$1.1 TRILLION RANSOM DEMAND OR OBAMA WILL CRASH GLOBAL ECONOMY

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President Barack Obama is demanding a $1.1 trillion “ransom”–or else he will not allow the debt ceiling to be raised. That’s the effective offer on the table from the president and Senate Democrats. They have now refused to pass a “clean” short-term debt ceiling hike unless Republicans agree to reverse the “sequester” spending cuts in the 2011 Budget Control Act that were enacted–at Obama’s suggestion–to end the last debt ceiling crisis.

The president, who has invited congressional leaders to conduct talks at the White House Monday afternoon, still continues to insist that he “will not pay a ransom for Congress reopening the government and raising the debt limit.” Yet he and his party are the ones insisting on a “ransom,” now that Republicans appear to be in the mood to compromise after opinion poll results last week showed them losing politically in the showdown.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has claimed that the sequester dispute means that Democrats and Republicans are only $70 billion apart in budget negotiations. That is a blatant lie, as the total value of the sequester over ten years is $1.1 trillion. Democrats do not want a reprieve for one year–they want the entire sequester canceled so that they can continue spending on such priorities as the annual cowboy poetry festival in Nevada.

Last week, President Obama asked the press to “imagine if a Democratic Congress threatened to crash the global economy unless a Republican president agreed to gun background checks or immigration reform.” Now the White House and a Democrat-controlled Senate are threatening exactly that–unless Republicans agree to fork over $1.1 trillion, paid for with new “revenues” (i.e. taxes) on the American people. Ransom, indeed.

No progress to end US government shutdown

WITH less than week to go until the federal government faces an historic default, talks between the White House and House of Representatives Republicans broke down Saturday, leaving the fate of a deal in the Senate’s hands.

The future of any compromise shifted largely to two wily, veteran negotiators, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. They, along with senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., met Saturday local time for the first time to discuss a way forward.

“The conversations were extremely cordial but very preliminary, of course. Nothing conclusive, but I hope that our talking is some solace to the American people and the world,” said Reid. He added that any deal was “a long ways away.”

Senate Democrats, though, offered a less optimistic take late Saturday after Reid and other Democratic Senate leaders talked strategy at the White House with President Barack Obama for more than an hour. They were joined by Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors and Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said the senators and the White House reviewed a number of options, but concluded that “while Democrats remain united, Republicans have yet to coalesce behind a clear negotiating position.” The aide said Obama and the senators agreed that talks between Senate Democrats and Republicans should continue, but said the Democratic position remains the same: “Democrats are willing to negotiate on anything Republicans want to discuss, as soon as we reopen the government and pay our bills.”

The government is expected to reach its debt limit Thursday, and parts of the government have been closed since October 1.

While Reid and McConnell were polite and guardedly hopeful, most of those at the Capitol were glum. The momentum that had been building all week fizzled, and the day was marked by round after round of public finger-pointing and posturing.

US President Barack Obama discussed the need for Congress to reopen government during a meeting with small business owners in the White House on Friday.
The gloom was triggered Friday, when Obama essentially rejected a House Republican debt limit plan. Saturday, angry House Republican leaders gave colleagues a somber assessment of where things stand. They said they were now awaiting the president’s next move and that no further talks were scheduled.

At the same hour, Reid and other senators were meeting, and afterward Reid said, “This should be seen as something very positive, even though we don’t have anything done yet.”

It was not clear where McConnell and Reid, two long-time legislative combatants, could find common ground. Democrats have insisted the government reopen before they negotiate on the budget. Republicans are reluctant to agree to a higher debt limit unless there are significant spending cuts.

Senators believe that the differences have narrowed to the point where disagreements can be broadly listed on a sheet of paper, meaning compromise is possible.

“There is a reason to believe that ultimately we will work it out,” said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

Publicly, the sniping has escalated. The Senate took a test vote on moving ahead with a Democratic plan to extend the debt limit through the end of next year. Republicans blocked the maneuver, essentially killing the measure.

