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February 12, 2013 · By Janet Redman
Europe has taken a bold leap forward to implement an innovative plan that could help protect people and the planet. Poised to set an example of climate leadership for the developed world, will countries like the United States come along?
At the end of January European Union finance ministers approved a proposal by eleven EU member states to implement a coordinated financial transaction tax (FTT) — a tiny tax on trades of stocks, bonds, and derivatives. Through a process known as “enhanced cooperation,” this subset of EU countries (dubbed the EU11) was able to move forward with a common tax policy without having to include all 27 EU member states. The European Parliament gave the proposal a green light in December 2012, and the EU Council waved it forward at their meeting last month without a vote because of overwhelming support among member states.
EU tax commissioner and FTT proponent Algirdas Šemeta called it "a major milestone.”
The next step in making the FTT proposal a reality is for the eleven member states in the “coalition of the willing” to agree to details of the common tax. Negotiations are expected to wrap up and a formal agreement officially approved by the European Parliament in 2013.
The implications are potentially huge for climate finance. That’s the money that communities in developing countries need to make the transition from climate-vulnerable to climate-resilient, and from dirty energy development to low-carbon development.
The cost of that shift is measured in the hundreds of billions (some say trillions) of dollars. Rich industrialized countries have promised to deliver $100 billion a year by 2020. A fraction of what’s needed, but still a big lift compared to today’s levels of around $10 billion a year (if you count generously).
At the tax rate originally proposed by the EU Commission of a harmonized minimum 0.1 percent for stocks and bonds and 0.01 percent on derivatives, the EU11 FTT has the potential to raise up to €37 billion (nearly $50 billion in US dollars) every year.
France, which implemented a financial transaction tax in August 2012, has already made a commitment to direct 10 percent of the tax revenue to global public goods like development, health, and climate change (3.7 percent is destined for the Green Climate Fund). Members of Germany’s Social Democrat party have made general political murmurs that if they succeed in upcoming elections they will send revenue from an FTT to development to help meet the country’s 0.7 percent ODA goal.
Global campaigners are pushing the EU11 to be ambitious in targeting a significant portion of their FTT revenue to fight climate chaos. Members of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance used the recent 2012 global climate summit to call for the eleven countries to deposit 25 percent of the money raised into the Green Climate Fund. Representatives in the EU parliament and from developing countries are also calling for FTT revenue to be used by developed countries to meet their mid-term and long-term financing obligations.
With Timothy Geithner stepping down as Secretary of Treasury there’s renewed optimism that the Obama administration might support an FTT under Jack Lew’s leadership of the Department. Supporters of the tax are planning to raise the issue at Lew’s confirmation hearing in Washington DC tomorrow.
This would be a move that experts like Joseph Stiglitz endorse, who said, “as Mr. Obama’s second term begins, we must all face the fact that our country cannot quickly, meaningfully recover without policies that directly address inequality. What’s needed is… a more progressive tax system and a tax on financial speculation.”
An FTT that raises revenue for a fund that supports developing countries in dealing with the disproportionate impacts visited upon them by climate change is an important step in fighting global inequality. Here, the EU11 can be a global leader.
 The 11 EU member states that have entered into enhanced cooperation are Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia and Slovakia. Any other member state may join the enhanced cooperation if they wish.
February 8, 2013 · By Phyllis Bennis
The results weren’t nearly as dire as many predicted. The Israeli elections last month didn’t bring about a complete victory for the far right (and Israel’s far-right is very far indeed!). Right-wing prime minister Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s Likud Party, in alliance with the right-wing extremist Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) party, lost at least 10 seats.
The biggest victor was the new centrist party Yesh Atid, led by charismatic television personality Yair Lapid. He ran on the basis of personality and a claim to represent Israel’s middle-class interests, from the price of cheese to affordable housing to his most popular call, for “sharing the burden”—a euphemism for drafting ultra-Orthodox young Jewish Israelis into the military. Israeli commentators described the new Knesset as divided almost down the middle between center-right and center-left blocs.
That’s all good. But. The campaign was waged virtually entirely on economic and social issues affecting the 80 percent Jewish population of Israel; the needs of the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are Palestinians were largely ignored. Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the besieged Gaza Strip were off the agenda, let alone its violations of international law and human rights. On the question of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the elections represented a clear victory for Israel’s status quo: the occupation will be left in place.
Read the rest of this article on Yes! Magazine's website. Yes! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions, published it on February 6, 2013.
