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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 since February 2011

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Unconventional Wisdom: Name This Moment

February 24, 2011 ·

Two weeks ago, I wrote in this space about Wisconsin and unions and the power of the people. My focus was on football, not workers defending their collective bargaining rights. But just as Hosni Mubarak was stepping down in Cairo, Governor Scott Walker was stepping up in Madison with his bill to slash these fundamental rights.


Nusair stands in solidarity from Cairo

Muhammad Saladin Nusair's sign in Tahrir Square, which read, "Egypt Supports Wisconsin Workers — One World, One Pain," sums up the extraordinary solidarity between protesters in both locations. Wisconsinites have chomped on pizza purchased by Egyptians as democratic revolutions continue to erupt.

Muammar Gaddafi's brutal response to Libya's uprising reveals democracy's high price. Yet, people power is gaining momentum and spreading across the Middle East and Africa — even reaching the stamp-size French-speaking country of Djibouti, where the police have clashed with anti-regime protesters. As IPS scholar Manuel Pérez-Rocha said during a recent protest that expressed global solidarity with Mexican unions, there's a "renewed international push against injustice."

We at the Institute for Policy Studies are actively involved with campaigns to end injustice, protect workers, and sensibly cut budgets. While state governments and the Obama administration complain that we're running out of money, IPS expert Chuck Collins offers a straight-forward solution for stopping corporate tax dodgers to fund the gap. This Saturday, there's a rally calling for corporations to pay their fair share of taxes before freezing civil servants' pay and cutting government services.

Last week, IPS scholars Janet Redman and Sarah Anderson joined people in more than 25 countries in a global day of action calling for a small financial transaction tax that would raise hundreds of billions of dollars of much-needed revenue while restraining speculation. In addition to these government-revenue-boosting solutions, IPS experts John Feffer, Miriam Pemberton, and Robert Alvarez all suggest ways to shrink the federal budget by cutting military spending.

What will we eventually call this historic wave of peaceful protests and solidarity that's spreading around the world? Write your suggestions below in our comments section, post them on our Facebook wall, or tweet them to @IPS_DC, and we'll post the best ones on our blog next week.

Wisconsin 2.0: Stop the Corporate Tax Dodgers

February 23, 2011 ·

This article was originally posted on Common Dreams.

The protests in Wisconsin could easily spread.  While not every governor will recklessly attack collective bargaining, all states are facing major budget constraints.

This is the strategic moment to dramatically juxtapose the pain of local budget cuts with the scandal of corporate tax dodging.   This April 15th Tax Day, let’s make our national focus be on stopping tax haven abuse and closing corporate tax loopholes.

States must close combined budget gaps of over $102 billion –and most are choosing deep budget cuts.  Meanwhile, thanks to ways that U.S. corporations game the system to reduce their taxes, overseas tax havens cost the U.S. treasury over $100 billion a year.

In England, the movement UK UNCUT, has galvanized street protests, media investigations and legislative action.  They have dramatized the scandal of billions lost thanks to overseas tax havens and corporate loopholes with the human face of federal and state budget cuts.

In every U.S. state, we should be doing the same.  Every time a politician complains that “there is no money” or “we must make these cuts,” we should be pointing to the corporate tax dodging that could immediately close our budget gaps.

We should name names and show up at their branches.  First there are the banks that wrecked our economy and accepted billions in taxpayer funded TARP funds.  These include Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.  Our message: Pay up!

Pay up! General Electric, Carnival Cruise lines, Boeing, FedEx, News Corp, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Proctor and Gamble.  They pretend their profits are earned in tax havens like the Grand Cayman Islands and their losses are earned in the U.S., lowering their tax bills.

These US companies use our shared infrastructure, but don’t pay their fair share.  They enjoy our roads, national defense, emergency services, and federally-funded research.  They are profitable but don’t pay their full freight.  They undercut local businesses that pay their taxes while struggling to compete on an unlevel playing field.

 “There’s a direct connection between corporate tax dodging and what’s happening in people’s lives,” said Carl Gibson one of the founders of US UNCUT Mississippi. “If we close those loopholes, we wouldn’t have to be cutting back on firefighters, library hours and student loans.”

Gibson started a web site after being inspired by the movements in England. “I work three jobs and can barely cover my $450 per-month rent,” said the 23-year old Gibson. “But I still pay my taxes.  All I’m asking is that the wealthiest corporations pay what they owe, too.”

