Monday, February 19, 2018

Cruising the Web

It seemed that we already knew the gist of what the Mueller investigation and Justice Department reported on Friday about Russia's attempted interference in the election. For anyone who remembers Soviet attempts at dezinformatsiya during the Cold War shouldn't be shocked that Putin's government wanted to sow discord in American politics. According to Wikipedia's entry on disinformation, the whole concept began as early as 1923 and continued throughout the Cold War and afterwards. Wikipedia points to the book Disinformation by Ion Mihai Pacepa, former senior official from the Romanian secret police and Ronald J. Rychlak for a history of how our country's enemies were able to take advantage of leftists in the media to plant their stories.
The black propaganda division was reported to have formed in 1955 and was referred to as the Dezinformatsiya agency. Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director William Colby explained how the Dezinformatsiya agency operated, saying that it would place a false article in a left-leaning newspaper. The fraudulent tale would make its way to a Communist periodical, before eventually being published by a Soviet newspaper, which would say its sources were undisclosed individuals. By this process a falsehood was globally proliferated as a legitimate piece of reporting.
To quote more from Wikipedia,
The extent of Soviet disinformation covert operation campaigns, came to light through the defections of KGB officers and officers of allied Soviet bloc services from the late 1960s through the 1980s. Disorder during the fall of the Soviet Union revealed archival and other documentary information to confirm what the defectors had revealed. Stanislav Levchenko and Ilya Dzerkvilov defected from the Soviet Union and by 1990 each had written books recounting their work in the KGB on disinformation operations.

In 1961, a pamphlet was published in the United Kingdom titled: A Study of a Master Spy (Allen Dulles), which was highly critical of then-Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles.] The purported authors were given as Independent Labour Party Member of Parliament Bob Edwards and reporter Kenneth Dunne—when in actual fact the author was senior disinformation officer KGB Colonel Vassily Sitnikov.

An example of successful Soviet disinformation was the publication in 1968 of Who's Who in the CIA which was quoted as authoritative in the West until the early 1990s.

According to senior SVR officer Sergei Tretyakov, the KGB was responsible for creating the entire nuclear winter story to stop the deployment of Pershing II missiles. Tretyakov says that from 1979 the KGB wanted to prevent the United States from deploying the missiles in Western Europe and that, directed by Yuri Andropov, they distributed disinformation, based on a faked "doomsday report" by the Soviet Academy of Sciences about the effect of nuclear war on climate, to peace groups, the environmental movement and the journal AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment....

On 17 September 1980, White House Press Secretary Jody Powell acknowledged a falsified Presidential Review Memorandum on Africa reportedly stated the U.S. endorsed the apartheid government in South Africa and was actively committed to discrimination against African Americans. Prior to this revelation by Powell, an advance copy of the 18 September 1980 issue of San Francisco-based publication the Sun Reporter was disseminated, which carried the fake claims. Sun Reporter was published by Carlton Benjamin Goodlett, Presidential Committee member of the Soviet front group the World Peace Council. U.S. President Jimmy Carter was appalled at these lies and subsequently the Carter Administration displayed increased interest in CIA efforts to counter Soviet disinformation.

In 1982, the CIA issued a report on active measures used by Soviet intelligence. The report documented numerous instances of disinformation campaigns against the U.S., including planting a notion that the U.S. had organized the 1979 Grand Mosque seizure, and forgery of documents purporting to show the U.S. would utilize nuclear bombs on its NATO allies.

Operation INFEKTION was an elaborate disinformation campaign which began in 1985, to influence world opinion to believe that the United States had invented AIDS. This included the allegation that the purpose was the creation of an 'ethnic bomb' to destroy non-whites. In 1992, the head of Russian foreign intelligence, Yevgeny Primakov, admitted the existence of the Operation INFEKTION disinformation campaign. (See the original for footnotes and sources)
Should anyone be surprised that Putin, a former KGB official, would have approved the use of such a dezinformatsiya campaign these days?

And how easy it was for him. THe Russians could take advantage of our very partisan and divided country to plant little seeds of ugliness. Social media allows them to do this much more efficiently and cheaply than back in the Cold War days. The fact that a lot of these bots were putting forth information that hurt Clinton and supported Trump just seems like a practical effort to hurt the woman they and everyone in the U.S. media thought would be the next president. It also explains why their bots also supported Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.

Sure they tried to organize marches and rallies, but as Stephen McIntyre points out, these marches didn't garner much support except for the post-election one in New York City for "Trump is not my President."

