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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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On the Eve of Obama's Middle East Speech

May 19, 2011 ·

The Obama administration faces a huge contradiction in trying to craft a new policy for the Middle East in the midst of the Arab Spring.

Obama gives a speech
Obama faces his own contractions with today's speech (Photo by Matt Ortega)

They are trying to position the U.S. as a friend of the newly democratizing forces, while at the same time refusing to give up the policy of support for those on top, who imposed dictatorships and occupations across the Middle East, to protect U.S. interests in oil, Israel, and strategic stability. Now it is the people of the region who are creating new democracies from below – and it is long past time to change how the U.S. relates to them.

A transformed U.S. role in the region will have to go beyond soaring words and even additional economic assistance. It will require an entirely different policy based on support for popular bottom-up democracy, acceptance of new indigenous definitions of social and economic justice, and respect for local decision-making – even when reality doesn’t match Washington’s illusion of what the “new Middle East” should look like.

What would that policy look like?

  • An end to the U.S. military aid and diplomatic protection that enable Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies, and supporting regional and globally-led diplomacy rather than imposing its own failed “peace process.”
  • An end to all U.S. military ties to any regime suppressing the Arab Spring protests in its own or other countries (that means Saudi Arabia as well as Bahrain, for example, as well as pulling all troops and mercenaries out of Iraq).
  • An end to all economic aid until it can be redirected away from militaries (even in democratizing countries) and into the hands of accountable governments. Supporting creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone throughout the Middle East.
  • An end to the double-standard of harsh sanctions and massive military force (such as in Syria and Libya) imposed against some dictators’ attacks on protestors, while continuing to arm and finance dictatorships strategically allied with the U.S. (such as Bahrain and Yemen) with hardly a word of protest against their lethal assaults on unarmed demonstrators.
Obama Will Address Immigration Issues Today - Don't Hold Your Breath

May 10, 2011 ·

President Barack Obama will debut his 2012 stump speech on immigration in El Paso, Texas today. I expect he'll say the usual about how the current system hurts all U.S. workers and threatens national security. He'll urge Congress to work on a bipartisan manner.

His lackluster message is doomed to fall on deaf ears in Congress. As for voters concerned about immigrant rights, they're going to pay more attention to his actions. Obama has overseen a record-breaking rise in the number of deportations, and pushed the controversial immigration enforcement program Secure Communities, which is phasing in forced local police participation in a national fingerprinting database.

Facing pressure from state legislatures, constituency groups and Spanish-language media outlets, Obama wants to stay ahead of the debate. He's making the speech at a key moment when the military operation that killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and the release of positive job numbers are bolstering his popularity. Like national security and the economy, immigration is a very complex issue that could affect his re-election chances.

"I strongly believe we have to fix this broken system so it meets the 21st century needs for the American economy and security, he told a group of supporters gathered at the White House's Cinco de Mayo reception last week. "This is not going to be easy, and it will require bipartisan support."

Bipartisan cooperation will prove difficult, though. Across the nation, highly partisan state legislation is attacking the Obama administration's immigration policies from both sides of the political spectrum. Last year, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer pointed to federal inaction on immigration enforcement as a pretext for the "Papers Please" SB1070 law. Now, democratic-controlled state legislatures in Illinois and California seek to challenge Obama over the Secure Communities program.

One by one, states are taking sides on immigration. Indiana, Alabama, and Louisiana are moving closer to adopting tough rules that will, in practice, deny undocumented youth access to higher education. On the other hand, Maryland, Oregon, and Connecticut are close to giving undocumented youth access to in-state tuition fees at state colleges and universities.

As state legislatures take immigration policy in their own hands, Congress seems determined to avoid the subject at all costs. Obama will be judged by his  actions on immigration policy, not his stump speeches.

Red, White, and Blue Frenzy

May 3, 2011 ·

Honking cars and shouting young people made their way to the White House on Sunday night. American flags were everywhere. Revving motorcycle engines rattled downtown Washington in the middle of the night. Hurried news reporters jostled to get the best footage of the jubilant crowds celebrating Osama bin Laden's death. Draped with red, white, and blue the crowd sang the national anthem and chanted "USA, USA!"

It all evoked the joyful scene at President Barack Obama's inauguration. This time, however, the aggressive euphoria of carousing soccer hooligans ruled. The mob consisted largely of local college students, many donning their school colors. One large group from Georgetown University sang their school's football song: "Ra, ra, ra, cheer for victory today!" An odd assortment of chants rang through the night. One group chanted, "Lower gas prices! Lower gas prices!" as they made their way around the Treasury Department.

Many in the cheering crowds seemed unclear on why they were celebrating. Newscasters were saying that this was a "mission accomplished" moment, as if the Afghanistan War and its tens of thousands of deaths, were all about capturing one man.

