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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.

Mar 13

New report: UN stuck in denial over cannabis regulation

By Tom Blickman, Dave Bewley-Taylor and Martin Jelsma, Global Drug Policy Observatory | Press Release

Swansea/Amsterdam, 11 March 2014 – The current trend towards legal regulation of the cannabis market has become irreversible and requires an urgent dialogue by UN member states on the best models for protecting people's health and safety, argues a new report. The question facing the international community today is no longer whether there is a need to revise the UN drug control system, but rather when and how to do it.

The report unveils the long and little-known history of cannabis regulation from the late 19th century when it was widely used for medical, ceremonial and social purposes to the post-WWII period when US pressure and a potent mix of moralistic rhetoric and unreliable scientific data succeeded in categorising cannabis as a drug with 'particularly dangerous properties' on a par with heroin in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It also brings the history up-to-date with more recent developments as an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime's strictures through 'soft defections', such as turning a blind eye, decriminalisation, coffeeshops, cannabis social clubs and generous medical marijuana schemes. These have stretched the legal flexibility of the conventions to sometimes questionable limits.

Ethnic violence continues to smoulder throughout several states in South Sudan despite an official cessation of hostilities signed on the 23rd of January, 2014. What initially began as clashes between rival tribal groups within the South Sudanese presidential guards has quickly devolved into a bloody and intractable ethnic conflict throughout much of the country. The clashes began on the 15th of December, 2013, when South Sudanese President Salva Kiir accused a number of senior politicians, including Vice President Riek Machar, of attempting to stage a coup, a claim the vice president vehemently rejects. Mr. Machar, a seasoned veteran of guerrilla warfare, quickly established a resistance movement resulting in a bitter conflict which has already claimed over 10,000 lives and displaced over half a million South Sudanese citizens according to UN spokesman, Farhan Haq. The fighting has also assumed an ethnic dimension as the president and Mr. Machar are members of the two dominant tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer peoples, which have sided with these two factions respectively.

Although a ceasefire was officially reached on the 23rd of January 2014, with peace talks set to restart on the 7th of February, it has been ineffectual in quelling the violence, with armed clashes confirmed throughout the interim period in Unity State, Upper Nile and Jonglei State. However, this should not be surprising considering that both sides felt compelled to sign a ceasefire which provided no substantive answers to permanently resolving the conflict in order to assuage international fears. As one South Sudanese rebel official noted "This deal does not provide answers to South Sudan's current problems. We need a comprehensive political deal...We are only signing because we, and they, are under pressure."

The following is a quote from Joan Entmacher, Vice President for Family Economic Security at the National Women's Law Center:

"Women are three-quarters of workers in the largest, lowest-wage occupations. And these low-wage jobs account for a disproportionate share of the jobs women have gained since the start of the recovery. What's worse, women in these low-wage jobs are paid ten cents less on every dollar earned by men. These stark facts underscore why it's critical to raise the minimum wage and advance equal pay and equal opportunity for women."

On International Women's Day, although I woke up in America, my heart was in Gaza. After having been detained for over 22 hours in the Cairo airport without explanation, I had been deported to London and ultimately sent back to the United States. I was the youngest American of an International Women's Day Delegation bound for Gaza to answer the call women of Gaza issued to the women of the world to come and stand with them in solidarity. We were "armed" with microscopes for hospitals, toys for children, chocolate gifts and solar lamps as a gesture to give them light in the darkness caused literally and figuratively by the Israeli blockade. As I sat stuck with an amazing group of forty women from around the world between passport control and the arrival gates exit, our thoughts were constantly with the women we were on a mission to visit.

Tired from my seventeen hour flight and looking forward to finally crashing in a bed at the hotel, I was surprised when the guard at passport control picked up the phone after stamping my passport and then told me to go sit down without giving my passport back to me. I knew that it would be difficult to get into Gaza, but I did not think it would be difficult to get into Cairo at least.

Mar 12

Life Near the Mexican Border

By John Heid, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

"You have no rights here!" barked a U.S. Border Patrol agent to a resident of Arivaca, AZ who was passing through a Customs and Border Protection checkpoint 23 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

This remark confirms a sense of violation of rights that many borderlands residents have when encountering one of the 71 permanent or tactical checkpoints scattered across the southwestern U.S. These off-border sites were condoned by the U.S. Supreme Court more than 40 years ago. Stops were intended to be brief, and limited to verifying residence status. They were to be situated within a reasonable distance from the border. This distance was determined to be 100 miles from any external boundary and today roughly encompasses two-thirds of the U.S. population. People in the southwest call this region the "constitution-free zone."

Chicken Little got it wrong. The sky isn't exactly falling, but it does pose lethal threats. Those threats are near and long term, domestic and international. They entail surveillance and terror.

Weaponized unmanned drone aircraft – the Predator, the Reaper, the Global Hawk - have no crew on board. Hence no head, no heart. These drones are amoral robots exquisitely designed to spy and to kill, to maim and to demolish. Out of the blue, their 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles strike like lightning bolts.

The United States is currently ranked 46th on the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. As a journalist in this country, I can't rest easy knowing that we are far behind countries like Finland (ranked number one), or Costa Rica and Namibia, ranked 21st and 22nd.

Among the many factors contributing to our nation's fall from number 37th on the list is the treatment of whistle blowers and journalists by the US Department of Justice, but the decline began in 2011 with the arrests and harassment of many reporters and livestreamers during national Occupy Wall Street protests.

Mar 12

Good Times for Capital

By James Kwak, The Baseline Scenario | News Analysis

Last week, the Wall Street Journal highlighted a Federal Reserve report on total household net worth. Surprise! Americans are richer than ever before, both in nominal and real terms.

At the same time, though, wealth inequality is increasing from its already Gilded Era levels. The main factor behind increasing household net worth over the past year was the rising stock market (followed far behind by rising housing prices). These obviously only help you if you own stocks—not if, say, you never had enough money to buy stocks, or you had to cash out your 401(k) in 2009 because you were laid off. Put another way, rising asset values help you if you are a supplier of capital more than a supplier of labor.

Mar 12

AIPAC and CPAC Come to Town

By Dr James J Zogby, Arab American Institute | Op-Ed

This past week, Washington hosted two of my least favorite annual events. It began with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) bringing their faithful to town to lobby for whatever the government of Israel might want at this particular moment. At week's end, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was in Washington rallying their crowd to bash the President and defend their "true conservative" principles.

During the past year, several commentators have, on occasion, pronounced both groups weakened and wounded, possibly fatally so. Conservatives were seen to be cannibalizing themselves, while AIPAC was reeling from having picked and lost two separate fights with President Obama: Syria and Iran sanctions. Based on the size and enthusiasm of their respective crowds and from the "red meat" thrown out by major speakers, neither group appeared to be in their death throes, but looks can be deceiving.

Mar 11

Posturing from Weakness

By James Kwak, The Baseline Scenario | Op-Ed

If President Obama really wanted these outcomes, there was a way to get them. He could have let the Bush tax cuts expire for good a year ago, making high taxes on the rich a reality. Then, a year later, he could have proposed a middle-class tax cut and dared the Republicans to block it in an election year. (He could also have traded a reduction in the top marginal rate—from the 39.6% that would have resulted, not counting the 3.8% Medicare tax—for the reforms he is now proposing.)