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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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When IPS and the Heritage Foundation Agree that Something's a Bad Idea, It Probably Does Stink

October 5, 2011 ·

Sens. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and John McCain (R-AZ) have announced plans to introduce a bill tomorrow that would let U.S. companies bring home as much as $1.4 trillion of overseas profits at a steeply reduced tax rate.

However, a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies says this proposed corporate "tax holiday" is unlikely to spur any net job growth. Surprisingly, IPS released its report almost simultaneously with a new paper from the conservative Heritage Foundation that draws the identical conclusion. Tax holidays don't create jobs.

"When Heritage and IPS, two think tanks on opposite ends of the political spectrum, actually agree on something, policymakers should take notice," said Sarah Anderson, a co-author of America Loses: Corporations that Take 'Tax Holidays' Slash Jobs, the new IPS report. "Our solutions to the problem are polar opposites — we want corporations to pay the full existing tax rate while Heritage wants to permanently lower them. But we welcome their honest assessment that the proposed tax holiday will not create jobs."

America Loses shows that most of the companies that snagged a big tax break in 2004, the last time Congress gave them this kind of deal, actually reduced their national and global workforces.

In fact, 58 of the large corporations that took tax holidays after the 2004 congressional action went on to shed almost 600,000 workers. This downsizing didn't stem from recession-linked red ink. These 58 companies today maintain combined cash reserves of more than $450 billion.

Take Action: Tell Your Member of Congress "No Corporate Tax Holidays"

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, the Institute's national non-profit editorial service.

Obama Did It, All By Himself

October 5, 2011 ·

"Change We Can Believe In." Those fine words fooled a lot of people in 2008. Now they stick in the craw even of Obama apologists for whom all the hopes dashed over the past three years are the fault of tea party Republican obstructionists. Expect to hear a billion dollars worth of that malarkey between now and next November.

But even those who hold Obama blameless must concede that, in every way that matters, his first term has been continuous with George Bush's second. Yes, there have been small, mainly cosmetic changes; changing circumstances made that inevitable. And there has been a change in style. Where once there stood an inarticulate Buddy Ebsen wannabe — a living reproach to Phillips Andover, Yale, and the Harvard Business School — there is now a silver-tongued orator of whom Columbia and Harvard can be proud. But as for a change of course, a change for the better — forget it! This not even Obama's cheerleaders can deny.

Lately, there has been pullback even on the few intimations of change for the better that survived into the administration's first months. Back then, it was not too unreasonable to hope that Obama would move to reverse the anti-regulatory tide of the past three decades and that he would at least try to rein in banksters and corporate polluters. It didn't take long for that illusion to be dispelled. Obama's most recent gift to the industries that pollute the air, his order to the Environmental Protection Agency to delay implementation of legally mandated ozone regulations, is only the latest in a long line of environmental malfeasances. It is a particularly egregious case, however, because this time there was no question of Republican obstructionism; Obama did it all by himself.

To be sure, his interventions abroad are less inept and more multi-lateral than Bush's were. But the difference is mainly one of tactics and style. It has by now become clear to all but the willfully blind that Obama is as much a steward of the empire as any of his recent predecessors. The military does not rule directly, but along with the rest of the national security apparatus it calls the shots.

Accordingly, the rule of law is as threatened as at any time since the 9/11 attacks — international law certainly, and increasingly also domestic law as constitutional restrictions on the state's right to intrude into individuals' lives and behaviors are given up for the sake of "security." The purported tradeoff is nonsense of course, but how could Obama do otherwise given his determination to "look forward, not back"? Not bringing Bush-era war criminals to justice was his administration's Original Sin, and the consequences keep unfolding.

Change? In Washington today, the most nefarious lobbies rule more than ever. Witness Obama's address to the United Nations last month. If Israeli government publicists did not actually write his remarks on Israel and Palestine, they might as well have. The Barack Obama who spoke in Cairo in 2009 and at the United Nations in 2010 seemed a little less servile to the Israel lobby than George W. Bush had been. That appearance is now shot, and the United States, along with Israel, will suffer for it for a long time to come.

