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Mon

20

Nov

2006

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.
 

Thu

19

Oct

2006

America is No Longer Free

by Paul Lehto
 

Habeas corpus -- it's your most fundamental legal right, your right to go to a court and get an order requiring the government to prove that it is holding you in prison with proper legal authority to do so. Without that right, one necessarily lives in a dictatorship. President Bush today on October 17, 2006 signed a bill repealing that law, meaning that the administration need not comply or show compliance with law any more with regard to who goes to prison or Gitmo.

While it supposedly applies just to terrorism cases, that doesn't prevent it from ending the rule of law in the United States for our newly all-powerful Executive. This is true not just because terrorism is construed so broadly in the prohibition of "material support" for terrorism (which by the way has already been held to include a lawyer's press release on behalf of a terrorist client) but because the administration NEED NOT PROVE IT'S REALLY TERRORISM because they don't need to answer to any court in the land at any time.

 

Mon

20

Nov

2006

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.

 

Fri

10

Nov

2006

The Dems’ New Power: Investigative Hearings Done Right
by Andrew Bard Schmookler

On Election Day, America took a step that history may show to have been absolutely crucial in saving this republic. At a time when the soul of America has been gravely endangered by our ruling powers, the American people have handed significant power back to the opposition party. Perhaps they will be an effective check on the hitherto unchecked power of this usurpatious presidency.

But winning even an important battle is not winning the war (if you will allow the martial metaphor– indeed, in a meaningful sense, this IS war).

 



To continue to roll back these dark forces, it is imperative that the opposition exercise its new powers wisely. In the coming days, I hope to explore here what that may require. I will begin now with some thoughts –and a question– about what the Democrats should do with their new-found power to conduct investigative hearings.

 

Mon

20

Nov

2006

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.

 

Mon

20

Nov

2006

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.
 

Thu

19

Oct

2006

When "anti-war" doesn't mean anti-war

by Mickey Z.

 
A casual stroll through most major U.S. cities would provide ample opportunity to encounter numerous stickers, buttons, t-shirts, and windo signs bearing anti-war messages. Well, maybe not exactly "anti-war," but more like: anti-THIS-war. There's been some version of a peace movement inAmerica for over a century, but far too many of those speaking out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq are not strictly "anti-war." From what I can tell,more than a few of them have absolutely no problem with: wars started by their (sic) party and/or wars that the U.S. easily wins (sic).

 

Mon

20

Nov

2006

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.
 

Thu

09

Nov

2006

The Deeper Reality Behind Rumsfeld's Resignation

As Don Rumsfeld is tossed overboard by the panicky Bushes (who value loyalty to themselves above all other virtues but never, ever, practice it toward others; there will be many more bodies left behind as the Family rallies to clean up Junior's mess again), Steve Gilliard steps in below to remind us that what we are actually dealing with here is not politics, not some Beltway horse race, or some idiotic media game of "who's up, who's down." The issue is mass murder -- thousands of Americans, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis -- and human suffering beyond imagining for millions more.

This is the reality. This is what really matters about Rumsfeld and the other architects of the war crime in Iraq. And although all the talk about the election's political ramifications for the Bush Administration is entertaining and diverting, as most gossip is, and not without some importance, on the most essential level it is a moral obscenity.

For when Bush opens his mouth, clotted bits of corpseflesh tumble out; when he walks, he wades through pools of human blood. And behind him, skittering and scooting in the blood-slick on their hands and knees, come all his ministers, handlers and toadies, come all the media sycophants who eagerly peddled his lies, come all the war profiteers who fill their bank vaults with hacked limbs, blown guts, crushed heads and mounds of viscera -- their treasure, their prize. Are we really supposed to be concerned about the political standing of such wretches? Should we not be outraged that they are allowed to walk among free people, much less exercise power and dominion over the nation? Why do they have any "political standing" at all?

And yet, they do. This too is reality, and we must deal with it.

 

Mon

20

Nov

2006

"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)
 

Fri

10

Nov

2006

Mid-Term Election Post Mortem
by Mickey Z.

So, the Democrats have a majority in Congress. The bad times are over. The evil ones have been vanquished. Let's go ahead and declare world peace, an end to global warming, and‹while we're at it‹the cancellation of The O'Reilly Factor. I mean, what could be better, right? Hmm, we could also have a Democratic president to go along with a Democratic Senate and Democratic House. Can you say Hillary Rodham Clinton, boys and girls? Imagine that: A pinko by the name of Clinton running the White House with a merry band of liberals calling all the shots in Congress. How grand it would be...

Well, if you want a good idea of how things may go under the above scenario, you might want to reflect back upon the years of 1993 and 1994 because that's when President William Jefferson Clinton was enjoying the "advantage" of a Democratically-controlled Congress.

In just two years, the notorious liberal managed to abandon his pledge to consider offering asylum to Haitian refugees, renege on his promise to "take a firm stand" against the armed forces' ban on gays and lesbians, and back away from his most high-profile campaign issue: health care. He also signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), increased the Pentagon budget by another $25 billion, fired Jocelyn Elders, dumped Lani Guinier, ordered the bombing of Iraq and the Balkans, renewed the murderous sanctions on Iraq, ignored genocide in Rwanda, deported hundreds of thousands of "illegal" immigrants, and passed a crime bill that gave us more cops, more prisons, and 58 more offenses punishable by death. (All this came before the much-hyped Republican "revolution" in 1994. Can someone please explain to me why the right wing didn't like this guy?)
 

Wed

22

Nov

2006

A world of psychopaths - The superiority complex of psychopaths - and Israel and the US
by Paul J. Balles

Paul J. Balles considers the psychopathic phenomenon of the "superiority complex" as an explanation of dysfunctional behaviour among individuals and states, such as Israel and the US.

