Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Last Call For Zuck Trucks Amok

So what exactly is Facebook founder and gazillionaire Mark Zuckerburg up to with his "listening tour" across the country these days?  Vanity Fair's Nick Bilton tagged along for some answers, and it may actually be that he's not running for anything.

A couple months ago, I received a text message from a friend containing a brief video clip that caught me utterly by surprise. It depicted a man giving a rousing speech at Harvard in front of an audience of thousands, who listened rapturously despite the beating rain, as he enumerated the various policies that the average American needed to adapt in our increasingly volatile world. “We need affordable childcare,” the man said, before noting the plight of a younger generation who “will have to deal with tens of millions of jobs replaced by automation like self-driving cars and trucks.” It seemed less of a commencement address than a stump speech. A few seconds later, my friend texted me again to say, “I think he’s running for president.” 
The man in the video was Mark Zuckerberg. And his oration at his old stomping grounds appeared to solidify a whole lot of political speculation and Internet gossip. A few months earlier, a whisper campaign began to mount regarding the Facebook C.E.O.’s potential political aspirations. Zuckerberg, after all, was sending out some strong signals: Facebook had updated the company’s proxy statement to allow him to run for office and still maintain control of his company. Then Zuckerberg, a former atheist, said that he believed religion is “very important.”. And then there was the most controversial intimation—Zuckerberg’s New Year’s resolution to meet “people in every state in the U.S.,” which spurred a series of bizarre campaign trail-style imagery. At the time, I wondered aloudif Zuckerberg, who turns 35 in two years, would indeed (try to) be our next president. In a funny way, it almost seemed like a demotion. Yet over and over again, various sources told me that Zuckerberg had grander plans in life and wanted to be “emperor.” 
The reaction to the rumors, though, were sometimes stranger than the potential of a Zuckerberg presidency. On the left, a lot of people applauded the notion of a tech genius running for office, especially in the wake of an ignoramus like Donald Trump. Some in the alt-right reduced the prospect of Zuckerberg, who is of Jewish heritage, in the White House to horrifying racist screeds. And then there were those in Silicon Valley who momentarily wondered aloud about Zuck’s calculation before concluding—perhaps after back-channeling with Zuckerberg’s communications team—that there was absolutely no way he would run for president, that he was really just hauling across the country in order to get to know The People. Zuckerberg, meanwhile, has since taken to Facebook (where else) to deny that he’s running for office. 
So, if he’s not running for president, what exactly is Zuckerberg doing? Nathan Hubbard, a former executive at Twitter, recently posted a series of tweets outlining his theory for what Zuckerberg has been up to during the last few months—and it’s a theory that a lot of people in Silicon Valley subscribe to. “Zuck isn’t running for President. He’s trying to understand the role the product he created played in getting this one elected,” Hubbard wrote on Twitter. “Zuck woke up on Nov 9th acutely aware that FB had facilitated a new shift he didn’t foresee or understand; that’s terrifying to a founder.” 
I’ve spoken to several Silicon Valley executives and tech journalists about this theory, and it makes a fair amount of sense. People at Facebook have also privately told me how they were caught completely off guard by the role that the social network played in the election. But while this sounds entirely plausible, it doesn’t explain why Zuckerberg would amend Facebook’s proxy statement.

In the updated S-1 filing, this provision is invoked several times, explicating that Zuckerberg can take a “Pre-Approved Leave,” which translates as “any leave of absence or resignation of the Founder that is in connection with the Founder serving in a government position or office.” One person who interacts with Zuckerberg on a regular basis theorized that maybe Zuckerberg is leaving open the option to run for office one day in the very distant future, or that he could try running for lesser office to better understand how government works. But again, this is all just conjecture and speculation. No one really has the faintest clue what Zuckerberg is up to, which all amounts to fairly genius politicking for a political neophyte. Mike Pence, in fact, might want to give it a try.

So here's the exit question folks: which is more frightening?

One one hand there's the notion that Zuck wants to run the country like he's running Facebook, as the ultimate Silicon Valley dudebro who thinks tech can solve everything. On the other hand there's the notion that he's lost control of his social network behemoth and not even he knows how to fix the fake news spewing volcano that he's helped to unleash under the body politic.

Neither scenario exactly fills me with confidence.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign continues to shift into higher gear as now the Washington Post is reporting that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's home was raided by FBI agents two weeks ago and evidence taken into custody.

FBI agents raided the Alexandria home of President Trump’s former campaign chairman late last month, using a search warrant to seize documents and other materials, according to people familiar with the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 
Federal agents appeared at Paul Manafort’s home without advance warning in the predawn hours of July 26, the day after he met voluntarily with the staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee. 
The search warrant was wide-ranging and FBI agents working with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III departed the home with various records. Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, confirmed that agents executed a warrant at one of the political consultant’s homes and that Manafort cooperated with the search. 
Manafort has been voluntarily producing documents to congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The search warrant indicates investigators may have argued to a federal judge they had reason to believe Manafort could not be trusted to turn over all records in response to a grand jury subpoena. 
It could also have been intended to send a message to President Trump’s former campaign chairman that he should not expect gentle treatment or legal courtesies from Mueller’s team. 
The documents included materials Manafort had already provided to Congress, said people familiar with the search. 
“If the FBI wanted the documents, they could just ask [Manafort] and he would have turned them over,” said one adviser close to the White House. 
Josh Stueve, spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment, as did Reginald Brown, an attorney for Manafort.
So the timing on this matches up with the grand jury investigating the Russian affair going to work as well as the sudden push by Sessions to get Trump off his back by going after leakers and those who publish their stories.  There's no way that the White House didn't know about Manafort's house getting raided by FBI and you'd better believe Trump is scared.

