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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 March 2011

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End this Cynical Anti-Immigrant Program, Save $460 Million

March 30, 2011 ·

Protest against Secure Communities program outside Mass. State House

Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton is fond of boasting about the Secure Communities program, which enables ICE to share fingerprint data with local and state police forces in a supposed quest to crack down on foreign-born criminals.

The Department of Homeland Security touts Secure Communities by sprinkling any description of the program with anecdotes about the worst criminal immigrants, such as a man arrested on assault charges who had previously been deported after a murder conviction. Secure Communities makes it more possible for low level offenses to be punished by deportation, even if the charges are later reduced or dropped. In most of those cases, the punishment will not fit the crime. Deportations and raids are counter-productive and carry a damaging psychological effect that goes well beyond the deported individuals. Tiffany Williams, from the Institute’s Break The Chain campaign, writes:

Approximately five million U.S. citizen children have at least one undocumented parent. A study by the Urban Institute revealed that children are often the real victims of workplace raids -- 80 percent of the children of workers in their study sites were less than ten years old. When families experience long separations from other family members, the report noted the effects can include significant economic hardship, psychological stress, and feelings of abandonment that can lead to sustained mental health problems.

When the American Psychological Association recently recommended overhauling our detention centers and social service networks to better protect children and maintain family units, it acknowledged the widespread psychological trauma caused by immigration enforcement -- including everything from infant developmental delays to dismal academic performance.

Williams isn't alone in looking at the larger scope of immigration enforcement. The National Day Laborers Organizing Network has joined with other organizations in suing ICE over Secure Communities.

What’s terrible about Secure Communities is its seeming inevitability. For the average Joe (or average Joes that don't use their average nickname for speechmaking profit), Secure Communities sounds like a straightforward idea. Obama wants to make it a mandatory national program by 2013. The Homeland Security budget (pdf) for Fiscal Year 2012 includes $276 million for training local and state law enforcement agencies in immigration matters and $184 million for Secure Communities -- expanding its reach to 96 percent of jurisdictions across the country.

As Congress scrambles to make budget cuts and a government shutdown looms, lawmakers should axe Secure Communities and its accompanying trainings to get $460 million closer to their goals.

When it comes to immigration reform, real solutions might be counterintuitive. Knowing that most undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. have been here more than 10 years, for example, might make people less susceptible to this information-sharing programs that essentially create fast tracks to deportation for hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are already interwoven into the communities to which they migrated. 

A Government Expense We Would Shut Down: U.S. Trade Representative Office

March 30, 2011 ·

After two months of Egypt, Japan, and Libya dominating the airwaves, the 112th Congress could return to the top of the headlines soon as a government shutdown seems more likely.

Following a series of short-term stopgap funding bills, a $50 billion difference remains between the proposals by top Republican and Democratic leaders. With this in mind, and to fight against the idea that progressives just want to spend our way out of problems, we would like to present a few ideas that might reduce government spending and increase its efficiency at the same time.

The proposed cuts we’ll be laying out in a series of blog posts this week range from military boondoggles to counterproductive drug war policies.

First up in the IPS chopping block is the U.S. Trade Representative Office (USTR). Currently employing a staff of 200 people and leasing real estate in Washington, Brussels, and Geneva, the USTR is an expensive agency, and its work seems increasingly redundant. Sarah Anderson, who directs the Institute's Global Economy project, says:

Trade negotiators aren't following through on President Obama's campaign promises to renegotiate NAFTA and are showing few signs of bringing a fresh approach to talks over new trade deals. If all they’re doing is expanding a model that undermines good jobs and the environment, it would be better to shut down USTR.

This cabinet-level-but-not-technically-in-the-cabinet position has been rumored to actually be in some downsizing plans that would incorporate it into the Department of Commerce. The agency’s chief, Ron Kirk, didn't seem to oppose the rumored move in a recent interview:

It's not a rumor. We've heard of it. We welcome it.... It is hypothetical.... I don't think we should be afraid of stepping back and taking a look and saying what do we do really, really well as USTR, and what do our partners do really well at Commerce or Ag?

