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.

Aug 12

The Gaza Saga Continues

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

Bombs stopped falling on Gaza for three days, allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to return to what had once been their homes and neighborhoods.

For many, this brief respite provided no relief since they emerged from their shelters only to find that the places they knew no longer existed. Homes in which they were born and raised, that held within their walls memories of the lives they lived, had been reduced to rubble. Not only had lives and hope been victims of this onslaught, memories were shattered, as well.

A mass trial in Egypt tomorrow (August 12) could see death sentences handed down to hundreds of prisoners, including an Irish teenager who was a juvenile at the time of his arrest.

Ibrahim Halawa, an Irish citizen, was 17 when he was arrested last August along with his three older sisters, now released, after being caught up in protests in Cairo in the turmoil that followed the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi. He has since been held in a series of adult prisons in the capital without charge or trial, in contravention of international law and the country’s own Child Laws.

Lady Justice, Justitia, depicted as a blindfolded statue since the 15th century, illustrates John Rawl’s conception of justice as requiring a veil of ignorance (A Theory of Justice, 1971).  Such a veil of ignorance means that, in order to be just, we must ignore the differences between people, such as their identity, power or weakness.  

To be just, in the following cases, we must not victimize the innocent, whether that person is a cherished child in one’s family or an unknown girl in Iraq, Gaza, or Israel.  To do otherwise, in cases of violent conflict, would not only be unjust, it would be terrorism.  If one accepts this principle, then the justifications of bombing “militants,” regardless of their use of human shields, or the inevitable civilian deaths as “collateral damage” are fallacious arguments, as explained below.

Village Building Convergence (VBC) activists and their supporters from Cittaslow Sebastopol, Transition, the Grange, Permaculture Skills Center, and other groups recently packed the City Council meeting of the small town of Sebastopol in semi-rural Sonoma County, Northern California. Testimony in support of VBC came from enthusiastic advocates who ranged in age from 3 to 70-years-old.

After an hour-long discussion at its August 5 regular meeting, the Council voted unanimously to permit the VBC to occur on public property from Sept. 12 to Sept. 21. Some local merchants have welcomed VBC to beautify their places. In addition to art and natural building “place-making” projects, there will be a series of community events and festivities hosted at various sites.

The Discovery Channel has been doing a yeoman's service in visually capturing day-to-day activities of dangerous animals and rare birds in forests untouched by human footfalls, animals living in depths of oceans and animals facing extinction. It has been winning laurels for reconstructing the life of tribals and the tribals living in dwellings built on trees, piercing into the areas unknown to the world and untouched by the sunny rays.

(By the way, we can set aside the criticism made by certain media that the channel is stage-managing such rare scenes in their studios and sets.)

However, the magnificence of such rare depictions of animals and tribals cannot camouflage the channel's failure to speak about animal rights and analyze the reasons for the miseries of the tribals, or the political factors behind their woes and about the tribal rights.

America was born with a musket in one hand and a spy glass in the other, and she has never let go of them. They are two addictive and consequential habits that if not broken will someday break America herself.

In the "Land of the Official ‘Habbits'" are the Oval Office with its Warrior and Spy Chief; his war and spy agencies; Congress with its two houses of ill repute; SCOTUS that never saw an American war it didn't like; and finally, the war and spy industries. The population of this land outnumbers that of small nations.

Aug 11

Foreign Policy in Blunderland

By DH Garrett, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

"'I quite agree with you,' said the Duchess; `and the moral of that is - Be what you would seem to be - or if you'd like it put more simply - Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.'"

-Alice in Wonderland

As a group, the undersigned organizations share a vision in which scholarly knowledge is a common good, a resource for the whole of humanity. This means more than just allowing the public access to research outputs, it means making research available in a way that allows its integration with the rest of human knowledge. It means making the resources arising from research and from wider public activities interoperable.

The Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers has recently released a set of model licenses for research articles. In their current formulation, these licenses would limit the use, reuse and exploitation of research. They would make it difficult, confusing or impossible to combine these research outputs with other public resources and sources of knowledge to the benefit of both science and society. There are many issues with these licenses, but the most important is that they are not compatible with any of the globally used Creative Commons licenses. For this reason, we call on the STM Association to withdraw them and commit to working within the Creative Commons framework.

Aug 11

Losing Inquiry in the Public Sphere

By John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Debates following the actions of Edward Snowden continue to spread globally. They range from applauding mass data release in the name of a healthy democracy to designating his activity as treasonous and possibly punishable by execution. Snowden joins the ranks of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange in our Age of WikiLeaks that turn such John Wayne moments of political defiance into ripe reassessments of the democratic project. For professors of the liberal arts, these developments also make for difficult discussions that can prompt cause for concern. What becomes readily apparent is that, in classrooms that function as open spaces of curiosity and debate, many students now voice their doubts regarding freedom of privacy and the right to inquiry in the public sphere.

Often, students are able to wrap their minds around the belabored, violent history of American democracy. Topics on slavery, women's rights, and civil rights are digestible, in part, because they are safely quarantined in the past. That was then. Americans fought; justice prevailed; society improved. But to bring up the modern day, to ask about today's American democracy, the status of our own "freedom," is to delve into murkier territory. Snowden, Assange, and Manning beget different reactions. Some see hyper-data collection as an invasion of privacy and thus WikiLeaks as part of the new checks and balances necessary for a healthy democracy. Others cry foul and charge that such breeches ultimately risk injury to American freedom and that thieves must be punished. Overwhelmingly, young people are suspect of both vast data mining and its release into the public domain. But more often than not, they are hesitant to find out what WikiLeaks and similar sites might reveal. They are fearful that merely to connect to such a site will earn the government's attention. “Don't they track you?” they often ask. “I don't want to go on a list,” they say.

The US media coverage of the ongoing conflict in Gaza, with its contentious debates and ideologically-fueled opposing narratives, provides a host of artful illustrations of all that’s wrong with political talk-shows airing on major TV networks in the US. One such example is a short YouTube video I have recently come across.

This excerpt from The Sean Hannity Show features a heated argument between the show’s host, the pro-Israeli Mr. Hannity and his guest, the pro-Palestinian Mr. Yousef Munayyer. Hannity’s question to Munayyer, which dominated the exchange, was “Is Hamas a terrorist organization?” Hannity’s insistence on receiving a straight yes-no answer and Munayyer’s refusal to reply in these terms led to insults (“Which part of it you can’t get through your thick head?”) and to an atmosphere of adversity, disrespect and contempt.