“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
He drove climate onto center stage and left behind a comprehensive plan.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that he is ending his campaign for the presidency.
He did not reach the Democratic National Committee’s polling threshold of 2 percent in time to qualify for the next round of debates, though he did reach the donor threshold — he hit 130,000 donors at last count. Missing the debates would have made breaking out of a crowded field (on a shoestring budget) prohibitively difficult.
Inslee’s campaign was always a long shot, but it was never only about winning. The aim was to push climate change to the forefront of the Democratic agenda, and that is just what has happened. The issue was discussed in both debates thus far. CNN and MSNBC have both planned forums where the candidates will discuss their climate plans. And the DNC is going to vote on having a dedicated debate. Climate now ranks among the top three issues for Democratic voters in primary states, in poll after poll. Inslee is not solely responsible for all that, of course — activists and Mother Nature deserve some credit — but it certainly didn’t hurt to have a campaign pushing other candidates on the issue and steadily releasing policy plans to address it.
And hoo boy, those policy plans. Also on Wednesday, as if to bookend the campaign, Inslee released the final installment of his climate agenda, focused on agriculture and climate change. It is, like the installments before it, both extremely ambitious and extremely detailed. Altogether, the campaign has now generated more than 200 pages of climate policy. (See here for links to coverage.)
Impact will vary greatly from state to state after Planned Parenthood withdraws from federal funding program over abortion referral bans
Last year alone, 37,000 low income patients in Utah received subsidized family planning under Title X, the federal program which distributes grants to clinics.
But as of Monday, when Planned Parenthood withdrew from the longstanding scheme over new Trump administration rule banning clinics from referring patients for abortions, the US non-profit’s Utah branch must now look elsewhere for the $2m annual grant it used to depend on to provide essential services like birth control, STD and breast and cervical cancer tests to poor women.
“We’re doing all that we can as a team, as a staff, as an organization to try to do what we can to lessen the impact on patients, but the truth is that it harms patients,” said Heather Stringfellow, vice-president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Association of Utah.
“The fact that the Trump administration has put this gag rule in place, has forced providers that use best medical practice to guide their care out of the program, the impact is on patients. It’s essentially potentially leaving our patients with nowhere to go.”
For 35 years Planned Parenthood has been the sole Title X provider in Utah, which has an overall annual budget of over $10m. Stringfellow said they have been preparing by diversifying funding streams and are doing their best to maintain services, but that the funding loss will still have a big impact on patients.
Planned Parenthood, which has over 600 health centers across the US, treats 40% of all recipients of Title X, which was founded in 1970. But the organization, which receives an estimated $60m a year from the scheme, decided to pull out after the introduction of what it calls a “gag rule”.
Announcing the decision, acting Planned Parenthood president and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson urged Congress to pass a spending bill to reverse the rule, saying: “People’s lives depend on it.”
While Planned Parenthood has received support from reproductive rights groups, several Democratic presidential candidates and some state governments, clinics and patients across America are still grappling to understand what the new circumstances will mean for their healthcare services.
Impact is expected to vary greatly from state to state. In places such as Vermont, where the state has agreed to step in to fill any funding gaps, or Maryland, which earlier this year became the first state to opt out of Title X in favour of state funding, services are expected to continue as normal. But in others, such as Minnesota, where Planned Parenthood runs 90% of Title X services, or Utah, where it runs 100%, the future of these services are less certain.
Erica Sackin, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of communications, said: “In the United States we already see women having to drive impossible distances to access abortion, what this gag rule means is that women may start to have to drive hundreds of miles just to access an IUD.”
While she said the organisation’s “doors are open” and that they are committed to keeping services accessible to all patients, in some states patients will not have many other options.
“And so what that means practically is that yes, if patients are unable to go to Planned Parenthood for care, the other health centres will likely be flooded and that there will be longer wait times and you’ll see people delaying care or having to go without care,” said Sackin.
They have not ruled out clinic closures. “We’re still figuring out what this means across the country, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that healthcare doesn’t suffer. It may mean health centres have to close,” she said.
Dr Diane Horvath, a fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health and medical director at Whole Women’s Health of Baltimore, said that although her own clinic will not be affected, the rule change will “disproportionately impact” the young, LGBTQIA people, the poor, people of colour and those living in rural communities.
“They will be forced to travel farther for care, endure longer waits, accept limited or lower-quality care, or be left without an accessible clinic entirely,” she added.
Patients are engaged and angry, said Lucy Leriche, vice-president of Vermont public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, who has seen an influx of patients offering themselves up as volunteers.
