Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What do Netanyahu, Schumer, Menendez, other Iran deal critics want? War, a stronger Saudi Arabia, contracts for cronies?

By Marc Jampole

When Senator Robert Menendez says that the Obama Administration should have held out for a better deal with Iran, he forgets that every day of negotiation without a deal was one more day that Iran could work on gaining a nuclear weapons capability. He also forgets that the Iranians and Americans weren’t the only ones at the table. If the United States rejects the agreement, the other five nations could still go through with it, pretty much breaking the economic embargo and isolating the United States.

Like Senator Charles Schumer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other vocal critics, Senator Menendez never asks the question, What if there is no deal? 

The status quo is as unstable as Beryllium 6, an unstable isotope with a half-life of less than a nanosecond: The economic isolation of Iran will continue and Iran will continue to build nuclear weapons. And how long will that scenario last? Only until one of three things happens: 1) Our allies in negotiation walk away from us and forge a deal with Iran that breaks the economic sanctions; 2) Iran has a fully functional bomb; or 3) Someone—the United States or Israel—bombs Iran and starts a yet another war in the Middle East.

How can any of these likely scenarios be better than a deal with inspections that postpones development of an Iranian nuclear capability for 15 years, during which time the West and Iran will have time to settle their differences, much as the United States and Viet Nam have done.

The common sense of the deal is so compelling that I find myself cynically asking what’s in it for the opponents, or better what’s in it for the network of rich donors and supporters of the various politicians who are voting or lobbying against the agreement.

Let’s first take care of the ridiculous Israel card. How could Israel’s interests (as opposed to the interests of Netanyahu’s supporters) possibly be served by passing on an agreement that keeps nuclear arms out of the hands of a government that at one time called for the eradication of the Jewish state? If we accept the premise that Iran will always be Israel’s mortal enemy—and it’s a premise that I believe is deeply flawed—how could you possibly want to not see constraints and inspections?  Why would you prefer an isolated, angry and nuked-up Iran to one without a nuclear capability that is slowly reintegrating itself into the broader world economy? Why would you rather project the world view of the ultra-right Ayatollahs than that of Iran’s many secularists?

Remember that while Iranian leaders have polluted the world’s media with numerous anti-Israel statements, Iran has never taken one overtly aggressive act against Israel. It has supplied arms to Palestinians, much as the United States supplies arms to governments and insurgents worldwide. Selling arms is, however, a far cry from an invasion, bombing or sending in of drones. I understand the emotional impact of having someone scream in your face for 30 years, but that shouldn’t prevent supporters of Israel from thinking clearly.

My conclusion: anyone who is against the Iran treaty because they fear it will weaken Israel is either an outright liar or an unwitting victim to the worst kind of emotional manipulation.  Let’s give the American Jewish organizations against the agreement the benefit of the doubt and say that they are all being misled. The irony, of course, is that surveys show that a majority of American Jews favor the deal, regardless of what claptrap spews from the brainwashed, co-opted or corrupted leaders of the various Jewish organizations that follow Netanyahu’s apocalyptic script in knee-jerk fashion.

That leaves only cynical reasons to oppose the deal:
·         Help Saudi Arabia, which benefits the most from no deal and loses the most from the deal, because reintegrating Iran into the world economic order hurts the Saudis.
·         Blindly implement a foreign policy strategy that depends exclusively on the use of force, the same neo-con strategy that has proven to be so disastrous in Iraq and Afghanistan.
·         Gain more contracts for defense companies who contribute to your campaign.
·         Use the fear of Iran to gain power or remain in power, regardless of whether that harms your country.

I think for the Israeli and Republican Americans against the deal, all four reasons apply, whereas only the first three rationales apply to the benighted Senators Schumer and Menendez; they aren’t manipulating voters with bellicose rhetoric, only satisfying special interest groups.

But whatever the motivation, those who want to walk away from the nuclear arms deal with Iran certainly do not have the best interest of either the United States or Israel in mind and seem to prefer serving the tiny fragment of the population with large investments in defense contractors or strong ties to Saudi Arabia.

