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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.

Standing Against Big Media

I'm just back from St. Louis, where Free Press staged its second National Conference on Media Reform. Bringing together more than 2,000 of the country's most dedicated and innovative media activists and content producers with dozens of bold-face progressive names for three days of panels, meetings, strategy sessions and parties, the conference showed both the strengths and weaknesses of what now must be called an actual media reform movement.

The most obvious problem was the lack of significant representation of the vibrant non-white media movements in the US. But this conference was better on that front than the last, and the paucity of black and brown faces at the confab made it difficult for attendees and organizers to avoid this elephant in the room.

Other than the composition of the crowd, what most struck me was everyone's seriousness. Not just the panels and seminars but even the conversations in the hallways and bars spoke of fervor and conviction. People really care about creating independent media. The range of innovative projects on display and up for conversation was awesome. I could pen a year's worth of ActNow posts just by highlighting all the great ideas I heard over drinks on my first day in St. Louis.

On my first morning I was lucky to meet Brad deGraf of Media Ventures, who detailed his Books We Like project, which was supported early by Alternet and Chelsea Green publishers.

DeGraf describes the idea as "collective intelligence and activist e-commerce" (and made a good pitch, along with his collaborator Jennifer Nix of CG, for The Nation to come on board). As his site explains, "it is something we (the users) are building together, an open resource on books: which are great, why, on what subjects, in whose opinion." It's also "a way to use online shopping to effect change. BWL collectivizes online book (actually any product at Amazon, Powells, etc.) purchases, maximizes the resulting sales commissions, and pools them to fertilize progressive independent media." Click here to learn more.

Later that day, I met some local St. Louis activists who operate a website called TrueBlueLiberal which seeks to make clear the strong presence of many so-called "blues" living and fighting in the so-called "red" states.

That night, I saw a brilliant presentation by Kim Spencer of LinkTV and Paul Jay, a Canadian visionary intent on creating the world's first global independent news network. Operating online and on TV, the idea is to deliver independent news and real debate--without funding from governments, corporations or commercial advertising. Jay convincingly argued that internet fundraising makes it possible, as he laid out the details of his Independent World Television project. In a few years, IWT could be big. (And LinkTV is already on the air in 25 million homes in America. Click here for info on how to sign up.)

Much later, way past when I thought I'd still be learning things, I heard about microbicides, which could be the most important innovation in reproductive health since the pill. No effective microbicide is yet available to the public but ultimately, an inexpensive gel or cream could be produced which could be used by either men or women to prevent the sexual transmission of STDs, most importantly AIDS. The problem is that the economic self-interest of pharmecutical companies is not served by investing in necessary microbicide R&D. So click here to help support the campaign to press for a massive infusion of government investment to fill this R&D gap.

Apologies to all the many great ideas on display in St. Louis unremarked on here. I will try to get to them. And check out the Free Press site for coverage of the conference and info on how you can get involved in the fight for a more democratic media system.

Fight the Big-Boxing of America

Thanks to Nation reader Matt Lipsky for letting us know that the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, a member of the Wal-Mart Free NYC coalition, now has a website and a blog.

The site details the Alliance's twenty-year fight to preserve small businesses in New York City, and features a comprehensive section on Wal-Mart, making the case from a small business and consumer perspective that the company would be bad for New York. Click here for info on how you can help.

There are also scores of other activist efforts currently working against the many manifestations of Wal-Mart's greed and perfidy. Notable among them is a new coalition called Wal-Mart Watch. (Read Liza Featherstone's new Nation online feature Wal-Mart Nation for details on the group's campaign in Maryland.)

We'll continue to keep our eyes out for effective opposition to the big-boxing of America, and please use our new comments section below to alert us to any campaigns you think we should be covering.

Freedom Restored

I'm delighted to report that the two teenage girls detained without charge and held in a Pennsylvania detention center for six weeks after being called would-be suicide bombers despite any supporting evidence have been released. Many thanks to all Nation readers who responded to this blog and sent letters in their support. This is a small victory in the fight against the prosecutorial excesses allowed by the PATRIOT ACT and a huge victory for the girls, their families and their supporters.

Where's the Evidence?

Earlier this month, we followed-up Ari Berman's report about two 16 year-old Muslim girls who were arrested in New York City on specious grounds that they were potential suicide bombers, by urging Nation readers to get involved in the case. It's now a few weeks later and despite some media attention, protests and the continued lack of evidence, the young womens' predicament is more dire than ever.

The girls are currently being held without charge while undergoing legal proceedings closed from the public and the media in which they do not have access to the evidence used against them. Few details about the arrests have been released. What we do know, however, suggests that the charges could well be unfounded and propelled more by anti-terrorist hysteria than by actual evidence. Adding to this suspicion, an FBI official recently told the New York Daily News that, "Nobody here believes they are wanna-be suicide bombers."

