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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 2013

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Battle of the Studies

June 28, 2013 ·

Before I went to college, my high school advisors strongly encouraged me to choose a "practical" major. Science, technology, engineering, math — any of these fields would lead to a promising career. I rebelled. I chose to study international affairs and history.

People today think of humanities majors as the "starving artists" of academia — students who've sacrificed profit for passion. I couldn't disagree more.

Many forget that there's considerable overlap between the humanities and the hard sciences. Specifically in an area that's captured my interest — environmental history.

matthileo/FlickrEnvironmental historians study the relationship between people and their environment and how that relationship affects both the course of human history and the biophysical world. Together, historical thinking and scientific analysis provide scholars with unique perspective. Ask environmental historians why the Roman Empire fell, and they'll say lead poisoning.

The Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences recently published a report that promotes collaboration between the humanities and the hard sciences, claiming that the humanities "provide context for international policy decisions regarding the environment, global health, and human rights."

This couldn't be truer. If countries are to agree on scientific policies, they need to understand each other's histories, cultures, and politics.

Students shouldn't be forced to choose a particular field or shamed for choosing to study something that's deemed less desirable. When the humanities and the sciences are pitted against one another, interdisciplinary studies get lost in the crossfire.

It's clear that our country's future is dependent on humanists, scientists, and those who fall somewhere in between. We need to encourage students to follow their passions.

Our society needs passionate people.

Colleen Teubner is a student at the George Washington University and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

Junius Williams on Public School Reform: The New Inequality in Education

June 27, 2013 ·

Privatizing Public Schools, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

On June 12, the Institute for Policy Studies and Teaching for Change co-hosted a presentation by lawyer and community organizer Junius Williams on the challenges and next steps for those confronting public school reform in their own communities. Here are some of the stories and analysis he shared.

This spring, a coalition of parents, teachers and administrators rallied outside Roseville Avenue Elementary School to protest the school’s slated closing at the end of the academic year. Roseville Avenue School, in Newark, New Jersey, is housed in a 130 year-old building. It has no gym, no auditorium, and no air conditioning. In the past three years, critical teaching positions at Roseville were cut, including a lead science teacher and a bi-lingual teacher. Despite persistent challenges of high student turnover and limited funds, state superintendent Cami Anderson named one of the top eight high performing/high growth schools in New Jersey in 2012. Just one year later, the school was set to close on the purported basis of poor academic performance and under-enrollment. But parents strongly support the neighborhood school, which has a small, supportive staff that works closely to determine educational needs of the community...

Read the full article by Teaching for Change intern, Annie Preston.

Climate Milestones in President Obama's Speech

June 26, 2013 ·

Obama climate speech photoPresident Obama's speech at Georgetown University was a milestone on climate change. It is a milestone in two ways. First, he made it clear he is not afraid to tackle coal as the primary culprit in climate change. Second, he made a major pivot in how he framed the Keystone XL pipeline debate. He’s no longer talking about "energy security" or "jobs" when talking about the pipeline but instead linking "our national interest" with whether or not the pipeline would have a significant impact on the changing climate.

Virtually all climate scientists who have weighed in on the Keystone XL pipeline agree that tar sands oil, if exploited, would result in a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. NASA's former top scientist, James Hansen, said it would be "game over" for the climate if the pipeline went forward.

But more significantly, Obama signaled in this speech that he is ready to use his executive authority, and not willing to compromise on two key things: the climate impacts of coal and tar sands.

He made a major pronouncement in stating that public financing of coal should end, such as financing via agencies such as U.S. Export-Import Bank.

The Institute for Policy Studies was the first organization, together with Friends of the Earth, to document the significant climate impacts of U.S. Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation's fossil fuel investments in 1998. That research resulted in a lawsuit filed by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the City of Boulder challenging both of those public financial institutions with violations under the National Environmental Protection Act, for not calculating the cumulative emissions of their projects on the global climate. Obama's statement today takes that research and legal action one step further and calls for an end to almost all U.S. government funding of coal overseas. The White House statement released today says:

"...The President calls for an end to U.S. government support for public financing of new coal plants overseas, except for (a) the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries in cases where no other economically feasible alternative exists, or (b) facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies. As part of this new commitment, we will work actively to secure the agreement of other countries and the multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies as soon as possible."

While this statement allows for some wiggle room on coal – if the carbon produced from the coal can be captured, which currently is not financially or technically feasible – it would eliminate U.S. Obama climate speech photo 2backing of coal financing in countries like India and South Africa, both of which have recently received billions of public dollars for massive coal-fired coal plants.

Obama also said he would encourage developing countries to transition to natural gas as they move away from coal, a posture consistent with what he is calling for at home. Such a statement is unfortunate as it encourages the expansion of fracking on U.S. lands, which results in fugitive methane emissions, water contamination, and health problems for nearby communities. The low price of natural gas, while welcome as a replacement for coal, is making truly clean and renewable energy less attractive financially.

Obama also continues to support nuclear power – a surprising posture in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns, a disaster that is transforming Japan, causing it to shut down its nuclear power plants and replace them with renewable energy.

And Obama was unafraid to call out the climate deniers – the "flat earth society" – and shame them, while urging the public to "invest, divest," a statement sure to warm the hearts of students and faith groups across the country, who are urging their institutions to divest their endowments of fossil fuels.

