Impropriety in Government Hacking

It’s an obvious and well-known fact that governments hack each other all day, every day. While I think it’s stupid and potentially dangerous, it’s roughly the same as the rampant spying that exists between even friendly nations (ie Israel/US). I might not like it, but that doesn’t stop it from being standard. And if something is standard, then even my dislike doesn’t change the fact that it’s going to happen.

Now that I’ve established that, I feel it’s important to finally touch on the release of DNC materials to Wikileaks. Specifically, about how the DNC was so poorly led by Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Make no mistake, this lady was incompetetant, irresponsibly, and stupid. And this leak in no way implicated Clinton or illigimized her candicacy. Again, just establishing our ground.

Moving on, let’s take a peek on the why and how. The US government is fairly certain, according to many sources, that the culprits were Russian government hackers. It isn’t concrete enough to get Obama talking about it and starting a serious diplomatic row, but it is concrete enough that nearly every source says it with confidence. As I said in the first paragraph, I’m not thrilled with international espionage, but it’s fair game at this point. Russians can hack the US. The US can hack Russians.

The problem comes with the release of the information. That’s an entirely different story that goes many directions. For one, the Russian government specifically timed this to hurt Clinton in the campaign. That’s fucked up. Even worse is the reason why. The Russians prefer Trump because he’d be Putin’s lapdog. So here we’ve got international espionage playing out in American politics, where the leaders of foreign nations are manipulating the citizens of the US for political purposes. I don’t like that one bit.

Then we’ve got Wikileaks. I was never thrilled with Wikileaks. While the anonymous and random release of information can be informative, it can also ruin some damn good diplomacy. And remember, diplomacy is what we have INSTEAD OF WAR. Diplomacy, even though it’s often veiled in secrecy and can seem undemocratic, is an excellent way to come to a thoroughly decent agreement that wouldn’t be possible if the discussion happened entirely in the public realm. Diplomacy saves lives. And when Wikileaks releases information, it’s not vetted, it doesn’t protect the innocent, it doesn’t consider the ramifications or care who gets screwed. Wikileaks just releases all of it.

It’s a lot like my opinion of Manning versus Snowden. Manning released a bunch of classified but not really important information in great big dumps. Snowden contacts reports to vet the information so he could disclose a very important thing being kept from the American people. Manning caused a bunch of problems without much payoff. Snowden responsibly informed the US and the world of deplorable world spanning spying that we all expected existed, but nobody could definitively prove.

And what does Wikileaks do now? They release information with the specific goal, according to Assange, of hurting Clinton’s campaign. This Australian national is attempting to butt into American elections by cooperating with Russian spies. Snowden might be living in Russia, accepting Russian aid, but Snowden isn’t helping them. No, that’s Assange and his personal vendetta, one that could put a stupid and dangerous president in power in the US.

That, of course, brings me back to Snowden. We need to end that travesty. Let him come home. Stop forcing him in bed with the Russians. It’s absurd. The man is a national treasure.

Back on track, my larger point is this: releasing information is good. Leaks are good. I will absolutely not dispute that. HOWEVER, using foreign hackers to manipulation the electorate is bad.

Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump

The state of international relations isn’t great. Obama has been a very cautious leader, and while he’s avoided anything terrible, he also hasn’t solved anything. Overall, I think he’s done fine. But now the US has a choice. More Obama (Clinton) or Trump (shit, literally a piece of shit). With the current babbling that Trump pretends are words, it’s worth looking at issues with US foreign policy.

First, I want to go over a few issues with the Trump campaign in terms of international diplomacy (in other words, forget about the race baiting, the blind religious intolerance, and let’s just stick with pure foreign policy).

It starts with wanting to disband NATO even while being unaware of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. There’s the disquieting fact that one of Trump’s advisers was the architect of Viktor Yanukovych’s campaign for reelection before the protests (during which police snipers murdered quite a few protesters) and subsequent flight of Yanukovych. Here’s a tidbit from a very interesting article that frames the situation nicely:

Mr. Manafort has already had some success, with former Yanukovych loyalists — and some Communists — forming a new bloc opposing Ukraine’s struggling pro-Western government. And now Mr. Manafort has taken on a much larger campaign, seeking to turn Donald J. Trump into a winning presidential candidate.

There’s the fact that he wants to DESTROY our trade relationship with China in spite of the fact that if we did that, everything we buy would be way, way more expensive. It’s something people don’t seem to think about when they talk about bringing back manufacturing jobs. Anyway, back to foreign policy.

