Nel's New Day

July 16, 2015

Congress to Decide between Iranian War, Peace

Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) has declared that his first priority is to represent Jesus. He could start by supporting the Iran deal to bring peace and persuade his Christian GOP colleagues to do the same. But that’s not going to happen. The instant that a deal was announced, Republican presidential candidates led the charge against peace in a deal among six countries that would curb Iran’s nuclear program and significantly limit the country’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon for over ten years. (Details here.)

walker

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (above), who declared his presidential candidacy on the day that the deal was announced, said, “President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran will be remembered as one of America’s worst diplomatic failures.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) doesn’t expect Congress to approve the deal. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the agreement appeasement. Rick Santorum called the deal a “catastrophic capitulation.”

Kerry and Zarif, photo Thomas Imo

The deal took 19 days and four missed deadlines before Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, appeared at Secretary of State John Kerry’s working quarters at midnight Monday. Kerry flew 400,000 miles to prevent the tenth country from getting the bomb in the first successful dealings with Iran since its 1979 revolution. In addition to containing the country’s ability to produce a bomb for at least a decade, it provides for permanent, broader U.N. inspections to monitor Iran’s declared and suspected nuclear facilities, even after the deal expires. The combination of restrictions and time frames from ten to twenty-five years gives the international community more insight into Iran’s program and capabilities.

War hawks in the U.S. will complain that Iran can still enrich uranium, yet it’s at a minimum level, with the number of centrifuges cut by two-thirds. Some Congressional members, accompanied by Israel and the Gulf sheikhdoms, insist on zero facilities instead of one. The Iran deal will not diffuse deep sectarian and political rivalries in the Middle East with Sunni concern about Iran become a player instead of a pariah, but that was not the goal. Under the deal, Iran can reclaim between $100 billion to $150 billion of its oil revenues from foreign banks. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced the deal before the details were released.

Yet U.S. involvement in the Middle East is already overwhelming—air wars in Iraq, Syria, and Libya as well as selling arms to Saudi Arabia to wage its war in Yemen. The deal creates no renewal of U.S. diplomatic relations with Iran. Lifting sanctions on Iran will open international markets to Iran’s population that has more than doubled since 1979, but U.S. businesses will be limited in trading with Iran because of sanctions tied to human-rights practices and support for terrorism. If Iran breaks the deal, the U.S. still has a military option.

Congress has 60 days to review the deal with Iran. It can vote for a resolution of disapproval that President Obama has promised to veto. An override of his veto requires two-thirds vote in each chamber. GOP legislators have reasons to vote against the deal, oil prices being one of them. Prices in the United States began to fall in June as the deal came closer to fruition, shrinking to $54 a barrel this past week, and more oil availability from the Middle East forcing down the oil market may bring the price of gas down to below $2 a gallon by the end of the year. The International Energy Agency estimates that Iran could add 800,000 barrels a day to the global market within months of the lifting of sanctions, but immediate relief could come from the 30 million barrels of Iranian crude in storage and ready for sale. A general rule is the two-thirds of the cost of gas comes from the crude oil cost and the remaining one-third comes from taxes, refining, distribution, and marketing. Republicans like to claim, however, that the president is completely responsible for higher costs of gas. They won’t want to see the price go down in the Obama administration.

Any deal from the president is described as a “bad deal” to Republicans. Presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that the deal is “a possible death sentence for Israel,” but he hasn’t read it. He added that reading it didn’t’ matter because visits to the Mideast made him know that he didn’t like the details. The GOP belief that any international interaction is a “bad deal” goes back to the opposition to the Hot Line Agreement, in which Moscow and Washington could communicate directly during emergencies such as the Cuban missile crisis. The right opposed then-President Nixon going to China and called it “appeasement,” just as they are describing the deal with Iran.

