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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.

Kimberly McCarthy's impending execution suggests that women are not anomalies in American capital punishment, and new research shows they're not anomalies in committing violent crime either.

In Lancaster, Texas, just south of Dallas, Kimberly McCarthy called on her 71-year-old retired neighbor and asked if she could borrow a cup of sugar. Once inside the retiree's house, McCarthy stabbed the old woman with a butcher knife, beat her with a large candleholder and cut off the ring finger that held her diamond wedding ring. 

The last time a woman was executed in Texas, it was 1998. The case of 39-year-old Karla Faye Tucker - who had killed two people with a pickaxe - generated an explosive media kerfuffle. Urgent pleas were addressed to then-Governor George W. Bush to spare Tucker's life on the grounds that she was a woman and a born again Christian. There were several made-for-television movies, a feature length film, and even an Indigo Girls song. 

Jun 22

The History of Mass Surveillance

By Chris Thomson, SpeakOut | News Analysis

In 1791, the English philosopher and death penalty abolitionist Jeremy Bentham published the design for his "Panopticon" prison- a structure Bentham hoped would embody the utilitarian ideals of a more humane society. In late 1800s England, there were around 200 offenses punishable by death- pick pocketing included. Besides execution, other common methods of punishing criminals were sending them to fight wars or to make the long dangerous journey to penal colonies in America and Australia. There were a few rudimentary prisons in England during this time; these were mainly debtor prisons and they had terrible conditions. Convicts languished in overcrowded filthy rooms - with the more unruly shackled bloody wrist to some dank corridor's wall. For Bentham, these early prisons were not an acceptable alternative to execution, war or exile. These dark rooms and corridors overseen by merciless guards posed a problem that he hoped- creative architecture could solve. The objective of this architecture was to harness the illuminating power of light. Light that would keep order in the prison, a more humane approach than the constant threat of physical punishment. An idea of noble intentions- but an idea that would change the course of history. The Panopticon's design laid the foundation for modern surveillance.

"You don't solve mistakes, with more mistakes! As a government, the U.S. must follow the law. Be legal!" pleads the brother-in-law of Hayeel Aziz Al-Mithali.

Hayeel went from Yemen to Pakistan when he was 17 to study the Qu'ran. Captured following the 9/11 attacks, Hayeel has spent the last 12 years in Guantanamo. The U.S. had made no charges against him, yet Hayeel still faces indefinite detention. And so he has joined the hunger strike.

Along with fellow members of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, I have been protesting the corrupt and cruel Guantanamo system for years. I came to Yemen to deepen my understanding, but sitting face-to-face with the families whose lives have been devastated, I am sickened anew by how my country's responses to 9/11 continue to multiply the pain and injury of the attacks.

Last week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the world’s most formidable big business lobby — quietly abandoned a trademark infringement lawsuit against a number of individuals connected to activist pranksters the Yes Men, including John and Jane Doe 1-20, in whose mysterious company I was presumably represented. It’s been a while since I’ve given any thought to the circumstances surrounding the four-year-old suit, and while the news came as a relief, it also made me a little nostalgic for a particularly madcap chapter in my colorful career. By the standards of my fancy sounding job, that year as “Director of Marketing and Outreach” for the release of the Yes Men’s latest documentary film, “The Yes Men Fix the World,” being sued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce felt par for the course.

Allow me to take you back to the fall of 2009, where from a small, crowded academic office-cum-film distribution headquarters, my official duties involved coordinating a marauding ragtag volunteer “Survivaball” army, helping to organize mini-riots at Whole Foods, and avoiding capture by the NYPD after a failed attempt to launch an amphibious assault on the U.N. (which led to the apprehension of one of my colleagues). 

