Sunday, September 01, 2013

Barack Hearts Al Qaeda






We'll move quickly to Syria and then onto Iraq but with the US government being such an embarrassment currently as so many members of Congress think the term "oversight" actually means "conceal from the American people," let's open with the rare example of members of Congress working for the betterment of the American people and doing so in a bipartisan fashion.  Applause for Senator Bernie Sanders (Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee),  Senator Patty Murray (Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee), Senator Richard Burr (Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee) and Senator Bill Nelson (Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging) -- an Independent (Sanders), a Republican (Burr) and two Democrats (Murray and Nelson) working together and for doing what we expect members of Congress to do but what rarely is done anymore.  From the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 – Leaders of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the Special Committee on Aging said today that they are “deeply troubled” by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ lax oversight of private advisers to veterans applying for pensions and other benefits.
The senators cited a new report by the Government Accountability Office that faulted the VA for loosely enforcing its own vague rules on accrediting private financial planners, attorneys, insurance agents and others. The nonpartisan congressional agency that audits federal programs also criticized the VA for leaving itself vulnerable to abuses and for keeping veterans in the dark about their rights.
The GAO report was cited in a letter to Secretary Eric Shinseki from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman and ranking member of the veterans’ committee. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a veterans’ committee member and former chairman, and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the Senate Special Committee on Aging chairman, also signed the letter.
“We are deeply troubled by the findings indicating weaknesses in the accreditation program, which may prevent VA from ensuring that veterans are served by knowledgeable, qualified, and trustworthy representatives,” the senators wrote. 
The senators said the accreditation procedures should be strengthened to protect veterans from unscrupulous advisers among the 20,000 approved by the department. They also echoed a GAO recommendation and urged the department to do a better job letting veterans know how to report abuses. Problems with the accreditation program are compounded by a lack of staff and inadequate technology, the senators added. 
The latest GAO report builds on an investigation last year that found weak oversight and unclear rules made the VA ripe for abuse. That report found that some firms overcharge veterans for services or sell financial products that end up limiting veteran’s access to the benefits that they deserve.
To read the GAO report, click here.
To read the senators’ letter to the VA secretary, click here.

Daniel Akaka was Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee before Senator Murray and he and Richard Burr had a professional and respectful relationship.  Murray and Burr continued and deepened that.  It continues now with Sanders and Burr.  No, Burr didn't agree with the three on everything or them with him on everything but they found a way to be adults and to stay focused on the issues.  It's a shame that this is not carried through on every Congressional Committee.  The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has been able to focus on a large number of issues and actually move mountains on a few because of the lack of egos in leadership.  Akaka, Murray, Sanders and Burr especially deserve applause.  And, again, it is so very nice to see one aspect of Congress (or, for that matter, the federal government) which functions and works.

Over to the topic of Syria . . .

Still reeling from yesterday's vote in the British Parliament (which means -- for now -- England will not be able to join the US government in attacking Syria), US President Barack Obama insisted this afternoon that, Eyder Peralta (NPR) notes,  "he has not made a final decision on launching a military strike on Syria." Why?  The morning started with efforts by the administration to sell France as a historic and glorious partner in an attempt to use France's support of an attack to take the place of England's backing.  Ian Black (Guardian) was calling it a "coalition a deux."  But, by mid-day, a wrinkle emerged on that front.  John Lichfield (Independent) reports that French President Francois Hollande "appeared today to back away from immediate air strikes against Syria by talking of the importance of a 'political solution' to the crisis."

Another break Barack and his fellow War Hawks couldn't quite catch this week.  And the reason that, mid-morning, the White House dropped the effort to talk up historic ally France. 

Before Barack spoke on the matter, US Secretary of State John Kerry had a mini-meltdown in front of the press.  Lindsay Wise and Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) quote him blustering, "This is common sense.  This is evidence.  These are facts."  Facts?  John Kerry offered facts?  Jason Ditz ( cleared up that misconception:

Secretary of State John Kerry, leading the charge for war in Syria for months, is continuing to take the helm in pushing the case in speeches, not so much providing evidence for their allegations but reiterating the claims and insisting that the evidence is “clear.”
Incredibly, Kerry doesn’t seem to be keeping up with the allegations that have already been disproved, reiterating rebel claims of 1,429 killed as an unquestionable fact even though Doctors Without Borders already put the real figure at 355 dead nearly a week ago.

