Third Parties Fight for American Democracy

by Joel S. Hirschhorn

A great democracy offers citizens sharp political choices. That’s what gives political freedom meaning. With two-party control of America’s political system, political options and discourse are stifled. We badly need more visible third-parties that can fully participate and reach the public with information about their platforms and candidates. In a nation that so worships competition it is hypocritical that there is so little political competition.

In truth, the Democratic-Republican partnership opposes competition. They have convinced Americans that votes for third party candidates are “wasted.” Yet the biggest wasted vote is for a Democrat or Republican that is almost certain to win or lose, and takes your vote for granted. This year, even in the face of enormous public dissatisfaction with the two major parties, and a widespread belief that both are hopelessly corrupted by big money from corporate and other special interests, too many voters sheepishly picked from column D or R, even for sure winners or losers.

In this remarkable year of attention to many hot issues, especially political corruption and the Iraq war, voter turnout was just over 40 percent, no better than the previous midterm election. One valid view of why 60 percent of eligible voters did not vote is that they saw little difference between the two major parties and, therefore, that their votes do not matter. It’s “they’re all a bunch of crooks and liars” belief, bolstered this year with so much evidence of crooks in congress and liars in the Bush administration. Where supporters of Republicans or Democrats see different positions on issues, cynical citizens see nothing but campaign propaganda and civic distraction through divisive issues. So they do not vote their conscience or for lesser-evil candidates. Most have too little information about third party candidates to vote for them.
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Opportunities lost: When bullies derail dialogue, we all lose

by Robert Jensen 

In a world of spin, no one expects truth from corporate executives or the politicians who serve them, but many of us hold out hope that in the classroom and sanctuary we can engage one another honestly in the struggle to understand the world and our place in it. So, while I’ve had my share of squabbles with schools and churches over the years, I remain committed to them as important truth-seeking institutions.
 
As a university professor who has recently returned to church membership, I have a lot riding on those hopes, which is why it was particularly disappointing in recent weeks to be scheduled for speaking engagements and then abruptly canceled by a Catholic diocese and a private high school in Texas. In both cases, some people in the institutions were eager to have me share my knowledge and experiences, only to have the leadership give in to complaints from conservatives.
 
My disappointment wasn’t personal -- I’ve been rejected enough to be able to roll with these punches -- but about a concern for the future if the institutions we count on to create space for dialogue are so easily cowed. The problem isn’t that I lost chances to speak, but that everyone lost a chance for engagement.
 
The first cancellation came from the Diocese of Victoria in September. Staff members organizing the annual “Conference for Catechesis and Ministry” asked if I would lead one session on media coverage of the Middle East and another on strategies for speaking with children about war. I signed on immediately, grateful for the opportunity to discuss these important issues.

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Snow Blind: American-Backed Murder in Colombia

by Chris Floyd

I was going to write about the recent "revelations" that leaders in Colombia's American-backed ruling party were hip-deep in blood and corruption with the right-wing militias that have murdered a nd terrorized thousands of innocent people.  But I see that Jonathan Schwarz already has it well covered, with a sharp personal angle thrown in as well.

Schwarz is always worth reading -- as we've often said here, if you're not checking him out every day, then you've got rocks in the head, dad -- but he has been a man on fire recently. Hie yourself over there now, after a taste of these excerpts.

Why Do "They" Hate Us? Is It Somehow Connected To The Way We Cut Off Their Limbs With Chainsaws?

Before the 9/11 attacks came along, I used to work with groups trying to get the U.S. to stop funding Colombia's right-wing paramilitaries. The pretense, of course, was we were funding the Colombian military in their heroic struggle in the War on Drugs. The reality, that the paramilitaries were run by the Colombian government to murder anyone to the left of Elliot Abrams, is finally being acknowledged....

It's difficult to overstate the level of human depravity exhibited by the paramilitaries. One of their favorite techniques is to kill people with chainsaws:

    "The Chainsaw Massacre is not a film in Colombia," said government ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes, referring to the April 12 [2001] paramilitary massacre in Alto Naya, 650 kilometers (404 miles) southeast of [Bogota]...

    It left some 128 people dead, including 40 in Alto Naya, according to official reports quoted by Cifuentes in an interview with AFP...

    Around 400 paramilitaries took part in this "caravan of death" against civilians accused of supporting leftist guerrillas, Cifuentes said in his Bogota office.

    "The remains of a woman were exhumed. Her abdomen was cut open with a chainsaw. A 17-year-old girl had her throat cut and both hands also amputated," said the ombudsman...

