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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 "President Barack Obama"

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White House Says Raising Tipped Wage Helps Women

March 27, 2014 ·

President Obama speaks on raising the minimum wage (Flickr/Maryland GovPics)President Obama recently announced that he supports raising the tipped minimum wage from $2.13 to $4.90The White House focused on how this move would help women who make up the majority of tipped workers.

This announcement comes at a key moment, as Congress is expected to vote on the Fair Minimum Wage Act sometime this spring. The Fair Minimum Wage Act would raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 and would bring the tipped wage to $7.07 – 70 percent of the full minimum.

The White House’s announcement is long overdue. The tipped wage was always meant to rise along with the minimum wage.  Instead, it has been frozen in place at $2.13 for more than 20 years because of the National Restaurant Association’s lobbying efforts to make it so.

Back in the 1990s, no one predicted that the $2.13 figure would become permanent. Today, few seem to question it.

It’s about time we started paying attention to the tipped minimum wage: The restaurant industry can certainly afford to pay more. In 2013, the industry reported record profits of more than $660 billion — yet continues to spend millions on lobbying against any minimum wage increases.

Tipped workers have struggled more than other workers in our economy. They are three times as likely to fall into poverty and twice as likely to be on food stamps. It is shameful that tipped workers find themselves in this situation, and the American people need to stand behind a raise for them.

The White House correctly points out that increasing the tipped minimum wage would affect women more than anyone. Of the 3.3 million tipped workers in the U.S., nearly 2 million are restaurant servers. Of those, more than 70 percent are women.

The report from the White House noted that 26 percent of all tipped workers have dependent children, including 31 percent of female workers. About 2.8 million single working parents would be affected, 80 percent of whom are female. For over 20 years, the National Restaurant Association has ensured that tipped workers receive no more than $2.13 per hour. Their party needs to end.

Let’s stand behind tipped workers and their families and give them the raise they deserve. 

The Tata Mundra Coal Plant: A Test for Presidents Obama and Kim

September 12, 2013 ·

The Tata Mundra coal plant in India (Joe Athialy/Flickr)In June 2013, President Barack Obama announced that he was “calling for an end to public financing for new coal plants overseas.” Within weeks of this announcement, World Bank President Jim Kim announced the Bank would phase out its support for most forms of coal. However, what World Bank President Kim and President Obama left unsaid was how both presidents would treat current public financing of coal-fired power plants, particularly plants that are violating the policies set by the World Bank. 

President Kim may soon have to tackle just this issue.  A case in point is the Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant in India. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, in 2008 provided $500 million in financing to back this massive coal-fired power plant in Tunda-Vandh village near Mundra, a town in the Indian state of Gujarat. The complex of five 800-megawatt supercritical boiler plants was supposed to cost $4.14 billion to build and be owned and operated by Coastal Gujarat Power Limited, a special purpose vehicle owned by India’s largest private multinational corporation, the Tata Group.

The IFC isn’t the only powerful public international financial agency backing the Mundra power project:  The Asian Development Bank, The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), and the Korea Export Insurance Corporation are also involved.

The project now faces a whopping 270% in annual debt, and its CEO has stated the project is financially unviable unless electricity tariffs are drastically raised, effectively passing on the costs of Tata’s poor planning and misleading calculations to the Indian people. This negates one of the primary justifications the IFC presented in financing this project: that it would bring cheap electricity for the energy-deprived and energize the local economy.

Furthermore, the project also faces mounting debt which must be paid back in dollars, not rupees, at a time when the Indian rupee is dropping in value.

This power plant is burning about 13 million tons of coal a year, emitting nearly 40 million tons of CO2.  It also generates tons of toxic fly ash and other toxic byproducts and radioactive elements due to coal combustion. This Tata Mundra plant, plus two others nearby, burn a total of 30 million tons of coal per year and emit about 88 million tons of CO2 annually—more than the combined total annual emissions of Bangladesh (a nation of 150 million people), Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives.

The Mundra plant is situated on the Gulf of Kutch, with ready access to ports and coal that is being imported from Indonesia and Australia. What once was a region with abundant fish, farms, and pastoralists is now a region contaminated by pollution, with tens of thousands of fisher-folk and pastoralists losing their livelihoods.