Still, it must be said that Obama did bring change — for the worse. He didn't just continue Bush's lost wars, rebranding one and escalating the other; he also added much of Asia and Africa, and even parts of Latin America, to the empire's anything goes free-fire zones. Drone technology makes it easier now than it was for his predecessor to practice "low intensity" warfare; but, to borrow a slogan from another nefarious lobby, "drones don't kill, presidents do" — insofar as they really do control the means of violence. To the extent that Obama is not owned by the national security state, he is culpable each and every time its agencies spread murder and mayhem.

But the worst change of all, so far, is that this former teacher of Constitutional law has trashed Fifth Amendment protections of due process and First Amendment protections of free speech by ordering the extra-judicial murder of U.S. citizens who propagandize for radical Islamic causes. American presidents have been ordering assassinations of political figures abroad at least since the 1950s. But assassinating U.S. citizens used to be beyond the pale. Yet this is precisely what Barack Obama did in ordering the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric and a citizen of the United States.

One would think that tea partiers who bleat on endlessly about the Constitution would object. So far only Ron Paul has. The rest of them are not about to let consistency become a hobgoblin of their little minds; not when their anti-Muslim animosities are aroused.

But because they know better, liberals are even worse. Just as they did when Obama's very own "Murder Incorporated," the Navy SEALs' Team 6, killed Osama bin Laden and dumped his body at sea instead of bringing him to justice, they praise their commander-in-chief's boldness and cheer him on for perpetrating murder. How dare they then fault Republicans for applauding the hapless Rick Perry for overseeing hundreds of executions in the killing fields of Texas! How dare they claim moral superiority!

Would it not have been better had a President Bush or a President McCain killed al-Awlaki? Then Congressional Democrats — moved by partisan zeal, if not by principle — might at least object. It is the old, "love me, I'm a Democrat" story. It is why Obama, like Clinton before him, has been able to do so much to advance the neoliberal agenda. As a Democrat, he can do what no Republican can — co-opt or neutralize the opposition.

From Wisconsin to Wall Street

But history is nothing if not ironic; and so it is that thanks to the very capitulations and backsliding that have made a mockery of "change we can believe in," Obama just might turn into the agent of change he once presented himself to be.

It started with the "shellacking" Democrats took in the 2010 elections — a consequence in part of Obama's spineless "bipartisanship." With Republican tea partiers in control of key governorships and legislatures in mid-Western and northeastern states, and with Democrats drawing all the wrong lessons from their defeat, the most retrograde sectors of our political culture felt emboldened. Accordingly, their representatives in Wisconsin and Ohio and elsewhere overreached. This time, however, working people and their allies fought back.

It was mainly a defensive struggle, aimed at the restoration of the status quo ante. But, unlike the top-down mobilizations the Obama campaign directed in 2008, it was a real social movement, spontaneous and creative, and therefore replete with promise. That movement is now simmering as the action has moved into the electoral arena. The transition was both inevitable and unfortunate because electoral politics is never where the real action is. But the turn towards recall elections is not an altogether bad thing, inasmuch as Democrats at the state level are not all bought and paid for corporate flunkies. The Wisconsin state senators who fled to Illinois in order to hold the Republican onslaught at bay attest to that.

And the events of last spring may yet turn out to be just a harbinger of better things to come. Thus it is that, as if from nowhere, the spirit that brought tens of thousands to occupy the state Capitol in Madison has risen again — as the Occupy Wall Street movement grows and spreads to cities all over the United States.

National Democrats, Obama especially, did almost nothing to support those who were fighting back last spring against Republican overreach. Except insofar as their pusillanimity helped get Republican tea partiers elected, they were irrelevant.

They are becoming relevant now — not however as part of the solution, but as part of the problem. The occupiers of Wall Street and other venues may not know it yet, and Democrats may not realize it yet, but this time the enemy is bipartisan. Occupy Wall Street is not just about out whacked out Republicans; it is about the elected toadies of both parties who make the misdeeds of banksters and corporate moguls possible.

Occupy Wall Street is not anti-Obama — not explicitly, not yet. It is not yet anti-capitalist either, though it is certainly against the form of capitalism Obama, like every other U.S. president since Ronald Reagan, has stewarded — a capitalism that generates obscene inequalities, disempowers workers, and diminishes the well-being of the vast majority, the 99 percent who are not making out like bandits.

