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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 September 2010

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Five Reasons to Let the Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich Expire

September 16, 2010 ·

Congress is actively debating whether to retain President Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy that are due to expire at the end of this year. President Obama supports extending tax cuts for households with incomes under $250,000, but ending the tax breaks for higher income households. 

Here are five good reasons for Congress to let them go:

1. Borrowing to Give the Rich Tax Breaks is a Really Bad Idea. We’ve already borrowed $700 billion since 2001 to pay for these tax cuts. Maintaining them for another decade would cost an estimated $700 billion, plus interest on the national debt estimated at $126 billion. Does it really make sense to send interest payments to China and millionaire bond-holders in the U.S. – so that we can cut taxes for U.S. millionaires and billionaires?

2.  There are 700 Billion Better Ways to Use the Money. Consider the superior ways to spend $700 billion. We could use a portion to reduce budget deficits. We could make long overdue investments in infrastructure such as bridges, roadways, railroads, water treatment facilities, retrofitting buildings – things that make our economy strong and competitive. We could direct funds to make the transition to the new economy that is less dependent on foreign oil. In the short-term, all these investments would create millions of jobs. In the long term, it would put the economy on better footing for the future. There are a billion better ways to use the money.

3. Restores Balance to Tax Code. Over the last half century, Congress has steadily reduced tax obligations for the very rich and global corporations. Between 1960 and 2004, the top 0.1 percent of U.S. taxpayers – the wealthiest one in one thousand – have seen the share of their income paid in total federal taxes drop from 60 to 33.6 percent. Restoring the tax rates to pre-2001 levels would be a very slight increase, yet begin the process of rebalancing the tax code.

4. It Won’t Hurt the Economy. You’ve heard the blather about how taxing the rich is going to hurt the economy. But cutting the taxes for the wealthy are an ineffective way to help the economy. A recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Service ranked 11 strategies to spur the economy and create jobs. Cutting taxes for the rich was the worst ranked strategy. Here’s the reality: Taxing the rich is different than taxing the middle class. The rich save more of their tax cuts while working people and middle class spend it in the economy. Over the last decade, the top wealth holders have shifted trillions of dollars into speculative investments that have hurt the economy. 

5. The U.S. Public Supports It. A recent Gallup Poll reveals that 57 percent of the population support letting the tax cuts for the rich expire – while 37 percent support extending them. Polls rarely reveal support for any form of taxation, which indicates that a majority of Americans – including those who will pay the hire taxes – recognize the imprudence of extending them. Alan Greenspan, who supported the tax cuts in 2001, has now reversed his position and believes the time has come to raise taxes.

Take action:  Organizations such as Wealth for the Common Good and Americans for Responsible Taxes are working to build public support for letting the tax cuts expire. 

Japan's Three Elections

September 14, 2010 ·

Japan Prime MinisterWashington may well be rejoicing at the result of today’s election inside the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Prime Minister Naoto Kan defeated rival Ichiro Ozawa by a large margin in a battle for the party’s top spot. Ozawa, with his calls for a more equal partnership with the United States and a renegotiation of the Okinawa military base deal, did not create a lot of warm, fuzzy feeling in Washington. If Ozawa had won, he might well have reopened negotiations on the 2006 agreement that would close the Futenma Marine Corps base, build a second facility in Okinawa, and relocate many of the Marines to Guam. Disagreement over this 2006 deal caused a deep rift in U.S.-Japan relations that continues even today.

Kan, on the other hand, has dutifully fallen into line. On taking over from Yukio Hatoyama, who resigned shortly after backing away from his call to renegotiate the 2006 relocation agreement, promptly called President Obama to make the proper reassurances. “He made the call even before formally assuming office,” writes Gavan McCormack at Japan Focus, “and in his introductory policy speech to the Diet he pledged, as had Hatoyama before him, the ‘steady deepening of the alliance relationship.’”

But Washington shouldn’t pop the champagne corks quite yet. There are two other elections to consider.

Nago is the city in Okinawa nearest to where the United States and Japan plan to build another base to replace part of the aging Futenma Marine Corps facility. Until recently, the city council in Nago was deadlocked, with twelve members supporting the relocation plan and twelve members against (and three neutrals). But after Sunday’s election, the anti-base forces have a 16-11 lead. This result strengthens the position of the mayor of Nago, Susumu Inamine, who ran on an anti-base platform last January.

