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Protesters take part in a march commemorating the 1973 students uprising against the military junta, on November 17, 2013 in the center of Athens. Tens of thousands marched in Greece on November 17, amid tight security, to commemorate the 40-year anniversary of the violent suppression of a student uprising against a US-backed junta. At least 12,000 people, according to a police source, participated in the annual march to the US Embassy in Athens, remembering a historic event seen as a key moment in the restoration of democracy.

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WASHINGTON — These are hard times for democracy, reminiscent of 40 years ago, when communist governments, autocrats, military juntas, and white-minority rulers were firmly in control of most countries, and the United States largely accepted them as a permanent fixture of the international landscape. But that time 40 years ago marked the beginning of a historic wave of democratization. The United States came to champion the cause of democratic change and to exert significant influence in bringing that change about.

The Obama administration is hesitant to push for democracy abroad and exercise US leadership in defense of democratic principles. In this, it is in sync with a significant segment of the Republican Party and the American public. Its apprehension is partly a response to recent setbacks for democracy and US failures to advance democratic change, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Freedom House’s annual country-by-country survey, on political rights and civil liberties have suffered eight straight years of global decline.

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Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, December 10, 2013.

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Republicans believe the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is the key to keeping the House and winning the Senate in this year's midterm elections.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, told reporters that, "The law stinks, and it's a disaster. It's not possible for this not to be the No. 1 issue in the 2014 elections."

GOP strategists were more enthusiastic when they told the Washington Examiner that President Barack Obama's health care law was "electoral gold." They claim Obama's credibility sustained considerable damage after reports of canceled policies that contravened Obama's assurances that nothing would change for policyholders. With polls showing his job approval near record lows, the Republicans "question Obama's ability to fully recover."

There are good reasons to wonder if he can recover, but there's far more to it than “Obamacare.” Those same polls show voter approval has been declining for months, long before it was clear that Obamacare's website was broken, and long before, as Republicans love to say, the president was caught in the lie of the year.

As he has since first taking office, Obama continues to be haunted by the specter of an economy that fails to thrive. It's probable, given the congressional redistricting, that the Republicans will keep the House. But if they want to take the Senate, they must address Americans' bread-and-butter concerns.

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NEW YORK – Silvia leaned on my kitchen counter and looked at me with sullen eyes, showing me what it looked like to see another American dream go up in smoke.

“I’m going back to Mexico,” she said.

“I am tired of waiting and I am beginning to feel like a fool waiting for someone to do something in this country. I don't believe any of them when they say they care about me anymore. I am done waiting. I don't believe in this country any more,” said Silvia, who is an immigrant from Mexico and here struggling to raise her teenage children.

Some people might think I am overly dramatic, but I believe that one of the best traits a journalist can have is to be able to feel things deeply. For everyone. No matter what side of the story they fall on. So to hear Silva say she had given up on this country, given up on the promise, given up on its political leadership and given up on the ‘dream,” breaks my American heart. Maybe it comes from the fact that I chose to become a citizen and so I take these core American values so seriously.

As if I have the duty to protect them. Like I said, dramatic.

My American heart is all about democracy, and it’s all about dreams. I believe that modern American democracy stands for the notion that we all have voice and that the laws of our country state explicitly that we are all also equal. To have someone living in our country, raising teenagers like me, sharing the same city as I do and feeling ‘invisible,’ as Silvia describes it, is disheartening for my profound sense of what it is to be an American.

Silvia is a Mexican citizen who is an invisible person in this country. In Mexico, at least, Silvia can vote. And she will. Deeply engaged politically, she dreamed of voting in the US. But now the worrisome message is what Silvia will communicate to her three American citizen children. If she does indeed leave.

This country once held her American dream. But our country now is a dream breaker.

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Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on December 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. During his testimony Secretary Kerry asked on behalf of the Obama Administration that congress hold off on sanctioning Iran to give diplomacy a chance to work its course.

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OWL’S HEAD, Maine — As President Obama made abundantly clear in his end-of-year press conference—his body language even more eloquently than his actual language—2013 was a good year to see the end of.

It was a year that most inhabitants of the Middle East are surely glad to see end, though 2014 isn't likely to turn out any better for most of them.

That perennial problem, Israeli-Palestinian, is no closer to resolution despite the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry. The bad news, from Kerry's perspective, is the way he pushed himself into the issue. The question of why, exactly, he thought he could succeed when everyone else has failed is more a psychological one than it is strategic.

With all that is going on in the Arab World—not just the Syrian civil war, but the increasing radicalization of Sunni Arabs and the concomitant deepening split between them and their Shiite cousins—the Israelis are, not surprisingly, worried about what the future will bring just beyond their borders. And the Arab focus, also not surprisingly, has turned inward.

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Like many young Americans, I was fascinated by the renewed attention on the civil rights movement in 2013. Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the document that arguably set the course for the long struggle for racial inequality. In August we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s paradigm-shifting address at the March on Washington.

What’s sometimes lost about that iconic rally fifty years ago was that it was more than a demand for political and civil equality and a demonstration of racial harmony. The march was also rooted in the economic plight of people of color in the United States and laid out an economic agenda to expand economic opportunity for all citizens. The full name of the event was The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, after all.

The public policy community took advantage of the renewed attention to expose that while America has accomplished much in progressing past the dark days of racial discrimination, it’s the economic agenda that remains elusive.

The Economic Policy Institute reported that overall black poverty rate is almost triple those of whites. Poverty among blacks is more concerted too: nearly half (45 percent) of poor black children live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty, compared to a little more than a tenth (12 percent) of poor white children.

