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.
Last week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the world’s most formidable big business lobby — quietly abandoned a trademark infringement lawsuit against a number of individuals connected to activist pranksters the Yes Men, including John and Jane Doe 1-20, in whose mysterious company I was presumably represented. It’s been a while since I’ve given any thought to the circumstances surrounding the four-year-old suit, and while the news came as a relief, it also made me a little nostalgic for a particularly madcap chapter in my colorful career. By the standards of my fancy sounding job, that year as “Director of Marketing and Outreach” for the release of the Yes Men’s latest documentary film, “The Yes Men Fix the World,” being sued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce felt par for the course.
Allow me to take you back to the fall of 2009, where from a small, crowded academic office-cum-film distribution headquarters, my official duties involved coordinating a marauding ragtag volunteer “Survivaball” army, helping to organize mini-riots at Whole Foods, and avoiding capture by the NYPD after a failed attempt to launch an amphibious assault on the U.N. (which led to the apprehension of one of my colleagues).
Not many issues are as polarizing as gun control in this country. Politics around regulation and deregulation have been intense for years and the fights have grown more vitriolic – and more expensive –more recently as we've seen a growth in disturbing mass murders. The public outcry for action was deafening after December's shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. And most of the country seemed to support background checks, if nothing else. A new study from Quinnipiac University showed 88% of gun-owning households and 91% of the general population supporting it. And a Pew surveyfrom January shows that 85% support background checks.
And yet it didn't pass in Congress. With such clear public support why With such clear public support why didn't lawmakers pass it? Well, the cynic in me suggests that we look at the amounts of money spent on lobbying the issue.
Annually for the past three years this writer has made leading edge predictions about the trajectory of the US and global economies for the 12-18 months to come. The last previous set of predictions appeared in the January 2012 issue of 'Z' magazine. Eighteen months later, it appears most have materialized. The following briefly summarizes those prior predictions, and makes further predictions for the next 18 months, through December 2014:
For the official visit of President Barack Obama to Berlin on June 18th & 19th, ca. 800 people protested against US policies in a lively demonstration through central Berlin. The main banner reads: "Against War, Repression and Racism!" The call for the demonstration was by a broad coalition of peace, civil rights, and solidarity movements and takes as its theme the red penalty card, used in many sports, indicating that a player has committed an offense so serious that she or he must immediately leave the game.
At the climax of the demonstration, the protesters made a human chain encircling the US Embassy, which is next to the Brandenburg Gate where Obama was to speak. Because of the high-security lockdown of central Berlin during Obama's visit on June 18th & 19th, this broad-based, legal demonstration to the US Embassy could only be scheduled prior to his visit. Other demonstrations took place throughout Berlin on June 18th & 19th.
I wrote, "Savannah's blacks are largely a poor lot, often more because of Savannah custom rather than of their own doing, and just about all black-owned clubs had begun reflecting the desolation that accompanies poverty."
This is how, however, the piece appeared recently in the guest commentary: "Savannah's blacks are largely a poor lot... and just about all black-owned clubs had begun reflecting the desolation that accompanies poverty."
I am appreciative the editor let me have my say in a tribute to a famous Savannah-based musician who died tragically. My last job in my hometown was as a writer and columnist for the paper, and I hadn't seen the musician, and successful businessman, since I moved to Atlanta in the nineties. This is what also must know about Savannah: There have been improvements, but race remains as thick as the legendary heat, and that the only difference is that you can usually avoid one during winter.
Remember some years back, when the lid was blown regarding the US' use of torture to gather information from "terrorists?" Many were - rightly - shocked and dismayed; people from virtually all over the world chided the US for its disgraceful disregard for ethical standards. The ACLU condemned the behavior, journalists from all walks of political life expressed their criticism, and so on and so forth. For a while, America's use of torture, or rather, "enhanced interrogation techniques," was met with heated vitriol, brought into the public arena for passionate debate. But something strange resulted from all of that: talking about it publicly, in a way, normalized it, and lowered our ethical standards. Today, the topic of torture for interrogation purposes is disapprovingly met with: "Well...that's what America does." And that's my concern with the recent surveillance scandal; that, in a sort of nefariously though "unwittingly tactful" way, by blowing this scandal wide open and bringing it into public discourse, sooner than later, spying on innocent civilians is just "what America does."
It certainly feels to me more peaceful and convivial in Germany and Holland, for example, than in the U.S. Aside from the oft-heard complaint of the U.S. as a crime-ridden and crazy place, here are three factors out of several offered in this article that contribute to significant cultural and physical-environment differences:
• The threat of physical violence posed by police and associated agencies that can instill fear without even making direct contact with civilians
• Job-insecurity and obsession about money for survival and self-image
• The car-oriented infrastructure that makes most streets potential death zones for pedestrians and bicyclists, not to mention creating ugly urban blight
Earlier this week I wrote an editorial proposing a 28th constitutional amendment to abolish war. The NSA scandal, I argue, is tied to the more pervasive problem of violent foreign (and domestic) policy, and we'll continue to see government abuses so long as war and inter-state military violence are the acceptable choices for conflict management. David Swanson, author of the brilliant history, "When the World Outlawed War," thoughtfully responded to my plea by urging us to recall and reignite the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, an existing international pact renouncing war signed and ratified by the US president and Senate.
I agree with Mr. Swanson that any efforts to end war should point to existing law, and we agree that abolishing war is possible and necessary. However, the Kellogg-Briand Pact is not without its limitations, and a fresh, people-driven constitutional amendment could both address those limitations and offer current, culturally relevant and legally dispositive reinforcement.
It is 1971 and the United States is mired in a losing war in Vietnam. Thousands of young American soldiers are coming back to the U.S. in coffins or physically and psychologically maimed. Scenes of war can be witnessed nightly on the evening news. In the midst of this mayhem the American military analyst Daniel Ellsberg gives the New York Times a copy of a classified analysis of the war entitled, "United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967" aka the "Pentagon Papers." The Nixon administration then sought to prevent the publication of this report through a court injunction. Ultimately the Supreme Court overturned the injunction in a 6-3 ruling that favored the public's right to know. The government also attempted to prosecute Ellsberg under the 1917 Espionage Act for releasing classified information to the public. That was thrown out of court because in making their case, government agents had gathered information through an illegal wiretap. Subsequently, the media widely covered the Pentagon Papers and its demoralizing description of how the U.S. was fighting the war. It can be argued that this reporting helped turn the tide of public opinion against the slaughter in Vietnam.
A 1950 Japanese film entitled Rashomon describes an incident in which four witnesses to a crime give wildly contradictory but equally plausible accounts of what happened.
In the on-going debate on nuclear weapons, observers looking at the status of nuclear arms give similarly conflicting opinions of what the facts mean, resulting in four paradoxes of the nuclear age.