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Congressional Debate Begins on Authorization for Syria Strike

The Obama administration is expanding its push for congressional authorization to bomb Syria as lawmakers return from the summer recess. President Obama will give interviews to six different U.S. networks today ahead of an address to the nation Tuesday night. Speaking on NBC’s "Meet the Press," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough emphasized the administration’s new focus linking an attack on Syria to stopping the proliferation of chemical weapons.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough: "Here’s what it does. It degrades his capacity to use them again. It also makes him think twice before he goes to these dastardly weapons again. And why does that matter? If he’s going to use these things more aggressively, David, he’s going to take them out of secure storage, push them into the front lines. When they’re on the front lines, you know what that means? They’re a greater risk of them being proliferated."

The congressional debate on whether to approve a Syria attack begins today. A series of tallies shows the Obama administration faces an uphill battle in its bid for authorization. According to USA Today, just 44 of 533 congressmembers have pledged to vote in favor of military action.

Kerry: U.S. Could Seek New U.N. Vote; Assad Could Avoid Attack by Handing over Chemical Weapons

The White House effort to convince lawmakers in Washington comes after President Obama’s failed attempt to drum up support at the G-20 summit in Russia last week. Speaking in Paris, Secretary of State John Kerry said the administration has not ruled out a return to the U.N. Security Council after inspectors complete their report on last month’s attack in Ghouta.

Secretary of State John Kerry: "The president and all of us are listening carefully to all of our friends. No decision has been made by the president. We will obviously take this under advisement, and I’m sure — and the president will make his decision at the appropriate period of time."

Kerry spoke after meeting with foreign ministers from the Arab League, including Saudi Arabia, which Kerry says has endorsed a military strike. Earlier today in London, Kerry said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can avoid a military attack if he hands over his entire chemical weapons stockpile within the next week.

Secretary of State John Kerry: "Sure, he can turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week, turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously."

Obama Admin Releases New Video of Ghouta Aftermath

As part of its lobbying bid, the Obama administration has released new, graphic video showing the aftermath of the Ghouta attack. The footage compiles clips that were uploaded to YouTube. Videos were shown to the Senate Intelligence Committee last week and are now being handed out to members of Congress.

Protests Held Against Syria Strike as Polls Show Continued Opposition

Protests continue in the United States against a military strike on Syria. On Saturday, a few hundred demonstrators gathered outside the White House.

Carey Campbell: "The path to peace is peace and not war. On the question of chemical weapons, this hasn’t been proven. The U.N. inspectors are still doing their job."

Candace Wolf: "The message is, I am totally against another military intervention by our government. All of the resources of our country should be put into the needs of the people of our country — healthcare for everyone, public education for everyone, quality public education — instead of military adventures."

The latest polls show 56 percent of Americans remain opposed to a military strike, while 19 percent are in favor. On Saturday, scores of demonstrators also marched in Los Angeles.

Philip Makhoul: "I have family still living there. I have family fear day and night. They do not sleep; worry about what’s going to happen in Syria. They have people shocked in all Damascus now waiting for any bomb."

Rosa María de la Torre: "I’m really pleased to be here today because it’s a very broad coalition. We’ve got all communities represented here, from the Middle East, from Mexico, from Latin America, from the black community. This is a—politically, it’s also very broad, and I think it’s very important that we all forget our differences and that we come together to stop this war machine."

Pope Francis: War a "Defeat for Humanity"

Protests against U.S. military action in Syria also continue globally. On Saturday, an estimated crowd of 100,000 people filled the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square for a peace vigil. Addressing the crowd, Pope Francis called war a "defeat for humanity."

Report: Assad May Not Have Authorized Ghouta Attack

A new report out of Germany claims Bashar al-Assad may not have personally authorized the apparent chemical attack in Ghouta. Citing unnamed sources from German intelligence, Bild am Sonntag says members of Syria’s armed forces may have committed the attack without Assad’s permission. Intercepted radio messages and phone calls show Assad has repeatedly turned down recent military requests to use chemical weapons. Speaking earlier today in London, Secretary of State John Kerry rejected any distinction in command between Assad and members of his regime.

Secretary of State John Kerry: "Under any circumstances, the Assad regime is the Assad regime, and the regime issues orders, and we have high-level regime that have been caught giving these instructions and engaging in these preparations with results going directly to President Assad, and we’re aware of that. So, we have no issue about the question here of responsibility. There is none. The Assad regime is the Assad regime."

