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.

Jun 20

Blacks as Humans

By Lee R. Haven, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

I wrote, "Savannah's blacks are largely a poor lot, often more because of Savannah custom rather than of their own doing, and just about all black-owned clubs had begun reflecting the desolation that accompanies poverty."

This is how, however, the piece appeared recently in the guest commentary: "Savannah's blacks are largely a poor lot... and just about all black-owned clubs had begun reflecting the desolation that accompanies poverty."

I am appreciative the editor let me have my say in a tribute to a famous Savannah-based musician who died tragically. My last job in my hometown was as a writer and columnist for the paper, and I hadn't seen the musician, and successful businessman, since I moved to Atlanta in the nineties. This is what also must know about Savannah: There have been improvements, but race remains as thick as the legendary heat, and that the only difference is that you can usually avoid one during winter.

Remember some years back, when the lid was blown regarding the US' use of torture to gather information from "terrorists?" Many were - rightly - shocked and dismayed; people from virtually all over the world chided the US for its disgraceful disregard for ethical standards. The ACLU condemned the behavior, journalists from all walks of political life expressed their criticism, and so on and so forth. For a while, America's use of torture, or rather, "enhanced interrogation techniques," was met with heated vitriol, brought into the public arena for passionate debate. But something strange resulted from all of that: talking about it publicly, in a way, normalized it, and lowered our ethical standards. Today, the topic of torture for interrogation purposes is disapprovingly met with: "Well...that's what America does." And that's my concern with the recent surveillance scandal; that, in a sort of nefariously though "unwittingly tactful" way, by blowing this scandal wide open and bringing it into public discourse, sooner than later, spying on innocent civilians is just "what America does."

It certainly feels to me more peaceful and convivial in Germany and Holland, for example, than in the U.S. Aside from the oft-heard complaint of the U.S. as a crime-ridden and crazy place, here are three factors out of several offered in this article that contribute to significant cultural and physical-environment differences:

• The threat of physical violence posed by police and associated agencies that can instill fear without even making direct contact with civilians
• Job-insecurity and obsession about money for survival and self-image
• The car-oriented infrastructure that makes most streets potential death zones for pedestrians and bicyclists, not to mention creating ugly urban blight

Earlier this week I wrote an editorial proposing a 28th constitutional amendment to abolish war. The NSA scandal, I argue, is tied to the more pervasive problem of violent foreign (and domestic) policy, and we'll continue to see government abuses so long as war and inter-state military violence are the acceptable choices for conflict management. David Swanson, author of the brilliant history, "When the World Outlawed War," thoughtfully responded to my plea by urging us to recall and reignite the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, an existing international pact renouncing war signed and ratified by the US president and Senate.

I agree with Mr. Swanson that any efforts to end war should point to existing law, and we agree that abolishing war is possible and necessary. However, the Kellogg-Briand Pact is not without its limitations, and a fresh, people-driven constitutional amendment could both address those limitations and offer current, culturally relevant and legally dispositive reinforcement.

Jun 19

Perspectives on the Surveillance Scandal

By Lawrence Davidson, To the Point Analysis | News Analysis

It is 1971 and the United States is mired in a losing war in Vietnam. Thousands of young American soldiers are coming back to the U.S. in coffins or physically and psychologically maimed. Scenes of war can be witnessed nightly on the evening news. In the midst of this mayhem the American military analyst Daniel Ellsberg gives the New York Times a copy of a classified analysis of the war entitled, "United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967" aka the "Pentagon Papers." The Nixon administration then sought to prevent the publication of this report through a court injunction. Ultimately the Supreme Court overturned the injunction in a 6-3 ruling that favored the public's right to know. The government also attempted to prosecute Ellsberg under the 1917 Espionage Act for releasing classified information to the public. That was thrown out of court because in making their case, government agents had gathered information through an illegal wiretap. Subsequently, the media widely covered the Pentagon Papers and its demoralizing description of how the U.S. was fighting the war. It can be argued that this reporting helped turn the tide of public opinion against the slaughter in Vietnam.

Jun 18

Four Paradoxes of the Nuclear Age

By John Isaacs, SpeakOut | News Analysis

A 1950 Japanese film entitled Rashomon describes an incident in which four witnesses to a crime give wildly contradictory but equally plausible accounts of what happened.

In the on-going debate on nuclear weapons, observers looking at the status of nuclear arms give similarly conflicting opinions of what the facts mean, resulting in four paradoxes of the nuclear age.

Jun 18

Conscience of Edward Snowden, Courage Is Contagious

By Nozomi Hayase, SpeakOut | News Analysis

As the revelations of mass NSA surveillance raised shock-waves around the globe, 29-year old Edward Snowden came forward to identify himself as the one behind the largest leak in NSA history. His video interview with the Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald went viral and the world saw and heard the man who left his life behind to expose this insidious global spying program. Snowden spoke of the motives behind his action:

"I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.... My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."

As Snowden himself expected, the calls for aggressive prosecution quickly rolled out from Washington. Republican speaker of the House John Boehner called him a "traitor". House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for his prosecution. Diane Feinstein, head of the senate intelligence committee denounced him for what she called his 'act of treason.'

Jun 18

Off With Their Heads

By Luke Hiken, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

The French were right: the best way to deal with the rich is to behead them - at least figuratively, if not physically. Opposing capital punishment does not mean that the ruling class, i.e. the rich, should be exempt from punishment or consequences for their crimes against the poor – it only means that unnecessary killing is unwarranted. By disenfranchising the rich, distributing their money to the people they have stolen it from, and ensuring that they will be powerless to commit similar crimes in the future, the guillotine can remain a bloody remnant of history, instead of a portent for the future.

Jun 18

Obama Moves to 'Unblock' Medicine to Iran

By Rebecca Gould and Kate Gould, SpeakOut | News Analysis

The Obama administration announced on Wednesday, May 22nd that it will be dispatching a team of State Department and Treasury officials to ensure that Iranians are not blocked from food and medicine as a result of the sanctions regime which intensified under President Obama's first term.

The administration's new commitment to protecting humanitarian trade to Iran has been met with high praise from the business and foreign policy groups that have long criticized President Obama's sanctions policies. Over the past month, Wendy Sherman and David Cohen, two of the highest-level officials on Iran policy in the Obama administration, have publicly responded to these critiques.

Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) released summary findings about the United States' use of the death penalty, based on missions to California and Louisiana. CCR's Executive Director, Vincent Warren, presented the findings today at the fifth World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Madrid. The organizations conclude that use of the death penalty in both states violates human rights, from the fundamental human rights violation represented by the death penalty itself to the way it is implemented, which constitutes torture and discrimination.

"California and Louisiana have intensified the human rights problems inherent in the U.S.'s continued use of the death penalty by holding prisoners in conditions and for durations that constitute torture and by imposing the death penalty in racially discriminatory ways," said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren. "The treatment of prisoners on death row violates both U.S. and international law."