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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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Is the UN the Right Place to Talk About Climate?

June 8, 2010 ·

UN Climate Change conference, Bonn Germany.BONN, GERMANY – When I told my friends that I was heading to Bonn, Germany for a session of the UN climate talks, they bemoaned the general lack of anything interesting to do here. Why not go to a city with verve, like Berlin — or at least one with some culture, like Munich?

But Bonn has at two compelling things going for it.

1)     There is a killer museum honoring the life and work of Ludwig von Beethoven.

2)     The world's governments are gathered here for two weeks deciding how to carve up the atmosphere — one of the greatest remaining global commons.

The meeting here in Bonn is a follow-up to the better-known climate negotiations that took place in Copenhagen last December, where little consensus was reached within the official UN spaces.

At the same meeting, President Obama pushed through what has become known as the Copenhagen Accord — a statement that largely reflects U.S. positions and interests, which has gained signatures, if not support, from a growing number of countries.

But the accord’s very existence, the secretive manner in which it was drafted and the process for getting governments’ endorsement, have generated fierce debate about the efficacy of the UN as the forum in which to solve the climate crisis.

On one side of the debate are developed countries and NGOs that tow their line (invoking the need to remain politically relevant in battles over domestic climate and other legislation back home). These guys are generally of the belief that it’s impossible to get consensus among 192 countries, and so the UN is at best irrelevant and in the worst case, fumbles any hope of an effective negotiating process (as evidence they recount the image of long lines of freezing delegates locked outside conference halls in Copenhagen).

The proposal by this camp is to pull the key issues — targets, money, legal commitments — out of the UN and into smaller group discussions whose outcomes could be fed into the official negotiations — or not.

On the other side of the spectrum are many of the social movements from the anti-corporate globalization struggle calling for an overhaul of the way we think about climate change and its solutions. This camp sees the UN as a space where political positions are easily swayed by business lobbyists and undemocratic global institutions like the World Bank. They reject the UN as an illegitimate space in which to make decisions on the behalf of those most impacted by climate change — very often the same people who are marginalized by their own governments.

These movements are calling for peoples solutions manifested on the ground in each community, woven together in networks of solidarity and social justice.

But there’s a sweet spot between these two poles. While recognizing the UN’s limitations as a facilitator of negotiations with so much at stake, and that the process which they are attempting to facilitate is between parties that are not truly representative (or necessarily democratic) — the UN is the only forum were all countries that have signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change have equal representation. And as the People’s Conference on Climate Change recently hosted by the Bolivian government in Cochabamba shows, civil society can ally itself with progressive governments to make political and substantive policy interventions in these multilateral processes.

The question that still lingers is whether the chairs of the relevant UN working groups will incorporate people's proposals — in the form of official party submissions — into the global discussion this week in Bonn.

Arkansas and America's Future Now

June 8, 2010 ·

I'm spending the time I can spare while not editing OtherWords' upcoming commentaries at America's Future Now, which runs through Wednesday. This annual progressive summit fittingly coincides this year with Arkansas' Democratic primary runoff. Speaker after speaker bemoaned the Obama administration's timidity and called on the Democratic-controlled Congress to become more unified and assertive. "We have to stop waiting for Obama," said Bob Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America's Future, which organizes this massive Washington gathering. "We have to stop taking the President's temperature."

The heated battle between incumbent Blanche Lincoln, backed by former President Bill Clinton and mounds of corporate money, and challenger Lt. Gov. Bill Halter may be the first of many. Lincoln has loudly protested the support that Halter's gotten from organized labor, yet he's gotten only seven percent of his campaign contributions from PACs, vs. 38% for Lincoln. Watch developments in this race on the Daily Kos blog as Arkansas voters go to the polls today. "We need to go to the mat for the real deal," is how Ilyse Hogue, MoveOn.org's campaign director put it. "We're going to take the imposters out."

