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Posted by Time for change in General Discussion (1/22-2007 thru 12/14/2010)
Sun May 31st 2009, 10:31 PM
I walked into El Presidente’s office two days after he was elected and congratulated him… I said “Mr. President, in here I got a couple hundred million dollars for you and your family, if you play the game – you know, be kind to my friends who run the oil companies, treat your Uncle Sam good.” Then I stepped closer, reached my right hand into the other pocket, bent down next to his face, and whispered, “In here I got a gun and a bullet with your name on it – in case you decide to keep your campaign promises.” I stepped back, sat down, and recited a little list for him, of presidents who were assassinated or overthrown because they defied their Uncle Sam: from Diem to Torrijos – you know the routine. He got the message. – John Perkins, quoting an anonymous source in his new book, “The Secret History of the American Empire – Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption”.

No matter what promises you make on the campaign trail, blah blah blah, when you win (the U.S. Presidency), you go into this smoky room with the 12 industrialist, capitalist scumfucks that got you in there, and this little screen comes down...and its a shot of the JFK assassination from an angle you've never seen before, which looks suspiciously like the grassy knoll, and then the screen comes up and the lights go on, and they ask the new president "any questions? – Comedian Bill Hicks, telling a joke (or NOT).


In past posts I’ve speculated about the “Powers That Be” (PTB), the unelected but powerful and shadowy elite who seem to exercise influence over national and world events far more than a lot of people realize. Though most DUers – if not most Americans – seem to recognize their existence, because of their shadowy nature they are very difficult to talk about with much confidence.

In my most recent post I talked about excessive obedience to authority as one of the greatest sources of evil in the world. Of course, the most important “authority” of relevance to a political discussion of obedience would be the PTB.

Despite their minimal visibility, they seem to have their fingerprints over much of our nation’s history. Their ultimate purpose and motives can only be guessed at, but two aspects of our nation’s current condition seem to stand out above most others: 1) Rampant militarism manifested by a military budget almost equal to that of the rest of the world combined, a philosophy of perpetual war, more than 700 military bases scattered throughout all parts of the world, and imperialistic behavior and attitudes in relation to the other nations of the world; and 2) Obscenely unequal distribution of wealth.

Clearly, an understanding of this issue is of great importance to our attempts to understand how the world operates. Yet, the shadowy nature of the PTB greatly hampers our attempts to understand it. James Douglass’s book, “JFK and the Unspeakable – Why he Died and Why it Matters”, goes farther than any book I’ve previously read in concretely describing the conflict between the PTB and a U.S. President. Consequently, I find it to be one of the most enlightening books I’ve ever read:

Show down with the steel industry

Concerned about the rising price of steel, President John F. Kennedy brokered an agreement] between the United Steelworkers union and the United States Steel Company, signed on April 6, 1962, with the understanding that U.S. Steel would not raise steel prices. Four days later the president of U.S. Steel, Roger Blough, asked to meet with Kennedy. At their meeting he handed Kennedy a copy of a press release announcing that U.S. Steel would be raising steel prices.

In response to Blough’s double-cross, JFK told Blough “You’ve made a terrible mistake”, began immediately to shift Defense Department contracts from U.S. Steel to smaller companies that had not raised the price of steel, and had his Attorney General convene a grand jury to investigate price fixing among the largest steel companies. He then gave a press conference to the nation on April 11th, in which he said:

Simultaneous and identical actions of United States Steel and other leading steel corporations increasing steel prices by some $6 a ton constitute a wholly unjustifiable and irresponsible defiance of the public interest… The American people will find it hard, as I do, to accept a situation in which a tiny handful of steel executives whose pursuit of private power and profit exceeds their sense of public responsibility can show such utter contempt for the interests of 185 million Americans…

Some time ago I asked each American to consider what he would do for his country and I asked the steel companies. In the last 24 hours we had their answer.

