In the USA...
May 5, 2013
A Homemade Style of Terror: Jihadists Push New Tactics
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — Aware that intensified American counterterrorism efforts have made an ambitious Sept. 11-style plot a long shot, Al Qaeda propagandists for several years have called on their devotees in the United States to carry out smaller-scale solo attacks and provided the online education to teach them how.
“I strongly recommend all of the brothers and sisters coming from the West to consider attacking America in its own backyard,” wrote Samir Khan, an American who joined Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch and emerged as a fervent advocate of homegrown, do-it-yourself terrorism before he was killed in an American drone strike in September 2011.
“The effect is much greater, it always embarrasses the enemy, and these types of individual decision-making attacks are nearly impossible for them to contain,” Mr. Khan wrote in a Web publication.
The Boston Marathon bombing — which the authorities believe was carried out according to instructions that Mr. Khan posted online — offers an unsettling example of just how devastating such an attack can be, even when the death toll is low. It shows how plotters can construct powerful bombs without attracting official attention. It offers a case study in the complex mix of personality and ideology at work in extremist violence. And it raises a pressing question: Is there any way to detect such plotters before they can act?
The bombing killed three people, compared with 3,000 in the 2001 attacks. But it achieved the spectacular media impact that terrorists covet, marring an American institution with television footage of gruesome injuries and panicked crowds. Officials are worried about its copycat appeal.
The Boston case remains under investigation, and some facts set it apart from other domestic plots. F.B.I. agents are still studying whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who investigators believe carried out the attack with his younger brother, Dzhokhar, 19, received any training during a six-month visit last year to turbulent Dagestan in southern Russia. Intelligence agencies are reviewing whether two Russian warnings about the older brother in 2011 were handled properly.
At a news conference on Tuesday, President Obama suggested that the bombers had acted on their own, saying that “one of the dangers that we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States.” Mr. Obama said such plots “are in some ways more difficult to prevent.”
So far, the Tsarnaev brothers appear to have been radicalized and instructed in explosives not at a training camp but at home on the Internet. Their bombs were concocted from inexpensive everyday items whose purchase set off no alarms: pressure cookers, nails and ball bearings, gunpowder from fireworks and remote controls for toys. Their choice of an open-air event meant no gate, metal detector or security inspection to pass through with their bombs.
In other words, as Dzhokhar told investigators, they followed the script from Inspire magazine, which Mr. Khan published in Yemen along with his mentor, the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in the same drone strike on Sept. 30, 2011. Mr. Awlaki’s incendiary sermons and Mr. Khan’s training articles survived them on the Web, where the brothers found them.
Just a month before the Boston attack, the Qaeda branch in Yemen posted on the Web the “Lone Mujahid Pocketbook,” a compilation of all the do-it-yourself articles with jaunty English text, high-quality graphics and teen-friendly shorthand.
“R U dreamin’ of wagin’ jihadi attacks against kuffar?” the 64-page manual asks, using a pejorative term for unbeliever. “Have u been lookin’ 4 a way to join the mujahideen in frontlines, but you haven’t found any? Well, there’s no need to travel abroad, because the frontline has come to you.”
Some of the manual’s ideas seem harebrained — spilling oil on the road to cause car wrecks or welding blades to a pickup truck and driving into a crowd. But specialists say its bomb-making instructions are quite accurate. The Boston attack seems to have followed Inspire’s tips: gunpowder emptied from fireworks, shrapnel glued inside the pressure cooker, a commercial remote control as detonator.
“The pressurized cooker should be placed in crowded areas and left to blow up,” the manual says. “More than one of these could be planted to explode at the same time.”
Philip Mudd, a former top C.I.A. and F.B.I. counterterrorism official, said the news from Boston came as no shock to those who reviewed the daily compilation of intelligence reports on terrorism. “Like everyone who looked at the threat matrix every day, I was surprised that this didn’t happen sooner,” he said.
He said he was struck by the lack of sophistication of the brothers, who made no attempt to hide or disguise their faces.
“They’re angry kids with a veneer of ideology that’s about skin-deep,” Mr. Mudd said. He said the brothers might have as much in common with self-radicalized terrorists of completely different ideologies — say, white supremacism or antigovernment extremism — as with the committed Qaeda operatives who organized the Sept. 11 attacks.
In the reports on Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dr. Ronald Schouten, a Harvard psychiatrist who studies terrorism, sees what might be a classic portrait of a man vulnerable to extremist recruitment. He had failed at his dream of becoming an Olympic boxer and dropped out of college, disappointing his family and himself.
“People who fail,” Dr. Schouten said, “sometimes latch onto a cause that makes their anger legitimate.”
In recent years, Qaeda propagandists have “made a particular effort to recruit lonely people who are looking for a cause,” said Jerrold Post, a former C.I.A. psychiatrist now at George Washington University and the author of “The Mind of the Terrorist.”
He points to, among others, Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of shooting 13 people to death at Fort Hood, Tex., in 2009. Major Hasan was held up as an example for others in a two-part video released by Al Qaeda’s core group in Pakistan in June 2011 titled “You Are Only Responsible for Yourself,” urging Muslims in the West to stage attacks without waiting for orders from abroad.
