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 25

Our Misguided Faith in Middle Ground

By Sean Smith, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

On March 1, Congress failed to avert the sequestration cliff. Drastic cuts to health care, infrastructure, environmental protection, education are occurring. Why? An examination of the cause of this failure threatens to undermine one of America's strongest held beliefs. It's a faith that starting political debate from middle ground will produce the best policy. Our confidence in starting from the "middle" appears rooted in a collective understanding of the nation's founding.

On September 15, 1787, the founding fathers completed the constitution convention and submitted a draft constitution for state ratification. After four months of effort, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and 52 others produced a document that has guided our nation for nearly 225 years. These men, conventional wisdom holds, were divinely inspired with a spirit collaboration and cooperation. They are nearly gods.

Today, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, S. 619, which will provide federal judges more discretion in sentencing all cases by allowing them to sentence below the mandatory minimum, if appropriate.

The proposed bill would provide greater flexibility in federal sentencing, and judges would no longer be handcuffed to giving out federal mandatory minimum sentences. The existing "safety valve" mechanism only applies in drug cases, but just under one fourth of drug law offenders have benefitted from it. The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 would widen the existing safety valve application to all offenses.

Mar 25

Teach the Children War

By David Swanson, War Is a Crime | Op-Ed

The National Museum of American History, and a billionaire who has funded a new exhibit there, would like you to know that we're going to need more wars if we want to have freedom. Never mind that we seem to lose so many freedoms whenever we have wars. Never mind that so many nations have created more freedoms than we enjoy and done so without wars. In our case, war is the price of freedom. Hence the new exhibit: "The Price of Freedom: Americans at War."

The exhibit opens with these words: "Americans have gone to war to win their independence, expand their national boundaries, define their freedoms, and defend their interests around the globe." Those foolish, foolish Canadians: why, oh, why did they win their independence without a war? Think of all the people they might have killed! The exhibit is surprisingly, if minimally, honest about imperialism, at least in the early wars. The aim of conquering Canada is included, along with bogus excuses, as one of the motivations for the War of 1812.

President Obama's recent closed-door sessions with Republican congressmen to reach a "grand bargain" has roused suspiciously little attention in the mainstream media. What scant reporting has occurred presents the following narrative: President Obama is a "middle ground" politician attempting to breach political divides with erstwhile Republican opponents. In reality these meetings are not between political opposites, but kindred spirits; perfectly matched ideologies that differ only in implementation, and only by degrees.

Here's a summary of the meetings by the Conservative Economist magazine :

Today, less than a week after Maryland's legislature passed Governor O'Malley's bill to abolish the state's death penalty, Kirk Bloodsworth, exonerated death row prisoner, current advocacy director of Witness to Innocence, and former Delaware waterman, addressed the Delaware senate's executive committee to announce his support of Senate Bill 19 with the following statement:

Distinguished members of the committee, I am Kirk Bloodworth. I am here to urge you to repeal the death penalty in Delaware for one simple reason: human beings are not perfect. No one knows this better than me, an honorably discharged Marine, who served my country as a Military Policeman (MP). I had no criminal record and found myself on Maryland's death row for a crime I did not commit.

Last night, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), without addressing the central First Amendment question in the case. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) brought the case on behalf of five long-time animal rights activists who allege that the 2006 law violates their right to free speech. The judge ruled that the men and women suing the government did not have standing to bring the case and therefor the case could not go forward. The judge's ruling was based on a narrow interpretation of the AETA as criminalizing only property destruction and threats, despite the law's broad prohibition on causing an animal enterprise any loss of property, which is generally understood to include the loss of profit. Attorneys say they will appeal the dismissal.

Mar 22

Bury CISPA for Good

By Josh Levy, freepress | Report

This week Internet advocacy groups — including the Free Press Action Fund — are uniting to protest CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act.

As we wrote last month when the bill was introduced, this is actually CISPA's second time around (it stalled last year in Congress). The "new" CISPA — we call it the zombie bill — is actually identical to the old CISPA. It would protect companies like Facebook and Microsoft from legal liability when they hand over your sensitive online data to the federal government, without any regard for your privacy.

Mar 22

Here's Why I'm Headed to Denver

By Eli Pariser, freepress | Press Release

There are just a few slots left for the National Conference for Media Reform. (You can get registered here.)

Here's why I'm going, along with thousands of other activists, media makers, techies and journalists:

Back in 2001, I created a website calling for a multilateral approach to fighting terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. That site merged with and a few years later I became MoveOn's executive director. At MoveOn, we used the Internet to help millions of people become online and offline activists.

While the two major parties plot strategy for the next battle in the federal debt-reduction war, another war rages among economists over the question, "Is debt really the federal government's biggest problem?" Some insist that unless Washington cuts spending substantially to reduce the debt quickly, we are headed for disaster. Others insist with equal fervor that growth is the number one priority: Aggressive pro-growth policies will reduce the debt in the long run with far less pain.

If the pro-growth economists could gain public support they would give liberal Democrats a powerful weapon to resist the Republican's budget-slashing ax. But the pro-growth faction makes little headway in the public arena because the political wind is blowing so strongly against it. Why should the wind blow that way?

The banks use something called MERS in order to destroy local land records, avoid taxes, and foreclose on our homes. The truth is slowly coming out about it and people are fighting back.