Monday, January 7, 2019

Last Call For Trump Cards, Con't

Donald Trump really, really, really wants to sell America a wall.

President Trump announced on Monday that he would address the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday evening to discuss what he called the crisis at the southern border, and the White House said that later in the week he would travel to the border as part of his effort to persuade Americans of the need for a wall — the sticking point in negotiations with Democrats which caused a government shutdown.

It was not immediately clear which outlets would carry his address. The four major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC — confirmed receiving the White House request on Monday for Mr. Trump to speak during the 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time slot, but producers had not decided whether to grant him the time. Pre-empting prime-time coverage is an expensive proposition for television executives, who have sold millions of dollars’ worth of advertising against entertainment programming.

Mr. Trump’s remarks could also be covered by cable news networks, which have a much smaller audience. CNN has agreed to air the address, a spokeswoman said on Monday. But cable news stations are accustomed to cutting in for breaking news, and they reach a far smaller audience than traditional broadcast stations.

In the recent past, White House requests to interrupt prime-time programming on the nation’s broadcast networks were rare and usually reserved for moments of national import, like the death of Osama bin Laden, and networks usually granted the requests. There have been instances, however, where such requests were rejected by producers as insufficiently newsworthy.

So, another loyalty oath check for the news media, and it allows Trump to either scream and threaten the press with destruction again or they cover his sales pitch in prime time, a win-win for Trump.  But Steve M brings up a very good point: when it comes to that national emergency that he wants so badly to declare, why not just get it over with and do it?

I know I'm supposed to regard Trump as a potential fascist dictator, but he seems reluctant to take a heavy-handed approach in this case.

I think I know why. Trump sells himself as the world's greatest dealmaker. He claims to be a guy who always triumphs as a dealmaker (no win-win scenarios for Trump). So it seems that he'd rather be seen as the Great Persuader than as the Great Dictator. He wants congressional Democrats to agree to give him 100% of what he wants.

Trump as the ultimate dealmaker is an important part of his mythos and once again his narcissism is getting in the way of what his party wants.

Trump could try brute force, but it's killing him that he can't sweet-talk America into the wall (especially when Fox keeps telling him that all real Americans want it). This is a weakness of Trump's. His party would let him get away with even greater abuses of power than he's attempted, but he'd rather prove that he's the world's greatest salesman. He really can't bear the thought that this might not be true.

That theory makes a lot of sense, actually.  He knows he needs to get a win on the wall, and he's convinced that he can sell Democrats and the entire country on it rather than try to force it. Of course, the "dealmaker" image is so much garbage in reality, as Bloomberg's Tim O'Brien points out.

Trump, in reality, was never a peerless or even a particularly skillful dealmaker, and many of the most significant business transactions he engineered imploded. Instead, he made his way in the world as an indefatigable self-promoter, a marketing confection and a human billboard who frequently licensed his name to buildings and products paid for by others.

In Trump’s professional life, his inept dealmaking often came home to roost in unmanageable debts and serial bankruptcies. In his more recent political and presidential life it has revealed itself through bungled, hapless efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act; forge a nuclear agreement with North Korea; wage trade wars with China, Mexico and Canada; retain control of the House of Representatives; turn military and diplomatic strategy on its head; lay siege to sensible immigration policy; and, now, force a government shutdown to secure funding for a prized project — a wall along the U.S.’s southern border.

Striking lasting deals requires intimacy with the finer points of what every party wants out of a negotiation, realistic goals, maturity, patience, flexibility — and enough leverage so the other side can’t simply stall or walk away from the table. Trump hasn’t met any of those prerequisites in his repeated efforts to fulfill his campaign promise to build a wall, a promise that played to the most xenophobic and bigoted portion of his base while not addressing any of the real shortcomings or necessary enhancements of federalimmigration policy.

“Policy” and “Trump” don’t really coexist, of course. The president lacks the interest or sophistication to steep himself in policy details, so he enters the immigration debate and dealmaking for his wall at a distinct disadvantage. For as much as he disparages politicians and public service, Trump is surrounded by Democrats and Republicans who have immersed themselves in immigration discussions for years. Expertise does matter, after all — and Trump doesn’t have it.