There is no consensus on how best to detect such homegrown attacks. Some law enforcement officials say that the Boston case vindicates their aggressive strategy of dispatching informants posing as Qaeda operatives to meet young men who are flirting with violent jihad. Such sting operations often end when the aspiring terrorist attempts to detonate an ersatz bomb provided by the F.B.I.
But some Muslim activists say that identifying potentially violent people requires close, trusting relations between law enforcement and the Muslim community, which are undermined when informants invade the mosque and draw impressionable young men into talk of terrorism.
Had such trust prevailed in Boston, they say, perhaps Tamerlan Tsarnaev would have gotten more attention after two outbursts at a Boston mosque, where he denounced clerics’ references to Thanksgiving and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as contrary to Islam. The outburst, they say, might have led community leaders to go to the police.
John D. Cohen, a top counterterrorism adviser at the Department of Homeland Security, said the department was studying the common elements in the psychological profiles and behavior of people planning an attack — whatever their ideology or motivation. Working with religious and community groups and local law enforcement, officials want to identify signs of impending trouble and find ways to intervene.
But Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now at the A.C.L.U., said the problem with focusing on extremist views was that the vast majority of people who express them never turn to violence. Instead, the bureau should focus on illegal acts, he said.
In the 2011 Russian warning about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Mr. German said, the key point was not that he had embraced radical Islam but that he planned to travel to Russia to join underground groups — potentially an illegal act of support for a terrorist organization. But while a Customs official got word of Mr. Tsarnaev’s plan to fly to Russia, no follow-up took place.
Finally, some specialists wonder whether it might have been possible to detect the brothers’ bomb building. In 2011, Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo of the Army set out to build the pressure-cooker bombs described in Inspire magazine. He was arrested because of a blunder: He tried to buy explosive powder at the same gun shop near Fort Hood that Major Hasan had patronized in 2009. A clerk got suspicious.
The Tsarnaevs, by contrast, collected their powder from fireworks, including some bought at a Phantom Fireworks outlet in New Hampshire. William Weimer, Phantom’s vice president, said the episode had prompted his company to seek training for sales personnel from the New York Police Department.
“Obviously the industry is abuzz about this,” Mr. Weimer said. But he said there was nothing about Mr. Tsarnaev that flagged him as dangerous.
“He came in and asked, ‘What’s the most powerful thing you have?’ ” Mr. Weimer said. “That might sound suspicious. But 90 percent of the men, especially, who come in say, ‘What’s the loudest thing you sell? What’s the most powerful?’ ”
May 5, 2013
Girl’s Death by Gunshot Is Rejected as Symbol
By TRIP GABRIEL
BURKESVILLE, Ky. — Last Monday, Kristian Sparks and his sister, Caroline, visited a Fred’s Super Dollar store here. A store manager recalled that it was an ordinary shopping trip, saying that the boy was outgoing and energetic, his little sister was cute and their grandmother was “like any grandmother — she bought them anything they wanted.”
The next day Kristian, 5, shot and killed his 2-year-old sister with a gun marketed for children as “My First Rifle” in what the authorities said was an accident.
The death has convulsed this rural community of 1,800 in south-central Kentucky, where everyone seems to know the extended Sparks family, which is now riven by grief. But as mourners gathered for Caroline’s funeral on Saturday, there were equally strong emotions directed at the outside world, which has been quick to pass judgment on the parents and a way of life in which many see nothing unusual about introducing children to firearms while they are still in kindergarten.
“This town, there’s nothing like it. They pull together,” Anne Beall, a family friend, said as she left the Norris-New Funeral Home. Its online obituary showed Caroline as a smiling cherub in a flower-petal collar.
Ms. Beall, a 64-year-old retiree, said she had not heard anyone in town call the parents irresponsible for giving a gun to a 5-year-old or for leaving it unlocked. “Pointing fingers doesn’t really accomplish anything,” she said. “Terrible mistakes happen, and I think that’s what happened here.”
The authorities said the children’s mother, Stephanie Sparks, briefly stepped outside the family’s trailer home when Kristian shot his sister in the chest. Their father, Chris Sparks, shoes horses and works in a lumber mill.
The parents “are taking this really hard,” said a woman leaving the funeral who declined to give her name. A teenage girl said strangers from around the country had written scathing comments online blaming the parents, deepening the town’s pain and anger.
The shooting came after the recent failure in Washington of gun control legislation inspired by the shootings in Newtown, Conn., which exposed a bitter divide on guns. But Burkesville seemed to want no part of being a symbol in a national debate.
“I think it’s nobody else’s business but our town’s,” said a woman leaving a store, who like many people here declined to be interviewed. A woman who answered the phone at the office of John A. Phelps Jr., the chief executive of Cumberland County, whose seat is Burkesville, said, “No, I’m sorry — no more statements,” and hung up.
After the funeral service, two men advanced across North Main Street toward a single television crew present, from the German network RTL, and punched the cameraman, bloodying his face and knocking him down.
Two other men told a newspaper reporter, “If you had any sense, you’d get out of here. You’re next, buddy.”
The county coroner, Gary White, said Kristian’s gun, a .22-caliber single-shot Crickett rifle designed for children and sold in pink and blue, had been stored in a corner, and his parents did not realize it was loaded.
