IPS Blog

IPS 50th Anniversary Weekend Highlights

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

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)

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.

This Week in OtherWords: October 9, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Ryan Alexander points out that Congress could have averted the government shutdown had it done “its constitutionally mandated job” while Marc Morial warns that unless lawmakers raise the debt ceiling, an economic disaster could ensue. Donald Kaul blames the shutdown and the debt-ceiling perils on “zombie lawmakers,” and John Cavanagh and I highlight the Institute for Policy Studies’ remarkable history. IPS, which runs OtherWords, is celebrating our 50th anniversary this weekend. If you can make it to Washington, D.C., I hope you can join us.

Do you want to make sure you don’t miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please make a tax-deductible donation today to keep this valuable service running. We can’t do it without your support.

  1. Forging Ahead at 50 / Emily Schwartz Greco and John Cavanagh
    Not every think tank could weather FBI infiltration, scapegoating by right-wing extremists, and even a car-bomb assassination.
  2. Shut Up and Work / Ryan Alexander
    We wouldn’t be at this point if Congress had done its job over the last several months.
  3. This Political Game Jeopardizes the Economy / Marc Morial
    This Political Game Jeopardizes the Economy.
  4. Cleaning Up Campaign Finance to Save the Environment / Michael Brune
    The assault on our democracy is a bigger problem than the temporary closure of national parks.
  5. Attack of the Zombie Lawmakers / Donald Kaul
    The tea-partying faction’s influence wouldn’t be so out of proportion to its numbers without the cowardice of more moderate Republicans.
  6. Subsidizing Economic Inequality / Sam Pizzigati
    The push to privatize the public sector through contracting out is expanding our economic divide.
  7. More Food Doesn’t Guarantee Less Hunger / Jill Richardson
    Increasing the world’s food supply won’t end hunger unless we address inequality and injustice.
  8. McDonald’s Takes Its Time Cooking Up a New Menu / Jim Hightower
    The fast-food chain swears it will offer plenty of healthy choices at all its restaurants but not until seven years from now.
  9. The New Operating System / William A. Collins
    If you can’t make a bundle in the digital world, you can join the gold rush of speculation in the financial industry.
  10. The Slow Road to Better Fast Food / Khalil Bendib CartoonEmily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

    The Slow Road to Better Fast Food, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    The Slow Road to Better Fast Food, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The IRS at 100: How Income Taxation Built the Middle Class

Cross-posted from Reuters.com

Exactly a century ago, on October 3, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson signed the first modern federal income tax into law. The sky did not fall.

That may have surprised the eminences of the American plutocracy. For years they had predicted the most dire of consequences should the federal government begin taxing the incomes of America’s most comfortable.

Those warnings took a shriller turn in 1909. A flurry of cynical congressional maneuvers sent the states a constitutional amendment, ostensibly designed to allow a federal income tax. Conservatives in Congress felt confident that the amendment had no chance of gaining enough state support to be ratified. To clinch the amendment’s defeat, they unleashed a fierce rhetorical fusillade.

401(K) 2013/Flickr

401(K) 2013/Flickr

Read the rest of this commentary at Reuters.com.

This Week in OtherWords: October 2, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Richard Kirsch explores the values divide contributing to the government’s shutdown while Donald Kaul blames the impasse on the Republican Party.

We also have several food-focused commentaries: Jim Hightower skewers the government’s practice of handing city slickers millions in farm subsidies, Jill Richardson and Shireen Karimi explain why genetically engineered foods should be labeled, and Martha Burk highlights what’s wrong with the chicken most Americans eat.

Do you want to make sure you don’t miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please make a tax-deductible donation today to keep this valuable service running. We can’t do it without your support.

