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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 November 2010

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Conservative Attack on Christmas

November 29, 2010 ·

It’s almost too easy to compare congressional conservatives to Charles Dickens' character Ebenezer Scrooge. A wealthy miser, Ebenezer, like many in Congress who vote for corporate profit over effective anti-poverty programs, is blind to the suffering of an unequal society--until he's faced with his own mortality. Upon seeing the graves of both poor Tiny Tim and himself, Scrooge is transformed into a philanthropist.

But Capitol Hill conservatives face rebirth, not death. They're excited about cutting Tiny Tim's disability assistance through Social Security. Prospects for an epiphany causing them to conduct good works are slim. We need another way to appeal to those who will stop Christmas from coming.

How about The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? That Dr. Seuss creature who steals little Cindy Lou Who's Christmas tree? Stealing Christmas from the unemployed, the poor, children, blacks, single mothers, the elderly, and the disabled is what's being proposed with cuts to food stamps, state aid, health care, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and job subsidies.

The deceptively named “fiscal-conservatives” are cut from the same cloth as the Grinch. He could have been a contender for their affections, but for three things:

  • He gives the little girl a glass of water and pats her on the head.
  • He's transformed by the singing and anti-retail sentiment of the Whos on a giftless Christmas  morning.
  • He is Green.

But Charles Dickens created another character through who might appeal to them, a Good Ol' Boy who appreciates scotch and Cuban cigars: the Spirit of Christmas Present. He's jolly, jovial, partying, and plump. Consider him a velvet-wearing, care-free wealthy white guy, making well over $250, 000 a year, hoping for a government handout of a huge tax cut again under the tree this year

Just the sort with whom the Hill conservatives would enjoy a cup of Christmas cheer, merrily handing over to him more wads of our cash. And sure that he will, in turn, line their pockets with campaign contributions. Fa La La.

They would be mistaken. Listen to what the Spirit cautions Scrooge: "There are some upon this earth of yours who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived."

The Spirit of Christmas Present exposes the greedy, mean-spirited conservatives whose policy takes from the poor and gives to the rich: the Anti-Christmas Spirit, the Grinch before the singing, Scrooge before Tiny Tim.

May the Spirit of Christmas Present be with the conservative lawmakers this holiday season as they prepare to extend Christmas year-round to America's millionaires and billionaires by extending tax cuts for them, adding $700 billion to the deficit and as they end Christmas for:

  • Two million Americans, who have searched for jobs that don't exist, are out of work and out of luck by not extending unemployment benefits (UI).
  • Single moms living in poverty who were able to find good jobs through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Emergency Fund program (TANF ECF).
  • Over 40 million Americans who eat because of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Conservatives propose funding part of the Child Nutrition bill through cuts in SNAP when SNAP is one of the most successful and stimulative programs we have. (The Child Nutrition Act must be reauthorized, but not out of the mouths of poor children.)

 So here's to the prospect that the Hill conservatives let in the Spirit of Christmas Present, hoping for some merry-making. Then may the spirits of Christmas, solstice, Hanukah, and evergreen trees permeate their souls. May they realize that they can be fat, happy, drunk, and wealthy enough while still maintaining a safety net for our nation's downtrodden, reduce the obscene gift of riches to the already rich, bring war dollars home to struggling communities, and put our nation back to the road to recovery.

 Karen Dolan, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, was a co-author of the IPS report Battered by the Storm: How the Safety Net Is Failing Americans and How to Fix It. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/karendolan

It's a Shame Chalmers Johnson Did Not Live to See the U.S. Air Base on Okinawa Closed

November 22, 2010 ·

Futenma, Okinawa(To left, U.S. air station Futenma in Okinawa.)

 I contacted Chalmers Johnson last spring when we were putting together a coalition to oppose the relocation of the Futenma air base in Okinawa. Johnson, who died over the weekend, was best known for his book-length critiques of U.S. foreign policy (Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, Nemesis, and this year's Dismantling the Empire). But he began his career of scholarship with books on China and Japan, and in 1999 published an edited collection called Okinawa: Cold War Island.

Johnson graciously arranged to send a signed copy of the book on Okinawa to a congressman heading to Japan. And he agreed to pen an op-ed to coincide with the massive protest against the base relocation that took place in Okinawa on April 25. In the piece that my colleague Emily Schwartz Greco ultimately placed with The Los Angeles Times, he wrote:

The U.S. has become obsessed with maintaining our empire of military bases, which we cannot afford and which an increasing number of so-called host countries no longer want. I would strongly suggest that the United States climb off its high horse, move the Futenma Marines back to a base in the United States (such as Camp Pendleton, near where I live) and thank the Okinawans for their 65 years of forbearance. 

