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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 2012

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Occupy vs. the Global Race to the Bottom

February 22, 2012 ·

Ever since the first tent was pitched in Zuccotti Park in September 2011, the Occupy protests have been giving life to a “99 percent movement.” Expect to hear a lot more from them: plans for a 99 percent spring—starting as early as April—are now in the making.

The 99 Percent Spring is coming. Photo by Glenn Halog.This still very young movement has focused attention on a well-reasoned explanation of the vast suffering in this country, an explanation that is resonating with the broader U.S. public. It is often posed this way: For thirty years, Wall Street firms have successfully lobbied the US government to give them freer reign, by removing regulations and lowering taxes. In the process, these firms became uprooted and detached from lending to Main Street businesses and instead became more like casinos making money for the one percent through risky instruments such as derivatives based in sub-prime mortgages. This casino Wall Street economy increased inequality, corrupted our politics and politicians, and provoked the economic crash in 2008—a crash that left tens of millions unemployed, homeless, mired in debt, and vulnerable.   

This narrative is not only compelling and tragic, it is also correct. But the Occupy analysis is thus far primarily a US-centric one; it often leaves out the reality that all of us in this country are part of a corporate-driven global economy.   

So here is a fuller picture:

In addition to Wall Street speculators, the other dominant forces of the U.S. economy over the past three decades have been global firms like General Electric, Exxon Mobil, and Apple. These firms spread their global assembly lines and resource extraction to countries like Mexico, China, and the Philippines where, in a quest for cheaper costs, they can more easily evade worker rights and environmental regulations. This global corporate economy pits U.S. workers and communities against poorly enforced Third World worker rights and environmental rules in a “race to the bottom” in terms of rights and standards. These global firms simply say to governments and workers: lower your wages and standards or we will move our operations elsewhere. They either get what they want or they move. 

And, just as Wall Street speculators rewarded elected officials in the United States who passed local and national laws to remove regulations, so too did the global manufacturing firms reward members of Congress who passed trade and investment rules that gave corporations protections. Case in point: the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement which granted corporations powerful rights and protections while offering only weak social and environmental “clauses.”

The 1990s era of globalization accelerated the proliferation of global assembly lines with sweatshop conditions. United Students Against Sweatshops and others have exposed the horrors of garment assembly lines for decades. Today the exposès continue, most recently of Apple’s global assembly lines. As a January 2012 New York Times investigation revealed, hundreds of thousands of workers assembling Apple iPhones in China are denied basic rights, exposed to dangerous toxic chemicals, and live in squalor. 

With this lens, one can better assess President Obama’s recent tour of industrial states where he proclaimed that manufacturing jobs are returning to the United States in part because wages and working conditions here are now “competitive.” “Competitive” masks the grim reality that real U.S. manufacturing wages have been stagnating or falling over this period and workers have accepted lower wages to prevent the real threat of corporations moving their jobs to China. This is hardly something we should applaud; we want good jobs – good for workers, good for the environment, good for community. 

Adding this global component also reveals more about what needs to be part of our agenda for change. Until now, most of the 99 percent agenda has focused on reducing inequality by reining in Wall Street and cutting its influence on our corrupted politics. Many groups have advocated for fairer taxes on the wealthy and Wall Street, and various measures to prevent the one percent from purchasing elections and elected officials. These are critical starting points.

But to these important proposals, let us also add new mechanisms to enforce internationally recognized worker rights and environmental standards everywhere, including workers’ rights to organize independent unions, an end to child labor, and the right for communities to know of potential environmental dangers. Another way to support this “race to the top” is by ending trade agreements that provide corporations with investor rights to sue governments but do not provide workers or communities or the environment with stronger protections.

Likewise, let us also push proposals to shift the incentives away from global trade and investment and back toward revitalizing “Main Street” by encouraging more production and investment locally. Much of what is traded across borders, from food to clothing to electronic gadgets, can be produced—with less stress on the environment—much closer to home. Worker-owned co-ops in Cleveland, for example, are now producing food and linen for local hospitals and universities that used to come from far away.        

