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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.

Apr 12

Wahoo! It's Indian Summer

By James McEnteer, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

It's crazy time again in Cleveland. Lake Erie has thawed. The snow has finally melted. Baseball season is underway. Once again the perennial argument over the Cleveland Indians team logo is heating up. As Washington Redskin fans debate the political correctness of their team name, Indians fans and detractors grapple with the propriety of the grinning visage of Chief Wahoo, official face of the Indians.

It's beyond odd that Indians fans are having this debate in 2014. And getting emotional about whether or not the Chief Wahoo logo is or is not offensive. If history did not exist - that is, if Europeans had not flooded into North America killing and dispossessing every last indigenous person in their way, men women and children - then we might be able to take this debate seriously. But they did. So Chief Wahoo is the smiling face of genocide and that grin on his face very much resembles the skeletal smile of the Mexican calavera, a satirical dig at folks who take themselves so very seriously when we all know where we're all headed. Of course as many people like to deny the future as they do the past.

On April 4, 2014, Mark Dimondstein president of the American Postal Workers Union spoke in Chicago at the Labor Notes convention on how to defend the People's Post Office. He also discussed the union's new effort to establish a public postal bank system for millions of poor and working people who do not have access to the commercial banks.

After more than a decade languishing in Congress and another year in the courts, the Philippines' Reproductive Health Law (RH Law) was declared largely constitutional by the Supreme Court earlier today. The RH Law will provide millions of women in the country with improved access to the reproductive healthcare they need, including contraception.

"Today, conscience rights have prevailed, despite aggressive lobbying over the last decade and a half by the Catholic bishops and their powerful antichoice allies," said Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. "While preserving the core of the law, which requires the government to provide a full range of family planning services to the public, today's decision limits the scope of coverage, offering exemptions for religiously-affiliated hospitals and clinics and allowing healthcare providers and institutions to cite religious beliefs and deny contraceptives to patients.

April 8, 2014, Guantanamo Bay and Washington, DC – Today, Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) client Ghaleb Al-Bihani, a Yemeni citizen who has been held without charge at Guantanamo for over 12 years, asked the Obama administration's new Periodic Review Board (PRB) to approve him for transfer. While the government has stated that it does not plan to charge Mr. Al-Bihani with any crime, in 2009 it designated him for continued indefinite detention, as it did dozens of other prisoners. The PRB will now determine whether to recommend Mr. Al-Bihani for transfer from Guantanamo or whether to continue his 12-year imprisonment. In 2008, a federal judge upheld Mr. Al-Bihani's detention on the basis of his admission that he had served as an assistant cook in 2001 for a now-disbanded Taliban-affiliated group.

"Mr. Al-Bihani is not a significant threat to the United States. He is a former cook who is severely ill and does yoga for stress relief," said CCR Senior Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, who is representing Mr. Al-Bihani before the PRB. "If Guantanamo is to close, men like Mr. Al-Bihani who are being unjustly and unnecessarily detained should be approved for transfer by the PRB – and actually transferred. A change in status only matters if it results in release."

In one of those early years of becoming and being a teacher, when I was still teaching in the exact room where I had been a student (a school building that would eventually be almost entirely destroyed by a fire set by children), it was the first day of school, and I was calling that first roll—a sort of silly but important ritual of schooling for teachers and students.

Toward the back of the room and slightly to my left sat a big young man, a white male student typical of this rural upstate South Carolina high school in my home town; like me, he would accurately be considered in that context as a Redneck.

Northampton, MA - Millions of Americans will file their federal income tax returns on April 15 with no idea what the government actually does with all that money.

That's why National Priorities Project (NPP) has unveiled the personalized tax receipt and state-by-state receipts for the average taxpayer in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, showing exactly how the federal government spent the income tax dollars it collected in 2013.

I did my doctoral work at Temple University, whose founder was a nineteenth-century Baptist preacher, Russell Conwell. Conwell was, to be sure, an accomplished writer, a captivating preacher, and a visionary entrepreneur, but the theology he helped to popularize was, in a word, disturbing. It provided divine justification for the acquisition of money and legitimized the gap between extreme wealth and extreme poverty. On reflection, it sounds a lot like today's GOP.

Conwell believed and taught that wealth was available to all men. Because opportunities to become rich are everywhere, all one needed to do to attain wealth was to work hard enough and be blessed by God.

Apr 10

South Sudan Facing Famine Crisis

By Brian McAfee, SpeakOut | News Analysis

Three million seven hundred thousand people in this nation of 11 million are at severe risk of starvation. Conditions in South Sudan now parallel those of Ethiopia in the 1980s when hundreds of thousands died from famine. Toby Lanzer, the UN official coordinating humanitarian aid in South Sudan says "we're in a race against time".

Aside from the urgent immediate need the civil war currently raging in South Sudan, which was the initial cause of the problems, the planting season is at risk and a lack of crops will further ad to the already dire situation. With possibly over 4 million displaced people, what is needed is food, water, shelter and protection.

Apr 10

The United States Re-Balancing in East Asia

By Emanuel Pastreich, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

At a moment when the United States government hops up and down frantically every time North Korea launches a missile, a group of concerned individuals in policy gathered together on March 26, 2014 for a discussion of what a hundred-year commitment to East Asia would look like and how the United States can respond in a meaningful manner to such challenges as climate change together with China, Japan and Korea. The event, hosted by Foreign Policy in Focus and the Asia Institute, brought together author John Feffer, Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, Alexis Dudden, Professor of History at the University of Connecticut and Daniel Garrett, former diplomat and current Senior Associate at the Asia Institute. Follows a statement written for the occasion by Emanuel Pastreich, director of the Asia Institute:

This seminar embodies the spirit behind our efforts at the Asia Institute to increase the commitment of the United States to East Asia over the long-term in a constructive and focused manner. We feel strongly that a pivot to Asia, a fundamental re-balancing of national priorities, is essential to the economic, political and security concerns of the United States, but we do not think that such a shift can take place as a result of moving around aircraft carriers or selling more missile defense technology to nations in the region. Only by building a deep human network that ties the United States to East Asia through person-to-person professional and personal relations over a lifetime can we hope to have any meaningful impact.

Annapolis, MD - As the Maryland General Assembly completed its work on the state budget bill, legislators inserted language that weakly condemns the American Studies Association (ASA) decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions complicit in Israel's long record of human rights violations. This language serves to placate proponents of HB998/SB647, which stalled in committee after civil rights and community groups resoundingly condemned the legislation as an unconstitutional assault on academic freedom. Delegate Ben Kramer of Montgomery County then introduced the bills' language as an amendment to the state budget bill.

Earlier in the legislative session, Delegate Kramer introduced HB998/SB647. This legislation, had it passed, would have withdrawn some funding from Maryland universities and academic departments with ties to ASA and other groups supportive of boycott. Diverse voices called the bill an attempt to silence debate, including the UMD President's Office, the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the Defending Dissent Foundation and others. Most recently, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Prize winner who played a central role in ending apartheid in South Africa criticized the legislation. Even staunchly pro Israel organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington opposed the bill.