Good Friday Morning! I was texting with a friend this week, after the “Trump fathered an illegitimate child” story dropped, that “I feel like we’ve entered the world of Men in Black where all the fake news is on the TV, and all the real news is on the tabloids in the checkout line of Kroger and Walmart.” The National Enquirer is hiding stories about Trump, and the nation got to listen to a bunch of old Representatives and Senators try to understand Facebook enough to ask questions. It’s a strange world.
I’m starting on Facebook this week and the testimony of their CEO and Founder Mark Zuckerberg. If there ever was a moment that showed the generational divide in Congress, it was his time before Congress. I’ll follow that up with a section on Syria. Links follow.
As an update, I’m paying more attention to the Stormy Daniels story. It got far more interesting this week with the raid on Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. Ken White, also known as Popehat, is a former US Attorney and does a great job of explaining what you can infer about that raid here. Add to that mix the odd story that Cohen taped his conversations, and you get a potentially explosive mix. The question is if this goes all the way to Trump, or ends at Cohen? Keep watching…
New this week at the Conservative Institute
A suspect, but not a criminal target is how Robert Mueller’s Russia probe describes President Trump’s legal status at the moment, according to The Washington Post. Using the suspect classification, Mueller is requesting an interview with the President to come closer to a conclusion of the Russia probe. Given these revelations, the President’s legal team should reject Mueller’s requests.
Congressional Debacle Over Facebook
Here’s how bad Congress handled Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony. Before any of the statement, traders on the New York Stock Exchange were preparing for the stock to tank. Conventional wisdom was that Zuckerberg would struggle to answer questions and lose a battle over regulation of his company leading to a drop in valuation.
Instead, Congress whiffed, Wall Street and millennials noticed, and Facebook’s stock bounced up.
That’s how bad Congress missed on this entire ordeal — they made Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg seem competent and in control of the whole privacy debacle.
I was watching CNBC’s Squawk Box one morning and was dumbfounded to watch Tennessee Representative, and Senate candidate, Marsha Blackburn claim Zuckerberg was ill-prepared for the hearings. Ben Sasse was the only person throughout any of the testimony which appeared to understand Facebook as a company and platform; everyone else didn’t seem to understand what Facebook did as a company.
The million dollar question is whether Congress decides to regulate the social media space through privacy statutes. This plan would seem like a reasonable thing to do — except it’s what Facebook wants in the end.
Regulation pushes up costs and raises the barriers to entry into the tech startup space. Facebook wants regulation because it cuts off small competition from eating into its market space. New companies we’ve seen appear in Facebook’s sector like Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, and others would struggle to start in a highly regulated environment where Facebook is the giant protected by regulation.
And given how horrible Congress looked at understanding the very concept of social media, what will end up happening is Facebook writes the regulations it wants, Congress passes them, and competition gets squashed. Facebook wants to do what many other industries have done before it, create a monopoly through regulation.
All of this is sad in the end because we do need to have a debate over what privacy is, and how we define it. Is privacy a right? There is case law to suggest it, but that case law isn’t strong. Ideally, we need a push for a new constitutional amendment embracing privacy, but I don’t see the stomach for that in Congress.
Assad uses chemical weapons — He gets defenders in the West
Yet again we have another instance where chemical weapons are being used in Syria to attack enemies of the Assad regime. BBC reports:
Activists and medics say dozens of people died when government aircraft dropped bombs filled with toxic chemicals on Douma on Saturday. President Assad’s government denies being behind any chemical attack. The international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is set to send monitors to Douma to gather evidence.
On Thursday US officials were quoted as saying that samples from victims have tested positive for chlorine and a nerve agent.
Douma was the last major rebel stronghold near Damascus. Local activists say the main leaders of the group that held it have left, following an agreement between Russia and the rebels.
US officials believe Assad is using chemical weapons again, and so does President Donald Trump, who sent off a series of tweets criticizing Russia for failing to control Assad. The President is also threatening missile strikes against the regime in retaliation for using chemical weapons.
The President’s moves make sense in pushing back against Putin and in enforcing international norms on chemical weapons. What isn’t normal is US media pundits rushing to the defense of Assad, claiming the US has no evidence Assad used chemical weapons, as you’d see on Russian propaganda networks like RT. But that’s precisely what Fox News host Tucker Carlson did on his nightly TV show, pushing an isolationist stance in-line with Russian propaganda. Allahpundit has the best write-up here:
Things start to get weird a few minutes in, though, when [Tucker Carlson] goes to bat for Assad by questioning whether it really was the regime that was behind the new Gouta attack. (As did Ron Paul recently, by the way, to show you what sort of company Tucker’s in with this.) What’s most striking about that is how unnecessary it is to his argument: Carlson gets back on track a few minutes later by claiming that a military strike would be counterproductive even if Assad did order the gas attack in Gouta. That’s a defensible position but it drowns in the paranoia that precedes it. And there’s sleight of hand there as well, as Carlson claims at one point that no less than James Mattis has said that the U.S. still isn’t sure about the alleged sarin attack last year that inspired Trump’s first missile attack on Assad. Is that right? Here’s Mattis on April 11, 2017:
There is “no doubt” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is behind a last week’s chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday.