The biggest influence on conservative members of Congress is Netanyahu. Some congressional leaders put Israel’s prime minister above the President of the United States in their loyalties. Last year, presidential candidate Graham told Netanyahu that Congress would “follow his lead” in reinforcing sanctions on Iran despite President Obama’s refusal to do so. Last March, Netanyahu spoke to both chambers of Congress after House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) invited him without notifying the president, a breach of protocol. His speech was intended to persuade congressional members and the people of the United States against Iranian negotiations. At this time, President Obama is offering additional military aid to Israel beyond billions of dollars to help build Israel’s Iron Dome and provide ammunition that killed the people in Gaza last summer. Netanyahu may be willing to sell out his principles for more billions of dollars from the United States.

Soon after Netanyahu’s speech, 47 U.S. senators, led by Tom Cotton (R-AR) sent a letter to Iran, explaining that they might as well not make the deal because any future president could negate it. The letter also claimed—erroneously—that there could be no agreement unless Congress passed it by a two-thirds vote. To this next breach of protocol—and possibly a treasonous act—Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif wrote that Cotton’s letter was a “propaganda ploy” meant to undermine Obama. Yesterday the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Wednesday told Congress to reject the nuclear deal with Iran.

The Republicans have a history of sabotaging U.S. welfare to elect their candidates. When President Jimmy Carter thought he had a deal with the new Iranian president to release 52 hostages in 1979, the Reagan campaign went behind Carter’s back arranging with the Iranian radical faction to keep the hostages in captivity until after the Reagan v. Carter presidential election in 1980. Iranian extremists released the hostages on January 20, 1981, the moment that Reagan was inaugurated, and pointed out that Reagan must keep his agreement to ship weapons to the radical forces. The result was deaths of thousands of people throughout the world, especially in Central America where Reagan took money from the Iranians to destabilize Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. Those areas have still not gained stability after Reagan’s actions. Carter’s loss in the election led to the appointment of Justice Antonin Scalia and the elevation of William Rehnquist to Chief Justice. One reason for the GOP to keep Iran closed to the U.S. is to cover Reagan’s actions.

Although Netanyahu has expressed strong opposition to the Iran deal, not everyone in Israel supports his position. Israel is also a dangerous country with undeclared chemical warfare capabilities and between 75 and 400 nuclear weapons. It is also one of four nuclear-armed countries not recognized as a Nuclear Weapons State by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the others being India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Because Israel never signed the NPT, the country does not have to submit to inspections. Israel’s attack on Gaza last summer and its takeover of the Palestinian West Bank shows that the country will use any means to defeat other countries, whether warranted or not.

The GOP refuses to admit that, like almost every problem in the U.S. during the 21st century, Iran’s expansion of its nuclear program can be traced back to the Bush/Cheney administration. With 164 centrifuges in 2003, Iran wanted to negotiate with the U.S. to remove the sanctions blocking the growth of the country’s middle class. Cheney said, “We don’t talk to evil,” and Iran built 5,000 centrifuges in the next two years. The country had 8,000 by the time that Bush/Cheney left. Now Cheney is lobbying to add another war to the ones they started during their administration instead of letting this generation try to achieve peace through diplomacy.

Polls, even one from the conservative Fox network, consistently show approval of the deal, but Republicans spreading lies that may reverse the surveys. Yet conservatives ignore their constituents and oppose the deal because they are convinced that the U.S. should rule the world and dictate the behavior of all countries. That’s what led us into the wars with Afghanistan and Iraq that almost wiped out the U.S. economy.

A comparison between Iran and the United States:

iran v. u.s. nuclear weapons

The only purpose of the Iran deal is to reduce the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear weapon. In opposing the Iran deal, Congress has three alternatives: kill the deal and do nothing else, leaving few restraints on the growth of Iran’s nuclear program; declare war and ignite a catastrophic regional conflict; and increase sanctions, which looks like the first option. Without a deal, Iran has a much better chance of building bombs. Increased sanctions are useless because U.S. business dealings with Iran are already limited and the rest of the world will leave the U.S. standing alone.

As conservatives continue to posture without reading the deal, Congress is in charge of deciding whether the United States will go to war with Iran. And the media focus on Iran will cause Scott Walker, the 15th presidential candidate, to stay in the shadows—at least for a while.

