IPS Blog

France Down With Same-Sex Marriage and Adoption

In a landmark decision Tuesday the French parliament approved a controversial bill by a vote of 331-225 allowing same-sex couples in France to marry and adopt children.

Opponents and supporters alike filled the streets of Paris in past months with one demonstration bringing upwards of 340,000 people. This particular protest ended in blasts of tear gas fired by soldiers as right-wing extremists incited violence amongst the crowd and charged police in attempts to make a break for the Presidential Palace.

This week saw renewed violence as attacks on gay couples spiked and legislators were threatened. On Monday National Assembly president and avid supporter of the gay marriage bill, Claude Bartelone, was sent an envelope filled with gunpowder.

Protests are only expected to continue as the bill must now go through the constitutional council and finally be signed by President Francois Hollande to become written into law.

France is now the 9th country in Europe and 14th in the world to legalize gay marriage. This once religiously conservative country has set an example for progressive social reform and the struggle for human equality.

Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Deposed Central African Republic President Bozize’s Loyalists Not Going Quietly

Reverberations from the March 24 coups in the Central African Republic continue to sweep through the small landlocked country. A recent increase in deadly clashes between President Michel Djotodia’s rebel forces and remaining loyalists from the overrun president, Francois Bozize, have alarmed the international community.

Regional leaders are gathered in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena to discuss the progress of a peace plan that was to be implemented by Djotodia’s new government but has obviously failed. The meeting will also determine if additional troops will be sent to the C.A.R. to assist in stabilizing the country and bring an end to the fighting.

Reports say that 13 people died and 52 were wounded in mid-April as fighting was at its worst in the C.A.R. capital of Bangui. Djotodia places the blame on residents and the deposed president. “Bozize prepared a civil war and gave the youth weapons of war and machetes,” he said. “This armed neighborhood has always opposed the presence of our men.” These are the men who have terrorized, tortured, and killed civilians since their rise to power.

International aid groups in the country say that members of the Seleka rebel movement also continue to loot local homes and businesses, instigate violence, and recruit children to their ranks. Angry mobs of Central Africans formed in protest to Seleka’s behavior, leading to the sharp increase in violence between civilians and the new leadership.

Because of the instability, scores of Central Africans have fled to surrounding countries for safety. Over 37,000 have crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, and Chad, hosted by local populations and refugee camps. UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards has called on the Seleka authorities to end the violence against civilians and restore security so that aid can reach those who need it, including the 173,000 internally displaced people in the country.

Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Chemical Weapon Use in Syria Could Trigger Intervention

The Syrian government has denied permission to a U.N. mission ready to investigate alleged chemical attacks that have occurred in recent months in the country. Both Syria’s government and opposition requested that the U.N. form a mission to investigate the use of chemical weapons after trading blame over a March attack in Khan al-Assal—a village outside Aleppo—which killed at least 31 people.

However, Syria is now denying the team entry into the country over concerns of the U.N. widening the investigation to include other alleged chemical attacks—such as an attack near Damascus on the same day as the Aleppo attack and another from Homs in December, over which the government and opposition have also traded blame—brought to U.N. attention by Syria’s opposition.

Both Britain and France wrote to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after the Aleppo and Damascus attacks, urging the mission to include all three reported instances of chemical weapons use in the country. Britain, France, and the U.S. have also provided Ban with intelligence about the possible use of chemical weapons in Aleppo and Homs.

Western powers have been particularly concerned over any use of chemical or biological weapons in Syria, since the country is believed by Western intelligence agencies to possess one of the largest undeclared stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the world. U.S. President Barack Obama has also already stated that the confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “game changer,” which some have interpreted to indicate U.S. military intervention in Syria’s civil war.

Syria is amongst eight countries that did not participate in the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the use of such weapons internationally and, as of February, has seen to the destruction of 78% of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles.

‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’

Syria’s government, according to the Guardian, argues that the inclusion of the other attacks in the investigation “might allow the U.N. mission to spread all over the Syrian territories,” which it claims “contradicts the Syrian request from the U.N.” and “constitutes a violation of the Syrian sovereignty.” The Syrian government has hinted at a hidden Western agenda in the mission and likened the situation to the investigation for chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, particularly Ban’s submission to Western states “known for their support for the shedding of Syrian blood with the aim of diverting [the probe] from its true content.”

Russia—a steadfast ally of Damascus throughout Syria’s two-year civil war—has echoed this claim, suggesting that “Western countries are using the specter of weapons of mass destruction to justify intervention in Syria, as they did in Iraq,” according to Reuters.

Headed by Ake Sellstrom, a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, the U.N. mission is comprised of 15 inspectors, chemists, and medical experts—none of whom are from permanent members on the U.N. Security Council. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—which oversees the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention—has prepared and sent the team to Cyprus, where it currently awaits a decision between Syria and the U.N.

Syria and the U.N., however, are at an impasse: Ban Ki-moon believes there is sufficient evidence to investigate at least the Aleppo and Homs attacks and has said that all implicated sites “should be examined without delay, without conditions and without exceptions.” Syria, however, will not allow the mission into the territory unless it can guarantee that the mandate only covers the Aleppo attack.

A decision needs to be made soon, regardless: Ralf Trapp, an expert on chemical and biological weapons and a former official of OPCW, predicted immediately after the Aleppo and Damascus attacks that the time frame of the U.N. mission, though critical, would likely take weeks. And the longer the investigation is halted also compounds the evidence lost and, therefore, the further testing needed to collect such data: “Each day lost will influence the speed with which the investigation can be concluded,” he said, according to NBC, “because as more time elapses before biological sampling occurs, more sophisticated DNA and other toxicological testing is required.”

The Syrian government is unlikely to budge, especially while being backed by Russia and given preliminary evidence that suggests the chemicals used in the Aleppo attack—but not necessarily those in Damascus or Homs—were rudimentary and likely the product of an Islamists. One would hope that Ban would take into account the fact that the team has unfettered access to at least one site for now, lest Syria deny the investigation altogether.

Leslie Garvey is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus and Focal Points.

Tunisia and the IMF: Ennahda’s Mana From Washington (Part Two)

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Read Part 1.

“I get by with a little help from my friends.”
— Lennon, McCartney

News reports suggest that Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are ‘very close’ to coming to terms over a $1.78 billion loan to the North African country to help navigate it through the current stormy economic seas. In the short term, there is no doubt that an accord of such a large amount to such a small country will help the country get through the next few years, and help stabilize what has been an unstable and increasingly unpopular transitional government. But at what price to the country’s medium and long term future? Rosy IMF projections that, with the loan’s help, the Tunisian economy will grow by 4.5% next year are hardly credible.

Tunis Brique, a l'oeuf maker.

Tunis Brique, a l’oeuf maker.

There seems to be something of a ‘rush to the finish’, an effort on both the IMF’s and Tunisian government’s part to wrap up the negotiations as soon as possible. It is as if they are looking over their shoulders nervous that, as the agreement’s terms get out, opposition could grow among the Tunisian people, thus the mutual effort to get the whole thing over with as soon as possible. There is mounting concern within Tunisian civil society about the agreement, both in terms of the process which has been typically secretive and the “structural adjustment conditions” that the country will be forced to submit to in order to fulfill the Tunisian part of the deal.

In traditional IMF fashion, the negotiations were very much ‘under wraps’ with virtually no input from anyone other than one member of the Tunisian Central Bank and another from the finance ministry. But in this post-Ben Ali age of Tunisian freedom of speech, it turned out to be difficult to impossible to hide the agreement terms, which several talented Tunisian researchers have been able to unearth.

