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TBR News November 16, 2018

Nov 16 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. November 16, 2018:”England was once the most powerful nation on earth and the richest.

Now, as the result of a number of factors, including her constant warfare against potential rivals, she is in the throes of a growing social upheaval and is, in essence, a nation filled with the very rich and, in far larger numbers, the very poor.

Such discrepancies laid the foundation for the bloody French Revolution and if the ruling powers in England do nothing to address their growing social and economic problems, we could well see public revolt.

Interesting to consider, as well, that there is a parallel problem beginning to take root in the United States today.

And with the preoccupation by America’s political and economic leaders to preserve their power and protect their money, problems which now loom in the UK will be seen in the US.”

The Table of Contents 

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 82
  • The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations
  • Amazon’s Accent Recognition Technology Could Tell the Government Where You’re From
  • Facebook told us it wasn’t a typical big, bad company. It is
  • Jeff Flake threatens to block judicial appointments over Mueller inquiry bill
  • UK leadership challenge: How does it work?
  • The draft Brexit deal: What you need to know
  • UK austerity has inflicted ‘great misery’ on citizens, UN says
  • There are now 14,000,000 people living in poverty in the UK

Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 82

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018

  • Jun 23, 2018

“You know, regulations. I’ve cut more regulations than any other president in four years, eight years, or, you know, in the case, we have a 16-year-er, right.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee

in fact: No president has served for 16 years. The longest-serving president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, served just over 12 years, dying shortly into his fourth term.

Trump has repeated this claim 9 times

“We put it (a tariff) on solar panels. And we had 32 empty plants, we had 32 plants, there were many of them closed, now many of them are opening again. We put a tariff, a 30 per cent tariff, on solar panels.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee

in fact: There is no indication that “many” shuttered solar plants have reopened since Trump imposed his tariffs.

“United States Steel is now expanding and opening six new plants.”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee

in fact: At the time Trump spoke, U.S. Steel had only announced a major development at one facility since Trump introduced his steel tariffs: it said it was restarting two shuttered blast furnaces at its plant in Granite City, Illinois. Chuck Bradford, an industry analyst who follows U.S. Steel, said he was “not aware” of the company opening any other facilities. U.S. Steel did not respond to repeated requests for comment about this.

Trump has repeated this claim 13 times

“The all-time beauty is the lottery. We pick names out. So do you think the country is giving us their finest? Are they giving us the Sarah Huckabees of the world? I don’t think so, OK? I don’t think so. They’re giving us some rough, tough people. And we want merit. We don’t want that. So we don’t want a lottery system. I mean, who can blame a country — Honduras and these different — who can blame them?”

Source: Interview with Mike Huckabee

in fact: This is, as usual, an inaccurate description of the Diversity Visa Lottery program. Contrary to Trump’s suggestion that Honduras and other countries are intentionally “giving” the U.S. “rough, tough people” rather than excellent citizens, foreign countries do not “give” anyone to the lottery in an attempt to get them to leave. Would-be immigrants sign up on their own, as individuals, of their own free will, because they want to immigrate.

Trump has repeated this claim 21 times

“If you remember, before I got elected, it sounded like we were going to war with North Korea.”

Source: Roundtable on tax reform in Las Vegas, Nevada

in fact: There was no indication that the U.S. was going to war with North Korea in the Obama era prior to Trump’s election.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

“So we’re negotiating deals. The steel industry — I don’t know if you’ve been seeing what’s happening, but the steel industry is coming back. United States Steel is expanding. We’re building brand new plants and beautiful new expansions. They haven’t done it in 35 years.”

Source: Roundtable on tax reform in Las Vegas, Nevada

in fact: While many U.S. steel mills have shut down since the early 1980s, it is far from true that no steel mill had opened or expanded in the 35 years before Trump imposed his steel tariffs. In 2013, Big River Steel announced an investment of more than $1 billion to build a new steel mill in Arkansas; construction began in 2014, and full-time production at the mill began in March 2017, a year before Trump’s tariffs. Nucor opened a steel plate mill in North Carolina in 2000, part of a flurry of mill construction around that time. The industry publication New Steel reported in 1998 on numerous recent and upcoming mill openings: “One wave of new-mill construction is almost over as North Star Kingman (Ariz.), North Star BHP, Trico, Ipsco, Nucor Berkeley (S.C.), and other mills have started up in the last couple of years. But another wave is beginning. Nucor, Steel Dynamics Inc. (SDI), Chaparral, and Ipsco are boosting capital spending for the minimill sector this year and next by building new plate and structurals mills. U.S. minimills’ capital spending will be $1.41 billion this year, up from $1.22 billion in 1997…Chaparral will build a $400 million structurals mill in Dinwiddie County, Va. Production is scheduled to begin in mid-1999. Nucor’s plate mill in Hertford County, N.C., will cost $300 million and will produce 1 million annual tons. It will begin production in 2000. Nucor will complete other large projects by that time. A new $150 million structurals mill in Berkeley County will begin production this fall. A $120 million cold mill with a 500,000-annual-ton galvanizing line and 800,000-ton cold-rolling line in Hickman, Ark., will be installed by early next year…SDI will begin building a new, $285 million structurals mill in Whitley County, Ind., late this year. Production will begin in early 2000…Ipsco, Canada’s largest minimill company, is trying to increase production at its new plate mill in Montpelier, Iowa.”

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

“We lost, last year, $800 billion, with a B — $800 billion on trade. And, in fact, I want to be very precise because Steve is such a great lawyer. It’s $817 billion, to be exact.”

Source: Roundtable on tax reform in Las Vegas, Nevada

in fact: The U.S. has never had a $800 billion trade deficit. (Trump uses “losses” to mean deficits.) Last year’s deficit was $566 billion. It was only $800 billion — $810 billion, to be precise, not $817 billion — if you do not count trade in services. Trump, as usual, did not say he was doing so.

Trump has repeated this claim 30 times

 

“The Heritage Foundation just came out recently, and they said that we’ve already implemented 64 percent of our top agenda items.”

Source: Roundtable on tax reform in Las Vegas, Nevada

in fact: Trump was wrongly describing what Heritage, a conservative think tank, actually said (in February, four months prior). Thomas Binion, Heritage’s director of congressional and executive branch relations, told the Washington Examiner that Trump had implemented 64 per cent of Heritage’s policy recommendations, not 64 per cent of Trump’s top agenda items. There is significant overlap between the two, but they are not the same thing.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

“For farmers and for small businesses, we have eliminated the estate tax.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: The estate tax, which applies only to the country’s wealthiest people, was not “destroying small businesses and farms” before Trump’s tax law: only a tiny number of farmers and small-businesspeople qualify for it. According to the Tax Policy Center, a mere 80 farms and small businesses were among the 5,460 estates likely to pay the estate tax in 2017. The Center wrote on its website: “The Tax Policy Center estimates that small farms and businesses will pay $30 million in estate tax in 2017, fifteen hundredths of 1 percent of the total estate tax revenue.”

Trump has repeated this claim 13 times

“We secured a record $700 billion and then next year $716 billion to bring our military to the highest level it has ever been.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: Trump’s $700 billion defence budget is not a record. As the New York Times noted, Obama signed a $725 billion version of the same bill in 2011.

Trump has repeated this claim 11 times

“Obamacare is on its last legs.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: Trump did repeal a central part of Obamacare: the “individual mandate,” a requirement that Americans obtain health insurance or pay a financial penalty. But this does not mean Obamcare more broadly is on its last legs: its other components remain. Trump did not eliminate Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid insurance program for low-income people, the federal and state Obamacare marketplaces that allow other uninsured people to buy insurance, and the subsidies that help many of them make the purchases. Nor did he touch various Obamacare rules for the insurance market, like its prohibition on insurers denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Trump has repeated this claim 33 times

“We’re going to have a wall. We’ve already started it. We’ve already started it. You know, we started it in San Diego. We’re going to have the wall, and we started it. We have $1.6 billion.” And: “We’re getting the wall built. And we’re going now for our second portion.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: Construction on Trump’s border wall has not started. When he has made this claim in the past, Trump has appeared to be referring to a project in which a 2.25-mile stretch of existing wall in California is being replaced by a taller wall. That project was proposed in 2009, and the Los Angeles Times reported that Border Patrol spokesperson Jonathan Pacheco told reporters in March: “First and foremost, this isn’t Trump’s wall. This isn’t the infrastructure that Trump is trying to bring in. … This new wall replacement has absolutely nothing to do with the prototypes that were shown over in the San Diego area.” The $1.6 billion Congress allocated to border projects in 2018 is not for the type of giant concrete wall Trump has proposed: spending on that kind of wall is expressly prohibited in the legislation, and much of the congressional allocation is for replacement and reinforcement projects rather than new construction.

