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.

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.
Sep 09

Should Some Missile Strikes Be Criminalized?

By Dallas Darling, Truthout | News Analysis

“Smoke pours out of the civilian shelter for days while rescue workers collapse in grief excavating the remains, pitching their dead cargo to the ground. Some vomit from the stench of the sizzling corpses, nearly all women children, and babies, burned beyond identification.”(1) -1991 Persian Gulf War One, where a U.S. missile strike against Baghdad, Iraq hit a neighborhood residential shelter mistakenly thought to be a military command post.

As a result of the Nuremburg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals, wars against peace and humanity were finally criminalized, at least for the defeated and vanquished. Is it now time to also criminalize missile strikes that murder and maim innocent civilians? Should missile strikes that later cause tens of thousands of civilian casualties and enormous environmental degradation be considered unlawful and against international laws? And should the actions of such perpetrators be criminalized too?

No matter how many times we’ve seen it before, the frenzy for launching a military attack on another country is -- to the extent we’re not numb -- profoundly upsetting. Tanked up with talking points in Washington, top officials drive policy while intoxicated with what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism,” and most media coverage becomes similarly unhinged. That’s where we are now.

But new variables have opened up possibilities for disrupting the repetitive plunge to war. Syria is in the crosshairs of U.S. firepower, but cracks in the political machinery of the warfare state are widening here at home. For advocates of militarism and empire by any other name, the specter of democratic constraint looms as an ominous threat.

Sep 09

This War Too Is A Lie

By David Swanson, War Is a Crime | Op-Ed

Some smart people thought, and perhaps some still think, that the 2003-2011 war on Iraq was unique in that it was promoted with the use of blatant lies.  When I'd researched dozens of other wars and failed to find one that wasn't based on a foundation of similar lies, I wrote a book about the most common war lie varieties. I called it War Is A Lie.

That book has sold more than any of my others, and I like to think it's contributed some teeny bit to the remarkable and very welcome skepticism that is greeting the U.S. government's current claims about Syria.  The fact is that, were the White House telling the truth about the need for an attack on Syria, it would be a first in history.  Every other case for war has always been dishonest.