Nel's New Day

September 10, 2013

Still No Evidence to Attack Syria

President Obama delivered his pro-forma speech promoting war tonight if Russia can’t arrange a deal with Bashar Assad to turn over chemical weapons. The speech was well-delivered but highly misleading with unsupported statements.

The president’s statement that “everyone knows” that Assad used chemical weapons is wrong. The rebels and Israel told Secretary of State John Kerry that was true, and he appears to have believed the people who want the U.S. to attack in their benefit.

The president’s statement that over 1,000 people were killed with sarin is wrong. The opposition has identified only 678 people who died—a long way from the 1,400+ originally given, and no proof thus far exists that they died from sarin. Even Kerry used the term “signature” of sarin which could be from chemicals in pesticide.

The president’s statement that the U.S. would solve the whole problem by just sending in drones is wrong. He cannot be sure that it won’t continue, and the drones will continue to kill innocent people. The only difference in the deaths is that the U.S. will be killing people in Syria if this country decides to attack.

There is no proof that Assad used chemical weapons. Even White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough admitted on his whirlwind tour of interviews last Sunday that there is no concrete evidence Assad was responsible for the chemical attacks. He said, “The common-sense test says he is responsible for this.” A German newspaper reported that Assad had denied Syrian military permission to use chemical weapons for almost five months. According to Bild am Sonntag, this intelligence came from phone calls intercepted by a German BND-operated surveillance ship off the Syrian coast,

The United States is attack-happy. The last five presidents have ordered 20 different military actions against other countries, many of them condemned by the U.N.:

  • Ronald Reagan: Lebanon, Grenada, and Libya
  • George H. W. Bush: Panama, Iraq, and Somalia
  • Bill Clinton: Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq (again), and Kosovo
  • *George W. Bush: Afghanistan and Iraq
  • *Barack Obama: Libya
  • *These don’t include the deadly drone strikes killing people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen

If Sen. John “Bomb Bomb Iran” McCain (R-AZ) had his way, we would have attacked far more countries. His past attitudes fit with his declaration, in between playing poker on his iPhone during a Senate hearing, that he won’t support anything less than an extensive aerial assault. Even after he heard about the possibility of Syria giving up chemical weapons, he stressed an alternative should be highly punitive against the country.

McCain wants to attack

This map shows where McCain wants to escalate international conflicts, asking for airstrikes, ground war for regime change, open military confrontation, unspecified aggression, and a new Cold War in dealing with Russia. The chart below is from a Mother Jones article that has other great graphics.

Mccain chartOn the rational side is Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), who has asked Congress to reject warmongering. In an interview on Democracy Now!’s September 5 broadcast, Grayson directed at Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about the media report “that the administration has mischaracterized post-attack Syrian military communications and that these communications actually express surprise about the attack.” Grayson asked for the transcripts confirming the existence of an attack. Hagel didn’t seem to be aware of the media reports and then covered by saying that the transcripts were probably classified.

Grayson asked Secretary of State John Kerry about reports that members of the Syrian opposition had said that they didn’t want an attack. Kerry said he hadn’t heard of that. Grayson continued:

“Let’s talk about what our responsibilities are not. Our responsibilities are not to ignore the United Nations. Our responsibilities are not to ignore NATO or the Arab League. Our responsibility is not to ignore the international court of The Hague. Our responsibility is not to make vague remarks about red lines and to follow them up with equally vague remarks about violating international norms, which is a cover for saying that they have—that the Syrians have not violated international laws. I’m very disturbed by this general idea, this notion, that every time we see something bad in the world, we should bomb it….

There is substantial evidence right now, which the Russians have chosen to actually present to the United Nations, unlike the United States at this point, of the rebels using poison gas. Are we going to bomb both sides?”

Grayson also said that no member of Congress has seen the underlying document to the evidence. They have merely received a four-page unclassified document and, in “the bowels of the congressional facility here,” a 12-page classified document citing 300 intelligence reports that have not been released to anyone in Congress. As Grayson wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times, “The first enumerates only the evidence in favor of an attack. I’m not allowed to tell you what’s in the classified summary, but you can draw your own conclusion.” He said he asked the House Intelligence Committee staff whether there was any other documentation available, classified or unclassified. Their answer was “no.”