Trump has repeated this claim 20 times

“They want to hire now 5,000 more judges so that a person puts the toe on the land and we have to go to trial.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: At the time Trump spoke, there was no mainstream proposal to hire 5,000 more immigration judges. Congress had allocated money for 484 immigration judges; fewer than 400 were actually in place. Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was proposing to hire 375 more, while other Republican senators were proposing to hire 225 more.

Trump has repeated this claim 12 times

“Our immigration laws are a laughingstock all over the world. We’re the only people: people walk in, they put a foot in, uh, ‘Please, would you like to register.’ Other countries they say get the hell out of there. They do that. They have to do that.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: The U.S. is not the only country that allows people to claim asylum and signs them up for legal proceedings rather than immediately deporting them.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

“You look at MS-13. We take them out of this country by the thousands.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: “By the thousands” is an exaggeration; it is more like “by the hundreds,” or “by the dozens.” The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Thomas Homan, said in December that “a renewed focus on ID’ing & dismantling the ultra-violent MS-13 gang led to nearly 800 arrests in (fiscal year) 2017, for an 83 per cent increase over last year.” That figure is disputed, as some of the people arrested may not be actual members of the gang. Even if they are, though, that is far from “thousands.” In November, Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed the U.S. had “worked with our partners in Central America to arrest and charge some 4,000 MS-13 members.” But those additional arrests were made abroad, so the people arrested were not “removed.”

Trump has repeated this claim 15 times

“After years of stagnation and even going down — people were making more money 20 years ago than they would make two years ago. And after years of stagnation, wages are rising again.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: Wages have been rising since 2014. In May, the month before Trump spoke, average hourly earnings rose by 2.7 per cent, the same as in Obama’s last month in office, December 2016.

Trump has repeated this claim 25 times

“Since Election Day, we’ve created — and this is hard to believe because nobody — the news back there — fake news — if I would have said this during the campaign, we’ve created 3.4 million new jobs, since Election Day, 3.4. If I would have said that during the campaign prior to the election without the numbers they would have said you have to be kidding.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: It is not true that the media would have accused him of exaggerating if he said 3.4 million jobs would be created over this period (November 2016 through May 2018). That is a 19-month period. The number of jobs created over the previous 19 months, under Obama, was 4.1 million.

Trump has repeated this claim 16 times

“They (the European Union) don’t want our farm products…if you’re not going to take our farmers’ products — we make the greatest products in so many different ways, and they don’t want ’em.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: While U.S. farmers do face some trade barriers in selling into the European Union, it is a gross exaggeration to say the EU simply “doesn’t want” U.S. farm products or refuses to take them. According to the website of Trump’s own Department of Agriculture, the U.S. exported $11.6 billion in agricultural items to the European Union in 2016 and $11.5 billion in 2017. The EU ranked fourth for U.S. agricultural exports in 2016 and fifth in 2017.

Trump has repeated this claim 13 times

“With the European Union, we’re losing, last year, $151 billion. One hundred fifty one billion.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: The $151 billion figure counts only trade in goods and ignores trade in services, in which the U.S. has a significant surplus. Including all kinds of trade, the overall U.S. trade balance with the European Union in 2017 was a deficit of $102 billion, according to U.S. government statistics.

Trump has repeated this claim 29 times

“A steel company today announced a $500 million plant. And that’s first plant that’s been built in many, many years. It’s a long time.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: While many U.S. steel mills have shut down since the early 1980s, it is far from true that no steel mill had opened or expanded in the 35 years before Trump imposed his steel tariffs. In 2013, Big River Steel announced an investment of more than $1 billion to build a new steel mill in Arkansas; construction began in 2014, and full-time production at the mill began in March 2017, a year before Trump’s tariffs. Nucor opened a steel plate mill in North Carolina in 2000, part of a flurry of mill construction around that time. The industry publication New Steel reported in 1998 on numerous recent and upcoming mill openings: “One wave of new-mill construction is almost over as North Star Kingman (Ariz.), North Star BHP, Trico, Ipsco, Nucor Berkeley (S.C.), and other mills have started up in the last couple of years. But another wave is beginning. Nucor, Steel Dynamics Inc. (SDI), Chaparral, and Ipsco are boosting capital spending for the minimill sector this year and next by building new plate and structurals mills. U.S. minimills’ capital spending will be $1.41 billion this year, up from $1.22 billion in 1997…Chaparral will build a $400 million structurals mill in Dinwiddie County, Va. Production is scheduled to begin in mid-1999. Nucor’s plate mill in Hertford County, N.C., will cost $300 million and will produce 1 million annual tons. It will begin production in 2000. Nucor will complete other large projects by that time. A new $150 million structurals mill in Berkeley County will begin production this fall. A $120 million cold mill with a 500,000-annual-ton galvanizing line and 800,000-ton cold-rolling line in Hickman, Ark., will be installed by early next year…SDI will begin building a new, $285 million structurals mill in Whitley County, Ind., late this year. Production will begin in early 2000…Ipsco, Canada’s largest minimill company, is trying to increase production at its new plate mill in Montpelier, Iowa.”

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

“U.S. Steel is now building six plants, or expanding.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: At the time Trump spoke, U.S. Steel had only announced a major development at one facility since Trump introduced his steel tariffs: it said it was restarting two shuttered blast furnaces at its plant in Granite City, Illinois. Chuck Bradford, an industry analyst who follows U.S. Steel, said he was “not aware” of the company opening any other facilities. U.S. Steel did not respond to repeated requests for comment about this.

Trump has repeated this claim 13 times

“NAFTA’s been a disaster for us. You know, Mexico makes over $100 billion a year…$100 billion we lose on trade with Mexico.” And: “We can’t lose $100 billion with Mexico.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: Trump is off by at least $31 billion, or at least $29 billion if you give him the benefit of the doubt. The U.S. trade deficit with Mexico was $71 billion in 2017 when counting goods alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Including trade in services, the net deficit was $69 billion, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis said in a report released the same month Trump spoke. (The Bureau of Economic Analysis uses a different method of calculating deficits and surpluses than the Census Bureau.)

Trump has repeated this claim 34 times

“We probably lost last year $500 billion dollars in trade with China. Think of it: $500 billion.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: The U.S. has never once had a $500 billion trade deficit with China, according to U.S. government data. The deficit was $337 billion in 2017.

Trump has repeated this claim 51 times

“They’ve gotten rid of, in the process of getting rid of, their engine site for ballistic missiles.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: There was no evidence North Korea had destroyed its rocket engine site or was in the process of doing so, according to an analysis on the website 38 North,

“The last thing I asked (Kim Jong Un): I said do you mind — because I have many people that have written and called and spoken to me — would I be able to get the remains back of all those great heroes that we had from so many years ago? He said, ‘I will do that.’ And you’ve probably read: they’ve already done 200 people, which is so great.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: No remains had been sent back. U.S. officials said they expected Kim Jong Un to return 200 remains, but they did not know precisely when Kim would do so.

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times

“You know, we signed an agreement. It said we will begin the immediate denuclearization. OK? Of North Korea.”

Source: Speech to Nevada Republican Party

in fact: Trump added in an important word that does not actually appear in the agreement between the U.S. and North Korea: “Immediate.” The third item in the agreement reads as follows: “Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” There were no specifics about when North Korea would start the process.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations

November 16, 2018

by Dr. Peter Janney

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal, Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment.

Three months before, on July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.

After Corson’s death, Trento and the well-known Washington fix-lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever.

The small group of CIA officials gathered at Trento’s house to search through the Crowley papers, looking for documents that must not become public. A few were found but, to their consternation, a significant number of files Crowley was known to have had in his possession had simply vanished.

When published material concerning the CIA’s actions against Kennedy became public in 2002, it was discovered to the CIA’s horror, that the missing documents had been sent by an increasingly erratic Crowley to another person and these missing papers included devastating material on the CIA’s activities in South East Asia to include drug running, money laundering and the maintenance of the notorious ‘Regional Interrogation Centers’ in Viet Nam and, worse still, the Zipper files proving the CIA’s active organization of the assassination of President John Kennedy..

