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Peter Rothberg | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

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? 

One Way to Help the Protesters in Turkey


Riot police use teargas to disperse the crowd during an anti-government protest at Taksim Square in central Istanbul. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal)

Thousands of demonstrators in Turkey today vowed to press on with their campaign after clashing with police around Istanbul’s central Taksim Square into the early hours of the day, the fifth straight day of protests. They were joined by the Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions, which is staging a two-day strike to show solidarity with the protesters and to demand better workplace safety and higher wages.

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Turkish protesters have now taken to the popular non-profit fundraising site Indiegogo with a new campaign to build momentum on what some are calling the start of a revolution.

What if we felt the same way about Turkey as we feel about Game of Thrones? Read Michelle Dean on revolution on television and in real life.

How to Help in Oklahoma

A woman carries her child after the tornado in Moore, OK

A woman carries her child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, OK. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

In what is now officially one of the worst tornado disasters in US history, dozens of people have been reported dead in Oklahoma—many of them children—with the toll expected to rise as the search for survivors in the rubble continues. Television showed shocking destruction spread over a large area, with block upon block of homes and businesses, many in and around the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, completely demolished.

As is always the case, it’s the poor who are bearing the brunt of the catastrophe: because sub-standard housing is much more vulnerable to natural disaster, because support networks are likely to be far more impoverished and because whatever small cushions people possess are quickly wiped out in the face of disaster on this scale.

So how to help?

Here are some Oklahoma groups on the ground doing relief on behalf of the state’s most impoverished residents. They desperately needed our help before this storm was even glimpsed, but now more than ever, support is critically needed. I'll keep updating this list so use the comments field below for suggestions and check back later.

The Oklahoma Regional Food Bank was established in 1980, and has grown into the largest non-faith-based hunger-relief organization in the state of Oklahoma. It already had its hands full trying to feed the estimated 675,000 Oklahomans not getting enough to eat; now it has established special outposts near Oklahoma City to provide immediate food to those rendered homeless by the tornado.

Occupy Norman is acting as a clearinghouse for information about indie relief efforts and coordinating housing and medical supplies for those urgently in need.

Feeding America, whose mission is to “feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks,” says it will deliver trucks of food, water and supplies to communities in Oklahoma, and will also “set up additional emergency food and supply distribution sites as they are needed.”

Team Rubicon’s Operation: Starting Gun is mobilizing volunteers to go directly to the communities to help assess damages and expedite home repair. Your support will help get these volunteers where they need to be as quickly as possible.

Set up through the non-profit, grassroots-supporting Global Giving, the Oklahoma Tornado Relief Fund is raising dollars for both immediate needs, as well as long-term rebuilding goals.

The Red Cross has set up shelters in various, affected communities. Donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief fund; the organization also suggests giving blood at your local hospital or blood bank. If you’re searching for a missing relative, check the Red Cross Safe & Well site.

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