Isolationism in an Interconnected World. Turkey vs United States. A Facebook Nation State.


Facebook’s Public Relations Long March into Washington: Facebook hired three crisis communications firms, bought digital and newspaper ads, and had CEO Mark Zuckerberg post a video trying to deal with the fallout from – first its denial, then its confirmation – that  Russians used the site to influence the 2016 US election.

This week Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg leaned in and made the rounds in Washington trying to smooth over Congress and the public. She talked with dozens of lawmakers and made numerous promises about how the company would change, including providing more data to investigators of Russian meddling. She even promised the Congressional Black Caucus she would help appoint an African American to the Facebook board of directors. Sandberg knows her way around Washington, having worked for years as a top aide in the Treasury Department. Zuckerberg and Sandberg are both regularly mentioned as a potential political candidate. In the era of techopolies, holding a political office would be a step down given Facebook as a company has more users than China’s population. Additionally, Facebook’s data about its users is more powerful and all-seeing than any autocrat could ever dream or desire to have. Enlightened despotism.

Additional reads:

Turkey and US In Full-On Diplomatic Row: Turkey-US relations have taken a rapid nosedive after the arrest of Metin Topuz, a staff member at Istanbul’s US consulate. As we reported Wednesday, Washington responded to the arrest by freezing all of its non-immigrant visa services in the country, and the Turkish government responded by doing the same. US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass said that Turkish authorities have not bothered to even tell Washington why Topuz was detained and that the employee has been denied access to a lawyer. Several US citizens and Turkish nationals working for the US mission in the country have also been detained as the government continues with an aggressive crackdown following last year’s failed military coup. An American pastor, Andrew Brunson, was arrested a year ago and is charged with plotting to overthrow the Turkish government, disrupting the constitutional order, and espionage. NASA physicist Serkan Golge, a dual Turkish-US national, has been in detention for more than a year.


The Continuing Crisis In Puerto Rico: It has now been over three weeks since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and the United States’s attempts to provide aid to that island of American citizens is beyond lacking. 80% to 90% of the island is still without power and nearly half of all people have no means of communication. Whether victims receive adequate food depends on how close they live to San Juan. But it is the lack of clean drinking water that is beginning to kill those who managed to survive the storm. Four deaths are being investigated as possible cases of a bacterial infection called leptospirosis, which is spread by animals’ urine in contaminated water.

Juxtapose that situation with tweets sent on Thursday morning by President Trump that said (essentially “let them eat cake”): “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. Forever!” The tweets were sent a day after the Environmental Protection Agency reported that desperate people in the US territory have been drinking from hazardous waste superfund sites whose wells had been sealed due to toxic pollution.

There’s also a significant disparity between the government’s count of the dead and reports from people and medical personnel on the ground. Governor Ricardo Rosselló said the official death toll from the hurricane is now up to 45, but experts believe the number is higher and that official numbers are as fake as Facebook ads.


Trump Signs Executive Order Aimed At Weakening Obamacare: In yet another effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare), President Trump signed an Executive Order Thursday directing the Labor Department to study how to make it easier for small businesses, and possibly individuals, to join together and buy health insurance through nationwide association health plans. The order would also allow consumers to buy short-term policies, which don’t have to comply with the ACA’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Additionally it looks to broaden the ability of employers to give workers money to buy their own coverage through health reimbursement arrangements, known as HRAs.

Critics say the order may free these association health plans from several key Obamacare regulations and from state oversight, allowing them to sell plans with lower premiums but skimpier benefits. That could draw younger and healthier customers away from Obamacare and send premiums skyrocketing for sicker people left in the exchanges. Trump, who criticized former President Obama for using executive orders, has been very unhappy that Congress has not been able to pass any legislation directed at overturning the ACA. So the administration has been taking steps to destabilize the plan and make it harder for people to sign up for the ACA.

US and Israel To Withdraw From UNESCO: Citing anti-Israel bias and mounting membership dues that are owed, the US State Department announced that the US is withdrawing from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO promotes international cooperation in education, science, culture, and communication, though it is best known for its designation of “world heritage” sites–locations around the globe that are preserved for their cultural or historical importance. The US stopped paying dues to UNESCO in 2011 after the agency voted to accept a Palestinian bid for full membership and now owes approximately $550 million. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will also withdraw from the body and called the US move a “courageous and moral decision.” The Tomb of the Patriarchs, along with the Hebron’s Old City, were designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in July, despite opposition from the United States and IsraelIn response to the US withdrawal, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova stated: “At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack.”


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