Tuesday Reads: McCain Plays “Pretend President,” Pressure Cookers, Upcoming Zimmerman Trial, and Other News

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

Last night Josh Rogin reported that warmongering Senator John McCain had sneaked across the Syrian border from Turkey and talked to Gen. Idris Salem, head of the “Free Syrian Army.”

McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.

Idris praised the McCain visit and criticized the Obama administration’s Syria policy in an exclusive interview Monday with The Daily Beast.

“The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful especially at this time,” he said. “We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation.”

Apparently McCain decided to play Pretend President to celebrate Memorial Day. I haven’t been paying close attention to the news for the past few days, but I think I would have seen any reports that the White House or the State Department had requested Senator McNasty’s help in reaching out to opposition forces in Syria.

Prior to his visit inside Syria, McCain and Idris had separate meetings with two groups of FSA commanders and their Civil Revolutionary Council counterparts in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. Rebel military and civilian leaders from all over Syria came to see McCain, including from Homs, Qusayr, Idlib, Damascus, and Aleppo. Idris led all the meetings.

The entire trip was coordinated with the help of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit organization that works in support of the Syrian opposition.

john_mccain_syria_visit

More from Dan Roberts of The Guardian:

McCain’s office confirmed to the Guardian that he had slipped into the country in recent days but declined to comment on the outcome of his talks with the rebel groups or whether it had hardened his views on arming them.

The Arizona senator has been leading efforts in Congress in recent weeks to force Barack Obama to intervene in Syria following reports of alleged chemical weapons use by forces loyal to Assad.

As the most senior US politician to have visited Syria, his intervention is likely to strengthen the hand of hawks in Washington at a time when parallel efforts are being made by the French and British governments to persuade the European Union to lift the arms embargo.

At the same time, actual US Secretary of State John Kerry was working toward a different goal than loud-mouthed Obama critic McCain.

Meanwhile the US State Department continues to pursue diplomatic efforts to bring the civil war to an end, successfully encouraging the Russians to persuade Assad to take part in peace talks in Geneva next month.

Capping off an eight-day trip to the Middle East and Africa, secretary of state John Kerry flew into Paris on Monday to see Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and exchange updates on their respective diplomatic efforts.

No word yet on any reactions from the Obama administration to McCain’s attempt to influence its foreign policy decisions.

The EU is also pushing for intervention in Syria. CNN reports:

The EU lifted its arms embargo on Syrian rebels Monday, a move that could level the playing field and alter the course of Syria’s gruesome civil war.

While there are no immediate plans to ship weapons to rebels, the move sends a strong message to Syria’s defiant president: Negotiate or face consequences.

“It was a difficult decision for some countries, but it was necessary and right to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a written statement.

“It was important for Europe to send a clear signal to the Assad regime that it has to negotiate seriously, and that all options remain on the table if it refuses to do so.”

SCOTUS

In domestic news, CNN calls attention to the important rulings that could come from the Supreme Court in June.

Four weeks. Four major legal rulings. What the Supreme Court decides by the end of June could fundamentally change lives and legacies on a range of politically explosive issues.
The justices will meet in at least five public sessions to release opinions in its remaining 30 cases, among them some the most strongly-contested legal and social issues they have confronted in decades:

– Same-sex marriage: A pair of appeals testing whether gays and lesbian couples have a fundamental constitutional right to wed.

– Affirmative action: May race continue to be used as a factor in college admissions, to achieve classroom diversity?

– Voting rights: The future of the Voting Rights Act, and continued federal oversight of elections in states with a past history of discrimination.

– Gene patents: Can “products of nature” like isolated parts of the human genome be held as the exclusive intellectual property of individuals and companies, through government-issued patents?

For more detailed summaries of these cases from CNN, click here.

“It’s almost unimaginable the number of things that the Supreme Court is going to decide that will affect all Americans in the next month,” said Thomas Goldstein, a top Washington attorney and publisher of SCOTUSblog.com.

