taboo - a prohibition or restriction that results from tradition or custom.

tariff - a surcharge placed on imported goods and services. The purpose of a tariff is to protect domestic products from foreign competition.

taxation - a compulsory payment levied by a government on its citizens to finance its expenditure. It can either be levied on income or as a surcharge on prices (sales tax). Income tax is a direct tax (everyone who earns a certain amount has to pay it); a sales tax is indirect tax (affects only those who buy the taxed goods.)


Tea Party movement — a political movement that came into existence in 2009 as a grass-roots reaction to the unpopularity of the mainstream political parties. It took its name from the famous Boston Tea Party in 1783, when colonists dumped British tea, which was taxed by the British parliament, in Boston Harbor rather than pay taxes without representation. Today's Tea Party supporters oppose excessive government spending and taxpayer-funded bailouts, which they associate with both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. They also support lower taxes. Tea Party members are conservative and predominantly Republican in orientation but do not support mainstream Republicans, many of whom they nickname RINOs, meaning Republicans in Name Only. A number of Republican candidates supported by the Republican Party were defeated by Tea Party candidates in primary elections in 2010, and Tea Party candidates were successful in winning some Senate and House races in the 2010 midterm elections. These included Rand Paul from Kentucky, who won election to the Senate, as did Marco Rubio in Florida. The main concern of the Tea Party is the federal deficit, which they want to reduce primarily by reducing government spending. In addition to their support of lower taxes, they favor a strict adherence to the U.S. Constitution.

territorial waters - waters over which the jurisdiction of the adjacent state is extended. including seas, bays, rivers, and lakes.

terrorism - the pursuit of a political aim by means of violence and intimidation. Terrorism has existed throughout human history, but modern terrorism is sometimes said to have begun in 1968 with the hijacking of an Israeli El Al plane by Palestinians in Algeria. Terrorism has since become one of the most frequent and powerful means of waging war by many groups on many continents. The most serious incidents of terrorism on U.S. soil happened in 1995 and 2001. In 1995, 167 people were killed by a bomb placed by terrorists outside a federal building in Oklahoma City. Two anti-government Americans were convicted of the crime. On September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people were killed by terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC. These attacks were carried out by the Islamic terrorist group, Al-Qaeda. As a result of 9/11, the administration of George W. Bush launched a "war on terror" designed to defeat the threat posed by Al-Qaeda. The war on terror dominated U.S. foreign policy in the first decade of the twenty-first century, and led to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

terrorist - a person who advocates or takes part in terrorist acts. However, the definition is not as simple as it looks. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, and yesterday's terrorists have a habit of becoming today's statesmen. Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, led a terrorist campaign to establish black majority rule in what was then white-ruled Rhodesia in the 1970s. Menachem Begin, prime minster of Israel from 1977 to 1983, had been a terrorist seeking to expel the British from Palestine in the late 1940s. Yasir Arafat, who was behind numerous acts of terrorism committed by the Palestinian Liberation Organization in the 1970s and 1980s, later received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in reaching a peace agreement with Israel. It seems impossible, however, that the twenty-first century's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, will ever be regarded in the West as anything other than a terrorist, although he is a revered figure in some parts of the Islamic world.

theocracy - a state or government which is run by priests or clergy. A recent example of a theocracy is Iran immediately after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, when the Ayotollah Khomeini gained power. Theocracies are becoming more common as Islamic fundamentalism grows in strength.


third party - can refer either to a minor party, such as the Socialist Party or the Libertarian Party, whose support is so small that it has no significant effect on a national election, or to a party that presents a viable alternative to the Republicans or Democrats. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, there were a number of powerful third parties in American politics. The Greenback Party, the Union Labor Party, and the Peoples' Party, for example, forced the major parties to pass significant antimonopoly and labor legislation. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party split the Republican vote and helped the Democrats win back the White House. In 1996, Ross Perot's Reform Party won 7 percent of the vote in the presidential election. However, in modern times third parties have had no success in breaking the two-party system, and often complain that restrictive ballot access requirements in many states are designed by the major parties to keep them off the ballot.