The Political Significance of the IMF Loan

It is easy to get lost in the somewhat complex economic details of such agreements (although we will look at them shortly) At the same time, sometimes lost is the political significance of the agreement. It is nothing less than a ‘green light’, ‘a seal of approval’ – for the current direction of the Tunisian political leadership – most specifically, the Ennahda Party (Islamic Party) which dominates the ruling coalition and the political and economic direction of the country. The two other parties represented in Tunisia’s ruling coalition, the Congress for the Republic (President Moncef Marzouki’s party) and Ettakotal (Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties) are much weaker, and their political will more or less circumscribed by Ennahdha. [i]

News of an impending agreement comes just at the moment when the Ennahda-led coalition government needs it most. In February, a popular opposition leader, Chedli Belaid, was assassinated at his home in Tunis. Belaid has been a critique of Ennahda’s collusion with the country’s Salafist elements, and the drift away from Tunisian democracy which has accelerated under Ennahda. The angry demonstrations that followed, which placed responsibility at the door of Ennahda, charging something between neglect and complicity very nearly brought down the coalition government.

While it survived, former Ennahda Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, who attempted to broaden the government’s social base, was forced to step down. Jebali was replaced by another Ennahda bureaucrat, Ali Laarayedh, who was moved over from his post as interior minister. Key to forcing Jebali out was Ennahda Party leader Rachid Ghannouchi, who conveniently holds neither formal government nor party post, but is, for all intents and purposes, the gray eminence behind the scenes.

Ennahda survived the crisis, but barely. It managed to scrape by with a little help from its friends…in Washington and Paris. Its popularity tumbling in the polls, the economy stagnant – in worse condition than when Zine Ben Ali fled – Salafist thuggery growing and unimpeded, Ennahda needed something dramatic to reverse or slow its growing unpopularity among the Tunisian populace. Like mana from heaven – or more aptly from Washington – coming just in the nick of time, the IMF delivered the economic and political oxygen Ennahda needed to retain its hold on power.

Ennahda’s Mana From Washington

Whatever their hesitations, both Washington and Paris – which together have considerable influence over IMF decisions – have decided that, when it comes to Tunisia, the horse that they are going to ride is Ennahdha. This is the central political message of the IMF loan. Washington’s support for Ennahda comes in spite of unimpeded storming and partial trashing of the U.S. embassy in Tunis last September in which the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior was unable to stop the riot, despite prior warning of danger, including a warning from U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia Jacob Welles that went unheeded.[ii]

Although some may wonder why the Obama Administration would support Ennahda, knowing well its working relationship with the country’s radical Islamic militants of Salafist and Wahhabist persuasion, it is not as strange as it might seem at first. When it comes to working in tandem with U.S. regional strategic and economic goals, the Ennahda Party has never wavered. As we say, they know well on what side their bread is buttered. On economic policy, Ennahda continues, and with this IMF loan, even intensifies, Tunisia’s commitment to neo-liberal economic policies – i.e., keeping the Tunisian economy open to global finance and corporate penetration.

Ennahda: Partner of the Obama Administration, Strategically and Economically

While Tunisia’s strategic role in the region remains modest, still it plays an important role. America’s Tunis embassy is a communications center for the Mediterranean and North Africa – a potential ‘lily pad’ from which U.S. military forces could ‘jump’ into sub-Sahara Africa (or elsewhere) if the situation presented itself. More importantly is the embassy’s role collecting intelligence from throughout the region.

In other ways Ennahdha has made it clear ‘which side it is on’. Much of its foreign policy is geared towards cooperation with U.S. strategic goals. The government’s posture towards the crises in Libya and Syria suggest the kind of role Tunisia plays. Two examples:

• Recently there have been a spate of news stories of Tunisian youth dying fighting with Islamist rebels in Syria. Some reports suggest that it entails hundreds of Tunisian youth; at the very least, Ennahda has turned the other way and not interfered with Salafist recruitment, transfer to other places in the Middle East and training of these youth. There are some allegations that Ennahda’s role is more active. “Three young men from my village (near Sousse) will be buried today,” a Tunisian friend wrote. “They died fighting in Syria,” he went on, noting that a forth villager, a 22-year-old fighting with Islamic rebels, had died a few days prior. “They (the Ennahda-led government) promised us training, work, dignity, – in a word – ‘a future’ but they lied, betrayed us, and trained our youth to become assassins.”

