Trump throws full US support behind protesters in Iran

Published: Tuesday, January 02, 2018 @ 12:39 PM
Updated: Tuesday, January 02, 2018 @ 12:39 PM


            In this Dec. 30, 2017, photo, Iranian protesters chant slogans at a rally in Tehran, Iran. The Trump administration is calling on Iran's government to stop blocking Instagram and other popular social media sites as Iranians demonstrate in the streets. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
In this Dec. 30, 2017, photo, Iranian protesters chant slogans at a rally in Tehran, Iran. The Trump administration is calling on Iran's government to stop blocking Instagram and other popular social media sites as Iranians demonstrate in the streets. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

The Trump administration on Tuesday threw the weight of the U.S. government behind the protesters taking to the streets of Iran, rooting them on despite the risk of helping Iranian authorities dismiss a week of major demonstrations as the product of American instigation.

As Iran's supreme leader accused "enemies of Iran" of trying to destabilize his country, the State Department pressed Tehran to unblock social media sites used by the protesters. It even offered advice to tech-savvy Iranians on circumventing state internet controls.

President Donald Trump declared it was "time for change" in Iran, and other officials floated the possibility of additional sanctions. At the United Nations, Ambassador Nikki Haley sought a Security Council meeting to show support for those protesting in the Islamic Republic.

"We want to help amplify the voices of the Iranian people," said Haley, who appeared before cameras to recite the chants of protesters across Iran. She said Iran's claim that other countries were fomenting the unrest was "complete nonsense," describing the dissent as homegrown.

Borrowing from a response playbook it has used before, Iran's government blamed the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Britain for the protests. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the 78-year-old supreme leader, said Iran's enemies were using money, weapons, politics and spies "to create problems for the Islamic system, the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution."

Trump was undeterred, praising Iranians for "finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime." In an allusion to possible sanctions in response to human rights violations, Trump said the United States would closely monitor the situation.

"The U.S. is watching!" the president tweeted.

Beyond rhetoric, though, it wasn't clear what the Trump administration could do substantively to empower the protesters, who are railing against corruption, mismanagement and economic woes including higher food prices. His support also sets up a potential test of his presidential leadership if the protests — already deadly — grow more violent.

At least 21 people have died and hundreds have been arrested over six days of demonstrations, the largest in Iran since the "Green Movement" that erupted in 2009 following a disputed presidential election. The new outbreak started in Mashhad, Iran's second-largest city, and has expanded to many others.

Iranian authorities have sought to suppress the protests in part by shutting down key social media sites protesters use to communicate, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the messaging app Telegram. On Tuesday, Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein urged Iran's government to unblock the sites.

"They are legitimate avenues for communication," Goldstein said. He said the U.S. has an "obligation not to stand by."

Iranians seeking to evade the blocks can use virtual private networks, Goldstein said. Known as VPNs, the services create encrypted data "tunnels" between computers and can be used to access overseas websites blocked by the local government.

The primary U.S. goal is to ensure enough global attention to deter Iranian authorities from violently cracking down on protesters with impunity, said a senior State Department official involved in Iran policy. The official wasn't authorized to comment by name and demanded anonymity.

For Trump, the protests have served as an unexpected but welcome opportunity to rally the world against Iran, and U.S. officials said the administration was actively encouraging other countries to back the protests. Early U.S. attempts to get European allies to coordinate their messaging with the U.S. ran into obstacles, but several countries including France and Italy have joined in expressing concerns.

In the U.S., Trump's full-throated support for the protesters has renewed the debate about how best to encourage change in Iran, whose government Trump deems a top national security threat.

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. took a more cautious approach during the last major wave of anti-government protests. It was concerned about enabling Iranian authorities to exploit longstanding suspicions of the U.S., dating back to American and British support for a 1953 coup toppling Iran's elected prime minister.

Ben Rhodes, Obama's former deputy national security adviser, said "too much ownership" of the protests by Trump would likely be counterproductive.

"I can't imagine that the people marching in the streets of Iran are looking to Donald Trump for inspiration or support," Rhodes said. "I just don't think it helps things for the White House to make this into a U.S.-versus-the-Iranian-government circumstance."

But former Sen. Joe Lieberman, a staunch Iran critic, said it's a given Tehran will portray dissent as externally provoked.

