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The Non Election of 2004
By Noam Chomsky

The elections of November 2004 have received a great deal of discussion, with 
exultation in some quarters, despair in others, and general lamentation about a 
"divided nation." They are likely to have policy consequences, particularly 
harmful to the public in the domestic arena, and to the world with regard to 
the "transformation of the military," which has led some prominent strategic 
analysts to warn of "ultimate doom" and to hope that U.S. militarism and 
aggressiveness will be countered by a coalition of peace-loving states, led 
by-China (John Steinbruner and Nancy Gallagher, Daedalus). We have come to a 
pretty pass when such words are expressed in the most respectable and sober 
journals. It is also worth noting how deep is the despair of the authors over 
the state of U.S. democracy. Whether or not the assessment is merited is for 
activists to determine.  

Though significant in their consequences, the elections tell us very little 
about the state of the country, or the popular mood. There are, however, other 
sources from which we can learn a great deal that carries important lessons. 
Public opinion in the U.S. is intensively monitored and, while caution and care 
in interpretation are always necessary, these studies are valuable resources. 
We can also see why the results, though public, are kept under wraps by the 
doctrinal institutions. That is true of major and highly informative studies of 
public opinion released right before the election, notably by the Chicago 
Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR) and the Program on International Policy 
Attitudes at the University of Maryland (PIPA), to which I will return.  

One conclusion is that the elections conferred no mandate for anything, in 
fact, barely took place, in any serious sense of the term "election." That is 
by no means a novel conclusion. Reagan's victory in 1980 reflected "the decay 
of organized party structures, and the vast mobilization of God and cash in the 
successful candidacy of a figure once marginal to the 'vital center' of 
American political life," representing "the continued disintegration of those 
political coalitions and economic structures that have given party politics 
some stability and definition during the past generation" (Thomas Ferguson and 
Joel Rogers, Hidden Election, 1981). In the same valuable collection of essays, 
Walter Dean Burnham described the election as further evidence of a "crucial 
comparative peculiarity of the American political system: the total absence of 
a socialist or laborite mass party as an organized competitor in the electoral 
market," accounting for much of the "class-skewed abstention rates" and the 
minimal significance of issues. Thus of the 28 percent of the electorate who 
voted for Reagan, 11 percent gave as their primary reason "he's a real 
conservative." In Reagan's "landslide victory" of 1984, with just under 30 
percent of the electorate, the percentage dropped to 4 percent and a majority 
of voters hoped that his legislative program would not be enacted.  

What these prominent political scientists describe is part of the powerful 
backlash against the terrifying "crisis of democracy" of the 1960s, which 
threatened to democratize the society, and, despite enormous efforts to crush 
this threat to order and discipline, has had far-reaching effects on 
consciousness and social practices. The post-1960s era has been marked by 
substantial growth of popular movements dedicated to greater justice and 
freedom and unwillingness to tolerate the brutal aggression and violence that 
had previously been granted free rein. The Vietnam War is a dramatic 
illustration, naturally suppressed because of the lessons it teaches about the 
civilizing impact of popular mobilization. The war against South Vietnam 
launched by JFK in 1962, after years of U.S.-backed state terror that had 
killed tens of thousands of people, was brutal and barbaric from the outset: 
bombing, chemical warfare to destroy food crops so as to starve out the 
civilian support for the indigenous resistance, programs to drive millions of 
people to virtual concentration camps or urban slums to eliminate its popular 
base. By the time protests reached a substantial scale, the highly respected 
and quite hawkish Vietnam specialist and military historian Bernard Fall 
wondered whether "Viet-Nam as a cultural and historic entity" would escape 
"extinction" as "the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest 
military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size"-particularly South 
Vietnam, always the main target of the U.S. assault. When protest did finally 
develop, many years too late, it was mostly directed against the peripheral 
crimes: the extension of the war against the South to the rest of 
Indochina-terrible crimes, but secondary ones. 

State managers are well aware that they no longer have that freedom. Wars 
against "much weaker enemies"-the only acceptable targets-must be won 
"decisively and rapidly," Bush I's intelligence services advised. Delay might 
"undercut political support," recognized to be thin, a great change since the 
Kennedy-Johnson period when the attack on Indochina, while never popular, 
aroused little reaction for many years. Those conclusions hold despite the 
hideous war crimes in Falluja, replicating the Russian destruction of Grozny 
ten years earlier, including crimes displayed on the front pages for which the 
civilian leadership is subject to the death penalty under the War Crimes Act 
passed by the Republican Congress in 1996-and also one of the more disgraceful 
episodes in the annals of U.S. journalism.  

