SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.

I now ask the people of Japan for help. My country is no longer the country I once knew, a country moving at least in the direction of providing opportunity for all, regardless of income. The tendency to paranoia and international law-breaking was always there, at a low fever, in clandestine and semi-clandestine actions around the world, driven by visions of American exceptionalism pandered onto an all too naïve public. Though I like to believe that there was the intention at least to make the world a better place, in fact these actions were frankly not just frequently amateurish and inept, they resulted in the suffering and death of many. Nor it seems, have any of the lessons been learnt. Since 9/11, the United States has adopted a national security policy that can most charitably be described as one of anaphylactic shock. Terrorism ranks with shark attacks in terms of real risk. We have, however, so over-reacted, and misreacted to the tragedy that we have become a danger both to ourselves and to others. 

Sep 11

Regarding Syria

By Mike Nuess, Teleologics | Op-Ed

While thinking about Syria it may be valuable to keep in mind something Chomsky regularly and wisely suggests: that the realization of a just and eventually peaceful world certainly requires our sustained commitment to the fundamental moral principle of universality, which simply means that we hold ourselves to the same set of standards that we expect of others. Then it would be complete hypocrisy to consider ourselves civilized were we to claim an act wrong for others but not for us.

Sep 10

What is Evil?

By Pat Vaughan, Truthout | Op-Ed

What is evil? Rather than defining evil as a loss of goodness, a corruption of nature, or a type of failure, why not define evil as the injection of suffering into the world, suffering that was not there before and should not be there now? This definition provides for an Occam’s razor like resolution of complex political, economic, and social questions such as starting a war, blocking food distribution for the poor, or denying medical coverage to the needy. Simply ask yourself if a particular option will cause suffering.  The decision then becomes easy, and it becomes particularly easy on questions of war.

Journalist Mark Taylor-Canfield talks with Mike Malloy about the surveillance of Seattle environmental activists by the FBI. Six people were visited by FBI agents who were apparently investigating protests against the Alberta Tar Sands project and Northwest coal trains.

Despite his own recent statements to the contrary, President Barack Obama has no legal authority to assault the government of Syria even as “a warning shot.” Neither the United States Constitution, nor the War Powers Act of 1973 gives him such authority in the absence of an emergency that allows Congress no time to react.

Obama cannot cite the present situation as such an emergency, given his public statement that members of Congress need not act until the completion of their scheduled vacation. He has said that his proposal is “not time sensitive.” If Congress fails to approve a resolution approving acts of war against Syria, he cannot order any military assault into Syria.

So much has been written about whether to go to war with Syria, I confess I have little of substance to add to the debate. Instead I will share the process through which I made my decision utilizing the following epistemological insights coming from the most unlikely of sources (at least for me), former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld as expressed during a news conference discussion of the Iraq war .

“There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.” — Donald Rumsfeld, February 12, 2002

Clearly, I am not alone in my confidence in Rumsfeld’s “wisdom” as he is still a favorite and respected “expert” often called upon by a myriad of Main Stream Media outlets for his perspective on foreign policy, war, and the resolution of conflict.

Sep 10

Threats of Violence and Hopes for Votes

By Victor Grossman, Monthly Review | News Analysis

All summer the threat of violence was in the air in Hellersdorf.  This borough on the outskirts of East Berlin, once a huge site of modern high-rise buildings aimed at solving East German housing problems, provided homes for nearly 130,000 people. After "the Wall went down" many high-rise buildings were cropped from eleven to five or six stories, renovated, and given colorful new facades.  But with the new problem of joblessness (currently at 11.7 percent in Berlin), more and more people left to hunt work in other parts of Germany or elsewhere.  Numerous buildings, constructed in the 1980s, emptied out.  More recently, working-class families, some with immigrant background, after being pushed out of central Berlin by high-priced gentrification, found that rents were not soaring quite so quickly in outlying areas like Hellersdorf.  A new mix, often featuring disintegration, and defeatism due to a lack of hope, offered just the ingredients neo-Nazis and their allies were looking for. 

U.S. citizens, as they urge their members of congress to withhold their authority, vested in that body by the Constitution, to wage war, should be adamantly against such a war because it will increase suffering in Syria. Fears have justifiably been raised that a mission creep will set in, and that once a giant like the US military machine in one direction takes a step, reversal is impossible. That truth is borne out by the fact that self-interest in Syria is it a mission creep dating back at least as far as the 1953 CIA lead coup in Iran. Our interest in access to and exploitation of the regions oil is a generations long mission creep, and it is a mission that we must abort.

If the vast majority of the public in the US and the UK doesn’t have a clue about the death toll from the Iraq war, then how can they make an informed decision about the probable consequences of western intervention in Syria or anywhere else?

The default stance of the public is, quite rationally, against foreign military adventures. For reasons that range from moral to pragmatic, people are not easily convinced that a poor country thousands of miles way needs to be bombed – especially when that country poses no credible threat to them. It takes quite a propaganda campaign to change their minds and the big corporate and state media outlets are reliably there to provide one. It is heartening to see from recent polls that war is as hard a sell as ever. But how much more widespread, and more importantly, how much more intense would public opposition to war be if the vast majority were not completely misinformed about the human costs of war?

Dear President Obama,

I supported you in both elections, with my vote and financial giving.  When you were elected, I was overjoyed that the US had a leader in the White House who was bright, articulate and honest.  After the Bush years, many of us were very discouraged about our country, but you brought hope. 

 Now in 2013, you are faced with a difficult situation.  Chemical weapons have been used Syria.  Although no one is certain who instigated this unconscionable act, this is illegal, immoral and demands a response.  However, the answer need not be limited to "doing nothing" or "a military strike."  Clearly, this situation demands a reaction, and I commend you for waiting to make a decision until after consulting Congress. I imagine you are hearing comparisons to Iraq, and nothing could be more painful. However, the US must not consider any action before the UN completes its report and without the support of the international community. Additionally, even if Congress votes to authorize military action, I urge you to consider other options.  Many of your advisors seem to see solutions only in terms of military operations.