Tuesday Reads

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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.

From the Texas Observer: State Agencies Meet Resistance in Policing Fertilizer Industry.

In the third House committee hearing focusing on the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15, state agencies described resistance from some fertilizer companies in trying to inspect their facilities. The conflicting and overlapping roles of various governmental agencies with responsibility over fertilizer facilities was also underscored once again today.

Though investigations are ongoing, the State Fire Marshal’s Office is undertaking voluntary inspections of other facilities that handle ammonium nitrate – the chemical responsible for the explosion. The Fire Marshal’s Office has identified 153 facilities in the state that are believed to store ammonium nitrate. Since Texas doesn’t have a state fire code, the fire marshal lacks the authority to conduct inspections if the company resists. Fire Marshal Chris Connealy said most facilities have welcomed him and that his office has already inspected 62 sites. Five facilities refused to be inspected, though he couldn’t say why or which facilities they were….

Much of the hearing was dominated by Republican lawmakers worried about burdening fertilizer businesses with new requirements. Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said while he respected the victims of the West tragedy, the industry has been doing a “pretty good job of policing themselves” and voluntarily submitting reports. “If we’re not careful we could get like the federal government and try to put diapers on cows,” he said.

As Pierce writes, we wouldn’t want to overreact to a disaster that killed 15 people and destroyed a town. That might be inconvenient for big business.

We don’t want to burden Texas industries with apocryphal tales of federal regulatory overreach, which means that, occasionally, unregulated fertilizer factories will explode and nearly wipe out small towns. This is how you create a “business-friendly” environment.

Images of Edward Snowden are seen on an iPad in front of a sign for the Consulate-General of the Russian Federation in HKSAR, Wan Chai. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Images of Edward Snowden are seen on an iPad in front of a sign for the Consulate-General of the Russian Federation in HKSAR, Wan Chai. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Some surprising news broke yesterday in the Edward Snowden story. It turns out that Snowden was in touch with Russia while he was still in Hong Kong; he stayed at the Russian consulate there for at least two days–during which he celebrated his thirtieth birthday. From the WaPo:

MOSCOW — Before American fugitive Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow in June — an arrival that Russian officials have said caught them by surprise — he spent several days living at the Russian Consulate in Hong Kong, a Moscow newspaper reported Monday.

The article in Kommersant, based on accounts from several unnamed sources, did not state clearly when Snowden decided to seek Russian help in leaving Hong Kong, where he was in hiding to evade arrest by U.S. authorities on charges that he leaked top-secret documents about U.S. surveillance programs….

Kommersant reported Monday that Snowden purchased a ticket June 21 to travel on Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline, from Hong Kong to Havana, through Moscow. He planned to fly from Havana to Ecuador or some other Latin American country.

That same day, he celebrated his 30th birthday at the Russian Consulate in Hong Kong, the paper said — although several days earlier he had had an anticipatory birthday pizza with his lawyers at a private house.

Kommersant cited conflicting accounts as to what brought Snowden to the consulate, on the 21st floor of a skyscraper in a fashionable neighborhood. It quoted a Russian close to the Snowden case as saying that the former NSA contractor arrived on his own initiative and asked for help. But a Western official also interviewed by the newspaper alleged that Russia had invited him.

At this point, only a Greenwald cult member could fail to wonder whether Snowden was in touch with the Russian or Chinese government before he fled the U.S. After all, he had visited Hong Kong just a few months previously. From The Week: Did Russia help Edward Snowden dodge the U.S. all along?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has consistently maintained that his government had nothing to do with Edward Snowden’s flight from Hong Kong to Moscow as he evaded U.S. authorities, half-suggesting that the Obama administration’s aggressive posture toward the NSA leaker had practically forced him upon the Russians.

However, Snowden’s arrival at a Moscow airport on June 23 might not have been the surprise Putin claims.

The Russian newspaper Kommersant says in a new report that Snowden got help from Russia while he was in Hong Kong, and even spent a couple of days at the Russian consulate there before fleeing to Moscow. Snowden had planned to stop only briefly at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, but got stuck after Cuba, facing pressure from the U.S., refused to let him make a stopover in Havana, according to Kommersant. Snowden had reportedly planned on flying on toEcuador or one of the other Latin American countries offering him exile.

So even if Putin had not expected Snowden to stick around, he had fully expected the American to show up, if the Kommersant story is accurate.

The Week also questions the claim that “Cuba would bend to pressure from the U.S. while leaving Russia stuck with a guest it apparently didn’t want.” That seems highly unlikely to me. Why would Cuba side with the U.S. against its most powerful ally? It makes no sense.