    "A neighbor pounced upon a paramilitary that was ready to shoot him and took his weapon, but unfortunately he didn't know how to fire a rifle. They dragged him away, cut him open with a chainsaw and chopped him up," a witness of the massacre told El Espectador daily.

I once attended a lunch with a Colombian union official. He said the paramilitaries would generally warn people like him of their intentions, by visiting them and cutting their sleeves or pants where they would later cut off their arms and legs if they didn't flee the area. Less important people didn't get warnings.

This year we're giving Colombia approximately 600 million dollars for these appealing activities. The biggest upswing in aid came during the last years of the Clinton administration. What's really neat is the paramilitaries are actually the ones controlling most of the cocaine trade in Colombia. In other words, as part of the War on Drugs, we're giving massive aid to some of the world's biggest drug dealers.

If past experience is any guide, the people mentioned in the above article as investigating this (e.g., Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro) have maybe four weeks to live.

SPECIAL BONUS DEPRAVITY: I once worked for a right-wing corporate lawyer who had (1) a massive cocaine addiction and (2) a Colombian maid who'd been a kindergarten teacher until she fled. I often felt he should have made the connection explicit by telling her, "Look at me! I can destroy your country and your life using only MY NOSE!!!"

Of course, in the long human tradition of utter indifference to those less powerful than you, he knew neither that she'd been a kindergarten teacher nor even that she was Colombian.
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Comic Relief, Celebrity and Remembering Little Harry

by Linda Milazzo

Hooray for Hollywood!


Yes, I'm a believer. I'm not an 'ignoranti' who believes celebrities are vapid and have nothing to offer. I'm an 'appreciati' who believes most 'celebrities' (not my favorite word) do a lot and give a lot... graciously, generously and frequently.

No, I'm not a gushy fan, as a true ignoranti would pronounce me. I'm a person who recognizes the value of giving, how much good it does, and the worth of the people who do it. I also value the First Amendment. You won't find me burning Dixie Chicks or Streisand CD's. Questioning Madonna's motives, or Angelina's. Denouncing Alec Baldwin, Rosie O'Donnell or Whoopi Goldberg. Quite the contrary. I uphold their First Amendment right to publicly voice their opinions. Be it an environmentalist like Robert Redford, an animal rights supporter like Bill Maher, or a gun advocate like Charlton Heston, they all have a right to their say.

And to their actions...

I applaud Sean Penn for making his way to Iraq and Iran to bear witness first hand. For going to New Orleans on the fourth day after Katrina. For arriving at midnight to sleep on a floor in the darkened city, absent cameras and lights. To pull boats through murky water and rescue people from their homes, while their President lounged in his own.
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An Open Letter to the People and Government of the US - James Petras

by James Petras

(And a Reply to the FARC)

On a November 9, 2006, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Peoples Army, (FARC-EP) sent an “Open Letter to the People of the United States”. It was specifically addressed to several Hollywood producers and actors (Michael Moore, Denzel Washington and Oliver Stone) as well as three leftist academics (James Petras, Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis) and a progressive politician (Jessie Jackson). The purpose of the open letter was to solicit our support in facilitating an agreement between the US and Colombian governments and the FARC-EP on exchanging 600 imprisoned guerrillas (including 2 on trial in the US) for 60 rebel-held prisoners including 3 US counter-insurgency experts.

FARC-EP: Terrorist Band or Resistance Movement?

Contrary to the US government position characterizing the FARC-EP as a ‘terrorist organization’, it is the longest standing, largest peasant-based guerrilla movement in the world today. Founded in 1964 by two dozen peasant activists, as a means for defending autonomous rural communities from the violent depredations of the Colombian military and paramilitary, the FARC-EP has grown into a highly organized 20,000 member guerrilla army with several hundred thousand local militia and supporters, highly influential in over 40% of the country. Up until September 11, 2001, the FARC-EP was recognized as a legitimate resistance movement by most of the countries of the European Union, Latin America and for several years was in peace negotiations with the Colombian government headed by President Andrés Pastrana. Prior to 9/11 FARC leaders met with European heads of state to exchange ideas on the peace process. Numerous prominent business leaders from Wall Street, City of London and Bogotá and notables like Queen Noor of Jordan met with FARC leaders in the demilitarized zone during the aborted peace negotiations (1999-2002).

Under heavy pressure from the White House, particularly its leading spokespersons, the right-wing extremists like the notorious Otto Reich, Roger Noriega and, John Bolton, the Pastrana regime abruptly broke off negotiations and in less than 24 hours sent the Colombian Army into the demilitarized area, in an attempt to capture the FARC leaders engaged in negotiations. The ‘surprise’ attack failed but did set the stage for the escalation of the conflict.

