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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.

A new chart released by Stop Fooling California reveals that the oil industry, including the Western States Petroleum Association, Chevron, BP and other oil companies, spent $56.63 million on lobbying at the State Capitol in the five years from 2009 through 2013.

"It's enough to spend $471,000 on each California Senator and Assemblymember," according to an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies' efforts to mislead and confuse Californians. "It's enough to buy a gallon of $4 gas for every household in California. It's a lot of lobster dinners."

Today, Mayor Vincent Gray approved legislation passed by D.C. Councilmembers on March 4th that would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in the nation's capital and treat possession as a civil offense subject to a small fine. In accordance with federal law, the legislation will not become law until it has been transmitted by the D.C. Council to Congress and available for a period of time for review that is expected to stretch into the summer months. If Congress does not take action on the legislation then it becomes law in the District of Columbia. This legislation is viewed by both council members and advocates as a model for other jurisdictions looking to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

"D.C. lawmakers heard loud and clear the public's demand to end marijuana arrests and passed one of the strongest decriminalization laws in the whole country," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "We don't expect members of Congress to object to saving taxpayer dollars and advancing racial justice here in the nation's capital."

Many liberals were shocked this past week when Barack Obama dismissed accusations of American hypocrisy in the face of Russia's actions in Crimea. Responding to accusations that the 2003 invasion has robbed the US of moral authority when it comes to condemning violations of international law, the President declared that the invasion of Crimea was worse than the War in Iraq. The liberal reaction to Obama's whitewashing of recent history was swift. CommonDreams cited "Anger [and] Disbelief as Obama Defends US Invasion of Iraq." Huffington Post said "Obama's Iraq War defense [was] met with surprise." Slate.com asked "Why did Obama just defend the Iraq War?"

Surprise! Disbelief! Why? Many liberals are stunned that Obama would undertake what amounts to a whitewash of the Iraq War, given that the President was elected largely on a platform of opposition to the invasion. It's a testament to the President's rhetorical prowess and charisma that, six years into his term, he can still manage to "surprise" his liberal base like this. On the legitimacy of the Iraq invasion, Obama has been remarkably consistent. Obama's 2014 defense of the Iraq War should be no surprise, because he has been whitewashing the War since before it even started.

I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Jonathan Schell, a distinguished writer and journalist and a long-time member of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Advisory Council. Jonathan was one of the most talented, thoughtful and moral writers of our time. His first book, The Village of Ben Suc, published in 1967, reported on U.S. atrocities in Vietnam. He went on to write many more important books, including The Fate of the Earth, in which he described in elegant prose the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons. This 1982 book became a classic and in 1999 was selected by a panel of experts convened by New York University as one of the 20th century's 100 best works of journalism.

Schell was also a ferocious critic of those who would threaten the planet with nuclear weapons. In 2003, he received the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Distinguished Peace Leadership Award. His acceptance speech was entitled, "There Is Something in this World that Does Not Love an Empire." He concluded his speech by stating, "The point I want to leave you with is not only that violence is futile, but that the antidote and cure – nonviolent political action, direct or indirect, revolutionary or reformist, American or other – has been announced. May we apply it soon to our troubled country and world." He elaborated on this theme in his 2003 book, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People.

According to several US prosecutors, evidence reveals that the four Blackwater guards, who are facing charges of manslaughter and gun violations in the horrific Sept. 16, 2007, shootings in Baghdad, Iraq, were motivated by deep hostility and hatred towards the Iraqi civilian population in general. If this is the case, then in America not only has killing been made technologically easy and socially entertaining, but it has also become ever-so internalized and essential.(1)

After World I and II, US military and political officials became increasingly alarmed when it was discovered that very few infantry personnel had actually fired their weapons. In order to combat these low firing rates, new techniques were designed to instill higher firing rates. By replacing small, circular paper targets with human-like, silhouette figures on the firing range, firing rates rose. Advanced weaponry that killed from a distance, and a barrage of propaganda aimed at dehumanizing the opponent, increased kill rates too.

