Japanese-American elders protest outside Fort Sill internment camp: ‘Stop repeating history’

Japanese-American elders protest outside Fort Sill internment camp: ‘Stop repeating history’
By Gabe Ortiz
Jun 24 2019

A group of Japanese-American elders who survived being thrown into internment camps by their own government protested at Oklahoma’s Fort Sill on Saturday, the site of a former World War II internment camp that the Trump administration plans on reopening to jail at least 1,400 migrant children. 

The activists and their allies came to warn, and for that reason refused to leave the site, even when insulted by U.S. military police. “You need to move right now!” an officer identified by Democracy Now! as Keyes screamed at the Japanese-American activists. “What don’t you understand? It’s English: Get out.” When undeterred survivors continued speaking, Keyes twice yelled, “What don’t you people understand?”

The activists understood very well, thanks. That’s why they were there. “I am a former child incarceree during World War II,” said Dr. Satsuki Ina. “This is a photograph of me when I was imprisoned. Seventy-five years ago, 120,000 of us were removed from our homes and forcefully incarcerated in prison camps across the country. We are here today to protest the repetition of history.”

The activists carried with them thousands of origami cranes “as a symbol of solidarity,” which were among the same cranes that the activists, including Dr. Ina, hung outside a migrant family jail in Texas last March. A banner that was also hung outside that facility reading, “Never again is now,” a message they echoed outside Fort Sill.

“We were in American concentration camps,” she said. “We were held under indefinite detention. We were without due process of law. We were charged without any evidence of being a threat to national security, that we were in an unassimilable race, that we would be a threat to the economy. We hear these exact words today regarding innocent people seeking asylum in this country.”

“And unlike 1942,” she continued, “when America turned their back on us while we were disappearing from our homes, our schools, our farms and our jobs, we are here today to speak out, to protest the unjust incarceration of innocent people seeking refuge in this country. We stand with them, and we are saying, ‘Stop repeating history’”

She carried with her a sign reading, “concentration camp survivor.” Another protester who was at Fort Sill was the son of concentration camp survivors from Poland. Mike Korenblit “wore a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum T-shirt to Saturday’s protest and defended using the term ‘concentration camps’ for internment camps and migrant holding areas. ‘They are the same kind of situation. Why aren’t they identified as the same thing?’”

In a recent editorial, The Salt Lake Tribune wrote, “yes, we do have concentration camps … our nation is operating concentration camps for refugee children. We need to stop denying that and decide if we are comfortable with that fact. And how we will explain it to our children.”

Children belong with their families in freedom, but the ongoing family separation policy has continue to result in hundreds more kids being separated at the border and held in deplorable conditions that have left some kids near death. “It’s intentional disregard for the well-being of children,” said attorney Toby Gialluca. “The guards continue to dehumanize these people and treat them worse than we would treat animals.”


In an astonishing turn, Soros and Charles Koch team up to end US ‘forever war’ policy

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

In an astonishing turn, Soros and Charles Koch team up to end US ‘forever war’ policy
By Stephen Kinzer
Jun 30 2019

BESIDES BEING BILLIONAIRES and spending much of their fortunes to promote pet causes, the leftist financier George Soros and the right-wing Koch brothers have little in common. They could be seen as polar opposites. Soros is an old-fashioned New Deal liberal. The Koch brothers are fire-breathing right-wingers who dream of cutting taxes and dismantling government. Now they have found something to agree on: the United States must end its “forever war” and adopt an entirely new foreign policy.

In one of the most remarkable partnerships in modern American political history, Soros and Charles Koch, the more active of the two brothers, are joining to finance a new foreign-policy think tank in Washington. It will promote an approach to the world based on diplomacy and restraint rather than threats, sanctions, and bombing. This is a radical notion in Washington, where every major think tank promotes some variant of neocon militarism or liberal interventionism. Soros and the Koch brothers are uniting to revive the fading vision of a peaceable United States. The street cred they bring from both ends of the political spectrum — along with the money they are providing — will make this new think tank an off-pitch voice for statesmanship amid a Washington chorus that promotes brinksmanship.