Monday, August 17, 2015

By Marc Jampole

Reading Robot Weapons: What’s the Harm? by Jerry Kaplan, who supposedly is a university teacher of the ethics of artificial intelligence, made me wonder what the heck does the term “ethics of artificial intelligence” mean?

I would think that artificial intelligence—like any other technology—has no ethics, which is to say, the ethics of using artificial intelligence is as dependent on the goals of the user of the technology as are the ethics for using fire, bows and arrows, the wheel, the printing press, nylon, airplanes and nuclear energy. We bring our ethics to the use of technology. If we do something good with the technology, that’s ethical. If we do something that harms others, that’s not ethical. The fact that it’s artificial intelligence doesn’t change that ethical equation.  

“Robot Weapons: What’s the Harm?” is by Jerry Kaplan of Stanford University, whose book, Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, hit the real and electronic book stands less than two weeks before the New York Times published the article, coincidence of coincidence. 

Kaplan’s article is a Pollyanna view of automated weapons that seems quaintly old fashioned, as if it were more appropriately made maybe 20 years ago, before governments everywhere, but especially in the United States, started sinking billions of dollars into the development of automated weapons, which are weapons that make decisions to fire, bomb or crush without the intervention of humans. Much of Kaplan’s article takes a futuristic approach, as if automated weapons were only on the drawing board, and not already in production and being tested.  He makes all the standard arguments of those who support developing robot weapon systems: automated weapons will protect civilians by enabling the army to target soldiers and make war safer for our soldiers because they will wage it at a long distance.

For someone who studies ethics, Kaplan certainly misses a lot in his discussion. He doesn’t consider whether having automated weapons will make it easier for governments to justify leading their countries into war. He doesn’t discuss how to assign blame when the weapons fail and kill civilians or even our own soldiers by mistake. Blame-placing is one of the central tasks of ethics, so I think someone who studies ethics would explore a situation in which the assignment of blame is an inherently murky matter.

Kaplan’s biggest failing in his encomium to robotic weapons systems is his neglect of the basic issue: is it ethical or moral to develop any technology into weaponry. His one comment is a quote from someone he identifies as a “philosopher.” No, it’s not Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Thomas Aquinas, Kant, Clausewitz, Trotsky, or Bertram Russell. These and other luminaries might have had an opinion on whether it is ever ethical to employ technology to kill people. But Kaplan’s philosopher is B. J. Strawser, who is an assistant professional of philosophy at the U.S. Naval Post Graduate School.  Kaplan claims Strawser says that leaders have an ethical duty to do whatever they can to protect their soldiers. This logical stretch to justify robot weaponry ignores the fact that Strawser recently shared authorship of a long paper that seems to conclude that development of automated weapons is immoral.  It’s a particularly odious example of attempting to prove an argument by selecting experts who agree with you, or in this case, one out-of-context statement by a minor expert who actually disagrees with you. 

To understand how truly offensive Kaplan’s article justifying the development of automated weapons systems is you have to read the description of his new book on Amazon: “Driverless cars, robotic helpers, and intelligent agents that promote our interests have the potential to usher in a new age of affluence and leisure — but as Kaplan warns, the transition may be protracted and brutal unless we address the two great scourges of the modern developed world: volatile labor markets and income inequality. He proposes innovative, free-market adjustments to our economic system and social policies to avoid an extended period of social turmoil.”

It sounds as if Kaplan is both a believer in using artificial intelligence to continue automating the workplace and home and a humanistic, left-leaning capitalist of the Clinton-Obama-Biden school.

But doesn’t it make you wonder? Other than a book review in the Times, Wall Street Journal or New Yorker, few publication credits help the sales of a new book more than an article by the author on the Times opinion page. Kaplan could have written his short article on social policies that help society adjust to greater automation. He could have launched a discussion of the ethics of government support of the development of technologies that replace jobs.  He could have philosophized on the meaning of work in the new era. He could have painted a gee-whiz Jetson-like world of the future. He could have come out in favor of or against automating any number of industries, such as teaching, healthcare or entertainment.

