We cannot tolerate the use of poison gas against fellow human beings

A Huffington Post piece (9/1/13) carries this description of the effects of sarin gas or similar agents that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has employed, not once but several times, against his own civilian population:

Inhaled or absorbed through the skin, the gas kills by crippling the respiratory center of the central nervous system and paralyzes the muscles around the lungs.

The combination results in death by suffocation, and sarin can contaminate food or water supplies, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which notes that antidotes exist.

“Sarin is 26 times more deadly than cyanide gas. Just a pinprick-sized droplet will kill a human,” according to the World Health Organization.

Exposure symptoms include nausea and violent headaches, blurred vision, drooling, muscle convulsions, respiratory arrest and loss of consciousness, the CDC says.

Nerve agents are generally quick-acting and require only simple chemical techniques and inexpensive, readily available ingredients to manufacture.

Inhalation of a high dose — say 200 milligrams of sarin — may cause death “within a couple of minutes,” with no time even for symptoms to develop, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Exposure through the skin takes longer to kill and the first symptoms may not occur for half an hour, followed by a quick progression.

Even when it does not kill, sarin’s effects can cause permanent harm — damaging a victim’s lungs, eyes and central nervous system.

The latest attack killed an estimated 1400 civilians including hundreds of children.

Poison gas is a largely ineffective military weapon but against civilian populations it is devastating, both in its ability to kill or maim and as a weapon of terror.

In a war zone where heavy artillery shelling is a daily fact of life, civilians instinctively heading for the relative safety of cellars are actually entering death traps because sarin and other gases are most lethal at ground level and below. For maximum effect, Assad’s army would shell a target area with conventional munitions initially and then follow up with poison gas to catch more people taking shelter in cellars.

There are geopolitical as well as humanitarian reasons why President Obama must win the vote in Congress for the authorization to strike Syria. America’s credibility is at stake whether we like it or not. Inaction in this case will not only embolden Assad but send a message to other tyrants and totalitarian regimes that the world lacks the will to intervene when weapons of mass destruction are employed. Iran will no doubt take note of America’s reluctance to act.

Ironically, we will have gone from invading a country based on merely the suspicion of possession of WMD by one tyrant to turning away when another actually employs them against women and children.

Many in America ask: why us yet again? The obvious answer is that there is nobody else. We have the military power. We’ve paid for it and we’re proud of it. We’ve given this gold-plated military an ability to strike with massive land and sea-based airpower that is unrivalled.

We’ve also assumed a leadership role in the world. It would be nice if others could step up: Canada maybe, or Britain or Sweden. Somebody. But they are all shielded from confronting a singular evil such as Assad’s poison gas attack on his people by their military weakness even if they had the will to act – which they do not. If we want to escape the responsibilities we’ve assumed in the world then maybe we should slash our defense budget so we can be similarly shielded.

Another objection is that Syria’s agony will continue whether we strike or not; that 100,000 have died and nearly all of them through the use of conventional munitions: artillery shells, machine gun bullets, bombs. Why is gas different they ask? My answer: Because it is.

The world has not outlawed war but it has deemed that the use of poison gas (the terms chemical weapons is rather anodyne in describing what we’re really talking about) is beyond international norms and its use constitutes a monstrous act against humanity.

I understand the reluctance to become embroiled in yet another Middle East war particularly after being bamboozled into invading Iraq in 2003 for bogus reasons. I understand the slippery slope fears. And nobody understands better than President Obama who has been accurately termed the reluctant warrior. He has wound down our involvement in one war started by his predecessor and is the process of winding down a second.

These are plenty of excuses we can conjure not to act. But Assad and his army must be punished because their actions cannot be allowed to stand. More importantly, they must be deterred from ever using poison gas again. And if the first strike doesn’t do it then we’ll need to follow up with more until he gets it. I also agree (gulp!) with Senator John McCain that any strikes must be more than pinpricks. They must do serious damage to Syria’s military capability to deliver poison gas and, as a bonus, do something meaningful to assist the Syrian Free Army. That means going beyond cruise missiles.