Johnson was a realist. "Unfortunately, I'm not very optimistic that either the Obama administration or the Japanese will do anything about closing Futenma," he wrote to me at the time. As it turned out, he was right. The Obama administration put maximum pressure on the Japanese government to abide by an earlier agreement to build a replacement facility on Okinawa. As a result, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reversed his initial skeptical position on building a new base and then promptly resigned.

Two trends, however, may force both the United States and Japan to change their policy. In the United States, a veritable fever to cut the deficit has descended on Washington. The preliminary Deficit Commission report, released earlier this month, recommended a one-third cut in U.S. military bases overseas. Even conservatives such as Tom Coburn (R-OK) are willing to put the Pentagon budget on the chopping block. 

Meanwhile, in Okinawa, two prominent figures are battling for the governorship of the island. Both incumbent Governor Hirokazu Nakaima and former Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha want Futenma closed and the replacement facility built somewhere other than the Okinawan prefecture. Iha, supported by the Social Democrats and Communists, has gone one step further: he doesn't want the base in Japan at all. The election takes place next weekend. Given the sentiments of Okinawans – more than 80 percent oppose the current Tokyo-Washington relocation plan – the new governor of the island, whether Nakaima or Iha, will be a thorn in the side of the alliance.

Chalmers Johnson would no doubt have continued to be skeptical of change in the short term. No other Japanese prefecture is interested in another U.S. base. The Pentagon is pushing back against any substantial cuts and is not eager to reduce its overseas footprint. But, as I wrote back in spring for TomDispatch, 

NIMBY movements may someday finally push the U.S. military out of Japan and off Okinawa. It’s not likely to be a smooth process, nor is it likely to happen any time soon. But the kanji is on the wall. Even if the Yankees don’t know what the Japanese characters mean, they can at least tell in which direction the exit arrow is pointing. 

Chalmers Johnson explained the how and why of U.S. empire, and for that we all owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. It is a shame that he did not live long enough to see that empire dismantled. But in the work we do toward that goal, we honor his name and his work.

Glenn Beck Attacks IPS

November 18, 2010 ·

Glenn Beck has decided to attack the Institute for Policy Studies.

I'm proud to confess that I'd never watched his Fox News show until Beck named IPS during one of his rants about George Soros' funding of progressive organizations. Using second-grade teaching tools like connect-the-dots and talking puppets in his faux classroom, Beck attempted to show how Soros uses his fortune to take over the world.

As evidence, he cites the IPS “Inside-Outside” strategy for social change we describe in our annual report as sinister, bizarrely reminiscent of 1940s Czechoslovakia. (In her recent post “OMG! Beck Could Be Right,” IPS Fellow Karen Dolan delves more deeply into just how commonplace and effective such a strategy has become for all political stripes).

Glenn Beck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we watched Beck spin his simplistic web of hatred and misinformation, it was hard to know how to react. Should we ignore this nonsense and get back to work? Or pay attention to this class clown? The situation felt like a scene out of elementary school: a loud-mouth bully spreading rumors, and taunting us and our friends.

The standard advice about bullies is to deprive them of the attention they crave and shift our collective gaze. But this bully and his media machine are wreaking too much havoc to ignore. With his canards and distortions, he convinces otherwise level-headed people to act against their self-interest and work to destroy the very things that sustain so many of them: from unemployment benefits and food stamps to clean air and safe schools.

So we decided not to get mad but to get even. Help us counter the growing influence of Beck and his ilk by making a gift today to IPS.

With your help, we can strengthen our Inside-Outside strategy to link enlightened Washington decision makers with today's vital social movements and stand up to the bullies.

It's time to for Beck’s class to be dismissed.

OMG! Glenn Beck is onto Something!

November 17, 2010 ·

Glenn Beck recently baffled reasonable people by playing with creepy "socialist" puppets on his Fox News program while blabbering about how beneficiaries of billionaire George Soros' philanthropy are supposedly Conspiring to Take Over America. The venom-spewing talk show host's attack on Soros, a Holocaust survivor, had an anti-Semitic tone, outraging the Jewish community.

His buffoon-ish, puppet-playing, fear-mongering exploits the tea partiers' anxiety, scaring them into hiding their last tea biscuits from black people, puppets, immigrants, and liberals working for a more just society.

Beck sounds alarmed by what he sees as a radical strategy of working both "inside" and "outside" of power circles to affect change. He gets his undergarments and puppets all in a bunch over my organization, the Institute for Policy Studies. Why? Because our annual report cleverly sports a photo of grassroots movements marching on the outside cover and pictures the Capitol on the inside cover as we describe our work.

Actually, many groups deploy an inside/outside strategies, regardless of their political orientation. Conveying street heat into lawmakers' suites can turn citizen-driven ideas into sound policies that move our nation forward. With Washington so dominated by corporate and military special interests, the Institute fights mightily to amplify the voices of dynamic social movements on the outside to help create the space for innovative policy ideas on the inside.

But, boy, if Beck is scared of organizations like the Institute for Policy Studies (we're nimble and smart but we operate on less than 5 percent of the Heritage Foundation's $70 million annual expense budget) and sophisticated liberal strategists like Van Jones, I bet he's SUPER scared of more heavily funded and aggressively ideological groups like FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and the Tea Party Patriots. Man, talk about working a subversive agenda from "outside" of Congress while lawmakers like Senator Jim DeMint, Senator-elect Rand Paul, Representatives Michelle Bachmann, Mike Pence, and dozens of Hill newcomers work the same agenda "inside" Congress.

And these "outside" groups were even able to leverage untold, undisclosed amounts of secret money into congressional campaigns to get their insiders elected. Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, reports that the new crop of Republican insiders must take a litmus test by filling out a questionnaire on the ultra-right Heritage Foundation's website, and Fox News reports they must declare their loyalty to the Tea Party agenda.

This radical takeover strategy takes an "outside" message of decreasing government spending and surreptitiously transforms it into the immediate “inside” addition of $700 billion onto the deficit to give the wealthiest 2 percent of our citizens an additional tax break. It preys on the fears of senior citizens to support them on the outside as they work furiously, on the inside, to cut their Social Security.

Hey, wait a minute...this really IS scary stuff!

Beck can scapegoat us all he wants, but IPS and other independent organizations will continue to fight the good fight, bringing grassroots voices to bear against Wall Street bailouts and multi-million dollar bonuses rewarding CEOs for their ruthless layoff policies. We'll keep trying to get those in power to focus on bringing war dollars home to our struggling communities and finding a way to keep our nation's hungry children fed, our workers employed with decent pay, and our climate sustainable for future generations. In our pursuit of an economy that works for all of us, we continue to hope that great progressive ideas from the "outside" can influence policy-makers on the "inside," even without the fortune-backed lobbyists that work against our efforts.

But, Glenn, that sure is scary stuff about those well-funded "freedom" groups getting their emissaries elected with secret money and requiring loyalty and litmus tests. And what about all those red-blooded men and women campaigning as outsiders, then ruling as insiders on behalf of the wealthiest 2 percent of our nation's population? Maybe there IS a plot to take over America. Thanks, man, for the warning.

Beware, my fellow Americans. Beware.

Karen Dolan is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/karendolan

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: E. Ethelbert Miller

November 17, 2010 ·

Leading up to Saturday's celebration...Happy Birthday Ethelbert!

Austerity

     (for Temo)

We will all lose our jobs
if not today then tomorrow.

A writer calls me asking about
how to get published. Writers are having
a difficult time. I start to explain
the journey we are on, the poet's path.
The writer interrupts me and says -

Cut the metaphysical bullshit! I want
a Mercedes Benz.

What do you want?

Today I returned my poems to my lover.
I filed for unemployment.
My heart stopped.

     - E. Ethelbert Miller

Used by permission.

Miller was a featured poet at the 2008 Split This Rock Poetry Festival and appeared on the panels "Reclamation, Celebration, Renewal, and Resistance: Black Poets Writing on the Natural World" and "What Makes Effective Political Poetry? Editors' Perspectives" at Split This Rock 2010.

E. Ethelbert Miller is the author of ten books of poems, two memoirs (most recently The 5th Inning ) and editor of four anthologies. He is Board Chair of the Institute for Policy Studies and the Director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University. He is also the editor of Poet Lore magazine.

Miller was a featured poet at the 2008 Split This Rock Poetry Festival and appeared on the panels "Reclamation, Celebration, Renewal, and Resistance: Black Poets Writing on the Natural World" and "What Makes Effective Political Poetry? Editors' Perspectives" at Split This Rock 2010.

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