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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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An Interview with Rene Gonzalez, of the Cuban 5

December 22, 2013 ·

November 13th to 16th, 2013 was the 9th International Colloquium for the Freedom of the Five and Against Terrorism held in Holguín, Cuba, at the eastern end of the island, 85 miles west of Guantanamo. The goal of the Colloquium, organized by ICAP (The Cuban Friendship Institute), was to strengthen the unified international strategy to win the release of The Cuban 5; Gerardo Hernandez, Ramón Labañino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and René González; men imprisoned in the US for the last fifteen years essentially for fighting terrorism orchestrated in the US. Due to the lack of response from the FBI to stop such attacks, Cuba sent the Cuban 5 to Miami to monitor the organizations perpetrating these acts of violence. The idea was to gather information about similar acts that were in the planning stages in order to derail them before they were carried out.

photo of ReneOne of The Five, René González, was released on October 7, 2011, after serving his entire sentence. On April 22, 2013 René returned to Cuba for his father’s funeral and on May 11, Judge Lenard allowed him to stay there provided that he renounce his United States citizenship. That wasn’t a hard decision for René.

Soon to be released is Fernando Gonzalez in February. While millions worldwide look forward to this, it is not justice. Justice would be for all five men to have never gone to prison in the first place. The other brothers – Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, and Antonio Guerrero – have much too much longer sentences to go and should be freed unconditionally. We still have to work for that.

During my visit to Cuba, I had the honor and privilege of interviewing with René:

Netfa Freeman: I just want to ask you, brother, a few questions to help our listeners understand things more, hopefully be fortified with information. I want to say this is an honor and thank you for giving me this interview.

I’m reading Stephen Kimber’s book right now. First is, I understand that you were born in the US. Your family, your parents moved to the US before the Cuban revolution and then ended up moving back afterward. So the first question is really what knowledge and information might your parents have imparted to you or shared with you that gave you your political consciousness and your commitment to the Cuban Revolution? And particularly if you could share how that might have influenced your choice to fight in Angola. You were one of those who served in Angola against apartheid South Africa, to help Angola get its independence.

René González: I want to start by advising everybody to read Kimber’s book. In my opinion it’s the best thing that’s been written about the case. He did great research. He wrote a book which is tied to the facts, to the most elemental things. So it’s a good way to get acquainted with the case, which on the other side is a very complex case. Now you say my parents. They are working class Cubans who by different ways ended up in the States in the 50’s. They met there and I was born in 1956. Then in 1959 came the Cuban Revolution. Since the beginning of the revolution they felt sympathy for the goals and the purpose of the revolutionary process. So they decided to come home in 1961.

It was an interesting time to be in Cuba…

Read the full interview featured in Black Agenda Report.

Demilitarizing the Economy: A Movement is Underway

December 19, 2013 ·

Military vehicles (MRAPs) being produced in a Charleston, SC factory (Photo: New York Times)End wars. Shrink the Pentagon budget. Reinvest the savings in neglected domestic priorities. It’s a logical progression. Right?

Yes, though we’d be fools to expect too much logic out of our current federal legislature. As we end the longest period of war in our history, we should be entering a period of postwar downsizing—the first since the end of the Cold War. And we are, though it’s been driven as much by budget squeezing generally as by a sense of postwar possibility.

And it’s a shallower defense downsizing than the last one. And the December 2013 budget deal will make it even shallower.

But communities that have been living off post-9/11 military budget surges are beginning to feel the effects of this (so far) modest shrinkage. This is the moment to deepen the defense downsizing, and make it endure. An essential piece of this task is to focus on helping communities and workers build alternatives to dependency on building weapon systems we don’t need.

The Institute for Policy Studies has developed a comprehensive strategy (PDF) for building this alternative economic foundation, linking action at the federal, state and local levels.

Here are two of the most exciting developments pushing this forward. They look like the sturdy supports of a movement to me.

State commissions planning for diversification

Connecticut—one of the most defense-dependent states in the nation—is providing one new model for action. In May of this year, peace, environmental and faith groups joined with labor unions to push the legislature to pass “An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Future.” This vague-sounding law contains a visionary mandate: convene a broad-based Commission to come up with a plan to diversify Connecticut’s overly defense-dependent economy. This commission—made up of state economic development directors, legislators, representatives of business groups, the state AFL-CIO, and representatives of peace and environmental organizations—is beginning to meet and will reveal its plan by the end of next year.

Other states are following suit. Maryland will vote on a similar bill in its next legislative session. Wisconsin has one in the works. Activists are pushing the process in Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota. It’s a growing movement that can become a model for the kind of postwar planning that needs to happen on the federal level.

