Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

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.

The Dream and Beyond

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously came out against the Vietnam War before he was assassinated in April 1968. And, http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0120-03.htm "> according to David Garrow, King's Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, if King were alive today at age 75, he'd be spending almost every waking hour organizing mass demonstrations against the US occupation of Iraq.

From 1961 to 1966, King somehow found the time to write an annual essay for The Nation on the state of civil rights and race relations in America. Click here to read "Let Justice Roll Down," from the March 15, 1965 issue of the magazine.

Also read King's inspiring Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam, delivered at Manhattan's Riverside Church in April of 1967. It's unfortunately still very timely.

New Year's Resources

Though the world of activism never sleeps with literally scores of brave grassroots organizing being done 24/7 across America today ActNow will be off until January 12. Please take the time to read the archives. Many of the campaigns I've written about, especially the National Conference on Organized Resistance, the fight to save reproductive rights and the Restore FOIA efforts, are still very much in progress and can use all the help they can get.

There are also a number of websites I'd recommend to keep in touch with various activist currents and issue-oriented campaigns. An incomplete, unrepresentative list would include:

Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch tries to inject democratic interests into the debate on globalization by arguing that the current corporate-led globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor is it "free trade." The site offers a host of matchlessly researched material written in unusually readable language, so there's no need to feel intimidated. There are also a host of ways for you to get involved at whatever level.

Nation columnist Naomi Klein's website, NoLogo.Org, also features updated writings, by Naomi and others, on both new models of globalization and popular struggles against the manifestations of these new forms.

Nation contributing editor Doug Henwood's Left Business Observer is another unique and invaluable website, offering informed economic and political reporting that's difficult, if not impossible, to find elsewhere. (Doug also has a new book, After the Economy.)

CommonDreams has carved out a niche for itself and looks like it's here to stay as a useful filter for the mainstream and alternative press. A daily updated collection of links to articles of progressive interest with a thrice-daily updated news-wire, it offers smartly chosen pieces and a well-organized format.

Happy New Year!

For the Political Gift-Giver

Thirteen beautiful women versus one hideous president.

Babes Against Bush is taking protest politics in an unlikely direction. A new group from southeastern Michigan, B.A.B. is looking to attract attention to a cause--unseating George W. Bush in 2004--and hoping to spur more people to take notice of some basic facts about the Bush Administration by using the venerable, politically incorrect vehicle of the "pinup girl" as the medium for its message.

Why? "Because hot chicks hate him too."

"What could be more un-American than that election-hijacking, economy-wrecking, war-mongering chimp George W. Bush?" the group asks on its website. "What could be more All-American than thirteen beautiful young women, exercising their first amendment right to thumb their nose at our bozo president?"

The result is the Official Babes Against Bush Regime Change Calendar, which counts off the number of days remaining until "the moving vans pull up to the White House." Lavishly produced in glossy color, each of the thirteen months' pages feature one anti-Bush babe as well as well-informed facts and figures detailing the failures and lies of the Bush Administration.

It's only $11.00! Click here to buy a copy.

There are also numerous good Bush books out there currently, even beyond the deservedly best-selling troika of Michael Moore, Molly Ivins and Al Franken.

Nation Books' new release The Bush Hater's Handbook: A Guide to the Most Appalling Presidency of the Past 100 Years is a great gift for anyone looking to arm themselves with useful talking points on the Bush Administration as we head into the presidential season. It's also a concise, entertaining read arranged alphabetically by topic.

Nation Washington editor David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception, recently released by Crown Publishers, offers a full account of the falsehoods, fibs and fabrications of the Bush presidency to date. This fact-driven journalistic account is a scorching indictment of a man who claimed he would "restore" honesty to the Oval Office.

The Bush Administration did more than lie in the rush to war with Iraq: the pattern of obfuscation, misstatement and half-retraction amounted to a calculated entrapment of the American people.

A new book co-written by Nation contributing editor Robert Scheer, his son and Alternet editor Christopher Scheer, and Alternet senior editor Lakshmi Chaudhry offers the first analysis of this pattern of deception, underscoring that the move to war was a highly managed marketing campaign conducted by a small group of influential extremists inside the Bush Administration.

The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq is an insightful primer exposing the mendacious misinformation campaign George Bush's White House used to secure the support of Congress, the media and a majority of Americans for a preemptive invasion and occupation of Iraq.

A new documentary film offers far more proof, if any were still necessary, that the Bush Administration's extremism is severely compromising America's national security interests. Featuringnever-before-seen interviews with more than twenty national security experts--including former Ambassador Joe Wilson; ex-CIA chief Stansfield Turner; weapons inspector David Albright; CIA operative Robert Baer and The Nation's own David Corn--Uncovered is a compelling call to action.

Click here to purchase a DVD. It's only $14.95, including shipping and handling. Putting this film on America's radar is a strong step toward fostering regime change in the United States in 2004.

