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Hillary Deflated

Keep an eye on John Edwards.

As our own Bob Moser reported last year, the former Veep nominee has been aggressively courting the Democratic base, through his anti-poverty initiative, outreach to key groups such as labor and visits to high-profile electoral states.

He's kept himself a contender in '08, even as the press obsesses over Hillary. In a new poll of likely Iowa caucus voters released yesterday, Edwards beats Clinton 30 to 26 percent. It's the first time Hillary has trailed in a potential '08 match-up. And it's proof that Edwards's five trips to Iowa this year--and nine in the past two years--are paying off.

Yesterday, Edwards stumped for Chet Culver, the Democratic challenger for Governor. Clinton hasn't visited the Hawkeye state since 2003. And another poll released last week showed her beating Al Gore by just two points when New Yorkers were asked who'd make a better president.

At the annual Take Back America gathering of progressive activists, Hillary was reportedly booed when she talked about Iraq. (UPDATE: Though I'm told she also received a standing ovation at the beginning and end of her speech.) Edwards repudiated his support for the war last November. Clinton still stubbornly defends her vote and subsequent support for a stay-the-course policy.

Everywhere I go, Democrats and progressives don't want Hillary to run. She may have name recognition and rock star status, plus a first man named Bill, but I'm betting that those poll numbers only continue to fall.

UPDATE II: I forgot to mention the results of a new online survey: the more regularly someone reads blogs, the less likely they are to support Hillary. Another ominous sign for Clinton with a key emerging constituency.

Stolen Secrets

Allow me to be hysterical for a second. The Bush Administration has set a new bar for secrecy. So you think they'd be a little better at protecting sensitive information.

A few weeks ago a laptop containing vital details on 26.5 million military veterans was stolen from a Department of Veterans employee. How so much information could remain unguarded on one laptop remains a mystery. Massive, massive identify theft--on current and former US military personnel--could follow. Talk about a major national security breach.

But the narrative only gets worse. Last week, the Department of Energy admitted that a hacker stole confidential information on fifteen hundred people working for its nuclear weapons unit.

I repeat: nuclear weapons.

The data included Social Security numbers and security clearances. But it took nine months for the Secretary of Energy to become aware of the theft. At a hearing on Friday exposing the theft, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton, a Texas oil crony who's hardly a profile in oversight, called on the head of the DOE unit to resign that afternoon.

As of now, he's still got a job. So much for homeland security. Al Qaeda must be smiling. With a government like this, who needs enemies?

'Red, White and Screwed'

If you haven't been living on Mars these last years, you know Lewis Black as the caustic, bile-spewing, savagely funny stand-up comic, actor and Daily Show commentator. He's the one with the manic moves of a Joe Cocker who's spent too much time obsessing about our politics.

I love Black's obsessions and his style which, according to a Wikipedia entry, "is that of a man who, dealing with the absurdities of life and politics, is approaching his personal limits of sanity."

His Saturday night HBO special, "Red, White and Screwed" was full of rage and cursing--I counted 46 "fucks"-- and some of his best routines.

"This last year has been the toughest time I've spent as a comedian. Can't keep up with all this shit. Who can keep track. I don't even have a ports of Dubai joke and we're on to immigration. You tell mehow we're going to catch eleven million people... How we're going to build a wall thousands of miles long and we couldn't build levees in New Orleans."

"Bring it on," Black said, was the "dumbest thing ever uttered by anyone anywhere."

"I know what a neocon is. Someone who watches 'The Matrix' and believes it's real."

Black's hilarious routine about performing at the Congressional Correspondents' Dinner ensures that he will never, ever, be invited to do a routine at the White House Correspondents' gig. Guaranteed.

Hear some funny, novel ideas about how we should pick our next president. (It has to do with American Idol.) Learn why we should consider nominating a dead person--("no one will fuck with us for quite some time..." ). Listen to Black explain how much his parents hate Paul Wolfowitz, why Bush is nuts, and how he never believed a president, in his lifetime, would be elected who didn't believe in evolution.

