The Very Strange Indictment of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s IT Scammers

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

The Very Strange Indictment of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s IT Scammers
By ANDREW C. MCCARTHY
Aug 21 2017
http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450665/debbie-wasserman-schultz-it-scammers-indicted-mysteriously-narrow-and-low-key-way

Let’s say you’re a prosecutor in Washington. You are investigating a husband and wife, naturalized Americans, who you believe have scammed a federal credit union out of nearly $300,000. You catch them in several false statements about their qualifications for a credit line and their intended use of the money. The strongest part of your case, though, involves the schemers’ transferring the loot to their native Pakistan.

So . . . what’s the best evidence you could possibly have, the slam-dunk proof that their goal was to steal the money and never look back? That’s easy: One after the other, the wife and husband pulled up stakes and tried to high-tail it to Pakistan after they’d wired the funds there — the wife successfully fleeing, the husband nabbed as he was about to board his flight.

Well, here’s a peculiar thing about the Justice Department’s indictment of Imran Awan and Hina Alvi, the alleged fraudster couple who doubled as IT wizzes for Debbie Wasserman Schultz and many other congressional Democrats: There’s not a word in it about flight to Pakistan. The indictment undertakes to describe in detail four counts of bank-fraud conspiracy, false statements on credit applications, and unlawful monetary transactions, yet leaves out the most damning evidence of guilt.

In fact, the indictment appears to go out of its way not to mention it.

I’ll get back to that in a second. First, let’s recap. As I explained about three weeks ago, there is a very intriguing investigation of the Awan family. There are about six of them — brothers, spouses, and attached others — who were retained by various Democrats as computer-systems managers at compensation levels dwarfing that of the average congressional staffer. The Awans fell under suspicion in late 2016 and were canned at the beginning of February, on suspicion of mishandling the sensitive information to which they’d had access: scanning members’ e-mail, transferring files to remote servers under the Awans’ control, stealing computer equipment and hard drives (some of which they attempted to destroy when they were found out), along with a sideline in procurement fraud.

We should say that almost all of them were canned. Hina Alvi and her husband, Imran Awan, stayed on, even though they were no longer authorized to have access to the House computer system (i.e., to do the work they were hired to do). Alvi continued to be retained by Congressman Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, for another four weeks. During that time, we now know, she was tying up loose financial ends, packing her house up, and pulling three young daughters out of school — just before skedaddling to Pakistan.

Awan was kept on the payroll for about six more months by Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, former Democratic National Committee chairwoman, and Clinton insider. She finally fired him only after he was arrested at the airport right before a scheduled flight to Qatar, from whence he planned to join Alvi in Pakistan.

There are grounds to suspect blackmail, given (a) the staggering sums of money paid to the Awans over the years, (b) the sensitive congressional communications to which they had access, (c) the alleged involvement of Imran Awan and one of his brothers in a blackmail-extortion scheme against their stepmother, and (d) Wasserman Schultz’s months of protecting Awan and potentially impeding the investigation. There are also, of course, questions about stolen information. And there is, in addition, the question I raised a month ago: Why did the FBI and the Capitol Police allow Hina Alvi to leave the country on March 5 when there were grounds to arrest her at Dulles Airport? Why did they wait to charge her until last week — by which time she was safely in Pakistan, from which it will likely be impossible to extradite her for prosecution?

What, moreover, about Awan’s brothers and other apparent accomplices? What has become of them since they were fired by the House almost seven months ago?

[snip]

The Women Behind The ‘Alt-Right’

The Women Behind The ‘Alt-Right’
By Emma Bowman
Aug 20 2017
http://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544134546/the-women-behind-the-alt-right

Last weekend, when white nationalists descended on Charlottesville to protest, it was clear that almost exclusively white, young males comprised the so-called alt-right movement — there were women, but very few.

So where were the white women who weren’t out protesting in the streets?

For the most part, journalist Seyward Darby discovered, they’re online.

“It wasn’t easy” seeking out the women of the alt-right, Darby tells NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro. “I spent a lot of time in the underbelly of the Internet — Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, 4chan, places like that — digging up contact information.”

