Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

Tell Walmart, Hanes, Target, Macy's, Lands' End and Kohl's to Stop Profiting from Rape

Scores of young Southeast Asian female guest workers have been sexually abused and repeatedly raped while sewing clothing for some of the biggest brand names in American retail at the Classic Factory in Jordan, according to a report by the Institute of Global Labour and Human Rights, formerly known as the National Labor Committee.

The group’s findings are the result of a six-month undercover effort, says Charles Kernaghan, its director. “One young rape victim told us her assailant, a manager, bit her, leaving scars all over her body,” he says. “Women who become pregnant are forcibly deported and returned to Sri Lanka. Women who refuse the sexual advances of Classic‘s managers are also beaten and deported.”

The report also found that:

  • Through the Institute/National Labor Committee's reports, the Ministry of Labor has been made aware of the sexual abuse as early as 2007, but has done nothing.
  • The standard shift at Classic is 13 hours a day, six and seven days a week, with some 18 ½ hour shifts before the clothing must be shipped to the US.
  • According to witness testimonies, workers are routinely cursed at, hit and shortchanged of their wages for failing to reach their mandatory production goals. To press the women to work faster, managers grope and fondle them.
  • The workers-who are from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Egypt, earn a take-home wage of just 61 cents an hour.

These deeply disturbing videos offer personal testimony about the daily abuse.

On June 17, the factory's general manager, Anil Santha, was arrested in connection with rape allegations, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Santha was subsequently released on bond and returned to the factory twice before Jordanian labor officials temporarily barred him, Kernaghan said. The case against Santha is currently pending.

Please join the call to tell Wal-Mart, Kohl's, Hanes, Target and Macy's to end sexual abuse in their Jordanian supplier’s factory, Classic Fashion, and to take responsibility for compensating the victims.

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Top Ten Songs About Nuclear War

This Saturday marks the sixty-sixth anniversary of the US bombing of Hiroshima, the first use of atomic weapons in history. In Hiroshima, the five-ton uranium bomb Little Boy’s huge fireball and explosion killed 70,000 to 80,000 people instantly. Another 70,000 were seriously injured.

As Joseph Siracusa, author of Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction, writes: “In one terrible moment, 60 percent of Hiroshima…dwas destroyed. The blast temperature was estimated to reach over a million degrees Celsius, which ignited the surrounding air, forming a fireball some 840 feet in diameter.” The Hiroshima bombing was followed up three days later by an equally devastating blast on the Japanese city of Nagaski.

To mark the anniversary, I’ve assembled a top ten list of songs about nuclear war. There’s a surprisingly long list of choices, nearly all calling, in various ways, for a cessation of nuclear hostility and an abolition of nuclear weapons. Happily for music fans, the fear of this worst of all apocalypses has provided serious creative juice for songwriters and musicians of all genres. Please use the comments field to let me know what I missed.

Top Ten Songs About Nuclear War

1. Bob Dylan, A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

2. Peter Tosh, We Don’t Want No Nuclear War


3. The Byrds, I Come and Stand at Every Door

4. Nena, 99 Luftballons

5. Yo La Tengo, Nuclear War

6. Crosby, Stills & Nash, Wooden Ships

7. Lowell Blanchard and the Valley Trio, Jesus Hits Like the Atomic Bomb


8. Kate Bush, Breathing

9. New Politics, Nuclear War

10. Iron Maiden, Two Minutes to Midnight

Lifting the Lid on Climate Activism

With legislative remedies falling far behind the threat of climate change, nonviolent direction action is increasingly being seen as the critical next step for environmental activists and advocates.

Filmmaker Emily James spent more than a year embedded with British activist outfits like Climate Camp and Plane Stupid to document their clandestine activities and offer unprecedented access to a community of people who refuse to sit back and tolerate the destruction of their world.

Her resulting film, Just Do It, currently playing in theaters in the UK, lifts the lid on climate activism and the daring troublemakers who have crossed the line to become modern-day outlaws. The film follows these activists as they blockade factories, protest corporate conferences, sabotage coal stations and glue themselves to the trading floors of international banks, all with “manners, courage and humor,” as activist Marina Pepper explains in the doc. (This BBC interview with James and Pepper tells more about the making of the film.)

Alternately entertaining and inspiring, Just Do It is a call to action that's difficult to ignore, if not refuse.

Staying true to its principles, the doc was made possible thanks to the generosity of almost 500 smallish donors, an army of more than 100 volunteers, and numerous indie film giants, all of whom generously donated their time, expertise and connections.

Now James is hoping to bring Just Do It to the US and she needs our help. The goal is to hit US film festivals in the late fall and spark some attention and momentum for a limited theatrical release, grassroots house parties and a college and university tour.