Mueller is being pretty thorough on this.  Whatever Manafort had, Mueller has.  How useful that information is as far as building a case, we don't know yet, but FBI search warrant raids are pretty serious business.

Oh, and Manafort isn't the only guy coughing up documents either.  The Senate Judiciary Committee is getting their investigation under way as well.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, his son Donald Trump Jr. and former campaign manager Paul Manafort have started turning over documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of the panel’s expanded investigation of Russian election-meddling
The Trump campaign turned over about 20,000 pages of documents on Aug. 2, committee spokesman George Hartmann said Tuesday. Manafort provided about 400 pages on Aug. 2, including his foreign-advocacy filing, while Trump Jr. gave about 250 pages on Aug. 4, Hartmann said. The committee had asked them last month to start producing the documents by Aug. 2.
A company the Judiciary panel says has been linked to a salacious "dossier" on Trump, Fusion GPS, and its chief executive officer, Glenn Simpson, have yet to turn over any requested documents, Hartmann said. 
The committee asked for all records regarding any attempts or interest in obtaining information about Hillary Clinton from Russian government or affiliated sources, including the June 2016 meeting of Trump Jr., Manafort, Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner and a group of Russians including lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. 
The committee asked for documents related to any attempt to coordinate or use information related to Russia’s attempts to influence the election. It sought Manafort’s registration filings and contacts with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Lot of smoke, lot of fire, lots of documents.  We've gotten to Trump's campaign manager and his son turning over possible evidence.  Who's next?

A Fissile Missile Pissing Contest

Donald Trump has all but completely flunked Syria at this point, handing the country over to the Assad regime at Putin's request with "safe zones" bringing the "peace" of dictatorship to the rubble-strewn cities while anti-Assad rebels supported by the previous administration are exterminated under the guise of US-Russia cooperation against Islamic State.

Now North Korea continues to be the big new international crisis as two man-children suffering from arrested development scream at each other and threaten nuclear destruction, and while the US nuclear arsenal's power to reduce all of human civilization to ash dozens of times over remains without doubt (hooray!), it's looking like North Korea may be far more able to deliver on the nuclear missile threat than previously believed.

North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment.

The analysis, completed last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency, comes on the heels of another intelligence assessment that sharply raises the official estimate for the total number of bombs in the communist country’s atomic arsenal. The United States calculated last month that up to 60 nuclear weapons are now controlled by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Some independent experts think the number is much smaller.

The findings are likely to deepen concerns about an evolving North Korean military threat that appears to be advancing far more rapidly than many experts had predicted. U.S. officials concluded last month that Pyongyang is also outpacing expectations in its effort to build an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the American mainland.

President Trump, speaking Tuesday at an event at his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., said North Korea will face a devastating response if its threats continue. “They will be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday, North Korea described a new round of U.N. sanctions as an attempt “to strangle a nation” and warned that in response, “physical action will be taken mercilessly with the mobilization of all its national strength.”

Although more than a decade has passed since North Korea’s first nuclear detonation, many analysts thought it would be years before the country’s weapons scientists could design a compact warhead that could be delivered by missile to distant targets. But the new assessment, a summary document dated July 28, concludes that this critical milestone has been reached.

The IC [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles,” the assessment states, in an excerpt read to The Washington Post. Two U.S. officials familiar with the assessment verified its broad conclusions. It is not known whether the reclusive regime has successfully tested the smaller design, although North Korea officially claimed last year that it had done so.

Considering that Trump hasn't even nominated an ambassador to South Korea yet, we have zero diplomatic personnel on the ground right now and that's even if this State Department wasn't in complete shambles under Rex Tillerson.  Apparently we're farming that out to our neighbors to the north as Ottawa is at least nominally interested in not having a giant nuclear death party.

Meanwhile, North Korea state media is happily reminding Trump that Guam is a lot closer to Pyongyang than the mainland US is, and that it would be a darn shame if something happened to it.

North Korea said on Wednesday it is "carefully examining" plans for a missile strike on the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump told the North that any threat to the United States would be met with "fire and fury".

North Korea has made no secret of plans to develop a nuclear-tipped missile able to strike the United States and has ignored international calls to halt its nuclear and missile programs.

The strike plan would be put into practice at any moment once leader Kim Jong Un makes a decision, a spokesman for the Korean People's Army (KPA) said in a statement carried by the North's state-run KCNA news agency.

"The KPA Strategic Force is now carefully examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 in order to contain the U.S. major military bases on Guam including the Anderson Air Force Base," the spokesman said.

The plan would be reported to the North's Supreme Command soon, the spokesman said, without citing a date.

I'd say at this point cooler heads would prevail, except we're talking about Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump here, two guys with nuclear toys not exactly known for their reasonable levelheadedness.

Yeah, I know, we were a lot closer to real nuclear destruction 55 years ago over Cuba and Soviet hardliners almost starting World War III twice in 1983 over a missile detection radar glitch and then NATO's Able Archer military exercises in Europe, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't be worried now.

We'd be nuts not to be concerned.  The reality right now is that we have several military options, and the option of continued attempts at containment.  None of them are good options, and all of the military options would almost certainly lead to the deaths of millions, maybe tens of millions, on the Korean Peninsula and Japan. 

But acquiescence to a nuclear North Korea risks a far greater global conflict down the road, a road that this intelligence assessment report this week makes very clear.  With nukes and the time they can buy his regime, Kim can start making more and more belligerent demands, and we either meet them or choose to ignore him and risk his reponse. Again, there is no good option here, only the least awful (which is containment and diplomacy).

I remind you the person now in charge of that decision is a failed reality TV show host who may be a Russian agent, with a State Department all but crippled and the very real possibility of facing a constitutional crisis sooner rather than later over his numerous misdeeds.

Good luck, America and the world.

We're gonna need it.


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