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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.

An Out-of-Control Occupation

As Anthony Shadid detailed in the Washington Post today, the US Marine siege of Fallujah has produced a powerful backlash in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. Hospitals report as many as 600 Iraqi civilians have been killed by US troops so far, while media accounts this morning suggest an escalation of violence with US F-15 jet fighters firing cannons at unidentified targets in the city. And the http://www.thenation.com doc.mhtml?i=20040426&s=jamail">siege of Fallujah is only the most blatant example of an Iraqi policy in almost complete chaos.

The fierce fighting and lack of a coherent exit plan are also helping galvanize a new community of antiwar activists: military families. At 12:00 noon on Wednesday, April 14, at least fifteen people from among this community, as well as several Vietnam Vets, will participate in a press conference in Washington, DC, organized by United for Peace and Justice.

Speakers will explain why US troops should be withdrawn from Iraq and will call on people nationwide to contact their Congressional representatives to implore them to take action to end the occupation. (Tell them it might also be a winning electoral issue in November.) This week while Congress is still in recess and most members are home is a good time to make your voice heard. Click here to get in touch your elected reps.

UFP recommends trying to schedule an appointment with your representatives or their staffers in the next few days--either on behalf of a group or organization or as a concerned citizen. If that fails, flood them with calls and faxes and consider organizing a vigil in front of their offices to demand that they make time to speak with their constituents on matters of life and death.

Following Wednesday's press conference, the delegation will walk to the White House to deliver the message that it's time to end the war, end the occupation and bring the troops home. One flower for each of the US dead and thousands of petals for the nameless Iraqis who have been killed will be left at the steps of the White House. Hundreds of letters from military families around the country, all calling for an end to the senseless deaths, will also be left for the President.

Tonight also presents another good way to keep the pressure on the White House. This evening, for just the third time during his presidency, George W. Bush will hold a live press conference. Let him know what you think about what he says. Call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 or the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414. And call your local talk-radio show and tell them what you think too. (Click here for contact info for media in your area.) They might not want to hear us but it can't hurt to call.

The Burden of Conscience

Since the US invaded Iraq last year, hundreds of American soldiers have broken the law and abandoned their units on the battlefield. And, as Dan Frosch writes in Alternet, the GI Rights Hotline, a coalition of advocacy groups that offer legal advice to American troops, has received thousands of calls from active soldiers inquiring about conscientious objector status since the war began.

Tonight at 8:00pm, 60 Minutes II will air a segment on Camilo Mejia, a 28-year-old Florida National Guard Staff Sergeant who refused to return to Iraq in October, after being home on furlough. Mejia has taken a public stand of conscience against what he calls an illegal and immoral war, and has filed an application for conscientious objector status.

Despite this application, Mejia has been charged by the Army with desertion and is currently being held at Ft. Stewart in Georgia, where he is awaiting trial by a Special Court Martial, which will likely result in a one year prison sentence and a Bad Conduct Discharge. (For more about Mejia's decision, click here to read Christian Parenti's recent Nation Online article on his case.)

Mejia's mother, Maritza Castillo, is asking concerned activists to write two letters: one to Mejia himself expressing your support for his stand and another to the Commanding General asking that the Army accept Mejia's conscientious objection application, which would result in Mejia's release.

Mejia's Address:Ssg. Mejia CamiloA Company, USAG MED-HOLD, 865Hase RoadFt. Stewart, GA 31315.

The Commanding General's address:Major General William G. Webster, Jr.Commanding General, Fort Stewart42 Wayne PlaceFt Stewart, GA 31314.

Please take the opportunity to help this brave soldier and his courageous mother. And call the GI Rights Hotline at 1-800-394-9544 or click here for info on conscientious objector status.

One Year Later--Not Feeling Safer

Local media is reporting that hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters poured into streets around the globe on Saturday's one-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to demand the withdrawal of US-led troops.

