Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

The Military-Industrial Complex

Fifty-two years ago today, President Dwight D. Eisenhower used his farewell speech to the nation to warn the country against the rise of what he called the military-industrial complex. Sadly, his words, though they became iconic and well-remembered, were not heeded and his warning is now more relevant and critical than ever.

Not in Her Shoes

Just days ahead of the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood released a powerful video today illustrating how the pro-choice and pro-life labels don’t reflect the complexity of the conversation about abortion, and the way that Americans—especially young people—think and talk about abortion today. Part of the organization’s effort to expand the national conversation about abortion beyond simplistic labels, the video aims to help people engage in an authentic, expansive and nonjudgmental conversation about reproductive rights.

Dear NRA: Stop Undermining the ATT

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the National Rifle Association’s paying membership has grown by 100,000 in the wake of the December school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the organization told Politico on Thursday.

At the same time, the gun rights organization declaring that it wants to make a “meaningful contribution” to prevent gun violence, has decided to take a more active roll in President Obama’s initiative’s to address the issue by sitting down today with Vice President Joe Biden, leader of the White House task force on guns, to discuss ways to drive down the violence.

The venerable human rights group Amnesty International has a idea worth amplifying: support the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The United Nations is preparing to finalize the treaty, which would help stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers. And world leaders will negotiate and vote on it in March.

There are tens of thousands of children forcibly recruited right now by various governments’ armed forces and by non-state armed groups who are often armed with weapons irresponsibly traded by governments and private corporations. Children are also part of the 26 million people who have been displaced by armed conflict fueled by guns.

The ATT could make a real difference here. Despite being the largest exporter of small arms and conventional weapons in the world, the US has not been a leader in the effort to establish this treaty due largely to a campaign of misinformation and lies—orchestrated by the NRA—to force the US government to oppose and weaken the ATT.

The NRA has wrongly asserted that the ATT would infringe on the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. But, in fact, the ATT will have no bearing on domestic gun ownership, it deals exclusively with the flow of weapons between—not within—countries.

Implore the NRA to stop its campaign of lies about the ATT, stop interfering in US foreign policy and stop helping human rights abusers overseas get weapons.

Break the Chain

Produced by playwright, author and activist Eve Ensler, written and produced by Tena Clark and featuring dancer and choreographer Debbie Allen, “Break the Chain” aims to raise global awareness about V-Day’s fast growing global campaign, One Billion Rising.

Recent horrifying statistics show that one in three women globally will be raped, beaten or severely violated in their lifetime. That’s 1 billion women. And that’s how this new campaign got its name, its impetus and its focus. On February 14, 2013, V-Day’s fifteenth anniversary, activists, writers, thinkers, celebrities and women and men across the world will come together to express their outrage, strike, dance and rise in defiance of the injustices females suffer daily, demanding an enduring end to violence against women.

There are already thousands of events scheduled in more than 160 countries. Sign up today, find a gathering near you, invite your friends to join the campaign and check out OneBillionRising.org for videos, news updates, information on joining and supporting the campaign, and much more.

Remembering Becky Tarbotton

I only met Rainforest Action Network executive director Becky Tarbotton once. But once was enough to firmly shock me out of my holiday stupor when I heard the horrible news that she had died on December 26 at the age of 39 in a freak swimming accident in Mexico while on vacation.

Brilliant, young, dynamic, female environmental visionaries are hard to find so this loss is enormous. Tarbotton, a self-proclaimed “pragmatic idealist” was widely admired for her work protecting forests, articulating a clean-energy economy and defending human rights. She was the first female executive director of RAN and a strong female voice in a movement often dominated by men.

Under Tarbotton’s leadership since she took over in 2010, RAN achieved significant victories in preserving endangered rainforests and the rights of their indigenous inhabitants. Most recently, Tarbotton spearheaded the most significant agreement in the history of the organization: a landmark policy by entertainment giant, Disney, that’s set to transform everything about the way the company purchases and uses paper.

“Becky was an emerging star who was galvanizing an ever-growing movement of people demanding environment and social change. She believed that to protect forests and our communities we must protect our climate, and to protect our climate we must protect the forests,” said Nell Greenberg, spokesperson for the Rainforest Action Network. “RAN is heartbroken by our loss of Becky, but we are committed to continuing the course that she set for us. Focusing on our core purpose of protecting forests, moving the country off of fossil fuels and defending human rights through bold, effective, and innovative environmental corporate campaigns.”

