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.

Feb 28

The Ideology of Symbolism, the Symbols of Idolatry

By Benjamin Bell, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

"All men are created equal," "by the grace of God," "I think therefore I am."

These are just a few famous locutions so common, they are often taken for granted. They conjure certain emotions and bolster ideologies. Phrases such as these, or words such as "freedom," are loaded with hidden meanings and become casually associated in our minds with other words and ideas.

"All Men are created equal" conjures up feelings of patriotic zeal, a sense of commonality within the citizenry of the country, and a belief that ours was a country founded on principles of equality, even despite its inherent contradiction with what we know really existed at the time of its writing, i.e. slavery.

Feb 28

Sochi's Example for Russia's Way Forward

By Jeffrey Sommers, Truthout | News Analysis

The Sochi Olympics on balance were a big success. The opening ceremonies proved a radiant display drawing on Russia's most compelling cultural equity. This artful look back to Russia's past greatness proved both a reminder and challenge to its own people to reprise their historical greatness going forward; but with the caveat, as for all nations, to not repeat past mistakes in doing so. Doing this will require concrete policies, but a vision is the place from which to depart.

In advance of the games American audiences were regaled with "Orange Alert" tales of impending doom from terrorist attacks. These proved overblown. Indeed, the Russian government's ability to provide security for the games reminds us that the United States and Russia should intensify their efforts at cooperation in global safety. Both have demonstrated successes in this endeavor. Both should also work not to overreact to terror.

Feb 28

Truth Is Overrated

By Doug Forbes, SpeakOut | Opinion

Lies are sexy and mysterious. Lies illustrate our deepest innovation. Lies make for our most historic moments. Lies are great for business. And above all, lies validate the yawn that is truth. The very health of our gross domestic product depends upon our ability to manufacture lies. Without lies, millions of moneyed men and women - congressional folk, cable newsies, corporate barons, lawyers, entertainers, athletes and, of course, organized religionists - would suddenly find themselves on a scavenger hunt for food, shelter and purpose. But fear not, for we must remember that lies are as resplendent as a Nicole Kidman facelift. 

We grow up, perhaps get married, and promise to be true to our spouses. "Oh, honey, you look great...Oh, honey, you're not overweight...Oh, honey, don't worry about the finances, we'll be fine...Oh, honey, I promise we'll have sex this weekend." Lies. Perhaps we have children and we tell them how great they did at the soccer match or piano recital or school play. More lies. We tell them that everything will work out in the end, the future is as bright as can be. Lies, lies, lies. Then they grow up. They begin to see the world for what it is. They begin to see us for what we are. Then they lie to us one day.

If you search on the internet for "the stupidest idea in the history of the world" you'll come away thinking that maybe a top contestant is the invention of Youtube. Who knew so many idiots could do so much damage to themselves with so many motorbikes and diving boards and flame throwers? Other ideas are in the running, I think, from industrial farming, to religion, to racism, to fossil fuels, to science at any cost, to the creation of the United States Senate. And yet, one idea stands out for its wild improbability, creativity, long-lasting destruction on an enormous scale, and insidious ability to turn even people who don't own video cameras and catapults into champion unwitting masochists.

The idea I'm talking about, and my nominee for Stupidest Idea in the History of the World, is the idea that any ordinary person should ever support a war.

Feb 27

Rich People Save, Poor People Don't

By James Kwak, The Baseline Scenario | News Analysis

It seems obvious. Yet it's often lost, both by the scolds who lecture Americans for not saving enough and by the self-appointed personal finance gurus who claim that anyone can become rich simply by saving more (and following their dodgy investment advice). Saving is sometimes seen as some kind of moral virtue, but from another perspective it's just the ultimate consumption good: saving now buys you a sense of security, insurance against misfortune, and free time in the future, which are all things that ordinary people don't have enough of.

