Monday, August 07, 2017

Cruising the Web

Reportedly, the new chief of staff, John Kelly, is trying to control Trump's tweeting and get him to not announce policy on Twitter. This is particularly notable after Trump announced a military ban on transgenders by Twitter ignoring the advice of his military and other advisers.
President Donald Trump’s White House and Defense Department lawyers had warned him against the transgender military ban for days. They were concerned about the ramifications of the policy, how military officials would respond and what legal backlash it could cause, two West Wing officials familiar with last month’s discussions said. The lawyers thought there would be plenty of time for more discussions and were analyzing arguments.

Frustrated with being “slow-walked,” in the words of one White House official, the president took to Twitter last week — jarring many in the West Wing out of complacency and startling his lawyers, Defense Department officials and West Wing aides, who learned of the change in a series of tweets.
It's like a little kid who just can't stop himself from doing the thing that his parents repeatedly told him not to. So Kelly wants to stop all this, but does anyone really expect Trump to moderate his tweeting?
Kelly has said he would like to know what Trump is planning to tweet before he does so and would prefer that big decisions not be announced on Twitter — but has privately conceded there will be late-night or early-morning missives he cannot review.

Kelly is trying to put together a system in which top aides don’t learn of decisions on Twitter, one where policy and personnel decisions are not first tweeted without having procedures in place to make them happen.
Good luck to Kelly. It would be a great thing if he was able to exert some control. It's amazing how much of Trump's problems have stemmed from his own tweets.
In many ways, Trump’s Twitter feed has caused him more problems than anything else in his administration. He was dragged into weeks of controversy for accusing President Barack Obama — in early-morning tweets, without proof and before setting out to play golf — of tapping his phone; widely decried for attacking a TV host for “bleeding badly” from a face-lift; criticized for lighting into his own attorney general publicly; and discouraged by congressional leaders from damaging legislative discussions with tweets.
He might think that Twitter has been a fantastic tool for him to reach over the heads of the media, but it doesn't do him any good if his shots end up with self-inflicted damage. Now, if Kelly can just get Trump to stop watching Fox and Friends and Morning Joe and then tweeting furiously based on whatever he sees on those shows.

With his wild tweeting, he's lost the PR advantage that the bully pulpit of the presidency should provide him.
In recent weeks, Congress has moved on a number of fronts to curtail the president’s authority. Lawmakers passed legislation limiting his ability to lift sanctions on Russia and the Republican-controlled Senate will not formally adjourn this month to prevent Trump from making any recess appointments, a tactic usually employed when the president is from the opposite party. Amid increasing concerns about Trump’s attitude toward the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation this week aimed at preventing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III from being fired.

Trump is also facing the reality that his words — or tweets — are often not having their desired impact. Three Republican senators defied him and congressional leadership in opposing efforts to move the Republican health-care bill forward. His entreaties to lawmakers to delay their summer break and stay in Washington to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act were summarily ignored.

His unexpected announcement on Twitter that he would ban transgender people from serving in the military has been denounced by members of Congress in both parties and largely ignored by the military — for now. And this week, Trump was publicly chided for apparently inventing congratulatory calls from the leader of the Boy Scouts of America and the president of Mexico that never occurred.
Trump's supporters like pointing to his outsider status as if he doesn't need support in Congress to enact an agenda. We've had presidents before who were elected as outsiders, but the successful ones realize that they have to work with the insiders to really accomplish things.

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Ah, just the sort of leak that journalists love. They can make use of internal animosity between members of the Trump administration to publish leaks from either side. From this story, it sounds like the knives are out for Steve Bannon.
An internal White House enemies list of alleged Obama loyalists to be fired early in the Trump administration is a key contributor to a long-running feud between the National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, two senior administration officials tell The Daily Beast.
Team Trump never acted on the list, the officials said, and now those employees have finished their tenure at the National Security Council and returned to their home agencies.
But fallout over the list—and questions about loyalty to Bannon versus McMaster—led the three-star general to fire two of his top aides, an act that’s landed McMaster in the firing line of Bannon’s alt-right media allies and Russian troll bots, both calling for his ouster.
It’s the kind of personality clash and conflicting lines of authority that ret. Marine Gen. John Kelly has been brought in to quiet as chief of staff. He gave McMaster the go-ahead to remove people whose loyalty he questioned, including NSC intelligence director Ezra Cohen-Watnick and ret. Col. Derek Harvey, the NSC Mideast director. Both had meetings with Bannon throughout their tenure, described as hushed national-security related “chats,” by one senior White House official, without seeking McMaster’s permission beforehand.
Multiple administration sources confirmed to The Daily Beast that these “chats” between Bannon and Harvey and Cohen Watnick vexed Trump’s national security adviser, and contributed to McMaster’s desire to “finally make moves against” them, as one senior official recounted.
If John Kelly can get the President to agree that Bannon's minions should not be going behind McMaster's back to report to Bannon and that McMaster should be allowed to have control of his staff, that would be all to the good.

