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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trump v. Madison

At The Washington Post, Aaron Blake reports on Trump's view of our constitutional system:
In an interview with Fox News airing Friday night, Trump dismissed the “archaic” rules of the House and Senate — using that word four times — and suggested they needed to be streamlined for the good of the country.
A sampling:
  • “We don't have a lot of closers in politics, and I understand why: It's a very rough system. It's an archaic system.”
  • “You look at the rules of the Senate, even the rules of the House — but the rules of the Senate and some of the things you have to go through — it's really a bad thing for the country, in my opinion. They're archaic rules. And maybe at some point we're going to have to take those rules on, because, for the good of the nation, things are going to have to be different.”
  • “You can't go through a process like this. It's not fair. It forces you to make bad decisions. I mean, you're really forced into doing things that you would normally not do except for these archaic rules.”
William Kristol sums it up:

In the concluding essay of Is Congress Broken? The Virtues and Defects of Partisanship and Gridlock, William Connelly and I offer an alternative view:
Today’s critics of Congress argue it moves too slowly and passes too few bills. But from a Madisonian perspective, the real question is not speed or quantity of legislation but the quality of deliberation. Similarly, the issue of representation is not whether Congress reflects the polls but whether it heeds deliberative opinion. And oversight is not just about preventing tyranny but keeping the executive within its proper bounds so that it can do what it does best.

To think constitutionally is to keep these ideas in mind no matter which party controls which branch. In 1990, Representative Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.) offered some far-sighted advice. Although his party had held the White House for nearly a decade and had not controlled the House since 1954, he defended congressional prerogatives. “I am frustrated by continued liberal domination of the Congress. . . . …. But there was a reason why wits of earlier ages cautioned us not to toss out the babies when we dump the bath water. Let us reform the Congress, but let us hold it dear as the guardian of our liberties against the centralization of power.”

Friday, April 28, 2017

Facebook and Information Operations

Information operations as a strategy to distort public perception is not a new phenomenon. It has been used as a tool of domestic governance and foreign influence by leaders tracing back to the ancient Roman, Persian, and Chinese empires, and is among several approaches that countries adopt to bridge capability gaps amid global competition. Some authors use the term 'asymmetric' to refer to the advantage that a country can gain over a more powerful foe by making use of nonconventional strategies like information operations. While much of the current reporting and public debate focuses on information operations at the international level, similar tactics are also frequently used in domestic contexts to undermine opponents, civic or social causes, or their champions.
While information operations have a long history, social media platforms can serve as a new tool of collection and dissemination for these activities. Through the adept use of social media, information operators may attempt to distort public discourse, recruit supporters and financiers, or affect political or military outcomes. These activities can sometimes be accomplished without significant cost or risk to their organizers. We see a few drivers in particular for this behavior:
  •  Access - global reach is now possible: Leaders and thinkers, for the first time in history, can reach (and potentially influence) a global audience through new media, such as Facebook. While there are many benefits to this increased access, it also creates opportunities for malicious actors to reach a global audience with information operations.
  • Everyone is a potential amplifier: Perhaps most critically, each person in a social mediaenabled world can act as a voice for the political causes she or he most strongly believes in. This means that well-executed information operations have the potential to gain influence organically, through authentic channels and networks, even if they originate from inauthentic sources, such as fake accounts. 
During the 2016 US Presidential election season, we responded to several situations that we assessed to fit the pattern of information operations. We have no evidence of any Facebook accounts being compromised as part of this activity, but, nonetheless, we detected and monitored these efforts in order to protect the authentic connections that define our platform.
One aspect of this included malicious actors leveraging conventional and social media to share information stolen from other sources, such as email accounts, with the intent of harming the reputation of specific political targets. These incidents employed a relatively straightforward yet deliberate series of actions: 
  • Private and/or proprietary information was accessed and stolen from systems and services (outside of Facebook);
  •  Dedicated sites hosting this data were registered;
  •  Fake personas were created on Facebook and elsewhere to point to and amplify awareness of this data;
  •  Social media accounts and pages were created to amplify news accounts of and direct people to the stolen data.
  •  From there, organic proliferation of the messaging and data through authentic peer groups and networks was inevitable.
Concurrently, a separate set of malicious actors engaged in false amplification using inauthentic Facebook accounts to push narratives and themes that reinforced or expanded on some of the topics exposed from stolen data. Facebook conducted research into overall civic engagement during this time on the platform, and determined that the reach of the content shared by false amplifiers was marginal compared to the overall volume of civic content shared during the US election.12
In short, while we acknowledge the ongoing challenge of monitoring and guarding against information operations, the reach of known operations during the US election of 2016 was statistically very small compared to overall engagement on political issues.
Facebook is not in a position to make definitive attribution to the actors sponsoring this activity. It is important to emphasize that this example case comprises only a subset of overall activities tracked and addressed by our organization during this time period; however our data does not contradict the attribution provided by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence in the report dated January 6, 2017.13
12.To estimate magnitude, we compiled a cross functional team of engineers, analysts, and data scientists to examine posts that were classified as related to civic engagement between September and December 2016. We compared that data with data derived from the behavior of accounts we believe to be related to Information Operations. The reach of the content spread by these accounts was less than one-tenth of a percent of the total reach of civic content on Facebook. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Denaturalization, Citizenship, and Speeding