September 3, 2013

Deja Vu: Too Many Holes in Syrian ‘Intelligence’

Ten years ago, George W. Bush and his administration so convinced people in the country that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” that some people—even those in Congress—haven’t given up on that notion. Even then-Secretary of State Colin Powell got snookered into the myth for a while. Yet despite the embarrassment of finding out that Iraq had no WMD, the administration plodded along, sending cash, service members, and military supplies to the Middle East while creating great profits for companies such as then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and destroying the possibility of the U.S. repairing its infrastructure, increasing employment, and building a healthy economy.

Now the country is on the verge of another disaster in Syria after Secretary of State John Kerry promised everyone that the rebels need rescuing.  Once again we’re heading a preemptive war. The president has promised just a little bit of bombing before we’re out of there. Loosely translated, that means killing more people, many of them probably innocent Syrian citizens, and probably accelerating into full-fledged military action.

Even worse, Kerry has made claims disputed by the United Nations, inconsistent with British intelligence reports, and giving information that international chemical weapons experts cannot accept. Kerry’s speeches contain the same misleading information found in promoting the U.S. attack on Iraq.

The communications that Kerry said was intercepted couldn’t have come through channels because Britain would have received the same information. Instead it most likely came from Israel who leaked it to a German magazine. Former British Ambassador Craig Murray thinks this intelligence is fraudulent because Israelis want the U.S. to attack Syria.

If one were to give this information the benefit of the doubt, the communications consisted of “panicked phone calls” between a Syrian Defense Ministry official and someone in a chemical weapons unit because the official was “demanding answers for [about?] a nerve agent strike.” The questions were prompted by charges from rebels in Ghouta, and intelligence doesn’t answer the question of whether the regime had used chemical weapons.

When the U.N. asked for access to investigate, the regime agreed within 24 hours to let them have free reign to the area. U.N. investigators were in Damascus because the Assad regime asked them to look into a gas attack that they said was carried out by rebels on March 19. A two-page assessment by the British Joint Intelligence Organization, released August 29, stated: “There is no obvious political or military trigger for regime use of Chemical War on an apparently larger scale now, particularly given the current presence of the UN investigating team.”

Regime personnel were “near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin,” according to U.S. geospatial and signals intelligence. Yet there is no information about any problemactic activities in this area. Instead the presence of the tracked individual area was viewed as “nothing out of the ordinary” until the U.S. suspected the use of chemical weapons. At that time, they changed the report to “streams of human signals and geospatial intelligence that revealed regime activities that we assessed were associated with preparations for a chemical attack.” From no indication of “preparations,” intelligence moved to getting ready for chemical warfare.

A description in the summary explained that “a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks” but didn’t explain whether it was intent to attack or anticipation of rebel chemical attack. The summary also stated that the intelligence community had “high confidence” that the government had carried out a “chemical weapons attack” but nothing about any confidence when they said “that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack.”

A huge question about the intelligence is the assumption that chemical weapons were used because of no wounds on the bodies. Symptoms of a nerve agent are initial tightness of chest, pinpoint pupils, and running nose followed by uncontrollable vomiting, defecating, and urinating, and culminating in twitching and jerking before coma and suffocation in convulsive spasms. Videos in Ghouta didn’t display these symptoms.

In another anomaly, far more of the treated people survived than died, contrary to a nerve gas attack. Reports show that out of 4,500 people treated, 425 people died—the opposite of what would be expected. Although some people have guessed that the chemicals were diluted, Dan Kaszeta, a specialist on chemical, biological and radiological weapons, said, “There’s not much leeway between the incapacitating doses and lethal doses with sarin.” The concentration causing any symptoms at all, he said, “would quickly lead to absorption of a lethal dose.” The fact that none of the people treating casualties were suffering obvious symptoms “would seem to rule out most types of military-grade chemical weapons,” Kaszeta added.