This expansion of the Occupy story to address to challenges of corporate globalization is one logical next step in the Occupy trajectory. Indeed, many in the Occupy movements have already embraced Occupy protests and movements in other countries, from England to Nigeria to dozens of other countries around the world. Let us embrace the 99 percent everywhere with a global analysis and a global agenda.

The Lineup: Week of Feb. 20-26, 2012

February 20, 2012 ·

In this week's OtherWords editorial package, Raul A. Reyes points out the dangers of "self-deportation," Mitt Romney's plan for resolving the nation's immigration challenges, and Jason Salzman points out the pitfalls of the apparent GOP frontrunner's aversion to speaking directly to the media. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

  1. Coal Smoke and Planetary Fever / Daphne Wysham
    As the climate changes, a deadly disease is on the rise.
  2. Go Deport Yourself / Raul A. Reyes
    Romney's "self-deportation" policy is no joke.
  3. Dodging the Media on the Campaign Trail / Jason Salzman
    Mitt Romney's Colorado tour illustrates how shallow coverage becomes when candidates evade the scrutiny of real journalists.
  4. Legislating Under the Influence / David Elliot
    Conservatives who want jobless Americans seeking unemployment benefits to submit to mandatory drug testing have a hidden motive.
  5. The Fight over Reproductive Rights / Donald Kaul
    Liberals aren't trying to make anyone use birth control
  6. Inside Rick Santorum's Head / Jim Hightower
    For him, the right to privacy doesn't exist.
  7. Get Ready for War with Iran / William A. Collins
    All this imperial conniving is giving the Republican presidential candidates, except the isolationist Ron Paul, plenty to yammer about.
  8. Pee for Food / Khalil Bendib

Pee for Food, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

In Iraq, Occupation by Another Name

February 17, 2012 ·

Two recent reports appearing on the same day last week in The New York Times and The Washington Post illustrate U.S. intentions in Iraq. What they reveal is that despite the heralded "end" of U.S. participation in the war there, U.S. policy continues to depend on our security apparatus to influence Iraq, at the expense of Iraqis' sovereignty and dignity.

The Times report informed us that the U.S. State Department decided to cut the U.S. embassy staff by 50 percent from its current 16,000 personnel. This is a good decision; the U.S. embassy in Baghdad is the largest in the world. The reason given for the decision is primarily to reduce the American footprint in Iraq with the hope of reducing Iraqi hostility toward these evident remnants of occupation.

The second report, in the Post, informs us that the U.S. is significantly ramping up the number of CIA personnel and covert Special Operations forces in order to make up for reducing the American military and diplomatic footprint. These added covert personnel will be distributed in safe houses in urban centers all across the country. This represents a new way to exert U.S. power, but it is betting on the Iraqis not noticing the increased covert personnel. Really? This is a bad decision as it contradicts the reasons for the decision to reduce embassy staff.

The U.S. embassy in Iraq could reduce its staff by 50 percent. Photo by Christopher Camacho

The Iraqis have suffered for nine years as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation. The economic, educational and political systems in Iraq have been destroyed. Sectarianism, contrary to the belief of many in the U.S., has become the order of the day since the invasion. A significant percentage of Iraqis do not like us and do not want us to stay in Iraq. No Iraqi politicians want to openly be identified as pro-American.

Animosity toward the U.S. is on the rise because of the heavy U.S. presence in Iraq. Our projects in Iraq function to serve our interests, such as building and training security forces to keep the Iraqis in check (building the infrastructure for the promotion of democracy has taken a back seat). We have made sure that Iraq, for the foreseeable future, will depend on us for security equipment and spare parts, heavy industrial machinery, and banking. We built Iraq's security forces but made sure it has no air force. And the half-hearted democracy we built is a shambles; graft and corruption are still rampant.

Iraqis can tell the difference between mutually beneficial programs and those that create the impression that the U.S. is powerful and can do what it wants in Iraq.

Four years ago, on this page, I speculated that the massive U.S. embassy being built in Baghdad would be pillaged by angry Iraqis blaming the U.S. for destroying their country. In a follow-up article, I suggested that as a goodwill gesture, the embassy be converted into a university staffed primarily by volunteers from the Iraqi expatriates community in the U.S. The conversion of the embassy into a university surely would not cost a large portion of the embassy's current $6 billion budget. Such an institution, filling much of the compound's soon-to-be-vacated space, would serve the U.S. interest much better than boots on the ground (or in safe houses) and turn a new page in our relationship with the Iraqi people.