“This is big,” said Trita Parsi, former president of the National Iranian American Council and a co-founder of the new think tank. “It shows how important ending endless war is if they’re willing to put aside their differences and get together on this project. We are going to challenge the basis of American foreign policy in a way that has not been done in at least the last quarter-century.”

Since peaceful foreign policy was a founding principle of the United States, it’s appropriate that the name of this think tank harken back to history. It will be called the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, an homage to John Quincy Adams, who in a seminal speech on Independence Day in 1821 declared that the United States “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” The Quincy Institute will promote a foreign policy based on that live-and-let-live principle.

The institute plans to open its doors in September and hold an official inauguration later in the autumn. Its founding donors — Soros’s Open Society Foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation — have each contributed half a million dollars to fund its takeoff. A handful of individual donors have joined to add another $800,000. By next year the institute hopes to have a $3.5 million budget and a staff of policy experts who will churn out material for use in Congress and in public debates. Hiring is underway. Among Parsi’s co-founders are several well-known critics of American foreign policy, including Suzanne DiMaggio, who has spent decades promoting negotiated alternatives to conflict with China, Iran, and North Korea; the historian and essayist Stephen Wertheim; and the anti-militarist author and retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich.

“The Quincy Institute will invite both progressives and anti-interventionist conservatives to consider a new, less militarized approach to policy,” Bacevich said, when asked why he signed up. “We oppose endless, counterproductive war. We want to restore the pursuit of peace to the nation’s foreign policy agenda.”

In concrete terms, this means the Quincy Institute will likely advocate a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Syria; a return to the nuclear deal with Iran; less confrontational approaches to Russia and China; an end to regime-change campaigns against Venezuela and Cuba; and sharp reductions in the defense budget.

It aims to issue four reports before the end of 2019: two offering alternative approaches to the Middle East and East Asia, one on “ending endless war,” and one called “democratizing foreign policy.” Its statement of principles asserts that the United States “should engage with the world, and the essence of engagement is peaceful cooperation among peoples. For this reason, the United States must cherish peace and pursue it through the vigorous practice of diplomacy . . . The use of armed force does not represent American engagement in the world. Force ends human life, destroying engagement irreparably. Any resort to force should occur only as a last resort and should remain infrequent. The military exists to defend the people and territory of the United States, not to act as a global police force.”


Ruha Benjamin: ‘We definitely can’t wait for Silicon Valley to become more diverse’

Ruha Benjamin: ‘We definitely can’t wait for Silicon Valley to become more diverse’
By Sanjana Varghese
Jun 29 2019

Ruha Benjamin is an associate professor of African American studies at Princeton University, and lectures around the intersection of race, justice and technology. She founded the Just Data Lab, which aims to bring together activists, technologists and artists to reassess how data can be used for justice. Her latest book, Race After Technology, looks at how the design of technology can be discriminatory.

Where did the motivation to write this book come from? 
It seems like we’re looking to outsource decisions to technology, on the assumption that it’s going to make better decisions than us. We’re seeing this in almost every arena – healthcare, education, employment, finance – and it’s hard to find a context which it hasn’t penetrated.

Something which really sparked my interest was a series of headlines and articles I saw which were all about a phenomenon dubbed “racist robots”. Then, as time went on, these articles and headlines became less surprised, and they started to say, of course, the robots are racist because they’re designed in a society with these biases.

The idea that software can have prejudice embedded in it is known as algorithmic bias – how does it amplify prejudice? 
Many of these automated systems are trying to identify and predict risk. So we have to look at how risk was assessed historically – whether a bank would extend a loan to someone, or if a judge would give someone a certain sentence. The decisions of the past are the input for how we teach software to make those decisions in the future. If we live in a society where police profile black and Latinx people, that affects the police data on who is likely to be a criminal. So you’ll have these communities overrepresented in the data sets, which are then used to train algorithms to look for future crimes, or predict who’s seen to be higher risk and lower risk.

