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    The Artificially Intelligent Gatekeepers of News Broadcasting

    It is no secret that the tradition of news and broadcast is changing.

    In the Kovach and Rosenstiel book, The Elements of Journalism, the authors write that the two most essential obligations of a journalist are to tell the truth and to have an unyielding loyalty to the citizens. Regrettably, their advice has fallen by the wayside. Today, truth and loyalty have taken a back seat to speed and controversy. With the advent of technology, allegedly accurate news reporting is limited only by one “click” of a mouse, “tap” of a screen, or question to Siri, Alexa or Google. All that matters now is breaking the story before your competitors. For the sake of speed, journalists on all sides of the issues have sacrificed the core principles that make their role in society so important. Now they only care about the 24-hour-news cycle and driving headlines, tweets, and falsely described “breaking alerts.”

    Can it get worse?  Yes. In fact, the very face of broadcast journalism has recently changed, and in a major way.

    China’s government run news agency, Xinhua News, introduced the first male, artificial intelligence (AI) newscaster at 2018’s World Internet Conference in eastern Zhejiang. Powered by the agency’s stream of news and Beijing-based search engine Sogou, he delivered a short broadcast discussing the technology along with China’s plans to launch their first Mars probe in 2020. His segment ended by sending good wishes to journalists across the country (CNBC).

    Female AI broadcast journalist “Xin Xiaomeng” joined Xinhua’s team of presenters shortly after. Each has an English-speaking counterpart modelled after human anchors currently on their news team (Daily Mail).

    The goal of AI presenters is to stoke the fire of a 24-hour newsroom. Completely cutting out middleman who might research and verify the veracity of a story and its sources, artificially intelligent anchors deliver a constant stream of news text generated by China’s government. Skeptics fear that the human connection between viewers and flesh-and-blood anchor will be lost, while others feel that the robotic delivery is “very dull.” (BBC)

    The issue at hand is much more than the sentiment of a traditional news model or entertainment. We have already seen what can happen when artificially generated news stories spread and influence the minds of a target audience. The horrendous outbreak of misinformation and opportunistic propaganda about the Sri Lanka bombings in April that lead to a countrywide temporary ban on suspect social media is just one example.

    While AI newscasters may be able to provide a constant stream of information to an ever more demanding audience, they do so at the sacrifice of true journalism. Live journalists have their own moral compass to consult. As imperfect as that compass can sometimes be, it is far better than a machine with no soul or conscience. With all the fake news we have to deal with today, now is not the time to allow technology to make matters worse. Maybe it is time to embrace the older principles when stories were researched, sources were checked and verified, journalists were respected and media reporting was accurate and balanced.

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    The FEC and Cyber Security

    Since 2016 presidential race, we have seen a growing movement to unearth and eliminate any political interference in our elections by foreign nationals, most notably Russia.

    Russian hackers who infiltrated the Democratic National Committee’s database and private email servers of both Democrats and Republicans was only the beginning.  The digital attacks expanded to bot-generated political ad campaigns dispersed among social media and more.  This cyber-war on democracy has been calculatedly discreet. You can find a timeline of the attacks here.  I suspect you’ll be surprised at how many there have been.  I was.

    In efforts to combat a faceless yet relentless enemy, Defending Digital Campaigns, Inc. petitioned the Federal Election Commission with an offer of free or low-cost cyber security for political candidates running for office.

    DDC is the brainchild of Robby Mook, 2016 campaign manager of Hillary Clinton; Matt Rhoades, 2016 campaign manager of Mitt Romney; and Deborah Plunkett, former Director of Information Assurance at the National Security Administration. The organization is an offshoot of Mook and Rhoades’s collaboration at Harvard’s Belfer Center on the Defending Digital Democracy Project, or D3P. In 2018, Mook, Rhoades, and Plunkett petitioned the FEC for permission to offer their campaign services.

    The obstacle with the company’s offer stems from policies restricting corporations from contributing to candidates/parties in support, or opposition.

    In the FEC petition, DDC argues that their services are neutral. They are offering security products and services to any candidate polling nationally at 5% or congressional candidates that qualify for the general election ballot, regardless of party or political affiliation. FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub raised concerns about creating a “loophole” in their current ban on corporate contributions. Not only that, but the Chair is warry of why two experienced practitioners who happened to be victims of the cyber security breaches of 2016 would offer their work for little to no cost (C&E).

    One can’t help but wonder how benign such a generous donation is, given the contributors’ respective political histories.

