Annual Report 2015

In spite of a precarious environment for NGOs in 2015, Fairfood continued working on creating a fairer and more sustainable food system. Find out how we made an impact and read more about our success stories.


From Paris to Istanbul, More ‘War on Terror’ Means More Terrorist Attacks


(Photo: Wikipedia)

At least 41 people were killed in the recent bombing of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.

The day before, suicide bombers killed five people in Qaa, a small village in Lebanon. And while the Saudi-led and U.S.-backed war in Yemen continues to rage, an ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for attacks in the Yemeni port city of Mukalla that killed at least 12.

As of June 29, ISIS affiliates had claimed responsibility only for the Yemen attacks. But just a few hours after the Istanbul airport attack, Turkish authorities were already blaming ISIS. Since Ankara (unlike the U.S., where many officials blame ISIS for every act of violence) has been eager to blame every attack against Turkish targets on its Kurdish opponents — especially the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK — the government’s early willingness to blame ISIS implies the likely existence of some convincing evidence.

Importantly, all three attacks took place following a significant defeat of ISIS on the ground.

The Iraqi military, backed by U.S. forces, had been moving against the extremist forces in the symbolically and politically important city of Fallujah since early February, when it imposed a full siege on the city. The closure, which denied civilian residents access to food, medicine, and other life-saving supplies, devastated living conditions for the ordinary Iraqis caught between ISIS brutality and the extreme deprivation caused by the siege. On June 26 — just days before the bombings in Istanbul, Lebanon, and Yemen — Baghdad proclaimed the city “liberated” from ISIS. Two days later, the Istanbul airport was attacked.

The timing was similar to other terrorist attacks that occurred as ISIS was losing ground. In the fall of 2015, the U.S.-led coalition, including many European countries, escalated its bombing attacks on the ISIS-held city of Ramadi. As ISIS faced the likely loss of the Iraqi town, it pivoted away from its emphasis on holding territory to return to its earlier focus on terror attacks against civilians. The Paris bombing — apparently carried out by ISIS-affiliated terrorists — shook the world on November 13. Two weeks later, on December 2, a California couple allegedly inspired by ISIS carried out the mass shooting in San Bernardino that killed 14 people and injured 22 more.

On December 28, the Iraqi military would declare Ramadi “liberated” from ISIS. (This celebratory announcement didn’t mention the inconvenient fact that U.S. bombing had largely pulverized what was left of the town. The 350,000 residents who’d fled ISIS brutality had no city to return to.)

The correlation between ISIS losing territory in its so-called “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq and the rise of terror attacks often much farther afield is one more indication of the failure of the U.S. “war on terror.”

Once again, it demonstrates the futility of attempting to bomb or shoot terrorism out of existence. When bombing and shooting are the methods of choice the targets are not “terrorism,” but cities and people. Air strikes and drone attacks — on people in a car, in the desert, in a hospital, or at a wedding party — may sometimes kill individual terrorists (and always other people), but do nothing to stop terrorism. Leaders are soon replaced, and the most adept bomb-makers soon turn out to have trained a successor.

Military engagement may have worked in some areas to oust ISIS forces from territory they controlled, but the cost of such campaigns is extraordinarily high for the people and nations where they occur. People face, as in Ramadi, the absolute destruction of their homes and city. They may become refugees or internally displaced people for a generation or more. In Fallujah, thousands of desperate civilians fleeing the fighting in mid-June found that no preparations had been made to care for them — with clean water, food, shelter from the searing heat, and medical care all lacking.

A big problem Iraqi forces and their U.S. backers face is the lack of support from some residents for their “liberators.” In a recent poll in Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, a full 74 percent of Sunni residents said they didn’t want to be liberated by the Iraqi military. ISIS has held the city since June 2014.

This harkens back to the original reason ISIS became so powerful in Iraq. It’s not because ordinary Iraqis supported the group’s brutal, extremist definition of Islam, but because the sectarian Shi’a-dominated government in Baghdad — and the often even more brutal and sectarian Shi’a militias allied to that government — made ISIS appear a lesser evil. Of course not all Sunnis, or even a majority, turned to ISIS. But a not-insignificant number did, and some continue to accept the group, however reluctantly.

U.S.-led military campaigns “against terror” continue to set the stage for more terror attacks, and to create more terrorists, as anger turns to rage — and rage, for some, turns brutally violent. The military-first U.S. strategy is exacting a huge price — especially for the people in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, and beyond — but also on us here at home, and on civilians throughout the world.

If we ‘re serious about ending terror attacks, there are a host of non-military approaches that hold far more promise than bomb-drone-kill. Diplomacy, humanitarian support, arms embargos, economic assistance, more diplomacy — we need to use them all instead of military action, not alongside it. Step one means acknowledging that the current strategy is failing.

