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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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Race and Economics: A Nation and Its Capital Divided

November 9, 2010 ·

It is said one has to get outside of Washington DC to get a proper perspective on the nation's problems, but the nation's capital provides plenty of insight into the challenges facing this country. Washington DC, like the country as a whole, is currently on a path of increasing division and inequality. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute notes that in Washington DC the average household income for the richest fifth increased by 81% or $78,900 from 1980 to 2006. For the middle fifth there was an increase of 31% or $11,000 and for the poorest fifth only a 3% increase equaling $400. In over 25 years, the richest of DC increased their household income by almost $80,000, while the poorest saw their increase disappear by spending an extra dollar a day over one year. Similarly, from 1980 to 2005 over 80% of the total increase in all of America's income went to the top 1 percent.

This growing economic inequality has strengthened racial and class divisions throughout the country, creating new dynamics in the defacto segregation that still exist in Washington DC and many of the country's urban centers. The new trend in the ongoing segregation of America is the urbanization of upper income whites and the suburbanization of the working class and disenfranchised minorities. The new trend is reversing the segregationist trends of the latter half of the 20th century...

For the rest, please click here.

From The IPS Cave: A Conversation between Newman Fellows

November 9, 2010 ·

Obama Campaign

TOPE
: Hey Kevin, Just came across this really interesting article by Sean Wilentz in The New Republic today.  It’s a distillation of a few ideas I’ve been batting around for a few months – the most important of which (and Wilentz captures this really well, I think) is that President Obama set himself up to fail because his campaign was all about ‘movement building’ and his presidency, alas, has been about the typical horse-trading and politicking that accompanies much of what happens here in DC.  The article is effective because it captures why so many progressives feel, well,used (I hate using relationship terms here, but hey, it works).  But maybe not just progressives – maybe everyone (everyone who voted for Obama, that is) feels a bit used because Obama’s candidacy was premised on channeling the rage and disappointment that people felt about America circa 2007/8 towards an amorphous idea of a future in which ‘we were the change we could believe in’ or some such…and yet, there was never, well, a point.  As Wilentz says:

Thus, the Obama campaign presented itself as a social movement that was more sentimental than political, pushing gauzy “values,” like “hope” and “change,” while leaving policy concerns to the wonks. Yet the successful movements of the past had more than values; they had specific goals.

Later, Wilentz says:

The point of the Obama campaign-as-movement was conceived differently: exciting people with the thrill of empowerment, and collective self-empowerment, by electing to the White House a community organizer who believed in “hope” and “change.” Why electing Obama was imperative required no explanation among the faithful; it was enough to get the spirit, share the spirit, and revel in the candidate’s essence, which, by definition, no other candidate possessed. The leader was the program.

Indeed!  The leader was the program.  So this got me thinking – have we (we being Obama supporters here, erstwhile and otherwise) given up too soon?  After all, we knew what we were getting into…right?  We knew that Obama didn’t offer up many policy specifics, we knew he was green, we knew that he’d do some learning on the job...we signed up for all of this. We believed in the man – we believed that his background and intelligence would enable him, ultimately, to succeed as no one else could.  So are we just really fickle?

KEVIN: That is an interesting article, and like many progressives I do feel used by Obama (I firmly believe that we had a good thing going on there). 

I do agree that in order for social change to happen, a coordination of the top and the bottom needs to happen. You need a grassroots movement to hold those in power accountable. And I think the reason why we are losing so much right now is because the grassroots movement got hijacked by the right (i.e. tea party). I've read a little bit of Ganz while I was in school, and we talked about this before, the Obama movement (which is drastically different from past movements) is that it is based on getting Obama elected, and I guess in extension, supporting the values and rhetoric that he was presenting to people. However, I don't know if I can buy into the fact that the Obama movement had no substance whatsoever, I mean it is a little harder to tell when you position him against Hilary Clinton, but if you pit him against McCain, there is a stark difference.

I think the problem we are facing here is that we are missing a robust progressive grassroots movement that is pushing the Democratic Party and Obama to do progressive things (i.e. single-payer health care system, more robust wall street reform, a true withdrawal from the Middle-East). I am starting to wonder whether it would have been better for the greater good of all of us if Hillary or any other democrat, with somewhat progressive values became president, and Obama, using his cult of personality and movement to establish a truly progressive grassroots movement to check the Democratic Establishment. But then again, the reason why Obama was so popular was because people were excited about seeing an African American in the White House, so who knows if he has that ability to rally people from the "outside." All in all, I think it is safe to conclude that what is desperately needed right now is a grassroots movement--how we go about creating that movement is something a little bit more difficult. And as always, we are open to suggestions!

Housing Demolition in East Jerusalem

November 8, 2010 ·

East Jerusalem

Walking through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City is a pleasure to the senses: smells of garlic and tea sift through the air, bright colored scarves, coffee pots and evil eye jewelry hang in tiny shops, and crowds of locals and tourists clog the tiny, stone-paved streets. Though most tourists are drawn to Jerusalem for its historical and religious sites, the city is actually a huge locus of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The most tangible manifestation of injustice in Jerusalem is arguably the government sanctioned housing demolitions in Palestinian-dominated East Jerusalem.