• Under Ennahda pressure, an incident which, among other things, revealed the powerlessness of Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki to protect Khadaffi’s foreign minister, Baghdadi Al Mahmoudi, who had sought political asylum in Tunisia. In a sop to the U.S. and NATO, Ennahda turned Al Mahmoudi over to the Libya’s National Transitional Council. One of Marzouki’s closest advisors, Ayoub Massoudi, resigned over the handover, criticizing the Ennahda government as a ‘theocratic dictatorship.’ As a result, Massoudi was indicted and faces a military trial.

It is true that the new Tunisian government has initiated a new, more hostile posture towards Israel although that seems more for domestic public consumption than a real change in policy, and Israel knows it. Tunisia’s Israel policy parallels that of Turkey, i.e., verbal criticisms but strategic cooperation through U.S. CENTCOM and NATO formations.

If its contribution strategically to Washington is somewhat limited, still, the Ennahda government is falling in line. The same goes for economic policy; actually where it concerns economic integration, Tunisia pre-and post-Ben Ali shows little to no signs of change. The Tunisian economy remains open to foreign corporate and financial penetration. The policies that led to the 2010-11 crisis, the cause of which were, in large measure, economic remain in place and intensify. Tunisia’s continued vulnerability to the labile whims of structural adjustment will continue.

IMF Agreement Ties Tunisia’s Hands Economically to the Neo-Liberal Economic Policies of the Past/La Lutta Continua

The proposed agreement – the details of which I will look at in depth in the third part of this series – essentially commits Tunisia to the neo-liberal economic path it has been on since 1987, when Zine Ben Ali first came to power. Ben Ali might be gone, but a policy of privatization of state resources, open capital markets, de-valued currency, wage repression, lifting of subsidies (already started), and cutting government spending for social programs will continue and with it the continued deepening suffering of the Tunisian people.

The situation I see developing in Tunisia looks something like this: the IMF loan will give Ennahda some ‘living space’ and in the short term they will be able, probably to cling to power. But in the medium and long run, their hold is untenable for their have failed to provide a vision for the country’s future. All the old shortcomings – the economic stagnation, corruption, and not least, repression will once again show their faces and perhaps in an aggravated form.

Unable to deliver economically, but kept in power by the IMF loan in large measure, Ennahda, having all but destroyed the political coalition which came together to drive Ben Ali from power, will find, more and more, that, like Ben Ali, it too will have to resort to heightened repression to keep order; one can see the outlines of their policy – in part they will continues to use their Salafist allies as brownshirts, to break up possible democratic coalition.

Under the veil of religion, there will be increasingly repressive legislation limiting freedom of speech, action. The labor movement, women’s rights movement, the integrity of the country’s higher education systems – all institutions, social movements that are already under fire – will be further reined in one way or another. All this will be done while Washington sings its song about human rights, but supports those in Tunisia who undermine them.

And as the history of structural adjustment almost always shows, the polarization, class and democratic struggles will intensify. Like my friend Jaco, a Tunisian Jew, said last summer when I asked him how he saw the situation in Tunisia playing out, “Before it gets better, it will get worse…but it will get better.”

La lutta continua.

[i] For example, the position of the Tunisian presidency, held by Marzouki, has lost most of its power in the post Ben Ali era. That power has been transferred largely to the Tunisian prime minister – an Ennahdha member.

[ii] Interview with Abdelfattah Mouru, considered ‘the number two’ man behind Rachid Ghannouchi in the Ennahdha Party structure – in Denver, September 2012.

Boston Marathon Bombing: What Do Chechens Have Against the U.S.?