It became clear decades ago that, for our economic elites and their political representatives, many of us are no longer indispensable either as workers or consumers — not in the global economy recent capitalism has concocted. This is one reason why the nation's prison system has grown exponentially; prisons are where the United States warehouses those whom it would prefer to be without. Needless to say, in a society where institutional racism still structures economic relations, many of those people are black or brown. But, as capitalism evolves, even highly educated white people are becoming surplus too, and there is no way to warehouse all of them. Younger blue- and white-collar workers, or would-be workers, are most affected, and now some of them are fighting back. They are occupying Wall Street.

So long as the movement they launched is not derailed, it will not stay limited to that "demographic." The demonstrators are already seeing the connections, and forging new solidarities. So are segments of organized labor, still reeling from the events of last spring. Thus some of the more militant sectors of the labor movement — the Transport Workers Union in New York, for example — are coming on board. Even the AFL-CIO leadership is joining the fray. Condescending pundits complain that the protestors don't know what they want; that they have no programs and no demands. In fact, they know well enough — for the time being — and they will know better before long. They are already ahead of the Obamamaniacs of three years ago. Not only do they want "change we can believe in," they have some idea of what that entails.

It is possible but unlikely that fear of tea party lunacy will draw this most amazing of social movements back into the Democratic fold. Team Obama will try to make that happen. But it is up against a formidable foe — people who are mad as hell, know a thing or two, and think for themselves.

Thus there is a way for change we can believe in to come to pass after all, and Obama is part of the story — not just because he helped make Republican overreach possible, but also because of all he has done to expose how much a part of the problem he and his fellow Democrats have become.

Relish the irony. He who did so much first to conjure up and then to quash hope for meaningful, worthwhile change may yet play a key role in bringing change we can believe in to fruition.

Andrew Levine is an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar. His most recent book is "In Bad Faith: What's Wrong With the Opium of the People" (Prometheus).
This post ran earlier on Counterpunch

The Undocumented Poet

October 4, 2011 ·

Nostalgia for the LightOne of my earliest inspirations in the undocumented youth movement was Mario Angel Escobar, a former child soldier from El Salvador who was among the first to publicly share his story and tell the world he was indocumentado. Mario took to legislative allies, and leveraged the power of media, to advocate through a complex immigration case and earn asylum. Mario, now a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, took to poetry to share the story of the pain that undocumented young people, and he will be reading a piece during Thursday's special screening of Nostalgia for the Light.

Here's an excerpt of a poem that appeared on the publication Underground Undergrads: UCLA Undocumented Immigrant Students Speak Out:

I am the backbone
An equal to any
The chant at the end of the day

I am the caresser of voluptuous earth
Her and I become one
The hands that pluck and pick
to satisfy your hunger

I am the tender callus
The naked wind
The new tongue

Flesh seeking peace

I am the silent lip
The gaze that shouts

Click HERE to purchase a ticket to the special screening of "Nostalgia for the Light," a prelude to the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award. Pre-screening features include a special reception and light fare, with music from Son Cosita Seria and poetry from Mario Escobar.

Uncle Sam Should Support Built-to-Last Companies, Not Built-to-Loot Enterprises

October 4, 2011 ·

A powerful coalition of U.S.-based global companies is lobbying hard for a "tax holiday" on offshore profits.

Companies like Google, Apple, Pfizer, and General Electric have parked huge amounts of profits — a stash totaling more than $1.4 trillion —in offshore tax havens. They've stowed those funds abroad primarily to avoid having to pay federal taxes on that income.

But now they want to bring their treasure to the United States, albeit at a steep discount on what they owe the IRS. Instead of paying the statutory corporate income tax rate of 35 percent — or even the "effective rate," which for most global companies, is closer to 11 percent — they're urging Congress to let them do this at a tax rate that's a whisker over 5 percent.

When they say WIN America, they mean cheat America. Flickr photo by David_Shankbone.They tell Congress they need a "tax holiday" to free up badly needed capital to invest in right here — creating jobs at a time when the U.S. economy is sputtering.

They've formed a lobby front called the WIN America coalition to make their case, spending over $50 million and hiring over 42 lobbyists that previously worked as staffers on select Congressional tax writing committees. Most GOP members would support any tax cut, even in their sleep, so WIN America has focused its lobbying firepower on Democratic members.