February 6, 2013 · By Emily Schwartz Greco
This week in OtherWords, Jill Richardson explains what’s wrong with most of the roses that populate our Valentine’s Day bouquets, Don Kraus proposes a great Valentine for women everywhere, and Donald Kaul sizes up the latest inaction on gun control.
This is Kaul’s third column on guns since his return from a five-month break. As I explained in an earlier blog post, the first one was widely quoted out of context. That generated a torrent of hate mail, to which Kaul responded with a follow-up column.
I would like to take this opportunity to RSVP to the hundreds of people who invited Donald Kaul to go visit you in person and take your guns away. He sends his regrets. And while I’m speaking on his behalf, I’d like to thank the NRA for including him on its blindingly long list of gun-control advocates. Yes Wayne LaPierre, Donald Kaul is certainly as important in this fight as the CEO of Stoneyfield Farms Yogurt and actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Below you’ll find links to our latest work. If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.
- The. Very. Best. Valentine. Ever. / Don Kraus
The United States is one of only seven countries not to ratify a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women.
- Zero Dark Thirty’s Losing Premise / Chris Toensing
Torture doesn’t “work” but that’s not the point.
- Stronger At Home, More Respected Abroad / Jeff Blum
We must cut the things we don’t need, including Pentagon pork, to pay for the things we do.
- Banning Assault Weapons Makes More Sense than Arming Teachers / Donald Kaul
If what you need weapons for is to fight the government, semi-automatics don’t cut it.
- The Ever-So-Brief Success of the Income Tax / Sam Pizzigati
Federal taxes, once upon a time, put a squeeze on grand fortunes.
- A Better Way to Say I Love You / Jill Richardson
Most of the roses sold in the United States are grown in Colombia and Ecuador, where they are doused with toxic pesticides.
- High Time for Hemp / Jim Hightower
This commonsense crop should become commonplace in the United States again.
- The Road Back to Serfdom / William A. Collins
Today’s robber barons have little interest in long-term, full-time employees.
- Free Trade Economics 101 / Khalil Bendib cartoon
Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies OtherWords.org
February 5, 2013 · By Lyndi Borne
Lyndi Borne is a media intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Among many of the usual suspects airing ads during the Super Bowl, one small company shook up some conversation with an ad that was banned by CBS. The company, SodaStream, acts like it's doing the world a favor by selling home carbonation machines, and its ads jab at Coca-Cola and Pepsi for wasting bottles. They originally wanted to air a commercial during America’s most-watched television event that explicitly attacked the two largest makers of sugary cola, but were bullied into airing a softer version of the ad imploring viewers to buy their product and "free the bubbles." As controversy on CBS's ban bubbled over, marketers everywhere had their say. A website devoted to Super Bowl ads actually wrote an article about them entitled “SodaStream: A David and Goliath Story?” Marketers are buying the story that SodaStream is a do-gooder because their customers buy fewer bottles.
But SodaStream is no do-gooder. Their headquarters and manufacturing facilities, located in an Israeli settlement in the center of the West Bank, are built upon the blood and tears of the Palestinian people. I’ve seen the devastation of these settlements, and when I saw the SodaStream commercial on Sunday night, I went flat.
SodaStream is part and parcel of the continued illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. If we’re talking David and Goliath, SodaStream is more aptly viewed on the Goliath side of the metaphor. In reality, it is a profit-making enterprise built on land illegally seized by Israel, with the help of a military that is an industrial, high-tech monster that seeks to slowly strangle the Palestinian people to death.
What most people don’t understand about the settlements is that they not only push people off of the land, but they then also take regional resources for themselves. Water, for example, is often stolen from people whose ancestors long ago learned to adapt to the desert. The Israeli goal, it seems, is to make Palestinian life so unbearable that people leave, or die.
I’ve witnessed the destructive force of settlements. From the first time I set foot on a West Bank settlement in 2000 to the last time I was there in 2010, the effect and the number of settlements had noticeably increased. In the Palestinian West Bank, I saw more checkpoints, longer lines in traffic, more roadblocks, and diversions to make way for Jewish-only settler roads. Even water pressure lowered as the settlements demanded more water diverted to them. And — at least in Hebron — more settlers were throwing rocks at Palestinian women, men, and children.
SodaStream has been singled out by Jewish Voice for Peace and others for its explicit, egregious involvement in settlement activity. Israeli settlement policy is opposed by many Israeli citizens and the United States, and is now deemed unlawful by a United Nations panel.
