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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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From the Frontlines: June 21, 2010

June 21, 2010 ·

Oil spill cleanup in the Niger Delta"Conservatives have declared a new class war, but it's not on bankers earning seven-figure bonuses," even though "[a] recent study [finds] that when such factors as education and work experience are accounted for, state and local employees earn 11 to 12 percent less than comparable private sector workers…By attacking public workers, they can demonize "big labor" and "big government" at the same time, while deflecting attention from the more logical target of Middle America's rage: the irresponsible Wall Street traders, whose risky, high-profit business practices brought down the economy, and the lax regulators who let them get away with it." (The Nation) If GOP senators are saying this, maybe they should volunteer to have their salaries cut first?

"It's as if the Earth has been smoking two packs a day," say the authors of a new Australian report on the decline of our oceans. (Scientific American)

The Guardian interviews Story of Stuff's Annie Leonard (with whom we collaborated on the Story of Cap and Trade) on her new book:"If you're going to vote with your dollar that's fine," Leonard says. "But you need to remember that Exxon has a lot more dollars than you. We need to vote with our votes; re-engage with the political process and change the balance of power so that those who are looking out for the wellbeing of the planet dominate, instead of those who are just looking out for the bottom line."

Anger at the BP oil disaster is turning into action. Yes! Magazine shows how. (You could also take a page from Rep. Barton's book and apologize to BP. Via OpenLeft.)

But if you think the situation in the Gulf is bad, take a look at the Niger Delta. By IPS board member Ethelbert Miller, in the FPIF Focal Points blog. You can also go to Niger Delta Rising for more background.

Unemployed? Laid off and left out? The National Employment Law Project wants to hear your story, because America's workers deserve better.

Children At War (With Funding From the U.S.)

June 21, 2010 ·

While our children go off to school, many Somali children are going off to war. 80 percent of the Somali rebel groups are comprised of children. The rebel groups, however, are not the only perpetrators. 20 percent of the Somali transitional government is made up of children, some as young as 9 years old.

These child soldiers, only occasionally paid $1.50 a day, sport fully loaded assault rifles as they roam the dilapidated streets of lawless Somalia. They are employed by the Somali army, almost entirely armed and financed by the United States. Some of the children have even claimed to have recently returned from training in Uganda, where U.S. military officers have been overseeing the training for Somali soldiers.

The U.S. funding going to training and arming child soldiers in Somalia, exemplifies the effects of AFRICOM. AFRICOM is an independent military command for Africa and represents an increased expansionism by the U.S. military.

One of AFRICOM’s chief functions is to train and equip African militaries such as the one in Somalia. According to the New York Times, when questioned about how the U.S. was ensuring that it’s funding was not going to support child soldiers in Somalia, a U.S. official responded, “I don’t have a good answer for that.”

Furthermore, AFRICOM’s efforts generally contribute to further destabilization and conflict, rather than peace. The New York Times also recorded former defense minister Sheik Yusuf Mohamed Siad saying, “All this international training, it’s just training soldiers for the Shabab [rebel group].” This conclusion stems from the increasing number of defections from the Somali army.

Despite the recent failures of AFRICOM in the Congo and Mauritania, President Obama increased its budget for fiscal year 2010.

Where do you want your tax dollars to go? To the Department of Defense to arm and train child soldiers and fuel aggression?

Or you could urge the U.S. government to give it to nonmilitary agencies that will help build schools and provide children in Somalia and the rest of Africa with the education necessary to end the cycle of conflict. Learn more about how to resist AFRICOM.

The U.S. is also not in the best position right now to pressure Somalia end the use of child soldiers. It is the only country, besides Somalia, to not have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty that prohibits the use of children under the age of 15 in armed conflict.

The U.S., as the world hegemon and the leading provider of humanitarian assistance to Somalia, could have immense sway in preventing their use of child soldiers. The U.S. failure to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, however, hurts its credibility to pressure Somalia.

While campaigning, President Obama agreed that our failure to ratify the Convention “is embarrassing”; however, we have still not seen a move made to rectify the situation.

The U.S. must be held more accountable. Action must be taken immediately both to ratify the Convention on the rights of the Child and to prevent U.S. funding of military conflicts in Africa. These steps cannot be delayed when children’s innocence is at stake.

