Tuesday Reads

coffee shop1

Good Morning!!

The big news today is that President Obama appears likely to order “limited” strikes on Syria in the next few days in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against opposition fighters. From the WaPo: After Syria chemical allegations, Obama considering limited military strike.

President Obama is weighing a military strike against Syria that would be of limited scope and duration, designed to serve as punishment for Syria’s use of chemical weapons and as a deterrent, while keeping the United States out of deeper involvement in that country’s civil war, according to senior administration officials.

The timing of such an attack, which would probably last no more than two days and involve sea-launched cruise missiles — or, possibly, long-range bombers — striking military targets not directly related to Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, would be dependent on three factors: completion of an intelligence report assessing Syrian government culpability in last week’s alleged chemical attack; ongoing consultation with allies and Congress; and determination of a justification under international law.

“We’re actively looking at the various legal angles that would inform a decision,” said an official who spoke about the presidential deliberations on the condition of anonymity. Missile-armed U.S. warships are already positioned in the Mediterranean.

I guess “looking at…legal angles” is code for that pesky rule in the Constitution where Congress has to declare wars. When’s the last time that happened–WWII?

Meanwhile, BBC News reports: Russia and China step up warning over strike.

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich has called on the international community to show “prudence” over the crisis and observe international law.

“Attempts to bypass the Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa,” he said in a statement.

Late on Monday, the US said it was postponing a meeting on Syria with Russian diplomats, citing “ongoing consultations” about alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Hours later, Russia expressed regret about the decision. The two sides had been due to meet in The Hague on Wednesday to discuss setting up an international conference on finding a political solution to the crisis.

The Russian deputy defence minister, Gennady Gatilov said working out the political parameters for a resolution on Syria would be especially useful, with the threat of force hanging over the country.

Read more at the link.

Just as SOS Kerry was giving a speech to justify the upcoming military strikes, providing “Clear Evidence of Chemical Weapon Use in Syria” (NYT), a little birdie told Shane Harris and Matthew Aid of Foreign Policy magazine that the U.S. facilitated Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against Iran back in 1988.

The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America’s military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen, Foreign Policy has learned.

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.

Read the rest of this long article at Foreign Policy.

Firefighter A.J. Tevis watches the flames of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. With winds gusting to 50 mph on Sierra mountain ridges and flames jumping from treetop to treetop, hundreds of firefighters have been deployed to protect this and other communities in the path of the Rim Fire raging north of Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Firefighter A.J. Tevis watches the flames of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. With winds gusting to 50 mph on Sierra mountain ridges and flames jumping from treetop to treetop, hundreds of firefighters have been deployed to protect this and other communities in the path of the Rim Fire raging north of Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The wildfire in Northern California continues to spread into Yosemite National Park and has begun to threaten towns in the area. From the LA Times: Massive Rim fire continues to reshape lives and topography.

…even as firefighters worked furiously to hold a line outside of town, officials warned that this blaze was so hot it could send sparks more than a mile and a half out that could jump lines and start new hot spots. Evacuation advisories remain in effect for Tuolumne City and nearby areas.

On the north edge, the fire — now 134,000 acres — pushed into the Emigrant Wilderness Area and Yosemite National Park. It’s the one side of the fire with a natural last stand: Eventually it will run into granite walls that have snuffed out fires in this region for centuries.

Each day, what the massive blaze does depends on the wind. But officials were particularly attuned to each shift of breeze Sunday because of the weather’s eerie similarities to the day when the fire first exploded out of control.

So far the unpredictable blaze is only about 20% controlled, and it still threatens water and power sources for San Francisco.

The massive fire presents every challenge: steep slopes, dry fuel, rugged terrain and entire communities possibly in harm’s way.

The base camp and incident post, usually a haven outside fire lines, was a prominent example of the fire’s unpredictability: It’s in the middle of the burn zone, charred land with still-smoldering stumps on both sides.