The United States has signed 17 free-trade agreements, and is waiting for congressional approval on three more (Colombia, South Korea, and Panama) that the Bush administration negotiated and are similar to atrocious deals like NAFTA. Those agreements are a corporate scam, so why should taxpayers keep funding an agency that despite a change in administration pays its bureaucrats to propose the same thing over and over again?

What Makes Us Secure?

March 29, 2011 ·

We’ve recently had an interesting debate over whether we should change the name of “Common Security Clubs.” These are small groups that build resilience by learning together, supporting one another through mutual aid, and taking social action together.

We even had a naming survey to ask people who’ve been involved in these local support groups what they recommend. The results were interesting.

One thing is certain: the word “security” has been co-opted by nefarious forces.

Overwhelmingly, respondents to our survey pointed out that this word conjures up images that are totally contrary to our work—security cameras, locked doors, repression, paranoia, even violence and weapons.

The question of what makes us secure in an increasingly insecure world is on many people’s minds. A Washington Post editorial by environmental activist Mike Tidwell described his personal decision to brace for the future with some new, surprising steps:

"Today, underneath [my house’s] solar panels, there’s a new set of deadbolt locks on all my doors. There’s a new Honda GX390 portable power generator in my garage, ready to provide backup electricity … I even took my first-ever lesson in firearms use."

Many readers challenged Tidwell’s conclusions that a generator and a shotgun are really what’s necessary. Here at the network supporting Common Security Clubs, we thought about that other word in our name, “common.” “Common security” is quite different from the “you’re on your own” (yo-yo) mentality that dominates most of our discourse, especially when it comes to security.

Although Mike Tidwell doesn’t mention it, there may no longer be such a thing as individual security. For most of us, real security is becoming more and more a matter of being tied to a thriving community.

In fact, a few survey respondents appreciated our attempt to re-appropriate this term. “I really like putting security in the name as a move to redefine security as a shared community effort,” said one respondent. Another added: “The top-of-mind answer to the question ‘What makes you feel secure?’ needs to change, from global military and economic dominance to vibrant communities, living wage jobs that are stable over the long run, and freedom to make informed decisions.”

It’s a big job to change the meaning of a word like ‘security,’ and an even bigger one to create new language to fill this gap. But this lack of language is a problem movements have faced before.

One thing that’s certain is that our current economy does not promote real, widespread security.
“One of the analogies that we discussed briefly at our circle’s first meeting was that of the early ‘consciousness raising’ groups in the 1970′s women’s movement,” says Debbie Mytels, a Common Security Circle facilitator in California. “We talked about ‘the problem that has no name’—i.e., women’s feelings of disempowerment and frustration, and how that is similar to today’s unnamed feelings of economic and civic disempowerment.”

When women started meeting in small groups to talk about their common experiences, they ended up creating and re-appropriating words for their experiences. Debbie notes, “Out of the consciousness raising groups came the ‘click’ experience (an ‘Ah, I get it!’ moment) and phrases such as sexism and male chauvinism.”

The debate about security—both the word and the concept—is far from over. We’re conducting a second round of our naming survey, this time whittled down to only a few options, including Resiliency Circles, Connection Circles, and Mutual Aid Circles.

We welcome your thoughts— click here to take the survey and here to participate in our online conversation.

One thing that’s certain is that our current economy does not promote real, widespread security. Even worse, the future is likely to undermine the sources of security that are left. We need to create a new economy where a security that has nothing to do with bunkers, paranoia, or shotguns is widely shared.

Move Your Qi. Save The World.

March 25, 2011 ·

The world is a mess.
Wars rage in Africa and the Middle East
Devastation and nuclear disaster in Japan
Economic peril across the globe.
Widespread poverty, hunger, sickness and violence.
A rapidly changing global climate is wreaking havoc with weather patterns and livelihoods.
Corporate greed reaping huge profits at the expense of the well-being of people.

Even privileged citizens in the excessively wealthy industrially-developed nations find it at least stressful to be a human being in such times.