From Sydney to Tokyo, Madrid, London, New York and San Francisco, protesters condemned US Iraqi policy and the Bush Administration's doctrine of pre-emption. Journalists estimated that at least a million people streamed through Rome, in the biggest single protest. In London, two activists evaded security to climb the historic Big Ben clock tower at the Houses of Parliament, unfurling a banner reading "Time for Truth," as approximately 25,000 demonstrators streamed through central London, many carrying "Wanted" posters bearing the faces of Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his main war ally. In Germany, several thousand people took part in demonstrations in about 70 cities and towns across the country. Some 3,000 people turned out in Sydney, chanting "end the occupation, troops out" and carrying an effigy of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch war supporter. About 10,000 protesters marched in Athens, Greece, and an estimated 120,000 took part in peace protests across Japan.

Read Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel's report from Moscow's antiwar march; Samuel Lowenberg's dispatch from Madrid's rally and Maria Margaronis's Letter from London.You can also check the United for Peace website for updates on continuing antiwar activism in the US, including this Wednesday's "National Iraq Call-in Day."

One Year Later

On the heels of yesterday's car-bomb attack against a central Baghdad hotel, Iraqi insurgents launched more deadly attacks today in advance of the first anniversary of the US invasion of the country, leaving at least eight Iraqi civilians dead in several incidents and eight US soldiers wounded in a mortar attack in the restive city of Fallujah.

Meanwhile, around the world in Washington, DC, a group of antiwar activists, veterans and military family members leaned into two microphones this morning on a stage in the park across from the White House and called out the names of American soldiers who have been killed in Iraq.

This reading, part of a demonstration that was more memorial service than street protest, was one of hundreds of antiwar events scheduled across the globe leading up to Saturday's one-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.In the United States, the antiwar coalition United for Peace is calling for a massive march in New York City along with dozens of local and regional demonstrations nationwide, including a major protest in Fayetteville, NC, the home of Fort Bragg.

In Manhattan, the permitted march and rally will assemble at noon on Madison Avenue stretching north from 23rd Street. Click here for downloadable posters, leaflets and flyers, here for transportation info and here to donate to United for Peace.

San Francisco is also expecting a sizable contingent of marchers to gather near the 18th and Church St. corner of Dolores Park at 11:00am under the banner of immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, repeal of the Patriot Act and a repudiation of the preemptive doctrine of foreign policy. Click here for info on what's planned in SF.

Or check out UFP's regularly-updated calendar for info on the dozens of other rallies scheduled in places like Anchorage, Alaska; Jacksonville, Florida; Little Rock, Arkansas; Phoenix, Arizona; Honolulu, Hawaii; New Haven, Connecticut and Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio.

A coalition of groups, including UFP, is also sponsoring "National Iraq Call-in Day" next Wednesday, March 24. Encourage people to call their elected reps in Washington and politely ask them to make every effort to ensure that the June 30 transfer of power be transparent and inclusive and to make sure that any un-elected government not be allowed to make laws that will bind future representative bodies. Click here for contact info for your elected reps (if you're in the US.)

Time to Turn the Paige

At a meeting with the nation's governors last month, George W. Bush's Education Secretary, Rodney Paige, called the National Education Association (NEA) a "terrorist organization" because teachers have been decrying Bush's broken promises on his education reforms. And, as Robert Borosage and Earl Hadley explain in a new Nation Online article, after waves of criticism of Paige's comment forced the Secretary to "apologize," he then attacked teachers for using "obstructionist scare tactics."

In response, the Campaign for America's Future and MoveOn.org have joined together to launch a petition calling on the President to fire Paige. Click here to sign the petition, here to circulate the letter to friends, and here for background material explaining why Rod Paige is so poorly-qualified to run the nation's public school system.

Paige has said his comments derive from his concern about minority children being left behind. Were that the case though, he'd be picking his fight with the Bush Administration, which has called for cuts in education funding across the board for the next five years. But Paige isn't protecting children, he's protecting the President. Let's call him out.

Bush's Backfiring Ad Campaign

Most political observers expected the Bush/Cheney re-election ads to begin by branding Bush as the 9/11 candidate. The only surprise, as John Nichols points out in his latest weblog posting, is that the Bush political team would, after more than two years of preparation, perform the task so gracelessly.

The gauzy, upbeat spots, which began airing last Thursday on national cable networks and in 17 states considered electoral battlegrounds, have immediately sparked outrage. While a few voices of support for the President have been noted, the story in recent days has been the mounting criticism the ad campaign has generated, especially in the fire fighting community and among victims of 9/11.