Firefighters call such complete devastation “the black.” Entire ravines and ridges were a dusty gray moonscape. But some of the land was a “dirty burn” — meaning there were small circles of pine and aspen and even grass and wildflowers in the middle of charcoal-black areas where smoke still curled and embers glowed. The specks of beauty made firefighters nervous: To a fire, they are fuel.

My sister and her husband own a house north of San Francisco. It’s probably not in danger, but it still brings the scope of this disaster home to me. I sure hope Firefighers will begin to make progress soon. The burning area is now the size of the city of Chicago, according to CNN.

Yosemite National Park, California (CNN) – A massive northern California wildfire that’s threatening Yosemite National Park and San Francisco’s key water and power sources grew Monday, becoming the 13th largest in state history, state fire authorities said.

The Rim Fire, which has devoured 160,980 acres, has scorched an area about the size of the city of Chicago while more than 3,600 firefighters try to rein it in….

The wildfire, which was 20% contained Monday night, was spreading primarily to the east and threatened to grow amid extremely dry conditions and hot weather.

Part of the fire continued to spread Monday toward a key part of San Francisco’s water supply: the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which lies within Yosemite and is just east of the flames.

The fire also could threaten the area’s hydroelectric generators, which provide much of San Francisco’s electricity. Because of the approaching flames, officials shut down the generators, and the city — more than 120 miles to the west — temporarily is getting power from elsewhere.

Speaking of disasters, Charles Pierce reminds us that West, Texas is still recovering from the horrible explosion at the fertilizer plant there and that Texas still isn’t doing that much to prevent similar events in the future.
Read the rest of this entry »


Saturday Morning Open Thread

Abortion rights advocates fill the rotunda of the State Capitol as the Senate neared its vote Friday night (Tamir Kalifa/AP)

Abortion rights advocates fill the rotunda of the State Capitol as the Senate neared its vote Friday night (Tamir Kalifa/AP)

Good Morning Sky Dancers!!

There sure is a lot of news out there for a summer Saturday. Beginning in Texas, the state senate passed a restrictive anti-abortion bill that will threaten women’s lives. The New York Times reports:

AUSTIN, Tex. — The Texas Senate gave final passage on Friday to one of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country, legislation championed by Gov. Rick Perry, who rallied the Republican-controlled Legislature late last month after a Democratic filibuster blocked the bill and intensified already passionate resistance by abortion-rights supporters.

The bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and hold abortion clinics to the same standards as hospital-style surgical centers, among other requirements. Its supporters say that the strengthened requirements for the structures and doctors will protect women’s health; opponents argue that the restrictions are actually intended to put financial pressure on the clinics that perform abortions and will force most of them to shut their doors.

Mr. Perry applauded lawmakers for passing the bill, saying “Today the Texas Legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life.” Legislators and anti-abortion activists, he said “tirelessly defended our smallest and most vulnerable Texans and future Texans.”

Mr. Perry does not appear to include any “right to life” for adult women in his “effort to protect life,” however. I wonder if anyone has ever asked him one simple question: are women human beings? Forced childbirth is tantamount to slavery in my opinion. Furthermore, childbirth is far more dangerous than abortion, and the restrictions will likely mean that women with problematic late term pregnancies will die or suffer grievous harm. According to the NYT story,

The bill was opposed by many doctors, including leaders of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Texas Medical Association; the gynecologists’ group has run advertisements locally that question the scientific underpinnings of the legislation and tell legislators to “Get out of our exam rooms.”

Andrea Grimes writes at RH Reality Check: As Out-Of-State Gawkers Look On, Texas Lawmakers Prepare to Pass ‘Death Sentence’ Anti-Abortion Bill. She describes a young man from Minnesota who traveled down to Texas to watch the show.

This young guy, probably a senior in high school or a freshman in college—I didn’t catch his name—said he was real tired of wearing blue, the chosen color of anti-choice supporters of HB 2. I wore orange that day, the same color as thousands of Texans who have turned up at the capitol to stand up for reproductive rights. I also wore pink earbuds, trying to follow the house debate while waiting in line. Maybe this young guy thought I couldn’t hear him. Maybe he didn’t care.

