Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

Join the Largest Privacy Protest Ever This Weekend

Daniel Ellsberg

US Representative John Conyers Jr., Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and actor Maggie Gyllenhaal join a chorus of prominent voices calling for an end to mass suspicionless surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) in a new short video released by the StopWatching.us coalition.

The video is a call to action released in support of the Stop Watching Us: Rally Against Mass Surveillance being held in Washington, DC, on Saturday, October 26, the twelfth anniversary of the Patriot Act. Formed in June 2013, the StopWatching.us coalition comprises more than 100 public advocacy organizations from across the political spectrum demanding that Congress investigate the full extent of the NSA’s spying programs.

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The protest should be the largest privacy protest in the history of the republic. The demand is for a full congressional investigation of America’s surveillance programs, reform to federal surveillance law and accountability from public officials responsible for hiding this surveillance from lawmakers and the public. Sign the coalition’s petition and find out how you can support the campaign, whether or not you can get to DC on October 26.

Busting Food Myths for Two Generations

There may be no family in the history of the republic which has done more to promote culinary awareness, sustainability and food justice than the indefatigable Lappé clan.

Frances Moore Lappé’s seminal and best-selling 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet, launched one of the first substantive critiques of the industrial food industry and was groundbreaking for arguing that world hunger is not caused by a lack of food but by an unfair system of resource allocation.

Lappé’s husband, the late toxicologist Marc Lappé, was an early, persistent and perceptive critic of the agrichemical industry and what its products do to human beings.

In 1975, Lappé and Joseph Collins launched the California-based Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) with a mission to end the injustices that cause hunger, poverty and environmental degradation throughout the world. Having evolved into the country’s leading food think tank, Food First currently sponsors countless projects coast to coast aimed at building local agri-food systems.

Building on the success of Food First, Lappé later founded the Small Planet Institute in 2001 with her daughter Anna Lappé to reveal how people on every continent are creating living democratic models to establish their own food security and power to remake societal rules and norms to serve widely shared values.

Then, in 2006, Anna Lappé took Small Planet a step further with her book, Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, in which she revealed the disturbing connection between food production and climate change and outlined how we can eat food that’s better for both people and the planet.

Delving deeper into the myths that lead so many people to eat against their own interests, as it were, the younger Lappé’s latest campaign and series of short movies, Food Myths, seeks to unpack the often stealth marketing of junk food to kids and counter the billion-dollar annual investment by the fast-food industry in shaping the public conversation about our food system.

In the second and most recent movie, Lappé debunks one of the most pervasive myths propagated by the junk food industry—the myth of personal choice—and calls into question the industry’s defense of its marketing: that parental authority is the sole factor in deciding what kids eat. Citing a range of studies and reports, Lappé explaines how junk food industry marketing is designed to undermine parental authority and exploit children’s vulnerabilities.

Lappé explains how children like her daughter, Ida (and my daughter, Claudia!), are inundated with marketing throughout their lives—from the Internet to the classroom to the sports field—despite the best efforts of their supposedly enlightened parents. Today, the food industry reaches our children far beyond commercials during Saturday morning cartoons. Big Food marketing pops up in the classroom and lunchroom; on sports leagues jerseys and playground equipment; on branded websites and social media platforms. This constant onslaught shapes our childrens’ habits and preferences, undermines parental guidance and helps drive the nation’s growing epidemic of diet-related disease.

“For decades, McDonald’s and its junk food cohorts have worked to convince Americans that bad parenting, not aggressive marketing, is the reason for exploding rates of diet-related disease,” said Lappé. “It’s time we stood with parents to end the tsunami of marketing that targets kids and creates an environment devoid of healthy choices.”

In conjunction with the campaign launch, Lappé cobbled together a Food MythBusters coalition and, as its first campaign, its members are calling on McDonald’s to shut down its flagship website for kids, HappyMeal.com.

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Happy Meals are a staple of McDonald’s youth-targeted playbook, featuring toys from children’s movies and cartoons. To reach young people, McDonald’s has enlisted role models like Olympic Champion Gabby Douglas and cartoon characters like Shrek. As parents and health professionals become increasingly critical of such tactics, the fast-food giant has moved to digital marketing aimed at reaching kids in spaces where parents often exercise less vigilance.

Join the call for McDonald’s to turn off the lights on HappyMeal.com and find out how to watch and share the films and help support the project.

Evangeline Lilly Explains How the Government Tracks You

(Courtesy: StopWatchingUs)

This new video, narrated and produced by actress, activist and author Evangeline Lilly, details how the National Security Agency surveillance programs really work and urges concerned citizens to speak out at the upcoming StopWatchingUs rally in Washington, DC. “The government has turned the Internet we love into something it was never intended to be: a tool for surveilling everyone,” Lilly says.

