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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.

Jun 25

What is Raza Studies and What is it Good For?

By Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, SpeakOut | News Analysis

A few days ago, the media reported that a mother was found dead in the hot, scorching desert, purportedly while attempting to cross into the United States. Underneath her was her dead infant.

The complaints were onerous: A series of questions this month on a social media site asked a variant of: Why should Mexican Americans care about immigration issues? The complainer, with disdain, asserted that focusing on immigration issues takes the focus away from the needs of Mexican Americans, whose needs continue to be unmet and neglected.

That the social, educational and political needs of Mexican Americans continue to be unmet and neglected by society is certainly correct, however, the other part of his formulation and his other complaints and questions were bizarre, to say the least. The complainer asserted that Mexicans don't know Chicano culture and are not familiar with Chicanos themselves and with a tone of arrogance, posited that they are different peoples. Then, to add insult to injury, he complained about Mexicans taking over the jobs in Chicano Studies.

This past week, the Arizona State Bar Association (SBA) held its annual convention. It appears that the ban on my participation is still in effect.
It was exactly ten years ago that the session in which an academic paper I was scheduled to present on the application of international law in conflicts in the greater Middle East was abruptly cancelled just two weeks before its scheduled presentation at the 2003 convention. No one in the organization's leadership could explain anything objectionable in the paper, which they acknowledged they had not actually read, but were apparently convinced by a right-wing campaign that I was "anti-Israel" and "anti-American."

They have refused to allow me to give the paper at any of their subsequent annual meetings, including the one last week.

The NSA continues to wiretap our phone lines. The military tosses whistleblowers into solitary confinement pre-trial. Domestic drones soar above our cities. No matter one's political affiliation, the government's lack of transparency, flagrant disregard for checks-and-balances, and ever-growing war machine lead many to wonder whether the tactics used to hunt down and kill innocent civilians in "Dirty Wars" – reporter Jeremy Scahill's horrifying documentary on covert US military attacks around the globe – won't be hitting closer to home soon.

For years, Scahill has operated as national security correspondent for The Nation magazine. In 2008, he authored the chilling bestselling book, "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army." His experience covering war internationally led him to create "Dirty Wars" to expose US government-led night raids, drone attacks, torture, and other appallingly frequent debauched operations in countries like Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia – places where the government allows, and even orders, the killing of civilians (and American citizens) seemingly without conscience or fear of retribution.

Jun 24

National Security Journalism on Trial

By Carey Shenkman, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Freedom of the press in the United States is on trial behind a curtain. In the court martial of WikiLeaks whistleblower Private First Class Bradley Manning, government prosecutors are making an unprecedented argument that, if accepted, could eviscerate the freedom of the press to report on issues of national security. To make matters worse, public and media access to the court martial in remote Fort Meade, Maryland, has been unduly restrictive. Journalists have been denied sufficient access and the public cannot see basic trial documents. Indeed, in many ways the military commissions at Guantánamo feature greater access than the Manning trial. Such limitations undermine our democracy. This trial affects our rights without allowing us a proper opportunity to observe, understand, or accurately report on it.

Manning is charged with "aiding the enemy" by leaking documents that were posted online and eventually found in the possession of Al Qaeda. These documents provided the public a previously unseen look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including evidence of killings of civilians and journalists by the U.S. military.

The U.S. Supreme Court today, in American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant, issued another stinging blow to consumers, employees and small businesses injured by corporate wrongdoing. The decision increases the ability of companies to use arbitration to suppress claims based on illegal conduct that harms many people. Specifically, the Court held that companies can enforce arbitration clauses that ban class actions even when class actions are the only economically feasible way of pursuing claims because the costs of arbitrating individually exceed the possible recovery for any one person.
The decision will allow companies to get off scot-free in many cases where their actions have inflicted small – or even not-so-small – amounts of damages on large numbers of people. As Justice Elena Kagan stated in her dissent, the decision allows defendants in such cases to insulate themselves from liability even if they have in fact violated the law.

