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Entries since February 2013Page Previous 1 • 2 • 3 • 4 Next
February 12, 2013 · By Phyllis Bennis
President 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
February 12, 2013 · By Janet Redman
In the last year, climate change has come home to the United States in a visceral way. During his State of the Union address, Obama should lay out bold plans for the transition to an ecologically sane economy that reduces inequality.
Images of waves crashing into the Statue of Liberty, wildfires engulfing homes in Colorado, and flood water shutting down the Louisiana interstate have rocked the American psyche over the past twelve months.
For me, 2012 meant living through record-breaking heat waves that buckled metro tracks and derailed commuter trains in my adopted home of Washington, DC. Sadly it also meant saying good-bye to the beach on the Jersey shore where my brother and I played as kids.
Since Obama committed the United States to responding to climate change in his inaugural address, saying that a “the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” American families in the Southeast were hit by severe tornados and in the Northeast by crippling snowstorms.
Of course, dealing with climate change in our country is about more than bad weather. We’ve heard about how battered infrastructure and closed businesses strain on national and local coffers. We hear less about how climate change exacerbates inequality — disproportionately impacting the lives and livelihoods of people living in poverty and low-income communities.
A shot at a better life for everyone has to entail a shift away from an “all of the above” energy plan that includes sources that poison people, pollute the environment, and lock us into decades of pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The expansion of fossil fuels and the increasingly extreme ways of getting at it — through fracking, deepwater drilling and blasting the tops off mountains — has got to go the way of the dinosaurs.
Obama said that “the path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult” — no less because the fossil fuel industry and the members of Congress to whom they contribute continue to undermine legislative action on climate. But the transition to shared prosperity and a vibrant clean economy can be made easier with sustained leadership from the president and his administration.
Here are a few actions Obama can take without Congress that he can highlight in tonight’s State of the Union address to show he’s serious about the fight against global warming:
- Say no to the Keystone XL pipeline. Without waiting for Congress the State Department can deny TransCanada’s request for permission to build a pipeline across the United States carrying toxic tar sand oil to polluting refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Regulate power plants. Since the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are pollutants in 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to put controls on carbon emissions. This means the EPA has tools to regulate new and existing power plants and industrial sources that are spewing methane, nitrous oxide and soot into the air.
- Curb natural gas exports. The Department of Energy can reject licenses for oil and gas industry to expand their export of liquid natural gas to countries with which we don’t already have free trade agreements. And Obama could direct the U.S. Trade Representative to withdraw from negotiations on the TransPacific Partnership, which would fling the doors wide open to LNG export to countries in Asia.
- Negotiate a global climate deal in good faith. Obama should instruct the climate team at the State Department to return to the negotiating table ready to compromise in order to reach international consensus for a strong and equitable 2015 climate treaty.
Obama doesn’t have to wait for Congress to act — and we don’t have to wait for Obama, either.
People have already started. They’re putting their bodies in the path of Keystone’s southern leg to halt construction. They’re closing down dirty power plants in the cities where they live and work, and meeting with neighbors to create plans to make their communities climate resilient. And thousands of people from around the country will gather in Washington, DC this weekend to call on Obama to push forward on climate in his second term.
Tonight, as Obama addresses the nation he’ll be laying the groundwork for his climate legacy. His comments will also shape how the growing majority of Americans who care about global warming perceive him — as a climate champion or an agent of politics as usual.
February 12, 2013 · By Janet Redman
Europe has taken a bold leap forward to implement an innovative plan that could help protect people and the planet. Poised to set an example of climate leadership for the developed world, will countries like the United States come along?
At the end of January European Union finance ministers approved a proposal by eleven EU member states to implement a coordinated financial transaction tax (FTT) — a tiny tax on trades of stocks, bonds, and derivatives. Through a process known as “enhanced cooperation,” this subset of EU countries (dubbed the EU11) was able to move forward with a common tax policy without having to include all 27 EU member states. The European Parliament gave the proposal a green light in December 2012, and the EU Council waved it forward at their meeting last month without a vote because of overwhelming support among member states.
EU tax commissioner and FTT proponent Algirdas Šemeta called it "a major milestone.”
The next step in making the FTT proposal a reality is for the eleven member states in the “coalition of the willing” to agree to details of the common tax. Negotiations are expected to wrap up and a formal agreement officially approved by the European Parliament in 2013.
The implications are potentially huge for climate finance. That’s the money that communities in developing countries need to make the transition from climate-vulnerable to climate-resilient, and from dirty energy development to low-carbon development.
The cost of that shift is measured in the hundreds of billions (some say trillions) of dollars. Rich industrialized countries have promised to deliver $100 billion a year by 2020. A fraction of what’s needed, but still a big lift compared to today’s levels of around $10 billion a year (if you count generously).
At the tax rate originally proposed by the EU Commission of a harmonized minimum 0.1 percent for stocks and bonds and 0.01 percent on derivatives, the EU11 FTT has the potential to raise up to €37 billion (nearly $50 billion in US dollars) every year.
