The Morning Jolt

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Trump Sends Diplomats Back to Russia

Russian boss Vladimir Putin (Grigory Dukor / Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The U.S. expels Russian diplomats and closes a Russian consulate, Facebook comes under the government microscope, and Kim Jong-un goes to China. Maybe.

Go Back to Irkutsk!

Is this what it was like to live through the Cold War? Yesterday, in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil, President Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian officials from the United States and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle. Several NATO countries made similar moves. The New York Times reports that “Trump followed the lead of Prime Minister Theresa May, who rallied a multinational coalition to respond to the poisoning.” According to the Times, “Trump called foreign counterparts to see if they would join, too. Aides said he encouraged them to take part, but he also knew that failure to go along would have left the United States isolated.”

Donald Trump displays a weird affinity for Vladimir Putin, and too often hesitates to condemn his regime before the cameras. But this is another instance of his administration taking genuinely muscular action against Russia. The loss of a handful of diplomats from the U.S. and the closure of a consulate isn’t itself a big deal, of course; this is the sort of thing that happened during the Cold War with regularity. What matters is that we teamed up with 14 countries from the European Union along with Canada and Ukraine to present a united front — and that Trump seems less intent on pursuing a deal with Putin at the expense of unity in the West.

Tougher sanctions implemented across the Western world could put a dent in Putin’s regime, which, though popular, presides over a rickety economy, without risking military escalation. The editors of National Review had some ideas for what such sanctions might entail: Continuing to arm Ukraine, holding Russia to account for its use of chemical weapons before international tribunals, and imposing targeted sanctions on Russian individuals. Time will tell if Trump and the rest of the West are willing to enact such measures. Nonetheless, yesterday was a step in the right direction.

#ResistFacebook

I wrote about the backlash to Big Tech two weeks ago, making the observation that cultural conservatives and social democrats had found a common enemy in the tech industry. Conservatives worry that tech companies, whose c-suite executives both lean left and want to present an affable corporate image, will discriminate against conservatives. Those on the left worry that tech companies possess too much capital, too much power, and too much information.

But, I predicted, if the only people suspicious of tech companies are committed political partisans, then the backlash won’t gain too much momentum — especially with companies such as Facebook offering popular products and companies such as Amazon employing swathes of Americans. People simply care about their screens more than their privacy, and their paychecks more than their ideological purity, I thought.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal and its aftermath might be proving me wrong. A quick recap: A researcher obtained the Facebook data of, oh, 50 million Americans by offering a mundane “quiz” to approximately 270,000 users, and then harvesting information from their friends’ profiles. He turned that data over to political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which then used the data to improve its targeted advertising. All of it sounds pretty nefarious.

Except for the fact that this is what happens with your Facebook data every single day. Collecting information about its users and then selling that information is the value proposition of the company. Which is why, despite Facebook’s insistence that the real villain is Cambridge Analytica for conducting a “scam” and a “fraud,” and despite the fact that Cambridge Analytica features the sinister name and odious rich donors that any good villain needs, the blame has shifted to Facebook. From the Wall Street Journal:

Government officials ratcheted up pressure Monday on Facebook over its handling of user data, with federal regulators saying they are investigating the social-media giant’s privacy policies and 37 state attorneys general demanding explanations for its practices.

The Federal Trade Commission, in a statement, signaled that its probe of Facebook is broad. Tom Pahl, a top FTC official, said the commission “takes very seriously” recent reports raising “substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook.”

A separate letter from a bipartisan group of state attorneys general, addressed to Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, demanded the company provide answers to a series of questions about its policies and practices for handling information about its users. The letter said the attorneys general are “profoundly concerned” over media reports that outsiders were able to obtain Facebook user information without the users’ consent.

This comes on the heels of the launching of an investigation in the United Kingdom. Because everything is securities fraud, investors are suing Facebook for not disclosing the scandal before its stock price plummeted. And investors and governments aren’t the only ones giving Facebook the side-eye: Plenty of #Resistance liberals are casting the story in terms of Facebook abetting Donald Trump’s rise to power.

I thought aggrieved conservatives and trust-busting lefties would be the only ones annoyed enough with Big Tech to push for reforms to the industry, and doubted that such a strange-bedfellows coalition would wind up securing any reforms. But the Cambridge Analytica scandal may be earning it two more enemies: governments and the center-Left. Perhaps the backlash is accelerating.

Kim Jong-Un Goes to China . . . Maybe.

From Bloomberg:

Kim Jong Un made a surprise visit to Beijing on his first known trip outside North Korea since taking power in 2011, three people with knowledge of the visit said.

Further details of his trip, including how long Kim would stay and who he would meet, were not immediately available. The people asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information. . . .

The unannounced visit is the latest in series of diplomatic power plays in Asia as U.S. President Donald Trump’s battle to lower the U.S. trade deficit becomes entangled with his effort to get Kim to give up his nuclear weapons. Chinese President Xi Jinping has found himself preparing for a trade war with Trump even after supporting progressive rounds of United Nations sanctions against the Kim regime.

There isn’t much to say here, owing to the lack of information. China doesn’t want a unified, democratic Korea on its border, but China also has more leverage over North Korea than any other state. This story is one to watch — especially with the president’s supposed meeting with the North Korean dictator looming.

ADDENDA: Your read of the day should be Razib Khan’s review of David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here. And your sports item of the day is the resuscitation of Markelle Fultz, the top overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, who played last night after a 68-game absence. Fultz had been out with the basketball version of Steve Blass disease — a sudden inability to shoot jumpers that wasn’t caused by any physical ailment — and though his jumper looked rickety last night, he had 10 points and seems ready to play again.

In other news, a friend informed me last night that Ben Carson — my alma mater’s finest — has a cameo appearance in the movie Stuck on You (2003), in which Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear play conjoined twins. Go figure.

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