With news that the dead bombing suspect is named Tamerlan Tsarnaev and, along with another suspect, his brother, is believed to be from Chechnya, the question naturally arises: what do Chechen — presumably separatists — have against the United States? Hasn’t their beef always been against Russia?

It’s well documented how brutal Russia’s prosecution of the first and second Chechen wars were. Chechens responded with savagery in kind: the 1999 bombings of a shopping arcade and apartment building in Moscow, the 2002 seizure of Moscow’s Dubrovka Theate, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis.

Chechen militants have fought alongside al-Qaeda and the Taliban and possibly vice-versa. In Chechnya: From Nationalism to Jihad (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), James Hughes sheds some light on possible reasons that Chechen separatists might attack the United States:

U.S. criticism of Russian policy in Chechnya intensified in the first six months of the [George H.W.] Bush presidency. [But the] 9/11 attacks led to a complete reversal of U.S. policy on Chechnya. This was partly a moral revulsion against the associations between some Chechen rebels and al-Qaida, and partly a concession by the U.S. to secure Russian support for its campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2002 and for the war in Iraq in 2003. … After 9/11, Putin’s framing of Chechnya as part of the “global war on terror” has been incorporated into Western policy approaches to Chechnya, and Chechen groups and leaders have been placed on the U.S. and UN lists of terrorist organizations.

An Inside View on the Tricky World of Wall Street-Driven Climate Markets

The World Bank likes to talk a good game on climate change. But when it comes to taking action, its approach can be “too narrowly focused, small scale and uncoordinated,” admits Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Worse still, it often backs entirely the wrong strategies, like carbon markets, while continuing to invest billions every year in new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Climate Finance Markets Site - www.climatefinance.org

VIEW NEW WEBSITE HERE: www.climatemarkets.org.

Since taking the helm, Jim Kim has made repeated promises that addressing climate change – and the devastating impacts it has on development – will be at the center of the Bank’s agenda. Key to this is a new Presidential Task Force on Climate Change, which will examine fossil fuel subsidies, carbon markets, “climate smart” agriculture, and partnerships to build cleaner cities. At the same time, the Bank’s low-income focused International Development Association (IDA), and its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), have both identified climate financing as a priority area.

The World Bank-IMF spring meetings convening in Washington DC provide an opportunity for the Bank to flesh out a new approach. The early signs are not promising, though. Carbon markets remain a central pole of the bank’s strategy, with $110 million pledged to a “Partnership for Market Readiness” that is encouraging the creation of new markets modeled on a European scheme that has already virtually collapsed.

There are indications, too, that much of the Bank’s “bold” new thinking is based on reaching out to the financial sector, using some of the same Wall Street tricks that proved so devastating for the United States and global economy in the 2008 crash. The Bank isn’t alone in this approach: the Green Climate Fund, and many of the other international financial institutions, are looking to encourage (“leverage”) private sector finance to plug the massive holes in climate financing left by industrialized countries failing to meet their obligations.

Dusting down the same old financial approaches isn’t going to work. In climate circles, it’s already possible to hear the familiar refrain that rich-country austerity means that “There Is No Alternative” to courting the private sector. To which we’d respond: the United States is not broke, and neither are the other industrialized (“Annex I”) countries that should be making far larger public financial contributions and developing ambitious domestic plans to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. On the financial side, these could be supplemented by a range of genuinely “innovative” approaches, including financial transaction taxes, or a “Robin Hood tax.”

We’ve set up a new website on Climate Finance and Markets (climatemarkets.org) to explore these new approaches, and to monitor how the World Bank, the Green Climate Fund and others are courting the financial sector.

The site, put together by IPS with the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America, offers a range of materials that could help climate activists and advocates understand the new financial tools that are emerging, the role of key private sector actors (from banks to private equity funds), attempts to “leverage” private investment, and alternatives to this Wall Street-driven approach. Bank staff, public officials and journalists attending the World Bank-IMF spring meetings could even learn a thing or too as well.