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Milton Lost: Can We Regain Paradise?

by Jason Miller

[I dedicate this essay to the untold millions who suffered as a result of Milton Friedman’s creation of an intellectual bulwark for economic brutality. On 11/16/06, Friedman died of heart failure, an ironic cause of death for a heartless individual.]

We have reached the deplorable circumstance where in large measure a very powerful few are in possession of the earth's resources, the land and its riches and all the franchises and other privileges that yield a return. These positions are maintained virtually without taxation; they are immune to the demands made on others. The very poor, who have nothing, are the object of compulsory charity. And the rest -- the workers, the middle-class, the backbone of the country -- are made to support the lot by their labor.

-- Agnes George de Mille (granddaughter of Henry George), New York, 1979

Note that Ms. George de Mille penned her observations before the patron saint of the “have mores” established residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In less than three decades, a Friedman-inspired Reagan and his successors made astounding gains for the “very powerful” de Mille described.

Reagan wielded the scalpel that emasculated organized labor and convinced America that “regulation” is a four letter word. George H.W. Bush further crippled unions and condemned many poor Mexicans to corporate exploitation through his relentless efforts to make NAFTA a reality. Convincing the multitude of his compassion and empathy, Clinton proceeded to sign NAFTA into law and cheerfully eviscerated public assistance.
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Housing Bubble Smack-down

by Mike Whitney

Give me 5 minutes and I’ll convince you that you should sell your house immediately and invest yourlife-savings in gold or a Swiss bank-account.

For some time now we’ve been hearing about the so-called housing bubble and what effect it could have on your net worth and future. Well, the numbers are finally in and you can decide for yourself whether its time to sell now or try to ride out the storm.

In 2000 the total value of homes in the US was $11.4 trillion. Today that number has shot up to $20.3 trillion; nearly double.

At the same time, mortgage-debt in 2000 was a trifling $4.8 trillion (about half) while in 2006 it skyrocketed to a whopping $9.3 trillion.

So, how do we explain these enormous increases in value? After all, wasn’t the housing boom just the natural outcome of “supply and demand”?

No it wasn’t. That’s an unfortunate myth that should be interred with the withered remains of Milton “free-market” Friedman.
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"Fast Food Nation" Makes Headlines

by Mickey Z.

In almost every movie ever made, at some point, a character will consume animal products: a cheeseburger, a steak, a tuna sandwich, an omelet, a slice of pizza, a milk shake...whatever. Often, the script will even have characters specifically voice their love for such fare.

In the reviews of these films, of course, you will see no mention of this. No film reviewer would ever condemn a movie simply because the protagonist ate and enjoyed, say, a grilled cheese sandwich.

However, if you were to release a movie that directly addressed the standard American diet and animal consumption, every wiseass writer would be poised and ready to get glib and trivialize the message. It's all part of the subtle, daily conditioning we endure. If you don't believe me, check out some of the headlines for "Fast Food Nation" reviews:

'Fast Food' serves a lot to chew on" (San Jose Mercury News)

"It's a whopper!" (Edmonton Sun)

"Beefing Up 'Fast Food Nation' (Washington Post)

"Mistake on a bun" (Toronto Star)

'Fast Food Nation' bites off too little as a drama" (Seattle Post Intelligencer)

'Fast Food Nation' serves up revolting food for thought" (Los Angeles Daily)

"Linklater spoon-feeds audience 'Fast Food Nation'" (Reno Gazette-Journal)

"Order of 'Fast Food' difficult to stomach" (Boston Herald)
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University Unity - California professors and students join forces

by Seth Sandronsky

The recent election win of an incumbent and centrist GOP governor in California over his Democratic rival by double digits might suggest that the political status quo is alive and well.  Is this gubernatorial landslide a triumph of centrism in the face of left and right extremism?  Have California voters spoken and returned to their market-friendly roles as tame workers and faithful consumers?  Such views might be off the mark.

Consider the coalition actions of union professors and students in the California State University system.  An estimated 1,500 of them rallied at the system’s board of trustees meeting in Long Beach on November 15.  Two dozen of these protesters locked arms in a sit-down action in front of the trustees, bringing to mind the black freedom movement’s fight to end racial segregation in the 1960s.

What is happening that propelled CSU professors and students to demonstrate this way?  Part of the answer is their discontent with rising class size (50 students and up) and student fees, plus six-figure senior management pay that continues after these managers have left the system (also called “golden parachutes”).