Having yet again presented 'facts' that were not, in fact, actually facts,  Lindsay Wise and Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) quote John Kerry insisting, "This matters to us, and it matters to who we are, and it matters to leadership and to our credibility in the world."

Golly, that doesn't seem like national security at all.  That sounds like vanity and ego.  You know how to avoid having egg on your face and being a public laughingstock?  Stop making false claims and stop making threats.  As a member of the Senate, John Kerry grasped that.  In fact, he so grasped what diplomacy was that world leaders were pulling for the 2004 election to result in President John Kerry.  All that skill and ability has left him as he degrades himself and his legacy (Secretary of State is Kerry's last big hurrah on the national scene).  DS Wright (Firedoglake) dissects the speech here.

John Kerry, possibly after being beaten at the ballot box by a moron like Bully Boy Bush, has no respect for the American citizens.  Mark Murray (NBC News) reports on a new poll.  The Hart Research Associates poll could be titled Bad News For Barry.  48% disapprove of Barack's job performance as president (only 44% approve); 49% disapprove of Barack's "handling foreign policy" (41% approve); approval for handling of Syria specifically 44% disapprove (35% approve).  What should the US government do with regards to Syria?  7 responses in order of popularity:

Provide only humanitarian assistance  40%
Take military action to help stop the killing 26%
Take no additional action  23%
Provide arms to the opposition 6%
Not sure 3%
Take some sort of action 1%
Take some mix of actions 1%

 If chemical weapons were used by the Syrian government, 42% say military action is needed while 50% say no, it is not.  41% feel military action would not improve life for the people of Syria while 27% think it will.

Asked, "Do you think that President Obama should or should not be required to receive approval from Congress before taking military action in Syria?"  79% said, "Should be required to receive approval."  Only 16% say he's not required to.

PDF format warning, the full results are here.  Margin of error is +/- 3.70%

Are you getting why John Kerry's so desperate that he's spouting lies to the American people?

George Eaton (New Statesman) offers a breakdown of yesterday's historic vote in England with 224 Labour MPs, joining with 30 Conservatives, 9 Liberal MPs (Eaton has a list of the MPs by name).  Also weighing in on the vote, Great Britain's Socialist Worker's "Cameron's Defeat Is Proof Of Protest Power:"

David Cameron was humiliated last night, Thursday, when he suffered a historic Commons defeat on plans to bomb Syria.
He asked MPs to back military action but in an unprecedented blow, they voted by 285 to 272 against air strikes.
The vote reflects the overwhelming anti-war feeling among people in Britain – and the fear that missile strikes against Syria would be the start of yet another failed attempt by the West to control the Middle East.
Cameron, who had made a passionate plea for support for his proposals to launch attacks on Damascus after a chemical weapons attack last week, was forced to issue an embarrassing climbdown.
The shaken leader admitted it was clear that parliament “does not want to see British military action”. He added, “I get that. The government will act accordingly.”
Opposition MPs responded by shouting, “Resign”.
The last time a prime minister was defeated over an issue of war and peace was in 1782. As the scale of the historic defeat became clear Conservative MPs turned on each other. Education secretary Michael Gove barked, “You’re a disgrace, you’re a disgrace” at government rebels.
The result was also a blow to Nick Clegg who had ditched his party’s soft anti-war stance to side with the Conservatives.
“This marks a sea change in British politics. The government no longer has a blank cheque to go to war,” Labour MP and chair of the Stop the War Coalition, Jeremy Corbyn, told Socialist Worker.

Jes Burns (Free Speech Radio News) reports:

As the United States and France move towards military action in Syria, Syrian-Americans are voicing concern for the safety of their families back in the Middle East.  FSRN’s Theresa Campagna reports from Chicago.
Anti-war protesters in several cities worldwide will march Saturday, saying a Western intervention in Syria will only intensify the war already happening on-the-ground.  This morning, both President Obama and President Hollande of France told the press they want military intervention, despite their ally's vote against it in the UK.
“My cousin was on his way to his senior, like exam, you know, his high school exam you know.  It was the same day the university was bombed.” That's Bassel Al-Madani, a Syrian American in Chicago who has been fundraising to send money to family in Syria since February.  He says most Syrians are getting by, despite the war.  But like many Syrian-Americans, Al-Madani wants it to end so his family can move on. FSRN, Theresa Campagna, Chicago.

