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.

Jun 13

Lobby on Capitol Hill to Free the Cuban Five

By Samantha Sarra, SpeakOut | Report

Solidarity was being sung on Capitol Hill this week as activists from 31 countries lobbied for the freedom of the Cuban Five. Members of Parliament from Latin America and Europe came to the nation's capital to urge immediate action towards the release of the remaining three Cuban Five who are still behind bars. Rounding out the last two days of the 3rd annual "5 days for the Cuban 5," the international delegation met with 9 congress men and women, 25 Senate staffers and more than 30 congressional aids in a campaign demanding a remedy to the miscarriage of justice which has left innocent men imprisoned for last 16 years.

Actor Danny Glover - who has been involved in the "5 days for the 5" for the last three years - shared his optimism that the international solidarity effort was yielding results. "After the first five days of action, Rene was set free; after the 2nd annual 5 days of action; Fernando was set free and we need to keep up hope that after this 3rd annual day of action, the three remaining Cuban Five will also be set free."

If there's one thing we love, it's visualizing data. And if there's one piece of data that people across the country have been talking (and arguing) about lately, it's the minimum wage .For months, President Obama has been pushing for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, without much success. The issue, however, is picking up steam at the state, city and county level. Four states have increased their minimum wage to at least $10.10 - Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland and Vermont. This week, Seattle approved an increase in minimum wage to $15 an hour. Closer to home, a group of Chicago's aldermen have been pushing an increase to a $15 wage. By the time these laws have come into effect, these changes will create some very real differences across the country, which we've illustrated with the infographic below.

McDonald's (headquartered a stones throw away from our Chicago office, in Oak Brook, IL), have been a major target for those protesting the current minimum wage. McDonald's CEO Don Thompson this week suggested his company would support an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, however protesting McDonald's workers continue to demand $15 an hour. However, there's more to the use of Big Macs as a visual aid for understanding what's really being debated here. Big Macs have been used as an index for purchasing power since the conception of the 'Big Mac Index' in the 1980s. What's more people are surprisingly bad at grappling with money in the abstract.

Jun 13

Animal Rights and Our Willful Ignorance

By Owen McCormack, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

The concept of "animal rights" is used quite convincingly with respect to dogs and cats; clearly, it's a message that resonates with most folks. Yet more often than not the sentimentality ends there. As a society we are highly selective in terms of the animals that we deem worthy of respect and humane treatment. We are appalled by the mere mention of a dog or a cat being neglected or abused – in many instances it will make national headlines and at times international headlines. This was certainly evident with the venomous reaction that the Michael Vick case generated a few years back. Or, most recently, with the killing (and public dissection) of a young giraffe at a Copenhagen zoo.

These actions were deplorable and the collective sense of outrage that emerged was certainly warranted. Yet it is also glaringly evident that the CEOs of Smithfield, Tyson, Perdue, etc. are held to a vastly different moral standard. The dichotomy at play highlights a cultural hypocrisy that is beyond staggering. It's a widely known fact that the chickens, pigs, and cows held captive on industrialized farms are forced to live under heinous conditions and are slaughtered in a particularly cruel and violent manner. One can simply watch a YouTube video to witness their business practices firsthand. Incidentally, the industry is now attempting to pass sweeping laws to ban such videos in an attempt to protect their cleverly crafted images as benevolent "old fashioned" farmers and stay ahead of the curve as the number of socially / environmentally minded consumers increases in size (take note of how McDonald's is currently marketing itself on mainstream media outlets.) These so called "AG GAG" laws have been proposed in a number of states and have passed in Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, and Utah with the clear intent to criminalize investigative journalism.

Jun 13

When Nudity is Contraband

By Greg Ruggiero, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Every three months for over twenty years, legendary NYC literary agent and activist Frances Goldin would take a two-day trip to a maximum security prison in Pennsylvania to visit her client and friend on death row—black scholar, author, and freedom fighter, Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Over the decades, Goldin has not only served as Abu-Jamal's literary agent, but as one of the most vocal and relentless advocates for his release based on both his innocence and the denial of a fair trial in his case, the facts of which are well documented in a report by Amnesty International.

Jun 13

Look Ma: No Teeth… No Future!

By Phillip Farruggio, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

A close friend of the family recently got some bad news. She was told that gum disease and bone loss had caused her five molars to be infected. The only recourse was to have them all pulled out. Even gum surgery would not help at this point. She learned a few years ago, from her visit to the hygienist, that the condition of her gums, coupled with bone loss, was not good. Yet, she could not afford the (outrageous) cost of around $7,000 to have the work done. So, like many in her financial position, she did the best she could by using the waterpik with hydrogen peroxide and regular flossing, etc. If she had even decent dental insurance, at a reasonable cost, perhaps she would not be in her current situation.