So many influential progressives are publicly venting their frustration with the Obama administration at this conference that prominent media outlets are finally noticing this hardly new trend. Good examples include Politico's Glenn Thrush and Philip Rucker at the Washington Post. This strikes me as a good thing. I've attended this conference, formerly known as Take Back America, off and on for seven years, and often seen major media outlets give this key conference short shrift—focusing on comments made by political candidates and politicians at the expense of reporting the pulse of progressive America.

Twitter fans can follow the debate with the #AFN hashtag. Even if you're not big on Twitter, check out the top tweets from the conference's first day on Campaign for America's Future website.

Rwanda arrests U.S. Lawyer defending Opposition Candidate

June 3, 2010 ·

ErlinderLawyers in this country often get a bad rap for charging predatory rates and manipulating the fine print for their personal gain. It is too easy to forget that lawyers play a vital role of enforcing the rule of law and protecting our most basic rights and liberties. So how do we respond when the tables are turned and a lawyer's rights are being violated /in need of defense?

The US State Department suggests we sit on our hands. Nothing has improved for almost a week since Rwandan police arrested Peter Erlinder, a US lawyer and head of the International Criminal Court’s defense lawyer’s association, in Kigali last Friday. He had just arrived to defend his client, presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire, when he was arrested and charged with the same crime for which she is wanted: practicing “genocide ideology.”

Rwanda’s recent constitution includes a “Genocide Ideology Law,” intended to penalize genocidaires and those who deny the reality of the1994 genocide. Although this law rests on good intentions, President Kagame has employed it with increasing frequency and in situations where it is unsubstantiated. In essence, the law has become a tool of the regime for political targeting and elimination of their opposition. 

Erlinder’s arrest is especially notable in this trend because it is the first time Rwanda has used “genocide ideology” charges to detain a foreign national. While Erlinder never denied the genocide, he has said it is inaccurate to blame only one side and criticized Kagame for suppressing open discussion of the subject. Ironically, the Rwandan government responded to Erlinder's rational appeal by making him an example of his own criticisms.

Kagame’s regime has leveled this emotionally charged indictment against its political opponents in the lead up to presidential elections August 9th. The most recent and high profile charge came against Victoire Inagabire April 21st, after she announced her candidacy for Kagame’s seat.

The international community, particularly the World Bank, has heaped praise on Kagame’s regime for its role in Rwanda’s economic recovery and political stability since the disastrous genocide there in 1994. This praise should not overshadow the increasingly authoritarian tendencies in Rwanda, however. These include muzzling of the independent press, harassment and intimidation of opposition parties in elections, and now criminal indictments against political opponents and their lawyers. Read more about the regression of democracy in Rwanda here.

The United States is incontrovertibly required to address Rwanda’s actions, both to protect Mr. Erlinder and to send a broader diplomatic message that such unlawful action against US citizens abroad will not be permitted. Yet so far, the US has prioritized maintaining its healthy political relationship with Rwanda.

“The US has had a special relationship with Rwanda, which remains one of the largest recipients of US foreign assistance in Africa.  Given the US government's expressed commitment to democracy and the rule of law, it is critical that the Obama Administration and the US Congress uphold these values in Rwanda and demand the immediate release of Peter Erlinder, an advocate of justice,” said the Institute's Emira Woods.

The National Lawyers Guild, of which Erlinder was formerly president, was first to issue a statement demanding his immediate release. At a national press conference in Washington June 3rd, the president of the National Lawyers Guild, David Gespass, said, "Professor Erlinder has been acting in the best tradition of the legal profession and has been a vigorous advocate in his representation of his clients. There can be no justice for anyone if the state can silence lawyers for representing defendants it dislikes.”

The injustice of Erlinder’s arrest and detainment is on the hands of both Rwanda and now the United States for its continued inaction. "The real issue here seems to be whether the US and the world will stand by and allow my father to be detained and prosecuted for doing his job, as an attorney and advocate for his clients," said Sarah Erlinder, daughter of Peter Erlinder.

