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Severe rain causes widespread flooding in Austin

Torrential rains Monday caused Austin-area creeks to overflow, flooding many of the city's streets.

Much of Lamar Boulevard above Lady Bird Lake is underwater after Shoal Creek jumped its banks earlier this afternoon, essentially becoming a river. No injuries have been reported, but more than 250 low-water crossings in and around the city have been closed, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Hyde Park is also experiencing heavy flooding and reports of cars being swept away by floodwaters, according to KXAN. The Daily Texan urges its readers to stay indoors and away from any high water areas if at all possible.

Third UT student diagnosed with mumps

A third UT student from the Moody College of Communication was diagnosed with mumps, according to an email notification from University Health Services.

The student is believed to have contracted the disease after being in contact with two other students whose mumps diagnoses were announced last week. According to the UHS email, the student attended a party at the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity house Saturday before being diagnosed. The chapter leadership is working with Austin and Travis County Health Services to notify people who attended the party.

Mumps is a highly contagious disease by which those infected usually experience fevers, body aches, and tiredness before noticing a severe swelling of their salivary glands. UHS first reported a mumps diagnosis May 6.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mumps outbreaks rarely occur because the mumps vaccine started being heavily administered in the late 1960s.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott shocked the civilized world by openly pandering to right-wing conspiracy theorists. In an unprecedented move, he ordered the Texas National Guard to “monitor” proceedings of the United States military as they conducted a training exercise known as “Jade Helm 15” across the country, including in this state, specifically near Bastrop. These training exercises are meant to replicate the unique environment that members of our armed services may encounter overseas.

The aforementioned crazies believed this was a part of some type of power-grab by the federal government meant to enslave the people of Texas into tyranny and socialistic serfdom. (Yes, really.)  The speculation was further fueled by the apparent temporary closings of a few rural Walmarts. Conspiracy theorists opined these stores were connected with an elaborate system of underground tunnels, would serve as distribution centers during martial law and would even be a headquarters for “invading troops from China.” (Once again, really.)

Now, any reasonable sane public official would not breathe life into these maliciously slanderous rumors, much less condone them. But that is exactly what Abbott did by dispatching the state’s National Guard to somehow keep an eye on the American armed forces. All of a sudden, the wingnuts felt emboldened and vindicated by their governor, doubling down on their firm believe that the feds were coming to take their guns and impose Lenin-Marxism.

Basically trying to hold back laughter, representatives from the Pentagon clarified that there would be no armed takeover of the state of Texas and that Jade Helm 15 was, indeed, a training exercise. But you can’t convince the unconvincables, including radio talk show host Alex Jones, Congressman Louie Gohmert, Sen. Ted Cruz and Abbott. Quite a motley crew has assembled to ostensibly “protect” the people of Texas from their country’s military; at least, that is what they have deluded themselves into thinking.

Thankfully, many former leaders in the state have been quick to be voices of reason. These include both former Gov. Rick Perry and former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, respectively, who both sharply castigated Abbott for pandering to idiots and disrespecting the military by insinuating that they would somehow institute martial law against their own people.

It is positively unacceptable that our state’s governor would risk the integrity and safety of this state’s residents in a pathetic attempt to increase his bona fides with nutjobs. Texas, yet again, has become the laughingstock of the entire country, as folks from Washington to Florida have groaned and rolled their eyes at just how gullible we must be. 

What is perhaps saddest of all is that these assumptions of Texas will stick around far longer than the fleeting training exercises that birthed them. Most Texans haven’t heard of Jade Helm 15, much less spent enough time watching InfoWars to actually be convinced that they are some type of nefarious plot to enact a new world order. For whatever reason, however, our governor has shamelessly pandered to that minuscule minority nonetheless. 

For shame, Gov. Abbott!

Photo Credit: Jessica Lin | Daily Texan Staff

We live in a time when openness and secrecy have both increased. With social media and other Internet communications, it is easier than ever to procure information about topics from foreign affairs and domestic policy to business transactions and personal relationships. Anyone with an iPhone and a USB flash drive can easily copy a document or record an event and then circulate it instantaneously to the world.