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The fact that these bots were pretty low-key and the marches they advertised rather minimal makes me wondered if this was just an experiment for Putin to see how much disruption they could generate through these activities. Of course, they couldn't imagine that Trump would win and then his first year would be hamstrung by all these allegations of collusion with the Russians. They couldn't have hoped for anything like the impact they had with a few bots. It must seem like it all succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Andrew McCarthy poses
a good question. Why are our investigations of this Russian dezinformatsiya being conducted by lawyers?
Our government says Russia is levying war. It is attacking a foundational institution — the electoral system of our democratic society and, more basically, our society’s cohesion as such. Our response should not be, nor appear to be, the filing of a lawsuit. That is provocatively weak.

The Russia probe has been a counterintelligence investigation, as it should be. That is why I’ve complained from the first that it was inappropriate to put a prosecutor in charge of it.... The main thrust of this complaint has been that a prosecutor should not be assigned unless there is first strong evidence of a crime. But that is not the half of it.

A government lawyer is a hammer who sees every problem as the nail of a lawsuit. As we saw in the Clinton and Obama years (and will tend to see in transnational-progressive governments that prize legal processes over the pursuit of national interests by the most effective means available), administrations dominated by government lawyers find even belligerent provocations by a foreign power to be fit for judicial resolution.

To the contrary, we use counterintelligence rather than criminal investigation to thwart foreign adversaries because prosecution is a woefully inadequate response. The point of counterintelligence is to gather information so we can stop our enemies, through meaningful retaliation and discouragement. Generally, that means diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and, in extreme cases, military means. It could mean deploying our own cyber capabilities. The idea is not to invade every rogue nation. It is to respond to provocations in a manner that hurts our rivals — conveying that the prohibitive cost we will exact makes attacking us against their interests.

That cannot be accomplished by a mere indictment on which no one will be tried.
He's exactly right. Those Russians who were indicted last week are safely away in Russia. We're not going to ever get them into a courtroom. What are doing to defend against these attacks?
There are reasons besides ineffectiveness to be concerned about turning this diplomatic dispute into a criminal-justice issue.

This is a dangerous game to play. Our government, American organizations, and individual Americans regularly take actions and engage in political expression (including pseudonymous expression) with the intention of affecting foreign political campaigns — or that could be understood that way regardless of American intent. In its lead story on Mueller’s indictment, the New York Times observes that “for decades,” the CIA has “work[ed] covertly to influence political outcomes abroad.” The Obama administration, on the American taxpayer’s dime, tried to get Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu defeated and agitated against Brexit. The Bush administration tried to democratize the Middle East. It is de rigueur to tut-tut that such meddling is unseemly, but it is what governments do and have always done. They have interests, and those interests can be profoundly affected by who is governing other countries.

Moreover, it is the proud boast of the United States that we promote the virtues and benefits of liberty throughout the world and encourage oppressed peoples to stand up against tyrants. Our government funds Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty precisely to expose people to news and ideas that their despotic governments censor. Do we really want to signal that we see such agitation-by-information as an indictable crime, in response to which the affected government should issue arrest warrants that will inevitably make it risky for Americans to travel outside the U.S.?

Remember, we are talking here about a case in which Russia’s campaign, despite its energy and funding, was a drop in the ocean of American campaign spending and messaging. It barely registered. It had no impact. And, again, the indictment that has been filed is a gesture that will result in no prosecutions. Is it really worth opening this can of worms?
Good point.

Steven Hayward puts forth a reasonable explanation of what the Russians were up to.
Why did the Russians do this? Because they could. It was useful for them to discover how much they could infiltrate the political process in the U.S., and above all to sow chaos. Actually favoring a Trump victory over Hillary makes little sense on substance, because most of Trump’s foreign policy positions—cheaper energy, expanded defense spending by us and NATO, more missile defense—are averse to Russian interests. But an election result that leaves chaos in its wake works perfectly well whether Hillary had won or Trump. In that sense, the Russian operation has been a sweeping success for them. Maybe our media ought to reflect that they are serving Russian interests very well with their rabid sensationalism of the “collusion” story.

Ah, the bots are still at it.
Russia-linked bots are promoting pro-gun messages on Twitter in an attempt to sow discord in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting, monitoring groups say.

Hashtags, topics and URLs related to the shooting overwhelmingly feature in the tweets pushed by these automated Twitter accounts in the past 48 hours, according to Hamilton 68, a tool launched by the Alliance for Securing Democracy to track what it describes as "Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts online."