The post From Paris to Istanbul, More ‘War on Terror’ Means More Terrorist Attacks appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


The DNC’s Draft Policy Agenda Shows a Major Shift in the Financial Transactions Tax Debate


(Photo: Flickr / House Democrats)

The Democratic Party Platform Committee has taken a position in support of a tax on Wall Street transactions, according to a statement by committee member Rep. Keith Ellison. This is just the latest sign of the mainstreaming of a bold policy that would shrink the size and power of Wall Street.

Even at a rate of just a small fraction of a percent on each trade, such taxes would slash the profitability of the high-speed speculation that dominates our financial markets, but has no real economic value. At the same time, the tax could generate massive revenue for job creation and other urgent needs.

If you want to get a sense of just how far this transformative idea has come, you need look no further than a 2009 cable sent by the U.S. embassy in London to Obama administration officials in Washington.

Unearthed by Wikileaks, the cable was a litany of complaints about then-UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s efforts to get the Obama administration to join the financial transaction tax bandwagon. The cable notes that Brown even had the gall to raise the issue in a Thanksgiving Day call to the U.S. ambassador.

Obama, we learned later, was not Brown’s problem. According to Ron Suskind’s 2011 Confidence Men, a book based on 700 hours of interviews with high-level Obama staff, the president initially supported the financial transaction tax. Larry Summers, who was then serving as Obama’s Director of the National Economic Council, put the kibosh on it.

Along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Summers made sure that Obama would take sides with the Canadian conservatives to block a proposal by Brown and the leaders of Germany and France for a G-20 agreement on the tax at their 2009 summit in Pittsburgh.

Brown, of course, was later unseated by British conservatives who made Summers and Geithner’s objections seem lukewarm. Former UK Prime Minister John Major even used rhetoric harkening back to World War II, comparing the German and French plan for the tax to a “heat-seeking missile” directed at London’s financial center. Boris Johnson, the former London mayor who now may be headed towards the Prime Minister’s seat, is also hostile to the idea.

So what accounts for the change in the Democratic Party? The Platform Committee’s position didn’t come out of nowhere. Over the years, growing U.S. and international campaigns for the tax have pushed on multiple fronts to mainstream the issue.

One prong has been to help generate new research on the potential benefits. In 2010, after consultations with international civil society experts, the International Monetary Fund prepared a report for the G20 leaders confirming that transaction taxes were administratively feasible and could raise significant revenue.

In 2011, the Joint Committee on Taxation, the body in Congress responsible for generating officials revenue estimates, analyzed one of several FTT bills. They concluded that a U.S. tax of 0.03 percent on stock, bond, and derivative trades could raise $ 350 billion over 10 years. More recently, the Tax Policy Center estimated that a rate of 0.1 percent could generate up to $ 541.5 billion for the U.S. government over 10 years. Models with higher rates would raise even more.

The campaigns have also pushed for new and sometimes unusual allies, including a growing list of business and financial industry professionals. In 2011, for example, Bill Gates told the Guardian, “It is very plausible that certain kinds of FTTs could work…I am lending some credibility to that. This money could be well spent and make a difference.”

A diverse array of labor, environmental, health, and other activists also rounded up support for the tax from prominent faith leaders, including Pope Benedict, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

In 2014, we started to see shifts among high-level Democrats. Rep. Chris Van Hollen included a financial transaction tax as part of a broader tax reform plan, reportedly with support from Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Then Bernie Sanders brought the issue into the center of the primary debates. The tax became a pillar of his Wall Street reform plan and he rarely missed a chance to raise it in his stump speeches. By linking the tax to the need for additional revenue to fund free higher education at public universities, Sanders made the tax even more popular.

Where will it go from here? The platform committee will assemble one final time in Orlando to put the finishing touches on the platform before it comes up for a vote at the party’s national convention in Philadelphia in late July.

A recently formed Take On Wall Street campaign made up of dozens of labor, consumer, and other groups aims to keep up the heat and ensure the position in support of the tax is not stripped from the final document.

Of course, platforms have a history of being largely forgotten after the conventions are over. But advocates will always be able to point to this as one more measure of progress in a long bumpy road for the financial transaction tax.

The post The DNC’s Draft Policy Agenda Shows a Major Shift in the Financial Transactions Tax Debate appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Five Takeaways from the Spanish Election


(Photo: Anticapitalistes)

  1. The vote was a stalemate, but the political landscape has changed.

Spain voted on June 26 with polls suggesting that the populist progressive Podemos party would overtake the traditional Socialist Party, PSOE, as the main left-wing opposition to the center-right Popular Party, or PP. Some thought the electoral math might even favor a progressive government headed by Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.

That didn’t happen.

