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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.

Dec 06

More Room to Die

By John Morlino, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Imagine that you are on Death Row, but innocent of any crime. Clinging to the hope that the legion of supporters working on your case will achieve a breakthrough before it's too late, you prepare yourself for an update on their campaign. Yet nothing in your recurring nightmares can hold a candle to the news you are about to hear.

The messenger -speaking on behalf of a cadre of marquee advocacy groups- informs you that your closet-sized living area will be expanded by one-square foot and the quality of your food will soon be improved. He also reports that, when the time comes, care will be taken to provide you with a less painful method of execution. When you press him about efforts to secure your release, he confesses that he and his peers have adopted a more pragmatic philosophy -assigning a growing percentage of their resources to programs designed to "alleviate unnecessary suffering," while simultaneously distancing themselves from the goal of saving lives.

Dear Representative Jackson Lee,

We, the undersigned representatives of not-for-profit criminal justice organizations, respectfully urge you to reintroduce the Private Prison Information Act (PPIA) during the 113th Congress. The bill, which would extend Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reporting obligations to private corrections companies that contract with federal agencies, is a critical first step in bringing transparency and accountability to the private prison industry.

We are deeply troubled by the secrecy with which the private corrections industry presently operates. Whereas the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state departments of corrections are subject to disclosure statutes under the Freedom of Information Act and state-level public records laws, private prison firms that contract with public agencies generally are not. This lack of public transparency is indefensible in light of the nearly $8 billion in federal contracts that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO)—the two largest private prisons firms—have been awarded since 2007.

Dec 06

Jordan Davis…and Us

By Lee R. Haven, Jack and Jill Politics | Op-Ed

I've read Baldwin a bit. When he died years ago, I was really saddened. He wrote some great scenes in his novels, but overall, I wasn't that crazy about them. And that play "Blues for..." whatever, I thought was a first or second draft. It's his non-fiction that shines. He remains the best political - hell, and literary - essayist this country has ever produced. I must have come across his searing question for whites - frankly, it was they for whom he wrote, trying to, well, save them - in one of his insightful essays. But it stuck more seeing him say it.

The question - if I may name-drop with a Great One— - brought to mind a question I've thought whites should answer if we are to have honest racial dialogue in this country (assuming, that is, we just have to talk). What do they see when they see us?

As the alleged source of many of the most vital WikiLeaks reports of the past several years, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning shed considerable light on how the United States has prosecuted the Iraq and Afghan wars. Other State Department cables reportedly leaked by Manning conveyed vital information about U.S. foreign policy.

Manning has, in other words, been connected to a lot of news: the video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed several civilians (two Reuters journalists died in the attack); the revelation that hundreds of U.S. attacks on civilians in Afghanistan had been recorded by the military-- but were unreported elsewhere; the cache of diplomatic cables that uncovered U.S. efforts to stymie legal investigations into torture, U.S. involvement in airstrikes in Yemen; and much more.

Last month, voters Washington State and Colorado decisively adopted ballot initiatives to legalize and regulate marijuana under state law for recreational use for people age 21 and older. These changes in state law reflect the increasing support among the American public for legalizing marijuana. The Washington and Colorado measures won with approximately 55 percent of the vote in each state.

All marijuana – medical or not – remains illegal under federal law. How the federal government will react to the public's increasing desire for change and the passage of these two measures is unknown. Based on a new CBS News poll, a large majority of Americans thinks the issue of marijuana should be left to the states, even among those people who think marijuana should remain illegal.

Starting tomorrow, people aged 21 and over will be able to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana in Washington State. On Election Day last month, 55 percent of voters in both Washington State and Colorado voted to make marijuana legal, making those states the first two to approve legally regulating marijuana like alcohol. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has until December of next year to implement rules for the regulated market.

There were more than 241,000 arrests for marijuana possession in Washington State over the past 25 years at a cost to the state of over $300,000,000. In 2010 alone there were 11,000 arrests for marijuana possession. A single arrest for possession costs from $1000 to $2000 and creates a permanent criminal record that can severely limit an individual's ability to obtain housing, schooling, employment, and credit. Tomorrow this waste of taxpayer dollars – and human potential – comes to an end.

Dec 05

CNN Heroes and Hero-ization

By David Cupples, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

It's that time of year again and CNN's annual Heroes show is coming up. Any reasonably compassionate viewer is likely to be thrilled by the accounts of noble souls performing selfless acts of loving kindness and social justice and will be glad these wonderful persons are being honored. It might not be disrespectful or inappropriate however to reflect upon Arundhati Roy's argument against the "NGO-ization" of social programs to promote the common good. [e.g., Democracy Now, 8/23/2004]

First, a brief digression to consider the origins in American culture of such social programs or as the founding fathers put it in their Preamble to the Constitution, programs to "promote the general welfare." This was 200­-some-odd years before "welfare" became the dirty word it is today. The venerated icons of the American way of life recognized that hardships that were nobody's fault were likely to arise from time to time.

Dec 05

"Fiscal Cliff" Solved. You’re Welcome

By Dennis Trainor Jr, Acronym TV | Op-Ed

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your electoral victory.

In defeating the grandfatherly Ken doll with the heart of a blood sucking vampire squid and his religiously radical running mate who claimed that a child conceived in the act of rape is a blessing from God, you might not want to gloat too much. To use a sports analogy, you did not so much win as the other guy lost. Even so, you never- in your entire life, have to run for public office again. What a weight off of your shoulders that must be!

Unmanned killer robot planes have convinced certain people that there is a better way of waging war.

But these drones have now made the United States as unpopular in places like Pakistan and Yemen as any nation has ever been in another. Making our nation hated does not make us safer. It endangers us.

These drone wars are not a reduction in war-making but an expansion. They're underway in nations the United States was not previously at war with. They're beginning to result in the addition of ground troops, the opposite result of the image we have in our heads of drones taking the place of ground troops.

Two "tipping points" related to climate change occurred in 2012. The earth's temperature increased more than the critical 2o Celsius, and climate change science deniers became a discredited minority of fossil fuel advocates. The eventual threat to life on earth by climate change is recognized, but the path to the end and the time involved is still at issue. The magnitude and projected consequences of climate change allow it to maintain possession of center stage, but there are other deadly players lurking in the wings that also threaten the life forms on the planet. There is every chance one may become the shortest path.

Here is my argument for the shortest path to the destruction of life.