torture - the deliberate infliction of extreme physical pain. For much of Western history, torture has been an accepted way of eliciting information, or compelling a confession or simply as punishment. It was used in ancient Greece and Rome, and in European societies up to the eighteenth century. In the U.S., torture was banned in the constitutional rejection of cruel and unusual punishment; and in the nineteenth century European nations decisively rejected the use of torture as a legal procedure. However, in the twentieth century torture was used by totalitarian and authoritarian regimes around the globe. Many people also claim that in spite of its ban on torture, the United States has used methods of torture, including the technique of simulated drowning known as waterboarding, in its interrogation of suspects during the war on terrorism pursued by the administrations of George W. Bush.

total war - a war thatthreatens the very existence of a nation, and in which every available weapon is used. Also means a war in which all the economic resources of the nation are mobilized as part of the war effort. This concept was developed in the nineteenth century; it applies to both world wars of this century. Total war, in the sense of using all available weapons, has been virtually unthinkable in the nuclear age, as it would result in the destruction of both sides.

totalitarianism - a sytem of government where the ruling authority extends its power over all aspects of society, and regulates every aspect of life. Totalitarian states maintain their existence by a combination of methods, including secret police, the banning of opposition, and control of the media. Everything in society is shaped to serve the ends of the totalitarian state. Education, for example is rigidly controlled, so as to socialize youth into the desired political attitudes. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were the classic examples of totalitarian states.

toxic wastes - waste matter produced in industrial or technological processes that is harmful to humans and the environment.

Third World - the impoverished or developing countries of the world, made up mostly of of Asian, African, and South American countries.

trade union - an organization of workers who do similar jobs. A trade union exists to take collective action on behalf of its members in negotiations with employers over wages, working conditions, etc. Trade unions are usually composed of skilled or semiskilled workers who have learned a craft.

treason - betrayal of one's country. In the U.S. constitution treason is defined as making war against the U.S. (by a U.S. citizen) or by giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the U.S.

treaty - a formal, binding international agreement that may cover issues including the regulation of trade, the making of peace, or the forming of military alliances. In the U.S., all treaties proposed by the executive branch and negotiated with a foreign country must be approved by a two-thirds majority in the Senate. The treaty is then ratified by the President.

tribunal - a court or other body that is empowered to hand down decisions.

truce - a temporary or short-term cessation of hostilities.

Truman Doctrine - a policy enunciated in March, 1947, by President Harry Truman, when he pledged U.S. support for "free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." If America failed to do this, said Truman, world peace would be endangered. The speech referred in particular to U.S. aid to Greece and Turkey.

trusteeship - a commission by the United Nations to a country to administer a region, which is known as the trust territory. The trust territory is not a colony-the idea is that it should be developed so that it can eventually assume complete independence. For example, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, administered by the U.S.

tyranny - despotism; unjust, oppressive rule. James Madison (1751-1836) defined the recipe for tyranny as the accumulation of all power and authority, including executive, legislative and judiciary, in the same hands. The U.S. constitution contains checks and balances to ensure that the conditions for the creation of a tyrrany cannot appear.

unemployment rate - the measure of how many unemployed people there are, as a percentage of the available workforce.

underground - political or military opposition that cannot come out in the open. Often happens in times of war, when a country is occupied by an enemy, as in the French underground during World War II.

unilateral - involving one side only. Thus when Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia) made a unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1965, it meant that the Declaration was made by only one party out of the two parties involved, i.e. Britain was not part of the agreement.

united front - refers to a situation in which several groups or individuals who have some differences of opinion patch them up in order to deal with others, as in the union leaders put aside their differences and presented a united front to the employers.

