A Rejoinder to Ron Paul

For the past few years, Ron Paul has been castigating the Obama administration and members of Congress who support arming rebels in Syria.

His typical argument goes something like the one he made on June 14, 2013:
“The rebels, we don’t even know who they are. … It’s probably going to help the al Qaeda. The weapons we send over there are probably going to end up in the hands of the al Qaeda and will be used against the American people.”

After chemical weapons use was suspected by Assad (which Paul called a false flag), the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity published an article calling the push for an attack by the West “Another Western War Crime In The Making.”

Clearly Paul is anti-war, it would seem.

It would seem.
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Rand Paul’s Isolationism: Yes, He Does Support Withdrawing Troops From Germany and Asia

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.) got into a war of words with Texas Governor and ex-Republican primary candidate Rick Perry after Perry slammed Paul’s position on Iraq as “isolationism” in a Washington Post op-ed. Paul (response) disputed that his position can be characterized as “isolationism”, and he defending his call for no military action in Iraq to counter ISIS.

Focused as this argument is on Iraq and Syria, many pundits are ignoring the broader isolationism world view of Rand Paul. Like his father, Rand Paul also wants to cut down on the numbers of troops deployed elsewhere around the world, including in non-combat zones and Europe, South Korea, and Asia.
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Global Times Calls Occupy Central Cyberattacks “Sympathy-Getting Ploy”, Self-Inflicted Injury

From June 20-29, about 790,000 people voted in Occupy Central’s referendum on universal suffrage. That number was 8 times greater than leader Benny Tai had publicly expected when the movement was facing some negative press coverage in the weeks after their deliberation day. After the vote, an estimated 500,000 people* marched in the annual June 1 protest.

Before the vote, it was reported that Occupy Central’s servers were hacked. The reports made big news in the days leading up to and during the poll (SCMP).

It even made news in China, but not with the same connotations as it did in most of the Hong Kong papers. Global Times, a government-owned paper, on their front page on June 30, called the reported attacks a self-inflicted “sympathy-getting ploy.”

Hong Kong Daily News reported on the 29th that Occupy Central leader Chen Jianmin said the electronic voting had once again been intensely attacked by hackers, who had tried to steal the website’s passwords, the day before, and they had reported it to the police. In Hong Kong Ta Kung Pao’s analysis, printed on the 29th, as Occupy Central continues to stage these hacking attacks on the voting site dramas day after day, the opposition is playing the “grief card”. The opposition is Continue reading

Thad Cochran and the Republican Black Vote

Cochran shows the GOP how to win the black vote; but will the GOP listen?

Thad Cochran’s victory in the Mississippi Senate primary should be a lesson for Republicans on how to win the black vote. Cochran squeaked out a narrow victory over Chris McDaniels, an ex-talk show host known for making inflammatory comments, by increasing turnout in heavily-black, traditionally Democratic-voting counties. He did so by appealing to black voters on issues that mattered to them and calling out McDaniels for racism.

To be sure, Cochran probably won’t win a majority of those votes in the general election, but McDaniels wouldn’t have a chance of even winning their primary votes.

That black voters saw Cochran as less threatening than McDaniels–enough so to save him–shows the GOP can do better at positioning itself on racial issues.
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Tea Party Conservative McDaniels Tries to Criminalize Thought

Chris McDaniels, a Tea Party conservative, just lost the Mississippi Republican Senate primary to long-serving Senator Thad Cochran in a runoff election by a 49%-51% margin. Now McDaniels wants to challenge his loss by trying to read people’s minds.

He thinks many of Cochran’s voters were Democrats who “illegally” voted for Cochran in the primary but don’t intend to vote for him in the general election.

Some background (skip this if you are familiar with the race): Cochran won with the support of African-Americans, a voting block that typically votes heavily Democratic. In 2012, exit polls show 96% of the black vote in Mississippi went to Democratic President Barack Obama. It follows that some of those voters might be Democrat-supporting voters who voted for Cochran because they didn’t want McDaniels to represent their state in Senate. The Democrats would have voted against McDaniels is because he is much farther to the right than Cochran. His politics are extreme: He want to close the Department of Education, which provides funding to local schools. And as a talk show host he has a record of making angry, resentful comments about racially-tinged issues. Thus, as the New York Times documents, many African-Americans voted against him for those reasons, and FiveThirtyEight uses statistical analysis to argue that black voters made the difference.

Now to the cruz of the piece: After losing, McDaniels still doesn’t want to concede, because he says that Democrat-supporters illegally voting cost him the election, and he wants to investigate. An investigation by McDaniels would constitute an investigation into thought crimes. There’s Continue reading

Greenwald Offers No Evidence of NSA Overreach — No Place to Hide Book Review

Glenn Greenwald is back in the United States for the first time since launching his expose on the NSA’s intelligence-gathering programs, and he’s already back to getting into shouting matches with his critics. Although I’m a little bit late to the fight, it’s time for me to launch my polemical missile at his new book, No Place to Hide, published on May 13, 2014.

The book is divided into five chapters, that chronicle the story of Greenwald’s reporting on the issue, some of the facts behind the NSA’s spying activities, and his arguments against those activities. The book is entertaining and informative with its deep dive into the world of shadowy agents and far-reaching technologies. It is supplemented with many images of documents taken from NSA powerpoints and internal reports. It is also wrong in its arguments about the NSA.

It starts with Greenwald receiving mysterious emails from someone named “Cincinnatus”. That would be Edward Snowden, but Greenwald didn’t know it at the time and almost missed the story. The first chapter details Greenwald’s initial contact with Snowden, and the next chapter, his meetings with him in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong chapter reads like a thriller. Greenwald and Snowden meet in conference rooms of a 5 star hotel in the most crowded district in the world, planning their movements to evade attention, and Greenwald putting his phone in the refrigerator in Snowden’s room.

The third chapter lays out the NSA’s programs in detail. That’s where we hear about how the NSA wants to “Collect It All.” The chapter includes figures citing huge amounts of communications information intercepted and stored–97 billion emails in one month by a program called Global Access Operations–or about 1.8% of all emails sent in a month, if the estimate by the Radicati Group on the number of emails per month is accurate. With access to a treasure trove of documents–many of which are reprinted in the book–Greenwald has information to cite to corroborate facts about the programs from multiple angles.

But much of his information isn’t about Americans’ rights being violated. Pages after pages are dedicated exclusively to foreign spying, much of it routine. We read that the NSA has an interest in providing the government with information about “Counter Proliferation”, “Counter Terrorism”, “Diplomatic”, “Economic”, “Military”, and “Political/Intention of Nations” of foreign countries.” The NSA apparently engages in economic espionage and for espionage to gain benefits in trade or diplomatic negotiations. Whether or not that constitutes unfair economic tactics could be debatable, but it hardly constitutes as a scandal.

Most countries do so, and, as Greenwald wrote, “Countries have spied on heads of state for centuries, including allies. This is unremarkable…” If the American government wasn’t doing all it could do to ensure its citizens reap the most possible benefits from defense treaties and trade treaties, one could argue the government wasn’t doing its job. After all, according to one document the book cites, the signals intelligence support provided by the NSA at the Fifth Summit of the Americas “ensured that our diplomats were well prepared to advise President Obama and Secretary Clinton on how to deal with contentious issues, such as Cuba, and interact with difficult counterparts, such as Venezuelan President Chavez.”

Greenwald also famously exposed the fact that the NSA had spied on Angela Merkel and on other high foreign government leaders. Props to the NSA for doing such a good job. Spying is, after all, a major part of the job description for the NSA and CIA.

The NSA does go pursue its mission with an incredible zeal. Greenwald writes that much U.S. technology for export is modified so that it is easier for the U.S. to spy on foreign citizens. Even Americans concerned about domestic rights violations could be a little put off about that.

But the real bones of the Snowden story are the concerns about NSA’s domestic intelligence gathering programs. Greenwald tried hard to portray the post-9/11 security mechanisms as a violation of Americans’ civil liberties, but he doesn’t have much to work with. Chapter four makes his argument for why the broad powers of the NSA–and the government’s anti-terrorism forces in general–are abuses of power. He relies mostly on theoretical arguments, and the few times he cites concrete numbers, the numbers belie his case.
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News Updates on Occupy Central Referendum

Occupy Central is making changes to their June 20-22 referendum after encountering opposition from within. One new question is being added to the referendum in addition to the question about electoral procedures for the 2017 chief executive election. Organizers also said they might not go forward with the opposition if they don’t get a high enough turnout.

Here are some important developments:

Occupy Central Could Abandon Disobedience Plan if Less Than 100,000 Vote in Referendum
In late May, one of Occupy Central’s three leaders, Chan Kin-man, said that it would be an admission of failure if less than 100,000 people vote in their June 20-22 referendum. “If not even 100,000 people turn up, I can say frankly that I think the campaign has failed. We, the three organisers, have discussed it … and we think that if only tens of thousands of people voted, we should make a public apology and admit that we don’t have the ability to lead the campaign,” Chan said, according to the South China Morning Post. But Chan also said that low turnout wouldn’t definitely cancel the movement’s civil disobedience plan, saying, according to the Hong Kong Standard, “[That doesnt mean] we no longer want civil disobedience. We never said it would be game over.”

Occupy Central Adds Question, Emphasizes Plan Continue reading

The Downside of China’s Taxi Booking Apps

In China, you can book taxis from your smart phone. It can be more convenient, but there are also some downsides that I note in my latest article for China.org.cn:

It’s late at night, it’s raining outside, the wind is blowing hard, and you need to get home. If you have a taxi booking app like Kuaidi or Didi Da Che, you could book a taxi quickly and stay out of the rain. That’s the promise of the smartphone taxi-booking industry.

But that promise ignores much of the public. What if you are waiting outside in the pouring rain trying to hail a cab on the street? Taxi booking apps could make it easier for smartphone users to book a cab at the expense of others.

In Shanghai, there were cases of taxi drivers ignoring people hailing cabs on the street in order to focus instead on picking up app users. In response, Shanghai regulators limited the use of the app during peak hours.

Part of the problem is that the apps have offered big subsidies to users and drivers, disrupting the market. In January, Kuaidi and Didi, taxi-booking apps owned by Alibaba and Tencent respectively, were offering 10 RMB rebates to users who paid with their e-payment system and 10 RMB bonuses to drivers.

Since then, the companies have cut the bonuses, but even if they didn’t offer any bonuses, their apps do make it harder to hail a cab on the street. If a driver has a confirmed booking, he isn’t going to stop on his way to pick up passengers on the curb.

Read the full article: The taxi booking app bias

1 Month After Palin Attacks Democrats for Being Weak on Terror, GOP Votes Against Author of Drone-Strike Memos

One month ago, Sarah Palin accused the Democrats of being weak on terror. During a speech in which she endorsed the use of waterboarding, she said that Democrats oppose waterboarding because it would “offend” the terrorists and “make them feel uncomfortable.” (I wrote about it at the time.)

You know what else would make terrorists feel uncomfortable? Killing them with drones. Under President Obama, the United States has done just that to more than 2,000 terrorists*.

Obama nominated one of the lawyers who authored legal policy towards drone strikes to a position on the U.S. federal appeals court, and on May 21, all 43 Republicans who voted voted against Barron’s nomination.
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