House Republicans expressed doubts about Senate Republican ideas. House Democrats mounted a public effort to force a vote on reopening the government, angering Republicans. The White House was largely silent.

“Congress must do its job and raise the debt limit to pay the bills we have incurred and avoid default. It is unfortunate that the common sense, clean debt limit increase proposed by Senate Democrats was refused a yes or no vote today,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

“Congress needs to move forward with a solution that reopens the government and allows us to pay our bills so we can move on to the business of achieving a broader budget deal that creates jobs, grows the economy and strengthens the middle class.”

But Aussie Treasurer Joe Hockey is confident the United States will sort out its fiscal crisis and end a partial government shutdown but warns the solution may not be pretty.

Mr Hockey is currently in Washington for meetings with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

He says the impact of a US debt default would be “catastrophic”.

“I’m absolutely confident, having spoken to a number of congressmen and senators from both sides of the house … there will be a resolution, it might not be pretty … America will not default,” he said this morning.

“We are in for a continuing volatile period.”

Mr Hockey described the tactics of the Tea Party members as extreme.

“The lesson for us is to understand that it should never get to this point,” he said, adding that governments must live within their means.

“America can no longer afford its lifestyle.”

Female driver rams barricade outside the White House

A Woman driving a black Lexus tried to ram through a White House barricade then led police on a chase that ended in gunfire outside the Capitol.

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It started at 2:18pm (4:18am AEST) when the woman in a black Lexus tried ram a security barricade blocking the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House,

She did not get through and was chased at high speeds for about 12 blocks towards the Capitol.

The woman was driving erratically and using her car like a weapon when she hit a Capitol Police vehicle at Second St and Constitution Ave and then crashed into barricades a few blocks away.

Fox News reported that the woman was shot and killed. She is not believed to have been armed.

Tourist Edmund Ofori-Attah said he walked toward the scene, curious about what was going on.

“Then I heard the gunfire” and hit the ground, he said.

Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer said the woman driving the car had a child with her. Mr Ofori-Attah said the child appeared to be about 2 to 3 years old.

Mr Gainer said the child was taken to a hospital.

It is not believed to have been a terrorist attack.

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A police officer was injured in the traffic accident but Mr Gainer said the injuries were not life threatening.

“We heard three, four, five pops,” said Senator Bob Casey, who was walking from the Capitol to an office building across the street. Police ordered Senator Casey and nearby tourists to crouch behind a car for protection, then hustled everyone into the Capitol.

“There were multiple shots fired and the air was filled with gunpowder,” said Berin Szoka, whose office at a technology think tank overlooks the shooting scene.

There were fewer tourists and staffers around the area due to the government shutdown.

The shooting comes two weeks after a mentally disturbed employee terrorised the Navy Yard with a shotgun, leaving 13 people dead including the gunman.

Before the disruption, politicians had been trying to find common ground to end a government shutdown. The House had just finished approving legislation aimed at partly lifting the government shutdown by paying National Guard and Reserve members.

People standing outside the Supreme Court across the street from Congress were hurried into the court building by authorities.

The White House also was briefly locked down after the incident at Capitol Hill and the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the compound was closed to pedestrians. Secret Service said the procedures were precautionary.

Syrian Foreign Minister asks How can Obama support those who in their time blew up the World Trade Center

I am asking myself the same question.

MOSCOW – Syria’s foreign minister accused Barack Obama of backing terrorists as the White House ramped-up its efforts to make the case for military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad’s regime for the alleged use of chemical weapons.
“We are asking ourselves how Obama can … support those who in their time blew up the World Trade Center in New York,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said during a press conference with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.

Sunni Muslim extremists allied with al Qaeda are among the rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, a member of the Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot.

Lavrov said there was enough evidence to show that the rebels fighting Assad have chemical weapons themselves, raising questions about who was behind the gas attack on August 21.

Russia, one of Assad’s staunchest supporters, continued its call for a political solution to the crisis, which has claimed some 100,000 lives, displaced close to a third of Syria’s population and destabilized the region….

