Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

Help Save Overtime Pay

Lower pay, longer hours and unpredictable work schedules are some of the increased challenges working families will face if the Bush Administration is able to pass its proposed changes to overtime rules in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Some of the most important employment protections for working families today are part of the FLSA, established in 1938, which sets minimum national standards for wages and overtime. Under the FLSA's overtime rules, some eighty million workers are now paid time-and-a-half when they work more than forty hours a week. Many of them depend on this overtime pay for survival at a time when the minimum wage is far from a living wage in most parts of the US. But the Bush Team seems determined to terminate this hard-fought benefit for millions of workers.

Promoted by the Administration as "family-friendly" measures, the proposed changes, along with five Big Business-backed bills now in Congress, would actually make it much more difficult for working families to stay afloat. As an Economic Policy Institute report released June 26 notes, the main consequence of the changes would be that about eight million police officers, nurses, store supervisors, secretaries and many other workers would face reduced pay because employers who require their workers to labor more than forty hours a week would not be required to pay the time-and-a-half formula.

The AFL-CIO has been working overtime against the changes as have local unions and grassroots groups nationwide. Check the Federation's site for background on the FLSA and click here to view its powerful new TV ad currently running this week nationally on CNN and in Maine, Ohio and Missouri. (Maine is home to moderate GOP Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Sens. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Christopher Bond, R-Mo., are up for re-election next year.)

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, one of organized labor's strongest supporters in Congress, has proposed an amendment that would block the new proposed regulations. The Senate debate began this week and a vote is scheduled for WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10. Click here ASAP to tell your Senators to support the Harkin amendment. Tell them their own jobs really might depend on it.

Harkin says that he believes he has three to six Republican votes, which could be decisive in the Senate, where the GOP is in control by a narrow margin. This fight looks like it'll be close so let your reps know how you feel today.

Iraq: The Agony Continues

The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, said last night that the UN will continue its work in Iraq, despite Tuesday's devastating car-bomb attack on its headquarters in Baghdad.

The blast killed at least 18 people, including the highly respected UN special representative for Iraq, Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello. More than 100 people were also injured in the explosion, which is believed to be the most lethal attack on a UN complex in the body's 58-year history. The bombing follows a spate of attacks on US troops, Iraqis working with the occupation forces and the Iraqi infrastructure.

What should be obvious to all by now was eloquently spelled out by terrorism expert Jessica Stern today on the op-ed page of the New York Times. In "How America Created a Terrorist Haven," Stern--no leftist--makes painfully clear that "America has taken a country that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one."

As Stern, an author and lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, explains, the US inability to get basic services functioning and a legitimate government up and running in Iraq has created a situation much more dangerous for American interests than was the case prior to Bush's invasion. "The occupation has given disparate groups from various countries a common battlefield on which to fight a common enemy," Stern rightly insists. "Most ominously, Al Qaeda's influence may be growing."

Click here to read "How America Created a Terrorist Haven" in its entirety. And email this compelling indictment of how the Bush Administration has made us less safe to friends, family and foes.

And for more on the the situation in Iraq, see The Nation's collection of editorials, articles, columns and web reports on Iraqi reconstruction and the postwar situation, (sometimes known as war profiteering). You should also check out both the Common Dreams news site and Tom Englehardt's TomDispatch for regularly-updated links to good news sources on Iraq.

The 2003 Blackout

Electricity has now been restored across much of the northeast region of Canada and the United States, but officials are urging consumers and businesses to conserve electricity to avoid the possibility of rolling blackouts to prevent the grid from becoming overburdened as it stabilizes after the worst power cuts in North American history.

At its peak, the blackout, thought now to have originated in Ohio, left more than 50 million people without power in eight US states and eastern Canada, including major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto and Ottawa.

The Nation offices, located in the Union Square area of Manhattan, were without power for about thirty-six hours, which meant that our website was temporarily unavailable, and our e-mail and phone systems were also down. Fortunately, everything seems to be functioning normally now.

Watch this space for more info and, in the meantime, check out these articles and op-eds for interesting quick hits on what the blackout means.

Top Ten Things to Do in a Blackout by Farai Chideya, Alternet, August 15

Power Outage Traced To Dim Bulb In White House by Greg Palast, CommonDreams, August 15

System's Crash was Predicted by Peter Behr, Washington Post, August 15

This Grid Should Not Exist by Harvey Wasserman, Free Press, August 16

An Industry Trapped by a Theory by Robert Kuttner, New York Times, August 16

Drunk on Power by Bill Richardson, New York Times, August 16

When the Lights Go Out by Guardian Editors, The Guardian, August 16

A 'third world electricity grid' by David Adam, The Guardian, August 16

Oppose Karen Tandy's Nomination

The Bush Administration has quietly nominated another hard-liner with a questionable past to a high level position in Washington: veteran Justice Department official Karen Tandy, the likely new chief of the Drug Enforcement Agency, who recently made headlines by conducting an aggressive series of federal raids against medical marijuana users in states where the practice has been legalized.

A recent investigation by The Nation's Jason Vest found Tandy's career to be rife with examples of prosecutorial zealotry. She began her career in the 1980s as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, in an office described at the time by US District Court Judge Robert R. Merhige, Jr., as "absolutely the worst" he had seen. Tandy was the cause of much of the dissatisfaction directed at the office.

In a 1984 case against alleged marijuana traffickers, she read sealed documents protected by attorney-client privilege; in 1994 she ordered the seizure of the property of North Carolina businessman John Wheeler to force him to testify against others despite a lack of any evidence against him. In both cases, she was strongly rebuked by a federal judge for her conduct.

On July 10, Tandy breezed through her confirmation hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee, with only Senator Richard Durbin going on record to oppose her nomination.

But it's not too late to raise questions before a vote to confirm her. Click here to let your Senator know that you're concerned about Karen Tandy's record and that you oppose her nomination as Administrator of the DEA.

Help Save the FOIA

As Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel noted in a recent weblog, the Freedom of Information Act has been under severe assault from the Bush Administration since October 2001, when Attorney General John Ashcroft began reversing long-standing FOIA policies.

Since its establishment in 1967, the FOIA has been critical in exposing waste, fraud and government abuse. FOIA replaced a "need to know" standard with a "right to know" threshold, putting a burden on the government to show that requested information should not be disclosed, rather than assuming the Government always had good reason to withhold data from the public. Unsurprisingly, the Bush Administration appears determined to systematically undermine this showpiece of good government legislation.

So comprehensive is the Administration's attack that the presidents of twenty major journalists' organizations declared in a recent joint statement that Ashcroft's "restrictions pose dangers to American democracy and prevent American citizens from obtaining the information they need." (For example, FOIA allows neighbors who live near a chemical plant to get the same safety reports that the plant provides to the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor the plant's compliance with emissions standards.)

To counter this onslaught, a handful of Democratic Senators, including Robert Byrd, Patrick Leahy, Carl Levin and Jim Jeffords, recently introduced S609-- The Restore FOIA Act--which would re-establish legal protection for federal whistle-blowers and would revive public access to the type of health, safety and environmental information that citizens have had a right to obtain for the last thirty years.

The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee last March, where it will be voted on, probably in September, and then likely sent back to the full Senate for a chamber vote.

Click here to send a letter to your Senators imploring them to support the Restore FOIA Act. It'll take about ninety second with The Nation's new online activist kit, and on this issue, it could really make a difference.

Social Unionism--Salvadoran Style

For the first time in Salvadoran history, a new union is bringing together workers from the country's phone companies, Internet sector, radio and TV stations, and newspapers and magazines. The organization, known as SITCOM, calls itself a "social-movement union," determined to fight for the rights of consumers as well as workers.

Founded in March, SITCOM seeks to work with both grassroots groups and the opposition FMLN political party to resist further privatizations in the communications industry and to revise the privatizations that have already taken place.

The neoliberal Salvadoran government of President Francisco Flores Perez has resisted the union at every step, throwing legal roadblocks in the way of its organizing campaigns that make the GOP gutting of US labor laws look positively worker-friendly. The Ministry of Labor eventually refused to recognize SITCOM and issued a proclamation invalidating the formation of the union, citing unspecified technical reasons. Since then, Minister of Labor Jorge Nieto has refused union leaders' repeated requests for a meeting. Now, the Salvadoran government has publicly released the previously secret list of workers who signed the documents of incorporation, fostering fears of reprisals.

SITCOM is seeking support worldwide, particularly in the US, where the Campaign for Labor Rights (CLR), a Washington, DC-based organization that works to inform and mobilize antisweatshop activists, is organizing assistance along with the longstanding activist group, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), now finding new relevance with the anti-privatiziation campaigns of the present.

There are numerous ways you can help:

1. Fax (011.503.263.5280) or email (informacion@mtps.gob.sv) the Salvadoran Minister of Labor, Jorge Nieto, politely imploring him to immediately recognize SITCOM, quickly meet with its leaders and take effective action to defend the legal rights of SITCOM supporters across El Salvador. (CLR has well-written letters in both Spanish and English, which you can send with a few keystrokes.)

2. Fax or email Philip French, the acting head of the US Embassy in El Salvador, and tell him to convey your demands to the El Salvadoran government--Fax: 011.503.278.6011; Email: congensansal@state.gov.

3. Donate to CISPES's Emergency Salvadoran Fund. One hundred percent of all contributions go directly to the Salvadoran workers' struggle. Make tax-deductible checks payable to "CISPES Education Fund," with "Emergency Fund" marked in the memo line, and send to: 130 W. 29th St, 9th Fl, NYC, NY 10001 or call 212-465-8115 to use a credit card.

4. Let CLR know if you took action on this campaign. It's helpful in all sorts of ways as the group moves forward in resisting privatization in El Salvador and elsewhere.

Stop Bill Pryor

Talk about outside of the judicial mainstream! Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor is the latest extremist candidate nominated by the Bush Administration for a federal judgeship.