This story of the Debbie Wasserman Schultz IT worker who has been arrested keeps getting weirder and weirder. The congresswoman fought the Capitol Police to keep them from examining a laptop. She fought the Capitol POlice using all sorts of hypotheticals about whether they could look at the laptop of a member of Congress. But now she's claiming that the laptop she was fighting to keep them from looking at wasn't even her laptop.
She threatened “consequences” on May 18 for the chief of the Capitol Police unless the laptop was returned — despite police contending it was needed to help determine whether a staffer may have violated the House’s cybersecurity.

“This was not my laptop. I have never seen that laptop. I don’t know what’s on the laptop,” she said Thursday. She said it was Imran’s laptop but purchased using taxpayer funds from her office.

After the exchange with Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa, Wasserman Schultz fought to block access to the laptop so vehemently that she hired an outside law firm to argue constitutional issues, an exceedingly rare step.

In the May hearing on the Capitol Police’s budget, she repeatedly posed hypotheticals about if a member loses their laptop and it is found by police. The police chief, clearly aware of the situation to which she is referring, says if the laptop belongs to a criminal suspect, it may be seized as evidence.
There are all sorts of mysteries within this case as to why she was so determined to defend him and the exorbitant payments that the Democrats had given this guy and his family. And now Wasserman Schultz alleges the whole investigation is about anti-Muslim bias. Of course, when at a loss to explain her behavior, why not resort to charges of bigotry. As Andrew McCarthy explains, there was something very strange going on with her support of this guy.
In Washington, it’s never about what they tell you it’s about. So take this to the bank: The case of Imran Awan, Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s mysterious Pakistani IT guy, is not about bank fraud.

Yet bank fraud was the stated charge on which Awan was arrested at Dulles Airport this week, just as he was trying to flee the United States for Pakistan, via Qatar. That is the same route taken by Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi, in March, when she suddenly fled the country, with three young daughters she yanked out of school, mega-luggage, and $12,400 in cash.

By then, the proceeds of the fraudulent $165,000 loan they’d gotten from the Congressional Federal Credit Union had been sent ahead. It was part of a $283,000 transfer that Awan managed to wire from Capitol Hill. He pulled it off — hilariously, if infuriatingly — by pretending to be his wife in a phone call with the credit union. Told that his proffered reason for the transfer (“funeral arrangements”) wouldn’t fly, “Mrs.” Awan promptly repurposed: Now “she” was “buying property.” Asking no more questions, the credit union wired the money . . . to Pakistan.

As you let all that sink in, consider this: Awan and his family cabal of fraudsters had access for years to the e-mails and other electronic files of members of the House’s Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees. It turns out they were accessing members’ computers without their knowledge, transferring files to remote servers, and stealing computer equipment — including hard drives that Awan & Co. smashed to bits of bytes before making tracks.

They were fired in February. All except Awan, that is. He continued in the employ of Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Democrat, former DNC chairwoman, and Clinton crony. She kept him in place at the United States Congress right up until he was nabbed at the airport on Monday.

This is not about bank fraud. The Awan family swindles are plentiful, but they are just window-dressing. This appears to be a real conspiracy, aimed at undermining American national security.

At the time of his arrest, the 37-year-old Imran Awan had been working for Democrats as an information technologist for 13 years. He started out with Representative Gregory Meeks (D., N.Y.) in 2004. The next year, he landed on the staff of Wasserman Schultz, who had just been elected to the House.

Congressional-staff salaries are modest, in the $40,000 range. For some reason, Awan was paid about four times as much. He also managed to get his wife, Alvi, on the House payroll . . . then his brother, Abid Awan . . . then Abid’s wife, Natalia Sova. The youngest of the clan, Awan’s brother Jamal, came on board in 2014 — the then-20-year-old commanding an annual salary of $160,000.

A few of these arrangements appear to have been sinecures: While some Awans were rarely seen around the office, we now know they were engaged in extensive financial shenanigans away from the Capitol.
So why was a 20-year old with no experience given a salary of $160,000 a year? Doesn't that sound really fishy? But that's the beginning of the questions we should be asking.
Nevertheless, the Daily Caller’s Luke Rosiak, who has been all over this story, reports that, for their IT “work,” the Pakistani family has reeled in $4 million from U.S. taxpayers since 2009.

