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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.

Preventing AIDS

Considered one of the world's most promising new HIV-prevention technologies by scientists and medical professionals, microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women could apply topically to prevent the transmission of AIDS and other infections. Microbicides could come in many forms like gels, creams or rings and would allow women to protect themselves whether a man wore a condom or not.

Developing and bringing a safe, effective microbicide to market could literally save millions of lives, but barely two percent of the US budget for HIV/AIDS research (already scandalously low) is spent toward this goal. To remedy this and kick-start work on what will eventually be hailed as a revolutionary medical breakthrough, Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Danny Davis (D-IL) will introduce the Microbicide Development Act (MDA) in the House this summer. The Global Campaign for Microbicides is organizing support for the bill as well as spearheading other efforts to increasing funding for R&D.

Click here to ask your rep to vote for the MDA, click here to sign a petition for greater investment in microbicides, and click here for info on the medical and political history of microbicides.

Help Save PBS/NPR

On June 16, the House Appropriations Committee voted to slash funding for public broadcasting by more than $200 million for 2006. The cut--which, if implemented, would affect everything from "Clifford the Big Red Dog" to programming on small news outlets that serve rural and minority audiences--marked a devastating blow for public television and radio. The full House is expected to vote as soon as tomorrow.

Worse yet, the June 16 de-funding vote marked just one part of a larger assault on public broadcasting. Bush ally Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), offered the latest example with the revelations that he hired a longtime GOP operative to track "anti-Bush" and "anti-Tom DeLay" comments by the guests of NOW with Bill Moyers. This move prompted Congressional calls for an investigation into charges that Tomlinson had become "a source of political interference" in public broadcasting and helped spark cries for his resignation from a host of public interest groups and politicians.

Free Press is one of a few national groups waging a major battle in defense of public broadcasting. With so much at stake in this debate, Free Press's efforts are more than worthy of support.

Here's what you can do:

Click here to implore your representatives in Congress to vote for full funding for public broadcasting. A vote by the full House on the funding cuts is expected as soon as tomorrow, Thursday. So please contact them TODAY.

Move.On has collected one million signatures calling for full funding of PBS and NPR. Click here to join them.

Click here to sign Free Press's petition calling for Tomlinson to resign.

Click here to send a letter to your local newspaper defending the importance of public broadcasting in a modern democracy.

Click here to become a member of Free Press in order to support its efforts.

Free Aung San Suu Kyi

In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi was legally elected the leader of Myanmar, then named Burma. But she has spent most of the time since 1989 under some form of detention, including house arrest for the last two years, following a surreptitious attempt on her life by pro-government forces.

From time to time, the military junta that imprisons Suu Kyi promises to release her, but today supporters around the world observe her 60th birthday with no sign of her freedom. Nonetheless, activists around the world are using the occasion to honor the human rights leader and highlight the injustice of her continued detention and the tyrannical regime holding power in her country. (Major birthday events are taking place today in Edinburgh, Bangkok, Manila, San Francisco, and, most courageously, across her small Southeast Asian country.)

Amnesty International has also launched a global petition calling on the Burmese authorities to stop abusing the justice system to silence peaceful political activists and to immediately and unconditionally release Suu Kyi along with the other 1,350 political prisoners estimated to be rotting in Myanmar jails currently.

According to AI's diligent investigations, these detainees include prisoners of conscience incarcerated for activities such as writing poems and publishing magazines, forming student unions or calling for peaceful demonstrations. They are subjected to torture, held incommunicado without access to lawyers, and sentenced under repressive legislation in unfair trials.

Click for background on Myanmar's repression of Suu Kyi and political dissent generally, click here to add your name to AI's global petition calling for her immediate release, and click here to become a member of Amnesty International and support more work on behalf of global human rights.