But the significance of this speech is that Obama is finally showing us he is willing to fight – on coal, on tar sands, and on climate. Obama remains an "all of above" champion who believes he can simultaneously frack and drill our country's oil and gas resources and solve the climate crisis. But his apparent feistyness and willingness to challenge the climate impacts of coal and tar sands – after years of silence on both topics – is cause for some celebration.

DOMA's Demise

June 26, 2013 ·

I arrived at the Supreme Court a half hour before decision time, only to wade into a sea of rainbow, red, white, and blue.

The last time I was here was in March. Bundled into my coat and scarf, I joined a demonstration outside the court as opening arguments were heard in Windsor vs. United States and Hollingsworth vs. Perry. They're also known as the anti-DOMA and Anti-Prop 8 cases.

This time, the crowd dripped with sweat as we waited in frenzied anticipation for the decisions to be handed down.

Signs ranged from admonishing, ("SCOTUS, Try to Be Less Wrong Today") to comically threatening, ("If I Can't Marry My Boyfriend, I'll Marry Your Daughter") to simply powerful ("Gay Rights ARE Human Rights" and "Love Conquers All," among others). One man carried an actual closet door on which he'd painted, "This Used to Oppress Me. Down with DOMA — No More Shut Doors."

Not all the demonstrators supported marriage equality. One man stood behind a giant "Repent or Perish" sign. Another booed us from a passing trolley.

But these bigoted voices were drowned out by honking cars and cheering people of all kinds: Ministers and rabbis, Democrats and Republicans alike held pro-marriage signs.

The sun beat down, minutes crept damply by, and we waited. When not being shooed off the courthouse steps by police, the crowd sang "God Bless America" and "Goin' to the Chapel," or chanted "Equality now!"

InPhoto by Kathleen Robin Joyce the shuffle of the crowd, I ended up next to a woman named Mary, who had driven down here the night before from New York, along with her partner, to be at the court to witness history.

Suddenly, a wave of cheering and screaming broke over the assembled masses. Like nearly everyone at the court, Mary's partner had SCOTUSblog on her phone, which was how I learned that DOMA was declared unconstitutional. Mary cried and kissed her partner. I got goosebumps and screamed my throat raw.

Mary's partner translated the legalese of the opinion into plain English for us — the Supreme Court has declared DOMA unconstitutional, by a ruling of 5 to 4, on the basis of the Fifth Amendment.

The majority opinion says, "DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty."

The crowd was ecstatic, and with good reason. Many feared that the decision would be drawn narrowly, striking down DOMA, but declaring marriage equality a state issue. But now, the justices actually recognized LGBT people as a minority being persecuted by hateful legislation.

We were hardly deflated when, as expected, the court also ruled that the plaintiffs in Perry didn't have standing to challenge Prop 8. Let it go back to the lower court! DOMA is dead!

Kathleen Robin Joyce is a student at Georgetown University and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

This Week in OtherWords: June 26, 2013

June 26, 2013 ·

This week in OtherWords, Julian Bond calls on Congress to fix the mistakes the Supreme Court made in its ruling that gutted the Voting Rights Act. Given that our cartoonist Khalil Bendib had so masterfully illustrated the many ways that voting rights were under attack long before the majority's Shelby County v. Holder ruling came out, we're reprising two of his earlier cartoons on this topic. One accompanies Bond's commentary and the other goes with a column I wrote with William A. Collins. We've also got a new editorial cartoon regarding genetically engineered crops.

As always, our commentaries and cartoons are available for use at no charge in newspapers and new media under a Creative Commons license. Editors may find information about that on our website or contact me with any questions at OtherWords[ AT ]ips-dc.org. If you haven't already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.

  1. The Modern Movement for Civil Rights / Julian Bond
    Congress must act to correct the Supreme Court's many wrongs.
  2. Michigan’s Snappy Innovation / Nehemaiah Rolle
    The Farm Bill should expand a pilot program that's alleviating hunger and helping farmers in Michigan and Ohio.
  3. Today’s Mad Men / Colleen Teubner
    The military justice system needs a 21st century wake-up call.
  4. Giving a Big Story the Cold Shoulder / Don Kraus
    TV news coverage of climate change is spotty and misleading.
  5. Where Would We Be Without Social Security? / Jo Comerford
    Congress must ensure that the promise of Social Security and Medicare remains fully funded.
  6. An Endangered Species Up in Arms / Don Kraus
    The number of students taking humanities courses is plummeting, and financing for liberal arts education is being tea-partied to death.
  7. Runaway CEO Pay Gets a Free Pass / Sam Pizzigati
    The House Financial Services Committee has just moved to repeal the only statutory provision now on the books that puts real heat on overpaid top executives.
  8. The 2013 Corporate Chutzpah Award / Jill Richardson
    The World Food Prize Foundation should look further afield.
  9. A New Housing Emergency / Jim Hightower
    Many of our wealthiest citizens are hurting.
  10. Fair Elections, RIP / Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
    The Supreme Court's Shelby ruling aids a Republican plan to win more elections without winning support from more voters.
  11. Corporate Witchcraft / Khalil Bendib cartoon

    Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies OtherWords.org
     
    Corporate Witchcraft, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib
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