North Korea Summit

And so the two loudest voices in the North Korea conflict/situation/pissing contest are in a room together. This will either go nowhere, poorly or terribly. That’s my guess anyway.

Look it’s not like Trump and Kim are incapable of coming to an agreement to either cool tensions or move towards some form of denuclearization/reconciliation between the two states. It’s just unlikely, mostly due to the personalities in the room being both belligerent at best towards any perceived enemies, but importantly due to the differing definitions of denuclearization, America sees it as North Korea not having nukes, North Korea sees it as not needing nukes.

Because America isn’t on the peninsula anymore. See the difference.

Okay; at best the summit will end with an agreement to continue talks at a later date, and a continued moderation of language. How long that lasts is dependent on how willing North Korea is to continue that sort of language rather than swap between aggressive and conciliatory as they are wont to do, and of course how long Trump can hold on to his temper. Because god forbid someone make awry statement for him to lash out about. Another possibility is simply that the summit goes poorly or doesn’t work, one side or both walk away, returning to the previously mentioned belligerent language and everyone gets to worry about which lunatic will decide to launch a nuke first. Hopefully this doesn’t happen, neither side really benefits from this turn of events, and while I doubt Trump would care (or think far enough into the future to recognize this) Kim likely does recognize that any chance of a real war occurring is bad for him.

And yes there’s the potential ‘Fuck it we’re going to war’ option. I’m trying not to think about that one.

In any event I’m not certain this will go anywhere at all, or how long it will last. With luck this will end in a bland display of cooperation and life will simply go on. That would probably be the best outcome.

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Leaving the Iran Deal

It just wasn’t working out. Or some such nonsense, I don’t know.

As Krishnadev Calamur from the Atlantic writes, Trump has recently announced that he is no longer going to ratify the Iran Deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In doing so, he will reapply the sanctions previously in place on Iran, however he is likely to enact these things alone, as neither Europe, Russia nor China seem to be terribly interested in applying their own sanctions to Iran, nor do any of the other trading partners of Tehran, such as India. And that is one of the major reasons why leaving the Iran deal is just fucking stupid. I know I should try to be more eloquent, but good fucking god these people have no understanding of planning, or consequence. Or thought.

By simply unilaterally leaving (or rejecting or whatever you want to call it) with neither a plan beyond “Sanctions!”, coordination with other nations to actually cause economic stagnation and damage beyond simply ending Americas already limited involvement in the Iranian economy, or a series of UN responses to politically isolate the Tehran regime. Instead they’ve pulled out and will have to deal with the brunt of the consequences themselves, including the provision in the JCPOA which allows either members to refer to the UN to rebuke and punish nations that flout the agreement. You know, like America has.

And it’s not like the Plan doesn’t have flaws! It is a limited document, which deals with a singular part of the regimes technology and military developments, and does nothing to prevent their involvement or support of dangerous regimes, or terrorist groups or any such thing. It is by no means perfect. But that’s the thing, it was never designed to deal with any of that. It focused solely on the Nuclear ambitions of Tehran, and any perceived limits on other efforts to limit their involvement in the aforementioned groups and efforts can be worked around if those involved were suitably motivated. Which is part of the reason why most people outside of the US think simply leaving the Iran deal out of what looks like some form of spite against Obama, and antipathy for Iran is fucking stupid.

Still, at this stage at least Iran is trying to work with this deal despite the US, openly moving towards negotiations with France and Germany in an attempt to try and at lest look like the reasonable partner in this, and potentially try and bend this situation to their economic benefit. And if I had to guess why that is, any economic benefit they can gain from this deal (and the political stability that provides, remembering the recent protests) is much more valuable than nukes.

 

(and yes, I updated! imagine that)

Legal Updates, 19 April Edition

Because nothing immediately stands out to me regrading current events (while I’m aware of Pompeo’s Senate hearings, the (alleged) North Korea talks, and the Russia sanctions which were postponed because of course they were) I’m instead gonna provide some thoughts on ongoing legal matters, and on former FBI director Comey’s book. Because I can.

First off, there’s the matter of Stormy Daniels and her ongoing suit against Trump to be released from her Non-Disclosure agreement, which he did not sign, and $20 million in damages. While I am almost entirely ambivalent to the idea of Trump having an affair, which frankly seems like a normal state of affairs if anything for this guy, I am somewhat impressed (and very amused) by Daniels and her Attorneys ability to handle and rebuke Trump in nearly any format, which I imagine not coincidentally keeps a fair bit of media attention on them, further annoying Trump. Additionally there is their dealings with Cohen, Trumps attorney who paid Daniels the $130,000 she initially received for the Non-Disclosure agreement. He was required to release to the court his client list, which he withheld in regards not only to the Mueller investigation, but also regarding his interactions and dealings with Stormy Daniels. When he was required to release the list verbally, he revealed that one of his clients was one Sean Hannity. Que soap opera gasps.

