Robots Are Coming to Steal Your Children Away

The Guardian reports that robots designed to interact with adults are "out of fashion" lately because—not to put too fine a point on it—adults are assholes. But what about robots for children?

The 3ft tall iPal has wide eyes, working fingers, pastel trimming, and a touchscreen tablet on its chest. It can sing, dance, and play rock paper scissors. It can talk with children, answer questions like “Why is the sun hot?”, and provide surveillance/video chat for absent parents.

“It’s a robot for children,” said Avatar Mind founder Jiping Wang. “It’s mainly for companion­ship.” The iPal, he boasted, could keep children aged three to eight occupied for “a couple of hours” without adult supervision. It is perfect for the time when children arrive home from school a few hours before their parents get off work, he said.

....Noel Sharkey, a professor emeritus of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Sheffield, has been raising concerns about robotic nannies since 2008. When I contacted Sharkey and informed him about the iPal, he responded, “This is awful.”

Now we're talking. Hook 'em while they're young, and they'll love robots for the rest of their lives. And we all know what happens next, right? *cough* Robocop *cough* Skynet *cough*

Anyway, I don't see why this is so terrible. It sure sounds better than planting the kids in front of SpongeBob SquarePants to get them to shut up. With the iPal, at least the little rugrats are interacting. And being surveilled too! This gets them accustomed to their likely future, where every movement will be seen by someone, somewhere.

In any case, it doesn't really matter whether Noel Sharkey likes this or not. It's going to happen, and before long kids and adults alike will be as comfortable with robots as they are with human being. More comfortable, in fact. I foresee a time when "parents" will be brought up on charges of child endangerment if their kids aren't under the constant supervision of cute, tireless robots that subtly instill left-wing values. Welcome to the future.

Hillary Clinton Demolished Trump on Monday

Donald Trump was on the business end of the most epic butt-kicking in debate history on Monday night:

On the bright side, he crushed Hillary in the Drudge online poll, so there's that.

Gary Johnson makes his pitch:

What would government be like in a Johnson administration? First, we would begin the conversation about the size of government by submitting a real balanced budget. Every government program would have to justify its expenditures, every year. Cuts of up to 20 percent or more would be on the table for all programs, including military spending. Changes to Social Security and Medicare must also be considered.

Cuts of 20 percent or more. Conservatives will hate this because he's including the military. Progressives should hate it because it includes everything else. That means no spending on universal healthcare, climate change, student debt, Wall Street regulation, infrastructure, pre-K, or pretty much anything else. And if you care about helping the poor, you'd better be prepared to care about 20 percent less.

Is all of this an acceptable price to pay for having a president who favors marijuana legalization and a little less military intervention? YMMV, but it sure doesn't seem like it to me.

And Now We Have Cocainegate

Here's what Howard Dean tweeted during Monday's debate:

At the time, I paid no attention to this. I figured it was just standard Twitter snark. But, um, apparently not:

This is sure a weird campaign, isn't it? I guess Dean has decided to give Trump a taste of his own medicine. The real source of Trump's sniffles, of course, is that he was suffering from allergies or a cold or something like that, but Trump steadfastly refuses to admit this because it would make him look weak. So Dean has leaped into the vacuum to lob a wild accusation at Trump and force him to respond. This is Trump 101, and I can only assume Dean is having himself a good old time with this.

Needless to say, I strongly disapprove. Dean should be ashamed of himself. Especially when he's dealing with a high-road kind of guy like Donald Trump. Here is Eric Trump on his father's principled unwillingness to bring up Bill Clinton's affairs at the end of the debate:

That was a big moment for me and probably will actually become, my life and this campaign, and probably will be something I’ll always remember. I mean, he really took the high ground where he had the opportunity to go very, very low. And I’m proud of him for doing that. I mean, I’m really proud of him for doing that. And I think people recognize that. I mean, there are a lot of people who came up to me, including many in the media, who said listen, he could’ve just crushed her on that last question. And he would’ve probably hurt a family if he did.

Truly, Donald Trump is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.

Where's the Anger, Dammit?!? We Need More Anger!

Over at 538, Tim Mullaney picks up on a topic I've obsessed about in the past: When you remove politics from the equation, most people seem pretty cheery about the state of the economy. Here's the latest:

Bill Fox sells cars....Like other car dealers, Fox is seeing near-record sales: Somehow, he said, consumers don’t seem as worried about the economy as the pundits say they are. “We’re not seeing [anger] at all,” said Fox, a partner in Auburn-based Fox Dealerships. “The way I account for it is, the public sees economic indicators that are OK, their job’s not threatened, and they may be afraid of the future, but the monthly [car] payment is good.”

