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.
Edward Snowden's leaks of top-secret NSA documents has unleashed a wave of very strong feelings of anger and betrayal – of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable and unwarranted searches and seizures as well as of President Obama's promise of more transparency. The stories in the Guardian and the Washington Post have played on the fears of those who understand that our democracy cannot function properly in a climate of excessive secrecy, with overzealous prosecution of leakers, journalists, and others who are fighting to keep information accessible adding to their concerns. Throw in an utterly dysfunctional Congress, a lingeringly unsteady economy and an increasingly acrimonious political atmosphere, and we have nothing short of a serious crisis of confidence on our hands.
Two recent stories of climate change disasters mark the transition from spring to summer of 2013. The recent Black Forest fire in Colorado destroyed more than 500 homes and has been called, "the most destructive fire in Colorado history." On the other side of the globe, last week, intense rain and flash floods brought massive destruction in Uttarakhand in northern India that has been called, the "Himalayan tsunami." According to government estimates the death toll may cross 1,000, and thousands are still missing and tens of thousands stranded. Extreme weather events—floods, fires, droughts and hurricanes—in our time—are manifestations of climate change. Two recent studies, one published in the Geophysical Research Letters and the other conductedby the National Atmospheric Research Laboratory in Tirupati, India—have linked climate change to the recent increase in the frequency of very heavy rain and floods in India. And for sometime now scientists have been connecting the dots of climate change to the mega drought and the intense wildfires in the American southwest.
We continue to live through the 'WikiLeaks' moment. At present, British police continue their round-the-clock vigil outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, England. At a cost of $19,000 a day, police have been stationed out-front of the Knightsbridge building for almost a year on the off chance that Julian Assange, founder of the online whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks, attempts to leave the building. While Ecuador has granted Assange political asylum, the British government will not guarantee him safe passage. If he leaves the Embassy, we will be arrested. The embassy has become his de facto prison. Across the Atlantic, Private Bradley Manning, the source of material leaked by WikiLeaks has been held for over three years in a military prison. Finally, after prolonged detainment and harsh, punitive and even unlawful pre-trial punishment, Bradley Manning's court martial is now under way in Fort Meade, Maryland.
A little over a year ago, I found myself sitting in a newly-opened kitchen-café space in the Petralona area of Athens, sharing reflections on Occupy Wall Street with Greeks from the neighborhood's Popular Assembly. Popular Assemblies sprang up all across the city during the 2008 uprising sparked by the police murder of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos. As the country's economy spiraled, with international financial institutions pouring gas on the proverbial fire (a fact to which said institutions have owned up in recent weeks), the Assemblies took on functions in almost direct competition with the State, serving as a sort community self-organized triage. Social needs were administered, barter economies established, local electricians dispatched to restore power to homes that had gone dark after tax increases pegged to electricity bills made utilities unaffordable. Today, these assemblies operate medical and eye clinics, youth arts programs, low-scale agriculture, and popular education.
Last week, for the first time ever, an international body asked questions about the Vatican's handling of widespread and systemic rape and sexual violence. Last Wednesday, survivors of rape and sexual violence by Catholic priests met with members of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in Geneva, calling the Vatican to account for its ongoing failure to abide by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a U.N. treaty that the Vatican long ago signed but, like the children it is designed to protect, has systematically neglected.
Wednesday's historic meeting is the latest sign that a growing global movement is closing in on that day when Vatican officials will be held accountable for their systemic enabling of rape and sexual abuse. In March, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), submitted a report to the UN Committee outlining the myriad ways the Vatican is in perpetual violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
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.
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.