And this is the second matter, and also it really does feel like a soap opera affair the way this has all been released. Season two of the Trump Show really is heating up, huh? Anyway, with this revelation Hannity has naturally denied everything, though Cohen is at this stage cooperating, and is currently a concern of the Trump team who fear he might break under pressure. Unfortunately I don’t have much to add beyond that (except that Daniels released a sketch of the man she claims threatened her in front of her daughter, which Trump denies. So that happened) but given the current trends, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cohen managed some scandal for Hannity and that came out. So that could be interesting.

And finally Comey’s book has been released, detailing his personal experiences and his view on his interactions with Trump during his time as the Director of the FBI in early 2017. All told, I’m not exactly fond of Comey, but he certainly feels he did his job to the best of his ability, tried not to let FBI independence be compromised (as he saw it), and while I feel that certain members of that institution played far too many games during the election, and his response could have been better, I imagine he’ll be relatively well regarded by the FBI and the public for the next few years. The books apparently not bad either.

Till next time.

Paul Ryan will Resign

Today Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (Wis.) has announced he is bowing out of his House race in Wisconsin. In all likelihood this is due to a number of causes, including the fact that his house race has produced a surprisingly competitive democrat challenger. Additionally, the challenges facing the House across the board, the completion of one of his principal goals as a conservative (tax reform) and, well, Trump.

I can’t say I’m upset with Ryan leaving, I disagree with much of what he has done and believes. However, as a leader of the Republicans and one of the seemingly few voices of calm and restraint in the House Caucus, I must admit I do wonder who will replace him in the next Congress, and accordingly am a little sad that he’s going. Given his likely replacements are House Majority Leader Rep. McCarthy and Majority Whip Rep. Scalise, both of whom are more outspoken and bellicose conservatives than Ryan, it’s likely whoever takes the role will be a more combative and volatile leader than Ryan. However that assumes a republican majority in the house, and with Ryan leaving that has once more come into question.

And on a final note, does anyone actually believe that Ryan’s left politics for good? Personally my bets on a Senate run at some point, get some goodwill there and then a presidential run. And won’t that be interesting?

 

Citations:
The Atlantic: Speaker Ryan Makes his Exit
Politico: Ryan Bombshell sets of Scramble for his Job

Regarding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

With the recent announcement that Mark Zuckerberg would meet with Congress to discuss the Cambridge Anayltica scandal, and that whole mess having not been discussed on this blog, I figured now is as a good a time as any. And since the latter is significantly less complicated than Facebook, we’ll start with the would-be propagandists. Which probably gives you a good indication of my views on them anyway.

So yes, I don’t think well of people who believe a convincing argument to a would be client is to suggest the hiring of whores, blackmail and of course convincing people via propaganda, but making sure it doesn’t look like propaganda. Rubs me the wrong way I guess. None of which is meant to imply I think they are terribly successful in manipulating people via Facebook and the like. On one hand yes they clearly do manipulate people as best they can with their information, and do so for their (predominately conservative as far as I’m aware) clients. But, at the end of the day if people are willing to believe what they read on Facebook over actual reporting, that is opinion and memes and the like over facts, then they do really only have themselves to blame. I don’t think Cambridge Analytica can really change what people think, just nudge them further to where they were already leaning. I still don’t approve of their methods, hyperbolic bullshit or not.

And all of that doesn’t get into the fact that they basically stole about 50 million users profiles worth of data from Facebook without permission from the users, stored on a private server instead of deleting it, and then using it create said ads, memes, and propaganda to manipulate people. That is something I find deeply twisted, and very dangerous. It is also, as far as I’m aware, not illegal, or against Facebook’s terms of service. Which is also wrong, and needs to be fixed. And look, again, this is the act I find reprehensible, I don’t think they had much of an impact in regards to the American Election, Brexit (which apparently they were also involved in) or anything else, people make up their own minds.

Though at the same time, if we’re not paying attention and just taking in whatever is in front of us, I wouldn’t be too surprised if we were led astray. Regardless, that is my chief issue with Cambridge Analytica, the (in my view) theft of personal data, if not the usage of it in later events.

And part of the problem with that theft is that Facebook knew about this, tried to hide and is now dealing with the fact that in the wake of this reveal, it looks like this ‘Radical Transparency’ Zuckerberg espouses apparently only applies to the Users not the Company. In other words they look like a bunch of hypocrites. Now if this was a normal company, retail or food or whatever, honestly that wouldn’t be a big deal. Big Business is full of hypocrisy, it’s all about the bottom line after all, but Facebook isn’t like any other business. It’s integrated into so much of society, so much of the economy relies on it for outreach and visibility, people still think of Facebook as the social media, regardless of whatever they use, and with over two billion active users, there is a very good reason for that. So this can’t be ignored or brushed off, because we’re not dealing with just a business, we’re dealing with part of Society that doesn’t feel responsible for it’s mistakes.

