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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 2012

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John Cavanagh: Letelier-Moffitt Awards Speech

October 17, 2012 ·

Welcome to the 36th annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards.

John Canagh at the 2011 LM Awards.

As I look around this room, I am in awe of the thousands of collective years of committed activism and scholarship and struggle for a better world that this crowd represents. When Ronni Karpen Moffitt and Orlando Letelier were murdered 36 years ago by agents of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Orlando was only 44 years old. And yet he'd achieved enough to be considered one of the revered elders of the human rights movement.

Tonight, we have many long-time progressive heroes in the room. Let me recognize just two. First, a man who began stirring up trouble as a White House aide when he questioned the military build-up in the early 1960s — IPS co-founder Marcus Raskin. And second, the woman who turned her husband Orlando Letelier's tragic death into a force for justice and democracy: Isabel Letelier.

But, tonight — in many ways — is about the generation that Ronni Karpen Moffitt represents — the teens and twentysomethings. Ronni's life was cut short at 25, but she'd already made big contributions to the world, and these young people are too. Many here tonight are fighting outrageous student loans, fighting against sweatshops, and shaking up the world in other creative ways. We salute you and your Chilean counterparts here tonight.

At the Institute for Policy Studies, our long-term goal is to speed the transition from a militarized and casino Wall Street economy to a green, caring and democratic Main Street economy. I want to give shout outs to two sets of allies who are giving us a lot of hope these days. First, how about those striking Walmart workers? Isn't it about time we replaced the union-busting, community-destroying Walmart model of business?

My second shout out goes to our European allies in the fight for a financial transaction tax — what many are calling a Robin Hood Tax. Last week, they got 11 of their governments on board — proving it is possible to fight the financial industry and win. Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the The Nation magazine, yesterday referred to my IPS colleague Sarah Anderson, as a "relentless warrior" in this fight. And she is. We're proud to be working with many of you on this and looking forward to celebrating a U.S. victory.

So, tonight. Tonight, amidst the clutter of money-soaked politics, we have an opportunity to look into the future and celebrate some clear and inspirational paths forward. For this next generation of struggle, a central part of all of our tasks is to figure out how to roll back corporate rights as we strengthen human and labor rights, environmental rights, and peace. With this lens, our distinguished Letelier-Moffitt selection committee has picked two groups on the front lines of urgent battles: the right to education and the right to housing.

At the same time, both groups keep their sites on larger systemic change. The Chilean Students Movement is not just taking on the need for affordable education, they're taking on the whole free market legacy of the Pinochet era. As our awardees, Camila Vallejo and Noam Titelman pointed out on Democracy Now! yesterday, it was Orlando Letelier who predicted that free-market economics would lead to privatization and inequality. Likewise, City Life/Vida Urbana isn't just taking on the mortgage lenders, they're taking on the whole free market legacy of the Reagan and Bush eras. Both movements are planting the seeds of transformative change through direct action. Both are expanding our imaginations on how to make change happen.

John Cavanagh is the director of the Institute for Policy Studies, which hosts the annual Letelier-Moffitt human rights awards ceremony and reception. www.IPS-dc.org

Danny Glover's Letelier-Moffitt Award Speech

October 17, 2012 ·

I'm so sorry I can't be with you in person tonight. I would love to be there with my dear IPS friend Saul Landau, with whom I've been fighting hard for the freedom of the Cuban 5. I was honored when IPS asked me to present the LM HRA to another group of freedom fighters: City Life/Vida Urban. Here's why.

City Life/Vida Urbana is a grassroots community organization, led by low-income and working class people fighting for social, economic, racial justice and gender equality. Their struggle is focused on the right to decent housing for all of us. They fight slumlords, neglect, segregation, environmental hazards, gentrification. This is a group at the front lines of the fight not just against foreclosure, but against the entire economic model that started with Reagan and that deregulated Wall Street

You name it, they fight it. And they win.

With the Recession, came a big spike in foreclosures and evictions, hitting communities of color and low-income communities the hardest.

City Life/Vida Urbana was there, confronting bank power with people power.

City Life/Vida Urbana was there with their Shield and Sword.

The Shield they bring is their Legal Defense support for families facing evictions and foreclosure.

