Insecurities on Display

Security theater in Florida; why some civil rights orgs might be supporting the weakening of net neutrality rules; and more.


  • Trump watch: No president has challenged the deep state and won. Now the Administration is learning that lesson, as Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor, resigned last night after the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department knew what he said to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak late last year because the ambassador’s communications were monitored by the FBI.

  • The next shoe to drop will likely be that of the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, who the Post reported was warned in late January by then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates that she believed Flynn had misled top administration officials about his communications with Russia and was thus “potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.” As Jack Goldsmith points out on LawFareblog, “In the coming days it will be crucial to ask what McGahn did with this information, and when, and why.”

  • Nothing like security theater, right? Sunday, President Trump huddled with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe in full view of guests at the Mar-a-Lago resort as they responded in real-time to the news of a North Korean missile test—a violation of several standard security protocols (they weren’t in a secure facility, and aides were using their cell phones to illuminate the documents the two men were reading), as David Fahrenthold reports for the Washington Post.

  • Edward Snowden made reporters who met with him in Hong Kong stick their phones in his hotel room refrigerator, Philip Bump of the Washington Post reminds us.

  • Thirty-seven mental health professionals have signed a letter to The New York Times stating “Mr. Trump’s speech and actions demonstrate an inability to tolerate views different from his own, leading to rage reactions. His words and behavior suggest a profound inability to empathize. Individuals with these traits distort reality to suit their psychological state, attacking facts and those who convey them (journalists, scientists). In a powerful leader, these attacks are likely to increase, as his personal myth of greatness appears to be confirmed. We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.”

  • Nonsense watch: The folks at Scout have picked up on the Cambridge Analytica hype and delivered a real stinker of a story, calling it “a new automated propaganda machine driving global politics.” I’m sorry, “a Weaponize AI Propaganda Machine.” Forgive me for leaving out the caps. Here’s the overheated mush Scout co-founders Berit Anderson and Brett Horvath are pushing: “What if President Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign didn’t just have the best political messaging, but 250 million algorithmic versions of their political message all updating in real-time, personalized to precisely fit the worldview and attack the insecurities of their targets? Instead of having to deal with misleading politicians, we may soon witness a cambrian explosion of pathologically-lying political and corporate bots that constantly improve at manipulating us.” Hasn’t anyone heard of “vaporware”?

  • Opposition watch: Megan Molteni reports for Wired on the efforts of volunteer coders with DataRefuge and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, who are working with the Internet Archive to monitor ongoing changes to government websites and make back-up copies of as many government databases as they can.

  • Tim Murphy of Mother Jones reports on a collection of new grassroots Democratic groups that are focused on moving energy and resources from “blue” districts to swing ones, including Sister District, Flippable, and SwingLeft.

  • As America experiences a massive wave of public participation in the political arena, it’s worth noting that some people are already wringing their hands and proclaiming that it can’t last. To wit, take this piece on Vox by Chayenne Polimedio of New America. In it, she urges civic tech to “adjust their ideas of where most people, real people, fit on the ‘political engagement spectrum,'” and warns “we’re not going to get thousands of people marching every weekend forever.” This is of course true, but in a movement moment, the last thing we need is to ratchet down expectations of what is possible.

  • Remember net neutrality? Several old-line civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and the National Urban League, are signaling their support for undoing the FCC’s rule defending net neutrality, which, as Lee Fang points out for the Intercept, probably has a lot to do with the funding they’ve received over the years telecast like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.

  • The open web faces a different threat, writes J.M. Porup for Ars Technica—a decision that the W3C will soon make on whether to standardize digital rights management in web browsers.