Daily Archive: 09/02/2013

Sep 02 2013

Aggressive War on Syria: State of Play

Obama’s proposal seeks broad war power despite vow of limits

By Michael Doyle, McClatchy

Sunday, September 1, 2013

While President Barack Obama insists he wants only a limited air attack on Syria, his proposed authorization of force would empower him to do much more than that. Congress is likely to impose tighter reins, as lawmakers have learned that presidents are prone to expand on powers once granted

The substantive part of Obama’s proposed authorization of the use of military force, conveyed to congressional leaders over the weekend, contains 172 words. That’s significantly more than either the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution authorizing the Vietnam War or the 2001 resolution authorizing retaliation for the 9/11 terror attacks, two measures that later became notorious for how aggressively presidents used them.

The proposed resolution gives Obama a go-ahead to use the military as he “determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria.” Specifically, the president could act to “prevent or deter the use or proliferation” of the weapons or to “protect the United States and its allies and partners” from the weapons.”

Tellingly, University of Texas Law School Professor Robert Chesney said in an interview, Obama’s proposed authorization did not include a sunset date. Chesney suggested that “if the administration is serious about wanting to act in such a truly narrow, time-limited way,” then a sunset measure could be useful.

“These details may not matter much if all the president intends is a modest shot across the bow, as he suggested a few days ago,” said George Mason University School of Law Professor Ilya Somin Sunday. “But they could be significant if U.S. military intervention goes beyond that – including if it ends up expanding farther than the president may have originally intended.”

Publicly, Obama has repeatedly said that “we would not put boots on the ground.” His proposed authorization, though, did not limit the kinds of military forces that could be used. It also does not specify the forces against which force can be used.



If it passed the House and Senate, the authorization would meet the domestic U.S. requirements of the War Powers Resolution, as well as give the Obama administration some political cover. It would not, however, necessarily address international legal requirements.

“Unfortunately, the president’s draft (authorization) states a violation of international law in every line,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a University of Notre Dame law professor. “Resort to military force is not permitted to punish the use of banned weapons; to address arms proliferation, or to respond to vague threats to the United States.”

National self-defense or actions explicitly authorized by the United Nations’ Security Council are the only two kinds of military action acceptable under international law, O’Connell explained.

Lawmakers not optimistic Obama’s Syria plan will pass

By Michael A. Memoli, Kathleen Hennessey and Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times

September 1, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

Members of Congress from across the political spectrum reacted with deep skepticism Sunday to President Obama’s bid for approval of strikes against Syria, with lawmakers raising doubts about whether a vote would succeed.

Few of the approximately 100 members of Congress who returned to Washington for a classified intelligence briefing Sunday said they would support the administration’s request to authorize the use of force, even though they showed little doubt that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government was behind the alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21.

The administration now appears to face a two-front battle to win the support of Congress, needing to convince skeptical representatives of a war-weary public on the one hand and more hawkish lawmakers seeking an even tougher response on the other. And it has just more than a week to do so.

“The administration better make a whale of a case or I think they’re very much in danger, certainly in the House, of losing this,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.



“I can’t contemplate that the Congress would turn its back on all of that responsibility, and the fact that we would have in fact granted impunity to a ruthless dictator to continue to gas his people,” Kerry said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Those are the stakes. And I don’t believe the Congress will do that.”

But there were already indications that Congress could do just that.

Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the longest-serving member of the Senate, told reporters that the draft resolution sent to Congress on Saturday will be amended this week when senators begin to hold hearings on the issue, and that the Judiciary Committee he chairs has already begun working on alternative wording that would narrow the scope of the mission Congress would authorize.

“I will not support a blank check to go to war in Syria. But I will support a very narrowly drawn authorization for the specific purpose of deterring future chemical weapons use in Syria and other places around the world,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “And I will certainly oppose efforts that seem to have been articulated by some people to actually broaden the mandate.”

US politicians sceptical as Obama administration puts case for Syria strike

Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Sunday 1 September 2013 19.31 EDT

A classified briefing was held on Capitol Hill on Sunday a few hours after Kerry made the rounds of all five Sunday talk shows in the US, mounting a strong defence of President Obama’s unexpected plan to allow Congress a vote on military action against the Syrian government.

Presented with the awkward scenario that Congress would not back Obama, Kerry stressed that the president had the power to act anyway. But Kerry said he was confident of a yes vote. “We don’t contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no,” Kerry told CNN.