....Among the hashtags and topics related to the shooting are #falseflag, #fbi, #gunreformnow, #fbigate, #parklandschoolshooting, the name of the shooter -- Nikolas Cruz -- and Florida.

Another bot-tracking website, Botcheck.me, reports that all but one of the top two-word phrases used in the past 24 hours by 1,500 political propaganda bots were connected to the shooting: "gun control," "Nikolas Cruz," "school shooting," "school shooter" and "fake news." The exception was "President Trump."

Hashtags calling for gun reform and gun control are also topping the list. Unlike Hamilton 68, which targets bots related to the Russian government, Botcheck.me tracks accounts that generally spread political propaganda.

Cybersecurity and media experts are not surprised that trolls and bots are leveraging the Florida school shooting to cause divisions.
"This pattern of divisive propaganda is becoming a staple in information warfare fueled by social media, but it isn't exactly new," Marco T. Bastos, researcher at City, University of London and co-author of a paper on a network of pro-Brexit bots, told CNN. "Similar campaigns can be traced to at least 2014."

....The reason why these accounts seize on shootings like the Parkland school one is not ideological, but to amplify "extreme and divisive causes" in a bid to create "a distracted and weakened US government," Grozev said.

"Gun control is simply one of those causes," he said. "It is not in any way an ideological preference for Russia to have less gun control in the US. It is, however, the perfect divisive cause."

If the intent is not ideological, but to sow discord in American society, that could help explain why Russian-related bots are spreading hashtags calling for gun control laws and reforms.

"Such hashtags serve mostly as bait: they serve to attract 'opposing view' readers, which results in explosive and discordant online mutual shouting -- in place of any reasonable debate, which would not be in the interest of Russia," Grozev said.
Maybe, if people become more aware of how their opinions and reactions are being manipulated by Russian bots, they'll stop getting so worked up by what they see on social media.

Probably not. But one always hope.

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Byron York points out that we already knew most of what was in that indictment.
Another is that, combining the 37-page indictment with testimony from social media executives before congressional intelligence committees — and there isn't much in the indictment that the intel committees didn't already know — the Russian operation, while warranting serious U.S. punishment, emerges as a small, poorly funded operation with a level of effectiveness that is impossible to measure but could be near zero.
The Russians weren't focused on Trump until he emerged as the leader for the GOP nomination.
There's no evidence the Russians thought Trump had a chance to win, just like no U.S. political experts thought Trump had a chance to win. The goal was to harass Clinton — candidate Clinton and then President Clinton — with a modern, social-media version of old-fashioned Soviet disinformation campaigns.

The indictment is vague on what the Russians spent. It says that by September 2016, nearly the end of the campaign, the operation spent about $1.25 million a month. But in terms of what the Russians paid for social media ads, the indictment just says "thousands" of dollars every month.

The sums are rounding errors in a race in which the Clinton and Trump campaigns spent a combined $2.4 billion.

Facebook officials gave more details in statements and testimony before the Senate and House intelligence committees a few months ago. First, Facebook said the Russian operation bought about 3,000 ads, spending about $100,000 on Facebook and Instagram combined. That is compared to about $81 million the Clinton and Trump campaigns spent on Facebook and Instagram combined.

Facebook estimated about 11 million people saw at least one of the ads between 2015 and 2017. But that wasn't all before the election. Facebook said that of ad "impressions" — that is, how many times an ad appeared on screen in a person's news feed — just 44 percent came before the election, while 56 percent came after the election.

About 25 percent of the ads were never seen by anyone, Facebook said. And of the total ads, "The vast majority…didn't specifically reference the U.S. presidential election, voting or a particular candidate."

Looking at key states, the total spent on ads targeting Wisconsin was $1,979, according to Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr. Ad spending in Michigan was $823. In Pennsylvania, it was $300.

That is not the stuff of rigging elections....

"This equals about four-thousands of one percent (0.004%) of content in News Feed, or approximately 1 out of 23,000 pieces of content," Facebook executive Colin Stretch said in prepared testimony before the Senate last November.