I didn’t have much time for Margaret Thatcher’s political philosophy but at times like this I wish she was still around. She would have been appalled at the parliamentary vote in Britain rejecting a military strike against Syria. “Britain may have gone wobbly” she might have said to America at this difficult time, “but for all our sakes don’t you.”

McCain and Graham play like demented pit bulls attacking Susan Rice

If any further proof was required of the extremism and detachment from reality that permeates today’s Republican Party, one need look no further than its allegation that United Nations Ambassador for the United States Susan Rice misled the nation in her comments on talk shows in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya.

The attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi cries out for investigation not only on why and how, but on whether the mission should have been closed earlier given the instability and threats our intelligence community knew existed in eastern Libya, or at least better protected. What role, if any, did an inadequate State Department budget for mission security play in the failure to better protect the Consulate in Benghazi? What lessons can we learn from this tragedy?

These are the critical questions that will need to be explored and answered. And there is likely to be plenty of blame to go around. But what is the focus of GOP ire? Why it’s Susan Rice who went out at the behest of the administration on the talk show circuit on the Sunday following the attack and used unclassified talking points provided to her by the US intelligence community to give what we now know was an incomplete and, in at least one important respect, inaccurate account – notably that the assault grew out of a spontaneous demonstration against a viral Internet video mocking the Prophet Mohammad.

Rice made nothing up. She simply repeated what she had been given to say at a time when much was still unknown and unclear. Even now no definitive determination has been made on whether the attack was planned in advance or simply opportunistic. And there are other aspects of the attack that remain under investigation. Focusing on Rice and her talking points misses the point by a wide margin, so why persist?

Prior to the election, the GOP’s obnoxious senate duo of John McCain and Lindsay Graham tried, along with the Romney camp, to make this out to be a huge foreign policy disaster for the administration in the hopes of hurting President Obama’s electoral prospects. It didn’t work but McCain & Graham continue to gnaw at the bone like a pair of demented pit bulls.

And this segment from The Daily Show exposes them as blooming hypocrites too!

One can speculate that their hope now is to compel Obama to forget Rice as his choice for Secretary of State and choose Senator John Kerry instead. This would open up Kerry’s senate seat to a challenge from Scott Brown who lost his seat to Elizabeth Warren in November.

And they have evidently recruited what passes for the moderate-wing of the GOP when Senator Susan Collins, in what smacks of a stage-managed event, announced herself dissatisfied with the answers she heard from Rice during a private meeting. It’s hard to imagine what Collins heard that she hadn’t heard already. But then I suspect that wasn’t the point; it was what Senate Minority Leader McConnell and McCain/Graham had already said to her that counted.

Obama Deserves Credit for Libya Success

The apparent defeat of Muammah Gaddafi‘s loyalist forces by a Libyan rebel alliance supported by NATO is a stunning success for the United States, NATO and most of all President Obama. Unfortunately he’s getting little of the credit he deserves.

Obama took the politically risky decision to involve a war-weary America in actively supporting a populist Libyan rebellion that otherwise would have been crushed by the better trained and equipped loyalist forces of Gaddafi. In this he received tepid support from congressional Democrats, wary of another costly commitment, and outright hostility (surprise! surprise!) from a GOP that was all over the place on the issue of whether to intervene. There was the Michelle Bachmann (cuckoo’s) wing of the party who opposed any involvement, apparently content to see the rebels crushed and Gaddafi, the long ruling tyrant, maintain his reign.  At the other extreme we had the two grand interventionists, Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who don’t see a Middle East country they don’t want to invade.

Obama developed a strategy that acknowledged the political realities while nevertheless pursuing the right course.  He directed the United States military to provide enough airpower in the initial stages (the degradation of Libya’s air defence network, pummelling Libyan armour and artillery)  to enable the NATO allies, ably led by the British and French, to assume the role of supporting the rebels with training, intelligence and air support.  Of equal importance, his Secretary of State launched a diplomatic offensive in which she worked along with our allies to successfully marshal international support, both material and moral, for the rebels, including within the Arab world.

