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.
New York—More than 50 former state attorneys general today strongly urged the Federal Communications Commission to establish reasonable rates for prisoner phone calls to help prisoners maintain connections with family members, a factor known to reduce recidivism.
These former law enforcement officials—51 in all—signed on to a letter submitted to the FCC as part of the agency’s public comment session on a petition to have calls made within a state set at reasonable rates. The agency previously capped the price of prisoner phone calls between states. The letter was circulated by Columbia Law School’s National State Attorneys General Program and its director, James E. Tierney, who signed as the former Attorney General of Maine, in collaboration with the Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of people held in US detention facilities.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Americans were conditioned with the idea that the extraordinary growth in military expenditure for the U.S. to “win the arms race” with the USSR would somehow lead to a “peace dividend.” That’s what the elected officials of the United States and its NATO allies called it. Eventually the Soviet Union did collapse under the weight of its own economic dysfunction and hyper-militaristic bureaucracy. When the Berlin Wall came down on November 9, 1989, compelled by massive nonviolent noncooperation with the dictatorial regime, it seemed that the leaders of the world might finally declare the peace dividend we had all been expecting. Mankind as a whole seemed to have hope that the specter of nuclear war had vanished and that a constitutional democracy could operate as a benevolent superpower.
It wasn’t long before President Bush Sr. replaced the old war with a new one. The New York Times disclosed official transcripts of a conversation between US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, and Saddam Hussein where she said, “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts like your border disagreement with Kuwait. James Baker (Secretary of State) has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction.”
Occasionally, I wind up writing about topics that I don’t believe actually fit the focus of my overall work. This generally happens because an issue is crowding out other dialogue in the spaces I move in, or because a failure to speak means leaving a serious wound untended. This is one of those times.
A terrible tragedy played itself out in Paris. Twelve people were killed. Some were law enforcement officers, one was a maintenance worker, but most were employed by a satirical newspaper. In the wake of their deaths, many have felt compelled to lift up their work, as if supportive hashtags and the reposting of images that offend the religious sensibilities of others will somehow prevent the victims of this tragedy from having died in vain.
These days Congress has plenty in common with the Sumo ring - called a dohyo - where large, powerful men rely on leverage, size, and power to push opponents out of the dohyo.
Such is the case in our Senate particularly, where a new majority of 54 Republicans, including several senators hoping to become president - the Sumo yokozuna - have begun to crouch, ready to charge at the discretionary spending of entitlement programs critically important to millions of people.
There are a number of rituals that Sumo wrestlers - like our Senators - engage in both before and during their bouts. One example, is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) pledging to return to the legislative etiquette of using the committee process and membership debate rather than negotiating behind closed doors.
Five years following the January 12, 2010 earthquake that struck the capital city of Haiti, the loudly-trumpeted reconstruction of the country is still an unrealized dream. The beginning of the year 2015 finds Haitians engaged in a massive movement of political protest and empowerment seeking to renew, against all odds, their 210-year old nation-building project. Winning a renewal means setting aside the false promises and cruel betrayals of the past five years by the big governments and aid agencies of the world.
The big powers in North America and Europe rushed planeloads and shiploads of supplies, bottled water and aid volunteers to Haiti in the days and weeks following the calamity. They promised to "build" the country "back better." The world was aghast at the poverty in Haiti revealed by the massive news coverage of the earthquake. Such was the public response and anger around the world that some among the big powers, including former President Bill Clinton, went so far as to acknowledge that economic policies imposed from abroad over the decades have impoverished the country and, indeed, are the source of its economic underdevelopment.
Self-defense against Hamas rocket fire was not just a central justification for the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza invoked by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, US President Obama and the United States Senate. Self-defense against the rockets was also used to deflect criticisms that Israeli forces were committing war crimes by targeting civilians and civilian property in Gaza.
Though the war-crimes allegations came from respected sources, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the National Lawyers Guild and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the central message that Israeli forces were protecting Israeli citizens from Hamas rockets was so ubiquitous in the Western media as to eclipse the war crimes charges. Pervasive self-defense claims against rocket fire have been crucial to Israeli political and military leaders maintaining impunity and avoiding accountability for their periodic assaults on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza.
On December 29, the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor was shut down for good, cancelled 18 years before its license expired. The shutdown comes after thousands of protest actions; widespread uncontrolled leaks of radioactive tritium; the shocking collapse of a cooling tower, operator mismanagement, lying and cover-ups, and the state legislature’s 2010 passage of a “shut-down by 2012” law¾a statute later voided by a federal court. Entergy Corp.’s surrender announcement mentioned only “economic concerns.”
Safety conscious Vermonters stood up and sat-in, petitioned, lobbied and blocked the gates for decades, working to see the 42-year-old unit shuttered. The “Shut It Down” affinity group was arrested over and over protesting the rickety operation they called a public health hazard akin to reckless endangerment. The legislature’s decision came in February 2010, and that November Entergy unsuccessfully put the wreck up for sale. Critics mockingly put a bogus “For Sale” ad on the Web, calling the reactor a “quaint Vermont fixer-upper from the last millennium” with “tasty, pre-tritiated drinking water.”
"The ideological deficiency, not to say the total lack of ideology, within the national liberation movements - which is basically due to ignorance of the historical reality which these movements claim to transform - constitutes one of the greatest weaknesses of our struggle against imperialism, if not the greatest weakness of all." - Amilcar Cabral
What is it about the term "capitalism" that inspires many of us to not call its name in vain and in the public square? Why is it that many of us will openly and forcefully critique "classism" but enthusiastically shy away from condemning capitalism in the same way? After all, we do publicly name and slam racism, homophobia or heterosexism, ageism, patriarchy or sexism and ableism. How effective will we be in organizing and rallying the oppressed against economic exploitation without naming the system that is brutalizing the majority?
Stop the NYPD Coup and Create the Police-Community Relationship We Want to See
Do the police serve the city or are they a law unto themselves? This is an issue of concern throughout the country but it has come into crisp focus in New York.
The conflict in New York City spurred by the death of Eric Garner and the failure of a Staten Island grand jury to indict the police officer who choked him to death; followed by the killing of two police officers, Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, by a deranged person has sharpened the conflict over policing in New York. The NYPD is trying to bully Mayor Bill de Blasio as they have done with almost all previous mayors. It is time for the mayor and city to stand up to police bullying.
Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian Israeli Christian and director of Ittijah, the Haifa-based Union of Arab Community-Based Associations, a network of Palestinian NGOs, was arrested by the Israeli government in 2010. He was accused of being a spy for Hezbollah. Makhoul squarely denied the charges, yet accepted a nine-year plea deal. Like so many political prisoners, frightened by the draconian life sentence with which he was threatened, Makhoul chose to confess to a crime he did not commit, rather than try to achieve justice in a two-tiered system in which, in the words of leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz, [v]irtually all – 99.74%, to be exact – of cases heard by the military courts in the [illegally occupied Palestinian] territories end in a conviction, according to data in the military courts' annual report.
It is quite likely that Israeli forces also illegally resorted to torture to force Makhoul to falsely confess. His lawyers stated he was tortured during his detention, and that interrogators told him they would render him disabled if he did not give in. Amnesty International said Makhoul's jailing is a very disturbing development, indicating Ameer Makhoul is well known for his human rights activism on behalf of Palestinians in Israel and those living under Israeli occupation. We fear that this may be the underlying reason for his imprisonment.