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.

In proposing a toast to a group of dignitaries, Stephen Decatur, a United States naval officer who led raids against the Barbary Coast corsairs in North Africa, said, “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she be always in the right…” He then declared: “…but our country, right or wrong.” Almost 150 years later, the U.S. Third Army found out just how intoxicating ultra-nationalism can be when it liberated the concentration camp at Buchenwald. Over the main entrance to the camp, a place where medical experiments were done on inmates and worked and tortured to death, the Nazis had written: “My Country, Right or Wrong.”

The thirteen English colonies, which gained independence and formed a loose confederation of states, lost their freedoms to unrestrained nationalism. Even though the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation promoted self-determination and autonomy, the U.S. Constitution crushed such free-thinking and regional-political-economic independence. Instead of one branch of Government with limited powers, a Legislative consisting of elected representatives, the U.S. Constitution imposed three branches: a Legislative, Executive and Judicial. It would only be a matter of time before an activist Executive and Judiciary would usurp the increased powers of the Legislature.

On the last Sunday of May, I was on the campus of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. I stood in the back of a crowd of a few thousand, one composed largely of graduating seniors, and family and friends there to support them. We were all listening to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) deliver the commencement address. As a member of the faculty, I could have been up on the stage positioned in a seat behind the senator, but, as I typically do for the event, instead opted to stand in the back—not least because I don't like sitting under a hot sun in a heavy robe.

Gillibrand's speech included reflections on her entry into what she called grassroots politics—Hillary Clinton's multi-million-dollar U.S. senate campaign in 2000—as well as platitudinous exhortations that the graduates challenge themselves and assertions that no goals are too big to achieve. While toward the end, she spoke briefly of the need to fight poverty in the United States and raise the country's minimum wage, and voiced strong support for women's and LGBT rights, there was little in the speech to which one could object—at least in the context of the politically liberal ethos that prevails at Vassar.

To use the word Trayvon Martin’s female friend said he called the man who would take his life, there’s something downright “creepy” about this George Zimmerman trial.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a trial where the police officers involved in the investigation appear to side with the defendant. The lead investigator “understood” Zimmerman’s inconsistencies: Trayvon jumps from a bush to attack him even though there’re no bushes in that complex. Zimmerman didn’t follow Trayvon; he was merely walking in the same direction, this after a dispatcher told him to keep his funky ass in his truck.  The prosecutor asks the cop who first interviewed Zimmerman whether the defendant gave any indication that he hated Trayvon. No, she said. Hey, Zimmy’s a standup guy, the officers more than intimated and often. He was polite, religious. They certainly believed his story. They were ostensibly witnesses for the prosecution but were actually character witnesses for Zimmerman.

Jul 09

Smiling Brown: People the Color of the Earth

By Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, SpeakOut | News Analysis

I begin this essay on brown skin color and color consciousness with the words of a young warrior woman, Leilani Clark, who is both Native and African American. Her words capture the essence of this essay.

Our colors are not our own, but the colors of the landscapes, regions and territories our ancestors stepped on before us - where they were created, where the mountains laughed life into our bodies and where the waters breathed being into our souls. We carry that map all in our skin - dark as the earth, reflecting off golden rays of kissed sunlight; complimenting our tones quite well. Quite naturally.

On December 18th 2012, Carlos Riley Jr. was dropping off his girlfriend around 10AM when he stopped to speak with an acquaintance. Shortly after, Durham police officer Kelly A. Stewart pulled behind him driving an unmarked police vehicle, wearing plain clothing. As Carlos Riley drove off, Officer Stewart followed Riley, turned his lights on and pulled him over. Carlos stopped immediately, turned the car off and left his seat belt on. Officer Stewart then approached the vehicle, accusing Carlos of smoking marijuana. There was none. Officer Stewart was unable to find one thing that was illegal in Carlos' vehicle. Frustrated, Officer Stewart then began yelling obscenities and cursing. Riley provided his license, ignored the bait and waited for further instruction. Without any form of justification, Officer Stewart punched Carlos in the face. Riley's attempt to defend himself was then interpreted as validation for Stewart to exert full force. Stewart entered the vehicle, choked and continued punching Riley. Officer Stewart then threatened to kill the young man and began to draw his gun.

"Things are boiling, we know the system doesn't work, we know that it is unfair, and eventually, something tips it off," says Dr. Margaret Flowers in this interview with Acronym TV host Dennis Trainor, Jr.. Kevin Zeese, also interviewed here, added, "This is a global, connected, challenge to trans-national neo-liberalism. TPP will unify us and it will be people versus transnationals, and the people will win."

The Obama administration has been working hard at crafting the Trans Pacific partnership -- the TPP- for several years and President Obama has said he wants to fast track the agreement through congress this fall. There has been no public debate on the trade agreement that has been called by many NAFTA on steroids- and only recently has a member of congress had the opportunity to read a version of the agreement. After months of pressure, the U.S trade representative allowed Congressman Alan Grayson a peek at the TPP text. He was to read the text, without the aid of a note-taking device, and none of his staff were allowed to enter. He was told the information was top secret.

Fifty years ago this August the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom established the place of the Civil Rights Movement in the core of the national consciousness. Commemorating the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, filling the memorial dedicated to the president who proclaimed it, the march positioned the Movement in its historical context. National attention focused on the speaker introduced that day as the “moral leader of the nation.” Opening with an appeal to the hopes embodied in emancipation, Martin Luther King moved to a stirring invocation of the Declaration of Independence, locating the moral headwater of the Movement in the most fundamental aspirations of the nation’s first text. After the “dream” speech, the Civil Rights Movement could not be discounted as the regional activity of a minority. Its activism was the movement of the nation toward self-realization. How we remember the Movement became, that day, an index of how we remember what we once set out to become; how we teach it, an index of the vigor -- or senility -- of the national memory. 

US hacker-troll-activist Andrew Auernheimer, AKA Weev, has appealed his March conviction for unauthorized access of AT&T's web site in violation the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The conviction, and the CFAA - the ever-debated "worst law in technology," per Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu - are a convenient and apt way to contemplate America’s treatment of the "other" in national security, and to recognize its tendency to criminalize what it cannot subdue.

When full-body scanners were introduced at American airports three years ago, there was a brief public outcry. But just as quickly, it died down. Travelers interviewed shrugged off the loss of privacy in the name of safety, using terms like "trade-off" and "compromise." One frequent traveler seemed to sum up the general attitude when he said he'd grown "immune to the procedures."

In other words, Americans don't want to be groped or scanned, don't want our personal spaces invaded, but we're willing to endure both in the name of security. Such is the contract between the people and the state in the new, post-9/11 America.

A clean-shaven man in a fresh-pressed shirt and spotless dress shoes is waiting outside a hospital for Syrian refugees as I walk out the door. We start talking about the civil war across the border, less than 1 km from were we stood, and he tells me:

"The presence of Islamists groups in our rebel forces could ruin our chance to end this war within the next year. They make up less than one percent of the men fighting against Bashar al-Assad, but all that seems to matter to foreign media is the fact they exist and they are beside us."

The man introduces himself as Ahmad al-Soud, Lieutenant of the Free Syrian Army and Commander of the 13th Division based in Idlib. He was originally an officer in Assad's army, but switched sides when regime forces bombed Idlib, his hometown, and he witnessed a high number of civilian casualties. I asked him to sit down for an interview and he agreed.