In an interview with CBS News airing today, Assad issued a new denial, saying: "There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people."

U.S. Drone Strike Kills Up to 16 in Afghanistan

A U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan has killed up to 16 people, including as many as 12 civilians. The attack came in the province of Kunar on Saturday. The U.S.-led NATO occupation force reportedly bombed a truck carrying women and children after it picked up three suspected militants. In other violence, four Afghan officers were killed and dozens of civilians were wounded Sunday when Taliban fighters hit an intelligence compound in Wardak Province.

NSA Spying Extends to Brazilian State-Oil Firm

The latest disclosures from Edward Snowden show the U.S. has used the National Security Agency to spy on Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras. Brazil’s biggest television network, Globo, reports Petrobras was among a group of companies, including Google, targeted by the NSA for undisclosed reasons. The NSA apparently tapped into Petrobras’ internal communications network.

Rousseff: U.S. Visit Hinges on "Political Conditions" Following Spying Claims

The news of more National Security Agency spying in Brazil comes one week after it emerged the United States has spied on the phone calls and emails of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. The revelations have sparked a diplomatic uproar and threatened a planned trip by Rousseff to the United States next month. At the G-20 summit in Russia, Rousseff said she raised her concerns directly with President Obama, and added that her visit to the United States will depend on how Obama responds.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff: "President Obama reiterated he wanted to create the political conditions for my trip to the United States, and he knew that this depends on adopting the measures in line with what the Brazilian government requires. He reiterated this clearly to me. So my trip to the United States depends on political conditions."

Brazil has rejected the U.S. government’s attempt to explain the spying so far. Brazilian Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo said: "All of the explanations that have been given to us from the beginning have proven to be false." In an interview with The Hindu newspaper, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva criticized the NSA spy program and said President Obama should "personally apologize to the world."

Report: NSA Can Hack into All Smartphones

In another leak from Edward Snowden, the German magazine Der Spiegel reports the NSA has developed the ability to tap into all the major smartphone models, including iPhones, Androids and Blackberrys.

Thousands Protest Energy Policies in Mexico

Thousands of people rallied in Mexico City on Sunday against the Mexican government’s plans to overhaul the country’s energy sector. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is pushing an effort to open the state-controlled oil company to investment from foreign multinationals. Addressing the crowd, former Mexico City mayor and presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador accused Peña Nieto of backing privatization.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador: "They’re going to loot and finally destroy the national enterprise, Pemex. That’s why we can’t dismiss the participation of all citizens, from all social classes, because this is a punch against Mexico, against the majority of Mexican people."

The protest in Mexico comes as Peña Nieto also faces a teachers strike against his education plan.

New Australian PM Vows to Cut Foreign Aid, Global Warming Initiatives

Australia has elected a new prime minister from the right-wing Liberal Party after six years of governance by the more centrist Labor. Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott has pledged to cut back foreign aid, undo measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and crack down on asylum seekers trying to reach Australian shores.

Chinese Journalist Shi Tao Freed After 8 Years Behind Bars

A Chinese journalist who was imprisoned after the Internet giant Yahoo worked with the Chinese government has been released after more than eight years behind bars. Shi Tao was arrested in 2004 for emailing a government document about the Tiananmen Square massacre to a pro-democracy group in the United States. He was jailed after Yahoo turned over his account information to Chinese authorities. Yahoo later reached a settlement with his family.

Activists Stage Force-Feeding Outside White House

Activists gathered in front of the White House on Friday for the force-feeding of an activist who has been on hunger strike for over two months. Andrés Thomas Conteris has staged the fast in solidarity with hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay and in the California prison system, which ended just last week. On Friday, Conteris was force-fed through a nasal tube as demonstrators looked on. He urged President Obama to either release Guantánamo Bay prisoners or end their forced feeding.

Arizona Death Row Prisoner Wins New Trial

A death row prisoner in Arizona has been released on bail after winning a new trial. Debra Milke has spent over 22 years behind bars after being convicted of ordering the murder of her four-year-old son. But she was freed on Friday after it emerged prosecutors failed to disclose that a key witness in her trial, police officer Armando Saldate, had a history of misconduct and lying under oath.

NAACP President Ben Jealous Stepping Down

NAACP President Ben Jealous has announced plans to step down at the end of the year. Jealous became the NAACP’s youngest-ever president when he took the helm five years ago at the age of 35. He says he is leaving in order to spend more time with his family.


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