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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 "Obama administration"

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4 Things Obama Can Do Now to Fight Climate Change - Without Congress

February 13, 2013 ·

4 Things Obama Can Do Now to Fight Climate Change - Without Congress

1) Say no to the Keystone XL pipeline.
Without waiting for Congress the State Department can deny TransCanada’s request for permission to build a pipeline across the United States carrying toxic tar sand oil to polluting refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

2) Regulate power plants.
Since the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are pollutants in 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to put controls on carbon emissions. This means the EPA has tools to regulate new and existing power plants and industrial sources that are spewing methane, nitrous oxide and soot into the air.

3) Curb natural gas exports.
The Department of Energy can reject licenses for oil and gas industry to expand their export of liquid natural gas to countries with which we don’t already have free trade agreements. And Obama could direct the U.S. Trade Representative to withdraw from negotiations on the TransPacific Partnership, which would fling the doors wide open to LNG export to countries in Asia.

4) Negotiate a global climate deal in good faith.
Obama should instruct the climate team at the State Department to return to the negotiating table ready to compromise in order to reach international consensus for a strong and equitable 2015 climate treaty.

7 Progressive Steps Obama Should Take in His Second Term

January 19, 2013 ·

7 Progressive Steps - Obama Second Term

Most progressives aren’t exactly thrilled with President Barack Obama’s track record so far. Sure, he came out in favor of gay marriage, raised taxes on at least some of the richest Americans, made history by being the first non-white man to occupy the White House, and called for ending oil and gas subsidies.

In general, however, he riled the progressive base instead of rallying it. Given that hardened conservatives continue to accuse him of being a “communist” anyway, he might as well give a true progressive agenda a shot. Chances of that may look slim in light of his corporate-sponsored inaugural festivities, but he did get that memo about how he’s got to finally do something about guns.

Here’s my cheat sheet for our commander-in-chief, in case he wants to get back in touch with his inner anti-war community organizer.

Dear Mr. President,

You and I have never met even though I grew up in Hyde Park and right-wingers keep insisting that you’re heavily influenced by my organization. (Isn’t that kooky? Look it up if you don’t believe me.) Anyway, I know you’re busy but in case you’ve got a minute or two to spare, here are seven action items for your consideration. I’ve tried to keep it short, but there are lots of hyperlinks for you to explore.

Sincerely,

Emily Schwartz Greco

1) Stop climate change. Surely you’ve noticed by now that the weather got pretty odd during your first term in office. After all, heavy winds are felling the White House’s stately Christmas trees and you wound up embraced by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (a potential GOP presidential contender) right before Election Day because of Superstorm Sandy’s devastation. Uttering the words “climate change” out loud is nice and all, but actions speak louder than words. The best way you can prove that you’re serious about climate change is to nix the Keystone XL pipeline. While you’re at it, bravely declare that fracking is environmentally devastating and do what you can to stop that scourge. Along with mountaintop removal mining. End your love affair with nuclear reactors and see if you can end our reliance on that dangerous source of power faster than Germany.

2) Adopt a foreign policy that respects human rights. You can start by ending all forms of government-sponsored torture, which would require punishing U.S. officialswho have anything to do with it. No, making them the next CIA chief doesn’t count, as bad as things turned out for Gen. David Petraeus. And keep that promise you made four years ago and shut the Guantánamo prison. Oh, and by the way: One great way to respect human rights is to kick your nasty remote-controlled killing habit. Drone warfare won’t make the world a safer or better place.

3) Embrace spending priorities that benefit the rest of us instead of rich folksand corporations. With private pensions becoming an endangered species, it’s time to strengthen Social Security rather than gutting it. You can do this and balance the budget at the same time if you get creative about new revenue sources, such as a Wall Street tax. And put the Pentagon on a diet. That’s what we’ve always done after wars wound down and supposedly we’re wrapping up operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

4) End the wars on drugs and undocumented immigrants. Speaking of pointless and pricey wars that are finally winding down, why not admit that the Drug War isn’t working and never will? Make sure the good people of Washington State and Colorado get what they voted for when they passed marijuana-legalizing ballot measures last year. And go a step further and push for nationwide decriminalization of a drug that at least 100 million of us have tried, including, uh, you. Another thing that might help Latin Americans and Latinos, two of the communities that have suffered the most over the Drug War's four decades, is a saner immigration policy. Yes, Latinos backed you over Romney, but they had to hold their noses because of those record deportation rates. See if you can do something at the federal level to update immigration laws that might stop the outbreak of oppressive legislation in states like Arizona and Alabama.

