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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 October 2011

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Letelier-Moffit International Award: Belen, Posada del Migrante

October 14, 2011 ·

La dolorosa migración forzada Centroamericana: “Mis puertas abrí al caminante y la noche no pasaba afuera.”

Desde hace ocho años atraviesa el territorio mexicano de frontera a frontera una enorme caravana hambrienta, despojada, perseguida, violada en todos sus derechos… Son mujeres y hombres “los sin poder” “nómadas sin derechos”… son los caminantes “de las ciudadanías negadas”… Y cuando han sido secuestradas desaparecen… Pero, cuando sucede todo esto parece que fueran invisibles…Nadie jura haber sido testigo de todo esto… Porque hay otros grupos que son mas invisibles que ellos… Son guardias del tren, policías federales, agentes de migración, guardias de seguridad, policías municipales, que se vuelven tan invisibles para cometer sus crímenes y delitos contra esta población migrante, y el estado mexicano jura que nunca los ha visto…

Y como defensores y defensoras juramos que no son fantasmas invisibles, que nosotros hemos visto la sangre, la rabia, y la tristeza de las mujeres violadas y abusadas sexualmente… Hemos recogido los restos humanos despedazados y nuestros manos se han manchado de sangre como el territorio mexicano desde la frontera de Guatemala, hasta la frontera del Río Bravo… El Libro de los Jueces en el capitulo 19, narra el crimen de Guibea: “aquel levita caminante de Belén que fue a rescatar su concubina y que durante la noche cuando se hospeda en Guibea, los habitantes criminales de este pueblo atacan la casa y toda la noche abusan de la concubina hasta dejarla muerta. El levita recogió a su concubina, cargó su cuerpo muerto y cuando llegó a su pueblo de Belén, tomo un cuchillo y despedazo el cuerpo de su concubina en doce pedazos y envió cada pedazo a los doce tribus de Israel, con este mensaje: “¿Han visto ustedes algo semejante a esto? Piensen en esto, deliberen y tomen una decisión”…

Lo mismo ha pasado con estos migrantes centroamericanos en territorio mexicano: así lo narra un testigo viviente… el Hondureño xxx:

“Los criminales, los Zetas, nos secuestraron como a siete… Nos golpearon en el campamento…Nos desnudaron y sin ropa nos golpearon con tablas dejándonos la espalda y nuestros glúteos totalmente de color morado, porque no entregábamos el numero telefónico para que nuestros familiares pagaran el rescate… Entonces nos llevaron a un pozo de cemento, cerca de Coatzacoalco.. El pozo estaba lleno de cocodrilos… Agarraron a uno de mis compañeros y dos de los criminales lo despedazaron con un machete y arrojaron los pedazos de su cuerpo a los cocodrilos…”

Y todo esto pasa con la complicidad de las fuerzas institucionales de seguridad.

Como defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos estamos indignados, tristes, desesperados, y sentimos con rabia que México es un estado de derecho totalmente vulnerado…un estado de derecho desgarrado…Y los derechos humanos totalmente pisoteados, una burla de los derechos humanos… Parece que se repite en nosotros la leyenda de la tela de Penélope, que de noche era tejida y de día aparecía rota. Así nosotros, de noche tejemos esa tela de los derechos humanos y de día las despedazan el crimen organizado, delincuentes comunes, policías y ministros públicos corruptos.

Pero nuestra lucha continua y nuestro trabajo continua ha abandonado a estos “caminantes de esperanzas”, jueces de este sistema neoliberal injusto y hemos aprendido una nueva perspectiva en la lucha de los derechos humanos: el grito de los derechos humanos y su practica social, no se da desde una aula de académicos o con un taller de especialistas que desde una cátedra imparten un curso de derechos humanos…Ahora no…

El grito y la lucha de los derechos humanos se da “con” y “desde” los victimas, cuando con ellas enfrentamos los mismos riesgos, los mismos terrores, cuando nosotros somos también un blanco perfecto para estos criminales.

Y cuando todavía no descansamos en los procesos educativos y terapéuticos de esta población perseguida y luchamos para que pasen de la victimización a la subjetividad social, para que dejando de ser victimas, se conviertan en nuestros sujetos sociales, históricos, los nuevos sujetos emergentes, protagonistas de su misma lucha e historia.

Y a ustedes, de lo mas profundo de nuestro corazón les decimos el mensaje del levita con su concubina despedazada…

“¿Han visto algo semejante a esto? Piensen, deliberen, y tomen una decisión.”

Gracias.

