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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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ICE Records Don't Match Deportation Claims

January 4, 2012 ·

In the rush to try to deport 400,000 people per year, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) might have forgotten to file some paperwork.

ICE's impact is felt in communities across the country, but not seen in their official paperwork. Photo by ICE.The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University has just published a report analyzing case-by-case records provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The data, provided to TRAC almost two years after it was requested, shows a 34 percent discrepancy between the number of people ICE claimed to have removed and those shown to have been removed by the paperwork.  Overall, TRAC says ICE statements claimed almost five times more individual apprehensions than revealed in the data, as well as 24 times more individuals deported and 34 times more detentions. From TRAC:

In its initial FOIA request in May 2010, TRAC asked for specific information about all individuals who had been arrested, detained, charged, returned or removed from the country for the period beginning October 1, 2004 to date. In its initial and incomplete response, however, ICE so far has only provided TRAC with information through FY 2005. The agency said it would provide detailed information about the more recent years later.

Looking at the small data sample provided by ICE, TRAC’s analysts say that ICE either made exaggerated claims about the number of people who were deported during that time, or they are withholding information on a massive scale. I feel there could be another explanation: armed with the power to conduct massive raids, Bush-era ICE agents thought they could skip some of the paperwork altogether. With ICE unilaterally imposing a $450,000 “FOIA processing fee,” the public might never find what happened in the last few years at ICE. Making matters worse, restrictionists might use these findings to claim there really have not been as many deportations as the Obama administration has claimed. Put another nail on the “looking tough on immigration” Obama strategy.

As someone who has been deported on paper, but not in real life, I should feel lucky that ICE sometimes exercises discretion. But seeing this dysfunctional agency hold the power to do so much damage to the people of this country tells me this is bad fortune for everyone involved. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a creation of the post-9/11 era, and the enlargement through executive powers of the national security state.

Obama Did It, All By Himself

October 5, 2011 ·

"Change We Can Believe In." Those fine words fooled a lot of people in 2008. Now they stick in the craw even of Obama apologists for whom all the hopes dashed over the past three years are the fault of tea party Republican obstructionists. Expect to hear a billion dollars worth of that malarkey between now and next November.

But even those who hold Obama blameless must concede that, in every way that matters, his first term has been continuous with George Bush's second. Yes, there have been small, mainly cosmetic changes; changing circumstances made that inevitable. And there has been a change in style. Where once there stood an inarticulate Buddy Ebsen wannabe — a living reproach to Phillips Andover, Yale, and the Harvard Business School — there is now a silver-tongued orator of whom Columbia and Harvard can be proud. But as for a change of course, a change for the better — forget it! This not even Obama's cheerleaders can deny.

Lately, there has been pullback even on the few intimations of change for the better that survived into the administration's first months. Back then, it was not too unreasonable to hope that Obama would move to reverse the anti-regulatory tide of the past three decades and that he would at least try to rein in banksters and corporate polluters. It didn't take long for that illusion to be dispelled. Obama's most recent gift to the industries that pollute the air, his order to the Environmental Protection Agency to delay implementation of legally mandated ozone regulations, is only the latest in a long line of environmental malfeasances. It is a particularly egregious case, however, because this time there was no question of Republican obstructionism; Obama did it all by himself.

To be sure, his interventions abroad are less inept and more multi-lateral than Bush's were. But the difference is mainly one of tactics and style. It has by now become clear to all but the willfully blind that Obama is as much a steward of the empire as any of his recent predecessors. The military does not rule directly, but along with the rest of the national security apparatus it calls the shots.

Accordingly, the rule of law is as threatened as at any time since the 9/11 attacks — international law certainly, and increasingly also domestic law as constitutional restrictions on the state's right to intrude into individuals' lives and behaviors are given up for the sake of "security." The purported tradeoff is nonsense of course, but how could Obama do otherwise given his determination to "look forward, not back"? Not bringing Bush-era war criminals to justice was his administration's Original Sin, and the consequences keep unfolding.

Change? In Washington today, the most nefarious lobbies rule more than ever. Witness Obama's address to the United Nations last month. If Israeli government publicists did not actually write his remarks on Israel and Palestine, they might as well have. The Barack Obama who spoke in Cairo in 2009 and at the United Nations in 2010 seemed a little less servile to the Israel lobby than George W. Bush had been. That appearance is now shot, and the United States, along with Israel, will suffer for it for a long time to come.

Still, it must be said that Obama did bring change — for the worse. He didn't just continue Bush's lost wars, rebranding one and escalating the other; he also added much of Asia and Africa, and even parts of Latin America, to the empire's anything goes free-fire zones. Drone technology makes it easier now than it was for his predecessor to practice "low intensity" warfare; but, to borrow a slogan from another nefarious lobby, "drones don't kill, presidents do" — insofar as they really do control the means of violence. To the extent that Obama is not owned by the national security state, he is culpable each and every time its agencies spread murder and mayhem.

