Andrew Sullivan returns to writing

English: A photo of author and political comme...
English: A photo of author and political commentator Andrew Sullivan. Taken in Amsterdam, Holland with a Nikon D2Xs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Andrew Sullivan closed his blog a few years ago. But he has now returned to writing (at least temporarily) and has published an amazing essay in New York Magazine on the dangers of democracy in an era of ruthless politicians. It is well worth a careful read.

Here is an excerpt:

Trump assiduously cultivated this image and took to reality television as a natural. Each week, for 14 seasons of The Apprentice, he would look someone in the eye and tell them, “You’re fired!” The conversation most humane bosses fear to have with an employee was something Trump clearly relished, and the cruelty became entertainment. In retrospect, it is clear he was training — both himself and his viewers. If you want to understand why a figure so widely disliked nonetheless powers toward the election as if he were approaching a reality-TV-show finale, look no further. His television tactics, as applied to presidential debates, wiped out rivals used to a different game. And all our reality-TV training has conditioned us to hope he’ll win — or at least stay in the game till the final round. In such a shame-free media environment, the assholes often win. In the end, you support them because they’re assholes.

* * *

For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. This is just one aspect of what Trump has masterfully signaled as “political correctness” run amok, or what might be better described as the newly rigid progressive passion for racial and sexual equality of outcome, rather than the liberal aspiration to mere equality of opportunity.

Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well. A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities — and see themselves, in Hoffer’s words, “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.”

And so they wait, and they steam, and they lash out. This was part of the emotional force of the tea party: not just the advancement of racial minorities, gays, and women but the simultaneous demonization of the white working-class world, its culture and way of life. Obama never intended this, but he became a symbol to many of this cultural marginalization. The Black Lives Matter left stoked the fires still further; so did the gay left, for whom the word magnanimity seems unknown, even in the wake of stunning successes. And as the tea party swept through Washington in 2010, as its representatives repeatedly held the government budget hostage, threatened the very credit of the U.S., and refused to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, the American political and media Establishment mostly chose to interpret such behavior as something other than unprecedented. But Trump saw what others didn’t, just as Hoffer noted: “The frustrated individual and the true believer make better prognosticators than those who have reason to want the preservation of the status quo.”

* * *

Mass movements, Hoffer argues, are distinguished by a “facility for make-believe … credulity, a readiness to attempt the impossible.” What, one wonders, could be more impossible than suddenly vetting every single visitor to the U.S. for traces of Islamic belief? What could be more make-believe than a big, beautiful wall stretching across the entire Mexican border, paid for by the Mexican government? What could be more credulous than arguing that we could pay off our national debt through a global trade war? In a conventional political party, and in a rational political discourse, such ideas would be laughed out of contention, their self-evident impossibility disqualifying them from serious consideration. In the emotional fervor of a democratic mass movement, however, these impossibilities become icons of hope, symbols of a new way of conducting politics. Their very impossibility is their appeal.

But the most powerful engine for such a movement — the thing that gets it off the ground, shapes and solidifies and entrenches it — is always the evocation of hatred. It is, as Hoffer put it, “the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying elements.” And so Trump launched his campaign by calling undocumented Mexican immigrants a population largely of rapists and murderers. He moved on to Muslims, both at home and abroad. He has now added to these enemies — with sly brilliance — the Republican Establishment itself. And what makes Trump uniquely dangerous in the history of American politics — with far broader national appeal than, say, Huey Long or George Wallace — is his response to all three enemies. It’s the threat of blunt coercion and dominance.

And so after demonizing most undocumented Mexican immigrants, he then vowed to round up and deport all 11 million of them by force. “They have to go” was the typically blunt phrase he used — and somehow people didn’t immediately recognize the monstrous historical echoes. The sheer scale of the police and military operation that this policy would entail boggles the mind. Worse, he emphasized, after the mass murder in San Bernardino, that even the Muslim-Americans you know intimately may turn around and massacre you at any juncture. “There’s something going on,” he declaimed ominously, giving legitimacy to the most hysterical and ugly of human impulses.

GOP quote of the day

It was a week in which Cruz made headlines with his disastrous attempt to connect with Indiana sports fans, in which he referred to a basketball hoop as a “ring.” That was a terrible moment, although certainly not as bad as Trump’s boastful announcement that he’d gotten the backing of the ex-boxer Mike Tyson. (“I love it … Iron Mike. You know all the tough guys endorse me. I like that, O.K.?”) Tyson has strong ties to Indiana, having served three years in prison there for raping a beauty pageant contestant in 1992.

* * *

Cruz made a desperate play for attention by picking Carly Fiorina as his ticket’s vice-presidential candidate. While he’s still way behind in delegates, the senator from Texas now leads the pack in anointed running mates.