A massive, preemptive disinformation campaign was readied, using government-friendly bloggers, CIA-paid “historians” and others, in the event that anything from this file ever surfaced. The best-laid plans often go astray and in this case, one of the compliant historians, a former government librarian who fancied himself a serious writer, began to tell his friends about the CIA plan to kill Kennedy and eventually, word of this began to leak out into the outside world.

The originals had vanished and an extensive search was conducted by the FBI and CIA operatives but without success. Crowley’s survivors, his aged wife and son, were interviewed extensively by the FBI and instructed to minimize any discussion of highly damaging CIA files that Crowley had, illegally, removed from Langley when he retired. Crowley had been a close friend of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s notorious head of Counterintelligence. When Angleton was sacked by DCI William Colby in December of 1974, Crowley and Angleton conspired to secretly remove Angleton’s most sensitive secret files out of the agency. Crowley did the same thing right before his own retirement, secretly removing thousands of pages of classified information that covered his entire agency career.

Known as “The Crow” within the agency, Robert T. Crowley joined the CIA at its inception and spent his entire career in the Directorate of Plans, also know as the “Department of Dirty Tricks,”: Crowley was one of the tallest man ever to work at the CIA. Born in 1924 and raised in Chicago, Crowley grew to six and a half feet when he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in N.Y. as a cadet in 1943 in the class of 1946. He never graduated, having enlisted in the Army, serving in the Pacific during World War II. He retired from the Army Reserve in 1986 as a lieutenant colonel. According to a book he authored with his friend and colleague, William Corson, Crowley’s career included service in Military Intelligence and Naval Intelligence, before joining the CIA at its inception in 1947. His entire career at the agency was spent within the Directorate of Plans in covert operations. Before his retirement, Bob Crowley became assistant deputy director for operations, the second-in-command in the Clandestine Directorate of Operations.

Bob Crowley first contacted Gregory Douglas  in 1993  when he found out from John Costello that Douglas was about to publish his first book on Heinrich Mueller, the former head of the Gestapo who had become a secret, long-time asset to the CIA. Crowley contacted Douglas and they began a series of long and often very informative telephone conversations that lasted for four years. In 1996, Crowley told Douglas that he believed him to be the person that should ultimately tell Crowley’s story but only after Crowley’s death. Douglas, for his part, became so entranced with some of the material that Crowley began to share with him that he secretly began to record their conversations, later transcribing them word for word, planning to incorporate some, or all, of the material in later publications.

Conversation No. 73

Date: Wednesday, March 26, 1997

Commenced: 9:50 AM CST

Concluded: 10:35 AM CST

 

RTC: Good morning, Gregory. Did you see the papers?

GD: Oh, yes, quite a story. One must read between the lines on that one.

RTC: That becomes second nature, unless, of course, we planted the story in the first place.

GD: So much for freedom of the press.

RTC: They are all under tight control.

GD: I’ll wager that if the Israeli commandos broke into an Arab day care center in Lebanon and torched fifty babies, we wouldn’t see a word of it in either the New York Times or the Washington Post.

RTC: No, not a word.

GD: They’re all a closed shop. I once had a go-around with the art market and it’s the same thing. The Jews own all the big papers and they own the major art markets. Still, I destroyed a good part of it once. Cost them all millions. Have any of my supporters ever told you about that?

RTC: No, never a word. What did you do?

GD: Well, some time ago…this is going to take some time, Robert, so if you have something better to do, let me know and I won’t bore you.

RTC: You rarely bore me, Gregory. I’ll let you know if we have a fire in the kitchen or the Swiss Embassy explodes. Do go on.

GD: A friend of mine up in Menlo Park, fellow by the name of George Schattle, was visiting his mother in Los Angeles and went to a garage sale. He bought, as I recall, four bronze statues in specially constructed wooden crates. Crates indicated the contents were looted by the Germans in Warsaw in ’39 and subsequently got into the collection of Hermann Goering. The sellers told George that their relative was with the U.S. Army at the end of the war. Of course there was no discipline and our boys stole everything they could lay their hands on. Anyway, George knew I was an expert on German subjects and brought the four pieces, in their crates, over for me to look at. I knew nothing about the artist, Auguste Rodin, but I could authenticate the labels and seals. I told him to find an expert to authenticate the statues and busts. I knew nothing about Impressionist artists and could care less. I told him that there was a university professor out at Stanford, which was just down the road from Menlo Park where George lived. I remembered seeing some reference to a huge collection of Rodin pieces being donated to Stanford by some investment banker out of LA. What was the name? Yes. B. Gerald Cantor. Anyway, George looked up the professor, one Albert Edward Elsen, and made a phone call. Yes, Elsen was interested and would look at the pieces. Next day, George rang me up, semi hysterical. It seems Elsen told him that the pieces were stolen by the evil Nazis and that he, Elsen, wanted to take possession of the pieces to be able to return them to Poland. When George refused, and he said that Elsen was a loud-mouthed bully, Elsen then told him the pieces were fake. Now how could they be stolen from some Polish collection during the war and then be fake?

RTC: Maybe this Elsen fellow wanted to con your friend out of them for his own benefit.

GD: I agree. But George told me that Elsen subsequently called up everyone and proclaimed that, on the one hand,  George was illegally in possession of wartime Nazi art loot and, on the other, trying to sell fake Rodins.

RTC: Schizophrenic.

GD: That was just the start. George showed Elsen my written commentary on the boxes and seals and Albert Edward began to attack me. I had a post office box at Stanford and the postmaster said that Elsen had come…actually barged…into his office, ordering the postmaster to give Elsen my home address. Of course the postmaster refused and Elsen started screaming that I was dealing with stolen art and that the FBI would be notified.

RTC: Why was he so upset?

GD: Well, I will get to that. I couldn’t understand any of the noise so I dug up old Chronicle stories about this Cantor Rodin gift. Eighty odd statues presented to the University museum by Cantor and, I noted with some interest, all authenticated by Elsen. Valued at three and a half million. So I drove up to Stanford with a notebook and looked the pieces on display over. I wrote down the name of the foundry, one Georges Rudier of Paris. OK. So much for that. I personally felt that Rodin was crap but I wanted to know why the screaming. Made no sense. Then, I went to the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco that had a big collection of original Rodin pieces that Mrs. Alma Spreckles had bought from Rodin himself in 1916. Looked at them. I also wrote down the name of the foundry which was one Alexis Rudier of Paris. Not the same name. Also, the Frisco pieces were s different finish. I told George to take his four pieces to the director of the museum, one Thomas Carr Howe, for his opinion. George did this and Howe gave him a written authentication. When George told Howe about Elsen, Howe told him off the record that Elsen was a congenital asshole and that he, Howe, detested him. And when George mentioned the different foundry marks, Howe said that Alexis Rudier had cast up statues for Rodin and that Georges was his great nephew. He also said that Georges didn’t start casting until 1965. Since Rodin died in 1917, I thought this was strange. Note that all the eighty odd pieces given to Stanford were made after 1965.

RTC: This is beginning to sound like something Sherlock Holmes would have done. Then what?

GD: Well, George tried to sell the pieces and at once, Elsen began calling around to all the local galleries, telling them the pieces were either stolen or fake. Loud bully.

RTC: Elsen is what? French?

GD: Elsen was Jewish.

RTC: Ah, I see. And go on. What happened next?

GD: Well, here we had three million dollars worth of art that probably wasn’t worth it. I have a friend in the Judicial Police in Paris and asked him to check on this Georges Rudier. About a month later, he sent me a thick catalog from the Rodin Museum in Paris. Mrs. Goldscheider there, the director, had custody of all of Rodin’s pieces in a state museum setting and was making copies for people. The catalog showed the pieces, many of which were in the Cantor bequest. More interesting. I wrote to her and asked her about Georges and got back a signed letter stating that he had been doing all their castings, and only from 1965.

RTC: Always better when you get it in writing. Was she pulling a scam?

GD: No, she advertised these as official copies, whatever that might be, but as copies. She wasn’t pulling anything but the others certainly were. Then I made up my mind to wreck their little game. Of course I pulled a little string, which in turn led to a bigger string and then the whole rotten edifice came crashing down.

RTC: That’s how these things can go sometimes. Do continue.