This is the story of Wikileaks, which posted thousands of formerly secret U.S. government documents, and Twitter-savvy activists in China, Russia and the Middle East who use photos of their repressed public demonstrations to inspire international hopes for political change. Social media has facilitated the flow of formerly secret information; they have made it harder for governments and other powerful groups to control what we see.

          

The paradox of greater information access

 

In this information-rich environment, secrecy about decision-making has, paradoxically, increased. That is because people are more careful than ever to avoid documenting their decisions. The risks of revelation on the Internet are too great; the fears of intentional manipulation by adversaries are too real.

Presidents, for example, used to record their conversations and maintain personal diaries. Their assistants wrote long memoranda explaining how they made their most important decisions. Now, they generally avoid these exercises. Business leaders had secretaries who transcribed their meetings and telephone conversations. They also wrote revealing letters to partners and confidants. Now they prefer to keep their notes to a minimum.

Email has become the most ubiquitous form of daily communication, but anyone with any sense carefully sanitizes their comments before hitting the send button. The risk of the mass-circulated email reduces the candor of the writer and the recipients. More open communications are more cautious communications. The opinions that count are self-censored.

           

How can we preserve forthrightness in official communications?

 

These circumstances pose a series of challenges. How do we manage the surplus of information and the scarcity of decision-making detail? How do we protect privacy and confidentiality where they are necessary while also maintaining access and accountability? How do we encourage our leaders to lead, but keep our citizens and their representatives appropriately informed?

The recent revelations about U.S. drone strikes near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that accidentally killed an American and an Italian hostage raise serious concerns. The public, members of Congress and U.S. legal authorities are ill-informed about what is tantamount to a government policy of targeted assassinations, directed by the president through the CIA and the Pentagon. How justified and accurate are the targets? What are the consequences? Who explores alternatives?

At the same time, when detailed information is released, as it was last week, news coverage obsesses over the mistakes and embarrassments rather than the broader accomplishments of the program, designed to kill terrorists and destroy their training grounds. Based on the accumulated evidence so far, we have reason to believe that the drone strikes ordered by President Barack Obama have reduced the capabilities of many terrorist groups with limited — although not insignificant — civilian damage.

           

Why it matters to policy-making

 

Here we reach the heart of the issue. Effective policy-making in a democracy requires a difficult balance between informing the public and protecting confidential information. The problem is that we have only just begun to think about how that balance has evolved in our new media and threat landscape.

Too often, as in the case of the U.S. drone strikes, information access is uneven, inconsistent and therefore very difficult to evaluate. Observers can highlight heroic successes and monumental screw-ups, but an informed public evaluation of whether the policy is making us safer and protecting our international interests is impossible. We need precisely that public evaluation (and informed debate) if we are going to make intelligent choices as a society.

Democracy requires openness and secrecy, but their relationship should not be haphazard, as it is today. As with most policy dilemmas, historical experience offers some useful guidelines. There is a long American tradition of avoiding public revelation of details that jeopardize military and other vital operations in real time. As early as the 19th century, American newspapers refrained from publishing plans for troop movements, weapons deployments and the names of vulnerable national representatives operating in hostile territories. Information that exposes legally sanctioned American missions and personnel to grave harm deserves protection.

Alongside this restraint, there is an equally strong tradition of the U.S. government working to make its decision processes and its policy records as transparent as possible. No other country did more to explain itself and open its archives in the last two centuries than the United States.

           

Ultimately, the public has a right to know

 

The scope of government materials available to anyone online and in government repositories, including the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library on our campus, is unparalleled. The public has a right to know, and government officials (including those working in the intelligence agencies) have a constitutional obligation to do everything possible to inform the public, short of the most necessary restraints on information justified only as described above.

Panicked by new media and new threats, our leaders at all levels of society have strayed from the wisdom of our history. As a university, we should model and promote a return to our democratic roots: Protect the privacy and safety of the individual, but demand public transparency and accountability for how decisions are made.

Transparency and accountability are, in fact, our comparative advantage. They expose flawed assumptions and they help to build consensus for thoughtful actions. They provide a sound basis for managing secrecy better in a more open society.

Suri is a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and in the Department of History. Follow Suri on Twitter @JeremiSuri.

Anthony Foxx, right, U.S. secretary of transportation, tours the TACC Visualization Laboratory on Friday.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Anthony Foxx, U.S. secretary of transportation, discussed the future of technology as it relates to transportation in a meeting with UT researchers, faculty, and graduate students Friday.