Under attack by the President, and facing massive public resentment, the steel companies then tried to negotiate a compromise with Kennedy, but he refused to compromise. On April 13, 1962, the six largest steel countries in the country surrendered, reducing their steel prices to their previous levels. Douglass explains the upshot of JFK’s actions against the steel companies:

John and Robert Kennedy had become notorious in the ranks of big business. JFK’s strategy of withdrawing defense contracts and RFK’s aggressive investigating tactics toward men of power were seen as unforgivable sins by the corporate world. As a result of the president’s uncompromising stand against the steel industry – and implicitly any corporation that chose to defy his authority – a bitter gap opened up between Kennedy and big business, whose most powerful elements coincided with the MIC…

When Roger Blough handed U.S. Steel’s provocative press release to the president, he did so on behalf of not only U.S. steel but also these other financial giants… The president was acting too much like a president, rather than just another officeholder beholden to the powers that be… His unswerving response served to confirm the worst fears of corporate America… The steel crisis defined John and Robert Kennedy as Wall Street enemies…

JFK’s four refusals to invade Cuba

In a previous post I discussed JFK’s four refusals to let his military and CIA draw him into war with Cuba. So I won’t repeat that here. But to summarize:

Following the April 15-19, 1961, CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs by a Cuban Expeditionary Force, Kennedy’s military and CIA attempted to pressure him into committing to a full-scale invasion, in order to avoid the imminent defeat of the Cuban Expeditionary Force. Kennedy refused.

On March 16, 1962, Kennedy’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, led by their Chief, Lyman Lemnitzer, presented a plan called “Operation Northwoods” to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The plan involved a false flag terrorist operation that was meant to draw the United States into a war against Cuba. The idea was shot down. Kennedy told Lemnitzer that “there was virtually no possibility that the U.S. would ever use overt military force in Cuba.”

In his handling of the Cuban Missile crisis, Kennedy repeatedly resisted advice from his military advisors to escalate the situation by invading Cuba. On October 19th, 1962, Air Force Chief of Staff, General Curtis LeMay, contemptuously said of the President, “This is almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich.... I just don't see any other solution except direct military intervention right now.” But Kennedy instead decided upon a naval blockade, paired with intense back-channel diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. On October 22, despite the urging of Senate leaders for air strikes, he addressed the American public to announce his resolve to implement the naval blockade only.

On March 19, 1963, the CIA-sponsored Cuban exile group Alpha 66 announced at a press conference that it had raided a Soviet “fortress” and ship in Cuba, causing a dozen casualties. Kennedy eventually had to undertake vigorous action in order to stop the continuing attacks, as described in a April 6, 1963 article in the New York Times, which stated that the U.S. government intended to ‘take every step necessary’ to halt the raids.

Refusal to go to war in Laos

As Kennedy took office in January 1961, he was confronted with advice from outgoing President Eisenhower and from his military that he should intervene militarily in Laos against Communist forces seeking control of the government. Kennedy preferred a non-military solution if possible – negotiating a coalition Communist and non-Communist government in Laos. He made that policy official at a March 23 news conference, stating that he supported:

strongly and unreservedly… the goal of a neutral and independent Laos, tied to no outside power or group of powers, threatening no one, and free from any domination.

His military was adamantly against that solution. Admiral Burke told him “We should go in to win, and that means bombing Hanoi, China, and maybe even using nuclear weapons.” Air Force General Curtis LeMay stated in front of a room full of national security advisors that “The military had been unable to back up the President’s statements.” And General Lemnitzer told him “If we are given the right to use nuclear weapons, we can guarantee victory.”

But Kennedy persisted in trying to devise a non-military solution. Douglass describes how that turned out:

On July 23, 1962, the United States joins thirteen other nations at Geneva in signing the “Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos.” CIA and Pentagon opponents regard Kennedy’s negotiation of the Laotian agreement as surrender to the Communists. They undermine it by supporting General Phoumi’s violations of the cease-fire.

