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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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IPS Blog

Entries since October 2010

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Chomsky on Tea Party Protesters

October 20, 2010 ·

Good advice by Noam Chomsky on why we shouldn't ridicule Tea Party protesters.

What Obama can Learn from W.

October 19, 2010 ·

There are a few important reasons why George W. Bush made sense to many Americans after Bill Clinton.  By now we’re familiar with the primary reason:  the country was attracted to Bush’s ‘compassionate conservative’ message, a message that sanded off the hard edges of Reagan-era conservatism while simultaneously referencing a mythical American past in which right and wrong were definable and easily categorized. 

The desire by some to embrace a leader who seemed to embody liberal and conservative ideals, who seemed, at least in rhetoric, to merge the best attributes of Republican presidents past (including his father) with the best attributes of Bill Clinton, can only be understood contextually; in the parlance of media and advertising, the Bush presidency was brought to us by Bill Clinton.

We knew what Clinton had done, but we never really knew who he was.  To the end of his presidency Clinton remained an almost inscrutable figure.  We knew, of course, about his various appetites, his charisma, his brilliance, but we never really had a sense of what made him tick.  One of the enduring legacies of Clinton’s time in office is his penchant for triangulation, his perpetual search for the middle ground.  In the end, Clinton seemed more a politician of strategy than passion.   His methods were best described by the term he popularized with fellow politician-strategist Tony Blair; for most of his time in office, Clinton was a ‘third way’ President. While a cleaving to a ‘third way’ sounds fine, it is also an admission that one has arrived at a position by, in effect, splitting the difference.  This does not a position make.  

Bush took a different tack; he started with the poll-tested talk (‘compassionate conservatism’), and then committed himself almost wholly to a single side, much to the delight of right-wing partisans all over the country.   In the end, Bush’s commitment to certain conservative principles won him more than a few enemies, but it also won him the earnest approval of a significant bloc of the country, a bloc that came out in large numbers to reelect him in 2004 (shenanigans in Ohio aside).  As a Texan, I understand the main source of Bush’s popularity:  whether we agreed with him or not, we understood his narrative.  Unlike Clinton, Bush allowed us to access the heart of his decision-making process, the organ which converted the information he received to the policies he endorsed.  Bush’s ‘heart’ was his conversion to Christianity.  Many of Bush’s policies – PEPFAR and No Child Left Behind are examples here –   neatly fit the Christian conversion narrative, and seemed to define his vision for the country.   Bush seemed to believe that, for the disadvantaged anyway, America should be a country of rigid regulations, a country bounded by strict unalterable rules, but a country, too, that provided a path – narrow though it was – to redemption.

(We later learned that the ‘path’ was no path at all, but that is a different tale).

Many of us instantly fell in love with Obama because he, like Bush before him, wore his heart on his sleeve.  His 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention was a declaration of who he was, why he was, and how he’d be different.   He was a community organizer.  A civil rights attorney.  He was the product of two races, a walking, talking embodiment of MLK’s American dream.  We believed that Obama would be a transformational figure because his narrative – his ‘heart’ – was about a man coming to terms with his identity and embracing the various parts of himself.  We hoped that his policies would reflect this narrative, that he would help America complete the same journey.

The most dispiriting thing about the Obama presidency thus far isn’t that he hasn’t had some successes – surely he has.  It is the realization that, perhaps, the poetry of his campaign can never be reconciled with the prose of governing.   It is the realization that there is a possibility we don’t know as much about his heart as we initially believed.  It is the realization that, when it comes to matters of the heart, there is a possibility that he will be more like Clinton, and less like Bush.  

That said, Obama still has time, and I still believe in his presidency.   He still has time to show us his heart.

The Small Business Case for Ending Tax Cuts for the Wealthy

October 15, 2010 ·

This post was initially published in Yes Magazine online

"Expecting high-end tax cuts to trickle down as job creation is about as reasonable as pouring gasoline on your hood and expecting it to fuel your car."  
  -- Lew Prince, owner, Vintage Vinyl, an independent music store.

Congress left town in early October without addressing the future of the Bush-era tax cuts that are scheduled to expire at the end of 2010.  This sets up a “lame duck” session debate over their future in November and December.

After the mid-term election, anti-tax legislators will press to extend tax cuts for households with incomes over $250,000. Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist argues that allowing these tax cuts for higher incomes to expire would be a “body blow to the small business community.”

This isn’t the first time small businesses have been used as a prop by anti-tax lobbyists.  The impact on small business is routinely used in arguments against policy that would require wealthy individuals to pay higher taxes.

Enter several refreshing new voices in this debate – the American Sustainable Business Council and Business for Shared Prosperity –networks of enterprises rooted in their localities.  In their recent report, “Restoring Top Tax Rates Makes Sense for Small Business,” they make a business case for allowing the top tax rates to expire.

These business organizations point out that very few small businesses are effected. Less than 3 percent of tax filers with any business income earn over $200,000 as individuals or $250,000 as couples in a year – and many of these are Wall Street investment partners, big business CEOs paid to sit on boards of other big companies, and wealthy folks renting out investment properties and vacation homes.

If Congress wants to help small business, they argue, Congress shouldn’t spend $700 billion over the next decade in poorly targeted tax cuts.  

“Letting high end tax cuts expire is a good business decision,” said Frank Knapp, CEO and President of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce. “Boosting our local economy by helping real small businesses create jobs should be our goal. We can either cut taxes for CEOs or Wall Street traders, or we can invest the money to generate more customers for small business by keeping teachers, police officers and other Americans on the job rebuilding the crumbling transportation, water, and energy infrastructure small business depends on.”