“Down in Kentucky where we’re from, you know, guns are passed down from generation to generation,” Mr. White told The Associated Press. “You start at a young age with guns for hunting and everything.”
After the shooting, the Crickett’s maker, Keystone Sporting Arms in Milton, Pa., deleted a Web page promoting it, but archived images show the company featured a “kids corner” with dozens of pictures of young children and their Cricketts at shooting ranges and out hunting.
The company, which specializes in children’s firearms, said that in 2008 it made 60,000 Cricketts and another model, the Chipmunk, and that it ranks as the country’s 10th largest manufacturer of long guns.
The shooting here, in a region of farms and timber mills, followed a spate of other gun accidents around the country involving young children.
They included a 4-year-old boy who accidentally killed the wife of a sheriff’s deputy at a cookout near Nashville, and a 6-year-old boy who was fatally shot with a .22-caliber rifle by a 4-year-old playmate in Toms River, N.J.
A spokesman for the Kentucky State Police said last week that it was too soon to determine if charges would be filed in the death of Caroline Sparks. Although some states have strict laws aimed at negligent gun storage, including criminal liability for adults, Kentucky’s laws are looser, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The state does not hold adults liable when a child gets hold of a firearm and causes an injury or death.
A few Burkesville residents expressed skepticism of the parents for having a loaded, unlocked gun in the house.
Curtis Spears, 59, a retired mechanic, said he introduced his three sons to hunting and shooting when they were about 8. “But they never touched a gun unless I was with them,” he said. He kept the firearms locked up. His grandson Ryan, who is 5, owns the same Crickett model that Kristian used. But it is equipped with a safety that can be unlocked only with a key kept by his father, Mr. Spears said.
April Anderson, a cashier, said that she, too, owned a gun at age 5. “We went deer hunting,” she said. “I had a .22. You have to teach them at an early age,” she noted, adding that she and her husband own more than 20 guns, but that they keep them secure. “Our guns are put up,” she said.
Her 11-year-old daughter, Taylor, said, “Since that little girl died, Dad got rid of all the guns in the house.”
Not quite, her mother corrected her. They removed at least one shotgun from their home, but not all. “You can’t put your children in a bubble,” Ms. Anderson said.
Surging U.S. oil production pushes reserves to highest levels in 30 years
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, May 4, 2013 14:11 EDT
Surging oil production has put the United States on track toward greater energy independence, pushing US reserves to their highest levels in 30 years.
But analysts say bottlenecks in the distribution system are keeping oil from reaching markets.
US oil stocks reached 395.3 million barrels last week, a level not seen since US authorities began publishing weekly figures in 1982. The Energy Department’s monthly figures show it to be the highest since April 1981.
The accumulation of oil is linked in part to cyclical seasonal factors, with refineries cutting back consumption this time of year as they prepare for production of gasoline to meet rising demand in summer.
But the rise in oil reserves has also occurred in tandem with an oil boom that has been underway in the United States since 2008, propelled by new technologies.
With the emergence of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to extract oil and gas from new sources, US oil production has increased from five million barrels a day to 6.5 million barrels in 2012, and the US Energy Information Administration anticipates production will hit 8.2 million barrels a day in 2014.
But David Bouckhout, an analyst with TD Securities, says “there is a little bit of a disconnect with the infrastructure.”
“We are still waiting on pipeline capacity to be built out of the areas where this production growth is coming from (so it) can actually be accessible for refiners to use it,” he said. “But it takes some time.”
Pipelines that once moved imported oil from the Gulf of Mexico to refineries in the central United States are now being reversed to carry oil from production areas in Texas and Oklahoma to the gulf.
The Seaway pipeline, for instance, is now transporting 400,000 barrels of oil a day to gulf refineries from Cushing, Oklahoma, where the benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude quoted in New York is stored.
When it is fully online in the first quarter of 2014, it will move 850,000 barrels a day.
The flow is also being reversed on the Magellan Longhorn pipeline, which this year began transporting oil from west Texas, where the shale oil boom is in full swing, to the gulf refineries. It is expected to reach peak capacity in the third quarter.
Sunoco Logistics also has a number of projects that will drain oil from the Permian Basin, a huge oil and gas producing area in west Texas, toward the gulf, said independent oil analyst Andy Lipow.
And the oil markets haven’t given up hope that President Barack Obama will authorize an extension of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which if completed would ship oil from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico.
Pipelines account for about 90 percent of the oil products shunted around the United States, but companies also are turning to rail as an alternative, particularly in areas where the infrastructure has not caught up, like North Dakota, a big producer of shale gas.
In just the past year, transport of oil products by rail has shot up 50 percent.
As the US distribution system adapts over time, analysts say US dependence on foreign oil will decline.
“At some point we are likely to see less import coming to the US because domestic supply will be able to fill out,” said Bouckhout.
The latest EIA report shows a 15 percent drop in US oil imports in February from a year earlier, falling to 9.2 million barrels a day, their lowest level since March 1996.
But the United States cannot totally stop importing oil, if only because it has long-term supply contracts with oil producing countries, said Robert Yawger, an analyst with Mizuho Securities USA.
Moreover, he said, “there is always going to be a scenario where for certain blends, the price of Saudi crude oil, very easy to extract, plus transportation, will still be cheaper than a price of a barrel of tar sands from Alberta or shale oil from the US.”