Are there other areas of society – such as housing or finance – where the use of automated systems has resulted in biased outcomes? 
Policing and the courts are getting a lot of attention, as they should. But there are other areas too, such as Amazon’s own hiring algorithms, which discriminated against women applicants, even though gender wasn’t listed on those résumés. The training set used data about who already worked at Amazon. Sometimes, the more intelligent machine learning becomes, the more discriminatory it can be – so in that case, it was able to pick up gender cues based on other aspects of those résumés, like their previous education or their experience.

In your book, you assert that the treatment of black communities is an indication of what’s to come for other communities more generally. How would you say this extends to technology? 
Thinking about how risk is racialised is one way into understanding how those systems can eventually be deployed against many more people, not just the initial target. This is one of the things we can see with these new digital scoring systems – these companies which don’t just look at your personal riskiness, but also your social media and the people you’re connected with. If someone you know has defaulted on a loan, that can affect you. So actually, incorporating and gathering more data can be even more harmful to people’s lives.

What role can legislation or regulation play in changing this direction? 
I’m personally a little sceptical – the passing of a law can be a placeholder for much more significant progress because people prematurely celebrate, even if not much changes. But I do increasingly think that legislation has a role to play. Even if a particular law is just a regulation in a state, or one country in Europe, it can be very effective because if these companies want to roll out technologies universally, and then they find they have to change something up for a certain jurisdiction, it can then be an obstacle. Other elements, like state-level protections for whistleblowers are vital, because there has been retaliation against workers at these tech companies. 

Home DNA testing kits are increasingly popular, and genomics screening is more commonplace too. Are you concerned about how technologies are being used, and weaponised? 
We did an informal audit of three DNA testing companies when I was a postdoc at UCLA. The results we got back were completely different across the three companies, because of their own reference data. These companies have access to our data, which they can buy and sell to other companies, and there’s really very few regulatory safeguards on how this is going to be used. The similarity between those technologies – the DNA testing kits, artificial intelligence, machine learning – is that the reference data shapes so much of the prediction. We have to question how it’s put together, what individuals are being used as reference points.


We Have Been Harmonised: Life in China’s Surveillance State by Kai Strittmatter – review

We Have Been Harmonised: Life in China’s Surveillance State by Kai Strittmatter – review
A remarkable analysis identifies ‘Mao 2.0’ as the west’s new cold war adversary
By John Naughton
Jun 30 2019

Kai Strittmatter is a German journalist who writes for Süddeutsche Zeitung and is currently based in Copenhagen. From 1997 until recently, he had been a foreign correspondent in Beijing. Prior to those postings, he had studied sinology and journalism in Munich, Xi’an and Taipei. So he knows China rather well. Having read his remarkable book, it’s reasonable to assume that he will not be passing through any Chinese airport in the foreseeable future. Doing so would not be good for his health, not to mention his freedom.

We Have Been Harmonised is the most accessible and best informed account we have had to date of China’s transition from what scholars such as Rebecca MacKinnon used to call “networked authoritarianism” to what is now a form of networked totalitarianism. The difference is not merely semantic. An authoritarian regime is relatively limited in its objectives: there may be elections, but they are generally carefully managed; individual freedoms are subordinate to the state; there is no constitutional accountability and no rule of law in any meaningful sense.

Totalitarianism, in contrast, prohibits opposition parties, restricts opposition to the state and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life. As the historian Robert Conquest put it, a totalitarian staterecognises no limits to its authority in any sphere of public or private life and seeks to extend that authority to whatever lengths it can.

Which pretty well matches Strittmatter’s portrayal of contemporary China under Xi Jinping, its new “leader for life”, who is increasingly looking like Mao 2.0 right down to his Little Red App as the contemporary version of his predecessor’s Little Red Book. Mercifully, though, he does not seem to have Mao’s enthusiasm for sacrificing millions of people on the altar of socialist rectitude. But, as Strittmatter tells it, under Xi’s leadership the Communist party of China (CCP) has been closely following the totalitarian playbook as described by Hannah Arendt and other observers of the phenomenon.

