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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 04

The VA Scandal: What Lessons Can We Draw?

By John Geyman, SpeakOut | News Analysis

At this early point, there is much that we don’t know as we await the IG’s full report, due in August. As the investigation expands to include clinical reviews of the consequences of these scheduling problems, we can also expect to learn examples of gross mismanagement and unethical behavior by some in charge. 

Naturally, we are now seeing a firestorm of protest, casting blame in all directions. Some are calling for immediate action to include referral of veterans to the private sector, which raises still other questions, such as reimbursement levels and availability of primary care physicians. Many called for the resignation of General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, which he did after so many years of meritorious service.  

As this crisis unfolds and we get more information on what has occurred, we need to sort out disinformation and demagoguery from the facts. We will hear “lessons” being advanced from various perspectives. We should also ask ourselves what lessons we cannot learn from this failure. There is a political risk that once resignations have occurred, we will go on as usual without considering more fundamental problems. 

Dear Colleagues, dear Friends:

First of all, thank you very much for organizing the very interesting and important Peace Event in Sarajevo from June 6th to 9th, which you've called "the biggest international peace event 2014." You have put together a compelling program.

Weeks ago I purchased my flight tickets to Sarajevo. I looked forward to the meetings and discussions with colleagues. I was also grateful for the opportunity to show a film, "The Killing Floor," and to co-present a workshop about the first Global Action Day against the Use of Drones for Surveillance & Killing on October 4, 2014.

Jun 03

Hundreds of California Prisoners in Isolation to Join Class Action Lawsuit

By The Center for Constitutional Rights, SpeakOut | Press Release

Today, a federal judge allowed hundreds of California prisoners to join a lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement in California prisons when she granted the case class action status. The case, Ashker v. Brown, was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of 10 prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent over 10 years – and some up to 29 years – in solitary confinement. Last summer, California prisoners, including plaintiffs in Ashker, conducted their third hunger strike, lasting 60 days, protesting their confinement and conditions.  Class certification allows the case to include all Pelican Bay SHU prisoners who have been in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, as well as all prisoners who are serving indefinite SHU terms as a result of gang validation who have not been placed in a new step-down program.

Said Center for Constitutional Rights Staff Attorney Alexis Agathocleous, who argued the class certification motion in court, “Since their 2011 hunger strikes, hundreds of prisoners at the Pelican Bay SHU – and across California – have stood together in solidarity to protest inhumane conditions and broken policies they’ve been subjected to for decades. This case has always been about the constitutional violations suffered by all prisoners at the SHU, so it is only appropriate that it proceed as a class action.”

Jun 03

Class Segregation and the Housing Market

By Lawrence Davidson, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

There are many forms of discrimination, but one that Americans seem to have a high tolerance for is that based on class. Class discrimination is a natural outcome of capitalist ideology. That ideology, in turn, has been assimilated into American culture to the point that even the poor accept it on the assumption that they or their children might someday become rich.

Thus, unlike race and sex discrimination, that based on class has gone largely underregulated. Eventually the result is a number of embarrassing instances of abuse that become hard to ignore. That is what has happened in New York City’s housing market, as testified to by an expose on the front page of last Sunday’s (18 May 2014) New York Times real estate section.

There is a troubling case in Michigan where Alan Barron, a public school teacher at Monroe Middle School, has been suspended for teaching an eighth grade class on racial segregation and discrimination that included a video discussing how white entertainers would once use black face paint. The lesson by Barron, 59, also included discussions of Jim Crow. While the notion of academic freedom is different in elementary and middle schools than on the graduate level, it is still troubling to see such a suspension reportedly based on the simple depiction and discussion of such forms of discrimination. There is no indication that Barron was doing anything more than showing the practices, which are still commonly referenced in books and even contemporary politics. Indeed, we continue to see cases involving black face arise and this lesson gave students background understandings of such controversies. (He has now been reinstated).

Barron is set to retire this year after 36 years in the district. Parents and students objected that the lesson was interesting and accurate. However an Administrator who sat in on Barron’s class said that it was offensive.