First new U.S. slaughterhouses since 2007 slated for 2013 openings
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, May 4, 2013 19:00 EDT
Americans don’t want to eat horse meat and Congress is trying to forbid its sale and export. Yet for the first time since 2007, new horse slaughterhouses are set to open in the United States.
While Europe has been embroiled in a horse meat scandal since January, five new US slaughterhouses have filed requests for licensing at the Agriculture Department (USDA), a spokesman told AFP.
One of them, in the New Mexican city of Roswell in the US Southwest, could start processing a hundred horses a day starting as early as this month.
“Everything is completed and ready to go,” said lawyer Blair Dunn, who represents owner Ricardo De Los Santos. According to Dunn, the USDA has confirmed the plant has passed inspection and that final authorization should come through within a matter of days.
The meat will be exported, mainly to Japan and to Europe, where controversy has erupted over products labeled as beef containing horse meat, but where horse meat nevertheless has a market.
But the future of the plant and others like it is far from assured, with animal protection groups and their allies in Congress trying to pass laws banning horse meat production.
Lawsuits and votes in Congress led to the closure of the last three horse slaughterhouses between 2007 and 2011. However, lawmakers later failed to renew the ban, a lapse some now want to correct.
“Horses are not bred for human consumption — they’re companion animals, similar to dogs or cats,” said Patrick Meehan, a Republican from Pennsylvania who has proposed a complete ban on the industry in the House of Representatives.
“Not only is it inhumane, it’s unsafe: over the course of their lives, horses are regularly treated with drugs that are potentially toxic to humans if ingested,” he told AFP over email.
In addition to prohibiting slaughterhouses on US soil, lawmakers also want to ban the shipping of horses for slaughter abroad, where they say the animals face a “cruel” death.
Nancy Perry, of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the ASPCA, agreed that slaughtering horses “simply can’t be done humanely.”
“The process of slaughter is supposed to be done in such a manner that the animal is not supposed to feel any pain,” she explained.
But horses “will immediately throw their head when the stun gun is supposed to be applied to a precise place in the brain,” so they will have to “be hit two, three, four, multiple times,” Perry added.
After the 2007 closures, horses began to be sent to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada — to the tune of around 100,000 a year, peaking in 2012 at 167,000 horses.
This year, sales to Mexico have already grown 18 percent over the same period in 2012.
The animals — unwanted because they are too old, tired, sick or simply because they failed to meet their owner’s expectations — sell for an average of $2,140, according to government figures from 2004 and 2010.
The horse industry, supported by veterinarian association AVMA, says that a slaughterhouse is better than the alternatives.
With euthanization costing about $500 per horse, many owners are more likely to abandon the unwanted animals into the wild, where, especially in the drought-stricken Great Plains of the central United States, they risk dying of hunger.
“Some people abandon them; I’ve heard stories of people in the middle of the night bringing them to other people’s farms, bringing them on neighbors’ properties,” said Ericka Caslin, director of the Unwanted Horses Coalition, which is fighting against a ban on horse slaughterhouses.
But Perry stressed that there were other options available beyond slaughterhouses, abandonment or euthanization.
There are more than 700 sanctuaries where horses can finish their days in peace, without fear of ending up on a plate.
House Republicans Are Planning to Eliminate Food Assistance for 13 Million Americans
May. 6th, 2013
It is safe to say that all human beings have at one time or another experienced a compelling desire for food, and in extreme cases, hunger produces a painful sensations or a state of weakness caused by the lack of food that most Americans assume is not a problem in the richest nation in the history of the world. It is also safe to say that any American who deliberately withheld food from other Americans when they had resources to feed them would epitomize profound immorality or in the Christian biblical sense, sheer evil. There is an epidemic of evil in America characterized by Republicans who are intent on withholding food from Americans knowing full well that nearly 25% of children living in poverty and one out of six American adults experience hunger on a daily basis, and as part of the conservative agenda are on an active crusade to increase those numbers to enrich the wealthy.
In the waning months of the 112th Congress, House Republicans failed to pass a farm bill because they could not agree on steep enough cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, food stamps) even after the Senate that Speaker John Boehner said had to “get off their asses” and get to work passed a bipartisan agreement cutting food stamps by $4.5 billion over the next decade. The Senate cuts were predicated on projections that as unemployment dropped, fewer Americans would require food assistance, but it was not nearly harsh enough for House Republicans. Since they failed to pass a bill in the last Congress, both the Senate and the House have to begin anew coming up with a new round of cuts to increase hunger among the working poor, children, and seniors who experience hunger every day of their lives. The issue for Republicans in the House last years was their proposed food stamp cuts of $16.5 billion that eliminated over 3 million recipients was not enough for fiscal hawks who determined that until they could reach Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity food stamp cuts of $125 billion over five years, they would let the farm bill languish and wait until this year to create despair for the working poor, farmers, and the economy.
