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The U.S. is ramping up pressure on the American public to accept an attack on Iran, with not one but two stories in today's news. It wasn't enough to accuse Iran of producing nuclear weapons based on no evidence, now we're throwing into the mix accusations of cyberattacks and hostage taking as well.

In perhaps the more serious charge, an AP story accuses Iran of holding retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in 2007 on an Iranian island. Iran has repeatedly denied holding Levinson, which would seem reasonable on two counts — one, they never denied holding the three American hikers, nor journalist Roxanna Saberi; why would they deny holding Levinson? And two, considering they have made no demands for a "spy swap" or anything of the sort, to what end would they be holding him?

Logic, of course, doesn't deter the U.S. authorities who planted this story. And what exactly is their "evidence"? "The tradecraft used to send those items [videos and pictures of the hostage] was too good, indicating professional spies were behind them." An example of that "professional tradecraft"? They used a cybercafe to send the video and never used that email address again! Oh, the amazing professionalism! The wondrous "tradecraft" of anyone who could pull off such a daring feat! Yes, you read right, this is the evidence on which "the U.S. government's best intelligence analysis" says that Iran is holding Levinson.

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There has been a lot of media (and blog and Facebook and Twitter) attention on Paul Ryan's Janesville lie, in which he blames Barack Obama for the closing of an auto plant which closed before Obama was President. But with all the attention on the flagrant lie, much less attention has been paid to the real content of Ryan's claim. What if the plant had closed several months later, when Obama was President? We'd lose the flagrant lie, but we'd still have this:

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Statement from the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five on the Release from Prison of René González

René González, one of the five men known as the Cuban Five, today will walk out of Federal Prison in Marianna, Florida. He will walk out with his head held high after more than 13 years in prison, having served his utterly unjust sentence with complete dignity. He has been a model prisoner, even while suffering the indignity of being inhumanely deprived visits from his wife for more than 11 years.

Unable to afford René even the small victory of his release, however, the U.S. government insists on punishing him and his family even more by requiring him to remain in Florida for the three years of his parole, even though René has no family in Florida and his life will be in danger from the very terrorist groups he helped to infiltrate.

That danger cannot be underestimated. Florida Congressperson Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was quoted in the Miami Herald on Monday calling René an "enemy of America" with "American blood on his hands." These utterly false charges are a clear incitement to violence, and demonstrate all too clearly the necessity of allowing René to return immediately to Cuba.

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Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 10:29 AM PDT

Where does change come from?

by elishastephens

It's easy to get disillusioned with mass protest. Did it stop the invasion of Iraq? Has it ended the war against Afghanistan? Is the current "occupation" of Wall Street really likely to end the power of the bankers and overthrow capitalism?

But a recent interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg might shed a little light on the subject for those with a negative view:

"The question is," Williams asked, "what made you think [as an ACLU lawyer arguing a case before the Supreme Court] you could get the court to overrule over a century of precedent (regarding women's rights)?"

"The times," Ginsburg said. "The court is a reactive institution. It's never at the forefront of social change. There's always a movement in society that's pushing the court. By 1970, the women's movement was revived, not just in the United States, but all over the world. It was an issue that people cared about."

So there you have it, from the mouth of a Supreme Court Justice. Here, she's talking about the effect of the people, as expressed through mass movements, on the Supreme Court, but precisely the same thing is true of Congress. It is the people who make change, not the Court and not the Congress.

Stay in the streets!

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In a feature on tonight's NBC Nightly News entitled "What we've missed this week", Brian Williams told a story this way (my transcript from the video):

"This was the thing that was going to make us feel good about ourselves after a rough week. The U.S. has been anxious to launch a space plane, a hypersonic flying wing, that could go from New York to L.A. in 12 minutes at 13,000 miles an hour, unless it crashes, which is what it did this week, nine minutes after takeoff. Thankfully no one was on board, just don't call your travel agent just yet until they work the bugs out."
We'll overlook the fact that, thanks to U.S. foreign policy and the enemies it has created around the world, it takes more than 12 minutes just to get through security at an airport. But the truly outrageous nature of this story is the pretense that this plane is something we might look forward to, and even one day call our travel agent to book a flight on.