Jun 03

When American Mainstream Media Is Amiss From Guantanamo

By Palina Prasasouk, SpeakOut | Report

On the weekend of March 21, 2014, members of Witness Against Torture (WAT) gathered in Baltimore, Maryland for a strategic planning meeting. One of the ideas that came from the meeting was the upcoming one year anniversary of President Obama’s National Defense Speech on May 23, 2014, in which he renewed his promise to close Guantanamo Bay Prison. Last year's promise came about after pressure exerted on Obama to commit to action after the men still held, embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike. He said:

"Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from Gitmo...But once we commit to a process of closing Gitmo, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law...Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are -- being held on a hunger strike...Is that who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that."

Jun 02

NutWorks!

By Philip A Farruggio, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Anyone who has seen the 1976 film Network can only imagine how CLAIRVOYANT the film's writer Paddy Chayefsky turned out to be. The film, a dark satire, showed a future society where the media became the message and celebrity was greater than reality. Ratings were the only thing that mattered- as they apparently still are on today's Nutworks! If one goes online to Wikipedia to search for the number of reality television shows created, one can surmise just how lowly evolved we have become. How many of our friends and neighbors enjoyed or still enjoy shows like The Real Housewives of… , Who Wants to Marry a MultimillionaireMy Big Fat Obnoxious FiancéBoot Camp or the most popular of all, Survivor? I await the day in the not too distant future when the little weasels that run the creative departments of our Nutworks! create a new reality show: IED Afghanistan: The cameras follow American troops on patrol for Improvised Exploding Devices used by the insurgents. In episode one some poor GI gets his legs blown off as his mates run over and hurriedly get him onto an EVAC. We see the grim and angry faces of his fellow soldiers as they vow to "make things right and settle some scores." The audience applauds at home as they watch violent and merciless payback on a civilian who may or may not be part of any insurgency… but who cares? The action is, well, REAL!

Jun 02

The Psychology of Elliot Rodger

By Dr. David Gustaf Thompson, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

I'm a bit scared to admit that I actually wasn't shocked when I watched Elliot Rodger's now infamous YouTube video. I was horrified, to be sure, but not surprised.  

You would think that it's unnatural not to feel shock when watching a video of an intelligent, articulate young man relish in describing his plan to "slaughter" all of the "girls" in the "hottest sorority."  

But these types of desperate, vengeful fantasies have become familiar to me in my line of work. I have, with some frequency, sat in my therapy office and listened to similar sentiments expressed by more than a few patients over the past several years. There are many more Elliot Rodgers in our country than we'd like to believe.

On April 15, 2014, when the story broke on the world that the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert program of assassination by remotely controlled drones is not distinct from the drone program of the U.S. Air Force as we had been told, I was on the “Sacred Peace Walk,” an event sponsored each spring by the Nevada Desert Experience, a 70 mile trek from Las Vegas to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. Creech Air Force Base is along the way and we had already made plans for a protest there the next morning. While the CIA’s drone program is shrouded in secrecy, the Air Force supposedly has been using drones strictly as a weapon for waging war against combatants in recognized areas of conflict such as Afghanistan and formerly in Iraq, under a chain of command that is accountable to elected officials. Some who condemn the CIA’s assassinations by drones as illegal give a pass to or even laud the Air Force use of drones as a more restrained way to fight war.

This distinction has now been exposed as a lie. In a new documentary film released in Europe, “Drone,” former Air Force drone operators, veterans of a super-secret Squadron 17 at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, reveal that “it’s always been the Air Force that flies” the CIA’s missions, “the CIA might be the customer, but the Air Force has always flown it.”

Jun 02

Insanity Extends Beyond the Shooters

By Walter Brasch, Wanderings | Op-Ed

During this past week, in Scranton, Pa., a 16-year old put two bullets into the head of a taxi driver and then stole about $500 earned by the cabbie that evening.

The teen, who showed no remorse when arrested a few hours later, mumbled a few words about his reasons. He said he murdered the cabbie "'Cause that's what I do to people that don't listen." The teen thought the cabbie was taking too long to get him to his destination. The driver was a 47-year-old man with a wife and two children. The gun was an unlicensed 9-mm.

A few days later, in Payson, Ariz., a three-year-old boy found a loaded semi-automatic gun in the apartment of family friend, began playing with it, and accidentally killed his 18-month-old brother. Police recovered several other weapons from the apartment.