Darby dives into the motivations behind the alt-right female alliance in her cover story for the latest issue of Harper’s Magazine, “Rise of the Valkyries.” She began her reporting around the time anti-Trump activists were organizing January’s Women’s March, when she wondered: What do the women who aren’t in the resistance think about what’s happening?

Many of these women came into the alt-right initially as anti-feminists.

“They were people who felt that the feminist progressive agenda was not serving them — in some cases they felt like it was actively disregarding them because they wanted more traditional things: home, family, etc.,” she says. “And they came into the movement through that channel and then ultimately adopted more pro-white and white nationalist views.”

One of those women was Lana Lokteff, a Russian-American from Oregon who co-runs Red Ice, an alt-right media company, with her Swedish husband, Henrik Palmgren.

The couple decided to make this their cause around 2012, Darby says, when they say they saw a lot of “anti-white sentiment.” Around the time of several high-profile police shootings of young, black men, Lokteff “felt that Black Lives Matter and these other reactive forces were being unfair to white people and that then sort of spun into a conspiracy about how the establishment, so to speak, is out to oppress, minimize and silence white people.”

Lokteff, who promotes alt-right ideologies on the couple’s YouTube channel, has been persistently trolled by the men of the movement. Darby wanted to understand what attracts women to a movement that is often hostile to them.

In her piece, she quotes Andrew Anglin, who runs the (now blacklisted) neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer as saying the white woman’s womb “belongs to the males of society.” And alt-right pioneer Richard Spencer, who acknowledges that women make up a small percentage of the movement, believes women are not suited for some roles in government, reports Mother Jones: “Women should never be allowed to make foreign policy,” he tweeted during the first presidential debate. “It’s not that they’re ‘weak.’ To the contrary, their vindictiveness knows no bounds.”

[snip]

Johns Hopkins researchers say they’ve unlocked key to cancer metastasis and how to slow it

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

Johns Hopkins researchers say they’ve unlocked key to cancer metastasis and how to slow it
By Carrie Wells
Jun 15 2017
http://www.baltimoresun.com/health/bs-hs-cancer-trigger-20170625-story.html

Hasini Jayatilaka was a sophomore at the Johns Hopkins University working in a lab studying cancer cells when she noticed that when the cells become too densely packed, some would break off and start spreading.

She wasn’t sure what to make of it, until she attended an academic conference and heard a speaker talking about bacterial cells behaving the same way. Yet when she went through the academic literature to see if anyone had written about similar behavior in cancer cells, she found nothing.

Seven years later, the theory Jayatilaka developed early in college is now a bona fide discovery that offers significant promise for cancer treatment.

Jayatilaka and a team at Johns Hopkins discovered the biochemical mechanism that tells cancer cells to break off from the primary tumor and spread throughout the body, a process called metastasis. Some 90 percent of cancer deaths are caused when cancer metastasizes. The team also found that two existing, FDA-approved drugs can slow metastasis significantly.

“A female patient with breast cancer doesn’t succumb to the disease just because she has a mass on her breast; she succumbs to the disease because [when] it spreads either to the lungs, the liver, the brain, it becomes untreatable,” said Jayatilaka, who earned her doctorate in chemical and biomolecular engineering this spring in addition to her earlier undergraduate degree at Hopkins.

“There are really no therapeutics out there right now that directly target the spread of cancer. So what we came up with through our studies was this drug cocktail that could potentially inhibit the spread of cancer.”

The study was published online May 26 in the journal Nature Communications. The next step for the team is to test the effectiveness of the drugs in human subjects.

Typically, cancer research and treatment has focused on shrinking the primary tumor through chemotherapy or other methods. But, the team said, by attacking the deadly process of metastasis, more patients could survive.

“It’s not this primary tumor that’s going to kill you typically,” said Denis Wirtz, Johns Hopkins’ vice provost for research and director of its Physical Sciences-Oncology Center, who was a senior author on the paper.

Jayatilaka began by studying how cancer cells behave and communicate with each other, using a three-dimensional model that mimics human tissue rather than looking at them in a petri dish. Many researchers believe metastasis happens after the primary tumor reaches a certain size, but Jayatilaka found it was the tumor’s density that determined when it would metastasize.

“If you look at the human population, once we become too dense in an area, we move out to the suburbs or wherever, and we decide to set up shop there,” Jayatilaka said. “I think the cancer cells are doing the same thing.”