Wrong! This plane has nothing whatsoever to do with civilian air travel. And you don't have to look any further than the website of NBC itself, where the real nature of this "space plane" is in no way a secret:

The rocket-launched vehicle is part of an advanced weapons program, called Conventional Prompt Global Strike, which is working to develop systems of reaching an enemy target anywhere in the world within one hour.
And by "reaching" an enemy target, I don't think they have "delivering passengers" in mind, unless you regard bombs as passengers. And actually, the final sentence of the article (as well as the name of the program) makes that quite clear:
An engineering review board was to analyze that data in order to help shape future global strike programs, DARPA officials said.
"Global strike programs." Programs of delivering death from the air anywhere on the planet. That's what Brian Williams thinks was going to "make us feel good about ourselves."
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Today in Afghanistan:

Eight civilians, including women and children, have been killed in a US-led NATO airstrike in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.
...
In a separate incident, at least four people were killed when police opened fire during an anti-US demonstration held in the southern province of Zabul on Friday.

A provincial police chief said people took to the streets to protest an attack by US-led NATO forces in the Qalad district of Zabul province that killed three Afghan civilians.

And in tomorrow's news, Afghans in Helmand will take to the streets to protest today's NATO killings, and some of them will be killed when people open fire on their demonstration.

Why, oh why, do "they" hate "us"? It's just so...inexplicable.

This war, just like the ones in Iraq and Libya, are doing nothing positive for the national security of the United States, or for the security of the people of the nations in question.

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In his address to the nation about the debt ceiling "crisis," President Barack Obama had this to say about the consequences of failing to raise the debt ceiling:

"Interest rates would skyrocket on credit cards, on mortgages and on car loans, which amounts to a huge tax hike on the American people."
But this is completely wrong on two counts. First of all, a tax hike on the American people would go to the government, and allow the government to fund needed social programs, with the ancillary benefit that such spending creates jobs for the people delivering those social services. Interest is paid to banks and other corporations, and funds private profit (which quite often leads to one corporation buying another one with subsequent job cuts).

And secondly, higher interest rates on credit cards, mortgages, and car loans will not come out of the pockets of "the American people." No, they'll come out of the people who actually pay interest on their credit cards because they can't pay off their bills, people who have to borrow money to buy houses and cars rather than paying for them in cash. Who are these "people"? The poor and middle class, not the rich. And of course home owners itemizing deductions on their income tax get to deduct that increased mortgage interest directly from their income anyway, meaning even less money for the government.

No, President Obama, increased interest rates are in no way the equivalent of a "tax hike on the American people."

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Via fellow blogger WIIIAI, I was alerted to an Obama press conference I somehow missed on Wednesday. One could use up a lot of electrons on picking apart what he had to say on lots of subjects, but let's concentrate on the most egregious statements - the ones on Libya (a subject which, curiously enough, was apparently not important enough to be addressed by Obama in his introduction, and only came up in the Q&A session).

Q: There have been a lot of questions about the constitutionality -- constitutional interpretations of a few decisions you’ve made, so I’ll just simply ask:  Do you believe the War Powers Act is constitutional?...

A: I’m not a Supreme Court justice so I’m not going to -- putting my constitutional law professor hat on here.  Let me focus on, initially, the issue of Libya.  I want to talk about the substance of Libya because there’s been all kinds of noise about process and congressional consultation and so forth.