Jun 22

Government, Guns & Money

By Robert A G Monks, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Not many issues are as polarizing as gun control in this country. Politics around regulation and deregulation have been intense for years and the fights have grown more vitriolic – and more expensive –more recently as we've seen a growth in disturbing mass murders. The public outcry for action was deafening after December's shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. And most of the country seemed to support background checks, if nothing else. A new study from Quinnipiac University showed 88% of gun-owning households and 91% of the general population supporting it. And a Pew surveyfrom January shows that 85% support background checks.

And yet it didn't pass in Congress. With such clear public support why With such clear public support why didn't lawmakers pass it? Well, the cynic in me suggests that we look at the amounts of money spent on lobbying the issue.

Jun 20

Predicting the US and Global Economy 2013-14

By Jack Rasmus, JackRasmus.com | News Analysis

Annually for the past three years this writer has made leading edge predictions about the trajectory of the US and global economies for the 12-18 months to come. The last previous set of predictions appeared in the January 2012 issue of 'Z' magazine. Eighteen months later, it appears most have materialized. The following briefly summarizes those prior predictions, and makes further predictions for the next 18 months, through December 2014:

For the official visit of President Barack Obama to Berlin on June 18th & 19th, ca. 800 people protested against US policies in a lively demonstration through central Berlin. The main banner reads: "Against War, Repression and Racism!" The call for the demonstration was by a broad coalition of peace, civil rights, and solidarity movements and takes as its theme the red penalty card, used in many sports, indicating that a player has committed an offense so serious that she or he must immediately leave the game.

At the climax of the demonstration, the protesters made a human chain encircling the US Embassy, which is next to the Brandenburg Gate where Obama was to speak. Because of the high-security lockdown of central Berlin during Obama's visit on June 18th & 19th, this broad-based, legal demonstration to the US Embassy could only be scheduled prior to his visit. Other demonstrations took place throughout Berlin on June 18th & 19th.

Jun 20

Blacks as Humans

By Lee R. Haven, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

I wrote, "Savannah's blacks are largely a poor lot, often more because of Savannah custom rather than of their own doing, and just about all black-owned clubs had begun reflecting the desolation that accompanies poverty."

This is how, however, the piece appeared recently in the guest commentary: "Savannah's blacks are largely a poor lot... and just about all black-owned clubs had begun reflecting the desolation that accompanies poverty."

I am appreciative the editor let me have my say in a tribute to a famous Savannah-based musician who died tragically. My last job in my hometown was as a writer and columnist for the paper, and I hadn't seen the musician, and successful businessman, since I moved to Atlanta in the nineties. This is what also must know about Savannah: There have been improvements, but race remains as thick as the legendary heat, and that the only difference is that you can usually avoid one during winter.

Remember some years back, when the lid was blown regarding the US' use of torture to gather information from "terrorists?" Many were - rightly - shocked and dismayed; people from virtually all over the world chided the US for its disgraceful disregard for ethical standards. The ACLU condemned the behavior, journalists from all walks of political life expressed their criticism, and so on and so forth. For a while, America's use of torture, or rather, "enhanced interrogation techniques," was met with heated vitriol, brought into the public arena for passionate debate. But something strange resulted from all of that: talking about it publicly, in a way, normalized it, and lowered our ethical standards. Today, the topic of torture for interrogation purposes is disapprovingly met with: "Well...that's what America does." And that's my concern with the recent surveillance scandal; that, in a sort of nefariously though "unwittingly tactful" way, by blowing this scandal wide open and bringing it into public discourse, sooner than later, spying on innocent civilians is just "what America does."

It certainly feels to me more peaceful and convivial in Germany and Holland, for example, than in the U.S. Aside from the oft-heard complaint of the U.S. as a crime-ridden and crazy place, here are three factors out of several offered in this article that contribute to significant cultural and physical-environment differences:

• The threat of physical violence posed by police and associated agencies that can instill fear without even making direct contact with civilians
• Job-insecurity and obsession about money for survival and self-image
• The car-oriented infrastructure that makes most streets potential death zones for pedestrians and bicyclists, not to mention creating ugly urban blight