5) Address America’s corrosive racial and class disparities, such as the racial wealth divide and the overly black and brown composition of our outrageously huge incarcerated population. The increasingly privatized prison-industrial complex isn’t good for anyone, especially undocumented immigrants, unless you think corporations are people. But if they were, you wouldn’t have gotten a second term, right?

6) Help fix our broken food system. You could get started by getting Michelle to dump Beyoncé as one of the faces of the Let’s Move campaign now that she’s becoming the face of Pepsi. For a change, how about not letting every single application for an untested genetically engineered thing we eat or feed our animals glide through the approval process? Use the power of your post to get the country to eat further down the food chain which would be great for our personal health and the entire planet by serving a vegan banquet at the next State Dinner. See if the Farm Bill could do less for corporate agribusiness and more to give the powerful local-food revolution even more momentum. Do something about factory egg and livestock farms.

7) Take steps to alleviate our growing care crisis before it crushes us all. It’s still mostly a below-the-radar challenge compared to everything else on this list, but the growing numbers of senior citizens aren’t just making the cost of Medicare harder for the federal government to shoulder. We don’t have enough geriatric doctors or any system to increase the numbers of qualified professionals who we need to provide our elders with decent care of any sort. We’ll need at least 1.6 million new caregivers by 2020 and it won’t be easy to recruit them unless U.S. labor laws are updated. Experts predict that the number of seniors in the United States will nearly double by 2030. Sure, it’s possible that robots will solve this problem. Just like it’s possible that you’re going to take all my advice.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

Obama Swear-In Ceremony, January 20, 2013. Photo: White House

Obama 2.0: Yes We Can Raise Taxes

January 18, 2013 ·

Republicans seem to have something against tax increases. I get that. But it's still not crazy to think we can win some important revenue battles during Obama 2.0. And given this country's pressing needs – from repairing our infrastructure to rehiring teachers – it would be crazy not to try.

President Obama discusses tax deal. Photo: Official White House photo by David Lienemann.

A big question, of course, is how to peel off the 17 House Republicans needed to win anything (assuming all Dems and President Obama are in favor). Openings will come, though, when Republicans need votes from across the aisle on something or other. The even more important challenge is to push progressive reforms into the center of the debate so they get plucked when the stars are aligned.

Here are four that are not only solidly progressive but also have bipartisan potential:

1. Close the carried interest loophole

OK, people, if we can't fix this one during the second Obama administration, I'm giving up on Washington once and for all and becoming a goatherder. How can we continue to allow gazillionaires to pay only a 15 percent tax rate on the profit share ("carried interest") they get paid to manage hedge and private equity funds?

Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates, for example, was the highest-earning hedge fund manager in 2011, raking in $3 billion. Forbes calculates that if Dalio had paid ordinary income tax rates, he would have contributed an extra $450 million to the Treasury.

The loophole is so off-the-charts absurd even some hedge fund managers are ready to give it up. Bill Ackman, of Pershing Square Capital, has said he expects the loophole to disappear and thinks his peers won't even mind that much.

Formerly problematic Dems have also changed their tune. Back in 2007, a fix passed the House but never made it through the Democratic-controlled Senate because of obstructionism from Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Thankfully the Senator from Wall Street land has had a rethink.

2. Cap the deductibility of executive pay

The more corporations pay their CEO, the less they owe in taxes. A 1993 law aimed to fix this perverse incentive by capping executive pay deductions at $1 million. The problem is it left a huge loophole for "performance-based" pay. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, for example hauled in $76 million in stock options and other so-called "performance-based" pay in 2011 – all of it fully deductible. And contrary to Clinton era thinking, stock options do not improve performance. This became abundantly clear after the dot-com crash and the 2008 crisis, when boards helped CEOs recoup their losses by handing out boatloads of new options.