Kevin Williamson is harsh, but very accurate in his judgment of the FBI bureaucrats who failed to follow up on the very detailed warning they received on the Parkland shooter's threats to shoot up his school. Too often progressives seem to think that government bureaucrats are some sort of magical creatures who are less fallible and more neutral than ordinary human beings. All we need are the perfect laws and we can set these magical bureaucrats loose to carry those laws out and all will be copacetic. But time and again, we learn that government bureaucrats are incompetent or corrupt or lazy or stupid. But that doesn't seem to change progressives' faith in how government will be able to solve the most complicated of problems if we just let those bureaucrats free to work their magic.
The guiding principle of American law enforcement is that it is easiest to enforce the law on law-abiding people, while enforcing the law on outlaws is something that looks terrifyingly close to hard work. That’s why gun control so ensorcels the bureaucratic mind. (Which is to say, the progressive mind: The essence of progressivism is replacing organic institutions with permanent bureaucracies.) If you are a federal law-enforcement agent with a comfy desk chair, you probably cannot imagine a more attractive anticrime program than gun control. Gun dealers have federal licenses, and they have to apply for them: You don’t have to go tracking them down — they come to you. They fill out paperwork. They generally operate from fixed addresses with regular business hours. Convenient! What you have is the power of political interposition, which is a mild form of terrorism....

Chasing down fleet-footed 18-year-old criminals through the rough parts of Chicago on a cold February evening? That’s work. And that’s why we don’t do squat to prosecute actual gun crimes — the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago won’t even look at a straw-buyer case unless it’s a major organized-crime enterprise — but we twist ourselves into knots to figure out how to create new hoops for federally licensed firearms dealers and their customers to jump through every time some pasty-faced virgin shoots up a school.

Chasing around pasty-faced virgins is work, too. Sometimes, you have to go so far as to pick up the phone.

As was reported on Friday, the FBI had been alerted that a particular pasty-faced virgin down in Florida was probably going to shoot up his old school. He had put up social-media posts to that effect, cleverly shielding his identity from the steely-eyed G-men by signing his legal name to those public threats. The epigones of J. Edgar Hoover may not be Sherlock Holmes, but presumably they can read, and some public-minded citizen took some screen shots and sent them to the FBI.

The FBI of course did what the relevant authorities did in the case of Omar Mateen, the case of Nidal Hasan, the case of Adam Lanza: nothing.

We could replace these guys with trained monkeys, if we could train monkeys to be self-important.

The Friday press conference on that little oversight was a masterpiece of modern bureaucracy. The FBI has “protocols” for handling specific credible threats of that sort, “protocol” here being a way of saying, “Pick up the phone and call the local field office or, if we really want to get wild, the local police.” “The protocol was not followed,” the FBI bureaucrats explained. Well, no kidding. Why not? No answer — the question wasn’t even asked aloud. Did law enforcement’s ball-dropping mean that a preventable massacre went unprevented because of bureaucratic failure? “I don’t think anybody could say that,” says Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who is leading the investigation. His department had over the years received no fewer than 20 calls related to the shooter. What about that? “Make no mistake about it, America, the only one to blame for this incident is the killer himself,” which is exactly the sort of thing a sanctimonious schmuck says when he doesn’t want to consider the institutional failures right in front of his taxpayer-subsidized nose and the culpable negligence — to say nothing of the sand-pounding stupidity — of his own agency.

The FBI has a budget of $3.5 billion, almost all of which goes to salaries, benefits, and other personnel costs. Do you know how many employees the FBI field office in South Florida has? It has more than 1,000. Do you know how many employees the FBI has in total? It has 35,158 employees. It has 13,084 agents and 3,100 intelligence analysts.

And not one of them could pick up the phone to forward vital intelligence gathered by the grueling investigative work of picking up the phone and taking a tip from a tipster. Would the sheriff have taken that call more seriously than his department took the 20 other calls relating to the killer? Impossible to say.
I don't agree with Williamson and Governor Rick Scott that FBI director Chris Wray should resign. He's been on the job just a short amount of time and it's a stretch to blame him for a culture of incompetence in South Florida. Let's see what happens going forward. We never really got complete answers on the other government screw-ups that allowed previous mass murderers to not be stopped before they did their evil. Are these local FBI, sheriff, and police departments incapable of following up on credible reports of suspicious behavior? Is there something else they need in order to be able to follow up these reports? Is the whole mantra of "see something; say something" just a nice slogan to make us feel like the authorities are capable of stopping crimes?

The other answer I'd like to know is what exactly the authorities can do if they get advance warning about the behavior of someone like the Parkland shooter. If he hasn't yet done anything and has just said creepy things and posted creepy stuff online, is there anything that can legally be done?