Many of us feel the moral obligation to do what we can to raise awareness and change policies which perpetuate the injustices.
We study, analyze, confer, criticize, publicize, organize.

But what of our spirits? What of the intangible part of the human experience that binds us together across politics, religions and geographical boundaries? How many Western politicians, advocates, lobbyists and activists regularly attend to this cosmic reality, incorporate it into our political lives? Especially here, inside of the Beltway in Washington D.C. where so many policies which affect not only our nation, but the global society, are made.

Oh, I know that for better or for ill, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and countless other specific belief systems feature quite prominently in the daily lives of most people, even in the lives of politically-oriented Western folk.  But, I guess I mean something more.. well...universal... than creed and religion. Something less divisive, less prescribed, less volatile. I think I mean the human spirit. Or, to be even more expansive, the undeniable life energy which moves our planet and all sentient beings:

Qi (chee). Breath. Energy. Life. Balance.

I practice an ancient Chinese form of spiritual excercise called qigong. I battle with a potentially degenerative health condition and this form of spirituality and excercise helps to heal the body, and the mind.

I also battle with a potentially degenerative policy-making body, the U.S. Congress. I can tell you that it needs healing of its own body and mind. The devasting proposed budget cuts, excessive military spending, purposeful privileging of profits over people domestically and abroad are more destructive to humanity than my health condition is to my often fragile body.

Something about the alarming state of the nation and the globe in the face of so many recent disasters compels me to feel especially recommitted to incorporating a more spiritual approach to my political work in hopes that such an approach makes my work more effective. At the very least, it can't hurt.

I invite my stressed out, over-worked, embattled colleagues inside and outside the "Beltway" and inside and outside the U.S. to join me in incorporating the unconditional love of each other and our shared life energy into our political work. And to please share with me your own experiences of working this way.

In the words of my qigong teacher, Master Li JunFeng:
The relationship between human beings in society can affect nature. If the family is happy it affects the community. If the community is flourishing, it affects the country. If the country is healthy, it affects the world. This, at the end is what leads to peace and harmony. Unconditional love is the root, is the key.

General Electric: King of the Tax Dodgers

March 25, 2011 ·

Congressional Republicans are about to cut the Tsunami Warning System from the National Weather Service budget. But if General Electric paid their fair share of taxes, we could reverse this and billions in additional budget cuts.

GE — best known for its light bulbs, refrigerators — and lately, its nuclear reactors — is one of the country's biggest tax dodgers.

Recent filings show that in 2010, General Electric reported global profits of $14.2 billion, claiming $5.1 billion from U.S. operations.

How much did it pay in U.S. corporate taxes? Zero. Actually, less than zero. We taxpayers paid G.E. $3.2 billion.

As David Kocieniewski reports in The New York Times, GE "has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than most multinational companies."

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, between 2006 and 2010, General Electric reported $26.3 billion in pretax profits to its shareholders but paid no U.S. taxes. In fact, they received $4.2 billion in refunds from Uncle Sam for an effective tax rate of negative 15.8 percent over these five years.

General Electric accomplishes this feat by using is political muscle in Congress and lobbying for special tax treatment and corporate welfare. It also aggressively moves is profits to offshore tax havens including Bermuda, Singapore, and Luxembourg.

While several GE divisions have struggled over the last decade, its accountants think of themselves as a profit center. The company's 975-member tax division includes many former Treasury and IRS officials who never a met a loophole they didn't love.

Why do we tolerate the behavior of companies like General Electric? These Benedict Arnold corporations reap all the benefits of doing business in the U.S. — yet shirk their responsibilities for paying. The next time they have a fire at one of their plants, they should call the Fire Department in Bermuda.

GE will only pay its fair share when enough citizens wake up and demand that our politicians crack down on tax dodgers. No politician should be allowed to propose a budget cut or moan about austerity until they crack down on the scofflaws such as General Electric.

Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies where he coordinates the Program on Inequality and the Common Good (www.inequality.org). See his recent column, Corporate Tax Dodgers, Pay Up –and his Talking Points on Corporate Tax Dodging.

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