    Mook and Rhoades claim that because of their experiences with cyber terrorism, DDC aims to keep American digital campaigns safe from attack rather than seek any distinct political gain as is suspected with their contribution. A brief overview of first-quarter filings revealed a scant investment, if any, in cyber security for political campaigns (Slate).

    With the 2020 election looming, a policy decision of this caliber is something to keep in mind. If we do nothing, nothing will change.  If we do not consider new alternatives, the status quo will continue.  So I urge the FEC to approve the DDC petition.  Monitor them.  Require reporting to assure its neutrality.  But don’t sit and do nothing.

     

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    A Summary of a Summary: The Mueller Report

    A few weeks ago, Attorney General William Barr outlined what he called “principal conclusions” of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller (Washington Post). For some, the summary was a cover-up coupled with attacks on Barr’s integrity. Others greeted Barr’s summary with claims of victory citing what they concluded to be findings of no collusion or obstruction of justice. As is so often the case in today’s Washington, the reaction of both sides was wrong.

    Nonetheless, here are three basic takeaways from what Barr did say:

    1. The Russians did interfere with the 2016 election.
    2. No one can confirm or deny the fact that the Trump Campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (Washington Post)
    3. According to Barr, there is still no conclusive evidence to support the claim that President Trump obstructed justice.

    The immediate reaction was condemnation by the left and victory marches by the right. All this before release of the full report, redacted or otherwise. Such uniformed and virulent responses, in light of the serious charges that have been filling the airwaves for more than two years, is negligent and irresponsible. Unfortunately, that is what we have come to expect from today’s politicians and biased media – on both sides of the aisle.

    After two years of speculation, leaks, false allegations, and the unjustified character assassination of some, we all need to wait for the full report before we make any conclusions. It is time for the political partisans and media pundits to shut up until we all see the full report.

    Barr also has reason to redact parts of the report.  The law requires it. Regardless, it serves no purpose to object to redactions until we see them and determine if they are appropriate legally appropriate.

    So far, no one has any evidence that Barr is anything but truthful. He is highly respected by anyone who is speculating on his integrity at this point in time is either naïve or ignorant. That does not mean he might not make mistakes – just as so many others have done, particularly those on both sides of the issues who love to attack one another. With so much at stake and in light of our growing distrust in all of Washington, now is not to time to jump to idle conclusions.

    Sadly, all of these left/right wing theatrics make me wonder if we can ever believe what our government is telling us and whether we will ever know the whole truth.

    Perhaps time will tell.

     

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    Leading Questions Amid the Nation’s Largest College Admission Scandal

    Famous actors like Felicity Hoffman and Lori Loughlin found themselves making headlines earlier this month after news broke that they, along with dozens of other elite parents, were allegedly part of a leverage scheme involving college admission cheating and bribery.

    Wealthy parents allegedly paid college admission consultant Rick Singer to help their children cheat on college entrance exams in addition to falsifying athletic records as a way of securing admission to schools like Stanford, Yale, Georgetown, UCLA, and USC, just to name a few. (Patch.com).  Some allegedly made contributions or bribes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to assure admission.  The whole story came to light after a Los Angeles parent exposed nearly everyone involved.

    Here’s my first question: How will the reputations of these famous actors, CEOs, and high-level executives change going forward?

    In Lori Loughlin’s case, her partnership with the Hallmark Channel has been severed as the network decided to cut ties with the actor after discovering the news.

    We are saddened by the news surrounding the college admissions allegations. We are no longer working with Lori Loughlin and have stopped development of all productions that air on the Crown Media Family Network channels involving Lori Loughlin,” Crown Media announced in a recent statement. (Broadway World)

    Some pundits has asked if this just.  Others opine that it is enough.  Actors in general have remained silent.  Politicians have chimed in and some have alleged this is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to corruption in the college admissions process.  Amid all of this, we cannot help but wonder what lies ahead for the children who are at the center of this scandal.  Some have been told they cannot stay in school.  Some in the media have suggested previously granted degrees should be rescinded for anyone who has graduated and who used Singer’s tactics to be admitted.  Regardless, these children are all forever scared, many on account of misguided parents.

    Let us be careful before we judge everyone allegedly involved in the scandal.  Time will tell how deep this goes.  While I agree it presents a clarion call for a full investigation in the college admissions process and the influence of tests, admissions committees, legacy, contributions, and sports, we must be cautious.  We need to be very careful that in our often emotional rush to judgement, we do not convict the innocent by association with the corrupt.

