Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

The War on Whistleblowers

I was lucky to recently see a screening of Robert Greenwald’s new film. It was different that what I expected, not just because it’s a full-length feature, different from many of Greenwald’s earlier, shorter political docs, but also because the film doesn’t champion political activists or progressive heroes, as a series which The Nation collaborated on with Greenwald’s shop did. And it doesn’t take on traditional left targets like Fox News, the Koch brothers and Walmart, as previous Greenwald productions have done.

What the War on Whistleblowers does is shine a light on normal people, conservative and traditional people, who acted with extraordinary courage, conviction and clarity when presented with information they just couldn’t live without revealing. These are people who believed in all that America promises and then sacrificed their reputations and livelihoods and risked imprisonment by the very government they swore to protect.

Their names are Franz Gayl, Thomas Tamm, Michael DeKort and Thomas Drake. Their stories have been told in pieces in the press and at least Drake has achieved widespread notice due largely to a magisterial investigative report by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker. But to hear them telling their own stories, not just the details of their whistleblowing and what led them to finally decide to go public, but the ways the state fought to silence them, is both inspiring and disillusioning in equal measure. And it’s infuriating to hear about the the worsening reality for whistleblowers who are being persecuted simply for exposing the truth.

The film is now showing theatrically in NY and LA, and Brave New Films is giving as many people as possible the opportunity to see it by offering a free DVD of the film to anybody who offers to host a house screening with their friends. Take BNF up on its offer, download and share this related Whistleblower Action Guide and help Brave New Films expose the undemocratic and inexcusable way that the Obama administration is treating this current generation of truth-tellers.

One Movement Against Keystone XL

On April 18, people converged in Nebraska to speak out about the Keystone XL Pipeline at the State Department’s only public comment session. Farmers, ranchers, climat activists, and people of all stripes and colors spoke out in opposition to the pipeline.

It’s still entirely unclear if the Keystone XL pipeline can be built and managed safely. Moreover, its construction would delay the critical conversion to a non-fossil fuel based economy on which our future depends. Secretary of State John Kerry, who once spoke out bravely against the Vietnam War and who has stressed the dangers of climate change, could stop it. Sometime soon, the State Department will issue a final environmental impact statement on the pipeline, followed by a determination on whether it is “in the national interest.”

Join Bill McKibben and many others in signing The Nation’s open letter urging Secretary Kerry to consider his legacy and to find the courage to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Richie Havens' Top Ten Songs

Richie Havens was one of the first performers I saw play live back in my pre-teen years when my father took me to see him at the Hudson Valley’s legendary Opus 40. Most famous for stepping in to open up the Woodstock concert, the Brooklyn-born Havens died yesterday of a heart attack at the far too-young age of 72.

Beyond his Woodstock status—he’d originally been scheduled to play fifth but was bumped up because of other acts’ travel delays—and a long, successful musical career interpreting songs as well as writing his own, Havens was a determined progressive who took every opportunity to use his music to help improve peoples lives.

A stalwart ally of the environmental movement, Havens devoted considerable energy to educating young people about the critical urgency of environmental activism. In 1975, he founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children’s museum on City Island in the Bronx. In the early 1980s, he created the Natural Guard, an environmental organization for children. He did too many benefit concerts to count on behalf of environmental, antiwar, civil rights and anti-nuclear causes.

In tribute, here’s my (highly debatable) list of Havens’s top ten performances.

1. Freedom (performed at Woodstock)

2. Here Comes the Sun

3. All Along the Watchtower

4. Motherless Child

5. Helplessly Hoping

6. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

7. Fire and Rain

8. Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

9. What’s Going On?

10. Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

The Village Green Preservation Society

Regular readers of this blog should remember über-talented filmmaker/producer/musician/progressive impresario Sarah Sophie Flickr’s recent rad projects like her Get Out the Vote PSA set to Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” and her anti-fracking ad, “Don’t Frack My Mother.”

This Earth Day, Flickr joined forces with the Rainforest Alliance and convened some of her fabulous friends to exhume The Kinks’ classic tune “Village Green Preservation Society” in a catchy lip-synching medley featuring Sean Lennon, Alexa Chung, Tennessee Thomas, Karen Elson and many others. The song, beyond getting you to bop your head and hum along, effectively promotes the idea that small daily actions can make big change.

It’s a fun sing-along with a deadly serious goal: to boost the ranks of the more than 35,000-strong member Rainforest Alliance, which has a goal of improving lives, livelihoods and lands in more than 100 countries around the globe. So enjoy and share the song and find out more about the Rainforest Alliance this Earth Day.

Do the Math: The Movie

The Do the Math Movie is being screened concurrently at 7:00 pm local time on April 21 at house-parties and screenings across the country. At forty-two minutes, it tells the story of the rising movement trying to change the terrifying math of the climate crisis and fight the fossil fuel industry. Find a screening near you, host one yourself and add your name to The Nation's open letter imploring Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Margaret Thatcher vs. British Musicians

Among many other accomplishments, Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain's first and still only female Prime Minister who died today at age 87, inspired a generation of songwriters to devote their talents to assailing her reign. Here are a few of my favorites.

Top Ten Songs About Margaret Thatcher

1. The English Beat, Stand Down Margaret

2. Morrissey, Margaret on the Guillotine

3. Elvis Costello, Tramp the Dirt Down

4. The Specials, Maggie's Farm

5. Matt Johnson, The-The Heartland

6. Sinéad O'Connor, Black Boys On Mopeds

7. Billy Bragg, Between the Wars

8. Billy Bragg, Thatcherites

9. The Specials, Ghost Town

10. Pete Wylie, The Day that Margaret Thatcher Dies

One Million Comments Against Keystone XL

If you know someone who doesn't know about the Tar Sands, this is a good video to send their way.

