Emphasis added.]
In short, the investigation Comey references is not a criminal investigation; it’s a counterintelligence investigation, and crimes will be investigated or charged only if they happen to be uncovered in the process.
Where does that leave us?
buchanan | Two days after FBI Director James Comey assured us there was no truth to President Trump’s tweet about being wiretapped by Barack Obama, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Trump may have had more than just a small point.
The U.S. intelligence community, says Nunes, during surveillance of legitimate targets, picked up the names of Trump transition officials during surveillance of targets, “unmasked” their identity, and spread their names around, virtually assuring they would be leaked.
If true, this has the look and smell of a conspiracy to sabotage the Trump presidency, before it began.
Comey readily confirmed there was no evidence to back up the Trump tweet. But when it came to electronic surveillance of Trump and his campaign, Comey, somehow, could not comment on that.
Which raises the question: What is the real scandal here?
Is it that Russians hacked the DNC and John Podesta’s emails and handed them off to WikiLeaks? We have heard that since June.
Is it that Trump officials may have colluded with the Russians?
But former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and ex-CIA Director Mike Morrell have both said they saw no evidence of this.
This March, Sen. Chris Coons walked back his stunning declaration about transcripts showing a Russia-Trump collusion, confessing, “I have no hard evidence of collusion.”
But if Clapper and Morrell saw no Russia-Trump collusion, what were they looking at during all those months to make them so conclude?
Was it “FBI transcripts,” as Sen. Coons blurted out?
If so, who intercepted and transcribed the conversations? If it was intel agencies engaged in surveillance, who authorized that? How extensive was it? Against whom? Is it still going on?
And if today, after eight months, the intel agencies cannot tell us whether or not any member of the Trump team colluded with the Russians, what does that say of their competence?
Friday, March 24, 2017
antimedia | Government’s meddling in the healthcare business has been disastrous from the get-go.
Since 1910, when Republican William Taft gave in to the American Medical Association’s lobbying efforts, most administrations have passed new healthcare regulations. With each new law or set of new regulations, restrictions on the healthcare market went further, until at some point in the 1980s, people began to notice the cost of healthcare had skyrocketed.
This is not an accident. It’s by design.
As regulators allowed special interests to help design policy, everything from medical education to drugs became dominated by virtual monopolies that wouldn’t have otherwise existed if not for government’s notion that intervening in people’s lives is part of their job.
But how did costs go up, and why didn’t this happen overnight?
It wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon restricted the supply of hospitals by requiring institutions to provide a certificate-of-need.
Just a couple years later, in 1974, the president also strengthened unions for hospital workers by boosting pension protections, which raise the cost for both those who run hospitals and taxpayers in cases of institutions that rely on government subsidies. This move also helped force doctors who once owned and ran their own hospitals to merge into provider monopolies. These, in turn, are often only able to keep their doors open with the help of government subsidies.
This artificial restriction on healthcare access had yet another harsh consequence: overworked doctors.
But they weren’t the first to feel the consequences hit home. As the number of hospitals and clinics became further restricted and the healthcare industry became obsessed with simple compliance, patients were the first to feel abandoned.
angrybearblog | In 2026, an estimated 52 million would be uninsured in the US, a dramatic reversal from the 2016 uninsured count of 28/29 million. Pretty much, the Republicans will put healthcare back to the way it was pre-2014 if Paul Ryan’s bill is passed by Congress and Donald signs the bill in its present form.
- By 2018, 14 million could be uninsured with many of the uninsured practicing the tyranny of a minority, as John S. Mill might call it, upon the rest of the insured population as they drop out. Others will simply lose healthcare insurance as states withdraw from the Medicaid expansion and employers drop the coverage they were required to carry as they had 50 or more employees. Many of today’s insured will be unable to afford the increased premiums due to smaller subsidies. The elderly will be faced with smaller subsidies and a higher 5:1 ratio premium, which is up from the present 3:1 under the ACA program.