During a recent trip to Israel, I saw firsthand the discrepancy between Jewish and Muslim communities and the physical divide between West and East Jerusalem. I went on a day tour of East Jerusalem with the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions (ICAHD), a non-violent organization that resists housing demolitions in East Jerusalem through direct action, domestic and international advocacy, as well as tours.

The difference between East and West Jerusalem is stark: where West Jerusalem has tree-lined sidewalks and functioning infrastructure, East Jerusalem has dusty, narrow streets, no trash pick-up, and water storage containers on top of houses because most residents are not connected to the municipal water mains. The separation wall stands eight meters high with barbed wire at the top, dividing Arabs in East Jerusalem from their families in the West Bank. Along with the lack of infrastructure in this area, there are no zoning laws so Palestinian residents are not permitted to build new houses: the legal measure that allows the Israeli government to demolish homes. This system serves as a means of making Palestinians leave East Jerusalem. The situation is complex, however, because once Palestinians leave the city, they lose their residency and therefore access to the Old City, their old homes, and their community. Because of this, many people do decide to remain in East Jerusalem despite the constant threat of housing demolitions.

While on the tour, we spoke with a Palestinian woman in the contested neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah. She had been displaced over a year ago – the Israeli government evicted her family and gave her home to Jewish settlers who often spark violence in the area. An international solidarity tent stands nearby where someone sleeps every night to keep watch on the neighborhood. The neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah has entered the limelight because of the scope of its injustice and the ways in which the Israeli government uses its legal system to expand Jewish settlements thereby shrinking the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem.

The most recent East Jerusalem protest ensued on October 25th after the Israeli police gave 231 demolition orders to Palestinian families all across East Jerusalem, including Silwan, an Arab neighborhood in close proximity to the Old City. According to Human Rights Watch, Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes peaked this year, reaching 141 in July. This is the largest number of demolitions per month since 2005. Meanwhile, the Israeli government subsidizes Jewish settlements all over the occupied territories and in East Jerusalem as well.

Though Israel places most its inexcusable violent measures under the banner of “security,” this particular form of destruction is purely discriminatory and does not fall into the category of Israeli defense. If Israel intends to continue the peace process, it must stop demolishing Palestinian homes and building Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.

Who Gives A Rat's Behind that Progressive Lawmakers WON?

November 8, 2010 ·

I recently published the blog post Buck Up Progressives--We WON! Many readers appreciated the silver lining to an otherwise demoralizing mid-term election outcome. Others thought the resilience of Congressional Progressive Caucus lawmakers meaningless at best, just the same or worse than corporate-owned, pro-wealthy Republicans at worst.

So, does it matter that there are close to 80 self-proclaimed House progressives who maintained their seats in the wake of an unprecedented flood of secret money, thanks to the Supreme Court's "Citizen's United" ruling?

It certainly does.

An overwhelming majority of Congressional Progressive Caucus incumbents won after governing with integrity in most instances. They weren't always successful. They failed in their bid for Single Payer, then in their stand for a "Robust Public Option" in the health reform bill. They couldn't defund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lack of movement on truly progressive steps to reverse climate change, to get a good jobs bill out of Congress, scrap Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and securing full enfranchisement for citizens living in the District of Columbia were deeply disappointing.

Yet, thanks in large part to progressive grassroots movements, advocates and experts, Congressional Progressive Caucus lawmakers successfully increased food stamp benefits for our growing numbers of hungry families. They helped keep 3.3 million people out of poverty by extending Unemployment Insurance to our alarming number of unemployed workers. They, at least temporarily, helped create 250,000 state jobs for low-income TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) recipients in the Great Recession's wake.

They played a crucial role in getting Congress to rein in predatory lenders, regulate Wall Street, pass credit card consumer protection, protect worker rights, increase the minimum wage, subsidize health insurance for Americans who lost their jobs, boost the Earned Income Tax Credit to lift vulnerable families out of poverty, and more.

In other words, they did more than any other congressional block to introduce and pass progressive legislation that made significant differences in the lives of poor people and others who are struggling in this country. They have laid the groundwork for more that can be done in the lame duck session, including passing a meaningful jobs bill, extending much-needed Unemployment Insurance, passing a good child nutrition bill and extending the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund to keep jobs for low-income workers.

Because progressive Democrats prevailed in the midterm elections as the Blue Dog delegation's ranks were halved, we will likely have Nancy Pelosi as Minority Leader instead of conservative Steny Hoyer. Because we have so many progressives in Congress, we'll have champions for our causes and venues for our ideas.

There's no question that our possibilities of advancing any more of a progressive agenda in Congress are vastly diminished if not eliminated by key progressive losses, and that future congressional elections are jeopardized by sweeping GOP victories in many state legislatures. Indeed, we'll probably see some of the successes we've had rolled back. But keeping the Congressional Progressive Caucus intact marks a significant win for progressives and for poor people, immigrants, people of color, young people, senior citizens, single mothers, and the unemployed. It's the least we need.

We would be much worse off without them.

What Do the Elections Mean for the Environment?

November 4, 2010 ·

The Real News Network interviewed IPS's environmental expert Daphne Wysham on what's in store for the environment over the next two years.

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