That’s just the “legit” dough. The family business evidently dabbles in procurement fraud, too. The Capitol Police and FBI are exploring widespread double-billing for computers, other communication devices, and related equipment.

Why were they paid so much for doing so little? Intriguing as it is, that’s a side issue. A more pressing question is: Why were they given access to highly sensitive government information? Ordinarily, that requires a security clearance, awarded only after a background check that peruses ties to foreign countries, associations with unsavory characters, and vulnerability to blackmail.
No wonder Wasserman Schultz is trying to disguise all this will baseless accusations of bigotry. Read the rest of McCarthy's article to see how very strange it was that this family was allowed access to sensitive information and so many of the family got hired and then protected as the Capitol Police investigated the story. Of course, this story won't get a fraction of media attention that every little leak about the Trump folks and Russia earn. I'm not saying that the media shouldn't report on those stories, but this story should also be perking their attention. Something very weird was going on there. As Kimberley Strassel writes,
Yes, it is weird that Ms. Wasserman Schultz continued to shield Imran Awan to the end. Yes, the amounts of money, and the ties to Pakistan, are strange. Yes, it is alarming that emails show Imran Awan knew Ms. Wasserman Schultz’s iPad password, and that the family might have had wider access to the accounts of lawmakers on the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees.

Yet even if this never adds up to a spy thriller, it outranks most of the media’s other obsessions. The government, under the inattentive care of Democrats, may have been bilked for ages by a man the FBI has alleged to be a fraudster. That’s the same government Democrats say is qualified to run your health care, reform your children’s schools, and protect the environment. They should explain this first.

James S. Robbins writes about the story in the USA Today and wonders why the Democrats aren't more upset about what may or may not have happened.
Don’t Democrats, who were Awan’s potential victims, want to know what happened? Couldn’t Awan be the source of the DNC data breach, either directly, or because someone — even Russians — stole information or passwords from him? Was classified information from the House Intelligence Committee compromised, sent overseas, or shared with a foreign intelligence service or terrorist group? Was Awan colluding with anyone outside his family?

Why wouldn’t Wasserman Shultz, the most prominent victim of the DNC data breach, who lost her high-profile job because of it, want to get to the bottom of this? Why did she keep this sketchy individual on her payroll long after his pattern of suspicious behavior was evident? Why did she threaten unstated “consequences” for not returning a laptop Awan had hidden, instead of encouraging the criminal investigation?
I suspect the Democrats are afraid of the answers to those questions. Their silence seems to be the dog that didn't bark in the nighttime.

We're often told that the media aren't biased; they just love scandals. Well, here is an intriguing story that may well be a deep scandal. So why aren't the media jumping all over themselves to cover this story?

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Anti-Semitic attacks in Australia have gotten so bad that neighborhoods don't want Jews to build a synagogue near them.
The shock decision by a planning committee to deny permission for the construction of a new synagogue in Sydney on the grounds that it would be a security risk has “effectively placed in jeopardy the future of Jewish life in Australia,” a prominent Jewish critic of the move said on Thursday.

“The decision is unprecedented,” Rabbi Yehoram Ulman told Australian media after the Land and Environment Court backed the decision by Waverley Council to ban the construction of a new synagogue in the well-heeled Sydney suburb of Bondi — expressing the fear that it would become a target for Islamist terrorists.
Remember how, after 9/11, people would say that if we stopped doing something, "the terrorist will have won." Well, if government officials refuse to allow Jews to build a place of worship because of fears of attacks, the terrorists have indeed won.

Anne Applebaum wonders if the dystopian future of computers
controlling our lives has begun with the power that bots have in controlling what people believe.
Notoriously, bots are now a major force on social media, where they can “like” people and causes, post comments, react to others. Bots can be programmed to tweet out insults in response to particular words, to share Facebook pages, to repeat slogans, to sow distrust.

Slowly, their influence is growing. One tech executive told me he reckons that half of the users on Twitter are bots, created by companies that either sell them or use them to promote various causes. The Computational Propaganda Research Project at the University of Oxford has described how bots are used to promote either political parties or government agendas in 28 countries. They can harass political opponents or their followers, promote policies, or simply seek to get ideas into circulation.