Yesterday the court heard oral argument in Maslenjak v. United States, which asks whether a naturalized U.S. citizen can be stripped of her citizenship in a criminal proceeding based on an immaterial false statement. Amy Howe analyzes the argument for this blog. In The New York Times, Adam Liptak reports that several of the “justices seemed taken aback” by the idea “that the government may revoke the citizenship of Americans who made even trivial misstatements in their naturalization proceedings.” Additional coverage of the argument comes from Jess Bravin in The Wall Street Journal, who reports that “[s]kepticism over the Trump administration’s broad view of government power didn’t translate into sympathy for Divna Maslenjak, the Bosnian Serb immigrant who filed the appeal.”
From the transcript of oral argument: 
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: But, scrupulously, I -- I looked at -- on the naturalization form, there is a question. It's Number 22. "Have you ever" -- and they've got "ever" in bold point --
MR. PARKER: Uh-huh.
assisted in committing, or attempted to commit a crime or offense for which you were not arrested?" Some time ago, outside the statute of limitations, I drove 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone. (Laughter.)
MR. PARKER: I'm sorry to hear that.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I was -- I was not arrested. Now, you say that if I answer that question no, 20 years after I was naturalized as a citizen, you can knock on my door and say, guess what, you're not an American citizen after all.
MR. PARKER: Well --
MR. PARKER: If -- well, I would say two things. First, that is how the government would interpret that, that it would require you to disclose those sorts of offenses.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Oh, come on. You're saying that on this form, you expect everyone to list every time in which they drove over the speed limit --
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: -- except when they were arrested.
MR. PARKER: Well, what I think the -- what I think that particular question demonstrates is -- and I will readily acknowledge, number one, that is a very broad question, and, number two, and I think that there is a great deal of ambiguity in what exactly is meant by "crime and offense." And --
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, but just -- it's worse. If you look in Black's --
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: In Black's Law Dictionary, I looked up what's an offense? And this is what it says: It says it's a violation of the law, a crime, often a minor one.
MR. PARKER: Uh-huh.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So you really are looking for the listing of every time somebody drove over the speed limit.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sanctuary Cities and the Tenth Amendment

At The Atlantic, Garrett Epps writes that Trump has alienated the courts.
The latest Trump defeat came Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. That case, County of Santa Clara v. Trump, has now produced a nationwide injunction against another Trump executive order: “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” issued on January 25. On Tuesday, federal district judge William Orrick of the Northern District of California, blocked section 9(a) of the order. That’s the enforcement mechanism of the order’s ill-defined attack on “sanctuary” cities and counties that refuse to take orders from the Department of Homeland Security.
To a degree unusual in public law litigation, Trump’s legal setbacks flow from his personal flaws: constitutional illiteracy, governmental inexperience, contempt for law and lawyers, lust for executive power, and—most of all—simple inability to keep his mouth shut.
Henry Grabar at Slate:
We've known for months that the section of the president's January order making sanctuary jurisdictions "not eligible to receive federal grants" would be unlikely to stand up in court, for a few reasons that Judge William Orrick III, an Obama appointee presiding over the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, laid out on Tuesday:
The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President, so the Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds. Further, the Tenth Amendment requires that conditions on federal funds be unambiguous and timely made; that they bear some relation to the funds at issue; and that the total financial incentive not be coercive. Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the President disapproves.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