There’s the troublesome praise of petty tyrants like Saddam and Kim Jong Un, not to mention Putin, Assad, and Gaddaffi. And even as he praises Assad, he wants to get the US involved in another war in the Middle East, or maybe he’s changed his mind and now he wants to magically make Turkey go single-handedly defeat ISIS? It’s impossible to say.

I probably failed to mention something. In fact, I didn’t even mean to write that much. So let’s go back to the issues with NATO. Is there any merit in somehow forcing the other members to do more? Well, that’s a thorny issue. How would we do that? By somehow renegotiating trade deals? Because that sounds like a titanic task that would require a lot of things to go right. The fact is, we have no real way of making our allies up their commitment. The only real thing we can do is lower our commitments, thereby putting them in danger.

The horrible thing is, Trump is (shudder) right (gag) about one thing. Our allies in NATO aren’t carrying their weight. If Estonia is so afraid of being invaded, they need to start acting like it. THey need to militarize like crazy. Of course, no doubt that would be met by an equal militarization and further breakdown of relations between Estonia and Russia. The same goes for Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. So what does this mean? Does that preclude these countries from building up their armies?

One thing that I do know is these countries do have something to fear. Russia fought an actual war with Georgia to snip away Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia outright invaded Crimea and then quietly send their “little green men” into Ukraine. If I lived in Latvia, I would be very worried about Putin trying something like that.

So, if we know there’s something to fear and there’s no good way to beef up the threatened countries without the US unilaterally doing it alone (which is a bad idea and would definitely escalate the issues), then what options are there? If Latvia won’t spend the money and the UK won’t spend the money, is it really the obligation of the US to potentially get involved in a massively destructive conflict? And if the answer is no, are we really going to let international bullies run free?

Personally, I think the United States is the reason there’s been no wars between nations (that is, excluding civil wars like Libya, South Sudan, Syria, etc). The US is the world police, for good or for ill. Once the US stops doing that, all hell is going to break loose. There will be wars between nations primarily led by dictators. It will be bad. Is it so expensive that the US can’t afford (literally use of afford) to head off these conflicts? Isn’t it better to be the pushy world cop than to let open warfare come to the fore? I don’t know. My gut says yes, but the chance of being wrong is potentially catastrophic. Global thermonuclear war, anyone?

Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Monroe Doctrine, so here’s a primer. The Monroe Doctrine started off as a rather innocent way of declaring that the European powers of the day wouldn’t be allowed to form any new colonies in the Americas. Obviously, it was more complicated than that, but it doesn’t matter because the real issue with the Monroe Doctrine came much, much later. During the Cold War, the US used the Monroe Doctrine as an excuse to do a bunch of slimy, disgusting stuff in an attempt to stop communism from spreading.

In reality, the Monroe Doctrine was basically saying that the Americas were the domain of the US and the US alone. No other country was allowed to intervene, only us. It was basically a statement of regional imperialism. As I said, slimy. Yet, now that the US is a global power, even THE global power, we can no longer support the type of actions we used to perform under the Monroe Doctrine. We can’t overthrow a regime just because we don’t like it. In terms of the public perception and voter power, the best we can do is something like the no fly zone in Libya. We can’t go in and assassinate people, or arm people. At least, if it were revealed that the CIA was doing that, not only would the world be furious, but the American people would punish whoever allowed it. Of that, I am certain. Even if it was the US assassinating Putin or some such nonsense.

The point of bringing up the Monroe Doctrine is to discuss regional supremacy. As in, is it okay for Russia to claim regional supremacy? How about China? When China claims the South China Sea in the Chinese equivalent to the Monroe Doctrine, is that okay?

First off, my gut says no. Regional supremacy was scummy when the US did it and it’s no less scummy when other countries do it. The problem is imperialism. The US might not be great when it comes to being world cop (the debacle of the Iraq War comes to mind), but at the same time, are we really going to let China muscle in? My gut says the US is right to do freedom of navigation patrols and potentially antagonize China.