"That's a very weak excuse for American inaction and inconsistency with our own interests and values. I'm glad President Trump is not following that advice," Lieberman said in an interview.

It wasn't immediately clear what effect Trump's support was having on the protests, although Iran's state TV reported his tweets and some Iranians shared them online.

When it comes to supporting the Iranian aspirations, Trump's credibility may be dented by his hostility to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and his inclusion of Iranians in his travel bans.

Trump's insistence in an October speech on using the term "Arabian Gulf" in place of the Persian Gulf also riled the Iranian public. There also was criticism of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for saying America was working with people in Iran for a "peaceful transition of that government."

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

Can one man survive for a day with only Apple Pay?

Published: Monday, January 23, 2017 @ 1:10 PM

When there's no Apple Pay option or a wallet, coins scrounged from the inside of a car are one way to pay for gas.
Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
When there's no Apple Pay option or a wallet, coins scrounged from the inside of a car are one way to pay for gas.(Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

In the large list of calamities that could happen to you on a given day (let’s not dwell on the possibilities), forgetting your wallet at home is a pretty minor one.

It happened to me recently and would have been absolutely no big deal, except…

1. I live about 45 minutes outside of Austin and didn’t realize the wallet was missing until I was long gone. I couldn’t just run home on a break and retrieve it.

2. I didn’t have any cash of any kind around. There was no $20 bill hiding in my car’s glove compartment or an envelope of petty cash in my desk. I was without dollars, completely.

3. I didn’t bring a lunch to work with me.

4. My car was already running very low on gas.

But I am resourceful and I am a technologically capable man about town in the year 2017. So this should be no problem, right? I have an iPhone and I have Apple Pay, with one of my credit cards housed in the digital guts of my device, like a tiny and very accommodating financier. I imagine him a little guy who wears a monocole and says things like, “Care for a spot of Starbuck’s, sir? I think the Flat White sounds agreeable, don’t you?”

I decided to see how long I could last for the day using only Apple Pay and not asking co-workers for a loan or, say, selling my blood. (Do people really buy blood? Is that a thing?)

My first stop was Company Kitchen, the semi-automated snack area at my workplace where you grab stuff and pay for these items at an ATM-like kiosk. Company Kitchen has a thumbprint reader and it knows my thumb well from dozens of purchases of Topo Chico drinks and maybe lots of bags of chips. Don’t judge.

I rolled up to Company Kitchen to see if lunch might be in order. My Company Kitchen balance was 52 cents, not enough to buy anything, really. I was getting hungry and my thumb would not save me. I considered ordering food from a delivery service such as Favor or UberEATS, which I have installed in my phone with a credit card enabled. But I wasn’t going to be in one place long enough to wait 30 minutes to an hour; I had an appointment to keep.

The next stop, hunger growing, was a local mall for an Apple Store Genius Bar visit. My computer mouse got mangled in an unfortunate drop and my iPhone battery has been inconsistent lately. I asked the Apple employee who was helping me where someone could use Apple Pay at the mall since Apple doesn’t sell anything edible in its store. “Well, you’ve got Starbucks and Chick-fil-A and…” He took a thoughtful pause, “…that’s about it.”

looked on Apple’s website to make sure I might not be missing another nearby Apple Pay-friendly eating option. Nope. He was right.

Armed with an excuse to eat fast food without my kids around, I ordered a chicken salad sandwich, a light lemonade and some waffle fries. I paid with my phone by tapping it on the pay terminal and mashing my thumb on the home button. Easy. Fast. But, unfortunately, not a widely available option given all the food choices around the mall and in the food court.

Chick-fil-A is one restaurant that accepts Apple Pay. You can buy a chicken salad sandwich, waffle fries and a lemonade with your phone if you forget your walled the way writer Omar L. Gallaga did.(Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

I had an event in the evening and wasn’t able to start commuting home until close to 10 p.m. that night. I was starting to get hungry again, but made myself wait to eat until I got home. All I had to do was get there. Which was a problem as my car, a Prius, was already edging toward empty.

Let me tell you something about owning a Prius; it makes you feel like you have conquered energy. Even when the tank is on empty, the gas gauge blinking and beeping at you in a miniature panic, you know you’ve got at least 20 or 30 miles before the situation gets dire. You can go quite a ways on no gas.

My empty indicator went off before I’d even left Austin. Could I really make it 50 miles on fumes? I wasn’t sure I was willing to find out.

