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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.

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.

It's been three years since the occupation of Zuccotti park and various other parks, city halls, and commons that were physically occupied by activists across the nation and around the globe. The central theme that has now become a part of national dialogue is the chant frequently repeated in street demonstrations, "We are the 99%" that brought to light the idea that a small wealthy elite, an immensely small fraction of the population, holds a share of wealth and power far out of proportion to their numbers. Occupy was seen as a reawaking of a largely immobile and apathetic public that was becoming more aware of the disconnect between public need and corporate political influence. As the camps began to grow and hold their ground for the initial few months, discussions about political endorsement were taking place. At around the same time as the Republican Party began their endorsement of the Tea Party, the idea was largely supported that Occupy should stay away from the "left" wing faction of the Business Party, otherwise known as corporate Democrats and be aware of its attempts to co-opt the movement.

It's now 2014, the encampments are gone, but the activists' message still remains, and issues of corruption and inequality are still being discussed. While there was no formal endorsement of the Obama Administration or the Democratic Party a new endorsement seems to have emerged from a small group of so called Occupy "founders." 

FINLAND, Minn. – The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) today called on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to drop its plan to finalize guidance on the voluntary labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and instead respond to consumer demand for mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs or genetically engineered ingredients.

The OCA also called on FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to acknowledge the growing body of scientific evidence that GMOs, and the chemicals required to grow GMO crops, are potentially damaging to human health.

Margaret Atwood's narrator, June/Offred, characterizes her situation in the dystopian speculative world of The Handmaid's Tale:

Apart from the details, this could be a college guest room, for the less distinguished visitors; or a room in a rooming house, of former times, for ladies in reduced circumstances. This is what we are now. The circumstances have been reduced; for those of us who still have circumstances....

In reduced circumstances you have to believe all kinds of things. I believe in thought transference now, vibrations in the ether, that sort of junk. I never used to....

In reduced circumstances the desire to live attaches itself to strange objects. I would like a pet: a bird, say, or a cat. A familiar. Anything at all familiar. A rat would do, in a pinch, but there's no chance of that. (pp. 8, 105, 111)

In her reduced circumstances as a handmaid—her entire existence focusing on becoming pregnant by a Commander to whom she is assigned, potentially a series of three before she is cast aside as infertile, thus useless—June/Offred's fantasies about her Commander turn murderous: