Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

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.


A Mother's Day Message From Trayvon Martin's Mother

Trayvon Martin was senselessly murdered this year, a victim of gun violence and the widely criticized “Stand Your Ground” laws that likely emboldened the teenager’s killer. In the wake of her tragedy, Martin’s mother is standing up in hopes of preventing what happened to her child from ever happening again. Watch the video, heed her call, sign her card, and then add your name to this national petition demanding that all Stand Your Ground laws be repealed. (Thanks to Ilyse Hogue for alerting me to the powerful video.)


Maurice Sendak's Cultural Influence

Maurice Sendak’s cultural influence was enormous. Generally considered the leading children’s book writer of the past century, his books were touchstones of youth for the generation born after 1960. His Nutshell Library was a staple of my childhood and is now savored by my children. Born in Brooklyn in 1928, the son of Polish Jewish immigrant parents, Sendak was most famous for a dozen picture books he both wrote and illustrated, most notably 1963’s Where the Wild Things Are and 1970’s In The Night Kitchen.

His books were frequently controversial, with critics complaining about the horrifying monsters in Wild Things and the nudity of the young hero of Night Kitchen, which was subjected to repeated efforts at censorship. But Sendak was undeterred, arguing that life is full of horrors and that children are not immune to the realities of loneliness and confusion.

Sendak's appearance on The Colbert Report last year shows what a treasure he was. On topics from sex to censorship to celebrity to Newt Gingrich, his cutting, common-sense sensibility makes clear why his work was so wildly popular and enduring. RIP.


Goodbye MCA

The Beastie Boys’s Adam Yauch, who went by the stage name MCA, died this morning at the terribly young age of 47. He had been battling cancer of the salivary gland since 2009.

For me, losing a Beastie Boy is like what losing a Beatle was to my father’s generation. Yauch was a visionary, a great musician, the group’s conscience and most politicized member and, possibly, the coolest guy in New York.

A practicing Buddhist, Yauch used his fame on behalf of countless peace and justice causes over the years, was heavily involved in the movement to free Tibet and co-organized the Tibetan Freedom Concerts of the late nineties. When the Beastie Boys accepted an award at the 1998 MTV Music Video Awards, Yauch presciently introduced millions of young viewers to Islamophobia: “Another thing that America really needs to think about is our racism….towards the Muslim people and towards Arabic people and that’s something that has to stop and the United States has to start respecting people from the Middle East.” Even with the onset of cancer in 2009, MCA kept up. As Occupy Wall Street just tweeted: “Adam Yauch marched w/us in Nov. over the Brooklyn Bridge. A visionary artist who never lost sight of his community. “

Yauch was born an only child in Brooklyn. While attending Edward R. Murrow High School, he taught himself to play the bass guitar, and formed the initial incarnation of the Beastie Boys with Mike Diamond (a k a Mike D. ) and, shortly thereafter, Adam Horovitz (a k a Ad-Rock.) They played their first show on Yauch’s seventeenth birthday. Yauch attended Bard College for two years before dropping out to focus on music. The rest is musical history. RIP.


May Day Protests in Europe

My colleague Allison Kilkenny offers details on May Day actions in the United States, where tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest economic inequality. Meanwhile, May Day across Europe brought out demonstrators, strikers and even some picnickers marking the labor movement celebration and demand an end to the austerity agenda sweeping the globe.

In Greece, transit workers engaged in a three-hour work stoppage bringing the capital to a standstill while tens of thousands gathered in Athens’s Syntagma Square. The protesters called for debt-ridden Greece to reject the terms of international bailout loans.

In Russia, there were more than 500 rallies nationwide and millions of people in the streets. President-elect Vladimir Putin and outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev even took part in Moscow’s May 1 Soviet-style procession for the first time.

In Turkey, tens of thousands of people gathering in Istanbul’s Taksim Square were met with a formidable police presence. Although the march was largely peaceful, a group of about 100 people wearing masks attacked shops in the city’s Mecidiyeköy district. The attackers targeted banks, coffee shops and restaurants, breaking shop windows and ATM machines.

In Germany, police broke up a march of tens of thousands at its halfway point as it wound its way from the center of Berlin into the Kreuzberg district—a traditional May Day hotspot. Organizers accused the police of using “unbelievable brutality” to break up the head of the demonstration, and resorted to the use of batons and teargas. Police spokesman Alexander Tönnies said there were some arrests and some demonstrators were injured, though he did not give any figures.

In Spain, which is suffering the industrialized world’s highest unemployment rate of 24.4 percent, organized labor called protests in eighty cities. Tens of thousands gathered in Madrid’s Neptuno Square, protesting new labor reforms that make it easier for companies to fire workers, and a budget cuts in healthcare and education.