GD: Well, Elsen was hard to attack because he was an important, published art historian and I was nothing. Still where there is a will, there is a way. First off, I got ahold of Jerry Jensen, an anchor for the Channel 7 news people in San Francisco. My cousin knew him. I told him what I discovered and he started digging. My God, Robert, what a hurricane of rage erupted then. Al Frankenstein, who was a senior art critic at  the Chronicle as well as a teacher at Stanford, began to raise hell with the management at Channel 7 and to threaten Jensen with legal action for slander. Jerry told me he must have hit a very raw nerve indeed. And then I got Elsen to break cover.

RTC: How?

GD: Well, I went to a mail drop and telephone answering place in Santa Clara and set up an account for a Basilisk Press. A basilisk is a mythic creature, half rooster and half snake that could allegedly kill by looking at you.

RTC: Dramatic but how many people know that?

GD: I did and that’s what mattered. Letterheads and I made up a fake book publication notice. A book called ‘Rodin:The Anatomy of a Fraud’ and I listed a lot of very true information on that piece of paper. I mailed that out to hundreds of newspapers, to many major art dealers and certainly to Elsen and Frankenstein. Sweet Jesus, what a reaction. The people at the answering service said that a few days after the brochure was delivered, Elsen barged into their office, ordering them to tell him where the people who owned the press lived. They told him to get his loud ass out of the building and he threatened them with the Attorney General and the FBI. They called the police and had him physically removed from the building. Then, knowing that one of Elsen’s prize pupils was art critic on the staff of the Palo Alto Times, I rang her up, told her I was an official at the Basilisk Press and said that Mr. Jensen from Channel 7 was going to expose the art fraud at Stanford. Worked wonderfully. Within days, Elsen wrote a vicious and very actionable letter to Jensen, calling George a criminal and fraud. Jensen sent me the letter and I, in turn, took the letter and George to a very good San Jose lawyer. Because Filthy Al wrote the letter on University stationary, the lawyer filed a suit naming Elsen and Stanford as party defendants.

RTC: As I recall, Stanford is a rich school.

GD: Oh, yes they are. Wonderfully deep pockets. And much screaming and so on. Finally, I decided to up the ante and I went for an interview at the Chronicle with old Frankenstein. That was really something. He had a little office right off the city room and you could hear us two blocks away. I had done my homework on Alfred and when he accused me of being a liar, I said he was a crook. I mentioned a bust of Cosimo D’Medici that he has persuaded a rich Jewish benefactor to buy for the De Young. Big money because Alfred said it was by Cellini. It was a small copy of a bronze original I saw at the Bargello in Florence. Cellini never worked in marble but Alceo Dossena, a nineteenth century art forger did. Alfred stopped yelling when I mentioned this unpleasant fact but I got my wind and they told Jerry Jensen later they could have heard me in Oakland with the windows closed. When I left, I noted that the entire city desk people were standing in a circle around the open door of Alfred’s cubicle and one started applauding me. Such an honor. And Alfred, who looked rather peaked when I last saw him, had a sudden heart attack that night and passed away.

RTC: You sent a wreath no doubt?

GD: Piss on him. Another loudmouth. Still, I saw I was up against acknowledged art experts so I did some further digging and made a major discovery. So simple yet so deadly and with ripples still spreading. It’s just this. You can make a mold of a bronze and duplicate it exactly but the result will, are you ready for this one, will always be 5% smaller. Why, you ask? Because, Robert, cooling metal shrinks and that is a fact. Oh, yes, and since known originals of Rodin’s work were all over the place, taking measurements was not a problem. I got the people at the Legion of Honor to send me a full list of the exact measurements of all their original pieces. And Albert learned of this and threatened the staff at the museum. Wonderful man, making friends wherever he went. And then, Albert enlisted the aid of his co-conspirator, Cantor. You see, Cantor went to the Rodin Museum in Paris and ordered the eighty pieces. He paid eighty thousand dollars for them, brought them over to the States, got his co-religionist and crime partner, Elsen,  to claim they were original and worth over three million dollars and guess what?

RTC: Not a tax write-off?

GD: You got it. A huge tax write-off. Still more fun on my part. I wrote and had typeset, a story from the so-called Ardeth Times about a local bigwig that had been to California and bought four original Rodin’s that once had been the property of Hermann Goering. I printed this on newsprint, glued it onto a piece of paper and mailed it to Elsen at his office. Jesus H. Christ, what a huge uproar. Albert, insane with rage, went to the local FBI, called the office of the Attorney General and about every other law enforcement agency he could find. The result? The FBI got interested and of course the AG wouldn’t talk to him. An agent talked with me and I gave him copies of my papers. The result? The IRS got involved and flew out a specialist from DC to talk with me. He had never heard of the fatal shrinkage factor and we had a wonderful chat. The upshot was that the IRS said one could not take a tax write-off for more than was paid for the art. By the way, there was no town named Ardeth anywhere in the United States. Big Al the Mouth, as empty of brains as a ladle, suffered from mental constipation and verbal diarrhea

RTC: That must have tied a few tails.

GD: Oh, yes it did. The entire market in Rodins, fake and original, collapsed, Cantor’s gift was not allowed as a write-off  and I got about ten letters from various law firms in Los Angeles threatening me with enormous lawsuits for making false statements about the wonderful B. Gerald. And, George’s lawsuit was successful and both Stanford and Elsen had to pay George a lot of money.

RTC: What happened to the statues?

GD: Are you sitting down? George got nine million for them. But that’s not the end of the story.

I wrote the whole thing up, more or less along the lines I have been telling you but in greater detail and sent it to a friend on the staff of the Getty in Los Angeles. He loathed Elsen and asked me if he could forward it. I said he certainly could. The man mailed it out on a February first and Elsen must have gotten it a few days later because on the fifth, he had a massive heart attack in his office and died on the spot.

RTC: I imagine that was the end of the matter. Did you make anything out of this?

GD: Enormous satisfaction.

RTC: You must have done months of work, Gregory. Not a penny?

GD: When I read in the Examiner that old Albert had bought the farm, I was paid in full.

RTC: What entertainment. And you are formidable indeed.

GD: Oh not so. Why Mueller, who knew me better than you do, used to call me ‘Mr. Sunshine.’ Isn’t that touching?

RTC: I suspect he was being cynical, Gregory and you know it. But I would agree with him. Such a kind person. You bagged two, count them, two nasty Jews and, from your account, ruined a very profitable number of scams they were involved in. I take it most of the dealers were Jews?

GD: Oh they were. For a time, it sounded like a chorus of sick hyenas.

RTC: Before or after the time the lion pounced on them?

GD: Depended. I nailed more than Albert, believe me but enough is enough. And then I got started on all the fake Frederic Remington’s’ floating around and did even more damage. I do like my fun, Robert, I do like it.

RTC: Others obviously do not. Did you go after these creeps because they were Jewish or in spite of it? Just curious.

GD: Robert, I had no idea about all of this when I got started and for quite some time, I thought Elsen was French. I didn’t wreak my havoc out of anti-Semitism but because I initially started out to help a friend authenticate some old statues. There was nothing more. The squalling uproar spilled over very quickly into attacks on me by Elsen and his vicious co-religionists so I merely obliged them by responding. I didn’t shout and slander but I dealt with facts and quite thoroughly ruined their very lucrative operations. I would have done the same if the perps were Episcopalians or Baptists. Of course, once I could see who, and what, I was dealing with, it was easy to ruin them. Shallow bombast coupled with criminal greed is a hallmark and I can play on such creeps like a piano. Strike this key and an Elsen howls to the press. Strike that one and a Frankenstein writes a hit piece in the Chronicle. Strike a strong chord and they all explode and die. No, Robert, I got into this only to help a friend and nothing else. I spent several years on this, not months, and learned both the business of bronze casting and the modern art world from one end to the other. The cabal lost hundreds of millions of dollars, much reputation painstakingly gained and finally, bitter defeat and well-deserved, oh very well-deserved, death.

(Concluded at  10:35 CST)

Amazon’s Accent Recognition Technology Could Tell the Government Where You’re From

November 15, 2018

by Belle Lin

The Intercept

At the beginning of October, Amazon was quietly issued a patent that would allow its virtual assistant Alexa to decipher a user’s physical characteristics and emotional state based on their voice. Characteristics, or “voice features,” like language accent, ethnic origin, emotion, gender, age, and background noise would be immediately extracted and tagged to the user’s data file to help deliver more targeted advertising.

The algorithm would also consider a customer’s physical location — based on their IP address, primary shipping address, and browser settings — to help determine their accent. Should Amazon’s patent become a reality, or if accent detection is already possible, it would introduce questions of surveillance and privacy violations, as well as possible discriminatory advertising, experts said.

