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Columnist Robert Rizzon

There is a measure of truth in John Edwards' campaign speeches about the division of America. He spoke of the two Americas divided by an unfair distribution of wealth -- the poor and the wealthy, but his words also opened to the rest of the world the two Americas, one struggling to maintain its image of a decent moral democracy, the other a country full of contradictions.

There is little doubt of the good the country has achieved and the generosity of Americans. There is one America full at times of self-praise and sometimes justly so, but it should not justify its immoral and even criminal acts in the name of democracy. This is the other America that our neighbors are viewing and judging. We are setting the example whether we approve of it or not. We are vociferous in self-denial, but facts are facts. Let us examine some of our recent history.

This is the other America that they see. We are responsible for the thousands of Iraqis routed from their homes, dispossessed, tortured and killed -- women, children, the old, the sick, indiscriminately destroyed in order to build a road to peace and democracy -- all this without being asked. The world watches but is far from agreeing. In fact, some countries showed their disapproval by removing themselves from the coalition that supported this war for democracy. In the five-year period, foreign combat troops have shrunk by 75 percent from 47,000 to a mere 6,000. What these troops saw and brought back to their respective countries, coupled with lies that were broadcast from the various media, set the reason for the mass withdrawal of our allies. This is the America that they witnessed and heard the ongoing discourse of the justification for torture to the excesses of waterboarding, all defended as required to build a democratic world.

We have in our country a "school of the Americas," SOA, at Fort Benning, Ga., whose name has been changed but whose tactics, some critics say, have not. It is said it teaches coercive interrogation and extrajudicial execution commonly known as torture and murder. Even the Geneva Convention looks with disdain at such a breeding ground for human violations, yet it exists and functions.

It is bad enough that humans periodically war on each other and that we must have a referee (The Geneva Convention) whose purpose is to regulate the rules of war. That in itself is uncivilized, when in reality, war in itself is unacceptable, and therefore no rules are needed.

The America that is viewed from away is the America that cherishes its actions in its democratic pursuit of the inclusion of all citizens by way of the vote. It is a right, almost a sacred right, for it represents the basic right of equality. This has been hailed because it can effect change without violence. The only way this can be abused is to refrain from its implementation when needed. The newly elected government of Iraq, which was voted in under the supervision of the United States, wants free elections whose main purpose is to determine the status of the United States in Iraq.

In poll after poll, Iraq wants the United States to leave. It is a general consensus. It is asked, why not a vote? It would be, after all, the will of the people. A true democratic action. This, the other America, waits and waits, full of suspicion. Will the people of Iraq vote or will they be occupied indefinitely under duress "for their own good" (a new democratic rule).

This vision of the other America fits appropriately with the distortion of the office of the American presidency. What the world has been exposed to is a deterioration of the initial intent of this office. If this man is able to go to war without consent from Congress (a law), to violate (Geneva Convention) laws of war, to defend torture, to ignore the plight of veterans, to ignore the struggle of the middle class, which is forever in arrears financially, to the tragedy of failed pensions and no universal health care, to a failed education program that has been shamed by the success of all of Europe and even third-world countries, and to the ability of our incumbent leader to dismiss confrontational legitimate questions as unanswerable because they "are classified."

Who does the classifying?

Those who see this different America have had their fill of broken promises and are anxious about our emerging success. They do not want a king or royalty or a dictator, even a benevolent one. They are balancing the two Americas and assessing their success or their failure.

If we the American people are truly intent on spreading our wings and showing the way, we must simply clean up our act. We know what has to be done, from the shameful remnants of Katrina with the honor of having the most homicides in America to the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib in Iraq run by the American military. We of our America know what must be done. We do not want 20 million of our people in poverty or the honor of having more prisons than any other industrialized nation. We do not want our lives to be dedicated to oil as a sustenance of life. I know we will solve these problems, and ultimately there will emerge only one America.

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