No Rest for the Wicked

There are just too many headlines today, so we’re going to tackle them one by one in a News Blast. And, for the sake of addressing the elephant in the room, we’ll begin with the most terrifying.

Our president has once again used Twitter to threaten international violence, this time against Syria and Russia in response to the alleged chemical attack in Douma this past weekend.

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With tensions at an all time high between the U.S. and Russia (the president has said it’s worse than during the Cold War), this latest development could be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back.

A cold war is one thing, though — a hot one is an entirely different beast.

While some members of the international community, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, have said that the attack in Douma demands a response, others have cautioned against taking military action out of fear of further escalation between the U.S. and Russia.

Although Syria and Russia vehemently deny that the chemical attack took place, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that approximately 500 people sought medical attention for symptoms that were “consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals.”

Aside from the obvious threat this poses to the international community as a whole, it is yet another example of our president’s impetuous attitude and his inability to wait before reacting, as well as his narcissistic need to broadcast his thoughts and plans across the worldwide web.

To end on a note of humorous irony, in 2013, then President Obama tipped his hand in the same way when Syria last committed a chemical attack against its own people, threatening possible intervention by the U.S. military. He was met by fierce criticism from our current president, who has just now done the exact same thing.

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What the hell indeed.

Another threat to national security was under scrutiny yesterday as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the senate regarding the collection of Facebook user data by the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica.

In recent weeks it has come to light that Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of more than 87 million people, many of whom did not give their permission but who were subsequently accessed when one or more of their friends agreed to have their data collected.

So far, most of Zuckerberg’s testimony has been made up of apologies and evasions.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. And it was my mistake. And I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”  – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Zeynep Tufekci, associate professor of information and library science at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that there were many instances in which the CEO couldn’t explain how his own platform works.

“For example, he was asked, “Can Facebook track users across devices? Does Facebook track people’s browsing or their activities when they’re logged out?” The answers to both are yes, and Zuckerberg struggled and said, “I’ll have my team get back to you.”” – Zeynep Tufekci

The hearing contained other strange and cringe-worthy moments, arguably the most inappropriate of which was the moment when Missouri Junior Senator Roy Blunt plugged his son’s Instagram profile:

“My son Charlie, who’s 13, is dedicated to Instagram, so he’d want to be sure I mention him while I was here with you.”  – Roy Blunt

As well as the rather awkward moment in which Illinois Senator Dick Durban took his turn grilling the CEO:

SENDICK DURBIN: Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Umm, uh, no.

SENDICK DURBIN: If you’ve messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here.

SENDICK DURBIN: I think that may be what this is all about: your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you give away in modern America in the name of, quote, “connecting people around the world”—a question, basically, of what information Facebook’s collecting, who they’re sending it to, and whether they ever asked me, in advance, my permission to do that. Is that a fair thing for a user of Facebook to expect?

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Yes, Senator. I think everyone should have control over how their information is used. And as we’ve talked about in some of the other questions, I think that that is laid out in some of the documents. But, more importantly, you want to give people control in the product itself.

As if national security issues weren’t enough for the beleaguered Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO is also facing a lawsuit filed by equal housing opportunity groups over the social media site’s history of purposely excluding African American and Hispanic users from being served housing and job advertisements in a blatant act of discrimination.

Check in tomorrow to see whether or not Zuckerberg manages to keep his head above water in today’s hearing.

Finally, in an unexpected move, Wisconsin Republican Representative and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has announced his retirement at the end of this year.

Despite enacting policies that make upward mobility more difficult to achieve for poor and middle class workers, thereby forcing the average U.S. parent to work more and spend less time with their families, Ryan says that he is retiring in order to spend more time with his children, whom he fears would otherwise know him only as “a weekend dad.”

The irony is overwhelming.

Ryan has said that he will continue to serve as speaker of the house through the end of the year, and that his exit does not have anything to do with the president’s handling and transformation of the Republican Party.

He will leave open an influential leadership position within the Republican ranks, and such an opportunity for power could make the already uncertain 2018 elections even rockier, with some going so far as to speculate that the Speaker’s departure could speed up the impeachment of the president.

How?

The most credible theory is that in the absence of a strong Republican leader with an achievable and relatable platform, the GOP will become too internally distracted by a variety of issues to actually manage to band together against what may turn into a Democratic majority.

Many of them will be fighting to take Ryan’s place, others will suffer the loss of Ryan’s support in campaign fundraising, and those Republicans whose positions have already been compromised over the last year may feel even less confident about running for reelection themselves.

More than anything, though, the loss of the Republican poster boy is a deep blow to the party’s morale and shows us just how difficult it must be to work under the current administration.

That’s it for today’s News Blast. Hopefully you made it all the way through, and hopefully we won’t have such an explosive morning news cycle again for at least a few days.

Even in the Iron Triangle, one can hope.

 

 

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