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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 "Congress"

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When Number Two Acts like Number One

December 13, 2011 ·

In late November, NATO forces whacked 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border. As of November 30, the Pentagon and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had not yet accepted blame; but they were “investigating” and “regretting.”

Washington thinks it's number one, but the world is starting to realize that's not true. Photo by KP Tripathi.However, the next day, Iranian demonstrators invaded and destroyed property at the British Embassy complex in Teheran and briefly grabbed some embassy staff. London and Washington expressed outrage.

Obama, however, expressed no sentiments over police behavior in New York and other cities and campuses where police officials (not low-level ones) beat and pepper sprayed unarmed and non-violent U.S. citizens exercising their rights to free speech and assembly. Nor did he or the British ever apologize for staging their joint 1953 coup in Iran, which ousted Iran’s elected ruler and replaced him with a pro-U.S. Shah. Coincidentally, this resulted in a boon for U.S. and British oil companies.

In those days the U.S. economy grew, and what was good for General Motors was good for the country. Bi-partisanship prevailed in Congress! U.S. steel mills belched smoke, and auto assembly lines poured out cars – pre rust belt days, before globalization.

After decades of change, however, neither U.S. rhetoric nor policy kept pace with material reality.

The U.S. military remains the strongest in the world, but it has not protected the country from serious economic and political dysfunction. Bi-partisanship has evaporated with the ozone layers. Recession – now four plus years old – has meant devastation for tens of millions without jobs, homes, health care or hope. But not for the military budget – well, not yet.

The President continues to expand the nation’s imperial commitments. We hear Obama warn about the lack of money to make needed repairs in the infrastructure while we see him simultaneously stride boldly forward to undertake new and costly international obligations. Weeks before the deadly mistake in Pakistan, Obama committed the country to station more troops in a base in Australia to counter the “Chinese threat.” The anti-missile defense pact to counter presumably Iranian (distant future) threats to Europe brought forth a Russian promise to station its missiles near Poland. The new U.S. Middle East Security arrangement involves the most undemocratic nation – Saudi Arabia.

Congress doesn’t notice this asymmetry between its largesse in military appropriations and its abstemious allocations for desperately needed national infrastructure. Congress agreed with the President that previous levels of government spending could no longer continue for schools, clinics, hospitals and social services. Many Members want to cut Social Security and Medicare. They find no funds to shore up levees and bridges; some cities even declared bankruptcy.

What’s wrong with the thinking of the Washington policy crowd? The Cold War is long dead, the world is reeling from recession, but U.S. “strategic” thinking ignores these elements. “We’re still number one,” remains the axiom of official rhetoric. The statistics, however, reveal the dramatic decline of U.S. predominance in education, health and social welfare and a dramatic increase in poverty, and an unequal distribution of wealth.

Similarly, the rise of the Indian and Chinese economies seems to have bypassed the strategic consciousness of U.S. policy makers and Members of Congress.

George W. Bush started – with Congressional approval – two wars based on the notion of overwhelming U.S. power. The cost in human life and money has yet to be estimated. But Obama couldn’t just walk away – “weakness,” his opponents would scream. And so the conflicts drag on, and naturally in war “shit happens” like  “friendly fire” killing 24 Pakis.

Hey, Pakistan was disobedient. It didn’t toe the line against the Taliban. Its intelligence service even cooperated with our enemy in Afghanistan. Shape up or else, ordered Joint Chiefs of Staff boss Admiral Mullen. Did no one notice that China has begun to assist Pakistan?

Do Washington analysts think the U.S. can continue killing Pakistanis, sending in lethal drones and invading its turf with Seals to execute our enemies (Osama bin Laden)? Tens of millions of Pakistanis, including high military officials, began to scream “enough.” A leading Pakistani army general, Ashfaq Nadeem, accused NATO of staging a "deliberate act of aggression."

On November 29, Pakistan withdrew in protest from a scheduled meeting in Germany to discus Afghanistan’s future. It closed the supply routes the U.S. and NATO uses for troops and operations in land-locked Afghanistan.

The meeting’s goal was to forge a joint effort to stabilize Afghanistan as NATO combat forces begin to leave in 2014. Indeed, Pakistan’s government raised questions about future cooperation with the U.S. and NATO on Afghanistan.

U.S. policy rests on false assumptions. Pakistan, Washington decided, has no choice but to obey its aid-giving ally. The Chinese, however, understand the possibilities that will open to them as Washington marches to the beat of imperial ignorance.

China has moved resources and advisers to Pakistan, including nuclear experts. Washington can’t seem to grasp a decline, that the rest of the world sees, in their once undisputed world power. It cannot keep its home in good repair, but it still acts as if it can make other nations bend to its will.The 24 dead Pakistani soldiers might become the symbol for the beginning of the end of U.S. empire.

A Wish for the Holidays: Children's Voices Ringing through the Halls of Congress

December 13, 2011 ·

On Thursday, December 8, 2011 I was part of a delegation that delivered over 5,000 letters to members of Congress that had been written by children from all across the nation.

