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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 July 2010

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A Really Big Show: Bigwigs Gather in Kabul...for What, Exactly?

July 23, 2010 ·

HelicopterThis week the State Department bragged about the really important conference on the U.S./NATO war in Afghanistan held in Kabul, hosted by the Afghan president and including dozens of international political leaders. So why was it relegated to page 10 of the New York Times and the equivalent in most of the mainstream media?

The answer is actually pretty simple: It just wasn't that important. Most of the decisions Hillary Clinton was so proud of were old news: The Afghan government will fight corruption and build up the Afghan National Army (ANA) better! The U.S. and other NATO countries will train the ANA! The U.S. will help the Afghan government fight corruption! Why should anyone think these plans will work any better this time around?

Then there was the other problem: The new stuff they did decide on at the conference wasn't anything anyone wanted to brag about. Karzai's government is still impossibly corrupt, but the U.S. and other donors are now promising to give 50 percent of the billions in aid money directly to that government. Who wants to trumpet that at a press conference?

Clinton acknowledged that "citizens of many nations represented here, including my own, wonder whether success is even possible," but pretty much claimed that didn't matter because "the Afghans had presented the most detailed plans yet for how to hand off control to Afghan security forces."

But that won't happen till 2014 at the earliest. The British prime minister announced that "we're not going to be there in five years' time." The Obama administration kinda-sorta-maybe looks at that deadline too. But there's plenty of wiggle room left to allow U.S. troops to remain far longer than that, maybe following the Iraq model of what the Pentagon calls "re-missioning" -- giving combat troops a new name, like "trainers" or "advisers," and leaving them in place.

More importantly, continuing the occupation for another four or more years is certainly not what Afghans or the rising antiwar majorities in the U.S. and the UK want to hear. Some of the other NATO and coalition countries appear more democratic -- their governments are actually listening to what their public wants. Dutch troops will be out of Afghanistan in the next few months. Canada (despite its right-wing government) will be out by the end of next year.

The bottom line is that the White House is having a hard time convincing us that we've somehow "turned a corner" in Afghanistan, that counterinsurgency is winning, that 2010 would be "the year of Kandahar." Rather, as Wednesday's New York Times reported on the front page, those same White House officials, once granted anonymity, "acknowledge that the chances of progress there are growing more remote."

Those officials are wrong. "Progress" in Afghanistan is not "growing more remote." It started out back in 2001 as completely remote and now, nine years later, it's pretty much impossible. Making U.S. troop withdrawal dependent on the Afghan army's ability to "defend its own country" is specious. The problem with the Afghan soldiers isn't illiteracy or lack of capacity. The problem is lack of commitment -- to the "government" in Kabul widely understood as the government of Kabul. There's simply no basis for a "national" army to defend a government with no legitimacy, whose survival remains dependent on occupying forces.

The solution is to get the troops out. We cannot afford the costs -- in money and blood -- of this war. The $33 billion Obama wants to escalate the war could pay for 660,000 new green union jobs. Over half of Americans want to cut the war budget, and thousands of people across the U.S. are now demanding that their members of Congress vote NO on the supplemental war funding bill. Let's join them.

A version of this blog was also published on Huffington Post.

Mining Whistleblower Speaks out Against Massey

July 23, 2010 ·

Massey mineTo mine-safety whistleblower and former director of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration Jack Spadaro, the spills and mining accidents we have witnessed in recent months are entirely predictable

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout disaster in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, a spill that has yet to be fully contained and cleaned up, with 11 workers killed, has grabbed the majority of the headlines. But the  April 5 explosion of the Massey Energy coal mine in Upper Big Branch, West Virginia, the deadliest mining disaster in 40 years with 29 miners killed, is of particular concern to Spadaro.

That’s because Spadaro played a key role in an earlier investigation of Massey Energy. He believes, had his investigation and recommendations not been thwarted, those 29 miners might not have died. On the latest episode of my radio show, Earthbeat, Spadaro speaks out for the first time on the latest Massey coal disaster, government deregulation of the mining industry, and U.S. government officials who fired him for criticizing Massey’s failure to implement safeguards in an earlier incident: the discharge of toxic coal slurry -- a spill at least 25 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill -- in 2000. 

