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.

In George Orwell's "1984" novel, which deals with the rise of an oppressive national security state, a character exclaims: "Always yell with the crowd, that's what I say. It's the only way to be safe." In America, for the safety and intimacy of mob rule, how easy it is to trade in the abilities to reason critically and ask questions about Bowe Bergdahl.

How simplistic it is to also exchange Berghdal's "due process" for a guilty verdict, accusing him of deserting. But now that political leaders, media pundits, and citizens have yelled he be marched in front of a firing squad or sentenced to life imprisonment, below are thirteen other things you need to know about him and the POW exchange.

Washington, DC - Public Citizen and Common Cause today sent letters urging congressional and gubernatorial candidates across the country to take a "People's Pledge" to reject outside spending by non-party groups in their political races.

The pledge is modeled after a similar agreement between then-U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and then-candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in the 2012 Massachusetts U.S. Senate race. The goals are to reduce the negative and often anonymous attack advertisements by groups not affiliated with the candidate, curb the staggering totals of money being poured into elections and to give people back a voice in our elections.

Why are so many Americans woefully ignorant of their nation's history? That perennial question is raised yet again by Timothy Egan in his latest column on the New York Times website.

To prove that the problem is real, Egan cites two pieces of evidence. The first one surely is cause for concern: "a 2010 report that only 12 percent of students in their last year of high school had a firm grasp of our nation's history" (though historians will surely wish that Egan had added a link to the report, so we could track down the source).

General Welsh,

Sir, I write you this day on behalf of the over 37,500 sailor, soldier, marine, airmen, coast guard, service academy, ROTC, OTS/OCS cadet/midshipmen, national guard, reservist and veteran clients of the civil rights organization I lead, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).Approximately 96% of our MRFF clients identify themselves as practicing, non-fundamentalist Protestants or Roman Catholics. 

This number of those afflicted, or having been afflicted, with fundamentalist Christian religious persecution emanating from their military superiors includes almost 15,000 active duty and veteran members of the United States Air Force as well as more than two dozen current senior ranking military and civilian Pentagon officials. MRFF speaks on their behalf because they fear retribution if they try to speak for themselves. I beg you to hear their gravely concerned voices within the words of this letter, sir.

After graduating from the University of Kuwait in 2000, al-Awda became a teacher. Along with other religious Kuwaitis, al-Awda spent his summer vacations in 2000 and 2001 in Pakistan, teaching and helping to distribute charitable donations he had collected at home to villagers near the Afghan border. Just after 9/11, al-Awda called his family to say that he planned to spend a few weeks working with Afghani refugees. U.S. planes began bombing in Afghanistan and a new war began. Al-Awda along with thousands of other Arab volunteers, fled Afghanistan for the Pakistani border. He said that in Kandahar the Taliban representative “told me that was a dangerous place because it was the capital for the Taliban”, and had advised him to go to Logar, in the east of the country, where he had stayed with a family for a month, and left his passport and belongings for safekeeping. Al-Awda fled to the Afghan-Pakistani border and placed himself in the custody of the Pakistani army with the request that they transfer him to the Kuwait Embassy. Instead, he was transferred to U.S. custody and transferred to Guantánamo in late February 2002.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to consider a Constitutional Amendment to address the issue of unlimited campaign spending by corporations, wealthy donors and other special interests, the FACT (Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency) Coalition is calling attention to the troubling use of anonymous shell companies in this area.

The Judiciary Committee is holding hearings in the wake of two recent Supreme Court decisions, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission and Citizens United, both of which have unleashed a torrent of big money into the elections process. However, both of these cases involved companies with identifiable owners.

Washington, DC – In the Public Interest (ITPI), a comprehensive resource center on outsourcing and responsible contracting, today released a new report titled "Race to the Bottom: How Outsourcing Public Services Rewards Corporations and Punishes the Middle Class." The report was released in a telebriefing this afternoon. Jared Bernstein, Former Chief Economic Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, joined outsourcing experts on the call to discuss the report, along with privatization experts and a public service worker who lost her job to privatization.
The report includes case studies from across the country in which the false promises of privatization have triggered an “alarming race to the bottom,” as far-away corporate executives benefit from lucrative government contracts while local communities suffer the consequences of lower quality services andmiddle class careers being replaced with poverty-level jobs – all inadvertently funded by local taxpayers...

Lawyers for Mohammad Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani, a Pakistani father of three held for over a decade without charge in Guantánamo Bay, have today sought a court order compelling the Obama administration to release videotapes of his treatment.

The requested tapes are thought to document a period of particularly 'gratuitous brutality', in which Mr Rabbani contracted a chest infection as a result of botched force-feeding procedures, leading him to repeatedly vomit blood and lose consciousness. They will also include footage of Mr Rabbani's 'Forcible Cell Extractions' ('FCE's), whereby a team in riot gear storms the cell of a prisoner who does not comply.

Today's motion comes a week after federal judge Gladys Kessler ordered the Obama administration to disclose 34 video tapes showing the force-feeding and FCE of Syrian hunger-striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab. Mr Dhiab's videos will be reviewed by Reprieve lawyers at the Secure Facility in Washington, D.C. after the court's handover deadline of June 13; today's motion seeks Mr Rabbani's videos for review at the same time.

Jun 04

Does War Have a Future?

By Lawrence S Wittner, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

National officials certainly assume that war has a future.  According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military expenditures totaled nearly $1.75 trillion in 2013.  Although, after accounting for inflation, this is a slight decrease over the preceding year, many countries increased their military spending significantly, including China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.  Indeed, 23 countries doubled their military spending between 2004 and 2013.  None, of course, came anywhere near to matching the military spending of the United States, which, at $640 billion, accounted for 37 percent of 2013’s global military expenditures.  Furthermore, all the nuclear weapons nations are currently “modernizing” their nuclear arsenals. 

Meanwhile, countries are not only preparing for wars, but are fighting them ¾ sometimes overtly (as in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan) and sometimes covertly (as in portions of Africa and the Middle East).

Nevertheless, there are some reasons why war might actually be on the way out. 

Jun 04

The VA Scandal: What Lessons Can We Draw?

By John Geyman, SpeakOut | News Analysis

At this early point, there is much that we don’t know as we await the IG’s full report, due in August. As the investigation expands to include clinical reviews of the consequences of these scheduling problems, we can also expect to learn examples of gross mismanagement and unethical behavior by some in charge. 

Naturally, we are now seeing a firestorm of protest, casting blame in all directions. Some are calling for immediate action to include referral of veterans to the private sector, which raises still other questions, such as reimbursement levels and availability of primary care physicians. Many called for the resignation of General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, which he did after so many years of meritorious service.  

As this crisis unfolds and we get more information on what has occurred, we need to sort out disinformation and demagoguery from the facts. We will hear “lessons” being advanced from various perspectives. We should also ask ourselves what lessons we cannot learn from this failure. There is a political risk that once resignations have occurred, we will go on as usual without considering more fundamental problems.