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

Fact Sheet: The Pro-Money Supreme Court

By Staff, Brennan Center for Justice | Report

In advance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Brennan Center published a fact sheet detailing the Roberts Court’s shift, in a series of decisions since 2007, toward favoring big money interests at the expense of average American voters.

“Since 2007, the Roberts Court has used five key campaign finance cases to significantly weaken campaign finance laws, handing over more control of our government to moneyed special interests," said Lawrence Norden, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. "As a result, our elections are more expensive than ever, with billionaires sponsoring candidates like racehorses. The wrong decision in McCutcheon would inundate with cash a political system already flush with it, further marginalize average voters, and elevate those who can afford to buy political access.”

Feb 28

Whither Ukraine?

By Marilyn Vogt-Downey, SpeakOut | News Analysis

It's not just that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was a coward for fleeing in the dead of night from angry and rebellious Ukrainian nationalists in Western Ukraine to what (he hoped) would be a friendlier population in the Russian-speaking EasternUkraine. Of course, he probably was a coward to run away. However, a coup d'etat had been carried out against him, his government security forces were melting away, and roughnecks with weapons and shields were just outside his door.

But more important than his cowardice is the fact that he is a scoundrel.

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.