Sunday, January 1, 2017

Last Call For A Bird Brained Move

Ars Technica's 2017 corporate death watch is up, and seeing as how four of the six companies it said wouldn't make it through 2016 are in various stages of the corporate undead right now, it's interesting to see that Ars writer Sam Machkovech believes the biggest impending tech implosion in 2017 will be Twitter, for several reasons:

Twitter isn't going to vaporize by the end of 2017. But rest assured, Twitter as we know it will not last through the year. And we're not talking about some sort of visual overhaul or slight feature tweak like the ones we’ve come to expect from major rivals like Facebook every year or so.

Twitter's continual bleeding of cash will have to come to an end, one way or another. While the company is losing less money than it has in the past ($289 million based on generally accepted accounting practices in the first nine months of 2016, compared to $430 million during the same period last year), Twitter is still hemorrhaging investors' money. And Twitter management's 2016 courtship of a few big potential buyers (including Disney) didn’t just fail—it crashed and burned.

Critics have railed against the platform for its inability to handle harassment and abuse. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has made a lot of public statements about this issue dating back over a year, but real change simply hasn’t come to the platform. As far back as this March’s SXSW Interactive expo, analysts pointed to sensible changes that could transform the platform’s core social-media experience, specifically in terms of curating and filtering personal feeds. Twitter hasn’t come close to implementing any of them

By the time the company rolled out a “mute specific words” feature, it was too little, too late. The site's “egg” accounts and Pepe frogs have taken over, employing the same tactics used in 4chan-spawned movements to bombard and harass average users through a veil of anonymity and amplified hate speech. The platform’s most talked-about user, President-elect Donald Trump, has relied on the platform to spread misinformation and point his most harassing and abusive followers at specific people he dislikes.

Who the heck wants to buy that kind of site?

Young users are flocking to Snapchat in droves, which has aggressively bolstered its base experience with more insulated friend-list tools and a clever, video-driven news feed service. Ten seconds of video is the new 140 characters of text—yes, that’s 10 seconds, not 6. Twitter was built for an SMS world, and between the closure of Twitter-owned Vine and the inability of Twitter-owned Periscope to combat Snapchat’s growth, the company doesn’t seem poised to leave SMS behind in a successful way. Meanwhile, Twitter's acquisitions and NFL-related deals have bled more cash than they’ve earned.

It's likely that Twitter will be forced to sell itself at a huge discount (or sell off bits of its intellectual property) just to keep the site afloat through the end of 2017—or until its user base is folded into something else, though what that would be is much harder to predict. Also, expect Twitter to do something drastic as a last gasp to raise its public profile before such a sale closes. (If there’s a way to place a Vegas wager on Twitter deleting the @realDonaldTrump account at some point, put me down for $10.)

I have to agree.  We'll add this to the list of Future Stupidity picks and revisit in 2018, but Twitter as it is right now is 100% unsustainable.  Besides, the Pepes are heading to their own little alt-racist sandbox hell social media platform called Gab to do serious bidness, and like the article says, the kids are all over Snapchat and Instagram these days.

Of course, the counter-argument to this is "Trump uses it so it will remain popular as long as he does" so hey, who knows, right?

We've Been Here Before

A US presidential candidate working with a foreign power to undermine the current president's foreign policy position while thousands are dying and thousands more being displaced as refugees in a prolonged foreign civil war.  A long cold war with the foreign power, heavily invested in the civil war of its proxy, would suddenly see a major shift in positive relations as a result. 

Evidence of this meddling came to light before the election, but the sitting president chose not to reveal it because doing so would destroy the integrity of the voting process. Despite the sitting president's many accomplishments in civil rights and leading the country back into economic prosperity, the candidate of the other party wins the election and defeats the president's increasingly unpopular successor.

No, this isn't 2016 in review again, but 1968. The treacherous candidate was of course Nixon, the sitting president was LBJ, the foreign power was China, the war was Vietnam, and the unpopular successor was Hubert Humphrey.

Richard M. Nixon always denied it: to David Frost, to historians and to Lyndon B. Johnson, who had the strongest suspicions and the most cause for outrage at his successor’s rumored treachery. To them all, Nixon insisted that he had not sabotaged Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative to bring the war in Vietnam to an early conclusion. “My God. I would never do anything to encourage” South Vietnam “not to come to the table,” Nixon told Johnson, in a conversation captured on the White House taping system.

