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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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Ain't No Stopping A Progressive Agenda: Part 3

November 15, 2010 ·

In the third part of my "Silver Lining" series, trying to find some hope in moving forward after a mid-term election in which Conservatives gained a lot of power, I will reiterate the first points: Its not insignificant that the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) largely stayed intact, and its in our favor that this election was an anti-incumbent election and decidedly not an election that either rejected progressive values nor embraced the pro-corporate, privatization agenda of the republicans.

On a psychological level, big losses in the CPC would have a terribly demoralizing effect on Progressives. Practically speaking, they are still the biggest caucus within the democratic caucus, their majority over the conservative Dems is now significantly larger, and they are still important allies and venues for our ideas and for the campaigns of social movements

Some things can still be done inside the of Washington and a lot can be done outside. One does not preclude or contradict the other. We all are stronger banding together and working all fronts in a complimentary way.

Let's first look inside:

Inside. Encourage Democrats to get as much done in the "lame duck" session as possible. For example:
1. Extend Unemployment Insurance before it expires Nov 30 
2. Extend the job-creating life-saving, state fiscal relief program of the TANF ECF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund) 
3. Pass the Child Nutrition Act. Restore funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP, formerly known as food stamps)
4. Push on a moratorium on foreclosures.
5. End the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Extend tax cuts for low and middle income.
6. Get pieces of Immigration Reform and try to improve and pass comprehensive Immigration Reform

Here are some less likely, but just as necessary goals that we continue to push, this session and next:

1. Pass the Miller Jobs Bill or another good, bold public jobs bill 
2. Pass a Financial Transactions Tax 
3. Cut military and war spending, this is much more likely now than ever before. Some Republicans and Tea Partiers are on our side in this. It was the only good recommendation to come out of yesterday's Chairman's' Mark from the Deficit Commission. 
With Regard to the Administration:
• Press Obama on Executive Orders. There is much he can do without Congress. The Center for Progressive Reform outlines more of what can be done: Protect children form toxic chemicals. Ban non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics in agriculture. Institute more effective provisions for work-place safety. Regulate coal companies. Make EPA work under the Clean Water Act to have states hold agri-business liable for nutrient pollution. For more see the Center's white paper, Obama's Path Forward: Impart a Sense of Urgency to Regulatory Agencies Protecting Health, Safety and the Environment.
• The Progressive Caucus Foundation's Darcy Burner puts it neatly. She highlight's this that the Administration can do..TODAY if it wanted to: 
End Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell, implement net neutrality, stop separating families through deportation, require that all future Federal Reserve appointees agree to prioritize full employment as equally important as price stability, change procurement processes to reward the creation of American jobs, aggressively prosecute war profiteering, begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan as promised, rescind executive orders restricting access to legal abortions, throw the book at companies that break the law to thwart worker organizing, and enforce existing laws and safety regulations for oil and mining companies as a start.

Outside Congress:
• Join movements across issue areas (or "silos" as has become the term of the day). The Domestic Human Needs communities are coming together with Anti-Military spending communities and working to reduce the military budget and fund desperately needed domestic programs
• Use Social Media to get our message and stories out. YouTube is a tremendous resource too. Research tell us that people remember and feel an emotional connection to an issue more if we see it and hear it, rather than to just read about it. 
• Hold town hall and community meetings. One of the last strongholds of liberals is at the local level. Incubate ideas there; create a groundswell of support for progressive national policy through locally elected officials. 
• Join and support Unions
• Create and support local and state-owned banks. the Bank of North Dakota is a great model
• Frequent local business that are a part of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Urge businesses to join.
• Document our and our neighbors experiences. Publish them; bring them to local, state and federal lawmakers.

These are just a few ideas. Our challenge is not to despair. The Congressional Progressive Caucus survived. More importantly, We the People, progressive movements, survived and are potentially very energized. We can thrive. If we quickly get good public jobs, more of us can thrive.

This election was decidedly NOT a referendum on progressive ideas such as those illustrated above. Polls show time and again that most Americans desire fairness, do not favor tax cuts for the wealthy, want Wall Street regulated, want food safety, adequate nutrition for our children, strong public schools, decent affordable health care for all, government that can levy our tax dollars to extend income supports to those who are out of work when no jobs are available. We are still a tolerant, liberal society. Progressives are still in a winning position in many ways, especially outside of "the Beltway." And with work, will win in a way that we can keep moving the country forward.

An Open Letter to President Obama, Or Change I believed in

November 12, 2010 ·

Dear President Obama,

You’re not the man I thought you were.

Roughly a week ago, you issued a waiver that would allow the US to continue to provide military assistance to four countries—Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, and Chad—whose militaries recruit or deploy child soldiers.