Click here for background on the case, click here to listen to a relevant NPR segment and check out Detainment, a new blog created to offer updates and ways you can help. One of the best ways is to click here and make a contribution to an Emergency Family Fund for the families and legal fees of the two detainees. You can also come out for May 11 rallies in New York City, Philadelphia and the Bay Area.

Don't Forget May Day--UPDATED

May Day is an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in many more, but it is rarely recognized in the US where it began.

In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor) passed a resolution arguing that eight hours should constitute a legal day's work. The resolution called for a general strike to achieve the goal, since legislative efforts had failed repeatedly. With workers being forced to work ten, twelve, and fourteen hours a day, mass support for the eight-hour movement grew rapidly.

On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day protest in history. Within a few years, the fight was won. But, in the early part of the 20th century, the US government, recognizing May Day's galvanizing potency, tried to curb May 1 celebrations and their radical resonance by establishing an alternative: Labor Day, a holiday devoid of historical significance--but one offering a paid day off!

This year, around the country, there seem to be a respectable number of May Day events doing honor to the memory of the first May 1 protesters. United for Peace is putting on an old-fashioned march and rally past the United Nations in a call for the abolition of nuclear weapons and a US troop withdrawal from Iraq. The march sets off from 50th Street and First Ave. in Manhattan at 12:00 with the rally scheduled to kick off at the Heckscher Ballfields in Central Park at 2:00. Featured speakers include Daniel Ellsberg, Helen Caldicott, Ray McGovern and the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagaski. Click here for more info and click here to help spread the word.

(And on May 2, you can join Ellsberg, Caldicott, Jonathan Schell, Ariel Dorfman, Eve Ensler, Carolyn Forche, Amy Goodman, James Carroll, Robert Lifton and others for a conference addressing the political, moral and cultural dimensions of the growing nuclear threat. At 9:00am at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. Click here for info.)

After the UFP march, you can also head downtown to Tompkins Square Park for the 19th annual squatters' Mayday celebration, a free music and arts festival brought to you by a group of local anarchist collectives. Starting at 11:00 and going on all day.

There's also a "May Day Rally for Jobs, Not War" going on at Union Square in lower Manhattan at the same time as the UFP event takes place. Click here to read the call to action and click here to see a list of endorsers. People are massing at the 14th Street entrance to the park at 1:00pm.

Meanwhile, in Charlotte, North Carolina, many of the local chapters of the groups putting on the Union Sq. rally in Manhattan, including the Million Worker March Movement, the Troops Out Now Coalition, and the Action Center For Justice, are calling for a "JOBS NOT WAR--Bring the Troops Home Now!" rally gathering at 2:00pm at Independence Park.

Nation reader Greg Gibbs reports that May Day has been celebrated in Minneapolis for 31 years, in Powederhorn Park on the City's southside--the "people's republic of south Minneapolis." There's a parade, booths, food and music led by a local puppet troupe called In the Heart of the Beast. This year the festivities start at 1:00.

And, in the great Northwest, they're celebrating International Workers Day with a bike ride and picnic in Seattle. Converge at Westlake Center at 12:01. Picnic spot to be decided later. "Bring friends and lovers and fellow workers. Bring food to share, chalk, songs, banners, flags, creativity, defiance and your bicycle."

This is just a sampling of some progressive ways to spend your time this May Day. Please click here to let us know about any other events we should be highlighting before Sunday.

Nat'l Media Reform Conference

Media reform still might not seem the sexiest topic but the people at Free Press have figured out to make the process fun. Hosts of what, by all accounts, was a fantastic and inspiring conference/party in Madison, Wisconsin in November of 2003, Free Press is pulling out all the stops for its second confab in St. Louis from May 13th to 15th.

Close to 2,000 attendees are expected to join an illustrious roster of lefty luminaries including Nation publisher Victor Navasky as well as Naomi Klein, John Nichols, Robert McChesney, Patti Smith, Al Franken, Jim Hightower, Amy Goodman, Laura Flanders, David Brock, George Lakoff, Robert Greenwald, Jenny Toomey, and many others for what will be the country's largest media conference.

There'll be panels, plenaries, speeches, book signings, workshops, music, readings and parties, all designed to further the critical goal of media reform in the US. Click here to see a full schedule of events. If you act quickly, you can still reserve a hotel room at a special conference rate. So take this opportunity to participate in America's foremost media reform event--and remind friends and colleagues to do the same.

And, if you can't make it to St. Louis, please consider supporting the work of Free Press, the sponsors of this conference and of a huge array of media reform efforts taking place across America. Click here for membership information and click here for info on how you can get actively involved in the campaign for media reform.

Long Live the Estate Tax!

This past April 13, the House voted 272 to 162 to permanently repeal the estate tax. The Senate will soon make the final decision about the tax, which was introduced in 1916 by reformers who believed that unlimited concentration of wealth and power was threatening the very principle of democracy. Before it's too late, please click here to ask your Senators to stand up to the bullying of the Republican leadership by preserving a fair and just estate tax.

