News Brief: Biden And Trump Campaign, Amazon Face Recognition, U.S. Student In Iran
NOEL KING, HOST:
President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden are going back on the campaign trail.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Yeah. In only about 150 days, voters will decide who they want to lead a nation in crisis. The U.S. is currently facing a pandemic, a recession and national upheaval over police brutality and systemic racism. So how are the candidates making their case as they talk to voters?
KING: NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow's been looking into it. Good morning, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.
KING: So it's been a while. Let's get ourselves centered with where the numbers are at. What is polling saying?
DETROW: Well, reelection campaigns are a referendum on the president. And right now, President Trump is in a very tough spot. His approval ratings are down. A new poll from Gallup yesterday showed a 10-point drop in a single month to 39%. And our own polling last week found that two-thirds of the country thinks that President Trump has made race relations worse. So at the same time, Joe Biden has substantial leads in a wave of new polls, and many of them are 10-point leads. And as to the what-about-2016 response that I can already hear listeners saying into my ears, here's the big difference. Joe Biden is over 50% in a lot of those polls, and that is a mark that Hillary Clinton very rarely got to, and it makes the lead a lot more durable.
KING: Interesting. Let's talk about each of their responses. What is President Trump doing to try and claw back some of his momentum?
DETROW: We have seen him focus on what he says is a recovery from the coronavirus, pointing to last week's jobs report showing some jobs returning. Of course, the virus is still spreading, including in Texas where President Trump is headed to today to do a recovery-focused event at a Dallas church. The president has also said that he is going to start resuming his big campaign rallies. The first one will be in Oklahoma next week. That's a state that was not hit as hard by COVID-19, and it was very fast to reopen. But let's listen to the president lay out the rally schedule.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're going to be coming into Florida, do a big one in Florida, big one in Texas. They're all going to be big. We're going to Arizona. We're going to North Carolina at the appropriate time.
DETROW: And that shows President Trump's political problem right there. These are all states he won but that Biden is either up or very close in recent polls. We're used to hearing about campaigning in Florida and North Carolina, but Arizona and Texas especially are not places Republicans want to be having to campaign in. And here's the thing - President Trump is in political trouble because of a big erosion from independent voters especially turned off by his divisive approach. And rather than try to win them back, he's often going in the opposite direction recently. His campaign has ads mocking these protests that have widespread support. He's been promoting conspiracy theories on Twitter lately. And yesterday, President Trump said he would block efforts to rename military bases after Confederate generals. This is on a day that NASCAR banned the Confederate flag at its races.
KING: How does Joe Biden try to capitalize on things that you could argue President Trump is doing wrong?
DETROW: We have seen a lot more Democratic enthusiasm, but that's still a challenge that Biden needs to address. We have seen him really lay out several details of what he wants to see change in policing in broader structural changes to address racism, talking a lot about the pandemic. But last night at a forum from the NAACP, Biden faced a lot of skeptical questions about his role in the early 1990s pushing a lot of tough-on-crime bills and over whether he would support reparations. A lot of people want to see him do that. He says he needs to see a study first.
KING: Scott Detrow, thanks.
DETROW: Thank you.
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KING: Amazon is reconsidering its relationship with law enforcement after these widespread protests against police brutality.
MARTIN: Right. The company is putting a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition technology. Researchers have long criticized this technology for producing inaccurate results for people with darker skin. Earlier this week, IBM announced that it would end its work on facial recognition technology altogether.
KING: Tech reporter Bobby Allyn has been looking into this. And, Bobby, what was Amazon's technology exactly?
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Yeah. So Amazon for some time has had facial recognition programs. It's known as Rekognition, spelled with a K. And in recent years, they've been selling it to police departments, and police departments have been using it to identify potential suspects against this massive database that lives in the cloud. But then a bunch of studies have shown that the tool is really flawed. It has a harder time correctly identifying many different types of people, those with darker skin, women, younger people. And then there are other concerns, right? So, you know, police could potentially use this artificial intelligence software to secretly identify people in public, like in the mass demonstrations we've been seeing around the country. Joy Buolamwini is a MIT researcher who did one of the studies I just mentioned, and here is her assessment.
JOY BUOLAMWINI: Racial biases, gender bias, even has age bias, but even if that bias wasn't there, there's still the capacity for abuse and most concerningly especially as we're seeing more people take to the streets is the specter of using facial recognition or surveillance.
ALLYN: So as you just heard, the protests across the country have really created intense concern that, you know, authorities could be recording and storing the identities of demonstrators. And that fear about mass surveillance drove IBM to abandon its facial recognition business this week. Amazon, though, hasn't gone that far. They're just pushing the pause button for now.