When the tumor reaches a certain density, the study found, it releases two proteins called Interleukin 6 and Interleukin 8, signaling to cancer cells that things had grown too crowded and it was time to break off and head into other parts of the body.

Previously, Wirtz said, the act of a tumor growing and the act of cancer cells spreading were thought to be very separate activities, because that’s how it appeared by studying cancer cells in a petri dish, rather than the 3-D model the Hopkins team used. Many researchers study only cancer cell growth or its spread, and don’t communicate with each other often, he said.

Once the cancer cells start to sense the presence of too many other cancer cells around them, they start secreting the Interleukin proteins, Wirtz said. If those proteins are added to a tumor that hasn’t yet metastasized, that process would begin, he said.

[snip]

The Internet’s “Nazi Purge” Shows Who Really Controls Our Online Speech

The Internet’s “Nazi Purge” Shows Who Really Controls Our Online Speech
You might not worry about companies censoring Nazis. But you should be worried about the unelected bros of Silicon Valley being the judge and jury.
By Jillian York
Aug 21 2017
https://www.buzzfeed.com/jillianyork/silicon-valleys-nazi-purge

The Daily Stormer’s unceremonious booting from large swathes of the internet has made plenty of headlines; tech companies, the story goes, are “joining the resistance.” Silicon Valley is conducting a “Nazi purge,” and Charlottesville is “reshaping the fight against online hate.”

But the demise of this hateful website has also raised a new debate about an old problem: Silicon Valley’s control of our online speech.

Companies like Facebook and Twitter have been making hard decisions about hate speech for a long time. These platforms, as well as web-hosting companies and other intermediaries, are not governed by the First Amendment. Instead, they must obey 47 U.S.C. § 230, known colloquially as “CDA 230.” This gives them immunity from liability for most of the content they host, and says they are free to host (or not host) whatever they want.

Those rights are important, but they also come with great responsibility. And I believe these companies are failing to live up to that responsibility.

The truth is companies get these decisions wrong a lot of the time. And because they’re not transparent about how their rules are enforced or about how much content is taken down, we only hear about the bad decisions when they make headlines. That is happening increasingly often these days, as those in media circles take more interest in the issue.

Just this summer, Facebook used its hate speech policies to censor queer artists and activists for using words like “dyke” and “fag”; Twitter booted several leftist activists, apparently for engaging in uncivil counterspeech; and YouTube’s algorithms deleted masses of videos from the Syrian civil war that activists had archived for use in war crimes investigations.

This is nothing new. Over the years, I’ve watched as Silicon Valley companies have made globally important decisions that have stirred less debate than this week’s Daily Stormer episode. Last year, when Twitter boasted that it deleted 235,000 “terrorism-related” accounts from their service, hardly anyone blinked. But in that case, as in this one, we need to ensure that these companies are accountable to their users, and that people have a path of recourse when they are wronged.

I’m not so worried about companies censoring Nazis, but I am worried about the implications it has for everyone else. I’m worried about the unelected bros of Silicon Valley being the judge and jury, and thinking that mere censorship solves the problem. I’m worried that, just like Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince woke up one morning and decided he’d had enough of the Daily Stormer, some other CEO might wake up and do the same for Black Lives Matter or antifa. I’m worried that we’re not thinking about this problem holistically.

In the case of the Daily Stormer, companies were undoubtedly very aware of the site’s presence on their platforms and made not just a moral decision, but a business one as well. But that’s not how content moderation typically works: In most instances, companies rely on their users to report one another. The reports enter a queue that is then moderated either by humans — often low-wage workers abroad whose job requires them to look at horrible images so you don’t have to — or by algorithms. A decision is made and the content is either left up or removed.

Some platforms, like Facebook, mete out punishment to their users, temporarily suspending them for up to 30 days; others may boot users for their first or second infraction. Users are only able to appeal these corporate decisions in certain circumstances.

How comfortable you are with this kind of set up depends on your view of speech and who should police it. There are different kinds of free speech advocates — some believe that a pluralistic, democratic society is nothing without freedom of expression, and that we must protect the rights of all if we want to protect the most vulnerable. The “slippery slope” argument is popular, although it’s not always convincing.