Next up is the Okinawan governor’s race in November, which pits a lukewarm opponent of the base relocation plan against a steadfast opponent. “Okinawa’s governor can hinder the progress of the relocation plan by refusing to allow dumping tons of landfill into Oura Bay, known as the northernmost feeding ground of the endangered dugong, a saltwater manatee,” write David Allen and Chiyomi Sumida in Stars and Stripes. “If the governor refuses to approve the landfill project, the national government would have to pass special legislation to bypass his veto.”

Both Naoto Kan and the Pentagon have said on various occasions that they won’t go ahead with the relocation plan without local approval. Okinawans oppose the plan by a huge majority. After these elections, it will be increasingly difficult to find any political institution on the island to provide a veneer of local support.

Meanwhile, Congress is coming back in session and the Obama administration will soon have to answer domestic critics of the relocation plan. Barney Frank has taken the lead in questioning the utility of the Marine Corp’s presence on Okinawa. And, in a climate of belt-tightening, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut three-quarters of the administration’s $452 million request for Guam relocation funds. 

Some combination of Okinawan resistance and congressional skepticism may well derail the 2006 relocation agreement that so troubled U.S.-Japanese relations this year and cost one prime minister his job. 

It's "Groundhog Day" All Over Again in Pyongyang

September 9, 2010 ·

Kim Jong II PosterIt’s 1994 all over again in North Korea, and that’s not good news for the country. The nuclear crisis continues to burn. There are food shortages and flooding. Jimmy Carter has gone to Pyongyang. Relations between North and South have sunk to new lows. And the country is preparing to pass the reins of power from father to son.

But this time around, Groundhog Day in Pyongyang looks even grimmer. In 1994, the nuclear crisis was averted at the last minute. In 2010, no one is even at the negotiating table (no one even knows where the negotiating table is!). Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang in 1994 and secured a nuclear deal with long-time leader Kim Il Sung. Just last month, Carter returned to North Korea and won the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, an imprisoned U.S. citizen. But he didn’t get a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (the current leader and son of Kim Il Sung) and couldn’t announce any larger breakthrough. Meanwhile, in South Korea, the new hard-line government of Lee Myung Bak in Seoul has suspended most contact with the North after the sinking of a South Korean ship in March. Seoul is currently sitting on twice the amount of rice that it usually has in storage, partly as a result of not sending the surplus northward. It costs the South hundreds of millions of dollars to store the rice it isn’t sending.

And then there’s the transfer of power, which is attracting the most headlines outside the country. In 1994, Kim Il Sung died rather soon after Jimmy Carter’s visit. But his son Kim Jong Il had been preparing to take over for at least two decades. This time around, Kim Jong Il has chosen his youngest son, Kim Jong Eun, who is reportedly only in his twenties. According to defector reports, there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for Kim Jong Il when he took over after his father’s death. This time around, according to The Washington Post, there is even less excitement, perhaps because even North Koreans don’t know much about Kim Jong Eun.

Pyongyang is preparing this week for a party conference to herald the leadership change. Don’t confuse this gathering with a party congress, North Korea watcher Andrei Lankov warns. “In North Korea it has become an established tradition that a party congress should be accompanied by lavish celebrations and expensive gifts to both the elite and the general public,” he writes at Asia Times. And this time around, the state just doesn’t have the money to indulge in such largesse.

And what is the Obama administration doing to take advantage of possible new leadership in Pyongyang? Sending Jimmy Carter was certainly a good idea. Announcing $750,000 in humanitarian assistance in the wake of the floods in North Korea was also a positive step. Dispatching North Korea envoy Stephen Bosworth for consultations next week in Seoul, Beijing, and Tokyo is also wise. But at the same time the administration has announced new sanctions against Pyongyang. "In many respects, what's happening is the Obama administration is going back to the hard-line Bush approach to North Korea that Democrats had criticized," says Michael Green, who was once part of the Bush administration.

But the Bush administration turned on a dime back in 2006 and embarked on an engagement policy with North Korea that almost bore fruit. The Obama administration should welcome the new leadership in Pyongyang with a similar offer of engagement. Why leave all the surprises to the North Koreans?

Earthbeat Radio: We Did It!