Foxx, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013, said the administration hopes to encourage new technological developments that will improve processes such as cargo shipping.  

“Freight is … a huge issue in this country because we are going to see 45 percent more freight moving around our country over the next 30 years,” Foxx said.

Different governmental bodies must work together to implement new technologies, according to Foxx.

“Metropolitan planning organizations, state departments of transportation, local departments of transportation, federal department of transportation — all those players have to intersect in order for us to get the most out of the 21st century,” 

Foxx discussed “Beyond Traffic,” a federal initiative which will outline traffic trends and the way they shape the U.S. population’s needs over the course of the next three decades. According to civil engineering graduate student Kristie Chin, the program might help increase traffic control and make people more aware of the problems traffic causes, but possible
technological applications for transportation extend far beyond traffic monitoring.

“We can increase market penetration [with Beyond Traffic], but then we also looked at [using] more futuristic, higher levels of automation like 3-D printing, drones [and] automated trucking,” Chin said.

Technology could make U.S. transportation systems safer and more efficient, said Andrew Kerns, electrical and computer engineering graduate student.   

“[We could] use managed lanes for connected and automated vehicles, especially for freight transportation, and … drones for situational awareness during traffic accidents,” Kerns said. “I’m particularly excited about the advent of connected and automated vehicles. The future is not very clear, but there are a lot of opportunities coming.”

UT’s Center for Transportation Research, which has received funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, works on projects that help improve driver behavior, traffic congestion and intelligent transportation systems. UT’s innovation with technology and transportation is one that should be emulated in the rest of the country, Foxx said.  

“We need to be thinking about the future — about how technology plays a role in transportation — and that kind of thought process is happening right here [at UT],” Foxx said. 

Perhaps more than anything else, what is troubling about the potential US-Iranian deal is that there are no indications that it will make the Middle East a more peaceful region. More likely, the deal will only escalate the conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites as well as help Iran establish hegemony over the region and dominate the other countries.

Supporters of the deal cite the fact that both the U.S. and Iran are currently fighting against the Islamic State as a central reason to support the deal, but that objective is shortsighted. What happens after we defeat the Islamic State militants? The ugly reality is that there are few common goals for the U.S. and Iran to work together on because we are on opposing sides in virtually every other conflict in the Middle East.

This deal doesn’t force Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment program. This deal doesn’t change the fact that Iran is supporting the Houthi Rebels in Yemen, the terrorist organization Hezbollah and the genocidal dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria. What the deal does do is lift decades of sanctions off Iran, giving it the opportunity to grow even more powerful (economically, militarily and politically) and better fund their terrorist, rebel and genocidal allies.

I would argue that the U.S. made this mistake once in the past already, when it normalized relations with the People’s Republic of China. At the time, the goal was to play the weaker China against the more powerful Soviet Union, but what we ended up doing was letting the enemy pawn become the enemy queen. Today, China is our biggest geopolitical foe, and in hindsight, the Soviet Union probably would have fallen without normalizing relations with China. This time, the mistake could be more catastrophic, as the Middle East is in a greater state of turmoil and chaos.

By suspending the sanctions on Iran, we will see similar results; there will be no peace and stability in the Middle East. A more powerful Iran is a more dangerous Iran. In particular, the potential deal would only limit Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons for 10 years. A limit that Iran is in a better position to violate once other countries start investing in them, because it would be a lot harder for the international community to come together and re-impose sanctions retroactively. Iran also has a history of lying, deceiving and violating international agreements. 

The terms of this deal are felt as a betrayal by our allies and a threat to their very existence. First-year law student and former Texans for Israel President Ben Mendelson summed up this sentiment. 

“If there’s one thing the Jewish people have learned in 2,000 years, it’s that if someone says they want to kill you, believe them,” Mendelson said. 

I do not believe that diplomacy should be off the table with Iran, but there should be a few more conditions that are met for such a deal: Iran must foster peace in the Middle East, give up its nuclear enrichment program and stop supporting terrorists, rebels and dictators.

