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Obama Will Launch a Huge Propaganda Blitz — and May Attack Syria Even If He Loses the Vote in Congress

1:18 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

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.

Hell hath no fury like war-makers scorned. Simmering rage will be palpable from political elites who do not want to see Congress set an unprecedented precedent: thwarting the will of a president who wants Pentagon firepower unleashed on another country.

President Obama and top Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will twist every arm they can to get a “yes” vote for attacking Syria. Meanwhile, most mainline media pundits, numbingly addicted to war, will often chastise and denigrate foes of authorization.

However, we have a real chance to prevent a U.S. attack. One cogent argument after another, from intelligence veterans and policy analysts and weapons experts, has debunked the messaging for war on Syria. And some members of Congress — not nearly enough, but some — have begun to speak up with cogent opposition.

One of NPR’s inside-the-box hosts of “All Things Considered” on August 30 asked Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) about the Obama administration’s claim that missile strikes on Syria would be “a limited action” and not “war.” Congresswoman Lofgren replied: “I think that anyone who argues that shooting missiles and dropping bombs on another country is not an act of war has got some further education warranted. If somebody shot cruise missiles at Washington for only one day, we would still consider it an act of war, wouldn’t we?”

Not many members of Congress have Lofgren’s clarity, and many of their votes on authorization are up for grabs. Each of us can help affect the outcome by demanding that our senators and representative oppose the war resolution. We should make our voices heard in all sorts of public venues.

The president’s move for a congressional vote should cause a major escalation of anti-war activism. A straw in the wind: during just a few hours after Obama’s announcement on Saturday afternoon, nearly 10,000 people took the initiative via RootsAction.org to email members of Congress with a “No Attack on Syria” message.

National opinion polling and momentum inside Congress indicate that we can defeat Obama’s war resolution. It’ll be a tremendous fight, but we can prevail.

Even if Obama loses the vote in Congress, there’s a very real danger that he will proceed with ordering an attack on Syria.

Burying the lead almost a dozen paragraphs into a September 1 news story, the New York Times mentioned in passing: “White House officials indicated that Mr. Obama might still authorize force even if Congress rejected it.”

A careful reading of Obama’s Rose Garden announcement on Saturday verifies that he never quite said he will abide by the decision of Congress if it refuses to approve an attack on Syria. Instead, the president filled his statement with hedging phrases, detouring around any such commitment with words like these:

*  “I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. … And I’m prepared to give that order. But … I’m also mindful that I’m the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.”

*  “I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.”

*  “Over the last several days, we’ve heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree. So this morning, I spoke with all four congressional leaders, and they’ve agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session.” 

*  “And all of us should be accountable as we move forward, and that can only be accomplished with a vote.” 

*  “I’m ready to act in the face of this outrage. Today I’m asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move forward together as one nation.”

At the grassroots, people across the United States will be working very hard to prevent congressional approval of an attack on Syria. That activism is imperative. We should also understand that Obama has not committed himself to abide by the decision that Congress makes.

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Obama’s Willing Executioners of the Fourth Amendment

12:06 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

It’s now painfully clear that the president has put out a contract on the Fourth Amendment. And at the Capitol, the hierarchies of both parties are stuffing it into the trunks of their limousines, so each provision can be neatly fitted with cement shoes and delivered to the bottom of the Potomac.

Some other Americans are on a rescue mission. One of them, Congressman Justin Amash, began a debate on the House floor Wednesday with a vow to “defend the Fourth Amendment.” That’s really what his amendment — requiring that surveillance be warranted — was all about.

No argument for the Amash amendment was more trenchant than the one offered by South Carolina Republican Jeff Duncan, who simply read the Fourth Amendment aloud.

To quote those words was to take a clear side: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Edward Snowden’s heroic revelations have made it possible for some House members from both parties to blow away the fog that shrouds so much tap dancing on Capitol Hill. When the Amash amendment went to the floor, there was no place left to hide.

To their historic shame, 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted against Amash’s amendment (while 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats voted for it). That’s how the measure lost, 217-205.

The record of the House vote tells us a lot. Top Republicans—including Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy—voted with Obama policies to keep smothering the Fourth Amendment. So did top Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

The stench at the pinnacle of GOP power hardly surprises most Democrats. But on civil liberties—as on so many other profound issues—a similar odor is emanating from the upper reaches of Democratic power on Capitol Hill, where Pelosi and Hoyer are far from the only Democrats who have become reflexive servants of indefensible Obama policies.

Consider some of the other Democratic luminaries in the House who voted against the Amash amendment: The Democratic National Committee’s chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s former chair Chris Van Hollen. The DCCC’s current chair, Steve Israel.

Some of the other Democrats who voted no on the Amash amendment include progressive-aura lawmakers like Ami Bera (Calif.), Joaquin Castro (Texas), Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Joe Kennedy (Mass.), Annie Kuster (N.H.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.) and Louise Slaughter (N.Y.)

Deserving special mention for their deplorable votes against Amash’s amendment are Sheila Jackson Lee from Houston and Jan Schakowsky from Chicago. Both are vice chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

I’ve been critical of the Progressive Caucus for enabling Obama’s rightward moves by doing scant pushback. But credit where due: on Wednesday, aside from Jackson Lee and Schakowsky, the other six officers of the Progressive Caucus and a large majority of its more than 70 members supported the Amash amendment. Eloquence in the floor debate came from John Conyers (the lead co-sponsor of the Amash amendment), Jared Polis, Zoe Lofgren and Jerrold Nadler.

Yet they were no match for the White House, with its media spin machine and behind-the-curtain arm twisting.

President Obama has a firm grip on levers of power, and anyone who thinks that his administration has been chastened enough to tread more carefully on civil liberties is engaged in wishful thinking.

While the House has grown somewhat restive, the Senate has remained notably pliant for the surveillance state. An egregious—and, for some, surprising—example is Al Franken, who declared his support for the NSA surveillance program when news of it broke in early June. “I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people,” Franken said. From his Senate office, one press release after another has been packed with blather like overstuffed sausages.

Franken is now saying he’ll introduce a bill for “transparency” because the public will support the current surveillance programs if they grasp what’s really involved: “I think that if there were greater transparency, Americans would have a better understanding of these programs.” Count on transparency to be a buzzword cloak for more of the same.

Another Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, has been vastly more candid. At a forum the day before the Amash amendment vote, Wyden said that for surveillance, as far as the Obama administration is concerned, “the authority is essentially limitless.”

An ACLU staff attorney, Alexander Abdo, was driving at the same point when he wrote days ago: “Perhaps the most fundamental problem with the NSA’s constitutional theory is that it has no limit. If the constitution is blind to the collection of our data and limits only the NSA’s later uses of it, then the NSA truly can ‘collect it all’ now and ask questions later. Our emails, phone calls and internet activities would all be very simple for the NSA to collect under the NSA’s theory. But it could go much further. It could put video cameras on every street corner, it could install microphones in every home and it could even remotely copy the contents of every computer hard drive.”

All three branches of the U.S. government are now largely under the control of forces with stunning contempt for basic legal processes required by the Bill of Rights. Mere words and mild reforms from members of Congress may mollify the gullible, but only a direct challenge to the Obama administration’s policies can rise to the level of the current historic imperative to restore civil liberties in the United States.