The detainment became extremely critical Tuesday, when reports that Erlinder was hospitalized and had tried to commit suicide while in jail were released by the Rwandan government. "He mixed between 45 and 50 tablets in water and took the concoction in an attempted suicide," Rwandan Police Spokesman Kayiranga said. "However, the police managed to intercept and took Erlinder to hospital before the drugs could take their toll on his body."  Erlinder’s family disputes the validity of this claim and is pressing the Red Cross to make an independent investigation into his condition.

Why are NGOs the only reliable mechanism for news here? The US Embassy in Rwanda has been disturbingly absent throughout this affair.While the US Embassy staff took off work this Monday for Memorial Day, a holiday to commemorate those who fought for justice and freedoms, a champion of those very values remained behind bars just miles away in Kigali.  Justice and rule of law shouldn't take vacations, especially when champions of the law like Peter Erlinder need our help.

You can write to the Rwandan government demanding Peter Erlinder's release here.

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Philip Metres

June 3, 2010 ·

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

For the Fifty (Who Formed PEACE With Their Bodies)

In the green beginning,
          in the morning mist,
                    they emerge from their chrysalis

of clothes: peel off purses & cells,
          slacks & Gap sweats, turtle-
                    necks & tanks, Tommy’s & Salvation

Army, platforms & clogs,
          abandoning bras and lingerie, labels
                    & names, courtesies & shames,

the emperor’s rhetoric of defense,
          laying it down, their child-
                    stretched or still-taut flesh

giddy in sudden proximity,
          onto the cold earth: bodies fetal or supine,
                    as if come-hithering

or dead, wriggle on the grass to form
          the shape of a word yet to come, almost
                    embarrassing to name: a word

thicker, heavier than the rolled rags
          of their bodies seen from a cockpit:
                        they touch to make

the word they want to become:
          it’s difficult to get the news
                    from our bodies, yet people die each day

for lack of what is found there:
          here: the fifty hold, & still
                    to become a testament, a will,

embody something outside
          themselves & themselves: the body,
                    the dreaming disarmed body.

 

-Philip Metres

Used by permission.

Aftermath of the Israeli Flotilla Attack

June 1, 2010 ·

Howard Zinn's statement rings true for any nation, whether it be Israel, Palestine, or the United States: "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people."

The Institute's Israel/Palestine expert, Phyllis Bennis, had a scathing statement out today on The Huffington Post, on the Israeli military's "massacre" of nine-plus activists. She says:

By coincidence, I am in Istanbul at the moment. In Turkey, home to most of the dead and injured among the international activists, 10,000 people marched from the Israeli consulate to the city's main square, while thousands more took to the streets in Ankara, expressing outrage and demanding international accountability and immediate action to end the blockade of Gaza.

Maybe someone in the Israeli intelligence services or in the military really believed that the high profile threats that the Gaza Freedom Flotilla would "not be allowed" to reach Gaza shores would somehow convince the 700+ human rights defenders to simply give up. That they would agree to turn their 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid over to the Israeli military in the hope that the IDF, which has enforced an illegal and crippling siege against the 1.5 million Gazans for more than 3 years, would abide by their claim that they would send the aid on to Gaza... a Gaza that Israel continues to assert is not facing the humanitarian catastrophe that has been documented by the United Nations, by Amnesty International, by every Israeli and Palestinian and international human rights organization working in the region.

But anyone who knew anything about the Gaza boats knew that wasn't going to happen.

Our own Netfa Freeman overlaid interviews of people protesting Israel, protesters' chants, speeches, and music to create an audio story of the Gaza flotilla attack. It runs about 20 minutes long, but is worth every second.

CODEPINK provides an interactive timeline of the flotilla attack in Gaza yesterday, including firsthand stories of the attack – which they describe as "nothing short of state-sponsored terrorism." It's not quite complete yet, but should be a great resource for information as it comes.

Al-Jazeera is also liveblogging updates on the attack's aftermath.

Kevin Drum wonders: How will this end?

There are now planned protests at Israeli embassies worldwide, if you want to let your country's leaders know that you're against the Israeli government's actions.

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