The coalition's corporate lobbyists argue this would be a win-win stimulus for the economy and a low-cost way to growth and jobs that both Republicans and Democrats could support.

The problem with these WIN America promises is this: Their pants are on fire. Here's how we know that: They waged the same campaign in 2004 with the same promises that they would create jobs, got their way, and created few jobs. Worse, some companies destroyed tens of thousands of jobs.

According to a new report that I co-authored, America Loses: Corporations That Tax Holidays Slash Jobs, most of the companies that claimed a tax holiday in 2004 dramatically reduced their national and global workforces.

In fact, 58 of the large corporations that took advantage of the 2004 tax holiday shed almost 600,000 workers in subsequent years. This downsizing was not a result of the economic meltdown as many of these companies prospered. Today, these 58 companies maintain combined cash reserves of more than $450 billion. There's nothing holding them back from investing in America.

These 58 giant corporations accounted for nearly 70 percent of the total repatriated funds and collectively saved an estimated $64 billion from what they otherwise would have owed in taxes. The 10 biggest "layoff leaders" were Citigroup, Hewlett-Packard, Bank of America, Pfizer, Merck, Verizon, Ford, Caterpillar, Dow Chemical, and DuPont.

The corporate flaks will complain that these job loss numbers are exaggerated. We believe they are low, but we won't know for sure until companies that benefit from U.S. tax breaks and subsidies are required to report, in plain language, the number of U.S. employees they have.

Congress shouldn't be fooled again. Limited incentives should go to activities that will create jobs, not another tax holiday for off shore tax dodgers. These companies are not in the business of creating jobs. They are in the business of shifting as much wealth to their top managers and shareholders as possible.

There are other businesses out there — small businesses and domestic companies rooted in local communities that should be the objects of our encouragement and support.

Management guru Jim Collins (no relation) has written about the characteristics of "built to last" companies, businesses that are not "take the money and run" oriented, but are dynamic, growing, and capable of adapting to changing market environments. Built-to-last companies don't play fast and loose with their stakeholders — namely, their employees, shareholders, the communities where they operate, and Mother Earth.

Unfortunately, a segment of corporate America embraces a "built to loot" business model. They shift every possible expense off their balance sheet and squeeze their stakeholders, with the exception of top management and shareholders. They outsource and offshore jobs and engage in accounting gymnastics to game their tax bills to nothing. They mooch from the common treasury, but don't contribute.

Lawmakers should block this fiscally irresponsible and entirely undeserved tax break.

Chuck Collins is a co-author of the new Institute for Policy Studies report, America Loses: Corporations that Take Tax Holidays Slash Jobs. www.ips-dc.org

Belen, Posada Del Migrante (Bethlehem, the Migrant's Shelter) and the Suffering of Central American Migrants

October 3, 2011 ·

This year, the Letelier-Moffitt international award will be presented to Belén, Posada Del Migrante (Bethlehem, the Migrant's Shelter), a migrant shelter based in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico that provides humanitarian assistance to migrants in transit and works to protect them from kidnapping, extortion, sexual abuse, and murder. As a voice for the human rights of migrants in transit, it has courageously worked to document abuses against migrants and denounce human rights violations of migrants by Mexican officials.

But no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler.
Job 31, 32

Eleven Years of Violence and Persecution, Against the Odds: The blood and deaths of migrants, and the seeds of hope.

The Year 2000
Migrants prepare for an orientation at Belen, Posada del Migrante. Photo by Humanidad sin Fronteras.The Mexican city of Saltillo and its community shuddered with the arrival of the first Central American migrants. They were fleeing Hurricane Mitch, as well as the poverty and violence they endured in their countries. For this aristocratic city's conservative majority, it was a threat, an invasion of their supposed harmony and traditional peace. After this fear came criminalization, rejection, disdain, and that xenophobic question: Why couldn't they go somewhere else?