US UNCUT is launching the first wave of protests this Saturday, February 26th with a focus on Bank of America. There are actions planned in over 20 states. Bank of America has launched a glitzy PR campaign about how charitable and community-minded they are.  But we should remind them the only way back into our good graces is to “Pay up!”

The Tax Justice Network and Business and Investors Against Tax Havens have been pressing over the last year to keep these issues in the public spotlight. With US UNCUT teaming up with the Other 98 and other coalitions focused on corporate tax dodging, we can anticipate a lively April 15th Tax Day. 

Sometimes a Veto Means Victory

February 19, 2011 ·

Sometimes a Security Council vote can mean a victory for human rights no matter which side wins. Today’s vote on a resolution mildly condemning Israeli settlement activity is one example. If the U.S. had voted for the resolution, or even abstained and allowed others to pass it, it would have strengthened the international opposition to the Israeli occupation, and perhaps helped set the stage for greater UN and international engagement in ending the Israeli occupation and challenging Israel’s apartheid policies and other violations of human rights. It would have been a great victory. 

But instead, the U.S. vetoed the resolution – the vote was 14 to 1, with no abstentions.  On this issue once again, the U.S. stood absolutely isolated.  And ironically, that was a victory too.  Because the unity of other countries – Britain, Russia, Brazil and others spoke after the vote, expressing stronger than usual support for the anti-settlement resolution, and referencing (Britain most strongly) their recognition of a Palestinian state that may be declared in September.

In actuality, that recognition by itself is unlikely to achieve an end to the Israeli occupation; the PLO’s 1988 declaration of an independent state quickly won close recognition from close to 100 governments and the occupation intensified. But the recent moves towards greater recognition – especially from a number of Latin American countries who had not previously recognized Palestine – may foreshadow greater UN involvement in holding Israel accountable for its violations.

The U.S. had been threatening the veto for weeks. But in the last few days there had been rumors of a possible shift.  A bribe was offered: if the Palestinians would withdraw the resolution, the U.S. would accept a “presidential statement” from the Council; a diplomatic step-down from the power and enforceability of a resolution.  The Palestinian diplomats, backed by global support for the resolution and facing massive popular discontent at home because of concessions offered to Israel during peace negotiations, stood firm.  Then there was another rumor, maybe the U.S. would abstain, allowing the resolution to pass.

In the end, the Obama administration’s early threats proved accurate. The U.S. stood alone. Ambassador Susan Rice’s statement was astonishingly defensive – she went to great lengths to claim that the U.S. actually agrees with the resolution, that no one has done more than the U.S. to support a two-state solution, that the U.S. thinks settlement activity (not, we should note, the continuing existence of longstanding settlements now home to 500,000 illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, only new settlement activity) violates Israel’s international commitments and more.  She tried to convince the world that “opposition to the resolution should not be misunderstood” to mean that the U.S. supports settlement activity – only that the Obama administration “thinks it unwise” for the United Nations to try to stop that settlement activity.  She defined settlements as one of the “core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians,” not as a violation of international law and a host of specific UN resolutions – therefore, she claimed, the issue was just one of the wrong venue for this debate. 

We’re really against settlements, she pleaded, we just want to end them our way. On our terms.  In our peace talks.  And we all know how well that’s gone so far.

In fact, the U.S. veto in the Security Council was consistent with a long and sordid history. As of 2009, fully half of the vetoes ever cast were to protect Israel from being held accountable in the UN for violations of international law and human rights. Another -third were to protect racist regimes in southern Africa -- South Africa and pre-independence South-West Africa -- from the same accountability.  Taken together, fully five out of six or more than 80% of U.S. vetoes have been cast to protect Washington’s allies accused of apartheid practices.

The Middle East is in the throes of a new wave of democratic revolutionary motion, and it is high time Palestinians were able to be part of that wave. While the U.S. use of the veto remains part of a sordid history, this time the veto may be different. It may actually help set the stage for much greater international engagement in the United Nations that, if combined with the mobilization for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions as well as growing opposition to U.S. military aid, could move once and for all to end the Israeli occupation and apartheid.

Global Solidarity is on the Rise for Mexican Workers Too

February 18, 2011 ·

These are astounding days for global solidarity. We're witnessing massive global support for the people of Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries as they strive to end archaic autocracies. Other worldwide actions foreshadow a renewed international push against injustice.

Protesters gathered outside the Mexican embassy in Washington DCLast Wednesday, I marched with nearly 200 workers and colleagues in front of the Mexican Embassy in Washington to demand for Mexican workers' rights. It was one of dozens of protests included in the Global Days of Action to Defend Trade Unions in Mexico, organized by global union federations (the IMF, ICEM, ITF and UNI) and by a renascent Tri-National Solidarity Alliance formed by unions in Mexico, the United States, and Canada.