The Sword they bring is Direct Action. Using People Power, CityLife brings people together to create human blockades to obstruct and prevent home repossessions and evictions. Man, talk about courage. And guess what, when people have used their "sword and shield" strategy, 95% of the time they've been successful.

Here are two of their stories I found particularly moving:

  • Tenants Reggie Fuller and Louanna Hall were faithfully paying rent on their apartment when they heard rumors their landlord was in foreclosure. Now, after two years living in limbo as the only remaining tenants in the building, they've become leaders in the movement to support others facing displacement after foreclosure.
  • When Marshall Cooper couldn't qualify for a traditional mortgage, the bank referred him to an alternative lender who offered him a loan with twice the interest rate. As the expense of caring for his aging parents made it harder and harder to meet his increasing mortgage payments, he fell behind. After two bankruptcies and a failed modification, the house went into foreclosure. Now Marshall, 75, is fighting eviction by the bank and doing everything he can to hold on to his home.

Now CityLife/Vida Urbana is taking their successful strategy beyond Boston to help keep more and more families in their homes. They provide community education, organize vigils, marches, meetings, empower affected people to become the very leaders of this growing movement.

And they expose the banks, the very financial systems which use predatory lending practices, high interest rates, unethical eviction and foreclosure practices to increase profits even as families are stripped of homes that under fair terms, they could afford to keep. They partner with alternative non-profit financial institutions such as Boston Community Capital to ensure real and affordable valuations of homes, so people can stay in them. They use the court system to "slow down" the eviction process till the financial situation can be made manageable. These folks work hard to keep roofs over people's heads.

As A. Philip Randolph said, "Freedom is never given. It is won." And, City Life/Vida Urbana is fighting, and winning.

For their courage in doing what so many say cannot be done, for standing up to corrupt institutions and speaking truth to power, it is my distinct pleasure to welcome to the stage City Life/Vida Urbana's Executive Director Curdina Hill and Organizing Coordinator Steve Meacham, who will be accepting the Institute for Policy Studies' 2012 Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Award on behalf of their organization and members.

Danny Glover — the actor, director, producer, and fearless activist — presented Curdina Hill and Steve Meacham of City Life/Vida Urbana with a 2012 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies.

This Week in OtherWords: October 17

October 17, 2012 ·

Half a century ago this month, the Cuban Missile Crisis didn't culiminate in an exchange of nuclear blows between Washington and Moscow. This week in OtherWords, Arnold Oliver recaps the lessons of that showdown, reminding us of how lucky we were and still are for that. And guest columnist Jill Richardson points out that just eating a bowl of rice is more dangerous than it needs to be.

As always, I encourage you to visit our blog and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

  1. Can Obama Get His Groove Back? / Steven Gray
    This election is the president's to lose.
  2. Pulling the Plug on Ex-Gay Quackery / Christine Sun
    More states should follow California's lead and protect minors from the junk science known as "conversion therapy."
  3. A Plan for the Democratic Party / David Elliot
    If the Dems win big in November, they should use their newfound political capital.
  4. More Lucky than Brilliant / Arnold Oliver
    Moscow and Washington almost blew up the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis over a misunderstanding.
  5. Empty Anti-Wall Street Rhetoric / Sam Pizzigati
    Lots of office-seekers this fall are campaigning against the 1 percent, but will they govern that way?
  6. The Risky Business of Eating in America / Jill Richardson
    How can eating too much rice can give you cancer?
  7. Fracking Liars / Jim Hightower
    Supporters and leaders of the hydraulic fracturing industry aren't being honest about government support for this new natural gas boom.
  8. One Nation, Under Surveillance / William A. Collins
    The cell phone has become the instrument of choice for tracking your every move.
  9. Anti-Proliferation Brigade / Khalil Bendib (Cartoon)

Anti-Proliferation Brigade, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Rope-A-Dope Revives the Hope

October 16, 2012 ·

President Obama owned Governor Romney in their second debate on issues of foreign policy, women, immigration, and the 47 percent. He even leveled a fatal blow regarding Benghazi. Don't get me wrong: Mitt was no wimp, and Obama was no progressive, but Obama had the better plans, the better attacks, and the better handle on the truth than Romney.