David French discusses
a gun control measure that gun-rights advocates should be able to endorse - gun-violence restraining orders (GVROs) that would act much like restraining orders do except for family members and friends to report someone in their family who could be regarded as threatening.
To understand the American gun-control debate, you have to understand the fundamentally different starting positions of the two sides. Among conservatives, there is the broad belief that the right to own a weapon for self-defense is every bit as inherent and unalienable as the right to speak freely or practice your religion. It’s a co-equal liberty in the Bill of Rights, grounded not just in the minds of the Founders but in natural law.

Against this backdrop, most forms of gun control proposed after each mass killing represent a collective punishment. The rights of the law-abiding are restricted with no real evidence that these alleged “common sense” reforms will prevent future tragedies in any meaningful way.

Many progressives, however, simply don’t care about restrictions on gun ownership. They don’t view it as an individual right, much less an unalienable one. To them, the Second Amendment is an embarrassment, an American quirk that should be limited and confined as much as possible. To them, gun ownership is a privilege, not a right, and can be heavily regulated and restricted without doing any violence at all to individual liberty.

To describe these differences is not to say that the two sides never meet. Putting aside the relatively meaningless polls about various gun-control measures — the polls that truly matter are at the ballot box, and there the results are very clear and very distinct for both red and blue — there is broad conceptual agreement that regardless of whether you view gun ownership as a right or a privilege, a person can demonstrate through their conduct that they have no business possessing a weapon.

Felons, the dangerously mentally ill, perpetrators of domestic violence — these people have not only demonstrated their unfitness to own a weapon, they’ve been granted due process to contest the charges or claims against them. There is no arbitrary state action. There is no collective punishment. There is, rather, an individual, constitutional state process, and the result of that process is a set of defined consequences that includes revoking the right to gun ownership.
As he points out, many mass shooters have demonstrated the sort of behavior that, ex post, was a warning sign.
Time and again mass shooters give off warning signals. They issue generalized threats. They post disturbing images. They exhibit fascination with mass killings. But before the deadly act itself, there is no clear path to denying them access to guns. Though people can report their concerns to authorities, sometimes those authorities fail or have limited tools to deal with the emerging danger.

What if, however, there was an evidence-based process for temporarily denying a troubled person access to guns? What if this process empowered family members and others close to a potential shooter, allowing them to “do something” after they “see something” and “say something”?
Perhaps this is the sort of solution that Williamson indicates bureaucrats are more able to accomplish. It's paperwork rather than actual investigation.
The great benefit of the GVRO is that it provides citizens with options other than relying on, say, the FBI. As the bureau admitted today, it did not respond appropriately to a timely warning from a “person close to Nikolas Cruz.” According the FBI, that person provided “information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.”

In other words, it appears the FBI received exactly the kind of information that would justify granting a GVRO.

Just since 2015, the Charleston church shooter, the Orlando nightclub shooter, the Sutherland Springs church shooter, and the Parkland school shooter each happened after federal authorities missed chances to stop them. For those keeping score, that’s four horrific mass shootings in four years where federal systems failed, at a cost of more than 100 lives.

In other words, proper application of existing policies and procedures could have saved lives, but the people in the federal government failed. And they keep failing. So let’s empower different people. Let’s empower the people who have the most to lose, and let’s place accountability on the lowest possible level of government: the local judges who consistently and regularly adjudicate similar claims in the context of family and criminal law.
As French argues, gun-rights advocates should endorse this idea because it doesn't interfere with the right to own a gun and the right of self-defense. It's specifically targeted at those people who should not own a gun.

Of course, President Trump couldn't leave well enough alone with the story about the FBI not taking action on the warnings they had about the Parkland shooter. He tweeted out this weekend, "Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!"

Ugh. Yes, because the tragic killing of 17 people in a high school is really all about him. Is there anyone more solipsistic than Donald Trump. He just couldn't stop himself from a tasteless tweet trying to make political hay out of this tragedy. Doesn't he have any sense of how tasteless that tweet was? And if tastelessness is no deterrent for Trump, how about some sense of what is political beneficial for him? Stephen Miller (not the speechwriter, but a libertarian commentator) tweets,