The world is pretty awful today, but it is far better than yesterday, not only 
with regard to unwillingness to tolerate aggression, but also in many other 
ways, which we now tend to take for granted. There are very important lessons 
here, which should always be uppermost in our minds-for the same reason they 
are suppressed in the elite culture.  

Returning to the elections, in 2004 Bush received the votes of just over 30 
percent of the electorate, Kerry a bit less. Voting patterns resembled 2000, 
with virtually the same pattern of "red" and "blue" states (whatever 
significance that may have). A small change in voter preference would have put 
Kerry in the White House, also telling us very little about the country and 
public concerns.  

As usual, the electoral campaigns were run by the PR industry, which in its 
regular vocation sells toothpaste, life-style drugs, automobiles, and other 
commodities. Its guiding principle is deceit. Its task is to undermine the 
"free markets" we are taught to revere: mythical entities in which informed 
consumers make rational choices.In such scarcely imaginable systems, businesses 
would provide information about their products: cheap, easy, simple. But it is 
hardly a secret that they do nothing of the sort. Rather, they seek to delude 
consumers to choose their product over some virtually identical one. GM does 
not simply make public the characteristics of next year's models. Rather, it 
devotes huge sums to creating images to deceive consumers, featuring sports 
stars, sexy models, cars climbing sheer cliffs to a heavenly future, and so on. 
 The business world does not spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year to 
provide information. The famed "entrepreneurial initiative" and "free trade" 
are about as realistic as informed consumer choice. The last thing those who 
dominate the society want is the fanciful market of doctrine and economic 
theory. All of this should be too familiar to merit much discussion.  

Sometimes the commitment to deceit is quite overt. The recent U.S.-Australia 
negotiations on a "free trade agreement" were held up by Washington's concern 
over Australia's health care system, perhaps the most efficient in the world. 
In particular, drug prices are a fraction of those in the U.S.: the same drugs, 
produced by the same companies, earning substantial profits in Australia though 
nothing like those they are granted in the U.S.-often on the pretext that they 
are needed for R&D, another exercise in deceit. Part of the reason for the 
efficiency of the Australian system is that, like other countries, Australia 
relies on the practices that the Pentagon employs when it buys paper clips: 
government purchasing power is used to negotiate prices, illegal in the U.S. 
Another reason is that Australia has kept to "evidence-based" procedures for 
marketing pharmaceuticals. U.S. negotiators denounced these as market 
interference: pharmaceutical corporations are deprived of their legitimate 
rights if they are required to produce evidence when they claim that their 
latest product is better than some cheaper alternative or run TV ads in which 
some sports hero or model tells the audience to ask their doctor whether this 
drug is "right for you (it's right for me)," sometimes not even revealing what 
it is supposed to be for. The right of deceit must be guaranteed to the 
immensely powerful and pathological immortal persons created by radical 
judicial activism to run the society. 

When assigned the task of selling candidates, the PR industry naturally resorts 
to the same fundamental techniques, so as to ensure that politics remains "the 
shadow cast by big business over society," as America's leading social 
philosopher, John Dewey, described the results of "industrial feudalism" long 
ago. Deceit is employed to undermine democracy, just as it is the natural 
device to undermine markets. Voters appear to be aware of it.  

On the eve of the 2000 elections, about 75 percent of the electorate regarded 
it as a game played by rich contributors, party managers, and the PR industry, 
which trains candidates to project images and produce meaningless phrases that 
might win some votes. Very likely, that is why the population paid little 
attention to the "stolen election" that greatly exercised educated sectors. And 
it is why they are likely to pay little attention to campaigns about alleged 
fraud in 2004. If one is flipping a coin to pick the King, it is of no great 
concern if the coin is biased.  

In 2000, "issue awareness"-knowledge of the stands of the candidate-producing 
organizations on issues-reached an all-time low. Currently available evidence 
suggests it may have been even lower in 2004. About 10 percent of voters said 
their choice would be based on the candidate's "agendas/ideas/platforms/goals": 
6 percent for Bush voters, 13 percent for Kerry voters (Gallup). The rest would 
vote for what the industry calls "qualities" or "values," which are the 
political counterpart to toothpaste ads. The most careful studies (PIPA) found 
that voters had little idea of the stand of the candidates on matters that 
concerned them. Bush voters tended to believe that he shared their beliefs, 
even though the Republican Party rejected them, often explicitly. Investigating 
the sources used in the studies, we find that the same was largely true of 
Kerry voters, unless we give highly sympathetic interpretations to vague 
statements that most voters had probably never heard.  