Although it came to be derided as the “lead from behind” strategy (a notion which Robert Kagan in Sunday’s Washington Post debunks), it clearly worked. At minimal cost to the US and NATO, we engineered a huge victory for what we all hope will turn out to be democratic forces in Libya. The real beauty of it, however, is that the victory belonged, first and foremost, to the Libyan people who shed all of the blood, and who fought with incredible courage and determination in the face of a ruthless and professionally armed and equipped enemy. The rebels’ ace, however, was the steady, low key, but ultimately devastatingly effective support from the British, French, Qataris, Americans and others, both in and outside of NATO.  The fact that it is Libyans themselves, who won this victory on the ground whilst the allied support was mostly low-level, is a crucial element that the likes of McCain and Graham seem incapable of comprehending.

It isn’t over by any means and as Kagan points out it would be foolish to assume that we can pack our marbles and go home when so much needs to be done to help the forces of democracy to succeed in Libya. And we have no idea at this stage how that effort will turn out.

But for now, Obama’s performance warrants applause not brickbats.

Birthers Won’t Die

The Arizona House of Representatives passed the “birther bill” this week that would require Arizona’s Secretary of State to “inspect a presidential candidate’s birth certificate before that candidate could qualify for the ballot.”  The bill was brought forth by “birthers” who are not questioning the citizenship of their own U.S. Senator John McCain who ran for president.  He was born at a military installation in the Panama Canal Zone.  They are questioning the citizenschip of President Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii and and made his state-verified certificate of birth available to the press in July of 2008.  So why won’t these birthers go away?  Christopher Beam explains over at Slate:

The irony of all the birth-certificate proposals—similar bills have been introduced in six states—is that they contain the seeds of the birther movement’s destruction.  The moment Obama calls their bluff and hands his birth certificate to the Arizona secretary of state, it’s over.

In theory.  That’s the beauty of the birther myth, or any conspiracy theory:  No amount of evidence can ever completely dispel the questions.  When Obama produced his Hawaii birth certificate and the state of Hawaii verified it, it was a fake.  When reporters uncovered announcements of Obama’s birth in 1961 copies of the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, they had been planted.  If the Arizona secretary of state verified Obama’s birth certificate, that would be due to the government mind-control chip implanted in his molar.

To put all this another way:  Birtherism is here to stay.  And not because more people are going crazy, but because crazy has been redefined. Birtherism isn’t the only example.  Consider how conservatives accuse Obama of peddling “socialism.”  Sure, some of them genuinely think that Obama is going to usher in a new Soviet state in which the government owns all means of production.  But most right-wingers use it as shorthand for government overreach.  So now that’s what “socialism” means

Nick Cave Fresh Air Interview

Hello readers.  You may have gathered from my posts this week that this week has been officially declared Nick Cave week.  So in keeping with this theme, I am here to tell you that Nick Cave is on Fresh Air today, and that you better tune in to your local NPR station and listen. 

There’s a political debate going on tonight too, and I am going to guess that NPR’s coverage of the debate will preempt its broadcast of Fresh Air on the West Coast.  But have no fear; you can listen to it at your leisure on their website.

I would now like to apologize for my lack of coverage of all the political stuff that went down this week:  McCain “suspending” his campaign, how Letterman ripped him a new one for not showing up, Palin’s incredibly horrendous showing in her interview by Katie Couric, how McCain’s campaign said they should move tonight’s debate to next Thursday (happens to be the night scheduled for the VP debate, (McCain trying to buy time for his woeful running mate?  You decide!), and how the debate will go on as scheduled tonight (that will give something to blab about tomorrow.) 

But since since it’s  Nick Cave week and I stayed up way late Tuesday and Wednesday and got up way early anyway (that job thing…) on Wednesday and Thursday, I’ve had mush-brain for a couple days.  So for the in-depth coverage of all these things that are, without a doubt, blogworthy, there are plenty of other blogs you can visit.  (see sidebar)

Now back to my earworms

“Dig yourself Lazarus, Dig yourself Lazarus, Dig yourself Lazarus, Dig yourself Lazarus.  I want you to DIG!”