New federal supports for local transition planning

Since the 1980’s the Defense Department has housed a small office dedicated to helping communities plan an economic transition following a base closing or defense contract cancellation. As the Pentagon budget soared during the post-9-11 years, this office focused almost exclusively on the base closings-half of its mission. Now it is refocusing on developing new tools for defense transition assistance (PDF) that would helping communities adjust to defense contract losses with planning grants and technical assistance.

The Obama administration is beginning to expand this Office of Economic Adjustment, as it’s called, and turn it into a gateway for assistance from other federal agencies, including programs in the Departments of Commerce, Energy and Transportation, for communities in transition.

Local activists can work with their local public officials to put together broad-based community coalitions and use these funds to build models of peace economy transition. The more we do, the more lessons we learn about the best practices for doing it, and the stronger this foundation for a demilitarized economy becomes.

New Economy Transitions From the Bottom Up

In the face of federal legislative dysfunction, more and more progressive initiatives are coming from the state and local levels. The effort to build a peace economy, following the longest period of war in our history, is taking its rightful place in this constellation of progress from the bottom up.

Miriam Pemberton is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Defense Transition Assistance fact sheets (PDF) from IPS’ Green Security Project outline the exciting new routes to a peace, rather than military, economy. For more information and help in getting started, contact Miriam Pemberton, Miriam@ips-dc.org, 202-787-5214.

Six of the Top Ten U.S. Billionaires Are Kochs and Waltons

November 25, 2013 ·

This blog originally featured in YES! Magazine.

(Truthout/Flickr)For the first time ever, according to Forbes magazine, the 400 richest Americanshave more than $2 trillion in combined wealth. And, a fifth of that amount is held by just 10 individuals. Of those top 10 richest Americans, six hail from two families—the Kochs and the Waltons—who are destroying our economy and corrupting our politics. We all should be outraged.

Arguably, the two most urgent tasks in this country are to transform our economy and to clean up our politics, and these two families stand in the way of both.

Our economy is addicted to fossil fuels and Charles and David Koch’s company,Koch Industries, is a key driver with investments in pipelines and refineriesacross the United States. These two Koch brothers rank four and five on the billionaire list.

In addition, our economy is marked by stagnating wages, which have sunk to povertylevels for millions of workers. The key driver of our low-wage economy is Walmart, with its 11,000 stores worldwide that pay so little that many of its workers get by on food stamps. The four main heirs to Walmart’s founder, Sam Walton, rank numbers six, seven, eight, and nine on the billionaires list. Three sit on the Walmart board, including Rob Walton, the board chair. (Other U.S. billionaires have made their fortunes in destructive Wall Street financial firms and through the generous government handouts of what President Eisenhower called "the military-industrial complex.")

The problem is, of course, not just economics. It’s the way that economics interacts with politics. The Koch brothers have poured some of their combined $72 billion in wealth into conservative and tea party politicians at the governor and state legislature levels.

Read the original in full on YES! Magazine's blog.

What's Hot and What's Not at COP19 in Warsaw

November 22, 2013 ·

Warsaw, Poland during COP19 (photo: Lauren Gifford)

This is the second week of the annual UN climate summit, hosted this year in Warsaw, Poland. Governments and activists gathered here on pushing for to make sure key provisions on lowering greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to a warming world, dealing with loss and damages from climate disruption, and finding ways to pay for it all are queued up for a new climate deal in 2015. As negotiations enter their final days, three participants weigh in on what’s hot, and what’s not, at COP19.


The HOT list…

Demanding climate justice

It seems everyone’s calling for ‘climate justice’ these days — and we’re all for it! It can mean many things, but most importantly it acknowledges the economic roots and geo-politics of the climate crisis. It’s based on recognition that global warming — and the proposed solutions to it — disproportionately impact low-income people and people of colour, and that those most impacted have the right to a seat at the table to speak for themselves. Sure, you can hang a climate justice banner on just about anything — that’s why international collaborations that separate the wheat from the chaff like the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice are so important.  

Philippine head of delegate Naderev Yeb Sano (photo: Adopt A Negotiator)Solidarity fasting

In his opening plenary remarks, Philippine head of delegate Naderev “Yeb” Sano announced that he would fast for the duration of the COP until “a meaningful outcome is in sight,” in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos without food, water and shelter in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Over 700,000 people around the world have stood with Yeb, and many are planning to fast once a month until COP20. As the Warsaw summit enters the realm of the ridiculous (like Poland sacking the COP host mid-meeting), we’d bet that people are getting pretty hungry. 

