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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "2012 Elections"

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A "Boy Afraid of Being a Boy" as Inaugural Poet?

January 17, 2013 ·

The United States “contains multitudes,” as Walt Whitman said. We’re a nation made of millions of stories. It’s one way we understand ourselves as a people, through the story we tell of ourselves. For too long there’s been just one official story and it has been blandly monochromatic: straight, white, and overwhelmingly male.

Richard Blanco Inaugural Poet

On Monday January 21, though, the narrative shifts. I invite you to listen closely as Richard Blanco, the poet President Barack Obama chose to read an original poem at his second inauguration, steps to the podium. Because Richard Blanco isn't just a fine poet. He's also Latino. He's also gay.

In three masterful collections Blanco has been telling his own story — of growing up queer in a conservative Cuban exile family, in love with American popular culture, “the boy afraid of being a boy” — with affection and careful, close attention to the story’s richness.

Lest we think the choice only symbolic, the National Book Critics Circle reminded us this week that there are still gatekeepers policing the cultural commons: They chose only white poets as finalists for their annual award, despite many fine poets of color (including Blanco) having released new collections in 2012.

By choosing Richard Blanco, by contrast, the president celebrates our variety: We are queer, we are straight, we are Black, white, Latino, Asian, Native, multi-racial…We are America. Martín Espada, the groundbreaking poet and essayist, reminds us of the broader political context in which this choice is made: “There are Latino writers (myself included) who are banned in Tucson as part of the Mexican-American Studies program outlawed by the state of Arizona, part of the backlash against Latino immigrants in this country. There are gay writers who are accomplished, even brilliant, yet cannot marry and are denied basic civil rights in many states, since discrimination does not recognize accomplishment.”

It’s not an easy task to write a poem for the inauguration, broadcast to millions, and I don’t envy Richard Blanco even one bit. But I love that he is the one taking on the challenge. With so many trying every day to deny our country’s diversity and to drive us apart, President Obama has done something bold: He's chosen a queer Cuban American to bring us together.

Order Blanco’s latest collection, Looking for the Gulf Motel, here.

Read the title poem in the collection here.

Read a queer perspective on Obama’s choice here.

Sarah Browning is Executive Director of Split This Rock, author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden, and an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow.

This Week in OtherWords: November 28, 2012

November 28, 2012 ·

This week, OtherWords is running three commentaries that highlight electoral milestones: African-American turnout reached record levels, marijuana-legalization ballot initiatives passed in Washington State and Colorado, and voters in a small Ohio town approved a measure declaring that "corporations are not people and money is not speech."

We're also distributing an op-ed by Scott Klinger, who points out that the CEOs promoting Social Security cuts have vast pensions and that American businesses have gutted their pension funds. The erosion of the nation's private pension system makes this earned-benefit program more essential than ever.

And Sam Pizzigati's latest column highlights his new book: The Rich Don't Always Win. Please let me know if you would like a review copy.

Scroll down to see all our offerings and please subscribe to our weekly newsletter if you haven't signed up yet.

  1. A Pension Deficit Disorder / Scott Klinger
    Beware of wealthy CEOs who are lecturing the rest of us about tightening our belts.
  2. The New Normal for African-American Voter Turnout / Leslie Watson Malachi
    As election law changes threatened access to the ballot box this year, African-American turnout operations strengthened.
  3. Washington and Colorado Voters Opt for a Smarter Drug Policy / Austin Robles
    Treating drug use as a criminal act rather than a health problem has harmed our society.
  4. To Move Forward, We Must Learn from Our Progressive Past / Sam Pizzigati
    Yesterday's ideas about curbing the ultra-rich's power remain just as relevant as ever.
  5. Shortchanging Our Future / Mattea Kramer
    Lawmakers have long underinvested in young people, and sequestration would make matters even worse.
  6. Democracy Outbreak in Ohio / Jim Hightower
    One small town is standing up to deep-pocketed campaign cash.
  7. The Sleazy League / William A. Collins
    The dark side of corporate-run schools is no longer a secret.
  8. The Ant and the Grasshopper / Khalil Bendib cartoon

 The Ant and the Grasshopper, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Latinos' One-Sided Love Affair with Obama

November 15, 2012 ·

Clearly, we Latinos love President Barack Obama. He garnered nearly three-fourths of our vote. In battleground states like Nevada, Florida, and Colorado , we helped catapult the incumbent president to victory.

An Obama supporter displays an "Obamanos" sign at a campaign rally in Wisconsin. Photo by Mundo Hispanico.Unlike African Americans, Latinos didn't always back Democrats by this kind of margin. In 2004, George W. Bush garnered 40 percent of the Latino vote. Had Mitt Romney pulled that off this year, he might have won the White House.

Although Obama overwhelmingly won our support, we're still unhappy with his immigration track record. He's made no progress toward achieving a long-overdue and comprehensive immigration reform. Even more disheartening, more people are being deported under his leadership than during Bush's presidency. To put this in its tragic context, thousands of our families have been torn apart. Too many kids are growing up without their parents.

Obama lucked out because the Republican Party is taking such an extreme stance on immigration that many Latino voters that might have otherwise voted GOP rejected it at the ballot box.

Romney advocated for "self-deportation" and failed to distance himself from Arizona's Republican-led state government, which passed an extremist "papers please" law that implicitly advocated racial discrimination. Most Republicans oppose the DREAM Act, a bill that would give millions of young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Republicans regularly refer to undocumented immigrants as "illegal aliens," insinuating that they're not only different but somehow sub-human.