The top U.S. military leader claimed the Syrian regime’s “inexplicably ruthless murders” violated a United Nations convention dating to before World War II, and issued a warning against the further use of chemical weapons.
“The United States will not passively stand by while Assad blithely ignores international law and employs chemical weapons he had declared destroyed,” Mattis said, in his first formal Pentagon briefing since taking office in January.
CNN reported two days later, citing a senior U.S. official, that American intelligence had intercepted communications between Syrian military and chemical experts discussing the planned attack. When Carlson says that Mattis wasn’t sure about last year’s attack, he’s referring to remarks made in February of this year when Mattis said that the U.S. hadn’t confirmed that sarin, specifically, was used in that attack. He wasn’t questioning who was responsible for it, merely what particular gas had been used. Unless you’re paying very close attention to Tucker’s phrasing here, you’d think Mattis had doubts about Assad’s culpability, not his choice of weapon.
And by the way, Mattis didn’t appear skeptical of Assad’s, or Russia’s, culpability a few days ago after the Gouta attack. How is it, he wondered, that the regime still has chemical weapons after Russia promised us disarmament in 2013 in exchange from refraining from attacking at the time? He’s an odd person on whom to pin your false-flag hopes.
That’s the setup for Noah C. Rothman, writer, and editor at Commentary Magazine, who has written extensively on this topic and went after Carlson for pushing Russian narratives. Carlson invited Rothman onto his show where, by all measures, Rothman bested Carlson on the subject and Tucker resorted to cheap shots and jabs to throw Rothman off.
I understand and get the argument for not getting more involved in Syria. But what Carlson and his ilk are doing is pushing Russian narratives. And we know this is a Russian narrative because the Russians were spreading this exact narrative BEFORE chemical weapons got used in Syria. In other words, this a planned, premeditated act by Assad and Russia to use chemical weapons to kill off rebels, and pundits like Carleson are taking the bait.
Like Walter Duranty before him, Carlson is serving as nothing more than a useful idiot. And like Duranty, we all know Tucker knows better.
Links of the week
Tucker Carlson makes me sad – Becket Adams, The Washington Examiner
Students at CUNY Law Protested and Heckled My Lecture about Free Speech on Campus – Josh Blackman, National Review
Will ESPN+ Save ESPN’s Business Or Hasten Its Demise? – Clay Travis, Outkick The Coverage
The Ryan Retirement in Seven Points – The last of the wonks. – John Podhoretz, Commentary Magazine
A Bunch of Senators Just Showed They Have No Idea How Facebook Works. They Want to Regulate It Anyway. “If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix their privacy invasions, then we are going to have to. We, the Congress.” – Robby Soave, Reason Magazine
A Dissent Concerning Kevin Williamson: When the “bonds of affection” are strained, the spirit of generosity and the virtue of tolerance demand extraordinary measures to avert a break. – Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic
Among the Abortion Extremists – Ross Douthat, The New York Times
Kevin Williamson, Thought Criminal – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
A Renaissance on the Right – David Frum, The New York Times
We’re Going to Miss Paul Ryan – Jim Geraghty, National Review
The Note: Ryan leaving Congress more chaotic than ever – Rick Klein and Maryalice Parks, ABC News
Why the Apu Simpsons Controversy Bothers Me as an Indian American – Pradheep J. Shanker, National Review
Karl Marx’s Jew-Hating Conspiracy Theory: Marx didn’t supplant old ideas about money and commerce; he intensified them – Jonah Goldberg, Commentary Magazine
Satire piece of the week
WASHINGTON, D.C.—During his much-publicized appearance before a bipartisan Senate committee Tuesday, the false, humanlike contact lens Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had placed over his left eye accidentally fell out, revealing the horrifying yellow lizard eye lying underneath.
“Senator, I don’t have that information with me right now,” the tech billionaire said for the seven hundredth time just before the incident. As he moved to take a drink of water to appear like a real human who thirsts, the faux human-eye lens fell out of his eye socket and the awful, piercing alien eyeball underneath quickly focused on the Senator questioning him.
Thanks for reading!