  1. Challenging Big Chicken / Martha Burk
    From dangerous new rules at slaughterhouses to the rock-bottom wages fast-food workers get paid, there are many reasons to lay off this kind of poultry.
  2. Engineering More Information for Consumers / Shireen Karimi
    In 64 other countries, you can already find out whether what you’re eating contains genetically modified ingredients.
  3. The Values Divide / Richard Kirsch
    The showdown in Washington isn’t just about political posturing.
  4. Too High a Price for Courage / Beverly Bell
    The Honduran government should stop repressing indigenous leaders like Berta Cáceres.
  5. It’s All Their Fault / Donald Kaul
    The shutdown as well as the looming debt ceiling crisis is entirely a Republican Party production.
  6. When Citizens Shocked Plutocrats / Sam Pizzigati
    America’s super-rich once felt sure their incomes would never be taxed.
  7. Why Are We Eating in the Dark? / Jill Richardson
    Big Food has made darn sure that the government doesn’t make companies mention genetically engineered foods on their labels.
  8. The Farm Bill’s Wasteful Welfare Program / Jim Hightower
    As Congress edges toward axing the absurd direct payments program, it’s considering an even more bizarre replacement.
  9. The Fine Art of Milking Government / William A. Collins
    Taxpayers pay through the nose for a wasteful zero-sum game that subsidizes big business.
  10. Shutting the Whole Thing Down / Khalil Bendib cartoonEmily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

    Shutting the Whole Thing Down, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    Shutting the Whole Thing Down, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Fibs and Falsehoods: Darden Corporation Claims ‘No One Makes $2.13 An Hour’

An op-ed I published on September 12 has provoked an unfounded attack by the world’s largest full service restaurant chain.

The op-ed calls attention to the struggles of restaurant workers who are paid a subminimum “tipped worker wage” by their employers. Starting in 1966, when the tipped minimum wage was first established, it was pegged to 50 percent of the prevailing minimum wage. In 1996 the linkage was undone, and the tipped minimum wage has remained $2.13 an hour in, except in the 32 states that have adopted higher wage standards.

Red Lobster, owned by Darden Corporation. (Calgary Reviews/Flickr)

Red Lobster, owned by Darden Corporation. (Calgary Reviews/Flickr)

Darden Corporation, which owns Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and several other chains, has been a leader in the National Restaurant Association’s efforts to defeat national legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and require that tipped workers be paid at least 70 percent of this amount.

The op-ed, which was distributed through the McClatchy-Tribune syndicated service and appeared in a dozen major newspapers, has drawn considerable attention from those who are tirelessly working to see that the amount they pay their tipped workers does not rise.

Samir Gupte, the Senior Vice President for Culture at Darden, responded with an open letter that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, saying the op-ed was full of errors and denying that any workers at Darden make $2.13 an hour.

This letter was pure obfuscation. Gupte focused on restaurant servers’ total earnings, including tips. The op-ed focused on what Darden actually pays these servers directly. In a September 25 article in Nation’s Restaurant News, Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers contradicts Gupte’s claim that “No one makes $2.13 an hour,” when he admits that 20 percent of Darden’s hourly workers receive $2.13 an hour from Darden, before tips, affirming the claim which we made in our op-ed.

More than 40 percent of Darden’s restaurants are located in states where the tipped minimum wage is $2.13 an hour.

In another rebuttal, Melissa Autilio Fleischut, CEO and President of the New York State Restaurant Association, called our op-ed a “disservice” to hard-working restaurant workers, noting that New York recently adopted an increase to the state’s minimum wage. Ms. Fleischut failed to point out that her organization led the fight to oppose New York’s minimum wage increase.

In a recent editorial “Tips and PovertyThe New York Times concluded: “In effect, a tip for a waitress is a wage subsidy for her employer.” Most restaurant patrons assume their tip augments the wages paid by the restaurant owners, not that they replace the basic wages that restaurant owners can legally avoid paying in many states.

Having a tipped minimum wage is not only unfair to workers, it creates an unlevel playing field within the restaurant industry. The law requires McDonald’s and other fast food chains to pay all their workers at least $7.25 an hour, while allowing full service restaurants to pay large segments of their staff two-thirds less, just $2.13 an hour.

Controversies concerning Darden’s policies toward tipped workers are not new. In 2011, the company announced that it would force servers to share their tips more broadly with other restaurant employees. Now considered tipped employees, Darden cut hourly pay for bartenders and busboys by several dollars an hour in some cases. Some employees have complained that tips have not made up for their cut in basic wages provided by Darden.

Darden’s disinformation campaign will likely backfire, leading more consumers to seek the facts about the tipped minimum wage. Once more people know more about how our nation’s most profitable restaurants are working to keep workers living near the poverty line, it will leave a very bad taste in their mouths.