“I’m looking forward to all this being over so I can wear my orange shirts again!” he joked.

She contrasts his blase attitude with that of Yatzel Sabat, a gay woman of color

who was dragged out of that same gallery Wednesday morning by law enforcement. Sabat was not wearing orange. She was wearing black.

Her limbs bound by state troopers, she screamed in a clear, strong voice, “This bill will kill women!” as the Texas House of Representatives gave its approval to HB 2, passing the devastating legislation along to the state senate for final passage….

This bill will kill. Period.

It will kill Texans who already travel to Mexico to buy abortion pills from flea markets because they are too poor to go to a legal abortion clinic, or unable to take time off work to find a doctor’s office and wait 24 hours between a state-mandated sonogram and an abortion procedure. It will kill Texans who, if HB 2 passes, cannot travel a thousand miles round trip to a San Antonio or Dallas ambulatory surgical center for a safe, legal abortion.

Please read the whole thing if you can.

hunger-facts-slider-2

Next up, the U.S. Congress debates more cuts in food stamps as American children go hungry. From Martha White at NBC News:

For one in seven Americans, the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps, is all that stands between them and too little food.

But the complicated calculus of financial survival for the working poor also means any cuts to the roughly $80 billion SNAP, as it’s known, being considered by Congress would be felt well beyond the grocery checkout line. Buying new school clothes, family outings, even getting a toehold in the financial mainstream could be thrown into limbo.

For many of the working poor, wages just don’t go far enough. The National Employment Law project says nearly 60 percent of jobs created in the post-recession recovery pay $13.83 or less an hour, and hourly wages for some low-wage occupations fell by more than 5 percent in just three years.

Food service and temporary employment make up 43 percent of the post-recession job growth, according to NELP policy analyst Jack Temple. “They overwhelmingly pay low wages,” Temple said. “For that lower segment, you’re going to see increased use of safety net programs to make up the difference.”

Read it and weep, folks; and while you do keep in mind that the Federal deficit has been dropping steadily. The only possible reasons for the austerity agenda are to make the rich richer and punish the working poor.

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The Snowden saga continues.  Reuters reports that Russia has not yet received an application for asylum from the American hacker/leaker/whistleblower/dissident–or whatever he’s being called at the moment.

Russia kept former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden at arm’s length on Saturday, saying it had not been in touch with the fugitive American and had not yet received a formal request for political asylum.

Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled Russia is weighing its options after Snowden, who is stranded at a Moscow airport, broke three weeks of silence and asked for refuge in Russia until he can secure safe passage to Latin America.

Washington urged Moscow to return Snowden to the United States, where he is wanted on espionage charges after revealing details of secret surveillance programs, and President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin….

“We are not in contact with Snowden,” Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying in Kyrgyzstan, where he attended a foreign ministers’ meeting.

He said he had learned of Snowden’s meeting with Russian human rights activists and public figures at the airport on Friday from the media, “just like everyone else.”

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Senator Elizabeth Warren is working on bringing back Glass-Steagall-like regulations on banks. From the LA Times:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has launched a campaign to make banks boring again as she pushes legislation to enact stricter regulations forcing deposit-taking financial institutions out of the investment business.

The Massachusetts Democrat wants to reinstate the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law, which separated what she called boring checking and savings accounts that are backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from risky investment banking.

And after joining three other senators Thursday in introducing a bipartisan bill to do that, Warren went toTwitter to rally support.

She urged her Twitter followers to retweet the message, “Banks should be boring.” She emailed her political backers, asking them to support her 21st century Glass-Steagall Act, which she introduced along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Angus King (I-Maine).

Yesterday Warren went on CNBC to argue her case with some blonde talking head. Check it out:

As you know, yesterday Malala Yousafzai spoke to the United Nations and told the world: Being shot by Taliban made me stronger (NBC News)

Malala Yousafzai addresses the UN

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education, was given a standing ovation at the United Nations Friday as she declared the attempt on her life had only given her strength and banished any fear she once felt.