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    Do We Have a National Emergency?

    President Donald Trump anticipated and has certainly received flack after his declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Denver Post)

    Border security is not a new issue. It is something every administrations since Reagan has wrestled with.

    In Trump’s case, one of his most publicized campaign promises — the border wall — has not come to pass.  With the 2020 elections looming on the horizon, delivering on his border wall promise is much more substantial than simply the dollars, materials and labor required to build it.  It’s undeniable that partisan politics — on both of the aisle — infect the debate. But it is also clear that those same partisan politicians have failed to find a solution to an undeniable problem — emergency or not.

    Regardless, there are some basic facts about these types of situations we do know.

    The National Emergency Act, enacted in 1976, addresses any situation that threatens the country and calls for immediate action (US News) emergency orders is the national emergency declared in 2001 as a response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.  On that order alone, tens of thousands of soldiers were sent to battle and billions was spent. Past national emergencies range anywhere from disarming weapons of mass destruction to trade embargos on other countries, including the reallocation of previously approved Congressional budget allocations.

    In fact, the Constitution gives a standing president very broad discretion to override current policy in response to an emergency. These provisions include seizing property, assigning military forces abroad, instituting martial law, restricting travel, and generally controlling much of the lives of United States citizens.(Boston 25 News) Such powers, however, have rarely been exercised.

    While the President has the authority, the specific reason(s) for declaring a state of emergency must be publicly stated, and when this happens Congress can nullify it by way of a joint resolution. Like any other law, this would require a simple majority vote in the House and Senate to pass.  (Cornell Law School)

    While there are a wide variety of reasons past presidents have enacted this type of executive order, this will probably be the first time one is formally challenged by the Legislature.  Since it’s unlikly to withstand a veto even if the House and Senate pass a resolution against it, the ultimate resolution will be left to the courts. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/98-505.pdf

    Therein lies a big risk for both parties. If this case gets to the Supreme Court, its word will be final should it rule on Constitutional grounds. Nine unelected jurists will define the future of the President to issue emergency executive orders. All because our elected representatives could not come to a full compromise. Nor is the continuing blame game productive. The reality is simple. Two of the three branches of our government were unable to do their job in a bipartisan manner. Now the third unelected branch will make a decision that could have a profound impact on a President’s powers regardless of his or her political party.

    Is that what’s in our best interests?

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    Just Because We Can…

    We are all familiar with the adage, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.  There are times when the status quo and the beauty around us that enriches our lives is best left alone, unchanged.

    Enter today’s computers capable of making calculations far faster than humanly possible, machine learning and artificial intelligence.  Media touts how wonderful these machines will make our lives. Others fear robots will one day replace us.  All of this is worthy of debate to allay our fears and better inform us of what we can expect.  But sometimes we need to take a step back and think about just how far technology may go if left unrestrained.

    In January, Huawei, the Chinese technology company under fire by a host of governments who fear Huawei is a tool China uses to hack into computer networks and threaten security, announced that it programmed a cell phone to complete Franz Schubert‘s Symphony No8, otherwise known as his Unfinished Symphony.  Composed nearly 200 years ago, musicians and composers have debated for decades about what the symphony might have been if Schubert had completed it.  The conversations were deep and steeped in musical history.

    Now, according to Huawei, a cell phone programmed with artificial intelligence (AI), with some assistance from a human composer, has completed Schubert’s symphony.  Huawei will unveil the results in February.  You can watch their promotional campaign on YouTube by clicking here.

    The AI completed symphony, albeit with some assistance from a human, will no doubt cause music aficionados to argue that no machine can ever replace the genius of Schubert and that Huawei’s exercise is nothing more than a parlor trick.  In some ways, it probably is and relatively harmless in its own right.

    If you watch the video, however, take particular notice of the tag line.

    “If we can do this, what else could we make humanly possible?”

    It all begs the question, “Will computer generated logic someday replace human creativity?”  Are we living on the verge of interacting with the likes of StarTrek’s Mr. Spock or Hal from Sidney Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey?  When will “humanly possible” be replaced with “robotically possible”?