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This week, my AP Government class has been covering First Amendment cases and we discussed speech codes and hate speech. The students were somewhat surprised to learn that the Court's position is that laws banning hate speech are too broad and have been struck down unanimously. University school codes have been struck down at the district court level. After talking about it in small groups, the conclusion of many students was that they could understand why the courts have struck down such bans and codes, but they kinda, sorta wished that there was some magical way that hurtful speech could be banned while still upholding freedom of speech. When some other students invariably pointed out how difficult that was to do and how dangerous it might be to let some individuals at a university decide what is acceptable and what wasn't, those wishing for hate speech laws and speech codes agreed that it wouldn't work. But they still looked wistful. All it took was about a half hour of introducing them to what the courts have actually said to open their eyes to the inherent problems in such speech codes. I also asked them some questions from CATO's survey on Americans' views on freedom of speech and showed them the results. When I asked them if they ever felt prevented from saying things because of the political climate these days, they all seemed to feel pretty secure. Then I showed them this result from the survey matching up people's ideologies with their level of comfort saying what they believe.
My school is a pretty liberal school on most positions. I think that, in our school-wide election in 2016, Hillary won about 75% of the vote. And there were a lot of write-ins or minor-party votes. This is not Trump territory among either the staff or students. The students were struck by the disparities in how strong conservatives and strong liberals felt about voicing their opinions, partly I suspect because few of them hear conservative writers or speakers talking about this sort of thing. I asked them if they thought someone would feel comfortable voicing skepticism about climate change being caused by mankind, and they all burst out laughing and said a kid would get absolutely roasted for saying something like that in class. The same thing went for expressing opposition to transgenders in bathrooms or using the chosen pronouns for a transsexual or transgender student. Then there was a moment when a collective lightbulb went off among all of them of how a strong conservative could feel uncomfortable and why there were dangers of having some set of people, probably quite liberal university administrators, decide what speech was acceptable and what wasn't. All in all, I hope it was a thought-provoking lesson for them and maybe, just maybe, they'll be a bit more tolerant of views they don't agree with in high school, college, and life in general.

At least, they can now understand how absolutely stupid this Kentucky State University code of conduct regulation is.
The taxpayer-funded institution includes “embarrassment” on a list of punishable “offenses against persons” in its student code of conduct, flagged this week by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

It puts embarrassment in the same league as sexual assault, stalking, physical abuse and coercion.

Students suspected of this code violation will be investigated by the Office of Student Affairs and held “accountable for their behavior in a fair, yet developmental manner,” the code promises.

The university will take “necessary and appropriate action” to protect students from this offense, including deploying campus police to respond to off-campus accusations of causing embarrassment.

Some form of “embarrass” actually shows up six times in the code.

KSU defines hazing as “any action that results in … embarrassment.” Four elements of cyberbullying mention it: “misleading another to share embarrassing information,” forwarding private messages “with the intent to … embarrass,” sharing “embarrassing photos or videos” with others digitally, and “posing as an imposter online to embarrass or cause harm.”

That last element confirms that KSU knows that embarrassing someone is not the same as causing them harm.

Here is something that I'm wondering about. I remember that when Bill Clinton was going through the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the media started reporting on two approval ratings - his personal rating and his presidential rating. His presidential rating was higher than his personal rating and the media discussed that in terms of people approving of what he was doing in office, but not his personal character. Here is a 2005 Gallup article contrasting both Bushes and Clinton in terms of both types of ratings. Gallup first started asking both questions in 1992. The Bushes were different from Clinton's second term in that their personal rating was higher than their presidential ratings. That all makes sense since, for a lot of people, both Bushes might have seemed like personally likeable and honorable, but people might have disapproved of what they were doing in office, particularly during George W. Bush's second term. I haven't seen those polls for Obama or Trump. Have any of my readers seen those numbers? I was just wondering if Trump rates about the same both personally and for the job he's doing in office. I would imagine that there might be some conservatives who approve the job he's doing more than they do of his personal character. I searched Gallup's site for a few minutes but didn't see the different ratings for Trump. I was just wondering why they started asking the question in 1992 and if or why they have stopped.

Now that Ronan Farrow has a new story about an affair that Trump purportedly had with a Playboy model that he met at Hugh Hefner's mansion right after his son, Barron, was born, we must acknowledge that our president is a man of low moral character. Not that anyone who lived through the gossip stories back when he was proudly cheating on his first wife with Marla Maples. He's even bragged about all the women he's slept with. People, even deeply religious people, decided that electing Hillary Clinton, a woman morally compromised in other ways, was worse than electing Donald Trump. That's why I think the differences in presidential and personal approval on Trump would be interesting to see.

I worry that we're becoming desensitized to the whole idea that our elected leaders should be fundamentally people of a moral character. Every president creates new precedents and Trump is creating a whole raft of distasteful precedents, but Barack Obama did too.