You claimed the waivers would serve as a warning to the states to get their acts together. You claimed Yemen is a key ally in the war on terror and requires our assistance to survive. You said Chad, the DRC, and Sudan were making steps in the right direction and still required our assistance for force modernization and human rights training. Even your advisor Samantha Powers, someone whose human rights work I have deep respect for, tried to justify the waivers as a chance for these countries to do better.

Most progressives have no problem finding flaws with your first years as President to criticize you about, whether it’s the whittling down of the healthcare bill, decision to ramp up military operations in Afghanistan, failure to close Guantanamo, or deal effectively with Climate Change at Copenhagen.

For me however, it is the moments in which you have an opportunity to make a clear decision, with profound moral implications, and yet choose to act in a way that makes me ashamed to call you my President.

It has been one of the saddest and most disappointing aspects of your presidency that you have not only allowed militaries that use children to fight their battles to operate with impunity, but currently and actively assist these same militaries. I wish I could say these waivers were the first instance I suffered this extreme disappointment, but just last year you provided training, arms, and cash to the Somalia Transitional Federal Government, a known user of child soldiers. I still have not forgiven you.

I understand why the idea of professionalizing soldiers and training them in human rights could sound appealing, and even seem like the right course of action. However, a good soldier soon becomes meaningless if he is left to exist independent of the civil institutions necessary to both support him and hold him accountable for his actions. You are smart enough to know no amount of military training and good intentions will create civilian accountability and human rights in these conflict zones. The rule of the gun can never accomplish what the rule of law can.

If these governments lacked the institutional wherewithal to keep children out of their militaries in the first place, what should make us believe they will be able to control the soldiers we train for them? Should we believe that the key power players and military leaders in these countries who have shown their moral disregard for human rights before are suddenly changed men? That the war criminal Bosco Ntaganda has just been misunderstood by the ICC and only needs our help to change his ways? Why should we give these people a second chance to hurt more people?

I can believe that trying to achieve the progressive agenda you promised was difficult, and subject to many institutional constraints that kept you from doing everything the world hoped for. I don’t blame you for that.

That you have decided to make an exception for child soldiers in these countries, in the name of our national interests—for that, I do blame you. As a Senator, you supported and co-sponsored the Child Soldier Prevention Act that made what you are doing illegal. Perhaps more importantly, you are a father with two young children of your own.

What national interest of ours would be worth destroying the innocence of Sasha and Malia? And why is it acceptable for children in other countries to fight for these national interests?

All of this has lead me to one of two conclusions: either you lied to us, you lied about the bill you supported, about the type of man you were, about the promises of change, or perhaps more disappointing--the system has changed you.

You are the President of my country, but I’ll be damned if you do this in my name. This is your decision and your moral failing. Its consequences will be born by others, but the blame and the responsibility lies squarely with you.

Regretfully yours,
Michael Sean Lally

Decoding the G-20 Drama

November 12, 2010 ·

There was a big brouhaha at the G-20 summit this week over what they’re dryly calling “global trade imbalances.”

In the simplest terms, what this boils down to is this: Americans buy too much stuff from China. Chinese stuff is artificially cheap because of currency manipulation, but also because of labor repression that keeps wages down. And because wages are so low, Chinese people don’t buy very much stuff, so the money from exports piles up.

China is expected to have a trade surplus of $270 billion this year, while the United States is expected to have a trade deficit of $466 billion. Other countries have trade imbalances too, but these are the biggies.

The trade deficit hurts the U.S. economy because money spent on imports is money not spent on U.S. products that support jobs in this country. Also, to fund this deficit, the United States has to borrow money from abroad. And if the deficit keeps growing, the day may come when foreign investors are no longer willing to lend.

Last month, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner tried to get the other G-20 governments to agree to limit their trade imbalances to no more than 4 percent of GDP. How did he pick 4 percent as the target? Well, it’s probably no mere coincidence that China’s surplus is expected to exceed that mark this year (4.7 percent), while the U.S. deficit is expected to fall below it (3.2 percent). Geithner was basically told to take a hike.

So what’s a U.S. policymaker facing a nearly 10 percent unemployment rate to do? One option would be to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing through targeted public investment. You could pay for it by increasing taxes on the ultra-rich or by taxing financial speculation. Sadly, the outcome of the mid-term election likely put the kibosh on that kind of stimulus spending, at least for the next two years.

Instead, the Fed, which doesn’t have to worry about Tea Party opposition, did what’s called “quantitative easing” — another unnecessarily abstract term that basically means they’re printing money, to the tune of $600 billion. The Fed's idea was that all this cash will lubricate the wheels of the American economy, get credit flowing again, and create jobs.