Exit polls found that Bush won large majorities of those concerned with the 
threat of terror and "moral values" and Kerry won majorities among those 
concerned with the economy, health care, and other such issues. Those results 
tell us very little.  

It is easy to demonstrate that for Bush planners, the threat of terror is a low 
priority. The invasion of Iraq is only one of many illustrations. Even their 
own intelligence agencies agreed with the consensus among other agencies, and 
independent specialists, that the invasion was likely to increase the threat of 
terror, as it did; probably nuclear proliferation as well, as also predicted. 
Such threats are simply not high priorities as compared with the opportunity to 
establish the first secure military bases in a dependent client state at the 
heart of the world's major energy reserves, a region understood since World War 
II to be the "most strategically important area of the world," "a stupendous 
source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world 
history." Apart from what one historian of the industry calls "profits beyond 
the dreams of avarice," which must flow in the right direction, control over 
two-thirds of the world's estimated hydrocarbon reserves-uniquely cheap and 
easy to exploit-provides what Zbigniew Brzezinski recently called "critical 
leverage" over European and Asian rivals, what George Kennan many years earlier 
had called "veto power" over them. These have been crucial policy concerns 
throughout the post-World War II period, even more so in today's evolving 
tripolar world, with its threat that Europe and Asia might move towards greater 
independence, and worse, might be united: China and the EU became each other's 
major trading partners in 2004, joined by the world's second largest economy 
(Japan), and those tendencies are likely to increase. A firm hand on the spigot 
reduces these dangers. 

Note that the critical issue is control, not access. U.S. policies towards the 
Middle East were the same when it was a net exporter of oil, and remain the 
same today when U.S. intelligence projects that the U.S. will rely on more 
stable Atlantic Basin resources. Policies would be likely to be about the same 
if the U.S. were to switch to renewable energy. The need to control the 
"stupendous source of strategic power" and to gain "profits beyond the dreams 
of avarice" would remain. Jockeying over Central Asia and pipeline routes 
reflects similar concerns.  

There are many other illustrations of the same lack of concern of planners 
about terror. Bush voters, whether they knew it or not, were voting for a 
likely increase in the threat of terror, which could be awesome: it was 
understood well before 9/11 that sooner or later the Jihadists organized by the 
CIA and its associates in the 1980s are likely to gain access to WMDs, with 
horrendous consequences. Even these frightening prospects are being consciously 
extended by the transformation of the military, which, apart from increasing 
the threat of "ultimate doom" by accidental nuclear war, is compelling Russia 
to move nuclear missiles over its huge and mostly unprotected territory to 
counter U.S. military threats-including the threat of instant annihilation that 
is a core part of the "ownership of space" for offensive military purposes 
announced by the Bush administration along with its National Security Strategy 
in late 2002, significantly extending Clinton programs that were more than 
hazardous enough, and had already immobilized the UN Disarmament Committee.  

As for "moral values," we learn what we need to know about them from the 
business press the day after the election, reporting the "euphoria" in board 
rooms-not because CEOs oppose gay marriage. And from the unconcealed efforts to 
transfer to future generations the costs of the dedicated service of Bush 
planners to privilege and wealth: fiscal and environmental costs, among others, 
not to speak of the threat of "ultimate doom." That aside, it means little to 
say that people vote on the basis of "moral values." The question is what they 
mean by the phrase.  The limited indications are of some interest. In some 
polls, "when the voters were asked to choose the most urgent moral crisis 
facing the country, 33 percent cited 'greed and materialism,' 31 percent 
selected 'poverty and economic justice,' 16 percent named abortion, and 12 
percent selected gay marriage" (Pax Christi). In others, "when surveyed voters 
were asked to list the moral issue that most affected their vote, the Iraq war 
placed first at 42 percent, while 13 percent named abortion and 9 percent named 
gay marriage" (Zogby). Whatever voters meant, it could hardly have been the 
operative moral values of the Administration, celebrated by the business press. 

I won't go through the details here, but a careful look indicates that much the 
same appears to be true for Kerry voters who thought they were calling for 
serious attention to the economy, health, and their other concerns. As in the 
fake markets constructed by the PR industry, so also in the fake democracy they 
run, the public is hardly more than an irrelevant onlooker, apart from the 
appeal of carefully constructed images that have only the vaguest resemblance 
to reality.  