Asking “WTF?”

As in, “Where’s the Finance?” Dealing with climate change could cost more than $1 trillion each year. Wealthy countries promised four years ago in Copenhagen to set up a Green Climate Fund and deliver $100 billion per year once we reach 2020. But countries have so far refused to commit to a concrete plan for scaling up the paltry support provided since Copenhagen. U.S. climate chief Todd Stern has said not to expect more public funding from developed countries anytime soon. A High Level Ministerial Meeting on Finance is supposed to yield some answers — but we aren’t holding our breath.

Men in tights

There is one ray of hope for climate finance: Robin Hood and his merry men are about to visit Europe. 11 European countries — including the four largest economies on the continent — are implementing a Robin Hood Tax (also known as a financial transaction tax) in the coming year. This tiny tax on trades on stocks, bonds, currencies, and derivatives can yield up to $50 billion per year. France already has the tax and is earmarking ten percent of the revenue to climate and development overseas. The rest of EU11 might follow suit, and the U.S. should fall in line!

 Anti-corporate campaigning

The corporate capture of the COP by big business and dirty industry has been staggering. But the unexpected side-effect has been to unite civil society observers in taking up an anti-corporate mantle. Signs in the corridors have not been shy about asking “Who rules Poland?” and “Poland or Coaland?” 

Walkout at COP19: Polluters talk, we walk

In an inspiring show of solidarity with each other and the planet, environment, development, youth, labor, and faith groups said, “Enough is enough!” and walked out of the Warsaw climate talks on the eve of its final day, saying that it’s blatantly obvious that forces of the fossil fuel industry are making it impossible to have a real conversation about reaching a global climate treaty. Mainstream green groups joined with veteran climate justice activists to abandon COP19, promising they’ll be back even stronger next year when the climate summit moves to Lima, Peru.

 


The NOT list…

Paying twice the price of local food

Eating shouldn’t have to be a luxury, but it is in the Polish National Stadium (Stadion Narodowy) where the COP is taking place. Food is twice as expensive here as it is elsewhere in Warsaw. Delegates from many developing nations — and youth representatives — are counting their grozses to be able to afford the cardboard-flavoured Sodexo sandwiches. Another good reason to support Yeb’s fast!

Heart of darkness 

And we don’t mean the gloom that’s descended on the climate talks since Australia and Japan reneged on their promises (and policies) to reduce greenhouse gases. In November, the sun sets in Warsaw around three in the afternoon. Or maybe it’s coal ash settling from Poland’s 47 coal-fired power plants. Either way, consumption of Vitamin D has gone through the roof.

Sucking up to coal

In a show of solidarity with the dirty energy industry, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres heralded coal as an integral part of solving climate change at the International Coal and Climate Summit. Meanwhile, civil society staged a major action outside the summit denouncing the expanded use of coal. Cozying up to coal cost Figueres her invitation to the annual Conference of Youth, a meeting attended by people who actually care about the future. On the positive side, the UK said it would stop financing coal with public money.

Putting lipstick on the carbon market

The bleachers of Stadion Narodowy are abuzz with the promise of new market mechanisms. But existing carbon markets have shown a weakness for fraud, scams, and general ineffectiveness. The World Bank tells us not to worry — they’ve learned from the EU’s failures and the 20 new carbon markets they’re helping setup in developing countries will get the job done. For now, a decision’s been kicked down the road. But can we please stop trying to put lipstick on this pig (did someone say pirogues in szmalec)? Let’s stop wasting time and simply cut emissions.

Shameless self-promotion

You’ve got to hand it to Emirates Airlines. They’ve placed oversized beanbag chairs all over the conference for weary negotiators to take a nap. But let’s be honest, grownups in suits look silly sleeping on the floor! Maybe the aim was to get delegates so relaxed they’d forget that the airline industry as a whole is responsible for about 2% of global climate pollution — or that two of the UAE’s major economic drivers are oil and gas export. 

Australia’s "DILLIGAF?" attitude

Urban dictionary can help you out with that acronym. Australian delegates made it perfectly clear how little they care about finding a way to help compensate poorer countries deal with “loss and damage” from climate disruptions. The Aussie officials acted like “a bunch of high school boys misbehaving in class” in their t-shirts and flip flops before finally bracketing [i.e. putting on hold] all of the already agreed-upon text. Their disruptive behavior drove 130 developing nations to eventually walk out in frustration at four in the morning, abandoning what some have called the most important talks in Warsaw. Walk outs are so hot right now, it seems.