But the worst change of all, so far, is that this former teacher of Constitutional law has trashed Fifth Amendment protections of due process and First Amendment protections of free speech by ordering the extra-judicial murder of U.S. citizens who propagandize for radical Islamic causes. American presidents have been ordering assassinations of political figures abroad at least since the 1950s. But assassinating U.S. citizens used to be beyond the pale. Yet this is precisely what Barack Obama did in ordering the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric and a citizen of the United States.

One would think that tea partiers who bleat on endlessly about the Constitution would object. So far only Ron Paul has. The rest of them are not about to let consistency become a hobgoblin of their little minds; not when their anti-Muslim animosities are aroused.

But because they know better, liberals are even worse. Just as they did when Obama's very own "Murder Incorporated," the Navy SEALs' Team 6, killed Osama bin Laden and dumped his body at sea instead of bringing him to justice, they praise their commander-in-chief's boldness and cheer him on for perpetrating murder. How dare they then fault Republicans for applauding the hapless Rick Perry for overseeing hundreds of executions in the killing fields of Texas! How dare they claim moral superiority!

Would it not have been better had a President Bush or a President McCain killed al-Awlaki? Then Congressional Democrats — moved by partisan zeal, if not by principle — might at least object. It is the old, "love me, I'm a Democrat" story. It is why Obama, like Clinton before him, has been able to do so much to advance the neoliberal agenda. As a Democrat, he can do what no Republican can — co-opt or neutralize the opposition.

From Wisconsin to Wall Street

But history is nothing if not ironic; and so it is that thanks to the very capitulations and backsliding that have made a mockery of "change we can believe in," Obama just might turn into the agent of change he once presented himself to be.

It started with the "shellacking" Democrats took in the 2010 elections — a consequence in part of Obama's spineless "bipartisanship." With Republican tea partiers in control of key governorships and legislatures in mid-Western and northeastern states, and with Democrats drawing all the wrong lessons from their defeat, the most retrograde sectors of our political culture felt emboldened. Accordingly, their representatives in Wisconsin and Ohio and elsewhere overreached. This time, however, working people and their allies fought back.

It was mainly a defensive struggle, aimed at the restoration of the status quo ante. But, unlike the top-down mobilizations the Obama campaign directed in 2008, it was a real social movement, spontaneous and creative, and therefore replete with promise. That movement is now simmering as the action has moved into the electoral arena. The transition was both inevitable and unfortunate because electoral politics is never where the real action is. But the turn towards recall elections is not an altogether bad thing, inasmuch as Democrats at the state level are not all bought and paid for corporate flunkies. The Wisconsin state senators who fled to Illinois in order to hold the Republican onslaught at bay attest to that.

And the events of last spring may yet turn out to be just a harbinger of better things to come. Thus it is that, as if from nowhere, the spirit that brought tens of thousands to occupy the state Capitol in Madison has risen again — as the Occupy Wall Street movement grows and spreads to cities all over the United States.

National Democrats, Obama especially, did almost nothing to support those who were fighting back last spring against Republican overreach. Except insofar as their pusillanimity helped get Republican tea partiers elected, they were irrelevant.

They are becoming relevant now — not however as part of the solution, but as part of the problem. The occupiers of Wall Street and other venues may not know it yet, and Democrats may not realize it yet, but this time the enemy is bipartisan. Occupy Wall Street is not just about out whacked out Republicans; it is about the elected toadies of both parties who make the misdeeds of banksters and corporate moguls possible.

Occupy Wall Street is not anti-Obama — not explicitly, not yet. It is not yet anti-capitalist either, though it is certainly against the form of capitalism Obama, like every other U.S. president since Ronald Reagan, has stewarded — a capitalism that generates obscene inequalities, disempowers workers, and diminishes the well-being of the vast majority, the 99 percent who are not making out like bandits.

It became clear decades ago that, for our economic elites and their political representatives, many of us are no longer indispensable either as workers or consumers — not in the global economy recent capitalism has concocted. This is one reason why the nation's prison system has grown exponentially; prisons are where the United States warehouses those whom it would prefer to be without. Needless to say, in a society where institutional racism still structures economic relations, many of those people are black or brown. But, as capitalism evolves, even highly educated white people are becoming surplus too, and there is no way to warehouse all of them. Younger blue- and white-collar workers, or would-be workers, are most affected, and now some of them are fighting back. They are occupying Wall Street.

So long as the movement they launched is not derailed, it will not stay limited to that "demographic." The demonstrators are already seeing the connections, and forging new solidarities. So are segments of organized labor, still reeling from the events of last spring. Thus some of the more militant sectors of the labor movement — the Transport Workers Union in New York, for example — are coming on board. Even the AFL-CIO leadership is joining the fray. Condescending pundits complain that the protestors don't know what they want; that they have no programs and no demands. In fact, they know well enough — for the time being — and they will know better before long. They are already ahead of the Obamamaniacs of three years ago. Not only do they want "change we can believe in," they have some idea of what that entails.