As for bipartisan, "purple" potential, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) co-sponsored a bill in 2009 that would've tightened up the loophole and former Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) has made supportive comments. There are also two recent precedents. Both the bank bailout and the health care reform legislation included $500,000 caps on pay deductibility with no performance pay exemptions for financial and health insurance executives. Guess what? The world didn't end.

3. Adopt a financial transaction tax

This is the idea of putting a very small tax on each trade of stocks, bonds, and derivatives. Tax the Wall Street casino? Fat chance, you might say. But there's actually huge momentum on this, both at the grassroots and the policy level.

About a dozen European governments have committed to coordinate such a tax. The details still need to be hammered out, but the proposal on the table is for a tax of 0.1 percent on stock and bond trades and 0.01 percent on derivatives.

Sure, you might say, but have Europeans ever met a tax they didn't like? How are you going to sell this in the land of the "free"?

One major selling point is that by taxing each trade, this tax would discourage the controversial high-speed trading that now dominates markets. The chief economist at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the nation's top derivatives regulator, recently found that this automated speed trading is sucking significant profits from traditional investors. And a growing number of these traditional investors are coming out in support of financial transaction taxes.

Even for tea partiers, if forced to pick from a menu of options for raising massive revenue, what do you think they'd go for? One of the numerous proposals (e.g., value added taxes) that would hit the middle class? Or one targeted at the bigtime gamblers on Wall Street who benefited the most from the bailout so hated by the tea party?

4. Close offshore tax havens loopholes

The rampant use of tax havens to stiff Uncle Sam has sparked outrage across the political spectrum. In a nationwide poll, nine out of ten small business owners said it was a problem when big businesses used offshore loopholes to avoid paying their taxes. In the same poll, in which Republicans outnumbered Democrats 2-to-1, two-thirds of small business owners said big business did not pay their fair share of taxes. Even Rush Limbaugh has acknowledged that something is wrong when General Electric pays no taxes despite earning tens of billions in profits.

Closing tax haven loopholes could raise at least $100 billion a year. To move in this direction, Congress could increase reporting requirements. Under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, energy corporations will now have to report on their profits, taxes and other government payments, by nation. This should be extended to cover all corporations. The intent of the Dodd-Frank disclosure is to combat corruption, but it could also help combat tax avoidance. A recent survey of chief financial officers of multinational corporations found 75 percent worry about the reputational impact of their company's tax disclosures.

Let's not be intimidated by Grover Norquist and his irrational tax-hating minions. Obama's legacy — and our nation's economic future — will be determined by our ability to build a solid and progressive revenue base. 

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC and is a co-author of the Institute's yearly Executive Excess reports on CEO pay. www.ips-dc.org Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

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.

4 Modest Wishes for New Treasury Secretary Jack Lew

January 9, 2013 ·

This post originally appeared on AlterNet.

I happily joined the more than 200,000 people who’ve signed the “Paul Krugman for Treasury Secretary” progressive fantasy petition. It was a clever way to tell the administration to reject this nutty austerity craze.

Now, however, President Obama has made the far less exciting choice of his Chief of Staff, Jack Lew, for the job. And especially given the experience with Timothy Geithner over the past four years, it’s time to develop some more modest wishes for the new top dog at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue.

1. If you were complicit in the 2008 crash, please fess up and make a convincing case that you’ve seen the light.

Lew was the chief operating officer of Citigroup's Alternative Investments unit from 2006 through the crash (he left in 2009) and he should reveal more about what he did there. This should also apply to other top Treasury leaders. Since Lew, a former head of the Office on Management and Budget, is considered more of a budget guy than a financial markets guy, there are rumors that President Obama is planning to install a Wall Street executive as his deputy.