Vigilante Pharmacy

Recently, some pharmacists across the country have refused to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception and other birth control pills. Why? They argue that the pills are in conflict with their moral beliefs. And in the current political climate, instead of writing legislation requiring these rogue pharmacists to comply with the law and fill prescriptions without discrimination, many state governments, encouraged by the Bush Administration, are giving these vigilante pharmacists cover. Four states already have laws on the books that permit pharmacist refusals and 12 more are considering similar legislation.

As Rachel Laser of the National Women's Law Center, told the Washington Post: "This is another indication of the current political atmosphere and climate. It's outrageous. It's sex discrimination. It prevents access to a basic form of health care for women. We're going back in time."

No one seems to know exactly how often pharmaceutical refusals are occuring, but cases have been reported in California, Washington, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas, New Hampshire, Ohio and North Carolina. Advocates on both sides say the refusals appear to be spreading, often surfacing only in the rare instances when women file complaints.

Planned Parenthood is organizing nationally against this regressive trend with a new website, petition drives, letter-writing campaigns, public education initiatives and the formation of nationwide "response teams" designed to gracefully apply counter-pressure to pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth-control and EC. Click here to see the many ways you can help and click here to become a member of Planned Parenthood to support more work like this.

*****

Still Time to Capsize Bolton

Last Thursday, in another setback for President Bush, the Democrats forced a delay in the confirmation vote of John Bolton to become the next US ambassador to the United Nations.

By a margin of 42 to 56, Senate Democrats managed to muster sufficient support for a procedural maneuver to prolong the debate on Bolton's nomination, with the Republicans coming just four votes short of the 60 necessary to bring the nomination to a final vote. The Republicans reacted bitterly as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he was "very very disappointed," while the Democrats insisted, fairly, that they want access to all relevant papers on Bolton--which the White House is refusing--before the vote.

Let's try to disappoint Frist even more by clicking here here to implore your Senators to oppose the nominee. (And for details on why Bolton is a terrible choice, read and circulate Nation pieces by The Nation's UN correspondent Ian Willams and the magazine's Washington editor David Corn.)

Standing Against Genocide

On May 18th, the Illinois State Assembly passed a bill to prevent the State Treasurer from investing in companies doing business in Sudan. This requires the selling off of about $1 billion worth of investments in companies doing business with Sudan, part of a nationwide campaign to protest genocide in the African nation This historic piece of legislation now awaits the approval of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich before it can be signed into law. Passage of the bill would make Illinois the first state to divest from companies dealing with Sudan. (See Sam Graham-Felsen's piece about how Harvard was pressured to become the first college to divest from Sudan earlier this year.)

As the iabolish website, a leader in the divestment efforts, says "Divestment is a measure of last-resort and shouldn't be used frivolously. But the US Congress and the State Department have unequivocally stated that the Sudanese government is committing genocide. This is an incredibly serious accusation and an unparalleled moral crime. Thousands are dying every week in bombing attacks, militia raids, and through forced starvation. Thousands every week. American companies are already barred from doing business in Sudan. The divestment campaign simply asks institutions to pass a resolution saying they will not investment in foreign companies who are ready to put profit over principle, even when it comes to genocide."

So Sudanese solidarity groups are asking all Americans, especially Illinois residents, to click here to call, fax, write, or email the Illinois governor to show their support for Senate Bill 23. You can also find out how your own state funds are invested. (And click here to read the full text of the bill.)

Fight for the Filibuster

A vote to end debate on the nomination of extreme conservative Priscilla Owen to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled for Tuesday, May 24--the first strike in the so-called "nuclear option" to eliminate the use of the filibuster in judicial nominations. Now is the time to tell your senators that you oppose eliminating the filibuster. Click here to do so today.

Filibuster opponents have pulled out all the rhetorical stops in their quest to consolidate more power for the executive branch, advancing numerous falsehoods and distortions in the process, as the excellent website Media Matters for America has documented. So click here if you're not convinced that the elimination of the filibuster would be catastrophic or if you just need some good talking points.

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.

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