“What would surprise me this term is if the court upheld use of affirmative action or the (enforcement tool behind the) Voting Rights Act. And I think it would be a big surprise if the court did anything radical when it came to same-sex marriage — either saying there was a constitutional right to it, or rejecting that claim outright and forever. I think that’s something they’re going to try and tread that middle ground path.”

Meanwhile, two Democratic Congressmen, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Keith Ellison of Minnesota are proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would establish a right to vote for every American citizen.

“Most people believe that there already is something in the Constitution that gives people the right to vote, but unfortunately … there is no affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. We have a number of amendments that protect against discrimination in voting, but we don’t have an affirmative right,” Pocan told TPM last week. “Especially in an era … you know, in the last decade especially we’ve just seen a number of these measures to restrict access to voting rights in so many states. … There’s just so many of these that are out there, that it shows the real need that we have.”

The brief amendment would stipulate that “every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.” It would also give Congress “the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

After investigating the issue, Pocan said he and Ellison decided this type of amendment was the best way to combat measures to restrict voting access.

“Essentially, what it would do is it would put the burden on any of these states that try to make laws that are more restrictive that they would have to prove that they’re not disenfranchising a voter. Rather than, currently, where a voter has to prove they’ve somehow been wronged by a state measure,” said Pocan.

Of course that’s pretty much pie in the sky considering how difficult it is to pass a Constitutional amendment and get it approved by three-quarters of state legislatures.

California Senator Barbara Boxer is calling for the Justice Department to investigate whether Southern California Edison

deceived federal regulators about an equipment swap at the San Onofre nuclear power plant that eventually led to a radiation leak, The Associated Press has learned.

The California Democrat obtained a 2004 internal letter written by a senior Southern California Edison executive that she said “leads me to believe that Edison intentionally misled the public and regulators” to avoid a potentially long and costly review of four replacement steam generators before they went into service.

The twin-domed plant between Los Angeles and San Diego hasn’t produced electricity since January 2012, after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusually rapid wear inside hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water in the nearly new generators….

The letter [to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which manufactured the generators] goes to a central issue at San Onofre, where Edison is seeking federal permission to restart the Unit 2 reactor and run it at reduced power in an effort to halt tube damage.

The replacement generators were different than the originals — they were far heavier and hundreds of additional tubes were added as part of design changes, for example. Edison installed the equipment in a $670 million overhaul in 2009 and 2010 without an extended NRC review after concluding the new machines met a federal test to qualify as largely the same as the ones they replaced, requiring little or no changes to safety systems or components in the plant.

Just one more reminder that we have potential Fukushima disasters right here in the USA.

pressure-cooker

Police in Michigan are still freaking out over random pressure cookers after the common cooking utensils were used to make two bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon in April.

Police in Dearborn are trying to understand why a pressure cooker was left in the restroom of the Adoba Hotel, forcing the evacuation of guests until the early morning hours.

The evacuation also canceled Sunday night’s banquet of the University of Muslim Association of America….

The pressure cooker discovered at the hotel was detonated by police as a precaution, but contained no explosives.

Dearborn officers have determined that the pressure cooker had not been converted into any type of explosive device.

Meanwhile a Saudi man, Hussain Al Khawahir, is still in jail after being arrested at the Detroit airport for having a pressure cooker in his luggage–reportedly a gift for his nephew whom he planned to visit in the US. Al Khwahir is scheduled to be in court today.

A lawyer for Hussain Al Khawahir, arrested at Detroit Metro Airport on May 11 after a pressure cooker was found in his baggage, filed a request for release on bond Monday.
Al Khawahir was arrested by federal agents on suspicion of carrying an altered passport and making conflicting statements to Customs and Border Patrol agents about the pressure cooker….

Defense attorney James Howarth in the request for bond claimed Al Khawahir, a 33-year-old citizen of Saudi Arabia, was carrying one valid passport and one expired passport that contained a visa stamp for his entry to the U.S.

He also argued that the two statements Al Khawahir made about the pressure cooker were not much different.

(Read the motion here .)

“The passport that was purportedly ‘altered’ was the expired document,” Howarth wrote.

