Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

Vote for Fahrenheit 9/11

Michael Moore's provocative, election-season documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 has been nominated by the People's Choice Awards as the American public's "Favorite Film of the Year." The five nominees for best film--also, Spiderman 2, The Incredibles, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Shrek 2--were chosen from a poll of thousands of Americans in mid-to-late November. This year marks the first time ever that a doc has been nominated in the category.

The People's Choice Awards are considered, among all the awards shows, to be the one which most accurately reflects mainstream public opinion in the United States, so it would be a big deal--at least on the culture front--for an avowedly left-wing film to win the contest. It would also help continue to establish political documentaries as commercially-viable products, which makes it much easier for small, independent films to find funding sources and distribution outlets.

And, in an age of ever-increasing media conglomeration, independent film is now filing a more vital niche than ever with films like Morgan Spurlock's SuperSize Me, Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott's The Corporation and Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein's The Take sparking, connecting with and contributing to grassroots movements for change.

As Moore says in an open letter asking the public to participate in the online voting which will determine the winner, the fact that a film about "Iraq, Bush, terror and fear" continues to resonate throughout the country shows that "the election has not altered or made irrelevant, unfortunately, a single one of these issues."

So click here to cast your ballot today. Voting continues only through this coming Monday, December 13, at 3:00pm EST, so send an email to your friends and encourage them to vote too. The winners will accept their awards live on CBS on January 9.

Holding Torturers Accountable

In a historic effort to hold US officials accountable for acts of torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and four Iraqi citizens recently filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor's Office at the Karlsruhe Court in Karlsruhe, Germany against high ranking United States officials over the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in Iraq. The four Iraqis all allege abuse at the hands of US troops, including severe beatings, sleep and food deprivation, hooding and sexual abuse.

The German Prosecutor is considering the case under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which allows suspected war criminals to be prosecuted irrespective of where they are located. "German law in this area is leading the world," Peter Weiss, vice president of the New York-based CCR, a human rights group, said in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper. "We file these cases here because there is simply no other place to go," he added. "It is clear that the US government is not willing to open an investigation into these allegations against these officials."

The Prosecutor has wide discretion in deciding how far to go with an investigation. CCR asks supporters of these legal proceedings to let his office know that people around the world support this effort. Click here to add your voice to the international campaign.

CCR receives no government or corporate funding. The organization's ability to employ creative new strategies in the fight to preserve and advance civil and human rights can only continue with the financial support of the progressive community. Click here for info on what sorts of programs contributions help fund and click here to make a donation. You can also join CCR's mailing list to keep up on the progress of the Abu Ghraib complaint and other progressive legal campaigns.

Help Save Social Security

Social Security is a very popular system. A pillar of the New Deal, it provides tens of millions of workers with a guaranteed retirement income as well as disability and life insurance during their working lives.

Moreover, contrary to conservative rhetoric, the Social Security system is extremely efficient. According to economist Dean Baker, writing recently in TomPaine.Com, the administrative costs of Social Security are just 0.6 cents of every dollar that gets paid out in benefits, a very low figure for a major government agency. Social Security also has a minimal amount of fraud and abuse, Baker adds, as numerous government audits have repeatedly documented.

Despite this track record, privatizing Social Security is one of George Bush's top second-term priorities. In the face of warnings from numerous economists of all political stripes, the financial industry-- which stands to make billions in new business on privatized retirement accounts--and the Bush White House have been on a steady propaganda campaign to convince the public that Social Security is on the edge of bankruptcy and needs a quick fix.

Click here to read Baker's explanation of why Social Security is NOT in crisis and check outEdith Fierst's Christian Science Monitor Op-Ed detailing why privatization would be the wrong remedy even if it were.

Bush's plans on this front are far from a done deal, and a well-organized public campaign is critical to stave off the possibility of some Democrats cutting a deal early--as they did on tax cuts (and as Ted Kennedy did on the Medicare bill).

So click here to join the Campaign for America's Future in pressuring Congress to hold firm on the issue. As CAF says, "We can do to Bush on Social Security what Harry and Louise did to Clinton on health care."

Bush vs. the Planet

With the election won, the Bush Administration and its Congressional allies are moving rapidly ahead with plans to radically revamp the country's environmental laws with the general aim of making it cheaper and easier for corporations to pollute.

The favors are already being parceled out, as Ari Berman reported recently in The Daily Outrage. This month Congress authorized drilling in the protected Yukon Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, opened up the East Coast's largest undeveloped island for commercial exploration, defeated an amendment eliminating subsidies for timber corporations, and slashed clean water spending by $242 million.

