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.

Mar 11

Witnessing Democracy in Soyapongo, El Salvador

By John Salois, SpeakOut | News Analysis

I travelled to El Salvador in late January to participate as an international election observer (Observador Internacional) for the February 2nd Presidential elections in this, the smallest country in Central America. This is where I spent Super Bowl Sunday. I met up with four lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), where we joined seventy other activists, organized through the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) in San Salvador. The grassroots organization CISPES, has a singular mission: supporting the Salvadoran people's struggle for self-determination and social and economic justice.

My name is Labor and I married Mr. Management in the second half of the nineteenth century. I couldn't handle a domestic partnership any longer. We had been living under the same roof for centuries to a point where the relationship became intolerably abusive and was no longer based on good faith.

After years of me being the one to work around the clock, my grievances being unheard at the dinner table, and being pushed out of my home after Management wrongfully terminated our relationship so that a less senior, less demanding partner could bump and replace me, I decided it was time to make our relationship contractual. In no way am I saying that domestic partnerships do not work or are not in many cases incredibly successful. However, in our particular situation, I was tired of not being given the respect I deserved, nor being seen as equal in the relationship and home we shared and built together.

Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., March 7, 2014 – Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued its national standards to address sexual abuse in immigration detention facilities. The standards – which apply to facilities that house hundreds of thousands of immigration detainees annually – mark a pivotal step forward in the effort to protect DHS detainees from the devastation of sexual abuse.

Notably, DHS' standards incorporate many of the key provisions long championed by JDI; in early 2013, JDI and its allies mobilized some 1,700 organizations and individuals to submit public comments on DHS' draft standards, pushing for stronger protections. Nevertheless, the regulations contain several key shortcomings, including the lack of a firm compliance deadline that could leave up to half of all immigration detainees in long-term facilities vulnerable to abuse for most of this decade.

Ramsey is a huge success because—in addition to his charisma and marketing skills—he is peddling one of the huge but popular illusions of American culture: that people can become rich by making better financial decisions. He's also one of the characters skewered by Helaine Olen in her recent book, Pound Foolish, which describes the fallacies, hypocrisies, and borderline-corrupt schemes of personal finance gurus like Ramsey and Suze Orman. It's a fun read—a bit repetitive, but that's largely because all personal finance "experts" are pushing a small handful of myths.

The "sham" of the financial literacy movement—the idea that all of our financial problems would be solved if Americans were better educated about money—is the subject of Olen's article in Pacific Standard. More than a dozen states require personal finance classes in high school, even though the evidence is that they have no impact. In short, people who consume financial education behave no differently from people who don't.

Mar 10

Learn From the Teachers: Chicago Strike Showed What a Union Is For

By Mark Brenner and Jane Slaughter, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

The sight of tens of thousands of striking teachers marching through the streets of Chicago in September 2012 was a much-needed shot in the arm for a sagging labor movement.

For more than a week, the Chicago Teachers Union went toe to toe with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city's political and financial elites - fighting them to a draw at the bargaining table and besting them handily in the battle for the city's hearts and minds.

In perhaps the most impressive strike since the UPS walkout in 1997, Chicago's educators demonstrated that the strike is still labor's most powerful weapon.

While great strides have been taken in ridding the world of polio there are four countries where the disease continuesto endanger the lives of children. The countries where the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have confirmed the existence of and are now immunizing children from polio are 

Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Syria. Pakistan has had the most reported cases. In 2013, there were 93 reported cases of polio; so far in 2014, there have been 24 new cases. Health workers who have been vaccinating Pakistani children have been targeted by the Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists. Over 40 health workers and police monitoring their safety have been killed since December of 2012. In spite of the risks, health workers from UNICEF and the WHO and other aid organizations continue to work under potentially dangerous conditions. Last month, Islamic scholars from the Islamic Advisory Group gave an official declaration that "Shariah allows polio vaccinations". Despite this proclamation, polio workers continue to be attacked.

Mar 10

Idea or Opinion? Should New Media Make a New Distinction?

By Ahmed R Teleb, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Old media separated non-entertainment journalism into a simple dichotomy: news and opinion. Today we - academics, journalists, and laypersons - include internet searches at some point in the research process. Should new media now distinguish idea from opinion work?

The first two senses of "idea" according to are:

  1. any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness, or activity;
  2. a thought, conception, or notion.

An opinion, on the other hand, is a belief, judgment, or point of view. According to traditional media, anything not a reporting of events was labeled "opinion" to emphasize that "news" journalism was objective, based on hard facts that all would agree comprise "the truth of the matter."

Nannies and housekeepers are some of the lowest paid workers in the U.S., facing high rates of exploitation, poor working conditions, and harassment from employers. This is because domestic workers perform "feminine" work, which has historically been done for free in the private household, and is still undervalued, if accounted for at all, in the market. Yet they are the backbone of our economy, tending to our elderly and our children, performing the necessary care work that sometimes gets neglected in busy two-earner homes.

In the United States, immigrant women make up for a majority of domestic workers, accounting for the "feminization of migration" in the last few decades, as they leave their own families behind to earn an income in wealthier countries. Their movement out of their own homes enables women in receiving countries to do the same and to participate in greater numbers in the work force.

"President Obama's foreign policy is based on fantasy," an indignant Washington Post editorial headline exclaims -- as if there were any other possibility. Of course Obama's foreign policy is based on fantasy. So is every president's, just as every criticism of a president's foreign policy is based on fantasy.

When we're talking about foreign affairs no one escapes the grip of fantasy, though I prefer to call it myth, since our fantasies always turn out to be based (consciously or unconsciously) on some story we embrace about how the world works. We all interpret the facts through our own mythic lens.

Mar 08

Disturbing Democracy

By Lawrence Davidson, CounterPunch | News Analysis

In the past couple of years a disturbing political phenomenon has arisen. To put it simply, groups espousing democracy have caused their countries to politically self-destruct by violently turning against the results of free and fair elections. Apparently, they act this way because the elections did not go their way and/or the elected officials adopted policies they oppose. They do so even when there is a possibility that changes in policy, and even changes in constitutions, can be had peacefully through legal means.

Admittedly this is happening in states both new to democratic politics and deeply divided along ideological lines. A tradition of compromise and sensitivity to minority rights are not yet manifest.