United Nations (UN) - The UN was established after World War 11 to solve international disputes that threaten world peace and security. The UN also works to protect human rights; promote the protection of the environment; help the advancement of women and the rights of children; fight epidemics, famine, poverty. It assists refugees, delivers food aid, combats disease and helps expand food production; makes loans to developing countries and helps stabilize financial markets. The UN has six main organs, all based in New York, except the International Court of Justice, which is located at The Hague, Netherlands. The General Assembly is the main deliberative body. All 192 member states are represented in it, and each has one vote. Decisions are usually taken by simple majority. Important questions require a two-thirds majority. The 15-member Security Council has primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security. China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States are permanent members. The other 10 are elected by the Assembly for two-year terms. Other UN organs include the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice (also known as the World Court) and the Secretariat. In addition, there are 14 specialized agencies. The UN is playing an increasing role as peacekeeper in conflicts around the globe. Since 1948, it has carried out 64 peacekeeping operations, and as of 2010 was engaged in 16 such operations, involving over 99,000 troops drawn from 116 countries. Areas covered included Haiti, Liberia, Darfur in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kosovo, Lebanon, Cyprus, Afghanistan, Chad and Syria.

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) - provides aid and development assistance to children and mothers in developing countries. The headquarters is in New York.

United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) - established by the UN Economic and Social Council to promote human rights worldwide; tries to solve problems aroung such issues as the death penalty, freedom of religious beliefs, and racial discrimination. Headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland.

United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) - aims to promote higher standards of living, full employment and economic and social progress in member nations. It issues reports and make recommendations on a wide range of economic, social and cultural matters.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) - aims to promote collaboration among nations through education, science and culture. The U.S. withdrw from Unesco in 1985, because of its alleged anti-Western bias. Headquarters is in Paris.

United Nations Secretariat - the office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the chief administrative officer of the U.N. He has the power to bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter that he considers a threat to world peace. The Secretary-General is appointed by the UN General Assemby, on the basis of geographic rotation, for up to two five-year terms.

universalism - the theological doctrine that all people, rather than the selected few who belong to a particular faith, will eventually find salvation in God.

usurpation - the seizing of something, usually a position of power or authority, that is not rightfully one's own. When, for example, the military in Haiti overthrew the democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, it was an act of usurpation.

usury - the loaning of money at an excessively high rate of interest.

utilitarianism - a political philosophy developed in England in the nineteenth century, by thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, which says that the duty of government is to promote "the greatest good for the greatest number." This could be accomplished by actions which promoted pleasure and avoided pain (these being the two things that human were ruled by). Pleasure was not defined in hedonistic terms; being of service to others, for example, could be classified as a "pleasure."

utility - in economics, the ability of a good or service to satisfy human want. It is therefore a psychological thing and cannot be measured in absolute terms. Goods that have utility for one person may not have for another. And goods that have utility for one person at a certain time may not have it at another time.

utopia - an imaginary place in which the social and political system is perfect: all citizens have all their needs met in an ideal way. The term refers to a book, Utopia, by Sir Thomas More, published in 1516, although other writers, from Plato on, have described the ideal society. Utopia can also refer to any scheme designed to create an ideal society, and it can sometimes be used to imply that something is well-intentioned but completely impractical.

vanguard - the foremost part of an advancing army. Used figuratively to refer to being opinion leaders. The Republicans might claim, for example, that since they captured the House and Senate in the elections of November, 1994, they are in the vanguard of social policy and change.