The best prediction of the results turned out to be what happened on December 20, the inconclusive ballot that led to this month’s re-run. Unidos Podemos — a joint list involving the parties emerging out Spain’s Occupy movement and the older United Left party — came in third with 71 of the 350 seats, exactly the same number as in the previous general election.

The right-wing PP won with an increased share of the vote and raised its tally of seats from 123 to 137, mostly at the expense of Ciudadanos, an alternative right-wing party. But the PP remains a long way short of a majority, and months of coalition talks could follow. The most likely outcome seems that PSOE and Ciudadanos may abstain, allowing the PP to form a minority government.

The result is an obvious disappointment for Unidos Podemos, which underperformed expectations while the status quo was reinforced.

But from a broader perspective things look less bad: a coalition of progressive parties, most of which didn’t even exist three years ago, has gained over 20 percent of the votes in successive elections. The idea that power switches from the PSOE to PP and back again has been decisively broken.

  1. The left-wing list lost votes, but may have averted an electoral disaster.

While the performance of Unidos Podemos looks very similar to their showing six months previously, the vote breakdown tells a slightly different story. Five million Spaniards voted for the Unidos Podemos coalition, which lost over one million voters compared to the combined showing of Podemos (and its regional allies) and the United Left last December.

At this stage, there can only be speculation rather than explanation, but a few theories suggest themselves. It may be that younger voters stayed home while the old still voted. Opinion surveys show that older people are significantly less likely to support Spain’s newer parties, which could explain why both Unidos Podemos and Ciudadanos lost out. It could also be that the electoral pact with Podemos alienated some United Left voters, who were distrustful of the populism of their new allies and of their pledge to grant a referendum on Catalan independence.

Viewed another way, losing votes while holding onto the same number of seats could vindicate the strategy of running a single anti-austerity list. Lost votes were not turned into lost seats. Spain’s electoral system rewards larger parties, and United Left picked up just two seats despite winning close to a million votes last December. Even though the predicted sorpasso(overtaking) failed to materialize, it enabled Unidos Podemos to tell a far more convincing story of its electoral viability than having to defend against a story of decline. It’s worth recalling that Podemos was polling at just 13 percent in April, and fading into relative insignificance looked a real possibility.

  1. Brexit may have had an impact.

Opinion polls seem so routinely wrong in Europe these days that their predictive failures merit little explanation. Perhaps we should just get over these glorified horoscopes. Yet it may be the case that the polls reflected a mood that changed at the last moment.

The Brexit referendum was viewed as a disaster in Spain. One of the few things that unites all four major parties (and almost all of the nationalist parties, too) is that staying in the EU, however flawed, is better than leaving.

Two factors might have contributed to a Brexit effect. Spain’s stock market (IBEX) had its largest ever crash the Friday before the vote, conjuring fears of a return to the worst days of the economic crisis. That might not have changed many voters’ party affiliations, but it could have hardened the resolve of PP and PSOE voters to turn out in large numbers, fearing that Unidos Podemos’s “populism” could derail the country’s supposed economic “stability.” Breakdowns of turnout suggest that voter turnout was highest in areas where the old parties are strongest.

A second, more important factor could be dubbed “referendum fear.” The Saturday before elections is officially a “day of reflection” before the vote, when campaigning is banned. But that didn’t stop every news channel from implying, with a lot of nudging and winking, that referendums are dangerous. Unidos Podemos is the only party active across the whole of Spain that supports an independence referendum in Catalonia, so the inference was clear.

Regional results also give some credence to this theory: Unidos Podemos performed most strongly in the Basque country (29 percent), Catalonia (26 percent), and the Balearics Islands (25 percent), but lost votes elsewhere compared to the results in December 2015.

  1. Nationalism is confounding the left.

The election results leave any potential right (PP-Ciudadanos) and left (PSOE-Podemos) coalitions short of a majority — with the 25 seats won by nationalist parties in Catalonia, the Basque country, and the Canary Islands holding the balance of power.

The terminology of “nationalism” is slightly misleading, since PP and Ciudadanos’s support for centralized rule from Madrid is a form of Spanish nationalism in its own right. But the implication is clear: As in December, no ideologically coherent parliamentary majority can emerge from Spain’s general election.

National questions are a particular dilemma for the left. The center-left PSOE has been the strongest force in Spanish politics since Spain’s transition to democracy in 1978, and its majorities were based on dominance in Catalonia and Andalusia, the country’s two most populous regions. The rise of the independence movement in Catalonia has made it increasingly hard to win both.

The Unidos Podemos vision of a “plurinational” Spain saw it win the popular vote in the Basque country and Catalonia. But it trailed in third in Andalusia, despite promises of a guaranteed minimum income and access to basic services that, on the face of it, should hold strong appeal in Spain’s poorest region. By contrast, PSOE held on to 31 percent of voters in Andalucia but attracted the support of just 16 percent of Catalans.