This longer view is echoed by other small business leaders who lament the decline in public infrastructure and investment that strengthens local economies. They challenge the tired orthodoxy that cutting taxes for high-income households always has a positive impact on economic growth and job creation. 

Hiring decisions for small business are driven by consumer demand, not tax cuts.  “As a fellow businessman once told me,” said Rick Poore, owner of Design Wear, an apparel manufacturer based in Lincoln, Nebraska, “Give me more customers and I’ll be forced to buy equipment and hire people to meet demand. Give me a tax break without more customers and I’ll just go to Aruba.”

Under President Obama’s plan to extend the 2001 income tax cuts for families with incomes under $250,000, all taxpayers will get a share of tax cuts.  Higher-income taxpayers would get thousands of dollars more in tax cuts than middle-income households. The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that extending just the middle class tax cut would provide more than $6,300 in permanent tax relief for families earning more than $200,000, on average, compared to just $916 in tax relief for families earning between $40,000 and $50,000.

Restoring tax rates for high-income households won’t fix our economy.  But it is a step in the right direction to fiscal sanity and being able to make investments that move us toward a sustainable economy.  That’s good for businesses that are committed to their communities.

Water is Not for Sale: A Look at Italy's Water Movement

October 15, 2010 ·

All over the world, communities are engaged in struggles to protect their water supply from harmful corporate activities.  In some cases commercial activities contaminate rivers, lakes or groundwater; in others, businesses such as gold mines pollute water sources and use so much water that they literally suck the groundwater dry. 

Water privatization is increasing.  Transnational corporations are gaining more control of water supplies, and are selling them back to local communities for profit, often with the backing of global economic institutions such as the World Bank.  These kinds of conflicts have become increasingly visible in both the developing and the industrialized world - even as the United Nations has affirmed the human right to water in 2010. 

This past summer, I was able to observe an amazing nation-wide grassroots movement against water privatization in Italy.  Italy has a strong tradition of guaranteeing publically held local water utilities.  However, its congress passed a law in 2009 mandating the privatization of all community water services.  While the right-wing Berlusconi government claims that this was necessary because of European Union mandates, Italian water advocates assert that the government is just using that as an excuse to promote its own privatization agenda. 

The groundswell of opposition and push-back has been electrifying.  Thousands of people from all over the political spectrum in every region have organized to overturn the privatization law.  Over a thousand local water committees were formed, as well as a strong national coalition, the National Forum for Water Movements.  The movement's slogan is direct and straight to the point:  Water is not for sale; remove water from the market - remove profits from water.

Dozens of municipalities large and small have passed resolutions to recognize water as a publically held common good with no commercial significance.  One of the many to do so was Fabriano, a small town in the Marche region where part of my family lives, and where I have visited regularly and even lived since childhood.   When I interviewed leaders of the Fabriano's water movement their message was explicit:  Our local water must be administered for the common good of the community - il bene comune - and not treated as a market commodity.

Thousands of activists spent months in the spring and early summer doing outreach at local markets and public spaces, handing out information, and registering people in a petition to demand a series of national referenda to overturn the water privatization law.  Over 1.4 million people signed the petition - almost a million more than needed - and more than any other referendum petition in the nation's history.  Although the request still has to go through a political process to be determined, organizers hope that the referenda restoring Italy's water as a public good will take place in spring, 2011. 

Italy's struggle is seen by many as part of a larger, global struggle for the rights of people against corporate power and the local water movement has linked up with water activists all over the world.


Lael Parish is the project director of Promoting Resource Rights in the Global Economy at the Institute for Policy Studies.  The project promotes the rights of people and communities over their own natural resources, and supports efforts to change global economic institutions that currently favor transnational corporations in resource conflicts. 

Education Reform: Waiting for the Super Rich?

October 12, 2010 ·

Everybody’s talking about education these days.  NBC and its various satellite networks recently ended a week-long examination of education, and there’s been much talk of late about the release of Davis Guggenheim’s most recent film, Waiting for Superman, which follows five students in various cities across America as they attempt to win places at local charter schools. 

The education-related headline that probably received the most attention recently, though, was Mark Zuckerberg ‘s announcement that he would be donating $100 million of Facebook stock to the Newark, New Jersey school district.   Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, announced the gift on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey show, and some critics pointed out that Zuckerberg’s gift seemed to coincide with the negative press he’s been receiving lately around the release of The Social Network, a movie about Facebook’s founding that depicts Zuckerberg in an unflattering light.  PR value aside, most have heralded the gift, and some have even drawn connections between Zuckerberg and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, perhaps the most widely renowned philanthropist of the new century.

Lost in all the talk about Zuckerberg’s gift, however, is an examination of why he’s being celebrated in the first place.  One could argue that any celebration of Zuckerberg’s gift is, in fact, a concession to the idea that people with such outsized wealth -- Zuckerberg is worth about four billion dollars according to Forbes  -- should be celebrated for making incredibly important decisions about (in this case, anyway) which public school districts receive such needed money, and which do not.  Zuckerberg apparently decided to give money to Newark Public Schools after a series of discussions with Corey Booker, the charismatic mayor of Newark. What would have happened had he hit it off with, say, the mayor of DC, or of Dallas instead?  

Zuckerberg is allowed to make these decisions, of course; however, we’ve yet to fully understand how the selective beneficence of wealthy folks like Zuckerberg and Gates will play out in the long run, and how those who aren’t lucky enough to capture the attention of Zuckerberg or the Gates Foundation will respond.  For all of their good works, what are the ramifications of folks like Zuckerberg and Gates transferring the wealth and power they’ve gained in business to their philanthropic endeavors?  In other words, does success in one field automatically qualify them for respect and prestige in another?

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