David Miranda and Glenn Greenwald

David Miranda and Glenn Greenwald

Meanwhile, St. Glenn gave an interview to Jonathan Franklin of Truthout, published yesterday and headlined with a typical melodramatic quote from Snowden’s PR man. Exclusive Glenn Greenwald Interview: “I Won’t Be Kept Out of My Country for Doing Journalism!” In the interview, Greenwald repeats the lie that his partner David Miranda was refused the right to an attorney when he was recently detained and questioned at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Jonathan Franklin: Your partner, David Miranda, was detained and held at Heathrow airport for 9 hours; all his electronics were taken away, and he was interrogated about your reporting on the NSA. What was the message the US/UK governments were trying to send you by detaining David Miranda?

Glenn Greenwald: That if we continue to report on what the NSA and [the UK surveillance agency] GCHQ are doing, they will continue to target us for all sorts of retribution.

JF: Puts a different meaning to the term “Miranda” warning, eh?

GG: Yeah, it is ironic that he was denied the right to the lawyer; they actually offered one of their lawyers, and he said he didn’t trust their lawyers and wanted his own, and they refused that; so yeah, there is an irony there.

JF: How would you describe this new kind of Miranda warning? Incriminate yourself or else?

GG: It is pretty amazing that they have this law, and in this law, they force you to cooperate with them fully, not just answer their questions but to give them passwords if they ask for that; and then if you don’t [provide passwords], you are committing an entirely separate crime.

In fact the Guardian admitted that Snowden did have a lawyer for the final hour of the interview. Presumably it was one of the Guardian’s attorneys.

Wow, this post has gotten way too long! I’d better turn the floor over to you now. What stories are you following today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.

30 Comments on “Tuesday Reads”

  1. Riley Frost says:

    Interesting post. I posted something on this topic a while ago; baring in mind what you’ve written you may be interested. rileyfrost.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/what-are-the-concequences-of-military-intervention-in-syria/

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Have a terrific Tuesday everyone!!

  3. bostonboomer says:

    LA Times: Punitive strikes ineffective, even counterproductive, analysts say

    WASHINGTON — The type of limited, punitive military campaign now being contemplated against Syria has failed to deter U.S. adversaries in the past, and at times emboldened them, military analysts say.

    In two major episodes in 1998, the U.S. government unleashed a combination of bombs and cruise missiles against its foes — Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. In a more distant third case, in 1986, the U.S. bombed Moammar Kadafi’s Libya.

    The bombs and missiles mostly hit their targets, and the U.S. military at the time declared the attacks successful. But in the end, they achieved little.

    Two years after the U.S. bombed Tripoli, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 passengers and crew. Investigators later concluded that the U.S. attack was a primary motive for Kadafi to support the Lockerbie bombing.

    Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people in attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Hussein kicked out international weapons inspectors and survived despite sanctions until a U.S.-led invasion deposed him in 2003. The benefit to the U.S. of that costly war and the occupation that followed remains in dispute.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    NYPD built its own CIA, and it’s far more invasive than anything NSA does.

    The NYPD Division of Un-American Activities

  5. Fannie says:

    Yeah, that was back on 8 Dec 1941………………The truth to the matter it’s all about oil………..and it is all so very fucked up………………Iran can close the gulf and shut off the oil, Egypt has the Suez Canal……..on and on. I just read this, there is a reason why the letter doesn’t make sense.


  6. dakinikat says:

    The Presser didn’t say much with the Press Secretary. I am sure when things are ready to pop on Syria they will have a presidential presser. I am wondering what the coalition of the willing will look this time?

    My biggest concern is that we’ve seen how this goes. They support these dictators tacitly or covertly until there is no infrastructure in the country unrelated to the dictator. When the dictator is taken out, there is a vacuum filled by the military or radical islamists who are the only ones with any kind of organizational structure. None of this will end well.

    • RalphB says:

      I’ve been happy with us letting the Syrians kill each other and see no huge reason to stop. Regardless of what we do, they’re gonna keep killing each other until they’re too sick of it to keep going.

      • ANonOMouse says:

        I hate that chemical weapons are being used against civilians, but I don’t know how a strike from an aircraft carrier will help anyone. This is mostly a political play by Obama because he doesn’t want to look “weak” plus he did set the use of chemical weapons as the line in the sand, now he basically has to “man up”. The administration is telegraphing “approximately” when the strike is going to happen, which to my mind proves this is mostly kabuki

        • bostonboomer says:

          Actually, Obama has been dragging his feet for at least a year while European countries have been pushing him. It’s too bad he “drew the line in the sand.” I just don’t see how limited strikes are going to do anything. We’d have to take out Assad, and then Syria would probably still be a mess, just like Egypt and Libya.