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The Wynne Unit is pictured on May 21, 2013 in Huntsville, one of the seven prison units in Walker County, Texas.

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GENEVA — Edgar Tamayo Arias, an inmate on death row in Texas, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Jan. 22. At stake is not only the life of this 46-year-old Mexican national, but also Texas’ respect for the Constitution of the United States and for international law. The case highlights how states treat detained foreign nationals, especially those facing capital punishment.

The case has attracted widespread attention from several sources, including the US State Department, the Mexican government, the International Court of Justice and the international community.

Tamayo, a native of Mexico’s Morelos state who came to the US to find work when he was 19 years old, was sentenced to death in October 1994 for the murder of Houston police officer Guy Gaddis in January that year. We do not doubt the seriousness of the crime, but the execution of Tamayo would be a clear breach of US and international law.

As well as violating international law, Texas would be potentially violating the Constitution of the United States by executing a person with “mild mental retardation,” a condition with which Tamayo has been diagnosed.
In the spotlight is the significance of an international treaty, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Most countries, including the United States, are party to this convention, which provides a framework for consular relations between countries.

Under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention, foreign nationals must be notified “without delay” of their right to inform their consulate when detained. Yet when he was arrested, Tamayo was not informed of this right. Mexican authorities did not learn of the case until one week before his trial.

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BOSTON — GlobalPost and its foundation-supported initiative today announce an expansion of GlobalPost’s Commentary section with the launch of a new series of commentaries, analysis and multimedia profiles titled VOICES.

The series seeks to bring new voices into a global dialogue on important social justice issues through a small team of regular contributors and through outreach to writers and thought leaders in the developing world who will share important points of view, innovative ideas and proposed solutions that need to be considered.

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NEW YORK — As America commemorates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today and continues to measure the meaning of the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, I can recall quite vividly the first time I heard King’s riveting “I Have A Dream” speech.

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People attend a rally of the Ukrainian Pro-European opposition at Kiev's Independence Square on January 5, 2014. Pro-EU demonstrators hold their seventh Sunday protest today to press for the government's resignation.

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As Kyiv portrays it, Ukraine’s recent decision to forego signing an association agreement with the European Union and instead to reach an economic deal with Russia is a necessity.

Kyiv has been struggling to meet debt payments and to end the Russian sanctions causing economic hardships in Ukraine.

The deal with Russia provides for a one-third discount in the price of gas Ukraine purchases from Russia — taking the more than $400 per 1,000 cubic meters down to $268.50 — and includes a commitment by Moscow to buy $15 billion in Ukrainian government bonds.

Paralleling this view is the consensus by outside observers that the arrangement is a success for Russia in keeping Ukraine out of Europe and within its own orbit, and, consequently, as a geostrategic loss for the West.

While there is some truth in each of these views, the reality is somewhat more complicated. In this still unfolding saga, Ukrainian officials are portraying their decision as forced upon them and, in particular, blame the EU and the IMF for not offering a level of assistance to offset any Russian economic pressure. But the economic debacle in Ukraine, including dwindling foreign reserves and increasing budget deficits, while abetted by the global recession, was largely brought about by Kyiv itself.

Corruption has been rampant — even under the previous reform government of President Viktor Yushchenko — as government power is used to concentrate economic control in the hands of a few oligarchs. The result has led to favoritism in business deals, depletion of the public treasury, stifling of competition, arbitrary takeover of businesses and undermining of targeted businesses through taxation and investigations. Needed reforms are being ignored. The result is that foreign banking institutions have started pulling out of Ukraine and foreign direct investment has decreased.

Ukrainian officials claim that the EU, unlike Russia, was unwilling to provide financial support to meet Ukraine’s pressing debt crisis. However, it turns out that the EU was considering offering Ukraine over $26 billion in loans and grants over seven years if an EU agreement was reached and if Kyiv accepted an IMF agreement. One of the main stumbling blocks, as it has been with previous IMF agreements with Kyiv, is Ukraine’s unwillingness to put in place needed financial and budgetary reforms to comply with IMF requirements. The decision to not sign the EU agreement, therefore, was more a political decision rather than an economic one.

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A Cambodian police looks at the flame and smoke from burning drugs during a destruction ceremony in Phnom Penh on August 28, 2012. Cambodian authorities burned more than one ton of drugs.

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The “war on drugs” is being abandoned in many places around the world, and repressive drug policies are in retreat. In the United States, Europe, Latin America and even in a few places in Africa, the collateral damage from decades-long drug wars has created a push for more sensible policies. Unfortunately, in places like Cambodia, ideology continues to trump evidence, and drug users are subjected to arbitrary detention, forced labor, torture and other abuse.

Over the past decade, an increasing number of Latin American countries have joined some European countries in decriminalizing possession or personal use of drugs, and developing accessible and affordable harm reduction and other health services.

Morocco has proposed laws legalizing marijuana use, while Uruguay and Colorado and Washington states have begun implementing such laws. In sub-Saharan Africa, where most national drug laws are harsh and impose long prison sentences for minor offenses, a new African Union policy calls for member countries to find alternatives to incarceration for drug consumption.

Cambodia is quite different. The Cambodian government’s approach to drug users is simple: pick them up, lock them up, and force them to work and do exhausting physical exercises and military drills. Beat them if they break any rules, or to ensure that they don’t. And claim that this is treatment for drug dependency.

But make no mistake: Effective drug treatment never includes locking people up and subjecting them to torture and abuse.

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