  1. The achievements of the new Spanish left remain impressive.

It’s the hope that kills you. Spain’s election night started with exit polls predicting a Unidos Podemos breakthrough, after two months of polls predicting the same. That makes a below par result feel like a resounding defeat, while the likely continuation of PP government is a painful blow to people suffering the effects of years of austerity. But Spain’s new parties have still achieved an incredible amount in a short time.

Podemos and its allies have channelled the energy of the indignados into a national electoral force. Spaniards are more likely to blame bankers and corrupt politicians for the crisis than immigrants — no mean feat in the broader European context.

Unidos Podemos ran on a program that promised to tax the rich more, impose a solidarity tax on the financial sector, restructure Spain’s debt, create a minimum guaranteed income, reverse health and education cuts, reinstate unions’ collective bargaining rights, lower the retirement age, provide pension rights to immigrants, ban utilities from cutting off poor people, defend social housing, reimpose rent controls, and oppose the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Over 5 million voters agreed. And when the dust has settled, that should still feel like a strong beginning rather than a precipitous ending.

The post Five Takeaways from the Spanish Election appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

An earlier version of this commentary appeared at Red Pepper.
Oscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


These States are Taking Tax Reform into Their Own Hands


(Photo: SEIU Local 509)

States across the country are taking on the issue of tax fairness with vigor, looking to raise significant revenue and put a halt to the growing economic divide. Revenue raising campaigns in California, Massachusetts, and Oregon want to increase taxes on millionaires and the most profitable corporations at the ballot.

In light of growing inequality, other states should take notice.

The income of the top one percent is over 25 times higher than what the bottom 99 percent is paid across the country. In certain states, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, that figure is more than 40 times higher.

Perhaps more troubling, in 15 states the top one percent took all of the income gains in the wake of the Great Recession. Not most of it, all of it.

While there is no panacea for dramatically reducing this level of inequality, one part of the solution comes from the tax code: raise taxes on the very wealthy and invest the revenue on programs of social uplift.

Three states have stepped up to begin to address this rising inequality through changes in their tax codes, providing a model other states should consider emulating.


A ballot initiative campaign is underway in Massachusetts to pass a millionaires tax in the Commonwealth. The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition supporting the campaign claims the initiative received a 70 percent approval rating and will raise about $ 2 billion per year in revenue for education and transportation infrastructure in the Bay State. The campaign recently received support from 135 of the 200 representatives in the state legislature and will appear on ballots in the 2018 election.


In 2012, the Golden State temporarily raised state level income taxes on millionaires to the highest in the country with a rate of 13.3 percent on incomes over $ 1 million. In the years following, the California economy has seen significant growth, disproving conservative economists‘ predictions that calamity would ensue. Voters will decide in November whether to make the tax increase, and the $ 5 billion in annual revenue that comes with it, permanent.


Corporate taxes on large and profitable corporations in Oregon are the lowest in the country. Voters will weigh in on whether to change that this November thanks to a ballot initiative campaign from A Better Oregon. The initiative raises rates on corporations with over $ 25 million in sales in the state with revenue earmarked to fund early education, K-12 education, health care, and senior services.

These states are not alone. Efforts to raise taxes on the wealthy are also underway in Minnesota, Maine, and Colorado according to Bloomberg News.

With Congressional inaction guaranteed at least until after the election, and likely long after that, it’ll be up to the states to take the fight against inequality in their own hands. Activists and legislators in states not currently taking action should draw inspiration from these states and consider launching campaigns of their own.

The post These States are Taking Tax Reform into Their Own Hands appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies.


The First Step to Ending the War in Syria is to Stop Killing

“Whatever else you’re trying to do when you’re trying to end a war, don’t kill more people,” Phyllis Bennis told the Real News Network in an interview during the People’s Summit.

Bennis outlined four highlights of a foreign policy doctrine for dealing with Syria.

  1. Stop the killing—Withdraw the troops, get the boots off the ground

“There’s 6,000 troops in Iraq that we know about, at least 350 in Syria. There’s probably others,” Bennis said. “Maybe they don’t wear boots, maybe they wear sneakers. They’re forces and the CIA. Get them out. They’re not helping.”

2. Stop selling, giving, and sending arms to everyone who claims they’re against Assad or ISIS

“Half of those arms still end up in ISIS’s hands and it doesn’t work. You can’t win this militarily,” Bennis said.

3. Stop sending arms to everybody.

“Let’s talk about an arms embargo,” Bennis said. “Let’s really be serious about this.”