KING: OK. So if they're pushing pause, what are police departments going to do in the meantime?
ALLYN: So police departments are saying that they are going to work without it. I talked to one police department in Oregon in Washington County that was one of the first in the country to use this technology. And, you know, they said they are going to suspend the program indefinitely. And some police officers feel kind of betrayed by Amazon because Amazon for a long time has publicly defended this technology and has touted its successes. And now they're saying, you know what? We are going to suspend it, and some rank-and-file police officers who have used it are pretty disappointed.
KING: But, Bobby, did Amazon come right out and cop to doing this because of these protests over police brutality and racism?
ALLYN: No, no, Amazon in its statement never mentioned George Floyd's name, never mentioned anything about mass street demonstrations. Instead, Amazon said, you know, they're pausing the software to give Washington lawmakers time to write facial recognition laws. Remember, this kind of software has gone for years completely unregulated. So that's what Amazon says. But, look, it's hard not to think about the moment - right? - the deep reckoning America is having with its relationship with law enforcement and calls for police reform being heard across the country. So it's hard to separate Amazon's announcement from that.
KING: Of course. NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thanks, Bobby.
ALLYN: Thank you.
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KING: Now we have a story about 3 1/2 years in prison in Iran.
MARTIN: Xiyue Wang is telling his story in public for the very first time. He's an American scholar at Princeton University. He was researching in Iranian archives when authorities there began questioning him in 2016. In an interview with NPR, he says government agents told him they were taking him to the airport to go home. Instead, the men began driving him the opposite direction.
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XIYUE WANG: One guy quietly took my cellphone off my hand, switched it off and put it in his pocket. And I was - I could feel my heart start beating very fast. I was truly, truly freaking out.
MARTIN: He was accused of spying for the United States and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
KING: Wang was freed in December of 2019. At the same time, the U.S. released an Iranian. He took some time to recover, and then this week, he told his story to our co-host Steve Inskeep. And, Steve, let me start by asking you, how did he get out?
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It was a kind of trade, Noel. And to hear Wang tell it, that was Iran's plan from the beginning. He was studying histories of ethnic groups in Central Asia. He was in Iranian archives in 2016 when he was picked up. They took him to Evin Prison, which is about the scariest address in all of Iran. Now, Iran has not made public the court records or evidence against him, so this is his version of events. But in his version, he says the interrogators were really frank. They just wanted him to confess to spying. They didn't even seem to care what he supposedly was spying on, didn't care that he denied it. They just wanted a confession. Let's listen.
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WANG: They told me it's futile for you to resist. We need a deal with America. And if you don't confess, we have no case. We have no case. We have no deal. So you will stay. You will go back to the solitary until you confess.
INSKEEP: And then they would trade you for some Iranian in the United States.
WANG: Yes. They were very straightforward about that. They said, we want our money back from the United States. We want our detainees back. Amazingly, they asked me to write down one sentence in Persian and English, one sentence - I am a spy for the United States. That's it.
INSKEEP: Though he says he did no spying, he signed that one sentence and he served, as you said, 3 1/2 years before his release.
KING: What did he experience in Evin Prison, as you said, a very scary place?
INSKEEP: Yeah. Luckily, he got out before the pandemic. He says that after a period of solitary confinement, which was like torture for him, he was allowed to stay with other prisoners. He was allowed to call home to his family. He was allowed to read newspapers and other things in the prison library. But it was just this period of excruciating waiting until the day that he was in a common room with some other prisoners and got some news.
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WANG: And they announced my name. And then they said, you're being released, and that came as a huge surprise. And the old prisoners came from all the cells clapping, congratulating me, hugging me; you're going home.
KING: Good for him. It must have taken a lot of effort, though, to make this happen.
INSKEEP: Yeah. His wife in New Jersey was lobbying for his release. She did interviews. She spoke with Rachel here on NPR. She spoke with me. She spoke with Trump administration officials, and U.S. diplomats eventually arranged this trade. And Xiyue Wang is back in Princeton, we can tell you, with his wife and his 7-year-old son having missed 3 1/2 years of the son's life so far.
KING: And just quickly, how is he getting back to normal?
INSKEEP: He was able to teach some classes at Princeton University upon his return and before the pandemic shut some things down. He said that was an enormous help. And he's just spending time, spending time with his family. He says he's still processing everything, confesses he's been rather grumpy with his wife. And he says he's not even sure that he fully understands how this has affected him.
KING: Steve Inskeep, thanks for bringing us this one.
INSKEEP: Glad to do it.
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