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.
Washington, D.C.- News that the Obama administration is "changing its relationship with the people of Cuba" is due to the leftward shift in Latin America that has increasingly isolated the United States politically in the region, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. The Obama administration announced the changes following Cuba's release of USAID contractor Alan Gross and an unnamed "intelligence asset," and the U.S. release of the three remaining members of the "Cuban Five" who were imprisoned for espionage after working to disrupt plots by Cuban exile extremists based in the U.S. Cuba is also reportedly releasing 53 other political prisoners.
"This historic shift is a direct result of the United States' increasing isolation in the region," Weisbrot said. "Relations between Latin America and the Obama administration have been the worst probably of any U.S. administration in decades. This will help, but new sanctions against Venezuela will also raise questions in the hemisphere about whether this is a change in direction or merely a giving up on a strategy that has failed for more than 50 years.
Spending Bill Allows Legalization of Marijuana Possession in Washington, D.C. to Move Forward, but Prevents Taxing and Regulating Marijuana like Alcohol
Momentum Builds Nationally to End the Failed War on Drugs
Washington, DC - The final “cromnibus” federal spending bill that Congress passed over the weekend contains historic language prohibiting the US Justice Department from spending any money to undermine state medical marijuana laws.
The spending bill also includes a bipartisan amendment that prohibits the DEA from blocking implementation of a federal law passed last year by Congress that allows hemp cultivation for academic and agricultural research purposes in states that allow it. It also contains an amendment allowing Washington, DC’s voter-approved initiative legalizing marijuana possession and home cultivation for personal use to move forward, but prohibits DC policymakers from using any local or federal 2015 funding to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol.
In February 2012, in Sanford, Florida, George Zimmerman killed unarmed black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder, but claimed he had acted in self-defense. Supporters of Zimmerman, including many self-identifying racists and hate groups, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on legal defense. The money worked. Zimmerman was acquitted.
The lawyer who helped Zimmerman get out of this charge was Mark O'Mara, a $400-per-hour criminal defense attorney. According to the Huffington Post, O'Mara "volunteered to represent Zimmerman at no charge just weeks after he was charged with the murder."
Washington DC - The developing world saw a record $991 billion leave their countries due to corrupt practices and corporate tax evasion in 2012, according to a new report by Global Financial Integrity (GFI). GFI refers to this massive non-taxed loss as illicit financial flows and reports developing countries lost $6.6 trillion between 2003 and 2012. Such losses are growing at 9.4% per year. The report shows links between illicit flows and global poverty: developing and emerging countries lose 11 times more money to illicit flows than they receive in official aid.
"The poorest countries in the world are losing more money than they receive in aid," noted Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA, a religious anti-poverty group. "If we take Global Financial Integrity's findings seriously, we can address extreme poverty in our lifetimes."
Democrats, liberals, and progressives (the DLP) will have to unite if they are to win the 2016 elections and those beyond. The United States needs to move in new directions rather than follow the Republican mission of restoring a golden past that never existed, and a unified DLP is the main route for the nation to recognize and act on the challenging realities emerging.
An important lesson from 2014 electoral defeats is that getting voters out is an insufficient means of winning an election, certainly not one that seeks to deal with the big changes occurring in the United States. Instead, to determine election outcomes, the DLP must attract a majority of the almost 40 percent of voters uncommitted to either party, a percentage that is larger than those committed to either of the two competing parties. The uncommitted will have to be won over to DLP perceptions and prescriptions, and given a realistic picture of the United States' emerging difficulties.
I first met Eric Holder during the Clinton years when he was serving as Deputy Attorney General. Back then, my community was deeply troubled by FBI harassment, the government's use of "secret evidence" to detain individuals, and profiling of Muslim or Arab-looking individuals at airports around the country.
Working with then Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Bill Lann Lee, the Department of Justice convened a series of meetings, some chaired by Attorney General Janet Reno, others by Holder, that provided us with the opportunity to address each of these concerns. Holder was responsive. Subjective airport profiling diminished, meetings were organized between FBI field offices and leaders of the Arab American community, and, after a case-by-case review, most of the 23 Arabs who had been held on "secret evidence" were released.
Vienna, Austria - A pair of conferences here Dec. 6-9 have tried to raise public and government awareness of nuclear weapons.
The first, a Civil Society Forum put on by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, brought together NGOs, parliamentarians, and activists of all stripes to try and boost morale and renew enthusiasm in efforts to ban the bomb.
In 1986, a black Massachusetts prisoner serving a life sentence for murder brutalized a Maryland couple during a weekend furlough. The prisoner's name was Willie Horton. During the 1988 presidential election, the George H.W. Bush campaign made extensive use of the story and the image of Willie Horton to attack his opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Dukakis was branded as a coddler of criminals, unable and unwilling to protect the public. There was, of course, nothing new about the tactic of manipulating white fear of black criminality for political gain. (Dukakis neither initiated the furlough program, nor did he have control over it as governor.) But the spectacular success of the ploy in the 1988 presidential campaign made "Willie Horton" shorthand for this maneuver.
Since its publication in 2004, Voices of a People’s History of the United States has played a vital role in my classroom—not only revealing the voices of social justice from the past so often choked into lifelessness by the standard issue corporate textbooks, but also inspiring my students to take actions of their own. Over the semesters and over the years, I repeatedly point students towards this collection of primary sources when they want to understand the ideas that helped propel social change: Bartolome De Las Casas' “The Devastation of the Indies;” Tecumseh's "Speech to the Osages;" Fredrick Douglass’ “What to the slave is the forth of July;” Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?;” Eugene Deb’s statement to the court upon being arrested for speaking out against WWI; Helen Keller’s “Strike Against War;” Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit;” Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War;” Malcolm X’s “Message to the Grassroots,” and many others.
One of the many great actions that students at my school participated in was the 2013 boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. When teachers announced that year they would refuse to give thedeeply flawed MAP test, the student government voted unanimously to support that boycott. When teachers wouldn’t give the test, the school district decreed that the building administration would have to pull students out of class and march them off to the computer labs to take the test. It was then that students staged a sit-in—in their own classrooms!—refusing to have their class time wasted by a test that was not relevant to what they were learning in class.