[snip]

1 In 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes Around The Earth, Survey Says

[Note:  This article is from 2014.  Given all the media attention with regards to the eclipse today, I wonder just how much this has changed.  DLH]

1 In 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes Around The Earth, Survey Says
By Scott Neuman
Feb 14 2014
http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/02/14/277058739/1-in-4-americans-think-the-sun-goes-around-the-earth-survey-says

A quarter of Americans surveyed could not correctly answer that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, according to a report out Friday from the National Science Foundation.

The survey of 2,200 people in the United States was conducted by the NSF in 2012 and released on Friday at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.

To the question “Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth,” 26 percent of those surveyed answered incorrectly.

In the same survey, just 39 percent answered correctly (true) that “The universe began with a huge explosion” and only 48 percent said “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.”

Just over half understood that antibiotics are not effective against viruses.

As alarming as some of those deficits in science knowledge might appear, Americans fared better on several of the questions than similar, but older surveys of their Chinese and European counterparts.

Only 66 percent of people in a 2005 European Union poll answered the basic astronomy question correctly. However, both China and the EU fared significantly better (66 percent and 70 percent, respectively) on the question about human evolution.

In a survey compiled by the National Opinion Research Center from various sources, Americans seemed to generally support science research and expressed the greatest interest in new medical discoveries and local school issues related to science. They were least interested in space exploration, agricultural developments and international and foreign policy issues related to science.

Dilbert’s Scott Adams Explains “How To Know You’re In A Mass Hysteria Bubble”

[Note:  This item comes from friend Steve Schear.  DLH]

Dilbert’s Scott Adams Explains “How To Know You’re In A Mass Hysteria Bubble”
By Tyler Durden
Aug 18 2017
http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-08-18/dilberts-scott-adams-explains-how-know-youre-mass-hysteria-bubble

Authored by Scott Adams via Dilbert blog,

History is full of examples of Mass Hysterias. They happen fairly often. The cool thing about mass hysterias is that you don’t know when you are in one.But sometimes the people who are not experiencing the mass hysteria can recognize when others are experiencing one, if they know what to look for.

I’ll teach you what to look for.

A mass hysteria happens when the public gets a wrong idea about something that has strong emotional content and it triggers cognitive dissonance that is often supported by confirmation bias. In other words, people spontaneously hallucinate a whole new (and usually crazy-sounding) reality and believe they see plenty of evidence for it. The Salem Witch Trials are the best-known example of mass hysteria. The McMartin Pre-School case and the Tulip Bulb hysteria are others. The dotcom bubble probably qualifies. We might soon learn that the Russian Collusion story was mass hysteria in hindsight. The curious lack of solid evidence for Russian collusion is a red flag. But we’ll see how that plays out.

The most visible Mass Hysteria of the moment involves the idea that the United States intentionally elected a racist President. If that statement just triggered you, it might mean you are in the Mass Hysteria bubble. The cool part is that you can’t fact-check my claim you are hallucinating if you are actually hallucinating. But you can read my description of the signs of mass hysteria and see if you check off the boxes.

If you’re in the mass hysteria, recognizing you have all the symptoms of hysteria won’t help you be aware you are in it. That’s not how hallucinations work. Instead, your hallucination will automatically rewrite itself to expel any new data that conflicts with its illusions.

But if you are not experiencing mass hysteria, you might be totally confused by the actions of the people who are. They appear to be irrational, but in ways that are hard to define. You can’t tell if they are stupid, unscrupulous, ignorant, mentally ill, emotionally unstable or what. It just looks frickin’ crazy.

The reason you can’t easily identify what-the-hell is going on in the country right now is that a powerful mass hysteria is in play.

If you see the signs after I point them out, you’re probably not in the hysteria bubble.

If you read this and do NOT see the signs, it probably means you’re trapped inside the mass hysteria bubble.

Here are some signs of mass hysteria. This is my own take on it, but I welcome you to fact-check it with experts on mass hysteria.