Now we know Nixon lied. A newfound cache of notes left by H. R. Haldeman, his closest aide, shows that Nixon directed his campaign’s efforts to scuttle the peace talks, which he feared could give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election. On Oct. 22, 1968, he ordered Haldeman to “monkey wrench” the initiative.
The 37th president has been enjoying a bit of a revival recently, as his achievements in foreign policy and the landmark domestic legislation he signed into law draw favorable comparisons to the presidents (and president-elect) that followed. A new, $15 million face-lift at the Nixon presidential library, while not burying the Watergate scandals, spotlights his considerable record of accomplishments.

Haldeman’s notes return us to the dark side. Amid the reappraisals, we must now weigh apparently criminal behavior that, given the human lives at stake and the decade of carnage that followed in Southeast Asia, may be more reprehensible than anything Nixon did in Watergate.

Nixon sank Johnson's efforts to end the Vietnam War so he could win, full stop. He used Anna Chennault as an intermediary and put pressure on South Vietnam through the Chinese.

When Johnson got word of Nixon’s meddling, he ordered the F.B.I. to track Chennault’s movements. She “contacted Vietnam Ambassador Bui Diem,” one report from the surveillance noted, “and advised him that she had received a message from her boss … to give personally to the ambassador. She said the message was … ‘Hold on. We are gonna win. … Please tell your boss to hold on.’ ”

In a conversation with the Republican senator Everett Dirksen, the minority leader, Johnson lashed out at Nixon. “I’m reading their hand, Everett,” Johnson told his old friend. “This is treason.”

“I know,” Dirksen said mournfully.

Johnson’s closest aides urged him to unmask Nixon’s actions. But on a Nov. 4 conference call, they concluded that they could not go public because, among other factors, they lacked the “absolute proof,” as Defense Secretary Clark Clifford put it, of Nixon’s direct involvement.

Nixon was elected president the next day.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Sunday Long Read: Trump v Putin

As Molly McKew points out, Vlad the Dudesplainer has won 2016 hands down and is on the verge of having Russia-friendly governments in France and Germany along with the UK taking the Brexit exit from the EU. The only person at this point who can stand up to him is Donald Trump, and the odds of that actually happening appear to be next to zero.

From Moscow, Vladimir Putin has seized the momentum of this unraveling, exacting critical damage to the underpinnings of the liberal world order in a shockingly short time. As he builds a new system to replace the one we know, attempts by America and its allies to repair the damage have been limited and slow. Even this week, as Barack Obama tries to confront Russia’s open and unprecedented interference in our political process, the outgoing White House is so far responding to 21st century hybrid information warfare with last century’s diplomatic toolkit: the expulsion of spies, targeted sanctions, potential asset seizure. The incoming administration, while promising a new approach, has betrayed a similar lack of vision. Their promised attempt at another “reset” with Russia is a rehash of a policy that has utterly failed the past two American administrations.

What both administrations fail to realize is that the West is already at war, whether it wants to be or not. It may not be a war we recognize, but it is a war. This war seeks, at home and abroad, to erode our values, our democracy, and our institutional strength; to dilute our ability to sort fact from fiction, or moral right from wrong; and to convince us to make decisions against our own best interests.

Those on the Russian frontier, like my friends from Ukraine and Estonia, have already seen the Kremlin’s new toolkit at work. The most visible example may be “green men,” the unlabeled Russian-backed forces that suddenly popped up to seize the Crimean peninsula and occupy eastern Ukraine. But the wider battle is more subtle, a war of subversion rather than domination. The recent interference in the American elections means that these shadow tactics have now been deployed – with surprising effectiveness – not just against American allies, but against America itself. And the only way forward for America and the West is to embrace the spirit of the age that Putin has created, plow through the chaos, and focus on building what comes next.

President-elect Trump has characteristics that can aid him in defining what comes next. He is, first and foremost, a rule-breaker, not quantifiable by metrics we know. In a time of inconceivable change, that can be an incredible asset. He comes across as a straight talker, and he can be blunt with the American people about the threats we face. He is a man of many narratives, and can find a way to sell these decisions to the American people. He believes in strength, and knows hard power is necessary.