There are numerous ways to support the project: Help fund a North American release. All donations, no matter how small, really help; Spread the word about the film to your friends, family and social networks, and/or volunteer your time to become a distribution assistant—everyone can participate regardless of experience or lack thereof. Let's get this film to North America!

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Support the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers

This post was guest-written by Nation associate editor Liliana Segura.

Prisoners in California are taking part in an “indefinite” hunger strike that could prove fatal if something isn’t done soon. Many participants “are experiencing irregular heartbeats and palpitations, some are suffering from diagnosed cardiac arrhythmia,” according to the Bay Area group Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS), which is in touch with the inmates’ lawyers and family.

The hunger strike was started two weeks ago by inmates in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Secure Housing Unit (SHU) “in order to draw attention to, and to peacefully protest, twenty-five years of torture via [California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation]'s arbitrary, illegal, and progressively more punitive policies and practices,” according to their official statement, dated July 1, 2011. Prisoners in the SHU are confined in cement cells with metal doors for more than twenty-two hours a day, with no real access to natural light or human contact. Many spend years locked up in these conditions.

This fact—and the prisoners’ list of “demands”—should concern anyone who believes in basic human rights for prisoners. Aside from an end to indefinite solitary confinement, the list included such meager requests as “adequate food” and a call for staff to stop using “food as a tool to punish.” They want “meaningful access” to “adequate natural sunlight” and “quality health care and treatment.” They also ask for a “weekly phone call” and “one photo a year.”

As James Ridgeway and Jean Casella write today at Solitary Watch, these requests are largely “based on the recommendations of the bipartisan US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons, which in 2006 called for substantial reforms to the practice of solitary confinement. Segregation from the general prison population, the commission said, should be ‘a last resort,’ and even in segregation units, isolation should be mitigated and terms should be limited.” Yet “some of the prisoners have been in the SHU long enough to remember the hunger strike that took place exactly 10 years ago, when 600 Pelican Bay prisoners stopped eating for 10 days…. A decade later, inmates say, virtually nothing has changed.”

Thousands of California prisoners are reportedly striking in solidarity across the state. The CDCR has been stoic in its response, saying it will not negotiate. Meanwhile, the original hunger strikers’ health is deteriorating. “Clearly the prisoners are in dire need of adequate food and hydration,” reports PHSS. “The only way to prevent people from dying right now is for the CDCR to negotiate.” As one activist told the San Francisco Chronicle, the prisoners feel the CDCR “will not make any meaningful or long-term change until they start dying, and they’re willing to take it there.”

Tell the CDCR: enough is enough. Negotiate with these prisoners. And end the inhumane practice of indefinite solitary confinement.

Ask Congress to Investigate Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch and other News Corporation executives are at the center of a shocking British media scandal that involves spying, bribery, corruption, a corporate cover-up and even murder, and which just resulted in the stunning new news that Murdoch has withdrawn News Corporation's bid for BSkyB.

And now there are reports that Murdoch's company’s alleged criminal behavior—including hacking the phones of September 11 victims—has crossed the Atlantic.

As our friends at Media Matters, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Free Press and numerous Nation investigations have documented, for far too long, Murdoch has used his enormous media power to secure sweetheart deals from Washington and insulate himself and his company from official scrutiny. If he has broken the law, Murdoch should be held accountable.

Currently, Senators Jay Rockefeller and Frank Lautenberg have called for an investigation of News Corp. Free Press is urging citizens to implore their members of Congress to join them and demand an full and fair investigation. 

Support Child Literacy With Jennifer Egan and Goodreads

Where and how books fit into our digital future may be unclear, but it’s generally agreed that literacy remains one of the best predictors of a child’s future success, and even happiness. Statistics show that illiterate children have poor educational, employment and health outlooks. Many will not graduate from high school, will earn poverty-level incomes and will be more likely to engage in criminal behavior.

According to recent data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United States ranks forty-fifth in the world in literacy rates behind Cuba (#2) and Russia (#15) as well as Ukraine (#9), Tonga (#19) and Guyana (#32).

Roughly 42 million American adults can’t read at all; 50 million are unable to read at a higher than fourth or fifth grade level and the number of adults that are classified as functionally illiterate increases by about 2.25 million people each year.

First Book, a nonprofit group, was established in 1994 to take a stand in low-income communities by funding access to literacy education and ensuring continued access to books. A recognized leader in social enterprise, First Book has pioneered groundbreaking ways to provide new books and educational resources at deeply reduced prices—and for free—to schools and programs serving children in need.

