Thursday, 18 December 2014 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Speakout

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 02

Death by Paranoia

By James McEnteer, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Georgia's new gun law goes into effect July 1, allowing firearms in bars, nightclubs and government buildings without security checkpoints. Georgia churches can permit parishioners to come armed to services.

Euphemistically called the "Safe Carry Protection Act," the new law lifts restrictions on individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors from obtaining a gun permit. Gun dealers are no longer required to keep sales records. A stand-your-ground law will expand and police will not have the right to ask armed citizens whether they have a license.

The Connecticut legislature is considering a bill that create a publicly administered retirement plan that would be open to anyone who works at a company with more than five employees. Employees would, by default, be enrolled in the plan (at a contribution rate to be determined), but could choose to opt out. The money would be pooled in a trust, but each participant would have an individual account in that trust, and the rate of return on that account would be specified each December for the following year. Upon retirement, the account balance would by default be converted into an inflation-indexed annuity, although participants could request a lump-sum deferral.

The legislative session ends in less than two weeks, and while the bill has passed through committees, I believe it's not certain whether it will be put to a floor vote. On Friday I wrote on op-ed for The Connecticut Mirror about the bill.

May 01

The US Should Accept Palestinian Unity

By Dr James J Zogby, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

While Palestinians celebrated the reconciliation agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas, the reactions in Washington and Israel were reminiscent of the biblical "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

American political commentators were dumbfounded by the news of the pact, terming it "a dark day", "a setback for peace," or "a serious complication." Members of Congress, meanwhile, were uniform in their threats to withhold aid if the Palestinian Authority goes forward with the unity arrangement.

Israeli government reactions were predictably harsh in their criticism of the Palestinian move. Those on the far right, who never supported the "peace process" in the first place and who had threatened to abandon the Netanyahu government if he signed any agreement with the Palestinians, saw the Fatah/Hamas pact as justification to call for an immediate end to the peace negotiations. I detected more joy than anger in their overly-heated pronouncements. Prime Minister Netanyahu had undoubtedly the most disingenuous line of the day, asking of PA President Mahmoud Abbas "does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel?"— as if to suggest that "peace with Israel" was actually in the offing but for Abbas' "disappointing" decision.

This week, both chambers of Congress will hold major hearings on the drug war. On Tuesday, April 29, at 10 a.m. there will be joint subcommittee hearing entitled “Confronting Transnational Drug Smuggling: An Assessment of Regional Partnerships”, held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. These Committees will hear from General John F. Kelly, USMC Commander of Southern Command, at the Department of Defense, and Luis E. Arreaga Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, at the Department of State. On Wednesday, April 30, at 10 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration”. The sole witness is the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.

The hearings come against a backdrop of huge domestic change with respect to the drug war. In the past year, Attorney General Eric Holder has made a number of forceful public statements against mass incarceration in the U.S., promising significant rollback of mandatory minimums and harsh sentencing guidelines. The Obama administration, under the Department of Justice, announced last week that clemency and pardon guidelines would be expanded so that they apply to more nonviolent drug offenders. Similarly, there is much hope that the Senate will pass the Smarter Sentencing Act this year, which would drastically reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive. In addition, the Obama administration announced in August last year that it would not challenge state marijuana laws, thus giving a limited “green light” to states like Washington and Colorado to pursue legalization. More states have ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana this year.

The ultimate absurdity of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has been visited upon my home state of Washington.

One of the many outlandish propositions of  NCLB was that 100 percent of students at all schools in the United States would be fully proficient in reading and math, as registered by student test scores, by 2014—all without adding the resources needed to support our children.   Because no state has been able to achieve 100 percent proficiency, nearly all of the states have already received a federal waiver from NCLB—on the condition that they implement policies that reduce teaching and learning to a test score.

Now, because our State Legislators did not move to mandate that standardized test scores be attached to teacher evaluations, Washington has become the first state in the country to lose its waiver from the many requirements of the No Child Left Behind act. The U.S. Department of Education posted a letter about the status of Washington’s waiver on Thursday April 24th. The loss of this waiver means that every parent in the state should expect a letter informing them that their child attends a failing school. It also means that  school districts will lose control of how they spend a portion of the federal funding they receive—some $40 million statewide. As well, any number of schools could be forced into state takeover and made to replace most of the staff.

Apr 30

David vs. Goliath: The Nuclear Zero Lawsuits

By Robert Dodge, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

This past Thursday, April 24th, historic lawsuits were filed against the U.S. and the eight other Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) of the world to meet their treaty obligations to disarm by the courageous tiny island nation Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Since 1970, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has obligated nations to negotiate in good faith for complete disarmament – a world without nuclear weapons.