In the new Congress, House Republicans are proposing that a new farm bill mandate at least $20 billion over five years in (SNAP) cuts as a temporary fix until they can convince Democrats and President Obama to accept the Ryan plan and cut $125 billion over five years as a starting point of a ten year plan and eliminate food assistance for 13 million more hungry working Americans and seniors in their version of common sense cuts. The good news for Republicans is that not only will their proposal increase hunger for Americans primarily in Republican states, but they can claim victory in creating harm for farmers and the American economy they have been yearning to deal a death knell to so they can portray President Obama as a failure for driving America into another recession. The Republican sequester will do enough damage to the economy and raise unemployment, but that is just the opening salvo in their drive to send the nation into deeper recession than their 8-year assault during the Bush administration.
When most economic experts are calling for increasing funding for food stamps to alleviate hunger and stimulate the economy, House Republicans are angry the Senate’s proposal last year was far too generous, and it is likely they were counting on a different election result and holding out for real damage inherent in the Ryan budget. Speaker John Boehner admitted the reason the House refused to pass any farm bill was “we’ve got people who believe there’s not enough reform (read cuts) in last year’s bill” coupled with their opposition to the President who they claim expanded food stamps as “the food stamp President” that Newt Gingrich parroted during last year’s Republican primaries. The rise in food stamp use is directly correlated to the rise in poverty as the result of massive job losses from Republican malfeasance, and created an inordinate amount of poverty-level Americans who were eligible for the program. What is curious, is that Republican counties are responsible for most of the food stamp growth in the nation and their support for Republican demands to enact deeper cuts is a crude manner of self-punishment for themselves and millions of other low-income working Americans who depend on food stamps to stave off hunger Republicans pant to increase.
There is an economic downside to cutting food stamps that Republicans seem oblivious to and it is another level of the evil inherent in the GOP fiscal lunacy preventing economic growth. For every dollar the government spends on food stamps, there is $1.84 in economic benefit, and the level of cuts Republicans are demanding will hit the Midwest particularly hard because it depresses food sales that hurt farmers who are typically Republican voters. As food sales slump, the downstream job losses will drive the number of Americans in poverty higher, but unfortunately for them, the program will be slashed and more Americans will be hungry which seems to be the intent of Republicans in Congress.
The level of immorality Republicans are demonstrating toward the American people who are struggling has not gone unnoticed in some Washington circles. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s communication director said, “Just when you think you’ve seen the extent of the House GOP’s misguided priorities, they strike at the ability of millions of low-income children, the elderly, and American families to put food on the table.” One of the Senate Republicans, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who supported the Senate bill last year opposes the proposed House cuts because, like so many Republican states, their working poor, seniors, and child residents rely on nutrition assistance leading him to say, “I come from a state where we have higher-percentage participation than the national average, and I have never had to apologize in Mississippi for supporting it.” Democratic leaders in the House wasted little time assailing the Draconian cuts in the Republicans proposal and said, “SNAP doesn’t just offer much-needed support to vulnerable Americans, it provides a significant boost to the economy, nearly doubling the return of every dollar we put into it.” Still, House Republicans are unfazed by humanitarian calls to stop deliberately creating an epidemic of hunger, and the working poor, children, and seniors will be fortunate if only 3 million Americans are thrown off the food stamp program.
With such devastation inherent in cutting something as beneficial as food stamps that up until 2009 enjoyed wide bipartisan support, one can only conclude Republicans have begun a full-on shift toward following the Ayn Rand ideology of punishing the poor just because they are poor. Subsequently, Republicans will impose hunger on seniors, children, and poverty-level working Americans regardless they are white, Republicans, and farmers that typically support the Republicans who are creating hunger for millions of Americans for no apparent reason other than they lack an ounce of humanity, and that is, beyond a shadow of a doubt the definition of sheer evil; and the Republican Party.
Republicans Shred the Constitution By Passing Unconstitutional Nullification Laws
May. 4th, 2013
Comprehension or understanding (intellection) is a psychological process whereby one is able to fully grasp the meaning, or importance, of an idea or concept, and make decisions based on the idea they understand. If a person does adequately understand a simple concept such as a law, and makes decisions contrary to their understanding they are either willfully stupid or consider the law invalid or that it does not apply to them. Most Americans have a fairly good comprehension that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and that the Supreme Court is the arbiter of a law’s constitutionality and thus Constitutional. Republicans claim to be the only political party in America that truly understands the Constitution and the Framers’ intent in writing it, but they have shown that, not only do they lack rudimentary understanding of the document, they are rejecting it on grounds it is invalid according to their ideology.
Shortly after the American people re-elected President Obama to serve a second term, a rash of states appealed to the White House to secede from the Union because they objected to the election’s outcome. When they were not granted permission to rip the United States apart, they immediately began taking steps to shred the Constitution they claim to love and declare they were laws unto themselves by way of nullification.
The same nullification frenzy that led to the American Civil War is spreading through Republican-controlled states where legislators in at least seven states passed laws nullifying federal laws involving firearms. Although Republicans are prone to claim anything President Obama supports is dictatorial overreach regardless he does not pass laws, nullification supporters have taken their outrage to a new level best expressed by Tennessee State Senator Mae Beavers who said, “You think that the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of any of these laws. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe it was ever granted the authority under the Constitution; the Supreme Court is a dictatorship.” The Republican, who swore an oath to support the Constitution, ignores a 1958 Supreme Court decision involving southern state’s nullifying desegregation orders, and its ruling addressed Beavers’ contention and said, “No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his solemn oath to support it,” but since Republicans do not acknowledge the Constitution as the law of the land, supporting it is moot and their oath is irrelevant.