September 9, 2010 ·

Daphne bag monsterI’m an accidental radio host. Seven years ago, while directing the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at IPS, I was invited by Pacifica’s Washington, DC, radio station, WPFW, to host an environmental radio show, together with Mike Tidwell. Like me, Mike had a full-time job — he as the executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). But we both were concerned that the American people just weren’t getting the facts on the climate crisis, which we viewed as the most critical environmental threat of our time. So we agreed to cohost a weekly one-hour broadcast, covering climate change and other environmental issues.

It was rough at first. Though both of us were published writers and former journalists, radio is an entirely different medium. Anything can — and does — go wrong. But bit by bit, we learned the ropes, finally generating enough of a buzz in the DC community to get a small donor to give us an unsolicited donation, followed by a larger donor, followed by a growing number of supporters.  With our funds, we hired a producer.

After our producer started professionalizing the show, one radio station after another starting adding us to their lineup.  Then in 2006, Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” came out, and we felt we could finally start to get beyond the basics — to the politics of the climate crisis. Before we knew it, we had over 50 stations airing our show, reaching over 2 million potential listeners in the US and Canada, and we started dreaming big dreams.

Then the crash of 2008 came along. And our largest donor informed us in May of this year that they could no longer fund our work. Mike decided he really needed to devote his time and energy to keeping CCAN going. And I, too, wondered if it were worth my time and effort to keep the show going. With no additional funding, I decided that at the end of August we would have to go off the air.

As word got out, one person after another began telling me that we couldn’t afford to lose Earthbeat, and offered to send out an appeal to their friends and contacts to keep it going. I was skeptical we could raise our target of $10,000 in a matter of days — in time to stave off job offers our producer would soon be forced to accept. But they drafted beautiful letters and the money started coming in. Before I knew it, we had raised $5,000. Then a major donor wrote and asked me how much we needed to raise to keep going through the end of 2010. I told her we were $5,000 short, and would probably not reach our goal. She wrote me back and said she would provide the remaining funds.

I am so moved by all of this: By our producer, Aries Keck, who has been willing to take a (temporary!) cut in pay, rather than other jobs, in order to keep the show going through the end of 2010.  She believes in the mission of Earthbeat that much.  By our volunteer of almost two years, Gerri Williams, who has shown up week after week, in record snow and heat, to help get the show on the air. By our amazing staff and board at IPS, who have cheered us on. By WPFW’s ongoing support of an idea that seven years ago was a pipe dream. And of course by all of you, who wrote letters of support and checks large and small in this time of economic crisis.

I am energized to be a part of a collective effort that is trying — despite the seemingly insurmountable odds — to turn the tide.

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Heather Davis

September 8, 2010 ·

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

“If any of you have been asked by your group president, supervisors, engineers, or anyone else to do anything other than run coal, you need to ignore them and run coal.”

--Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, owner of the Upper Big Branch Mine

The lights in your home channel 29 men, their
soot stained clothes, last breaths, crystalline sweat
let loose on black rock.

The lamps in your den cast 29 men
from West Virginia to your retinas, making night
like day, closing the circle.

Did the bulbs in their kitchens pop and spark, the floors
revolt when the methane blew, stopping the hearts
of family members for what seemed like hours?

When he left that morning he said, “Love you too, buddy.
Now I’m gonna
Cut me some coal.”

Along with the brilliance in your bedroom you get 29 men
so cheaply it’s like nothing, an easy find
at the second hand store, a keeper.

I heard about Don Blankenship, King of Coal, Massey CEO.
How he made it his crusade to crush the union
so the men could start working 12-hour shifts.

I heard about Don Blankenship, Pied Piper, 1,000 violations
studding his golden belt, how it wasn’t enough, how he
wooed those boys to the precipice like hard used toys.

Your porch light out front floods the yard and sings
29 men, electric lives exuberant, giving everything. Don’t
turn away. This is what we pay for.

They’re not down in the mine anymore.

-Heather Davis

 

Heather Davis earned a B.A. in English from Hollins University and an M.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University. She is the author of The Lost Tribe of Us, which won the 2007 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Cream City Review, Gargoyle, Poet Lore, and Puerto del Sol, among others. She is the founder of the Winding River Writers and a member of DC Poets Against the War. With her husband, the poet Jose Padua, she writes the blog Shenandoah Breakdown about post-city life in conservative small-town America at http://shenandoahbreakdown.wordpress.com.

Davis appeared on the panel The Care and Feeding of the Rural/Small Town Poet-Activist at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation and Witness 2010.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

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