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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 June 2010

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Tough Times; Troubling Trends

June 29, 2010 ·

Monopoly guyAlthough 2007, the most recent year for which this new data is available, preceded the financial meltdown, similar recessions have proven but small stumbling blocks for the super-rich. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports in its analysis of recent CBO data, history show us that the awesome gap between rich and rest of us in 2007 may likely survive and thrive in the near future.

This new CBO data on after-tax income show that the cavernous divide between the richest 1 percent and the middle and poorest fifths in the U.S. became Grand Canyonesque between 1979 and 2007. The uber-rich more than tripled their security perimeter from the rest of us untouchables in the last three decades. By 2007, these fat cats gobbled up almost 24% in after-tax income than the middle fifth of Americans, and nearly 75 percent more than the poorest fifth.

The Center's analysis of this new CBO data explains that though the country as a whole enjoyed an after-tax household income increase of 55 percent over this time period, the already super-rich luxuriated in an increased share of this increase while the rest of us saw our share of the increase shrink.

IPS' own Chuck Collins and Sam Pizzigati cast more light on this troubling trend as they report in their April 2010 piece that middle-income Americans came into 2001 paying a higher share of their incomes into federal taxes that 50 years prior, while wealthy Americans ushered in the 21st century paying far less in federal taxes then in prior decades.

They report:

The tax shift we have witnessed since the 1950s has been enormous. From 1950 through 1963, the federal tax rate on ordinary personal income over $400,000 never dropped below 91 percent. Between 1936 and 1980, that same top rate never dropped below 70 percent.

But today, the top personal income tax rate, after the 2001 tax cut, is 35 percent (If allowed to expire at the end of 2010, this rate will return to the 39.6 percent level in place during the Clinton years).

Tough times;  troubling trends.

From the Frontlines: June 28, 2010

June 28, 2010 ·

SCOTUS is on a roll today, between its significantly harmful gun ban ruling and a rejection of a lower-court ruling that tobacco companies violated racketeering laws by selling a product they knew was harmful.

Oil can't rain from the sky, finds MoJo's Kate Sheppard, addressing a viral video that's been making the rounds in the last week. But "there's a bigger concern than oil visibly raining from the sky; it's the toxins you can't see."

Our Global Economy director, Sarah Anderson, spoke at the US Social Forum about how street heat can continue to strengthen Wall Street reform.

The Tides blog has a great post about how media misinformation impacts the entire progressive agenda, and how you can cut through the noise and stay responsibly informed.

Will the BP oil disaster lead to a new economy in the Gulf? The Institute for Southern Studies, writing from the area, explores the possibilities.

The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss writes that Israel's weakening of the Gaza blockade is an important first step, although he remains skeptical about how far it will help peace talks. Our own Phyllis Bennis agrees, applauding Turkey and civil society for providing an example to other international actors.  

Supreme Court Misfires on Second Amendment Ruling

June 28, 2010 ·

US Supreme Court buildingCongratulations, NRA voters, you may now hunt from the safety of your living room window with your handgun anywhere in America. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling today that defined the Second Amendment as the right to keep handguns in homes is a dangerous misinterpretation.

The irony of this case, McDonald vs. Chicago, is that it comes from the city with one of the highest gun crime and murder rates in the country, driven by a growing gang violence problem. Coming on the tail of a week in which nine Chicago residents were murdered and 20 injured in gang-related shootouts, broader access to handguns seems injurious, if not downright diabolical. Chicago police recovered or confiscated 7,234 guns in the first 10 months of last year when the ban was effective, a number they estimate accounts for one gun per every 14 of the estimated active gang members in the Chicago metropolitan area. After today, police no longer have the right to confiscate any of those that are legally attained handguns. As a Chicago native, I know I feel safer already.

I am not going to argue the less handguns equals less gun crime equation; Fox News has trumpeted that the numbers tell the opposite story since the repeal of the DC gun ban two years ago. It is true that DC’s crime rate dropped by 25 percent initially after handguns were legalized. But that figure has since crept back up as people have realized a proliferation of guns doesn’t mean more security.