The civil rights issues raised by the patent are similar to those around facial recognition, another technology Amazon has used as an anchor of its artificial intelligence strategy, and one that it controversially marketed to law enforcement. Like facial recognition, voice analysis underlines how existing laws and privacy safeguards simply aren’t capable of protecting users from new categories of data collection — or government spying, for that matter. Unlike facial recognition, voice analysis relies not on cameras in public spaces, but microphones inside smart speakers in our homes. It also raises its own thorny issues around advertising that targets or excludes certain groups of people based on derived characteristics like nationality, native language, and so on (the sort of controversy that Facebook has stumbled into again and again).

Why the Government Might Be Interested in Accent Data

If voice-based accent detection can determine a person’s ethnic background, it opens up a new category of information that is incredibly interesting to the government, said Jennifer King, director of consumer privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.

“If you’re a company and you’re creating new classifications of data, and the government is interested in them, you’d be naive to think that law enforcement isn’t going to come after it,” she said.

She described a scenario in which knowing a user’s purchase history, existing demographic data, and whether they speak Arabic or Arabic-accented English, Amazon could identify the user as belonging to a religious or ethnic group. King said it’s plausible that the FBI would compel the production of such data from Amazon if it could help determine a user’s membership to a terrorist group. Data demands focused on terrorism are tougher for companies to fight, she said, as opposed to those that are vague or otherwise overbroad, which they have pushed back on.

Andrew Crocker, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, makes it possible for the government to covertly demand such data. FISA governs electronic spying conducted to acquire information on foreign powers, allowing such monitoring without a warrant in some circumstances and in others under warrants issued by a court closed to the public, with only the government represented. The communications of U.S. citizens and residents are routinely acquired under the law, in many cases incidentally, but even incidentally collected communications may later be used against Americans in FBI investigations. Under FISA, the government could “get information in secret more easily, and there are mass or bulk surveillance capabilities that don’t exist in domestic law,” said Crocker. “Certainly it could be done in secret with less court oversight.”

Jennifer Granick, a surveillance and cybersecurity lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, suggested that Amazon’s accent data could also provide the government with information for the purpose of immigration control.

“Let’s say you have ICE go to one of these providers and say, ‘Give us all the subscription information of people who have Spanish accents’ … in order to identify people of a particular race or who theoretically might have relatives who are undocumented,” she said. “So you can see that this type information can definitely be abused.”

Though King said she hasn’t seen evidence of these types of government requests, she has witnessed “parallel things happen in other contexts.” It’s also possible that if Amazon was sent a National Security Letter by the FBI, a gag order would prevent the company from disclosing much, including the exact number of letters it received. National Security Letters compel the disclosure of certain types of information from communications firms, like a subpoena would, but often in secret. The letters require the companies to hand over select data, like the name of an account owner and the age of an account, but the FBI has routinely asked for more, including email headers and internet browsing history.

Compared to some other tech giants, however, Amazon is less detailed in its disclosures about National Security Letters it receives and about data requests in general. For example, in its information request reports, it does not disclose how many NSLs it has received or how many accounts are affected by national security requests, as Apple and Google do. These more specific disclosures from other companies show a trend: From mid-2016 to the first half of 2017, national security requests sent to Apple, Facebook, and Google increased significantly.

But even if the government hasn’t yet made such requests of Amazon, we know that it has been paying attention to voice and speech technology for some time. In January, The Intercept reported that the National Security Agency had developed technology not just to record and transcribe private conversations, but also to automatically identify speakers. An individual’s “voiceprint” was created, which could be cross-referenced with millions of intercepted and recorded telephone, video, and internet calls.

To create an American citizen’s “voiceprint,” which government documents don’t explicitly indicate has been done, experts said the NSA would need only to tap into Amazon or Google’s existing voice data.

Over the past year, Amazon’s relationship with the government has become increasingly cozy. BuzzFeed recently revealed details about how the Orlando Police Department was piloting Rekognition, Amazon’s facial recognition technology, to identify “persons of interest.” A few months earlier, Amazon was outed by the ACLU for “marketing Rekognition for government surveillance.” Meanwhile, in June, the company was busy pitching Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on its technology.

Though these revelations have set off alarm bells, even for Amazon employees, experts said that speech recognition presents similar concerns that are equally if not more pressing. Amazon’s voice processing patent dates to March of last year. The company, in response to questions from The Intercept, described the patent as exploratory and pledged to abide by its privacy policy when collecting and using data.

Privacy Law Lags Behind Technology

Weak privacy laws in the U.S. are one reason consumers are vulnerable when tech companies start gathering new types of data about them. There is nothing in the law that protects data collected about a person’s mood or accent, said Granick.

In the absence of strong legal protections, consumers are forced to make their own decisions about trade-offs between their privacy and the convenience of virtual assistants. “Being able to use really robust voice control would be great if it meant you weren’t just being put into a giant AI algorithm and being used to improve your pitchability for new products, especially when you’re paying for these systems,” said King.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, or ECPA, first passed in 1986, was a major step forward in privacy protection at the time. But now, over 30 years later, it has yet to catch up with the pace of technological innovation. Generally, under ECPA, government agencies need a subpoena, court order, or search warrant to compel companies to disclose protected user information. Unlike court orders and search warrants, subpoenas don’t necessarily require judicial review.

Amazon’s most recent information request report, which covers the first half of this year, reveals that the company received 1,736 subpoenas during that time, 1,283 of which it turned over some or all of the information requested. Since Amazon began publishing these reports three years ago, the number of data requests it receives has steadily increased, with a huge jump between 2015 and 2016. Echo, its Alexa-enabled speaker for use at home, was released in 2015, and Amazon has not said whether the increase is related to the growing popularity of its speaker.

While ECPA protects the data associated with our digital conversations, Granick said its application to information collected by providers like Amazon is “anemic.” “The government could say, ‘Give us a list of everyone who you think is Chinese, Latino’ and the provider has to argue why they shouldn’t. That kind of conclusory data isn’t protected by ECPA, and it means the government can compel its disclosure with a subpoena,” she said.

Since ECPA is not explicit, there’s a legal question of whether Amazon could voluntarily turn over the conversations its users have with Alexa. Granick said Amazon could argue that such data is a protected electronic communication under ECPA — and require that the government get a warrant to access it — but as a party to the communication, Amazon also has the right to divulge it. There have been no court cases addressing the issue so far, she said.

Crocker, of the EFF, argued that communications with Alexa — voice searches and commands, for example — are protected by ECPA, but agreed that the government could obtain the data through a warrant or other legal process.

He added that the way Amazon stores accent information could impact the government’s ability to access it. If Amazon keeps it stored long term in customer profiles in the cloud, those profiles are easier to obtain than real-time voice communications, the interception of which invokes protections under the Wiretap Act, a federal law governing the interception and disclosure of communications. (ECPA amended the Wiretap Act to include electronic communications.) And if it’s stored in metadata associated with Alexa voice searches, the government has obtained those in past cases and could get to it that way.

In 2016, a hot tub murder in Arkansas put in the spotlight the defendant’s Echo. Police seized the device and tried to obtain its recordings, prompting Amazon to argue that any communications with Alexa, and its responses, were protected as a form of free speech under the First Amendment. Amazon eventually turned over the records after the defendant gave his permission to do so. Last week, a New Hampshire judge ordered Amazon to turn over Echo recordings in a new murder case, again hoping it could provide criminal evidence.

Dynamic, Targeted, and Discriminatory Ads

Beyond government surveillance, experts also expressed concern that Amazon’s new classification of data increases the likelihood of discriminatory advertising. When demographic profiling — the basis of traditional advertising — is layered with additional, algorithmically assessed information from Alexa, ads can quickly become invasive or offensive.

Granick said that if Amazon “gave one set of [housing] ads to people who had Chinese accents and a different set of ads to people who have a Finnish accent … highlighting primarily Chinese neighborhoods for one and European neighbors for another,” it would be discriminating on the basis of national origin or race.

King said Amazon also opens itself to charges of price discrimination, and even racism, if it allows advertisers to show and hide ads from certain ethnic or gender groups. “If you live in the O.C. and you have a Chinese accent and are upper middle-class, it could show you things that are higher price. [Alexa] might say, ‘I’m gonna send you Louis Vuitton bags based on those things,’” she said.