The first stage is to disconnect citizen/subjects from truth and reality. For this, it’s necessary – as George Orwell noted in Politics and the English Language – to invent a new language by appropriating the existing vernacular so that words cease to have their original meanings and take on interpretations more congenial to the state. The prime objective at this stage is not so much to deceive as to intimidate potential critics or opponents, such as journalists (purveyors of “fake news”) and judges (“enemies of the people”).

Having hijacked language and legitimised lies, the next stage is to sow confusion. “If everybody always lies to you,” Arendt once said, “the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.” With such a people, she added, “you can then do what you please”. This is made easier by deploying the coercive power of the state to eliminate dissent. In Xi’s China this is largely done by using the law – which only applies to the subject, not the state. In the old days this used to involve show trials; nowadays they are supplemented by televised “confessions”. 

Strittmatter quotes a prize example from the humiliated CEO of Toutiao, the biggest news aggregator in the world. “Since receiving the notice yesterday from regulatory authorities,” the poor wretch bleats, “I have been filled with remorse and guilt, entirely unable to sleep. I profoundly reflect on the fact that a deep-level cause of the problems in my company is a weak understanding and implementation of the four consciousnesses of Xi Jinping.”

Another requirement of totalitarians is the fostering of collective amnesia. The CCP seems to have been remarkably successful at this – which is why the recent anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre went entirely unmarked in China and why disasters that happened on the party’s watch are systematically erased from the public record.

All of this and much more is energetically related by Strittmatter. The more one reads, the more pressing one conclusion becomes: almost everything we thought we knew about contemporary China is wrong. And this has happened because the lenses through which we viewed this emerging superpower were distorted by arrogance, naivety, complacency, commercial greed and wishful thinking.

We thought that if the Chinese wanted to modernise, they would have to have capitalism. And if they had capitalism, they would have to have democracy. And if they wanted to have the internet (and they did), they would have to have openness, which would eventually lead to democracy.


Amazon’s future vision of AI, warehouse bots and Alexa

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

Amazon’s future vision of AI, warehouse bots and Alexa
An exclusive look at Amazon’s artificial intelligence and automation work, and how it may impact jobs.
By Ben Fox Rubin
Jun 29 2019

It just so happens that the phrase “turn the lights on” sounds a lot like the word “tenderloin.” That seemingly unimportant phonetic connection became an early challenge for Amazon’s Alexa Shopping team. After all, the world’s largest online store didn’t want to ship its customers surprise packages of meat when all they wanted was to flick on a light switch.

So the company devised a ranking system for its voice commands, placing a request for the lights, which is used a lot, high above a request for tenderloin, which isn’t. To hone this system, the company gave Alexa contextual awareness too, so the voice assistant could tell if a conversation is related to groceries and not smart home controls.

“When we identify that’s the context of your dialogue, we then do the ranking within that context and recognize that the word you actually said was ‘tenderloin,’ ” Chuck Moore, vice president of Alexa Shopping, told me during Amazon’s re:MARS artificial intelligence and robotics conference in Las Vegas earlier this month.

This precise voice-recognition processing is part of Amazon’s push to bring its AI expertise and automation to just about every layer of its business, including its warehouse robots, cashierless retail stores and, of course, Alexa. This behind-the-scenes tech is already providing Amazon’s customers with faster deliveries and helping people streamline their errands, like creating a shopping list or picking up a gallon of milk.

The retail giant is just one of many tech heavy-hitters pouring resources into AI, which allows computers and bots to perform higher-level tasks like decision-making and predicting customers’ needs. Microsoft, Google, Apple and Facebook are also touting how the technology can change and improve our lives.

At re:MARS, CNET spoke to four Amazon executives representing a wide range of its businesses. They provided an exclusive look into some of the inner workings of Amazon’s AI development, showing how the tech has become the critical ingredient they use to compete against rival retailers like Walmart and cloud-service providers like Microsoft and Google.

“[AI] is sprinkled everywhere,” Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi said after attending re:MARS. “It’s an integral part of every service they offer, every product they make and every business they run.”

