Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

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.



What Rio+20 Is All About

The next round of global talks aimed at curbing climate change, the RIO+20 conference, commences in Brazil on June 20. Drawing world leaders and thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and civil society, the conference aims to chart a path to reducing global poverty, advancing social equity and protecting the environment.

The United Nation Development Program (UNDP) has produced this short video explaining what’s going on at Rio+20, what sustainable development is all about, why it's critical to devise better measurements of the economy than GDP, why we desperately need to move away from fossil fuels if we’re going to have a chance of continuing civilization significantly into the future and how individual citizens can get involved.

Watch and share it widely!


Fighting for Domestic Workers in California

California’s approximately 200,000 domestic workers do the jobs that make other work possible. They perform the fundamental duties of the home, including childcare, house cleaning and cooking, as well as caring for people with disabilities, the sick and the elderly. The vast majority of California’s domestic workers are women, minorities, and immigrants who are poorly paid and receive no health benefits or paid time off to care for their own families.

From coast to coast, the domestic worker industry is riddled with abuse. The largely immigrant domestic workforce is particularly vulnerable given the isolated nature of the industry, where women labor behind closed doors, out of the public eye and, frequently, off the books. Making matters worse, domestic workers are excluded from most federal labor and employment laws.

Last month in Sacramento, the California Domestic Workers Coalition, representing thousands of childcare providers, caregivers and housekeepers from around the state, along with labor and community supporters, gathered to advocate for the passage of AB 889, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which would effect a significant measure of redress in the Sunshine State by eliminating discriminatory provisions in the state labor code and granting domestic workers basic rights that other California workers gain through collective bargaining. AB 889 cleared the Assembly last year and has been stalled in the Senate since late last summer. It is opposed by the AARP, nanny agencies, the California Chamber of Commerce and Disability Rights California, among other groups.

The bill’s passage would be a huge gain for California workers and a terrific example for the rest of the country. Give the campaign a boost today by adding your name to the petition. After you’ve weighed in, share this info with friends, family and your Facebook and Twitter followings!

The Path to Progress: Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Last week, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Keith Ellison launched a new piece of legislation that would repeal $113 billion of tax-breaks, handouts and subsidies for the fossil fuel industry over the next ten years.

Currently, the fossil fuel industry is generously subsidized despite the fact that it’s already the most profitable business on earth! (During the first quarter of 2012, the Big Five oil companies earned a combined $33.5 billion, or $368 million per day.) It’s as if the industry is being awarded a bonus for wrecking the environment. Fossil fuels are subsidized at nearly six times the rate of renewable energy. From 2002 to 2008, the US government gave the mature fossil fuel industry over $72 billion in subsidies, while investments in the emerging renewable industry totaled $12.2 billion.

We’ll never get to renewable energy if we keep offering gobs of cash to oil, coal and gas companies to continue business as usual. The End Polluter Welfare Act would strip away these obscene subsidies.

While there have been previous legislative attempts to remove some fossil-fuel subsidies, this bill is the most comprehensive and would end all tax breaks, loopholes and federal research support for fossil fuels.

As you can imagine, the fossil fuel industry is fighting back hard, so please join Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense and 350.org, which has launched a signature drive to pressure congressional representatives, in offering public support for the End Polluter Welfare Act.

Occupy This Album

It was only a matter of time: Occupy This Album, a new collection featuring ninety-nine tracks of class-conscious music from ninety-nine artists, underscores the important role that music has played in the Occupy movement since the first days of the drum circle in Zuccotti Park.

Released this week for $9.99 by Music for Occupy, a nonprofit production company working in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, to which it is funneling all profits from the project, the album contains plenty of familiar names, like Yoko Ono, Third Eye Blind, Debbie Harry, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, Yo La Tengo, Ani DiFranco, Willie Nelson, David Crosby & Graham Nash, Thievery Corporation, Immortal Technique, and, of course, Tom Morello, the musical patron saint of Occupy. All of these artists donated the tracks free of charge.

There are also numerous more obscure musicians featured, which, as Music for Occupy explains is part of the point of the album: “We look to give voices and opportunities to artists who support our vision; specifically artists who most have never been heard before, and have many troubles making it in today’s industry because their message is just not “Pop” enough. We look to team up socially conscious known and accomplished artists, with other artists that could use a light shined on them by those same artists.”

I like this tune from Matt Pless called ‘Something’s Got to Give.”

This report from RT Television details the making of the album in an interview with the project’s executive producer, Jason Samel.


Stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed free trade agreement under secret negotiation between Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Branded as a “trade deal” by its corporate proponents, the TPP would actually establish new corporate rights to undermine environmental and health laws, offshore millions of American jobs, flood the US with untested food products, and extend the duration of medical patents. Its expansive non-trade provisions would impose constraints on government regulation of financial firms and food safety. As the Huffington Post’s Zach Carter reported, the TPP would even ban the widely popular “Buy America” procurement policy.

Taking place this week in Dallas, Texas, TPP negotiators are talking behind closed doors with hundreds of corporate “advisors” while the public and consumer advocates are locked out. (Despite tight security, protesters affiliated with Occupy Dallas succeeded in pranking the confab with a series of stunts including replacing hundreds of rolls of toilet paper throughout the conference venue with more informative versions.)

Our friends at the venerable advocacy group Public Citizen have been working overtime to expose the talks and educate the public on how the TPP will affect each of us. With apologies to the Jackson Five, this new music video makes clear why the stakes are so high and what we can do about it.

Watch and share the video, then sign Public Citizen’s petition imploring US Trade Rep Ron Kirk to stop the secrecy and publicly release all TPP proposals. Tell him it’s a simple request and that transparency matters.


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