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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.

Mar 06

Suspicion Surrounds Salvadoran Presidential Election Run-Off

By Evelyn Galindo-Doucette, SpeakOut | News Analysis

There is a dense fog of suspicion surrounding the final round of El Salvador's presidential elections on March 9th. There have been social media reports of bankers and business owners forcing employees to vote for the right wing ARENA party and stories of gang members bullying communities into voting for the left.

In February, President Mauricio Funes was publically accused of drunk driving and crashing a Ferrari worth over two hundred thousand dollars in the early hours of the night in San Salvador. While the President denies involvement in the crash, many suspect that his role in the accident was covered up. The President has argued that the Ferrari story was fabricated by ARENA supporters and has threated to file a claim of defamation against his accusers.

In the early days of the Syrian uprising-turned civil war three years ago, the writing on the wall of it becoming an intricate regional and international conflict was there for all to see. Palestinians in Syria were likely to find themselves a pawn in a dirty war, but few could have predicted the magnitude of the crisis, and perhaps, few cared.

Despite their many differences, there are two common denominators that unite all the parties involved in the Syrian conflict. One is that they are all contributing, directly or otherwise, to the killing of Syrians with unmitigated impunity, savageness even. And, two, in the same breath, they all pose as defenders of the Syrian people. It is not a puzzle, but the nature of dirty conflicts.

In a vote today of 10-1, the D.C. Council approved legislation that would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in the nation's capital and treat possession as a civil offense. The legislation goes next to District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray who has expressed support for decriminalization. However, the legislation will not become law until Congress has completed a legislative review that may stretch into the summer months and is required under federal law. This legislation is viewed by both council members and advocates as a model for other jurisdictions looking to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

"For far too long, people of color have been disproportionately and unfairly arrested and marginalized for marijuana possession in the District of Columbia," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "D.C. Councilmembers took the first critical step today toward ending the selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition policies that have perpetuated racial disparities in the criminal justice system for decades."

Mar 05

The Present Situation in Ukraine

By Boyce Brown, SpeakOut | News Analysis

The institutional and political inertia accorded the "Washington rules" of international geopolitics may be causing the West to severely misconstrue the depth of Russian interests in the Ukraine.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the "West" has continually tried to project its influence into the former Warsaw Pact countries and even into many of the former constituent republics of the USSR. Sometimes it has succeeded. Examples include many of the above-mentioned countries membership either in NATO, the EU, or both. One could also consider the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine of 2004-2005 to be a success from this perspective. Sometimes attempts to Project influence have failed miserably, as in the 2008 South Ossetia War, when Georgia's (Western-goaded) military provocation was summarily crushed.

Mar 05

Time For UN to Open Up Dialogue on Drug Policy Reform

By Staff, Transnational Institute and the Global Drug Policy Observatory | Press Release

As the UN International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) launches its annual report on Tuesday, 4 March, amidst an unprecedented crisis in the international drug control regime, leading drug policy reform experts have called on the INCB and related UN institutions to urgentlyopen up a constructive dialogue on international drug policy reform.

Approval of legally regulated cannabis markets in the states of Colorado and Washington and in Uruguay have caused breaches in the UN drug control regime and shakes the foundations of the prohibitionist“Vienna consensus” that has dominated international drug policy for several decades.

Mar 05

Netanyahu's Games

By Dr James J Zogby, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never tires of inventing new hoops through which he insists Palestinians jump. As he acknowledged a few weeks back, it's all part of a cynicalgame that he plays in an effort to kill the chances for peace.

First, he insisted on the need to maintain Israeli control over the Jordan Valley. Next came his pledge that he would not "uproot a single Israeli" from West Bank settlements, so that in addition to forcing Palestinians to accept Israel's annexation of whatever West Bank settlements are deemed  "new realities", the Palestinians would also have to swallow the "right" of settlers to remain in their settlements after peace. Throw into this mix, Netanyahu's insistence that there be no Palestinian capitol in Jerusalem, and the object of his "game" becomes clear: set up demands and conditions so onerous and obnoxious that the Palestinians will have to say "no", thereby appearing to be the obstacle to peace.

I don’t often go to academic conferences. My general opinion is that at their best, sitting in a windowless room all day listening to people talk about their papers is mildly boring—even when the papers themselves are good. And it takes a lot to justify my spending a night away from my family.

Despite that, a little over a year ago I attended a conference at George Washington University on The Political Economy of Financial Regulation. I went partly because my school’s Insurance Law Center was one of the organizers, partly because there was a star-studded lineup (Staney Sporkin, Frank Partnoy, Michael Barr, Anat Admati, Robert Jenkins, Robert Frank, Joe Stiglitz (who ended up not showing), James Cox, and others, not to mention Simon), and partly because I have friends in family in DC whom I could see. It was one of the best conferences I’ve been to, both for the quality of the ideas and the relatively non-soporific nature of the proceedings.

A wide-ranging coalition of Bay Area activists will converge at Oscar Grant Plaza this Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 from roughly 6pm onward, to speak out against Oakland City Council's plan to approve Schneider Electric as the contractor for Phase II of construction of the proposed Oakland Police Department’s surveillance hub, the Domain Awareness Center (DAC). If Schneider Electric is approved, this would be the final vote before construction would continue on the DAC. Activists are braced for this possibility and are ready to launch a lawsuit against City Council to halt construction, based on civil liberties violations and noncompliance with the city’s own contracting policies, including its Nuclear Free Zone Ordinance.

Social geography is the study of how landscape, climate, and other features of a place shape the livelihoods, values, and cultural traditions of its inhabitants (and vice versa). Frenchman Elisée Reclus (1830 – 1905), a progenitor of the discipline, believed strongly in the rights and abilities of people to manage themselves in relation to their local bioregion, free from rule by a remote, centralized government. His approach to anarchy was unique in its emphasis on the environment – Reclus understood that a mindset that encourages one person or people’s domination over another must, in the race to profit from natural “resources”, also foster domination over nature. Like the social ecologists who have succeeded him, Reclus believed that solutions to ecological crises must involve restoring balance, equality, and a sense of interrelationship between humans and other humans, and between humans and the biosphere.

Mar 04

Quick Thoughts on the Oscars

By William J Astore, Contrary Perspective | Op-Ed

I love movies but I can’t say that I love Hollywood.  My wife and I sat through the interminable Academy Awards last night; we should have received an Oscar for patience.  What amazes me is the lack of thanks the winners express to movie-goers.  You know: the little people who shell out $12 or more a ticket to see roughly two hours of often mediocre entertainment.  Instead of thanking the fans, most Oscar winners celebrate themselves (with perhaps a nod toward their fellow nominees) while thanking their publicists, their agents, various power-brokers in the industry, and so on.