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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.

Jul 11

A Teenager Named Rachel Jeantel

By Ife Johari, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

By now the world knows the name of the young woman who was the last person to speak to Trayvon Martin: Rachel Jeantel. Rachel has been thrown head on into the public eye in a way that NONE of us would ever want for ourselves. Imagine what it must be like: a high school student talking on the phone to one of your friends like you would normally do...then all of a sudden your friend is dead and your world is turned into a legal whirlwind! Watching her tell the story of the last time she spoke to her friend Trayvon was painful. Watching defense attorney Don West questioning her, often times it was easy to forget that Zimmerman is the one who is on trial and not Ms. Jeantel. Rachel was judged very harshly by the public as people generally have a way of being overly critical, judgmental and just plain mean. Judging Rachel as if she should have been born ready to testify in court and to play any part in this legal system who is in no way on her side. What I saw was a young woman who knew the defense team was against her and out to discredit her, she knew that Don West had a particular impatience and dislike for her. Many people highlighted her behavior and her dislike and impatience for Don West but that feeling was definitely not one sided. She knew it, she felt it and she wasn't afraid to show it to the world with her famous response—"that's real retarded, sir". She was standing up for herself and I was proud of her for doing so.

Jul 11

You Can’t Hide From These Prying Eyes

By Walter Brasch, Wanderings | Op-Ed

The government's knowledge of the lives of individuals is little more than the equivalent to a children's coloring book compared to the library that private companies have on everyone.

Doubt that? Just open your mail any day; chances are good you'll have more junk mail—the corporations prefer to call it "direct mail"—than anything else. Check your email; if you're not being spammed hourly, you are probably one of the few people in the U.S. who is living in an underground bomb shelter with no access to the outside world.

And don't complain. You caused this.

Last week in the Trayvon Martin trial one of the more explosive moments came when Rachel Jeantel uttered the words "Creepy Ass Cracka" (translation...Cracker) in her account of Trayvon's description of his soon-to-be murderer. When Rachel recounted this epithet, the courtroom went dead silent while the social media channels exploded with chatter. Pundits, both on and offline, grabbed a hold of this moment and rode it until the proverbial wheels fell off, most failing to see the significance of this statement and even fewer exploring the historical accuracy of Trayvon's haunting description.

It would be a mistake for those of us who are engaged in social justice movements to allow the argument to be merely reduced to nigger vs. cracker. Indeed, Don Lemon of CNN did a brief informal poll where he asked both Blacks and Whites on the streets of New York about which term was more offensive. Not surprisingly, all who were asked which term they felt was more offensive universally responded that it was the "n-word."

Over one hundred professional economists have signed on to a petition in support of H.R. 1346, the "Catching Up to 1968 Act of 2013." The act, sponsored by Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida, would raise the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 to $10.50 per hour, the approximate level it would have been if the 1968 minimum wage had kept up with inflation. The act also indexes the minimum wage to inflation, ensuring that the real value of the minimum wage would no longer deplete in the way that it has over the past decades.

The petition, signed by economists from dozens of universities and research institutes, explains how a minimum wage employee working full time at the current rate earns $15,080 a year -- 19 percent below the poverty line for a family of three. Raising the minimum wage to $10.50 would "deliver much needed living standard improvements to 45 million U.S. workers and their families."

A historic civil rights case can move ahead after Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge Marvin R. Stempien ruled June 27 the children of Highland Park have a statutory and constitutional right to a basic education. He ruled further that the state and Emergency Manager are not immune from lawsuits when a child's constitutional right to a basic education is at stake.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed suit July 2012 on behalf of eight students in the Highland Park School District. According to the ACLU complaint, the HP school district ranks among the lowest performing school districts in the state.

The ACLU suit sought immediate implementation of the state law which mandates special remedial assistance shall be provided every regular student who does not show proficiency on the 4th and 7thgrade reading portion of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP). The law says the special assistance should bring the student up to grade level within 12 months. Inability to read means inability to learn the subject matter in other classes as well, the ACLU argued.