Plans for withdrawal from Vietnam

Early in his presidency Kennedy encountered strong determination from his military to get more deeply involved in the Vietnam War by sending in combat troops. Kennedy repeated refused to do that, though in November 1961 he compromised by sending in support units and “advisors” – though some of them did participate in combat.

After that he repeatedly requested a plan from his military for withdrawal from Vietnam. Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers and partially wrote them, discussed the reason for JFK's desire to withdraw from Vietnam against the unanimous advice of his military, with JFK’s brother Bobby. Douglass relates the following conversation on this issue:

Robert Kennedy answered that his brother was absolutely determined never to send ground combat units to Vietnam, because if he did, the U.S. would be in the same spot as the French -- whites against Asians, in a war against nationalism and self-determination.

Ellsberg pressed the question: Was JFK willing to accept defeat rather than send troops?

RFK said that if the president reached the point where the only alternative to defeat was sending ground troops or withdrawing, he intended to withdraw. "We would have handled it like Laos," his brother said.

Douglass describes the eventual outcome of JFK’s withdrawal plans

On May 6, 1963, the Pacific Command finally presents President Kennedy’s long-sought plan for withdrawal from Vietnam. However, McNamara has to reject the military’s overextended time line. He orders that concrete plans be drawn up for withdrawing one thousand U.S. military personnel from South Vietnam by the end of 1963.

Several reliable sources explain that Kennedy’s intentions to withdraw from Vietnam were firm and would have been carried out had he lived much longer.

Aspiring to an independent Congo

Again, against the advice of his military, Kennedy aspired to an independent Congo. Douglass explains Kennedy’s intentions and the friction that caused with his military and CIA:

Kennedy and (Edmund) Gullion promoted (UN Secretary-General) Hammarskjold’s vision of a united, independent Congo, to the dismay of multinational corporations working ceaselessly to carve up the country and control its rich resources. After Kennedy’s death, the corporations would succeed in controlling the Congo with the complicity of local kingpins. While JFK was alive, a Kennedy-Hammarskjold-UN vision kept the Congo together and independent.

Seventeen years after JFK’s death, Gullion said, “Kennedy, I think, risked a great deal in backing this operation (of UN forces in the Congo)…” The risk came from within his own government. Kennedy rejected his State Department’s and Joint Chiefs’ proposals for “direct U.S. military intervention in the Congo in September 1961 and December 1962.”… His Congo policy was also being subverted by the CIA, which had been arming the Congo’s secessionist regime in Katanga in order to promote Belgian mining interests… Kennedy’s policy, carried out by Gullion, was to support the UN peacekeeping operation. The President often quoted the statement his UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson made to the Security Council, that the only way to keep the Cold War out of the Congo was to keep the UN in the Congo. But the CIA wanted the Cold War in the Congo.

Plans to end the Cold War

Douglass presents a great deal of evidence on Kennedy’s intentions to end the Cold War, accompanied by frequent communication with Nikita Khrushchev towards the attainment of that goal. Perhaps the best evidence of Kennedy’s intention is provided by his peace speech at American University on June 10th 1963 (which I discuss in more detail in this post), just a little more than four months before he died. He began:

… I have, therefore, chose this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived – yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace. What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war… I am talking about genuine peace – the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living – the kind that enables man and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women – not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.

He talked about how the presence of nuclear weapons meant that that we MUST make peace a priority:

I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all of the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by the wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations unborn.

In marked contrast to the prevailing tough anti-Communist rhetoric of the day, Kennedy spoke of the need for Americans to examine their own attitudes:

Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world disarmament -- and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must re-examine our own attitude – as individuals and as a Nation – for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward – by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace… Too many of us think it is impossible… But that is dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable – that mankind is doomed – that we are gripped by forces we cannot control…

Six weeks later, Kennedy announced to the American people the first nuclear test ban treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. With an extensive public campaign and help from his Secretary of Defense… Kennedy prevailed upon the Senate to ratify the treaty. Kennedy then undertook secret negotiations with Fidel Castro in an attempt to come to an accommodation with him.