The most visible reminder of the raw amateurism that has undermined Trump’s dealmaking came in December during a memorable White House visit with a pair of Democrats, Representative Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer. As the trio gradually became unsettled over policy differences that could lead to a government shutdown, Trump, ready to perform for the media he had invited to observe the chat, sallied forth in a burst of bravado.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” Trump told Schumer. “I will take the mantle. I will shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it.”

Unforced error.

So what happens when Trump is unable to make the sale and once again it doesn't work?

We'll find out soon, I imagine.  It could be that Tuesday's address will be the emergency declaration anyway.

Who knows with Trump?

The Year In Tech Wrecks

It's once again time for Ars Technica's yearly Deathwatch party, where the website predicts the demise of various technology companies (or at least a big enough sea change to merit getting on the list), and I have to say, this year, if correct, is going to be really something.  First, last year's review:

To be a candidate for the Deathwatch, a company or product division of a company should have experienced at least one of the following:
  • An extended period of lost market share in their particular category
  • An extended period of financial losses or a pattern of annual losses
  • Serious management, legal, or regulatory problems that raise questions about the business model or long-term strategy of the company or product line
Last year’s class has a high survival rate (for now). Faraday Future was looking like a dead car company walking before reaching a new investor agreement. Management changes at Uber have kept the company driving despite leaping into other markets—but it now faces a whole host of new competition in every segment, on top of its problems with its driverless car business. Twitter became profitable somehow (at least on paper) in 2018, despite the bad press the company garnered over Twitter being the favorite platform of government-sponsored information operations worldwide.

A few honorees remain on life support, however. SoundCloud has been treading water since it nearly ran out of cash in 2017, and it’s not clear what the survival strategy is for the company. HTC somehow also managed to eke out a profitable quarter in 2018—just one, mostly thanks to a cash infusion from a partial acquisition by Google. But that acquisition basically handed Google most of HTC's cell phone operations, so we’re counting HTC out for this year. LeEco, the company previously managed by Faraday Futures’ CEO, is also looking like roadkill in the US. Much of its operations have shut down as the company explores ways to recover.

We also put network neutrality on the Deathwatch last year. No matter how much the Internet mourns, it’s dead. It probably won’t be back any time soon. 

And this year, after putting Twitter and Uber on notice, Ars Technica goes straight for the jugular: the Social Network itself.

Last year, we left Facebook off our list for a number of reasons, starting with its insane profitability. While some readers called Facebook a “bubble,” it was clear that Facebook is the Internet’s version of “too big to fail”: deep pockets, well-entrenched, semi-diversified (with the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp), and billions of users. Little Twitter may finally be profitable, but TWTR’s most recent quarterly earnings are a mere five percent of Facebook’s.

And yet, here we are, putting Facebook on Deathwatch. The reasons have only a little bit to do with financials. We don’t expect that Facebook will go away, but this year is going to probably determine whether Facebook’s management team will continue as it is—or whether there’s a stockholder rebellion, or a government lawsuit, or some combination of both that drives CEO Mark Zuckerberg and others out.

Facebook is in crisis, thanks to a stream of what some might refer to by the technical term “really bad management decisions” moves made by the company over the past six years to accelerate the company’s growth while skirting the limits placed by a settlement reached with the FTC over privacy issues finalized in 2012. The Cambridge Analytica “data breach” scandal, other privacy concerns, fake news, and Russian troll ops blowback created a perfect storm that left Zuckerberg looking like a deer in the headlights in front of a series of US congressional hearings (and his subsequent refusal to testify before legislators in seven other countries).

I have to agree.  I don't see how Zuck survives as CEO...well, unless he throws COO Sheryl Sandburg into the blender, which he very well might.

Also on Ars's Deathwatch this year: the unholy monstrosity that is the sutured-together corpse of Yahoo! and AOL now known as Verizon's Oath spinoff, Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, and Essential, the weirdest smartphone that precisely nobody bought.

We'll see how this all pans out, but if Zuck went out of pasture (along with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos) I think the world would be a much better place.