Vatican Councils - major pronouncements of the Roman Catholic church about the nature of the faith. The first Vatican Council was held in 1869-70. it declared the personal infallibility of the pope when speaking ex cathedra to be a dogma of the church. The second Vatican Council, 1962-65, was notable for its ecumenical and liberalizing spirit. It made a more positive evaluation of the value of other faiths: they could also be channels for God's grace; salvation could be attained by non-Christians.

vendetta - prolonged bitter hostility.

veto - to cancel or make void (legislation, etc.) The president of the U.S. has a veto power over legislation that Congress passes to him for signing.

vicious circle - a situation in which the solution to one problem merely gives rise to another problem, and the solution to that problem leads back to the first problem, often in a more acute form. An example might be a woman who suffers from domestic violence. In order to solve the problem she leaves her husband, but then she finds herself with another problem: where to live, how to survive. The solution may force her back to her original situation. She is trapped in a vicious circle.

vigilante - self-appointed individual or group that takes on the responsibility for maintaining law and order in a community, when the normal channels have become ineffective. Vigilante groups were a feature of life in the troubled areas of Northern Ireland, for example, for over 20 years.

visa - an endorsement on a passport that shows that the holder has a legal right to enter a specific country.

vox populi - a Latin expression meaning "voice of the people", with implications that popular sentiment is theoretically at one with the divine will. It was usually thought to have occurred during times of crisis when the voice or opinion of the people was made manifest or became evident; monarchs have been dethroned, governments toppled, and revolutions started in the name of vox populi.

war crime - a crime against humanity, such as deliberate killing of civilians or mistreatment of prisoners, committed during a war. War crimes are defined in a number of internationally accepted treaties, including the Geneva Conventions. The most notorious example of war crimes in recent history were those committed by Nazi Germany during World War II. In 1946, at the Nuremberg Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, 24 leading Nazis were tried by the victorious allied powers for war crimes. Nineteen were found guilty and 12 were sentenced to death. The subject came up again in the context of the 1992-95 war in Bosnia, where atrocities perpetrated by Serbs against Muslim civilians led to war crimes charges being brought against Serb leaders. Since its creation in 2002, the International Criminal Court in the Hague has the authority to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes committed on or after that date.


ward heeler - a low-level political functionary in a ward. A ward is a district of a city or town for administrative or voting purposes. Heeler is an allusion to a dog that obeys its master when called to heel. A ward heeler might solicit votes for his party or perform small tasks for his political bosses. The term is used contemptuously, implying that the ward heeler is a subservient hanger-on of politicans more important than himself.

warhead - the head, or front section, of a weapon such as a torpedo, rocket or other projectile that contains the explosive charge, as in nuclear warhead.

Warsaw Pact - the military organization of Eastern Europe signed in Warsaw, Poland in 1955, by Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union. It was a communist counterpart to NATO. Warsaw Pact members were bound to assist each other in the event of an attack on any one of them. Albania withdrew in 1961. The Warsaw Pact collaborated in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968-the only time it took military action. The Pact was ended as a military alliance in 1991, when the demise of communism and the end of the Cold War made it superflous.

ways and means - the financial resources of a government. For example, the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives, which considers everything relating to the raising of revenues.

welfare - public financial or other assistance (food stamps, for example) given to people who meet certain standards of eligibility regarding income and assets.

welfare state - a state which supplies a large number of social services to its citizens, as a right, without requiring them to pay directly for them.

westernization - the adopting of Western habits, customs, forms of government and social organization, often applied to Third World countries seeking to modernize and industrialize their economies. Westernization can have a backlash, however, if it is done too quickly or without respect for local culture. A classic example is Iran under the Shah, who from 1953 to the 1970s tried to westernize the country but only succeeded in igniting Islamic traditionalists against him.


whip - The term is derived from fox-hunting in England. It was adopted by political parties in the British parliament, and the U.S. borrowed the term from the British. A whip is the legislator responsible for enforcing party discipline or strategy; he assists the leadership in managing its legislative agenda. Part of the whip's responsibility is to
keep track of legislation and try to ensure that all members are present when an important vote takes place, or if not, that a "pairing" arrangement is made with the opposing party. The majority whip is the whip of the party that controls the House or Senate; after the majority leader, he is the senior party figure in each house. The same applies to the minority whip.