Implication for today’s World

Could the circumstances of JFK’s death have created a chilling effect on future U.S. presidents with otherwise independent or liberal tendencies? Could these considerations explain some of President Obama’s right turns? My tendency is to answer yes to both questions, though I have no way of knowing for sure.

Most important is the question of how to reduce the influence of the PTB on the world, our country, and our own lives. The key to that question lies in the fact that they are vastly outnumbered. Because they are vastly outnumbered, their success depends upon securing the allegiance and obedience of vast numbers of people. Because their violent and depraved methods and selfish goals are so out of synch with the good majority of Americans, the key to securing their allegiance and obedience is to create an alternate reality that people can believe in. That alternate reality hides much of the violence and depravity from our awareness, as it creates an elaborate system of rationalizations for what it cannot hide. Thus it is that we’re told that the purpose of our wars is to protect us against terrorists or to bring freedom and democracy to the poor uncivilized peoples who can’t carry on without our help.

That is why the PTB could not tolerate, for example, prosecuting the Bush administration for war crimes, and why it gets apoplectic at the mention of releasing pictures that depict those war crimes. A thorough investigation of those crimes could go a long way towards destroying the foundation for belief in their alternate reality. It could force Americans to confront some very inconvenient and unpleasant truths. In short, it could undermine the whole basis for their power.

Let me be more specific about this. The power of the PTB in the United States depends above all else on maintaining the widespread belief that the United States is – as “super-patriots” are so fond of claiming – “the greatest force for good in the world”. What kind of person would be willing to volunteer to risk his life fighting in his country’s war if he didn’t have great confidence in the benevolence and motives of his country? Convicting the highest leaders of the U.S. government for war crimes would shatter that confidence to hell and would therefore go a long way towards undermining the power of the PTB. And that would radically change the fabric of American society.
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The Unfulfilled Promise
The Unfulfilled Promise of the American Dream: The Widening Gap between the Reality of the United States and its Highest Ideals

Time for change

Notwithstanding the lofty sentiments and purpose of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the reality of the United States of America did not then – and never has – lived up to its ideal. Our nation remains today a long way from fulfilling the promise implied by those ideals. Yet, our Declaration was a great start, and it has long shone as a beacon of hope for people all over the world.

Throughout our history, while many have striven to close the gap between our highest ideals and the reality of our nation, others have focused on the accumulation of private wealth and power, at the expense of everyone else. In recent decades the latter have gained much ground, leading to increasing imperialism abroad and deteriorating democracy at home, characterized by routine (and legal) bribery of our public officials, the fusion of government and private corporate interests (corporatocracy), a corrupt election system largely in the hands of private corporations, a corporate controlled communications media, and the widespread acceptance of Executive Branch secrecy, routinely justified with little if any questioning, by the magic words “national security”. All of this is rapidly turning our country from the democracy proclaimed at our founding into a plutocracy (government by the wealthy and for the wealthy). The result is the most obscene wealth gap our country has ever known, the highest imprisonment rate in the world, rampant militarism, routine flaunting of international law, the least efficient health care system in the developed world, a pending environmental catastrophe that threatens to destroy the life sustaining forces of our planet, and myriad other problems that threaten to destroy our nation and tyrannize our people.

My new book, The Unfulfilled Promise of the American Dream – The Widening Gap between the Reality of the United States and its Highest Ideals, explores the roots and consequences of the demise of our democracy, and why most Americans have been unable to understand this process or even become aware of it. A good understanding of why and how we have deviated so greatly from the ideals of our nation is the first and necessary step towards getting back on the right track and revitalizing our society.

The book is currently being sold in electronic PDF format and can be purchased at for $3.99. It will also soon be available in Amazon Kindle format. DU members who cannot afford to buy the book but would like to read it can pm me with your e-mail address, and I will send you a free PDF copy.