Most of the nullification efforts in states are aimed at the Affordable Care Act that South Carolina legislators recently nullified and made a criminal offense to enforce because they determined the health care reform law is “null and void,” and according to South Carolina Republicans new Freedom of Health Care Protection Act, the state “prohibits certain individuals from enforcing or attempting to enforce such unconstitutional laws.” As a reminder to Republicans, the ACA was legally passed by the U.S. Congress, signed into law by the legally elected President, and ruled Constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Apparently, Republicans fail to comprehend the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause that plainly says, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.” However, since Republicans have declared the Constitution “null and void” when it conflicts with their ideology, and holds that the Supreme Court is not the arbiter of the Constitution, the law of the land falls under Republican Party purview making the Federal government itself null and void; at least in Republican-controlled states such as Kansas.
Last month Kansas Republicans passed a law, and governor Sam Brownback signed it, asserting that any gun made, assembled, or owned in Kansas is exempt from federal regulation and to prove they are serious, made it a crime for federal agents to enforce federal gun laws. Attorney General Eric Holder wrote to Brownback informing him the Kansas nullification law is “unconstitutional,” and that the U.S. is prepared to sue Kansas to prevent the state from “interfering with the activities of federal officials.” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach responded to Holder and informed him that “the Obama Administration has repeatedly violated the United States Constitution for the past four-and-a-half-years. That abuse cannot continue.” According to Kobach, the state of Kansas is not subject to any federal laws or regulations and it is a sentiment rampant among states under Republican control.
It is not that Republicans cannot comprehend the Constitution, or the Supremacy Clause; they cannot comprehend they are part of the United States and instead have deemed they are a law unto themselves regardless the Constitution, Supreme Court, or legitimacy of the U.S. Congress. It is the same sentiment that drove the South to secede and wage war on the United States and is not a harbinger of peace and security for the American people. It also explains the willingness of Republicans to break their oath of office to support the Constitution they have all but declared null and void; except for the 2nd and 10th Amendments.
In at least three other states, bills similar to the Kansas law nullifying federal gun laws are advancing in Louisiana, Missouri, and Alabama, and an Alaska bill exempting any gun possessed from federal law was approved and is awaiting action from Governor Sean Parnell. In 37 additional states, bills attacking federal gun laws have been introduced so far this year and in Montana, Wyoming, and Tennessee, bills prohibiting federal agents from enforcing federal law give local sheriffs the right to arrest federal agents if they arrest gun law violators.
All of the Republicans’ nullification efforts do not bode well for America, or the Constitution, and the recurring theme that federal laws, including the Affordable Care Act, are unconstitutional inform that, at least at the state level, Republicans are repeating a dangerous precedent that led America into its bloodiest war. The persistent claim that President Obama has violated the Constitution is Republicans projecting their own agenda, and in fact, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach implied President Obama began violating the Constitution months before he was sworn into office. The message state Republicans are sending is that the federal government, Constitution, and Supreme Court are violations of Republican ideology and in doing so they have effectively declared the United States is itself null and void.
The Republican Party and the un-Founding of America
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
May. 5th, 2013
Thus we are sowing the Seeds of Ignorance, Corruption, and Injustice, in the fairest Field of Liberty ever appeared upon Earth, even in the first attempts to cultivate it.
John Adams to Joseph Hawley, August 25, 1776
My fellow writer RMuse wrote yesterday about the U.S. Constitution and Republican nullification laws designed to undermine the Constitution. This is all very funny of course because, speaking of ignorance, corruption, and injustice, the Republicans claim to be the defenders of the Constitution; this while wishing to do away with every amendment save the Second and the Tenth- narrowing Republican goals to guns and secession.
And thinking about the Constitution got me thinking about the Declaration of Independence, that other all-important Founding document. We think now of the Declaration as the document that got the ball rolling; that laid out the ideological and philosophical framework of the country-to-be.
But at the time, to the committee assigned to write the Constitution – Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman – the Declaration of Independence was just an administrative detail. The whole point of the document was to justify the withdrawal of the thirteen colonies from England’s not-so-affectionate embrace, a deed that was, by the time of Bunker Hill, already largely accomplished, for Boston was all that remained of British rule in North America. The Declaration was, in effect, putting the punctuation point on something – independence – that was already a done deal.
Thomas Jefferson himself got “stuck” with writing it because he was the least busy of the committee members and because Franklin cited not only his gout but an unwillingness to ever again write anything that would be subject to review by committee (a feeling Jefferson would soon come to share). And even then, Jefferson didn’t even want to do it, but wanted instead to return to Virginia where the “real important” work was taking place. Who could have seen at the time what would come of him being forced to remain in Philadelphia?
The committee, perhaps because they were so preoccupied with more important things, suggested only changing “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” to “self-evident” in the second paragraph’s opening lines. But this part of the document was not considered important and so this stylistic change was the only one made to the second, while the first paragraph was heavily revised. When the document was presented to Congress for consideration, the focus was not on the first two paragraphs but on the list of grievances. The core of the Constitution for Jefferson and others was not “all men being equal” but the list of charges against the king. Not the first two paragraphs, but especially the last, a complete reversal of how we read it today.