About 20 miles into my trip, I began to get panicky, my devil-may-care Prius attitude replaced by sweaty fear. I pulled over to see what my gas station options might be with Apple Pay. Exxon and Chevron accept Apple Pay, but it seemed like every station I passed was Valero or Shell. I finally pulled over at a Shell station, hoping against hope that some agreement had been brokered with Apple and new pay terminals installed since the last time I checked. Nope. The cashier was more than adamant: no Apple Pay. No gas.

I wondered if pulling over, shutting down my engine, and starting it back up was going to waste more gas than if I had just kept going. I had visions of tow trucks and embarassing calls to my wife and needing to be bailed out. It didn’t feel great.

Tokens from video arcades and pizza parlors are no help when one forgets to carry a wallet and is trying to rely on Apple Pay for a day.(Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

I ransacked my car, looking for any loose change under the floor mats, in the plastic storage compartment between the seats, in the glove compartment. A collection of pennies, a few quarters and some grimy nickels and dimes began to add up. I found a token from Pizza Piper Pizza and stared at it in my hand in disgust. In all, I collected $1.50 in usable coinage. I took it to the cashier. I got enough gas to maybe get home and the cashier got to grudgingly count out a handful of coins.

When there's no Apple Pay option or a wallet, coins scrounged from the inside of a car are one way to pay for gas.(Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The next 30 minutes were filled with anxiety. But I thought I could make it.

I finally got off on my exit, where there’s an Exxon station. I decided to give it a try, filling up my tank so I wouldn’t be in such a panic taking my kids to school the next morning. A sign placed on all the pumps read, “CREDIT/DEBIT DOWN. PLEASE PREPAY CASH INSIDE.”

Exxon is one gas-station chain that accepts Apple Pay, unless the credit card machines are down, as happened to writer Omar L. Gallaga.

I went home, empty tank, with plans to never forget my wallet again.

Here’s the thing about mobile payments: they are clearly the future. They’re easy, convenient, and more intuitive to use than carrying around pieces of plastic and paper. 

But mobile payments are far from ubiquitous. After I mentioned my predicament online, friends suggested great local coffee shops, restaurants and delivery services that accept Apple Pay. But even though it’s getting more common, Apple Pay never seems to be at the right pay terminal. It’s never a problem you don’t have to think about, or the purely in-the-moment experience Apple probably hopes its users are having.

Apple Pay, and alternatives such as Android Pay and Samsung Pay, aren’t always where you want them when you need them. It only takes a day of scrambling for a meal and a tank of gas to show that we’ve got a long way to go.

Senators try to speed up deployment of self-driving cars

Published: Monday, February 13, 2017 @ 5:12 PM

In this Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, photo, Uber employees test a self-driving Ford Fusion hybrid car, in Pittsburgh.
Jared Wickerham/AP
In this Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, photo, Uber employees test a self-driving Ford Fusion hybrid car, in Pittsburgh.(Jared Wickerham/AP)

WASHINGTON — In the first major congressional attempt to address the advent of self-driving cars, two senators said Monday they're launching a bipartisan effort to help to speed up the deployment of the vehicles on the nation's roads.

Republican John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Democrat Gary Peters of Michigan, said they're exploring legislation that "clears hurdles and advances innovation in self-driving vehicle technology."

The senators' counterparts in the House are also gearing up to address the new technology, with a hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

Automakers cite federal requirements that all vehicles must have steering wheels and brake pedals as examples of regulations that presume there will be a human driver and might inhibit the introduction of self-driving cars. Congressional action may be needed to make changes.

"Without changes to those regulations, it may be years before the promise of today's technology can be realized and thousands of preventable deaths that could have been avoided will happen," Michael Ableson, General Motors' vice president of global strategy, plans to tell the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to prepared testimony.

Proponents of self-driving cars say they hold the potential to dramatically reduce traffic deaths by eliminating human error, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says is a factor in 94 percent of all fatal crashes. More than 35,000 people were killed on the nation's roads in 2015, up over 7 percent from the previous year. Traffic deaths surged an additional 8 percent in the first nine months of last year.

Automakers also say that states are moving ahead with their own regulations, creating the potential for a confusing "patchwork" of laws.

"Our effort will also include a discussion on the existing patchwork of laws and regulations and the traditional roles of federal and state regulators," Thune and Peters said in a joint statement.

