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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.

Taking it to Crossfire

Nation readers don't need to be told that what passes for TV punditry is far more degrading than uplifting for the national conversation.

With talking heads ranting at each other in soundbite form, it's difficult for even the most dignified, articulate analyst to avoid being caught up in the calculated theater of debate shows like MSNBC's Hardball, CNN's Crossfire and Fox News' Hannity & Colmes. To steal a good line from the man I'm about to praise, TV debate shows are as much about real debate as the World Wrestling Federation is about real athletic competition.

Jon Stewart dropped that line, among many other spot-on remarks, in an amazing confrontation with Crossfire hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala this past Friday on the CNN program. Invited on to plug his (hilarious) new book, Stewart instead took the opportunity to publicly confront his hosts about why he thinks Crossfire's programming and the mainstream media in general are "hurting America." (He also told Carlson and Begala: "You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.")

The result: perhaps the most direct, frank and truthful comments on the real role the media plays in shaping debate ever uttered on a major television news program. And, thanks to the internet, this remarkable moment in live TV, which clearly thrilled the in-studio audience, can live on well beyond the hundreds of thousands of people who saw it air last Friday.

Click here to watch the interview, click here to read the full transcript, and check out Stewart's comedic interpretation of the news every Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central.

Just One Vote

This year the Supreme Court and its future composition should be a bigger issue than ever. Yet, few people, including, curiously, the Democrats, are talking about it. Regardless, as Katha Pollitt says in her latest Nation column,"there is hardly an area of life that will not be affected by the judicial appointments made in the coming years."

And if the Dems won't raise the issue, then groups like the Alliance for Justice are doing their all to raise it for them. This week, in conjunction with the opening of the new Court session, the AFJ launched a new campaign centered on campuses.

The Student Action Campaign mobilizes college and law students around the country with an emphasis on raising awareness of the importance of the Supreme Court both in our everyday lives and as an issue in the presidential election.

As the group says, "Just one vote in the booth in November could make the difference in just one vote on the bench for decades to come." Click here for more info on the AFJ's Supreme Court campaign and click here to help the group extend its efforts.

VP DEBATE: Cheney's Cyber Slip

Does Dick Cheney know where he steered voters watching the vice presidential debate last night? In response to a series of attacks from John Edwards on Cheney's corrupt tenure as CEO of Halliburton, the vice president said that Kerry and Edwards "know the charges are false. They know that if you go, for example, to factcheck.com, an independent website sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, you can get the specific details with respect to Halliburton."

The problem with Cheney's rebuttal was that he meant to say "factcheck.org," rather than "com." George Soros quickly capitalized on Cheney's error, snatched up the URL overnight, and now, if you click on factcheck.com, as many people have and will, you get redirected to. . . Oh, just go ahead and do it. This is too good to give away.

(Thanks to Washington Monthly blogger Kevin Drum for bringing this amusing item to the world's attention. Click here to read Drum's excellent blog.)

Help Stop Racial Profiling

On February 27, 2001, President Bush expressed his firm opposition to racial profiling--the targeting of individuals by law enforcement officers on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. "Racial profiling is wrong," he said, promising to "end it in America."

Now, more than three-and-a-half years later, Bush has failed to support a single legislative effort to ban this discriminatory practice. And not surprisingly, his Republican partners in the House and Senate have followed suit, refusing to take action against racial profiling.

In a recent study, Amnesty International found that roughly 32 million people reported that they have been victimized by racial profiling in the United States. The practice has afflicted people of all professions from all walks of life.

A new bill, recently introduced in Congress, "The End Racial Profiling Act of 2004," which currently has 16 co-sponsors in the Senate and 124 in the House, would serve as a big step in the right direction by outlawing racial profiling at all levels of law enforcement, tightening exemption loopholes, and requiring agencies to collect comprehensive data.

Click here to send a letter to your elected reps asking them to support the Act, click here to find contact info for your local media to ask the press to report on this important new bill, and click here for a list of AI's suggestions on how you can help end racial profilling in America.

Voter Registration Day

Groups from all over the country have come together to create the first-ever National Voter Registration Day today to build media interest and to bring out new volunteers for voter registration efforts before most states close their voting rolls on October 4.

