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Entries tagged "Institute For Policy Studies"

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Name This Moment

March 8, 2011 ·

In two short months, we've seen two dictators leave power and the tide of the Tea Party movement begin to turn. Young people are connecting using new forms of communication and stating that the ideals of solidarity and government of the people are very present in today’s world.

In the Institute's Unconventional Wisdom newsletter, we asked readers to send us their suggestions as to what they would call the current period of democratic demonstrations by young people and workers across North Africa, the Middle East, and in far-away but not unrelated Madison, Wisconsin. Thanks to those who sent your comments like Maynard Riley (“Middle Class Insurrection”) and Benedetta Camarota (“Jasmine Revolutions”). On the ground in Egypt, what began as the January 25 Revolution is also being called the 18-Day Revolution or Egypt's Youth Revolution. In Tunisia, they are calling it the Sidi Bouzid Revolt, after the city where protests began.

We discussed a number of suggestions and puns from IPS staff. Among them were Pharaoh-less / Fearless Uprising, The Great Neocon Refudiation, and the The time of Democracy -- Whatever It Means!

Some of my favorites were Democracy 2.0 and The Great Uprising. Truly, the impact of social media tools has made a difference and allowed grassroots organizers to maximize the support of massive protesters. Another one I liked was Democracy Spring. Millions of people are springing into democratic action, refusing to be subjects to the cynical rule of tyrants and choosing to believe that a better world is possible.

Still, we don’t know where this moment is going. The movements for democracy aren't over, and with the situation escalating in Libya, the geopolitical implications for the region and the world are barely beginning to become clear. But we know one thing; we're living through times of change across the world. Regardless of all the monikers we can come up with, the resounding voice of democracy is a refreshing one in our work to continue working for peace, justice, and the environment. 

Unconventional Wisdom, the Institute for Policy Studies newsletter, is delivered by email every two weeks. It includes highlights of our work, commentary, and media appearances. Sign up to get this great service.

SOTU: Smoked Salmon on Wonder Bread

January 26, 2011 ·

The good news for President Barack Obama is that his one joke in an otherwise dead-serious 2011 State of the Union address elicited a chuckle from the assembled lawmakers in the chamber and sent ripples of humorous asides through the blogosphere. In case you missed it, Obama made the case for a historic reorganization of government by highlighting the layers of bureaucracy regulating salmon.

"The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater," he quipped. "And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked."

This prompted Michael Moore to make an actually funny joke via Twitter, "Soon a fresh water salmon will sit next to a salt water salmon in the spirit of civility." It provided a welcome break from wondering why Vice President Joe Biden couldn't stop frowning and, as at least one tweeter surmised, whether House Speaker John Boehner’s seat behind the president had a built-in tanning device.

This may end up as Obama's "smoked salmon" speech, just as we remember President George W. Bush's 2006 State of the Union address as his switchgrass moment.

(In case you forgot, that was when he declared, "We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switchgrass." Millions of Americans spontaneously shouted "switchgrass!?" at no one in particular, then laughed at Bush.)

To be sure, eloquent moments abounded in Obama's second SOTU address, such as this one:

"We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled."

Bad Policy Menu

But like serving smoked salmon on Wonder Bread, the president's State of the Union address sandwiched inspirational comments with crummy foreign, domestic, and energy policies. Here's a summary of what was on the menu, according to my Institute for Policy Studies colleagues.

Obama's remarks about the nation's entrenched wars were strikingly unrealistic. "This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq," he proclaimed. "America’s commitment has been kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end."

IPS fellow Phyllis Bennis countered in her real-time analysis for the PBS NewsHour's website that the Iraq War isn't wrapping up, the Afghanistan War is failing, and we can't afford either one. If we are ever going to find 15 million jobs, we need to end the wars and cut military spending.

Then there was the five-year freeze he proposed on the funding of discretionary domestic programs. It would choke off vital assistance to a shrinking middle class and growing numbers of poor and low-income families, IPS fellow Karen Dolan warned.

The sound of the president's silence on climate change and the BP oil disaster was deafening, as IPS fellow and Earthbeat Radio host Daphne Wysham explained. His call for boosting "clean energy" rang hollow because, as Wysham says, he was using the term as "code for 'clean coal' (an oxymoron if there ever was one), nuclear power, and natural gas."

Given the administration's overwhelmingly corporate-friendly tilt, she finds it impossible to get optimistic about Obama actually ending subsidies for oil companies."As long as the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling stands, allowing unlimited campaign contributions from corporations, including large oil companies, it's unlikely that Congress will embrace this proposal," she said.