Inequality for All: Documentary Antidote to “Elysium Economy”

Matt Damon battles his way toward affordable health care for the masses in Elysium

Matt Damon battles his way toward affordable health care for the masses in Elysium

Two cinematic experiences about extreme wealth inequality are worth seeing, one dramatic and the other documentary.

I recently saw the Hollywood blockbuster film Elysium, directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9) and starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. The film depicts a dystopian Los Angeles in 2154, degraded by ecological disasters and extreme inequalities of wealth.

In the film, the super-rich have relocated to the ultimate gated community, a pristine orbital station called “Elysium,” which is based onlocation shots from Malibu, Calif., and replete with turquoise swimming pools and palatial mansions. On Elysium, all physical illnesses are instantly cured by climbing into a “med-bay,” a contraption that looks like a designer MRI machine. As a result, life expectancy is three time longer on Elysium than on earth.

Which brings us to the film’s scenes of earth, which were filmed in a populated garbage dump in Mexico City. There, people dream of getting to Elysium to cure their cancers and other illnesses. Max DeCosta, played by Matt Damon, is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation and his only chance of survival is to get to Elysium. In his quest to get to Elysium, he becomes an unwitting hero.

Read more on YES! Magazine

This Week in OtherWords: September 25, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Marge Baker sizes up the next big campaign-finance case before the Supreme Court, Chuck Collins explains why you should see Inequality for All, and Jason Salzman predicts that Colorado isn’t going to be split into two states. On our blog, Jim Hightower surprises himself by saluting Nixon and Kathryn Cassibry laments the collective shoulder shrugs that followed last week’s mass shootings at Washington’s Navy Yard and a Chicago park.

Do you want to make sure you don’t miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please make a tax-deductible donation today to keep this valuable service running. We can’t do it without your support.

  1. Citizens United, the Sequel / Marge Baker
    With its ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court could deepen the damage it has already done to our campaign finance laws.
  2. Faster Chicken Processing, More Injured Workers / Tom Fritzsche
    The USDA proposal for poultry plants would make a bad situation worse.
  3. Our Road to Elysium / Chuck Collins
    Robert Reich’s new film Inequality for All exposes America’s growing wealth disparities.
  4. No North Colorado on the Horizon / Jason Salzman
    The state’s alleged secession movement is a right-wing media stunt.
  5. Taking Stock of Factory Farm Pollution / Wenonah Hauter
    The EPA has to stop standing by while factory farming pollutes our airways and watersheds and poisons our communities.
  6. Bursts of Light and Fresh Air / Donald Kaul
    Peace and tolerance are starting to break out.
  7. A Golden Rule that Might Chip Away at Inequality / Sam Pizzigati
    By making it mandatory for corporations to disclose the gap between what they pay their chief executives and most typical workers, the government will empower investors and consumers to compare individual corporations by their level of CEO greed.
  8. Junking Food Is Bad for Everyone / Jill Richardson
    The food Americans waste could help end hunger in this nation.
  9. Colorado’s Fracking Disaster / Jim Hightower
    In Colorado’s flood-struck areas, a tsunami of floodwater and destructive debris swamped fracking infrastructure.
  10. The Latest Trend in Trade Secrets / William A. Collins
    The Obama administration is quietly forging two deals that are being written by and for the benefit of corporations, to the detriment of workers and consumers.
  11. USS Inequality / Khalil Bendib cartoonEmily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

    USS Inequality, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    USS Inequality, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

This Week in OtherWords: September 18, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Saru Jayaraman calls on Congress to raise the “sub-minimum” wage paid to servers and other tipped workers after a 22-year freeze and Donald Kaul illustrates the irresponsibility of GOP lawmakers who would have our government stop paying its bills. Farrah Hassen shares her colorful memories of Saul Landau, an OtherWords contributor who died September 9.

Do you want to make sure you don’t miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please make a tax-deductible donation today to keep this valuable service running. We can’t do it without your support.