About a week ago, for example, sympathizers of the Polish government — possibly alt-right Americans — launched a coordinated Twitter bot campaign with the hashtag “#astroturfing” (not exactly a Polish word) that sought to convince Poles that anti-government demonstrators were fake, outsiders or foreigners paid to demonstrate. An investigation by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab pointed out the irony: An artificial Twitter campaign had been programmed to smear a genuine social movement by calling it . . . artificial.

But no one is really able to explain the way they all interact, or what the impact of both real and artificial online campaigns might be on the way people think or form opinions. Another Digital Forensic Research Lab investigation into pro-Trump and anti-Trump bots showed the extraordinary number of groups that are involved in these dueling conversations — some commercial, some political, some foreign. The conclusion: They are distorting the conversation, but toward what end, nobody knows.

Which is my point: Maybe we’ve been imagining this scenario incorrectly all of this time. Maybe this is what “computers out of control” really look like. There’s no giant spaceship, nor are there armies of lifelike robots. Instead, we have created a swamp of unreality, a world where you don’t know whether the emotions you are feeling are manipulated by men or machines, and where — once all news moves online, as it surely will — it will soon be impossible to know what’s real and what’s imagined. Isn’t this the dystopia we have so long feared?

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If you didn't think that college investigators don't go overboard in investigating sexual assault cases, take a look at this story out of USC. The LA Times reports that a kicker for the football team was removed from his position even though his girlfriend, whom he supposedly shoved, has denied vehemently that he did any such thing. She has been so adamant in her defense of him that the Title IX investigators at the university have ordered her to shut up about it.
In the statement, Katz said she and Boermeester have dated for more than a year. The Title IX investigation began, Steigerwalt said, after a neighbor witnessed Boermeester and Katz roughhousing. The neighbor told his roommate, who told a coach in USC’s athletic department that Boermeester was abusing Katz. The coach then reported the incident to the Title IX office.

Katz said she was summoned to a mandatory meeting with Title IX officials, where she told investigators that the two were playing around. Katz was subsequently told that she “must be afraid of Matt,” she said. She told officials she was not. Boermeester has not been arrested or charged with a crime.

“When I told the truth about Matt, in repeated interrogations, I was stereotyped and was told I must be a ‘battered’ woman, and that made me feel demeaned and absurdly profiled,” Katz said. “I understand that domestic violence is a terrible problem, but in no way does that apply to Matt and me.”

Katz said that she has “never been abused, assaulted or otherwise mistreated by Matt.”

Boermeester, who kicked the game-winning field goal for USC in the Rose Bowl, was suspended from USC, then barred from campus and from meeting with USC's athletic trainers or members of the football team. The school also barred Boermeester from contacting Katz, she said.
I thought we're always supposed to believe the woman, but I guess not if she disagrees with the Title IX know-it-alls.
Katz said the Title IX office made her feel “misled, harassed, threatened and discriminated against,” and caused her to hire an attorney.

“The Title IX office’s response was dismissive and demeaning,” she said.

In the statement, Katz said she is coming forward now to clear Boermeester’s name and lobby for change in the Title IX office’s investigative procedures.

“Matt Boermeester did nothing improper against me, ever,” Katz said. “I would not stand for it. Nor will I stand for watching him be maligned and lied about.”
This sort of abuse of power by the university is a result of policies set in place by the Obama administration.
the predictable result of the past administration’s guidance, which put schools in a position where they quite reasonably inferred that if they didn’t pursue even questionable or flimsy cases aggressively, they risked running afoul of the government. Big, risk-averse, corporate-style bureaucracies created to handle what is perceived as a crisis are not going to make sage decisions about this sort of thing, and the confusing federal-enforcement climate has only exacerbated the problem. Things are so tangled that at one point in 2016, the Justice Department told universities that in some cases they could be in Title IX violation if they didn’t investigate certain types of constitutionally protected speech (courts have ruled that public but not private universities need to adhere to the First Amendment in their dealings with students). If universities are simultaneously being told by the government they need to respect students’ free speech, but also that they need to investigate protected speech in other instances, something is seriously wrong.

The Obama guidelines came from a place of genuine concern: It is important that anyone making an accusation of sexual assault or harassment be taken seriously and have their rights protected, and there have been an endless number of nightmare situations, both on-campus and off-, in which victims haven’t gotten the justice they deserved. But what’s going on with Title IX at the moment clearly isn’t working, and it shouldn’t take an example as crazy as USC forcing one of its students to be a victim to make people realize that.
If the police were investigating such an allegation and the victim was as vociferous in her denials that something bad had happened, they would probably not proceed because of the difficulties of proving abuse in a trial. But university officials don't have to worry about proving beyond a reasonable doubt because the Obama administration told them to use the lower standard of preponderance of evidence in investigating and adjudicating such cases. In this case, a young man with a promising future has seen it ruined by allegations that the alleged victims denies happened. I hope this young couple sues the university for a massive payout. That's the only way that these universities will ever change their actions.