“People are pretty outraged that the Trump-Pence administration is essentially attacking and trying to take away contraceptive care, contraception and basic healthcare from people with low incomes,” she added.
In New York, where Planned Parenthood centers serve just over half of the state’s Title X patients, the organization is working closely with the state which it hopes will provide additional funding.
Members of a CIA-sponsored strike force in the Bati Kot district of Nangarhar, Afghanistan, on July 24, 2018. Photo: Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times via Redux
After 18 years of war, and months of direct talks, the United States appears to be on the brink of reaching an unprecedented peace agreement with the Taliban that would bring about U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
A draft agreement was reached in March, and negotiators in Qatar have reportedly been ironing out the details ahead of a September 1 deadline — including exactly when U.S. troops will withdraw and when a permanent ceasefire between the parties will take effect. The U.S. is reportedly also seeking assurances from the Taliban that it won’t harbor foreign terror groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda and will engage in dialogue with the Afghan government after the U.S. military leaves.
It’s the closest the U.S. has come to a diplomatic breakthrough with the Taliban, and foreign policy scholars are cautiously optimistic that it could facilitate a U.S. exit. But a new report from the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute argues that the agreement won’t lead to real peace unless it addresses the elephant in the room: the fate of regional Afghan militias paid and directed by the CIA.
“Militias that operate outside the control of the central state and the chain of command of its armed forces will undermine the process of state formation and the prospects for a sustainable peace,” the report reads.
It is unclear to what extent the fate of the militias has been discussed at all by the U.S. or Taliban negotiators. In July, Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief U.S. negotiator, mentioned the fate of militias while listing topics that needed to be encompassed by a general agreement. But the authors of the report note that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, once director of the CIA, has not.
If the issue goes unaddressed, the report argues, it could lead to the breakdown of a ceasefire or agreement, which would in turn jeopardize Afghanistan’s future. “If violence continues at some level after the agreement is signed,” the report says, “militias will be in much demand in the political market place.”
The use of CIA-backed militias goes back to 2001, when, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the CIA rapidly organized Afghan militias under its payroll to overthrow the Taliban. This allowed the CIA to send Al Qaeda’s fighters fleeing the country with a minimal U.S. footprint.
America Rising has been filing records requests for the emails of agency officials who have supported Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and others.
On July 10, Loreen Targos disrupted an Environmental Protection Agency awards ceremony where Administrator Andrew Wheeler recognized her team’s “exemplary problem-solving and project management” in a Great Lakes remediation project. After shaking Wheeler’s hand, Targos, an EPA project officer based in Chicago, unfurled a banner that called for a “fair contract to address public health & climate change,” a reference to the agency’s negotiations with the AFGE Council 238 union, which represents more than 8,000 EPA employees.
Two weeks after Targos’ protest made the news, the Republican opposition research outfit America Rising filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking her correspondence. Specifically, the group was looking for “Emails sent by Loreen Targos, EPA scientist, that mention Congresswoman Ilhan Omar,” to whom the EPA staffer had donated $215 earlier this year. It was the first in a series of FOIA requests made by Allan Blutstein, an America Rising lawyer and senior vice president, seeking the records of EPA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees who have contributed to Democrats. At least two of these requests have focused on supporters of Omar, a Minnesota lawmaker who has become a GOP bugaboo.
“They’re looking for something that doesn’t exist,” Targos, a AFGE Local 704 union steward, says.
Blutstein appears to be searching for evidence that Targos and other EPA and NOAA employees violated the Hatch Act, which forbids government employees from performing any electioneering during work hours and from hosting political fundraisers. (Earlier this summer, the Office of Special Counsel recommended that presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway be fired for repeated Hatch Act violations.) Government employees, however, are free to donate to political candidates so long as the contribution is made on their personal time and does not involve the use of government resources or equipment.
It is unclear if Targos’ protest and the records request for her emails are related. But since July 24, Blutstein has submitted at least eight other requests concerning EPA and NOAA employees whose only common trait is that they have donated to Democrats. The requests have zeroed in on staffers who have donated to Omar and other Democratic members and candidates, as well as the presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Jay Inslee. Blutstein targets have included an EPA geologist, several EPA attorneys, and a National Weather Service staffer.
The sculptures on display at the Great Salt Lick Contest in Oregon are the work of cattle, horses, sheep and deer
What exactly makes something qualify as a piece of art? For Whit Deschner, nothing is out of the question, especially if it’s a well-licked salt block.