Finally, make sure to check out The Nation's New Online Shop. Given the rush on our antiwar buttons and anti-Bush apparel this past year, we've developed a full catalogue of new Nation merchandise. All clothing is union-made, ideal for gifts, and can be purchased online in just a few minutes.

The Highlights:

Block Bush Shirts and Posters.

Alfred W. Bush Shirts and Posters.

Antiwar/Anti-Bush Buttons and Bumper Stickers.

(We've also found twenty-five different sites selling anti-Bush bumper stickers and fifty-three hawking t-shirts.)

Happy Holidays!

National Conf. on Organized Resistance

The seventh annual National Conference on Organized Resistance--"a space for radical discourse"--is happening this January 24 and 25th on the campus of American University in Washington, DC. Last year's conference featured nearly seventy workshops and panel discussions as well as concerts, parties and tabling space for dozens of radical, youth-oriented groups.

In years past, the conference has played a significant role in coordinating dialogue and strategizing among various components of the social justice movement. This year, NCOR again envisions being a forum for people of all different levels of political involvement with an emphasis on the roots of global economic insecurity. More than 1,000 people converged on Washington in 2003 for a weekend of planning and protest. Click here for more info on this year's events.

Debating Media Ownership--Dec. 15

Capitol Hill observers say that media ownership has been the second most discussed issue by constituents in 2003, trailing only the war on Iraq. This is a remarkable turnaround for an issue--media consolidation--that until recently was of interest only to a select group of watchdogs, theorists and corporate titans.

Next week will see the fourth in a series of free public debates between The Nation and The Economist, two of the world's leading political publications--this one on the question of media regulation and consolidation. Taking place at Columbia University in New York City on Monday, December 15, the event will feature The Nation's John Nichols and the Future of Music Coalition's Jenny Toomey teaming up to debate The Economist's Ben Edwards and the FCC's "Media Bureau" chief W. Kenneth Ferree. The debate will be moderated by WNYC Radio's Brian Lehrer, the very able New York City public radio host and the moderator of two of the first three Nation/Economist debates.

Here are the details:

Monday, December 15, 7:00--9:00pm; Roone Arledge Auditorium, Alfred Lerner Hall; Columbia University--Entrance bet. 114th & 115th Streets on Broadway; New York City.

FREE Admission. No reservations.Please arrive early. Doors open at 6:30pm.

CSPAN has indicated interest in broadcasting the event nationally and WNYC, which is sponsoring the debate, will air the proceedings shortly after it takes place over both its New York airwaves and its website. Watch this space for further info. And check out the Free Press's website for the latest info on the grassroots movement for media democracy.

Co-founded by Nichols and Robert McChesney, Free Press is a national nonpartisan organization working to increase informed public participation in media policy debates. The site is a gold-mine of media resources for activists, researchers and educators. Audio clips of remarks by Bill Moyers, Al Franken, Ralph Nader, Naomi Klein, Lori Wallach and Toomey from Free Press's recent national conference are also available. You can also find Nation-compiled links to numerous groups working for a more democratic media including Toomey's Future of Music Coalition--along with a collection of relevant Nation articles--by clicking here.

Stop the NRA

The National Rifle Association recently targeted hundreds of organizations and individuals for having the temerity to have "lent their names and notoriety" to the "anti-gun cause." The NRA has compiled these names on a 19-page blacklist being made available to its membership.

Who's on the list? Sure enough, there's the notorious Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Sean Connery, Julia Roberts, Bruce Springsteen, Mel Brooks and Jimmy Carter. Also Russell Simmons, Missy Elliot, Shania Twain and Dustin Hoffman. The NAACP, NOW, the United Methodist Church, the AARP and the American Jewish Congress are also all featured on this modern-day enemies list.

The anti-gun group Stop The NRA thought that more than just NRA members should see the list. So, they've created a website dedicated to exposing this campaign and are encouraging concerned citizens to sign up for what reasonable Americans should consider an honor roll.

Each year in the US, we lose roughly 28,000 people to gun violence. And, as the Violence Policy Center has documented, Al Qaeda terrorist training manuals note the ease with which one can obtain firearms in the United States--like the .50-caliber rifles that can with precision blow a nine-inch hole in a concrete wall from 100 yards.

Yet, the NRA, emboldened by the strong support it enjoys from the Bush Administration, is currently trying to bully Congress into granting the Association two coveted favors that would also be a blessing for terrorists in our midst: an end to the ban on military-style rapid-fire assault weapons and iron-clad legal protections for gun manufacturers and weapons dealers from virtually all civil lawsuits.

The Stop the NRA campaign has a set of suggestions for helping defeat the NRA's assault on American society: Sign a petition, donate funds to help support anti-NRA advertising nationwide, join with like-minded activists in local groups, lobby your elected reps, watch a special web film and find out much more about a fierce political struggle being waged with potentially dramatic consequences for American citizens.

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