Followed by…

“You aren’t supposed to wanna do that… You know you’re not allowed to…That’s the kind of stuff that boys are made out of.  That’s the kind of stuff that girls are made out of.  (you know that) BAD BOYEEEEEEEZ GET SPANKED! “

I know… different songs… different performers.  But that’s how earworms work.  One wormhole leads to another.  “You know that!”

McCain Camp Cries: WHAAAAAAAAA! Leave Our Girl Alone!

McCain’s camp complained about media coverage of Sarah Palin and claimed that her private life was off limits.

Top McCain advisers said they welcome and expect a review of Palin’s mayoral and gubernatorial record but that the media has crossed that line with its inquiries.

“Certainly, her record deserves scrutiny, but I think we ought to look at her record,” campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters on a conference call. He condemned “the salacious nature” of some news stories designed to “throw dirt at our candidate.” He also lamented a “frenzied” mentality on Palin and urged the media to “dial it back.”

Davis also called for the same level of scrutiny on Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Honestly… What did they THINK would happen when they picked an unknown woman from Alaska with very litte governing experience?  The media is always looking for a story, and McCain handed them a huge one. 

And does anybody recall these guys crying foul when the media fed like rabid jackals on remarks made by Obama’s pastor?

Hillary’s Call for ALL Democrats to Vote for Obama

Hillary Clinton is a much better former candidate for president than she was a candidate for president. 

While listening to last night’s speech, I was convinced for the first time that she really would make a good president, and she really does have strong leadership qualities.

I could not help but think that if she had campaigned for herself instead of campaigning against Obama, she could very well have ended up with the nomination.  Her campaign’s mean-spirited attacks against Obama were what brought her down.

But that’s all behind us.  Now she is campaigning as I thought she always should have:  She’s emphasizing the differences between the party platform by pointing out the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans, and attacking John McCain for his wrongheaded support of failed Bush policies, and she’s promoting the better plans that her party supports.

And to all those Hillary supporters who say they’d rather vote for McCain than Obama, I thought she nailed it with:

I want you — I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me, or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him?

Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids?

Were you in it for that young boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage?

Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?

We need leaders once again who can tap into that special blend of American confidence and optimism that has enabled generations before us to meet our toughest challenges, leaders who can help us show ourselves and the world that with our ingenuity, creativity, and innovative spirit, there are no limits to what is possible in America.

We don’t have a moment to lose or a vote to spare. Nothing less than the fate of our nation and the future of our children hangs in the balance.

That is our mission, Democrats. Let’s elect Barack Obama and Joe Biden for that future worthy of our great country.

She really delivered a great speech, and I am looking forward to hearing more from her during the next couple of months.

NEWSFLASH – John McCain is a Rich Man!

He’s so rich that he can’t even keep track of how many houses he and his wife Cindy own.  When asked about it by Poltico.com yesterday, he said:

“I think — I’ll have my staff get to you.  It’s condominiums where — I’ll have them get to you.”

He later told Politico that they have at least four in three states – Arizona, California and Virginia.

The AP reports that:

McCain and his family appear to own at least eight homes: A ranch and two condos in Arizona; three condos in Coronado, Calif.; a condo in La Jolla, Calif.; and another in Arlington, Va. The number of houses is a bit trickier to determine since the ranch has at least four houses and a two-story cabin on it.

This story – this gift to Obama – is what is finally getting people to take a good look at the wealth of the two candidates.  When they read the papers today, they might actually pay attention to this:

McCain earned a Senate salary of $161,708 and royalties of $176,508 last year from his books. His wife earned about $6 million in income from salary, dividends, capital gains and payments from trusts on her 2006 federal tax return.

