Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cruising the Web

As we learn that Rahami, the man arrested for the New Jersey and New York bombing plots, was reported to the police by his own father for suspected ties to terrorism, but after investigating, the FBI didn't go further, the WSJ argues we need to adjust our laws on surveillance of suspected terrorists.
the Rahami case raises troubling questions about whether U.S. law enforcement and intelligence are gathering, analyzing and acting on the information they need to detect and disrupt threats before they happen. Mr. Rahami, who came to the U.S. in 1995 with his family of Afghan asylum seekers, was arrested in 2014 for stabbing his brother, and his father told the police then that his son was involved in terrorism.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation opened an “assessment,” which is a risk review short of a full criminal probe that includes interviews and cross-checks of federal terrorism and criminal databases. Mr. Rahami was cleared, though he travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan several times over the last decade, including a year in the Taliban hothouse of Quetta.
So what can the FBI do with such information? Now, after the fact, family and friends are speaking up that he returned from those trips radicalized. What else could the authorities known about him if they'd had him under surveillance. Would they have found out that he ordered the components for his IEDs online? As the WSJ points out, there have been other terrorists in the United States who eluded FBI surveillance.
The 2015 San Bernardino killers, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, weren’t in the terror database. But they spent a year planning and maintained an extensive digital correspondence about jihad and martyrdom. Malik was born in Pakistan and spent time in Saudi Arabia before marrying Farook.

The FBI also kept a file on the Tsarnaev brothers, the Boston Marathon bombers, after receiving a tip in 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a dangerous Islamic radical. The G-men missed his trip to a Muslim region in Russia near Chechnya. The voyage registered on a Homeland Security travel monitoring system when he left, but the listing somehow lapsed by the time he came back and no one was alerted. Similar failures have also been documented after the separate attacks on two Tennessee military bases and in Garland, Texas in 2015.
The authorities seem to be doing the best they come under the parameters they have to operate. They claim to have thwarted over 90 terrorist attacks within the U.S.
Yet Americans are right to wonder about the erosion of intelligence collection in the post-Edward Snowden period, even as the terror danger has increased to a post-9/11 high. Islamic State isn’t the al Qaeda of 2001. ISIS is a creature of modern technology, and across social media and the “dark web” they have a wide reach to disseminate propaganda and training materials. Unlike al Qaeda, they encourage random people to self-radicalize and carry out attacks.

To find the terror signal amid this noise, U.S. counterterrorism operations need the same or better technological tools as ISIS. Yet last year Congress and President Obama panicked over the Snowden disclosures and limited several surveillance programs with the USA Freedom Act....

As for surveillance, about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated every day—digital traces from social media, consumer purchases, call logs and smartphones. Google, social networks, credit-card companies, banks, retailers, academic researchers and many others analyze this information with algorithms to make money, innovate or learn about society. Politicians use data mining to target voters. The irony is that Hillary Clinton’s campaign probably knows more about individual citizens and their behavior than Mrs. Clinton could know if she becomes Commander in Chief.

If someone pledges allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Facebook, travels to the Syro-Turkish border, buys pressure cookers on Amazon and then pays the toll at the Holland Tunnel, algorithms can integrate this information and flag authorities. This is “profiling” only in the sense of searching for associations and statistical probabilities. As for privacy, algorithms are less intrusive than searches, wiretaps and undercover operations.

This is the antiterror debate we should be having but aren’t. Donald Trump is focusing on immigration, but Mr. Rahami was a naturalized citizen who came to the U.S. as a child. “Extreme vetting” wouldn’t have stopped him or most of the others mentioned above. Mrs. Clinton says any profiling that includes Muslims makes Mr. Trump a “recruiting sergeant for the terrorists,” which dodges the Islamist reality.

America’s terror fighters need better tools to uncover the ideological and material links that could pre-empt another ISIS-inspired mass murder on U.S. soil. The next bomber may be more murderously successful than Mr. Rahami.
It sounds like a debate well worth having and then acting on. Don't we have a political debate coming up in a few days? I'd like to hear the answer to a question about how to improve our surveillance of those already here instead of the candidates devolving back to their stands on immigration.