These conditions are not something I came up with. In fact, President Barack Obama stated in a 2012 presidential debate and in numerous other instances that Iran needs to end its nuclear program before sanctions can be lifted. Democrats and Republicans, as well as the United Nation, have supported these conditions. Once these conditions are met, I would be the first to write in favor of a deal with Iran. But they weren’t met.

Under the current deal, Iran would pose an even greater threat in the future. This is because they are allowed to keep their nuclear weapons program at a level conducive to the development of nuclear weapons within a year. In addition, there can be no peace in the Middle East as long as Iran continues supporting terrorists, rebels and dictators, as it regularly does.

We should not be making a bad deal only to accomplish short-term objectives, such as defeating the Islamic State. We should not be making a deal that does not set the foundation for long-term peace and stability in the region. At minimum, we should never make a deal that leaves the region worse off than before, which is precisely what this deal does. This is not a question of deal or no deal, but rather terrible deal or no deal. Though it might be tempting to accept any deal as better than nothing, we are just getting ripped off and swindled here.

Hung is a first-year law student from Brownsville.

Former CIA agent Robert Greiner speaks about counterterrorism at Sid Richardson Hall on Wednesday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Mariana Gonzalez | Daily Texan Staff

The United States undermined Afghanistan’s independence by taking the leading role in the fight against the Taliban, according to former CIA agent Robert Grenier.

“After 2005, we as a government made a very serious mistake,” Grenier said. “We decided in effect that Afghanistan was too important to [leave to] the whims of Afghans.”

Grenier spoke at a campus event hosted by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law and the Clements Center for History, Strategy and Statecraft on Thursday to promote new his book, “88 Days to Kandahar.” 

Grenier served as a senior CIA counterterrorism official until he was dismissed by former CIA director Porter Goss in 2006.   

Overwhelming Afghanistan with U.S. military forces led to unsustainable progress the Afghans could not maintain, Grenier said.

“We completely overwhelmed this very small, very primitive, agrarian country with a tiny GDP and, at best, nascent national institutions,” Grenier said. “We should have known and quickly learned that the successes we had [and] the progress we were able to make was progress that couldn’t be sustained by Afghans over the long term.”

Contingent forces are necessary in Afghanistan to ensure that Afghanistan’s government can transition to peace, Grenier said.

“If the Taliban … control substantial parts of the country, we’re to help the government to sort that out,” Grenier said.

According to Grenier, given the weak leadership from Hamid Karzai, former president of Afghanistan, the country’s fate was entirely determined by the United States and the Taliban.

“He was an admirable fellow in a lot of respects, but also kind of unsteady,” Grenier said. “By the end, it was just hopeless.”

International relations and global studies junior James McNally said strong leadership is needed to guide Afghanistan toward independence.

“Given the tremendous institutional knowledge that we have about Afghanistan, we are in a great position to make positive effects within that area,” McNally said. “It comes to helping the good people and hurting the bad people.”

Plan II and advertising Chandler Michaels sophomore said Grenier’s original plan for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan rightly sought to ensure Afghanistan’s independence.  

“I think it was really interesting that he was the one who formulated that plan,” Michaels said. “The U.S., just as a support system for the Afghan people, is a really important part of the plan of support — without taking over [Afghanistan].”

Sen. Marco Rubio announces bid for 2016 election

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio announced his presidential candidacy in a conference call to his top donors Monday morning.

The phone call precedes a political event Monday night at Miami’s Freedom Tower, where he will formally announce his campaign to the rest of the public.

The Freedom Tower was a processing center for Cuban refugees escaping Fidel Castro’s leadership, and it reflects both his Cuban heritage as well as his immigration work in the U.S. Senate. Rubio helped draft a bipartisan immigration bill in 2013 that diluted his support from the right and the left as both were unsatisfied with the middle-of-the-road legislation.

Rubio, 43, is the youngest candidate to enter the race. He has previously served as a state representative for his home state Florida as well as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is also expected the formally enter the race, creating state divide between Bush and Rubio.

Rubio is the third Republican and the fourth candidate to enter the race. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced March 23, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul announced last Tuesday. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Sunday.

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Former Congressman Ron Paul and journalists Radley Balko and Glenn Greenwald argued for the right of Americans to retain their personal liberites in the face of increasing government involvment.  

During the “Stop the Wars on Drugs and Terrorism” conference Saturday at the LBJ School for Public Affairs, the three speakers said American social and political freedom is being stripped away by the current police system and national security.

