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Friday, May 17, 2019

Israel and the United States on Palestinian Democracy

I contend that the furtherance of democracy in general and more specifically in the Middle East can be regarded as a strategic pathway toward regional peace. The philosopher Kant wrote a treatise on a global federation as a means toward achieving world peace. The founders of the United States reckoned that all the republics within that regional federation must be democratic for the Union itself to be sustained. A United States of the Middle East would also stand a better chance were it's states republics in form. It follows that especially when democratic bystanders put short-term tactical and strategic advantage above furthering or just permitting the development of a young, unstable democracy, the hypocrisy puts off rather than furthers peace. The reactions of Israel and the United States to a Palestinian achievement in 2011 are a case in point. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Facebook: Holding User Accounts Hostage

A Facebook “challenge” asking users to post a current photo and one from a decade earlier went viral in early 2019. Even though it is unlikely that the company was behind the “challenge” going viral, that the company had been working on facial recognition technology had users being suspicious on the motive behind the “challenge.”[1] A writer for Wired wrote at the time, “Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g., how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you’d want a broad and rigorous dataset with lots of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart—say, 10 years.”[2] Why would Facebook want to track how a person is likely to look years later? Some users may put up an old picture of themselves or simply not update the existing photo, but why would Facebook want to know what those users are likely to look currently? Perhaps Facebook wanted to be able to identify those users in current pictures uploaded by others. So why did the company deny using the “challenge” for such a legitimate purpose as connecting people socially? Nonetheless, the company insisted that it had no benefit from the “challenge” going viral. This statement seems suspicious, especially given the company’s earlier lapses on user privacy. I contend that an even more toxic subterfuge existed at the time at Facebook—a cloak that held user accounts hostage until a clear facial picture could be supplied.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Russian Meddling in the U.S. Election of 2016: Intrusiveness as Disrespect

Russian hackers compromised the voter databases in two counties in Florida. According to Gov. Ron DeSantis, “Two Florida counties experienced intrusion into the supervisor of election networks. . . . There was no manipulation . . . it did not affect voting or anything like that.”[1] I submit that intrusion is the operative word here, for even if voting tallies were not affected, the mentality behind intruding is itself sordid. In other words, the source of the unethical conduct does not just lie in the consequences, though they could admittedly be significant in the future.

The full essay is at "Russian Meddling in a U.S. Election."

1. Dustin Votz, “Russians Breached Voter Data in Two Florida Counties in 2016,” The Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2019.

The FAA Deferred to Boeing on the 737 MAX Jet

After a misfiring-prone automatic stall-prevention device on the 737 MAX jet had caused two accidents in which 346 people died, an internal review at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, a regulatory agency, found that the regulators had relied too much on Boeing employees to conduct the safety inspections of the planes. Incredibly, Congress expanded the industry-reliance practice of the agency in 2018. Both the FAA and Congress were admittedly motivated by the added efficiency that such “sub-contracting” could bring. However, to focus on the economic benefit while ignoring the inherent (and obvious) conflict of interest in “sub-contracting” to the very companies that are regulated by the FAA is itself a red flag. A subservient or over-reliant regulatory agency cannot be a check on a company’s claims of not having sacrificed safety or even safety checks in order to focus more on profitability.  Of course, the political influence of a large company such as Boeing may have played a role in the FAA’s “back-seat” approach, but in this case the government’s own interest in stretching the coverage of its human resources may have been dominant. That such an interest could involve minimizing or ignoring outright such a blatant conflict of interest may point to a wider culture in which institutional conflicts of interest are presumed to be innocuous or even benign rather than too toxic to permit even if they have not been actively exploited.  

The full essay is at "FAA Deferred to a Regulatee."

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Before Infiltrating American Democracy, the Kremlin Had Curtailed Democracy (and Federalism) in Russia

Officials in the Russian government may have ordered computer hackers to infiltrate the U.S. presidential election in 2016 not only in order to influence the outcome to be more favorable to Russia, but also because those officials did not respect federalism and democracy, which, after all, had been so weak in Russia. 

The full essay is at "Russia's Kremlin: Disvaluing Democracy."