I’ve previously posted on DU a slightly earlier version of the introduction to the book, which is also posted at my site. Here is the Table of Contents, followed by a brief description of the three parts of the book:


Prologue – What is Wrong with the United States of America?

Part I – Root Causes of the Impending Demise of American Democracy
Chapter 1 – Legalized Bribery
Chapter 2 – Human Psychological Factors
Chapter 3 – Corporatocracy
Chapter 4 – Corporate Control of Media
Chapter 5 – Corrupt Election System
Chapter 6 – Government Secrecy
Chapter 7 – American Exceptionalism

Part II – A Sampling of Imperialist Actions
Chapter 8 – Slavery and its Legacy
Chapter 9 – Early U.S. Imperialism
Chapter 10 – U.S. Imperialism in Cold War
Chapter 11 – Iraq War and Occupation
Chapter 12 – Afghanistan War

Part III – Consequences
Chapter 13 – Election of George W. Bush
Chapter 14 – War and Imperialism
Chapter 15 – Class Warfare
Chapter 16 – Predator Financial Class
Chapter 17 – Shock Therapy
Chapter 18 – Contempt for Int. Law
Chapter 19 – The “War on Drugs”
Chapter 20 – Climate Change
Chapter 21 – “War on Terror”
Chapter 22 – Health Care
Chapter 23 – Unaccountable government
Chapter 24 – Response to 9/11 Attacks

PART I – Root Causes of the Impending Demise of American Democracy

It is somewhat difficult to separate the causes of our problems from their consequences, since they combine to form a long chain of cause leading to consequence, leading to more consequences, etcetera. Nevertheless, it seems worth while to identify the root causes of our problems, those that occur early in the chain and lead to so many of the tragic consequences we see today. The only chance we have of reversing the demise of our democracy is through addressing and attacking its root causes.

At the top of the list is the systematic bribery of public officials by the powerful corporations (Chapter 1) whom our government is charged with regulating in the public interest. Instead of calling it bribery, we call it “campaign contributions”, but what we call it isn’t as important as what it is. It is hard to fathom how democracy can survive when such a practice is legal and condoned.

Working in tandem with our system of legalized bribery is the nature of the people who inhabit our country. That is not to say that Americans are inherently substantially different than any other people. Human beings are imperfect, and that is probably a major reason why in a world where civilization began more than five millennia ago, the oldest written national framework of government in the world today – the Constitution of the United States of America – is only a little more than two and a quarter centuries old. Chapter 2 explores the roles of basic human needs, authoritarianism, psychological defense mechanisms used to prevent us from perceiving reality as it is rather than as we’d like it to be, and corrupted ideologies in causing us to passively accept the accumulation of power in the hands of ambitious and ruthless individuals who care about little else than expanding their own wealth and power.

When bribery of public officials is tolerated as an inevitable aspect of public life, government inevitably grows close to the wealthy interests that shower it with money in return for legislative and other favors. A malevolent symbiosis grows between the state and corporate power, resulting in rule by an oligarchy that is highly detrimental to the lives of ordinary people (Chapter 3). Using their accumulated wealth and power to manipulate our legislative process, the oligarchy grabs for more and more control of the communications media (Chapter 4) that are used to control the information available to and shape the attitudes of our nation’s people, in pursuit of their own narrow interests.

Since the 1980s an orchestrated campaign has been underway to demonize “big government”, thereby paving the way for private corporate control over more and more functions that were previously deemed intrinsic functions of government. Among those functions is the running of public elections (Chapter 5) – the function that symbolizes democracy perhaps more than any other single function. Consequently, the purging of selected registered voters from our computerized voter rolls has become a routine recurring event throughout much of our country, and without a doubt determined the results of the 2000 – and probably 2004 as well – presidential election. Just as bad, more and more of the counting of votes in our public elections have been turned over to private corporations, which count our votes using electronic machines using secret software to produce vote counts that cannot be verified by anyone.

