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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

Spain on the Brink

This short film chronicles recent protests against austerity budgets in Madrid, Spain, where tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of the government and an end to police brutality. Many of the protests ended in clashes with the police. Since the first major march on September 25, the images of police brutality have traveled the world over, shocking and inspiring people across Europe and leading to an international day of action on September 29. This film tells the story of why so many people took to the streets and follows these events as they unfolded.

Go to globaluprisings.org to check out other mini-documentaries chronicling reactions to the economic crisis worldwide.

 

Five Things You Should Know About Voter ID Laws

My friend and colleague Ari Berman along with Voting Rights Watch, The Nation’s collaborative project with Colorlines, have been offering Nation.com readers regular and extensive coverage of voter suppression efforts nationwide.

This list distills some essential points that their in-depth coverage has documented. Please share it with your friends, family and your Facebook and Twitter communities.

1. These are not bipartisan efforts. They are initiated by Republicans, passed by Republicans, and signed into law by Republicans.
2. The voters most likely to be burdened by these new voting restrictions lean heavily Democratic.
3. Restrictions on voting, like poll taxes and “literacy” tests, have a long history. They are used by one party to prevent supporters of another party from voting.
4. If someone were trying to steal an election, in-person voter fraud, where a voter pretends to be someone they are not, is highly inefficient. Absentee ballot stuffing is much easier. But the rolls show that more Republicans vote by absentee ballot, so no new restrictions on absentee voting have been proposed.
5. The Brennan Center has estimated that as many as 3.2 million citizens could find it harder to vote because of new voter ID laws.

Check out this website to see the state-by-state impact of any possible new voting laws where you live and find out exactly what you need to know in order to exercise your franchise this November.

Sarah Silverman: Let My People Vote

A new wave of GOP-inspired voter ID laws purport to aim to prevent in-person voter fraud. But in-person voter fraud basically never happens. So why are so many states passing these laws? In this amusing—and occasionally obscene—video Sarah Silverman breaks down the absurdity of the new wave of laws, makes clear their true intent and suggests resources to counter this blatant Republican effort to disenfranchise millions of Americans.

The states of Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin have all enacted photo voter ID laws. Check out this website to see the state-by-state impact of any possible new voting laws where you live and find out exactly what you need to know in order to exercise your franchise this November

Troy Davis Lives Forever

Today is the first anniversary of the killing of Troy Davis, who was executed by the state of Georgia for a crime many believe he did not commit despite a massive international campaign for clemency.

Before Davis was killed at age 42, he told his sister Kimberly and other family members “that he wanted us to continue the fight to clear his name and end the death penalty.” Kimberly Davis is heeding her brother’s call. Next month she will be in California campaigning on behalf of the SAFE California Act that would commute the death sentences of all 725 current death row inmates in the state to life without parole. The proposal will be decided by California voters on November 6 as one of the state’s many referendums.

The video below was created by Rebel Diaz as a tribute to Davis. Sampling Billie Holiday’s classic ‘Strange Fruit’, the song highlights the parallels between old-fashioned, traditional racism and the modern systemic repression in which black people can be legally lynched on the orders of appointed officials.

Brooklyn Book Festival, 2012

As a charter member of the Brooklyn Literary Council, the volunteer group that organizes the Brooklyn Book Festival, I couldn’t be more biased in my view that the annual BBF has become an almost singularly important event with legitimate cultural and political clout. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that even if I weren’t associated with the festival, I’d still be a major fan of one of the country’s most celebrated celebrations of books, reading and independent publishing, in all its many guises.

Taking place on Sunday, September 23, in and around downtown Brooklyn, the BBF features a full and free day of more than 150 panels, readings, signings, exhibition booths and interactive events for readers of all ages and inclinations.

In its early years, the festival was largely a homegrown affair, with Brooklyn-based writers taking up the vast majority of speaking slots. But as the BBF has grown hotter (in keeping with the borough’s supposed ascendance) the festival has started to attract high-wattage literary stars like Joyce Carol Oates, Salman Rushdie and Mary Higgins Clark, earning comparisons with more established book fairs in places like Los Angeles and Miami. Happily, there’s still a continuing effort to put independent publishing front and center with indie bookstores, publishers and authors given prime real estate in both the exhibiting quad and on the panel discussions. 

The Nation has been a sponsor and programming partner since the Festival’s inception in 2005. This year Nation speakers include Katrina vanden Heuvel and Eric Alterman talking about election 2012 with Tom Frank and Touré; Victor Navasky discussing the art of magazine making; Chris Hayes taking questions about Twilight of the Elites from Michelle Goldberg, Richard Kim and a live audience; Laura Flanders moderating a panel on the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street with Marina Sitrin, Tariq Ali and Todd Gitlin; and Eyal Press leading a conversation about conscience with Louisa Thomas and E.O. Wilson.