When Geithner was up for confirmation in 2009, Senator Carl Levin asked him to respond in writing to 38 hard-hitting questions. Many of his answers were the evasive inanities you’d expect from someone trying to squeak through a polarized Senate (e.g., “I believe that we need more transparency to promote transparency”). But the only questions he flat out refused to answer had to do with his role in the Clinton Treasury’s push to deregulate over-the-counter derivatives. The law that resulted, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, gave rise to the explosion of credit default swaps that were a key factor in the crash.

We should’ve known then that Geithner was insufficiently reformed. In fact recently he was back at it, exempting foreign exchange derivatives from the new Dodd-Frank regulations over the objections of other regulators and consumer protection groups.

2. If you oppose a popular progressive reform, have the decency to explain your position.

The current deficit fixation could be turned into an opportunity for bold, creative thinking on how to use fiscal policy to shift our economy in ways that would make it more equitable, green, and secure. At the Institute for Policy Studies, we’ve compiled a long list of fair and environmentally friendly proposals that could generate hundreds of billions in additional money per year.

One of our favorites is the idea of a small financial transaction tax that could raise massive revenue while discouraging short-term financial speculation. Over the past four years, much of Obama’s core base – including major labor unions and environmental, anti-poverty, public health, and consumer organizations – have been pushing for such taxes. The International Monetary Fund has documented that they are administratively feasible and could be a significant revenue raiser. The European Commission has also produced reams of analysis on the potential benefits, prompting a dozen European governments to commit to implementing such taxes this year.

Here’s Geithner’s most substantive public statement on the issue:  “I have not seen the version of that that I think works.” The Obama Treasury has never published a research paper on the topic. Never offered a thoughtful response to the IMF and European Commission analyses. Never engaged in a meaningful debate. Never even responded to the many civil society letters calling for such taxes.

So Mr. Lew, if you’re confirmed, please at least be open to a respectful dialogue over this and other bold progressive tax and financial reform ideas.

3. Please don’t help rich people and corporations hide their money in overseas tax havens.

In Geithner’s response to Senator Levin’s questions, he pledged to “treat the offshore tax abuse issue as a high priority.” Behind closed doors, he has reportedly advocated a shift to a “territorial” tax system that would exempt U.S. corporations’ foreign earnings, giving them even more incentive to disguise U.S. profits as income earned in tax havens. In his most recent book, Bob Woodward wrote that in negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner, Geithner said “The goal is territorial.” Boehner’s staff confirmed the accuracy of the quote.

As a Senator, Obama co-sponsored legislation with Levin to crack down on tax haven abuse – a practice that drains an estimated $100 billion per year from Uncle Sam’s coffers. Fixing the problem would also help level the playing field for small businesses that provide more than half of U.S. jobs – and don’t have accounts in the Caymans. Mr. Lew, you could help make this a legacy issue for Obama.

4. Don’t be a jerk to other governments

Lew doesn’t seem to have much international experience, but he wouldn’t have to do much to improve on the current Secretary’s record. Geithner has sparked animosity by attempting to impose his opposition to some fair taxation ideas on other countries. After receiving a lecture against financial transaction taxes from her U.S. counterpart, the Austrian finance minister commented dryly, “I found it peculiar that even though the Americans have significantly worse fundamental data than the euro zone that they tell us what we should do and when we make a suggestion ... that they say no straight away.”

Geithner has also been the main advocate of using U.S. trade agreements to limit other governments’ ability to control volatile financial flows. When more than 250 economists urged the administration to lift current trade restrictions on the use of capital controls, Geithner was dismissive. As a result, U.S. trade officials are pressuring the 10 countries negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal to give up this legitimate policy tool. By contrast, the International Monetary Fund’s new “institutional view" in support of capital controls makes them look like a beacon of enlightenment. Mr. Lew could make sure governments around the world have all the tools they need to prevent financial crisis.

This humble wish list doesn’t cover every important issue on the next Treasury Secretary’s plate. I haven’t even gotten into the core question of whether he or she will put the interests of ordinary homeowners and Main Street businesses above those of Wall Street. But it has allowed me to get some of my gripes about Geithner off my chest. And I can only hope that the incoming Secretary may learn a few lessons from his predecessor’s shortcomings.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy project at the Institute for Policy Studies. IPS-dc.org

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