Bribery, the fusion of government and private interest, fake and biased news, and corrupt elections are not things that government and its corporate allies want us to know about. Consequently, they construct walls of secrecy (Chapter 6) to keep us from obtaining information that sheds light on their activities. The perfect phrase for facilitating this is “national security”. When our government tells us that the “national security” requires that certain things be kept secret from us, the understanding is that to question such a pronouncement is unpatriotic, and to actually attempt to obtain the “secret” information may be treasonous.

But indefinitely maintaining secrets from the American people can be very difficult, because at least some people want to know what their government is up to. So in addition to the formal mechanisms of secrecy, informal mechanisms are constructed (Chapter 7) to keep vital information away from us. One of the primary methods for doing this is to make certain sensitive subjects taboo – that is, to create the widespread belief that discussion of these topics is so outside the bounds of acceptable human discourse that anyone who discusses them should be shunned by society, or worse. The most common issue that falls into this category is any discussion that sheds light on the disparity between American ideals and the reality of life in our country today.

PART II – A Sampling of Imperialist Actions in U.S. History

Notwithstanding the fact that our founding document says that “all men are created equal” and speaks of the inalienable rights of humankind, the United States has throughout its history partaken of massive exploitation of other peoples.

It is estimated that at the time of our birth, 18% of our population was black slaves. In our expansion westwards during the late 18th and 19th centuries, we decimated the original inhabitants of our continent, and often treated them with great cruelty. In 1846 we manufactured an excuse for war with our neighbor Mexico, in which we continued to expand our country westwards and southwards. In 1893 we began our overseas imperialism with the conquest of Hawaii. Our overseas expansion was greatly accelerated in 1898 with our participation in the Spanish-American War, which led to our conquest of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. With our arrival at world superpower status at the end of World War II, we began the Cold War, which led to and served as a rationalization for covert and/or direct military actions against myriad foreign nations over the next 46 years. With the September 11, 2001 attacks on our country, we declared a perpetual “War on Terror”, which served and continues to serve as an excuse to invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, nations that posed no threat to us. We do not know when or if this perpetual war will ever end. We don’t know how many additional imperial conquests it will lead to.

Most Americans don’t think much about all this. Many of these actions are done in secrecy, and the American people don’t find out about them until many years later – or we never find out about them at all. Those that we do know about are spun into the most favorable light, to make them seem benign or even noble.

But these actions come at great costs: in the lives of our soldiers; in the ruined lives of the peoples of the victim countries; in trillions of dollars cost to our people and their future generations; in our international reputation; in anti-American hatred leading to terrorism; and, to our democracy itself. For how can a nation claim to believe in the inalienable rights of humankind specified in its founding document, while making a mockery of that belief in the way it treats other peoples? For that reason alone it is worth while to take a brief look at our long history of imperialist actions.

PART III – Consequences

In the Prologue I give a brief account of what I see as some of the worst and tragic consequences of the root causes that I discuss in Part I – to enable the reader to see where this book is heading. When elections of our public officials are for sale to the highest bidder… when our public officials are so addicted to the “campaign contributions” of their wealthiest constituents that they develop a symbiotic relationship with them… when our communications media are owned and controlled by an oligarchy of wealthy elites… when our citizenry lack the ability to differentiate propaganda from reality… when we allow machines provided by private corporations to count our votes using secret electronic software… then we should expect that the consequences will not be pretty or comfortable for the vast majority of our citizens.

In Part III, I explore those consequences in much greater detail, in the hope that the reader will agree with me that these are very serious problems, and that they must be successfully addressed if our country is ever to fulfill the promise of its ideals, or even make progress in that direction. When enough Americans recognize our problems as problems, stripped of the gloss and spin put on them by our oligarchy, they will rise up and do something about them. Until then there will be no progress, and we are very likely to head in the direction of all the former empires of our planet, ending in chaos, widespread catastrophe, suffering, and ignominy.

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