We aren't single-issue voters or a homogenous voting bloc. But we do take the issue of immigration personally. Nearly all Latino voters have ties of some sort to undocumented immigrants. We may have been undocumented at one point or have family and friends who are currently undocumented or used to be. Both my parents came to this country without legal documentation.

Ironically, they became citizens because of the 1986 amnesty law President Ronald Reagan signed. Some of my best friends are undocumented. Most of them came to this country when they were kids. This is the only country they've ever known. This is their home — they're as American as me. The DREAM Act would provide my friends and others like them with the opportunity to realize their true potential as American citizens.

When Republicans label all undocumented immigrants as "criminals," "aliens," and "illegals," we in the Latino community can't help but feel that the GOP is badmouthing our grandparents, our mothers and fathers, our neighbors, and our friends. Why would any group support a political party that explicitly disrespects its loved ones?

On Election Day, we came out in record numbers in support of Obama. In tight Senate races in states like New Mexico and Virginia, the Latino vote gave those Democratic candidates a winning edge Without Latino support, the Democratic Party would have lost its Senate majority in 2010 and failed to win it back this year.

The onus is now on the White House to prove that he deserved our votes.

In his most recent press conference, Obama said he supports "a pathway for legal status" instead of citizenship. This is discouraging news. We voted for him because we want our loved ones to become citizens. We won't settle for less. Obama must push for bills like the DREAM Act, and fight for comprehensive immigration reform, but more importantly he must ensure that these are legitimate pathways to citizenship.

We may love President Obama, but now it's time for the entire Democratic Party to prove it loves us back. How long can this one-sided love affair last?

 

Javier Rojo is the New Mexico Fellow at Institute for Policy Studies. IPS-dc.org

Now, Will Obama Break His Climate Silence?

November 8, 2012 ·

Like most U.S. climate activists, I breathed a sigh of relief as the election returns rolled in.

Climate scienceYou didn't have to be paranoid to fear that Mitt Romney just wasn't taking seriously the potential devastation in store for us if we don't change course. The Republican hopeful even tried to score political points by poking fun at President Barack Obama for taking climate change seriously.

And in his acceptance speech, Obama laid out a vision of a nation "that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."

Still, it would be naïve to assume that Obama's victory is a win for the environment or the communities most impacted by climate change.

After all, Obama has yet to break the deafening silence that lasted throughout his long reelection campaign. By failing to even utter the term "climate change," he's signaling that he still considers climate deniers a powerful political force. And it makes me nervous when I hear Obama talk about "freeing ourselves from foreign oil" as he did in his acceptance speech.

In the past four years his "all of the above" approach to energy independence has leaned too heavily on expanding drilling, pumping, blasting, piping and fracking for domestic consumption and export. Staying this course means more greenhouse gas pollution, more warming, and more storms like Sandy — or worse.

And his push to expand nuclear power under the guise of "low-carbon" energy is an expensive and toxic diversion from investment in clean renewable energy like wind and solar.

Freed of his campaign obligations and concerns, Obama is now free to be bold. We must hold him accountable for living up to his visionary rhetoric and call him out on the shortsightedness of his energy policy. He said so himself.

"The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote," Obama said in his acceptance speech."America's never been about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us together."

We can't sit back and wait for Obama to lead on climate or anything else. We can't abdicate the political space to Beltway lobbyists — even the ones with green credentials — to negotiate solutions to this most urgent threat. We need to organize and take action.

Here are some inspiring grassroots examples of people who aren't waiting for our leaders to take action. They're already building alternatives to our fossil-fueled economy while making their communities more resilient to climate disruption.


Janet Redman is the co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies. www.ips-dc.org
Inequality-Fighting Lawmakers Win Big

November 7, 2012 ·

Members of Congress who earned good marks in an Institute for Policy Studies "report card" on inequality fared well on Election Day.

Inequality Report CardWe awarded "A+" grades to the 12 House members who did the most to narrow America's economic divide over the past two years. Eleven of these lawmakers won:
Robert Brady (D-PA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Steve Cohen (D-TN), John Conyers (D-MI), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Only one of these A+ lawmakers, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) lost his seat to a Democratic challenger — making him a notable casualty to California's top-two primary system.

Three of the five senators who nailed top marks for their legislative actions to reduce inequality in America were up for re-election. They all won: Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Republicans identified as the most "99% friendly" within their party also did well. The IPS report card rated three senators and nine House members at a "C" level for doing the most to reduce extreme inequality over the past two years. All seven of the House members on this list who ran for re-election won. None of the three most "99% friendly" Senators was up for re-election this year.


Our report card gave failing grades to 59 lawmakers who consistently favor the interests of the wealthy instead of looking out for the needs of everyone. Of the 45 who were up for re-election, two lost. One was Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY), who was the lead sponsor of a bill to repeal a provision in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that requires corporations to disclose the ratio between what they pay their CEO and their workers.

This new metric could encourage a narrowing of the staggering inequality gaps within companies. In the midst of Hayworth's two-year crusade against that provision, the SEC has failed to implement it.

The other House member who received an "F" grade and lost her seat was tea party-backed Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, another New York Republican.

The IPS report card also identified the 17 Democrats who have done the least to fight extreme inequality and rated no better than a "C: Of the eight House Democrats on this list who were up for re-election, two lost (Representatives Ben Chandler of Kentucky, and Larry Kissell of North Carolina). Mike McIntyre, another North Carolina House Dem, appeared to be headed for a recount.

Sarah Anderson is a co-author of this Institute's first annual inequality report card, released in September. It rates lawmakers on the basis of their voting records and co-sponsorships of 40 different legislative actions over the last two years. The bills considered range from legislation to establish a "Buffett Rule" minimum tax rate that all wealthy Americans must pay to a measure that would raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation.

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