Cindy McCain’s worth is estimated at as much as $100 million. She is the chairwoman of Hensley & Co., a privately held Phoenix-based distributor of Anheuser-Busch beer that she inherited from her father.

And they might recall that just last weekend when asked by Rick Warren what level of income he would define as “rich,” McCain replied:

“I think if you’re just talking about income, how about $5 million?”

The Arizona Republican quickly added that he was “sure that comment will be distorted,” and his campaign said Sunday that he was joking.

But he didn’t elaborate any further by offering a more reasonable number, whereas Obama’s answer was much more realistic and more direct:

“I would argue that if you are making more than $250,000, then you are in the top 3, 4 percent of this country,” he said. “You are doing well.”

So what’s the point?  Well it has a lot to do with how in touch politicians are with the middle class.  McCain’s wealth puts him far above all but the very few super rich.  Obama isn’t poor by any means.  He’s made a few million from sales of his books, but he’s not so wealthy or so old that he’s lost track of how many houses he owns.

So which one of these guys do you trust to come up with a tax policy to clean up the huge mess that Bush will leave behind?  Paul Krugman has the answer:

Mr. McCain wants to preserve almost all the Bush tax cuts, and add to them by cutting taxes on corporations. Mr. Obama wants to roll back the high-end Bush tax cuts — the cuts in tax rates on the top two income brackets and the cuts in tax rates on income from dividends and capital gains — and use some of that money to reduce taxes lower down the scale.

According to estimates prepared by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, those Obama tax increases would fall overwhelmingly on people with incomes of more than $200,000 a year. Are such people rich? Well, maybe not: some of those Mr. Obama proposes taxing are only denizens of lower Richistan, although the really big tax increases would fall on upper Richistan. But one thing’s for sure: Mr. Obama isn’t planning to raise taxes on the middle class, by any reasonable definition — even that of the Bush administration.

Republican Schizophrenia

I’m not sure how they’re not being laughed off the set of every news program they appear on, but what gives the Republicans the power to criticize Barrack Obama for all of the things they felt were so pants-wetteningly exciting about Ronald Reagan? He was a fucking movie actor who could speak well to a crowd and they’re coming down on Obama for being a good orator with wide appeal?

And they get away with it. What I wouldn’t give to have the news entertainers stop each one of these dickheads and ask them why it was ok when it was their guy who held Americans in rapt attention to politics when they had practically given up all hope that their country could ever regain their trust, respect, and pride.

/rant

And now, here’s an ad I’d like to see run. The standard res from YouTube really takes a lot away from it, so you should click through and click on “Watch in High Res”.

What Obama’s Response to McCain’s Paris – Britney Ad Should Be

I’ve been thinking more about that McCain ad that used images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton to attack Obama by insinuating that he is an airhead “celebutante.”

After a low blow like that, one should deliver a quick uppercut to the opponent’s chin.  What would be a formidable blow in this political boxing match?   Well McCain’s strategy is to go after one of Obama’s strengths – his charisma and popularity – and make it appear as a liability by equating him with empty-headed pop-star divas.  I say go after McCain’s weakness – his age.

Hmmm….. I’m trying to think of someone who is popular with conservatives who got old and lost his mind… someone who “couldn’t recall” much of what went on in his administration when forced to testify before a congressional committee…  Oh yeah, Ronald Reagan – the conservative demigod of supply side economics.

How about an Obama ad that questions McCain’s mental faculties by using video of an old Reagan saying “I don’t recall” and then a shot of him in the early stages of Alzheimer’s looking totally lost and unaware of where he is.  Yeah… that would work.  The ad could then show a clip of McCain saying he “doesn’t really understand economics” and then the voiceover could say some things about how his economic and tax policies add up to more huge deficits, low growth rates, and even greater income inequality.  The closer could be John McCain babbling in front of his green background in New Orleans with the announcer asking, “Is he ready to lead?”

I wonder if that would piss off the conservatives.  Perhaps then they could understand our outrage. 

Probably not.  They are cold, mean, nasty brutes….I don’t think they have consciences.