In that spill, more than 100 miles of streams were polluted, approximately 1.6 million fish were killed, and more than 27,000 people had their public and private water supplies contaminated. Spadero alleges that the same man who pushed him out under former President George W. Bush in 2000 for investigating Massey wrongdoing in the Martin County Coal Slurry Discharge spill in Martin County, Kentucky is now playing a key role in the investigation of the Massey coal mine explosion in 2010.

Jack Spadaro is no stranger to controversy. With over two decades as one of the federal government’s top mine-safety engineers, he has survived a 1980s Special Counsel who tutored Reagan’s Department of Interior Secretary James Watt in how to fire him. The case became infamous, because then Special Counsel (OSC) Alex Kozinski overruled his staff’s  recommendation to stay the termination, and then repeatedly tutored Watt’s attorneys in how to  rewrite the proposed termination to pass legal muster. When the truth about the abuse of power by the OSC under Kozinski came out several years later during confirmation hearings for Mr. Kozinski’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals nomination, the scandal drew 43 Senate opposition votes and subsequently prevented Kozinski’s planned upgrade to the Supreme Court.

On Earthbeat, Spadero shares his concerns about the inadequate number of well-trained health and safety inspectors for the country's mines, and suggests that better mine safety inspections could have prevented the Massey mining accident and others but for political interference from administration officials in league with coal state senators.

Bringing a Human Focus to the Immigration Debate

July 22, 2010 ·

The July 15th “National Women and Children’s Advocacy Day” brought the essential human focus that is unfortunately missing from the national immigration debate that revolves around figures and dollars. When politics becomes so far removed from human interest, an environment exists that allows laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 to be created. To confront the issues discussed in Tiffany Williams’ post, “Organizing Against Arizona’s Immigration Law,” priorities on Capitol Hill and around the country need to be refocused toward an agenda of human rights.

I witnessed the power of testimony when children were brought to Capitol Hill from Arizona, as well as other parts of the country, to share their heartbreaking stories with representatives.

Two young victims of a broken system testified at an ad-hoc congressional hearing. Heidi’s story especially resonated with the crowd. When she was only 10 years old, her mother was arrested and detained by Sheriff Arpaio, poster boy for the harm caused by 287(g). Heidi was left to take care of her sister and two little brothers. Her youngest brother was only three months old and still being breastfed. She got up early to take her siblings to school and learned to cook for the family. When this poor young girl was testifying in Congress, she spoke as if she were two or three times her age because she has already been through more trauma than most see in a lifetime. When multiple teary-eyed representatives reached out to thank the children for sharing their stories of fear and heartache, the impact was obvious.

Earlier in the day, I met with two staffers who were quick to point out their representative’s main priority was security. Although they recognized the harm caused by 287(g) and agreed the federal government needed to take back control of immigration enforcement, they were hesitant to declare this publicly due to the certain anger it would provoke in their constituents.

I found the problem faced by Rep. Melissa Bean, who represents a suburban area of Illinois, particularly striking. Despite the reality (that illegal immigration is basically a nonissue in this community), anger over illegal immigration never fails to come up in town hall meetings.

How did it get to this point? The answer to that is probably a whole other blog post, if not a dissertation, but what is most important to realize is that Americans are angry at the wrong people. There should be more of an effort to make people see this.

Returning to the issue of security, the focus on borders rather than the security of the children who are the future of this nation is frighteningly problematic. Sharing children’s personal stories served the important purpose of highlighting the unconsidered consequences of these policies on the youth of our country, most of whom are United States citizens. Policymakers and law enforcement should be less concerned with tearing apart families and more concerned with what is being done to the future of our nation.

We need to make our concern for human rights clear by standing in solidarity with the people of Arizona on July 29th.

Organizing Against Arizona's Immigration Law

July 22, 2010 ·

We Will Not ComplyArizona is expected to begin enforcement of SB1070 on July 29th unless President Obama succeeds in suing the state to prevent the law from being implemented. While the Justice Department is acting on the grounds that Arizona’s appropriation of immigration authority from the federal government violates the supremacy clause, groups around the country say local immigration enforcement endangers the health and safety of Arizona families. 

