Monday, September 18, 2017

Police State Entrenches


St Louis police don't seem able to distinguish between lawful and peaceful demonstration on the one hand and criminal behavior on the other as they reportedly mow down peaceful citizens and fire projectiles into retreating crowds:

St Louis protests: Police caught on camera firing projectiles into crowd of protestors. (2017, September 18). Yahoo, https://www.yahoo.com/news/st-louis-protests-police-caught-143700628.html

This is what happens when the police are militarized and encouraged to view demonstrators - even peaceful demonstrators - as low level terrorists:

ACLU. “ACLU Challenges Defense Department Personnel Policy To Regard Lawful Protests As ‘Low-Level Terrorism.’”ACLU. 10 June 2009. 24 June 2009 http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/39822prs20090610.html.
Violence by police against peaceful demonstrators is going to cause more violence. Violence will encourage police to roll out their special weapons - such as sound-frequency weapons - that will damage people and cause even further public outrage.

Is the end game a war between police and the public? That is not a game anyone wins. Demonstrators must insist on peaceful demonstrations, while the escalation of violence by police must stop.
 
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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Search Engine Censorship


Last night I read the World Socialist Web Site's "Open Letter" to Google regarding allegations that the site has been "blacklisted" by manipulating search results so that the site is ranked lower and traffic is thereby reduced:
World Socialist Web Site. (2017, August 25). An open letter to Google: Stop the censorship of the Internet! Stop the political blacklisting of the World Socialist Web Site! 25 August 2017 https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/25/pers-a25.html
...Beginning in April of this year, Google began manipulating search results to channel users away from socialist, left-wing, and anti-war publications, and directing them instead towards mainstream publications that directly express the views of the government and the corporate and media establishment (i.e., the New York Times, Washington Post, etc.), and a small number of mildly left “trusted” websites whose critiques are deemed innocuous (i.e., Jacobin Magazine and the website of the Democratic Socialists of America, which functions as a faction of the Democratic Party).

As a pretext for these actions, Google announced that it was making changes to its search algorithm “to surface more authoritative content,” a term that brings to mind efforts by authoritarian regimes to censor the Internet and, specifically, political views deemed outside the consensus as defined by the establishment media.

Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president for search engineering, attempted to justify the imposition of political censorship with a blog post on April 25, claiming that the changes to the algorithm were a response to “the phenomenon of ‘fake news,’ where content on the web has contributed to the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information.”
This site is not alone in making these allegations. Other "left" leaning sites have also reported that their search rankings are being manipulated, resulting in diminished web traffic (e.g., TruthOut and Atlernet).

I've been documenting increasing efforts to curb free speech on my blog. In June I posted on Censorship-as-security discussing the automation of censorship. In August I posted a blog entry titled, Free Speech in the Crossfire detailing efforts to curb free speech in both legal and technological arenas ( here ). I'm re-posting excerpts from both entries in my discussion below:


The movement to censor search results - and to do so by systematically biasing search result and by slowing down certain sites - is occurring insidiously in a series of discrete moves.

The Internet is being fully monetized with the end of net neutrality, which is being pursued by Trump and the telecommunication industry, as explained here:
Sergey Denisenko Feb 20, 2017 The implications of the end of net neutrality https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/20/the-implications-of-the-end-of-net-neutrality/
The end of net neutrality will significantly impact free speech as "pay for play" obviously favors large corporations with expansive budgets.

Secondarily, web content on social media sites will be censored before it is actually posted, sanitizing it from images or words that are designated as troubling, as illustrated by Facebook’s efforts in this regard:
Sam Schechner. (2017, June 15). Facebook Boosts AI to Block Terrorist Propaganda. The Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-boosts-a-i-to-block-terrorist-propaganda-1497546000
New software is tasked with identifying videos, photos, language and users that need to be removed, at times without human moderators.

Search results will be filtered using criteria that separate out information coded as “true” from information coded as “fake” as Google and other engines incorporate criteria such as “truthiness.”  Google’s first attempt to evaluate the truthfulness of sites was PageRank, according to CNN, which illustrated the challenges in automating codification of truth and not-truth:

The truth, according to Googleby Ivana Kottasova (March 4, 2015). CNN Money http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/04/news/google-truth-ranking/index.html

The company is figuring out how to rank websites by the veracity of their content. The more truthful the page, the higher up it would appear in search results.

