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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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If You Can 'Speak' with Your Money, Then Why Is Asking For Money Illegal?

November 18, 2013 ·

(Flickr/Gamma Man)Money may be protected speech but apparently, speech that asks for money is not.

Two recent legal cases about money and free speech unveil a contradiction in our application of the First Amendment. One deals with the right of the rich to influence politics with a lot of money, the other deals with the right of the poor to ask for a little to buy a meal or bus ticket.

On October 8, the Supreme Court heard arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) that could open the floodgates on unlimited campaign contributions. If McCutcheon succeeds, the case could lift limits on how much money an individual can spend in an election cycle.

If the Court sides with McCutcheon, it could strike down aggregate limits on campaign contributions in the name of free speech. Currently, the donation limit is $48,000 per cycle, which enables giving the maximum amount of money to 18 national candidates per election. Even if the FEC could still limit donations to a single campaign, rich donors would see a new rush of power, gaining influence in more elections. Every politician in the country would basically need to beg this small group to finance their next job interview with the American people.

If the court overturns years of campaign finance reform, it will take a constitutional amendment to distinguish unlimited campaign money from protected speech.

Meanwhile, the homeless and unemployed are experiencing the right to express their need for money taken away.

In Arizona, a 77-year-old woman was arrested for asking an undercover cop for a bus fare under a state law that forbade panhandling. This law was subsequently challenged in federal court and overruled, but other similar laws exist nationwide.

Since the recession, the U.S. has passed a litany of laws making it illegal to ask for even a small amount of cash. Cities and states across the country have banned panhandling and "loitering to beg" in response to increased poverty.

The state of Michigan faces a similar challenge to its panhandling law. Even some more liberal cities have proposed or implemented panhandling bans, like Baltimore, MD, Bennington, VT, and Worcester, MA.

We are becoming a nation where free speech is granted only to the rich and powerful while the rest of us are increasingly rendered utterly voiceless.

Andrew Small is an intern of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

Opening COP19 Warsaw: A Climate Justice Take on UN Talks

November 12, 2013 ·

Opening statement by the President of COP19 Mr. Marcin Korolec (UNclimatechange/flickr)To mark the start of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP19) in Warsaw, Poland, a new series of Climate Justice briefings has been released offering critical perspectives on a number of the crucial issues under discussion.

First up, A Vision for Equity argues that negotiations should focus on setting a “global emissions budget” to keep temperature rises within the 1.5 degree target that would avoid dangerous climate change. Using historic emissions data as well as records of current per capita emissions, it calculates what developed and developing countries would need to do within that framework to contribute their fair share to addressing the climate problem.

A system of international climate controls based on science and the principles of equity is needed to achieve that target, which means climate negotiators should resist any attempts to deregulate international climate controls. That’s the subject the next briefing, which sets out a case against the “pledge and revenge” approach that many developed countries are pursuing within negotiations for a new international climate treaty. 

The new system risks being even weaker than the outgoing Kyoto Protocol, while threatening to retain or even expand upon the carbon markets—one of the most problematic aspects of the existing agreement. This briefing on markets explains why carbon trading is not the answer. Instead of setting up “new market mechanisms,” the failure of existing markets should be grounds for a moratorium on the development of new ones.

Non-market approaches should be pursued instead, and that’s the subject of the fourth briefing in this series, which looks at the positive role that could be played by Globally Funded Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariffs.

Background on COP19

The web is awash with reports on the UN climate talks, but to cut through to the core issues you could do far worse than starting with this useful guide to “the Big Fights, Red Lines and Initial Predictions” from [Earth in Brackets], who will also be blogging and tweeting. Our colleagues at climate-justice.info have also issued this useful media background briefing covering the basic issues from Poland, alongside some snappy quotes.

The Warsaw conference is being hailed in some quarters as a “finance COP,” the implication being that debates on the money needed to address climate change will take center stage. At the same time, we’re witnessing an attack upon and dilution of the very notion of “climate finance”, which refers to public transfers of resources from developed to developing countries. Brandon Wu of ActionAid USA picks up the story here.

In other quarters, COP19 is being talked about as a haven for corporate lobbyists – an impression that the Polish Presidency of the meeting has done little to counter, by seeking sponsorship from “climate crooks” such as ArcelorMittal, Alstom and BMW. Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute look at corporate influences on the UN Climate Change Conference with itsCOP19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying. They’ll also be blogging from Warsaw.

During the COP itself, it’s easy to miss the latest developments with several meetings taking place simultaneously. Third World Network’s briefing papers are an invaluable resource to find out who said what in the meeting halls of Poland’s national stadium.