You can find organized voter registration activities in most every region, city and town in the US. Click here for a nationwide calendar of events to find out what's happening in your area, and click here for a list of national voting rights projects looking for volunteers.

And make sure that you're registered to vote? MoveOn recently checked public voter files, and, shockingly, found that close to 30 percent of its members were not currently registered. Make sure you're not turned away from the polls on November 2 by clicking here. The process takes about three minutes with The Nation Online's new voting page.

The Take

This is the season of political documentaries with meditations on the degradations of late capitalism as well, of course, as Bush-bashing films, suddenly being seen as commercial fare.

Most of the recent entries in the field aim to take down myths and debunk conventional wisdom. Whether it's Bush's unnecessary war, FOX News's hypocrisy and bias, the dramatic degree to which the corporate sector has impinged on civil society or the rate at which Big Macs will poison you, one hallmark of the new documentaries is their critical/reactive edge.

And, these times certainly do call for activist chroniclers keeping corrupt politicians, corporate flacks and lying diplomats accountable. But we need at least some hope too, a sense that another world really is possible. And what's much more unusual--in journalism as well as film-making--are projects which focus on positive alternatives to the many negative trends afflicting modern society.

A chance at an optimistic perspective is one of the many reasons to see Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis's new film, The Take. [Full disclosure: The film-makers are also personal friends and are affiliated with The Nation.] Written and produced by Nation columnist and best-selling author Klein, The Take is the film to watch after seeing Fahrenheit 911, Outfoxed and The Corporation--when you're tired of being enraged and are ready to fight back.

Filmed in Argentina over the course of eight months, The Take documents the beginnings of a new social movement that took place under the radar of the world's media. The recent economic crisis that shattered Argentina caused widespread dislocation and pushed more than half the population into extreme poverty. However, at two hundred factories, schools, supermarkets, and health clinics, something remarkable happened: rather than allowing their workplaces to be closed down, they turned these bankrupt businesses into productive, democratically-run cooperatives. The Take tells this story of working people forging genuine alternatives to the brutal economic realities of the Washington Consensus--a story whose implications are universal, and more important than ever.

Up until yesterday, The Take had only played at film festivals, where it has been warmly received: In Buenos Aires, there was a memorable "workers' premiere" projected onto the side of an occupied textile factory; at the other end of the cultural spectrum, The Take was part of the official selection of the Venice Film Festival, where the working class heroes of the film had to compete with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman for attention (they held their own!)

Yesterday, the doc opened to a full-house at Film Forum in New York City in its first public release in theaters in the US. It'll be playing there until at least October 5, after which it'll get rolled out across the country. Bookings in Seattle and San Francisco and set and the films's distributor is working on making sure audiences coast to coast are able to watch this historical tale of industrial workers changing their own fates.

The reviews could hardly be more positive. The New York Times called it "a stirring, idealistic documentary." In New York Newsday, Gene Seymour wrote that "If Michael Moore could calm down just a little and maintain a watchful distance, The Take suggests the kind of film he'd make!" The New Yorker calls the workers in The Take "admirable, displaying a melancholy eloquence and a genuine revolutionary spirit." Even Rupert Murdoch's rabidly rightwing New York Post praises the doc's achievement in "personalizing the globalization debate."

You can also get a good sense of what the film is about by clicking here to listen to a conversation between Klein, Lewis and Brian Lehrer from this past Tuesday's episode of WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

So, if you're in New York City, click here to buy tickets to a Film Forum showing. If you're not in the New York area, ask your local theater to contact The Take's distributor, First Run/Icarus Films, and bring the doc to your town, and click here to watch a trailer no matter where you live.

Mobilize for Public Schools Today

This won't be a surprise to Nation readers, but with Congress back in session, the White House and the GOP majority are pushing hard to continue shortchanging America's public schools. A memo leaked from the president's budget office shows deep cuts planned for nearly every education program in 2005.

In response, the Campaign for America's Future--along with The Nation, MoveOn.org, the National Education Association and more than 40 allied groups--is working to forge support for a national movement with the power to force Washington to make our public schools a priority.

One of the many ways that CAF is suggesting people help their campaign is to sponsor house parties on September 22. Similar gatherings have proved effective venues for discussing critical issues with many people at once, allowing them to ask questions and get the information they need to effectively organize in their own communities. So, please consider hosting a house party for America's public schools. Already, many thousands of teachers, parents, students, and community members have signed up to host events. Click here to sign up. With your help we can build the largest national mobilization for public schools ever.