But did anyone really think that the whole of "Operation Enduring Freedom" was just a bin Laden snipe hunt in the lawless desert hills? What about the oil, the drugs, the other regional factors? What about the devastation and domination of an entire country? Those questions didn't seem to be on the revelers' minds.

"I am here celebrating. It's justice day," said Jeremy Stern, 21, a George Mason University student who was wearing the stars and stripes. Stern had traveled from his Fairfax, Virginia campus to participate in the festivities, walking over a mile at the end to avoid traffic congestion. "USA! It's about f**king time! Freedom is the only way!" he shouted.

Joyful scene at the White House in response to Osama bin Laden's death. Creative Commons photo by thisisbossi

When asked why he was so enthusiastic, Stern became more sober. "As a Christian, I do feel a little bit guilty that I'm celebrating a human being's death," he said. "I'm sorry, love thy neighbor. I feel that. And in the end, I am out here celebrating."

Young people seemed cheer for almost anything. A crossing guard, a young guy climbing a lamppost with an American flag, and a fiddler playing a foot-stomping bluegrass tune — they all got love from the crowd.

"Osama bin Laden has been hunted for over half my life," said the fiddler, Henry Meyers, 18. "It's unreal to see this happen," the Washington, DC high school student added.

For 10 years, many Americans have seen bin Laden as the personification of evil, especially those who were young when the attacks occurred on 9-11. The news of his assassination seemed to strike a chord with the younger generation.

"America, f**k yeah!" said the handmade sign held aloft by Sean Levy, 20, a George Washington University student. The slogan, shouted often by the crowd, is the title of a soundtrack from "Team America: World Police," a 2004 film known for ironic jokes about U.S. imperialism. Levy explained that his sign means that "America is one of the greatest countries ever." He added that bin Laden's death "means a lot to the country."

Few revelers had much to say about the impact of bin Laden's death. They weren't sure whether the death would change U.S. foreign policy toward the Arab world. Not many asked whether bin Laden's compound may have been known in advance to U.S. intelligence personnel. There were no questions being murmured about whether any official autopsy was performed on bin Laden's body before his "burial at sea." Or how many civilians were killed during the raid that ended his life. For all of the loud voices at the White House on Sunday night, there were few questions asked.

A much more subdued participant had some clarity as to why he was there.

"I've been a little motivated tonight. I'm a United States Marine," said the man, a war veteran in his late twenties who declined to give his name because he's not authorized to represent his branch of service. He was draped with an American flag  and wore a gray T-shirt reading "USMC." The man said he served in Afghanistan for a year.

"Today's a big deal to me because me and my friends, we all signed up after 9-11, and a lot of them didn't come home. So it means a lot to me that one of the main reasons that we signed up is now kind of over."

One thing is certain. There are now fewer excuses for U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan or Iraq, and fewer reasons for the Pentagon to continue aerial drone attacks on people in Pakistan. No matter what the real reasons are for the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, whether it's oil, drugs, money, influence, something else, Washington can't continue to cause death and destruction in the name of some unholy manhunt to find America's most wanted terrorist.

Now it's really time to call on the government to bring our troops home now and stop the needless killing in the Arab world. Let the death of bin Laden, and the decisions the Obama administration now faces, lead us away from military aggression, and towards peace.

Matias Ramos is the 2011 Carol Jean and Edward F. Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Lacy MacAuley is the Institute's Media Relations Manager. www.ips-dc.org

Talking The Talk

April 21, 2011 ·

If you listen very closely, you’ll detect the faint murmur of President Barack Obama finally “talking the talk” about cutting defense spending and eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the rich. We welcome these sentiments. But there is a woeful disconnect between the spirit they invoke and the “facts on the ground.“

Obama proposed a $400 billion cut to the bloated military budget — but the cuts stretch across 12 years and barely graze the Pentagon, which will continue spending at Cold War levels. He waxed eloquently when he opposed renewing Bush tax cuts for the rich, even as he continued to embrace his new “job czar”: GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, the poster boy of corporate tax dodging.

So, as Americans filed their taxes en masse, IPS experts continued calling attention to military spending and unfair tax policies.

IPS scholar John Feffer wrote in a recent OtherWords op-ed, that "the United States was responsible for 94 percent of the global increase in military expenditures in 2010." The Global Day of Action on Military Spending, organized by IPS and the International Peace Bureau, resulted in hundreds of actions around the world on April 12th, including an eye-catching display in Athens, a “die-in” at the steps of the Treasury building in London, and a song written by the indie pop group Peachcake in Arizona.