Letelier-Moffitt Domestic Award: Wisconsin Progressive Movement

October 14, 2011 ·

It is indeed thrilling for us to be here with you tonight. The Institute for Policy Studies has a long and highly valued reputation of promoting and protecting human and civil rights.   For MTI to  be recognized by your organization is an honor for our Union; and to have been selected, among many equally qualified to receive the Letelier-Moffit Award, on behalf of the Wisconsin Progressive Movement, adds a hundred-fold to the honor.  The list of recipients of past Awards is not only most impressive, but causes us to be humbled.

While our fight is often looked upon as occurring over two bitter-cold months last winter, such is not the case. Our fight continues.  We cannot and will not let up, until both individual worker rights and Union rights of representation, both stolen by a puppet governor at the behest of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, have been restored.  Wisconsin has long been a progressive state, the origin of which began with Governor Fighting Bob LaFollette, early last century.

It is funding by the Koch brothers, Amway, Walmart, and the like, which has, in recent years, stolen our elections, including that of Governor, the U.S. Senate, both houses of the Legislature, and even the Supreme Court.  I’m glad to say that the Wisconsin Progressive Movement is on its way back, having won two State Senate seats in solid Republican areas in this fall’s recall elections, and preserving three Democratic seats, which were also challenged by recalls. We must now remove Governor Walker.

Our protests changed the electoral landscape.  Totaling the votes in the 9 recall districts, and comparing it to the votes the Governor received last fall in the same Districts, his vote count would fall by 65,000, more than half of what provided his victory only 10 months prior.  And, we came within one-tenth of a percent of winning a Supreme Court seat, and that with a candidate who likely would have lost by 30% without the surge in the Progressive Movement.

Ironically the Governor and his cronies across the country got elected by hoodwinking the middle class and inducing them to vote against their own interests.  Their campaign was a slick one – effectively pitting the private sector workers against public sector workers, by painting public sector workers as the “haves” and private sector workers as the “have nots,” when it was the corporations which stripped private sector workers of their benefits and broke their unions.

MTI is a member driven organization.  Organizing which usually takes weeks, if not months, was accomplished by MTI leadership in a matter of two days in mid-February.  On a Monday, when I was advising the MTI Board of the Governor’s anti-worker, anti-union agenda, the response was immediate, “we need to call our school representatives”.  They promptly divided the names and began calling Representatives to a meeting the following day.  At that meeting, the over flow crowd of representatives sprung to action and began calling Members advising, “The Governor is taking our rights - be at the Capitol in the morning! Madison’s schools were closed the next four days while MTI members engaged in political action.  Unions of Madison’s Firefighters, Police Officers, Deputy Sheriffs, State County and Municipal Employees, and University Teaching Assistants joined the demonstrations.  Soon it was thousands, then tens of thousands and finally 135,000.  Public and private sector unionists were joined by progressives from across the country.  The Capitol was occupied 24/7 for 3 weeks.  Support also came from freedom loving people in more than 50 countries around the globe.

In fear of the mounting demonstration, the right-wing legislative majority created a bogus committee to act on the Governor’s proposed legislation.  His minions in the State Assembly acted immediately, and without following legislative rules.  To put the brakes on, all 14 Democratic members of the Senate left the state, and without them the Senate Republicans lacked the necessary quorum to act.  The Democratic Senators stayed in Illinois for 40 days.  This caused a delay in moving the right-wing agenda.   It also gave the progressive movement time to become better organized, engage in legal action to attempt halt the legislation or at least amend it.  Because of the heavy handed politics it was not possible to defuse it.  Unfortunately, it passed and when the Secretary of State refused to publish it, the last step to make it official, it was finalized by a publication method not enabled by legislative rules or Statute.

Former President Eisenhower said “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog”.  When it comes to the rights of people, we cannot be deterred by those who want to further improve their lot at our expense.  We must fight on.  Those like Governor Walker may prevail in the short term, but the people will not stand idly by while he moves to steal their rights, quash our freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.  It is well known that the existence of a middle class is the result of effective unions, and society depends on unions for the middle class to continue.

Unions enable workers to speak collectively as regards a fair wage for their labor, to assure that work is under safe conditions, and to assure that workers enjoy dignity.  Why are those on the far right not respectful of those who work for a living and wish to benefit from collectivism.  Recognizing this, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Hughes observed, “Long ago we stated the reason for labor organizations.  We said that they were organized out of the necessities of the situation: that a single employee was helpless in dealing with an employer;… that union was essential to give laborers opportunity to deal on equality with their employer.”  Remember it was the Union that brought the weekend, the 40 hour work week, the eight hour day, sick leave, worker safety, and the ability to live the American dream.