Zimmerman

We’re getting closer to the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. From The Orlando Sentinel:

SANFORD – With just two weeks remaining before his trial, George Zimmerman’s attorneys returned to court this morning for what may be his last pre-trial hearing, a session that could turn into a marathon with his attorneys asking for a trial delay and that an especially-damaging state audio expert be banned from testifying.

Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson will be asked to decide a long list of other issues, things that will determine how the trial plays out and what jurors will see and hear.

For example, defense attorney Mark O’Mara has asked that she take jurors to the scene of the shooting, a middle- to working-class gated townhouse community on Sanford’s west side where Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, Feb. 26, 2012.

Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense. His second-degree murder trial is to begin June 10.

Defense attorneys on Tuesday also will ask the judge to keep jurors’ names a secret, something prosecutors are not expected to oppose.

Read more at the link. I guess we’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the coming weeks. I can’t say I’m really looking forward to the publicly expressed racism that is likely to be unleashed during the trial.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Please post your recommended reads in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday!

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76 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: McCain Plays “Pretend President,” Pressure Cookers, Upcoming Zimmerman Trial, and Other News”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    This doesn’t seem like a very good idea to me:

    Political intelligence firms set up investor meetings at White House

    Wall Street investors hungry for advance information on upcoming federal health-care decisions repeatedly held private discussions with Obama administration officials, including a top White House adviser helping to implement the Affordable Care Act.

    The private conversations show that the increasingly urgent race to acquire“political intelligence” goes beyond the communications with congressional staffers that have become the focus of heightened scrutiny in recent weeks.

    White House records show that Elizabeth Fowler, then a top ­health-policy adviser to President Obama, met with executives from half a dozen investment firms in 2011 and 2012. Among them was Kris Jenner, a stock picker with T. Rowe Price Investment Services who managed its $6 billion Health Sciences Fund.

    Separately, an officialin the agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid spoke in December with managers of hedge funds, pension plans and mutual funds in a conference call. The official, Andrew Shin, was pressed during the 50-minute call for information about upcoming Medicare decisions but declined to discuss matters still under agency review, according to people familiar with the call.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Confidential report lists U.S. weapons system designs compromised by Chinese cyberspies

    Among more than two dozen major weapons systems whose designs were breached were programs critical to U.S. missile defenses and combat aircraft and ships, according to a previously undisclosed section of a confidential report prepared for Pentagon leaders by the Defense Science Board.

    Experts warn that the electronic intrusions gave China access to advanced technology that could accelerate the development of its weapons systems and weaken the U.S. military advantage in a future conflict.

    Uh-oh, better crack down on US internet users then…

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Zimmerman’s attorney wants judge to admit text messages between Trayvon Martin and a friend that show Trayvon was in a bad mood the day of the shooting. WTF?

  4. Your pressure cooker pic choice — brilliant again. Totally cracked me up, even though its a lolsob news item

    • ecocatwoman says:

      It this a satirical website, like The Onion? Starting a war with North Korea?

      I don’t doubt that McCain is motivated by his loss in 2008, especially to one of those “colored” people. McCain is a little guy with a ginormous ego. He validates my belief that short men are like small dogs – always barking to try to prove they are tough.

      I find McCain’s secret trip to Syria unnerving. It certainly seems to fly in the face of foreign protocol – secretly going into a war zone? Has anything like this ever occurred in US history? It might make more sense if it had been a bi-partisan fact-finding trip of several senators. At the very least it seems, to me at least, an overstepping of his bounds by McCain. What would have been the ramifications had he been captured & held hostage or even killed? What position would that place us in?

  5. bostonboomer says:

    Live feed of Zimmerman hearing.

  6. ecocatwoman says:

    Where to start? The SCOTUS decisions – I don’t hold out much hope that any of the rulings will come down where I’d like to see them. This court has been nothing if not disappointing, but I’m still pissed that Thomas was appointed.

    Not a fan of nuclear power – it simply isn’t safe and the by-products remain a danger for generations upon generations. There is no safe way to store them. I remain amazed that no terrorist hasn’t focused an attack on these facilities with little to no security in place.