Tarbotton is survived by her husband, Mateo Williford; her brothers Jesse and Cameron Tarbotton, and her mother, Mary Tarbotton, of Vancouver, BC. Her ashes will be scattered off of Hornby Island in British Columbia where her family owns a cabin and where she spent much time. Public memorial services will be held in San Francisco and in Vancouver. Dates are still to be determined.

RAN has set up a tribute page to help memorialize their fallen leader. This is a place to celebrate Tarbotton’s enormous contributions and share memories and feelings. All voices are welcome. And for those who wish to support Tarbotton’s ongoing vision for RAN, consider a donation in her memory.

Gift Guide 2012

If you’re well organized, you’ve already finished your holiday shopping. But if, like me, you’re just starting to scramble for presents, ideally those of the non-corporate variety, read on for ideas. (That is, If you can’t get away with a Buy Nothing Christmas which might be worth pitching to your friends and family.)

Heifer International holiday gifts of livestock for impoverished families is a venerable progressive holiday tradition. Heifer virtually pioneered the idea of alternative gift-giving in the early 1990s with its The Most Important Catalog In The World and has become a popular way for parents to impart some of the giving spirit to children awash in too many presents. The Heifer gift catalog allows you to purchase a farm animal for needy families around the world, which can help them achieve a degree of sustainability. A pig can be bought for $120 (or chip in $10 to help share the cost of one), three rabbits are a bargain at $60 total, a flock of chicks costs only $20, and, if you can afford to change a family’s life, a $1,500 donation provides two sheep, four goats, a heifer and two llamas. I think of outfits like Heifer as offering the opportunity for the world’s comparatively well-off to voluntarily redistribute a bit of their incomes to those that need the money much more than we do.

The Sustainable Gifts Catalog is a project of Outreach International, a humanitarian organization currently working in thirteen impoverished countries around the world, assisting hundreds of thousands of children, women and men to overcome the effects of poverty each year. All gifts in the catalog grew out of the group's on-the-ground-projects and all proceeds go right back into funding the organization’s poverty-eradication efforts.

Back to the Roots was founded by Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora in 2009 during their last semester at UC Berkeley. Two months away from graduation, and heading into the world of investment banking, they came across the idea of growing gourmet mushrooms with recycled coffee grounds. Inspired by the idea of turning waste into fresh food, they experimented in Velez’s fraternity kitchen, ultimately growing one test bucket of very tasty oyster mushrooms. With that single bucket, some initial interest from Whole Foods and Chez Panisse and a $5,000 grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor for social innovation, they decided to forgo their corporate futures and instead become full-time urban mushroom farmers. They soon created the Grow-Your-Own Mushroom Garden which lets anyone, anywhere, grow their own exotic mushrooms. (Order by December 17 to receive the kit before Christmas.)

Stark Thrist is a wine with a mission. A small company with one core product, each Stark Thrist purchase you make supports the nonprofit WaterAid’s vital mission to bring clean drinking water to those without. And there’s no compromise on the quality of the vino. Stark Thirst sources the best-quality grapes from vineyards that are committed to sustainable and organic practices. The wine is bottled in recycled glass bottles remade in the US, the aluminum screw caps are recyclable and the wine, a crisp, dry Sonoma County Chardonnay, is first-rate.

Kate’s Caring Gifts has a welcome emphasis on food, featuring things like organic fruit baskets from family owned Jerzy Boyz Farms; fair-trade Kosher treats for Hannukah; the very merry vegan basket, the ultimate Organic Chocolate Fantasy Gift Set and the “We’re all Organic Fruits and Nuts Gift Set,” a cornucopia of exotic and organic nuts, preserves, butters and dried fruit.

The Green America Gift Guide offers links to small companies and collectives offering discounts to a wide range of products, services and opportunities. You can find calendars, cards, fair-trade food and wine, wooden toys, baby blankets, organic children’s products and much more. Check out cosmetic cases created by the Lisu Tribe of Northern China and Burma, hand-stitched quilts from India, teddy bears from Sri Lanka, rugs from the Philippines, gift bags flush with fair-trade chocolate, and awesome coffee from Grounds for Change. (I’ve tried it!)

TreeHugger’s extensive Green Gift Guide redefines luxury by delineating ten categories featuring more than 100 low-impact, thoughtfully curated gifts, each paying careful attention to quality, durability and respect for the environment.

For the musically inclined, the Citizens Band’s recent release, Grab A Root and Growl, is a musical call to action featuring sixteen tracks of classic interpretations and original songs in which the band declares war on apathy, and seeks to remind the country why democracy matters. The Citizens Band is donating a healthy portion of the profits to the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, a nonprofit association of community-based, free medical clinics in the US that serve Americans with little or no health insurance, while also performing public policy advocacy. (Click here to donate directly to NAFC.)