And that’s what this is: a mistake. Letting an app steal third party (Friends of Friends and so forth) data to store elsewhere? A Mistake. Hiding that breach when it was discovered? A Mistake. This should not have happened. Users are supposed to be the clients of Facebook, not the commodity, but if Facebook doesn’t understand then unfortunately it’s not the company that will suffer. Even with a boycott (sorry #deletefacebook, but a twitter trend isn’t going to be enough for this), the only people that suffer are the users.

The way I see, the only way this is going to be fixed is regulation, because Zuckerberg isn’t going to fix this, again radical transparency (of the users) is the point of Facebook not the consequence. Social media’s simply too big and to integrated not to be bound by certain rules, and if these companies don’t like that, tough. You screwed up and people, not your business, got hurt because of this; that is the problem. If this was a hacking incident, and only an algorithm was stolen, the situation would be different. But instead Cambridge Analytica took information from unknowing people and used it for profit, for their client, to manipulate them for politics. That is not acceptable and it cannot happen again, most certainly not without the users permission, and not by a company that claims to make propaganda.

So yes regulation, if only because you forced the public’s hand.

 

Citations:
Al Jazeera: Cam,bridge Analytica and Facebook: the Scandal so Far 
Vox: Facebooks Cambridge Analytica Breach 
Reuters: Zuckerberg to Testify Before Congress

 

(Christ, that was a rant though, wasn’t it?)

Tillerson is out, McMaster is being pushed out, McCabe is out. Anyone else?

Busy, busy, busy. At work I mean which is why I didn’t post last week. Also Trump been busy though, hasn’t he. That’s what, two highly placed civil servants being pushed out, and a third under threat in two weeks? I wonder who’s next?

Or I would, if this was a reality TV show. Which it’s not.

To abbreviate this clusterfuck, Tillerson was fired via tweet last week, unceremoniously and without any prior indication according to one of Tillerson’s top aides, who was then fired. Because that definitely proves otherwise. Since then Trump pushed Attorney General Sessions to fire Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI who was retiring within a few days. And now he might be pushing to remove his National Security Adviser General McMaster. Or not, we’re not sure, and maybe neither is Trump.

In the aftermath of this whole mess, CIA director and former Representative for the state of Kansas 4th district Mike Pompeo has been nominated to become his replacement. He’s something of an anti-Muslim McCarthy, with warlike tendencies and a disdain for North Korea, so I’m sure he and Trump will get along just fine. Pompeo’s replacement for CIA director on the other hand is Gina Haspel, a longtime agent of the CIA and former director at a CIA ‘blacksite’, and presided over the torture of at least one man.

Given how things had slowed down as of late, I’m starting to wonder if this is what happens when Trump gets bored. Cause that’s not terrifying.

 

Citations:

Times: Rex Tillerson Fired 
Vox: Andrew McCabe Fired 
Politico: Trump gives McMaster the Tillerson Treatment

Gary Cohn is out

Gary Cohn is resigning from the White House, leaving his position as head of the National Economic Council. Officially they’re claiming it’s because he has accomplished all he set out to do with the Tax bill and the regulatory cuts, but let’s be honest the tariffs, the gaffes and the chaos of the general situation simply burned him out. Apparently when he tried to dissuade Trump from proceeding with the Tariffs, the man was basically snubbed so that probably didn’t help.

Now Wall Street has apparently not approved of this particular news (the S&P went down by 0.5 points, and the Nasdaq went down by 0.6), and this along with the recent volatility in the stock markets mean it’s unlikely for those stocks to improve rapidly. So Trump’s not gonna like that, but more importantly this is another key staffer he’s lost and this may be a position he finds hard to fill given the sheer chaos of this white house. However that’s also all I can really predict about this situation, given that the presidents chief economic adviser is not exactly a well defined role, and how important it was in regulatory changes and the tax bill itself I can’t really say. Given Trumps own proclivities towards random acts and declarations, and otherwise handing responsibility for legislation over to congress it’s hard to say how important this role will be going forward. Then again I could be very wrong and it could be quite important.

All that said this won’t change much immediately regardless of Wall Streets little moment, but in the long term this may be another sign of a White House steadily losing it’s ability to function, if only due to a lack of staffers. Not sure yet though, you never know this could simply be another bump on the road for Trump.

 

Citation:
The Atlantic: Who will Replace Gary Cohn and What will it Mean?