Enforcement of SB1070 practically requires racial profiling and discrimination, leaving people of color vulnerable to harassment and abuse at the hands of police and racist individuals emboldened by the legislation. We predict that if SB1070 is allowed and similar laws follow, many survivors of crimes like human trafficking, worker exploitation, domestic violence, and sexual assault won't be able to tolerate the risk of coming forward to seek help. 

Control of identity documents and immigration-based threats are commonly reported in investigations of human trafficking. Over the last 10 years, clients of the Break the Chain Campaign at IPS (BTCC), have reported threats like “if you run away, you will be deported,” or “the police hate immigrants, they will go after you,” or simply “you are illegal here, so you do not have rights.” When these threats are reinforced through well-publicized laws like SB1070 and the federal 287(g) program, they become irrefutable fact.  

Even before SB1070, victims' advocates and social workers have been struggling with law enforcement protocol that takes a punitive approach to dealing with undocumented victims. Countless survivors of heinous crimes have been arrested, detained, and questioned before receiving trauma counseling and emergency services, and unknown numbers have already been deported. While much progress has been made in training law enforcement to better identify and protect potential victims, an overall lack of training is one of the biggest problems for most social service advocates in the field. How will SB1070, which forces police to act (though at least one officer has already come forward to resist), affect this progress?  

Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, an outspoken critic of SB1070, held an ad-hoc hearing in June. There, 10-year-old Katherine tearfully recalled the experience of being separated from her family:

It was very hard for me every time I went to school. I kept thinking that maybe I would see my parents when I got back home. I would also have bad dreams where the deputies would take my aunt, her family, and me to jail. I’m still afraid of the deputies. We went to the hospital to visit a relative and I saw deputies and I did not want to go in.

The hearing was spearheaded by a coalition that included BTCC, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, The National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON), Legal Momentum, Jobs with Justice, the 9to5 National Association of Working Women, and the AFL-CIO.  

On July 15th, these groups and others convened a follow-up “National Women and Children’s Advocacy Day." At this hearing, Dr. Carola Suárez-Orozco, representing the American Psychological Association, referenced an Urban Institute report on the detrimental effects of immigration enforcement: 

The report indicates that the vast majority of children whose parents were detained in ICE raids in the workplace and in the home exhibited multiple behavioral changes in the aftermath of parental detention, including anxiety, frequent crying, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, withdrawal, and anger. Such behavioral changes were documented both two to three months after the arrest, as well as at a nine-month follow-up. Disturbingly, the children also experienced dramatic increases in housing instability and food insecurity, which are both dimensions of basic well-being. 

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), who also attended the July hearing, introduced the HELP Separated Children Act, which ensures “parental rights of immigrant women are protected and the risk of family separation is reduced during immigrant enforcement.” The coalition joined dozens of women's groups in urging Congress to support this act. 

Now we're organizing around the country to plan actions before July 29 against SB1070. Join us!

Or call your representatives. Ask them to consider the impact of immigration enforcement on children like Katherine, and support the HELP Separated Children Act.

Speculation Tax

July 20, 2010 ·

Rep. Pete Stark introduced legislation today that would "simply impose a small tax--of five thousandths of one percent, or 0.005%" on speculative currency transactions, the California Democrat said in on Huffington Post. "The money raised would be put toward investments in children, global health, and climate change mitigation."

Unless you're a Wall Street bigshot, you don't have to worry about the toll this tax will take on your wallet or portfolio. Stark's "Investing in Our Future Act" (aka H.R. 5783) isn't likely to impact your bottom line.

"For ordinary investors the costs would be negligible, like a tiny insurance fee against the crashes caused by speculators," Institute for Policy Studies fellow Sarah Anderson explained in her recent OtherWords op-ed Who Should Pay for the Crisis?, which called for a measure like this on stock, derivative, and currency trading, as well as other financial instruments. Her op-ed has run in at least nine newspapers so far, including The Providence Journal and the Mount Vernon (OH) News.

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