Here are a few of the many critical comments:

Harold Schaitberger,President, International Association of Fire Fighters

"The uses of 9/11 images are hypocrisy at its worst. Since the attacks, Bush has been using images of himself putting his arm around a retired FDNY fire fighter on the pile of rubble at Ground Zero. But for two and a half years he has basically shortchanged fire fighters and the safety of our homeland. The fact is, Bush's actions have resulted in fire stations closing in communities around the country. Two-thirds of America's fire departments remain under-staffed because Bush is failing to enforce a new law that was passed with bipartisan support...to put more fire fighters in our communities."

Tommy Fee,New York City firefighter

"It's as sick as people who stole things out of the place. The image of firefighters at Ground Zero should not be used for this stuff, for politics."

Tom Ryan, New York City firefighter

"As a firefighter who spent months at Ground Zero, it's deeply offensive to see the Bush campaign use these images to capitalize on the greatest American tragedy of our time."

Monica Gabrielle, 9/11 Widow

"It's a slap in the face of the murders of 3,000 people," Gabrielle said of the use of images of the removal of the 9/11 dead for political purposes. "It's unconscionable."

Bob McIlvaine, 9/11 Parent

"My son was murdered on September 11th. To argue that using footage of the wreckage of the towers to further someone's political career is 'tasteful' really needs to be rejected outright, and I condemn it."

Tom Roger,9/11 Parent

"I would be less offended if he [Bush] showed a picture of himself in front of the Statue of Liberty. But to show the horror of 9/11 in the background, that's just some advertising agency's attempt to grab people by the throat."

Abe Zelmanowitz,9/11 Family member

"It's so hard for us to believe that it's not obvious to everyone that ground zero shouldn't be used as a backdrop for a political campaign. We are incensed and hurt by what he is doing."

This can't be good for Bush and to make the most of this tactical blunder, Democrats.com, an online community of progressive Democrats, has created a powerful poster, which lets the GOP know that exploiting 9/11 will only backfire. Click here to purchase one and here to sign a petition asking George Bush to turn all relevant material over to the 9/11 commission.

Wellstone Action!

The loss of Senator Paul Wellstone still really hurts. Fortunately, the Wellstone Action Network is working in his name, bringing together thousands of people from across the United States in focused advocacy campaigns on progressive issues. Using the Wellstone Action website, email action alerts, grassroots organizing and partnerships with like-minded organizations, the advocacy network puts its weight and energy behind a series of issues based on need and opportunity.

The Network also operates Camp Wellstone, a two-an-a-half day program that trains participants in strategy and tactics useful for winning grassroots political and electoral campaigns. This national program teaches a distinctive approach that integrates electoral politics, issues advocacy community organizing and leadership development.

Click here for more info on how to join the Wellstone Action Network.

Trying to Change the Channel

Congress is starting high-profile hearings today to debate the crisis in American media. The topic: Media concentration? No. Rather, indecency.

Spurred on by Janet and Justin's Super Bowl antics, Congress has decided to try to address the issue of television's "race to the bottom." Their answer? Increasing token fines on broadcasters that push the envelope with explicit content.

The problem with this approach, as Katrina vanden Heuvel argues in her new weblog, is that "for most conglomerates, even major fines won't dent their massive lobbying budgets. Besides, given the multi, mega-billion giveaway that Congress and the last several Administrations gave the broadcasters (free broadcast spectrum in 1996 worth $300 billion plus; cable channel space in 1992, worth tens of billions more), what Congress is doing must be seen by TV industry lobbyists as a minor nuisance at most. "

Fortunately, there are numerous citizen groups calling on Congress to focus on what's truly obscene: Big Media getting bigger. The Media Reform Network, co-founded by The Nation's John Nichols along with Robert McChesney and others, is at the forefront of the struggle.

Currently, the MRN is calling on people to urge their elected reps to co-sponsor House Joint Resolution 72, the resolution of disapproval that would roll back the new FCC rules. Click here to send a letter, and here to sign on to the MRN's free newsletter, a great place to keep up with new developments in the movement.

The Super Bowl half-time show is just the latest example of the corporate synergy that the Bush Administration and FCC Commissioner Michael Powell have done their best to accelerate. And Powell's "shock" at the spectacle is just a tactic to deflect attention from how his polices have contributed mightily to lewd and crude media. Members of Congress are focused on the media today. It's a good time to try to tell them what people really care about.