Fiorina was obviously chosen after long and careful consideration. But who do you think the other finalists were? He clearly needed a woman whose best career option was joining the Ted Cruz ticket. I am thinking the possible contenders were:

A) That State Board of Education candidate in Texas who claims Barack Obama used to pay for his drug habit by working as a prostitute.

B) Mrs. Cruz

C) The House member who made the impassioned speech denouncing government regulation of ceiling fans.

D) Wendy who delivered pizza to the campaign headquarters during the Ohio primary.

Gail Collins, writing in the New York Times.

Of course, for a real view of Fiorina’s thinking, you can do no better than her demon sheep ad that she ran when running, several years ago, for the US Senate.

House of Representatives unanimously approves update to Email Privacy Act

Via Reuters:

The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously on Wednesday to require law enforcement authorities to get a search warrant before asking technology companies to hand over old emails.

The bill’s prospects in the Senate remain unclear, though the 419-0 vote in the House was likely to put pressure on the upper chamber to approve it.

Under the Email Privacy Act, which updates a decades-old law, authorities would have to get a warrant to access emails or other digital communications more than 180 days old. At present, agencies such as the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission only need a subpoena to seek such data from a service provider.

It is well past time. Now let’s see of the Senate can get on board.

FBI will not share how it hacked iPhone

Via The Wall Street Journal:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t plan to tell Apple Inc. how it cracked a San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist’s phone, said people familiar with the matter, leaving the company in the dark on a security vulnerability on some iPhone models.

The FBI knows how to use the phone-hacking tool it bought to open the iPhone 5c but doesn’t specifically knows how it works, allowing the tool to avoid a White House review, the people said, The FBI plans to notify the White House of this conclusion in the coming days, they added.

Any decision to not share details of the vulnerability with Apple is likely to anger privacy advocates who contend the FBI’s approach to encryption weakens data security for many smartphone and computer owners in order to preserve options for federal investigators to open locked devices.

Generally, a White House review is required when a vulnerability in security is discovered by a Federal agency so it can be shared with the manufacturer. Apparently, at least for now, the FBI is trying to avoid such sharing. The agency continues to damage information security for all.
By the way, the FBI did share a vulnerability to Apple on April 24. However, this was no big deal as Apple had already fixed the issue months ago.

Wall Street Journal calls out the FBI

The FBI has been tying itself in knots with Apple, first by trying to force Apple to break its own encryption, and then acknowledging that the agency was able to access at least two iPhones without Apple’s help.

The Wall Street Journal claims that the FBI has travelled into the zone of farce:

If history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce, what does the FBI have in store next for its encryption war with Apple? After withdrawing its demands in San Bernardino and then reopening hostilities with a drug prosecution in Brooklyn, the G-men abruptly dumped the second case over the weekend too. Is anyone in charge at the Justice Department, or are junior prosecutors running the joint?

* * *

Yet while Justice argued in Brooklyn that Apple’s help was essential, it also argued the FBI had no obligation to pursue a non-Apple work-around. The remarkable claim was that prosecutors need not exhaust all possible alternatives before conscripting a private company, such as consulting with other U.S. agencies, hiring an outside digital forensics outfit or even interrogating Feng again.

Such assertions were as false in Brooklyn as in San Bernardino. Two hours and a half before a deadline on Friday night, the government withdrew the case after “an individual provided the passcode to the iPhone,” according to legal filings. This second immaculate conception in as many months further undermines the FBI’s credibility about its technological capabilities. Judges ought to exercise far more scrutiny in future decryption cases even as Mr. Comey continues to pose as helpless.

* * *

Meanwhile, the White House has taken the profile-in-courage stand of refusing to endorse or oppose any encryption bill that Congress may propose. If the Obama team won’t start adjusting to the technological realities of strong and legal encryption, they could at least exercise some adult supervision at Main Justice.

The FBI cannot be trusted to protect privacy and security for our citizens, especially given their keystone cops behavior.

Former national security officials support Apple and end-to-end encryption

The New York Times is reporting on the support for strong end-to-end encryption provided by former intelligence officials.

In their years together as top national security officials, Michael V. Hayden and Michael Chertoff were fierce advocates of using the government’s spying powers to pry into sensitive intelligence data.

Mr. Hayden directed a secret domestic eavesdropping program at the National Security Agency that captured billions of phone records after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Chertoff pushed for additional wiretapping and surveillance powers from Congress both as a top prosecutor and as Homeland Security secretary.

But today, their jobs have changed, and so, apparently, have their views on privacy. Both former officials now work with technology companies like Apple at a corporate consulting firm that Mr. Chertoff founded, and both are now backing Apple — and not the F.B.I., with which they once worked — in its fight to keep its iPhones encrypted and private.

