'Get Ready Russia': Trump Says U.S. Missiles Will Strike Syria Soon: Reason Roundup
Plus: FOSTA, Facebook, and the peril of tech regulation; ACLU calm over Cohen raid.
Trump promises bombs over Syria soon in bigger, badder Cold War. On Wednesday morning, the U.S. and Russia moved one step closer to war-by-proxy in Syria. This latest round of global dick-swinging posturing as humanitarian concern comes after Syrian government forces attacked the town of Douma over the weekend, leaving at least 42 people dead and hundreds with toxic-chemical exposure symptoms. President Trump—who recently floated the idea of removing all American troops from Syria soon—responded to the attack by suggesting there would be a "big price" to pay by Syrian president Bashar all-Assad and his allies in Russia and Iran.
Russia responded on Tuesday with vague and not-so-vague warnings about what would happen should the U.S. resume military strikes in Syria. Russia's United Nations representative Vasily Nebenzia told Americans, "I would once again beseech you to refrain from the plans that you're currently developing" for "illegal military adventure" in Syria.
Meanwhile, Russian ambassador Alexander Zasypkin told Lebanon's al-Manar TV on Tuesday:
If there is a US missile attack, we…will shoot down U.S. rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.
Trump, who canceled a planned trip to South America in order to concentrate on the Syria situation, capped off a Wednesday morning Twitter rant about the FBI raiding his lawyer's office with this:
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and "smart!" You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
This was followed up by asserting that the U.S.-Russia relationship today "is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War."
But like so many mocked contestants in his beauty pageants, Trump really just wants, like, world peace? After putting down Russia—it "needs us to hep with their economy"—today's Morning Presidential Twitter Tirade ended by noting that it would be really "very easy" for the U.S. to help Russia and suggesting that really "we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?"
After Facebook hearing, FOSTA shows perils of tech regulation. Get ready for even more social-media censorship and regulation of publishing and digital-service companies. Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before several Senate committees yesterday was a mess of congressional ignorance about tech on display, senators "venting" at Zuckerberg about things largely outside of anyone's control, and Zuck walking a fine line between mild defiance and mild groveling. He wasn't enthusiastic about increased regulation, but said that he would be open to the "right regulation," ones that "capture the nuances of how these services work."
Of course Zuckerberg is open to regulation of social media. Dominant companies are well positioned to deal with or capture regulators–at the expense of upstart competitors.
— J.D. Tuccille (@JD_Tuccille) April 10, 2018
Of course, few if any in Congress are capable of nuance or regulatory restraint. "Once lawmakers finally got Zuckerberg where they wanted him—under oath and forced to answer all their questions about Facebook's role in the 2016 election and its lax privacy protections—they struggled to articulate how exactly they want his company to change," the Los Angeles Times noted.
But lack of understanding of how technologies work—or, more importantly, how people typically use them—seldom stops lawmakers from imposing grand-sounding, control-grabbing schemes on them under the auspices of addressing inflated threats (i.e., Russian influence, domestic minor sex trafficking, hate speech).
That's something we're getting a sad and chilling reminder of today, as Trump is slated to sign "FOSTA" into law. The so-called "anti sex trafficking" act was pushed as a way to hold Backpage accountable for allegedly facilitating forced and underage prostitution, even though everyone from tech and legal scholars to the Department of Justice (DOJ) said this legislation wasn't necessary in order to prosecute Backpage—something DOJ proved this week with an indictment against Backpage (for alleged money-laundering, conspiracy, and violations of the Travel Act) and a federal court in Massachusetts also suggested with a ruling last week.
Nonetheless, a bipartisan bunch of legislators rushed to pass FOSTA—over objections from DOJ, civil liberties groups, and all of those with direct stakes in the changes: sex workers, former sex-trafficking victims, social workers and victims services groups, tech companies, and local police forces. And these lawmakers loudly patted themselves on the back while doing it, as if it had taken great political will and personal heroism to pass widely-embraced bipartisan legislation that sounds so good in soundbites. We're already seeing the same martyr act with regard to Facebook.
"I don't want to vote to have to regulate Facebook, but by God I will," said Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy.
ACLU encourages calm over Cohen and attorney-client privilege. Does the DOJ seizing Michael Cohen's communications signal that "Attorney-client privilege is dead!" That's what Trump tweeted yesterday morning in response to news of the department's raid on his personal lawyer's office, home, and hotel suite. The president also called the search "an attack on our country."
Yet "nothing could be further from the truth," states American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legal director David Cole on the group's blog. Noting that the ACLU "long maintained that the right of every American to speak freely to his or her attorney is essential to the legal system" and that "these rights are protected by the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments," Cole writes that nonetheless, "no one–not even the president, let alone his lawyer—is above the law," and no one "can exploit the attorney-client privilege" to commit fraud or other illegal acts. Cole explains:
The attorney-client privilege has always included a "crime-fraud exception," which provides that if you are using the attorney-client relationship to perpetrate a crime, there is no privilege. You have a right to talk in confidence with your attorney about criminal activity, but you can't use your attorney to accomplish a crime. A mobster suspected of engaging in bribery can consult his attorney about the facts of his alleged bribery without fear that the attorney will disclose those communications. But he has no right to have the lawyer deliver the bribe for him.
The ACLU has long recognized this exception. In fact, the ACLU cited the crime-fraud exception in our efforts to stop the government from concealing evidence of illegal torture by citing the attorney-client privilege.
While the "crime-fraud exception" is well-established, it is also narrow. And searches of lawyers' offices should be tightly restricted. The Justice Department's own guidelines recognize that searching an attorney's office is not to be done lightly. Unlike ordinary searches, searches of attorney offices require extraordinary approvals from high-level officials – in this instance, from Trump appointees in the Justice Department.
- House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly will not run for reelection.
- "The U.S. has nothing left to gain in Syria—but much to lose."
- Investigators with the European Commission raided Fox Networks Group in London yesterday as part of an investigation into sports broadcasting rights. The commission said the Rubert Murdoch company "may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices."
- The House yesterday passed another empty gesture toward fighting human trafficking, this time centered around money-laundering laws, "as lawmakers found a widely popular cause to tackle in a mostly discordant election year."
- Trump signed an executive order concerned with tightening work requirements for public assistance and welfare programs.
- In rare nanny-state course deviation, California legislators voted against a "zero tolerance" policy for people under age 21 who drive with marijuana in their system.