An appointee to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th circuit, Pryor has called Roe v. Wade "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history." He's compared homosexuality to necrophilia and incest. He's fought aggressively to prevent the disabled from enforcing their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He's urged Congress to gut a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which protects the right to vote for African-Americans. He's argued that the First Amendment doesn't mandate "the strict separation of church and state," and that "the challenge of the next millennium will be to preserve the American experiment by restoring its Christian perspective."

Heard enough? If not, IndependentJudiciary.Com, an invaluable site run by the non-profit Alliance for Justice, has collected a dossier of good reasons why Pryor's appointment should be rejected. (There's also info about other nominees.)

Send a letter to your Senators urging them to vote against Pryor's nomination. It'll take about ninety seconds using the Nation's new online activism kit. On this issue, it could really help make a difference. The Dems have effectively filibustered both Miguel Estrada and Priscilla Owen (two other loony-right Bush nominees). Bill Pryor deserves the same treatment.

Help Halt Big Media

The FCC's 3-2 vote on June 2 to relax the few regulations concerning media ownership rules still on the books represented an unprecedented give-away to the corporate media and a striking dismissal of the public will.

The consequent popular outrage sparked a bipartisan backlash with Republicans like Trent Lott, Ted Stevens and Kay Bailey Hutchison joining Dems led by Byron Dorgan and Ernest Hollings in demanding that Congress restore a semblance of sanity and competition to the media marketplace.

"The effect of the media's march to amalgamation on Americans' freedom of voice is too worrisome to be left to three unelected commissioners," William Safire wrote yesterday in the New York Times. "The far-reaching political decision should be made by Congress and the White House, after extensive hearings and fair coverage by too-shy broadcasters, no-local-news cable networks and conflicted newspapers."

This Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee will vote on whether to send Stevens' proposed bill S1046--which would rescind important parts of the FCC's corporate giveaway--to Congress for a vote.

Write your elected reps today and urge them to take immediate action to overturn the new FCC rules by supporting S1046. As much as they don't seem to listen, on this issue, it could really help make a difference.

And check out a new website, co-founded by Nation regulars John Nichols and Robert McChesney, for extensive background on media reform, talking points, action alerts, a media activist calendar and a voluminous set of links.

Mobilize in Sacramento

From June 23th to June 25th, the Bush Administration is hosting hundreds of government ministers and corporate reps in a Sacramento, CA summit designed to pave the way for the US agenda of "free trade", water privatization, genetic engineering and factory farming at the next WTO ministerial in Cancun, Mexico this September.

This Sacramento meeting will promote industrial models of agriculture that enrich transnational agribusiness interests while undermining the food security, food sovereignty and welfare of the impoverished and disenfranchised peoples of the global South.

In turn, California activists, recognizing the excellent educational opportunities presented by the Sacramento Ministerial on Agriculture, Science and Technology, are planning a five-day festival of diverse resistance to the Bush Administration's economic and foreign-policy agenda. Click here to see how you can join the fun, help get the word out, get to Cali cheap, and help support a future of sustainable agriculture, community democracy and ecological sanity.

And read FoodFirst's exhaustive analysis of the issues involved in the Sacramento Ministerial for background on why this fight is so important.

An Anniversary of Occupation

Today, June 5, the thirty-sixth anniversary of the Israeli takeover of the West Bank and Gaza, will see peace and justice activists worldwide protesting what even Ariel Sharon has taken to calling an occupation.

Gush Shalom (translated from Hebrew, the name means "The Peace Bloc") will be one of the chief Israeli groups actively mobilizing. Describing itself as the "hard core of the Israeli peace movement," Gush Shalom has consistently advocated ideas--negotiation with the PLO, acceptance of a Palestinian state, acceptance of the right of return for Palestinian refugees, calls for Jerusalem to be established as a joint capital, insistence on dismantling of the settlements--years, sometimes decades, before the established Israeli parties and peace organizations. Check out its website for info on how you can help.

The International Solidarity Movement, a global group which sends volunteers to the occupied territories to assist Palestinains living under siege and to pay witness to the daily Israeli brutality, could also really use your support. Same for Stop US Tax-funded Aid to Israel Now! SUSTAIN is committed to supporting the Palestinian movement for justice, human rights and self-determination by building a grassroots campaign against US military aid to Israel. SUSTAIN is also helping sponsor the current Caterpillar campaign, which seeks to halt the sales of US-built Caterpillar bulldozers to the Israeli armed forces.

Little so vividly captures the brutality of occupation like the bulldozing of homes by the Israel Defense Forces using Caterpillar equipment. And the IDF soldier who killed Rachel Corrie, a 23 year old member of the ISM, while she was trying to prevent an illegal home demolition, used a Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer as his murder weapon. Click here to let Caterpillar know that it should stop profiting from murder and violence in the Occupied Territories.

And watch this space for info on a host of related groups, agencies, campaigns and publications, which we'll survey in the days ahead.

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