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 rather have a John Brown than a Clarence Thomas."

So said the preacher.

Yep, a preacher.

He said it publicly.

Most of the postmortem commentary on Hugo Chávez has focused on his domestic legacy in Venezuela, his wider regional legacy within Latin America, and what we might call his hemispheric legacy – his “special relationship” with the United States. And for good reason: these were the principal realms in which he operated during his 14 years as Venezuela’s president (1999-2013) and it is for his accomplishments in these domains that he will be remembered and the Chávez Era (it was, to be sure, an era) will be evaluated.

But there’s a less discussed dimension of the Chávez legacy that I’d like to examine briefly: his relations with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, a story whose significance became more salient with the onset of the momentous changes the region has been undergoing over the last few years – not merely since the “Arab Spring” or Arab revolts starting at the end of 2010 but going back to the upheaval in Iran in the summer of 2009.

New America Media editor Andrew Lam has made his name as a journalist, but in his newest book, his past as a Vietnamese refugee reverberates through short stories about characters who fled Vietnam and made new lives in the Bay Area. NAM reporter Anna Challet spoke with him about the collection, Birds of Paradise Lost (Red Hen Press, 2013), published this month.

Anna Challet: Birds of Paradise Lost is your first book of fiction – how did you come to publish a fiction collection after so many years of working as a journalist?

Andrew Lam: I've been writing short stories for twenty years now, on and off ever since I was in the creative writing program at San Francisco State University. Though I later found a career as a journalist and an essayist, fiction is my first love and I never left it, even though there was no easy way to make a living from it. 

Venezuela's left-wing populist president Hugo Chávez died on Tuesday, March 5, after a two-year battle with cancer. If world leaders were judged by the sheer volume of corporate media vitriol and misinformation about their policies, Chávez would be in a class of his own.

Shortly after Chávez won his first election in 1998, the U.S. government deemed him a threat to U.S. interests--an image U.S. media eagerly played up. When a coup engineered by Venezuelan business and media elites removed Chávez from power, many leading U.S outlets praised the move (Extra!, 6/02). The New York Times (4/13/02), calling it a "resignation," declared that "Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator." The Chicago Tribune (4/14/02) cheered the removal of a leader who had been "praising Osama bin Laden"--an absurdly false charge.

Mar 08

Playing Into Assad’s game

By Tom H Hastings, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

The US media has been especially emetic recently in their coverage of the sequester. While cuts to human services, education, health care, and environmental protection are huge, most of the stories are all about how this will hurt the military, will threaten our national security, will ripple out into the civilian world, and woe woe woe. Really?

How is it, then, that John Kerry has just promised $60 million in starter funds plus more "non lethal" aid to the Free Syrian Army, the irregulars in Syria who are mirroring some of the worst of the Assad regime? The FSA has tortured, killed civilians, and shut down all current hope of a nonviolent solution to this civil war. John!

Conversation in Germany these days, when not about soccer, dealt often with beef which was part horsemeat, high-priced organic "bio" eggs which weren't all they claimed to be or, in thrilling, moving detail, the last weeks, days and hours of the one and only German Pope (since 1058 A.D.).

Also under often heated debate was the court decision that either member of a homosexual "life partnership" can legally adopt the child or children of the other member, as part of a family. This was one more step towards normalizing homosexual relationships and someday, it is hoped, legalizing regular marriages. Most political parties supported the decision, opposed were only the Christian Social Union, the further-right Bavarian branch of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, and some other Christian Democrats who also mourned the good old days with the old "Biblical" family formula. But they were a small minority in the Bundestag; how ideas have changed in ten or twenty years!

Hugo Chávez was the President of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013. To discuss the legacy of Chavez, I talk with Kevin Zeese, who states that "The death of Hugo Chávez is a great loss to the people of Venezuela who he lifted out of poverty and brought a deep participatory democracy. He was a leader who in unity with the people was able to free Venezuela from the grips of US Empire, brought dignity to poor and working class, and was central to a Latin American revolt against US domination."

Mar 08

Is America "a Racist Country?"

By Ian Reifowitz, In the Fray | Op-Ed

"America is a racist country," Mychal Denzel Smith wrote earlier this month in an articleat the Nation. Smith called on whites to acknowledge racism's pervasiveness and eliminate it. I won't debate the accuracy of Smith's assessment of what America is, and I don't know whether or not he was using hyperbole to make his point. Either way, however, his demand that white people admit its truth as part of their pledge to fight racism only discourages some of them from doing what the article's title rightly demands, to "give up racism."

Smith reduces a complex topic to a yes-no question: is America racist? Sixty years ago racial discrimination was legal; most blacks were barred from voting and sending their children to integrated schools. Now, we have a black First Family. As Smith indicates, that does not mean racism has disappeared. But it does mean a simplistic approach to American racism is inadequate.

Joshua Hagler is a self-taught artist, but one would not readily suspect that due to his academic prowess and brilliance. Hagler's work presents subject matter that is visually lush and lyrical. And from a safe distance, his color-filled paintings hang on the wall like innocuous eye candy. As the viewer comes closer, however, each piece explodes and morphs into a radical discourse on philosophy and religion, simultaneously challenging the fact and fiction of American history.

Hagler is based in Oakland, California, and in the following interview he talks about the roots of his work, and the mind space from which he creates.

Mar 07

Does mediation make you more liberal?

By Richard Schiffman, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

There have been some fascinating studies about the effects of meditation. Buddhist monks and Trappist friars have been hooked up to EEG machines to record subtle changes in their brainwaves during their spiritual practices. Scores of clinical trials have also been conducted to assess the impact of meditation and prayer on physiological processes ranging from blood pressure and immune system response to recovery rates from surgery. There have even been controversial studies which purport to show that the practice of Transcendental Meditation lowers crime rates when a critical mass of meditators become active in a community.

But scientists have not explored the impact of meditation on that most un-meditative of all disciplines - politics - until now.