Black's solo show is on HBO throughout the summer. Watch it.

Peter Beinart and the Beltway Crusaders

As Robert Borosage, co-Director of the Campaign for America'sFuture, argues in The Nation's current issue, "the current rage in center-right Democratic circles is to resuscitate Harry Truman, substitute bin Laden for Stalin andjihadism for Communism, and summon America to a new global struggle."

Peter Beinart, for example, who was a supporter of the Iraqdisaster (and has joined New Dems like Al From in urging Democratsto prove their resolve by purging the left from the Democraticparty) is a leading proponent of the misleading and wrong analogybetween Soviet totalitarianism and Islamic fundamentalism. For thisstance, Beinart has been celebrated by leading members of thecommentariat axis --Tom Friedman, Joe Klein and David Brooks amongothers. More are sure to follow.

But Beinart and his inside-the-beltway crusaders are out of touchwith an America that seeks a principled foreign policy that willmake them secure--not a messianic crusade that will deplete thenation's blood and treasure. His fighting faith pledge to "rallythe American people" to sustain an "extended and robust" occupationin Iraq, his calls for America to intervene aggressively in theMiddle East with a "sweeping program of economic, political andsocial reform" are more likely to create chaos and, perhaps, breedmore terrorism than advance the cause of democracy. It is importantto remember that this kind of "fighting faith" has more in commonwith the least successful periods of US foreign policy--the crusadethat led us into Vietnam, our support for the Afghan Muhajedin andBush's disastrous war in Iraq. It would be difficult to find asecurity consensus that is more wrongheaded for the challenges theUnited States now faces, or more at odds with the best traditionsof the Democratic Party.

As Robert Borosage, co-Director of the Campaign for America'sFuture, argues in The Nation's current issue, "the current rage in center-right Democratic circles is to resuscitate Harry Truman, substitute bin Laden for Stalin andjihadism for Communism, and summon America to a new global struggle."

Peter Beinart, for example, who was a supporter of the Iraqdisaster (and has joined New Dems like Al From in urging Democratsto prove their resolve by purging the left from the Democraticparty) is a leading proponent of the misleading and wrong analogybetween Soviet totalitarianism and Islamic fundamentalism. For thisstance, Beinart has been celebrated by leading members of thecommentariat axis --Tom Friedman, Joe Klein and David Brooks amongothers. More are sure to follow.

But Beinart and his inside-the-beltway crusaders are out of touchwith an America that seeks a principled foreign policy that willmake them secure--not a messianic crusade that will deplete thenation's blood and treasure. His fighting faith pledge to "rallythe American people" to sustain an "extended and robust" occupationin Iraq, his calls for America to intervene aggressively in theMiddle East with a "sweeping program of economic, political andsocial reform" are more likely to create chaos and, perhaps, breedmore terrorism than advance the cause of democracy. It is importantto remember that this kind of "fighting faith" has more in commonwith the least successful periods of US foreign policy--the crusadethat led us into Vietnam, our support for the Afghan Muhajedin andBush's disastrous war in Iraq. It would be difficult to find asecurity consensus that is more wrongheaded for the challenges theUnited States now faces, or more at odds with the best traditionsof the Democratic Party.

Of course, liberals need an effective national security strategy.But can we please stop with all the hurrahs about Harry Truman and his liberal national securityachievements? What we need to do is reclaim another liberal,internationalist and eminently (as well as ethically) "realist"foreign policy tradition. It is the "Good Neighbor" policy craftedand championed by Franklin Roosevelt.

A "Good Neighbor" policy stresses the need for a community of nations to keep the peace and to promote economic dignity andprosperity for people in the developing as well as developedworlds. This liberal internationalist tradition rejects unilateraldominance and favors developing a "community of power" to keep thepeace; It gives priority to a system of international law andgovernance over "preemptive" wars and unilateralism; It understandsthat to be effective, our foreign policy must work in tandem withreforms at home--to improve security, quality of life and basicrights; It considers military power to be a complement to, not asubstitute for, economic power and diplomacy; and it gives a morecentral role to spreading economic prosperity to ensure peace andstability and environmental sustainability.