It Is Hard to Figure Out North Korea

John Schindler at Observer:
In fairness to IC analysts trying to make sense of what’s going on in the DPRK, most of their usual sources of information work poorly if at all when it comes to this hard target. We have no embassy in Pyongyang, which means the CIA’s usual practice of employing spies masquerading as diplomats to gain access to the host country’s secrets doesn’t apply. Neither do American firms do business in North Korea, so the CIA’s other option, of employing case officers under non-official cover—called NOCs in the spy trade—posing as businesspeople, doesn’t apply either.
Even if Americans somehow could get into North Korea, the 24/7 monitoring given to suspect foreigners in the country means they’d be hard-pressed to get any spying accomplished. Pyongyang, trusting no one, watches even its friends closely. A senior KGB official who did a tour in North Korea in the waning days of the Cold War admitted that he was under tighter surveillance by his “allies” in Pyongyang than he had experienced in his long espionage career. He told me that he was watched more invasively by North Korean counterspies than he ever had been by the FBI during a previous KGB tour in America.
Even the NSA, which supplies the lion’s share of intelligence in our IC, can’t get much access to North Korea. Pyongyang has buried most of its communications underground, making them immune to conventional interception, while cell phones are almost unknown there. Neither can NSA tap into the country’s computer networks easily, since North Korea barely has Internet access. Being all but sealed off from the world in IT terms means that the DPRK represents a very hard target for NSA, as well as a denied area overall for American spies.
Our spy satellites offer some indications of what’s going on north of the DMZ, but without corroborating HUMINT or SIGINT, that secret imagery is a lot less useful than it could be. The only way to get fresh intelligence about what’s happening in North Korea is by recruiting Pyongyang’s diplomats serving abroad (many of whom are really spies). They’re a pretty unsavory bunch, since DPRK embassies are outposts for crime—counterfeiting, drug-dealing, and various frauds—more than diplomacy, and any spies recruited will be impossible to maintain contact with once they return home.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Swamp Is Getting Bigger

Fredreka Schouten and Maureen Groppe report at USA Today:
Former campaign aides, fundraisers and others with ties to President Trump and Vice President Pence have attracted dozens of new lobbying clients in Washington, raking in more than $2.2 million in lobbying fees in the first months of the administration, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
Brian Ballard, a longtime Florida lobbyist and a fundraiser for both Trump’s campaign and inaugural committee, appears to lead the pack, signing up 20 federal clients since opening his Washington lobbying operation this year. His company, Ballard Partners, has earned more than $1.1 million in a three-month period, new lobbying reports show.
Ballard is one of more than a dozen White House allies launching new firms, taking new jobs in lobbying firms or signing up new clients this year as companies and other interests look for ways to shape policy in the Trump administration. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly promised to drain the special-interest swamp in Washington.
AP reports:
Contribution records from Trump's inaugural committee, released Wednesday by the Federal Election Commission, show the president who railed as a candidate against the corrupting influence of big-money donors was only too willing to accept top-dollar checks for his swearing-in festivities.
Trump's total take was about double the previous record set by Barack Obama, who collected $53 million in contributions in 2009, and had money left over to spend on the annual Easter egg roll and other White House events.
Trump's top inaugural donor was Las Vegas gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who gave $5 million. He and his wife came away with prime seats for Trump's swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20 and gained access to a private lunch with the new president and lawmakers at the Capitol. Phil Ruffin, another casino mogul and close friend of Trump, was among dozens of donors who gave $1 million each.
At least eight NFL team owners kicked in big money for the inauguration. Seven of them, including Patriots owner Bob Kraft, whose team won the Super Bowl and visited the White House on Wednesday, gave $1 million apiece. Kraft's donation came via his limited liability company.
Mary Papenfuss reports at the Huffington Post:
The New York Times and ProPublica have highlighted some especially worrisome hires in the executive branch, including White House energy adviser Michael Catanzaro, a former oil and gas company lobbyist, and Geoff Burr, a former construction industry lobbyist now working at the Department of Labor.

A lobbyist may “de-register on Monday and enter the Trump Administration on Tuesday,” Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen told ProPublica — and could also quickly return to the private sector.

Just last week, Bloomberg revealed that Marcus Peacock, a top Trump aide who worked briefly in the Office of Management and Budget, will join the lobbying group the Business Roundtable. Peacock has recused himself from lobbying the OMB for just six months — even though he agreed not to lobby his former agency for five years, according to Bloomberg.

Trump may also be issuing other ethics waivers, but that’s difficult to determine because granted waivers are generally kept secret, the Times reports. The president is also keeping White House visitor logs secret, making it difficult to track corporate representatives’ meetings with federal officials as they create new policy.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Trump v. House GOP on Entitlement Reform

Dudes, you might want to check Trump's tweets on this subject: