Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

Boy Scouts Reaffirm Discrimination Against Gays

This morning came the unfortunate news that after a confidential two-year review, the Boy Scouts of America has emphatically reaffirmed its policy of excluding both gay youth and gay troop leaders.

The Boy Scouts’ chief executive, Bob Mazzuca, defended the policy, contending that most Scout families support the policy: “The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” Mazzuca told ABC. “We fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.”

Since at least 2000, the Boy Scouts have been targeted with numerous protest campaigns and run afoul of several local nondiscrimination laws because of its long-standing membership policy, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2000 in a 5-4 decision and has remained hotly contested ever since.

One of the most well-known protest campaigns highlighted the discrimination faced by Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mother of a 7-year-old Cub Scout who was unceremoniously ousted as a Scout den mother because of her sexual preference.

In an eloquent petition letter, Tyrrell detailed her work as a den mother and called for an end to blatant discrimination in an organization that has an enormous influence on the lives of many children, especially those living outside of major urban areas.

Join more than 300,000 fellow concerned citizens who have added their name to Tyrrell’s call. The petition is meant to be delivered to the Scouts’ national headquarters in Irving, Texas, this week, so don’t delay. After you’ve weighed in, share this post with tour friends, family and Facebook and Twitter communities.


Top Ten Woody Guthrie Songs

This Saturday, the legendary populist troubadour Woody Guthrie would have turned 100. Guthrie, best known for his iconic song “This Land Is Your Land,” has had as profound an influence as perhaps any musician in US, and perhaps world, history.

Born a hundred years ago on July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma, Guthrie wrote hundreds of folk songs and countless ballads, as well as some beloved children’s music, and became a decisive influence on innumerable musicians, most famously Bob Dylan. The “People’s Bard” is rightly remembered as a transformative musician and song writer whose political activism and consistent advocacy for civil rights and economic equality, especially at the height of McCarthyism, inspired many others to stand tall and fight back. He scrawled “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar, and he meant it.

This centennial occasion is being marked coast to coast with concerts, conferences and countless celebrations. Check out this national schedule of events and watch the videos below as a tribute to the man whose legacy includes some of the most powerful protest songs ever written.

1. Bound for Glory performed by Tom Morello, Graham Nash, Nora Guthrie, Jack Elliott, Jackson Browne and friends (adapted; origin unknown.)


2. Plane Wreck/Deportees performed by Joan Baez


3. Pastures of Plenty performed by Woody Guthrie


4. This Land is Your Land performed by Bruce Springsteen


5. Union Maid performed by Billy Bragg & Dar Wlliams


6. Do Re Mi performed by Ry Cooder


7. Pretty Boy Floyd performed by Woody Guthrie


 8. Hard Travelin’ performed by Bob Dylan


9. Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad performed by the Grateful Dead


10. The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done performed by Woody Guthrie


Bonus Track:
Woody wrote the lyrics to this song and many years later, Jeff Tweedy added the music as part of Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue collaboration with Billy Bragg.

At My Window Sad and Lonely performed by Wilco & Billy Bragg


Honorable Mention: “Mail Myself to You,” "Union Burying Ground,” “Jesus Christ,” “Please Mr. Roosevelt,” “Ludlow Massacre,” “Song of the Grand Coulee Dam.”

Woody at 100

This Saturday, the legendary populist troubadour Woody Guthrie would have turned 100. Best known for his iconic song "This Land is Your Land," Guthrie's influence was as profoundly felt as any musician in US, and perhaps world, history.

The occasion is rightly being marked coast to coast with concerts, conferences and countless celebrations. Check out this national schedule of events, watch the videos below to see two of my favorite cover versions of Guthrie's most famous song and watch this space on Saturday for a proper musical tribute to the man whose legacy includes some of the most powerful political songs, ballads and improvised works ever written.

Josh Fox Skewers Governor Cuomo's Fracking Proposal

Josh Fox’s 2010 documentary Gasland is an extraordinarily important film. Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance, where it premiered, Gasland, virtually on its own, helped expose an imminent threat to our drinking water and local environments. Detailing the gripping and awful story of how fracking became the dominant technology in US gas production, the film does an excellent job explaining exactly what hydraulic fracturing is and why it’s such a mortal threat.

