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.

Lawrence Davidson, an expert on the Middle East and American Foreign Policy, talked with Truthout about the recent headlines concerning ISIS/ISIL as well as the legacy of the Bush Administration. We are reaping the terrible consequences of the fatal and immoral error of invading Iraq. All questions surrounding ISIS fluctuate rapidly in conjunction with evolving tribal and on the ground situations. Usually the West underestimates the strength of militancy and the vulnerability of a too-big-to-fail foreign policy with proxy client forces.

Davidson helps to uncover unsubstantiated reports, media tropes, and calls into question old and unfounded disinformation. Media filtering is very much built in, as Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky described the "propaganda model" in Manufacturing Consent. This is also true in Ukraine, where the involvement of neo-Nazi thugs out of Kiev and the government's intentional attack on innocents in the Eastern portion of the country has received minimal news coverage only.

Sep 08

Democracy Under the Gun Across Asia

By Mel Gurtov, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

“Communist Party, you choke people,” reads the placard raised by a demonstrator in Hong Kong the other day.  He and a few thousand others belonging to Occupy Central (in Chinese, the organization is called Heping zhan zhong, or Peacefully Occupy the Center) have been protesting for months against anticipated restrictions imposed by Beijing on elections for chief executive of Hong Kong. Now those restrictions have been enacted.  By tightening the rules concerning nominations for the position, China’s legislature has made it fairly impossible for an independent-minded leader to be elected.  Pro-democracy forces in the city had hoped that by 2017, they would gain control on the basis of one person, one vote.  But the system is now rigged to deny that principle in practice.  The new rules reflect just how scared China’s leadership is of losing control over a key city.

It is now seventeen years since authority over Hong Kong passed from Britain to China.  Unlike other so-called autonomous regions of China, Hong Kong has enjoyed an unusual degree of political, social and economic freedom in keeping with its long-running stature as an international crossroads and Beijing’s pledge not to interfere with the city’s way of life for 50 years.  “One country, two systems,” Deng Xiaoping promised following China’s takeover.  But Beijing’s control has never been remote; it has maintained predominant influence over who runs Hong Kong and by which rules, and Hong Kongers are fully aware that China’s military can be quickly deployed should widespread “instability” occur.

A picture of you standing in front of your dirty car doesn’t mean that your car has always been and always will be dirty – or that it’s dirty because of some personal failure of yours. Nor does it mean you’re the only person around whose vehicle may become less than sparkling. But that is the impression many have of people living in poverty in the US because of the oft-cited 15 percent figure: that the minority of people with no to little money who are captured in a yearly government income and poverty report are the same people that show up in that report every year – they are “America’s poor.” As Columbia University Social Work Professor Irwin Garfinkel has said, “One of the biggest myths about poverty in the United States is that a relatively small segment of the population is poor, and that this represents a more or less permanent underclass.”

Let’s be clear – poverty, especially if you’re born into it, can be difficult to escape, as a new film, "Rich Hill," documents. Stephen Pimpare, poverty expert, discusses the film at “Many viewers and critics will see much of what is portrayed in the film as ‘culture,’ but it’s actually structure: the product of decades of disinvestment from communities like [Rich Hill, MO.], which leaves behind depressed, isolated, local economies with no jobs, a dwindling tax base, and nothing to attract business or new residents; aging, dilapidated housing stock; underfunded, inferior schools; little or no access to health care and other social services; and few people around who aren’t as poor as you are.”

According to a new study by the School of Medical Sciences (UNSW Australia), junk food can alter behavior by causing lasting changes in the reward circuit of the brain – an alteration that triggers obesity.

Although the UNSW study was conducted on rats, the conclusions are applicable to humans since mammals share similarities in the orbitofrontal cortex that is responsible for decision-making.

A story came out a little while ago as wildfire season was flaring up in California. Apparently certain inmates at California's prisons are given the chance to "give back to their country" by fighting fires.