As members of Congress emerged from the briefing, it was clear that the Obama administration could not be sure of the outcome of the president’s high-risk strategy. In particular, Obama could not count on his own party to deliver the votes. “I don’t know if every member of Congress is there yet,” said Representative Janice Hahn, a California Democrat who said she would vote no on authorising a military strike. “The room was sceptical,” said Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat.



At an emergency meeting in Cairo, the Arab League called on the United Nations and the international community to take “deterrent” measures under international law to stop the Syrian regime’s crimes, but could not agree on whether to back US military action. In their closing statement, Arab foreign ministers held the Assad regime responsible for the “heinous” chemical attack, saying the perpetrators should be tried before an international court “like other war criminals”.



Deeper involvement in the Syrian civil war has prompted reluctance within the US military to bless even a one-off military strike. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and a multi-tour veteran of Iraq, has voiced such fears for more than two years.



Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian Republican, put the chances of an authorisation vote in the House of Representatives at 50-50. “I think the Senate will rubber stamp what he wants but the House will be a much closer vote,” he told NBC.

Legislators estimated that between 100 and 150 members of Congress attended Sunday’s classified briefing in the basement of the US Capitol, representing approximately a fifth of the Senate and House.



Scott Rigell, a Virginia Republican, praised Obama for going to Congress, even as Rigell said he would not vote for the resolution. “What I wrestle with, and of course I am continuing to wrestle with this, is how do we define success and our objective, and a full understanding and consideration of the ramifications,” Rigell said.

Syria resolution will be ‘a very tough sell’ in Congress, lawmakers say

By Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post

Published: September 1

Leading lawmakers dealt bipartisan rejection Sunday to President Obama’s request to strike Syrian military targets, saying the best hope for congressional approval would be to narrow the scope of the resolution.

From the Democratic dean of the Senate to tea party Republicans in their second terms, lawmakers said the White House’s initial request to use force against Syria will be rewritten in the coming days to try to shore up support in a skeptical Congress. But some veteran lawmakers expressed doubt that even the new use-of-force resolution would win approval, particularly in the House.

“I think it’s going to be a very tough sell,” said Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), who is often a key crossover Republican in compromises with the White House. For now, Cole said he is “leaning no” on approving any use of force against Syria.



Aware of the growing bloc of Republican isolationists, senior GOP aides warned Sunday that a large number of Democrats will have to support the use-of-force resolution for it to have any chance. Advisers in both parties described the measure as a “vote of conscience” that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will not be lobbying lawmakers to support.

Obama’s allies said the first order of business will be to work with the administration to redraft the resolution, which was sent to Capitol Hill on Saturday night and barely filled one page. It had no prescriptions for what type of military action could be carried out or its duration.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the dean of the Senate and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters that the resolution is “too open-ended” as written. “I know it will be amended in the Senate,” he said.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said, “That has to be rectified, and they simply said in answer to that they would work with the Congress and try to come back with a more prescribed resolution.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a former Senate staffer who inspected chemical weapons attacks by Saddam Hussein’s government against its own citizens in Iraq in the 1980s, said he will push to add language that would limit the length of the mission and prohibit putting U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.

Such provisions could gain support from lawmakers who want to rein in the Obama administration, without hampering the goals of the mission – which the president has said should be limited to missile strikes against military targets.

Hollande Pushed to Join U.S., U.K. in Taking Syria to Lawmakers

By Mark Deen, Bloomberg News

Sep 2, 2013 1:41 AM ET

President Francois Hollande faces increasing pressure to give France’s National Assembly a say in his Syrian policy as the U.S. Congress prepares to vote on approving a military strike against the Middle Eastern country.



“The French should be consulted through their representatives,” Bruno Le Maire, an opposition lawmaker and former agriculture minister, said yesterday on BFM television. “The risk today is that France becomes a puppet of decisions made in the U.S.”



About two-thirds of voters are against intervention in Syria, a BVA poll for Le Parisien newspaper showed. BVA interviewed 1,010 adults Aug. 29-30. The results have a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.



Hollande, who as France’s commander-in-chief isn’t legally required to consult parliament, had already asked lawmakers to debate taking action against Syria. The debate is scheduled for Sept. 4.

“Since the president of the U.S. has decided to consult Congress, the French president should do the same and organize a formal vote in parliament after the debate,” former Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said in a statement.

Sep 02 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Love for Labor Lost

It wasn’t always about the hot dogs. Originally, believe it or not, Labor Day actually had something to do with showing respect for labor.

Here’s how it happened: In 1894 Pullman workers, facing wage cuts in the wake of a financial crisis, went on strike – and Grover Cleveland deployed 12,000 soldiers to break the union. He succeeded, but using armed force to protect the interests of property was so blatant that even the Gilded Age was shocked. So Congress, in a lame attempt at appeasement, unanimously passed legislation symbolically honoring the nation’s workers.