[snip]

The coming earthquake

[Note:  This item comes from friend Robert Berger.  DLH]

The coming earthquake
By Steve LeVine
Aug 20 2017
https://www.axios.com/the-new-exxons-2474410557.html

One feature of our time is the disruption du jour — the whiplash of yet another big surprise that promises to upset everything and everyone for years and perhaps decades to come:

• Brexit, the Trump election, and the broader anti-establishment global uprising, springing from lost jobs, income, stature and community, and making many people ambivalent about the post-war system of collective diplomacy and open borders.
• Robotization — the shift to hyper-automation and the potential that many of our jobs will be swallowed up by machines.
• And now the new monopolists, a creeping change in how we view a few tech monoliths that have amassed colossal power — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

Connecting the dots: These three narratives are melding into a gigantic, compound earthquake. When we speak of the race to artificial intelligence and robotization, we mean research dominated by American big tech, along with its Chinese cousins — Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent. When the workplace is filled with intelligent machines some time in the future, their brains are likely to come from one or more of these companies.

In 2001, Goldman Sachs analyst Jim O’Neill published a paper that coined the term “BRIC.” Brazil, Russia, India and China would power the next stage of global growth, O’Neill said. The acronym caught fire. The new powers in global growth are the major U.S. and Chinese tech companies, though they fit less comfortably into an acronym. 

For that and other reasons, including the decimation of retail by Amazon, they are core to our unease and alienation, as Axios has reported, and they are facing increasing scrutiny.

Going deep: This week, we look at two forthcoming books and a much-discussed legal paper that explain this evolving mind shift, and point the way forward: 

The Four, by NYU professor Scott Galloway; World Without Mind, by Atlantic magazine writer Franklin Foer; and Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox, by New America fellow Lina Khan.

Here, three authors explore the far-reaching and the until-now little-examined collective impact of our big tech companies on society and the world. 

Frank Foer: A surrender of free will

We are at the mercy of these companies, with billions of people outside China using Google to search the Internet, Facebook to follow their friends, Apple to talk to them, Amazon to buy stuff, and Microsoft for their office needs. Within China, the same can be said for the BAT companies. But that is more dangerous than seems apparent. Foer notes:

• Amazon can kill or hobble a book, an author or an entire publisher, and did so to Hachette and Macmillan in 2014, delaying shipments and stripping sales links so books couldn’t be bought at all. 
• Google worked to swing the 2012 U.S. presidential election for Barack Obama, boasting about the power of its analytics tool to help his campaign. 
• Facebook can also target and favor candidates of its choosing.

All of this troubles Foer, who delivers a passionate argument for the public to wake up and reconsider its tech idolatry. “Our faith in technology is no longer fully consistent with our belief in liberty,” he writes. “We’re nearing the moment when we will have to damage one of our revolutions to save the other. Privacy can’t survive the present trajectory of technology.” 

His central message: We are at risk of authoritarianism, and a loss of ourselves — “a breaking point, a point at which our nature is no longer really human.” 

When Foer started this book, “it felt like I was engaging in a quixotic, esoteric venture,” he told me. “The tech companies were held in such high esteem that the possibility that there was something fundamentally wrong with them didn’t register with people. But the zeitgeist has started to shift, now in a fairly extreme way.”

One of Foer’s primary targets is Silicon Valley’s war on individual genius in favor of the collaborative and populist crowd. This, he says, flies in the face of how big tech views itself, championing “the fearless entrepreneur, the alienated geek working in the garage” — Steve Jobs, Jack Ma, Bill Gates, Larry Page and Jeff Bezos. 

“The titans of technology may be capable of breathtaking originality and solitary genius, but the rest of the world is not,” he writes.

Another is tax dodgers: Amazon can offer low prices in large part because for years it paid no taxes, while brick-and-mortar stores forked over both that and rent — Walmart paid a 30% tax rate over the last decade and Home Depot 38%. Amazon’s effective tax rate is 13%, and Apple and Alphabet’s 16%. 

Profits left abroad: Far from reaching their station fair and square, big tech squirrels away their profits overseas, and doesn’t pay its fair share at home. Amazon dodges taxes by basing much of its operations in Luxembourg. As of 2015, Google had parked $58.3 billion in tax havens abroad including Ireland and Bermuda. In 2012, Facebook earned $1.1 billion in the U.S., on which it paid not a cent of federal or state tax. “The tech companies maintain every shred of data, yet seem to want to purge every bit of taxable earnings,” he writes.

[snip]