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Pro-democracy Group Appeals for International Aid To Help.... the USA

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The call has gone out. An international appeal is being circulated. For the promotion of democracy in the one country that needs it the most, the US, the newly founded International Endowment for Democracy (IED) seeks to raise international funds to assist pro-democracy groups within the US.

According to the group's statement of purpose on its new website, "American democracy has never been what it claimed to be." Discrimination by race and sex and a political system dominated by the wealthy are cited as hallmarks of US society, both historically and in the present.

"If Abraham Lincoln famously defined 'democracy' as 'government of, by and for the people,'" the statement reads, "American democracy was always government OVER everyone, BY a small wealthy class, and (with an occasional exception) FOR these same few." Wealth in private property has always been the main criteria for rule.

In current times, however, the capture of power by George W. Bush through two stolen elections marks a new moment in US history. "Even the modest degree of influence Americans once enjoyed over their rulers has practically disappeared," the statement says.

Characterizing the administration as "illegitimate," the statement cites its use of fear of terrorism to weaken civil liberties, the danger it poses to world peace (having "started two unnecessary wars"), its intensified economic imperialism through "free trade" agreements, its promotion of economic inequality in the US, it erosion of social welfare in the US, and its stubborn unwillingness to address global climate change. In sum, the administration "has raised the stakes to the point where the very future of our species is in jeopardy."

IED's statement lauds the stated goal of building democracy around the world, but insists that "it has to start in the country that needs it most, which is our own."

While the potential for democracy in the US may be bleak, the IED statement proclaims rather optimistically its belief that the situation can be turned around.

IED would serve as a means for people around the globe who have an interest in democratic change in the US to participate in that change. IED plans to solicit funds internationally and turn those funds entirely over to organizations and movements that can best affect democratic change.

Without naming particular groups designated to receive funds, IED has specified 4 main types of groups that do pro-democracy work which would be targeted: progressive workers' groups, progressive media, progressive education, and individuals and organizations who provide investigative analysis of US foreign policy. In the future, groups chosen to receive funds and the amounts they receive will be made public.

Prominent members of the board of IED and other officials include prison and social activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, renowned social critic Howard Zinn, human rights attorneys Lynne Stewart and Leonard Weinglass, award-winning essayist Gore Vidal, writer Micahel Parenti, environmental advocate Joel Kovel, and numerous other prominent academicians and activists. The idea was conceived by the organization's president, Bertell Ollman.

The concept may be described as a left-wing version of the US government's grant funding arm the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). On IED's website, readers may find articles that discuss NED's role in international affairs and the various groups to which it has provided funds.

NED is widely criticized for use of US taxpayer money to fund groups and organizations that serve an interventionist purpose in order to promote US interests in other countries or in some instances to destabilize them.

For example, the US government, through the NED gave the International Republican Institute (IRI), an arm of the Republican Party, $200,000 to finance the creation of opposition political parties in Venezuela. Under the guise of "democracy," those funds enabled some tiny groups to project a larger voice calling for the downfall of the current democratically elected government.

Altogether, the NED gave at least $725,000 in 2005 alone to groups in Venezuela to promote US interests. This sum doesn't include hundreds of thousands more given to organizations that have regional interests, such as American Center for International Labor Solidarity, an arm of the AFL-CIO. ACILS, or the Solidarity Center as it is sometimes referred to, used US government funds to aid labor groups in Venezuela that side with political movements that promote US government interests, in this case, overthrow of the democratically elected Cha'vez presidency.

Numerous examples of this kind of activity can be found among the recipients of US tax dollars through the NED in many countries. But overthrow of a particular government that the US doesn't like isn't always on the NED's agenda. Sometimes influencing national or local elections or promoting groups that favor business or trade interests such as "free trade" agreements is enough. At the very least the influential presence of US government cash ensures that US corporate interests will be tended to.

While the names of many groups that receive NED funding seem innocuous or have goals that appear altruistic, the real purpose is to create dependency on US government funding sources for groups that probably wouldn't exist without the money and that may potentially wield more political power as a result of their ties to the US government.

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--Joel Wendland is editor of Political Affairs.
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