Moreover, in keeping with its first-term rejection of the Kyoto Accords on climate change, the White House is working to keep an upcoming eight-nation report from endorsing broad international policies designed to curb global warming, as Juliet Eilperin revealed recently in the Washington Post.

Fortunately, there are plenty of groups determined to protect the environment from the Administration, and it's critical that they receive support to carry on these next four years. The widely known organizations like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the NRDC and the League of Conservation Voters are all gearing up for the fight of their lives. There are also hundreds of other grassroots environmental groups vowing to resist Bush's second-term assault on the planet. You can help the environment by helping them.

"We have fought a three-year battle to blunt a string of radical environmental attacks by this Administration and we're not about to stop now," says Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "Though we fully realize that those fights may get harder in the next Bush term, we stand ready to meet the challenge, and to protect our natural heritage for our children and grandchildren."

Clean Water Action is trying to combat various Administration proposals that threaten to undermine the safety of many municipal US water systems. "We made sure our members got to the polls and we will make sure they continue to stand up for healthier communities during the second Bush Administration," said Bob Wendelgass, the group's director.

Environmental Defense, a group dedicated to linking "science, economics and law to create innovative, equitable and cost-effective solutions to society's most urgent environmental problems," is in the forefront of the Living Cities movement, which is organizing support for things like mass transportation, solar-powered stoplights, tax credits for farmers' markets, more green space in new developments, financial incentives to revitalize abandoned industrial lands, and a decrease in the use of fossil fuels generally.

The California Wilderness Coalition is the only organization specifically dedicated to protecting California's wild places and native biodiversity. Through advocacy and public education, CWC builds support for threatened wild places and works with community leaders, businesspeople, local organizations, policy-makers, and activists in an effort to promote a broader view on the value on conservation.

It's also, of course, more important than ever to stay informed. One of the best ways to keep up on environmental news is by reading Grist, an online magazine which tackles environmental topics with irreverence, intelligence, and a fresh perspective. The mag's feisty Seattle-based staff publishes new content each weekday, and its reporting, cartoons, interviews with activists, book reviews, and environmental advice column offer some of the sharpest eco-news around.

Republican Senator John McCain had it right when he recently criticized the Administration's environmental record as "disgraceful." With a president concerned far more with politics and profits than safeguarding the planet for future generations, a powerful grassroots movement is the only defense against rapid ecological devastation. So join, volunteer with, contribute to and otherwise support one of the many environmental groups operating in the US today.

Teaching Torture--UPDATED

See below for an update

More than 10,000 activists from across the US--including actors Martin Sheen and Susan Sarandon and musicians Amy Ray and Utah Phillips--will gather at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, this Saturday and Sunday to call for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.

A combat training facility for Latin American soldiers, the school has served as a de-stabilizing force in Central and South America since its formation in 1946--having trained more than 60,000 soldiers in courses such as counter-insurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. Graduates of the facility return to their countries to utilize their training domestically and are consistently cited for human rights violations throughout Latin America on behalf of repressive rightwing, US-supported governments.

From the slayings of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador in 1989 to the continued human rights abuses in Colombia, many of the most atrocious crimes of the past 50 years have their roots in the US-operated School of the Americas. The inhumane--and in some cases illegal--tactics taught at the institute have repeatedly been used against union organizers, educators, and religious workers.

Many American eyes were opened this past year with the Abu Ghraib revelations to the fact that the US does indeed use torture. The activists at SOA Watch have been in the vanguard of trying to halt the United States's role in propagating torture globally since the organization's founding in 1990. A grassroots group working in solidarity with the people of Latin America to close the military institute, SOA Watch stages an annual demonstration and rally and organizes lobbying, letter-writing and public awareness campaigns all year long.

Click here to learn more about SOA Watch, click here to make a contribution to support the group's efforts, click here if you'd like to join SOA Watch's Research Working Group and click here if you'd like to volunteer on one of the organization's campaigns.

Update, November 22

At least 20 people were arrested yesterday while protesting the School of the Americas. Charges filed against the demonstrators range from trespassing to "wearing a mask," a violation of a rarely invoked 1951 law originally aimed at fighting the Ku Klux Klan. Those arrested were among about a record 16,000 people who demonstrated outside the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, calling for the school to be shut down.

Thomas Jefferson on George Bush

"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt. But If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake."