Shutdown Meltdown, Con't

The Trump Shutdown is now into its third week with no end in sight as the National Park Service has been reduced to taking the technically illegal step of using entrance fees to pay for cleanup and protection of national monuments and lands.

The National Park Service will take the unprecedented step of tapping entrance fees to pay for expanded operations at its most popular sites, officials said Sunday, as the federal government shutdown threatens to degrade some of the nation’s iconic landmarks.

Under a memorandum signed Saturday by the Interior Department’s acting secretary, David Bernhardt, and obtained by The Washington Post, park managers will be permitted to bring on additional staff to clean restrooms, haul trash, patrol the parks and open areas that have been shut during the more-than-two-week budget impasse. In a statement Sunday, National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith acknowledged that the administration’s practice of keeping parks open but understaffed has become unsustainable at some of its most beloved sites.

“As the lapse in appropriations continues, it has become clear that highly visited parks with limited staff have urgent needs that cannot be addressed solely through the generosity of our partners,” Smith said. “We are taking this extraordinary step to ensure that parks are protected, and that visitors can continue to access parks with limited basic services.”

The move, which some critics said could be illegal, shows the extent to which the Trump administration’s decision to keep the national park system open to visitors is straining its capacity and potentially exposing public lands to long-term damage. During such shutdowns under the Clinton and Obama administrations, the Park Service chose to block access to its sites rather than leave them open with a skeleton staff on board. Trump officials chose the opposite course, and as trash has begun to mount and key habitat has been imperiled, the administration is struggling to manage the problems.

Congressional Democrats and some park advocates question whether the park-fee move is legal, because the fees that parks collect under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act are expressly designated to support visitor services instead of operations and basic maintenance
. The secretarial order authorizes parks that have “available balances” of these fee funds to spend them on operations that include trash collection and sanitation, road maintenance, campground operations, law enforcement and emergency operations, and entrance staff “as necessary to provide critical safety operations.”

Meanwhile as trash and toilet paper overflow the nation's national parks, the nation's air travel system is now bordering on collapse as the nation's largest airline pilots union rips into Trump.

Delta and United Airlines pilots -- and those of JetBlue and many other airlines -- have had enough.

In a scorchingly fact-based letter to President Trump, the Air Line Pilots Association -- which represents 61,000 pilots -- used simple words.

Its president, Captain Joe DePete wrote:

I am writing to urge you to take the necessary steps to immediately end the shutdown of government agencies that is adversely affecting the safety, security and efficiency of our national airspace system.
DePete explained that the Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security operate as both regulators and service providers.

Mechanical inspections, drone oversight and new enhanced communications systems are all threatened.

Worse, air traffic controllers, airspace system maintenance personnel and air marshals are working unpaid.

Moreover, CNN now reports that hundreds of TSA screeners are calling in sick. Could the fact that they're not being paid have an influence?

This, too, says DePete, could jeopardize safety:

The pressure these civil servants are facing at home should not be ignored. At some point, these dedicated federal employees will encounter personal financial damages that will take a long time from which to recover, if at all.

By writing directly to the president -- and merely copying congressional leaders -- the pilots appear to be holding him responsible for the potential dangers flowing from the shutdown.

It's a remarkably forthright approach, one that might make some uncomfortable, given that it has inevitable political overtones.

By saying that only the president can and should take the necessary steps, the pilots seem to recognize that, whatever the merits (or demerits) of a wall, it isn't worth risking airline safety for what some believe is a symbol of power, rather than an effective security measure.

And now we find out that thousands, maybe tens of thousands, will start to be evicted as HUD housing grant programs expired on January 1.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development sent letters to 1,500 landlords Friday as part of a last-minute effort to prevent the eviction of thousands of tenants. A lot of those tenants live in units covered by a HUD program that many agency officials didn’t realize had expired on Jan. 1 and that they are now unable to renew.

The letters instruct the landlords to use their reserve accounts so that no one is evicted, HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said. He said the budget and contract staff are “scouring for money” to figure out how to fund the contracts on an interim basis.

And all of that is now solely on Donald Trump's head.


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