Robert Reich; The True Test of American Resolve: Not Attacking Syria but Living Up to Our Ideals at Home

On Labor Day weekend we should instead be testing the nation’s resolve to provide good jobs at good wages to all Americans who need them, and measuring our credibility by the yardstick of equal opportunity. And we should strike (and join striking workers) against big employers who won’t provide their employees with minimally-decent wages. We need to commit ourselves to a living wage, and to providing more economic security to the millions of Americans now working harder but getting nowhere.

Mr. President, a lot of Americans do think something should be done – about these mounting problems at our doorstep here in America. We can have more influence on the rest of the world by showing the rest of the world our resolve to live by our ideals here in America, than by using brute force to prove our resolve elsewhere.

Ralph Nader: Labor Day Is a Time to Mobilize

For far too many Americans, Labor Day is simply another day off, another store sale and another small parade. The meaning of the holiday has been dulled by both rampant commercialism and public apathy. Where is the passion for elevating the wellbeing of American workers? Shouldn’t Labor Day be a time to gather, contemplate and celebrate more just treatment of all those who toil without proper recognition or compensation?

Labor Day is the ideal time to highlight the hard-fought, historic victories already enjoyed by American workers, and push for long-overdue health and safety measures and increased economic benefits for those left behind by casino capitalism. After all, it was the labor movement in the early 20th century that brought us such advances as the minimum wage, overtime pay, the five-day work week, the banning of child labor and more.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Larry Summers Is ‘The Great Unifier’ — Of People Who Oppose Larry Summers

It takes a special kind of magic to bring together groups as diverse as progressive Democrats, Californians, conservative Republicans, feminists, a number of prominent economists, and a large chunk of the global investment community.

Lawrence Summers has that kind of magic.

These groups oppose the choice of Summers to lead the Federal Reserve, a move the White House has been pushing all summer. Resistance among progressives has been broad and deep, as reflected in this petition against the Summers nomination.  Their opposition was unsurprising given Summers’ pivotal role in disastrous Wall Street deregulation, and his history of personal enrichment from the same banks he empowered as Treasury Secretary.

Les Leopold: Happy Labor Day… for Wall Street

Labor Day, established in the late 19th century, “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers,” according to the Department of Labor’s website. It is a “tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

But today, much of the “strength, prosperity and well-being” of our hard labor is being siphoned into the coffers of Wall Street. Perhaps, in honor of our labor we should remind ourselves how we are being robbed blind.

Norman Solomon: Obama Will Launch a Huge Propaganda Blitz — And May Attack Syria Even If He Loses the Vote in Congress

Grassroots pressure has forced President Obama to seek approval from Congress for an attack on Syria. But Obama is hell-bent on ordering a missile assault on that country, and he has two very important aces in the hole.

The administration is about to launch a ferocious propaganda blitz that will engulf a wide range of U.S. media. And as a fallback, the president is reserving the option of attacking Syria no matter what Congress does.

Until Obama’s surprise announcement Saturday that he will formally ask Congress for authorization of military action against Syria, the impassioned pitches from top U.S. officials in late August seemed to be closing arguments before cruise missiles would hit Syrian targets. But the pre-bombing hyper spin has just gotten started.

The official appeals for making war on yet another country will be ferocious. Virtually all the stops will be pulled out; all kinds of media will be targeted; every kind of convoluted argument will be employed.

Sep 02 2013

A Labor Day Message from Robert Reich

Trimmings for Labor Day

Robert Reich

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The good news this Labor Day: Jobs are returning. The bad news this Labor Day: Most of them pay lousy wages and low if non-existent benefits.

The trend toward lousy wages began before the Great Recession. According to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, weak wage growth between 2000 and 2007, combined with wage losses for most workers since then, means that the bottom 60 percent of working Americans are earning less now than thirteen years ago.

This is also part of the explanation for why the percent of Americans living below the poverty line has been increasing even as the economy has started to recover – from 12.3 percent in 2006 to around 14 percent this year. More than 35 million Americans now live below the poverty line.



But wait a minute. Over this same period, productivity has grown by nearly 25 percent. That means the typical American worker is now producing a quarter more output than he or she did in 2000.

So if wages have flattened or declined for the bottom 60 percent, yet productivity has increased, where have the gains gone? Mostly, to corporations and the very rich.



Few of these workers are teenagers. Most have to support their families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of fast-food workers is over 28; and women, who comprise two-thirds of the industry, are over 32. The median age of big-box retail workers is over 30. These workers typically bring in half their family’s earnings.