4. Get serious about diplomacy

“Put more money into the humanitarian work of the United Nations,” Bennis said. “There is a refugee crisis underway and in the United States we’ve shamefully allowed in barely 2,000 Syrian refugees in five years—that’s about what are arriving in Germany in one day. It’s really shameful.”

If any of the presidential candidates are serious about taking up new positions, these are the ones they should take up, Bennis said.

The post The First Step to Ending the War in Syria is to Stop Killing appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Rising Inequality Hit us Twice: Once During Recession and Again in Recovery


Inequality doesn’t cause every problem in our world today. Inequality just makes every problem worse.

Big problems especially. Like recessions.

We’ve known for some time that recessions—and depressions—become much more likely when wealth starts excessively concentrating in the pockets of the already rich.

Now we have important new research that adds to this story. The same inequality that gets us into economic messes, it turns out, significantly slows the clean-up.

The research comes from an international team of economists who’ve just examined how Americans at different levels of wealth behaved economically before and during the Great Recession. What did American households spend, the investigators asked, and what did they save?

The researchers—the University of Pennsylvania’s Dirk Krueger, the University of Stockholm’s Kurt Mitman, and Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis analyst Fabrizio Perri—essentially found what they expected for the period right before the Great Recession. The lower a household’s net worth in 2006,  the higher that household’s consumption rate.

On this front, there was no surprise. Poorer households typically spend a higher share of their incomes than richer families. The goods and services their families need just to get by on a daily basis grab almost all of their incomes.

Richer households, on the other hand, spend far more total dollars on goods and services than poorer families. But they also make far more. With their pockets overflowing, they can afford to save a substantial share of their incomes.

This dynamic becomes more pronounced in any economy growing more unequal. The wealthier the rich become, the more they save. That’s all to the good, the pals of plutocrats insist. Savings by the rich, they assure us, create prosperity as the rich invest in businesses that create jobs. Everybody wins.

In real life, rising inequality limits most all winning to the wealthy. Those savings that rich people have to invest don’t go to businesses that create good jobs because average people—in an economy that’s concentrating rewards at the top—can’t afford to be good customers.

With job-creating businesses struggling, the rich take their savings elsewhere. They speculate. Enter our bubble economy.

The huge downside to all this: All bubbles eventually pop. The great housing bubble of the early 21st century would pop into 2008’s Great Recession.

So what happened with the consumption and savings patterns of America’s households? Here’s where the new research from economists Krueger, Mitman, and Perri gets particularly interesting. The trio found a striking “change in consumption expenditures at different points in the wealth distribution” after the Great Recession hit.

Between 2006 and 2010 saving rates increased most strongly “at the bottom of the wealth distribution.” How could less affluent households suddenly afford to save more? During the Great Recession, they cut their consumption at twice the rate of more affluent households.

And that behavior made eminent sense. These less affluent households—essentially the poorest 40 percent of Americans—held less than one percent of the nation’s wealth going into the Great Recession. In 2008, with people losing jobs left and right, these households cut back their spending markedly and started “to save massively” to protect themselves from the shock of job loss.

But what makes sense for particular households, the researchers make plain, didn’t make sense for the economy as a whole. With the nation’s less affluent spending less, businesses cut back more, and the nation’s economic mess just became messier. The recovery sputtered.

In an ideal world, unemployment insurance would prevent this sort of downward spiral. Unemployment benefits give families at the economic edge a modicum of security. Households that can count on these benefits to cushion the shock of job loss will continue to consume. Their consumption, in turn, helps a troubled economy recover.

Unemployment insurance in our contemporary United States, unfortunately, remains too spotty to offer any appreciable real security. In the Great Recession, less affluent households felt—rightly—on their own

If poorer Americans had unemployment benefit security during the depth of the Great Recession—and, more importantly, if poorer Americans had had a larger share of the nation’s wealth—the nation would have consumed more after the Great Recession hit. The recovery would have been more robust.

Without wealth inequality, as economist Dirk Krueger told one interviewer earlier this month, we still would have had a drop-off in overall consumption during the Great Recession. But that drop “would not have been as large”—and America’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression would not have lasted as long and been as hard.

Still another good reason, as if we need one more, to make America more equal.

The post Rising Inequality Hit us Twice: Once During Recession and Again in Recovery appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


The House Sit-In Would’ve Been More Powerful if It Rejected ‘No Fly, No Buy’


(Photo: YouTube)

It was almost midnight when I found myself glued to the live video of scores of Democratic members of Congress, who were then about 12 hours into their historic sit-in. They were calling for a vote on new gun restrictions following the Orlando nightclub massacre.

They occupied the House, jerry-rigged a television broadcast when the Republican leadership took C-SPAN off the air, and continued rising one after another to speak with passion, reminding the nation that business as usual is no longer okay. They continued their protest until well into the next day.

