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.

A story came out a little while ago as wildfire season was flaring up in California. Apparently certain inmates at California's prisons are given the chance to "give back to their country" by fighting fires.

While this may make some kind of sense - why shouldn't prisoners be given something useful to do, rather than spending time in their jail cells? We know that California's prisons are overcrowded, and their population has grown by about 750% since the 1970s. In California, prisoner abuse is rampant, and so is the unjustified and excessive use of solitary confinement.The chance to escape captivity in this system would be welcome to many.

On September 5th, 1989 President George H.W. Bush gave a speech from the Oval Office that defined a generation. Declaring an escalation of the war on drugs he held up a bag of crack cocaine that he said undercover agents bought in the park across the street from the White House. It later turned out that federal agents lured someone to the park to sell crack just so the president could say it was bought from in front of the White House (the crack seller did not even know where the White House was and had to ask for directions). 

"President H.W. Bush's crack speech defined the irrational zero tolerance drug policies of the times that put ideology and politics above science and health," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Millions of Americans were incarcerated, hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, and hundreds of thousands of human beings allowed to die of AIDS – all in the name of a 'war on drugs' that did nothing to reduce drug abuse. But fortunately the country is at last coming to its senses and embracing alternatives to those failed policies."

Washington, DC -The UN General Assembly votes Tuesday on a convention that could enact a global bankruptcy process and stop predatory hedge funds. Bolivia proposed the resolution that if voted upon is expected to pass by a majority. The executive board officers of Jubilee USA sent United States UN Ambassador Samantha Power a letter urging her to support the resolution. Jubilee's 400 US faith communities are holding the Ambassador in prayer as she prepares to vote.

"One out of five people lives in extreme poverty and the International Monetary Fund argues the root of inequality is sovereign indebtedness. Much progress was won, and there is much more progress for us to win together," states the letter from Jubilee USA's leadership, a group of religious leaders and experts on global finance. "Unfortunately, much of our bipartisan progress won in previous debt relief initiatives is now threatened by predatory behavior and hold-out investors. In this moment we pray for your leadership again and invite you to protect what we've won and finish what we've started."

Wrapped in dishonesty, arrogance and paranoia, Ethiopia's ruling regime follows a nationwide policy of violent suppression and constitutional vandalism.

It was the 24th June – midsummer's day – in the adopted homeland of Andargachew Tsige, when he was detained by "Yemeni officials" (State heavies in suits) while transiting through Sana'a to Eritrea. The British citizen and leading Ethiopian political activist was quickly and quietly extradited to Addis Ababa where he was imprisoned on spurious charges of treason. He had been unfairly tried in absentia in 2009, when Amnesty report he was "sentenced to death for an alleged coup attempt. He was prosecuted in absentia again in 2012 on terrorism charges, alongside other prisoners of conscience, and sentenced to life imprisonment."

Washington, DC - In a record-breaking demonstration of support, more than one million comments have been submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) calling on the agency to take immediate steps to require publicly traded corporations to disclose their use of corporate resources for political purposes to their shareholders.

In a press conference outside the agency today, members of the Corporate Reform Coalition urged the agency to move swiftly on the rule in response to the overwhelming demand. A petition requesting this rulemaking was filed in 2011 by a bipartisan committee of leading law professors. The rulemaking was placed on the agency's agenda by former SEC Chair Mary Schapiro in 2013 but was removed by Chair Mary Jo White earlier this year, sparking outrage among investors and the public.

New York –Two letters signed by hundreds of organizations from around the world were delivered today to the Brazilian National Technical Biosafety Commission (CTNBio) calling on them to deny a pending request by the FuturaGene Corporation to commercially release genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees in Brazil. This occurred in the capital Brasilia during a CTNBio public hearing on the FuturaGene request. CTNBio is the Brazilian governmental institution charged with authorizing commercial release of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in that country.

The letters were delivered to CTNBio by representatives of Terra de Direitos, The Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), La Via Campesina Brazil, and the Small Farmers Movement (MPA) —social movements and organizations that represent hundreds of thousands of people in Brazil. They joined the effort to stop commercialization of GE trees due to their potentially serious negative impacts on the environment and biodiversity, local communities, and human and indigenous rights.

My whole life, save a few brief months in '88, has been overshadowed by the unipolar, belligerent United States and the growing tide of reactionary domestic politics that is part of such historical circumstances. It feels nice to begin to be able to breath, to speak and be heard, to read and recognize there are others, to know the tide is turning. For me then, the rise of a counter-hegemonic force in international politics is a relief. Latin America has become a kind of new Soviet Bloc, a counter-hegemony to the liberal capitalist empire. Allow me to explain without the exactitude of scientific certitude, but with a look towards history nonetheless.

As Andre Vltchek, Gerald Horne and Robert F. Williams, among others, have pointed out, a counter-hegemonic force in international politics increases the power of oppressed domestic political actors. The black and brown civil rights movements in the United States had fundamental backing in the international press and from competitor nation-states, because so many citizens denied basic human dignity, racism deep within the heart of the "land of the free" demonstrated a fundamental hypocrisy. The welfare state with its social programs and far more democratic usage of resources was a way to placate citizens who believed in certain aspects of social democratic and communist ideas of equality, ideas espoused by geopolitical and ideological competitors.

Tucson, AZ—Today, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and WildEarth Guardians (Guardians), represented by the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), notified the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Wildlife Services program of their intent to sue over the program's failure to ensure it is not harming rare ocelots, which are listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The potentially harmful effects of Wildlife Service's lethal wildlife management activities on the endangered ocelot trigger a requirement that the program consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The program failed to do so, violating the ESA.

In the rush to analyze the outcome of Israel’s 51-day war in Gaza, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, some may have neglected an important factor: this was not a war by traditional definitions of warfare, thus the conventional analyses of victory and defeat is simply not applicable.

That being the case, how can we explain Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s triumphant statement on 28 August, and the massive celebrations on the streets of Gaza regarding the resistance ‘victory’ over Israel? To be truly fathomed, they must be understood in context.

Today is the first day of school in Seattle. I have never been more excited and nervous for the first day because, not only do I start teaching, but my 5-year-old starts kindergarten! My son is so thrilled for his first day of school and our family feels so fortunate to have such a wonderful public school to send him to.

Unfortunately, the irreparably flawed No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has cast a shadow on what should be a joyous start to the year. As explained below, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan revoked the NCLB waiver for Washington state because our legislature would not tie teacher evaluations to test scores. Revoking the NCLB waiver then labeled nearly every school in the state a failure and mandated that districts notify parents that their child attends a failing school.