In June 2011, community groups asked the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) to investigate environmental and social violations of the contract Tata signed with the IFC. The CAO  full audit report and the IFC management’s response are expected this week. A report produced by an independent fact-finding team found numerous violations of IFC policies.

So now the question becomes: Does the IFC remedy the Tata Mundra violations, or simply cancel its support for the project, given President Kim’s and President Obama’s stated opposition to public financing of coal-fired power overseas? To do otherwise is to allow Tata to not only violate IFC policies, but to mislead its investors and then pass on the costs of its boondoggle to the very people whose poverty the company is theoretically alleviating.

What the Tata Mundra case should make clear to President Kim and others around the world is: Coal is a bad investment—for the poorest, for those consuming the power, for the Bank, and more broadly, for all of us. As a recent study of a dozen of 2012's wildest weather events found, man-made greenhouse gas emissions from coal burners like Tata’s are increasing the likelihood of about half of the wild weather events we lived through in 2012, including Superstorm Sandy; estimates suggest Sandy alone cost $68 billion.

We can’t afford to keep subsidizing these boondoggles. We can and must use public funds to invest in clean, renewable energy alternatives, with a primary focus on energy for the poorest.

Obama Could Go it Alone, Bring All the Troops Home, and Stop the Killing

February 12, 2013 ·

Obama State of the UnionPresident Obama said during his State of the Union address that he would focus on things he could do alone — without having to depend on a badly divided, partisan Congress. And the powerful imagery he summoned in support of voting rights — real, implementable voting rights, based on the example of a 102-year-old voting rights hero, could and should indeed be a critical focus of executive energy. His story of Desiline Victor waiting six hours to vote in North Miami even brought members of Congress — at least some of them — to their feet in a powerful ovation.

But Obama didn’t seem to include in the list of “things he could do alone” the solo, individual decisions that are fundamental to the role of commander in chief. And that role could include, without Congress having to have any role in it, bringing home all the troops from the failed war in Afghanistan. Ending it. Totally. Quickly.

Bringing home half the troops this year reflects the pressure of massive public opposition to the war — but it’s far from enough. All 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan should be pulled out by the middle of this year. And that role of the president, without Congress, could include announcing that the “winding down” of the U.S. war in Afghanistan won't be transformed into an expanding drone war waged in shadows across the world.

When Obama claims that budget cuts “would jeopardize our military readiness,” he is signaling a rejection of what his own nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, acknowledged is the need to cut the “bloated” military budget.

And crucially, when we look at areas in which the President can make executive decisions, independent of the whims of a paralyzed, partisan congress, is there any clearer example than the Obama administration’s strategy of targeting and killing “terror suspects,” along with unknown numbers of civilian “collateral damage” in Obama’s Global War on Terror 2.0? 

We heard a claim about those drone assassinations during his address, that “we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts.”

There's no way that would fly, given recent revelations of the administration’s efforts to claim a legal right to murder anyone, U.S. citizen or not, who they “believe” may be guilty of something they identify as a terrorist attack. So Obama went on. “I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”

What about the KILLING of the people he calls terrorists, beyond detention and prosecution? The reference to checks and balances referred back to the Justice Department’s claim that “due process” didn’t necessarily mean anything having to do with courts and judges, the claim that a decision by a “decision-maker” — not even necessarily the president — was enough to qualify as due process sufficient to take someone’s life, way beyond taking their liberty and their pursuit of happiness.

Focusing on the executive actions you can take without Congress is a great idea, Mr. President. But not unless that focus includes reversing the individually taken military actions that brought such disgrace on your administration’s first term.

Phyllis Bennis is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. Her books include Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's UN. www.ips-dc.org

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

Why Elections Matter, and Why We're Still Arguing About It

October 29, 2012 ·

It’s practically the eve of the election—and I’m still kind of stunned to hear from people who don’t plan to vote, who think voting doesn’t matter. A young writer, 21 years old, wrote to me the other day, after seeing an interview I did on what elections are and aren’t, and on how the candidates do and don’t differ on foreign policy. (Spoiler alert: mostly they don’t.)

Among other things, he said “We young people understand that the political theater of electoral politics will not bring about the radical transformations required to avert environmental and economic catastrophe.”

And of course he’s absolutely right. Anyone who thinks that choosing a “better” leader for the US empire will somehow bring about “radical transformations” has been watching too many campaign infomercials. Only powerful social movements can do that. We have to fight for democracy and we have to build our movements—choosing a presidential candidate doesn’t accomplish either one.