Let's turn to more serious evidence about public opinion: the studies I 
mentioned earlier that were released shortly before the elections by some of 
the most respected and reliable institutions that regularly monitor public 
opinion. Here are a few of the results (Chicago Council of Foreign Relations):  

A large majority of the public believe that the U.S. should accept the 
jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court, sign the 
Kyoto protocols, allow the UN to take the lead in international crises, and 
rely on diplomatic and economic measures more than military ones in the "war on 
terror." Similar majorities believe the U.S. should resort to force only if 
there is "strong evidence that the country is in imminent danger of being 
attacked," thus rejecting the bipartisan consensus on "pre-emptive war" and 
adopting a rather conventional interpretation of the UN Charter. A majority 
even favor giving up the Security Council veto, hence following the UN lead 
even if it is not the preference of U.S. state managers. When official 
Administration moderate Colin Powell is quoted in the press as saying that Bush 
"has won a mandate from the American people to continue pursuing his 
'aggressive' foreign policy," he is relying on the conventional assumption that 
popular opinion is irrelevant to policy choices by those in charge.  

It is instructive to look more closely into popular attitudes on the war in 
Iraq, in the light of the general opposition to the "pre-emptive war" doctrines 
of the bipartisan consensus. On the eve of the 2004 elections, "three quarters 
of Americans say that the U.S. should not have gone to war if Iraq did not have 
WMD or was not providing support to al Qaeda, while nearly half still say the 
war was the right decision" (Stephen Kull, reporting the PIPA study he 
directs). But this is not a contradiction, Kull points out. Despite the 
quasi-official Kay and Duelfer reports undermining the claims, the decision to 
go to war "is sustained by persisting beliefs among half of Americans that Iraq 
provided substantial support to al Qaeda, and had WMD, or at least a major WMD 
program," and thus see the invasion as defense against an imminent severe 
threat. Much earlier PIPA studies had shown that a large majority believe that 
the UN, not the U.S., should take the lead in matters of security, 
reconstruction, and political transition in Iraq. Last March, Spanish voters 
were bitterly condemned for appeasing terror when they voted out of office the 
government that had gone to war over the objections of about 90 percent of the 
population, taking its orders from Crawford Texas, and winning plaudits for its 
leadership in the "New Europe" that is the hope of democracy. Few if any 
commentators noted that Spanish voters last March were taking about the same 
position as the large majority of Americans: voting for removing Spanish troops 
unless they were under UN direction. The major differences between the two 
countries are that in Spain, public opinion was known, while here it takes an 
individual research project to discover it; and in Spain the issue came to a 
vote, almost unimaginable in the deteriorating formal democracy here.

These results indicate that activists have not done their job effectively.  

Turning to other areas, overwhelming majorities of the public favor expansion 
of domestic programs: primarily health care (80 percent), but also aid to 
education and Social Security. Similar results have long been found in these 
studies (CCFR). Other mainstream polls report that 80 percent favor guaranteed 
health care even if it would raise taxes-in reality, a national health care 
system would probably reduce expenses considerably, avoiding the heavy costs of 
bureaucracy, supervision, paperwork, and so on, some of the factors that render 
the U.S. privatized system the most inefficient in the industrial world. Public 
opinion has been similar for a long time, with numbers varying depending on how 
questions are asked. The facts are sometimes discussed in the press, with 
public preferences noted, but dismissed as "politically impossible." That 
happened again on the eve of the 2004 elections. A few days before (October 
31), the New York Times reported that "there is so little political support for 
government intervention in the health care market in the United States that 
Senator John Kerry took pains in a recent presidential debate to say that his 
plan for expanding access to health insurance would not create a new government 
program"-what the majority want, so it appears. But it is "politically 
impossible" and has "[too] little political support," meaning that the 
insurance companies, HMOs, pharmaceutical industries, Wall Street, etc., are 

It is notable that such views are held by people in virtual isolation. They 
rarely hear them and it is not unlikely that respondents regard their own views 
as idiosyncratic. Their preferences do not enter into the political campaigns 
and only marginally receive some reinforcement in articulate opinion in media 
and journals. The same extends to other domains.  

What would the results of the election have been if the parties, either of 
them, had been willing to articulate people's concerns on the issues they 
regard as vitally important? Or if these issues could enter into public 
discussion within the mainstream? We can only speculate about that, but we do 
know that it does not happen and that the facts are scarcely even reported. It 
does not seem difficult to imagine what the reasons might be.  

In brief, we learn very little of any significance from the elections, but we 
can learn a lot from the studies of public attitudes that are kept in the 
shadows. Though it is natural for doctrinal systems to try to induce pessimism, 
hopelessness, and despair, the real lessons are quite different. They are 
encouraging and hopeful. They show that there are substantial opportunities for 
education and organizing, including the development of potential electoral 
alternatives. As in the past, rights will not be granted by benevolent 
authorities, or won by intermittent actions-a few large demonstrations after 
which one goes home, or pushing a lever in the personalized quadrennial 
extravaganzas that are depicted as "democratic politics." As always in the 
past, the tasks require day-to-day engagement to create-in part re-create-the 
basis for a functioning democratic culture in which the public plays some role 
in determining policies, not only in the political arena from which it is 
largely excluded, but also in the crucial economic arena, from which it is 
excluded in principle.