Obama strongly called out the funny math of Romney's claims that he can lower taxes across the board and not raise the deficit. Mitt's only defense was: "Of course my numbers add up. I am Mitt Romney." He may convince Ann with that response, but such a defense does little to engender confidence in the rest of us.

Obama was aggressive on jobs, touting his added 5 million jobs and his support of high-wage, good jobs over winning the global race to the bottom apparently favored by Romney. Obama hit Romney over the head repeatedly with his tax-cutting record, while maintaining his position that the wealthy must pay more.

By contrast, Romney was evasive and inauthentic. He tried to get away with answering a question about equal pay for women with a strange explanation about asking women's groups to find qualified women for his Massachusetts cabinet. Mitt said that women could be hired if only employers would figure out that they also need time to cook for their families. Pay? Isn't the gratification these women gain from putting some Hamburge Helper into the bellies of their families pay enough?

In an equally evasive and puzzling response, Romney blamed single mothers and a failed federal sting operation in Mexico for assault weapon violence in the U.S.

Then came the knockout blow, something like this: "The President took two weeks to call the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya a terrorist attack." "Governor Romney, I called it a terrorist attack the very next day." "No, Mr. President, you most certainly did not." "Candy, tell him...I did, didn't I?" "Uh...yes Governor, the President did say that. He is right. You are wrong. You are down for the count."

Boom.

DonkeyHotey/FlickrObama, for all his aggressiveness and better policy positions from Romney on jobs, taxes, women's health and economic issues and immigration, failed on the question of energy and the kind of revenue raising we need to get the country on track and to be the kind of country we want to be.

The incumbent almost channeled Sarah Palin with refrains of Drill Baby Drill. He agreed with Romney that the corporate tax rate is too high, and he again missed the opportunity to tell the truth that Social Security, Medicare and social programs don't need fixing, reforming, and slashing to reduce our deficit.

I still want to see Obama lead on the direct creation of jobs, and taxing financial speculation, dividends, and interest. I want to see him stand up and tell the truth: With the right priorities, we can spend far less on military, close corporate tax loopholes, and fund a transformative shift to an economically and environmentally more sound energy policy. I want to see him lead on real cost-control in a universal type Medicare-for-All health plan.

I want more than just a rope-a-dope surprise and a knockout punch. I want to hear the words: America Is Not Broke, we just have our priorities wrong. Then, I will be able to cheer a victory as something that is a victory for all of us, not just for a candidate's campaign.

Karen Dolan is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. She'd appreciate it if the candidates could read the IPS report, America Is Not Broke.

America's Warfare Welfare State

October 15, 2012 ·

Illustration by Tjebbe van Tijen, Imaginary Museum ProjectsThe United States has been at war for more years than it has been at peace. War is not a “last resort,” something we fall back on when diplomacy, sanctions and other tools fail. It has become our normal condition. Within just the past two decades, we have been engaged in two Iraqi wars and an ongoing war in Afghanistan, and perhaps soon we will be at war with Iran. We justify these adventures in terms of spreading freedom abroad and making our world safe for democracy, but we are accomplishing neither. Meanwhile, badly needed resources to confront a range of domestic challenges are redirected to the war efforts. Maybe it is time to reconsider how readily we prepare for and engage in war.

During times of crisis, real or imagined, we are fond of saying “all options are on the table.” We hope diplomacy, sanctions or other tools will work. But the world now knows we are more than ready to opt for the military option. If we ever suffered from a “Vietnam syndrome,” in which we hesitated to take military action, we have overcome it. President Obama so warned Iran in his speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last spring. This is not to suggest that our leaders would not prefer diplomacy or other tools short of war. But somehow, some way, we have found ourselves almost always at war somewhere.

Nor do we suggest that the costs are unknown, at least some of them. But most are explained away as the inevitable collateral damage. From My Lai in Vietnam to the civilian murder spree in Afghanistan in March resulting in seventeen deaths, apparently at the hands of one US military officer, we regret such incidents but acknowledge that in times of war not everything and everyone can be controlled. Even the most strategic missions and surgical air strikes are going to have unintended casualties.

Read the rest of this article in The Nation megazine's website.

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