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FBI director under pressure to resign after Florida school shooting

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Pressure is mounting on the FBI director to resign after his agency admitted it failed to investigate a warning that the man accused of killing 17 people at a Florida high school possessed a gun and the desire to kill.

The disclosure spread angry disbelief among residents of the Miami suburb of Parkland where Wednesday’s massacre unfolded, and led Florida’s governor Rick Scott to call for FBI chief Christopher Wray to resign.

“The FBI’s failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable,” Scott, a Republican, said in a statement. “We constantly promote ‘See something, say something’, and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. And the FBI failed to act.”

Scott’s comments came after the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement that a person described as someone close to accused gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, called an FBI tip line on Jan. 5, weeks before the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, to report concerns about him.

“The caller provided information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behaviour, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting,” it said.

That information should have been forwarded to the FBI’s Miami field office for further investigation, but “we have determined that these protocols were not followed”, it said.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he has ordered a review of FBI procedures following the shooting, carried out by a gunman armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and numerous ammunition cartridges.

“We have spoken with victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy,” Wray said in a statement.

The FBI has also separately been criticized by some Republicans over its investigation of allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, heaping further scrutiny on the agency led by Wray since President Donald Trump fired James Comey last year. Russia denies any involvement.

The mishandled information followed a tip-off to the FBI in September about a YouTube comment in which a person named Nikolas Cruz said: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”

The FBI said it investigated that comment but was unable to trace its origins, closing the inquiry until Cruz surfaced in connection with Wednesday’s shooting.

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Twitter investigating after users spot mobile app prefers White faces

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The Twitter App loads on an iPhone in this illustration photograph taken in Los Angeles, California.

Mike Blake | Reuters

LONDON – Twitter says it’s investigating why its picture-cropping algorithm sometimes prefers White faces to Black ones.

The investigation comes after Twitter users noticed Black faces were less likely to be shown than White ones in image previews on mobile when the image contains a Black face and a White face.

The micro-blogging platform said it didn’t find any evidence of racial and gender bias when it tested the algorithm but conceded it had more analysis to do.

Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s chief technology officer, said Twitter analyzed the model when it shipped it, but said that it needs continuous improvement.

“Love this public, open, and rigorous test — and eager to learn from this,” he said on the platform.

The issue came to light after Colin Madland, a university manager in Vancouver, noticed that his Black colleague’s head kept disappearing when using the video conferencing app Zoom. It appeared as though Zoom’s software thought the Black man’s head was part of the background and removed it as a result. Zoom did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. 

After tweeting about the issue to see if anyone knew what was going on, Madland then realized that Twitter was also guilty of hiding Black faces. Specifically, he noticed Twitter was choosing to preview his own White face over his colleague’s Black face on mobile.

Dantley Davis, Twitter’s chief design officer, realized that the problem could be corrected by removing Madland’s facial hair and glasses.

Twitter has received a fair amount of criticism but Davis said the problem will be fixed.

“I know you think it’s fun to dunk on me — but I’m as irritated about this as everyone else. However, I’m in a position to fix it and I will,” Davis said.

He added: “It’s 100% our fault. No-one should say otherwise.”

Following the discovery, Twitter users carried out several other experiments. One experiment suggested that white U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s face was preferred to former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Another suggested that a stock photo of a White man in a suit was preferred to one in which the man was Black.

Artificial intelligence has a track record of picking up on biases engrained in society and researchers have found concerning error rates in facial recognition products developed by IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon.

In 2018, Microsoft Research scientist Timnit Gebru and MIT computer scientist Joy Buolamwini co-authored a paper showing IBM and Microsoft’s facial recognition systems were significantly worse when it came to identifying darker-skinned individuals.

Microsoft said it had taken steps to improve the accuracy of its facial-recognition technology, and was investing in improving the datasets that it trains systems on, while IBM said it was planning to launch a new version of its service.

The following year, Buolamwini and Deborah Raji from the AI Now Institute found that Amazon’s Rekognition system struggled to identify the gender of darker-skinned individuals. It would sometimes identify Black women as Black males, but it had no problems when analyzing images of lighter-skinned people.

IBM said in June that it would stop selling its facial-recognition software for racial profiling and mass surveillance.  

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Ex-White House official warns of risks that U.S. election outcome will be disputed

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Joe Biden and Donald Trump

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SINGAPORE — Markets need to pay attention to the “high risk” of a disputed U.S. presidential election outcome as dynamics shift ahead of the vote, a former White House trade official said on Tuesday.

Such an election outcome could happen if a candidate deemed to have lost refuses to concede, or if he questions the legitimacy of the results. U.S. President Donald Trump declined to say whether he would accept the election results, which gave rise to concerns of a messy transition of power if Trump loses.