....Even as Americans tell political pollsters that they are worried about the economy, they tell a different story in a separate set of surveys that are used by economists and investors to forecast consumer spending behavior. On Tuesday, the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index, hit a nine-year high....Even people with only a high-school education — whose economic woes are often cited in media reports explaining Trump’s rise — are about as confident today as they were before the recession began, according to the Michigan survey.

Consumer confidence is now as high as it was throughout the boom years of the aughts, which was good enough to keep Republicans in power until scandals overtook them in 2006 and the economy collapsed in 2008.

No politician—not even most Democrats—wants to say publicly that the economy is in pretty good shape. Why? Because they don't want to appear to be out of touch. After all, even in a good economy, there are still plenty of people who are hurting. But practically every bit of evidence suggests not only that the economy is humming along pretty well, but that voters know it. Donald Trump is doing his best to convince everyone that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but if the September consumer confidence numbers are anything to go by, most of the American public isn't buying it.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the FBI is increasingly convinced that the recent hacks of the DNC and other organizations are being led by Russia:

A fuller picture of the operation has come into focus in the past several weeks. U.S. officials believe that at least two hacking groups with ties to the Russian government, known as Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear, are involved in the escalating data-theft efforts, according to people briefed on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe of the cyberattacks.

Following successful breaches, the stolen data are apparently transferred to three different websites for publication, these people say. The websites—WikiLeaks, DCLeaks.com and a blog run by Guccifer 2.0—have posted batches of stolen data at least 42 times from April to last week.

WikiLeaks has published U.S. secrets for years but has recently taken an overtly adversarial tone toward Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Cybersecurity experts believe that DCLeaks.com and Guccifer 2.0 often work together and have direct ties to Russian hackers.

Most of these leaks have been designed to hurt Hillary Clinton, who Vladimir Putin apparently hates. Meanwhile, Trump advisor Carter Page has left the Trump campaign over accusations that he's a little too chummy with the folks in Russia responsible for all this hacking. Page says the whole thing is ridiculous, but apparently his erstwhile friends in Trumpland are throwing him under the bus anyway:

The Trump campaign has been distancing itself from Page. Although Page was one of Trump’s originally announced foreign policy advisers, campaign manager KellyAnne Conway told CNN on Sunday that Page is not really involved at with the campaign at this point.

I have not spoken with him at all, in fact, meaning he’s not part of our national security or foreign policy briefings that we do now at all, certainly not since I have become campaign manager,” she said....Other Trump campaign sources told me that Page was never really part of Trump’s inner circle....Page has never met with Trump one on one and hasn’t been deeply involved in Trump foreign policy speeches or events, they said.

So...he was just some guy whose name they used so they'd look like they had some advisors. Apparently they'd rather publicly fess up to lying about their campaign announcements than take a chance that Page might become a liability. What nice folks.

Oh man, this is rich. Here is wingnut Rep. Jeb Hensarling griping about the fact that the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau didn't find out about the Well Fargo scandal sooner:

“Why does it take the L.A. Times to break this story, when we’re paying federal investigators to investigate?” Hensarling recently told Fox Business Network.

“Where was the CFPB? Why did they come in so late to the game?” he continued. “They have immense powers and this is their job to enforce these basic consumer laws and it appears they were asleep at the switch.” Hensarling also has criticized regulators for the $185-million settlement with the bank, which allowed Wells Fargo to avoid admitting any wrongdoing.

If Hensarling had his way, the CFPB would be eliminated and Wells Fargo might well have escaped from the whole affair unscathed. Now he's pretending that he thinks the CFPB is too weak. Sen. Sherrod Brown has it right:

“Hensarling reminds me of the kid who kills his parents and then wants to collect orphan benefits,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), one of the CFPB’s biggest backers. “He’s tried to underfund it. He’s tried to undercut. He’s done all he could to block bank regulations.”

Make up your mind, Jeb. Do you want the CFPB to more powerful or less powerful? You can only have it one way.

Where the Wars Are

This is apropos of nothing in particular. It's just some raw data I happened to come across, so I thought I'd share.

Stop-and-frisk came up in last night's debate:

TRUMP: Now, whether or not in a place like Chicago you do stop and frisk, which worked very well, Mayor Giuliani is here, worked very well in New York. It brought the crime rate way down.