This is largely based on faith. As Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega put it, “It doesn’t help things to be throwing dollars from a helicopter.” Brazil and other fast-growing emerging markets are worried that the Fed-created cash, instead of financing U.S. job creation, will slosh into their economies, where interest rates are higher. This would drive up the value of their currencies, making their exports less competitive. Wolfgang Schaeuble, the finance minister of Germany, which is a trade surplus country like China, declared the Fed’s action “clueless.”

Such tough jabs are unusual among finance ministers. What seemed to really get their blood boiling was the fact that the Fed announced the action without giving the other governments as much as a heads up. This week’s G-20 summit in Seoul, Korea concluded without any meaningful agreement, other than a timid pledge to “refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies.” So much for the G-20 fulfilling its self-declared status as the “premier forum for international economic cooperation.”

Meanwhile, to deal with the surge of short-term “hot” money that could drive up the value of their currencies, Brazil, Taiwan, and several other countries are imposing various forms of controls on capital inflows. However, this is not really an option for the 52 countries that have signed U.S. trade or investment treaties which severely restrict the use of this policy tool. If they violate these restrictions, they run the risk of facing expensive lawsuits from affected foreign investors.

Hopefully the Obama administration will now recognize that bans on capital controls are outmoded and work to revise them. As Dani Rodrik, of Harvard University puts it, “capital controls are now orthodox.”

While giving governments the authority to use policy tools at the national level to control capital flows is critical, this patchwork approach is not ideal. We need a new international monetary system that can help prevent the kind of “currency wars” we’re seeing today. That’s something French President Nicolas Sarkozy plans to put at the center of the G-20 agenda now that he has taken over the presidency of that body for the next year. Let’s hope he can get the other leaders to stop squabbling and take the challenge seriously.

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Naomi Ayala

November 11, 2010 ·

In Adams Morgan, Two Years of Neighborhood-Wide Reconstruction Come to a Halt for the Night


And now, where the moon
rose behind here,
three stories loom—
inexplicable to the eye.
Floodlights lift
the puddles in the alley
to sad perfection.
No other brightness
to make beautiful
the edges of the dark.
Progress comes—
mocking visitor, a snoop—
to awed spaces
where we hold up
our pots and pans,
brush sweat
from our brows, wipe hands
on threadbare dishrags,
scold and kiss our children.
We should be glad—
some people tell us—
life is precious, move on.
Others say poverty
is redemption: leave.
And waiting to wake
we stir all night. We pray.
Our father, god
of the cupboard and the ladle,
redeem us. 

-Naomi Ayala

From This Side of Early (Curbstone Press 2008).  Used by permission.

 

Naomi Ayala is the author of This Side of Early and Wild Animals on the Moon. She teaches at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD and the Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at UMASS-Boston and serves on the Board of Directors of DC Advocates for the Arts.

Ayala was a featured poet at the 2008 Split This Rock Poetry Festival and appeared on the panel “Women & War/Women & Peace:  International Voices” and read as part of the Beltway Poetry Quarterly celebration at Split This Rock 2010.   

Military Spending Takes its Place at the Table

November 11, 2010 ·

The two chairs of the Deficit Reduction Commission have floated their trial balloon.  Here’s my good news/ bad news quick take on their proposals for military spending:

Good news:

  • Cutting military spending—the formerly untouchable component of the budget—is off-limits no more. Secretary Gates has been proposing “cuts” that are actually shaved, and redirected, increases.  What the Deficit Commission chairs are proposing is, actually, cuts.
  • Military spending gets equal treatment!  It makes up half the discretionary budget (what Congress votes on every year).  The team of Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson propose cutting $100 billion from defense, and $100 billion from everything else.  Proportional, in other words.
  • This includes $20 billion in weapons buys.  This would be the largest cut in this budget since the end of the cold war.  The list includes items that IPS’ Unified Security Budget task force, which I chair, and the Sustainable Defense Task Force, of which I am a member, have recommended, including ending, finally, the hybrid helicopter plane—the V-22 Osprey—that’s struggled to become airborne since the eighties, and that even Dick Cheney tried to kill; canceling the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program; cutting in half buys of the Joint Strike Fighter plane, the most expensive weapons program EVER; and further cutting the grab bag of high-tech toys, the Future Combat Systems.
  • They propose cutting 1/3 of our overseas bases, bringing home 150,000 of our troops in Europe and Asia, which IPS has also been advocating for years.  The savings they project from this are far smaller than our projections.

Bad news:

  • They make no mention of savings to be gained from cuts to the nuclear weapons complex, for example, or to unneeded aircraft fighter wings, or submarines, or destroyers.
  • They get to their $100 billion number by gesturing toward large quantities of unspecified “efficiencies.”
  • While reassigning Defense Secretary Gates’ projected savings to the deficit is better than his plans to plow them back into his own budget, this money is sorely needed for job-creating investment.
  • No sooner had the balloon been launched than other members of the Commission began taking pot shots at it.  Further deliberations, and the voting, are still to come. 
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