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.”

August 31, 2012

GOP Convention 2012 – Day Three, Mind-boggling

Day Three of the GOP Convention 2012 was intended to be warm and fuzzy, to show how likable Mitt Romney really is. That’s why the organizers brought in the people from his Mormon church, the Staples founder Thomas Sternberg, etc. The message was to trust Romney in his attempt to return to the country of a century ago in a speech that tried to highlight optimistic nostalgia even if no one really knows what he plans to do.

Owned by Bain Capital, Staples is supposed to show Romney’s business acumen. Although it’s difficult to know how little Staples employees actually make, Glassdoor.com, a website based on worker feedback, shows that the vast majority of these employees make $8-$9 an hour. The website calls Staples “one of the largest employers of workers earning under $10 per hour in the country.” Their CEO got $8.9 million last year, probably before bonuses. Domino’s Pizza, another Bain company, also pays under $10 an hour. Some of the thousands of Domino’s drivers who make deliveries in their own cars have sued the company because its reimbursement system for mileage violates wage and hour laws.

Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner explained that Romney’s “focus was never on strengthening companies or creating jobs, it was about getting a high return on his investment, no matter the cost to workers, companies or communities.” I agree with Kanner when he said that “these are the values he promises to bring as President by giving more budget-busting tax cuts to the wealthy on the middle class’ dime and letting Wall Street write its own rules–the same scheme that benefited a few, but devastated the middle class and crashed our economy.”

In his speech, Jeb Bush told President Obama to stop blaming his wonderful brother while blaming President Obama. He was the only Bush at the convention because looking at George W. Bush would remind people that tax cuts for the rich don’t create jobs.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, the day was overwhelmed by a strange performance by 82-year-old Clint Eastwood who carried on a sometimes rambling conversation with a chair that he pretended was occupied by President Obama and insinuated that the president was swearing back at him. Even Romney’s aides looked visibly upset and tried to blame anyone else for his presence and performance.

The next editions of dictionaries may contain the term “Eastwooding,” meaning “taking out frustration on inanimate objects.” One Republican pundit reported that no one would remember the speech for long. I think that he’s wrong. Photos of empty chairs are all over the Internet from people claiming to have had conversations with the Invisible President, and the president’s twitter account posted his photo with the tag line “This seat’s taken.”

 

 

 

 

Even odder about Eastwood’s speech is that it led into the introduction of Romney by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Scheduled to speak for about three minutes, Eastwood kept the stage for almost 15 minutes, throwing off the convention schedule. Romney has been called a stickler against tardiness.  Michael Moore summarized it best: “Clint Eastwood was able to drive home to tens of millions of viewers the central message of this year’s Republican National Convention: We Are Delusional and Detached from Reality. Vote for Us!”

Back to being serious, Rubio said that both Romney and Obama are both good people but that people should vote for Romney because he is a good person. There was a lot of that during the convention: with no specifics about Romney’s policies, people gave Romney’s “good person” description the primary reason for supporting him.

When Rubio finished, Romney tried to look presidential as he sauntered through the crowd toward the stage in the style of State of the Union speeches. When he talked about his love for his parents, he again moved into the position of privileged wealth through his story about how his father gave his mother a rose every day of their 64 years of married life. Trying to woo the women, he said that he had women in his Massachusetts administration and that women worked for him at Bain. He’s right there; 8 percent of the managing directors and executives are women.

Then he moved into the “fact-challenged” part of the speech.

Romney said that the president plans to raise taxes on small businesses: in fact, President Obama lowered taxes on small businesses 18 times.

Romney talked about the president’s assault on coal and oil; in fact, President Obama increased jobs in the coal industry, and oil production and drilling has increased during his presidency.

Romney repeated the lie about President Obama cutting Medicare.

Romney said that the president has weakened security and eliminated jobs through his cuts to the military; in fact, Romney’s own party caused these cuts when they finally made a budget deal to raise the debt ceiling to stop defaulting on the national debt after holding the country hostage.

Romney said that gas prices had doubled under this president: in fact, gas prices four years ago were $3.67, very close to the current price of $3.75.

Romney said, “[Obama] abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election.” In fact, the moment to which Romney referred was between the president and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. The missile shield has never worked despite trillions of dollars wasted in its development since President Truman’s administration. Romney was pushing to defend ourselves from our ally, Russia, instead of from China and North Korea. This was a speech that might have worked during the Cold War, but we are decades past that.

The Washington Post did a bit of fact checking on Romney’s few specific goals:

Romney said he has a plan to create 12 million new jobs: only two presidents, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, created more than 12 million jobs. And they both raised taxes. Romney’s pledge would be an average of 250,000 jobs a month; recently, the economy, as slow as it currently is because of Republican obstructionism, has averaged 150,000 jobs a month. If no budget deal is reached, the CBO figures that 9.6 million jobs would be created in the same period of time, and Moody’s Analytics predicted 12 million jobs created by 2016, no matter who gets elected president.

Romney said that the current economy has failed to find jobs for half the students who graduated from college; the 53.6 percent of college students that he cites also included the “underemployed” who actually have jobs.

Romney said he wouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class; in fact, the Ryan budget plan, which Romney has supported, will raise taxes on the middle class while decreasing taxes for the wealthy.

Romney’s biggest lie came at the end of the speech when he described his idea of his ideal America: “That united America will care for the poor and the sick, will honor and respect the elderly, and will give a helping hand to those in need.” There was no applause for this statement. Romney’s plans do not benefit anyone except the wealthy.

Despite a lengthy speech, Romney said “Americans” so many times that he omitted several subjects: financial reforms, climate change, immigration, Romneycare, Afghanistan or Syria, Social Security, and veterans. His purpose was to persuade voters not in his base who believe in reforming the country’s financial problems, trying to stop climate change, helping immigrants, getting health care, supporting the elderly, etc. These are not safe subjects for anyone except the far-right conservatives.

Even Republicans weren’t excited about the speech. Steve Schmidt, campaign adviser for John McCain’s 2008 run for president, said that it was the best speech that Romney has ever given but it wasn’t the best speech of the convention. Will Wilkinson (The Economist) said, “I don’t think he has it in him to do much better.” At The Washington Post, Johnathan Bernstein reported, “A generic speech and a generic convention for a generic Republican candidate.”

Asides: At a fundraiser on the morning of Day three, Karl Rove said, “If [Todd Akin is] found mysteriously murdered, don’t look for my whereabouts!” (Rove’s apology to Akin included the statement that he would never have made that comment if he had known there was a reporter in the room.)

Romney thinks that the United States is actually a company. In a speech on the morning of Day Three he said, “Paul Ryan and I understand how the economy works, we understand how Washington works, we will reach across the aisle and find good people who like us, want to make sure this company deals with its challenges. We’ll get America on track again. As Annie-Rose Strasser wrote, “The goal of a company is to make money, whereas the goal of a government is to provide services that are not achievable in the private sector. Romney’s belief that the government is similar to a company explains his dedication to cutting programs that he perceives are “inefficient” because they cost money, even if they effectively help American citizens.”

Most jarring, however is this headline from politico.com: David Koch breaks from GOP on gay marriage, taxes, defense cuts. He said, “I believe in gay marriage.” Koch said he thinks the U.S. military should withdraw from the Middle East and the government should consider defense spending cuts, as well as possible tax increases to get its fiscal house in order.

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