....HOLT: I do want to follow up. Stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York, because it largely singled out black and Hispanic young men.

TRUMP: No, you're wrong. It went before a judge, who was a very against-police judge. It was taken away from her. And our mayor, our new mayor, refused to go forward with the case. They would have won an appeal. If you look at it, throughout the country, there are many places where it's allowed.

Trump said four things here, and typically for him, he was effectively wrong about all four.

First off, he implied that Rudy Giuliani brought stop-and-frisk to New York City. He didn't. As you can see in the chart on the right, the stop-and-frisk rate didn't start rising until 2002, when Michael Bloomberg was mayor and Ray Kelly was police commissioner.

Second, he said it brought the crime rate "way down." Again, the chart on the right doesn't bear this out. Crime rates were already on a steady, long-term downward trend by 2002, and the increase in stop-and-frisk doesn't seem to have changed that much. A more detailed analysis concluded that stop-and-frisk actually did have a modest effect, "but only the increase in stops made based on probable cause indicators of criminal behaviors were associated with crime reductions." Save that thought, and we'll come back to it later.

Third, New York's version of stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional. Would that ruling have survived on appeal? Probably, but nobody knows, certainly not Donald Trump.

And fourth, there are, in fact, many places where stop-and-frisk is allowed. In fact, it's allowed everywhere in the country. So why do I count Trump as being wrong about this?

Simple: Stop-and-frisk has been a standard police procedure for decades, but the Supreme Court ruled in 1968 that it's only legal if it's based on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The problem in New York City is that stop-and-frisk became a routine tool used even when there was essentially no justification at all. This is the stop-and-frisk policy that Trump was talking about, and it's decidedly not used in "many places." It was unique to New York City.

This is why the study I linked above is important. It concluded that stop-and-search based on probable cause did help reduce crime. But the New York City version didn't. And it did target blacks and Latinos at much higher rates than whites, even after you account for disparate crime rates. So not only was it unconstitutional, but it didn't work either. On multiple levels, New York City is better off returning to the legal version.

Speaking of Hillary Clinton's emails, we learned something interesting today. But first, here's an excerpt from the FBI report that was released last month. Apologies for the length, but it's important that you see the whole thing so you know I haven't left out any relevant parts:

Here's the full timeline in a nutshell:

December 2014: After turning over Clinton's work emails to the State Department, Clinton's staff instructed Platte River Networks to delete her old email files, which included all her private emails. The tech assigned to this task forgot to do it.

March 9, 2015: Clinton's staff notifies PRN that Congress has issued a preservation order for Clinton's emails.

March 25: Clinton's staff has a conference call with PRN.

March 25-31: The tech has a "holy shit" moment and remembers he never deleted the old archives. So he does. Both Clinton and Cheryl Mills say they were unaware of these deletions.

This timeline is a bit of a Rorschach test. If you already think Hillary Clinton is a liar and a crook, your reaction is: Give me a break. They just happened to have a conference call on March 25 and the tech just happened to delete the archives a few days later? But the Clinton gang says they never told him to do this? Spare me.

However, if you're sympathetic to Clinton, this all seems pretty unremarkable. Her staff had ordered the archives deleted in 2014, long before any subpoenas were issued, and it was only because of the tech's forgetfulness that they were still around in March. The tech was telling the truth when he said that no one told him to delete the archives in March. The conference call just jogged his memory. And Clinton and Mills really didn't have any idea what was going on. After all, it would have been wildly dangerous to explicitly tell PRN on a conference call to delete archives that were under a legal preservation order.

So which is it? The answer is that we don't know. You can read this timeline however you want. Today, however, we got this:

FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday his investigators looked very intently at whether there was obstruction of justice in the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email account, but concluded they could not prove a criminal case against anyone.

"We looked at it very hard to see if there was criminal obstruction of justice," Comey said at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, under questioning by Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)

"We looked at it very hard. We could not make an obstruction case against any of the subjects we looked at," Comey said. He did not identify those whose conduct the FBI investigated for potential obstruction.

What Comey is saying is that the FBI put a lot of effort into discovering the truth about what happened in March, including grants of immunity to several people so they could tell the truth without fear of prosecution. But they came up empty. Despite their best efforts, it appears that Clinton's staff did nothing wrong. The PRN tech just had a memory lapse about the deletion order and then did a dumb thing when he remembered it.

Hillary Clinton made a mistake when she decided to use a single email account on a personal server while she was Secretary of State. But it was just a mistake, not a criminal conspiracy. Once again, there's no there there.