He and his publicists rejected all these ideas and decided that the most attractive topic for selling books was to make the same tired and morally suspect arguments in favor of developing new ways to kill people more efficiently.

What’s the harm?, the headline asks. As if we don’t already know what harm comes from war: death, maimings, destruction, homelessness, economic ruin and wasted resources that could be dedicated to positive social ends.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

EDITORIAL: Progressives Must Make Our Own Media

The “mainstream” media lost another progressive populist voice at the end of July when Ed Schultz was cut loose from MSNBC.

MSNBC had the excuse of low ratings as it got rid of Schultz, along with other daytime hosts. His show, which aired at 5 p.m. Eastern and 4 p.m. Central time, was rated as having just 25,000 viewers in the prized 25-54 demo in May, one-tenth of Fox News’ The Five, which had 245,000 and a quarter of the 95,000 who viewed CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Schultz’s total audience was 372,000. Rachel Maddow has MSNBC’s highest-rated show, with 147,000 in the 25-54 demo and 621,000 overall.

But in the eyes of MSNBC’s conservative owners at Comcast, Schultz was extra expendable because of his focus on blue-collar economic issues. He frequently featured Sen. Bernie Sanders and other populist legislators and labor leaders, and Schultz was virtually the only corporate TV host who tried to break the corporate media silence on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell might continue to cover progressive social issues, but they usually keep clear of economic issues that would rile the corporate overlords at Comcast.

As of May 10, when Congress was preparing to vote on whether to grant President Obama “fast track” authority to finalize terms of the massive “free trade” deal, Schultz was the only major cable TV host who had consistently covered the secret negotiations and aired progressive activists’ fears that the deal would lead to lower labor, health and environmental standards.

From Aug. 1, 2013, to May 10, 2015, Media Matters reported, MSNBC mentioned the trade negotiations in 124 evening and primetime segments, with 103 of those mentions coming during The Ed Show. Fox News trailed far behind with just 12 mentions of the TPP during the same period, with 10 of those mentions since Feb. 1, 2015. CNN registered only 2 mentions of the trade negotiations.

Media Matters also found that ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC’s Nightly News completely ignored the trade negotiations and related policy debates from Aug. 1, 2013, through May 10, 2015. Only PBS’s NewsHour devoted substantive coverage to the TPP, with 14 segments.

The network news media also have been largely ignoring the “net neutrality” issue at the Federal Communications Commission.

Broadcast news ignored an appeals court ruling Jan. 14, 2014, that struck down federal net neutrality rules that had prevented Internet providers from blocking access to services, throttling Internet speeds or forcing one service to be prioritized over another.

The broadcast news shows also ignored an FCC announcement on April 23, 2014, of plans to propose new rules to allow companies to pay internet providers to speed up customers’ access to their websites. As the Washington Post reported, the proposal “could give high-speed Internet providers more power on what content moves the fastest on the Web based on which firms pay the most.” That proposal later was sidelined as Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler embraced net neutrality.

Emily Arrowood of Media Matters noted that all three networks have a conflict of interest, as NBC is owned by Comcast Corporation, which bills itself as the nation’s largest high-speed Internet provider and is leading the lawsuit challenging net neutrality; CBS Corp. also owns multiple sports networks and Showtime; while ABC is part of The Walt Disney Company empire, also the owner of ESPN.

“This is a huge conflict of interest for the broadcast news channels, as their parent corporations all have a vested interest in striking down net neutrality laws and promoting their own content at the expense of competitors that lack an advantage in size or Internet service,” Arrowood wrote.

When President Obama on Nov. 10, 2014, issued a statement asking the FCC to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality,” ABC World News Tonight did not cover the story. CBS and NBC reported on the announcement, and NBC disclosed that service providers like its parent company Comcast would be affected by the policy.