Wednesday, according to the New York Times, the UN Security Council discussed the use of child soldiers and declared a “readiness” to adopt sanctions against those who participate in this practice. While this is a positive step, rhetoric is not enough; the U.S. should take a leadership role in enacting this change immediately.

Protesters Speak Out Against U.S. Support for Ethiopian Government

June 18, 2010 ·

protestersNearly 200 protesters gathered in front of the White House on the afternoon of June 14 to denounce continued U.S. support for Ethiopia’s incumbent regime. Chanting in native Amharic and rallying around the Ethiopian flag, the crowd members were predominantly from DC’s sizable Ethiopian diaspora.

On May 23, Ethiopia held its fourth national election since transitioning to democracy in 1993. The transition away from dictatorship seems incomplete, however, when all four election have reelected President Meles Zenawi and his monolithic EPRDF party by landslide majorities. This year’s officially reported win margin was 99.6% vote for Zenawi, representing the government’s repression of opposition, use of voter intimidation, and rejection of election monitors. This is a significant regression in democratic governance since the last election Ethiopia held in 2005.

The protesters reacted strongly to this regression, calling on the U.S. to change its foreign policy and aid practices, which currently help prop up Zenawi’s regime. Ethiopia receives the third largest amount of foreign aid from the U.S. after Israel and Egypt, receiving $862 million in foreign assistance in 2009. This inundation of aid and diplomatic silence by the U.S. is projected to be because Ethiopia is such valuable U.S. ally in the volatile horn of Africa and in the War on Terror.

But Ethiopians, both in the Horn of Africa and in the U.S. diaspora, are enraged that the U.S. is prioritizing the stability and anti-terrorism policies of their corrupt despot, Zenawi, over encouraging free and fair elections.

The State Department’s assistant press secretary has remained markedly vague and diplomatic, promising, "We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people."

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Lori Desrosiers

June 18, 2010 ·

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

That Pomegranate Shine

Two brides arise from the river, shivering and shining like pomegranate seeds.
– Words from an Armenian Song

I was the wrong kind of bride,
more sweat than glisten,
more peach than pomegranate.
At twenty-three, in love with marriage,
not the man,
I plunged into rough water,
bringing grandmother’s candlesticks,
mother’s books and two silver trays.
Ten years later, I emerged shivering,
dragging my ragged volumes,
one candlestick and two babies.
On the bank, I shook off the water
and breathed.
Standing with my children,
looking out over the river,
the new brides asked me where
I got that pomegranate shine.

- Lori Desrosiers

Tax Wall Street to Pay for Jobs

June 17, 2010 ·

Yesterday, the Senate rejected an urgently needed jobs bill that would reauthorize several expired necessary stimulus programs, including the extension of unemployment benefits. The bill failed 45-52, with 12 Democrats voting against it.

Senator Ben Nelson, one of the dozen Democrats, reasoned that, “I've said all along that we have to be able to pay for what we're spending…$77 billion or more of this is not paid for and that translates into deficit spending and adding to the debt, and the American people are right: We've got to stop doing that."

Senator Nelson is wrong. The country is not facing a debt crisis, but a jobs crisis. Ordinary people on Main Street are still suffering from the consequences of Wall Street’s reckless mismanagement of capital that led to our current economic crisis. Extending programs like Unemployment Insurance and providing more aid to local and state governments are necessary acts to stimulate our economy. Yet the 12 moderate Democratic Senators are unwilling to address our 9.7% unemployment rate and our weak job growth in the past few months because they are concerned about having too much debt.

If these Senators are serious about stimulating the economy in a budget neutral way, they should pass a Financial Speculation Tax (FST). An IPS report released today, Taxing the Wall Street Casino, illustrates that an FST is the best way of creating the necessary revenue, while also discouraging the irresponsible financial speculation that is common on Wall Street today.

According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, an FST, a small levy on all financial transactions (0.25% or less) would create about $177 billion in revenue per year. Not only would this tax stabilize our financial markets, but it would also provide more than enough revenue to support a robust jobs program and deal with other urgent needs.

Compared to other proposals on the table, an FST is the plan that would generate the most revenue:

FST chart

The Senate should be looking for ways to jumpstart our economy in a fiscally responsible manner. However, they shouldn’t be doing it at the expense of those who suffered the most from the crisis. A financial speculation tax is the solution to getting those who caused the crisis to pay for the damage that they have created.

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