Google (
GOOG) currently sorts search results based on criteria such as the number of links pointing at the website, the amount of time users spend on it, as well as the prominence of its social media profile.

The algorithm, named PageRank after Google co-founder
Larry Page, is supposed to rank websites based on their reputation.

The problem with this strategy is that it measured popularity over quality. So, Google developed a new criteria, whose current status is not entirely clear, as described further down in the same article:

To fix the problem, Google has come up with a new truth-seeking algorithm, describing it in a research paper first reported by New Scientist. So how would it work? The new algorithm draws on Google's "Knowledge Vault" -- a collection of 2.8 billion facts extracted from the Internet.  By checking pages against that database, and cross-referencing related facts, the research team believes the algorithm could assign each page a truth score. Pages with a high proportion of false claims would be bumped down in the search results. (here)

Google said the new algorithm is in the research stage. The scientists still need to figure out plenty of issues before it can be used, including ensuring the system appropriately deals with new facts on a topic. You can read more about Google’s Knowledge Vault here: https://research.google.com/pubs/pub45634.html

Google and other search engines may not have a choice about whether or not they include this type of criteria in their search results. They may be forced by advertising dollars and by government itself to engage in this process of constructing truth.

US H.R.5181 - Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016114th Congress (2015-2016), simultaneously penalizes providers for “fake news” and promotes production and dissemination of government “fact-based” narratives to counter fake news that escapes the newly emerging filtering devices.

The lack aims to "develop a comprehensive strategy to counter foreign disinformation and propaganda and assert leadership in developing a fact-based strategic narrative" AND promoting a free press in countries vulnerable to foreign disinformation, as illustrated in this excerpt from the bill:

(4) the challenge of countering disinformation extends beyond effective strategic communications and public diplomacy, requiring a whole-of-government approach leveraging all elements of national power;

(5) the United States Government should develop a comprehensive strategy to counter foreign disinformation and propaganda and assert leadership in developing a fact-based strategic narrative; and

(6) an important element of this strategy should be to protect and promote a free, healthy, and independent press in countries vulnerable to foreign disinformation.
https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/5181/text

So, the US government is officially in the propaganda business.

And Internet companies are also under pressure to censor content deemed politically unacceptable:
Yoree Koh and Jacob Gershman (2017, August 17). US Tech firms are thrust into debate. The Wall Street Journal, B4.
...In the wake of weekend violence at a white supremacists' rally in Charlottesville, VA Alphabet Inc.'s Google and goDaddy Inc. stopped providing hosting support for the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi site that the companies said violanted their terms of service...Uber Technologies blacklisted white supremacist James Allen...

Deeepa Seetharaman (2017, August 17). Facebook Closed Offensive Forum. The Wall Street Journal, B4.
Facebook Inc dismantled a popular anonymous discussion board for employees last year that had become a forum for conservative political debate...
Meanwhile, organizations, such as the UCLA, that traditionally defend free speech by the public are under fire:
K-Sue Park (2017, August 17). The A.C.L.U. Needs to Rethink Free Speech. The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/opinion/aclu-first-amendment-trump-charlottesville.html?emc=edit_th_20170817&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=32962000&_r=0

The American Civil Liberties Union has a long history of defending the First Amendment rights of groups on both the far left and the far right. This commitment led the organization to successfully sue the city of Charlottesville, Va., last week on behalf of a white supremacist rally organizer. The rally ended with a Nazi sympathizer plowing his car into a crowd, killing a counterprotester and injuring many.

After the A.C.L.U. was excoriated for its stance, it responded that “preventing the government from controlling speech is absolutely necessary to the promotion of equality.” Of course that’s true. The hope is that by successfully defending hate groups, its legal victories will fortify free-speech rights across the board: A rising tide lifts all boats, as it goes.

While admirable in theory, this approach implies that the country is on a level playing field, that at some point it overcame its history of racial discrimination to achieve a real democracy, the cornerstone of which is freedom of expression.

What is the point of shutting down conversation? I am strongly OPPOSED to censorship because I feel it simply fuels discontent and will make rancorous conversations go underground where they will fester and become increasingly solipsistic.

Let reasoned debate be used to adjudicate TRUTH in the "marketplace of ideas" with censorship used only against those sites that unequivocally promote violence.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Nuclear Lessons Learned: US & Japan NONE!


The US and Japan appear unable to learn when it comes to nuclear power.

These societies' collective sense-making is impaired by their love of enriched uranium as surely as Midas was impaired by his love of gold.