Bush's Bogus Guestworker Program

President Bush recently invited Latino immigration activists and the press to the White House to hear him unveil an important policy initiative. The President said that US immigration policy "is not working" and proposed an ambitious new approach he said would better "reflect the American Dream."

But, following the President's speech, John Alger, an agricultural employer in Homestead, Florida, told USA Today that he welcomed the initiative, saying, "To have a sustainable, low-cost labor force is crucial to us."

So, what's this new proposal about? Shoring up the American Dream? Or ensuring a low-wage labor pool for commercial interests?

For a terrific explanation, check out a recent statement issued by the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW), which calls the guestworker proposal "damaging to the very people it purports to help," and argues that the initiative is designed to "give US industry legal, taxpayer-assisted access to millions of desperately poor workers outside US borders." Click here to read and circulate this valuable report.

The CIW is a community-based worker organization composed largely of Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian immigrants laboring in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Established in 1977 to advocate for tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida's largest farming community, the CIW's main activity currently is coordinating activities to improve working conditions and to raise these workers' pay.

But, despite signature drives, work stoppages, a 230-mile march across South Florida, and a 30-day hunger strike by six coalition members, the growers still refuse to meet with worker representatives. (Why should they when they've been able to keep wages stagnant since the 1970s?)

In late 2001, the CIW launched a national boycott against Taco Bell, one of the largest buyers of tomatoes in the region and, together with Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver's, and A&W Restaurants, part of a corporate group forming the "world's largest restaurant system."

Farm-workers who pick for Florida growers like Six L's Packing Company, Taco Bell's chief supplier, earn roughly forty cents for every thirty-two pound bucket of tomatoes--the same piece rate paid in 1978. At this rate, workers must pick and haul two TONS of tomatoes, a tough task, to make fifty dollars a day.

Workers are denied the right to organize and the right to overtime pay. They receive no health insurance, no sick leave, no paid holidays, no vacation, and no pension. Given the sheer volume of Immokalee tomatoes it buys, not to mention its size and economic strength, Taco Bell has the power to help bring about more modern, more equitable labor relations in Immokalee's tomato fields.

To date, the company has refused to take any responsibility whatsoever for the sweatshop conditions in the fields where its tomatoes are picked. Taco Bell executives have even refused to speak to delegations of workers who have requested meetings.

But, according to critics, Taco Bell could nearly double the picking piece rate paid to farm-workers by agreeing to pay just one penny more per pound for the tomatoes it buys from Florida growers. As CIW says: "We believe that Taco Bell, as part of the 'world's largest restaurant system' can easily afford to pay one penny more. But even if they passed the cost on to YOU, the consumer, it would still be less than 1/4 of 1 cent more for your chalupa." Not a bad deal.

Until Taco Bell and its local growers are forced to concede, the CIW's excellent website makes it easy for you to help. First, get informed. CIW offers a concise explanation of the boycott, and the CIW Listserve keeps you in touch with the campaign as it evolves.

Then, if you're interested in bringing the Taco Bell boycott to your community, contact the Student/Farm-Worker Alliance or the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for more information and materials that you can use for organizing in your area, including media packets, postcards, flyers, bumper-stickers and other resources.

You can also sign a petition, send an email to Emil Brolick, Taco Bell's CEO, download a poster or contribute money to help CIW expand its efforts.

Thirty-One Years of Freedom

On the 31th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the number of US abortion providers has fallen to its lowest level in three decades, a trend many physicians ascribe to a hostile political climate, the surge of hospital mergers and a lack of enthusiasm for teaching the procedure at most medical schools. And things will likely get worse with most centers of political power in the US currently occupied by anti-choice hardliners.

Fortunately, there are numerous organizations taking effective action to help preserve and expand women's right to reproductive choice. Joining one of them today would be a good way to mark the anniversary's importance. Click here for a listing of links to groups as well as relevant Nation articles, essays and columns, including Jennifer Baumgardner's recent editorial, "We're Not Sorry, Charlie." Laura Flanders's Your Call radio program will also feature a Roe anniversary show today. Click here to listen online.

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