Safety advocates have urged the government to set standards that specifically address the safety of self-driving cars. The Obama administration last year issued a voluntary set of safety goals for makers of self-driving cars to meet with the understanding that enforceable regulations could follow.

The Trump administration hasn't yet indicated what approach it will take to the technology.

Some people may first experience riding in a self-driving car by hailing an on-demand, ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft. Uber began offering passengers rides in autonomous cars with a human as a backup driver last year in Pittsburgh. Joseph Okpaku, Lyft's vice president of government relations, says in prepared testimony for the House hearing that the company's goal is "to operate a pilot in a major city this year that will permit consumers to enjoy, for the first time, a Lyft in an autonomous vehicle."

Tech crawl: Passenger-carrying drones and new features from Google Maps

Published: Monday, February 13, 2017 @ 11:02 AM

The EHang 184 autonomous aerial vehicle is desplayed at the EHang booth at CES International in Las Vegas. 
John Locher/Associated Press
The EHang 184 autonomous aerial vehicle is desplayed at the EHang booth at CES International in Las Vegas. (John Locher/Associated Press)

Happy Monday, Austin. Hope your weekend was a good one.
As you settle into the work week, here’s a look at some of the technology stories building a buzz around the Interwebs this morning:

Passenger carrying drones? Yes, please!

In Dubai, government leaders have an idea for battling traffic jams: a passenger-carrying drone.  Yes, seriously.

Dubai officials say they hope to have the passenger-carrying drone -- which is a Chinese-made device known as the EHang 184 -- buzzing through the skyline of the city-state as soon as July.

The craft can carry a passenger weighing up to 100 kilograms (220 pounds) and a small suitcase. After buckling into its race-car-style seat, the craft's sole passenger selects a destination on a touch-screen pad in front of the seat and the drone flies there automatically.

It’s hard to know if the egg-shaped, four-legged craft will really take off as a transportation alternative in this car-clogged city.

"This is not only a model," said Mattar al-Tayer, head of Dubai's Roads & Transportation Agency. "We have actually experimented with this vehicle flying in Dubai's skies.”

Here’s hoping it works. And that we can get a fleet of them for Austin.

New features for Google Maps

Google Maps is rolling out a new feature that lets you create Spotify-like "playlists" of favorite local spots on Google Maps that you can then share with friends. The idea is, obviously, pretty similar to Foursquare, but with Google’s size and reach,  the idea is a huge network of lists can be created that gives users "a speed-dial-like network of places if you're trying to figure out where to dine or visit on short notice," Engadget writes.  TechCrunch and The Verge also weigh in on the new Google feature and its possible uses, with The Verge piece wondering if Google Maps is trying to step into the social network space.

New tech might mean better Wi-Fi

We’d all like better, more consistent Wi-Fi networks, right? Well, Qualcomm on Monday rolled out some new technology that some tech experts say could make your home Wi-Fi a lot better. Mashable’s Raymond Wong has a piece on how the new Qualcomm tech works, and what it might mean for you.

Spotify helps listeners cook turkey with Thanksgiving-themed playlists

Published: Tuesday, November 22, 2016 @ 3:09 PM



Spotify
(Spotify)

Spotify wants to help you cook your Thanksgiving turkey just right.

Time for Turkey, the streaming service's holiday-specific program,  gives users three steps for a perfectly-done turkey: provide the turkey's weight, choose what genre of music you'd like to listen to, and enjoy.

Genres include Americana, "Family Time," "Feeling Thankful," "Club Kitchen," "Freshly Baked" and "Golden Oldies." Each themed playlist name works off of the genre. For example,  the "Freshly Baked" playlist brings out the newest hits for you to enjoy some never-tasted-before singles. "Family Time" includes songs that every generation can enjoy, such as "I'm A Believer" by the Monkees or "Riptide" by Vance Joy.

Unfortunately, none of the playlists include the classic Thanksgiving songs of Bob's Burgers, including one of the best Thanksgiving song collaboration of all time.

While the songs themselves may not be Thanksgiving-themed, the variety of turkey accompaniment that Spotify has provided contributes so much to the dinner process. Even if only for timing purposes, Time for Turkey will add to your Thanksgiving feast. In an age where we see Christmas advertisements earlier and earlier each year, this feels like a good way for a company to give Thanksgiving a nod of acknowledgment.