    I fear the Zimmerman trial is going to turn into Casey Anthony Trial Part II – nearly 24/7 coverage on nearly every tv station. The public’s fascination from OJ & after with trials confounds me. It ain’t Perry Mason folks. The result will be determined by which attorney is better, not whether or not the defendant is guilty. I just don’t see trials for heinous crimes as entertainment & it seems a large percentage of the public see it differently than do I. Not saying the SD folks do, but the public in general. I can only hope that the jurors dispense justice in this case & Zimmerman is found guilty.

    I was certainly under the mistaken impression that the Constitution guaranteed our right to vote. I agree bb that passing a constitutional amendment, especially in our combative political environment, is nearly a 100% unlikely occurrence.

    I’m tempted to buy a pressure cooker before Congress passes a bill requiring a background check for all purchases. Not to minimize the Boston tragedy, but this just seems like a major overreaction.

    Hope your allergies have calmed down, bb. It’s such a shame that you probably rarely enjoy the coming of spring, with flowers blooming, new leaves popping out on the trees & birds gathering nesting materials. I hope you don’t face each spring with a sense of dread knowing you’ll be miserable when it arrives. Feel better!

    • Yes, the nuclear facilities are such a risk for security breaches. I don’t understand how it’s not a concern in the public “debate” ( but then again, nothing in the MSM is designed to be a true debate anyway. In fact, it seems pretty much just a manufactured controversy of two “opposing sides” that are really just strawmen …the whole point of which is to thwart the actual legitimate debate over anything)

  7. This is interesting…Re: Hagel’s speech to West Point grads on Saturday

    Hagel says sex assaults in military a scourge

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/us/politics/hagel-encourages-cadets-to-build-culture-of-respect.html

    Also, “While the Army today continues to be under stress, it is also far more professional, adaptable, lethal, and capable than it has ever been. It is likewise growing more diverse. We are all benefiting from the continued expansion of opportunities for women to serve in our military. The United States military has long benefited from the service of gay men and lesbians. Now they serve openly with full honor, integrity, and respect. That makes this Army stronger.”

    Full text:

    http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1782

    • RalphB says:

      That’s what I expected from Chuck Hagel. Hope he keeps it up.

      • ecocatwoman says:

        Hagel’s attitude is a welcome contrast to that of Colin Powell. Could be that it’s the benefit of having an enlisted man’s mentality versus that of a general??? Fingers crossed that the Boxer/Gillibrand bill gains traction.

        Women have served alongside men in the Israeli military for years. Has anyone heard about rampant sexual abuse/assault in the Israeli military? I certainly haven’t.

        • RalphB says:

          Hagel’s military life was as different from Powell’s or McCain’s as it is possible to get, as was my own. I don’t expect Hagel to change one tiny bit. He should look out for the rank and file.

          • ecocatwoman says:

            That has been my feeling. It’s refreshing to have someone in politics that knows what it is like to be a “real” person, much like most Americans. Growing up and living outside the rarefied air of privilege is unusual these days. Those in politics who might have experienced such a life years & years ago seem to have forgotten how most of us live.

  8. Check out this tweet:

  9. bostonboomer says:

    U.S. accuses cyber exchange of laundering $6 billion

    (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors have indicted the operators of digital currency exchange Liberty Reserve, accusing the Costa Rica-based company of helping criminals around the world launder more than $6 billion in illicit funds linked to everything from child pornography to software for hacking into banks.

    The indictment unsealed on Tuesday said Liberty Reserve had more than a million users worldwide, including at least 200,000 in the United States, and virtually all of its business was related to suspected criminal activity.

    “Liberty Reserve has emerged as one of the principal means by which cyber-criminals around the world distribute, store and launder the proceeds of their illegal activity,” according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

    Officials said authorities in Spain, Costa Rica and New York arrested five people on Friday, including the company’s founder, Arthur Budovsky, and seized bank accounts and Internet domains associated with Liberty Reserve.

    Digital currency is made up of transferable units that can be exchanged for cash. Over the past decade, its use has expanded, attracting attention from the media and Wall Street. The most widely known digital currency is called Bitcoin. Liberty Reserve’s currency was not connected to Bitcoin.

    But Bitcoin could be next…