- Doctors, clinics, and hospitals have seen increased numbers of patients coming through the front door rather than the rear door due to the expansion of Medicaid to 138% FPL and subsidies for healthcare insurance to those under 400% FPL. My own PCP has seen many new patients who have never been to a doctor before except at the ER. With the proposed reversal of the mandate to have healthcare insurance and the dropping of Medicaid, it will fall upon hospitals and doctors to still provide stabilizing care as defined by law to all who arrive at their door. Except this time, the subsidizing payments for care for the uninsured to hospitals and clinics will not be available as it was reduced with the advent of the PPACA. It appears the AHA is not too pleased with Paul Ryan’s AHCA bill either.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Counterpunch | The investigation methods used to come to the conclusion that the Russian Government led the hacks of the DNC, Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta, and the DCCC were further called into question by a recent BuzzFeed report by Jason Leopold, who has developed a notable reputation from leading several non-partisan Freedom of Information Act lawsuits for investigative journalism purposes. On March 15 that the Department of Homeland Security released just two heavily redacted pages of unclassified information in response to an FOIA request for definitive evidence of Russian election interference allegations. Leopold wrote, “what the agency turned over to us and Ryan Shapiro, a PhD candidate at MIT and a research affiliate at Harvard University, is truly bizarre: a two-page intelligence assessment of the incident, dated Aug. 22, 2016, that contains information DHS culled from the internet. It’s all unclassified — yet DHS covered nearly everything in wide swaths of black ink. Why? Not because it would threaten national security, but because it would reveal the methods DHS uses to gather intelligence, methods that may amount to little more than using Google.”
In lieu of substantive evidence provided to the public that the alleged hacks which led to Wikileaks releases of DNC and Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta’s emails were orchestrated by the Russian Government, CrowdStrike’s bias has been cited as undependable in its own assessment, in addition to its skeptical methods and conclusions. The firm’s CTO and co-founder, Dmitri Alperovitch, is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank with openly anti-Russian sentiments that is funded by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, who also happened to donate at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation.
In 2013, the Atlantic Council awarded Hillary Clinton it’s Distinguished International Leadership Award. In 2014, the Atlantic Council hosted one of several events with former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who took over after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in early 2014, who now lives in exile in Russia.
In August, Politico reported that Donald Trump’s favorable rhetoric to Russia was concerning Ukraine, who have been recovering from Russian interference in their own country’s revolution. The article cited, “Russia wants Trump for U.S. president; Ukraine is terrified by Trump and prefers Hillary Clinton.” Trump recently appointed Atlantic Council Chairman Jon Huntsman as U.S. Ambassador to Russia, which Vox called a “baffling” choice, and Democrats and anti-Russian hysterics haven’t bothered to attempt to criticize, scrutinize or insinuate ties between Huntsman and Russia.
paecon | When Trump was inaugurated on Friday, January 20, there was no pro-jobs or anti-war demonstration. That presumably would have attracted pro-Trump supporters in an ecumenical show of force. Instead, the Women’s March on Saturday led even the pro-Democrat New York Times to write a front-page article reporting that white women were complaining that they did not feel welcome in the demonstration. The message to anti-war advocates, students and Bernie supporters was that their economic cause was a distraction.
The march was typically Democratic in that its ideology did not threaten the Donor Class. As Yves Smith wrote on Naked Capitalism: “the track record of non-issue-oriented marches, no matter how large scale, is poor, and the status of this march as officially sanctioned (blanket media coverage when other marches of hundreds of thousands of people have been minimized, police not tricked out in their usual riot gear) also indicates that the officialdom does not see it as a threat to the status quo."
Hillary’s loss was not blamed on her neoliberal support for TPP or her pro-war neocon stance, but on the revelations of the e-mails by her operative Podesta discussing his dirty tricks against Bernie Sanders (claimed to be given to Wikileaks by Russian hackers, not a domestic DNC leaker as Wikileaks claimed) and the FBI investigation of her e-mail abuses at the State Department. Backing her supporters’ attempt to brazen it out, the Democratic Party has doubled down on its identity politics, despite the fact that an estimated 52 percent of white women voted for Trump. After all, women do work for wages. And that also is what Blacks and Hispanics want – in addition to banking that serves their needs, not those of Wall Street, and health care that serves their needs, not those of the health-insurance and pharmaceuticals monopolies.
ibankcoin | Klayman has detailed all of this in a NewsMax article, followed up with an official letter to Chairman Nunes today, requesting that he question Comey . Perhaps this explains Nunes’ impromptu press conference today admitting that Trump’s team was under “Incidental Surveillance” before making his way to the White House to discuss with the President.