It is time to reclaim this proud tradition, update it, and usethe Good Neighbor frame to advance a new set of policy goals andprinciples for a rational security policy.That also meansredefining strength to mean smart and strong--not strong and wrong.

What's encouraging is that recent polls show there is a mandate forsuch an approach. Polls taken by the Program in InternationalPolicy Attitudes (PIPA) find large majorities support "deep cuts indefense spending" and support for using the money to increasespending on education, job training, energy independence andveterans' benefits. Powerful support also exists for a strongUnited Nations, reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles, strengtheninginternational treaties and negotiating trade agreements thatprotect labor and environmental rights.

(In a short piece in Sunday's Washington Post, Beinart nods to the value of interdependence and international institutions. But it seems slightly opportunistic at this stage-- as if part of an effort to distinguish himself from the neocons and to rehabilitate himself with genuine liberal internationalists.)

At the core of this alternative to Beinart and other beltwayinsiders' messianic crusade is a belief that we spread our valuesand model chiefly by force of successful example. That does notmean retreat or isolationism. It means challenging thisadministration --and too many Democratic leaders-- who have boughtinto an over-militarized approach to terrorism, including theestablishment of military bases in the Middle East and CentralAsia. This policy has been disastrously counter-productive--transforming a limited terrorist threat into a breeding ground fora new wave of more radical Islamic jihadism.

A better approach --and one consistent with a "Good Neighbor"foreign policy--would address the legitimate political grievancesof the Arab and Islamic world, lower America's military profile inthe region and put an international face on US policy. Our goalsshould be to change the conversation from religious and culturalconflict to jobs and human development, and to stress theimportance of strengthening the legitimacy and internal capacity oflocal governments to deal with Islamic militants.

Sadly, it will be difficult to undertake any of these new andhopeful directions as long as we remain mired in Iraq. Withvirtually no political leadership, Americans have turned againstthe war. Yet its human and economic costs are spiraling out ofcontrol, with no end in sight. We near the day when 2500 men andwomen will have died in this war and more than 16,000 wounded ormaimed. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz hasestimated that the costs of war, occupation and relatedexpenditures may reach two trillion dollars.

The best way to support the men and women who are serving in Iraqis to bring them home by the end of this year, as Rep. Jack Murtha,Senators Kerry, Kennedy and Feingold, among the few, have argued.(And as a recent Zogby poll showed, 72 percent of US troops servingin Iraq believe US forces should leave in the next year.)

It will not be easy, but our continued presence, as occupiers,inside the sectarian carnage of an unraveling civil war, and amidstrevelations about Haditha, Ishaqi, Abu Ghraib, works against effortsto build stability or any modicum of sovereignty. As liberals weare clear that we do not intend to abandon Iraq or its beleagueredpeople. But our assistance should come not through military effortsbut through international peacekeeping and humanitarian ones--torebuild the war-torn economic and physical infrastructure.

These are perilous times--ones that raise large and fatefulquestions: what kind of country does the US want to be? Empire orrepublic? Global leader or global cop? Where is the America that,as Sherle Schwenninger observed in an important Nation article inJuly 2005, "is less one of warrior and preacher/proselytizer andmore one of architect and builder., less one of imperial cop andmore one of community leader. " American foreign policy should be bedemocratically accountable and guided by the nation's republicanprinciples--and a belief that the US should not only oppose empiresbut eschew imperial policies.

I believe there are always alternatives in history and politics.But we must retrieve and fight for those traditionsthat counter the dangerous fantasies and follies of Beltwaycrusaders like Peter Beinart.