For the past 13 years, the retired fisherman turned writer and photographer has been organizing The Great Salt Lick Contest, where he invites fellow ranchers, farmers and anyone else with access to grazing mammals to submit carved salt licks. But there’s a catch: an animal must be the one responsible for the sculpture and can use nothing but its tongue to shape divots, swirls and whorls into the 50-pound square block.
What started out as a joke amongst friends has morphed into a friendly competition that also happens to be for a good cause. Over the years, Deschner has auctioned off hundreds of salt licks and raised more than $150,000 for Parkinson’s disease research at the Oregon Health and Sciences University. (Deschner was diagnosed with the disease in 2000.)
So why did Deschner choose a salt lick, of all things, as an artistic medium in the first place?
“I was at my friend’s cabin and he had a salt lick out back for the deer,” Deschner says. “The deer had sculpted the block with their tongues and I made a comment about how it looked a lot like the modern art you see in major cities. I wanted to figure out how I could make a contest out of the idea, just for a laugh.”
That was back in 2006. To spread the word, he went door to door to local businesses to get people hyped about the competition and the chance to win hundreds of dollars in prize money. That year nearly 30 locals—mainly ranchers—submitted salt blocks to his home in Baker City, Oregon, a former Gold Rush community in the northeastern part of the state. These days he receives dozens of submissions each year from around the world. The event has proven so popular that he has divided the contest into separate categories, such as the “most artistically licked block” and “forgeries.” (The latter began as a joke for humans who decided to cheat by carving the salt lick themselves.)
They work because machine vision and human vision are different
POWERED BY advances in artificial intelligence (AI), face-recognition systems are spreading like knotweed. Facebook, a social network, uses the technology to label people in uploaded photographs. Modern smartphones can be unlocked with it. Some banks employ it to verify transactions. Supermarkets watch for under-age drinkers. Advertising billboards assess consumers’ reactions to their contents. America’s Department of Homeland Security reckons face recognition will scrutinise 97% of outbound airline passengers by 2023. Networks of face-recognition cameras are part of the police state China has built in Xinjiang, in the country’s far west. And a number of British police forces have tested the technology as a tool of mass surveillance in trials designed to spot criminals on the street.
A backlash, though, is brewing. The authorities in several American cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, have forbidden agencies such as the police from using the technology. In Britain, members of parliament have called, so far without success, for a ban on police tests. Refuseniks can also take matters into their own hands by trying to hide their faces from the cameras or, as has happened recently during protests in Hong Kong, by pointing hand-held lasers at CCTV cameras. to dazzle them (see picture). Meanwhile, a small but growing group of privacy campaigners and academics are looking at ways to subvert the underlying technology directly.
Put your best face forward
Face recognition relies on machine learning, a subfield of AI in which computers teach themselves to do tasks that their programmers are unable to explain to them explicitly. First, a system is trained on thousands of examples of human faces. By rewarding it when it correctly identifies a face, and penalising it when it does not, it can be taught to distinguish images that contain faces from those that do not. Once it has an idea what a face looks like, the system can then begin to distinguish one face from another. The specifics vary, depending on the algorithm, but usually involve a mathematical representation of a number of crucial anatomical points, such as the location of the nose relative to other facial features, or the distance between the eyes.
In laboratory tests, such systems can be extremely accurate. One survey by the NIST, an America standards-setting body, found that, between 2014 and 2018, the ability of face-recognition software to match an image of a known person with the image of that person held in a database improved from 96% to 99.8%. But because the machines have taught themselves, the visual systems they have come up with are bespoke. Computer vision, in other words, is nothing like the human sort. And that can provide plenty of chinks in an algorithm’s armour.
In 2010, for instance, as part of a thesis for a master’s degree at New York University, an American researcher and artist named Adam Harvey created “CV[computer vision] Dazzle”, a style of make-up designed to fool face recognisers. It uses bright colours, high contrast, graded shading and asymmetric stylings to confound an algorithm’s assumptions about what a face looks like. To a human being, the result is still clearly a face. But a computer—or, at least, the specific algorithm Mr Harvey was aiming at—is baffled.
Dramatic make-up is likely to attract more attention from other people than it deflects from machines. HyperFace is a newer project of Mr Harvey’s. Where CV Dazzle aims to alter faces, HyperFace aims to hide them among dozens of fakes. It uses blocky, semi-abstract and comparatively innocent-looking patterns that are designed to appeal as strongly as possible to face classifiers. The idea is to disguise the real thing among a sea of false positives. Clothes with the pattern, which features lines and sets of dark spots vaguely reminiscent of mouths and pairs of eyes (see photograph), are already available.