As Eric Slauter wrote, for readers, the Declaration was not that all men are created equal, but the statement that:
these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great-Britain, is an ought to be totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of right do.
As Slauter points out, this was a declaration of national independence “and not a declaration of individual rights.6]
The Declaration was becoming something else, as Jefferson was beginning to realize before he died in 1826, and he became eager to attach his name to it, putting at the top of his list of accomplishments on his tombstone. Lincoln’s words above are his view in 1857. In 1859, Lincoln said,
All honor to Jefferson – to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecaste, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, and so to embalm it there, that today and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.
Now the Declaration is a “merely” revolutionary document that happens to contain a greater truth and its value lies not in justification for rebellion but in the assertion that by nature all men equal.
Lincoln turned again to the Declaration in 1863, when, in the midst of the Civil War, he began his Gettysburg Address by saying that, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
We could no longer say that men just happen to be equal. That equality is now the very basis of the founding of our country. As Slauter concluded,
Though for most of the Declaration had not taken on its modern meaning as a charter of rights, a small group of black and white readers beginning in 1776 asserted that it should and, in doing so, made the Declaration their own and helped to make it modern.
Now America’s conservative voices would have it that the Declaration does not mean this at all, that “all men are created equal” does not mean all women too, let alone those who dare to be a color other than white, or a religion other than Christian. Liberalism vouches for the truth of Jefferson’s assertion today as it did yesterday; it was the radical liberal Thomas Paine, after all, who championed the rights of the landless and the old and the poor, and those are the same rights liberals champion today. They are the same rights conservatism battles endlessly against as it seeks to substitute the words “We the People” found in the Constitution with “We the Corporations.”
Political power in a democracy, as the founding Fathers realized, derives from the consent of the governed, which is why the Constitution begins with those words, “We the People.” It does not derive from the few rich, or from corporations, or from religious denominations, but from the people. And those people, all of them, says the Declaration of Independence, are equal.
As Lincoln said, Jefferson’s words should be “a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.” We see every day that they are. But how potent a rebuke to a party that has embraced all the dark excesses of the authoritarian mind?
Neither Jefferson nor Lincoln had to contend with the influence modern propaganda can bring to bear. For Jefferson’s words to continue as a rebuke, a sufficient rebuke, we must rally to them; we must insist they are relevant still. And they and they alone must be the ruler against which all laws are measured. The United States Constitution passes muster. The Republican platform? Their proposed laws at local, state, and federal level since 2008? Not so much.
It is touching the extent to which various Founding Fathers thought ahead, even (or especially) in the midst of crisis, to the “millions yet unborn,” sentiments expressed in their correspondence. That would be us. And that debt passes down to us. I hope that we equal to it, and in the midst of our own crises, can ourselves take time to think of the millions yet unborn who depend on our own decisions, and on our fortitude.
Things Go Horribly Wrong For Fox News When They Ask GOP Congressman for Benghazi Evidence
By: Jason Easley
May. 5th, 2013
Fox News tried to push their Benghazi conspiracy theory today, but things went horribly wrong when they asked Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz for evidence and he couldn’t provide any.
WALLACE: Congressman Chaffetz, has the Obama admininstration blocked potential witnesses from testifying or not?
CHAFFETZ: Absolutely, and more than one. We’ve asked for the non-classified version of how did these people get an attorney who has a degree of classified information, and they still haven’t given us that. No, there are people out there that wanna testify that have been suppressed.
WALLACE: But you heard the State Department person just say that nobody either a lawyer or a witness has requested to testify.
CHAFFETZ: Because they’re scared to death of what the State Department is doing to them. That’s what. Look we’re the other branch of government. They’re supposed to be able to come to congress, and be able to share this type of information. That has not happened, because the administration has suppressed. We have a person who was injured eight months ago who’s still in the hospital. They changed his name on the medical records. This is a story of the State Department doing things that haven’t been done in any other case.
WALLACE: Are you saying? Again, I want to bring in Congressman Lynch. Tell me-a direct threat, a direct act of intimidation against a potential witness?
CHAFFETZ: Yes, and I think we’ll probably…
WALLACE: Tell me one… tell what’s been said.
CHAFFETZ: There are people, more than one, that have felt intimidation from the State Department.
Notice that Chris Wallace provided Chaffetz with the perfect setup. He let him weave the conspiracy theory. Wallace never stopped him, or challenged him. But when it came time for Rep. Chaffetz to deliver the money shot, he threw up all over his own shirt.
Ever since it was revealed that Boston bombings weren’t carried out by an overseas terrorist group, Fox News has gone back to relentlessly pushing Benghazi conspiracies. It has been subtle, but you can see it in Chaffetz’s remarks, the focus of the Benghazi conspiracy has shifted away from Obama and to the State Department.
Their conspiracy theory focus has shifted because the runaway favorite for the 2016 Democratic nomination just so happens to be the same woman who used to be Secretary of State. Fox News is only the propaganda arm. Chris Wallace did his job, but the Republican/Fox News plan to bring down Hillary Clinton with Benghazi fell flat on its face when Rep. Chaffetz has zero evidence to back up his charges.