Murtha vs. Hoyer

When the House of Representatives voted Thursday on the question of whether to allow old media companies to colonize and control the internet, the two men who would like to be majority leader in a Democrat-controlled Congress split their votes.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who has long been seen as the heir apparent for the majority leader post if Democrats regain power, stuck to his usual pattern: He did as the lobbyists for the largest corporations – and their allies in the Bush administration – asked.

Congressman John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has indicated that he will challenge Hoyer for the No. 2 position in the party caucus if Democrats retake the House in November, did the opposite.

Hoyer voted for the corrupt "Communications, Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006, which the telephone and cable companies are using as a vehicle to create a two-tier internet in which the sites of corporations and candidates that pay high fees to broadband providers are easily accessed while the sites of small businesses, community groups and independent thinkers will be difficult – perhaps impossible – to reach. Murtha voted against it.

It wasn't the first time that Hoyer and Murtha have split on fundamental questions.

While Murtha has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, Hoyer has steered a cautious course far closer to that of the Bush administration.

Last December, Murtha voted against making the PATRIOT Act permanent. Hoyer voted in favor of the move, and in so doing gave the Bush administration everything it was asking for with regard to the controversial law.

The point here is not to suggest that Murtha's a perfect progressive -- in fact, he's really an old-school New Dealer who breaks with liberals on some social issues -- or that Hoyer is Tom DeLay in Democrat drag. For instance, while Murtha's been a more consistent critic of corporate-sponsored free-trade pacts than Hoyer, both men have lifetime records of voting with the AFL-CIO around 90 percent of the time.

But when Hoyer ran against Nancy Pelosi for the position of House Whip back in 2001, there was no question that Pelosi was the progressive choice while Hoyer erred right. Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch and a key player in Washington debates on trade policy, noted that, "Hoyer has repositioned himself--one can only assume for political purposes--as the DLC, business candidate in this race."

No member of the House leadership has more consistently echoed the talking points of the corporate-sponsored Democratic Leadership Council than Hoyer, who once told a DLC event that Democrats lost control of the House in 1994 because "too many Americans believed that our party had become weak on crime and national defense, incapable of making hard decisions on welfare reform and fiscal policy, and irrevocably wedded to the idea that all of our problems could be solved by government and more spending."

Even now, while Hoyer is often praised by the Bush-friendly DLC, Murtha gets savaged. After Murtha called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq last year, the DLC accused the decorated Vietnam veteran of "offering surrender" -- while Hoyer was quoted as saying Murtha's approach "could lead to disaster."

The DLC has good reason to favor Hoyer. The Democratic whip has worked with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel, D-Illinois, to thwart the candidacies of anti-war Democrats such as Illinosian Christine Cegelis in primaries this year -- just as the two have worked over the years to help corporate-friendly Democrats beat those who challenge the K Street agenda.

The Hoyer-Murtha race is an abstraction at this point. Unless Democrats develop a coherent message soon, there is no guarantee that they will be a majority in search of a leader come November. But if they do become a majority, and if they want that majority to mean anything, Democrats would be wise to consider the opportunity that Murtha offers to distinguish their party on issues such as the war, the Patriot Act and media monopoly.

Reconciliation and Remembrance

Thirty years ago, Institute for Policy Studies colleagues Ronni Karpen Moffitt and Orlando Letelier were assassinated by agents of the Chilean government. "None of us," IPS co-founder Marc Raskin said, "could ever imagine reconciling with that government. Ever. Our imaginations proved not generous enough."

On June 8, Michelle Bachelet, the newly elected President of Chile, placed a wreath at the Sheridan Circle memorial in Washington, DC, that marks the site of the assassination.

In her remarks at the site, President Bachelet spoke of how she could not come to Washington without paying her respects and remembering this act of horror.

Bachelet's personal history ties her to this tragic event. (Nearly thirty years ago the President's mother worked as a volunteer at IPS with Orlando Letelier's widow, Isabel, and Bachelet sometimes stopped by the IPS offices to visit when she was a medical student.)