And the number of children in need is growing fast. Forty-two percent of children in the United States—more than 30 million—currently live in poor households with few age-appropriate books at home, and are served by woefully under-funded classrooms with equally scarce resources.

Now, First Book is partnering with the Goodreads Book Club, the largest community of online readers in the world, in one of the coolest child literacy campaigns ever featuring Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jennifer Egan and her brilliant recent work, A Visit from the Goon Squad.

For each 10,000 Goodreads members who add Egan’s latest book to their “shelves,” the organization will donate 1,000 age-appropriate books to children in need. So far, more than 31,000 members have added the book; the initial goal is to convince at least 50,000 people to add the book by August 2, which would trigger a donation of 5,000 copies.


It’s free and easy to join Goodreads and participate in this great cause. As a special bonus, members will be able to join an exclusive live video chat with the always-engaging Egan in the climactic conclusion to the June/July book club. There’s rarely been as enjoyable and community-minded a way to help support children’s literacy.

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What Is Patriotism?

The first sentence of The Nation's prospectus, dated July 6, 1865, promised "the maintenance and diffusion of true democratic principles in society and government," surely a patriotic sentiment, as was the magazine's name.

Since that time The Nation has attempted to represent and give voice to the best of American values and culture and has steadfastly resisted all efforts through the years to brand dissent as unpatriotic.

The Nation has always agreed with the eminent historian (and Nation editorial board member) Eric Foner, who wrote in the days after 9/11, "At times of crisis, the most patriotic act of all is the unyielding defense of civil liberties, the right to dissent and equality before the law for all Americans."

Ten years before the 9/11 attacks, in the summer of 1991 during the aftermath of the first Gulf War, the magazine published a forum exploring the question of what is patriotism -- Is there a patriotism that is not nationalistic? How does the historic internationalism of the liberal left relate to the concept of patriotism? What do you value in the traditions of your country? Why is patriotism often seen as the province of the right?

Fourteen leading writers, progressives and thinkers weighed in, including Jesse L. Jackson, Molly Ivins, Natalie Merchant, Richard Falk, Richard A. Cloward & Frances Fox Piven, Mary McGrory, Stephen F. Cohen and current Nation Editor and Publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel. Their illuminating answers encapsulate a predicament still facing progressives: how to express love for one's country while forthrightly combating its numerous defects. 

Read the sadly, still relevant forum and use the comments field below to let us know how you personally define patriotism. I'd also love to see links for videos of what you consider some of your favorite patriotic music.

Happy Fourth!

Time for BDS

This post was guest-written by Nation intern and freelance writer Anna Lekas Miller. Follow her on Twitter.

Just more than one year ago, the violent attack on the Freedom Flotilla radically changed the international dialogue on Israel and Palestine. Protests in solidarity with the nonviolent activists erupted around the world, from expected global capitals like Tel Aviv and New York City to areas where one would never expect to see a Palestinian flag—like Cincinnati and Des Moines.

Palestine became less of a “controversial” issue.

One year later, Flotilla II, consisting of activists from twenty different countries aboard ten ships (including The Audacity of Hope, more commonly referenced as the US Boat to Gaza) is hoping to set sail if it can secure approval from the Greek government, which is being fierecly lobbied behind the scenes to scuttle the flotilla.

Time will tell if the ships will be allowed to proceed on their nonviolent mission. But something that is in all of our power is the ability to personally honor the the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

Peter Rothberg described in this space last summer, the boycotts, divestment initiatives and economic sanctions that comprise the call for BDS. If anything, the last year has shown that the call is now more urgent than ever and could be effective in helping force an end to the Israeli occupation of Gaza.

While it is no secret that much of the United States' massive aid package to Israel helps finance the country's illegal and inhuman occupation of Palestine, one of the better-kept secrets is the role that many popular American and international corporations play in enabling the occupation. Perhaps we don’t necessarily own a Motorola cell phone or regularly operate a Caterpillar bulldozer—but many of our universities’ endowments or retirement pension funds are actively invested in these companies.

Plenty of Americans are (unknowingly) supporting war profiteers.

Here are some of the worst offenders:

Motorola Inc. — Motorola, as in the cell phone company, plays a key role in many of sectors of the occupation. Motorola Israel, a subsidiary of Motorola Inc, is the central provider of bomb fuses to the Israeli Air Force (IAF). These fuses were highly used by the IDF during the destruction of Operation Cast Lead and the 2006 Lebanon War. In addition to manufacturing parts for weapons, Motorola is largely responsible for the Israeli Defense Force’s communications and surveillance technology. The surveillance “watch towers” that punctuate the separation barrier that segregates Palestine from the outside world are all operated by Motorola technology.