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Who's the Comeback Kid Now?

by Will Durst

Guess who the Republicans snuck in as Senate Minority Whip? Trent Lott. Yes, that Trent Lott. Welcome back buddy! You’re a breath of stale air. And just the shot of smack in the arm the GOP needs. A return to the good old high flying junkie days of yore when votes stayed counted and people had priorities. Winning. At all costs.

Don’t worry about those silly racist slur charges. Hardly anybody remembers how or why you were unceremoniously bounced from your Majority leader position in the first place. That was four long years ago, which in politics is measured via carbon dating. It was so long ago we hadn’t discovered the phantom nature of weapons of mass destruction yet. When President Bush had a higher approval rating than the puppy- eating- snake level he’s at now. Back when he acted like he was better than you. And to reclaim a position of power right after the midterms that he fumbled away like a running back wearing ham mittens… genius move. As was the secret ballot. Need more of those in the Senate.

As per your controversial speechifying about how better off America would be if Strom Thurmond’s Presidential bid on the Segregationist Dixiecrat Ticket had been successful: don’t sweat it, people already forgot. Most Americans are hard pressed to recall anything before the last “Lost.” And your 25- 24 vote margin in the Asleep At The Wheel Party Sweepstakes is especially delicious, considering these are the same folks who insist they’re doing all they can to reach out to minorities. Apparently still don’t realize you were arguing integration is bad. Besides, you did apologize, and if nobody could quite understand what you were saying because of the hood muffling your words- tough.
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Criminalizing Compassion in the War on Terror: Muslim Charities and the Case of Dr. Rafil A. Dhafir

By Katherine Hughes
 
“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But ... the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The truth shall set you free? Maybe. But first the Truth must be set free.”

Wole Soyinka, Nigerian playwright, educator.


Since the events of 9/11 the government has implemented powerful new prosecutorial tools to gain convictions in its War on Terror. In an article entitled, “Terrorist Financing,” Jeff Breinholt, Deputy Chief of the Department of Justice's Counterterrorism Section, explains these tools and how they are being used to win convictions.On page thirty-one of the article he lists the statutes being used in the criminal prosecution of terrorist financing and among these statutes is the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which Breinholt also labels as “United States economic sanctions.” IEEPA provides the President of the United States with authority to deal with any “unusual and extraordinary threat” that has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States; this includes threat to “national security, foreign policy, and the economy.”

Prosecutors armed with the statutes listed in Breinholt’s paper are further empowered by using them in conjunction with the “material support of terrorism” laws, Executive Order 13224, and civil asset forfeiture laws, particularly those under IEEPA, which were amended by the PATRIOT Act. Under the IEEPA civil asset forfeiture provisions the government can close down an organization and seize its assets while an investigation is ongoing, without probable cause of criminal activity and without any charges ever being brought against anyone.

E.O. 13224 was issued on September 23, 2001, and introduced a blacklist of organizations and individuals suspected of terrorism, materially aiding terrorism, or associating with terrorists. IEEPA and international law permit humanitarian assistance for these suspects, including food, clothing and medicine, but this humanitarian aid is outlawed under the E.O. 13224. The penalty, for an IEEPA violation, for organizations that knowingly engage in terrorist financing already carries a sentence of twenty years to life in prison. What this new provision does is “drastically increase the penalties for knowing violations of non-terrorism-related IEEPA offenses.” People with a concern for civil liberties are troubled by the fact that the government provides no legal definition of what they consider a “specially designated terrorist” and by the broad manner in which the government is interpreting the new rules.
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Saving Condi's Life

by Mickey Z.

There's a disturbing dynamic that occurs on every Manhattan street corner, every minute of every day. By simply watching the typical New York City pedestrian when he or she reaches the corner at a red light, you get a pretty good idea of what it's like to deal with an overcrowded, rancorous metropolitan area on a daily basis: No one waits on the sidewalk.

Even if a thousand cars are racing by, practically every single New Yorker insists on stepping a few steps out into the street while waiting for the light to change. They'll even go as far as squeezing themselves past other impatient street-crossers just to get to the front of the pack. We are so hyped up, so overstressed, so programmed to do everything fast that we can't even endure waiting 30 seconds for a damn traffic light. We'll risk death by stepping off the curb in order to get a head start on the green light.

With this in mind, here's a little thought experiment: Let's say I'm on such a corner as a pedestrian pushes past me-too harried to realize that she is stepping directly into the path of an oncoming SUV. I reach out, grab hold of her jacket, and yank her back to safety...only to realize it was none other than Condoleezza Rice. I wonder: How might that make me feel?
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