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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 06

Rabbits, Holes & Child Abduction

By Patrick Glynn, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Throughout US history, we have wronged people, identified the problem and in time corrected it. Slavery and prison camps are joined by a modern epidemic: Wrongfully stripping children from parents. I am not speaking of grey areas where someone with heavy criminal activity and drug use gets limited visitation. In many instances, the parent being stripped is very much the polar opposite – the parent better suited to love and nurture the children.

Parents who optimistically get dragged into the court system by ex-spouses find themselves squashed by aggressive counterparts who often win in the name of the kids.

In simplest terms, a divorcing parent who can find any means of stripping a child from the other parent through the legal system including bribing or intimidating the child, gets financially rewarded.

When I attended the US Naval Academy in Annapolis as an undergraduate from 2000-2004, male midshipmen used the acronym "WUBA" to refer to their female counterparts. According to historian Robert Schneller, the moniker originated as a reference to "Working Uniform Blue Alpha," a uniform issued to female midshipmen. Despite hearing "WUBA" thousands of times, I never heard the origin story described by Schneller while I was at the academy. Instead, male upper-class midshipmen offered me a very different interpretation during my freshman year. According to them, WUBA stood for "Women Used By All," or, sometimes, "Women With Unusually Big Asses."

Use of "WUBA" was far from taboo during my time at Annapolis. Males who viewed their female peers as sexual commodities or threats to male dominance readily used the term. Others used it to avoid being labeled "pussies" for refusing to participate in the school's culture of misogyny.

Two years ago a sociologist at Stanfordpublished a studywhich found that, concurrent with the widening division of wealth in the US, the standardized testing gap between high-income and low-income students had grown 40% to 50% since the 1960s. Since the education gap between blacks and whites is a common theme in left literature, it is worth noting then that the achievement gap by income is now nearly twice as large. Setting aside the moral questions raised by such a discrepancy, it merits serious consideration from a policy standpoint given the negative impact it has on the national economy. A McKinseyreport published in 2009showed that closing the income achievement gap from 1983 to 1998 would have increased GDP in 2008 from $400 billion to $670 billion. Furthermore, it concluded that "by underutilizing such a large proportion of the country's human potential, the US economy is less rich in skills than it could be" which is the "economic equivalent of a permanent national recession."

Jun 06

Israel in Motion

By Hal LaCroix, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

We stood in a meadow somewhere in Northern Israel, a middle-aged American man and two young women. We smiled at each other and exchanged pleasantries in Hebrew and English, in Hebrish. The sun burned overhead, aggressively oblivious. All morning I'd been going hard on Shviel Yisrael, the challenging and beautiful Israel National Trail, and my feet were sore from scrambling on ragged, volcanic rocks. Trailside kotzim had slashed my shins with their scimitars and razor rhizomes. The sweat-streaked Israelis, seven weeks out of Eilat through the Negev Desert and Judean Hills, hefted huge backpacks – bigger than mine.

How's the trail ahead? I asked. The women paused – minds executing a host of judgments based on culture, history and personal values. And one said, Ein ba'aya, no problem. It is good, sure, the other one elaborated.

Most conspicuous by its absence from the new Obama Doctrine was any mention of climate change.

We should not be surprised by its exclusion. At the Copenhagen Climate Conference, Obama waited till the end to avoid any effort to significantly address the issue. At Durban, the only change was that Obama had his representatives undermine the conference from the beginning. Despite what he may say in a State of the Union Address, Obama by his actions supports Wall Street and the energy conglomerates in continuing to pursue profits at the price of despoiling and destroying the planet. That climate change is already a factor in world conflicts and promises to be a key driver of future wars, fundamentally threatening both US and world security, merited nary a word in his May 23rd presentation.

The Cluster Project presents the controversial work THE CHILDREN EXPERIMENT, a short documentary investigation in which replicas of cluster bomblets are placed in Virginia playgrounds as surveillance cameras secretly record the reaction of local children. Around the world, children are tragically attracted to these kinds of small, unexploded bombs — do American children possess the same impulse?

Employing a mix of interventionist art, ethnography, and reportage, The Children Experiment explores the relationship between cluster bombs, children, and western complicity with immoral weaponry. While the U.S. traditionally produces and sells the bulk of the world's cluster munitions—weapons that result in alarmingly high casualty rates for children and other civilians — few Americans know or care. Would this be the case if it were American children at risk?

America's power system is too vulnerable to meet modern challenges – a harsh reality underscored by Hurricane Sandy, which left 8.1 million people in the dark for extended periods. Yet, widespread outages should no longer come as a surprise. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country's electrical infrastructure a "D" grade in 2008. Years earlier, a Clinton-era energy secretary described America as "a superpower with a third-world grid." Even though power system vulnerability has been obvious for over a decade, little has been done to address this critical weakness. If the United States wants to stay globally competitive, then the country must finally invest in the creation of a 21st century power system capable of driving sustained economic growth.

We as a society must divest ourselves of the illusion that policymaking is a rational endeavor. As we move to create a better world, as we seek social justice and as we look to the future for our children, we must realize the truth about policymaking. Policy is not made for us, the people. Rather, policymaking at all levels of government is a process which is meant to maintain the status quo and benefit the already powerful and wealthy [1].

In a perfect world, policymakers would listen to their constituents, understand problems in society as well as look where preventative measures could help. They then would make policy, and would heed the input of their constituents and the public in the process. The above is policymaking in a rational framework and how policymaking would look in a rational world. But this is not an accurate description for most policymaking in the United States.

Jun 04

Human Evolution Is Right on Schedule

By E. Douglas Kihn, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Modern capitalism, the current and penultimate stage of class society under which we all live, is not an evolutionary aberration, failed experiment, or disastrous blunder. Humanity is not derailed and the world is not going horribly wrong. Actually, a close examination of the past and present indicates that the human trajectory is exactly on course, albeit on a very bumpy road.

In fact, events are converging so appropriately and on schedule, it seems at times as if unseen hands were conducting a Wagnerian opera.

Class society refers to any culture in which material wealth is shared unequally. In class society, some members have more wealth, power, and privileges than the rest. Most forms of class society are associated with the existence of a vigilant oligarchy that exercises authority over a toiling majority who produce the wealth through their daily labor.

A public high school in Muldrow, Oklahoma, recently decided to remove plaques of the Ten Commandments from its classrooms [1] after an atheist student urged the Freedom From Religion Foundation to threaten a lawsuit. [2] The removal of the Decalogue displays offended numerous community members, thereby evoking a prior controversy regarding a Ten Commandments monument placed in the Alabama Supreme Court building by its Chief Justice, Roy Moore, who claims that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of American law. A federal court predictably found the monument unconstitutional. Another legal dispute will soon lead the Supreme Court to decide whether it is constitutional to conduct Christian prayers at an official town meeting. [3]

In the recurrent clash over the separation of church and state, both the religious right and the secular left invoke the Founding Fathers' original intent to justify their positions. Simply put, the religious right believes that America was intended to be a Christian country, whereas the secular left believes it was intended to be a secular one. In reality, neither side is completely correct on the historical dimension of the issue.