Last night, a crowd of nearly 300 people gathered in Washington Square Park were the first people to view the short film, produced by Fight for the Future and Demand Progress, which was projected onto the side of a building in bustling lower Manhattan. The massive projection was done in coordination with The Illuminator, an NYC collective that uses huge projections to make political statements.

Numerous pedestrians stopped to watch the spectacle, as volunteers from the internet freedom group Restore the Fourth roamed the crowd handing out free popcorn and flyers for the Stop Watching Us rally in Washington, DC—a protest scheduled for the anniversary of the USA PATRIOT Act, October 26, that has been endorsed by a coalition of more than 100 groups from across the political spectrum.

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The protest’s demand is for a full congressional investigation of America’s surveillance programs, reform to federal surveillance law, and accountability from public officials responsible for hiding this surveillance from lawmakers and the public. Sign the coalition’s petition and find out how you can support the campaign, whether you can get to DC on October 26 or not.

Five Videos for Columbus Day

The Columbus Day holiday has always been controversial. Observances are far from uniform across the country. South Dakota marks the occasion as “Native American Day.” In Denver, Colorado’s annual Columbus Day parade is met by protesters decrying the genocide of indigenous peoples. In upstate New York, a Native American poetry festival pays tribute to Columbus’s victims.

At the same time, many Italian-American communities fiercely defend Columbus Day, wanting to preserve the country’s most powerful symbol of the enormous contributions successive waves of Italian immigrants have made to the creation and evolution of America.

I sympathize, but still think we need to reconsider Columbus Day. Abolishing it may not be the best idea, but using the occasion to try to foster a real understanding of history would be altogether appropriate and wouldn’t require the demeaning of the proud legacy of Italian-Americans.

1. Jay Smoove, Reconsider Columbus Day

2. Savage Media, The Requiremento of 2012

3. The Sopranos, Columbus Day

4. Democracy Now, Indigenous Urge Teaching of the Americas’ Genocide

5. Crass, Where Next Columbus?

Stand Up for Toni Morrison During Banned Books Week

Author Toni Morrison (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Toni Morrison’s debut novel The Bluest Eye is a widely acknowledged masterpiece. Its literary reputation, however, has done little to placate wannabe censors who have tried to discredit and even ban the book from schools, citing depictions of incest and child molestation as “pornographic” and “totally inappropriate” for students.

Last week, the novel came under fire in Morrison’s home state of Ohio. At a board meeting on September 10, 2013, Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar criticized The Bluest Eye as “pornographic” and called for its removal from state teaching guidelines for high school students. Terhar was outraged by the inclusion of the book on the new Federal Common Core Standard’s recommended reading list for eleventh graders. “I don’t want my grandchildren reading it, and I don’t want anyone else’s children reading it,” Terhar said at the board meeting. Board member Mark Smith doubled-down on Terhar’s intolerance, calling the novel part of “an underlying socialist-communist agenda.”

The fact is that The Bluest Eye is an unflinching look at racism and sexual violence, written by an Ohio native who has won the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (not to mention being a member of The Nation’s editorial board!).

In real-life America, an estimated 207,754 women are sexually assaulted annually, a full 44 percent of whom are under the age of 18. This pervasive sexual violence is reality for tens of thousands of students, a reality the Ohio Board of Ed is looking to whitewash with this latest censorship drive.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Terhar, challenging her argument that Morrison’s novel is “pornographic.” Instead of banning the book, the advocacy organization suggested that Ohio schools “use controversial literature as an opportunity to improve students’ critical thinking skills and to create open dialogue between students and the community.”

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That’s a good suggestion, one of which we should be especially mindful during Banned Books Week, which started this past Sunday and runs through the weekend. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982, and, according to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported.

In addition to a Virtual Read-Out, hundreds of Banned Books events are taking place this week coast to coast at bookstores, libraries, schools, community centers, parks and other public spaces. Find an event near you and join The Nation and the ACLU in standing up for Toni Morrison and telling Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar to please stop promoting the censorship of valuable works of literature.

America the Possible

What is the new American Dream? In a new book and companion video, noted environmentalist Gus Speth breaks it down in simple, inspiring language and details how we can start incorporating a fundamentally new set of values in our homes, streets, neighborhoods, and cities.

Speth identifies a dozen features of the American political economy—the country’s basic operating system—where transformative change is essential, and explains how structural change can be brought to America. Watch and share the video and heed Speth’s urgent call to arms.

How to Help the Refugees in Syria

Since the civil war in Syria broke out two years ago, the United Nations estimates that more than six and a half million people have been displaced. Of those, more than two million Syrians have fled their country, according to the United Nations refugee agency. With nowhere to go, many end up in overcrowded, overwhelmed and underfunded refugee camps. By the end of this year, the UN estimates that a full half of the population of Syria will be in dire need of aid.

With the imminent threat of a US military intervention seemingly receding, the world’s focus should be on aiding the increasingly desperate Syrian population. Relief efforts have been especially difficult given the increasing violence of the conflict but many steadfast organizations are offering supplies, shelter and medical care for people displaced by the crisis.