As a house party host, you'll receive a free video to show, and a resource kit to guide you every step of the way. A house party can offer the opportunity to get your neighborhood working together and making a difference.

Sept. 11th Families for Peace

Nearly three years ago, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows was born out of a shared belief that America's military response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks "which took our loved ones' lives would result in the deaths of countless innocent civilians and increase recruitment for terrorist causes, making the United States, and the world, less safe and less free for generations to come."

Click here to read the full statement from Peaceful Tomorrows, issued on today's third anniversary of the tragic attacks, click here to listen to a BBC radio interview with Lisa Mullins, one of Peaceful Tomorrow's founders, and click here to help support the group's work.

MEDIA LINK: The Common Dreams site has put together a collection of archived articles published shortly after September 11, 2001. Click here to read pieces by Arundhati Roy, Barbara Kingsolver and Robert Fisk, among many others.

Assault-Weapons Ban Expires

In addition to a few big things like reproductive choice, and maybe evolution there are lots of smaller differences between Bush and Kerry. One of these--their position on gun control--is highlighted by the September 13 expiration of the assault weapons ban.

Four presidents (Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton) passed and renewed the ban, which Kerry also supports, but Bush has successfully blocked the bill's renewal, despite its endorsement by every national police organization and the support of about 77 percent of the American voters, according to most polls. The only people who stand to gain from Bush's killing of the ban are terrorists, violent criminals, and, of course, the corporations behind the gun lobby.

The bill outlawed 19 types of military-style assault weapons. A clause directed that the ban expire unless Congress specifically reauthorized it. And now that Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert have announced that they won't even bring a vote on the matter, gun manufacturers are gearing up for the scheduled expiration by taking orders for semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines that may soon become legal again, according to the Washington Post.

Click here for info on how you can get involved in the gun-control movement and check out the Stop The NRA site for info on the assault ban and what may still be left to do to defend it.

The RNC in Retrospect

This week's Republican National Convention brought fake compassion, fire-and-brimstone, terrible hair-cuts and even worse music from inside Madison Square Garden; close to 1,800 or so arrests in the streets of New York; a raft of progressive film screenings, concerts, readings and panels and protest activity everywhere.

It's unclear how much of this filtered into the US consciousness as ratings numbers and polls showed most Americans turning away from convention coverage, even in this heated election year, in record numbers. Aside from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central's brilliant gift to the American polity and CSPAN's cinema verite coverage, TV offered little of value.

And, in the print and online worlds, there was lots of smart commentary, but, as usual, it was difficult to find, among the glut of decidedly insipid coverage. As is frequently the case, it sometimes helped to look abroad for the most incisive material. Below are links to some good articles from the last week.

S3 Wrap-Up; Jail Crisis by New York IMC, Sept. 3

Bush by Numbers by Graydon Carter, The Independent, Sept. 3

Vigor, Vitriolics but no Violence by Josh Robin, New York Newsday, Sept. 3

Protest Groups 'Empowered' by Large Turnout by Martha T. Moore and Charisse Jones, USA Today, Sept. 3

Flogging the Flag by Simon Schama, The Guardian, Sept. 2

NY Expressionism by David Segal, Washington Post, Sept. 2

The World Election by Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, Sept. 2

Don't Send More Kids to War by Michael Moore, USA Today, Sept. 2

On the Differences Between Kerry and Bush by Noam Chomsky, International Socialist Review, Sept. 1

And, though it's self-referential for me to point out, I want to take every opportunity to draw attention to The Nation's special RNC week weblog, New York Minutes, which dispatched a team of Nation writers to report on the protests through a revolving series of more than 15 dispatches over the course of the week.

Click here and scroll down to read pieces by Victor Navasky, Katha Pollitt, Liza Featherstone, Jennifer Block, Eyal Press, Esther Kaplan, Richard Kim, Ari Berman, Tom Gogola, Debbie Nathan, David Enders and Kristin Jones. Also check out Tom Engelhardt's valuable website, produced in concert with The Nation Institute, which published lots of valuable material during RNC week.

Finally, watch this space for info on urgent campaigns and projects being undertaken in the next two months to unseat George W. Bush on November 2.

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