It is possible but unlikely that fear of tea party lunacy will draw this most amazing of social movements back into the Democratic fold. Team Obama will try to make that happen. But it is up against a formidable foe — people who are mad as hell, know a thing or two, and think for themselves.

Thus there is a way for change we can believe in to come to pass after all, and Obama is part of the story — not just because he helped make Republican overreach possible, but also because of all he has done to expose how much a part of the problem he and his fellow Democrats have become.

Relish the irony. He who did so much first to conjure up and then to quash hope for meaningful, worthwhile change may yet play a key role in bringing change we can believe in to fruition.

Andrew Levine is an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar. His most recent book is "In Bad Faith: What's Wrong With the Opium of the People" (Prometheus).
This post ran earlier on Counterpunch

Maceo Protests at Deficit Talks in Washington

July 29, 2011 ·

Rallies and demonstrations on the debt ceiling crisis are expected to roll through Washington throughout the weekend, as long as Congress, House Speaker John Boehner, and President Barack Obama fail to resolve the deficit crisis that threatens to take the U.S. and global economy down a notch. Tea partiers, flag-waving labor unions, peace activists, gun-loving libertarians, and everyday Americans have all been showing up at the Capitol steps to have their say in the budget debacle.

If Obama, Boehner, and Congress listened to the wisdom of 10-year-olds, and made the wealthy pay their fair share for this budget, kids like Maceo wouldn’t inherit such a large debt burden for them to pay back through their taxes. Photo by Karen Dolan.

Yesterday, 10-year-old Maceo Dolan-Sandrino was among the demonstrators. Maceo is from Maryland, just on the outskirts of Washington, the son of IPS Fellow Karen Dolan. He attended yesterday’s rally at the Capitol to oppose the cuts to our social safety net, services like healthcare and income assistance that many Americans rely upon through hard times. I thought it might be interesting to get a 10-year-old’s perspective on the day’s events. I asked Maceo what he thought about the protest.

At first, Maceo reported that he hadn’t really listened to anything, and that his feet had hurt. But when I asked him again, I got a different answer.

“The protest was about how John Boehner was going to take away social security and how he was going to – um, it was something about the taxes,” said Maceo. “Planned Parenthood was there and they had signs that said, ‘Don’t take away our birth control.’”

I asked Maceo if he realized that the United States was in debt, and that Obama, Boehner, and Congress were trying to decide whether to borrow more money. In return, Maceo offered a surprisingly searing analysis.

“It’s because the rich and wealthy people aren’t paying their fair share of taxes, and all of the big corporations are finding loopholes not to pay taxes, and then we don’t have enough money to pay our debts,” he said.

I found this comment to be incredibly astute. As IPS Fellow Chuck Collins wrote in an article for OtherWords, “Overseas tax havens enable companies to pretend their profits are earned in other countries like the Cayman Islands. Simply making that ruse illegal would bring home an estimated $100 billion a year.”

Making sure our government doesn’t tax the highest income brackets is another way the wealthy avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Since 1970, “the top marginal tax rate on our richest has been halved, from 70 to 35 percent, and our rich have become phenomenally richer,” wrote Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez in an article this month on toomuchonline.org. And you can bet that this tax rate plunge had a lot to do with campaign contributions to friendly elected officials. Money talks, Congress listens.

Unlike Obama, Boehner, or most members of Congress, Maceo intends to stick around for quite a while in order to help pay back the debt now being discussed in Washington. I asked Maceo about how he felt about our politicians leaving future generations to pick up the tab after the government has had its spending frenzy.

“I don’t feel good at all. No, I don’t think I’m going to have that money, because I know I’m going to have a family to take care of. So, I don’t feel good about that at all.”

Maceo is a sharp kid. If Obama, Boehner, and Congress listened to the wisdom of 10-year-olds, and made the wealthy pay their fair share for this budget, kids like Maceo wouldn’t inherit such a large debt burden for them to pay back through their taxes.

Tax the rich. For kids like Maceo.

Finally, Obama's Talking about Taxing the Wealthy

April 14, 2011 ·

President Obama has broken through the silence about revenue in Washington's dominant budget and deficit debate.

 "At a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more," Obama said in a speech at Georgetown University on Wednesday. "I don't need another tax cut. Warren Buffett doesn't need another tax cut."

He lambasted the GOP budget proposal put forward by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. "There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires," he said.

In addition to reversing tax hikes on the wealthy, Obama made vague recommendations about closing loopholes, especially for high-income households. Unfortunately, he avoided the important issue of corporate tax dodging through off shore tax havens.