This writer can sympathize with the fact she already had three teeth pulled. I myself have four such spaces where a tooth used to be. Why? Well, the cost of having a tooth pulled ($150 to $250) is not the same as $1000+ for a root canal and $1000 + for a crown. Or, how about $2500 for an implant? How many more of us out there are walking around with similar dental situations? Yet, so few of us will demand to have government do what governments were actually set up to accomplish: be our safety net when troubles arise.

Care of cancer in this country is outpacing other health care problems and is already pricing itself beyond the reach of many Americans unfortunate enough to contract the disease. In my 2009 book, The Cancer Generation: Baby Boomers Facing a Perfect Storm, this storm warning was included:

  • Cancer soon to be nation’s No. 1 cause of death
  • Costs soaring out of control
  • Decreasing access, increasing disparities
  • Widening gaps in quality of care
  • Insurance costs more and covers less
  • Profit-driven market-based system is unaccountable and unsustainable
  • Reform is blocked by powerful market stakeholders
  • 79 million Baby Boomers face increased risk of cancer as they age, and will confront this challenge with dwindling resources. [1]

One of the signal characteristics of the discussions that flow forth on the topic of Israel-Palestine is their intense emotional content. Unavoidable, no doubt, but any project on university or college campuses that wishes to teach Peace and Justice, and to address the issue of Israel-Palestine, needs to seriously address this question of the emotions that surround this topic. It is too easy to imagine that emotions will simply evaporate once confronted by facts. But that simply does not happen.

When I returned to campus from the American Studies Association conference in Washington DC last year, as we members began deliberations on our much publicized resolution to support the call for an academic boycott of Israel, I anticipated there might be some fall-out because of my various, pro-boycott blogs, and the quote from one of my statements that made it into the New York Times article that ran on the first page of the print edition of December 16. The quote was: "People who truly believe in academic freedom would realize protesting the blatant and systemic denial of academic freedom to Palestinians, which is coupled with material deprivation of a staggering scale, far outweighs concerns we in the West might have about our own rather privileged academic freedoms."

Jun 12

The Legacy of World War II

By Elliot Adams, War is a Crime | Op-Ed

June 6th came once more. D-day was a long time ago and I didn't intend to make anything of it.  I was surprised by the emotional turmoil I felt, by how I felt about that day in my gut.  I realized that while I was born after the war was over, D-day and World War II were a real and tangible part of my childhood.  It was part of my family's life, my teachers lives, my friends parent's lives. It wasn't just old men who remembered it, every adult in my youth had stories from that war. It was amputees on street corners selling pencils and people all around me still dealing with it. It was part of my life and it played a role in my enlistment for Vietnam.  Of course I felt this day in my guts. Why did I think it would be otherwise?

The stories were part of the world I grew up in; stories of D-day, of every counter-espionage agent for a year saying the first attack will be a feint, of the phantom 1st Army with decoy tanks, fake radio chatter and empty tents looking like an army poised for an imminent invasion, of Omaha Beach, of Utah Beach.  The death, the military blunders, the maimed, the successes, the “discovery” of the concentration camps, the Battle of the Bulge, these stories were tangible and a part of my childhood. Many of the stories were told after I was in bed, at breakfast they were alluded to quietly by my parents, and we children were told never to ask the adults about them.

Jun 12

Five Reasons to Boycott Starbucks

By Ronnie Cummins and Katherine Paul, Organic Consumers Association | Report

Starbucks. It’s the largest coffee chain in the world, with 20,100 stores, and annual sales of $14.9 billion. CEO Howard Schultz is worth $1.6 billion.

It’s a fortune built, by consumers and coffee farmers, for Schultz and Starbucks’ shareholders. 

But what if consumers stopped buying Starbucks? And instead, sought out companies that promote fair trade organic coffee? And fair trade cappuccinos made with organic milk?

MINNEAPOLIS, June 10, 2014 - After four years of organizing by Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), Target Corporation is adopting a breakthrough policy that will be implemented with new cleaning contractors, and will protect the rights of sub-contracted janitors who clean retail stores in the Twin Cities metro area.

CTUL has partnered with the janitors – who have faced poverty wages, wage theft, and health and safety hazards – in three strikes against cleaning companies, as well as a year of dialogue with Target Corporation. Now Target is taking a leadership role in the industry by adopting an unprecedented Responsible Contractor Policy that will be implemented with new cleaning contracts at their stores, providing significant protections for workers’ rights.