Nevertheless, the migrants, beaten men and women — who were dirty and dispossessed when they entered the city's outskirts — just said; "We're hungry and we're tired and we have been beaten!" This underscored one of the most beautiful and evangelical traditions that prevails in our community: take our bread and share it! Whenever a migrant arrives, at midnight, in the early morning, at dawn, or in the heat of the day, there will always be a group who will take him or her in, that will say: "It doesn't matter what time it is, you're going to sit down at our table, share our bread, and then go rest."

2001: The Criminalization of Aiding Migrants Sets in and the Murders Begin
Criminal charges were increasingly brought against us for aiding migrants. "Conservative Christian" groups considered it "sinful" to give the refugees shelter, because they were supposedly arriving "illegally," which made them "illegal" too. There were even people who were happy when they died, saying "they deserved it for having come here."

The wave of migration gave way to murder and spilled blood. Delmer, Alexander, and David, all Hondurans, were murdered by bullets, as they slept. Ismael Cruz was stoned to death by security guards on the train.

We were bloodstained when we retrieved the bodies, but this act planted the seeds of hope. It gave us the courage to persevere.

With the strong backing of our Bishop, Raul Vera, I organized together with three religious women the Bethlehem, the Migrant's Shelter next to the train tracks.

Frontera con Justicia y Humanidad Sin Fronteras

(These are two non-profit organizations whose names translate as "Bordering Justice" and "Humanity without Borders." They provide the migrants who have sought shelter in Saltillo with legal and counseling support.)

Obstacles and Challenges

Mariano, a migrant from Honduras, watches television at Belen, Posada del Migrante. Photo by LatinDispatch.We pushed back against the fear of migrants and the terrifying discrimination against them. It was necessary to engage the broader community in a debate over migration.

We didn't want to only focus on organizing a shelter. Instead, we addressed the overall issue of migration as a social and historical phenomenon that today runs through history, society, the fabric of society and the Church itself.

We didn't want to treat migrants simply as victims, but instead as a new kind of emerging heroes, and beacons of hope.

This is why we formed two organizations: Frontera con Justicia and Humanidad sin Fronteras to assemble a team of professionals that could offer persecuted migrants not just lodging, food, and health care, but a comprehensive package of services, including legal representation, counseling, and advocacy for laws aimed at protecting their rights.

It was a radical humanitarian endeavor. The migrants who came to our shelter would feel upon arrival that they had left the evils of persecution and aggression behind. Once they'd reached us, they could belong to a movement to build a more humane and liberating society.

The Violence Has Never Ceased

We would have loved to have seen an end to the violence. But to the contrary, it has grown and so have our enemies: organized crime, and the complicity of security forces.

The consequences have been dire: murders, kidnapping, torture, disappearances, rape, and sexual abuse, even the paradigm of anti-migrant cruelty, the massacre of 72 migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas in August 2010, and the discovery of 47 other clandestine mass graves with mutilated bodies.

Our Achievements

  1. More than 50,000 Central American migrants have passed through our shelter.
  2. In the 11 years of our work, we have made the broader community recognize the pain and suffering that migrants endure.
  3. We have made progress in political and legal advocacy work in favor of migrants.
  4. We have traveled abroad to connect with organizations and international bodies in the defense of migrants' rights.
  5. We have inaugurated "New Wine in New Casks" with a new Church with new liturgy and ecclesiology that has a migration perspective.
  6. We have innovated therapeutic humanitarian counseling for migrants who were tortured when they were kidnapped.

The Letelier-Moffitt Award's Significance

We would like to express our deepest gratitude to the human rights and migrant policy organizations that chose to give us this award. Criminal charges are increasingly being brought against us and we are now under attack more than ever. The levels of risk and insecurity faced by the people defending migrants' rights are the same as what the migrants themselves experience.

This is an award for courage and a just fight on behalf of people who have to migrate. We are in solidarity with these people. They are our brothers. With that in mind, we receive this award, not as bosses or experts but as fighters in the struggle for human rights.

Father Pedro Pantoja Arreola is the director of Belén, Posada Del Migrante (Bethlehem, the Migrant's Shelter) and chief adviser for two organizations that provide legal services and other forms of humanitarian support to Central American migrants, Frontera con Justicia (Bordering Justice) and Humanidad sin Fronteras (Humanity without Borders).

Emily Schwartz Greco translated this blog post, which is also available in Spanish on the Institute for Policy Studies website.

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