It seems notably peculiar that the Justice Department chose not to include Ahmad Rahami's clear connections to ISIS in their indictment of him for the planned terror attacks in New Jersey and New York this past weekend.
Pages from the bloody journal of the New York and New Jersey bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami show he was a follower of Al Qaeda as well as the Islamic State terror group, yet federal investigators made no reference to ISIS in their complaint charging him on Tuesday.

At least two pages include references to Anwar al-Awlaki -- the American-born Muslim cleric who was killed in a 2011 drone strike and whose preaching has inspired acts of terror linked to ISIS and Al Qaeda. Federal investigators mentioned Awlaki in the complaints.

However, the journal also appears to reference Abu Muhammad al Adnani -- the ISIS spokesman killed by coalition forces in August after he called his followers to attack non-believers in their homelands.

"I looked for guidance came Sheikh Anwar, Brother Adnani, Dawla. Said it clearly – Attack the kuffar (non-believer) in the back yard," one section read. Page 12 of the complaint references this section without naming Adnani.....

Fox News has asked the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Department of Justice to explain why Rahami wrote about ISIS in his journal, but unlike the other terrorists he cited, there was no reference to ISIS in the complaint.
As Patrick Poole at PJ Media has pointed out, the Justice Department followed a similar pattern with Omar Mateen, the murderer in the Orlando nightclub.
This is reminiscent of the released transcript of Orlando mass killer Omar Mateen's pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State as he was conducting the terror attack that killed 49 this past June. The statements were made in a phone call to a local Orlando TV station during the attack.

As readers might recall, all ISIS references from Mateen's statements were noted with [omitted]. When called out by the media on the censoring of the transcript, the Justice Department first defended their omission, and then quickly relented and released the unredacted transcript showing Mateen's pledge of allegiance to ISIS.
There doesn't seem to be a legal reason not to include the ISIS connections in the Rahami indictment. They included other terrorist connections. Surely, the connection to ISIS would strengthen the indictment. It just seems a pattern of trying to downplay the dangers from ISIS here in the United States.

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Michael Barone ponders what would happen to the Democratic Party if Hillary should lose.
The shock for Democrats will likely to be more severe than for Republicans if Trump loses. "Imagine the best candidate in your party losing to the weakest candidate in the other party," speculates Dan McLaughlin at, "after years of telling yourself that your party had unlocked the demographic code to a permanent majority."

One option for Democrats would be to moderate their policies, as the New Democrats urged in the 1980s and Bill Clinton did in the 1990s. After all, that proved pretty successful. But the current Democratic electorate has little stomach for going back to that strategy....

Some Democrats will blame a Clinton loss on her particular problems — lies about her illicit secret email server, doubts about her health — and if she loses it's not likely she'll run again at age 73. So who will?

One lesson of recent presidential primaries is that Democratic voters are transfixed by identity politics, having elected the first black president and chosen the first woman presidential nominee. Another is that there's a large constituency for left-wing candidates

What they haven't been interested in is cisgendered white male liberals. The largely forgotten John Edwards fell by the wayside quickly in 2008, and Martin O'Malley, with credentials similar to those of Bill Clinton and Michael Dukakis, attracted zero support in 2016.

That leaves them with no obvious choices if Clinton loses this year. Their most visible and attractive left-wingers, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, will be over 70 in 2020. Prominent black and Hispanic officeholders tend to represent overwhelmingly Democratic constituencies and have made few of the bows to moderation that made Barack Obama a plausible national candidate in 2008.

It's possible that a post-2016 Democratic Party could look like Britain's Labour Party, which abandoned the New Labour posture of Tony Blair after it produced three landslide victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005, and which under its current far-left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn seems headed for landslide defeat in 2020.

On the other hand, one GOP insider sees a bright side for a Clinton victory this year. It might set the Republicans up for heavy victories in 2018.
Sure, a Trump defeat would lead to bloodletting, but Benjamin L. Ginsberg, who ran George W. Bush's bid to win the 2000 Florida recount, and thus the election, is predicting a big midterm election victory for Republicans.

And, he told a Council on Foreign Relations audience last week, that it also would likely help pack Republicans into governor's offices key in the upcoming congressional redistricting.

"If Hillary Clinton is president, and not Donald Trump, we will gather in a circular firing squad of incredible ferocity for about six months. And there will be a bloodletting," Ginsberg said.

But then, he said, the off-year election will arrive in 2018 and if history repeats, Republicans would score major victories.