But automation and AI have also become dirty words for plenty of people, with the terms dredging up worries about robots stealing peoples’ jobs. Though automation of tasks has happened for centuries, the rapid development of new technology has the potential to disrupt huge chunks of the economy. Analysts at Oxford Economics now predict up to 20 million global manufacturing jobs could be automated out of existence by 2030. Other studies say tens of millions of US jobs are at high risk, too, particularly low-skill repetitive work like transportation and warehouses.

Amazon executives say they don’t see gloom and doom in AI and automation, noting that they continue to hire thousands more people to work alongside their warehouse bots and to create the latest machine-learning code.

“We’re not particularly worried about job displacement,” Brad Porter, an Amazon robotics vice president, said. “It’s not, ‘Oh, do we have too many people?’ That’s never the problem we’re trying to solve. We’re growing, we need to hire more people.”

Milanesi noted that the company’s leaders made an effort to talk at the conference about both the benefits of AI and the many potential problems.

“The fact that they are acknowledging that there is complexity that needs to be addressed, and needs to be addressed right, is the critical first step,” she said.

Inside Amazon Go’s AI brain

Onstage in front of thousands of re:MARS attendees at the Aria Resort & Casino, Dilp Kumar, vice president of Amazon Go, showed a bird’s-eye video of what Amazon’s hundreds of AI-infused cameras see in its Go stores.


The Worm That Nearly Ate the Internet

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

The Worm That Nearly Ate the Internet
It infected 10 million computers. So why did cybergeddon never arrive?
By Mark Bowden
Jun 29 2019

Just over 10 years ago, a unique strain of malware blitzed the internet so rapidly that it shocked cybersecurity experts worldwide. Known as Conficker, it was and remains the most persistent computer worm ever seen, linking computers with Microsoft operating systems globally, millions of them, to create a vast illicit botnet, in effect, a black-market supercomputer. That much power controlled by its unknown maker posed an existential threat not just to any enterprise connected to the web, but to the internet itself.

Botnets, networks of secretly linked personal computers controlled by an unseen hand, have launched some of the most notorious dedicated denial of service attacks, flooding websites with so many data requests that they crash. A 2012 attack all but shut down online operations at major banking institutions. They also spread malware. Botnets were behind the WannaCry ransomware attack of 2017 which infected an estimated 200,000 computers in 150 countries and crippled computer networks at National Health Service hospitals in England and Scotland. 

A cyberweapon called EternalBlue, stolen in 2017 from the National Security Agency’s secret labs, has been used to attack the networks of entire cities — Baltimore is still struggling to free thousands of municipal computers infected just last month. Botnets also enabled Russia’s meddling in the presidential election in 2016, sending millions of social media users false stories. 

Conficker’s botnet was easily capable of launching any of the above — and far worse. At its height, when it consisted of at least 10 million individual IP addresses, there were few computer networks in the world secure enough to withstand an attack from it. And yet it was used only once, to spread a relatively minor strain of “scareware” intended to frighten unsuspecting users into downloading fake antivirus software. That attack was surprisingly pedestrian, like taking a Formula One racecar for a slow ride around the block. Surely something bigger was coming.

But it never did. Why? Who created Conficker, and why bother if they were not going to use it?

Today, thanks to extraordinary sleuthing by the F.B.I. and some of the world’s premier cybersecurity experts, there are answers to these questions. They offer an unsettling reminder of the remarkable sophistication of a growing network of cybercriminals and nation states — and the vulnerability of not just our computers, but the internet itself.

Fear of Conficker — the name was coined by Microsoft programmers combining “con,” from the name TrafficConverter.biz, the website used for the worm’s joy ride, with a German expletive — peaked on April 1, 2009, when a new, more virulent strain that could spread directly from computer to computer without any action by users, was programmed to activate.

This new iteration prompted scary headlines and prime-time TV warnings — CBS’s “60 Minutes” called Conficker “one of the most dangerous threats ever.” Shawn Henry, assistant director of the F.B.I.’s cyber division, said its potential for damage was as great as “a weapon of mass destruction or a bomb in one of our major cities.” 

But then, when the appointed date came and no attacks were launched, and no networks crashed, anxiety over Conficker evaporated.