Led by Rep. John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement, they insisted that there be no congressional recess without a vote on their proposed gun control bills. They reminded the world that since 1968, more Americans have been killed by gun violence than in all the wars in U.S. history.

It was a moving, empowering thing to see. And yet, there’s a huge problem.

The Democrats’ own leadership has refused to allow their own now-insurgent party to officially endorse the most sensible (however insufficient) gun control proposals — including outlawing assault weapons, removing the prohibition on federal research on the public health consequences of gun violence, and universal background checks. Those things, lethally opposed by the NRA, wouldn’t stop the epidemic of gun violence in this country by themselves. But they would certainly help.

A few members rejected the restrictions. At 12:35 in the morning, Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, one of those who’d set up the live-streaming of the debate after the Republican leadership turned off the C-SPAN cameras, called for all three of those goals.

But for the most part, the Democrats limited their demands to only two things. First, they proposed a small, completely insufficient expansion of background checks. Second — and more dangerously — they repeated a slogan of “no fly, no buy.” That refers to a proposal that would ban anyone on law enforcement’s so-called No Fly List from buying a weapon.

If implemented, this would do nothing to prevent gun violence, nearly all of which is perpetrated by people who aren’t on that list. But it would do much to increase racial profiling and Islamophobia.

If we were talking about actually preventing terrorists from buying weapons, that would be one thing. But the government’s various terrorist watch lists, including the No Fly List, aren’t lists of terrorists. They’re lists of people — American citizens, green-card holders, visitors, citizens of other countries — who end up on government lists for reasons we and they never know.

Maybe they share a name with someone once suspected of knowing someone whose second cousin once Skyped with someone else thought to be a would-be terrorist. Or perhaps their college roommate ended up trying to go to Syria. Maybe a few of them really do have dangerous intentions.

But there are thousands of people on these lists. Most of them can’t even find out why they’re not allowed to fly, let alone challenge the prohibition. “Our nation’s watchlisting system is error-prone and unreliable,” the American Civil Liberties Union explains, “because it uses vague and overbroad criteria and secret evidence to place individuals on blacklists without a meaningful process to correct government error and clear their names.”

If it were up to me, I’d prohibit anyone — anyone, on or off those lists — from buying or possessing these lethal weapons. But it’s not up to me — and unfortunately the “no fly, no buy” rule proposed at the surprisingly militant House sit-in isn’t going to prevent gun violence either.

What it is going to do, unfortunately, is legitimize watch lists as the basis for a politically popular version of gun control.

Those vague criteria the ACLU calls out end up being applied disproportionately to Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and others wrongly assumed to be linked to terrorism. We shouldn’t forget that Nelson Mandela remained on the U.S. “terrorist” list until 2008. Even John Lewis, who’s leading the sit-in, was reportedly once on the No Fly List himself.

It’s terribly sad that some of our most principled, consistent members of Congress — members of the Black Caucus, the conscience of the Congress, and the Progressive Caucus, who work against racism, racial profiling, Islamophobia, war, and beyond — are among those urging even greater reliance on this ineffective system in the name of preventing gun violence.

The congressional sit-in brought some moral power and renewed urgency to the cause of gun control. It’s a challenge to the partisan bickering that’s paralyzed Congress for years. It may even ignite a turn towards re-legitimizing Congress — long demonized as the least effective, least useful, least popular institution around.

That reversal would be far more likely if these members of Congress, as they consolidate their new moral credibility, would finally reject the current iteration of the No Fly List as the basis for gun control — or a legitimate method of counter-terrorism.

The post The House Sit-In Would’ve Been More Powerful if It Rejected ‘No Fly, No Buy’ appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Does the Brexit Vote Mark the End of Internationalism?


(Photo: Flickr / Photo: portal gda)

This week might represent the beginning of the end for international cooperation. All the treaties, alliances, and unions that have incrementally strengthened the ties between nations over the last several centuries have suddenly been revealed as a house of cards, which a wayward puff of air known as Brexit might suddenly blow away.

Surely this must be an overstatement. The decision this week of British voters to stay inside the European Union or make the unprecedented move to leave can’t be that important. Brett Arends writes in MarketWatch that’s it’s really all a bit of a scam: If the voters decide to leave, the British government will negotiate “a face-saving formula that gives the illusion of Brexit without much substance.”

In any case, the UK was always iffy about the European project, maintaining more than just physical distance from the continent. For instance, the UK has more opt-out clauses than any other EU member. There are even some Brits who find the Chunnel — the underwater rail line linking the UK and France — an unacceptable infringement of their country’s inalienable right to be an island.

If the referendum vote on Thursday does favor the leaveniks, the world will not end. The EU will simply proceed with their continental business, turning a cold shoulder to those ingrates across the Channel.