So – we know that evidence exists from a CIA / NSA contractor turned whistleblower, detailing a massive spy operation on 156 judges, the Supreme Court, and high profile Americans including Donald Trump. See the letter below:
Freedom Watch bombshell letter to Rep. Devin Nunes 1/4 https://t.co/CZ4haCVauK pic.twitter.com/NnKogSytSC— ZeroPointNow (@ZeroPointNow) March 23, 2017
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
consortiumnews | It is encouraging that Foreign Affairs magazine, the preeminent professional journal of American diplomacy, took the extraordinary step (extraordinary at least in the current environment) of publishing Robert English’s article, entitled “Russia, Trump, and a new Détente,” that challenges the prevailing groupthink and does so with careful scholarship.
In effect, English’s article trashes the positions of all Foreign Affairs’ featured contributors for the past several years. But it must be stressed that there are no new discoveries of fact or new insights that make English’s essay particularly valuable. What he has done is to bring together the chief points of the counter-current and set them out with extraordinary writing skills, efficiency and persuasiveness of argumentation. Even more important, he has been uncompromising.
The facts laid out by English could have been set out by one of several experienced and informed professors or practitioners of international relations. But English had the courage to follow the facts where they lead and the skill to convince the Foreign Affairs editors to take the chance on allowing readers to see some unpopular truths even though the editors now will probably come under attack themselves as “Kremlin stooges.”
The overriding thesis is summed up at the start of the essay: “For 25 years, Republicans and Democrats have acted in ways that look much the same to Moscow. Washington has pursued policies that have ignored Russian interests (and sometimes international law as well) in order to encircle Moscow with military alliances and trade blocs conducive to U.S. interests. It is no wonder that Russia pushes back. The wonder is that the U.S. policy elite doesn’t get this, even as foreign-affairs neophyte Trump apparently does.”
English’s article goes back to the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and explains why and how U.S. policy toward Russia was wrong and wrong again. He debunks the notion that Boris Yeltsin brought in a democratic age, which Vladimir Putin undid after coming to power.
English explains how the U.S. meddled in Russian domestic politics in the mid-1990s to falsify election results and ensure Yeltsin’s continuation in office despite his unpopularity for bringing on an economic Depression that average Russians remember bitterly to this day. That was a time when the vast majority of Russians equated democracy with “shitocracy.”
English describes how the Russian economic and political collapse in the 1990s was exploited by the Clinton administration. He tells why currently fashionable U.S. critics of Putin are dead wrong when they fail to acknowledge Putin’s achievements in restructuring the economy, tax collection, governance, improvements in public health and more which account for his spectacular popularity ratings today.
English details all the errors and stupidities of the Obama administration in its handling of Russia and Putin, faulting President Obama and Secretary of State (and later presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton for all of their provocative and insensitive words and deeds. What we see in U.S. policy, as described by English, is the application of double standards, a prosecutorial stance towards Russia, and outrageous lies about the country and its leadership foisted on the American public.
Then English takes on directly all of the paranoia over Russia’s alleged challenge to Western democratic processes. He calls attention instead to how U.S. foreign policy and the European Union’s own policies in the new Member States and candidate Member States have created all the conditions for a populist revolt by buying off local elites and subjecting the broad populace in these countries to pauperization.
English concludes his essay with a call to give détente with Putin and Russia a chance.
WaPo | “Three of the airlines that have been targeted for these measures — Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways — have long been accused by their U.S. competitors of receiving massive effective subsidies from their governments,” wrote political scientists Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman. “These airlines have been quietly worried for months that President Trump was going to retaliate. This may be the retaliation.”
Farrell and Newman suggested Tuesday’s order is an example of the Trump administration “weaponizing interdependence” — using its leverage in a world where American airports are key “nodes” in global air travel to weaken competitors. My colleague Max Bearak detailed how this could be a part of Trump’s wider protectionist agenda. In February, President Trump met with executives of U.S. airlines and pledged that he would help them compete against foreign carriers that receive subsidies from their home governments.
“A lot of that competition is subsidized by governments, big league,” said Trump at that meeting. “I’ve heard that complaint from different people in this room. Probably about one hour after I got elected, I was inundated with calls from your industry and many other industries, because it’s a very unfair situation.”
reuters | A broad coalition of advertising trade groups, ad buyers and sellers from Western Europe and the United States have urged the industry to stop using annoying online marketing formats that have fuelled the rapid rise of ad-blockers.