They are among more than a half-dozen prominent former national security officials who, to varying degrees, have supported Apple and the idea of impenetrable “end-to-end encryption” during a furious national debate over the balance between privacy and security in the digital age.

* * *

Among those who have voiced support for Apple’s position are Mike McConnell, a former director of national intelligence; David H. Petraeus, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency; R. James Woolsey, another former C.I.A. director; and Richard A. Clarke, a former top White House counterterrorism official. Like Mr. Chertoff and Mr. Hayden, they all now work with firms that have ties to the technology sector, records show.

The fact of the matter is that without end-to-end data encryption, no one can be sure that their private data is in fact private. Any back doors are unacceptable. And it is a good thing that such officials support companies that are providing strong encryption.

Color me stunned (updated)

I can hardly believe this exchange with Donald Trump:

Good for him on this issue.

Update: Well, I spoke too soon. Trump has now effectively recanted his earlier position:

Speaking with Sean Hannity on Fox News Thursday evening, the Republican presidential frontrunner decided that while he still believes North Carolina’s law overturning local anti-discrimination ordinances is “causing a lot of problems,” he thinks “local communities and states should make the decision. The federal government should not be involved.” This comes despite the fact that there was never any questions over whether the feds should have a say in the matter.

Political quote of the day

What is it with the Hillary cult?

As a lifelong Democrat who will be enthusiastically voting for Bernie Sanders in next week’s Pennsylvania primary, I have trouble understanding the fuzzy rosy filter through which Hillary fans see their champion. So much must be overlooked or discounted—from Hillary’s compulsive money-lust and her brazen indifference to normal rules to her conspiratorial use of shadowy surrogates and her sociopathic shape-shifting in policy positions for momentary expedience.

Hillary’s breathtaking lack of concrete achievements or even minimal initiatives over her long public career doesn’t faze her admirers a whit. They have a religious conviction of her essential goodness and blame her blank track record on diabolical sexist obstructionists. When at last week’s debate Hillary crassly blamed President Obama for the disastrous Libyan incursion that she had pushed him into, her acolytes hardly noticed. They don’t give a damn about international affairs—all that matters is transgender bathrooms and instant access to abortion.

I’m starting to wonder, given the increasing dysfunction of our democratic institutions, if the Hillary cult isn’t perhaps registering an atavistic longing for monarchy. Or perhaps it’s just a neo-pagan reversion to idolatry, as can be felt in the Little Italy street festival scene of The Godfather, Part II, where devout pedestrians pin money to the statue of San Rocco as it is carried by in procession. There was a strange analogy to that last week, when Sanders supporters satirically showered Hillary’s motorcade with dollar bills as she arrived at George Clooney’s luxe fund-raiser in Los Angeles.

Camille Paglia, writing in Salon. You can read the full article here.

Curt Shilling fired from ESPN over transgender tweet

This guy really is a hard core bigot.

Via The New York Times:

Schilling, who had worked for the network since 2010 and most recently offered analysis on “Monday Night Baseball,” was dismissed after sharing a Facebook post this week that appeared to respond to the North Carolina law that bars transgender people from using bathrooms and locker rooms that do not correspond with their birth genders.

The post showed an overweight man wearing a wig and women’s clothing with parts of the T-shirt cut out to expose his breasts. It says: “LET HIM IN! to the restroom with your daughter or else you’re a narrow-minded, judgmental, unloving racist bigot who needs to die.”

To that, Schilling added: “A man is a man no matter what they call themselves. I don’t care what they are, who they sleep with, men’s room was designed for the penis, women’s not so much. Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic.”

Here is a copy of the picture that accompanied his first tweet:

trans-300x300

EFF files suit against Justice Department

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has announced it filed a suit against the Justice Department over whether the Department ever required private companies to decrypt consumer’s private information.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit today against the Justice Department to shed light on whether the government has ever used secret court orders to force technology companies to decrypt their customers’ private communications, a practice that could undermine the safety and security of devices used by millions of people.

The lawsuit argues that the DOJ must disclose if the government has ever sought or obtained an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) requiring third parties—like Apple or Google—to provide technical assistance to carry out surveillance.

The suit separately alleges that the agency has failed to turn over other significant FISC opinions that must be declassified as part of surveillance reforms that Congress enacted with the USA FREEDOM Act.

EFF filed its FOIA requests in October and March amid increasing government pressure on technology companies to provide access to customers’ devices and encrypted communications for investigations. Although the FBI has sought orders from public federal courts to create a backdoor to an iPhone, it is unclear to what extent the government has sought or obtained similar orders from the FISC. The FISC operates mostly in secret and grants nearly every government surveillance request it receives.

You can read the full complaint here.

The EFF is a terrific organization that deserves support. You can support their efforts on civil liberties by contributing here.