As an example of the snowballing disdain, French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron recently cut Britain down to size when he said that the country, post-Brexit, would be no more important than the tiny island of Guernsey. German bankers will yawn, French diplomats will sniff, and Belgian bureaucrats will titter nervously before they all go back to their paperwork. The markets will shudder and then regain their equilibrium.


Humpty Dumpty will begin to wobble out of control. And we, along with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, will watch in horror as the fragile egg topples off the wall and goes splat, never to be reconstituted. The UK will split apart as Scotland goes ahead with a second vote on its own independence. Referendums on EU membership will follow in France and in the Netherlands. Brexit would be a tipping point for the Swedes and their growing Euroskepticism. Economic contagion could spread to Ireland, which is so closely linked to the British economy, and to Portugal, which is so close to default.

After the EU comes apart at the seams, then perhaps all the various international efforts to pool resources and find common purpose — NATO, ASEAN, the OAS — will suffer a similar failure to cohere. The UN, already dysfunctional, will melt away. It’s a grim scenario, and one that I’ve laid out in dystopian fashion in my new novel Splinterlands (which you can pre-order here). Let’s hope that this brave new world stays in the world of fiction where it belongs.

Perhaps the referendum will narrowly favor those who want to stay in the EU. Bankers and politicians and Eurocrats will sigh with relief because, after all, who can really predict what happens when the fabric of international relations suffers such a tear. Perhaps it can be repaired. Perhaps it goes directly into the rubbish bin.

But a narrow victory may not ultimately settle the question. The anti-EU forces in the UK would likely push for another referendum. Indeed, both UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage and some Conservative MPs have already predicted such a rerun in the case of a close contest — even though British Prime Minister David Cameron has signaled his opposition to such “neverendums.” And Euroskeptics on the continent will probably move forward with their own votes regardless of the British result. Their convincing win this spring in the Dutch referendum on trade relations with Ukraine illustrates the depth of disgust with the EU across the political spectrum.

In either case, this effort to make Britain great again — and America great again under Donald Trump, Japan great again under Shinzo Abe, Turkey great again under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hungary great again under Viktor Orban, and so on — will indelibly stain the very concept of “international.”

Ah, well. International cooperation: it was fun while it lasted.

The Mechanics of Exit

Until just recently, it looked almost inevitable that the “Europe No” crowd would triumph in the referendum. In most polls, they had a several-point lead. Momentum seemed to be on their side. Hysteria was mounting as the UKIP improbably presented all potential incoming immigrants as barbarians at the gate (instead of the source of dynamism the British economy sorely needs).

Then, last week, a right-wing extremist assassinated pro-EU Labor Party politician Jo Cox. The assassin, Thomas Mair, had been connected, though peripherally, to white supremacist, pro-apartheid, and other far-right groups for decades. “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain,” Mair declared in lieu of identifying himself in court. If he’d had access to assault weapons — like Anders Breivik in Norway — he might have aimed for mass murderer status.

As Nick Lowles of the British-based anti-extremist group Hope Not Hate told The Washington Post:

It fits a pattern of far-right attacks. We’ve had a number of these lone wolves — men in their 50s who are on the periphery of these movements and who believe that the battle is coming… On the one hand, they’re on their own. But they’ve also been inspired by a lot of the things they read.

Coming on the heels of that other lone-wolf attack in Orlando, the assassination seems to have sobered up at least some Brits who might have otherwise voted to leave the EU. The hate that motivates so much of the far right’s desire to leave the EU — and keep the UK as white as possible — had been laid bare. The three-point spread suddenly reversed in favor of the pro-EU faction.

But this last-minute reversal might not mean much. Perhaps those who plan to vote against the EU in the referendum don’t want to admit their true preferences to pollsters because of the stigma attached to being on the same side as a mad assassin.

More to the point, the emotions run much stronger on the anti-EU side. According to a recent poll published in The Independent, 44 percent said that they would be “delighted” with Brexit, while only 28 percent would feel the same way about a Remain vote. “And if there were a vote to Remain, 44 percent said they would be ‘disappointed,’” the pollsters noted, “while only 33 percent said the same about a Leave result.”

The bottom line is that the EU hasn’t succeeded in creating sufficient emotional attachments among its denizens. Perhaps if there were an EU football team that participated in the World Cup, that all-important in-group feeling might well up in the hearts of those living from Lagos to Liepaja and from Lesbos to London. As it is, very few would fight and die for the EU flag. They wouldn’t even rumble in the football stadium, belting out Ode to Joy as they pummel non-European fans like something out of Clockwork Orange, since they reserve their hooliganism for their homelands. (Actually, as “stay” advocate and former footballer David Beckham recently pointed out, Manchester United was a champion because of players drawn from all over Europe — but that still doesn’t qualify as an “EU team.”)