In Texas and Florida, nuclear power plants were kept running at risk to surrounding communities and workers:

Melina Delkic (2017, September 11). Florida Nuke Plant Did Not Meet Fed Safety Guidelines as Irma Roared. Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/turkey-point-nuclear-plant-hurricane-irma-663188

Operators of a nuclear power plant in the path of Hurricane Irma kept one reactor operating during the cyclone, despite failing to bring the plant up to federal safety code and long-known concerns about the danger faced by nuclear power plants during power outages.  The Turkey Point nuclear plant in Homestead, along the southeast Florida coast, was in the midst of a region with 5 million power outages —"unprecedented," according to Florida Power and Light CEO Eric Silagy — yet kept operating even though the risk of a serious accident rises significantly in a power outage, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  “When there’s a possibility to lose power, why would you take the risk of increasing that?” Maggie Gundersen, founder of Fairewinds Energy Education and former nuclear industry employee, told Newsweek.
Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority has bowed to pressure and is allowing TEPCO, a company with a culture that has been berated by this same agency, to re-start reactors:
EDITORIAL: NRA too hasty in giving green light to TEPCO to restart reactors (2017, September 14). The Asahi Shimbun, http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201709140030.html

Although the Nuclear Regulation Authority has decided to give the green light to Tokyo Electric Power Co. to restart nuclear reactors, we question the fitness of the utility, which is responsible for the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, to manage nuclear facilities. The NRA has been screening TEPCO’s application to resume operations of the No. 6 and No. 7 boiling-water reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture. The NRA on Sept. 13 acknowledged with conditions that TEPCO is eligible for operating nuclear plants after examining the company's safety culture and other issues. 
Meanwhile, Japan's nuclear commission is calling not only for a return to nuclear (with at least 20% of its fuel mix targeted for nuclear), but has also endorsed MOX fuel in a move that defies reason, especially given the conditions of Fukushima reactor 3 (which was running MOX at the time of the accident):
Mari MARI YAMAGUCHI (2017, September 14 ) Japan commission supports nuclear power despite Fukushima. The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com/business/japan-commission-supports-nuclear-power-despite-fukushima/

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s nuclear-policy-setting Atomic Energy Commission issued a report Thursday calling for nuclear energy to remain a key component of the country’s energy mix despite broad public support for a less nuclear-reliant society. The report approved by the commission calls for nuclear energy to make up at least 20 percent of Japan’s supply in 2030, citing the government energy plan. It says rising utility costs from expensive fossil fuel imports and slow reactor restarts have affected Japan’s economy. The resumption of the nuclear policy report is a sign Japan’s accelerating effort to restart more reactors. “The government should make clear the long-term benefit of nuclear power generation ...

The report also endorsed Japan’s ambitious pursuit of a nuclear fuel cycle program using plutonium, despite a decision last year to scrap the Monju reactor, a centerpiece of the plutonium fuel program, following decades of poor safety records and technical problems. Japan faces growing international scrutiny over its plutonium stockpile because the element can be used to make atomic weapons. 
  And to top it all off, Japan is now setting up its first "restoration hub" in Futaba:
Noriyoshi Otsuki (2017, September 15). First ‘hub’ set up in Fukushima no-entry zone to speed rebuilding. The Asahi Shimbun, http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201709150058.html

An area in the no-entry zone of Futaba, a town that co-hosts the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, became the first government-designated “rebuilding hub” after the 3/11 disaster. The designation on Sept. 15 means decontamination will speed up and infrastructure restored so the evacuation order in the town center can be lifted by spring 2022. Most of Futaba is currently located in a difficult-to-return zone because of high radiation levels. Rebuilding efforts have not started there yet, even six-and-a-half years since the nuclear accident unfolded.

As noted in the article, Futaba is located in the difficult to return zone. Here is a screenshot from TEPCO's 2016 report on air monitoring in the Futaba evacuation zone:




The air dose in Futaba is very high, with the highest reading reported at 9.6 microsieverts an hour.

Locating the first restoration hub in Futaba, located in close proximity to the still-unstable plant, seems like a propaganda move, rather than a thoughtful risk decision.

Fukushima is still belching radioactivity (especially from unit 3), as illustrated in this screenshot from yesterday:



The plant is still at risk from earthquakes and lifequefaction.

I must conclude from this series of news reports that neither Japan nor the US are capable of learning when it comes to nuclear policy making.