    As a society, we need to think more about AI and avoid blindly advancing technology for the sake of discovery.  I know that some would see this as a naïve viewpoint from a Luddite, but the fact remains that we simply do not know or understand where this will lead.  While discovery and exploration have been part of our DNA, past efforts have always had some level of acceptable and manageable risks.  This debate is not about refraining from exploration and discovery.  It is about better understanding where this is all going.  Unlike Huawei’s parlor trick in completing Schubert’s symphony, what Huawei and many other technology giants are doing is anything but a game.

    Consider this.  We simply do not know how AI will affect our grandchildren and generations that follow.  After all, there is no question that we teach today’s children less about how to learn to read and write and more about how to use technology.  Why bother to learn if all you need to do is search Google or ask Alexa for any answer you seek?  Books may soon be doomed to the junk drawer with all of our old music CDs.

    Enjoy Schubert’s completed Symphony No. 8.

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    As Politicians Claim Victory, America Becomes the Victim

    After the longest government shutdown in history, Congress and the White House have three weeks to make a deal on immigration reform or the country faces the choice of another shutdown or a presidential proclamation that we have a national emergency that requires his unilateral action to build physical barriers on our southern border.  Three weeks to settle arguments that have failed resolution for over fifteen years.  Only a Las Vegas handicapper is capable of putting odds on any bet that the two sides will come to an agreement.  Even with odds, that is not a bet I am likely to make.

    We do have an emergency but it is not just about our southern border or immigration.  While that is certainly a crisis, the true emergency facing our nation is a failure of leadership on both sides of the aisle.  In response to President Trump’s offer this past weekend that could be a start to compromise, Nancy Pelosi immediately criticized it as “not enough” and continued her rhetoric that a wall is immortal.  Senator Chuck Schumer echoed similar sentiments.  On the right, pundits like Ann Coulter accused President Trump of caving and others said he “lost” the fight.  Everyone took sides, ignoring the issues for the sake of partisan politics.

    So once again, we watch the spectacle to which our politicians seem addicted.  A spectacle that is not about what might or might not be best for Americans, Dreamers, DACA and TPS recipients, and the border agents risking their lives as illegal immigrants continue to flood the country.   Instead, it remains a partisan fight over who wields power in Washington and who will win the White House in 2020.  Neither side appears ready to compromise as each continues to kowtow to the extreme wings of their respective bases.  As the leaders of the two parties continue their mindless bickering, no one can argue against the reality that people are suffering and dying – both Americans and illegal immigrants – throughout our country because of a failed immigration policy.

    Three weeks.  That is how long our Washington politicos have to prove to America that they can lead through reasonable debate and compromise, putting aside partisan politics at this critical time.  Whether that will happen depends on all of them and I will not blame the Democrats or the Republicans if they fail.  I will blame them both and urge anyone I know to vote every one of them out of office, from top to bottom, in 2020.

     

     

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    Rhetoric Not Reason

    As we enter yet another day of a partial government shutdown, we continue to hear the rhetoric on both sides of the aisle without any semblance of reasonable debate or compromise.  This is not leadership by Democrats or Republicans.  As Americans, we cannot allow ourselves to be caught up in their partisan politics.  Instead, we need to pressure all of them to bring reason to the debate and embrace compromise as the way of ending their inexcusable behavior.  We have to tell our politicians in the White House, House of Representatives, and Senate to STOP.  Their idea that governance means appealing only to their base is ludicrous.  They represent all of us, not just those who chose to vote them into power.  We elected them to govern, not divide.  It is time for them to stop labelling the other party as the “owner” of this shutdown.  They all own it.  If these elected officials were a business, congregation, or family, such divisive behavior would not be tolerated.  Compromises would be made and we would all move forward.  The truth is that border security, whether you call it a wall, a fence or, as Nancy Pelosi described it, a beaded curtain, is critical to our national security.  Yet they all sit and debate semantics while irresponsible parents abandon innocent children and illegal aliens kill innocent people, including law enforcement officers trying to protect us.  While our borders should be open and our success as a nation be shared and made available to anyone who is oppressed or denied human rights, there must be rules and limitations.  We simply cannot absorb the world’s human rights problems regardless of how compassionate we may be.  The same politicians who once said they support a wall, now say they do not.  Their hypocrisy could not be more obvious.  Politicians on the other side of the aisle, caught up in wordsmithing are equally hypocritical.  It reminds me of the movie, Network:  “So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it and stick your head out, and yell: I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”  Maybe someone in Washington will hear you.  Unfortunately, I doubt they will.

