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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.

Technology-land is abuzz these days about net neutrality: the idea, supported by President Obama, (until recently) the Federal Communications Commission, and most of the technology industry, that all traffic should be able to travel across the Internet and into people's homes on equal terms. In other words, broadband providers like Comcast shouldn't be able to block (or charge a toll to, or degrade the quality of), say, Netflix, even if Netflix competes with Comcast's own video-on-demand services.*

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FCC is about to release proposed regulations that would allow broadband providers to charge additional fees to content providers (like Netflix) in exchange for access to a faster tier of service, so long as those fees are "commercially reasonable." To continue our example, since Comcast is certainly going to give its own video services the highest speed possible, Netflix would have to pay up to ensure equivalent video quality.

On the heels of our news release yesterday (please see below), Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Peter DeFazio sent a strongly worded letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack criticizing the recent power grab usurping power from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

Leahy and DeFazio were prime authors of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) which created a unique public-private partnership in governing the organic industry. The creation of the NOSB was an essential part of the structure allaying fears that corporate agribusiness and regulatory bureaucrats could eventually undermine the true meaning of the organic farming movement.

Apr 28

California's Big Oil Dirty Dozen

By Dan Bacher, SpeakOut | Report

California is a state where many powerful corporate interests are based, ranging from corporate agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley to the computer and technology industry in the Silicon Valley, but none are more influential in state politics than the oil industry.

Stop Fooling California recently released a chart revealing that the oil industry, including the Western States Petroleum Association, Chevron, BP and other oil companies, spent over $56.63 million on lobbying at the State Capitol in the five years from 2009 through 2013.

This money is enough to spend $471,000 on each California Senator and Assemblymember, according to the organization (http://www.stopfoolingca.org), "an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to mislead and confuse Californians.

Today, Brooklyn elected officials, community groups, and advocates rallied on the steps of Borough Hall to support District Attorney Ken Thompson’s proposal to stop prosecuting people arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. A memo outlining DAThompson’s proposal, shared with the press, states that when the police make a low-level marijuana arrest and the defendant has no criminal record or a minimal criminal record, “there will be a presumption that such case will be immediately dismissed.” With this bold and smart initiative, DA Thompson is using his discretionary authority as the top law enforcement officer in Brooklyn to refocus limited law enforcement resources on serious public safety issues, address and reduce unwarranted racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and ensure that Brooklynresidents are no longer saddled with lifelong arrest records for simple possession of marijuana.

Apr 28

Militarist Threat to Japan's Democracy

By Tom Clifford, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Yasukuni apologists will say that this a place where the war dead can be remembered and that Shinzo Abe's offering of a Masakaki "sacred tree" branch to the shrine on Monday 21 April was perfectly within the remit of a Japanese prime minister.

You can imagine the outrage if German politicians visited or gave offerings to a shrine that denied the Holocaust. 

It is not just the fact that not a single body is buried at Yasukuni shrine, though more than 2,466,000 souls are enshrined there. By going to that shrine, by giving offerings to the shrine, Japanese politicians are turning their backs on another option. Just up the road is the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery with the remains of 352,297 unknown Japanese soldiers and civilians. It is tranquil, serene, respectful. Its evergreen trees provide ample places of shade. It is close to Yasukuni and is served by the same subway stop, Kudanshita. Like Yasukuni, it is near the Imperial palace. The emperor, who shuns Yasukuni, even though his ministers go there, is a frequent visitor.

On Friday, April 18, 2014, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a 8-1 decision in Ex Parte Hicks upholding the conviction of Sara Hicks, who gave birth to a healthy baby who tested positive for cocaine in 2008. This decision affirmed the Court's prior ruling in Ex Parte Ankrom, holding that that the plain meaning of the word "child" in the Alabama law unambiguously includes fertilized eggs and that pregnantwomen may be arrested for using a controlled substance while pregnant.

As a result of the rulings in Ankrom and Hicks, there is no exception from prosecution for pregnant women who used controlled substances that are prescribed by physicians. (See "Your Epidural is Against the Law: What Alabama Women and Doctors Need to Know".) Because Justice Moore's concurring opinion in Hicks relies on Biblical citations and God's authority, the decision may also raise First Amendment establishment clause questions.

Yesterday, a federal appeals panel ordered the government to release of a classified Justice Department memo outlining the legal justification for the 2011 drone strike that killed U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law joined an amicus brief in the case arguing that the government’s attempt to withhold the legal memo results in “secret law” and runs contrary to the Freedom of Information Act.

In yesterday’s ruling, the federal appeals panel held that the government waived any claim to secrecy of the memo due to public statements made by the administration about the lawfulness of drone strikes, including a “white paper” issued by the JusticeDepartment. A judge on the appeals panel wrote that these disclosures preclude the government from claiming that the legal justification for drone strikes cannot be made public.

An Institute for Policy Studies report released today puts a price tag on how much taxpayers are subsidizing exorbitant executive pay at the nation’s top restaurant chains.

The report focuses on the loophole that allows corporations to deduct unlimited amounts from their income taxes for the cost of executive compensation—as long as the pay is in the form of stock options and other so-called “performance pay.” This loophole serves as a massive subsidy for excessive executive compensation.

Restaurant Industry Pay: Taxpayers' Double Burden calculates the cost of CEO pay subsidies at the 20 largest corporate members of the National Restaurant Association, a leading opponent of efforts to raise the minimum wage. The NRA is organizing a major lobby drive in Washington on April 29-30.

Hon. Secretary of State John Kerry:

Uganda's foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa could become President of the United Nations General Assembly  in June unless the world comes to its senses.

As President, Mr. Kutesa would preside over important meetings including the General Assembly, when you and President Obama attend in the Fall.

As you are aware his boss and partner Gen. Yoweri Museveni has now presided over a repressive and brutal dictatorship in Uganda for 28 years.

An Open Letter:
Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick said in a radio interview on April 15, 2014: "I respect the authority of the Supreme Court to make those decisions" that have corrupted politics, like McCutcheon. I write the Governor to clarify his position, and to express opposition to this statement.
To "respect" authority in the abuse of its power is to align oneself with and further enable that same abuse. Experience shows that resisting rather than respecting such abuse, especially in the case of the U.S. Supreme Court, has the effect of curbing it.

Converting a democracy into a plutocracy is a crime of constitutional dimensions. If the Governor does sincerely believe that the Roberts Court legitimately has the power to amend the Constitution for this purpose, I would like him to point out precisely where in the Constitution that power is given to five unelected judges? Article V seems to have a different, much more difficult, process in mind than the vote of a single Supreme Court justice in a 5-4 decision. The constitutional process involves an intentionally – and for any such major political change all but impossibly – difficult 2/3 vote of each house of Congress. Then three-fourths of the state legislatures must ratify Congress' proposal. The elected representatives of those bodies, through their legislative acts, give not the remotest sign of agreeing with the Roberts 5 about the constitutional validity of allowing big money into politics.

Five judges' radical amendment of the Constitution by their series of seven decisions to which the Governor gives his "respect" flouts the established process for making such an enormous constitutional change.