The Tar Sands, also known as the oil sands, are one of the largest remaining deposits of oil in the world, and efforts to extract the resource from a mix of clay and other materials underneath Canada’s Boreal forest have created the biggest, and by the accounts of numerous scientists and environmental groups, the most environmentally devastating, energy project on earth. For details and background, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has compiled an extensive document that challenges many of the claims made by TransCanada and the US State Department about tough regulatory oversight of the project.

Moreover, as my colleague George Zornick makes clear, there are still too many known unknowns about diluted bitumen, the type of oil that would be carried by the Keystone XL pipeline. As he explains, "we don't know exactly what's in it, and the government hasn't fully studied how safe it is to transport."

The State Department's official public comment period on Keystone XL Pipeline is now open -- and it's a crucial opportunity to inundate officials there with eloquent letter of opposition. The eco-advocacy group 350.org is collecting comments and will deliver them directly to the State Department.

The Keystone tar sands pipeline will create just a handful of jobs, won’t improve US energy security, and just isn’t worth the potential cost to our health and our climate. Make your voice heard today.

'Don't Frack My Mother'

One of the hippest and most amusing videos you’ll watch this year might also be the most important.

In a new star-studded anti-fracking spot released today, Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono, the forces behind Artists Against Fracking, hooked up with über-talented filmmaker/producer/musician/progressive impresario Sarah Sophie Flicker and convened some of their fabulous friends to put pressure on Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban hydraulic fracturing in New York state.

Directed by Sophie Flicker, Maximilla Lukacs, and Tennessee Thomas, “Don’t Frack My Mother” features Liv Tyler, Alexa Chung, Fred Armisen, Adrian Grenier, Penn Badgley, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Susan Sarandon, Molly Crabapple, Natasha Lyonne and many other celebs who all urge lawmakers to “Keep fracking out of New York.”

As readers of this blog are likely well aware, the science shows—from industry’s own documents—that fracking poses a potential threat to our drinking water, our air and our land. It has not yet been proven safe, despite the industry’s making every effort to do so, and the practice has, in fact, caused many health risks in states like Pennsylvania where it has been going on for years.

By design, hydrofracking causes miniature underground explosions—fracturing rocks and consequently releasing gas, along with radioactive and other carcinogenic and highly toxic substances from deep within the earth. These carcinogens, along with radioactive materials and the toxic sludge known as frack fluid, can contaminate aquifers and spoil water supplies.

What to do? After watching, share this video, sign this petition and call, tweet and otherwise politely pester Governor Cuomo to outlaw fracking in his state. After that, implore your national reps to support the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act. The legislation aims to repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the Safe Drinking Water Act and would require the energy industry to disclose the chemicals it pumps underground in the hydraulic fracturing process, information that has been heretofore protected as trade secrets.

David Riker's 'The Girl'

More than ten years ago, David Riker’s acclaimed debut film, La Ciudad (The City)—about the lives of Latin American immigrants in New York City—anticipated many of today’s most contentious debates about undocumented immigrants and their possible pathways to citizenship. For his long-awaited follow-up, The Girl, Riker traveled to the border to tell an unconventional tale about migration.

Australian actress Abbie Cornish stars as a 20-something working-class South Texan who seeks to escape her minimum-wage existence by smuggling immigrants across the border. Emotionally distraught after losing custody of her son, single mother Ashley becomes desperate when she loses her job at a local Austin megastore. So when the risky opportunity to become a coyote arrives, she takes it. When the attempted crossing ends in tragedy, she finds herself stranded with a young girl who lost her mother during the journey. Harrowing, grim, but ultimately hopeful, The Girl turns the central myth of the border—that hope flows north—upside down.

The film opens tomorrow, March 8, in two New York City theaters and is currently scheduled to run in theaters in Tucson, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio over the course of March. Click here for a full theatrical schedule and contact your local cinema and implore them to run the film too.

In NYC, there are also three special film events this weekend at Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Monroe Film: On Friday, March 8, Riker, Cornish and filmmaker Paul Mezey will discuss the movie after the 7:30 showing; on Saturday, March 9th, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman will talk about the film with Riker after the 7:30 showing, and on Sunday, March 10, Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill and Riker will talk about the issues raised in the film after the 5:15 screening.

Watch and share the trailer below:

A Fierce Green Planet

The argument that we’re living in a new golden age of documentaries will be significantly furthered tomorrow with the release of A Fierce Green Fire, the first major cinematic exploration of the modern environmental movement.

Directed and written by Mark Kitchell, the Academy Award–nominated director of Berkeley in the Sixties, and co-narrated by Robert Redford, Ashley Judd, Van Jones, Isabel Allende and Meryl Streep, the film premiered at the recent Sundance Film Festival to great acclaim and begins theatrical release on March 1, as well as educational distribution and activist outreach.

Inspired by the book of the same name by Philip Shabecoff, the film aims to elucidate the major elements of the environmental movement and connect them to the fights for our future that are taking place today. Featuring commentary from Bill McKibben, Carl Pope, Bob Bullard and Lois Gibbs, among many other other outraged activist voices, and including archival footage of eco-heros like Chico Mendes, Wangari Matthai and David Brower, the film focuses on grassroots resistance: people fighting to save their homes, their lives and the future.

In this audio clip from WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show, the film’s executive producer Mark Weiss and Lois Gibbs, who led the protests at Love Canal, started the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, and is featured in the doc, talk about the stakes of environmental degradation.

Watch and share this trailer, check out the national screening schedule, petition your local theaters to show the film and join the global movement to solve the climate crisis.

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