US Press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Care To Meet for a Cheap Drink? (Slate)

Jacob Weisber on what he learned from Christopher Hitchens.

2. Iraq war divided America but freed millions from Saddam (New York Daily News)

"Welcome home. Welcome home. Welcome home."

3. Gingrich's invented history (Politico)

Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich's recent remarks that the Palestinians are an "invented" people, all of whom are "terrorists," are far from historical truth- but more damaging than Gingrich's rewriting of history is the negative effect of his political posturing, writes Wendy Chamberlin.

4. Iowa Republican debate: Newt's still on top, Romney steadies himself (Washington Post)

E.J. Dionne Jr. on Thursday's debate in Sioux City, Iowa.

5. Obama's hubris is obvious in conflicting statements (Omaha World Herald)

President Barack Obama doesn't suffer from amnesia, but he apparently hopes the public does, writes Cal Thomas.

6. New clinic rules will harm women's health (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Gov. Corbett should carefully consider the consequences and refuse to sign legislation that would roll back women's ability to obtain safe abortions.

7. Huntsman? Stranger things have happened (Denver Post)

All things seem possible in the Republican presidential contest- so, E.J. Dionne asks, is there another turn coming that could benefit Jon Huntsman?

8. No way to conduct people's business (Miami Herald)

In the usual frenzy before the holidays, lawmakers in Washington have once again packed a variety of questionable proposals - including one affecting travel to Cuba - into a huge bundle of legislation.

9. Medicare con: The problem is producing more medical grads, not increasing medicare fees for doctors (Oregonian)

The latest scare tactic by right-wing opponents of the Affordable Care Act aims at convincing Americans that reasonable trims in Medicare spending will make it very difficult for seniors to find a good doctor in coming years, according to Wayne Madsen.

10. Obama foreign policy: When 'reset' means setbacks (Oregonian)

Obama demonstrated decisiveness in killing Osama bin Laden, but forgoing a non-option says nothing about the soundness of one's foreign policy, writes Charles Krauthammer.

Campaign pictures/Office of Jorge Sharp
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Meet Jorge Sharp, the rising star of Chile’s left who beat right-wingers to running its second city

The 31-year-old human rights lawyer says he is inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s alternative politics as he takes the fight to the Chilean establishment.

Bearded, with shaggy hair, chinos and a plaid shirt, 31-year-old Jorge Sharp does not look like your typical mayor elect. But that does nothing to stop him speaking with the conviction of one.

“Look, Chile is a country that solely operates centrally, as one unit,” he says. “It is not a federal country – the concentration of state functions is very compact. In reality, most of the power is in Santiago. There are many limitations when it comes to introducing significant changes [in local areas].”

In October, Sharp upset Chile’s political status quo by defeating establishment rivals in the mayoral election of Valparaíso, the second city of South America’s first OECD country. He is taking office today.

Often compared to Podemos in Spain, Sharp’s win was significant – not only as yet another example of voters turning against mainstream politics – because it denied Chilean right-wing candidates another seat during local elections that saw them sweep to power across the country.

As the results rolled in, Conservative politicians had managed to snatch dozens of seats from the country’s centre-left coalition, led by President Michelle Bachelet, a member of Chile’s Socialist Party.

Sitting in one of Valparaíso’s many bohemian cafes, Sharp accepts the comparison with Podemos gracefully but is keen to make sure that Chile’s new “autonomous left” movement is seen as distinct.

“What we are doing in Chile is a process that is difficult to compare with other emerging political movements in the world,” he says. “We are a distinct political group and we are a modern force for the left. We are a left that is distinct in our own country and that is different to the left in Spain, in Bolivia, and in Venezuela.”

Sharp’s Autonomous Left movement is not so much a party rather than a group of affiliated individuals who want to change Chilean politics for good. Considering its relatively small size, the so-called Aut Left experienced degrees of success in October.

Chilean voters may have punished Bachelet – also Chile’s first female leader – and her coalition after a number of corruption scandals, but they did not turn against left-wing politics completely. Where they had options, many Chileans voted for newer, younger and independent left-wing candidates. 

“We only had nine candidates and we won three of the races – in Punta Arenas, Antofagasta and Ñuñoa, a district of Santiago,” he says. “We hope that the experience here will help us to articulate a national message for all of Chile.”


Campaign pictures/Office of Jorge Sharp

For Sharp, the success of Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump and the pro-Brexit movement are due to people fed up – on a global scale – with their respective countries’ mainstream political parties or candidates. Given that assumption, how would he describe the cause of his own election success?

“The problem in Chile, and also for the people in Valparaíso, is that the resources go to very few people,” he says. “It was a vote to live better, to live differently. Our project for social policy is one that is more sufficient for all the people. It’s a return to democracy, to break the electoral status quo.”   

Sharp – like many – believes that the United States’ Democrat party missed out by passing up the opportunity to break with the status quo and choose Bernie Sanders over the chosen nominee Hillary Clinton. “They would have been better off with Sanders than Clinton,” he believes. 

“The [people] in the US are living through a deep economic crisis. These were the right conditions for Trump. The people weren’t looking for the candidate from the banks or Wall Street, not the ‘establishment’ candidate. The way forward was Sanders.”

Turning to other 2016 geo-political events, he claims Brexit was a case of Britons “looking for an answer to crises” about identity. Elsewhere in South America, the tactics of former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe – who led the “No” vote campaign against peace with the Farc – were “fundamentally undemocratic”.

In the future, Sharp hopes that he and the rest of the Autonomous Left will be better-prepared to take power in higher offices, in order to further reform social policy and politics in Chile.

“For these elections, we weren't unified enough,” he concedes. “For 2017 [when national elections take place], we will have one list of parliamentary candidates and one presidential candidate.”

And while Sharp clearly sympathises with other left-wing movements in countries throughout the world, this is not a call for a unified approach to take on the rise of the right.

“Every country has its own path,” he finishes. “There is no single correct path. What we need to do [in Chile] is articulate a force that’s outside the political mainstream.”

Oli Griffin is a freelance journalist based in Latin America.