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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 "United States"

No Military Solution in Mali, Emira Woods Says

January 15, 2013 ·

Emira Woods on PBS NewsHour

"There cannot be a military solution to this crisis in Mali," Emira Woods said on the PBS NewsHour. "The crisis has its roots in political and also economic processes, with people in the northern part of the country feeling completely marginalized from the rest of the country."

Woods is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. You may read the full transcript of her comments on the NewsHour's website.

VIEW THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE.

"So clearly what you had was an opportunity because of the intervention, the NATO intervention in Libya, unleashing weapons, both from Qadaffi's coffers as well as from the international community, weapons flowing from Libya, across borders of Algeria, into northern Mali, to be able to actually create a crisis, and further destabilize northern Mali," said Woods. "So I think what you have is a situation where unilateral intervention could create complications down the road, both for civilians that could be targeted in these airstrikes, as well as for further complicating a political crisis that may not be resolved militarily."

What Will Excluded Workers Celebrate Next Labor Day?

September 5, 2012 ·

While the Labor Day holiday is meant to give us time to reflect on the victories in human progress that were hard-fought by the Union movement, it is also a great time to check in on the "excluded workers" movement — workers who, because of policy or practice, fall outside the traditional labor protections offered to other workers in the US.

On August 29th, domestic workers all over the US celebrated the California Assembly's passage of AB889, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. A coalition of domestic workers, employers, and allies have come together in an unprecedented way to organize fellow Californians in support. Even actress and comedian Amy Poehler produced a PSA urging action. The bill is now awaiting signature by Governor Jerry Brown, and organizers are hopeful that he will act quickly, allowing California to become the second state to pass legislation that specifically addresses the needs of domestic workers who are largely excluded from protection under current labor laws.

Direct care workers in Florida are using their stories to fight their exclusion from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Photo by Direct Care Alliance.Meanwhile, direct care workers (those who provide vital in-home assistance to seniors and people with disabilities) are organizing for action from the Obama Administration to close the "companionship exemption" — which has kept direct care workers from receiving guaranteed minimum wage and overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act since 1974. Earlier this year, the Department of Labor finally issued a proposed rule to close this loophole, and during the public comment period more than 26,000 Americans weighed on the regulation. The vast majority of them were in favor of extending basic protections to these workers.

With baby boomers turning 65 (one every eight seconds) and advances in medicine and public policy allowing people with disabilities to live in their homes and communities instead of institutions, the need for direct care workers and attendants is expected to grow. Yet because the job quality is so low (nearly half of direct care workers rely on public assistance to make ends meet), turnover is high and there may not be enough trained, dedicated workers to provide the kind of quality care that our families will need. Closing this loophole is one of the first steps we can take as a country to ensure that this workforce is ready for the change in demographics that has already begun. On September 21st, the Direct Care Alliance is putting together a day of action for direct care workers, you can learn more about it at www.directcarealliance.org.

Here in DC, after news broke that a group of students on J-1 "summer work travel" visas had been exploited at a Hershey Company packing plant in Pennsylvania, the National Guestworker Alliance successfully pushed for changes in the State Department-monitored visa program to reduce participants' vulnerability to abuse. Earlier this summer NGA joined forces with other worker and immigrant advocacy groups, including my project at the Institute for Policy Studies, to examine the full range of temporary work visa programs and recommend changes in policy that could help prevent human trafficking and exploitation. Another organization in this new coalition, the Global Worker Justice Alliance, released a report in May called Visas, Inc., which digs deeply into the world of foreign temporary work visas: in particular how unscrupulous corporations have found ways to exploit the regulatory weaknesses in these programs to undermine US workers' employment, and exploit foreign guestworkers for profit.

The traditional labor union movement brought enormous gains in working conditions for our country, and led the way for other civil rights breakthroughs throughout history, but it is important to remember how far we still have to go. Not only are these gains being threatened every day, there are still workers who remain excluded from even the most basic protections like minimum wage and health and safety regulations, and workers who are tricked into exploitative visa programs rigged by corporate interests. But there is hope: workers have earned many victories over the past century, and with more people joining us in organizing and advocacy for excluded workers, next Labor Day I am sure we will have even more to celebrate.

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.

Obama's Trip to India: Don't Rush into a Bilateral Investment Treaty

October 26, 2010 ·

After what’s expected to be a grim election for his party, President Barack Obama will fly to the other side of the planet next week.  In the lead-up to his first visit to India, there have been calls from many quarters for the two countries to sign a bilateral investment treaty.

Corporate lobbyists seeking increased market access have been pushing for such a deal for years.  Recently, top foreign policy officials from the Bush administration also weighed in. 

In a report published by the Center for a New American Security, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage and former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns wrote that “The United States and India should prioritize the need to advance the multilateral trading system. They can accomplish this by adopting bilateral trade and investment measures that they would like to see other countries emulate.  This should begin with the launch of serious negotiations toward the long-delayed Bilateral Investment Treaty that would, in light of the tremendous domestic Indian market and increasing bilateral investment flows, create a more stable environment for growth.”

Armitage and Burns provided no details of what’s actually in bilateral investment treaties (BITs).  Many analysts who’ve taken a closer look argue that the current U.S. model for such treaties would be likely to lead to less economic stability – not more. 

Treaty provisions that should be of serious concern to India are those that prohibit the use of capital controls, a policy tool that India has applied effectively to escape the worst impacts of global financial crises.   

In a New York Times article, former IMF chief economist Kenneth Rogoff reported that Indian policymakers were the most cheerful attendees at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, largely because that government’s stringent capital controls were helping to insulate the country from the economic crisis.

A February 2010 IMF report of a larger group of nations found that those which deployed controls on inflows before the current crisis were among the least hard hit. The IMF study concluded that capital controls are a legitimate policy tool for preventing and mitigating crises.

What happens if a government violates the capital controls provisions in a U.S. trade or investment treaty?  Private foreign investors affected by the policy have the right to sue the government for compensation in supra-national tribunals that have no public accountability, no standard judicial ethics rules, and no appeals process.

In response to criticism, a handful of recent U.S. trade agreements have included a special dispute settlement procedure for investor-state claims related to capital transfers. The U.S.-Peru free trade agreement, for example, limits damages arising from certain restrictive measures on capital inflows to the reduction in value of the transfers. Investors may not demand compensation for the loss of profits or business. In addition, there is an extended “cooling off” period before investors may file claims.

While a step in the right direction, these provisions still place undue restrictions on the authority to use capital controls. If they were included in any possible U.S.-India treaty, the government of India would still face the prospect of expensive investor-state damages claims.  They could be tied up in legal proceedings for years, defending a legitimate policy that has proved effective in reducing financial instability.

The negotiations over a U.S.-India treaty were begun by the Bush administration.  Obama officials have said they won’t complete the deal until they finish up a review of the U.S. model BIT.

Let’s hope U.S. and Indian leaders won’t get carried away by the pressures of the upcoming Obama visit to produce a treaty that may serve the short-term interests of large corporations and investors but would undermine the authority of governments to protect their people from financial crisis.