Sadly, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a far-from-uncritical backer of the practice, failed to heed the film’s essential message that there’s no such thing as safe fracking. His proposal to permit fracking in counties in the southwest portion of the state, bordering Pennsylvania—Broome, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga counties—and only then in towns which agree to allow fracking—while banning the practice outright in Catskill Park, in aquifer areas, and in national designated historic districts, sounds, at first blush, like a compromise, but it actually puts New York State’s poorest and most vulnerable communities in the most peril and gives the gas industry much of what it wants.

Fox’s follow-up to Gasland, The Sky Is Pink, directly takes on Cuomo and shows exactly why his proposal is so regressive and dangerous. Called the “best 18-minute video ever made,” by Greenpeace’s Kevin Grandia, the new mini-doc reveals a slew of industry documents detailing serious concerns about well safety and water contamination and accessibly unpacks the increasing body of research, from both academics and intergovernmental agencies, that convincingly demontrates that expanding the use of natural gas will do nothing to prevent climate change.

Most impressively, the film offers an easy primer for people who have no idea what fracking is, while still offering engaging material for those steeped in the issue, making the video an ideal organizing tool. See for yourself and then share this post with friends, family and your Facebook and Twitter communities.

What to do? A good first step is to implore your reps to support the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act. The legislation aims to repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the Safe Drinking Water Act. It would require the energy industry to disclose the chemicals it pumps underground in the hydraulic fracturing process, information that has been protected as trade secrets.


Can you imagine having to deal with this in high-school?



Illegal, an independent documentary film financed by Houston philanthropist Curry Glassell, captures the plight of four undocumented students who through no fault of their own find themselves in a dead-end situation because of their migratory status. Eddy, Eric, Leti and Mario were brought to the United States by their parents as children and interviews with these children, human rights activists, policymakers, nonprofit leaders, educators and members of the clergy help personalize the debate over illegal immigration and underscore the importance of full immigration reform, beginning with the Dream Act.

Though an important step was taken with President Obama's recent order to halt the deportations of some young undocumented residents, what’s necessary is a law that provides a path to full citizenship for these young people.

Watch and share this beautiful and poignant video with your friends, family and Twitter and Facebook communities and learn how to help undocumented immigrants obtain legal rights.

Opening the People's Plenary at Rio+20

As the latest negotiation text circulated through the halls of Rio Centro yesterday, environmentalists’ moods quickly soured. Despite a late-night negotiating session, the revised text removes many of the important issues civil society has deemed essential.

Numerous NGOs quickly expressed their disappointment, including World Wildlife Foundation Director General Jim Leape, who called the text “a colossal failure of leadership and vision”, and assailed diplomats who “should be embarrassed at their inability to find common ground on such a crucial issue” and Greenpeace‘s Kumi Naidoo, who called Rio+20 an “an epic failure.”

In protest this morning, youth activists and civilian delegates at Rio+20 came together to publicly oppose and critique the official agenda, and to offer alternative directions. In a statement titled “The Future We Don’t Want,” young people and NGOs urge the government of Brazil, the UN Sustainable Development Conference Secretary General and all member states to stop negotiating their short-term national agendas and to urgently agree on transitional actions for global sustainable progress. (You can sign and share the statement here.)



Back in the US, as world leaders decamped to Rio for the Earth Summit, the group 350.org assembled a digital army to ask each and every member of Congress a simple question, “Do you support ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry?” Join this open-source campaign to end fossil fuel subsidies and contact your elected reps and find out where your Congressperson stands on the issue.

Storing Students' Banned Cell Phones is Big Business in New York

Kudos to the New York Post for revealing today that New York City’s ban on cellphones in schools is taking $4.2 million a year out of frequently impoverished childrens' pockets.

The students — who attend the nearly 90 high schools and middle schools in the five boroughs with permanent metal detectors — pay $1 a day to store their phones either in stores or in trucks that park around the buildings. Down the block from The Nation offices on Irving Place, you can see long lines of kids each afternoon from nearby Washington Irving High School waiting to pick up their phones after school from an idling truck.