According to Grayson, the administration expects members of Congress to support its play to attack Syria without any evidence. He compared this problem to his experience with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton who made every relevant classified e-mail, cable, and intelligence report about the Benghazi attack to every member of Congress. In refusing to allow legislators access to Syrian underlying data, members of Congress cannot possibly independently judge the veracity of the material.

Grayson also pointed out that the House, is failing in dealing with nation’s business:

“We are three weeks away from the government shutting down. We are five weeks away from the government running out of money. And we’ve already spent two weeks engaged in a subject where almost everyone feels it’s simply not our responsibility. I said on MSNBC recently that the entire U.S. government, both Democratic and Republican, seems to be suffering from a very bad case of attention deficit disorder. We’re not showing any ability to focus on the things that actually matter in the lives of our constituents. And it’s not getting better; it’s getting worse….

“We have 20 million people in this country who are looking for full-time work. We have almost 50 million people in this country who rely upon the government to feed them. We have almost 40 million people in this country who can’t see a doctor when they’re sick. That’s what actually matters in the lives of Americans.”

About 70,000 people have been killed by the Mexican drug cartels in the past seven years. Over 100,000 people were killed in Syria during the past year. In the past decade, 400,000 people were killed in Darfur. Over 1,000 innocent Bangladesh garment workers were killed in just one accident, but Wal-mart won’t do anything about factory conditions. Almost 400 women have been killed just in Ciudad Juarez in the past 20 years. In 1994 almost 1 million people were killed in Rwanda. Tens of thousands of people in the United States died each year because they lack health insurance, the benefit that the House will be voting to take away from them for the 41st time this coming week. Why aren’t these people as important as the 678 people who could cause another world war?

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker may have said it best: “If your mind has wandered to the playground, where little boys get in fights over taunts and fragile pride, welcome to the sandbox. What say we all brush off our britches and think this one through? … The measure of one’s credibility … is also whether a nation is willing to be wise.”

December 7, 2011

Corporations, Wealthy Work to Increase Political Control

Fortunately, I don’t live in Iowa—or New Hampshire—or any other state that will have primaries or caucuses early in 2012. Those are the states where people have to watch television advertising for and against Republican presidential candidates nonstop unless they have a way to block these ads or just don’t watch TV.

At least TV stations are making big bucks because corporations and super PACS are permitted unlimited spending in federal campaigns, thanks to George W. Bush’s Supreme Court. The activist approach of conservative Roberts court was made obvious in its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, rules that kept corporations–and their lobbyists and front groups (as well as labor unions)–from spending unlimited amounts of cash on campaign advertising within 60 days of a general election or 30 days before a primary for federal office.

Former Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, explained the results of the ruling: “We’re now in a situation where a lobbyist can walk into my office…and say, ‘I’ve got five million dollars to spend, and I can spend it for you or against you. Which do you prefer?’” To give all this money to the conservatives, who will probably spend 90 percent of this advertising money and swing the elections toward the far right, the court used the concept of “corporate personhood.”

Grayson said, “One-hundred years of settled law meant that corporations cannot buy elections inAmerica, and they [Supreme Court] not only allowed corporations to buy those elections, but they made it a constitutional right.” Although the plaintiffs said nothing about the First Amendment, the court decided to use this as the basis for their decision. Justice John Paul Stevens noted that the conservative majority had “changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”

Corporate personhood’s origin in English law was based on the approach that companies have to be considered “persons” in order to sue them. An inanimate object can’t be sued.

The nineteenth-century robber barons managed to get a few corrupt jurists to codify the idea that corporations enjoy the same constitutional rights as living, breathing people in the 1886 decision Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The railroad used the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to avoid paying taxes because states had different tax rates.

The courts bought the argument, but historian Thom Hartmann found no mention about “corporate personhood” in the original verdict. This declaration comes from the headnote to the case—a commentary written by the clerk, which is not legally binding—in which the Court’s clerk wrote: “The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Over 100 years of Supreme Court decisions have been based on an incorrect headnote written by J.C. Bancroft David, a corrupt official, who had previously served as the president of a railroad, working “in collusion with another corrupt Supreme Court Justice, Stephen Field.” The railroad companies, according to Hartmann, had promised Field that they’d sponsor his run for the White House if he assisted them in their effort to gain constitutional rights.