Selling products based on emotions also offers opportunities for advertisers to manipulate consumers. “If you’re a woman in a certain demographic and you’re depressed, and we know that binge shopping is something you do … knowing that you’re in kind of a vulnerable state, there’s no regulation preventing them from doing something like this,” King said.

An example from the patent envisions marketing to Chinese speakers, albeit in a more innocuous context, describing how ads might be targeted to “middle-aged users who speak Mandarin or have a Chinese accent and live in the United States.” If the user asks, “Alexa, what’s the news today?” Alexa might reply, “Before your news brief, you might be interested in the Xiaomi TV box, which allows you to watch over 1,000 real-time Chinese TV channels for just $49.99. Do you want to buy it?”

According to the patent, the ads may be presented in response to user voice input, but could also be “presented at any time.” They could even be injected into existing audio streams, such as a news briefing or playback of tracks from a music playlist.

New Rules Emerge for Data Privacy

In the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, lawmakers have grown increasingly wary of tech companies and their privacy practices. In late September, the Senate Commerce Committee held a fresh round of hearings with tech executives on the issue — also giving them an opportunity to explain how they’re addressing the new, stringent data privacy laws in the European Union and California.

California’s regulation, which passed in June and goes into effect in 2020, sets a new precedent for consumer privacy law in the country. It expands the definition of personal information and gives state residents greater control over the sharing and sale of their data to third parties.

Unsurprisingly, Amazon and other big tech companies pushed back forcefully on the new reforms, citing excessive penalties, compliance costs, and data collection restrictions — and each spent nearly $200,000 to defeat it. During the Senate hearing, Amazon Vice President and Associate General Counsel Andrew DeVore asked the committee to consider the “unintended consequences” of California’s law, which he called “confusing and difficult to comply with.”

Now that the midterm elections have passed, privacy advocates hope that congressional interest in privacy issues will turn into legislative action; thus far, it has not. The Federal Trade Commission is also considering updates to its consumer protection enforcement priorities. In September, it kicked off a series of hearings examining the impact of “new technologies” and other economic changes.

Granick said that as states move to protect consumers where the federal government has not, California could serve as a model for the rest of the country. In August, California also became the first state to pass an internet of things cybersecurity law, requiring that manufacturers add a “reasonable security feature” to protect the information it collects from unauthorized access, modification, or disclosure.

In 2008, Illinois became the first state to pass a law regulating biometric data, placing restrictions on the collection and storing of iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, hand scan, and face geometry data. (Granick says it’s unclear if accent data is covered under the law.) Being the first state to pass landmark legislation, Illinois presents a cautionary tale for California. Though its bill was once considered a model law, only two other states — Texas and Washington — have passed biometric privacy laws over the past 10 years. Similar efforts elsewhere were largely killed by corporate lobbying.

A Growing and Global Problem

Activists have looked to other countries as examples of what could go wrong if tech companies and government agencies become too friendly, and voice accent data gets misused.

Human Rights Watch reported last year that the Chinese government was creating a national voice biometric database using data from Chinese tech company iFlyTek, which provides its consumer voice recognition apps for free and claims its system can support 22 Chinese dialects. On its English website, iFlyTek said that its technology has been “inspected and praised” by “many party and state leaders,” including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

The company is also the supplier of voice pattern collection systems used by regional police bureaus and runs a lab that develops voice surveillance technology for the Ministry of Public Security. Its technology has “helped solve cases” for law enforcement in Anhui, Gansu, Tibet, and Xinjiang, according to a state press report cited by Human Rights Watch. Activists warn that one possible use of the government’s voice database, which could contain dialect and accent-rich voice data from minority groups, is the surveillance of Tibetans and Uighurs.

Last year, Die Welt reported that the German government was testing voice analysis software to help verify where its refugees are coming from. They hoped it would determine the dialects of people seeking asylum in Germany, which migration officers would use as one of several “indicators” when reviewing applications. The test was met with skepticism, as speech experts questioned the ability of software to make such a complex determination.

The amount of information people voluntarily give tech companies through smart speakers is growing, along with the purchases users are allowed to make. A Gallup survey conducted last year found that 22 percent of Americans currently use smart home personal assistants like Echo — placing them in living rooms, kitchens, and other intimate spaces. And 44 percent of U.S. adult internet users are planning to buy one, according to a Consumer Technology Association study.

Amazon’s move into the home with more sophisticated voice abilities for Alexa has been a long time coming. In 2016, it was already discussing emotion detection as a way to stay ahead of competitors Google and Apple. Also that year, it filed a patent application for a real-time language accent translator — a blend of accent detection and translation technologies. When its emotion and accent patent was issued last month, Alexa’s potential ability to read emotions and detect if customers are sick was called out as creepy.

Amazon Grapples With an “Accent Gap”

Amazon’s current accent handling capabilities are lackluster. In July, the Washington Post charged that Amazon and Google had created an “accent gap,” leaving non-native English speakers behind in the voice-activated technology revolution. Both Alexa and Google Assistant had the most difficulty understanding Chinese- and Spanish-accented English.

Since the advent of speech recognition technology, picking up on dialects, speech impediments, and accents has been a persistent challenge. If the technology in Amazon’s patent was available today, natural language processing experts said that the accent and emotion detection would not be able to draw precise conclusions. The training data that teaches artificial intelligence lacks diversity in the first place, and because language itself is constantly changing, any AI would have a hard time keeping up.

Though Amazon’s new patent is a sign that it’s paying attention to the “accent gap,” it may be doing so for the wrong reasons. Improved language accent detection makes voice technology more equitable and accessible, but it comes at a cost.

Regarding Patents

Patents are not a surefire sign of what tech companies have built, or what is even possible for them to build. Tech companies in particular submit a dizzying number of patent applications.

In an emailed statement, Amazon said that it filed “a number of forward-looking patent applications that explore the full possibilities of new technology. Patents take multiple years to receive and do not necessarily reflect current developments to products and services.” The company also said that it “will only collect and use data in accordance with our privacy policy,” and did not elaborate on other uses of its technology or data.

But King, who has also reviewed numerous Facebook patents, said that they can be used to infer the direction a company is headed.

“You’re seeing a future where the interactions with people and their interior spaces is getting a lot more aggressive,” she said. “That’s the next frontier for companies. Not just tracking your behavior, where you’ve gone, what they think you might buy. Now it’s what you’re thinking, feeling, and that is what makes people deeply uncomfortable.”

For now, people who want to hold onto their privacy and minimize surveillance risk shouldn’t buy a speaker at all, recommended Granick. “You’re basically installing a microphone for the government to listen in to you in your home,” she said.

 

Facebook told us it wasn’t a typical big, bad company. It is

The tech giant claimed to be bringing the world together for the benefit of humanity. The truth is far less palatable

by Jessica Powell

November 16, 2018

The Guardian

Facebook, like so many companies in Silicon Valley, has always told us it was a different kind of company. Not so much a business really, but a social utility. That it was linking the world for the benefit of democracy, friendship and human connection.

It made grand statements about providing internet access to rural areas through special solar-powered planes. (The project was scrapped earlier this year.) It told the developing world it was giving them the internet for free via Free Basics. (Users in India rose up in protest once they realised they weren’t getting the internet but rather a walled garden of just Facebook and some partner sites.) It let anyone, anywhere, use its platform to target ads and news stories to people around the world. (We all know how that turned out, да?)

At some point Facebook’s marketing team even released a video trying to convince us it was a comfortable chair that we could sit on. (I have no explanation for this. It made no sense.)

But the events over the past year have made it abundantly clear that Facebook is no different from several other large corporations adept at feeding us one line while actually serving up something a bit less palatable.

A New York Times investigation this week expanded on Facebook’s many missteps when faced with Russian manipulation of its platform, and exposed the company’s “dark arts” tactics to hurt their critics and competitors. It detailed the company’s work with Definers Public Affairs, a DC consultancy that planted articles across the web criticising Google and Apple, as well as critics such as George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who has been vocal about Facebook and other tech companies.

For all its innovation, Facebook did not invent cover-ups or smear campaigns. Documents from the 1980s show that Shell and Exxon were aware of and predicted the negative impact of their products on the environment. Dupont knew that one of the chemicals it used to make Teflon carried serious health risks – but withheld that information from the public for decades.

Tobacco companies were found guilty in the US in 2006 of having deceived the public about the health impact of smoking. And politicians have long used “oppo research” to dig up dirt on their opponents that they can then release during election time to stir up public outrage.