“I think it’s a high risk and I do think markets need to pay attention to it. I’ve detected a real shift in the election dynamics in the last six to eight weeks,” Clete Willems, a former deputy director of the National Economic Council, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”

“In early August, I think the president … felt like he was behind, I think right now he feels like he has the wind at his back for a couple of different reasons,” he said.

I do think, unfortunately, we may not have an outcome immediately, probably going to be litigation that follows…

Clete Willems

former deputy director of the National Economic Council

Willems, now a partner at law firm Akin Gump, explained that there’s a general perception that the U.S. economy is improving and the president has “done well in some of the law and order issues” — and that likely works in Trump’s favor.

In addition, Trump is pressing ahead with nominating a new Supreme Court justice to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg ahead of the November election. That would also help the president’s chances, said Willems, adding that it’s especially so if the nominee is Amy Coney Barrett, who’s someone that excites the conservative base.  

“So, I think this is going to be an incredibly tight race. And I do think, unfortunately, we may not have an outcome immediately, probably going to be litigation that follows and I just hope that we can get this resolved in relative short order so there isn’t uncertainty come January,” he said. “I really do think that this is something we’re going to have to deal with.”

Stimulus negotiations neglected

Republicans and Democrats have fought over the Supreme Court vacancy in the last few days, which looks likely to further stall negotiations for a much-needed fiscal stimulus package, said Willems.

The passing of Ginsburg set up a battle over the Supreme Court which had a 5-4 majority of Republican appointed justices. If Trump’s nominee were to be confirmed, a 6-3 majority could have a huge influence on the shape of the law in the U.S. for a generation to come. 

Economists have said that the U.S. economy, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, needs further support. But negotiations for the next round of stimulus hit an impasse as both sides cannot agree on what programs to fund.

“I think the fiscal package and the next round of stimulus related to the coronavirus was already in a lot of trouble. Make no mistake, the political atmosphere in Washington right now is quite poisonous, it’s colored by the election and so I was already of the opinion that things probably were not going to materialize,” said Willems.

“If everyone here is focused on trying to deal with the nominee, (they’re) not going to have time to have the negotiations they need on that kind of package.”

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High-level U.S. visits to Taiwan annoy China but did not cross the red line: Eurasoa

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SINGAPORE — Tensions are escalating in the Taiwan Strait and Beijing has been flexing its military might.

While a high-level U.S. State Department official visit to Taiwan last week angered China, it probably didn’t cross any “red line,” said Kelsey Broderick, China analyst at the Eurasia Group.

“Red lines are tricky, the only real red line we know from Beijing for certain is if Taiwan declares formal independence,” Broderick told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” 

“However, anything that assumes or leans toward Taiwan sovereignty is maybe something of an orange line or a yellow line when it comes to China’s relationship with Taiwan.”

U.S. undersecretary of state for economic affairs, Keith Krach, visited Taiwan last week. It was the highest level visit to the island in decades, and came on the heels of another high-profile visit in August by U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar.

The visits drew protests from China, which considers Taiwan as part of its territory that must one day be reunified with the mainland and therefore, has no right to participate in international diplomacy.

“For China, that was pretty escalatory in their view and something they were responding to. Was it a red line? Probably not,” said Broderick.

Keith Krach (top center), US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, gestures after landing at the Sungshan airport in Taipei on September 17, 2020.

Pei Chen | AFP | Getty Images

Taiwan has been building closer relations with the U.S. recently, raising the ire of China.

Last week on Friday and Saturday, Chinese aircraft crossed the mid-line and entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, prompting the island to scramble jets to intercept them. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called China a threat to the entire region. Taiwanese and Chinese combat aircraft typically do not cross the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait and the rule is unofficially observed by both sides.

“If (the visit) was a red line, we’d be seeing more than Chinese flights across the Taiwan median line, we might be seeing potentially missiles or something a little bit more more destabilizing,” said Broderick.

However, with “a lot” of orange lines crossed recently, the question now is: “how many of those cumulatively become a red line?” she added. “And that’s something that really only Beijing at this point knows.”

“The Taiwan region is an inalienable part of China’s territory,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Monday, according to an official transcript. He added that the “so-called” mid-line of the Taiwan Strait does not exist.

Washington has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is the island’s most powerful international backer and largest arms supplier.

Broderick said China’s aggressive stance toward Taiwan present a rising risk that is “concerning and worth watching.”

In the run-up to the U.S. presidential election, Washington may take more action with regard to Taiwan to further anger Beijing amid U.S.-China tensions, said Broderick.

Immediately after the election, even if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden were to win the election, the Trump administration still has a few months before the new president is sworn in to change the status quo, she noted.

So China’s recent actions are a “warning to the Trump administration and the Tsai administration over what they could possibly do in this time period.”

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