So far, Trump seems far more likely than any of his predecessors to accelerate, rather than resist, the unwinding of the postwar order. And that could be a very bad — or an unexpectedly good — thing. So far, he has chosen to act as if the West no longer matters, seemingly blind to the danger that Putin’s Russia presents to American security and American society. The question ahead of us is whether Trump will aid the Kremlin’s goals with his anti-globalist, anti-NATO rhetoric– or whether he’ll clearly see the end of the old order, grasp the nature of the war we are in, and have the vision and the confrontational spirit to win it.

Sure.  It could happen.  Far more likely however is that Trump is so utterly compromised by Putin at this point that we're looking at an active war between America's intelligence community and America's next president, and the fallout will so cripple both that Putin will have no problems consolidating his power in Europe and his growing power in the Middle East.

Between Snowden's intel treasure hoard and Trump's puppet strings, the next four years are going to be a disaster for the United States that will most likely include another 2008-style financial collapse that will finish us off as a global power. That collapse my very well be political as well, and what will emerge from it is anyone's guess, but history tells us that we're looking at a new, highly authoritarian regime when that happens.

Trump is promising "revelations" this week that will clear Russia's name in the allegations of interference in our elections made by the intel community and President Obama. If that's the case, the active war between Trump and the CIA/FBI will be fully on, and I would expect things to get very ugly, very quickly.

New Year, New Rules

I've made some changes around here this morning as we get to work here in 2017.

1) No more guest commenting.  Get a Disqus account if you want to join the discussion, which should motivate people to behave around here.

2) Be excellent to each other.  I'm going to be much, much less tolerant of personal insults around here.  Discuss the topic, go off topic, but personal attacks I'll put an end to.

Happy New Year.

And 2017 Starts Off Just As Bad

I know we're still in 2017 can't be as bad as 2016 mode, but let's put that to bed. January is only the beginning of "much worse" in America and the suffering will strike most at those least able to resist it.

A federal judge in Texas on Saturday issued a nationwide injunction halting enforcement of Obama administration protections for transgender and abortion-related healthcare services just one day before they were due to go into effect.

The lawsuit — brought by Texas, a handful of other states, and some religiously affiliated nonprofit medical groups — challenges a regulation implementing the sex nondiscrimination requirement found in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation “forbids discriminating on the basis of ‘gender identity’ and ‘termination of pregnancy’” under Obamacare, as US District Court Judge Reed O’Connor wrote in his opinion halting enforcement of those provisions in the rule.

Explaining the lawsuit, O’Connor wrote, “Plaintiffs claim the Rule’s interpretation of sex discrimination pressures doctors to deliver healthcare in a manner that violates their religious freedom and thwarts their independent medical judgment and will require burdensome changes to their health insurance plans on January 1, 2017.”

The states and nonprofits in the healthcare lawsuit allege that the regulation violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) — which sets the rules for federal government rule-making — and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

O’Connor found that the plaintiffs had standing to bring the lawsuit because they “have presented concrete evidence to support their fears that they will be subject to enforcement under the Rule.”

Spokespersons from the Justice and Health and Human Services departments did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The next steps from the administration could include seeking to appeal the injunction or asking O’Connor to limit his order to the plaintiffs in the case, although it was not clear — with 20 days left in the Obama administration — what the government would choose to do.

In other words, trans folks can't be allowed to exist because it pisses off imaginary sky dude.  If this sounds insane, understand that we have laws that are broadly used to allow discrimination against trans folks because not discriminating against them violates "religious freedom"  What would have been a solid Supreme Court showdown with a Clinton-appointed justice to replace Scalia is now almost certainly going to end in federal law demanding that people be given special dispensation to deny housing, employment, good and services, and pretty much anything else to LGBTQ folks in America, and that's probably going to happen within the next couple of years.

In other words, all those state protections in places like California and New York and other blue states are likely going to be stripped, including, I would think, a challenge to Obergfell and same-sex marriage on RFRA grounds.  It will be the same avenue used to end legal abortion services in the US as well.

Expect this, and be ready to fight it.
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