The rebels gave the intelligence community information about the numbers and cause of death. The precise estimate of 1,429 people killed by chemical weapons, including “at least 426 children,” has no source. Normally, intelligence would use a range of figures from different data. The main center for the intelligence community’s analysis is the CIA’s Office of Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control (WINPAC) Center which made assumptions about the 2002 Iraq estimate that were unsupported by technical facts. Thus WINPAC reversed the normal intelligence analysis burden of proof and instead operated on the assumption that Iraq had the non-existent WMD programs.

Kerry’s only attribution for the number was “a preliminary government assessment,” but people are now accepting his guesstimate as gospel. Anthony Cordesman, a former senior defense official who’s now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that Kerry’s number doesn’t agree with the British assessment of “at least 350 fatalities,” the Syrian rebels’ confirmation of 502 dead, or the French figure of 281 fatalities.

Only the U.N. inspectors can solve the issue of chemical weapons, but those advocating an attack on Syria don’t want evidence from U.N. investigators. National Security Adviser Susan Rice sent an e-mail to key officials August 25 asserting that the U.N. investigation was pointless, and administration officials have dismissed the U.N. investigation as representing a Syrian political tactic. Kerry said that access “was restricted and controlled” although Farhan Haq, the associate spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon who receives regular reports from the UN team on its work in Syria, said he was unaware of any restrictions on the team’s work.

Kerry declared two days ago that samples of blood and hair from medical personnel in eastern Ghouta had been found to contain the signature of sarin nerve gas. These samples did not go through U.N. investigators but were smuggled out of Syria by rebels. The spokesman for the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme National Council, Khaled Saleh, announced August 22 that “activists” had collected their own hair, blood, and soil samples and were smuggling them out of the country. Even the Obama administration admits that they can’t be sure about the accuracy of this assumption without appropriate chain of custody, but they are now claiming that it is “impossible that the opposition is faking the stuff.”

Kerry has never actually said that the bodies tested positive for sarin. “It has tested positive for signatures of Sarin,” he said. But “signature” isn’t proof of sarin. The U.S. Army book Medical Aspects of Chemical Warfare explicitly says that concluding on a chemical agent exposure from “signatures” in bio-samples is false:

“Analyzing for parent nerve agents from biomedical matrices, such as blood or urine, is not a viable diagnostic technique for retrospective detection of exposure.”

Because sarin quickly decomposes within a few hours, it is almost impossible to find pure sarin samples on or within a body. What is shown are the decomposition products of sarin, similar to those from other chemical substances such as farming insecticides. There was no sarin in the samples from the insecure custody chain of evidence, only the decomposition products.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, Kerry was asked if the intelligence had any dissent or uncertainty about Assad’s use of chemical weapons. “I have no knowledge of any agency that was a dissenter, or anybody that had an alternative theory,” he answered. Not a flat no—he just didn’t know anybody who disagreed.

Like the lead-in to the preemptive war against Iraq, a president is beating the drums for attack and trying to stir up everyone with potentially false information. The only “intelligence” comes from Israel and Syrian rebels who want the U.S. to attack.

A new poll today shows that only 29 percent of people in the U.S. want even airstrikes in Syria whereas 48 percent of the population opposed doing this. The Washington Post/ABC News poll indicates an even stronger opposition, 36 percent in favor and 59 percent opposed. In a few years, the minority of the people may discover in a few years that once again they were hoodwinked.

November 27, 2012

Congress Ignores Job, Economy Issues

Since Election Day, many of the nation’s populace have focused on what will happen to the bipartisan fiscal agreement from August 2011 that kept the United States from defaulting on the national debt which would have crashed the entire country. The conditions of this agreement were supposed to be changed a year ago, but the bitter partisan fighting stopped this from happening. With no compromise before the end of 2012, taxes revert to the time of Bill Clinton (when, by the way, we had a great economy), a situation that the media likes to call the “fiscal cliff.”