As William Collins notes in his column “Gotta Get Me a Gun,” handguns are particularly devastating to families, where children can and do stumble upon Daddy’s “hidden” cabinet, or where caustic marital flare-ups become lethal. Someone should tell Justice Alito that with this increase in “self-defense” we’re also going to need an increase in child-safety regulations, marital protection laws, and neighborhood watch programs for the local 10 year-old trigger-happy video-gamers who now have broader handgun access.

In the meantime, Daley and the Chicago political machine have promised more laws making the purchase of guns more difficult in their jurisdiction.  Best of luck to him and the Chicago PD. It is a tough task to fight escalating violence in already crime-ridden cities when our federal government shoots our local governments in the foot.

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Tara Betts

June 24, 2010 ·

A weekly featured poem of provocation and witness. You can find more poetry and arts news from Blog This Rock.

Understanding Tina Turner

Quiet girl found a voice mama could not quell
inside Nutbush City Limits. The baby
blasted beyond timid Annie Mae into Tina,
grind of muscle, hip, fierce calves
dominating heels into domesticity.

In the early music video era,
I soaked up her battered denim jacket,
leather mini-skirt, spiked wig and stilettos.
I’d throw my head back like her
rippling antennas of brown hair,
belting to no one in particular,
What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Twenty years later, people joke
about Ike’s fists granting Tina her name,
how she transitioned terror rooted
in spousal rhythm and blues to rock diva,
thunderdome warrior queen
with a mountain mansion overseas.

Hurts twang the womb
then escape into songs—like a man
who never holds you too close, too long,
trying to crush music within.

-Tara Betts

From Arc & Hue (Willow Books 2009). Used by permission.

Tara Betts is the author of Arc and Hue (Aquarius Press/Willow Books, 2009). She teaches at Rutgers University and leads community-based workshops. Her work has been published in Essence, Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, Callaloo, Gathering Ground and many others.  She is one of the poetry editors for The November 3rd Club, an online journal of political writing.

Betts appeared on the Willow Books Reading panel during Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

G-20: Forum for International Non-Cooperation?

June 24, 2010 ·

G20The G-20 has declared itself the “premier forum for international economic cooperation.”  As President Barack Obama and his counterparts head into their summit in Toronto this weekend, however, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of cooperating going on. 

In advance of the meeting, Obama sent a letter to other G20 leaders encouraging them to continue their stimulus programs until the recovery is stronger.  That was a very sensible request.  Slashing public spending now, when unemployment is still rising in the euro zone and remains at 10% in the United States, could plunge us into deeper crisis and make it even more difficult to pay back public debts over the long run. 

Key European leaders immediately rejected Obama’s plea.  New UK Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled an emergency budget plan that will slash government spending by 25 percent. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hit hard by the Greek crisis, and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso also made it clear they have shifted their focus to budget cuts. 

At a public event on the G-20 in Toronto yesterday, Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO’s Public Policy Department Director, said the Europeans’ reaction is like a “fiscal Smoot-Hawley,” referring to the notorious 1930 U.S. law that jacked up tariffs on imports, triggering a trade war.  Smoot-Hawley is widely blamed for exacerbating the Great Depression.  Budget slashing in Europe could have a similarly devastating ripple effect, as consumers in that region have less money to spend on goods and services. 

But European leaders shouldn’t take all the blame for the lack of cooperative spirit going into this G-20 summit.  Obama’s lecturing on stimulus spending may have gone over better if his administration had shown more openness to some of the European leaders’ priority proposals.  Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have led a push for a G-20 agreement on financial speculation taxes (aka financial transactions taxes). They sent a letter of their own requesting that the matter be placed on the agenda in Toronto. Such a tax on trades of stock, derivatives, and other financial instrument could raise massive revenues for urgent needs.

So far, however, the Obama administration has opposed the idea, favoring a levy on top banks that would generate much less revenue and be aimed only at recouping bailout funds. 

Obama may be the voice of reason on the immediate need for continued stimulus spending. But if we’re going to get back on a sustainable fiscal path in the medium term, we need to take seriously the need for major new revenue sources.

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