--Thomas Jefferson, June 4, 1798, in a letter to John Taylor after passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Winter in America

The sublime (and sublimely troubled) singer/songwriter Gil Scott-Heron wrote in 1981 at the dawn of the Reagan Revolution of waking up one day to find "Winter in America."

This morning in late 2004, at least in New York, a similar feeling is palpable. Yesterday's election did see record-turnout, yet, even without many of the expected polling irregularities, Bush won the popular vote. Young people did support Kerry in expected overwhelming fashion. The problem was that the youth demographic hit the polls in far fewer numbers than predicted despite the attention lavished on students by pollsters, the media, the Democratic Party and celebs like Michael Moore and Sheryl Crow.

Sure, the Bush campaign's unprecedented--at least in modern history--dishonesty helped win lots of votes. And the culture wars killed the Dems in numerous battleground states. But there must be something more. If not enough people saw through the Administration's hypocrisies--despite the remarkable, progressive organizing that went on to raise awareness of how the Bush agenda is crushing America--then there's more going on than just Karl Rove's brilliance coupled with a virtually bottomless war chest.

Regardless, as David Corn writes in his Nation weblog, now "there will be no good-bye to reckless preemptive war, an economic policy based on tax breaks tilted toward the wealthy, a war on environmental regulations, a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, excessive secrecy in government, unilateral machismo, the neocon theology of hubris and arrogance, a ban on effective stem cell research, no-bid Halliburton contracts, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, and much more."

In other words, being a progressive is now a much more important job than ever before. So, it's a good time to single out a few of the many public-interest groups who are now the only bulwark we have against an increasingly emboldened Bush team set out to impose its fundamentalist agenda on a divided nation. Please join, volunteer with, make donations to, praise often and otherwise support these organizations with all your might.

Bush's judicial appointments--Supreme Court and appellate--will likely be among the most damaging consequences of his second term. The Alliance for Justice has been on the front-lines of judicial fights since 1979 in an effort to promote a fair and independent judiciary.

The future of reproductive choice is also now in question. Both Planned Parenthood and NARAL-Pro Choice America will fight to the death to defend rollbacks on women's reproductive freedoms--whether they come in the form of the quiet de-funding of state-based health programs or the anticipated selection of anti-choice justices when vacancies on the Supreme Court open up.

Even if evangelical Christian John Ashcroft is pushed out of the Justice Department as some rumor-mongering has it, the wall between church and state will likely become much lower in the next four years. As Esther Kaplan writes in her invaluable new book on the relationship between Bush and the Christian right, in his first term, "Bush bucked up the movement...from his efforts to block abortions and gay marriage to his expenditure of significant political capital to support abstinence education, church-based social services and socially conservative judges." God only knows what he's planning for his second go-around.

People for the American Way has been sounding the alarm on the unprecedented influence of the Christian right on the Bush White House and is well-placed to expose the slow creep of the evangelical movement into the machinery of government.

In his first term, Bush's assault on the environment was so blatant and relentless that, as Mark Hertsgaard noted in a Nation story, "even American television now reports it as a simple fact, like gravity. " We can only imagine the plans of an Administration unencumbered by the burdens of a re-election. Fortunately, there are numerous good environmental groups operating currently, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club being among the most well-known and effective.

Further consolidation of the media was a major goal of Bush's first-term. A popular rebellion against Bush's FCC chairman Michael Powell was able to defeat Powell's clumsy efforts to rollback virtually all media regulation in June of 2003. The Free Press Media Network, founded by The Nation's John Nichols along with Robert McChesney to generate policies that will produce a more competitive and public interest-oriented media system, was in the forefront of organizing public opposition to Powell last year.

Needless to say, this is a very incomplete list of both issues and organizations. There are thousands of groups bracing to redouble their commitment to economic justice, peace and the environment over the next four years. It may be "Winter in America" but, as Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote the day before the election, "a grand coalition of progressivism" has developed over the last two years and no matter how we feel today, it won't go away. It also won't grow without your help, so support these groups--and others like them--today.

Decision Day

With the networks, the cable news stations, radio outlets, newspapers and magazines and, of course, the internet, this election will be the most widely reported electoral contest in US history. So, where are some good places to find independent reporting on Election Day?

First, of course, check out The Nation's special election weblog Ground War 2004, which features Nation correspondents reporting from swing states nationwide on the battle to preserve voting rights.

The Independent Media Center is providing around-the-clock reporting coast to coast with a special emphasis on Ohio and Michigan.