Tiana Lowe explains how the methods that universities like USC use to investigate allegations of sexual assault have resulted in such kangaroo court judgments.
Like many other colleges, USC uses a “single-investigator” model, under which one member of the Title IX staff acts as investigator, judge, jury, and executioner. This model rests the promise of justice in the hands of just one bureaucrat, who is unbounded by any real checks and balances and motivated to preserve the reputation of the school rather than to get to the truth.

The official Title IX investigator at USC is Lauren Elan Helsper, whose legal and judicial qualifications include a master’s degree in postsecondary education. In addition, many Title IX cases at USC are investigated by Assistant Director Kegan Allee, who boasts similar legal qualifications: a Ph.D. in sociology and two master’s degrees in sociology and gender studies.

Despite these . . . qualifications, USC has one of the worst track records in Title IX adjudication. At present, there are multiple active federal investigations into its unfair treatment of both men and women. The results one sees when Googling “Title IX USC” read more like a rap sheet than an esteemed record of an office at a nationally ranked university.

Boermeester’s case fits a pattern of Kafkaesque trials conducted by USC, but is perhaps even more absurd than usual given that both the accused and alleged victim are telling the exact same story.

If this were a one-off case, it would be a tragedy. But universities across the country are increasingly adopting the agenda-driven, single-investigator model to streamline the Title IX investigation (read: bypass that annoying due process schtick). That’s a national catastrophe, for victims, for the innocently accused, for justice, but most vitally, for the truth.

The NYT published a column by Jon Krakauer and Laura L. Dunn defending the lower standard and pointing out that civil cases are tried under that standard. But what makes the situation particularly Kafkaesque for the accused students is that the preponderance of evidence standard is coupled with the lack of due process.
This is highly misleading. Yes, most civil cases are decided under the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard, but all of them are conducted with the full array of due-process protections. Civil litigants can employ counsel, depose witnesses, confront their accusers, conduct discovery, and then have their case adjudicated by a judge (using actual rules of evidence) and decided by a jury of their peers.

By contrast, on most campuses the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard isn’t accompanied by meaningful due-process protections. Accused students often are denied any substantial legal assistance, access to witnesses, full information about the charges against them, the power to conduct discovery, and the ability to even effectively question their accusers. Moreover, their cases are typically adjudicated before “tribunals” full of poorly trained ideologues who completely ignore standard rules of evidence.

In some instances even the very definitions of “sexual assault” and “consent” are twisted beyond legal recognition. Thus, campuses use unfair processes and low standards of proof to punish students for actions that do not violate the law. Yet these same students are still labeled “rapists.” Their lives are shattered. Their reputations are ruined.
And there is an avenue for student-victims who don't want to use the police and normal judicial system to go after their alleged attacker.
As Krakauer and Dunn know, if a student wants to avoid adjudicating her assault claims under the higher, criminal standard of proof (when prosecutors control whether cases are brought), she can file a civil lawsuit. She’ll enjoy the benefit of the preponderance-of-evidence standard, and she’ll have the opportunity to obtain injunctive and monetary relief. Judges and juries are far more powerful than university administrators, and they can impose punishments far more severe. But they can do so only at the conclusion of a case during which the defendant receives due process.

And that’s the rub. The core goal of campus radicals is to make it easy for campuses to rid themselves of alleged predators. To get there, they push the incredible fiction that it’s somehow easy to adjudicate sexual relationships and sexual encounters. In other words, the deck is stacked on purpose, yet neither the Constitution nor the relevant federal statutes (such as Title IX itself) permit that kind of blatant bias.

The way out of this wilderness is clear: Colleges should get out of the messy business of adjudicating everything from confused, drunken hookups to terrifying physical attacks. A school should certainly have the power to separate accuser and accused while legal proceedings are pending. But it shouldn’t be able to impose its own punishments until either the courts have spoken or the litigants have reached a settlement.

Leaving legal claims to the courts would not mean that campuses were taking sexual assault less seriously. Instead, they’d be treating it with the gravity it deserves: If a student is an actual rapist, how is it in the public interest to incentivize accusers to avoid court and press their claims only before a campus tribunal that can’t impose a punishment that remotely fits the crime?