women's movement - the modern women's movement began in the 1960s, when it was known as the Women's Liberation Movement. It arose out of the civil rights movement, when women began to perceive that like an oppressed minority, they too needed to take radical action to secure their rights. The National Organization for Women (NOW) was created in 1966, and remains one of the spearheads of the women's movement, which attempts to promote the progress of women in all spheres of life. Discrimination in employment is a key issue, and feminists have sought to promote the principle of equal pay for equal work or for work of equal value. Discrimination in education has been eased by the passing in 1972 of Title IX of the Educational Amendments, which banned discrimination based on sex in educational activities and programs funded by the federal government. The women's movement also promoted the Equal Rights Amendment (which failed to be ratifed in 1982), and has fought to legalize abortion and keep it legal. Other issues, such as sexual harrassment, rape, and domestic violence against women have also been successfully pushed to the forefront of national awareness by the women's movement.

world government - the goal of some internationalists for centuries. William Penn, the founder of the Quakers, had a plan for a world government, as did the eighteenth century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. The world rule of the proletariat also plays a part in Marxism. But the idea of one world government has never been a serious possibility; the strength of nationalism and the rivalry of different economic and social systems would seem to make it impractical. In spite of this, conspiracy theorists today believe that a plot to create a world government, involving the United Nations, international bankers, and sections of the U.S. government, is well advanced.

working class - industrial workers, and others, skilled and unskilled, who work in manual occupations, as a class. In Marxist thought, the working class is referred to as the proletariat.

white elephant - something that is of little use or profit, especially something that is maintained at great expense. Some in Britain argue that the Falkland Islands, which Britain retained pssession of after a war with Argentina in 1982, are a white elephant, because they cost a huge amount of money to defend, and yet they are very small and have only a tiny population.

World Bank - formally known as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development; its purpose is to promote economic and social progress in developing nations by raising productivity; it lends funds, provides advice, stimulates outside investments. World Bank funds come primarily from money raised in the world capital markets. Headquarters is in Washington, DC.

World Health Organization (WHO) - international health agency of the UN which promotes the highest level of health care for all peoples. WHO emphasizes health care for developing nations by helping them develop new technologies and utilize existing ones. Headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland.

xenophobia - irrational dislike of foreign people and foreign things.

yardstick - standard of comparison. For example, in the debate over health care reform in 2009 and 2010, the Canadian health care system was sometimes used as a yardstick to evaluate the American system and the proposed reforms.

zealot - fanatic; a person who is extremely partisan. Adolf Hitler was a zealot, so also, by most people's reckoning, was Iran's Ayotollah Khomeini.

Zeitgeist - A German word now commonly used in English. It means literally spirit of the times, and refers to prevailing currents of thought and feeling in a society. For example, an aspect of the Zeitgeist of America in the twenty-first century is disillusionment with and distrust of political institutions.

zero-sum - a situation in which a gain for one must result in a loss for another.

Zionism - a movement that began in the nineteenth century for the return of the Jews to Palestine. Started by a Hungarian Jew, Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), Zionism was, and is, held together by the belief that the Jews worldwide are all descendents of the ancient Hebrews, and therefore share a common nationality by virtue of their link to the historical kingdom of Israel. Nineteenth century European anti-Semitism helped to strengthen Zionism, and during World War I, the British (who ruled Palestine after World War I) supported the idea, which led to the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which favored the creation of "a Jewish national home." When Israel was established in 1948 Zionism took on a new coloring, to indicate support for Israel by Jews outside the Middle East. Israel's enemies claimed, and still do, that Zionism seeks to perpetuate Israeli rule over Arabs in the occupied West Bank, which Israel seized from Jordan in the war of 1967. Supporters of Zionism point out that Israel is a democracy, where Arabs—including Christians and Moslems, as well as other ethnic groups such as the Druse and the Circassians—are granted the right to vote, freedom of religious expression, and other civil liberties equal to those guaranteed to the Jews.

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