While this may make some kind of sense - why shouldn't prisoners be given something useful to do, rather than spending time in their jail cells? We know that California's prisons are overcrowded, and their population has grown by about 750% since the 1970s. In California, prisoner abuse is rampant, and so is the unjustified and excessive use of solitary confinement.The chance to escape captivity in this system would be welcome to many.

On September 5th, 1989 President George H.W. Bush gave a speech from the Oval Office that defined a generation. Declaring an escalation of the war on drugs he held up a bag of crack cocaine that he said undercover agents bought in the park across the street from the White House. It later turned out that federal agents lured someone to the park to sell crack just so the president could say it was bought from in front of the White House (the crack seller did not even know where the White House was and had to ask for directions). 

"President H.W. Bush's crack speech defined the irrational zero tolerance drug policies of the times that put ideology and politics above science and health," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Millions of Americans were incarcerated, hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, and hundreds of thousands of human beings allowed to die of AIDS – all in the name of a 'war on drugs' that did nothing to reduce drug abuse. But fortunately the country is at last coming to its senses and embracing alternatives to those failed policies."

Washington, DC -The UN General Assembly votes Tuesday on a convention that could enact a global bankruptcy process and stop predatory hedge funds. Bolivia proposed the resolution that if voted upon is expected to pass by a majority. The executive board officers of Jubilee USA sent United States UN Ambassador Samantha Power a letter urging her to support the resolution. Jubilee's 400 US faith communities are holding the Ambassador in prayer as she prepares to vote.

"One out of five people lives in extreme poverty and the International Monetary Fund argues the root of inequality is sovereign indebtedness. Much progress was won, and there is much more progress for us to win together," states the letter from Jubilee USA's leadership, a group of religious leaders and experts on global finance. "Unfortunately, much of our bipartisan progress won in previous debt relief initiatives is now threatened by predatory behavior and hold-out investors. In this moment we pray for your leadership again and invite you to protect what we've won and finish what we've started."

Wrapped in dishonesty, arrogance and paranoia, Ethiopia's ruling regime follows a nationwide policy of violent suppression and constitutional vandalism.

It was the 24th June – midsummer's day – in the adopted homeland of Andargachew Tsige, when he was detained by "Yemeni officials" (State heavies in suits) while transiting through Sana'a to Eritrea. The British citizen and leading Ethiopian political activist was quickly and quietly extradited to Addis Ababa where he was imprisoned on spurious charges of treason. He had been unfairly tried in absentia in 2009, when Amnesty report he was "sentenced to death for an alleged coup attempt. He was prosecuted in absentia again in 2012 on terrorism charges, alongside other prisoners of conscience, and sentenced to life imprisonment."

Washington, DC - In a record-breaking demonstration of support, more than one million comments have been submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) calling on the agency to take immediate steps to require publicly traded corporations to disclose their use of corporate resources for political purposes to their shareholders.

In a press conference outside the agency today, members of the Corporate Reform Coalition urged the agency to move swiftly on the rule in response to the overwhelming demand. A petition requesting this rulemaking was filed in 2011 by a bipartisan committee of leading law professors. The rulemaking was placed on the agency's agenda by former SEC Chair Mary Schapiro in 2013 but was removed by Chair Mary Jo White earlier this year, sparking outrage among investors and the public.

New York –Two letters signed by hundreds of organizations from around the world were delivered today to the Brazilian National Technical Biosafety Commission (CTNBio) calling on them to deny a pending request by the FuturaGene Corporation to commercially release genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees in Brazil. This occurred in the capital Brasilia during a CTNBio public hearing on the FuturaGene request. CTNBio is the Brazilian governmental institution charged with authorizing commercial release of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in that country.

The letters were delivered to CTNBio by representatives of Terra de Direitos, The Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), La Via Campesina Brazil, and the Small Farmers Movement (MPA) —social movements and organizations that represent hundreds of thousands of people in Brazil. They joined the effort to stop commercialization of GE trees due to their potentially serious negative impacts on the environment and biodiversity, local communities, and human and indigenous rights.