According to IPS Fellow Sarah Anderson, "Being with President Bachelet at the site of the assassination gave us all a feeling of coming full circle. She is the same age that Ronni Moffitt would have been if she had not been murdered at that spot. And as she stood for a moment in silence gazing at the monument, there was no doubt that she is fully aware of the responsibility she bears as a symbol of justice for victims of dictators everywhere."

For full coverage of the event and more on Bachelet's history read the IPS press release and >%20mode=fromshare&Uc=zrc4rom.8vouj8aq&Uy=-kztns9&Ux=1">view these photos.

House Rejects Net Neutrality

The First Amendment of the Internet – the governing principle of net neutrality, which prevents telecommunications corporations from rigging the web so it is easier to visit sites that pay for preferential treatment – took a blow from the House of Representatives Thursday.

Bowing to an intense lobbying campaign that spent tens of millions of dollars – and held out the promise of hefty campaign contributions for those members who did the bidding of interested firms – the House voted 321 to 101 for the disingenuously-named Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (COPE). That bill, which does not include meaningful network-neutrality protections creates an opening that powerful telephone and cable companies hope to exploit by expanding their reach while doing away with requirements that they maintain a level playing field for access to Internet sites.

"Special interest advocates from telephone and cable companies have flooded the Congress with misinformation delivered by an army of lobbyists to undermine decades-long federal practice of prohibiting network owners from discriminating against competitors to shut out competition. Unless the Senate steps in, (Thursday's) vote marks the beginning of the end of the Internet as an engine of new competition, entrepreneurship and innovation." says Jeannine Kenney, a senior policy analyst for Consumers Union.

In case there was any question that Kenney's assessment was accurate, the House voted 269-152 against an amendment, offered by Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, which would have codified net neutrality regulations into federal law. The Markey amendment would have prevented broadband providers from rigging their services to create two-tier access to the Internet – with an "information superhighway" for sites that pay fees for preferential treatment and a dirt road for sites that cannot pay the toll.

After explicitly rejecting the Markey amendment's language, which would have barred telephone and cable companies from taking steps "to block, impair, degrade, discriminate against, or interfere with the ability of any person to use a broadband connection to access…services over the Internet," the House quickly took up the COPE legislation.

The bill drew overwhelming support from Republican members of the House, with the GOP caucus voting 215-8 in favor of it. But Democrats also favored the proposal, albeit by a narrower vote of 106 to 92. The House's sole independent member, Vermont's Bernie Sanders, a champion of internet freedom who is seeking his state's open Senate seat this fall, voted against the measure.

Joining Sanders in voting against the legislation were most members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including its co-chairs, California Representatives Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, as well as genuine conservatives who have joined the fight to defend free speech and open discourse on the internet, including House Judiciary Committee chair James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, and Intelligence Committee chair Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan.

The left-meets-right voting in the House reflected the coalition that has formed to defend net neutrality, which includes such unlikely political bedfellows as the Christian Coalition of America, MoveOn.org, National Religious Broadcasters, the Service Employees International Union, the American Library Association, the American Association of Retired People, the American Civil Liberties Union and all of the nation's major consumer groups.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, opposed COPE, while House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, were enthusiastically supported it.

Among the Democrats who followed the lead of Hastert and Boehner – as opposed to that of Pelosi – were House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and Maryland Representative Ben Cardin, who is running for that state's open Senate seat in a September Democratic-primary contest with former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume. Illinois Democrat Melissa Bean, who frequently splits with her party on issues of interest to corporate donors, voted with the Republican leadership, as did corporate-friendly "New Democrats" such as Alabama's Artur Davis, Washington's Adam Smith and Wisconsin's Ron Kind – all co-chairs of the Democratic Leadership Council-tied House New Democrat Coalition.