Ask Dr. Frist

Last month, with the Terri Schiavo case at its most hyped, two physicians, who also happen to be Republican legislators, offered free medical advice in an extraordinary melding of their legal and political vocations.

With nothing but a short videotape to aid them, Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), a heart and lung surgeon, and Representative Dave Weldon (R-FL), an internist, felt able to rebut the diagnoses of numerous neurological specialists who had examined Schiavo. The reps contended from their film viewing that she "[seemed] to respond to visual stimuli," cleverly suggesting, without actually asserting so, that the doctors on the case were wrong. Saying he "spoke more as a doctor than a senator," Frist went further, adding that "there seems to be insufficient information to conclude" that Schiavo was in a "persistent vegetative state" that would justify allowing her to die.

But maybe Frist and Weldon are on to something and this diagnoses-by-videotape is the wave of the future. And since these doctor-legislators seem so willing to help out needy citizens, why not consider clicking here to ask if they'd be willing to diagnose your ailment as well. With fifty million Americans currently uninsured, many folks could really use their pro bono expertise.

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No to Bolton

John Bolton's nomination to be ambassador to the United Nations took a hit on Tuesday when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unexpectedly decided to spend three more weeks investigating allegations against the nominee. Please take this short reprieve to click here and ask your rep to vote no to Bolton. (For info on why Bolton is a terrible choice, read recent pieces by The Nation's UN correspondent Ian Willams and the magazine's Washington editor David Corn.)

Detained Without Charge

Several weeks ago, two 16 year-old Muslim girls, one from Bangladesh and the other from Guinea, were arrested in New York City on the specious grounds that they were potential suicide bombers. Neither of the girls has been formally charged with any crime, but both have been detained indefinitely in facilities far away from their homes and families.

As Ari Berman reported yesterday, few details about the arrests have been released. What we do know, however, suggests that the charges could well be completely unfounded.

While both of the girls are in the United States illegally, both have also lived here for most of their lives. The lead editorial in yesterday's New York Times reveals that investigator's suspicions are curiously based on an essay written by one of the girls in her high school--an essay arguing that suicide is a violation of Islamic law. And while investigators maintain that the two suspects are friends who attended the same radical Mosque where they plotted together, their families say that they never even met before their arrests.

From the dearth of available information, it seems likely that the case of the teenage suicide bombers is simply a routine immigration investigation gone mad. Unfortunately, the rules of immigration hearings require the girls to prove they aren't suicide bombers, rather than the government to prove that they are.

A hearing is being held tomorrow, Thursday, April 14, so please click here to send a letter of support for the girls' lawyers to present to the court. There's also a rally being planned to support the girls. Check out and circulate the details and other info about the case on a new blog created to help defend the girls by clicking here.

Co-written by Mark Hatch-Miller

Say No to Bankruptcy Bill

As early as Wednesday, your Representative in Congress will vote on a hugely important "Debt Slavery" Bankruptcy Bill (S. 256) that could literally change your life. The bill was written by representatives of the credit card industry, which made $30 billion in profits in 2004--and is now gunning for more.

The legislation would make it much more difficult for people turning to bankruptcy as a last resort to actually discharge their credit card debts under Chapter 7, which pays off debts by liquidating assets, offering a fresh start financially. Instead, it would force people into Chapter 13 with a rigid 5-year repayment plan, even after liquidating all assets.

In DC, the banking lobby's line about frivolous debtors lacking personal responsibility plays well on both sides of the aisle. But, as Robert Scheer pointed out recently in a typically strong column, "for all of the whining about deadbeats ripping off the system, credit card companies' annual pretax profits have soared two-and-a-half times in the last decade, and last year was their most profitable in more than fifteen years."

The bill is nothing short of a blatant money-grab on the part of a powerful, lucrative industry taking advantage of the current climate in Washington to push through legislation which will hurt many Americans struggling to make ends meet.

If you've got a credit card, you've got a problem with this bill. So click here to protest this legislative travesty and check out DebtSlavery.Org--a coalition organized by Democrats.com, including The Nation--for more info on the bill and how you can work to oppose it before it's too late.

'Wrong Man for the Position'

Adding a powerful establishment voice to the growing campaign against George Bush's appointment of John Bolton to be the next US ambassador to the United Nations, a group of 59 former American diplomats are urging the Senate to reject Bolton's nomination.

Echoing a host of liberal and centrist critics of the nomination, in a letter to Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the diplomats--both Democrats and Republicans--call Bolton, "The wrong man for the position." The letter's criticisms dwell largely on what the ex-diplomats call Bolton's "exceptional record" of opposing American efforts to improve national security through arms control. (For more details on why Bolton is a terrible choice, read recent pieces by The Nation's UN correspondent Ian Willams and the magazine's Washington editor David Corn.)

Bolton is another in a line of extreme in-your-face nominees put forth recently by the White House. It's important to show that they face opposition. Lugar has scheduled hearings on April 7 for the Senate to debate Bolton's nomination. Click here to implore your Senators to oppose the nominee.

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