One of the interesting things that is now surfacing is that the Right wing failed to take into consideration the negative impact on the local economy of wage reduction caused by workers having to pay more into retirement plans and more for health insurance.  Because of his legislation, Governor Walker has reduced by one billion dollars per year Wisconsin public sector workers’ disposable income.    Wages were reduced by approximately 15%, because of the legislated mandatory payments in retirement deposits and health insurance.  That has had a huge negative impact on local businesses, and they are reacting – public workers have less to spend on food, clothing, and the essentials – restaurants are hurting, as many have cut back on eating out.  There is such distaste for the Governor that he  has been asked by proprietors to leave their establishments.

For those of us who have spent our careers, championing  human and civil rights, and working to expand them, experiencing the planned and willful trammeling of these rights is gut wrenching.  Thus, being invited to receive the Letelier-Moffit Award on behalf of the Wisconsin Progressive Movement is indeed rewarding.  In closing, let me thank you again, on behalf of Madison Teachers and the University of Wisconsin Teaching Assistants Association.  We must stand firm against those whose aim is to take away our rights and destroy our unions; the vehicle which provides power and equity to working people.  It was the shipyard workers in Gdansk whose action caused the first crack in the Iron Curtin. 

Together – we shall overcome!

Occupy Wall Street's Deep Roots

October 13, 2011 ·

A journalist asked me the other day where the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy DC protests came from. This is the story I told him.

These movements have deep roots. They were planted over the past century by the millions of workers who stood up to exploitation and won basic labor rights and drove up taxes on the wealthy to create a middle class.

Movements like Occupy Wall Street have deep roots. CC Photo by sarabeephoto.That fight sprouted a new root — the struggle for civil rights — and that fight melded with fights to end an unjust war in Vietnam. Then, in the 1970s, women came together to change how the nation thought about sexism, creating the space for new movements that said if you think sexism is wrong, why is homophobia OK? Then environmentalists started asking why it's OK to leave our grandchildren with a polluted planet. These are deep roots.

Around that time, in 1976, the exiled Chilean leader who was working at the Institute for Policy Studies, Orlando Letelier, was speaking before a packed crowd at Madison Square Garden, demanding an end to dictatorship. When he and his IPS colleague Ronni Karpen Moffitt were assassinated by that dictatorship 15 days later, their family and friends — including some here tonight at this human rights awards ceremony we hold in their names — responded by turning this tragedy into a powerful force for international human rights.

Then, two decades ago, these movements gave birth to the global justice movement, and millions came together to oppose corporate greed and corporate rule. In Chiapas, Mexico, indigenous people stood up to free trade They said: enough. Nine years ago, 15 million people in 600 cities said no to war against Iraq. Three years ago, millions poured into the streets to fight for immigrant rights.

This is the Peoples History. And if Howard Zinn were alive today, he'd be writing a new chapter right now.

It might start with the fruit vendor in Tunisia who said: enough. It would describe the millions of Egyptians who said: enough. It would describe the thousands of Mexicans who have stood up to the violence and said: enough. And it would tell about the brave people of Wisconsin who said: enough.

Yes, a part of our history is one of war, racism, genocide, and violent inequality. But, the more important part is the history of people coming together, fighting back, and creating a more decent and humane union.

So, today, we celebrate you all: you who are ending the wars, from CODEPINK to Peace Action; you from trade unions; you from progressive faith groups; you who are stopping the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline; you who are creating marriage equality; you who are rebuilding the American Dream and winning support for a DREAM Act; you who are Caring Across Generations; and you who will build the new economy that will provide dignified livelihoods to our next generation in a way that preserves the planet.

And for the thousands who are unrolling your sleeping bags in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza and Liberty Park tonight, and in occupations all over this country, we celebrate you as you continue the history of resistance to make this country and this world better for all of us.

What does the Institute for Policy Studies have to do with Occupy Wall Street? For 48 years, IPS has turned ideas into action for peace, justice, and the environment, linking our work with the dynamic social movements of our time. And, we speak truth to power, so today, for example, one of our central messages in this time of supposed austerity is that there is no shortage of money.

And, our work details how we can mobilize that money while pursuing peace — by eliminating hundreds of billions in war spending; while pursuing justice — by sensibly taxing the wealthy, corporations, and Wall Street speculation; and while protecting the environment — through carbon and pollution taxes.

There is plenty of money for jobs and for the other things this country so desperately needs.

Institute for Policy Studies Director John Cavanagh is a leader in the movement against corporate-led globalization. He delivered this speech at the 2011 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards ceremony on October 12.