After the FCC Feb. 26 passed net neutrality rules that satisfied the appeals court’s objections by declaring that Internet service providers were common carriers and thus could be regulated under Title II of the Communications Act, Fox News attacked the new rules as a government “power grab” that will result in consumers having slower Internet service.

In fact, the public overwhelmingly supports net neutrality, as the FCC received a record 3.7 million comments on the topic and fewer than 1% of the first 800,000 public comments were opposed to the net neutrality enforcement. Tech experts have called net neutrality the guiding principle that made the Internet successful and the new rules promote competition, allowing Google Fiber and municipalities to install broadband fibers to compete with monopolistic telecoms, such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable (which the Obama Administration prevented from merging).

The US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments Dec. 4 in the lawsuit challenging the FCC’s Open Internet order. Republicans in Congress also are trying to put a rider on the appropriations bill that undermines the FCC’s authority to regulate the Internet. Failing those, a Republican administration in 2017 could reverse the FCC action that classified ISPs as common carriers and let the monopolists run riot.

D.R. Tucker noted at Aug. 9 that 44 years ago, on Aug. 23, 1971, Lewis Powell, then a prominent Virginia attorney, soon to be a Supreme Court justice, wrote a memo to the US Chamber of Commerce that served as the foundation for what David Brock later called the “Republican Noise Machine.”

Among other things, Powell urged the financing of a right-wing media apparatus to counteract the perceived influence of progressive voices such as Ralph Nader.

Roger Ailes found a billionaire in Rupert Murdoch who was willing to invest a fortune in creating the Fox News channel in 1996 and building it into the top-rated cable news channel that surpassed CNN in January 2002.

Right wingers also have a commanding position in talk radio, with hundreds of conservative talk stations, while liberal talkers have only a few dozen outlets.

Fox News has become the mouthpiece of the Republican Party and the bearer of conservative talking points. With the collapse of MSNBC and its repositioning as a general news channel to compete with CNN, there is a big hole in corporate media’s coverage of working-class issues.

Free Speech TV offers such progressive hosts as Bill Press, Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann and Amy Goodman with Democracy Now! to cable subscribers on DirecTV, Dish TV, Roku and online at, with highlights posted on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.

MSNBC didn’t keep Schultz on as a correspondent on blue-collar issues, but Schultz still produces a daily podcast that you can find at or download on apps such as iTunes or RSSRadio so you can listen to him and other progressive journalists and commentators on your iPhone or other “wifi” devices.

Of course, we’ll keep publishing our newspaper and there are still a hardy few other progressive periodicals that also continue to pitch in the old-fashioned way for readers who like a hard copy. We appreciate it when you recommend us to your friends—and recommend your friends to us to get a sample copy. But, particularly for the younger generation, the action is on the Internet, and it is increasingly important that progressive readers fight the vested interests who want to do away with net neutrality. Liberal and populist voices need to get the word out without having to worry about corporate gatekeepers.

And don’t forget to like us on Facebook. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2015

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Selections from the September 1, 2015 issue

COVER/Robert Reich
A revolt against the ruling class

Progressives must make our own media


Civilian militias’ gospel of desperation

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
GOP ignores all services in Planned Parenthood

Fox asks GOP candidates about messages from God, but not 7 topics;
Trump unbowed;
Dems set 6 debates;
New proof Obamacare is working;
CBO: Ending sequester cuts could create 1.4M jobs;
Sanders' racial justice platform wins praise from black activists;
Nurses endorse Bernie;
Keystone XL backer mulls NAFTA lawsuit;
St. Louis County puts reporter on trial;
Voter ID restrictions may have decided Texas congressional race...

I do hope that doggie’s for sale

Hillary Clinton’s economic plan

Wisconsin sends public bucks to Bucks

Oil corporations to export our security

Jim Crow lives

‘Current Conditions’ and the voting rights act

EPA’s fracking study explained

The country of origin labeling war

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Annals of greed, continued

Corporate greed or healthy babies

Donald Trump’s disasters

Score two for Wall Street

A modern Greek tragedy

Restaurant workers demand dignity now 

Creeping out of the foxhole

and more ...