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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 19

The Empire Eats Its Own

By Philip A Farruggio, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

I just watched Alexander Payne's new film Nebraska, written by Bob Nelson and starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. I don't really know what the writer and director had in mind, but the story is interesting and to me a bit conflicting.

In this bleak portrait of America's 21st century serfs, Dern plays an alcoholic senior citizen who zones out more than in. He mistakenly believes that he has won a one million dollar magazine sweepstakes prize, and wants to go to Lincoln Nebraska to redeem it. 

His son, caught in a dead end retail sales clerk job, knowing (as does his mother and brother) that the million dollar prize award is bogus, decides to take off from work to drive his father. The son knows that his dad is incapable of going alone without putting himself in harm's way. 

In the face of mounting pressure from free trade agreements and transnational corporations, the people who produce, distribute, and consume food are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a just and equitable local food system. In response, small-scale farmers around the world are calling for food sovereignty, the right of communities to healthy, culturally appropriate, and sustainably produced food, and the freedom to determine their own food and agriculture systems.

Seeds are the first link in the food chain and give life to food sovereignty.  This is particularly evident in the Lower Lempa region of El Salvador, where since 2011, cooperatives have been producing certified corn seed for the government’s Family Agriculture Program, which distributes the seed along with fertilizer to 400,000 small-scale farmers throughout the country.The program helps small-scale farmers surmount economic and technical barriers to ensure their families have adequate and nutritious food.

May 19

TPP Would Deepen Income Divide

By Roger Bybee, TripleCrisis | Report

Those at the top have never done better,” President Obama ruefully acknowledged in his January 28 State of the Union speech. “But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened.”

Yet, moments later, Obama heartily endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which as drafted directly reflects the demands of “those at the top” and would, if passed, severely intensify the very inequality spotlighted by the president. The TPP would provide transnational corporations with easier access to cheap labor in Pacific Rim nations and new power to trump public-interest protections—on labor, food safety, drug prices, financial regulation, domestic procurement laws, and a host of others—established over the last century by democratic governments. The nations currently negotiating the TPP—which together comprise nearly 40%of the world economy—include the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Among them, Malaysia, Brunei, Mexico, Singapore, and Vietnam, are all notorious violators of labor rights The TPP’s labor provisions are far too weak to begin uplifting wages, conditions, and rights for workers in these nations.

May 19

New Revelations About Guantánamo "Suicides"

By The Center for Constitutional Rights, SpeakOut | Press Release
The new eyewitness account of what happened on the day three men died at Guantanamo adds to the growing body of information strongly undercutting the military’s narrative that the men committed suicide in their cells, and suggesting that the men were instead killed at a CIA-run black site at Guantánamo known as “Camp No” or “Penny Lane.” There has never been an impartial and effective investigation into the deaths, and the heavily-redacted version of the military investigation the government was compelled to release is riddled with inexplicable gaps and inconsistencies. One of those gaps was the document published today by Harper’s, which was apparently deliberately removed from the military’s public report.
 
The families’ attempt to seek the truth about these deaths was met with dismissal by the district and circuit courts in D.C., on the grounds that even if federal officials had been involved in the homicides, the courts were powerless to grant a remedy. The families have now turned to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which should accept their petition, investigate the violations of international law they have alleged, and uphold their right – and the public’s right – to know the truth about what happened.
May 19

The Russians are Coming

By William Blum, The Anti-Empire Report | Op-Ed

So, what do we have here? In Libya, in Syria, and elsewhere the United States has been on the same side as the al-Qaeda types. But not in Ukraine. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in Ukraine the United States is on the same side as the neo-Nazi types, who – taking time off from parading around with their swastika-like symbols and calling for the death of Jews, Russians and Communists – on May 2 burned down a trade-union building in Odessa, killing scores of people and sending hundreds to hospital; many of the victims were beaten or shot when they tried to flee the flames and smoke; ambulances were blocked from reaching the wounded. Try and find an American mainstream media entity that has made a serious attempt to capture the horror.

And how did this latest example of American foreign-policy exceptionalism come to be? One starting point that can be considered is what former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Robert Gates says in his recently published memoir: “When the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, [Defense Secretary Dick Cheney] wanted to see the dismemberment not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.” That can serve as an early marker for the new cold war while the corpse of the old one was still warm. Soon thereafter, NATO began to surround Russia with military bases, missile sites, and NATO members, while yearning for perhaps the most important part needed to complete the circle – Ukraine.

The US has released Yunus Rahmatullah, a Pakistani citizen held at Bagram Airbase for ten years without charge, trial, or access to a lawyer after his capture by British forces in Iraq and subsequent rendition to Afghanistan in 2004.

After years of government denials that the UK had been involved in any rendition operations, Mr Rahmatullah’s capture by British forces was finally revealed to Parliament in February 2009 by then-Secretary of State for Defence John Hutton. Despite admitting playing a part in Mr Rahmatullah’s illegal detention and transfer, the government persisted in refusing to assist him. As a result legal action was brought on Mr Rahmatullah’s behalf.

Just as the media in the Soviet Union were not allowed to talk about alternatives to one-party rule, the Washington Post apparently can't raise the issue of alternatives to patent supported drug research in the United States. This should be apparent to readers of an article on Sovaldi, a new drug to treat Hepatitis C.

The drug is currently subject to a government granted patent monopoly which allows its manufacturer, Gilead Science, to sell a year's dosage for $100,000. By contrast, a generic version sells in India for about 1 percent of this price. As the piece tells readers:

How private is the data on your cell phone? That was the big question before the Supreme Court last week in a pair of cases, Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie, with the potential for huge consequences for the future of information privacy.

The cases involve a longstanding exception to the Fourth Amendment that permits the police to search items on or near someone they have arrested, no warrant required. The rule was intended to keep officers safe and prevent the destruction of evidence. In recent years, however, the rule has given police free rein to seize and search the devices that store our calls, text messages, e-mails, and troves of other personal data such as our financial history, medical information, and daily movements.

A remarkable article appears in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The authors, experts in public health, are listed with all their academic credentials: William H. Wiist, DHSc, MPH, MS, Kathy Barker, PhD, Neil Arya, MD, Jon Rohde, MD, Martin Donohoe, MD, Shelley White, PhD, MPH, Pauline Lubens, MPH, Geraldine Gorman, RN, PhD, and Amy Hagopian, PhD.

The latest border changes in Ukraine are just another replay of too many past scenarios: the breakup of former Yugoslavia, East Timor, Chechnya, the Sudetenland Crisis of the 1930s, and the centuries-long back and forth of the Alsace and Lorraine between France and Germany. If we could base the resolution of these types of conflict on recognizing the five principles outlined here, we could greatly reduce the dangers of civil and interstate war.

Very few national borders are more than two hundred years old, and many are far more recent. Moreover, many current borders were arbitrarily imposed, dividing and separating ethnic and religious populations while combining them with others whose ways they did not understand and so creating conditions for long term conflict. The pressure to change borders will always be with us.