Facebook and its thousands of progressive employees would surely shudder to be included in the company of big oil, chemical manufacturers, tobacco companies and politicians. And yet, are they really so different?

To be clear, Facebook is not all bad. It has helped us stay in touch with family and friends. It lets us share videos of cute pandas while we kill time in the doctor’s office. And it lets us voice our pent-up rage at distant relatives whose political views are wildly different from our own.

But doing one or a few good things doesn’t mean you are a good company or have good values. Because guess what? The large, shady corporations that many of us distrust also do plenty of things that greatly simplify our lives. Chemical companies produce plastics, which are ubiquitous thanks to their functional versatility and low cost. Oil gets many of our cars from one place to another.

Along with the practical value of these products comes the marketing of the good of their parent companies. Remember the commercials from Chevron that showed us fluffy, healthy animals, completely untarred, accompanied by a calm voice telling us that the company cared deeply about the environment? In a similar vein, Philip Morris has a global initiative to eliminate smoking, and Dupont, the manufacturer that once leaked toxic chemicals from one of its plants, now has a philanthropic initiative that aims to “help feed the world”.

There is, however, one thing all these companies have in common that Facebook does not. Tobacco, oil and chemical manufacturers have all faced a reckoning in which fines and regulation have worked to keep them on a straighter (if not straight) path.

If it wants to avoid a similar fate, Facebook would do well to recognise what it is. It is not a social movement, not a tool for democracy, and certainly not a chair. It is a company, and like most companies, driven first and foremost by profit. The good companies are the ones who acknowledge this but are equally aware of their responsibility and their need to act ethically and with transparency. The bad companies are the ones who believe they are something else – who tell themselves and the world that they are one thing, when in fact they are something very different.

Jessica Powell is the former vice-president of communications at Google and the author of The Big Disruption: A Totally Fictional but Essentially True Silicon Valley Story, available on Medium

 

 

Jeff Flake threatens to block judicial appointments over Mueller inquiry bill

  • Arizona senator furious at refusal to allow vote on bill
  • Legislation would protect special counsel’s Russia investigation

November 16, 2018

by Ed Pilkington in New York

The Guardian

Donald Trump faces a potential roadblock to his appointment of rightwing judges to federal courts after the retiring Republican US senator Jeff Flake threatened to withhold support from judicial confirmations unless his bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia collusion is allowed to proceed.

Flake issued his threat after his bipartisan bill to protect the Mueller investigation, drafted alongside the Democratic senator Chris Coons, received a frosty reception from the Republican leadership. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, refused to allow a vote on the bill because, he said, he could see no such threat to Mueller’s inquiry that is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential race.

Flake responded furiously, saying: “Why are we so sanguine about this? Why do we protect a man who seemingly is so incurious about what Russia did during the 2016 elections?”

The senator from Arizona has the potential to cause considerable trouble for Trump until he stands down from his seat on 3 January. In the lame-duck Senate, the Republicans continue to enjoy the slimmest of margins, 51 to 49, meaning that if Flake goes ahead with his threat to block nominees Vice-President Mike Pence would be forced to cast his vote to force confirmations through.

A hiatus in the appointment of federal judges would be a blow to Trump as packing the courts with rightwingers has been one of the signature acts of his presidency so far. He bragged about the rate at which he had confirmed new judges at his rallies during the midterm election campaign.

Flake’s final stand is likely to further irritate the already agitated mood of the US president in the wake of Republicans’ patchy performance in the midterm elections, his ugly contretemps with France following his visit to Paris last weekend and the ongoing Mueller inquiry that is likely to flare up again now that election season is over. On Thursday morning Trump went on another Twitter foray in which he claimed the Mueller team had gone “absolutely nuts”.

Minutes later he leveled the harshest criticism that exists in Trumpland at Mueller – pointing out that he worked for President Obama for eight years.

Mueller, who is a Republican, was appointed as director of the FBI by the Republican president George Bush in 2001. When Obama succeeded Bush he kept Mueller on in that position until he stepped down in 2013 having become the longest-serving FBI director since J Edgar Hoover.

Flake and Coons introduced the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act with the support of other senators from both main parties earlier this month. It would ensure that Mueller could only be fired for “good cause” by a senior justice department official, with the justification put in writing.

It would also set up a 10-day period in which Mueller could call for a judicial review by a panel of judges to check whether the dismissal had indeed been for “good cause”.

The proposed legislation was given renewed urgency by Trump’s decision to sack the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, on 7 November and replace him with Matthew Whitaker who in the past has been openly critical of the Russia investigation and called for it to be whittled down. Democratic leaders have been applying pressure on Whitaker to recuse himself as the new DoJ official in charge of the Mueller inquiry on grounds of conflict of interest given his previous remarks about defunding and restricting the special counsel’s investigation.

 

UK leadership challenge: How does it work?

A slew of ministerial resignations over the draft UK-EU Brexit deal has put even more pressure on embattled UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Is a leadership challenge on the cards?

November 15, 2018

by Rob Mudge

DW

British Prime Minister Theresa May battled to save her draft Brexit deal Thursday. After several high-profile resignations from her Cabinet, she could now face a fight to save her premiership if a leadership challenge is called.

What needs to happen?

A challenge can be triggered if 15 percent of the Conservative MPs write a letter to the chairman of the influential “1922 Committee” [the parliamentary group of all backbench Conservative lawmakers] demanding a vote of confidence in the leader. The party currently has 315 MPs, so 48 would need to submit such letters.

Have any done so already?

Leading euroskeptic Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg submitted his letter of no confidence on Thursday. “It is of considerable importance that politicians stick to their commitments or do not make such commitments in the first place. Regrettably, this is not the situation,” he wrote.

Although lawmakers do not have to reveal their intentions, a total of 14 MPs have publicly confirmed they have sent their letter. Others may have also already done so privately. Only the chair of the committee, Graham Brady, knows the exact number.

What happens during a confidence vote?

Once the required number of no confidence letters is reached, Brady would announce a vote of no confidence in the prime minister. All Conservative MPs can vote, either in favor of or against the leader staying on. May would need a simple majority to win. That would currently mean 158 votes.

What happens next?

In the event of a victory, she remains in office and gets immunity from another formal challenge for a year. If she loses, she has to resign and is barred from standing in the ensuing leadership election. Her successor would also become prime minister. A general election would not automatically be triggered.

 

The draft Brexit deal: What you need to know

The EU and UK have drafted a Brexit deal, which includes a financial settlement and a customs union backstop to prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. DW breaks down the agreement.

November 15, 2018

by Davis VanOpdorp

DW

After 18 months of negotiations, the United Kingdom and the European Union have published their 585-page draft withdrawal agreement.

British Prime Minister Theresa May secured the support of her cabinet on Wednesdsay, though ministers and backbenchers have criticized parts of the agreement, specifically one related to a backstop arrangement which would keep the UK in the EU’s customs union.

Here is an overview of the key takeaways from the drafted deal:

Citizenship rights

The rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU will be protected

UK citizens who have lived in the EU continuously for five years by the end of the implementation period will have the right to reside permanently in that member state. The same rules apply for EU citizens living in the UK.

EU citizens living in the UK can be joined by close family members — spouses, civil and unmarried partners, dependent children and dependent parents or grand parents — who live in a different country at any point in the future.

Workers and self-employed people will be broadly guaranteed the same rights they currently enjoy.

Transition period

There will be a 21-month transition period ending December 31, 2020.

The transition period can be extended so long as an extension agreement is agreed to before July 1, 2020.

EU rules would continue to apply in the UK subject to the terms set out in the Brexit agreement.

After the transition period, a joint committee co-chaired by the EU and the UK would police the final withdrawal agreement, taking decisions by mutual consent and whose verdicts would be binding.

Financial settlement

The UK will participate in EU annual budgets in 2019 and 2020.

Even if the transition period is extended, the UK will cease taking part in EU budget talks after 2020.

The UK will pay its share of outstanding budget commitments and its share of liabilities as at the end of 2020.

The entire “financial settlement” is expected to be between 35 billion to 39 billion pounds (€40-€45 billion, $45-$51 billion).

Ireland and customs union ‘backstop’

Both parties will “use their best endeavors” to have a trade agreement in place six months before the end of the transition period, whether it is December 2020 or another agreed upon end date.

If appropriate customs arrangements are not agreed to, a backstop arrangement would kick in. A joint “single customs territory” between the EU and UK would apply from the end of the transition period “unless and until… a subsequent agreement becomes applicable.”