It is time to fight. Educators in higher education and K-12 must mobilize. Before they can do this however, they must understand the situation. Education is under attack, this is no secret. The general public and educators themselves are bombarded with information about how K-12 education and higher education is in a time of crisis [1]. But there is no crisis. The "crisis" has been manufactured in an effort to discredit public education and restructure it as a market good [2]. This is the "shock doctrine" of capitalism [3]. Capitalism is an economic system based on greed and accumulation [4]. In order to perpetuate itself, capitalism and the capitalists must find newer and more destructive methods to make a profit [5]. Crisis, whether real or manufactured offers a great opportunity to accomplish this task. Natural disasters, armed conflict and tragedies are exploited and then milked for their ability to bring in profits. Klein argues the second Iraq war of 2003 is a perfect example of the shock doctrine of capitalism [6].

In the Public Interest (ITPI), a comprehensive resource center on outsourcing and responsible contracting, today released the Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda, a locally focused plan to reclaim taxpayer control of privatized public services and infrastructure that have undercut transparency, accountability, shared prosperity and competition.
The Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda, which includes proposals aimed at preventing these giveaways and restoring local control to taxpayers, can be found at www.inthepublicinterest.org.

"The Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda will help put taxpayers fully in control of our public services and infrastructure. State and local lawmakers who champion these proposals will stand on the side of taxpayers, and plain common sense," said Donald Cohen, Chair of ITPI.

In proposing a toast to a group of dignitaries, Stephen Decatur, a United States naval officer who led raids against the Barbary Coast corsairs in North Africa, said, “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she be always in the right…” He then declared: “…but our country, right or wrong.” Almost 150 years later, the U.S. Third Army found out just how intoxicating ultra-nationalism can be when it liberated the concentration camp at Buchenwald. Over the main entrance to the camp, a place where medical experiments were done on inmates and worked and tortured to death, the Nazis had written: “My Country, Right or Wrong.”

The thirteen English colonies, which gained independence and formed a loose confederation of states, lost their freedoms to unrestrained nationalism. Even though the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation promoted self-determination and autonomy, the U.S. Constitution crushed such free-thinking and regional-political-economic independence. Instead of one branch of Government with limited powers, a Legislative consisting of elected representatives, the U.S. Constitution imposed three branches: a Legislative, Executive and Judicial. It would only be a matter of time before an activist Executive and Judiciary would usurp the increased powers of the Legislature.

On the last Sunday of May, I was on the campus of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. I stood in the back of a crowd of a few thousand, one composed largely of graduating seniors, and family and friends there to support them. We were all listening to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) deliver the commencement address. As a member of the faculty, I could have been up on the stage positioned in a seat behind the senator, but, as I typically do for the event, instead opted to stand in the back—not least because I don't like sitting under a hot sun in a heavy robe.

Gillibrand's speech included reflections on her entry into what she called grassroots politics—Hillary Clinton's multi-million-dollar U.S. senate campaign in 2000—as well as platitudinous exhortations that the graduates challenge themselves and assertions that no goals are too big to achieve. While toward the end, she spoke briefly of the need to fight poverty in the United States and raise the country's minimum wage, and voiced strong support for women's and LGBT rights, there was little in the speech to which one could object—at least in the context of the politically liberal ethos that prevails at Vassar.

To use the word Trayvon Martin’s female friend said he called the man who would take his life, there’s something downright “creepy” about this George Zimmerman trial.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a trial where the police officers involved in the investigation appear to side with the defendant. The lead investigator “understood” Zimmerman’s inconsistencies: Trayvon jumps from a bush to attack him even though there’re no bushes in that complex. Zimmerman didn’t follow Trayvon; he was merely walking in the same direction, this after a dispatcher told him to keep his funky ass in his truck.  The prosecutor asks the cop who first interviewed Zimmerman whether the defendant gave any indication that he hated Trayvon. No, she said. Hey, Zimmy’s a standup guy, the officers more than intimated and often. He was polite, religious. They certainly believed his story. They were ostensibly witnesses for the prosecution but were actually character witnesses for Zimmerman.