Jonas Bruun and Robbie Watt are PhD candidates at the University of Manchester. Lauren Gifford is a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Corporate Capture in Warsaw: The 'New Normal' in the Disaster Zone

November 18, 2013 ·

Robbie Watt in front of COP19's plenary session boxes, sponsored by the corporation ArcelorMittal

We are half way through the 19th summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in cold, grey Poland. Far away in the Philippines thousands of people have lost their lives to Typhoon Haiyan and hundreds of thousands struggle to find food, water, and shelter.

This typhoon makes climate chaos dramatically visible as current reality—not just future possibility. The pictures and stories of the devastation are a reminder that as the planet warms, mega-storms like Haiyan are expected to become more frequent and more fierce. A typhoon hit the Philippines at the time of the COP last year too, as if devastating storms are becoming a ‘new normal’ at the climate negotiations.

The immediate and future impacts of climate change make the case for an urgent response – yet in Warsaw delegates seem to be responding with words instead of action.

As has been the case since the signing of the climate convention in 1992, a priority of international negotiations is for rich countries to agree and then act to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. Commitments are not really on the table here, but are supposed to be agreed by 2015, when the summit meets in Paris. Unfortunately governments are not showing much ambition, and are even outlining plans to do less than they had previously agreed to. Australia, Japan and Canada have been set a bad example to this effect, while the United States’ position as a laggard has hardly changed.

There are plenty of technical questions under discussion here in various work programmes and subsidiary bodies, keeping the delegates busy. But without any ambition on pollution cuts we are left with the clear impression of running around going nowhere, like a hamster racing round on the exercise wheel in its cage. With the meeting rooms arranged in a ring inside the circular national stadium, delegates are literally running around in circles at this negotiation.

Officials in Warsaw are already resigned to the idea that we must wait until 2015 before reaching a new global climate deal, and many countries—particularly developed ones—have accepted the notion that we’ll wait another five years after that before any of these plans are implemented. If that happens, the next 8 years will be filled with another ‘normal’ at these negotiations – all talk and no walk.

Only an emotional speech by Philippine head of delegation Naderev Sano about the lives and livelihoods lost in his home country and his pledge to fast until “a meaningful outcome was in sight” seemed capable of rousing the attention of both delegates and international media. 

‘Green’ Corporate Sponsorship

Meanwhile, another ‘new normal’ is emerging at the climate summit. The negotiations in Poland have attracted an unprecedented number of corporate sponsors and lobbyists from big business and dirty industry, such as General Motors and the French energy conglomerate Alstom.

ArcelorMittal—one of Europe's most polluting firms, with a track record of lobbying to make millions out of Europe's failing experiments with carbon markets—constructed the temporary steel boxes in the national stadium (where the talks are taking place) to house plenary sessions, giving the impression that climate negotiations are literally being imprisoned under corporate control.

An entire floor in the stadium has been dedicated to private companies peddling ‘solutions’ to the climate crisis in the form of false-hope technologies such as pumping pollution underground and burning trash. Negotiators can relax in Emirates Air beanbag chairs, strategically placed all around the stadium. And many delegates carry complimentary goody-bags, a gift from the 11 official for-profit partners representing the aviation, auto, fossil fuel, and heavy industrial sectors.

The Polish government defends corporate sponsorship, claiming that the businesses involved provide ‘green’ products and services. In making this claim, the Poles are ignoring the compelling evidence of these firms’ environmental destruction and are legitimizing their dangerous presence at the negotiations, as outlined in the COP19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying.  

Of course the private sector has to be part of solving the climate crisis—but first, they have to get out of the business of polluting for profit. We find the corporate capture of the climate conference problematic in three major ways.

First, the 11 corporate partners are enjoying privileged access in return for their support while civil society observer organizations—the groups that represent the public interest—have experienced unexpected restrictions in their ability to participate in the UNFCCC.

Second, many of the ‘solutions’ corporate partners offer are not ‘green’ and will not stop the release of greenhouse gases. Instead, these proposals serve to protect corporate interests while creating new opportunities for profit.

Third, climate change is a problem that can only be properly addressed through collective action. However, it’s becoming ‘normal’ to frame climate change as a business opportunity, where companies can make money from flawed carbon markets and the ‘Green Corporate Fund’.

COP19 is being branded as the first full-out corporate COP. This sets a dangerous precedent and should not become a 'new normal.' The apparent normality of disasters and lack of action associated with climate politics is already bad enough. 

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