The Dawning of GDP's Hegemony

October 12, 2011 ·

Maryland's government is embracing an alternative way to monitor the state's wellbeing called the Genuine Progress Indicator, which brings depth to the analysis of the state's economic growth. At the Institute for Policy Studies, we are looking for lessons in Maryland, as well as in similar exercises being undertaken elsewhere. This is the first in a series of posts about this work.

Simon Kuznets warned that GDP was not a valid instrument of social policy, but his creation became a barometer for the entire global economy. Archive photo.It was the height of the Great Depression and policymakers could see the symptoms of economic malaise everywhere. Unemployment soared to 25 percent. Food lines at soup kitchens wrapped around city blocks. Farmers watched helplessly as crop prices plummeted, then lost their farms. The evidence was clear, yet in the 1930s, Congress lacked any tools with which to accurately measure just how the economy as a whole was faring. With no commonly accepted national income data, they had no guideposts upon which to base sound economic policy.

And so Congress turned to a young and promising Russian-American economist. U.S. lawmakers asked Professor Simon Kuznets of the National Bureau of Economic Research, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in economics, to develop a data set to assess the state of the national economy. In 1937, Kuznets presented a vast volume of data on income to Congress. It became the Gross National Product (GNP).

With remarkable foresight and humility, Kuznets warned that his newly minted GNP shouldn't be used as an instrument of social policy. It could never adequately measure the things we value, he said, such as housework or caring for elderly parents. Nor, he warned, could the GNP distinguish between the growth of good and bad jobs. The data would be the same if workers earned their pay from employers who endangered their lives or guarded their health and safety. "Goals for more growth should be more growth of what and for what," Kuznets said.

Alas, Kuznets' warnings on the GNP — later renamed the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — went unheeded. Instead, the GDP became the barometer of health not only for the U.S. economy, but for the entire global economy.

To be continued…

Daphne Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and the founder and co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network (SEEN). She is conducting research around ways in which alternative metrics to the GDP, such as Maryland's "Genuine Progress Indicator," can be used to build a more sustainable society.

Report from Occupy Boston

October 11, 2011 ·

On the newly ratified "Indigenous People's Day," in place of "Columbus Day," by the General Assembly, students from all over the city marched across Boston in solidarity with the wider movement.

In just one weekend of organizing, more than 1,000 students rallied in the Boston Commons before leading a vibrant march to Dewey Square, where they met with various labor unions and the occupiers. They then continued to march around the city in stronger, larger numbers — by one estimate over 5,000. Unfortunately, this isn't a breaking news story. Instead, we have vague details of an assault by the police and the city on the protestors.

Occupiers in Boston hold a rally during the day, before the police arrests. Photo by Andrea Gordillo.Interestingly, the police issued a warning to the occupiers that they would be forcibly removed shortly after the march and after they expanded their camp into the Rose Kennedy Greenway Park. A Twitter war and a showdown between the Boston Police Department and Occupy Boston began at nightfall. The police explained that they were there to "curtail additional damage to newly developed green space" because, "the Greenway Conservancy recently invested over $150,000 in new plantings for all to enjoy." Occupy Boston's twitter feed encouraged their followers to adhere to their protocol of non-violent resistance. As they indiscriminately arrested medics and legal observers, beat Vietnam War veterans, and arrested hundreds of peaceful protestors, they destroyed and discarded their personal property.

It's no secret that the state has much to gain in discrediting and destroying popular social movements, particularly now that our government is colonized by corporations. In a smooth, but transparent, PR move, the city's Commissioner Ed Davis told the Boston Herald that "a new group, the anarchists, wanted to take control."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Since its recent birth, the Occupy movement has successfully aimed to be completely inclusive and horizontal. That's beginning to the reshape social norms and mores, and it scares those with power who believe they are champions of the common good. As the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek eloquently put in his address to the General Assembly of New York, "They will tell you that you are dreaming, but the true dreamers are those who think that things can go on indefinitely the way they are, just with some cosmetic changes. We are not the dreamers, we are awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare."

People everywhere are waking up from this dream, feeling empowered. The powers-that-be must realize that we're on a deadline, that our options have been exhausted, and that we're here to stay. Yes, it's a sad day when the Boston police department beats up our veterans, but our tenacity is already showing and hundreds of people have donated to bail out the people who were arrested.

I can't reiterate enough that the ideas behind the occupations can't fit in a sound bite. I encourage you to engage in imagining a better world. If you find yourself scared by these PR tactics by the police and the government, remember that history will absolve us. The whole world is watching. 

Andrea Gordillo is a member of Occupy Boston, a student at Northeastern University, and an intern at the Boston office of the Institute for Policy Studies. She was researcher on the recent IPS report, America Loses: Corporations That Take "Tax Holidays" Slash Jobs.

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