Even after the ruling, Hartmann noted, the idea of corporate personhood remained relatively obscure until corporate lawyers dusted off the doctrine during the Reagan era and used it to help reshape the U.S. political economy. Nike, Sinclair Broadcasting, Dow Chemical, J.C. Penney, tobacco and asbestos companies—all these corporations used the amendment written to free the slaves for their own benefit to avoid surprise inspections, keep secret dangers of their products, and continue practice illegal discrimination. All these companies succeeded except for Nike.

Legal reporter Dahlia Lithwick condemned the court’s “systematic dismantling of existing legal protections for women, workers, the environment, minorities and the disenfranchised.” Those who care about spiraling inequality, she wrote on the Slate, “need look no further than last term at the high court to see what happens when—just for instance—one’s right to sue AT&T, one’s ability to being a class action against Wal-Mart, and one’s ability to hold an investment management fund responsible for its lies, are all eroded by a sweep of the court’s pen.”

Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), among others, are fighting back against this corrupt vision of corporate control by introducing and supporting a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. Udall’s proposal would authorize Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns, including independent expenditures, and allow states to regulate such spending at their level. It would also provide for implementation and enforcement of the amendment through legislation. Over 750,000 people have signed petitions to void the Supreme Court ruling.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) also provided the following: “The SCOTUS made a mistake in the Citizens United ruling by equating money with political speech. We must redress this error before special interest money comes to dominate political campaigns and determine the outcome of American elections.

“On June 24, 2010, I joined with my colleagues in the House to pass HR 5175, the DISCLOSE Act, which aims to curb the ill effects of Citizens United in the near-term. Had the DISCLOSE Act passed in the Senate  it would have required corporations, unions, and other interests to adhere to campaign finance disclosure and expenditure requirements similar to those already in place for candidates standing for election to Congress. Although this bill would not have prevented an influx of money in federal elections, it would have made the sources of such money transparent to the public and prevented foreign intervention.

“In the 112th Congress, I have reintroduced a proposed amendment to the Constitution of theUnited States, H.J. Res 72, to address the long-term and fundamental problems presented by the Citizens United ruling. My proposed amendment would add a new and unfortunately necessary clause to the Constitution affirming that money can be a corrupting influence in a democracy and therefore excessive use of money to buy elections can be restricted under the Constitution of our great country.

“Money does not equal speech. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure free and fair elections in Oregon and throughout the United States of America.”

At least one judge is determined to go farther than the Supreme Court in allowing corporations carte blanche. Although the Supreme Court ruling allowed unlimited independent expenditures in political campaigns from corporations and other organizations, it did not overturn the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates campaigns. Judge James Cacheris of Virginia ruled that “Citizens United requires that corporations and individuals be afforded equal rights to political speech, unqualified.” The Department of Justice is appealing Cacheris’ ruling to the 4th Circuit Court.

Worse yet, Karl Rove has asked the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) if he can run coordinated political advertisements, featuring candidates the PAC is supporting. He justifies his request in this way: “While these advertisements would be fully coordinated with incumbent Members of Congress facing re-election in 2012, they would presumably not qualify as ‘coordinated communications.’”

After debating the question of whether super PAC ads featuring a member of Congress would violate the coordinate ban, which blocks certain interactions between independent groups and candidate committees, the FEC deadlocked at a 3-3 vote. The PAC’s lawyer, Thomas Josefiak, said, “Certainly they’re coordinated, but we’re using that in the lay sense. The question is, is it coordinated from a regulatory perspective?”

The topic was a source of discussion–and hilarity–on Stephen Colbert’s comedy show, The Colbert Report. Typical of Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek approach, he provides a solution to Rove’s request: “To avoid the appearance of collusion, the F.E.C. could rule that candidates can appear in Super PAC ads only against their will,” he wrote. “They’d have to be kidnapped, blindfolded, and thrown in a van before being forced to read a statement supporting their goals and then returned to their fundraisers in time for dessert.”

Commissioner Ellen Weintraub thanked Colbert for “shining a light on this little corner of government” as she brought up the hundreds of comments the commission had received on Rove’s request from viewers of his show.

The thin line between comedy skits and supposedly serious political discussions has dissolved.

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