Last night, a federal district court dismissed a lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights after the U.S. government voluntarily agreed to provide ongoing access to documents in the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning. The suit, bought on behalf of a group of journalists, asked the court for a preliminary injunction under the First Amendment ordering the military judge in the court-martial of Bradley Manning to grant the press and public ongoing access to documents in the proceedings as done in ordinary criminal trials. In addition, the suit challenged the fact that substantive legal matters in the court martial have been decided in secret.

The Judge in the case, Ellen Lipton Hollander, ruled that a First Amendment decision was unnecessary since the government voluntarily acquiesced to the journalists' demands and stated that the remaining issues in dispute were not significant enough to justify her intervention on an expedited, emergency basis.

Kimberly McCarthy's impending execution suggests that women are not anomalies in American capital punishment, and new research shows they're not anomalies in committing violent crime either.

In Lancaster, Texas, just south of Dallas, Kimberly McCarthy called on her 71-year-old retired neighbor and asked if she could borrow a cup of sugar. Once inside the retiree's house, McCarthy stabbed the old woman with a butcher knife, beat her with a large candleholder and cut off the ring finger that held her diamond wedding ring. 

The last time a woman was executed in Texas, it was 1998. The case of 39-year-old Karla Faye Tucker - who had killed two people with a pickaxe - generated an explosive media kerfuffle. Urgent pleas were addressed to then-Governor George W. Bush to spare Tucker's life on the grounds that she was a woman and a born again Christian. There were several made-for-television movies, a feature length film, and even an Indigo Girls song. 

Jun 22

The History of Mass Surveillance

By Chris Thomson, SpeakOut | News Analysis

In 1791, the English philosopher and death penalty abolitionist Jeremy Bentham published the design for his "Panopticon" prison- a structure Bentham hoped would embody the utilitarian ideals of a more humane society. In late 1800s England, there were around 200 offenses punishable by death- pick pocketing included. Besides execution, other common methods of punishing criminals were sending them to fight wars or to make the long dangerous journey to penal colonies in America and Australia. There were a few rudimentary prisons in England during this time; these were mainly debtor prisons and they had terrible conditions. Convicts languished in overcrowded filthy rooms - with the more unruly shackled bloody wrist to some dank corridor's wall. For Bentham, these early prisons were not an acceptable alternative to execution, war or exile. These dark rooms and corridors overseen by merciless guards posed a problem that he hoped- creative architecture could solve. The objective of this architecture was to harness the illuminating power of light. Light that would keep order in the prison, a more humane approach than the constant threat of physical punishment. An idea of noble intentions- but an idea that would change the course of history. The Panopticon's design laid the foundation for modern surveillance.

"You don't solve mistakes, with more mistakes! As a government, the U.S. must follow the law. Be legal!" pleads the brother-in-law of Hayeel Aziz Al-Mithali.

Hayeel went from Yemen to Pakistan when he was 17 to study the Qu'ran. Captured following the 9/11 attacks, Hayeel has spent the last 12 years in Guantanamo. The U.S. had made no charges against him, yet Hayeel still faces indefinite detention. And so he has joined the hunger strike.

Along with fellow members of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, I have been protesting the corrupt and cruel Guantanamo system for years. I came to Yemen to deepen my understanding, but sitting face-to-face with the families whose lives have been devastated, I am sickened anew by how my country's responses to 9/11 continue to multiply the pain and injury of the attacks.

Last week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the world’s most formidable big business lobby — quietly abandoned a trademark infringement lawsuit against a number of individuals connected to activist pranksters the Yes Men, including John and Jane Doe 1-20, in whose mysterious company I was presumably represented. It’s been a while since I’ve given any thought to the circumstances surrounding the four-year-old suit, and while the news came as a relief, it also made me a little nostalgic for a particularly madcap chapter in my colorful career. By the standards of my fancy sounding job, that year as “Director of Marketing and Outreach” for the release of the Yes Men’s latest documentary film, “The Yes Men Fix the World,” being sued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce felt par for the course.

Allow me to take you back to the fall of 2009, where from a small, crowded academic office-cum-film distribution headquarters, my official duties involved coordinating a marauding ragtag volunteer “Survivaball” army, helping to organize mini-riots at Whole Foods, and avoiding capture by the NYPD after a failed attempt to launch an amphibious assault on the U.N. (which led to the apprehension of one of my colleagues).