Fox News could have gotten a week’s worth of programming out of anything that Chaffetz said, but he gave them nothing specific that they could use.
The big “news” bit of the segment quickly turned into a trainwreck, as Rep. Chaffetz’s conspiracy not could hold up even under the gentlest of scrutiny by Chris Wallace. What was supposed to be a big moment turned into a huge Fox fail that ended up proving the emptiness of their own Benghazi conspiracy.
Issa's 'New' Info on Benghazi? Speculation from Diplomat Not Present
By Nicole Belle
May 6, 2013
The Republicans are determined not to let their trumped up, clearly partisan-based outrage on the attack on the Benghazi consulate go down the memory hole, like so many of the Republican failures of the last dozen years. Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Rep Darrell Issa promised brand new information to CBS News on Benghazi attack.
So the CBS News breathlessly brings on Issa to deliver this new information which will implicate the Obama administration in this great conspiracy that will no doubt bring the presidency down.
This great new information? It's testimony from US deputy chief of mission in Libya, Gregory Hicks. The problem? Hicks wasn't in Benghazi at the time of the attacks and has no actual idea what happened. Everything he testified about was his suppositions based on reports. The same reports that have issued forth in the months after the attack.
"I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning," Greg Hicks, a 22-year foreign service diplomat who was the highest-ranking U.S. official in Libya after the strike, told investigators under authority of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Hicks, the former U.S. Embassy Tripoli deputy chief of mission, was not in Benghazi at the time of the attack, which killed Chris Stevens - then the U.S. ambassador to Libya - and three other Americans.
When he appears this week before the committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Hicks is expected to offer testimony at odds with what some American officials were saying in public - and on "Face the Nation" - just five days after the attack. Benghazi whistleblowers have rallied attention to discrepancies among the administration's reaction to the attack, which The Weekly Standard suggests was frayed by ever-evolving talking points that sought to remove references to al Qaeda.
On Sept. 16, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice hit the media circuit, appearing on all five Sunday talk shows to dispel the notion that the strike was a premeditated terrorist act and to perpetuate the case that it began "spontaneously" out of protests in Egypt. Rice's spot on "Face the Nation" that day was preceded by the new President of Libya Mohammed al-Magariaf, who said his government had "no doubt that this was preplanned, predetermined."
"For there to have been a demonstration on Chris Stevens's front door and him not to have reported it is unbelievable," he said. "I never reported a demonstration; I reported an attack on the consulate. Chris - Chris's last report, if you want to say his final report - is, 'Greg, we are under attack.'
"...I've never been as embarrassed in my life, in my career, as on that day," Hicks continued in his interview with investigators. "The net impact of what has transpired is, [Rice,] the spokesperson of the most powerful country in the world, has basically said that the president of Libya is either a liar of doesn't know what he's talking about. ....My jaw hit the floor as I watched this."
Though the White House has said it was in contact with officials in Libya the night of the attack, Hicks said in the days following, he was never consulted about the talking points. One day after Rice's Sunday show blitz, Hicks said he called Beth Jones, acting assistant secretary for near eastern affairs at the State Department, and asked, "Why did Amb. Rice say that?" The tone of her answer - "I don't know," he said - indicated that "I perhaps asked a question that I should not have asked."
The net impact of Rice's statements, Hicks said, was "immeasurable." On top of his personal belief that "the reason it took us so long to get the FBI to Benghazi is because of those Sunday talk shows," he said, Magariaf lost face "in front of not only his own people, but the world" at a time of democratic transition in his country. He added, "I have heard from a friend who had dinner with President Magariaf in New York City that he was still angry at Amb. Rice well after the incident."
Notice anything particularly evidentiary about Hicks' testimony? It's "unbelievable" that Stevens didn't call in a demonstration? Rice's statements have caused "immeasurable" damage? Um, hearsay anyone? Why is Hicks' opinion any more compelling than anyone else not actually there?
You know what I noticed didn't get mentioned in Schieffer's interview of Issa? The seven other attacks on US consulates between the years of 2002 and 2008 that haven't got Republicans' collective knickers in a bunch:
Benghazi was not unique. There have been eights attacks on six different U.S. consulates in and around the Mideast since the 9/11 attack. They include:
Karachi, Pakistan, 2002, 2003, and 2006
Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 2002
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2004
Damascus, Syria, 2006
Sana’a, Yemen, 2008
Benghazi, Libya, 2012
And what role Congress itself played:
Congress also shares a portion of the blame for the fate of Ambassador Stevens and the three others killed:
The State Department is still reeling from deep cuts made by Senate and House appropriations panels to the Obama administration’s budget requests for next year, with some officials warning of national security risks. (2011-10-01)
The quote seems particular damning, but read the whole article. There was an 22% across the board cut, but a separate request for spending on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan was approved. Including the separate request the State Department budget was still down $3.5 billion from the prior year, a very short sighted move given that Arab Spring was only ten months old at the time the decision was made.
Three autocratic governments blown away, two countries sliding into sectarian conflict, two others facing massive protests, and four that were compeled to introduce reforms by their restive population. And the response from Congress to this seismic shift? Budget cuts.
But yes, let's all wring our hands over Gregory Hicks' feelings and assumptions. It's so much easier than taking an honest look at Benghazi.