Tax day also brought attention to the low taxes paid by the super wealthy and the nonexistent taxes on transnational corporations including Bank of America, GE, BP, Verizon and FedEx. As IPS scholar Chuck Collins points out in his recent article, “What Would Jesus Tax?,” the US could collect over $4 trillion in new revenue by closing offshore tax havens, adding new top tax brackets for millionaires, and instituting a simple financial transaction tax over the next decade.

Additionally this week, IPS scholar Sarah Anderson outlined seven innovative mechanisms to increase public revenue streams and IPS scholar Noel Ortega blogged about the burgeoning youth movement against corporations: US Uncut.

Obama may be beginning to find his voice, IPS is hoping to help him find the way to the bully pulpit.

We Need to Rethink, Not Rearm NAFTA

February 4, 2011 ·

U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet in Washington today amid calls in the United States for tougher security on the northern border. Suggestions in the Senate Homeland Security Committee that the 49th parallel is an unruly ‘no man’s land’ threatening the American people, and that Canadians should need visas to enter the United States  prompted the meeting.

Experts expect the two leaders to announce today a “new” border partnership to ease the flow of goods and people across the border by harmonizing security, immigration and refugee, surveillance and possibly defense policy across the continent. There's nothing new about this plan. It's the regurgitation of the defunct Bush-led Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP)without the Mexican “amigo,” previously  played by Mexican President Vicente Fox. As the Canadian business lobby suggested to Obama, it only “takes two to tango.”

Ten years ago, business lobbies of the three countries claimed the only way to keep goods, services, and investment flowing across borders in the post-9/11 security climate was through “deep integration,” or the arming of NAFTA. Corporate North America entered into a pact with governments to endorse transnational military exercises and surveillance systems, no-fly lists, and other ineffective but intrusive security measures.  In return , promises were made for open borders, a common and laxer regulatory environment, and a dominant role for big business in the creation of a North American economic policy that went beyond the already exhausted NAFTA.

The plan took many forms, from the 2001 and 2002 Smart Border Declarations with Canada and Mexico, a 2005 trilateral report from the Council on Foreign Relations on “Building a North American Community,” and the now reviled SPP, which emerged in Waco, Texas that same year. By 2006, a hand-picked group of 30 CEOs was driving integration as the North American Competitiveness Council -- the only non-governmental advisory group for the process.

The plan was corporatist, its successes modest, and its failures abundant. No one can legitimately claim it has made North America safer. Since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, the Washington-led war on drugs has left more than 34,000 dead in Mexico. Not only does the United States. arm the Mexican military with taxpayers’ money, but criminals enjoy a continuous supply of high caliber guns given the laxity of U.S. laws and the large supply close to the border. In addition, NAFTA’s prohibition on capital controls allows dirty money to flow both ways without effective restrictions.

In Canada, the thought of harmonized security and border policy will bring to mind the experience of Maher Arar.  A Canadian citizen, Mr. Arar was deported from New York to Syria based on RCMP intelligence shared without filters with the Department of Homeland Security. He was imprisoned and tortured for a year before being let go without charge. Canadian airlines continue to use U.S. no-fly lists to block innocent Canadians from boarding planes that travel through U.S. airspace en route to non-U.S. destinations.

The SPP goal of enhanced competitiveness and “prosperity” has also failed to materialize. Cheap U.S. corn exports into Mexico are blamed in numerous studies for the loss of millions of farm jobs. Manufacturing jobs have been leaving Mexico for Asia, where salaries are much lower, for several years. Mexico’s exports are from transnational industries, mainly the automobile sector, but not of the weakened national industry.

Canada has also lost manufacturing jobs as its economy becomes increasingly linked to raw resource exports. What manufacturing or other high-value industry still exists is increasingly U.S.- or foreign-owned. Even in the resource sector, extraction and export is carried out by private firms based on the profit motive only. Almost all of the heavy crude from Alberta’s tar sands goes to the U.S. for refining. Part of the SPP vision has been to consider energy, raw materials, and even water as part of a “North American” pool at the disposal of the free market, not something that must be preserved and protected for future generations.

Like many Canadians and Mexicans, we were relieved when President Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to renegotiate NAFTA to make it work for working families. “Starting my first year in office, I will convene annual meetings with Mr. Calderón and the prime minister of Canada. Unlike similar summits under President Bush, these will be conducted with a level of transparency that represents the close ties among our three countries," he said. "We will seek the active and open involvement of citizens, labor, the private sector and non-governmental organizations in setting the agenda and making progress”.

We still believe openness and involvement is what it’s needed. But we worry that Obama and Harper will use today's meeting to endorse a myopic economic and security vision for North America that takes us further away from a just and sustainable future. At the very least, the public should be informed promptly and in detail of the decisions taken, and to have a say in whether or not a “security perimeter” is in anyone’s interests.

Manuel Pérez-Rocha is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. Stuart Trew is a trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians in Toronto.

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