The event was organized by the We Belong Together Campaign and was held in celebration of International Human Rights Day. Children of all ages and backgrounds were talking about their wish to be together with their parents and families (during the holidays and beyond), without fear of separation or deportation. 

Some of the kids were U.S. born citizens of immigrant parents, some of them were undocumented themselves, and some of them wrote letters because they were worried about the families of their friends.

Jaydon, a ten year old boy from California wrote

One day I got home and watched TV. Then my dad walked in and said "There are some people here". So mom got up from scrubing the floor and some weird people walked in and went in the basement. With my dad and my mom walked up stairs and started crying. Then she said, "they're taking your dad away." And before I knew it they were gone. My dad even forgot to say "good-bye. After my dad was taken away for a while, I thought we weren't a family anymore. I was so sad and mad I couldn't think clearly.

As I was carting one of the boxes over to the Hart building for the press conference, I took a peak at some of the other letters.  Their words and their pictures impacted me. It struck me that all they could do was hope that members of Congress and the Obama administration would listen to their stories and do something to make their young lives a little less precarious, lonely, and uncertain. What sort of reaction did we get from the staffers who received our letters?

A group of congressional staffers seem perplexed at the unusual delivery. Photo by Celia Perez Garcia.My role that day was to visually document the events that unfolded so I was keenly aware of their faces and their attitudes. I was traveling with a group of four Spanish speaking women from Tenants and Workers United. Some of the “anti-immigrant” congressional offices looked at us as if were aliens from another world- blank stares of indifference. One of the “pro-immigrant” congressional staffers did stop and engage in conversation with us. It was great.

Sadly, many of the individuals who wanted to come out and participate in the day’s events were kept at bay because they were afraid of random document checks. Maybe these letters will do something to persuade politicians to pursue more humane legislation (such as the HELP Act) that allows immigrant families to speak, act, and live without this fear. Given the recent news that the Supreme Court has decided to review  Arizona’s less than immigrant friendly immigration law, perhaps we are moving in the right direction.

Celia Garcia Perez is a 2011 fall intern with the Break The Chain Campaign.

Sequestering Military Spending

November 21, 2011 ·

In its final stages, debate over the supercommittee has boiled down to squeezing new revenues out of millionaires vs. cutting the social safety net. The largest portion of the discretionary budget, however, funds the military — and that fact has been mostly obscured in this equation. With the panel in its final death throes, military spending is emerging from the shadows in the form of “defense sequestration.” This is the requirement that failure would trigger $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, half of which would come from the Pentagon's coffers.

Thirteen straight years of military spending increases have more than doubled the Pentagon's base budget. Photo by expertinfantry.Scare tactics don’t tend to produce entirely sensible legislation, and this one is no exception. Yet can these cuts be made with no sacrifice to our security? Emphatically, yes.

The Pentagon and its allies in industry and Congress are warning us over and over that this “doomsday” scenario will leave us weakened and vulnerable. They're ignoring several pretty important facts. The “sequestration” cuts, added to those already planned, would bring our military spending, in inflation-adjusted terms, to its 2007 level. Was anyone talking about doomsday then?

Thirteen straight years of military increases, moreover, have more than doubled the Pentagon's base budget (excluding war spending), bringing it to its highest level since World War II. And these increases have actually expanded the gap between U.S. military spending and the rest of the world. At the beginning of this period, we were spending about a third of the world’s total. Now we're spending about half.

Even if sequestration cuts across all military programs, this sort of ham-handed approach is safely doable. Our blank-check approach to military spending in this century has created waste in every program, waiting to be trimmed. Even as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta works to protect his budget at the expense of all others, his Pentagon remains the only federal department that can't pass an audit of its books.

The Project On Government Oversight has calculated that simply cutting back by 15 percent on the privatization of military functions that has occurred in this period would save $300 billion over 10 years.

Is sequestration the best way to manage a defense drawdown? No. For one thing, the best way would make choices based on how much we need to spend, on what, to keep us safe. A new security strategy could allow us to question, for example, the need for our current “forward presence,” which has between 105 and 125 ships cruising around three oceans nearly all the time, and target savings accordingly in the naval budget. Sequestration bypasses this kind of thinking.

Nor would the sequestration “haircut” do anything good for our enduring unemployment crisis. Military cuts, it is true, will have a smaller impact on jobs than other cuts in the domestic discretionary budget. A study by economists at the University of Massachusetts found that $1 billion in military spending sustains about 11,000 jobs as compared to about 17,000 from an equivalent amount of spending on clean energy. Let's cut spending on military programs we don’t need and invest those savings in job creation by making things we do need.

This is the kind of vision laid out in a new report from my organization, the Institute for Policy Studies. It outlines a set of cuts to those military programs we don’t need, and combines that with fiscal reforms and pollution taxes. The result would be more than $800 billion we can invest in building the kind of country we all deserve.

Since the Super Committee Failed, Now The Rest Of Us Can Succeed

November 21, 2011 ·

Thank you to Super-Committee Republicans who remained intransigent in their insistence of governing by and for the 1%, protecting their self-interest and the interests of the Super-Rich and Wall Street Bankers.

The Super Committee was a short-lived political show. IPS has prescriptions for real budget solutions. Photo by DonkeyHotey.