Look at Vietnam. They fought a war with the US. But you know who else they fought a war with? China. Cambodia. Ever heard of the Khmer Rouge? They were insane, murderous, and terrible in every way. China backed the Khmer Rouge because it was ostensibly a communist movement (it was also insane). Yet, for some mind numbing reason, Pol Pot was absolutely certain that Vietnam wanted to destroy Cambodia, so he intentionally and repeatedly slaughtered Vietnamese villages on the border (also purged everyone inside Cambodia who might be Vietnamese). In the end, Vietnam really had no choice but to go secure the border, and when the attacks wouldn’t stop, they took over all of Cambodia and removed the scourge that was the Khmer Rouge.

And the entire world sanctioned them. China was furious and immediately invaded Vietnam. The two had several border wars. They had conflicts in the South China Sea. Now Vietnam is allied with the US because China is a regional power that wants to bully them.

Stepping back, let’s view this through the Trump lens. Consider that China and the US are best buddies when it comes to trade. We need each other. Our relations are good and strong in that regard. A real war between the US and China would be horrific for both sides. This ain’t no US/Russia conflict. And what does Trump want to do? He wants to destroy that bond.

So consider our options here. Either we have regional power players who bully their neighbors and simply take what they want, or we have a very expensive apparatus funded by US taxpayers to prevent truly devastating wars. These are the options. People like Putin who seize the reigns of power are bullies and you have to have someone to stand up to them, so stare them down and warn them off. Trump wouldn’t be that guy. Trump would smile and talk about how Putin is a GREAT guy.

Reactions to Terrorism

I read an article about how the West doesn’t show the same attention to terrorism in places like Iraq and Bangladesh than it does to France (the whole je suis paris thing, the flags, etc). On one hand, I totally get that. Why is everybody so aghast about terrorism in France and the US, but when there’s terrorism in Mali or Tunisia, not much of anything?

I think there’s four reasons. The first and most simple is just that a country full of Europeans being attacked is clearly going to resonate with more with Europeans or Americans. It’s a matter of likeness. It’s got to do with putting yourself in that situation. For instance, I simply cannot put myself in Bangladesh. It just doesn’t work. I can’t imagine being a Syrian. That just doesn’t compute. Not to say that makes it okay, because obviously it does not. More, I mean to say, similarities make the horror much more visceral.

There’s also a matter of scale and method. A gunman in a crowded place is viciously effective. The attack on the Bataclan is what we remembered the most. The attack on Pulse in Orlando. We don’t as much remember the smaller attacks that happened on the same day as the Bataclan attack because they weren’t nearly so terrible. Now, in that regard, the terrorist attacks in Turkey and Iraq are on par with the attack on the Bataclan.

That brings us to the third part. It’s difficult for most Westerners to distinguish between Turkey and Iraq. Sure, you and I know that Turkey is a very, very different country. For instance, Turkey is full of Turks and some Kurds. It’s not full of Arabs. Syria? Many Arabs and also some Kurds. That’s literally the first thing that comes to mind. The differences beyond that are diverse and expansive. But my point is, the attacks on Turkey didn’t have the same reaction because it’s harder for most Americans to distinguish Turkey from the other areas of the Middle East.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s move on to the fourth part: the most important difference between an attack on Iraq and the US is merely one of repetition. Ever since the early days of the US occupation in Iraq, there’s been tons of suicide bombings. The amount of terrorism in Iraq has numbed us. It’s impossible to be too shocked. If Iraq didn’t have any more terrorist bombings, I’d be pleasantly surprised. But that’s absurd. We all know there’s going to be more terrorism in Iraq. It’s going to be a long time before that’s fixed.

And there’s Bangladesh. The assassination of the bloggers shocked and concerned me. I was horrified that progressives were being targeted. Then came the massacre at the cafe and now a shooting a festival. We’re running into that repetition thing again. The more it happens, the less notable and the less shocking it is.

So, to the irritated and lonely people across the world wondering why the West is silent, there’s four reasons why. A few more attacks in Paris and it’ll be nothing more than a news item. It’s a sad excuse, I know, but that doesn’t mean that people in Europe and America don’t care. If nothing else, I care, I know which country is which, and I’m with you guys.

A brief message to Bernie diehards

So you don’t like Clinton. Whatever, I understand that. Last time we had to choose, I didn’t like her either. I liked Obama. HOWEVER, she’s clinched the nomination. There’s way no way Bernie can win. It’s not possible.

And continuing to rag on Clinton only hurts the progressive platform. Sure, she’s not as liberal as we’d like, but you’ve got to think about the consequences here. Again, Trump. Now, you might say, there’s no difference. And you’d be wrong. Let me briefly give you two incredibly important things. No matter what else can happen, these two factors are VITAL.