Climate Finance Markets Site - www.climatefinance.org

See climatemarkets.org or follow us on Twitter @ClimateMarkets1

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (4/18)

It’s All About the Spin (and I don’t mean centrifuges)

Some of the reformists [in Iran] have indicated that the burden of proof of the peaceful nature of the country’s nuclear program now rests with Iran, due to its past mismanaged policies and reckless statements. Thus, they favor more intrusive and comprehensive inspections. But even advocates of the status quo seem poised to accept more limited stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium and more flexibility in allowing inspections, in return for an end to sanctions. The latter group, led by Khamenei, is really insisting that whatever the nature of a possible agreement, the Islamic regime must be allowed to declare victory.

The Ayatollah in His Labyrinth, Abbas Milani, Foreign Policy

The Alternative Energy That’s Dependent on Conventional Energy

Nuclear power, which we might mistakenly think does not rely on fossil fuels, is actually totally dependent on them. Leaving aside the uranium mining problem, nuclear power requires exacting conditions to operate safely and reliably that include diverse and reliable general and specialized supply chains, a stable electrical grid, near-certain physical security, and many other social, political, and economic conditions that directly or indirectly dependent on thermodynamically-cheap fossil fuels. … there is no indication that a safe, reliable, large-scale nuclear power based energy system would be possible without the heavy use of relatively cheap fossil fuels.

The submerged mind of Empire, Greg Mello, Forget the Rest

Will the Boston Marathon Bombing Only Isolate Us Further?

Terrorism poisons if not destroys our public spaces and the physical and psychic experiences we share with one another while in such spaces. … We must be vigilant about finding and punishing the perpetrators who terrorized Boston. But we must be equally vigilant about refusing to surrender our public places and events, for doing so is … fatal to our collective identities.

Another victim of bombings: public spaces, Thomas Schaller, the Baltimore Sun

An Advanced Degree in Atrocity

The costs of the terrorism inspired by the [Iraq] war include much more than the number, however horrifying, of lives lost. The terrorists who have been drawn to Iraq since 2003 and survived have been battle-hardened after fighting the most sophisticated military in history. … They have developed expertise in counterintelligence, gunrunning, forgery and smuggling. [We have] left behind, after seven bloody years, not only a shattered nation but also an international school for terrorists whose alumni are now spreading throughout the region.

Iraq: Where Terrorists Go to School, Jessica Stern, the New York Times

Sound Familiar?

Without [Tony] Blair’s charismatic thespianry and false hopes, without even the Shakespearean drama of Brown’s blighted leadership, an atmosphere of deathly, affectless decadence has settled over the [British] Labour Party. Populist but not very popular, Labour has become a dead mechanism animated by a blind drive: win elections. It is an election-winning machine which can barely win elections, and which has long ago forgotten why you would want to win an election in the first place. By contrast, the Tories have a feverish sense of purpose. They serve ruling class interests even when not in power by dragging the ‘centre’ ground to the right. Once in government, they impose their policy agenda at high speed, without majority or mandate, retrospectively justifying it, if they bother to justify it at all, with the kind of “debate” we saw last week.

The Happiness of Margaret Thatcher, Mark Fisher, Verso Books Blog

This Week in OtherWords: April 17, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Donald Kaul skewers the “progress” Congress is making on gun control, Chris Schillig weighs in on the Boston Marathon attack from a runner’s perspective, and Jim Hightower marvels at the Army’s green ambitions.

Here’s a clickable summary of our latest commentaries and a link to our new cartoon. If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.

