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.

May 14

Mothering Between A Rock and Prison

By Zachary Norris and Eveline Shen, SpeakOut | News Analysis

This Mother's Day, Shanesha Taylor, a 25-year old homeless and unemployed mother, will be fighting for her freedom and her children for committing the unspeakable crime: trying to feed her family. Without childcare or family support, Shanesha left her children, ages two and six-months, in a parked car while she went for a job interview. In that 45-minute window, a passerby reported her unsupervised children to the Scottsdale, Arizona police who promptly arrested her on felony charges for child abuse.

Outraged by the authorities' harsh treatment, 45,000 strangers nationwide signed a petition urging charges be dropped, and raised over $100,000 to cover Shanesha's attorney's fees. "It's just baffling that she somehow is considered a victim," says Jerry Cobb from Maricopa County Attorney's Office. What's baffling is the authorities' ignorance of structural circumstances that create a poverty trap for poor single mothers.

It's interesting to imagine what John Lennon might have said about a world in which government agencies – and others – monitor private conversations. Not much of a stretch, really, as he'd experienced it for himself. Lennon always was ahead of his time.

"All I want is the truth," he might say. He'd phrased the challenge – directed at the "establishment" – in an early 1970s song about the lies that were being sold to the public: "Gimme Some Truth."

Today, if you were to visit Jack Kerouac Alley in downtown San Francisco, you'd find a colorful mural painted on the side of the City Lights Bookstore. The mural does not depict the day Bob Dylan strolled the alley with Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, or any of the other literary rebels and artists that are so deeply connected with the bookstore and the space. The mural recreates a piece of community artwork that was destroyed in April 1998 when armed forces violently attacked the indigenous village of Taniperla, a Zapatista community in Chiapas, Mexico. As movement art, the mural is an act of public memory, an act of resistance, a connection with the past and a commitment to a shared vision of the future. With simple colors and its own humble voice, the recreated mural has been speaking out to us and communities of struggle everywhere for years: no estan solos-estamos contigo. You are not alone - we are with you.

I was deeply disturbed last week when US Secretary of State John Kerry, in response to criticism from former Senate colleagues, felt compelled to walk back his warning that Israel risked becoming an "apartheid state" if it failed to make peace with the Palestinians. What troubled me most was that Kerry, after acknowledging that many Israelis have offered the same warning, apologized for using the word "apartheid" saying that "it is a word best left out of the debate here at home." In other words, Israelis can have this debate, but we can't.

This affair brought to mind a comment I heard from former Senator Joseph Lieberman back in 2000 in which he acknowledged that it was easier to debate issues like settlements and Jerusalem in the Israeli Knesset than to have the same debates in the US Senate. The question is, how can the US lead Israeli-Palestinian peace-making when we can't criticize Israel or have an honest debate about their policies?

May 13

Entitlements and the Surfer Dude

By Richard Waddell, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Fox News discovered a surfer dude using SNAP (food stamps). Jason Greenslate is the kind of young man who, by his own admission sleeps late, doesn't want a job, and hits on chicks. Just to goad us, I think, he uses his SNAP money to buy gourmet food (including lobster tails.) Bret Baier of Fox News seems to think Jason is doing something wrong. Baier thinks Greenslate deserves no help from taxpayers.

Another surfer dude, Richie Rich, wouldn't attract the ire of Fox News. Richie may sleep late, have no job, and hit on girls; but Fox News will not complain. Richie's father made some good investments that brought him and his family wealth, so Richie Rich deserves to live the good life. The father may have had help from government subsidies, but that another story. Richie Rich benefits from good investments.

The 3rd National Climate Assessment is a very impressive report: well written, great language, great graphics, very informative (especially the website). The Obama Administration seems to be focusing in on climate change as a legacy issue and the average American reading this report must surely understand that climate change is happening now and has immediate costs in a threatened American economy.

But why then have the Administration and authors chosen to mis-educate Americans by focusing so narrowly on just 'extreme weather for Americans'? And why has a frame or conceptualization of climate change and mitigation been chosen that will continue to keep America from needed action and from global leadership on climate action that is desperately needed?

May 12

A Return to the Roots of Mother's Day as an End to War

By Len Ellis, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

This Sunday many of us will recognize and celebrate Mother’s Day. As we do, let us pay homage to the women who established this day of recognition, and recognize their efforts to put an end to war. Let us first remember and honor Julia Ward Howe. Julia Ward Howe was heartbroken and distressed seeing the ravages of the American Civil War. She wrote “The Battle Hymn of The Republic” as a way to express her anguish and outrage, and saw this simply was not enough to bring about change. A true visionary, she saw the end of the practice of going to war as a way to resolve conflict. Equally important to her was the role of women in society, in the community and in conflict resolution. I see her as one of the first feminists, striving to make equality of the sexes a reality.

Anna Jarvis was another trailblazer during the Civil War, establishing and organizing “Mother’s Work Days.” Julia Ward Howe was directly influenced by Jarvis’ tireless work and activism.

May 12

Dear Mr. Buffett: About Those 5,000 Oil-Tanker Cars

By Barbara G Ellis PhD, SpeakOut | Open Letter

Dear Mr. Buffett,

I see in the paper that you plan to have 5,000 oil-tanker cars built for your Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) line. That should head off those regulators and lawsuits after 1,250 derailments these last two years. Exploding tanker shells and fires on those 78,000 old DoT 111 cars hauling fracked oil around the West. Forbes said your outlay would be about $1.6 billion. Not that your Berkshire company couldn’t come across with the cash what with $48 billion cash on hand and the A stock going for $185,200 a share.

I also read those other outfits with accident-prone 78,000 DoT 111 cars are learning that retrofitting just one car runs about $40,000 and cuts capacity 31,000-gallon to 28,000. That means more cars. Longer trains for people to gripe about. Sure, you can lease those 5,000 cars to shippers and stick them with  insurance, and transit fees. But both of you are going to wind up in some messy, black-eye court dates. And you’re still going to have to cover labor, and those empty return trips, and track maintenance.

Today the Marijuana Arrest Research Project released data showing that racially bias marijuana arrests continue to be one of the leading arrests in New York City, despite the precipitous drop in stop and frisks. 

In March 2014, the NYPD under made more marijuana possession arrests than almost every other month in 2013 under Bloomberg and Kelly. New York City'smarijuana possession arrests in the first quarter of 2014 are higher than in the third and fourth quarters of 2013, with identical racial disparities. As illustrated in graphs by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, approximately 86% of those arrested are Black and Latino – mostly young men --  despite government studies show that young white men use marijuana at higher rates. Indeed, if this trend continues, NYPD could make as many or more marijuana arrests in 2014 as they did in 2013.

May 12

Instead of Twitter-Hashtag US Should Try Ping-Pong Diplomacy

By Dallas Darling, SpeakOut | News Analysis

When fighting broke out between Soviet and Chinese troops along the Ussuri River, the border both nations shared in Northeast Asia, and long before President Richard Nixon considered making a surprise visit to China, Mao Zedong called in his personal physician, Li Zhisui, and presented him with a problem. "Think about this," said Mao, "We have the Soviet Union to the north and the west, India to the south, and Japan to the east. If all our enemies were to unite, attacking us from the north, south, east, and west, what do you think we should do?" Li was then shocked to learn that Mao was planning to open negotiations with their long-time rival: the United States. According to Mao, "The United States and the Soviet Union are different...America's new president, Richard Nixon, is a longtime rightist, a leader of the anti-communists there. I like to deal with rightists. They say what they really think-not like the leftists, who say one thing and mean another."(1) Surprisingly, China would use the sport of Ping-Pong to help open diplomatic relations.