Finally, my boss might be mad if I don’t plug The Nation’s own online store, Nation Mart, run in partnership with a quirky group called the Unemployed Philosophers Guild. There are shirts with quotes from legendary Nation contributors like Kurt Vonnegut, James Baldwin and Molly Ivins, Nation logo merchandise, a mug featuring poems by the inimitable Calvin Trillin and subversive buttons and shirts designed by Milton Glaser. The popular “Thank a Teacher” pencil sets are an appropriate gift for educators or anyone else fighting to preserve public education. There’s also, of course, always a good old-fashioned Nation gift subscription — the gift that keeps on giving week after week!

Happy Holidays!

Pressuring Publix

Two weeks ago, as families across the US gathered for Thanksgiving, the Campaign for Fair Food released a powerful video highlighting the unconscionable poverty of our nation's farmworkers and calling on Publix to join the Fair Food Program—a growing partnership between farmworkers, growers, consumers, and retail food corporations. (Details here.)

The video reflected on a food system that marginalizes the very people who labor to produce our nation’s bounty, and on a supermarket industry that is turning its back on the first real solution in decades to the longterm crisis of farmworker poverty before concluding on an optimistic note, underscoring the common humanity uniting farmworkers and consumers in the campaign for fair food. “A Tale of Two Holidays” generated such strong interest and positive feedback that the savvy strategists at the CFF have re-cut it for a second run for a new holiday.

Watch and share the video, then add your name to this open letter to Publix imploring the supermarket giant to join eleven major food retailers including McDonald’s, Whole Foods and Chipotle in the Fair Food Program. It would require only a small increase in the price it pays for tomatoes, compliance with a new Code of Conduct and the implementation of a system of Health and Safety volunteers on every farm to give workers a structured voice in the their work environment. Even if you throw out morality, the PR benefit could be invaluable.

The Fair Food Program is viable, it’s working and, with our help, it could eventually fulfill its enormous promise as an unprecedented collaborative model for farm-labor justice.


I’m slowly starting to realize that the election results were likely the best (i.e., most progressive) I've seen in my lifetime, certainly the best in my voting life. Now, of course, the real work starts. Without a strong left grassroots, we know there's no chance the president and his party will enact a progressive agenda on their own. But today is a time to celebrate the repudiation of a party of hysterical, deeply misinformed, mendacious white men.

Five Songs for Election Day

It’s going to be a long day. Here are some songs to help you through it. Please use the comments field below to let me know what I've missed.

1. Be Careful How You Vote, Sunnyland Slim

2. Christ for President, Billy Bragg & Wilco

3. I Swung the Election, Jack Teagarden

4. Electioneering, Radiohead

5. Presidential Election Blues, Mick Jagger & Jeff Beck

Bonus 2012 Track: Mutt Romney Blues, Ry Cooder

Don't Forget Haiti

On Tuesday, I posted some suggestions for how people could help the victims of Hurricane Sandy here in the United States. I neglected to mention the horrific suffering in impoverished Haiti, which was pummeled by Sandy’s devastating trajectory before she hit US shores.

Three days of fierce rain and wind flooded about 100 camps where some 325,000 people, still homeless from the 2010 earthquake, continue to live. Tents and other makeshift shelters were inundated by water, poorly maintained latrines overflowed, stored food was ruined and garbage and waste were strewn everywhere.

The storm also ravaged the Haitian countryside, massively destroying crops, which will likely send food prices skyrocketing, making it even more difficult for Haitians who are already struggling to feed their families. Jean Debalio Jean-Jacques, Head of the Department of Agriculture, estimates that Sandy destroyed 70 percent of crops in southern Haiti and caused significant livestock losses. Johan Peleman, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ in Haiti, said that “there are approximately 1.2 million people who are facing food insecurity in the country.”

As the massive relief and recovery effort forges ahead in the US, the stalwart NGO the International Rescue Committee is acting fast in Haiti, where hundreds of thousands of people still living in tent camps are in desperate need of help.

The IRC has been on the ground doing critical work in Haiti since the devastating January, 2010 earthquake destroyed huge swathes of the country. In the last few days, with limited resources, the organization has provided emergency kits with shelter materials and hygiene items to 4,200 victims of the storm and distributions continue apace.

Donate now to support relief efforts in Haiti focused on the most vulnerable populations and check out and share this list of non-financial ways you can support the IRC’s work.

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