  1. Remembering Saul Landau, 1936-2013 / Farrah Hassen
    All roads lead to Damascus and my mentor.
  2. Operation Secret Loopholes / Jo Comerford
    Senate efforts to revamp the tax code are off to a rocky start, including a plan to keep taxpayers in the dark about their lawmakers’ actions until 2063.
  3. Reasons to Steer Clear from a Syrian Attack / Jim Abourezk
    The American people don’t want another Middle East war.
  4. Raise the Sub-Minimum Wage / Saru Jayaraman
    The rock-bottom pay mandated for tipped workers like servers in restaurants needs to rise from $2.13 an hour.
  5. A Higher Minimum Down Under / Salvatore Babones
    Australian fast-food workers make at least twice the U.S. minimum wage and get many more benefits.
  6. The Stiffing State / Donald Kaul
    You can be for a smaller government or a bigger one but you have to pay your bills.
  7. Going Full Circle Back to the Heyday of Inequality / Sam Pizzigati
    America has returned to the same kind of deep economic divide that ushered in the 1930s Great Depression.
  8. Bossing the Poor Around / Jill Richardson
    How about a bill banning soda sales at the House of Representatives’ cafeterias?
  9. Abusing Animals to Defend Tar Sands Oil / Jim Hightower
    Loveable bears, deer, and such would “like to snuggle under the [Keystone XL] pipeline [for] warmth,” conservative pundit Larry Kudlow fantasized on TV.
  10. Higher Education Takes the Low Road / William A. Collins
    Millions of smart young people are stuck in an impossible bind.
  11. Tax Houdini / 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

Tax Houdini, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Tax Houdini, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Electrifying Africa – But at What Cost to Africans?

This originally appeared in IPS’ Foreign Policy in Focus project.

A liquefied natural gas carrier near Sea Point, South Africa. (Derek Keats/ Flickr)

A liquefied natural gas carrier near Sea Point, South Africa. (Derek Keats/ Flickr)

As children throughout the United States head back to school, it’s a good time to remember that schoolchildren throughout Africa often attend schools with no electricity. In areas that do have the utility, frequent power outages are a constant reminder of the need for dependable access to electricity.

In June, U.S. policymakers announced two initiatives aimed at increasing electricity production in Africa. President Obama launched Power Africa, an initiative that makes a $7-billion U.S. commitment to the energy sector in six African countries. And Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced the Electrify Africa Act in the House, which sets a goal of providing access to electricity for at least 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020. Both initiatives place increasing investment by U.S. companies in Africa at their center.

Africa is home to almost 600 million people without electricity, all of whom struggle to meet their basic needs as a result. Access to power translates into refrigerating vaccines, keeping food from spoiling, studying after dark—the kinds of activities that can dramatically improve basic health, education, and economic opportunity.

While rhetoric around the two U.S. initiatives is about reducing poverty and improving Africans’ quality of life, the approaches being outlined seem likely to lead to large, climate-polluting, centralized power projects—not the decentralized, renewable energy systems that are the most efficient and cleanest means of reaching Africa’s poorest families.

Decentralized, renewable energy sources are best for the rural poor.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that universal energy access can be achieved by 2030 with significantly stepped-up investment. In sub-Saharan Africa, it would require an extra $19 billion a year, and money pledged by the U.S. government could be a strong down payment.

The IEA also notes that the majority of the additional investment needs to go to small-scale mini-grid and off-grid solutions—which are more efficient at delivering electricity to people in rural areas, where 84 percent of the energy-poor live—not to centralized power plants. Small-scale systems produce energy at the household and community level from renewable sources, including micro-hydro, solar, wind, and biogas.

So an energy access win for the poor is also a win for the environment. By developing clean energy instead of burning fossil fuels, decentralized renewable systems help curb greenhouse gas emissions and curtail climate change. That’s important because if left unfettered, climate change is predicted to wreak havoc across Africa.

Africa will be disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.

According to the World Bank, climate change is likely to undermine the development gains made in recent decades, pushing millions of people back into poverty. And as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the leading global scientific body on climate change—notes, warming on the African continent could be some of the developing world’s most severe, reaching one-and-a-half times the global average.

Droughts and heat waves brought on by climate change are expected to significantly compromise agricultural production and access to food in Africa. Yields from rain-fed agriculture could drop by 50 percent in some countries by 2020, and crop revenues could fall by as much as 90 percent by 2100. Food insecurity and exacerbated malnutrition in turn will compromise human health.

Sea level rise is anticipated to threaten the 320 coastal cities and 56 million people living in low-lying coastal zones around the continent. And the cost to African nations of adapting to a warmer world could amount to between 5 and 10 percent of their gross domestic product.