And finally, as the COP in Warsaw gets underway in the shadow of the deadly Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, it’s worth pausing to take in the words of that country’s lead negotiator, Yeb Sano, who reminded delegates of the true costs of continued inaction on climate change.

Billionaires: Decline of the West, Rise of the Rest

October 28, 2013 ·

This post originally appeared on Triple Crisis. Read the original.

International trading currency (epSos.de/Flickr)With the help of Forbes magazine, we and colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies have been tracking the world’s billionaires and rising inequality the world over for several decades. Just as a drop of water gives us a clue into the chemical composition of the sea, these billionaires offer fascinating clues into the changing face of global power and inequality.

After our initial gawking at the extravagance of this year’s list of 1,426, we looked closer. This list reveals the major power shift in the world today: the decline of the West and the rise of the rest. Gone are the days when U.S. billionaires accounted for over 40 percent of the list, with Western Europe and Japan making up most of the rest. Today, the Asia-Pacific region hosts 386 billionaires, 20 more than all of Europe and Russia combined.

In 2013, of the nine countries that are home to over 30 billionaires each, only three are traditional “developed” countries: the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Next in line after the United States, with its 442 billionaires today? China, with 122 billionaires (up from zero billionaires in 1995), and third place goes to Russia with 110. China’s billionaires have made money from every possible source. Consider the country’s richest man, Zong Qinghou, who made his $11.6 billion through his ownership of the country’s largest beverage maker. Russia’s lengthy billionaire list is led by men who reaped billions from the country’s vast oil, gas and mineral wealth with devastating consequences to the environment.

Germany is fourth on the list with 58 billionaires, followed by India (55), Brazil (46), Turkey (43), Hong Kong (39), and the United Kingdom (38). Yes, Turkey has more billionaires than any other country in Europe save Germany.

Moving beyond these top nine countries, Taiwan has more billionaires than France. Indonesia has more billionaires than Italy or Spain. South Korea now has more billionaires than Japan or Australia.

This surging list of billionaires is tribute to the growing inequality in almost all nations on earth. The richest man in the world, for example, is Carlos Slim of Mexico—with a net worth of $73 billion, comparable to a whopping 6.2% of Mexico’s GDP. The world’s third richest person is Spain’s retail king, Amancio Ortega, who has accumulated a net worth of $57 billion in a country where over a quarter of the people are now unemployed.

U.S. billionaires still dominate. The United States’ 442 billionaires represent 31% of the total number. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett remain numbers two and four, and are household names given the combination of their wealth, their philanthropy, and their use of their power and influence to convince other billionaires to increase their own charitable giving.

But, also among the 12 U.S. billionaires in the top 20 richest people in the world are members of two families who have used their vast wealth and concomitant power to corrupt our politics. Charles and David Koch stand at numbers six and seven in the world; they have drawn on a chunk of their combined $68 billion to fund not only candidates of the far right but also political campaigns against environmental and other regulation. So too do four Waltons stand among the top 20; their combined wealth of $107.3 billion has skyrocketed thanks to Walmart’s growing profits as the company pressures cities and states to oppose raising wages to livable levels.

How have the numbers changed over the years? Let’s travel back to 1995, a time of surging wealth amidst the deregulation under the Clinton administration in the United States, and the widespread pressure around the world to deregulate, liberalize, and privatize markets.

In 1995, Forbes tallied 376 billionaires in the world. Of these, 129 (or 34%) were from the United States. The fact that the number of U.S. billionaires rose to 442 over the next 18 years while the percentage of U.S. billionaires fell only from 34% to 31% of the global total is testimony to how the deregulatory and tax-cutting atmosphere in the United States under Clinton and Bush proved so favorable to the super-rich.

Notable over these past 18 years is that the so-called developed world has been eclipsed by the so-called developing world. In 1995, the billionaire powerhouses were the United States (129), Germany (47), and Japan (35). These three countries were home to 56% of the world’s billionaires. No other country came close, with France, Hong Kong, and Thailand tied in fourth place, with 12 billionaires each. Russia and China didn’t have a single billionaire in 1995, although for Russia, Forbes admitted that financial disclosure in that country in the years after the Berlin Wall fell was sketchy. And, in 1995, Brazil had only eight billionaires and India only two.

Today, these four countries (Russia, China, Brazil, and India) host 333 of the world’s 1,426 billionaires—23% of the total. And, Japan’s total number of billionaires has actually fallen in the last 18 years, from 35 to 22.

The figures offer a dramatic snapshot of the relative decline of the United States, Europe, and Japan in less than two decades and the stunning rise of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, as well as the rest of Asia. And, they remind us that countries where income was relatively equal twenty years ago, like China and Russia, have rushed into the ranks of the unequal.