In Portugal, which along with Ireland and Greece needed foreign funding to avoid bankruptcy and had to impose deep austerity in return, thousands rallied in Lisbon and other cities calling for “growth, jobs and social justice.”

In England, Occupy London which set up a protest camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral last October before being evicted in February, began the day with a demonstration at Liverpool Street station. Activists taking part in Occupy the Tube handed out flowers, and tents filled with balloons were flown across the station concourse to avoid laws against static demonstrations. After the station protest activists joined the main demonstration, in which approximately two thousand trade unionists and other campaigners gathered at Trafalgar Square.

Not far from Rome, in Rieti, Italy three leading trade unions organized a concert attended by 300,000 young people where labor leaders called for austerity policies to be scrapped in exchange for pro-growth measures.


A Guide to May Day

For nearly 150 years, May 1 has been an international occasion to celebrate and defend the rights of the working class. This year, with the Occupy movement taking full advantage of May Day’s historic significance, we’re likely to see the greatest explosion of outrage at the excesses of capital since the first mass May Day protest in the United States in 1886, when more than 300,000 workers nationwide walked off their jobs in solidarity with 120,000 laborers striking on behalf of an eight-hour workday.

In her new post, Allison Kilkenny reports on the hopes and ideas behind the day’s action, details the coalition-building that has gone into the many months of planning and preparation and usefully defines what Occupy activists mean when they talk of a “General Strike.”

In New York City, starting at 8 am, Bryant Park will be the site of a “Pop-up Occupation“ featuring free food, a free market, free services, skillshares, workshops, teach-ins, speak-outs, public art, performances, discussions and direct-action trainings. At noon, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello will lead a guitar workshop and rehearsal for the Occupy Guitarmy. At 2 o’clock, activists, led by Morello and the Occupy Guitarmy, are expected to march to Union Square Park. After a concert and rally at the historic site of so many past radical calls to action, participants will leave Union Square at 5:30 for a permitted march to Wall Street with a coalition of organized labor, immigrant rights groups and faith-based activists.

The most militant of the Occupy groups, Occupy Oakland, is planning to occupy the Golden Gate Bridge at 6 am followed by a series of direct actions facilitated at three announced strike stations: the anti-capitalist station at Snow Park, the anti-patriarchy station at 1st & Broadway and the anti-gentrification at 22nd & Telegraph. (There’s also a fourth station that is not being advertised.) All morning pickets, occupations and autonomous actions are expected to leave from these locations from 8:30 am until the reconvergence at noon. The Strike Stations should be active and will offer free sustenance like food, snacks, water, coffee and medical supplies. At 3 pm there’ll be a broad march starting at the Fruitvale BART station.

For a long time, May Day has been a big day for immigrants rights in Los Angeles. That history will color this year’s actions. Occupy Los Angeles is organizing around a “4 Winds” People’s Power Car and Bike Caravan through the urban sprawl of Los Angeles that will culminate with Direct Action in and around the downtown Financial District. The caravans will stop at flashpoints along the way. Flash occupations, food giveaways, and other direct actions targeting the foreclosure crisis and police brutality will be undertaken on a “slow, city-paralyzing, carnival-esque descent” into the center of the city. Check this map to find a “wind” near you.

In Boston, a major coalition will gather at noon at City Hall Plaza; Later people will mass at 7 pm at Copley Square Park to put on costumes, puppets and face-paint and receive instructions on their respective roles in the “funeral procession” that will proceed through areas of wealth and commerce

A major coalition will be assembling at Union Park in Chicago at noon for a march to Federal Plaza.

In Portland, a traditional ‘family-friendly’, permitted event will commence at 3:30 pm at South Park with a march at 4:30, while student activists are planning on rising early and massing at 7:30 am at the headquarters of the Portland Public Schools to protest budget cuts and the falling quality of our schools and to attempt to nonviolently shut down work for the day.

A 9 am march for immigrant rights in Tucson will move from Greyhound Park parking lot to Armory Park for a noon rally with speakers, music, entertainment and info booths.

The Occupy Denver group has created a nifty commercial detailing its plans for May Day in the Mile High City.

This comprehensive directory offers links and info on each of the 126 cities and towns currently planning May Day actions.

No matter where you are, check out The Media Consortium’s group site, mediaforthe99percent.com, on Tuesday. I think it’ll be the best place to turn for careful and comprehensive reporting on what should be the economic justice movement’s spring coming-out party. Featuring a live-stream of the day’s events from Free Speech TV, an interactive map of actions and curated social media coverage, the site will chronicle the day with color, verve and smarts.

Finally, don’t miss this May Day playlist!

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