More highlights: Walter Mosley, Edwidge Danticat and Dennis Lehane discussing their unforgettable characters; Bernice L. McFadden, Joyce Carol Oates and Colson Whitehead taking questions on fiction; Adam Shatz leading a conversation about literature and the urban imagination with Mexican author Alvaro Enrigue, Christine Smallwood and Pankaj Mishra; an unabashedly lefty panel of activist artists, including Mr. Fish and Peter Kuper, discussing the relevance of political cartoons; Kate Bolick, Dan Savage and Kristin Davis in conversation about marriage and monogamy, and, in Brooklyn’s best kitschy fashion, Brooklyn’s own Tony Danza in conversation with Borough President Marty Markowitz!

The festival is also committed to programming that reflects Brooklyn’s great diversity. Many events have an international flavor. This year, one session focuses on African novels with child narrators and another features leading Indian writers. Two events honor the 50th anniversary of independence in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Another seminar looks at poetry and narratives in light of the Arab Spring, while Isabel Wilkerson talks with Amy Goodman about the 20th century northward migration of African-Americans in the US.

Check out the full schedule. Hope to see you there!

(Apologies to all of you far from the New York City area for this regionally-specific post; you can check the BBF site for streaming and video information.)

Top Ten Songs About Economic Injustice

The condition of being dead broke is a perennially popular theme in music, so, regardless of your taste in genre, there’s a song for you. In tribute to Occupy Wall Street’s first anniversary, I’ve foolishly taken a stab at naming ten of the best songs ever written about class and economic injustice. I couldn’t use even a fraction of the great songs suggested to me on Twitter and Facebook so please use the comments field to let me know what I’ve missed, and check out my colleague Allison Kilkenny’s rundown on OWS’s anniversary plans.

1. Bob Marley, Them Belly Full

2. Dolly Parton, Coat of Many Colors

3. Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter

4. Gil Scott-Heron, Whitey on the Moon

5. Billy Bragg, Between the Wars

6. Johnny Cash, Sixteen Tons

7. Judy Collins, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

8. Bruce Springsteen & Tom Morello, The Ghost of Tom Joad

9. Odetta, Pastures of Plenty

10. American Ruling Class, Nickel and Dimed

Occupy Monsanto

One of the most important legacies of the Occupy movement has been the sustained, focused campaigns that have emerged from the broad, diffuse protests that captured the world’s attention last fall. Occupy the SEC has kept up the pressure for the Volcker Rule, while Occupy Colleges is determined to end the student debt crisis.

Another powerful example is the expanding network known as Occupy Monsanto, which has emerged over the past eight months staging numerous protests at companies connected to the global trade of genetically engineered foods, known as GMOs.

(GMO foods are organisms which have had specific changes introduced to their DNA using genetic engineering techniques. The plants produced by Monsanto’s seeds are designed to be treated with toxic herbicides and pesticides, chemicals which have been suspected to increase allergies and have been linked to decreased fertility, asthma, organ failure and even, possibly, cancer. The jury is still out, but Occupy Monsanto sensibly argues that vegetables are fine the way nature intended them, and that Monsanto is devoting far more research to the financial metrics of GMOs than to the health implications.)

Trying to sustain its focus, Occupy Monsanto recently announced that it will organize a full week of protests in St. Louis, home of the Monsanto Corporation, on the anniversary of OWS, September 17, 2012. The protests based on the idea that Monsanto’s push to control agriculture poses a great threat not only to consumers in the United States but to farmers and communities throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia, will call on US legislators to mandate the labeling of GMO food, so consumers can decide whether to ingest these products or not.

Occupy Monsanto aims to aggressively confront and expose the industrial agriculture system head-on. “There is something wrong when a chemical manufacturer, the same company who made Agent Orange, controls the US food supply,” said activist Jaye Crawford.

“Wall Street and the American political elite have underestimated and even ignored our potential to effect rational policy change on GMOs which would include labeling for GMOs and restrictions on GMO cultivation,” says Gene Etic an anti-GMO campaigner based in Washington, DC. “If Occupy Monsanto’s anti-GMO actions are successful, after September 17 the media and increasingly more voters will ask tough questions about these experimental GMO crops especially within the context of the presidential election, as that office holds the power to determine American food policy,” says Etic.

The protests will vary in size and nature but are unified in rejecting the legitimacy of GMO food. Check out this interactive map with times, dates and locations of the more than sixty protests organized so far.

Top Ten Songs About Presidents

Consider this a playlist for the DNC as the Democratic Party convenes in Charlotte, NC, this week to nominate President Obama for a second term.

1. Gil Scott-Heron, “Re-Ron

 

2. Johnny Horton, “Young Abe Lincoln

 

3. They Might Be Giants, “James K. Polk

 

4. Phil Ochs, “Crucifixion

 

 

5. James Brown, “Funky President

 

6. J.B. Lenoir, “Eisenhower Blues

 

7. Johnny Cash, “Mr. Garfield

 

8. Tom Paxton, “Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation

 

9. The Legendary K.O., “George Bush Don’t Like Black People

 

10. Andrea MacArdle as “Annie”, “We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover”

The Five Most Under-Reported Stories of the Summer

I find back-to-school signs in mid-August jarring and unwanted, but it’s undeniable that summer is quickly fading into another electoral autumn. Before yielding to the insatiable demands of fall though, I solicited thoughts on the summer’s most neglected stories.

