Colombian Elections Show Little Change Other Than Names

Party of National Integration still not as popular as the null vote.

By Ken Kelley

Candidates from three right-wing parties allied with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe won a clear majority in both the Senate and lower house in elections held on March 14.  The results are considered to be a sign of how Colombians will vote on May 30 when they choose a successor to Uribe, who was recently barred from seeking a third term.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the emergence of the rightist Party of National Integration (PIN), which won 8 out of the 102 Senate seats, displacing the leftist Alternative Democratic Pole as the country’s fourth largest political party.  The victorious PIN candidates were mostly relatives of ex-lawmakers now in jail or under investigation for ties to right-wing paramilitary groups.  In a scandal that tarnished the previous Congress, 12 pro-Uribe legislators were jailed while another 80 are still under investigation.

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A People’s Guide to the Health Care Bill

It’s socialism! It’s historic! Actually, it’s neither but the pundits have to call it something if they’re going to spend all day talking about it. So what should we know about the health care “reforms” that Obama and the Democratic Congress have just passed? For a quick rundown of the talking points and the unsurprisingly differing facts, consider this PDF. But to really consider the impact of this bill, let’s start with this editorial from The Socialist Worker appropriately entitled “Worse Than Nothing At All”:

In spite of the hysterical complaints of Republicans, the truth is that the health care measure House Democratic leaders hope to ram through this weekend is a disaster in the making for working people and a massive giveaway to the medical-pharmaceutical-insurance complex.

It will “mandate” people to buy policies from private insurers, without any guarantees of affordable premiums or adequate coverage. It won’t have a “public option.” It will slash spending and benefits for the federal government’s Medicare program by $500 billion. It will impose a tax in some form on employer-provided insurance–supposedly aimed at expensive “Cadillac” plans, but in reality affecting any insurance that has decent benefits.

The article continues to lay out how the twenty million Americans promised coverage under this bill are really getting a hollow promise that disguises the tremendous bonanza this legislation offers to the health care industry and opportunistic conservatives keen on using this to lay siege to women’s rights. Which brings us to our next point.

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On Re-presenting the ‘Terrorist’

In a series of interviews by the Talking Dog, lawyers for Bagram and Guantanamo detainees have been discussing why they do what they do; namely, represent clients who the government has and continues to maintain are ‘terrorists.’ In the most recent of  these interviews, Ellen Lubell, co-counsel for Abdul Aziz Naji, tells us what’s at stake for her in detainee representation and why such work must continue to be done.

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Seven Years in Iraq and Counting

by Ahmed Habib

On March 20, 2003, at approximately 5:30 in the early hours of the morning, just at that time where the sun settles into its daytime position over the skies of Baghdad, American jet fighters unleashed indiscriminate firepower over the beautiful city.

Amidst a house filled with resilient spirits, Laila cowered for cover with her neighbours and family. As a twenty year old university student, the Baghdad native had already been through two wars, and a genocidal sanctions regime that limited her childhood to an existence of deprivation and fear.

“This time, it was different, the explosions were so big, we all thought we were going to die,” Laila, a pseudonym used out of fear for her safety, says over a tired phone connection seven years later.

Tens of thousands of kilometres away, activists huddled around a television set, with their heads in their hands, and watched a glorified play by play of death narrated by indifferent talking heads.

“Those are people dying under those bombs, and we couldn’t do anything to stop them,” said Firas from a Toronto apartment, to the backdrop of free flowing tears.

In the lead up to that day, millions of people took to the streets to oppose the impending war, to no avail. Since then, over a million Iraqis have lost their lives, more than five million have been displaced, and countless lives have been destroyed.

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The Undue Influence of the Israel Lobby

by Jeffrey Blankfort

Despite the repeated humiliations suffered during his recent visit to Israel, US Vice President Joe Biden continued to grovel publicly to his Israeli hosts. Yet, according to Yediot Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely read newspaper, Biden had privately complained to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel’s behavior was “starting to get dangerous for us.” “What you’re doing here,” he reportedly said, “undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us, and it endangers regional peace.” That Biden made such a statement has been denied by the White House, but it follows closely an earlier memorandum sent by General Petraeus to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his testimony before a US Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

In his prepared statement, Petraeus depicted the Israeli-Arab conflict as the first “cross cutting challenge to security and stability” in the CENTCOM area of responsibility [AOR]. “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR.”