At the Fellowship of Reconciliation,  Joshua Brollier offers a list of thing to remember including the following:

To those who think the United States should intervene in Syria,
Remember this is the same United States which;

Earlier today, Amy Goodman (Democracy Now! -- link is text, video and audio) explained, "Pentagon officials say the U.S. Navy has moved five destroyers equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea to prepare for a possible strike on Syria. This comes as the British Parliament voted Thursday not to back international action against Syria following the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons last week. This comes as a team of U.N. inspectors, who spent the week traveling to rebel-controlled areas in search of proof of a poison gas attack, is set to give its preliminary findings to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday."

On this week's CounterSpin (FAIR -- link is audio), Peter Hart spoke with IPS' Phyllis Bennis about the coverage of the US push for an attack on Syria.  Excerpt.

Phyllis Bennis:  Only if the [United Nations] Security Council votes to endorse the use of force is the use of force legal.  No other agency, institution, organization has that right.  So the Kosovo precedent that you refer to and that unfortunately this is being talked about in the press.  It's being asserted that if the Security Council doesn't agree, there are other options.  Yeah, there are other options.  The problem is they're all illegal.  The Kosovo model was illegal.  What the US did in 1999, when it wanted to bomb, to start an air war against Serbia over Kosovo, realized it would not get support of the Security Council because Russia had said it would veto.  So instead of saying, 'Well okay we don't have support of the Security Council, I guess we can't do it,' they said, 'Okay, we won't go to the Security Council, we'll simply go to the NATO High Command and ask their permission.'  Well, what a surprise, the NATO High Command said 'sure.'  It's like the hammer and the nail.  If you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  If you're NATO everything looks like it requires military intervention.  The problem is, under international law, the UN charter is the fundamental component under international law that determines issues of war and peace.  And the charter doesn't say that the Security Council or NATO or the President of the United States can all decide over the use of force.  The only agency that can legally approve the use of force is the Security Council of the United Nations.  Period.  Full stop.

 [. . .]

Peter Hart: We've heard right from the beginning that the Syrian government would not allow inspectors access to the site of this attack.  That was considered proof that they were culpable, that they were hiding something.  But the reality seemed to be that the United States was trying to pull the plug on this UN  investigative team from the start which I think is one of the most shocking, under-covered part of this story.

Phyllis Bennis: I don't think we can say with any certainty what the motivation was of the US but certainly what they did was to try and scuttle the role of the team and to deliberately mislead people.  Secretary Kerry, in particular,  misled people about what the timeline was and stated that the time line very clearly indicated some guilt by the Syrian government.  His claim was: 'We asked -- and the UN asked --  for access to the site on Thursday.  They didn't grant that access until Sunday, therefore, they were delaying for days because they were trying to hide something.  They're trying to degrade the evidence.  They may be bombing the evidence.  They're trying to make sure that the inspectors can't do their job.'  Well it turns out that the facts are a little different.  The facts are that on that Thursday, the UN announced that they were going to request access. The actual request did not arrive until Saturday when Angela Kane, the disarmament chief of the United Nations, arrived in Damascus.  The announcement that they were going to ask is not a legally acceptable anything in diplomatic terms.  When asked about it, when pushed on it, the UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said, 'Well that's just semantics.'  But diplomacy is all about semantics, you know?  A press release does not equal an official request from the United Nations. There was an official, legal request and it arrived on Saturday with Angela Kane.  On Sunday, the Syrian government said "yes," the inspectors can go in.  And on Monday, the investigators were on the ground doing their work.  That's hardly an example of a major delay.  Now I should be clear in saying that, it doesn't necessarily mean that the Syrian regime is not responsible for these attacks.  They may well be.  But it does mean that that claim by Secretary Kerry -- which is the basis, a big part of the basis, for saying --'This proves that they are responsible and therefore we can go in and bomb Syria,' it certainly did not happen that way. 

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