Created in response to repeated reports of problems at polling places, Blog the Vote is compiling news stories and eyewitness testimony about problems people have in attempting to exercise their franchise.

Link TV, with its partner Salon.com, will offer up-to-the-minute election results, reporting from the polls, political commentary, and updates from key battleground states. Although Link is not available on many cable systems, those with satellite TV can tune in through DIRECT TV (channel 375) or DISH Network (channel 9410). You can also click here to watch online.

Alternet has consistently published valuable articles on voting and the election throughout the campaign season, and will continue to post new reports on Election Day. The site also has a special state page for Ohio, designed to provide breaking news on what could be the decisive swing state.

Michael Moore has created "Mike's Election Watch Page," which is publishing reports of electoral fraud, voter intimidation and other polling place irregularities.

Check out the Common Dreams news site daily for a collection of each day's best articles culled from both the alternative and mainstream media.

Election Protection 2004, which has sent thousands of volunteers to swing states across the country to defend against voter intimidation, is posting reports by its poll watchers detailing problems they're finding at the polls.

Finally, check out Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart tonight for a special one-hour live election special at 10:00pm EST.

Co-written by Patrick Mulvaney

Help Preserve the Right to Vote

With the Presidential election less than a week away, it's clear that GOP operatives are attempting to disenfranchise voters through intimidation, suppression and bureaucratic maneuvers in battleground states coast to coast.

The examples are already legion: Just this week, it was revealed that in Broward County, Florida, 58,000 absentee ballots have not reached voters who requested them. In Ohio, thousands of Republican challengers are being deployed to polling places in heavily Democratic--and minority--areas to contest voters' eligibility, while the Republican Secretary of State has decided not to count "provisional" ballots filed at the wrong polling place, a judgment that will hit minorities the hardest. In Las Vegas recently, a former employee at the voter registration firm Sproul & Associates in Las Vegas--run by ex-Arizona Christian Coalition head Nathan Sproul--said he witnessed co-workers shredding new applications of registered Democrats. In Jacksonville, Florida, Suzanne Charlé reports, in a new Nation weblog, that GOP officials have resisted calls to process new registrations.

Fortunately, progressive activists nationwide are joining the fray in response. From voter mobilization to election monitoring, an unprecedented volunteer effort is under way to both turn out the vote and to prevent GOP operatives from turning the vote away. New York Newsday reported yesterday that Democratic-leaning groups expect to send 30,000 volunteers into swing states to join tens of thousands of paid grassroots workers and tens of thousands of local volunteers.

A coalition of groups led by People for the American Way has formed Election Protection to organize volunteers to most effectively preserve voting rights in this election. Click here if you want to be a last-minute volunteer, click here to support Election Protection with a donation, and click here to find out where your polling place is located.

The 527 group America Coming Together is also organizing eleventh-hour bus caravans nationwide to battleground states as well as phone banks for those who want to stay at home but answer questions and urge people to vote on Tuesday.

Republicans for Kerry

One of the many strange hallmarks of Election 2004 is the numerous Republican groups which have formed to organize support for Democrat John Kerry's campaign. There are also, of course, "Bush Democrats" around, but they're far less organized, and if my colleague Patrick Mulvaney's crawl around the internet is any indication, far fewer in number than their counterparts.

President Bush's extremist agenda, his Administration's skyrocketing budget deficits and his dishonesty in the run-up to war are the main reasons cited by longtime Republican voters for abandoning their party's nominee. The choice is simple to voters like Mitch Dworkin, who explains in an article on the Republicans for Kerry 2004 site that, "Bush and most of his Administration represent an extreme faction of the Republican Party and are out of touch with the American people."

There are numerous groups and organizations to check out to get a sense of the unusual number of Republican and conservative groups opposing President Bush in the upcoming election:

Republicans for Kerry

Another Republican for Kerry

Republicans Against Bush

Republican Switchers

Republicans 4 Kerry

Conservatives for Kerry

There are also several less formal, web-based groups comprised of Republicans opposing the Bush re-election effort, including the "Republicans Against Bush" Meetup and an AOL journal called "Republicans for the ouster of King George II." And even the Log Cabin Republicans, which notes on its website that "every victory for a fair-minded Republican is a victory for the future of [the Republican] Party," have pointedly chosen not to endorse Bush's re-election bid.

It's unclear what effect these typically GOP voters will have on the race's electoral math but it's clear that Bush is the most unpopular Republican nominee in memory among members of his own party.

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