“All of the above” means dirty and clean power.

While Power Africa and the Electrify Africa Act do include language about developing “an appropriate mix of power solutions, including renewable energy,” proponents of these policies have been most publicly enthusiastic about new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas on the continent.

In fact, with only $20 million allocated toward project preparation, feasibility, and technical assistance for renewables, clean energy makes up less than 0.3 percent of the White House initiative’s budget.

Natural gas, on the other hand, is front and center. While gas is sometimes talked about as a “cleaner” fossil fuel, it can be even more polluting than dirty coal when methane (a greenhouse gas 20 times as powerful as carbon dioxide) is released during its production.

In other words, gas is no “bridge fuel” between energy poverty and the clean power that every person deserves. Once Africans are locked into natural gas infrastructure, they’re locked into 40 years of increasing emissions—and four more decades of global warming’s impacts.

Continued fossil fuel expansion threatens U.S. climate policy.

The push for natural gas is so forceful that one of the U.S. government’s strongest climate policies to date—the cap on greenhouse gas emissions at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)—has come under fire.

OPIC’s cap—an outcome of a 2009 legal settlement with environmental groups over the agency’s practice of lending to large, destructive oil and gas projects—forces a 30-percent greenhouse gas reduction across its portfolio over 10 years and a 50-percent reduction over 15 years.

The results have been notable. By 2011, the agency’s renewable energy finance had risen to nearly $1 billion—about a third of its total commitments that year. By contrast, the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im)—OPIC’s sister organization—steadily increased investment in dirty energy, with fossil fuel funding doubling between 2011 and 2012.

Unfortunately, some development groups say that to achieve energy access for Africa, OPIC’s hard-won greenhouse gas cap has to be weakened. For instance, a lobbying document from the ONE campaign highlights how the Electrify Africa Act “unlocks OPIC’s investment potential by requiring OPIC to revise its existing policy on the carbon emissions of its investments to permit significant investment in the electricity sector of the poorest and lowest pollution-emitting countries.”

Ironically, the impacts of doing away with this policy—more greenhouse gas emissions and fewer renewable projects focused on access—would only come back to hit communities in Africa even harder as climate change intensifies.

While this provision is not yet part of the bill introduced in Congress, there are concerns that it will appear as an amendment now that Congress has reconvened. And that’s particularly worrying. Of the $1.5 billion that the Power Africa initiative promises from OPIC for energy, less than 2 percent has been earmarked for renewables.

Who stands to gain by busting the cap?

If large, centralized fossil fuel production won’t particularly help poor Africans access energy—and would exacerbate climate change, which in turn threatens development on the continent—why would anyone want to bust the greenhouse gas cap at OPIC?

For one possible explanation, look no further than the oil and gas fields recently found off the coast of Africa. Big reserves mean big money, and the business of extracting and processing new oil and gas from sub-Saharan Africa will be lucrative.

It’s OPIC’s job to help U.S. companies gain a foothold in emerging markets like these by providing finance. And by doing away with lending restrictions on climate polluting projects, OPIC is free to grease the wheels for mega-deals between U.S. fossil fuel companies and African interests.

One of those companies appears to be General Electric, which recently signed a tentative deal with Ghana to build a power plant likely to be fueled with natural gas from the Jubilee offshore field. (Perhaps not uncoincidentally, G.E.’s CEO traveled with Obama on his Africa trade mission.) According to Forbes, G.E. has recently pivoted its attention to Africa and is marketing power generation products like natural gas engines to African companies. Not surprising, then, that Ex-Im chairman Fred Hochberg called Power Africa a “$7B plan to power up General Electric” on Twitter.

Helping to bring electricity into the homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces of tens of millions of people living on the African continent is the right thing to do. The United States can support energy access through public finance—raised from innovative sources like afinancial transaction tax and by ending subsidies to fossil fuel companies—and by directing the $7 billion Obama promised to decentralized, renewable energy systems. That would ensure that we’re spending our money to benefit African families, not U.S. energy companies.

Africans deserve to live full, dignified, productive lives free from dirty energy and safe from the climate disaster it promises. African schoolchildren demand no less. U.S. policymakers and taxpayers can power Africa best by protecting the planet and securing future generations.

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