The types of ads the coalition has identified as falling below standard include pop-up advertisements, auto-play video ads with sound, flashing animated ads and full-screen ads that mask underlying content from readers or viewers.
The explosion of ad-blocking tools has launched a prolonged debate within the advertising industry over whether to rein in abusive ad practices or simply freeze out consumers who use ad blocker and still expect access to premium content.
The Coalition for Better Ads said on Wednesday it was publishing the voluntary standards after a study in which more than 25,000 web surfers and mobile phone users rated ads.
They identified six types of desktop web ads and 12 types of mobile ads as falling beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability and called on advertisers to avoid them.
Matti Littunen, research analyst at Enders Analysis focusing on digital media, said the ad formats identified by the coalition "have already been discouraged for years by these bodies and yet are still commonplace."
guardian | Google’s decision-making process over which YouTube videos are deemed “advertiser friendly” faces scrutiny from both brands and creators, highlighting once again the challenge of large-scale moderation.
The company last week pledged to change its advertising policies after several big brands pulled their budgets from YouTube following an investigation that revealed their ads were shown alongside extremist content, such as videos promoting terrorism or antisemitism.
Havas, the world’s sixth largest advertising and marketing company, pulled all of its UK clients’ ads, including O2, BBC and Domino’s Pizza, from Google and YouTube on Friday, following similar moves from the UK government, the Guardian, Transport for London and L’Oreal.
Google responded with a blog post promising to update its ad policies, stating that with 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube each minute “we don’t always get it right”.
However, the inconsistencies behind the company’s ability to police advertising on controversial content are coming to light – and it’s not just advertisers who are complaining. Some YouTube creators argue their videos are being unfairly and inconsistently “demonetized” by the platform, cutting off their source of income that comes from the revenue share on ads placed on videos.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
unz | We have a president who is belligerent towards Iran, who is sending “boots on the ground” to fight ISIS, who loves Israel passionately and who is increasing already bloated defense budgets. If one were a neoconservative, what is there not to like, yet neocons in the media and ensconced comfortably in their multitude of think tanks hate Donald Trump. I suspect it comes down to three reasons. First, it is because Trump knows who was sticking the knife in his back during his campaign in 2016 and he has neither forgiven nor hired them. Nor does he pay any attention to their bleating, denying them the status that they think they deserve because of their self-promoted foreign policy brilliance.
And second, Trump persists in his desire to “do business” with Russia. The predominantly Jewish neocons always imagine the thunder of hooves of approaching Cossacks preparing to engage in pogroms whenever they hear the word Russia. And this is particularly true of Vladimir Putin’s regime, which is Holy Russia revived. When not musing over how it is always 1938 and one is in Munich, neocons are nearly as unsettled when they think it is 1905 in Odessa.
The third reason, linked to number two, is that having a plausible and dangerous enemy like Russia on tap keeps the cash flowing from defense industries to the foundations and think tanks that the neocons nest in when they are not running the Pentagon and National Security Council. Follow the money. So it is all about self-interest combined with tribal memory: money, status and a visceral hatred of Russia.
The hatred of Trump runs so deep that a leading neocon Bill Kristol actually tweeted that he would prefer a country run by bureaucrats and special interests rather than the current constitutional arrangement. The neocon vendetta was as well neatly summed up in two recent articles by Max Boot. The first is entitled “Trump knows the Feds are closing in on him” and the second is “WikiLeaks has joined the Trump Administration.”In the former piece Boot asserts that “Trump’s recent tweets aren’t just conspiratorial gibberish—they’re the erratic ravings of a guilty conscience” and in the latter, that “The anti-American WikiLeaks has become the preferred intelligence service for a conspiracy-addled White House.”
Now, who is Max Boot and why should anyone care what he writes? Russian-born, Max entered the United States with his family through a special visa exemption under the 1975 Jackson-Vanik Amendment even though they were not notably persecuted and only had to prove that they were Jewish. Jackson-Vanik was one of the first public assertions of neoconism, having reportedly been drafted in the office of Senator Henry Jackson by no less than Richard Perle and Ben Wattenberg as a form of affirmative action for Russian Jews. As refugees instead of immigrants, the new arrivals received welfare, health insurance, job placement, English language classes, and the opportunity to apply for U.S. citizenship after only five years. Max went to college at Berkeley and received an M.A. from Yale.