          • ANonOMouse says:

            I agree BB, he’s been pushed by Europe really hard. Not to mention the Repucks like McCain and Lady Lindsay have been chest thumping over Syria and pushing him to intervene for a long time.

            This is a no win situation for us no matter who ends up in power there.

  7. dakinikat says:


    As a black woman, I feel like I owe a debt of gratitude to Mikki Kendall, of Solidarity Is For White Women fame for managing to so perfectly encapsulate years of subjugation of black women by white women. With those five words, she was able to instantly zero in on why Intersectional Feminism is so necessary if the feminist movement is to progress.

    She “vie[s] for attention at MTV’s Video Music Awards”, alongside Lady Gaga. She… Read…
    Because Miley’s performance last night, and the subsequent ignoring of the racial implications of what she did is just the latest incident in the long line of things that shows me as a black woman, that white feminism does not want me, or care to have me.

    Jezebel’s piece on the performance chose to focus on the slut shaming that has been thrown Miley’s way in the wake of the performance. All fine and good. Slut shaming is bad, don’t do it. On that we can all agree. What it didn’t acknowledge was the incredibly racist nature of that performance. So I brought it up.

    • bostonboomer says:

      What did she do? I hate to admit it, but I don’t even know who Miley Cyrus is.

      • ANonOMouse says:

        Miley is the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus and the former child star who played Hannah Montana. She’s now 20 yrs old and a singer. She performed a dance at the MTV VMA’s on Sunday night and the dance has drawn a ton of criticism, especially from women. The dance was raunchy, but it did not shock me, disgust me or anything of that nature. What it did was remind me that she is 20 and flexing her freedom of self-expression. It also reminded me that culturally many women, especially young women believe they must totally sexualize themselves to their audience to get approval/success/fame/money/etc. She could become Madonna Next Generation or even a Lady GaGa gone wilder, but I think she’s more likely to look back on this in 15-20 years and say “WTF was I thinking?”.

    • RalphB says:

      Lest we forget, the girl can sing…

      • ANonOMouse says:

        True Dat!!!! She’s just trying to grow up and while I may be an old woman I haven’t forgotten how tough growing up is. I can’t imagine how tough it must be growing up in the spotlight.

  8. RalphB says:

    The NSA “scandal” still tastes a little like “white whine” to me.

    First World Problems: “My latte is too hot, the DVR Didn’t Record ‘Dexter’ and the NSA Has My Metadata”

    The steady drip, drip, drip of recent revelations about the National Security Agency has some liberals in a panic. The Republic is in peril, they warn. The faux progressive occupying the White House is a “snake” says Oliver Stone. “Worse than Bush,” insist Glenn Greenwald and his worshippers followers. The United States no longer has a functioning democracy, declares Jimmy Carter. Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together … Mass hysteria.

    Yawn. To paraphrase Jay Z, I’ve got 99 problems, but the NSA ain’t one. Well, not a very big one, anyway. But it is a distraction, and a troubling one. For two and a half months now, it seems the Left has been talking about little other than Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald (okay, some of it is Glenn Greenwald talking about Glen Greenwald, but still …). …

    • bostonboomer says:

      But if you’re a progressive and you’re consumed by the NSA story, if it has become the only or even the primary issue holding your attention, or if Obama’s complicity in maintaining a surveillance network that he inherited and has taken small but meaningful steps to rein in makes you unwilling to support his efforts to create jobs, to protect women’s rights, to promote marriage equality, to reform health care, to control guns, or to protect voting rights, then guess what? You’re probably not really a progressive after all.

      Progressives are not libertarians. We don’t fear or despise government. We see it as a tool for good, at least in the right hands. We should support intelligence reform, but leave the paranoia and obsessing to the Ron Paul crowd. We have too much work to do trying to improve people’s lives, or at least keeping them from getting worse, to get bogged down in this.

  9. RalphB says:

  10. bostonboomer says:

    New York Times website was likely hacked, company says

    New York Times Co spokeswoman Eileen Murphy tweeted on Tuesday that the “issue is most likely the result of a malicious external attack,” based on an initial assessment.

    This is the second time the Times has experienced problems with its website in two weeks. On August 14, the site was down for several hours, an outage likely related to a scheduled maintenance update that occurred within seconds of the website’s going down.

    Several media organization have been attacked by hackers in recent months. Also in August, hackers promoting the Syrian Electronic Army simultaneously targeted websites belonging to CNN, Time and the Washington Post by breaching a third party service used by those sites.