"Unnecessary Austerity," the IPS report I recently co-authored , questions the assumption that budget cuts are the only path to fiscal health. Instead, we argue, Congress should focus on reversing tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires — and closing tax loopholes and overseas tax havens that enable corporations to shrink their tax bills.

The United States is far from broke. The problem is that wealth and income have become concentrated in the hands of the richest 1 percent of Americans and our largest multinational corporations. Yet over the last generation, we've greatly reduced taxes on the wealthy and global corporations.

For example, if the federal government taxed households with incomes over $1 million and big corporations at 1961 levels, the Treasury would collect an additional $716 billion a year, or $7 trillion over a decade. We've reduced the actual tax levy on millionaires by almost half during the past 50 years. In 1961, families with more than a million dollars of annual income paid 43 percent of their income in federal income taxes. This year, they will pay just 23 percent.

"I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me," Obama said. "They want to give back to their country, a country that's done so much for them. It's just Washington hasn't asked them to." His argument in favor of increasing tax rates for the wealthy is reinforced by a new call to action by Wealth for the Common Good and Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength. Those groups encompass more than 100 millionaires calling on Congress to raise their taxes.

Obama has public opinion on his side. Polls show that the majority of voters would rather hike taxes on millionaires than slash spending. But some of his proposals — like reducing charitable and home mortgage interest deductions for millionaires — may encounter tough sledding. Those proposals will mobilize opposition from not only corporate lobbyist and a segment of the wealthy. They'll face the wrath of the second-home real estate lobby and charity advocates.

But one way or another, taxes on the top are going to rise in the coming two years.

French Government Advises its Citizens to Stay Away from Tokyo, Japan Stays Silent

March 15, 2011 ·

In the aftermath of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, and in light of the possible radioactive fallout from the nuclear power plants in partial meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, on March 13 the French Embassy advised all French citizens in Japan to leave Tokyo for the next few days. In a communiqué, the embassy warned that fallout could settle on Tokyo in "three to four hours" in a worst case scenario and cause widespread contamination.

The communiqué outlined two possible scenarios: The first, more optimistic, scenario involved controlling the various defective nuclear power plants in Fukushima. "In that case, the risk is of a residual contamination from the controlled release of radioactive gas and poses a negligible risk for the Tokyo region. This scenario is favored by the Japanese authorities and a large number of scientists." However, the second scenario would involve an explosion of the reactor, unleashing  a radioactive cloud. "That cloud could arrive in the Tokyo region in a matter of hours depending on the direction and speed of the wind. The risk is of widespread contamination."

The memo went on to say: "The Japanese Weather Report Agency just announced a probable repeat of a magnitude 7 earthquake. The probability is up to 70 percent within three days and 50 percent over the next two days.

"Because of the above (the risk for a strong earthquake and the uncertainty regarding the nuclear situation), it seems reasonable to advise those who do not need to stay around Tokyo to go away from the Kanto region for a few days."

The memo strongly advised all French citizens living close by the nuclear plants "to remain at home (venting systems should be shut down) and to, whenever possible, stock bottles of water and food for many hours. When venturing outside, a breathing mask should be worn."

On the use of potassium iodide tablets as a prophylactic measure, the French embassy wrote: "We remind you that the absorption of iodine is not a benign gesture. Excessive repeated use can be harmful to your health. It is therefore very important to choose carefully the appropriate timing of the absorption when necessary. There again, it is recommended to follow the Japanese authorities recommendations as well as our own recommendations when communicated."

It's ironic that the French are giving such strong advice to their citizens in Japan while the Japanese government has yet to utter such dire warnings for their citizens. France derives 79 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, the highest share in the world. Japan derives 30 percent of its energy from nuclear power.

Here in the United States, we get 20 percent of our electricity from nuclear power. In the aftermath of what appears to be the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown, the White House has reaffirmed its commitment to nuclear power as a "clean" energy resource that the U.S. should  ramp up. President Barack Obama made clear in his State of the Union address that nuclear power was a key facet of a so-called "Clean Energy Standard" which would require power companies to produce 80 percent of their electricity from a variety of sources including nuclear power by 2035.

Obama continues to support nuclear power, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday, even as Germany boldly heeded Japan's tragic wake-up call. Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that seven German nuclear reactors will be shut during a three-month review of their safety. There are 23 reactors in the United States that are the same model as the General Electric Mark 1 models that are in partial meltdown in Fukushima  -- about one in four that are in operation today.

Four reactors in California are on or near earthquake faults, as are others in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and elsewhere around the country. In addition, geologists warn that there appears to be a strong correlation between earthquake "swarms" and nearby natural gas hydro-fracturing of rock and the subsequent high-pressure reinjection of wastewater deep underground. Hydro-fracturing for natural gas -- or "fracking" -- is an increasingly common if controversial U.S. and global practice.

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