Obama’s Case for Syria Didn’t Reflect Intel Consensus

By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service 

Washington, DC – Contrary to the general impression in Congress and the news media, the Syria chemical warfare intelligence summary released by the Barack Obama administration Aug. 30 did not represent an intelligence community assessment, an IPS analysis and interviews with former intelligence officials reveals.

The evidence indicates that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper culled intelligence analyses from various agencies and by the White House itself, but that the White House itself had the final say in the contents of the document.
Leading members of Congress to believe that the document was an intelligence community assessment and thus represents a credible picture of the intelligence on the alleged chemical attack of Aug. 21 has been a central element in the Obama administration’s case for war in Syria.

That part of the strategy, at least, has been successful. Despite strong opposition in Congress to the proposed military strike in Syria, no one in either chamber has yet challenged the administration’s characterisation of the intelligence. But the administration is vulnerable to the charge that it has put out an intelligence document that does not fully and accurately reflect the views of intelligence analysts.

Former intelligence officials told IPS that that the paper does not represent a genuine intelligence community assessment but rather one reflecting a predominantly Obama administration influence.

In essence, the White House selected those elements of the intelligence community assessments that supported the administration’s policy of planning a strike against the Syrian government force and omitted those that didn’t.

In a radical departure from normal practice involving summaries or excerpts of intelligence documents that are made public, the Syria chemical weapons intelligence summary document was not released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence but by the White House Office of the Press Secretary.

It was titled “Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013.” The first sentence begins, “The United States government assesses,” and the second sentence begins, “We assess”.

The introductory paragraph refers to the main body of the text as a summary of “the intelligence community’s analysis” of the issue, rather than as an “intelligence community assessment”, which would have been used had the entire intelligence community endorsed the document.

A former senior intelligence official who asked not to be identified told IPS in an e-mail Friday that the language used by the White House “means that this is not an intelligence community document”.

The former senior official, who held dozens of security classifications over a decades-long intelligence career, said he had “never seen a document about an international crisis at any classification described/slugged as a U.S. government assessment.”

The document further indicates that the administration “decided on a position and cherry-picked the intelligence to fit it,” he said. “The result is not a balanced assessment of the intelligence.”
Greg Thielmann, whose last position before retiring from the State Department was director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, told IPS he has never seen a government document labeled “Government Assessment” either.

“If it’s an intelligence assessment,” Thielmann said, “why didn’t they label it as such?”

Former National Intelligence Officer Paul Pillar, who has participated in drafting national intelligence estimates, said the intelligence assessment summary released by the White House “is evidently an administration document, and the working master copy may have been in someone’s computer at the White House or National Security Council.”

Pillar suggested that senior intelligence officials might have signed off on the administration paper, but that the White House may have drafted its own paper to “avoid attention to analytic differences within the intelligence community.”

Comparable intelligence community assessments in the past, he observed – including the 2002 Iraq WMD estimate – include indications of differences in assessment among elements of the community.

An unnamed “senior administration official” briefing the news media on the intelligence paper on Aug. 30 said that the paper was “fully vetted within the intelligence community,” and that, ”All members of the intelligence community participated in its development.”
But that statement fell far short of asserting that all the elements of the intelligence community had approved the paper in question, or even that it had gone through anything resembling consultations between the primary drafters and other analysts, and opportunities for agencies to register dissent that typically accompany intelligence community assessments.

The same “senior administration official” indicated that DNI Clapper had “approved” submissions from various agencies for what the official called “the process”. The anonymous speaker did not explain further to journalists what that process preceding the issuance of the White House paper had involved.

However, an Associated Press story on Aug. 29 referred to “a report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence outlining the evidence against Syria”, citing two intelligence officials and two other administration officials as sources.

That article suggests that the administration had originally planned for the report on intelligence to be issued by Clapper rather than the White House, apparently after reaching agreement with the White House on the contents of the paper.

But Clapper’s name was not on the final document issued by the White House, and the document is nowhere to be found on the ODNI website. All previous intelligence community assessments were posted on that site.

The issuance of the document by the White House rather than by Clapper, as had been apparently planned, points to a refusal by Clapper to put his name on the document as revised by the White House.

