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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.

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.

Take Back America!

The Campaign for America's Future, a broad coalition organized to revitalize a progressive agenda for the US, is staging a national conference in Washington, DC this week from June 4-6. The idea is to kick off a nationwide progressive movement, which can effectively take on the reactionary politicians now running Washington and America into the ground.

There'll be workshops, panels, seminars and informal sharing of information and resources vital to jump-starting effective opposition to the out-of-control right-wingers currently dominating all three branches of government.

Most of the Democrats vying for their party's presidential nomination--Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton, Carol Mosley Braun and John Edwards--will be on hand to try to convince the assemblage that they deserve progressive support in their quest to unseat George W. Bush in the White House.

These presidential hopefuls will be joined as speakers by some of America's best legislators (Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Raul Grijalva, and Sen. Jon Corzine), as well as many folks familiar to Nation readers, including the magazine's editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, columnist Eric Alterman, Washington Correspondent John Nichols, and frequent contributors Barbara Ehrenreich, Robert Borosage, James Galbraith and Bill Moyers.

Also expected to participate are the Rev. Jesse Jackson, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Alliance for Justice executive director Nan Aron, among many others. Click here for a full list of conference speakers.

And, if you're like me and can't make it to DC mid-week, there's always CSPAN. The network plans to broadcast highlights of the three-day conference. It hasn't announced air days or times yet so check local listings as well as CSPAN's website for details. The CAF also plans to offer free, streamed versions of each and every panel on its site within a few weeks.

Profiting from War

Shortly after the US conquered Baghdad, the US Defense Intelligence Agency distributed a now famous deck of cards bearing the images of "Iraq's Most Wanted." This hit list of top Iraqi officials became a pop-cultural phenomenon, as well as a critical crutch for the US press, which virtually never reports on newly captured Baathists these days without noting their appropriate card rank among the US deck of fifty-five.

Now the Ruckus Society, a nonviolent anarchist group based in Oakland, has matched and raised the Defense Department with its own "War Profiteer" playing cards featuring fifty-three individuals and institutions in the oil, military, government, and media sectors who supported and are now profiting from the US war on Iraq. Players include three of hearts Condoleezza Rice, king of diamonds George P. Schultz, ten of clubs Vince D. Coffman, CEO of Lockheed Martin, and "wildcard" President George W. Bush.

The decks are stylish, funny and replete with good, accurate information on exactly the sort of people who are currently most responsible for the corruption of our country. And, unlike the deck produced by the US military, the Ruckus Society's pack is widely available. So order a set today.

Co-written by Jonah Engle.

Media Merger Mania

On June 2, the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on whether to relax the rules for owning American news media. Further relaxing of the rules is the absolute last thing we need unless you happen to want more Clear Channel and Fox News. Increased deregulation is sure to make it easier for the Rupert Murdochs of the world to buy up existing cable channels, radio frequencies and print publications, frequently in the same region of the country. The negative effect this sort of thing has on civic democracy is well documented.

There are a number of groups working hard to resist the drive toward further deregulation, including the Media Reform Network and the Center for Digital Democracy. (Click here for a list.) Check them out if you want to get involved in media reform. Also see Jeff Chester and Gary Larson's Twelve Step Plan for Media Democracy, which offers useful talking points and activist opportunities.

You can also contact your elected reps and tell them to preserve current media ownership rules for the sake of competition, market fairness and diversity of ideas. It'll take about ninety seconds using the Nation's new online activism kit. And, as much as they don't seem to listen, it could help make a difference.

Finally, The Nation's own John Nichols has been carefully tracking the politics at the FCC and has written numerous Nation articles on why the stakes are so high in the current battle. See five selected pieces, all by John, for background and further info.

FCC: Public Be Damned (with Robert McChesney), June 2 issue of The Nation.

I Want My BBC, May 8 (The Online Beat).

Musicians Against Media Monopolies, May 4 (The Online Beat).

The Boss Defends Dissenters, April 23 (The Online Beat).

Media Democracy's Moment (with Robert McChesney), February 24 issue of The Nation.

Put Families First All Call Day

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