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.
Diligent devourers of news from far-off places may have noticed a flurry of activity recently in the South-West Pacific. No, nothing to do with a missing airliner, just a bottle of wine that went missing a few years ago. But this was no ordinary bottle of wine; it was a $3000 bottle of a 1959 vintage delivered to the home of Mr. Barry Farrell, the leader of the New South Wales Liberal Party, to congratulate him on his election victory. It came from the chief fund-raiser for the NSW Liberal Party, a Mr. Nick Di Girolamo. Strangely, when Premier Farrell (as he was until the morning of April 16) was questioned before the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), just two weeks ago, he said he hardly knew Mr. Di Girolamo and he had never received a bottle of wine from him. However, it emerged that they had had quite a lot of meetings over the years and, some months after the Liberal Government was installed, Mr. Di Girolamo was appointed to the board of directors of Sydney's municipal water supply.
There the plot thickens, as major contracts were let that favored a tiny company with no assets which just happened to be run by close friends and business associates of Mr Di Girolamo. These people in turn had been prominent members of the Labor Party Government that the Liberals had defeated. Suffice it so say that the ICAC is delving closely into the details of the twisted dealings of these people and, to their surprise, uncovered a hand-written note from Mr. and Mrs. Farrell to Mr. and Mrs. Di Girolamo, thanking them warmly for the wine. When Mr. Farrell was told of this, he promptly resigned as Premier of NSW.
NEW ORLEANS—The Drug Policy Alliance filed an amicus brief yesterday urging the Louisiana Supreme Court to review the egregious prison sentence of Bernard Noble, a 48-year old man who was sentenced to 13.3 years of hard labor in prison without the opportunity for parole for possessing the equivalent of two marijuana cigarettes.
Noble's original sentencing judge considered the 13 and a third-year sentence egregious and imposed a sentence of five years of hard labor. But the Orleans Parish District Attorney wasn't satisfied with this punishment and appealed the sentence. Ultimately, the district attorney sought and obtained a prison term of close to triple the sentence imposed by the original sentencing judge.
On Wednesday 2 April 2014 the U.S. Supreme took another step toward the destruction of campaign finance reform with a five to four decision known as McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission. One gets the feeling that this is part of a general campaign, waged by class-biased, ideologically committed conservatives, against government regulation, which they see as somehow a violation of their constitutional rights. As if to suggest that this is so, the Court majority rationalized their decision in the name of "free speech."
What does this ruling do? First, the ruling removes limitations on overall campaign donations given in an an election cycle. The wealthy can now sit down and write checks to unlimited numbers of candidates and political organizations and thereby make themselves indispensable in an electoral process dependent on the raising of large sums, particularly for television advertising.
First and foremost I offer my greatest condolences to the family members of those who were apart of the tragedy at Fort Hood this past week, including Ivan Lopez. As a two time veteran of the Iraq war in 2005 and 2006, as an infantryman with the marines, and as well as being a purple heart recipient for a minor shrapnel wound, and having been diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress and two Traumatic Brain Injuries, I must depict my own unhealthy emotions that have risen from the response of this past week's shooting by the officials who have publicly made claims that PTSD is not an issue.
In 2007, as an alcoholic who underwent two rehab treatments before the age of 22 because the only way I could deal with my deployments was by staying drunk, I was discharged from Camp Lejeune and into the civilian populous who had an even lesser understanding of war, the effects of war, or the impact of Post Traumatic Stress. We as veterans of all generations, are trained to go to war and undergo extreme conditions that have a lasting effect on the psyche, and yet it is only now that the VA is beginning to publically recognize that there are severe issues with returned soldiers. I find it interesting that the officials and supporters of war, who have full understanding of this "minor" detail, still have not employed proper tactics for re-integrating back into a non-combatant mentality.
Washington, DC - The annual International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings are focusing on the role of high debt burdens in both global economic recovery and increasing inequality. At the onset of the meetings, the G24 released an IMF statement noting that the IMF's failure to implement quota reform and the outcome of the US Supreme Court Argentina/NML Capital case impacts global inequality.
"The G24 knows that emerging markets have a lot to lose if the Supreme Court decides in favor of the hedge funds and against Argentina," stated Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA Network, a religious development coalition.