"If you are going to look at off-year elections, in a Hillary Clinton presidency, Republicans are going to do quite well, including in the governor's races, the 36 governors races in 2018, that will have a great say in the redistricting that will last for the next decade," said the partner at the Jones Day law firm.

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This is how corruption works in our federal government.
Days before a January 2016 trial on whether Diana Rubens should keep her job, charges against her deputy were dropped, thus ensuring the subordinate couldn’t provide public testimony bolstering evidence of serious misconduct by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) senior executive.

The charges were dropped against Lucy Filipov by VA officials who were former Rubens subordinates. They did so despite an internal VA board’s recommendation that Filipov be fired for overseeing manipulation of data; shredding of official documents; double-paying benefits; abusing federal employment for financial gain; and terminating a whistleblower. Official action to fire her began in July 2015.

Not only did VA withdraw its firing of Filipov in December 2015 after she threatened to force a public hearing, the department also paid her lawyer, gave her blanket immunity, and created a work-from-home job for her. She agreed not to file complaints with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) or other judicial panels.

Complaints before the MSPB result in public hearings where sworn testimony would delve into who at VA did what, just when the fates of Rubens and another top VA executive, Kim Graves, hung in the balance.
So much for all the promises from the Obama administration to end the problems at the VA and punish those responsible.

Has Donald Trump every had a history class? I used to wonder that about Barack Obama, but Trump is plumbing new depths.
Speaking in North Carolina, the Republican nominee claimed African-American communities "are absolutely in the worst shape that they've ever been in before, ever, ever, ever."
Has he ever heard of slavery? Jim Crow? It goes to show how his vaunted outreach to African Americans does not come from a man who has ever thought deeply about the issues facing the black community.

Jonah Goldberg compares Obama's trolling of Republicans with Trump's tactics.
One of the central insights of both the Obama campaign and administration (the difference is subtle but real) is that Obama benefits when his critics overreact. In 2008, then-political adviser David Axelrod coined the phrase “no drama Obama” to describe not only his client’s personality but his messaging. By seeming unflappable in the face of criticism, Obama comes across as presidential. The more heated the criticism, the more presidential he seems.

The thing is, Obama often intentionally provokes the conservative base. As the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman put it in January 2015, Obama “seems to come up with a new idea every couple of weeks to drive [the GOP] up a wall.” That makes him a master at trolling.

RELATED: The Legacies of Barack Obama

For those still not up to speed with the lingo, “trolling” is an Internet term for saying outrageous things in order to elicit an even more outraged response. Or, as Urban Dictionary defines it, “The art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off.”

For instance, although ideology and policy no doubt play a role in Obama’s frequent refusal to use the phrase “Islamic terrorism,” he also seems to enjoy watching his critics shriek about it.

In late 2014, when Obama announced that he was going to unilaterally block the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants in the country — after insisting for years that the Constitution wouldn’t allow him to do anything of the sort — many writers on the left and the right recognized that at least part of his strategy was to bait Republicans. Obama could have changed the policy quietly, without much fanfare. Instead, he sought to incite as much right-wing anger as possible.

Tellingly, the White House didn’t give the exclusive to Univision or MSNBC, but to Fox News. As liberal writer Bill Scher put it in Politico, “Operation Epic Troll” was a “smashing success.”

Obama played a similar game with his birth certificate and the whole birther craze. He could have released his birth certificate as early as 2008, when the Mephistophelean Clinton henchman Sid Blumenthal was whispering in reporters’ ears. But Obama didn’t for years — in part because he knew the conspiracy theory would galvanize his base. It not only confirmed everything liberals wanted to hear about the Right, it also provided Obama with an endless supply of one-liners. And for a long time that worked well for Obama; he got to mock birthers and play the dignified victim.
And now we have Trump.
Trump’s claim last week that he was doing a public service by “ending” the issue Clinton “started” was itself a brilliant bit of trollery. He was trying to have it both ways, simultaneously saying that the birther movement was nefarious and illegitimate from the beginning, and that he was some kind of statesman for relentlessly pushing the birther story.

None of that matters now. Like Obama, Trump exploited birtherism for his own advantage, worming his way into the GOP. Obama allowed the issue to fester in the fever swamps of the Right, and now he’s facing the real possibility that he will be replaced by the Swamp Thing.

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Isn't this cozy? This is what cronyism looks like.
The wife of a prominent U.S. Senator used her position as head of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASB) to boost her daughter’s EpiPen sales, according to recent reports.

EpiPen, short for epinephrine injection, is a life-saving auto-injection device for those with serious allergies that cause anaphylactic shock.

CEO Heather Bresch of Mylan, the company that makes EpiPen’s, caught flack last month after reports revealed Bresch raised the price of EpiPen’s 461 percent since acquiring the drug in 2007.

Mary Williams Walsh reports in the NYT on what states are doing to hide the debts they've piled up with public pensions.
It turns out that Calpers, which managed the little pension plan, keeps two sets of books: the officially stated numbers, and another set that reflects the “market value” of the pensions that people have earned. The second number is not publicly disclosed. And it typically paints a much more troubling picture, according to people who follow the money.

The crisis at Citrus Pest Control District No. 2 illuminates a profound debate now sweeping the American public pension system. It is pitting specialist against specialist — this year in the rarefied confines of the American Academy of Actuaries, not far from the White House, the elite professionals who crunch pension numbers for a living came close to blows over this very issue.

But more important, it raises serious concerns that governments nationwide do not know the true condition of the pension funds they are responsible for. That exposes millions of people, including retired public workers, local taxpayers and municipal bond buyers — who are often retirees themselves — to risks they have no way of knowing about.

Michael Judge has chosen some of William Shakespeare's best lines about politics to show how relevant those lines seem to today's politics.
1) “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” (“Hamlet”)

2) “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” (“Hamlet”)

3) “I am a man more sinned against than sinning.” (“King Lear”)

4) “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.” (“Macbeth”)

5) “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” (“Richard II”)

6) “Plain and not honest is too harsh a style.” (“Richard III”)

7) “The commonwealth is sick of their own choice.” (“Henry IV, Part II”)

8) “Virtue is choked with foul ambition.” (“Henry VI, Part II”)

9) “He doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs, and peep about to find ourselves dishonorable graves.” (“Julius Caesar”)

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The infantilizing of college students continues apace.
Students at the California State University–Northridge sat around in a big ball pit (which they a called a “vent tent”) and talked about hurtful words and their feelings as part of a school-sponsored inclusive language campaign.

According to video and documents obtained by Heat Street, the campaign lasted for a week, was put on by the University Student Union (USU), and cost more than $1,000 in student fees. It’s not clear exactly how much of that money was spent on the ball pit rental, or if there is any research supporting the idea that sitting in a ball pit while having a discussion provides any educational and/or therapeutic benefits....

Other features of the campaign included a spinning wheel with offensive words, which students would spin and then discuss whether they found the language offensive, and a board where students could write for themselves which words they considered to be harmful. According to Heat Street, one student apparently wrote “When I hear the word ‘edgy,’ it makes me feel triggered,” but it’s not clear exactly just what in the fresh hell that student was talking about, or what people on campus are going to be expected to do about it. After all, “edgy” is pretty universally seen as a harmless word. Should people on campus be expected to suddenly stop using it because one random person considers it offensive for some random reason? I feel like the answer there is pretty clearly “no.”
But have an activity based around America? That is not permitted.
Students at Ramapo College in New Jersey wanted to host a bipartisan BBQ event with a straightforward theme: “America.” It was to be co-hosted by College Democrats and College Republicans.

The event could not proceed as planned, however, after college administrators decided the “America” theme was “offensive.”

After being informed that the current theme was unacceptable, the president of College Republican asked a residence hall adviser for an explanation. The adviser wrote back: “To be honest, I’m not sure. I think it was administrative.”

Apparently, some of the planned advertisements for the America-themed BBQ incorporated the classic World War II “I Want You” recruitment featuring Uncle Sam. This administration, according to the residence hall adviser, considered the displays to be too “military and recruitment-oriented.”

Anthony Weiner is even more disgusting than we knew. The Daily Mail has obtained photos of Weiner's messages with a 15-year old girl. She told him openly how old she was and, instead of shutting the communication down like any rational man would do, he responded by telling her in explicit terms how he'd like to have sex with her. He sounds like a sexual predator. His response to the paper is to admit that he has "repeatedly demonstrated terrible judgement about the people I have communicated with online." Ya think?

Now the NYPD Special Victims Unit is investigating Weiner.