With growing dissent in Mexico for the escalating violation of workers´ rights, protests have been held from Boston to San Francisco, Toronto to Vancouver, and in other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, and Russia. It's an unprecedented show of support for millions of Mexican workers, who for decades have undergone systematic repressions heightened during the present administration of Felipe Calderón. According to the ongoing global days of action campaign, "The rights to recognition of union leaders, to collective bargaining, to strike and to stability of employment, all of which are enshrined in national and international law, are under attack."

Memorial for mining workers trapped in 2006Examples of the extreme violence against workers in Mexico abound. Five years after a mining disaster at Pasta de Conchos caused by the negligence of company owners, the bodies of 63 of the 65 miners remain buried and the Mexican government has failed to investigate or prosecute those responsible. Mexican Miners' Union official Juan Linares remains imprisoned since December 2008. In 2009, following Calderón's orders, the federal police forcibly entered the Luz y Fuerza electricity company premises and violently removed the workers from their workplace. The following day, by presidential decree, the company was dissolved and 44,000 workers were fired with the goal of eliminating the collective bargaining agreement and the union itself, in violation of the Mexican constitution and the International Labor Organization's conventions 87 and 98, which guarantee the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Recently the Mexican Congress issued a study that concludes that the goal of this action is to hand over the operations of energy provision to transnational companies.

Mexico workers who try to set up independent trade unions are often subjected to intimidation, threats, violence, firing, and blacklisting. Therefore, workers and community organizers from all over the world united in this campaign to demand the Mexican government to:

  1. Hold employer and government officials accountable for the Pasta de Conchos mine explosion that killed 65 miners on February 19, 2006.
  2. Abolish systemic violations of workers' freedom of association, including employer-dominated "protection contracts" and interference in union elections.
  3. End the use of force—by the state or private parties—to repress workers' legitimate demands for democratic unions, better wages and working conditions, and good health and safety conditions.
  4. End the campaign of political persecution against the Mexican Miner's Union and the Mexican Electrical Workers' Union.

Just as everyone seems to want justice for the Egyptian people, Mexicans need international solidarity to help us move to a real democracy too. As Cecil Roberts, president of the United Metal Workers of America, said during the protest in Washington "it is wonderful for the American government to praise Middle Eastern citizens for standing for democracy. But our government needs to look a little closer to home at the exploitation of workers in Mexico."Fortunately the level of commitment for solidarity is on the rise. The global days of action to defend trade unions in Mexico are a brilliant example.

Robin Hood 2.0

February 18, 2011 ·

Forget Russell Crowe. Global campaigners for financial transactions taxes have done way more to bring back Robin Hood's spirit of equity.

Activists in 25 countries, many of them sporting green tights and feathered caps, carried out coordinated actions this week to increase pressure on governments to adopt small levies on trades of stock, currency, and other financial instruments as a way to curb speculation while raising hundreds of billions of dollars in newfound revenue for urgent needs.

Images from these actions have been mapped out to illustrate the global breadth of this campaign, from Nepal to Mexico in the global South and from Canada to Japan in the North.

  • In Germany, a merry band of Robin Hoods and Maid Marians blended in with celebrities at the Berlinale film festival, arriving in a white limousine with their own red carpet.
  • In London, pensioners, public sector workers, students, and unemployed people affected by the UK government's spending cuts joined campaigners dressed as Robin Hood to hand a giant "final demand" notice into a number of banks.
  • In Washington, activists drummed up support for the Investing in our Future Act of 2011, a just-introduced bill by Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) that would tax currency trades to raise money for U.S. deficit reduction and climate and global health programs.

IPS joined a wide range of environmental, labor, faith and other groups in a letter to President Obama endorsing the bill and staged a photo-op in front of the White House. They also visited the French embassy, where charge d'affaires Francois Rivasseau expressed appreciation for the efforts by global civil society to "make noise" in support of financial transactions taxes. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is the current head of the G-20 and has vowed to push for action on this issue within that group of the largest economies.  

The Global Day of Action for Financial Transactions Taxes coincided with the G-20 finance ministers meeting this week in Paris. While G-20 consensus in support of financial transactions taxes would be ideal, much more likely is a "coalition of the willing approach" in which France, Germany, and other countries agree to lead the way.

Once they begin generating significant revenue, the Obama administration may wonder why they're missing out.

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