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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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Deficit reduction? If and only if...

June 11, 2010 ·

Progressive economists have told us, quite clearly, that this moment in an extremely fragile economic recovery is NOT the time to focus on deficit cutting ­— that avoiding the even higher unemployment of a real Depression requires another round of stimulative public investments.

HOWEVER.  While holding this thought in our minds, we can’t ignore another: that the president has set up a bipartisan commission on deficit reduction.  It will make its recommendations in December.  In the absence of strong pressure from progressives, we can expect that cutting social programs will dominate this agenda.

What one thought do we need the members of this Commission to keep in their minds? That you can’t take a serious approach to reducing the deficit while exempting the largest portion of the budget that Congress votes on every year.  This is, of course, the military budget.

Congressman Barney Frank assembled a group, called the Sustainable Defense Task Force, to make its own recommendations to the Commission on what cuts in military spending could be made with no sacrifice to our security.  We came up with $1 trillion in savings over the next ten years. Our report outlining these savings to the Commission is being released today. 

UPDATE: The Hill has an overview of a panel commission hearing, featuring Sustainable Defense Task Force members.

Chocolate: Bitter or Sweet?

June 10, 2010 ·

Yacouba DarriaAs you are enjoying your summer weekend, maybe stopping for a chocolaty treat after a day out with family or friends, think of 14 year old Yacouba Darria. Take a moment to question how that chocolate you’re enjoying was produced and whether it required Yacouba, or another child like him, to be trafficked into child slavery.

A child-trafficker found Yacouba one week after leaving home for the first time. He enticed Yacouba to join him by spinning tales of the money he could earn. Yacouba had no idea that he was being taken away from his home in Mali to the Cote d’Ivoire. Here, he was forced to complete dangerous work every day — wielding a machete to get through the brush and cutting cocoa pods from tall trees. After a full year, he had collected a total of only $13 US for his work.

Yacouba and 15,000 other children in the Cote d’Ivoire are forced to work as slaves on cocoa farms. This makes up only a small portion of the over 215 million child laborers worldwide in varied industries. The proportion of children involved is highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in four children participates in child labor. Over 60 percent of these child laborers work in agriculture to produce goods such as cocoa, cotton, tobacco, rice, sugarcane, and coffee. They work in hazardous conditions and receive little or no pay.

Imagine it was your child. Your nephew. Your little brother.

What are you going to do to help him?

There are already many international laws in place forbidding this practice yet… it’s still happening. The world needs a renewed outrage against child labor. People can make a difference.

A popular solution is often to boycott the good produced using child labor, hoping the decrease in profits will pressure companies to end their practices. While boycotts can be successful if organized properly, they can also be detrimental to the fate of child laborers. The lower profits may actually cause companies to increase their levels of child labor and decrease working condition in order to reduce production costs.

You can, however, shift your buying practices. By attempting to buy more fair-trade goods, you benefit companies who are socially responsible. You also send a message to those companies more focused on their bottom-line that it can be profitable to support just labor practices. The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) created a report rating chocolate companies based on labor practices with the best being Sweet Earth Chocolates, Equal Exchange, and Divine Chocolate. Hershey’s, M&M/Mars, and Nestlé, however, were the worst rated.

Also take a few minutes out of your day to call, email, or write the companies with the worst abuses and demand better working conditions and more transparency in their supply chain. The ILRF makes it easy. Their website lists many ways to take action, including the current campaign to call Hershey’s.

Keep the plight of Yacouba and the other children in mind as you go to the voting booth as well. Examine the trade policies of candidates and makes sure they support fair-trade practices and workers’ rights rather than the corporate bottom-line. Note if they support increased funding and other initiatives to address the root causes of child labor such as poverty, lack of adequate education, conflict, and discrimination.

Remember, chocolate is not the only good produced with high levels of child labor. Educate yourself about how child labor is involved in the production of Firestone tires, Nike apparel, tobacco, cotton, and more.

World Day Against Child Labor is this Saturday, June 12. Take a stand today and demonstrate that children cannot continue to suffer while the world remains silent.

 

Kaila Clarke is an intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Randall Horton

June 10, 2010 ·

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

Note from a Prodigal Son III

The gavel
The splintered body
The red-neck guards
The state dungarees
The grey cinder block
The naked shower
The elemental fear
The unspoken yoke
The mercy plea
The awakening
The trembling hands
The walk to chow
The razor fence
The barrel’s scope
The Rottweiler’s teeth
The hesitation
The guttural pain
The calls refused
The return to sender
The rivulet of tears
The frozen heart
The opaque night
The seclusion
The muffled screams
The masturbation
The silence

-Randall Horton

Published in The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street (Main Street Rag, 2009). Used by permission.

Randall Horton, originally from Birmingham, Alabama, resides in New Haven, CT and is a former recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize. He is the author of the poetry collections The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street and The Definition of Place, both from Main Street Rag. He is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of New Haven and the poetry editor of Willow Books.

Horton appeared on the panel Dissidence, Memory, and Music in African American Poetry during Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

Obama Administration Reviews Ottawa Treaty

June 9, 2010 ·

When it comes to the US joining the Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel landmines, President Obama is getting the same nonsense from the Pentagon and State Department that President Clinton did when the treaty was being negotiated.  "We need those mines to block a North Korean invasion of South Korea!"

 In 2000 I had the privilege of evaluating that claim for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, Bobby Muller's group that cares for victims of landmines around the world and started the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.  For more, you can read a report I wrote, based on interviews with U.S. Army war planners and South Korean officials.

The bottom line? Ridiculous: As everybody in South Korea knows, any North Korean attack would be regime suicide for Kim Jong Il, with or without anti-personnel landmines. The planned South Korean and U.S. response is to use the anti-tank barriers they have laid along the few narrow invasion routes through the mountainous or watery DMZ (there's a reason the Korean War was fought to a standstill along this line) and immediately use their complete control of the air to devastate the North Korean capital and then occupy it.  As South Korean officials acknowledged to me, the minefields are there not to stop North Korean troops, but to stop the flood of civilian refugees they fear once the North starts imploding!  The minefields are a Berlin Wall in reverse.

When it comes to balancing the limited military usefulness of a weapon with its inherent terrible humanitarian costs to civilians, presidents need to adopt a policy of "don't ask -- just tell."  The Pentagon today, as in the 1990s, can easily fight without anti-personnel landmines.  All it takes is someone to tell them to do so.

From the Frontlines: June 8, 2010

June 8, 2010 ·

From the "Well, that's something" department: Huffpo's Sam Stein reports that the White House endorses an unlimited liability cap for oil spillers. The current cap is $75 million, mere pocket change for corporations like BP.

New York State is poised to lead the nation in securing rights for domestic workers. (New York Times)

The Pentagon bans four reporters from Gitmo, reports Democracy Now!.

Groups around the United States join Haitian farmers in protesting Monsanto seeds, writes IPS associate fellow Bev Bell. (Revista Amauta)

Will the Gaza flotilla attack be our "Kent State moment"? (FPIF blog)

An important coalition that aims to end world poverty, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, might lose funding. (Pambazuka)

Split This Rock director Sarah Browning on why Langston Hughes is her role model. "Why do I, a straight white woman, choose Langston Hughes, a queer Black man, as literary father? Because Hughes chose me, a dreamer."

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