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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.

Beginning in primary school, American students learn about the inclusive nature of democracy, which promises that regardless of sex, creed, or religion, any United States citizen can become President. But how true is this teaching? Let us concede for the moment that an individual meets all the legal requirements to seek the nation's top office. What are the other factors that allow citizens to attain the presidency?

Utilizing the 18 presidents elected during the 20th and 21st centuries as guidelines, each one shared common characteristics in the areas of gender, education, college affiliation, political party, and government service. So, could the average American realistically become President of the United States? Here are five reasons that you will never sit in the Oval Office's big chair:

According to several US prosecutors, evidence reveals that the four Blackwater guards, who are facing charges of manslaughter and gun violations in the horrific Sept. 16, 2007, shootings in Baghdad, Iraq, were motivated by deep hostility and hatred towards the Iraqi civilian population in general. If this is the case, then in America not only has killing been made technologically easy and socially entertaining, but it has also become ever-so internalized and essential.(1)

After World I and II, US military and political officials became increasingly alarmed when it was discovered that very few infantry personnel had actually fired their weapons. In order to combat these low firing rates, new techniques were designed to instill higher firing rates. By replacing small, circular paper targets with human-like, silhouette figures on the firing range, firing rates rose. Advanced weaponry that killed from a distance, and a barrage of propaganda aimed at dehumanizing the opponent, increased kill rates too.

I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Jonathan Schell, a distinguished writer and journalist and a long-time member of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Advisory Council. Jonathan was one of the most talented, thoughtful and moral writers of our time. His first book, The Village of Ben Suc, published in 1967, reported on U.S. atrocities in Vietnam. He went on to write many more important books, including The Fate of the Earth, in which he described in elegant prose the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons. This 1982 book became a classic and in 1999 was selected by a panel of experts convened by New York University as one of the 20th century's 100 best works of journalism.

Schell was also a ferocious critic of those who would threaten the planet with nuclear weapons. In 2003, he received the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Distinguished Peace Leadership Award. His acceptance speech was entitled, "There Is Something in this World that Does Not Love an Empire." He concluded his speech by stating, "The point I want to leave you with is not only that violence is futile, but that the antidote and cure – nonviolent political action, direct or indirect, revolutionary or reformist, American or other – has been announced. May we apply it soon to our troubled country and world." He elaborated on this theme in his 2003 book, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People.

Many liberals were shocked this past week when Barack Obama dismissed accusations of American hypocrisy in the face of Russia's actions in Crimea. Responding to accusations that the 2003 invasion has robbed the US of moral authority when it comes to condemning violations of international law, the President declared that the invasion of Crimea was worse than the War in Iraq. The liberal reaction to Obama's whitewashing of recent history was swift. CommonDreams cited "Anger [and] Disbelief as Obama Defends US Invasion of Iraq." Huffington Post said "Obama's Iraq War defense [was] met with surprise." Slate.com asked "Why did Obama just defend the Iraq War?"

Surprise! Disbelief! Why? Many liberals are stunned that Obama would undertake what amounts to a whitewash of the Iraq War, given that the President was elected largely on a platform of opposition to the invasion. It's a testament to the President's rhetorical prowess and charisma that, six years into his term, he can still manage to "surprise" his liberal base like this. On the legitimacy of the Iraq invasion, Obama has been remarkably consistent. Obama's 2014 defense of the Iraq War should be no surprise, because he has been whitewashing the War since before it even started.

Today, Mayor Vincent Gray approved legislation passed by D.C. Councilmembers on March 4th that would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in the nation's capital and treat possession as a civil offense subject to a small fine. In accordance with federal law, the legislation will not become law until it has been transmitted by the D.C. Council to Congress and available for a period of time for review that is expected to stretch into the summer months. If Congress does not take action on the legislation then it becomes law in the District of Columbia. This legislation is viewed by both council members and advocates as a model for other jurisdictions looking to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

"D.C. lawmakers heard loud and clear the public's demand to end marijuana arrests and passed one of the strongest decriminalization laws in the whole country," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "We don't expect members of Congress to object to saving taxpayer dollars and advancing racial justice here in the nation's capital."