SodaStream is headquartered on Ma'aleh Adumim, the third largest settlement in the West Bank, built on land that belonged to the Palestinian towns of Abu Dis, Azarya, Atur, Issauya, Han El Akhmar, Anata, and Nebi Mussa up into the 1970s. Israel continues to expand and solidify such settlements around Jerusalem until Palestinians cannot any more access the city.
As with most Israeli public relations campaigns, SodaStream is clever at attaching itself to so-called “liberal” values of environmentalism, peace, justice, and freedom. However, as with most Israeli PR campaigns, the truth of human rights violations will eventually come out.
So, no matter how you feel about their commercials, don’t buy SodaStream. The faster we as consumers can send a message to companies complicit in the Israeli occupation, the faster Palestinians can achieve freedom.
“Free the bubbles?” How about, stop operating on stolen Palestinian land, and “free Palestine.”
February 1, 2013 · By Javier Rojo
In recent years, El Salvador, like many of its Latin American counterparts, has witnessed an explosion in violence. The contentious fighting between two of the country’s biggest gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, is largely responsible for fueling much of the carnage.
Armed with an arsenal of weapons like assault rifles and grenades and saddled with a lack of economic opportunity, these gang members proceeded to slaughter each other over arbitrarily designated chunks of territory. That is, they did until last spring, when the gang leaders met in their dungeon-like prisons and decided to enact a truce.
The results of the truce have been nothing short of miraculous. Homicides in the country have decreased by 40 percent, kidnappings have been slashed in half, and extortions have fallen by 10 percent. Hardened gang members, who at times appear to don more ink than skin, accomplished in a matter of weeks what the government failed to do in the past decade — deliver a modicum of peace to El Salvador.
Inspired by the unprecedented events in El Salvador, the Transnational Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador (TAGPPES) — a coalition of experts in the fields of gang intervention, human rights, post conflict work, and economic development — traveled to the Central American country to better understand the roots of the largely unexpected peace agreement.
On January 16, two members of the Coalition, Steve Vigil and Luis Cardona, were present in Washington DC in to discuss and screen a 20-minute film on the Salvadorian gang truce. Luis Cardona is former gang member who turned his life around after being shot five times and overcoming several stints in prison. Luis currently works as a youth violence prevention coordinator. Steve Vigil has over 20 years experience working in conflict mitigation with communities that have been torn apart by gang violence.
During their trip in El Salvador, the two men found that despite the strong animosity that existed between the gangs, the yearning for some sense of peaceful normality — the ability to take their kids to school without the fear of getting shot — was stronger.
The group also visited the prisons where some of the gang leaders who brokered the peace were held. The gang leaders, the two coalition members reported to a room filled to capacity, were often troubled men who had experienced and done terrible things. Their families and friends had been vanquished by the gang war. Many of them had killed, kidnapped, and even tortured their rivals. To many onlookers, the gang leaders appeared devoid of any humanity, which is what made the peace agreement even more remarkable.
But they weren’t devoid of their humanity at all. Despite the darkness of their past and the horrid conditions of their prison cells, the gang leaders still held on to redeeming qualities that shone through their hardened exterior. They wanted a better life for their children and they wanted the opportunity to right some of their wrongs.
“I know I’ve done terrible things,” said one of the gang leaders in the film. “I know I’ve thrown my life away. I’m not asking for mercy. I’ll pay for my crimes. All I want is a better life for my children. That is why I agreed to the peace agreement. If I can secure a better future for them, then at least I’ll know my life was not a complete waste.”
As the poignant film ended, and the event turned into a conversation with the audience, one young woman sheepishly raised her hand and asked about sustainability of the truce. "Even as the homicide rates continue to decrease, the number of arrests has skyrocketed," she said. “In essence," she added, "the government is trying to take credit for the reduction in crime by saying violence is down because we have arrested more people. This poses a direct threat to the truce because it shows that even if the gang members do the right thing, they will nevertheless be punished.”
The rest of the audience had been singing the praises of the peace agreement, this audience member reminded us that any peace, especially at its infancy, is extremely fragile and can be easily undone by careless actions.
Tupac Shakur, who coincidentally is one of the best-known “gangster” rappers, once wrote a short poem entitled The Rose that Grew from Concrete. The poem is worth quoting at length:
"Did you hear about the rose that grew / from a crack in the concrete? / Proving nature's law is wrong / it learned to walk without having feet. / Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams, / it learned to breathe fresh air. / Long live the rose that grew from concrete / when no one else ever cared."
If a rose can grow from concrete, then surely peace can emerge from the depths of a dark Salvadorian prison. Hopefully, this peace won’t succumb to the actions of a zealous few who never cared about the peace agreement and the people who brokered it.