Absolutely remarkable. To a man who was a Constitutional law professor, discussions of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress are just "noise." The Constitutional mandate for Congress to declare war is just a "process." Are we sure this man actually was a "Constitutional law professor"? I have my doubts.
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You've got to love the passive tense*:

From AFP, with emphasis added:

Hundreds of activists are preparing to board aid ships bound for Gaza this week in defiance of an Israeli blockade and UN warnings and in spite of the violent end to an operation last year which left nine dead.
...
Nine Turks died when Israeli forces seized the Mavi Marmara.
They just died. No one killed them. Might have been heart attacks, for all we know.

AP is no better:

The warning reflected Israeli jitters about the international flotilla, which comes just over a year after a similar mission ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists in clashes with Israeli naval commandos.
A little better; at least there were Israeli forces involved in "clashes." You know, the kind where one side is firing guns and the other side is trying to grab the guys with the guns. Not a word about how those activists died. Perhaps they slipped overboard and drowned in the midst of these "clashes." The reader will never know they were shot, some at point-blank range, some in the back, by Israeli commandos. Killed. Executed.

Who knows how the nine Turkish activists died? Actually AFP and AP know, but they're not telling.


*For language purists, I'm aware that these are not all technically examples of the passive tense. However, when someone "dies" without the cause being indicated, and there was someone or something who caused the death which goes unmentioned, this is the functional equivalent.

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This is a response to the opinion article "No Libyans allowed at ANSWER Libya forum," posted here at Daily Kos and on various email lists on June 23, 2011. The writer of the response is the co-coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition in Los Angeles and a friend of mine, and I am posting it here with his permission. I was not at the Los Angeles meeting, so I have no knowledge of what happened there, but I was at the San Francisco meeting a few days later, and before posting the ANSWER-LA response below, let me just add my observations from SF:

There, there were a handful of anti-Libyan-government people (some may have been actual Libyans, others not, I have no way of knowing) demonstrating outside the forum, and several handfuls inside. As far as I could tell, the ones outside were outside voluntarily, since there was obviously no attempt to exclude all people with views contrary to the organizers. Inside, there was a small amount of verbal disruption a couple times, but nothing serious, and most of the questions and comments (largely comments) in the discussion period came from that point of view (i.e., there was no attempt to suppress them, but one who "demanded five minutes to present the other point of view" was told that A) the "other point of view" is on offer on CNN, FOX, MSNBC etc. every day of the week, and that B) he was more than welcome to organize his own forum to present that point of view (Akbar Muhammed of the Nation of Islam even offered to come speak at that forum if they wanted him to)).

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Obama’s speech means nothing to us and our families
Veterans, active-duty troops respond to endless war in Afghanistan

How many more deaths between now and the supposed withdrawal date in 2014?

The following is a statement from March Forward! in response to President Obama’s speech on the troop “withdrawal” from Afghanistan. I am reposting it with permission from the author.

President Barack Obama said in his speech on June 22, “This has been a difficult decade for our country.”

But it has not been difficult for everyone in the United States. It has not been difficult for the defense contractors, with their billion-dollar contracts churning out an endless supply of missiles to be fired and armored vehicles to be blown up. It has not been difficult for the oil giants, making record profits and getting access to new, untapped corners of the most resource-rich region of the world. It has not been difficult for the politicians, most of them millionaires themselves, getting fatter with lobbying money, whose sons and daughters do not die in combat, who smile and say they “support the troops” while they limit funding for veterans to mere scraps from the table.

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Wed Jun 22, 2011 at 05:58 PM PDT

Nation building at home

by elishastephens

President Obama: "America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home."

If by "it is time," you mean in a year or two once we stop bombing Libya, and in another 5 or 10 years when we have finally ended the war in Iraq, and another 10 or 20 years when we finally pull the last troops out of Afghanistan, and....

For the record, the Korean War ended 58 years ago...and there are still 28,500 troops there.

The plain fact is that, with the war mindset of Obama and the leadership of both parties, we'll be spending a trillion dollars a year on "defense"...indefinitely. Any claims to be ready to "focus on nation building here at home" are strictly an attempt to keep stringing along those who still have "hope" for "change."

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