France, which implemented a financial transaction tax in August 2012, has already made a commitment to direct 10 percent of the tax revenue to global public goods like development, health, and climate change (3.7 percent is destined for the Green Climate Fund). Members of Germany’s Social Democrat party have made general political murmurs that if they succeed in upcoming elections they will send revenue from an FTT to development to help meet the country’s 0.7 percent ODA goal.
Global campaigners are pushing the EU11 to be ambitious in targeting a significant portion of their FTT revenue to fight climate chaos. Members of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance used the recent 2012 global climate summit to call for the eleven countries to deposit 25 percent of the money raised into the Green Climate Fund. Representatives in the EU parliament and from developing countries are also calling for FTT revenue to be used by developed countries to meet their mid-term and long-term financing obligations.
With Timothy Geithner stepping down as Secretary of Treasury there’s renewed optimism that the Obama administration might support an FTT under Jack Lew’s leadership of the Department. Supporters of the tax are planning to raise the issue at Lew’s confirmation hearing in Washington DC tomorrow.
This would be a move that experts like Joseph Stiglitz endorse, who said, “as Mr. Obama’s second term begins, we must all face the fact that our country cannot quickly, meaningfully recover without policies that directly address inequality. What’s needed is… a more progressive tax system and a tax on financial speculation.”
An FTT that raises revenue for a fund that supports developing countries in dealing with the disproportionate impacts visited upon them by climate change is an important step in fighting global inequality. Here, the EU11 can be a global leader.
 The 11 EU member states that have entered into enhanced cooperation are Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia and Slovakia. Any other member state may join the enhanced cooperation if they wish.
February 8, 2013 · By Phyllis Bennis
The results weren’t nearly as dire as many predicted. The Israeli elections last month didn’t bring about a complete victory for the far right (and Israel’s far-right is very far indeed!). Right-wing prime minister Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s Likud Party, in alliance with the right-wing extremist Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) party, lost at least 10 seats.
The biggest victor was the new centrist party Yesh Atid, led by charismatic television personality Yair Lapid. He ran on the basis of personality and a claim to represent Israel’s middle-class interests, from the price of cheese to affordable housing to his most popular call, for “sharing the burden”—a euphemism for drafting ultra-Orthodox young Jewish Israelis into the military. Israeli commentators described the new Knesset as divided almost down the middle between center-right and center-left blocs.
That’s all good. But. The campaign was waged virtually entirely on economic and social issues affecting the 80 percent Jewish population of Israel; the needs of the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are Palestinians were largely ignored. Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the besieged Gaza Strip were off the agenda, let alone its violations of international law and human rights. On the question of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the elections represented a clear victory for Israel’s status quo: the occupation will be left in place.
Read the rest of this article on Yes! Magazine's website. Yes! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions, published it on February 6, 2013.
February 6, 2013 · By Emily Schwartz Greco
This week in OtherWords, Jill Richardson explains what’s wrong with most of the roses that populate our Valentine’s Day bouquets, Don Kraus proposes a great Valentine for women everywhere, and Donald Kaul sizes up the latest inaction on gun control.
This is Kaul’s third column on guns since his return from a five-month break. As I explained in an earlier blog post, the first one was widely quoted out of context. That generated a torrent of hate mail, to which Kaul responded with a follow-up column.
I would like to take this opportunity to RSVP to the hundreds of people who invited Donald Kaul to go visit you in person and take your guns away. He sends his regrets. And while I’m speaking on his behalf, I’d like to thank the NRA for including him on its blindingly long list of gun-control advocates. Yes Wayne LaPierre, Donald Kaul is certainly as important in this fight as the CEO of Stoneyfield Farms Yogurt and actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Below you’ll find links to our latest work. If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.
- The. Very. Best. Valentine. Ever. / Don Kraus
The United States is one of only seven countries not to ratify a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women.
- Zero Dark Thirty’s Losing Premise / Chris Toensing
Torture doesn’t “work” but that’s not the point.
- Stronger At Home, More Respected Abroad / Jeff Blum
We must cut the things we don’t need, including Pentagon pork, to pay for the things we do.
- Banning Assault Weapons Makes More Sense than Arming Teachers / Donald Kaul
If what you need weapons for is to fight the government, semi-automatics don’t cut it.
- The Ever-So-Brief Success of the Income Tax / Sam Pizzigati
Federal taxes, once upon a time, put a squeeze on grand fortunes.
- A Better Way to Say I Love You / Jill Richardson
Most of the roses sold in the United States are grown in Colombia and Ecuador, where they are doused with toxic pesticides.
- High Time for Hemp / Jim Hightower
This commonsense crop should become commonplace in the United States again.
- The Road Back to Serfdom / William A. Collins
Today’s robber barons have little interest in long-term, full-time employees.
- Free Trade Economics 101 / Khalil Bendib cartoon
Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies OtherWords.org