The fight over net neutrality now moves to the Senate, where Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan have introduced legislation to codify the net neutrality principles of equal and unfettered access to Internet content into federal law.Mark Cooper, the director of research for the Consumers Federation of America, thinks net neutrality will find more friends in the Senate, at least in part because the "Save the Internet" coalition that has grown to include more than 700 groups, 5,000 bloggers and 800,000 individuals is rapidly expanding.

"This coalition will continue to grow, millions of Americans will add their voices, and Congress will not escape the roar of public opinion until Congress passes enforceable net neutrality," says Cooper.

Cooper's correct to be more hopeful about the Senate than the House. But the House vote points up the need to get Democrats united on this issue. There's little question that a united Democratic caucus could combine with principled Republicans in the Senate to defend net neutrality. But if so-called "New Democrats" in the Senate side with the telephone and cable lobbies, the information superhighway will become a toll road.

Sweet Victory: Bold Ballot Initiatives

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.

In the 1990s conservative strategists began to reshape the politicallandscape with an onslaught of ballot initiatives. State by state,Republicans employed this tactic to slash social programs and roll backrights--most notoriously, with the anti-gay marriage initiatives of2004--while progressives remained largely on the defensive.

Now, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Ballot InitiativeStrategy Center, progressive organizations are learning how to useballot propositions to promote bold, innovative policy around thecountry. Launched five years ago, BISC provides state and nationaladvocacy groups with key research and training in effective referendumstrategies.

Although ballot initiatives may not be as sexy as high-profile candidateraces, they are an important part of this year's mid-term elections. Inaddition to paving the way for progressive policy strides, referendumscan galvanize voters and increase turnout. According to University ofFlorida professor Daniel Smith, in the past twenty years of midtermelections, each ballot initiative increased turnout, on average, by 2percentage points.

Here are our top four progressive ballot initiatives for 2006.

**Minimum-wage increases in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri,Montana, Nevada and Ohio. Using progressives' first-evermulti-state ballot-initiative strategy, the drive for an increasedminimum wage has the potential to win, even in so-called red states.Raising the minimum wage is a highly popular idea; in an April Pewsurvey, 83 percent of the public said they favored raising the federalminimum wage to $7.15 (only ten states have enacted a minimum wage atthis rate or higher). If there's an issue that unites Americans acrossideological and demographic lines, it's this one.

**Renewable energy in Washington and California. In 2004progressives in Colorado voted for a precedent-setting renewable energypolicy (Ken Salazar credited the ballot initiative with turning outthe young voters who helped him secure his Senate victory). NowWashington and California are following suit. These initiatives wouldrequire the states' largest electric companies to increase their use ofrenewable resources like wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and smallhydro from less than 2 percent today to 15 to 25 percent in the comingyears.

**Fusion voting in Massachusetts. In New York fusionvoting--which allows voters to choose the same candidate on any ofseveral party lines--helped candidates from the progressive WorkingFamilies Party secure key posts in the state. Its passage could helpbring about broader progressive leadership in the Bay State.

**Stem cell research in Missouri. Both Republican biotechbosses and progressive grassroots activists are pushing hard to allowstem cell research to be conducted in Missouri. If successful, thislife-saving proposition could set the precedent for the next progressivemulti-state ballot initiative campaign.


Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.

La Lucha Continua: Solidarity Across Time

Solidarity, if it is to mean much, must exist not merely in a white-hot moment. It must extend across the arc of history, at least until damage wrought in a particularly dark time is undone.

Certainly, it matters when Americans express their momentary concern for victims of particularly egregious U.S. policies in foreign lands, as millions of U.S. citizens did when the Reagan administration was funding Contra armies, death squads and dictatorships across Central America. But when the focus of policymakers in Washington shifts from one troubled location to the next, it is often the case that the attention of American activists moves with them to the next "hot spot."