Forty-four years later, with no negotiations in sight, the world has become a more dangerous place with stockpiles of more than 17,000 nuclear weapons. Four more nations now have nuclear weapons, and the original five continue to invest in and modernize their nuclear forces with expenditures expected to be in excess of 1 Trillion dollars over the next 10 years. But one small nation has stood up to say, “enough is enough.”

When the organic industry gathers in this central Texas city next week sparks are predicted to fly when farmers and consumer activists face off with government regulators who they have accused of a “power grab,” significantly eroding a unique public and private partnership that Congress created in the governance of organic food and agriculture.

At issue is the unilateral reversal of 20 years of precedent in the congressionally-mandated National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) effectively deciding the working definition of “organic” as a food production system and what, if any, synthetics are safe to include in organic food.  The NOSB, a 15-member panel of organic stakeholders, representing farmer, consumer, environmental, retail, scientific, and food processors, will begin its Spring 2014 meeting on April 29.

Apr 30

TPP TV Blackout

By Staff, FAIR Blog | Video Report

Big TV networks aren't covering the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But take a look at what they do cover...

Apr 30

Gaza's Ark Attacked

By Robert Naiman, SpeakOut | Report
Gaza's Ark was badly damaged and partially sunk by a large explosion at about 3:45 AM Gaza time on April 29th. No-one was injured. Mustafa Abu Awad, the guard who was on duty at the time, was taken to the hospital for tests and he has now been discharged.
 
The Ark was in the port of Gaza being readied to put to sea in June. Whether and when the boat can be repaired is something we will not know for sure until it can be pulled out of the water for inspection.
 
Awad said he had been warned to leave the area by an anonymous caller. "I was [sleeping] near the boat and someone phoned me — an unidentified caller. I answered and he told me: 'Mustafa, leave the boat right now because we are going to blow it up.'" 

I have lived and worked always in the state of South Carolina. SC is a high-poverty state (see here and here) with a racially diverse population (ranked 12th highest). And, like many comparable states across the Deep South, SC is a right to work state.

Combined, these characteristics of my home state confirm, I think, my claim about the self-defeating South. However, when it comes to the Great American Worker, the entire U.S. shares that self-defeating nature.

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Speakout

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 02

Death by Paranoia

By James McEnteer, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Georgia's new gun law goes into effect July 1, allowing firearms in bars, nightclubs and government buildings without security checkpoints. Georgia churches can permit parishioners to come armed to services.

Euphemistically called the "Safe Carry Protection Act," the new law lifts restrictions on individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors from obtaining a gun permit. Gun dealers are no longer required to keep sales records. A stand-your-ground law will expand and police will not have the right to ask armed citizens whether they have a license.

The Connecticut legislature is considering a bill that create a publicly administered retirement plan that would be open to anyone who works at a company with more than five employees. Employees would, by default, be enrolled in the plan (at a contribution rate to be determined), but could choose to opt out. The money would be pooled in a trust, but each participant would have an individual account in that trust, and the rate of return on that account would be specified each December for the following year. Upon retirement, the account balance would by default be converted into an inflation-indexed annuity, although participants could request a lump-sum deferral.

The legislative session ends in less than two weeks, and while the bill has passed through committees, I believe it's not certain whether it will be put to a floor vote. On Friday I wrote on op-ed for The Connecticut Mirror about the bill.

May 01

The US Should Accept Palestinian Unity

By Dr James J Zogby, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

While Palestinians celebrated the reconciliation agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas, the reactions in Washington and Israel were reminiscent of the biblical "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

American political commentators were dumbfounded by the news of the pact, terming it "a dark day", "a setback for peace," or "a serious complication." Members of Congress, meanwhile, were uniform in their threats to withhold aid if the Palestinian Authority goes forward with the unity arrangement.

Israeli government reactions were predictably harsh in their criticism of the Palestinian move. Those on the far right, who never supported the "peace process" in the first place and who had threatened to abandon the Netanyahu government if he signed any agreement with the Palestinians, saw the Fatah/Hamas pact as justification to call for an immediate end to the peace negotiations. I detected more joy than anger in their overly-heated pronouncements. Prime Minister Netanyahu had undoubtedly the most disingenuous line of the day, asking of PA President Mahmoud Abbas "does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel?"— as if to suggest that "peace with Israel" was actually in the offing but for Abbas' "disappointing" decision.