During a meeting with the president ten days after Election Day,  House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) informed President Obama that the fiscal cliff is “my leverage.” During this discussion Boehner threatened to not agree to the president’s proposal if the speaker’s demands weren’t meant.

Since the election, Republicans have admitted that they are willing to create new revenue, despite the anti-tax pledge that most of them signed with conservative activist Grover Norquist. In return, however, they want to hack at Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Once again, conservatives are using their typical tactic of fear and ploy of extortion.

In fact, there might not be a real crisis. CBO has adjusted its forecast with the result that the debt/GDP ratio now stabilizes after a few years. Social Security etc. are not part of businesses required to make a profit; reasonable management of health care costs will keep Medicare and Medicaid expenditures within control. Military spending should decrease as the country leaves its warmongering.

President Obama’s proposal regarding taxes is to keep the Bush cuts for everyone who makes under $250,000. Republicans like to refer to the people above this amount—only two percent of the population—as job creators. They aren’t. To see that there is no relationship between private-sector employment and tax cuts, just look at this employment since 2001. The only reason that employment gained during George W. Bush’s first term was the 800,000 increase in public sector.

Because Republicans like to control by fear, they don’t tell people that everyone in the country keeps the Bush tax cuts on the first $250,000 that they make, even the top two percent.

Republicans are truly caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, and both of these are in their own political party. If they try to look at all reasonable and break their pledge for no new taxes, the Tea Party backs a candidate that might defeat long-time incumbents. This was the case with Dick Lugar in Illinois during the last primary. The situation is even more dire with the Democratic wins in the most recent election. The big question right now: do Republicans agree with providing revenue to the country, the way that 70 percent of the population wants, or do they please Tea Party members with the Norquist approach of no tax increases–ever.

Last week Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), up for reelection in two years, broke with Norquist, by saying that addressing the nation’s looming “fiscal cliff” takes precedence over honoring the anti-tax pledge. “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.”

Chambliss is also a supporter of the Bowles-Simpson plan to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. In return for these drastic measures against the middle class, the plan raises some revenue by closing a few token tax loopholes and reducing the popular mortgage interest deduction. Like other Republicans, Chambliss could vote to close small loopholes in the tax code while raising the retirement age for Social Security, cap overall spending for Medicare, and dramatically lowering corporate tax rates.

Up for re-election in two years, Chambliss could attract moderates in a primary against a Tea Party candidate by supporting more revenue. It would also get him funding from lobbyists for his election campaign because they want to destroy the safety net and keep corporate taxes low.

On Sunday’s talk shows Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he could reject the pledge if Democrats would reform entitlements (aka roll back Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), and Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY) said the pledge may be out of step in the present economy. Monday morning, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told CBS’s Charlie Rose that he, too, was “not obligated on the pledge.”

While millions of words are being devoted these days to the fiscal cliff or hill or curb, McCain and others are leading the media into an obsessive reporting about Susan Rice’s lack of information about the Benghazi disaster. Rational people know that Rice reported what she was told on the Sunday after four men were killed at the embassy. Since then the Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his sycophant Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), have pilloried Rice. Graham said she shouldn’t have said anything, knowing that this would have made the situation worse.

Sunday said that he wouldn’t not have necessarily block Rice for the position of Secretary of State and asked for a meeting with her. After today’s meeting with the three loudest critics—McCain, Ayotte, and Graham—all of them said that “they were more disturbed than before the meeting.”

What is the reason behind the opposition? Senators indicate that they prefer John Kerry to Rice as Secretary of State. The choice may have two primary reasons. First, Kerry is a white man, much preferred by Congressional Republicans. To see the Republicans’ lack of diversity, check out the new committee leaders in the House–19 white men.

Second, if Kerry were to be appointed to this position, Massachusetts would need a new senator. After his loss to Elizabeth Warren, the current Massachusetts senator, Scott Brown, is in a prime position to win the election, adding one more Republican to the 45 already in the U.S. Senate for the next two years.

Meanwhile Congress ignores the need to improve jobs and economy while Republicans continue to oppose any benefits for the 99 percent of the country’s population.

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