FIRST: Supreme Court. The next president will definitely get AT LEAST one nomination. You remember that whole gay marriage thing? Pretty sweet, right? Vote Trump and he promises to nominate hardline conservative (aka bigots) to the court. If we elect Clinton, we’ll get a court that will strike down the obviously illegal laws that are currently in effect (including the absolutely incorrect view of the 2nd Amendment).

SECOND: Veto power. Do you want to repeal Obamacare? I sure as fuck don’t. That’s the only reason I can afford health care right now. The only reason why Republicans haven’t defunded our health system is Obama’s veto power. That also goes for discriminatory anti-gay bills, bills that would eviscerate EBT and so on.

Uber and State Supremacy

Uber provides an illustration of the supremacy of various levels of government in the United States. First, let’s start with the bottom of the governmental totem pole.

The taxi companies of yore were local beasts. They functioned as most companies do nowadays, one part business venture, one part lobbyists. They provided the taxi service and made enough money to lobby the local government. Said local government then wrote laws that raised the regulatory threshold for taxi companies so high that they had no real competition. A side effect was that taxis were also quite safe. Sure, it wasn’t the real intent, but it was a little bonus. So that’s local government at the municipal level. A little scummy, but not altogether terrible.

Everybody knows that in the US, municipal governments are basically always run by liberals. I don’t really know why, but that seems to be how it works. That frequently puts the cities at odds with the state governments in conservative states (like Kansas or Texas).

The way it seems to go is the cities regulate Uber for safety and also because taxis are a racket. Uber is fanatical about running their own background checks, which is why Uber just decided to pull out of Austin. They just CAN’T allow their drivers to be cross-referenced to via fingerprints to prove their identity. It was the biggest city that didn’t give up and decide it was easier to grovel at the feet of almighty Uber. For instance, in Kansas City, Uber freaked out and the city backed down. And that’s just one example of many.

Interestingly, the very conservative state of Kansas was on track to do some regulating. Of course, when Kansas tried to make their own Kansas Bureau of Investigations run the background checks, Uber freaked out and got very cozy with Gov Brownback (one of my favorite people to hate). Needless to say, in a state as conservative as Kansas, the idea of regulation didn’t go far and Brownback got the regulations nixed.

All over the US, cities are trying to regulate Uber. Of course, given that the states are higher on the government supremacy totem pole, it’s no surprise that conservative states are squashing down municipal regulations.

So here’s something unrelated. Much like taxi companies rely on municipal government for protection, car dealerships rely on state government to run their racket. I don’t understand why conservatives feel differently about dealerships?

Anyway, I guess I should mention the last tier of government.

The federal government, the highest tier on that supremacy totem pole, isn’t going to be regulating Uber any time soon. Not only is congress eating itself and failing to pass any substantial legislation (but hey, how about those buffalo…amirite?), but it’s a bunch of regulation-hating Republicans anyway, so there’s no way they’re going to do anything.

HOWEVER, for a “fun” game, let’s say they did. Let’s say they passed a law saying all Uber drivers had to be fingerprinted. It would roughly be the same as the state legislatures overruling the municipal governments, right? But it would be trampling on states rights!

States rights: mystical and sacrosanct.

Municipal rights: nonexistent.

To end this discussion, I want to mention a few things. I actually think the idea of Uber is excellent. I also think local taxi companies don’t deserve to stick around. It’s an outdated model that provides stupidly slow service. Unfortunately, Uber is full of scumbags who refuse to provide health insurance and keep cutting rates (which hurts the drivers). That alone is enough to give me pause, but their relationship with anti-regulation Republicans is enough to seal the deal for me.

We could have better taxi service that’s good for the drivers. We really could. But as far as I can tell, we’re not even close to moving in that direction.

Blood money

Cleveland is going to pay off the Rice family. That is to say, the government of the city of Cleveland is going to pay them SIX MILLION DOLLARS without admitting any wrongdoing. That is to say, a small group of people in the government of Cleveland are going to spend SIX MILLION DOLLARS of taxpayer money so they don’t have to admit they were wrong in murdering a kid. Everybody is Cleveland is paying this money, even the Rice family.

What kind of fucked up political calculus is this?

Why is it okay for this to happen? Why is this city wasting the money of its people so they can do this? Instead of fixing anything, or punishing those who did something wrong, they simply waste the money of taxpayers so they can make it go away. This shit has got to stop.