I'm all for living within your means and saving for retirement and all that. But it's a myth to say, as America Saves does on its home page, "Once you start saving, it gets easier and easier and before you know it, you're on your way to making your dreams a reality." The underlying problems are stagnant real incomes for most people, rising costs (in real terms) for education and health care, increasing financial risk due to the withdrawal of the safety net, and increased longevity (good in some ways, but bad if incomes aren't rising and you want to retire at 65). That's why households are showing up at age 64 with less in retirement savings than they had just last decade. And why, if you feel like you're not saving enough, it's probably not your fault.

Feb 26

To Privatize or Not to Privatize

By Victoria M. Young, Education News | Op-Ed

Let’s put these questions on the table: What attracts so many Americans to the idea that private companies can better run the public education system? How do they see this current trend as being best for the country?

Since public education is an institution that has served us well over time, privatization is a topic worthy of further consideration, discussion, and thought before we take further actions in the name of “education reform.”

Feb 26

The Capture of "El Chapo" Changes Nothing

By Andrew Smolski, SpeakOut | News Analysis

This past weekend the Mexican government, with help from American drones and intelligence, captured the Sinaloa Cartel's CEO, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera. It is the perfect moment to make a few points about the drug war.

While his capture ends a decade long manhunt, it does nothing to end the drug war in Mexico. Actually, the capture or killing of drug cartel CEOs has typically led to infighting and more violence, rather than any reduction in drug smuggling. It is the problem of the hydra, each decapitation the production of more heads, rather than the death of the hydra. And if doesn't increase violence, it still has little impact on stemming the drug trade.

Washington DC ― U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rules that allow herders to be paid far less than other agricultural workers and live in unsanitary conditions are illegal and should be invalidated, Public Citizen told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Through the H-2A visa program, foreign agricultural workers may come to the U.S. to work as herders if the government certifies that qualified U.S. workers are not available and that the employment of foreign workers will not adversely affect similar U.S. workers’ wages and working conditions. In 2011, the DOL announced “special procedures” that exempt herder employers who wish to participate in the H-2A program from requirements that they offer important workplace benefits and protections to U.S. workers before being allowed to hire H-2A workers under those same employment terms. The DOL’s rules permit herders to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days per week and to earn as little as $750 a month (or the equivalent of $2.34 per hour in many cases). The rules also require employers to offer only the most basic housing accommodation for herders living on the range. Those accommodations do not need to include electricity, running water, refrigeration or toilets.

Feb 26

Resume Put Hall of Fame

By James Kwak, The Baseline Scenario | News Analysis

Before 2006, people used to talk about the Greenspan put: the idea that, should the going get rough in the markets, Chairman Al would bail everybody out. But there's something even better than having the Federal Reserve watching your back. It's the résumé put.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Vikram Pandit, former CEO of Citigroup, is starting a new firm called TGG which will . . . well, it's not entirely clear. In one email, they claim "a novel approach to address the challenges that large complex organizations face in compliance, fraud, corruption, and culture and reputation." (That's the standard marketing tactic of describing what benefits you will provide without mentioning what you actually do.) Now, Pandit certainly has experience in a large, complex organization with compliance, fraud, corruption, culture, and reputation problems. Citigroup checks pretty much every box. But is it experience you would want to pay for?

Feb 25

The Translator

By Donna Schatz, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

One of my students at the college where I taught a summer workshop was a young Iraqi who had worked as a translator for the US military. He adamantly opposed the US occupation of his country and spoke to me about the destruction and splintering of Iraq. When the US invaded, he was a high school student living a fairly normal life. As a naive kid, at first he was excited, but soon circumstances and utter chaos forced him to make choices he never would have dreamed of in order to survive. He worked in the Green Zone, was threatened by insurgents, lived in fear for his life, and finally became a translator with Special Forces where he was caught between his own people and the actions of the US military. He was afraid that if the US withdrew from Iraq before he got an exit visa, he would be killed. I met him two years after he came to the US where his outrage at what Iraq had been subjected to had only grown. He would not appear on camera out of security concerns, but, after hesitating, agreed to an audio interview. He wanted to tell his story and finally speak his mind about the ruin of his country and his life. I decided to animate his narrative - a new medium for me as I am basically a camerawoman.