When I was living in Kuwait, I found it disturbing that a number of Kuwaiti drivers behaved arrogantly. These drivers ruled the roads. Everyone else was a paltry nuisance.

They flashed lights behind you when it was impossible to get out of their way. They cut in front of you with total disregard for safety or the driver they offended. They ignored right-of-way rules. They literally stole spaces you were manoeuvring to park in, and they double parked blocking you from leaving when it suited them.

What made matters worse: they became irritated when you complained about any of this behaviour. I don't want to generalize as only a minority acted as I've described; but they amounted to enough to irritate many others.

What these arrogant drivers displayed certainly seemed like they felt superior to others. I thought that their actions might have resulted from a superiority complex. To understand the behaviour, I decided to do some research.

I discovered that a "superiority complex refers to a subconscious neurotic mechanism of compensation developed by the individual as a result of feelings of inferiority". That definition, by psychologist Alfred Adler, made sense since the offenders had no good reason to feel superior.
 

Wed

18

Oct

2006

Sentimental Education: Academia Signs Up for Tracking Down Dissent

by Chris Floyd

 

This is my latest piece for Truthout.org.

I.
Why is the United States government spending millions of dollars to track down critics of George W. Bush in the press? And why have major American universities agreed to put this technology of tyranny into the state's hands?

At the most basic level, of course, both questions are easily answered: 1) Power. 2) Money. The Bush administration wants to be able to root out - and counteract - any dissenting noises that might put a crimp in its ongoing crusade for "full spectrum dominance" of global affairs, while the august institutions of higher learning involved - the universities of Cornell, Pittsburgh and Utah - crave the federal green that keeps them in clover.

But beyond these grubby realities, there are many other disturbing aspects of this new program - which is itself only part of a much broader penetration of American academia by the Department of Homeland Security.

As with so many of the Bush measures that have quietly stripped away America's liberties, this one too is beginning with a whimper, not a bang: a modest $2.4 Department of Homeland Security million grant to develop "sentiment analysis" software that will allow the government's "security organs" to sift millions of articles for "negative opinions of the United States or its leaders in newspapers and other publications overseas," as the New York Times reported earlier this month. Such negative opinions must be caught and catalogued because they could pose "potential threats to the nation," security apparatchiks told the Times.

This hydra-headed snooping program is based on "information extraction," which, as a chipper PR piece from Cornell tells us, is a process by which "computers scan text to find meaning in natural language," rather than the rigid literalism ordinarily demanded by silicon cogitators. Under the gentle tutelage of Homeland Security, the universities "will use machine-learning algorithms to give computers examples of text expressing both fact and opinion and teach them to tell the difference," says the Cornell blurb.

At this point, the ancient and ever-pertinent question of Pontius Pilate comes to mind: "What is truth?" Of course, Pilate, being a devotee of what George W. Bush likes to call "the path of action," gave the answer to his philosophical inquiry in brute physical form: truth is whatever the empire says it is - so take this Galilean rabble-rouser out and crucify him already. In like manner, it will certainly be the government "security organs" who ultimately determine the criteria for what is fact and what is opinion - and whether the latter is positive or negative, perhaps even a candidate for the Bush-Pilate "path."

The academics will be trying out the Sentiment Analysis program (let's call it SAP, for short) on four main clusters of articles from 2001-2002, the Times reports. These include: Bush's famous declaration of an "axis of evil" threatening the world; the treatment of his Terror War captives in Guantanamo Bay; global warming; and the failed Bush-backed bid to topple Venezuela's Hugo Chavez in a coup - all of them issues on which the Bush administration was at odds with much of the world, and large swathes of American opinion as well. Obviously, such issues are fertile fields for terrorist thought-crimes to be snagged and tagged by SAP.

For those with concerns about civil liberties, Cornell assures us that SAP will be limited strictly to foreign publications. Oh, really? Hands up out there, everyone who believes that this technology will not be used to ferret out "potential threats to the nation" arising in the Homeland press as well. After all, the Unitary Executive Decider-in-Chief has already decided that the nation's iron-clad laws against warrantless surveillance of American citizens can be swept aside by his "inherent powers" if he decides it's necessary. Why should he bother with any petty restrictions on a press-monitoring program? And wouldn't dissension within the ranks of the volk itself actually be more threatening to government policy than the grumbling of malcontents overseas?


 

Mon

20

Nov

2006

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”).

 

Wed

18

Oct

2006

Bush's Middle East Strategy, and Presidency, Lie in Ruins as Republicans Scurry Away

by Dave Lindorff

Well, so much for Iraqi “sovereignty.” So much too for "staying the course" and for "fighting the terrorists there so we won’t have to fight them here." And while we're at it, so much for all the young Americans who've tragically given their lives or their bodies and health in the interest of advancing President Bush’s criminal political agenda.

We saw the true nature of Iraqi "sovereignty" when it was disclosed that a worried Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki earlier this week made an anxious phone call to Bush to ask whether rumors he had been hearing were true that Bush was planning on replacing him. The call made it clear that Maliki knows he serves in his role solely at the pleasure of the American president. In saner, more honest times, the media would refer to such a situation as colonial, but our lapdog media just plays the game and talks about Iraq as if it were a sovereign nation.

Maliki also asked the president if it was true that the U.S. was planning on pulling the plug on the Iraq occupation. The president reportedly reassured his worried puppet that he was not going to undercut him, and was not about to withdraw US troops, but if I were Maliki, I'd heed the lesson of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, who was assured of US backing even as the CIA was making arrangements to have him assassinated and replaced by another thug.

 

 

Mon

20

Nov

2006

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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