The competition is tough, as the London Olympics, the presidential campaign and the tragic Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson break-up have sucked up most of the media oxygen in recent months. But these five issues especially demand far more attention than they’ve received this summer.

1) Jettisoning Democracy in South Carolina
Late last spring, the South Carolina state Supreme Court announced a ruling in a case it heard just days earlier. The decision was shocking: roughly 200 candidates throughout South Carolina would have their names removed from the June 12 primary ballots. Nearly 200 people who had filed to run for office were prevented from doing so—severely limiting voters’ choices at the polls in a year when all 170 South Carolina House and Senate seats were up for grabs. In many cases this meant that incumbent lawmakers had no opposition. Since then the situation has gotten even worse. Several incumbents throughout the state who lost their primary elections last June have been put back on the ballots by judicial order. The case has received virtually no national attention to date. Local investigative reporter Corey Hutchins is one of the few journalists taking the case seriously.

2) Military Suicides
Even with the Afghanistan war winding down, suicides among troops are on the rise. Among all branches, the number is up 22 percent from a year ago, and July 2012 was the worst month on record since the Army began tracking suicide rates: thirty-eight soldiers took their own lives, according to figures released by the Pentagon. Despite fervent media interest in most all things military, this epidemic of military suicides has been a severely neglected story.

3) Rise of Islamophobic Violence in the US
This year’s Ramadan holiday was marred by a dramatic uptick in Islamophobic attacks against American Muslims in their schools, homes and places of worship. Think Progress has compiled a list of recent acts of violence coast to coast, virtually none of which have received national attention. (The Nation’s special issue on Islamophobia offers more evidence that in the United States today the very ordinariness of Muslim-American life has become grounds for suspicion.)

4) The Amazon Economy Gains Steam
The increasing influence of Amazon.com over the world economy would seem to be a natural story for intrepid business reporters. But it took a series of articles in the Financial Times to explain Amazon’s astonishing economic impact and detail the corporation’s growth as not just a technology giant but a utility—providing vital infrastructure that supports and fuels the businesses of third-party retailers and other startups. At the same time, Amazon is a threat to many of those same companies, able to use its intimate knowledge of their businesses to compete with them. It’s complicated stuff, as The Nation’s special Amazon issue in June made clear. The only surprising thing is why more journalists aren’t looking into the profound ways that Amazon is changing life as we know it.

5) Rapid Escalation of Climate Change
As was indeed reported widely, July was the hottest month on record in the United States, because of a combination of global warming and widespread drought, according to a consensus of experts. The lower forty-eight US states experienced an average July temperature of 77.6 degrees Fahrenheit which was about 3.3 degrees above the twentieth-century average. Moreover, for 2012, July wasn’t an anomaly. Taken together, the first seven months of the year have been, on average, the warmest January-to-July period on record in the contiguous US states. This is serious stuff and the small spate of articles noting these unprecedented trends seems like severe neglect. As @Glinner rightly pointed out to me on Twitter, “however much has been written about the climate, it’s obviously not enough.”

Occupy Wall Street: Year One

Last September 17, as part of a global wave of protest, people from across the country came together in the heart of New York City’s financial district to occupy Wall Street. With the backdrop of big bank foreclosures, rampant joblessness, massive cuts in social services and the spiraling gap between rich and poor, the 99 percent was born and the movement forced a shift in the national conversation to include discussions of class that had previously been consigned to the precincts of the left-wing media.

On September 15, the movement will reassemble where it was born—in NYC’s financial district—for three days of education, celebration and renewed resistance to economic injustice with permitted convergences and assemblies, concerts and civil disobedience.

Here is what’s planned so far. Check it out and then get creative and help organize the proceedings yourself.

Other OWS anniversary events worth adding to your calendar include the Occupy the Film Festival at Anthology Film Archives, which is aiming to bring together the most compelling and innovative films of the movement, from its roots in the Spanish Indignados, the Arab Spring and American factory floor occupations to the mini-societies that blossomed in public squares, to the post-encampment community organizing around home foreclosures, corporate regulation, immigrant struggles and student debt, and The Civilians’ “Occupy #S17: One Year Later,” a show focusing on how the ideas of OWS have evolved, taking place on September 17 at Joe’s Pub.

The weekend’s activities will take place far beyond NYC as well. If you can’t make it to NYC, OWS suggests picking viable local targets that embody corporate greed—occupy your state Capitol building like the people of Wisconsin, or a chamber of commerce conference as they did in DC. Take inspiration from revolutionary occupations worldwide, from the railroads of India to the rivers of the Amazon to the streets of Spain. Wall Street has, essentially, occupied our entire planet. It’s time for some reciprocity.

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