  1. Under-Regulating the Regulators / Michael Smallberg
    The career moves of the latest SEC chiefs underscore the agency’s revolving door problem.
  2. Let’s Lace Up and Keep Running / Chris Schillig
    We can’t close down the world and huddle in our houses after the Boston Marathon attack.
  3. Cutting Your Benefits Isn’t the ‘Middle’ Way / Peter Hart
    The rest of us are being left out of the “entitlement reform” story.
  4. ExxonMobil’s Mayflower Mess / Michael Brune
    Tar sands crude is both more toxic and much harder to clean than ordinary oil.
  5. No Progress on Gun Control to Report / Donald Kaul
    Gun lobbies have our legislature of cowardly lions in their teeth.
  6. The Art of Inequality / Sam Pizzigati
    Monumental gifts to museums are coinciding with the erosion of arts programs at the nation’s public schools.
  7. How to Send Less Trash to the Landfill / Jill Richardson
    Make a down payment on your own soil’s fertility by composting.
  8. The Army Goes Off the Grid / Jim Hightower
    Fort Bliss, a base near El Paso, is a hotbed of solar power and other green energy initiatives.
  9. Where the Money Is / William A. Collins
    America’s banks have always been shady.
  10. Sacrificing Social Security / Khalil Bendib cartoon
Sacrificing Social Security, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Sacrificing Social Security, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

How About a Tax System for the 99 Percent?

Cross-Posted with Yes! Magazine

Paying taxes, as tens of millions of us in the United States do every April, evokes many emotions—from gratitude for government programs that feed the hungry to disgust over paying for fossil fuel subsidies and unjust wars. But among a growing number of people, it is also evoking anger over an unequal tax system that favors the 1 percent over the 99 percent. More and more of us are saying that corporations, Wall Street, and the wealthy should pay their fair share.

Robin Hood Tax USA/Flickr

Robin Hood Tax USA/Flickr

The good news is that rising numbers of organizations and people are involved in struggles for a more just tax system. Below we share the contours of three such campaigns, all of them winnable before the next U.S. president is elected.

Corporations: Daily newspaper headlines remind us that corporations are making record profits while their workers’ paychecks have been frozen for decades. These same corporations complain that the corporate tax rate, pegged at a mere 35 percent, is one of the highest in the world. And, corporations are lobbying furiously to cut that rate.

Read the rest of this post on Yes! Magazine’s website

Did Boston Marathon Bombers Choose Patriots’ Day to Cover Their Tracks?

At National Journal, Michael Hirsch wrote:

The timing of the Boston bombing, coming on Patriots Day in Massachusetts, might well suggest [a U.S. right-wing extremist group] says Jessica Stern, a terrorism expert at Harvard University. … “All these discussions about whether they’re going to take away our guns would be another reason to suspect anti-government groups. The other thing that points in the direction of right-wing nuts is the date.”

Patriots’ Day, which commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord and is celebrated in Massachusetts on the third Monday of April, “has been for long time exciting day to be an extremist violent group,” says Stern. The Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, the Columbine high school massacre allegedly timed with Hitler’s birthday, and a more obscure incident in which authorities raided a compound occupied by a radical “Christian Identity” group called The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord” in 1985 all occurred in April. “This whole week is a very important week for right-wing extremists,” adds Stern.

On the other hand, as Ms. Stern wrote in Time magazine, pressure-cookers packed with hardware-store shrapnel such as nails and ball bearings have

… been used around the world, including in the Mumbai attacks of 2006 [and] was recently promoted in an article titled “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom” in the summer 2010 issue of al-Qaeda’s online magazine Inspire. The Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad followed the recipe, though Shahzad’s bomb would have killed many more people than the relatively small bombs in Boston.

The question arises: If the bombers were Islamist extremists, did they use the date and venue to deflect blame onto American white supremacists? Which gives rise to other questions: Would the former be aware of how important the day, week, month, and city are to the latter? More to the point, wouldn’t Islamist extremists they want to turn the violence into a statement by claiming responsibility?

Perhaps more likely though, especially since no one has yet brought the presence of Middle Easterners to our attention — except for innocent Saudis* lucky to escape with their lives and limbs — white supremacists chose the type of weapon to cast blame on Islamist extremists.

*To see how sympathetic some Saudis were to the suffering in Boston, visit the Saudi blog Riyadh Bureau.