Something, however, had happened. Neither joke nor disaster, the worm quietly made its adaptation, slipped the grasp of cybersecurity sleuths and accelerated its growth. This was where things stood when I wrote about Conficker for The Atlantic in 2010, and then in the book “Worm,” published the following year. The botnet’s reach was vast, real, but dormant. 

There were competing theories for why. One was that it was the work of academic hackers who had created it as a lab experiment and then accidentally unleashed it — one could understand why they would be reluctant to claim authorship. Another was that it was a cyberweapon developed by a government, perhaps even by the United States.

Neither theory was correct. While some experts still disagree, most now believe that Conficker was the work of Ukrainian cybercriminals building a platform for global theft who succeeded beyond all expectation, or desire. The last thing a thief wants is to draw attention to himself. Conficker’s unprecedented growth drew the alarmed attention of cybersecurity experts worldwide. It became, simply, too hot to use.

This explanation was detailed in an article published in December 2015 by The Journal of Sensitive Cyber Research and Engineering, a classified, peer-reviewed publication issued by a federal interagency cybersecurity working group including the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and N.S.A. — and distributed to a small number of experts with the appropriate security clearances. The article itself was not classified, but reached only a small readership. I obtained a copy this year.


The Pentagon has a laser that can identify people from a distance—by their heartbeat

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

The Pentagon has a laser that can identify people from a distance—by their heartbeat
The Jetson prototype can pick up on a unique cardiac signature from 200 meters away, even through clothes.
By David Hambling
Jun 27 2019

Everyone’s heart is different. Like the iris or fingerprint, our unique cardiac signature can be used as a way to tell us apart. Crucially, it can be done from a distance.

It’s that last point that has intrigued US Special Forces. Other long-range biometric techniques include gait analysis, which identifies someone by the way he or she walks. This method was supposedly used to identify an infamous ISIS terrorist before a drone strike. But gaits, like faces, are not necessarily distinctive. An individual’s cardiac signature is unique, though, and unlike faces or gait, it remains constant and cannot be altered or disguised.

Long-range detection
A new device, developed for the Pentagon after US Special Forces requested it, can identify people without seeing their face: instead it detects their unique cardiac signature with an infrared laser. While it works at 200 meters (219 yards), longer distances could be possible with a better laser. “I don’t want to say you could do it from space,” says Steward Remaly, of the Pentagon’s Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office, “but longer ranges should be possible.”

Contact infrared sensors are often used to automatically record a patient’s pulse. They work by detecting the changes in reflection of infrared light caused by blood flow. By contrast, the new device, called Jetson, uses a technique known as laser vibrometry to detect the surface movement caused by the heartbeat. This works though typical clothing like a shirt and a jacket (though not thicker clothing such as a winter coat).

The most common way of carrying out remote biometric identification is by face recognition. But this needs good, frontal view of the face, which can be hard to obtain, especially from a drone. Face recognition may also be confused by beards, sunglasses, or headscarves.

Cardiac signatures are already used for security identification. The Canadian company Nymi has developed a wrist-worn pulse sensor as an alternative to fingerprint identification. The technology has been trialed by the Halifax building society in the UK.

Jetson extends this approach by adapting an off-the shelf device that is usually used to check vibration from a distance in structures such as wind turbines. For Jetson, a special gimbal was added so that an invisible, quarter-size laser spot could be kept on a target. It takes about 30 seconds to get a good return, so at present the device is only effective where the subject is sitting or standing.

Better than face recognition
Remaly’s team then developed algorithms capable of extracting a cardiac signature from the laser signals. He claims that Jetson can achieve over 95% accuracy under good conditions, and this might be further improved. In practice, it’s likely that Jetson would be used alongside facial recognition or other identification methods.

Wenyao Xu of the State University of New York at Buffalo has also developed a remote cardiac sensor, although it works only up to 20 meters away and uses radar. He believes the cardiac approach is far more robust than facial recognition. “Compared with face, cardiac biometrics are more stable and can reach more than 98% accuracy,” he says.