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.

Feb 21

On "Lincoln" and Lincoln

By Paul Buhle, The Progressive | Op-Ed

"Lincoln" the movie raises key questions: Who was our sixteenth president, after all? And how best to represent him?

"Lincoln" has more talking than action, and some audience members have admitted slipping off into dreamland until roused by heated rhetoric or, perhaps, some swelling music.

Complaints about historical inaccuracies and controversies swirling around reception of the film--heightened by charges of elitism, even racism, given the paucity of slaves and free blacks—seem to push Lincoln himself once more into the background. Daniel Day-Lewis brings him forward, of course, but with a familiar air of mystery.

It barely made the news--like this week's Delaware courthouse shooting that left three dead. But last week the New York Times reported that Alice Boland threatened administrators at Ashley Hall, a girls' school in South Carolina with a gun she bought legally. Boland was charged in 2005 with threatening to assassinate President George W. Bush but passed her background check with flying colors. What?

Deranged gunmen who pass background checks are not hard to find. Jared Loughner (Tucson), James Holmes (Aurora) Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech) and Stephen Phillip Kazmierczak (Northern Illinois University) all sailed through their background checks.

In the halls of Congress and confines of the Oval Office, the perception is that the U.S. is at war with an enemy called al-Qaeda. Is this actually the case or is the claim an exaggerated piece of propaganda that has conveniently captured the minds of leaders whose abuse of power has become institutionalized?

In modern history "war" most often describes a condition of armed conflict between two or more states. War is also a condition that has a discernible beginning and a definite end. Your state officially declares war, you take territory, destroy the other state's army, its government raises a white flag, signs a cease fire or, preferably, a peace treaty, and that's that.

Feb 21

Innocent Exhumed

By William Manson, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

As the 10th anniversary of the shocking invasion of Iraq approaches, the haunting image of a little boy still sometimes appears in my mind. Several years ago, his father—an Iraqi man of grave composure, perhaps beyond grief--accompanied the child in an appearance on the "Democracy Now" TV program. The boy, perhaps four years old, sat on his father's knee, fidgeting and anxious—perhaps because his arms had been blown off and prostheses filled the sockets where his eyes used to be.

Try to visualize, if you can, many such children--their curious, hopeful world crushed and trampled in an instant when U. S. soldiers and bomber pilots "just following orders" willingly imposed the tortures of hell upon them. Can you picture in your mind, say, ten or 20 or 200 or 2000 or 20,000 or 100,000 Iraqi children—killed or burned or dismembered?

In his State of the City speech today, Mayor Bloomberg announced a new police policy: those arrested for marijuana in New York City will no longer have to spend a night in jail.

The Mayor said:

"But we know that there's more we can do to keep New Yorkers, particularly young men, from ending up with a criminal record. Commissioner Kelly and I support Governor Cuomo's proposal to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a violation, rather than a misdemeanor and we'll work to help him pass it this year. But we won't wait for that to happen.

Ten years ago, millions of people around the world said "no" to war on February 15, 2003. Now, we say "yes" to peace; "yes" to demilitarizing, to having decent lives, including economic lives, determined by democratic principles.

The invasion of Iraq still began after the 2003 protests, but the violence wreaked by Bush was more limited than the U.S. government inflicted on Vietnam a generation earlier. Our vigilance was part of the reason for that. Had we acted sooner, we might have been able to avert the disastrous invasion. The lesson is we need more global protest and solidarity, not less. Indeed, had we continued vigorously protesting, we might not have seen the years since 2003 show a lack of accountability for the war makers, even as conscientious whilstleblowers are prosecuted.

Feb 20

Review of: The Unlikely Secret Agent

By Eleanor J Bader, SpeakOut | Book Review

It's a cliché that people don't know how strong they are until they're in a bind, but it's also true, and Ronnie Kasrils' loving tribute to his deceased wife, white anti-apartheid freedom fighter Eleanor Kasrils [1936-2009], proves the point.

Eleanor was the daughter of liberal Scots who immigrated to South Africa shortly after her birth. They reared her to love books and intellectual banter but were not themselves activists.

This was not enough for Eleanor and as she came of age she sought to become a participant in political life. After meeting Ronnie Kasrils—he was a founding member of Umkhonto we Sizwe [Spear of the Nation, or MK], the military wing of the African National Congress—she became increasingly involved.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) attributes staggering growth in the federal prison population over the last 30 years in part to failed sentencing and correctional policies. The ACLU, a longtime advocate for significantly decreasing the federal prison population, supports some of the report's recommendations, but not all—including transferring prisoners to private prisons, which are not subject to public scrutiny and accountability. The ACLU released a report in 2011 on the successful efforts of several states to reduce their prison populations and reform our country's broken criminal justice system.

"States are truly leading the charge on this and leaving the federal government behind," said Vanita Gupta, ACLU Deputy Legal Director. "While states are making smart reforms to their own ineffective and costly criminal justice systems, the federal criminal justice system is more bloated than ever. If we are going to safely end our addiction to incarceration, the feds should draw inspiration from the states and push for data-driven criminal justice policies that will focus on public safety and reduce the number of people behind bars."

The words in President Obama’s “State of the Union” speech were often lofty, spinning through the air with the greatest of ease and emitting dog whistles as they flew.

Let’s decode the president’s smooth oratory in the realms of climate change, war and civil liberties.

“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.”

We’ve done so little to combat climate change -- we must do more.

Dennis Trainor Jr. sits down with Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) to discuss money in politics, corporate personhood, overturning citizens united and amending the constitution.