Treading in an area where few members of the US military have dared to go before, Petraeus observed that “The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.” It should be noted that neither the New York Times’s Elizabeth Bumiller nor the Washington Post’s Anne Flaherty included any reference to these comments by Petraeus in their coverage of his testimony.

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Sam Bahour on Shahid Alam

We are publishing a series of reviews and responses to PULSE contributor M. Shahid Alam’s latest work, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism. I would recommend this clear-sighted book to any student of the origins and trajectory of Zionism. Here, Sam Bahour describes his own provocative engagement with Israeli Exceptionalism.

Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism peels the onion of Zionism to reveal how deeply flawed this ideology was and is and how it has become a destabilizing factor which puts people of the region — and arguably beyond — in serious jeopardy.

Israeli Exceptionalism is not only a must read, it is a must-think-about book. To add intellectual spice, every chapter starts with a few quotes of prominent individuals related to the topic at hand. Reading these quotes alone speak volumes of the human tragedy that Zionism evokes.

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Taxpayer-funded ‘anti-Terror’ unit involved in propaganda effort over Gaza

by Scotland Against Criminalising Communities

The Annual Report of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), laid before Parliament last Thursday, confirms that a Government propaganda unit set up to tackle terrorism intervened to influence British public opinion during the Israeli attack on Gaza last year. The report also outlines a number of other steps taken by the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), including the creation of a network of community organisations. RICU is linked to the UK Government’s Prevent programme for preventing “violent extremism.”

Activities of this sort distort democracy in the UK. They aim to mobilise public and voluntary sector workers and ordinary people as propagandists for controversial Government policies. They poison public debate by linking opposition to the Government’s foreign policy to support for “extremism.” And they do all this within a framework of Government initiatives already notorious for the massive intelligence-gathering that they involve.

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Taking Sides: Israel and the lobby against the US

by John Mearsheimer

In the wake of Vice President Joe Biden’s ill-fated trip to Israel last week, many people would agree with the Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s remark that ‘Israel’s ties with the United States are in their worst crisis since 1975… a crisis of historic proportions.’ Like all crises, this one will eventually go away. However, this bitter fight has disturbing implications for Israelis and their American supporters.

First, the events of the past week make it clear in ways that we have not seen in the past that Israel is a strategic liability for the United States, not the strategic asset that the Israel lobby has long claimed it was. Specifically, the Obama administration has unambiguously declared that Israel’s expansionist policies in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, are doing serious damage to US interests in the region. Indeed, Biden reportedly told the Israeli prime minister, Binyahim Netanyahu, in private:

This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us, and it endangers regional peace.

If that message begins to resonate with the American public, unconditional support for the Jewish state is likely to evaporate.

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Let’s talk about America’s record on women’s rights

America's second-class citizens?

After Jasmin brought my attention to this story, I thought I would roll out a few more coincidentally timed reports that highlight the contradictions between America’s self-proclaimed equality and our astonishing contemporary failures in the area of women’s rights.

Firstly, Amnesty USA has released a new study on the quality of maternity care for American women. It notes:

The USA spends more than any other country on health care, and more on maternal health than any other type of hospital care. Despite this, women in the USA have a higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than those in 40 other countries. For example, the likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth in the USA is five times greater than in Greece, four times greater than in Germany, and three times greater than in Spain.

Unsurprisingly, there is a tremendous racial disparity as an African American woman’s odds of dying as a result of child birth is four times greater than that of white American.

Secondly, Democracy Now! explored the disparity in median wealth for American women. The median for a single Black woman is $100, $120 for a single Hispanic woman, and $41,000 for a single white woman. Seriously.

If you’re playing along at home, you can check off both “post-racial” and “feminist” on the list of things we hear about America but know are not true. I will also give you a prize if you can tell me how many of America’s governors are women and explain how that reflects the country’s diversity.

Image by Maze Walker on Flickr.

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