“Dear friends, on the 9th of October, 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too,” she said in her first major public appearance. “They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed.”

Speaking on her 16th birthday, she said the “terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this — weakness, fear and hopelessness died, strength, power and courage was born.”

“I am the same Malala, my ambitions are the same, my hopes are the same and my dreams are the same,” she said to thunderous applause.

What an courageous, intelligent, and inspiring and young woman she is!

On that note, I’ll turn the floor over to you. What stories are you following today. Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread. Have a stupendous Saturday


Live Blog: Texas #HB2 Abortion Law Debate

Stand with tx women

I thought I’d put up a live blog to discuss the abortion debate in the Texas legislature. Here’s a live feed on Youtube and another one at the Texas Tribune.

Article from The Houston Chronicle: Sights and sounds surrounding HB2 hearing

A marathon hearing on a package of sweeping anti-abortion proposals is proceeding without interruption inside a the state Capitol.

But outside, in a courtyard a couple of feet away from the room where a House panel is hearing testimony on House Bill 2, the scene has been consistently rowdy all day.

That’s where a band of pro-choice activists have set up shop with a microphone (they were also doing prayer groups and handing out twisty balloons). And that’s where a smaller group of pro-life activists have taken to countering that message with constant chanting

Photos and audio clips at the link.

Here’s a live blog at the Burnt Orange site (Stand With Texas Women). On Twitter people are using the hashtags #HB2 and #StandWithTexasWomen.


Wacky Wingnut Open Thread

Ed meese

Octogenarian wingnut and former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese (who even knew he was still alive?) has weighed in on Tea Party nutball threats to impeach President Obama if he uses executive orders to regulate gun sales. TPM reports:

Former Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese, now a prominent emeritus official at the Heritage Foundation, became the latest conservative to warn that President Obama could risk impeachment if he takes executive action on reducing gun violence in an interview Monday night.

Speaking with Newsmax, Meese said Congress may have to consider impeaching Obama if he were “to try to override the Second Amendment in any way” with an executive order. He did allow that there are some executive actions related to guns that Obama could take wouldn’t be impeachable.

“It would be up to the Congress to take action, such as looking in to it to see if, in fact, he has really tried to override the Constitution itself,” Meese told Newsmax. “In which case, it would be up to them to determine what action they should take — and perhaps even to the point of impeachment.”

In Texas, state rep. Steve Toth is preparing a bill that would make it a felony for any federal official to attempt to enforce gun restrictions in the Lone Star State.

TX Rep. Steve Toth

A Texas lawmaker says he plans to file the Firearms Protection Act, which would make any federal laws that may be passed by Congress or imposed by Presidential order which would ban or restrict ownership of semi-automatic firearms or limit the size of gun magazines illegal in the state, 1200 WOAI news reports.

Republican Rep. Steve Toth says his measure also calls for felony criminal charges to be filed against any federal official who tries to enforce the rule in the state.

“If a federal official comes into the state of Texas to enforce the federal executive order, that person is subject to criminal prosecution,” Toth told 1200 WOAI’s Joe Pags Tuesday. He says his bill would make attempting to enforce a federal gun ban in Texas punishable by a $50,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

Toth “would welcome” legal challenges to the proposed new law.

“At some point there needs to be a showdown between the states and the federal government over the Supremacy Clause,” he said.

The Supremacy Clause is the portion of the Constitution which declares that federal laws and statutes are ‘the supreme law of the land.’

“It is our responsibility to push back when those laws are infringed by King Obama,” Toth said.

Let me get this straight. The Supremacy Clause, which is part of the U.S. Constitution, should be challenged if any branch of the Federal Government tries to limit Texans’ access to artillery of any kind? WTF?!

What’s your favorite wacky wingnut story of the day? This is an open thread!