A new chart released by Stop Fooling California reveals that the oil industry, including the Western States Petroleum Association, Chevron, BP and other oil companies, spent $56.63 million on lobbying at the State Capitol in the five years from 2009 through 2013.

"It's enough to spend $471,000 on each California Senator and Assemblymember," according to an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies' efforts to mislead and confuse Californians. "It's enough to buy a gallon of $4 gas for every household in California. It's a lot of lobster dinners."

Urge the ending of war these days and you'll very quickly hear two words: "Hitler" and "Rwanda." While World War II killed some 70 million people, it's the killing of some 6 to 10 million (depending on who's included) that carries the name Holocaust. Never mind that the United States and its allies refused to help those people before the war or to halt the war to save them or to prioritize helping them when the war ended -- or even to refrain from letting the Pentagon hire some of their killers. Never mind that saving the Jews didn't become a purpose for WWII until long after the war was over. Propose eliminating war from the world and your ears will ring with the name that Hillary Clinton calls Vladimir Putin and that John Kerry calls Bashar al Assad.

Get past Hitler, and shouts of "We must prevent another Rwanda!" will stop you in your tracks, unless your education has overcome a nearly universal myth that runs as follows. In 1994, a bunch of irrational Africans in Rwanda developed a plan to eliminate a tribal minority and carried out their plan to the extent of slaughtering over a million people from that tribe -- for purely irrational motivations of tribal hatred. The U.S. government had been busy doing good deeds elsewhere and not paying enough attention until it was too late. The United Nations knew what was happening but refused to act, due to its being a large bureaucracy inhabited by weak-willed non-Americans. But, thanks to U.S. efforts, the criminals were prosecuted, refugees were allowed to return, and democracy and European enlightenment were brought belatedly to the dark valleys of Rwanda.

Apr 01

Democratic Despair

By Pierre Guerlain, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

The latest municipal elections in France have been analyzed and interpreted as a rebuff for the so-called "socialist" President, Hollande, and a major success of the far right party known as the National Front (FN in its French acronym). This assessment is quite accurate, as far as it goes - but one could use these election results to make a larger point about how democracy in the oligarchic West functions or dysfunctions.

Whenever the party or coalition of parties in power are rejected by the people in an election, another party or coalition is voted in before it too disappoints citizens who then vote once again for the original party or coalition they had booted out. The US is, of course, familiar with this electoral dance between Democrats and Republicans who vary somewhat but are mostly, to use Gore Vidal's phrase, the two wings of the business party. Britain swings between Labor and the Tories, but Blair became the best heir of the Iron Lady. Hollande is a neoliberal and spineless as Sarkozy was neoliberal and brash, but their economic policies are like two peas in a pod.

Despite the much-publicized black eye to Citigroup's management, the bottom line of the Federal Reserve's stress tests is that every other large U.S. bank will be allowed to pay out more cash to its shareholders, either as increased dividends or stock buybacks. And pay out more cash they will: at least $22 billion in increased dividends (that includes all the banks subject to stress tests), plus increased buyback plans.

Those cash payouts come straight out of the banks' capital, since they reduce assets without reducing liabilities. Alternatively, the banks could have chosen to keep the cash and increase their balance sheets—that is, by lending more to companies and households. The fact that they choose to distribute the cash to shareholders indicates that they cannot find additional, profitable lending opportunities.

Albany – On Saturday, Governor Cuomo, Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Co-Presidents Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein announced that they had reach a budget agreement, but the deal excluded the Compassionate Care Act, a bill that would allow seriously ill New Yorkers access to medical marijuana under the supervision of their healthcare provider. The Assembly had included the proposal as part of their one-house budget bill, but the Senate and Governor refused to include the bill in the final budget. The Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, has bi-partisan support in the Senate, and is supported by a super-majority of New York voters. But senate leaders have refused to let the bill come up for a vote.

Patients, providers and caregivers were frustrated to learn that once again the legislature refused to show the sick suffering some compassion and mercy. They urged immediate action by the Senate to pass the Compassionate Care Act as a stand-alone bill.