The cottage industry has become so profitable, it rakes in $22,800 a day from some of the city’s poorest youngsters, whose families choose to shell out the money rather than risk their children’s safety by putting them out of the range of easy communication.

Parents and students quoted by the Post said the robbery highlighted the Department of Education’s indifference to the plight of high-poverty families and Mayor Bloomberg’s unwillingness to compromise. ”He seems totally unconcerned with how his policies negatively affect students, and he seems totally scornful of the concerns of parents,” said Leonie Haimson, whose son is an eighth-grader at the School of the Future in Manhattan.

Students say schools that enforce the ban should offer more options. Bronx high schooler Jonathan Lauriano, 18, told the Post he'd spent $500 on cellphone storage at a truck near campus. “They should set up free lock boxes inside [the school] because we can’t all afford to pay a dollar a day," he said.
But, as the Huffington Post subsequently reported, the NYC Department of Education has opposed efforts to construct on-site storage facilities for students, arguing that the liability for schools storing thousands of phones and gadgets is too high.

Help Stop Torture

During the last few months, we've seen audiences voicing approval when presidential candidates advocate the use of waterboarding and capital punishment. We've seen the Obama administration leaking details of its “kill list” because campaign officials seemingly thought this portrait of the president as a killer-in-chief would help his re-election chances. And we've seen numerous polls asserting that most Americans believe that torture is always or sometimes justified if it leads terrorism suspects to give up information.

This public acceptance, and misunderstanding, of torture follows years of post-9/11 public statements and memoirs by top government officials arguing for the efficacy of torture techniques, frequent positive portrayals of torture as legitimate and productive in the media and Hollywood and ideas like that floated by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who famously proposed allowing US judges to issue "torture warrants" to prevent potentially catastrophic terrorist attacks.

Since its formation in 2006, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), has committed itself to challenging these views, and to ending torture sponsored or enabled by the United States.

This month, NRCAT is joining with a grand coalition of religious and human rights groups in a National Week of Action Against Torture, Guantanamo & the National Defense Authorization Act, including a national call-in (6/22), a march in Washington, DC (6/24), and local vigils and tweet-in days (6/26).

Friday, June 22 is National Call-in Day to Congress
Call your Representative to urge support for new legislation that would ban indefinite detention and military commissions from the United States. Take cues from this sample script when making your call.

Sunday, June 24 is the DC March Against Torture, Guantánamo & NDAA
From 1:00 pm to 2:30 people will gather at the Capitol Reflecting Pool for a keynote speech by Dr. Stephen Xenakis, MD (retired Brigadier General, US Army). Sign-up to join the march; Download the flier here; use this sample message to invite your contacts to join the proceedings.

Tuesday, June 26 is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
There'll be a National Tweet-in Day to Congress & the White House and a Day of Vigils across the US.

More Ways to Help:
Join NRCAT’s letter-to-the-editor project and become part of a rapid response team.
Order, display and distribute NRCAT banners and bumper stickers.
Participate in the Reckoning with Torture collaborative film project.
Join inter-religious organizations in supporting the Shoulder-to-Shoulder Campaign to end anti-Muslim bigotry.
Support NRCAT with a tax-deductible gift.
Organize screenings of “Hawo’s Dinner Party,” "Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard" and “Doctors of the Dark Side."



A Message From Trayvon Martin's Father

Trayvon Martin was senselessly murdered this year, a victim of gun violence and the widely criticized “Stand Your Ground” legislation that likely emboldened the teenager’s killer. In the wake of the tragedy, the tide is turning. Elected officials across the country are increasingly speaking out against Florida-style “Shoot First” laws, and many original supporters of the legislation are recanting their previous support.

This Father’s Day, join Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, and add your name to this national petition demanding that all “Stand Your Ground” laws be repealed.


The Largest Political Demonstration in American History

Thirty years ago today, more than 1 million people, including your seventh-grade blogger, rallied in New York City’s Central Park against nuclear arms and for an end to the arms race of the cold war. It was not only the largest antinuclear demonstration but the largest political demonstration of any kind in American history. This short video documents the march and the movement that inspired it.



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