U.S. policy in Iraq is in need of a wholesale change — not a ramping up of covert operations and certainly not in urban centers. All of the ingredients of Arab awakening are alive and well in Iraq. U.S. policy needs to realize this and build on it, not implement policies that denigrate Iraqi aspirations, hopes and autonomy.

Adil E. Shamoo, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. A native of Iraq, he is the author of the forthcoming book, "Equal Worth — When Humanity Will Have Peace." This piece originally appeared on The Baltimore Sun.

New Economy Transformation: Obama Budget Won't Help

February 16, 2012 ·

Two military policeman go through training at Fort Bragg, NC. Photo by Spc. Garett HernandezThe last decade’s surge in military spending has pushed military contracting deeper into the foundations of our economy. Reversing this process, and transferring the savings to support the green economy, are necessary components of the project to build the new economic foundation we need.

Here is a quick take on how little the President’s budget request, released this week, is going to help.

First a few bright spots. This budget is a milestone of sorts. For the first time, it offers less money to the military next year than we are spending this year. This is not the way the term “spending cut” tends to be defined in Washington-speak. Mostly “cuts” are made to last year’s expansive projections of the future. As in: the doubling of my salary that I projected last year didn’t happen, therefore I took a salary cut. All those military spending cuts referred to in previous years have been that kind.

With respect to support for the green economy, the budget does call for increases in spending on specific clean energy programs over what Congress appropriated last year.

Pull back just a little to see a slightly bigger picture, and things don’t look so good.

First, that military spending cut? It’s real (for the first time) but it’s about 1% of the Pentagon’s total. Not exactly transformational. The administration thought about eliminating one of our three nuclear weapon delivery systems (bombers, submarines, and land-based missiles); they thought about killing the most expensive weapon system of all time, the F35; they thought about having 10 rather than 11 aircraft carriers (no other country has even one to challenge them). They did none of these things.

And after next year the military budget will, according to plan, go back up. We will spend more in real terms over the next ten years than we spent during the previous ten. This after 13 straight years of increases. This while we spend more than the next 17 countries put together.

The Obama administration did invest about $80 billion in the green economy through the Recovery Act. But that money is mostly gone now. While their budget does make targeted investments—like $310 million for solar and $95 million for wind—overall spending on clean technology in this budget has almost been cut in half. The climate change budget includes, in addition to funding from the Energy Department, EPA money for pollution control, Treasury Department loan guarantees for clean tech investment, GSA purchases of fuel-efficient vehicles, and Housing and Urban Development funds for building weatherization. Those programs totaled $27.6 billion in the 2012 budget. In 2013 their allotment is $15 billion.

Of course, to the extent Republicans are in charge, this will be much worse. They want to increase military spending far beyond what the Obama administration has in mind. And they’re hoping that the trillion-dollar “sequestration” currently planned for 2013 will be allowed to fall on everything but the Pentagon budget.

Neither plan, needless to say, is transformational. For that, we have America Is Not Broke.

Today Is A Good Day To Break Up with Your Mega Bank

February 16, 2012 ·

Protesters at a Move Your Money action in Wisconsin. Photo by Karen Hickey.Last week's announcement that the Obama administration had reached a $25 billion settlement with five of the nation's largest banks over charges of systemic and widespread mortgage fraud does not mean you should keep your relationship with those banks going. 

As Rebuild The Dream President Van Jones pointed out, the settlement is a rather small first step in his op-ed, "$25 Billion Down, $675 Billion to Go": 

Millions of homeowners and families are still suffering under the tremendous weight of a debt blanket that is smothering the economy. This $25 billion settlement helps only a fraction of those homeowners and addresses only a very limited set of fraudulent behaviors.

The behavior of the mega-banks has been hurtful to American society. That's what the folks at Green America have been saying for months, as they work to get people to move their money out of tax dodgers and prison profiteers such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo. 

Green America has created a ten-step guide for people to move their money to a new community development bank or credit union. 

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