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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.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to consider a Constitutional Amendment to address the issue of unlimited campaign spending by corporations, wealthy donors and other special interests, the FACT (Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency) Coalition is calling attention to the troubling use of anonymous shell companies in this area.

The Judiciary Committee is holding hearings in the wake of two recent Supreme Court decisions, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission and Citizens United, both of which have unleashed a torrent of big money into the elections process. However, both of these cases involved companies with identifiable owners.

Washington, DC – In the Public Interest (ITPI), a comprehensive resource center on outsourcing and responsible contracting, today released a new report titled "Race to the Bottom: How Outsourcing Public Services Rewards Corporations and Punishes the Middle Class." The report was released in a telebriefing this afternoon. Jared Bernstein, Former Chief Economic Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, joined outsourcing experts on the call to discuss the report, along with privatization experts and a public service worker who lost her job to privatization.
 
The report includes case studies from across the country in which the false promises of privatization have triggered an “alarming race to the bottom,” as far-away corporate executives benefit from lucrative government contracts while local communities suffer the consequences of lower quality services andmiddle class careers being replaced with poverty-level jobs – all inadvertently funded by local taxpayers...

Lawyers for Mohammad Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani, a Pakistani father of three held for over a decade without charge in Guantánamo Bay, have today sought a court order compelling the Obama administration to release videotapes of his treatment.

The requested tapes are thought to document a period of particularly 'gratuitous brutality', in which Mr Rabbani contracted a chest infection as a result of botched force-feeding procedures, leading him to repeatedly vomit blood and lose consciousness. They will also include footage of Mr Rabbani's 'Forcible Cell Extractions' ('FCE's), whereby a team in riot gear storms the cell of a prisoner who does not comply.

Today's motion comes a week after federal judge Gladys Kessler ordered the Obama administration to disclose 34 video tapes showing the force-feeding and FCE of Syrian hunger-striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab. Mr Dhiab's videos will be reviewed by Reprieve lawyers at the Secure Facility in Washington, D.C. after the court's handover deadline of June 13; today's motion seeks Mr Rabbani's videos for review at the same time.

Jun 04

Does War Have a Future?

By Lawrence S Wittner, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

National officials certainly assume that war has a future.  According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military expenditures totaled nearly $1.75 trillion in 2013.  Although, after accounting for inflation, this is a slight decrease over the preceding year, many countries increased their military spending significantly, including China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.  Indeed, 23 countries doubled their military spending between 2004 and 2013.  None, of course, came anywhere near to matching the military spending of the United States, which, at $640 billion, accounted for 37 percent of 2013’s global military expenditures.  Furthermore, all the nuclear weapons nations are currently “modernizing” their nuclear arsenals. 

Meanwhile, countries are not only preparing for wars, but are fighting them ¾ sometimes overtly (as in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan) and sometimes covertly (as in portions of Africa and the Middle East).

Nevertheless, there are some reasons why war might actually be on the way out. 

Jun 04

The VA Scandal: What Lessons Can We Draw?

By John Geyman, SpeakOut | News Analysis

At this early point, there is much that we don’t know as we await the IG’s full report, due in August. As the investigation expands to include clinical reviews of the consequences of these scheduling problems, we can also expect to learn examples of gross mismanagement and unethical behavior by some in charge. 

Naturally, we are now seeing a firestorm of protest, casting blame in all directions. Some are calling for immediate action to include referral of veterans to the private sector, which raises still other questions, such as reimbursement levels and availability of primary care physicians. Many called for the resignation of General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, which he did after so many years of meritorious service.  

As this crisis unfolds and we get more information on what has occurred, we need to sort out disinformation and demagoguery from the facts. We will hear “lessons” being advanced from various perspectives. We should also ask ourselves what lessons we cannot learn from this failure. There is a political risk that once resignations have occurred, we will go on as usual without considering more fundamental problems. 

Dear Colleagues, dear Friends:

First of all, thank you very much for organizing the very interesting and important Peace Event in Sarajevo from June 6th to 9th, which you've called "the biggest international peace event 2014." You have put together a compelling program.

Weeks ago I purchased my flight tickets to Sarajevo. I looked forward to the meetings and discussions with colleagues. I was also grateful for the opportunity to show a film, "The Killing Floor," and to co-present a workshop about the first Global Action Day against the Use of Drones for Surveillance & Killing on October 4, 2014.

Jun 03

Hundreds of California Prisoners in Isolation to Join Class Action Lawsuit

By The Center for Constitutional Rights, SpeakOut | Press Release

Today, a federal judge allowed hundreds of California prisoners to join a lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement in California prisons when she granted the case class action status. The case, Ashker v. Brown, was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of 10 prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent over 10 years – and some up to 29 years – in solitary confinement. Last summer, California prisoners, including plaintiffs in Ashker, conducted their third hunger strike, lasting 60 days, protesting their confinement and conditions.  Class certification allows the case to include all Pelican Bay SHU prisoners who have been in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, as well as all prisoners who are serving indefinite SHU terms as a result of gang validation who have not been placed in a new step-down program.

Said Center for Constitutional Rights Staff Attorney Alexis Agathocleous, who argued the class certification motion in court, “Since their 2011 hunger strikes, hundreds of prisoners at the Pelican Bay SHU – and across California – have stood together in solidarity to protest inhumane conditions and broken policies they’ve been subjected to for decades. This case has always been about the constitutional violations suffered by all prisoners at the SHU, so it is only appropriate that it proceed as a class action.”

Jun 03

Class Segregation and the Housing Market

By Lawrence Davidson, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

There are many forms of discrimination, but one that Americans seem to have a high tolerance for is that based on class. Class discrimination is a natural outcome of capitalist ideology. That ideology, in turn, has been assimilated into American culture to the point that even the poor accept it on the assumption that they or their children might someday become rich.

Thus, unlike race and sex discrimination, that based on class has gone largely underregulated. Eventually the result is a number of embarrassing instances of abuse that become hard to ignore. That is what has happened in New York City’s housing market, as testified to by an expose on the front page of last Sunday’s (18 May 2014) New York Times real estate section.

There is a troubling case in Michigan where Alan Barron, a public school teacher at Monroe Middle School, has been suspended for teaching an eighth grade class on racial segregation and discrimination that included a video discussing how white entertainers would once use black face paint. The lesson by Barron, 59, also included discussions of Jim Crow. While the notion of academic freedom is different in elementary and middle schools than on the graduate level, it is still troubling to see such a suspension reportedly based on the simple depiction and discussion of such forms of discrimination. There is no indication that Barron was doing anything more than showing the practices, which are still commonly referenced in books and even contemporary politics. Indeed, we continue to see cases involving black face arise and this lesson gave students background understandings of such controversies. (He has now been reinstated).

Barron is set to retire this year after 36 years in the district. Parents and students objected that the lesson was interesting and accurate. However an Administrator who sat in on Barron’s class said that it was offensive.

Jun 03

When American Mainstream Media Is Amiss From Guantanamo

By Palina Prasasouk, SpeakOut | Report

On the weekend of March 21, 2014, members of Witness Against Torture (WAT) gathered in Baltimore, Maryland for a strategic planning meeting. One of the ideas that came from the meeting was the upcoming one year anniversary of President Obama’s National Defense Speech on May 23, 2014, in which he renewed his promise to close Guantanamo Bay Prison. Last year's promise came about after pressure exerted on Obama to commit to action after the men still held, embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike. He said:

"Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from Gitmo...But once we commit to a process of closing Gitmo, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law...Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are -- being held on a hunger strike...Is that who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that."