This week, both chambers of Congress will hold major hearings on the drug war. On Tuesday, April 29, at 10 a.m. there will be joint subcommittee hearing entitled “Confronting Transnational Drug Smuggling: An Assessment of Regional Partnerships”, held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. These Committees will hear from General John F. Kelly, USMC Commander of Southern Command, at the Department of Defense, and Luis E. Arreaga Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, at the Department of State. On Wednesday, April 30, at 10 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration”. The sole witness is the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.

The hearings come against a backdrop of huge domestic change with respect to the drug war. In the past year, Attorney General Eric Holder has made a number of forceful public statements against mass incarceration in the U.S., promising significant rollback of mandatory minimums and harsh sentencing guidelines. The Obama administration, under the Department of Justice, announced last week that clemency and pardon guidelines would be expanded so that they apply to more nonviolent drug offenders. Similarly, there is much hope that the Senate will pass the Smarter Sentencing Act this year, which would drastically reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive. In addition, the Obama administration announced in August last year that it would not challenge state marijuana laws, thus giving a limited “green light” to states like Washington and Colorado to pursue legalization. More states have ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana this year.

The ultimate absurdity of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has been visited upon my home state of Washington.

One of the many outlandish propositions of  NCLB was that 100 percent of students at all schools in the United States would be fully proficient in reading and math, as registered by student test scores, by 2014—all without adding the resources needed to support our children.   Because no state has been able to achieve 100 percent proficiency, nearly all of the states have already received a federal waiver from NCLB—on the condition that they implement policies that reduce teaching and learning to a test score.

Now, because our State Legislators did not move to mandate that standardized test scores be attached to teacher evaluations, Washington has become the first state in the country to lose its waiver from the many requirements of the No Child Left Behind act. The U.S. Department of Education posted a letter about the status of Washington’s waiver on Thursday April 24th. The loss of this waiver means that every parent in the state should expect a letter informing them that their child attends a failing school. It also means that  school districts will lose control of how they spend a portion of the federal funding they receive—some $40 million statewide. As well, any number of schools could be forced into state takeover and made to replace most of the staff.

Apr 30

David vs. Goliath: The Nuclear Zero Lawsuits

By Robert Dodge, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

This past Thursday, April 24th, historic lawsuits were filed against the U.S. and the eight other Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) of the world to meet their treaty obligations to disarm by the courageous tiny island nation Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Since 1970, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has obligated nations to negotiate in good faith for complete disarmament – a world without nuclear weapons.

Forty-four years later, with no negotiations in sight, the world has become a more dangerous place with stockpiles of more than 17,000 nuclear weapons. Four more nations now have nuclear weapons, and the original five continue to invest in and modernize their nuclear forces with expenditures expected to be in excess of 1 Trillion dollars over the next 10 years. But one small nation has stood up to say, “enough is enough.”

When the organic industry gathers in this central Texas city next week sparks are predicted to fly when farmers and consumer activists face off with government regulators who they have accused of a “power grab,” significantly eroding a unique public and private partnership that Congress created in the governance of organic food and agriculture.

At issue is the unilateral reversal of 20 years of precedent in the congressionally-mandated National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) effectively deciding the working definition of “organic” as a food production system and what, if any, synthetics are safe to include in organic food.  The NOSB, a 15-member panel of organic stakeholders, representing farmer, consumer, environmental, retail, scientific, and food processors, will begin its Spring 2014 meeting on April 29.

Apr 30

TPP TV Blackout

By Staff, FAIR Blog | Video Report

Big TV networks aren't covering the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But take a look at what they do cover...

Apr 30

Gaza's Ark Attacked

By Robert Naiman, SpeakOut | Report
Gaza's Ark was badly damaged and partially sunk by a large explosion at about 3:45 AM Gaza time on April 29th. No-one was injured. Mustafa Abu Awad, the guard who was on duty at the time, was taken to the hospital for tests and he has now been discharged.
 
The Ark was in the port of Gaza being readied to put to sea in June. Whether and when the boat can be repaired is something we will not know for sure until it can be pulled out of the water for inspection.
 
Awad said he had been warned to leave the area by an anonymous caller. "I was [sleeping] near the boat and someone phoned me — an unidentified caller. I answered and he told me: 'Mustafa, leave the boat right now because we are going to blow it up.'" 

I have lived and worked always in the state of South Carolina. SC is a high-poverty state (see here and here) with a racially diverse population (ranked 12th highest). And, like many comparable states across the Deep South, SC is a right to work state.

Combined, these characteristics of my home state confirm, I think, my claim about the self-defeating South. However, when it comes to the Great American Worker, the entire U.S. shares that self-defeating nature.