The Trials of Muhammad Ali opens with contrasting responses to Muhammad Ali, highlighted by the awkward ceremony in which George W. Bush awarded Ali the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
David Zirin calls The Trials of Muhammad Ali "the best documentary ever made about the most famous draft-resister in human history," situating the documentary against the Will Smith bio-pic and other documentaries. I felt the same tension between trying to recreate Ali and the historical Ali when I watched HBO's Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight (see my earlier post, Ali: "You must listen to me").
If you've ever watched the TV comedy Seinfeld, you might have seen the episode where Jerry's kooky neighbor Cosmo Kramer takes in some Japanese tourists overnight due to an incident. Kramer convinces the tourists to indulge themselves and blow their 50,000 yen cash on cowboy hats and boots — not realizing that's only a few hundred dollars, causing them to lose their hotel accommodations due to lack of funds. When Kramer borrows extra pillows from Jerry and thanks Elaine for her friend's gift of a chest of drawers, Jerry asks dismayed, "You have them sleeping in drawers?!" Kramer responds, "Jerry, have you seen the business hotels in Tokyo? They sleep in tiny stacked cubicles all the time. They feel right at home."
Absurd but nearly correct. Kramer is referring to the Japanese "kapuseru" or capsule hotels and their efficient use of space for short-term use. These business hotels have been around for over 30 years, and some of the sleeping pods are barely larger than a coffin. While a sleeping pod might be uncomfortable for long-term use, it brings up the point that we don't necessarily need a lot of space to live in. In fact, there's a "tiny home" movement going on in the USA and other places with an emphasis on sustainability — something that we need to take a good hard look at on a wide scale, given the giant economic crisis we're having, and how it's disrupted millions of lives.
American Studies Association Increases Membership and Support, Overcoming Pressure in Wake of Academic Boycott of Israel EndorsementBy Staff, American Studies Association | Press Release
In the wake of the American Studies Association's December 2013 endorsement of a Palestinian civil society call for an academic boycott of Israel – and as two efforts to legislate against academic boycotts fail to move forward in the Illinois and Maryland state legislatures – the ASA has gained new members and support. Over the past several months, the ASA has welcomed more than 700 new members. The ASA has also collected more membership revenue in the past three months than in any other three-month period over the past quarter-century and its ongoing "Stand with the ASA"grassroots fundraising campaign has exceeded the association's expectations thus far.
Last week, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, released a statement in support of the ASA's boycott efforts. In it, he states that: "In South Africa,we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. ...The [anti-boycott] legislation being proposed in the United States would have made participation in a movement like the one that ended Apartheid in South Africa extremely difficult." The day before his statement was released, an Illinois State Senate Committee rejected a resolution condemning academic boycotts. A bill to defund universities that subsidize faculty associations with organizations supporting boycotts was also scuttled in Maryland, where non-binding condemnatory language was instead inserted into the budget bill.
A ground breaking report released on April 1, 2014 by the ACCE Institute and Common Cause reveals that Big Oil spent $123.6 million to lobby elected officials in California over the past 15 years, an increase of over 400 percent since the 1999-2000 legislative session, when the industry spent $4.8 million.
The report, "Big Oil Floods the Capitol: How California's Oil Companies Funnel Funds Into the Legislature," highlights the growing influence of the Oil and Gas Lobby in Sacramento, including the increasing power of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). The analysis examines the broad and expanding scope of the oil and gas industry's spending in Sacramento as the industry gears up to expand fracking (hydraulic fracturing) operations in California facilitated by the passage of Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4 last September.
As a social epistemologist, my work has been focused on highlighting the ways misinformation, disinformation and ignorance adversely affect policy in the geopolitical and tactical spheres. I subscribe to the via negativa because it is both easier and more reliable to identify epistemic blindspots and errors than to predict the best strategy for events which are fluid and massive in scale and complexity, with volatile and/or opaque payoffs and risks. Virtually all geopolitical events tend fall into this domain (anyone who tries to convince the public otherwise is likely a hack, a fundamentalist or a cynical bastard—categories which, regrettably, fail to be mutually-exclusive).
But the situation isn't totally hopeless–negative epistemology has profound and obvious implications for its (more precarious) positive aspect: with each malformed strategy cast aside, each false narrative exposed (beginning with the most popular, influential or otherwise pernicious), with each mistake learned from, each pitfall avoided, each constraint identified–one becomes increasingly likely to make a good decision in the face of uncertainty, or at the least, minimize harm from error.