They deserve a raise.

At the very least, the minimum wage should be increased from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.50 – and to $15 in areas of the country with a higher cost of living. Had the federal minimum simply kept up with inflation from the late 1960s, it would already be well over $10 today.



Unlike industrial jobs, these sorts of retail service jobs can’t be outsourced abroad. Nor are they likely to be replaced by automated machinery and computers. The service these workers provide is personal and direct: Someone has to be on hand to help customers and dole out the burgers.

And don’t believe critics who say any wage gains these workers receive will be passed on to consumers in higher prices. Big-box retailers and fast-food chains have to compete intensely for consumers. They have no choice but to keep their prices low.

This means wage gains for low-paid workers are most likely to come out of profits – which, in turn, would slightly reduce returns to shareholders and compensation packages of top executives.



It would not be a tragedy if some of these shareholder returns and compensation packages had to be trimmed in order that low-wage workers at McDonald’s, KFC, and Walmart got a raise.

Indeed, if this nation is to reverse the scourge of widening inequality, such a trimming is necessary.

Sep 02 2013

On This Day In History September 2

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour a cup of your favorite morning beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

September 2 is the 245th day of the year (246th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 120 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1969, America’s first automatic teller machine (ATM) makes its public debut, dispensing cash to customers at Chemical Bank in Rockville Center, New York. ATMs went on to revolutionize the banking industry, eliminating the need to visit a bank to conduct basic financial transactions. By the 1980s, these money machines had become widely popular and handled many of the functions previously performed by human tellers, such as check deposits and money transfers between accounts. Today, ATMs are as indispensable to most people as cell phones and e-mail.

Several inventors worked on early versions of a cash-dispensing machine, but Don Wetzel, an executive at Docutel, a Dallas company that developed automated baggage-handling equipment, is generally credited as coming up with the idea for the modern ATM. Wetzel reportedly conceived of the concept while waiting on line at a bank. The ATM that debuted in New York in 1969 was only able to give out cash, but in 1971, an ATM that could handle multiple functions, including providing customers’ account balances, was introduced.

ATMs eventually expanded beyond the confines of banks and today can be found everywhere from gas stations to convenience stores to cruise ships. There is even an ATM at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Non-banks lease the machines (so-called “off premise” ATMs) or own them outright.

Sep 02 2013

Sunday Train: The Proposed Chicago – Fort Wayne – Columbus Rapid Rail Service

cross-posted from Voices on the Square

The Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association, on 28 June 2013, announced the results of their study of a Northern Indiana / Ohio rail corridor to Chicago:

The proposed system would operate twelve trains each way per day, including at least six express schedules.  With modern diesel equipment running at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour to start, the three-hundred mile trip between downtown Chicago and downtown Columbus would normally require only three hours, forty-five minutes (express service), or four hours (local service).  Track and safety  improvements in a potential future phase would support speeds up to 130 mph and a downtown Chicago to downtown Columbus express time of three hours, twenty minutes.

Longer time readers of the Sunday Train may recognize this as a piece of the Ohio Hub project, first developed in the 1990’s. At the time that the Ohio Hub was originally developed, the Fort Wayne to Chicago link was slated to be the second connection from Ohio to Chicago, with the envisioned phasing being:

  • Phase 1: Chicago to Detroit; and Cincinnati – Columbus – Cleveland ~ the Triple C backbone of the Ohio Hub
  • Phase 2: Cleveland to Toledo, Toledo to Detroit, completing Cleveland to Chicago via Michigan
  • Phase 3: Fort Wayne to Chicago; Toledo to Fort Wayne; Columbus to Fort Wayne; Cincinnati – Indianapolis – Gary – Chicago, completing Dayton/Cincinnati to Chicago via Indianapolis and Columbus/Cleveland to Chicago via Fort Wayne
  • Phase 4: Cleveland to Pittsburgh via Youngstown, connecting with services to Philadelphia / New York on the Keystone Corridor
  • Phase 5: Columbus to Pittsburgh, connecting with services to Philadelphia / New York on the Keystone Corridor
  • Phase 6: Cleveland to Toronto via Buffalo and Niagara Falls, connecting with services to New York and Boston on the Empire Corridor

So what the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association is doing is pulling out a section of the Phase Three of the Ohio Hub and proposing it as a free-standing project. This free-standing project would bring intercity rail service back to Columbus, the largest or second largest urban area lacking rail service (depending on how you count Phoenix), and to Fort Wayne, the largest urban area in Indiana without intercity passenger rail service.

Sep 02 2013

Sunday Movie Showcase