If the leaveniks succeed, the British prime minister will likely invoke what’s known as the “article 50 procedure,” which functions like a divorce settlement — a two-year period of negotiations over who gets what and how the parties shall thenceforth behave. That agreement would require passage in the Council of Ministers and a majority vote in the European parliament and the British parliaments. A separate deal that addresses trade with the EU would require ratification in every EU member state.

No one ever said that divorce was easy.

The Death of Internationalism

The 20th century featured an epic tug-of-war between two types of internationalism: communist versus capitalist. Communist internationalism involved the workers of the world uniting and then the leaders of communist countries linking arms. It didn’t end well, with communist leaders going their own way and the workers turning their backs on communism at the end of the 1980s.

Capitalist internationalism, meanwhile, involved the elimination of all barriers to the free flow of money, investment, and financial services. This globalization of the world economy overwhelmed virtually every obstacle in its path — national regulations, political opposition, cultural preferences. It has also heavily influenced the European project, which started as a social democratic experiment in ending conflict, raising standards of living, and harmonizing social regulations upward, only to move inexorably in the direction of a banker’s paradise.

Some on the left have opposed the EU on the grounds that it’s been hijacked by precisely this kind of internationalism (as well as the internationalism of war via NATO). And, of course, some on the right have embraced the EU, despite its leftist origins, precisely because of its globalization-friendly and NATO-positive policies.

But the pro-EU forces have managed to unite the centrists in both of Britain’s two major parties, though their cooperation has been somewhat half-hearted. The heads of the two parties will thus have their heads handed to them if the campaign fails — Cameron for being overly enthusiastic about the EU, Jeremy Corbyn of the Labor Party for being under-enthusiastic. The Brexit vote is the UK’s equivalent of Donald Trump — a potentially fatal infection for both major parties.

But there’s a third kind of internationalism, which the EU represents, however faintly. This civic internationalism was perhaps best exemplified by Jo Cox.

Before entering politics, Jo Cox worked in several humanitarian organizations, including Oxfam and Save the Children. She’d worked with refugees, on maternal health, on trade reform. She’d been in some of the most dangerous countries in the world like Sudan and Afghanistan. She empathized with people across borders and worked with civil society — first in non-governmental organizations and then inside the British parliament — to help people regardless of their skin color or nation of origin.

The EU continues to be a radical political experiment in overcoming the negative aspects of nationalism (war, xenophobia) while preserving its more benign aspects (flag, language, culture). It’s not a perfect compromise by any stretch of the imagination. But the EU has created a political space within which common values and differences of opinion can be negotiated. It continues to spread around the wealth and attempt to raise social standards in the common European home.

Given the influence of globalization, the EU may not be as committed to these values as it once was. But it doesn’t deserve the “wrecking ball” that David Ignatius recommends in The Washington Post, in an op-ed that marks a new low in his analytical acumen. On so many quality-of-life issues, the EU still puts the United States to shame.

Which is why it’s so sad to see that now, after a century of knocking down walls — trade walls, the Berlin Wall, intra-EU borders — Europeans are about to retrieve their trowels from history’s dustbin and start entombing the EU brick by brick. The capitalist internationalists will survive these new walls. But I’m not sure about the third type of internationalists.

In the name of civic internationalism, Jo Cox stood shoulder to shoulder with her fellow Europeans — her fellow human beings — to build bridges, not walls. Let’s hope that her death will alert everyone to the preciousness of the internationalism that she embraced. We can’t let the Thomas Mairs of the world — or the Omar Mateens, Dylann Roofs, and Anders Breiviks — dictate with their words and weapons of hate the kind of world we live in.

The post Does the Brexit Vote Mark the End of Internationalism? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Feffer directs Foreign Policy in Focus, a project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Burning Issues: Taking on ISIS

In order to eliminate the threat of ISIS, the United States has to support eliminating the conditions that have led people in Syria and Iraq to conclude that ISIS is the lesser of two evils, says Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, in this Burning Issues video.

Bennis’ book Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror fundamentally questions U.S. strategy against the effort to build an extremist caliphate.

Fighting ISIS militarily is not the only strategy, Bennis says. A credible plan to defeat ISIS “starts with what every medical student learns on her first day in medical school: First, do no harm… Stop the drone attacks. Stop the air strikes.”

Bennis argues that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s plan to set up a no-fly zone in Syria and to engage in other forms of military escalation in the Middle East is “incredibly reckless.” Of Donald Trump, “God knows what he would do.”

Bennis also laments that “our movements have not demanded of any of the candidates” focus much more on these global issues of peacemaking.

The post Burning Issues: Taking on ISIS appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.