Apr 01

Austerity Is Crap

By Asher Platts, Acronym TV | Video Report

Since the peak of the Great Society, on the first official Earth Day, captains of industry have engaged in a conspiracy to destroy the gains made for working people over the last century. These plans were laid out in the Powell Memo, which in addition to naming Ralph Nader as the most dangerous man in America, declared that a 30 year plan should be set in motion that seeks to place corporations and the wealthy elite that head them, firmly into positions of power within government, to remove the ability of the people to use government as an independent arbiter of law that would protect them against the abuses of the wealthy elite, and to stem the tide of citizen power that had grown throughout the 50s and 60s.

The strategy laid out in this memo is coming to its final fruition now. In feudal times, the nobility were educated in music, science, arts, and affairs of the state, and the peasants were simply there to toil in the fields and provide bounty for the nobility through their labor, and education of the working class outside of what their particular field of labor was, was not valued by the nobility.

Margaret Atwood's narrator, June/Offred, characterizes her situation in the dystopian speculative world of The Handmaid's Tale:

Apart from the details, this could be a college guest room, for the less distinguished visitors; or a room in a rooming house, of former times, for ladies in reduced circumstances. This is what we are now. The circumstances have been reduced; for those of us who still have circumstances....

In reduced circumstances you have to believe all kinds of things. I believe in thought transference now, vibrations in the ether, that sort of junk. I never used to....

In reduced circumstances the desire to live attaches itself to strange objects. I would like a pet: a bird, say, or a cat. A familiar. Anything at all familiar. A rat would do, in a pinch, but there's no chance of that. (pp. 8, 105, 111)

In her reduced circumstances as a handmaid—her entire existence focusing on becoming pregnant by a Commander to whom she is assigned, potentially a series of three before she is cast aside as infertile, thus useless—June/Offred's fantasies about her Commander turn murderous:

FINLAND, Minn. – The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) today called on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to drop its plan to finalize guidance on the voluntary labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and instead respond to consumer demand for mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs or genetically engineered ingredients.

The OCA also called on FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to acknowledge the growing body of scientific evidence that GMOs, and the chemicals required to grow GMO crops, are potentially damaging to human health.

It's been three years since the occupation of Zuccotti park and various other parks, city halls, and commons that were physically occupied by activists across the nation and around the globe. The central theme that has now become a part of national dialogue is the chant frequently repeated in street demonstrations, "We are the 99%" that brought to light the idea that a small wealthy elite, an immensely small fraction of the population, holds a share of wealth and power far out of proportion to their numbers. Occupy was seen as a reawaking of a largely immobile and apathetic public that was becoming more aware of the disconnect between public need and corporate political influence. As the camps began to grow and hold their ground for the initial few months, discussions about political endorsement were taking place. At around the same time as the Republican Party began their endorsement of the Tea Party, the idea was largely supported that Occupy should stay away from the "left" wing faction of the Business Party, otherwise known as corporate Democrats and be aware of its attempts to co-opt the movement.

It's now 2014, the encampments are gone, but the activists' message still remains, and issues of corruption and inequality are still being discussed. While there was no formal endorsement of the Obama Administration or the Democratic Party a new endorsement seems to have emerged from a small group of so called Occupy "founders." 

Albany – On Saturday, Governor Cuomo, Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Co-Presidents Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein announced that they had reach a budget agreement, but the deal excluded the Compassionate Care Act, a bill that would allow seriously ill New Yorkers access to medical marijuana under the supervision of their healthcare provider. The Assembly had included the proposal as part of their one-house budget bill, but the Senate and Governor refused to include the bill in the final budget. The Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, has bi-partisan support in the Senate, and is supported by a super-majority of New York voters. But senate leaders have refused to let the bill come up for a vote.

Patients, providers and caregivers were frustrated to learn that once again the legislature refused to show the sick suffering some compassion and mercy. They urged immediate action by the Senate to pass the Compassionate Care Act as a stand-alone bill.