Because national elections—at least those for president—in this country are not democratic. As I said in the interview he was critiquing, presidential elections are not our turf, they’re not our people, they’re not our choices. And anyone who thinks that voting for one candidate over the other is going to solve our problems—especially global problems including wars, occupations, climate change and global inequality—is way wrong.

So our work has to focus on building our movements. But who gets elected president is dangerously relevant. My own work focuses on stopping the drone war, getting US troops out of Afghanistan now instead of two years from now, ending US support for Israeli occupation and related issues—and on those issues there’s hardly any difference between the candidates.

There is one war-and-peace issue where they do differ, and that one matters a lot. Both set “red lines” and say they would use military force against Iran—that’s disastrous under any circumstance. Romney’s red line, which is Israel’s red line, would use force to prevent Iran from reaching “nuclear weapons capability.” While it’s not defined anywhere in international law, “capability” is generally assumed to include the ability to enrich uranium and scientific knowledge. And arguably, Iran actually has that capability already. In the real world of potential new wars, there’s a huge difference between that, and Obama’s red line, which he would invoke to prevent Iran from “having” a nuclear weapon, an event which the entire combination of US military and intelligence agencies agree could not happen before at least a couple of years out. The difference matters—because over years it is possible to build and strengthen movements that will make any such new wars impossible.

And while foreign policy shows the closest parallels between the two parties, that isn’t the only issue. Who gets appointed to the Supreme Court—whether a mainstream moderate centrist or a young right-wing extremist ideologue who will work for decades to move the court even further to the right—matters a huge amount. And that’s exactly who the current Republican party will appoint. Top Republican candidates view rape—“legitimate” or otherwise—as God’s plan for bringing babies into the world. Women, especially poor women, living in much of this country already have few or no options for full reproductive healthcare, especially in how to deal with unwanted pregnancy. One party is pledged to appoint judges who will overturnRoe v. Wade and make abortion illegal across the board. That matters.

Some undocumented young people have just won the opportunity to gain legal status in this country; that’sway not enough, but it matters when the alternative is a new regime pledged to deport all undocumented or to force them to “self-deport.” Obama’s commitment to Medicare and Social Security remains mostly intact, largely because his political base demands it; Romney’s commitment to both is non-existent, except as a means towards increasing privatization. As usual it’s the poor who would suffer the most. Obama has not made good on most of his earlier commitments on climate—but Romney would take those failures further, opening up the Keystone pipeline on his first day in office.

My on-line critic went on to say, “Perhaps a Romney administration would speed up a response by a dislocated working class in overthrowing this doomsday machine? Obama is an extremely effective tool of the corporate enterprise.” Somehow I never accepted the view that the worse things get, the more likely we’ll have a revolution. I just don’t think it works that way. Revolutionary processes—look at the Arab spring—don’t emerge where people are the most beaten down, the most impoverished (which is why we haven’t seen a Sierra Leone uprising or a Niger spring). They happen when people have some renewed hope and then those hopes get dashed. I’m pretty sure we’re not anywhere close to a revolutionary moment in this country. And I certainly don’t think that making things worse for the poorest, oldest, sickest and most vulnerable among us is a viable strategy for building movements—or for making revolution.

This election is not about supporting or withdrawing support from Obama; it’s about keeping the worst from gaining even more power than they already have, so we can get on with the real work of building movements. If you want to call that the “lesser-evil” theory, fine. There’s an old saying that when you’re drowning, and the water is rising up over your mouth, that last half-inch before it reaches your nose is a half-inch of life and death. Especially if you’re short—or in this case, especially if you’re poor.

This election, regardless of who wins, will not solve the problems of this country and the world. We have to build movements powerful enough to take on the challenges of climate change, war, poverty, inequality. But we should be clear, there are significant differences between the two parties and the two candidates; while neither are our allies, one will make our work of building movements even more difficult, will threaten even more of our shredded civil liberties, and will put even more people around the world at much greater risk. Around the world many people are terrified of an electoral result that will return us—and them—to the legacy of George W. Bush.

Elections don’t change the world—only people’s movements do. But elections can make our work of building movements impossible—and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take.

This blog post originally appeared on TheNation.com.

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