Across the globe, the rapid rise of billionaires in dozens of countries (again, with Japan as the notable exception) is testimony to how the deregulatory climate of these past two decades sped the rise of the super-rich, while corporations kept workers’ wages essentially flat.

Suffice it to say: More equal and more healthy societies require a vastly different approach to public policy. As IPS Associate Fellow Sam Pizzigati has chronicled, fair taxes created a vast middle class in the United States between the 1940s and 1960s. Such fair tax policies are needed today the world over if the gap between the super-haves and the have-nots is to be narrowed rather than widened.

IPS 50th Anniversary Weekend Highlights

October 22, 2013 ·

IPS 50th CelebrationThanks so much to all of you who made our IPS 50th Anniversary extravaganza a whopping success. From October 11 to 13, nearly 1,000 people were involved in some way in celebrating our past five decades of turning ideas into action and envisioning a bold, progressive future. In all, we hosted 21 events, including an alumni reception, inter-generational dialogues on the future of progressive movements, workshops on politics and the arts, the world's first "Idea Slam," a tribute to IPS Fellow Saul Landau, a celebratory dinner, and finally a gala at Union Station with Joy Zarembka, John Cavanagh, Harry Belafonte, Amy Goodman, Ai-jen Poo, and Sarita Gupta.

In the weeks to come, we will add to this page the videos of the Idea Slam and many of the other IPS 50th events.

Here is a sampling of photos from the weekend.

Here is a 4 minute film on IPS at 50 by former IPS Newman Fellow Farrah Hassen:
Public Scholarship at IPS 

Here is an 8 minute film on by Farrah Hassen:
Remembering Orlando and Ronni 

Here is a 9 minute tribute to Saul Landau by the cinematographer Haskell Wexler:
A tribute to Saul Landau by Haskell Wexler

And, here is the 2-hour celebration of Saul Landau, featuring Harry Belafonte, Ariel Dorfman, 3 of Saul's children, and many more:
IPS Celebration of Saul Landau

What Comes Next: Rights, Not 'Arrangements,' for Palestinians

October 18, 2013 ·

This blog is part of a series on the end of the two-state paradigm for Israel and Palestine, which can be read in full on Mondoweiss' website.

Graffiti on a wall separating Palestine and Israel (Zachary Baumgartner/flickr)On the ground, in the real world, of course there is no longer any possibility of a real “two-state” solution. Two “real” states would mean that alongside Israel, constituting 78% of historic Palestine, there would be a really independent, actually viable, fully sovereign state of Palestine on the 22% remaining, made up of the Gaza Strip, Arab East Jerusalem, and the entire West Bank.  

The claimed permanence and continued expansion of city-sized, Jews-only settlements across East Jerusalem and the West Bank populated by over 600,000 people, the Separation Wall seizing 10% or so of West Bank land and most of its key water sources for Israel and not Palestine, and the unchallenged Israeli determination that any future Palestinian “state” would have no control over its borders, airspace, coastal waters and would be kept forcibly disarmed by outside actors… all make a mockery of “two states.” While the creation of a Palestinian “state,” made up of a bunch of scattered non-contiguous cantons amounting to less than half of the 22% of historic Palestine, is certainly possible, the notion that it would amount to an independent, sovereign, real state is specious; the idea exists today only as a diplomatic fiction.

All of historic Palestine – Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem – are currently under the control of one government and one army – Israel’s.  (The “Palestinian Authority’s” authority is limited to essentially municipal power.)  But the peoples of that land live under very different legal regimes, with different levels of rights, privileges and discrimination facing Jewish citizens of Israel, Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, Jewish settlers in the West Bank, and Palestinians living under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Palestinian refugees denied their international right to return to their homes. Today, those separate legal systems, designed to privilege one group – Jews – at the expense of another group – non-Jews, which means Palestinians – stands in violation of the International Covenant for the Prevention and Suppression of the Crime of Apartheid.

Ultimately, the nature of the political solution – one state or two states, secular or bi-national, regionally federated or isolated – is up to the people who live there. A civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle for equality could in theory emerge in either a one or two-state context. (With two states, there would need to be complete equality between  the  two states as well as within both states.) But for those of us in the U.S. who are not either Palestinians or Israelis, that’s not our call.

For us, the issue should focus on rights, not on political arrangements which are ultimately not our business. Our goal should be to change the policies of our government, whose military aid and unlimited political and diplomatic protection enable Israel’s policies and sustain its power. We should focus on ending the U.S. policy of support for occupation and apartheid, in favor of a policy based on international law, human rights, and equality for all.

Read the original blog on Mondoweiss.

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