Catering to Big Business

Obama's pledge to slash the corporate income tax was mistaken, argued Chuck Collins, director of the Institute's Program on Inequality and the Common Good. "It is true that statutorily, the U.S. has a high 35 percent corporate income tax rate. But the effective rate — the percentage of income actually paid in taxes — is considerably lower than in most industrial countries," he said.

Obama also missed an opportunity to get serious about the nation's chronic prison problem (too many Americans are in the slammer) and absurd drug laws. "The budgetary and political stars are finally aligned for serious criminal justice reform," wrote IPS fellow Sanho Tree. "Just yesterday, a group of former world leaders and other dignitaries came out against the drug war. With this much political cover, he would be practically impervious to jabs from the right."

Finally, as linguist George Lakoff predicted, Obama used "business language to indicate that he is pro-business" in this speech, emphasizing "the need for 'competitiveness' as if America were a corporation," and calling for "investments" in education, research, infrastructure, and "clean energy." As he has done for years, Lakoff sounded the alarm about this practice, which undermines even the better aspects of Obama's speeches.

"Economic success lies in human well-being, not in stock prices, or corporate and bank profits," he explains. "These are truths. We need to use language that expresses those truths." Read more about this on Common Dreams in Lakoff's commentary The 'New Centrism' and Its Discontents.

OMG! Glenn Beck is onto Something!

November 17, 2010 ·

Glenn Beck recently baffled reasonable people by playing with creepy "socialist" puppets on his Fox News program while blabbering about how beneficiaries of billionaire George Soros' philanthropy are supposedly Conspiring to Take Over America. The venom-spewing talk show host's attack on Soros, a Holocaust survivor, had an anti-Semitic tone, outraging the Jewish community.

His buffoon-ish, puppet-playing, fear-mongering exploits the tea partiers' anxiety, scaring them into hiding their last tea biscuits from black people, puppets, immigrants, and liberals working for a more just society.

Beck sounds alarmed by what he sees as a radical strategy of working both "inside" and "outside" of power circles to affect change. He gets his undergarments and puppets all in a bunch over my organization, the Institute for Policy Studies. Why? Because our annual report cleverly sports a photo of grassroots movements marching on the outside cover and pictures the Capitol on the inside cover as we describe our work.

Actually, many groups deploy an inside/outside strategies, regardless of their political orientation. Conveying street heat into lawmakers' suites can turn citizen-driven ideas into sound policies that move our nation forward. With Washington so dominated by corporate and military special interests, the Institute fights mightily to amplify the voices of dynamic social movements on the outside to help create the space for innovative policy ideas on the inside.

But, boy, if Beck is scared of organizations like the Institute for Policy Studies (we're nimble and smart but we operate on less than 5 percent of the Heritage Foundation's $70 million annual expense budget) and sophisticated liberal strategists like Van Jones, I bet he's SUPER scared of more heavily funded and aggressively ideological groups like FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and the Tea Party Patriots. Man, talk about working a subversive agenda from "outside" of Congress while lawmakers like Senator Jim DeMint, Senator-elect Rand Paul, Representatives Michelle Bachmann, Mike Pence, and dozens of Hill newcomers work the same agenda "inside" Congress.

And these "outside" groups were even able to leverage untold, undisclosed amounts of secret money into congressional campaigns to get their insiders elected. Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, reports that the new crop of Republican insiders must take a litmus test by filling out a questionnaire on the ultra-right Heritage Foundation's website, and Fox News reports they must declare their loyalty to the Tea Party agenda.

This radical takeover strategy takes an "outside" message of decreasing government spending and surreptitiously transforms it into the immediate “inside” addition of $700 billion onto the deficit to give the wealthiest 2 percent of our citizens an additional tax break. It preys on the fears of senior citizens to support them on the outside as they work furiously, on the inside, to cut their Social Security.

Hey, wait a minute...this really IS scary stuff!

Beck can scapegoat us all he wants, but IPS and other independent organizations will continue to fight the good fight, bringing grassroots voices to bear against Wall Street bailouts and multi-million dollar bonuses rewarding CEOs for their ruthless layoff policies. We'll keep trying to get those in power to focus on bringing war dollars home to our struggling communities and finding a way to keep our nation's hungry children fed, our workers employed with decent pay, and our climate sustainable for future generations. In our pursuit of an economy that works for all of us, we continue to hope that great progressive ideas from the "outside" can influence policy-makers on the "inside," even without the fortune-backed lobbyists that work against our efforts.

But, Glenn, that sure is scary stuff about those well-funded "freedom" groups getting their emissaries elected with secret money and requiring loyalty and litmus tests. And what about all those red-blooded men and women campaigning as outsiders, then ruling as insiders on behalf of the wealthiest 2 percent of our nation's population? Maybe there IS a plot to take over America. Thanks, man, for the warning.

Beware, my fellow Americans. Beware.

Karen Dolan is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/karendolan

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