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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.

May 26

Verizon Retail Workers Win Union Vote - First to Do So

By Bianca Cunningham and Zelig Stern, Labor Notes | Report

Wireless is where Verizon makes most of its profits. But for decades, Verizon has kept a wall between union workers in its landline division and non-union workers in its wireless division. That's how the corporation has maintained lower compensation and worse working conditions for wireless workers.

My co-workers and I have just taken the first step to tear down that wall.

After withstanding six weeks of intense union-busting, on May 14, retail sales reps and customer service reps at Verizon Wireless's six Brooklyn retail stores voted 39 to 19 to join the our 40,000 landline brothers and sisters—and 80 wireless techs who joined in 1989—in the Communications Workers (CWA).

This morning, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 303-121 to pass a heavily revised version of the USA FREEDOM Act. The bill, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, was modified in the House Judiciary Committee to remove some of the civil liberties protections in the original bill, but it retained a prohibition on the bulk collection of Americans' telephone records. The House Rules Committee then further modified the bill to reflect changes that the Obama administration and House leadership desired. The changes substantially weakened the bill's privacy protections and transparency provisions.

May 26

Remembering on Memorial Day

By John LaForge, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

"I am a pacifist. You, my fellow citizens ... are pacifists, too." ¾ Franklin D. Roosevelt, May 1940

Benjamin Franklin said, there never was a good war or a bad peace, but you'd never know it from Memorial Day in the United States.

The fact that the US government has lost every major war it initiated since World War Two ¾ Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq Again ¾ is not going to be reported by the news anchors. Instead someone with his finger on the button will invoke the glory of Good God by to bless the war dead. Even the grim oblivion of unknown soldiers lost will be presented by the president as somehow full of dignified solemnity, while their survivors look away through a veil of ambiguous loss and unassuaged grief forever.

In what kind of a country is money considered free-speech? In what kind of a country is a legal construct considered a person? It is definitely not a country to which one would apply the term "democracy."

It is stunning to consider where we have come along the spectrum from democracy to plutocracy. The ruling by the Supreme Court on April 2, 2014 (McCutcheon v FEC) was one of the most egregious blows to democracy that our country has ever seen.

Colombia has been at war for over 50 years. The internal armed conflict between the government and the Marxist guerrilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC after their Spanish acronym, originated in the aftermath of a bloody period of political violence during the 1950s known as "La Violencia," or "The Violence."

Peasant self-defense groups that had formed to resist the forcible privatization of lands by the Colombian army began to band together after the end of The Violence in 1959. In 1964, one such group drafted what is considered the founding document of the FARC, the "Agrarian Program of the Guerrillas," which laid out the FARC's agenda of radical land reform and its Bolivarian revolutionary ideology. In the following decades, the group's ranks swelled as the rebels became involved in the cocaine trade, as well as in extortion, kidnapping and robbery.

At least 183,000 people signed a petition seeking leniency for Occupy Wall Street member Cecily McMillan, who was convicted last week of assaulting a plainclothes police officer during a pub crawl pit stop at Wall Street's Zuccotti Park on St. Patrick's Day 2012. McMillan did not dispute accusations that she had elbowed Officer Grantley Bovell during the NYPD's eviction of protesters from the park on the six-month anniversary of what OWSers describe as the "original occupation;" her lawyers explained during her trial that what the police and prosecutors termed an assault was instead an instinctive response to Bovell's grabbing her breast from behind. (The sexualized crowd-dispersal tactics of the New York Police Department during the Occupy Wall Street protests have been well-documented and Bovell has his own personal history of violence – particularly while out of uniform but on the job). However, nowhere in the various media coverage of the trial, nor the communiqués from McMillan's supporters, was the right to self-defense from police violence indicated as an explanation for her actions. Rather than challenge the sociopolitical consensus and laws that create near total immunity for on-duty police officers during confrontations with civilians, McMillan and her defense team instead proclaimed her innocence, leaving her in the awkward position at sentencing of having to reframe the incident as "an accident" for which she was sorry. Within the context of a general population submissive to state power, and a local police brutality movement chilled by progressive political advancement, claims of innocence were perhaps necessary to solidify her support, signaling to observers that she was worthy of sympathy; but at what cost? By emphasizing her individual condition and privileging that above others involved in the criminal legal system, are we foreclosing a greater opportunity for a collective response to a systemic punishment problem?

Over the years, Tim Geithner has come in for a lot of well-deserved criticism: for putting banks before homeowners, for lobbying for Citigroup when it wanted to buy Wachovia, for denying even the possibility of taking over failed banks, and so on. The release of his book, whatever it's called, has revived these various debates. Geithner is certainly not the man I would want making crucial decisions for our country. But it's also important to remember that he was only an upper manager. The man who called the shots was his boss: Barack Obama.

That's the theme of Jesse Eisinger's column this week. I'm on Eisinger's email list, and he described the tendency to focus on Tim Geithner—while ignoring the role of the president—as "If only the Tsar knew what the Cossacks are doing!" I wasn't familiar with the Russian version, but I've always been fond of the seventeenth-century French version. In September 2009, for example, Simon and I wrote this about the financial reform debate:

An Executive* of a major shale gas development company has conceded what scientists have been saying for years: global shale gas development has the potential to wreak serious climate change havoc.

Best known for his company's hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") activity, Southwestern Energy Executive Vice President* Mark Boling admitted his industry has a methane problem on the May 19 episode of Showtime's "Years of Living Dangerously" in a segment titled, "Chasing Methane."

No institution has invited me to be the speaker at graduation, and none is ever likely to do so.

But I feel compelled to offer this speech to gradates. So in the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut - great American novelist who knew how to give a graduation speech—I'll start by telling you exactly what I want you to learn from this speech: Don't listen to graduation speakers.

Last semester, the husband of one of my students was deported to Mexico. To see that battle ensue during the school year was not pleasant. I accompanied her to see lawyers that might help, yet in the end, all said he had no chance. He was deported and despite this, this semester, she graduated with honors.

Also, the previous semester, Cynthia Diaz, another one of my students, waged a very public battle to bring her mom back home after seeing her mother deported from their house in Phoenix some three years ago. Her public battle, which included a 6-day fast this semester in front of the White House, resulted in her mom's return into the country - as a political challenge to the Obama administration – and then her completely unexpected release.