“You have liberty because you’re an individual, and no questions should be asked,” Paul said. “Everybody should be treated exactly the same. … This [idea] would go a long way if we had that understanding.”

Paul, a former Libertarian and Republican presidential candidate, said he believes 9/11 and the Patriot Act, which aimed to strengthen security in the U.S., contributed to Americans losing their rights and liberties, when the opposite should have been the outcome.  

“Especially when you’re under attack, you don’t want to give up your liberties,” Paul said. “It was said that [al-Qaeda] came here to attack us because we were free and prosperous. Well maybe they’ll lose their incentive because we’re losing our freedom, and we’re losing our prosperity.”

Greenwald, who spoke on national security as a response to the war on terror, said he thinks an honest government is vital to democracy. Greenwald is known for his work with The Guardian and its release of classified National Security Agency documents on American and British surveillance programs, which computer professional Edward Snowden gave to him.

“The reason that people need transparency and limitations and accountability in the exercise of their political power is not because certain human beings are bad,” Greenwald said. “It’s because what it means to be a human being … [inevitably] that power will be fundamentally abused if it is exercised without strengths and limitations and balance.”

Greenwald also cited surveillance issues linked to the war on drugs. In an investigation released earlier this week, USA Today found that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department had secretly tracked calls from the U.S. to around 116 countries in relation to drug trafficking.

“You cannot talk about dismantling the abuses of the war on terror without talking about dismantling the war on drugs,” Greenwald said.

Balko, a columnist for the Washington Post, said police have become more militarized, having SWAT team raids into homes for marijuana possession. Balko gave examples of raids that led to the homeowners’ death or imprisonment.

“This use of force and violence that we once reserved for active shooter situations and escaped fugitives and riots is now becoming routine as we come to default use of force as the police need to serve a search warrant,” Balko said.  

Nick Virden, international business senior and president of the Young Americans for Liberty UT chapter, said no one would support the war on drugs if it were personalized for everyone. Almost everybody knows someone who smokes marijuana, he said.  

“It’s stupid to pretend that the war on drugs is a good thing,” Virden said. “Would you like to see your friends go to jail because they smoked a plant?”

Although Paul said he thinks freedoms are increasingly being challenged in the U.S., he said Americans seem to be waking up and supporting the cause.

“I think there is a future for freedom, and I think we are winning the war for liberty,” Paul said.

What is the real goal in Iran, democratization or denuclearization?

Democracy can be seen as a process or as a product. The product does not always follow the process. It’s possible for a country to vote a radical, oppressive regime into office democratically. This is an idea that characterizes American diplomacy. The question is always, will this foster a democratic outcome?

America has a past of providing financial, technical and arms support to undemocratic governments and guerillas to protect its national security or economic interests. This doesn’t necessarily mean that America is the antagonist. It’s more complex than that. Mutual benefit is necessary for sustainable diplomacy.

The nuclear deal with Iran, the focus of Jeremi Suri’s most recent column, sounds simple: Iran will stop (or limit) its production of nuclear weapons if we trade with it. This means more economic opportunity for Iran and the protection of American national security interests.

Both sides benefit, but the implications of this agreement must be considered. It’s not just about opening markets; it’s about changing the relationship between the United States and Iran. The United States can use this economic relationship as a carrot to encourage greater transparency in the Iranian government. It could also use it as a tool of coercion. The agreement opens a possibility for Iran to become dependent on trade with the U.S., or vice versa. This entanglement is likely to happen and will influence our actions and reactions to Iran.

So then, through increased cooperation with Iran, are we trying to quell potentially dangerous nuclear activity or foster democratic values in the country? If the latter, are we concerned with the process or the product? We are walking a fine line between cooperation and control. Many times, we, as a country, have not been able to answer these questions, and as a result, we have seen undemocratic outcomes.

The bottom line is, we need to cooperate with Iran. This deal marks a huge geopolitical realignment in the Middle East. It’s important, but in the right context. Western “moral self-righteousness and military force,” as Suri puts it, have produced unsatisfactory results before. We should maintain that U.S.-Iran “cooperation” remains just that — cooperation. And we can do so by being careful not to affront Iranian sovereignty in the future.  

Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.