Here’s an incomplete list:

Doctors Without Borders is providing direct medical aid in six hospitals and four health centers inside Syria. The group is also sending medical supplies, equipment and support to the medical networks throughout Syria that they cannot access themselves. They accept donations online, and you can earmark your gift for Syria by calling 1-888-392-0392.

The Danish Refugee Council is one of the largest organizations on the ground in Syria. The agency is taking donations on its website.

Islamic Relief USA is providing food, housing essentials and medical supplies for those displaced inside Syria as well as refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. To help these efforts, select “Syrian Humanitarian Aid” on the donation page.

The British group ActionAid is raising funds specifically to support relief in the Zaatari camp, an enormous refugee city in Jordan currently housing close to 150,000 displaced Syrians. Donations can be made online.

CARE is operating four refugee centers in Jordan, and is helping refugees there with cash assistance for rent and food. In Lebanon they are helping refugees get access to clean water. Staffers are also working inside Syria, providing emergency supplies for families, psychosocial support for children and emergency medical equipment and specific support for women. You can aid their efforts with an online donation or donate by phone at 1-800-521-CARE.

International Medical Corps is providing health care and counseling services for Syrian refugees with static and mobile clinics at refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. They are also offering medical support to the hospitals and medical facilities in these countries handling refugee care. Support their work by donating online or by calling 310-826-7800.

The International Rescue Committee is helping refugees inside Syria and in the bordering countries with medical and emergency supplies. In refugee camps they are providing water, sanitation and education services. They are also offering counseling, safety and support for women and girls at risk. Help by donating online or at 1-855-9RESCUE.

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Shelterbox is providing tents, kitchen equipment, blankets, water purification systems and classroom supplies to more than 4,500 refugee families in Syria. In the coming months the group plans to support another 5,000 families. You can help with an online donation or by texting SHELTER to 20222 to make a $10 donation.

Save the Children is helping young people caught up in the crisis with temporary learning facilities, child friendly spaces and programs to help them cope with their trauma. They are also providing necessities like food, blankets and clothing to refugee families. You can support the Syria Children in Crisis fund by donating online or by calling 1-800-728-3843.

Please use the comments field to let me know what I’ve missed.

Zoe Carpenter outlines the case for diplomacy in Syria.

Salvador Allende's Last Speech

The relatives of victims of Chile's dictatorship march outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)

Forty years ago today, Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government in Chile was overthrown by a US-backed military coup.

Under Allende’s administration, the people in Chile tried to pursue their idea of a new kind of society: equal, free, and with justice for all. The US government, bent on undermining the possibility of democratic socialism in its hemisphere, did its best to destroy that idea with low-intensity warfare, political and economic sabotage and support for rightwing army leaders that wanted to overthrow the government.

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The brutal consequences of that coup remain one of the most glaring examples of the inhumanity of imperialism and since the violent overthrow remains a universal symbol of “anti-democracy at its best,” as the recently deceased author and filmmaker Saul Landau once put it, the anniversary should be taught and remembered in the United States, which played a decisive covert role in the events of forty years ago.

Wendy's to Be Targeted by Fair Food Activists

Of the five largest fast food corporations in the country—McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Taco Bell (Yum! Brands), and Wendy’s—Wendy’s stands alone as the only one who has refused to join the Fair Food Program, a unique farmworker-driven initiative consisting of a wage increase supported by a price premium paid by corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes, and a human-rights-based Code of Conduct, applicable throughout the Florida tomato industry.

As Wendy’s positions itself to implement sustainable business practices and promote its sourcing of “honest ingredients,” it must realize that respect for human rights and worker participation are integral components of the genuine sustainability that today’s consumers expect and demand.

That’s why the indefatigable Coalition for Immokolee Workers is staging a Wendy’s Week of Action, August 3 to 11. Join the movement calling on Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program and find out how you can sign an open letter, call Wendy’s management, deliver info to Wendy’s franchises, educate your community about the issues and help spread the word about the campaign.

I Am Bradley Manning

Nobel Peace Prize nominee PFC Bradley Manning has been in prison for more than three years. He is accused of sharing documents that expose US war crimes, government corruption, and corporate influence on US foreign policies. This is the charge, but to me and millions of others, whoever did expose these crimes is a hero and a patriot. Yet the government has chosen to persecute the alleged whistle-blower rather than pursue the criminals.

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Manning’s court martial started on June 3. Human rights lawyer Chase Madar, author of the invaluable The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower (Verso), is attending the proceedings and blogging at thenation.com during the course of the trial.

This impassioned appeal from Daniel Ellsberg makes clear what an injustice the US government is perpetuating on Manning. Read and share the letter and then check out the Bradley Manning Support Network to see how you can help save the life of a true American hero.

Read Chase Madar - what is in Bradley Manning's leaks anyway? 

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