Noam Chomsky is a linguist, social critic, and author of numerous articles and 
books, including Hegemony or Survival  (Owl/Metropolitan Books, 2003) and 
Pirates and Emperors, Old and New (South End Press, 2002).





Z Staff 
Z Magazine begins its 18th year this month. We can hardly believe it, 
especially since we were told at the outset that we could never do it...

DEMOCRACY WATCH: The Non-Election of 2004
Noam Chomsky 
The elections of November 2004 have received a great deal of discussion, with 
exultation in some quarters, despair in others, and general lamentation about a 
"divided nation." ...

Holly Sklar
What a country, our United States. We haven't had a woman president. We haven't 
had a black president. We haven't had a Latino or Native American president. 
But we've had two George Bushes...

FOG WATCH: "They Kill Reporters, Don't They?"
Edward S. Herman
It has long been a problem for the U.S. imperial establishment that using their 
ever-improving arsenal of death, in projecting power from Vietnam to Iraq, 
kills large numbers of target state civilians... 

REVOLUTION: Chiapas: Ten Years Later
Chris Arsenault interviews John Ross
It's been ten years since the Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico launched their 
rebellion to create "a world where many worlds fit"... 

ORGANIZING: ˇNo Más! No More! We Must Stop The Dirty Wars! 
Elizabeth Martinez reports on SOAW
As 16,000 people listened, the names of 767 Salvadorans massacred at a single 
village rang out, one after the other...

MEDIA BEAT: The PU-litzer Prizes for 2004 
Norman Solomon 
The PU-litzer Prizes were established a dozen years ago to provide special 
recognition for truly smelly media performances... 

PRIVACY: Automating Camera Surveillance
Andrew Kalukin
With practice, you can recognize the video spies in the city of Washington, 

DRUG POLICY: Dealing in Death: Bush's FDA 
Don Monkerud 
After years of supposedly protecting the public from dangerous food and drugs, 
the FDA has embarked on a path to protect corporate profits at all costs. Even 
death is no obstacle...

Bill Berkowitz
In October 2003, Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) introduced House Concurrent 
Resolution 292, which expressed "the sense of Congress that Congress should 
adopt and implement the goals and recommendations provided by the President's 
New Freedom Commission on Mental Health ...

REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: Abstinence Only Education 
Eleanor Bader 
Dr. Kimber Haddix McKay, an anthropologist who teaches Human Sexuality at the 
University of Montana-Missoula, thought it would be a good idea to expose her 
students to those who promote sexual abstinence until marriage... 

GENDER & RACE: Alan Keyes, the Republicans, & Abortion Debates William Johnson 
Shortly after entering the Illinois Senate race, Republican Keyes called 
Democratic Senatorial candidate Barack Obama's pro-choice views on abortion 
"the slaveholder's position"... 

GAY & LESBIAN NOTES: The Problem with Martyrs 
Michael Bronski 
The moment ABC's "20/20" announced it would air an hour-long show on the "real 
facts" behind the 1998 Matthew Shepard murder, controversies began to swirl.... 

EYES RIGHT: The Days After
Nikhil Aziz, Chip Berlet, Pam Chamberlain, & Palak Shah 
It is indeed a sad day when progressives and liberals bemoan the departure of 
Colin Powell as Secretary of State...

ASIA: Taming the "Banana Republic"
Ben Moxham on the U.S. in East Timor
In March of last year, a USAID-funded kid's book released in East Timor 
provoked outrage....

ENERGY: New Nukes!
Michael Steinberg
They didn't wait long. In a November 4, 2004 press release, the Department of 
Energy "announced awards to two nuclear utility-led consortia"...

Z PAPERS ON VISION: Architecture of the New Society 
Chris Spannos 
Every city is a deeply interconnected web of spatial designs and patterns. From 
the urban to the suburban, our built environment is carved into commercial and 
residential areas....

BOOK REVIEW: Blue Gold by Maude Barlow & Tony Clarke Review by Tom Gallagher 
In 1998, the World Bank refused to guarantee a $25 million dollar loan for an 
upgrade of Cochabamba, Bolivia's water system ... 

BOOK REVIEW: Voices of a People's History of the U.S. edited by Howard Zinn and 
Anthony Arnove 
Review by Paul Buhle 
This volume is a reader's treasure trove of original documents that supplement 
the famed People's History. 

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