Clapper’s refusal to endorse it – presumably because it was too obviously an exercise in “cherry picking” intelligence to support a decision for war – would explain why the document had to be issued by the White House.

Efforts by IPS to get a comment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence suggest strongly that Clapper is embarrassed by the way the Obama White House misrepresented the Aug. 30 document.

An e-mail query by IPS to the media relations staff of ODNI requesting clarification of the status of the Aug. 30 document in relation to the intelligence community was never answered.

In follow-up phone calls, ODNI personnel said someone would respond to the query. After failing to respond for two days, despite promising that someone would call back, however, ODNI’s media relations office apparently decided to refuse any further contact with IPS on the subject.

A clear indication that the White House, rather than Clapper, had the final say on the content of the document is that it includes a statement that a “preliminary U.S. government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children.”

That figure, for which no source was indicated, was several times larger than the estimates given by British and French intelligence.
The document issued by the White House cites intelligence that is either obviously ambiguous at best or is of doubtful authenticity, or both, as firm evidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack.

It claims that Syrian chemical weapons specialists were preparing for such an attack merely on the basis of signals intelligence indicating the presence of one or more individuals in a particular location. The same intelligence had been regarded prior to Aug. 21 as indicating nothing out of the ordinary, as was reported by CBS news Aug. 23.

The paper also cites a purported intercept by U.S intelligence of conversations between Syrian officials in which a “senior official” supposedly “confirmed” that the government had carried out the chemical weapons attack.

But the evidence appears to indicate that the alleged intercept was actually passed on to the United States by Israeli intelligence. U.S. intelligence officials have long been doubtful about intelligence from Israeli sources that is clearly in line with Israeli interests.

Opponents of the proposed U.S. strike against Syria could argue that the Obama administration’s presentation of the intelligence supporting war is far more politicised than the flawed 2002 Iraq WMD estimate that the George W. Bush administration cited as part of the justification for the invasion of Iraq.

Dem Congressman Charges Obama With Syrian Intelligence Scandal

Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, once among the most ardent supporters of the Obama White House, is breaking ranks and calling out the Obama administration for manipulating intelligence data in order to convince lawmakers to allow military action against Syria. While such accusations have been whispered for day behind closed doors, Grayson is among the first lawmakers to make them public, and the accusation itself is possibly the most serious ever leveled against the administration among a member of the president’s own political party.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., who is aggressively lobbying against a military strike on Syria, says the Obama administration has manipulated intelligence to push its case for U.S. involvement in the country’s two-year civil war.

Mr. Obama Suffers From “Severe Detachment From Reality”
Grayson made the accusation in an interview published Wednesday by The Atlantic and offered more detail in a Thursday discussion with U.S. News. He says members of Congress are being given intelligence briefings without any evidence to support administration claims that Syrian leader Bashar Assad ordered the use of chemical weapons.

Grayson said he cannot discuss the classified briefings, but noted details in the administration’s public, non-classified report are being contested.
The White House released its four-page public report Aug. 30, arguing that Assad’s government killed 1,429 people on Aug. 21 with a planned chemical weapon attack. Evidence cited in that report included “intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used.”

Grayson, however, says “the claim has been made that that information was completely mischaracterized.”

He points to an article published by The Daily Caller that alleges the communications actually showed Syrian officers were surprised by the alleged chemical weapon attack. The communications, according to unnamed sources paraphrased in article, were intercepted by Israeli intelligence and “doctored so that it leads a reader to just the opposite conclusion.”

“What they say in The Daily Caller is that [intercepted communications] would lead one to the opposite conclusion,” Grayson said. “I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, [but] there’s a very simple way to find out, that’s for the administration to show me and other members of Congress” translated transcripts of the intercepts, he said.

Members of Congress are “not being given any of the underlying elements of the intelligence reports,” according to Grayson. He’s not sure if the information will come before the votes on a proposed strike next week.

The anti-war Democrat said there are other examples of intelligence he believes has been manipulated to favor war.