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    Let’s Unite America

    When I was a kid I had a friend who always caused trouble for me.  I would tell my mother “It was her idea” as a way of absolving myself of blame and she would say, “If your friend jumped off a bridge would you do it too?”  From an early age, my parents tried to teach me to be accountable for my actions and not to follow someone else on a road that was only going to lead to problems.

    I’m reminded of that story in the fallout of the bomb scare last month.  Prominent figures like the Obamas, Clintons, CNN, Joe Biden, Robert De Niro and others were sent suspicious packages that contained pipe bombs.  Luckily authorities found that the bombs were poorly made with most incapable of exploding. But that does not diminish the threat.  Although no one has been harmed thus far, the incident undoubtedly raises questions about the sender’s ultimate intentions.  One thing everyone “seems” to agree on is that the sender deliberately targeted left-wing public figures, some political and some celebrity Trump critics. This has inspired the blame game and has become another way to potentially weaken the presidency and, by extension, our country.

    The truth of the matter is we shouldn’t be pointing fingers at which party is responsible for such terrible actions. We shouldn’t waste our time blaming the behavior of one specific, perhaps unbalanced person.

    I prefer to ask a very uncomfortable question for some: Could it be that we are collectively responsible?

    I’ve heard what sounds like “It was his idea” from various leaders in this country, which has given rise to everyone acting like nasty kids in a schoolyard.  If Trump’s tone is offensive, then the best way to counteract that is to speak in an opposite, equally offensive manner.  That’s the depth we’ve sunk to in politics and entertainment today.  And at this point, I’m not interested in blaming anyone for starting it.  It simply needs to stop.

    The bomber’s actions are not about politics.  And pointing fingers back and forth is not going to fix anything; it is only going to disappoint citizens even more.  The truth of the matter is that we will continue to disagree politically and that will never end, nor should it. But both parties need to set an example—not react to bad behavior with more bad behavior–and promote peaceful negotiation and consideration for others’ opinions.   Ronald Reagan had reasonable conversations with Tip O’Neil and Ted Kennedy.  Bill Clinton did the same with Newt Gingrich.  These were leaders with polar opposite views yet willing to be civil in their discourse.  One can disagree with their politics, but not their dignity.  Can our current political leaders return to civility?

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    Evaluate the News and Your Leaders from 360 Degrees

    It comes as no surprise that the news of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault allegations have taken over newsstands and mainstream media nationwide. From a political perspective, it is very difficult to express any opinion on the matter without offending one side or the other.  Sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious crimes.  In a perfect world, we would never have to address either issue.  However, the world is far from perfect so here we are with today’s headlines.

    Let me be clear that what is happening on Capitol Hill is not about protecting women or holding someone responsible for his actions.

    Sadly, today’s politics and leadership revolve around denigrating and destroying reputations in an effort to show that one side is a lesser alternative than the other is.   Neither Dr. Ford’s nor Judge Kavanaugh’s lives will ever be the same.  Not because of the allegations and defenses, but because Washington has politicized the entire process through a public circus.  No intelligent person can question the allegations by Dr. Ford and the denials by Judge Kavanaugh as sincere.  Nevertheless, if those in Washington are after the truth, they should have started with a private investigation during the confirmation process, not as a last minute revelation.   I see no reason to parade the two of them before the world on live television.

    I imagine from a voter perspective on both sides of the issue, the entire spectacle is disgusting—not only for the issues that are being discussed, but also because it makes the leaders in Washington appear petty and irresponsible to many.  Yet even saying that is controversial since each side of the argument is blindly convinced they are reasonable and the other side is misguided.  Compromise and bipartisan discussions are no longer possible in Washington.  Moreover, let us please not start blaming Republicans or Democrats or the White House or Congress as the cause of today’s partisan polarity.  They are all to blame.

    Sen. Flake says the country is torn apart and there is no longer a reason for Congress to reach across the aisle to find solutions.  He’s right.  Citizens are being provoked to anger, distracting all of us from other important issues—national security and foreign policy; the economy; infrastructure; education.

    Does anyone recall that last week was the U.N. General Assembly where all world leaders came together to discuss how we are all getting along on the planet?  The United States held its position on Iran, but the difference between how Trump talked about North Korea versus last year was a tremendous, positive shift.

    It is very important to understand that there are many things happening in government at any given time. It is our duty as citizens to pay attention, and not let the media and closed-minded politicians on both sides of the aisle spoon-feed us perspectives and opinions that are a product of “spin” that is primarily intended to stir up both sides of an issue for the sake of ratings and votes.

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