Caterpillar Inc. — Caterpillar (CAT) Bulldozers destroy Palestinian homes and olive trees (one of the primary sources of livelihood for many Palestinian families) to make room for illegal Israeli settlements, the separation barrier, and “Jewish-only” roads. American International Solidarity Movement activist Rachel Corrie died when she was crushed under a CAT Bulldozer.

Hewlett Packard (HP) — Hewlett Packard owns Electronic Data Systems, which is in charge of the technology monitoring checkpoints inside of Palestine. In addition, HP monitors the Israeli Navy’s entire IT operating system, which enabled last year’s attacks on the Freedom Flotilla.

General Electric (GE) — General Electric sells engines to Israel for a variety of military aircrafts.

United Technologies — United Technologies produces Blackhawk helicopters. These helicopters are used to attack Palestinian cities and refugee camps and are responsible for the lion’s share of Palestinian civilian deaths.

The list goes on.

In addition, many retirement pension funds, most notably TIAA-CREF are hugely invested in several of the offending corporations. Several investors of conscience have started the “TIAA-CREF” divestment campaign, raising awareness around transparency issues with the fund and, most importantly, demanding that TIAA-CREF divest from these companies.

So what can you do?

Research any and all investments. Sign the TIAA-CREF petition. Avoid Motorola cell phones and HP Printers. Don’t buy Ahava beauty products. Do buy Palestinian olive oil.

Money speaks louder than megaphones—BDS!

NxtGen: Stuff the Cuts

For those of you concerned that there’s no good protest music out there, the English hip-hop group NxtGen is using rap to take searing aim at the British government’s austerity budget, which mandates dramatic cuts in basic human services, education, jobs re-training and transportation.

“Everybody Stand Up If You’re Against the Cuts.”

Food Not Bombs Members Arrested for Feeding the Hungry

This post was guest-written byNation intern and freelance writer Kevin S. Donohoe.

Since the beginning of June, more than twenty members of the anti-hunger organization Food Not Bombs have been arrested in Orlando, Florida for the "crime" of providing free meals to the homeless and working poor.

Food Not Bombs has long been serving free, vegan food in Orlando’s public parks. That all changed last month, when the city began enforcing a 2006 ordinance limiting groups who feed more than twenty-five people in parks to only two permited events per year. Food Not Bombs unsuccessfully appealed the decision in federal court and its members are now refusing to obey the law.

As tensions escalated between the police and FNB, city officials took to the press to vilify the group's members and recipients. A spokesman for the city says that FNB recipients have been responsible for trash, public urination and crime in city parks. The mayor of Orlando, Buddy Dyer, went even further, calling the organization's members “food terrorists” and accusing the group of having “different purposes” than helping the homeless.

FNB activist Benjamin Markeson is filing a defamation lawsuit against the Mayor for his terrorist comments -- and said that the real terrorist acts are being committed by government officials. “We think that it is terrorism to arrest people for trying to share food with the poor and hungry in the community,” Markeson told Democracy Now!

The arrests have received international press coverage and solidarity rallies have been staged at local universities as far away as Michigan. On June 20th, hacktivist group Anonymous shut down the Orlando Chamber of Commerce’s website and posted a “boycott Orlando” message on the site of Universal Orlando Resorts.  Now, local officials from across the state are watching the standoff between FNB and the city closely as they consider imposing similar permit regulations in their own communities. 

This is not the first time a Food Not Bombs chapter has been targeted by local government officials. Last year officials in Middletown, Connecticut tried to shut down a chapter of the group for lacking a license. The dispute ended after Attorney General (now US Senator) Richard Blumenthal changed the state's law to accommodate food sharing. In February, Fort Lauderdale Police twice raided a home shared by local FNB activists.

The organization was founded by eight anti-nuclear activist thirty years ago, as Jennifer O'Mahoney explained in this space last September, and now has 1,000 chapters across the country. Members collect surplus food from bakeries, restaurants and grocery stores and prepare vegan meals, keeping regular hours in the same locations so that community members in need know when, and where, to find them. Although local chapters vary in organization and orientation, all are bound by a shared commitment to nonviolent social change, economic equality and the idea that access to food is an inalienable right.

You can sign the Food Not Bombs online petition asking the city of Orlando to stop arresting people for sharing food with the hungry or a petition on Change.org calling for an end to the arrests. If you would like to get involved with or support Food Not Bombs, this list will tell you if there's a chapter near you. If not, you can start your own group by e-mailing menu@foodnotbombs.net. Money is also desperately needed so, if you can, please donate a dollar for peace here

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