“Well yes,” Grayson said, “but I’m very constrained about talking about it. … This has become a fundamental problem with our system: The information we do get is limited, but beyond that we are very constrained in discussing it.”

…”We can’t go to war to spare anyone embarrassment,” Grayson told U.S. News. “That would be utterly immoral, we’re talking about shedding American blood. … The president has already made that argument and it’s falling on deaf ears.” LINK

This was the line that really jumped out for me:“…the communications actually showed Syrian officers were surprised by the alleged chemical weapon attack. ”If true, this would strongly support corroborate information coming from Russia, and explain other U.S. ally nations’ unwillingness to support a military strike against Syria. Now consider that reader – either the Obama White House is willing to place American lives at risk on the basis of a lie, or at best, or they are equally willing to do so without doing any real due diligence to fine out the facts. The motivation for THAT scenario points to something much deeper, and likely far more troubling, than the potential Syrian conflict alone.

The one year anniversary of the Benghazi Massacre is quickly approaching…

Obama fights for majority on Syria action

PRESIDENT Barack Obama has signed up power brokers in Congress for strikes on Syria but, in an era of insurgent politics haunted by Iraq, there is no guarantee the rank and file will follow.

Obama, who is on the road in Sweden, mobilised his big political and military guns on Wednesday to convince lawmakers to back his plan to punish President Bashar al-Assad over a chemical weapons attack.

The White House can already boast two significant victories.
On Tuesday, Republican House Speaker John Boehner and majority leader Eric Cantor, who more normally torment the president, gave robust support to his strategy.

Then, on Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations committee voted by 10 members to seven to authorise action in Syria – albeit under tighter rules of engagement than the White House had requested. Republican Senator Bob Corker said,

“None of us want the US mired down in another conflict, so the committee has significantly limited the president’s original authorisation, while still providing for an appropriate use of force in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons.”

For Obama to collect on the huge gamble he made in seeking congressional backing for attacks in Syria, he must win over lower ranking lawmakers who, unlike their leaders, are more concerned with their political skins than US standing in the world.

War weariness stalks America, and votes to authorise action in Syria, likely to begin next week, are tough ones – especially for House and Senate lawmakers up for re-election in 2014. Republicans face a strain of isolationist and libertarian sentiment roiling a party still working through the political trauma of the Iraq war.

Many establishment Republicans have already been knocked off their perches by “Tea Party” candidates who have challenged them from their right in nominating contests.
Anti-war liberal Democrats meanwhile are making unlikely common cause with conservatives like Senator Rand Paul, who oppose US military action.

Hawks like Republican senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain meanwhile demand a more robust effort than the “limited” strikes Obama has proposed and want to escalate US military aid to the Syrian opposition.

This splintering of party lines is complicating efforts to build a coalition behind action in Syria. But one White House official predicted sufficient support would emerge between the extremes. National Security Advisor Susan Rice said she was “quite confident” that the administration would prevail.

Another official admitted privately that the White House “will lose some Democrats” meaning that significant numbers of Republicans will be needed not just in the House, but in the Democratic-run Senate to get the bill through.

Reliable vote counts are not yet available, as hearings on the authorisation, featuring a passionate Secretary of State John Kerry take place on Capitol Hill. But a top House Democrat, Chris Van Hollen, when asked on Wednesday whether a war resolution could get through the chamber, replied: “I don’t think anybody knows right now.”

Though Boehner and Cantor are in favour – other top Republicans are wavering and could siphon away yes votes. The White House has good reason for concern. Close Obama aides privately vent frustration that Boehner has been unable to deliver his riotous caucus on other big issues, including on proposed budget deals.

Obama, often criticised for a failure to engage on key priorities on Capitol Hill, has been unusually active. A senior official said the president was calling lawmakers from abroad. On Wednesday, he also hardened his rhetoric.

“My credibility is not on the line, the international community’s credibility is on the line and America and Congress’s credibility is on the line,”

The comments appeared to be a bid to give Republicans, many of whom defy him on principle, a reason to vote ‘yes’ other than the fact the president’s prestige is at stake.