The “single customs territory” would cover all goods except fishery products.

Under the backstop arrangement, the UK must observe “level playing field” commitments on competition, state aid, taxes and employment and environment standards.

The backstop plan, designed to be temporary, would prevent the implementation of a hard border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The UK is committed to avoiding any hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and upholding the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the peace deal that ended three decades of conflict and created the present-day political institutions.

What happens next

The EU has announced that a summit on November 25 has been scheduled to finalize the Brexit deal.

The agreement then has to pass through the UK parliament, the stage of the process where many expect the deal to fall apart.

If the agreement does survive, it’s still only foreseen as a temporary stopgap to facilitate an orderly exit and allow both sides to negotiate a permanent relationship. Failing that, both sides would have to extend the transition period before July 2020 or the UK could enter a “single customs territory” as part of the deal’s backstop arrangement.

 

UK austerity has inflicted ‘great misery’ on citizens, UN says

Poverty envoy says callous policies driven by political desire for social re-engineering

  • ‘I’m scared to eat sometimes’
  • Women reveal impact of cuts
  • Children tell UN: ‘It’s unfair’

November 16, 2018

by Robert Booth and Patrick Butler

The Guardian

The UK government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity, the United Nations poverty envoy has found.

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ended a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK with a stinging declaration that despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, levels of child poverty are “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”.

About 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials, he said, citing figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7% between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%.

“It is patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty,” he said, adding that compassion had been abandoned during almost a decade of austerity policies that had been so profound that key elements of the post-war social contract, devised by William Beveridge more than 70 years ago, had been swept away.

In a coruscating 24-page report, which will be presented to the UN human rights council in Geneva next year, the eminent human rights lawyer said that in the UK “poverty is a political choice”.

He told a press conference in London:

Austerity Britain was in breach of four UN human rights agreements relating to women, children, disabled people and economic and social rights. “If you got a group of misogynists in a room and said how can we make this system work for men and not for women they would not have come up with too many ideas that are not already in place,” he said.

The limit on benefits payments to only the first two children in a family was “in the same ball park” as China’s one-child policy because it punished people who had a third child.

Cuts of 50% to council budgets were slashing at Britain’s “culture of local concern” and “damaging the fabric” of society.

The middle classes would “find themselves living in an increasingly hostile and unwelcoming society because community roots are being broken”.

The government said it “completely disagreed” with Alston’s analysis.

A spokeperson said household incomes were at a record high, income inequality had fallen and that universal credit, which Alston attacked as “Orwellian” and “fast falling into universal discredit”, was supporting people into work faster.

“We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it,” the spokesperson said.

Alston’s report follows similar audits of extreme poverty in China, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Mauritania and the US, the last of which sparked a furious response from the Trump White House after it accused the US of pursuing policies that deliberately forced millions of Americans into financial ruin while lavishing vast riches on the super-wealthy.

Charities working to alleviate poverty said the report was a “wake-up call for government”.

It is likely to crystallise growing public unease over the impact of nearly a decade of cuts to the welfare state and public services, which studies have shown have had a disproportionate effect on the poor, the disabled and women. Soaring use of food banks, increasingly visible homelessness and cuts to school budgets have widened concerns about the Conservative party’s fiscal strategy.

After visiting towns and cities including London, Oxford, Cardiff, Newcastle, Glasgow and Belfast, Alston said that “obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in food banks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the government to appoint a minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard-of levels of loneliness and isolation.”

He called for the elimination of the five-week delay in receiving benefits under the universal credit system, which has plunged many into destitution.

Flaws in its design and implementation harmed claimants’ mental health, finances and work prospects, and benefits sanctions were “harsh and arbitrary”. Vulnerable claimants “struggled to survive”, he said.

The ministers he met – including Esther McVey, who was the work and pensions secretary until Thursday, when she resigned over the Brexit deal – were almost entirely dismissive of criticisms of welfare changes and universal credit, he said. Instead they described critics as political saboteurs, or said they failed to understand how it worked.

He highlighted the chancellor’s decision in this month’s budget to give a tax cut to the rich rather than using that money to alleviate poverty for millions, adding: “Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so.”

Alston said the government was in a state of denial and there was a “striking disconnect” between what ministers said and the testimonies he heard from ordinary people.

“Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the government’s benefits policy, ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan.”

He said he had met people who didn’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who had sold sex for money or shelter, young people who felt gangs were the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who were being told they needed to go back to work or lose support, against their doctors’ orders. He described how town hall budgets had been “gutted” in England resulting in a record sell-off of libraries and parks, and closures of youth centres.

“I have also seen tremendous resilience, strength and generosity, with neighbours supporting one another, councils seeking creative solutions, and charities stepping in to fill holes in government services,” he said.

On food banks, he said: “I was struck by how much their mobilisation resembled the sort of activity you might expect for a natural disaster or health epidemic.”

A common theme of the testimonies he heard was the impact on people’s mental health and feelings of loneliness and fear.

“I was surprised by the talk of suicide, by the people I met who said they had considered suicide … There are some pretty serious mental health dimensions.” Alston said the government was in a state of denial and there was a “striking disconnect” between what ministers said and the testimonies he heard from ordinary people.

“Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the government’s benefits policy, ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan.”

He said he had met people who didn’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who had sold sex for money or shelter, young people who felt gangs were the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who were being told they needed to go back to work or lose support, against their doctors’ orders. He described how town hall budgets had been “gutted” in England resulting in a record sell-off of libraries and parks, and closures of youth centres.

“I have also seen tremendous resilience, strength and generosity, with neighbours supporting one another, councils seeking creative solutions, and charities stepping in to fill holes in government services,” he said.

On food banks, he said: “I was struck by how much their mobilisation resembled the sort of activity you might expect for a natural disaster or health epidemic.”

A common theme of the testimonies he heard was the impact on people’s mental health and feelings of loneliness and fear.

“I was surprised by the talk of suicide, by the people I met who said they had considered suicide … There are some pretty serious mental health dimensions.”

In his conclusion, Alston called for “the legislative recognition of social rights” in the UK, a move that has long been resisted by UK governments but which is the status quo in countries such as Sweden and Germany.

In his conclusion, Alston called for “the legislative recognition of social rights” in the UK, a move that has long been resisted by UK governments but which is the status quo in countries such as Sweden and Germany.

 

There are now 14,000,000 people living in poverty in the UK

September 17, 2018

by Zoe Drewett

metro.co

There are now more than 14,000,000 in the UK living in poverty, a new report has found. The major study by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) revealed that 8.4 million working-age adults, 4.5 million children and 1.4 million pensioners are living below the breadline in Britain today. Nearly half of those people – 6.9 million – are living in families with a disabled person, the research suggests.

More than 7 million people – 12.1% of the population – live in ‘persistent’ poverty, where they have spent all or most of the last four or more years in poverty, the study also found. ‘Given that we know that long periods in poverty can be particularly damaging to people’s lives and prospects, this is a significant concern,’ the report stated.

The research, which took place over two and a half years, also found that 2.5 million people in the UK are at risk of falling into poverty. They are less than 10% above the poverty line, meaning just small changes in their circumstance could mean they fall below it. The SMC, which describes itself as an independent, non-partisan organisation, was brought together to develop what it says is a new approach to poverty measurement that ‘better reflects the nature and experiences of poverty that different families in the UK have’. The commission’s research is the first to include groups of people previously omitted from poverty statistics, like those living on the streets or in overcrowded housing, SMC chair Baroness Stroud said.

It found 68% of people living in workless families are in poverty, compared to 9% for people living in families where all adults work full time. The report also revealed ‘some areas of good news’ with far fewer pensioners living in poverty than previously thought following a ‘significant fall’ in pensioner poverty over the last 15 years. Poverty rates were also significantly varied across the UK. In Scotland there are fewer people in poverty than in other UK countries, while Welsh poverty rates are typically higher than in other countries. England has the highest child poverty rate, the report stated.

A UK Government spokesman said: ‘This Government is committed to making a positive difference to the outcomes for poor and disadvantaged families and children. ‘Through our welfare reforms we are providing personalised support, helping people overcome their specific barriers and allowing them to progress into work and then progress in work – as we know this still remains the best route out of poverty. Running parallel with that support, we continue to spend £90 billion a year on working age benefits to provide a safety net for those who need it when they need it, and we will be spending £54 billion this year, more than ever before, to support disabled people and those with health conditions.’

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