One group that has refused to ignore the wreckage left behind by the Reagan administration's misdeeds of the 1980s, and the corporate misdeeds that have followed in their wake, is the U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities Network. The group provides a model of solidarity across the decades. Its 25 chapters in the United States have continued to work with the Salvadoran communities with which they partnered 20 years or more ago, promoting sustainable development, opposing free trade agreements and raising the alarm when corporations take advantage of those agreements to exploit workers and the environment in a country that has suffered far too much exploitation.

An example of how the U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities Network's solidarity model works will be seen Friday at the annual shareholders meeting of Au Martinique Silver Inc., a Canadian-registered mining exploration firm that is promoting development of a gold mine in the Salvadoran department roughly equivalent to a state of Chalatenango. The mining scheme has stirred broad opposition in Chalatenango, where farmers fear that waste from the mining operation will pollute local rivers and water supplies with arsenic and cyanide.

Fifteen mayors in the department and the overwhelming majority of parish priests in the heavily Catholic region have expressed opposition to the project, arguing that it would devastate local agriculture and fisheries. So strong is the opposition that, last year, 300 residents of remote communities in the region formed a human chain to block Au Martinique teams from entering their towns.

Unfortunately, there is little media coverage of development disputes in rural El Salvador. So Au Martinique continues to tell its shareholders and potential investors in the mining project that the company is working "hand-in-hand with the local communities to assure a partnership in economic development and good environmental stewardship." At the same time, the company is signaling that even if the locals don't want to walk "hand-in-hand" with the multinational corporation, the project will advance because, in the words of an Au Martinique prospectus, "the Republic of El Salvador has one of the lowest risk profiles for investment in all of Latin America" a reference to the fact that El Salvador's conservative government is more willing than most to do the bidding of foreign corporations.

In Chalatenango, sentiment toward Au Martinique's exploration project has been anything but welcoming.

"The people in the communities aren't in favor of the mining project," explains Esperanza Ortega, a nominee for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize who lives in the community of Arcatao in Chalatenango. Ortega argues that it is exceptionally "important to talk to the investors, talk to the people funding this project and tell them if they come into this zone they are going to have a lot of problems. ..." But, of course, it is not easy for residents of a mountainous region that is far even from the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador to get that message across to the investors and funders.

That's where the U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities solidarity commitment comes in. Some of the group's strongest partnerships are located in Chalatenango. For instance, the based Madison-Arcatao Sister City Project has formalized the relationship between Madison, Wisconsin, and the municipality of Arcatao in Chalatenango to such an extent that mayors, city council members and legislators regularly travel back and forth between the communities. Working with the University of Wisconsin and local hospitals in Madison, activists here have helped their partners in Arcatao develop clinics and a host of local services. They have also successfully lobbied their members of Congress to oppose trade agreements that would harm workers and the environment in El Salvador and other Latin American countries.

"Our relationship with Arcatao was rooted in mutual opposition to U.S. military policies in the '80s, but we have recognized for a long time that exploitation of the region by corporations that do not respect the needs of the people can be just as devastating," says Marc Rosenthal, a Madison nurse and union activist who has regularly visited the region over the past two decades. "The people in Chalatenango have real fears about what this mining project will do to the region, and everything I've seen tells me that those fears are well grounded. So we're going to make sure that they are heard."

When Denver-based Au Martinique convenes its shareholders meeting on Friday, organizers and activists with the U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities Network will be there. "Since the company has not informed its shareholders about the local opposition, we have decided to bring the Chalatenango anti-mining campaign directly to the directors and shareholders of this company," said Dennis Chinoy, a U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities Network activist from Bangor, Maine. "Investors need to be aware that this is a very risky project and that we will continue our campaign until the company has respected the wishes of the local communities and withdrawn its investment."

For those who recognize "solidarity" as something more than a slogan, the determination of the U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities Network to make sure that the voices of protest from El Salvador continue to be heard in the corridors of corporate and political power provides an inspiring reminder that there are activists who still understand both the meaning and the duty of the phrase la lucha continua.

To learn more about the U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities Network, visit http://jeffbogdan.net/usessc/index.php