Thank you to the Super-Committee Democrats who, though they revealed their  willingness, if reluctant, to do  the same by putting drastic cuts to vital domestic  and earned benefits programs on the table next to revenue-raisers, stood up against a bad deal.  The Democrats on the Super-Committee were responsive to the 99% in the end.

The undemocratic, appointed Joint Select committee of six Democrats and six Republicans, a.k.a. the “Super-Committee,” failed to reach an agreement that would have unnecessarily imposed untold hardship on the vast majority of those of us already struggling in a bad economy.  If this inability to reach a terrible deal is “failure”, can you imagine what “success,” defined by this crowd would have looked like?

Here’s what success for America’s short- and long-term fiscal health should look like; and thanks to the Super-Committee fail, we might just have the time and political space to achieve some of it:

My colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies  have a newly released Report: America Is Not Broke: How to Fix the Crisis While Making the Country More Equitable, Green, and Secure.

The report asserts that the current economic crisis presents us all with the opportunity and challenge to use our nation’s vast wealth to create a sustainable economy which functions well for all of us.

The Institute for Policy Studies comes up with seven times the total $1.2 trillion over ten years savings that the Super-Committee was charged with finding.  Not only would this be success in correcting national priorities and positively affecting the long-term debt, these tax and spending reforms would create a society that works for 99% of us.

If we had the political will to actually achieve success, we could achieve at least $824 billion per year by doing the following:

1)      Generate revenue equitably: Going beyond rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The report proposes reforms would generate $375 billion per year. These proposals ensure that Wall Street and the wealthy pay their fair share and  also call for a small tax on trades of stocks, bonds, and derivatives as a way to both generate revenue and discourage high-risk, high-frequency trading.

2)      Ensure that security spending actually makes our country more secure: A total of $252 billion per year could be raised from smart reductions in the military budget by reducing the enormous number of overseas U.S. military bases; eliminating obsolete and wasteful defense programs; ending the war in Afghanistan as we end the war in Iraq

3)      Create a clean, sustainable environment: Eliminating corporate welfare for the oil industry and taxing could generate nearly $200 billion per year in revenue, while creating incentives to adopt green technologies and reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil.

 Finally, though not outlined in the report and admittedly more difficult to achieve, its important to note we need true health care reform so that escalating health costs do not overtake even the most responsible debt-reduction steps.  The Center on Economic Policy Research reports that with the current health system, CBO projections show devastating consequences for our budget deficits going forward. But, for instance, if we had universal access to health care and the same per person costs as Canada, we would save $1.2 trillion a year, with $600 of the savings going to the government.

Taken together, this formula for success would put us squarely and strongly on the path to both fiscal sustainability and toward a more equitable and flourishing society.

Budgeting for the Great American Train Wreck

August 1, 2011 ·

It's Aug. 1, 2011. Does President Barack Obama know where House votes for that last-minute budget deal are?

The pact he forged primarily with Republican leadership in Congress after months of wrangling is no compromise. The GOP got just about all the cuts it wanted. The Democratic Party didn't get hardly anything it sought, such as a deficit-shrinking revenue boost or a firm commitment to leave Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security funding unscathed. If it becomes official, deep social spending cuts will deepen the nation's growing economic woes.

It did sound virtually official when the news broke yesterday. But as of 11:30 a.m. today, the political forecast for passage in the House "is much more cloudy." The Hill is reporting that only 21 representatives are likely to back it and 11 have asserted that they will vote against the deal. That leaves more than 400 House lawmakers undecided with one day to go before the debt-ceiling deadline.

That means there's still hope the nation won't have to eat what Missouri Democrat Emanuel Cleaver, the Congressional Black Caucus chairman, called a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich." Wall Street is blocking efforts to shut down overseas tax-dodging havens that could restore $1 trillion dollars to U.S. taxpayers within a decade, notes Institute for Policy Studies expert Chuck Collins. And a task force led by Miriam Pemberton, another IPS expert, found that trimming just nine military programs could save $77 billion in the 2012 fiscal year alone.

In these difficult financial times our government should perform two basic tasks:

  1. Stimulate the economy to create jobs.
  2. Ensure that everyone pays their fair share including the wealthiest Americans.

The budget deal Obama struck primarily with Republican lawmakers does neither. Instead, "the very wealthy will continue to receive taxpayer handouts, and corporations will keep their expensive federal giveaways," Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said. "Meanwhile, millions of families unfairly lose more in this deal than they have already lost."

As Grijalva and many others have wisely noted, Obama has the power to raise the debt ceiling without caving on spending priorities. He could invoke Section 4 of the 14th amendment. Or, even though it sounds outlandish, simply order the mint to produce two platinum coins, both worth $1 trillion. That sounds kooky, but some scholars say it would technically work. And it wouldn't damage the U.S. economy.

This deal will only make things worse for millions of unemployed Americans. Plus, it protects "every single loophole, giveaway and boondoggle in the tax code as a matter of fundamental conservative principle," Republican David Frum argued in a startling commentary.

Our economy needs a new stimulus package, not a poison pill.

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