Black Youth and Elusive Freedom

(Photo: Flickr / Daniel Arauz)

(Photo: Flickr / Daniel Arauz)

This summer brought too many new videos of black men — Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Phillando Castile in a St. Paul suburb, Terrence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma — losing their lives at the hands of police officers.

As these videos circulated, I found myself crying new tears. Yet these new tears are filled with old memories.

At the age of 11, I cried for my brother for the first time.

He was 16 and had just bought his first car. He so enjoyed the freedom that came with it. But on his first day driving it to school, police stopped my brother and searched his car. My mother and I happened to be on our way home when we saw my brother sitting on the curb as police went through his belongings.

I wept.

That wouldn’t be the only time police stopped my brother. My mother and I would see my brother sitting on the side of the road multiple times. He was never charged or convicted of any crimes during these stops.

My brother would survive all these encounters. I now think back on how fortunate he was.

But this continuous stream of searches — a ridicule of my brother’s freedom — changed how he viewed himself and how our community viewed him.

My brother no longer felt he had either the freedom or the power to assert his right to drive. Our neighbors, meanwhile, assumed that he must be guilty of some crime, and questioned my mother about why he was getting pulled over.

The police have the power to protect us as citizens. But my brother’s story demonstrates how the abuse of that power can strip the freedom and innocence from of a free and innocent young man.

Stories like my brother’s happen all the time. They seldom make national news, but their negative impact is lasting. That’s why we need to heal and empower our young black boys and girls.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that the sorts of indignities heaped upon my brother can “cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention.”

“I must say,” Dr. King added, “that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

In Ferguson, in Baltimore, in Charlotte, and all across the nation, we’ve seen our youth take to the streets in protest after the deaths of countless black men and women in the presence of police.

Those young people showed their frustration with a criminal justice system that can take a person’s life without any appropriate accountability, punishment, or justice served.

But our youth need opportunities to share their stories.

Empowering them can offer a loudspeaker to the unheard, like it did during the Civil Rights Movement, when student led sit-ins fostered the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

They need the tools to develop solutions, make real changes in their communities, and become future leaders, like those who led the more recent movement in Curtis Bay to stop the building of a polluting garbage incinerator.

Providing our youth with these opportunities to make an impact allows them a chance at that elusive freedom.

The post Black Youth and Elusive Freedom appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Kareen Currey is a New Economy Maryland Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by


Why a New Global Deal on Aviation Emissions is Really Bad News


(Photo: Shutterstock)

It sounds like a fine riddle: what can grow exponentially but still remain the same size? A new global deal on climate emissions from aviation promises just that: “carbon neutral growth” from an industry that is the world’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gases.

When diplomats meet in Montreal this week for the triennial Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the results are likely to be prosaic: a delay in cutting emissions until 2021, at which time a voluntary scheme would be introduced that allows airlines to continue polluting by paying others to clean up for them. The controversial “carbon offsetting’”scheme at the heart of this proposal is likely to involve counting reductions in greenhouse gas emissions twice, posing a significant new threat to hopes of avoiding dangerous climate change.

The airline industry is currently responsible for about two per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions that play a lead role in causing climate change, but the impact of flying could be more than double that headline figure.

Without getting too technical, emissions from planes change the balance of energy in the atmosphere (‘radiative forcing’), as well as forming cirrus clouds (the contrails so beloved of conspiracy theorists) that can lock in further warming. Taking all of these factors into account, aviation is responsible for closer to five per cent of the climate change problem, a small but significant share. The bigger problem, though, is that flying is expected to be the fastest growing cause of climate change.

Read the full article on New Internationalist’s website.

The post Why a New Global Deal on Aviation Emissions is Really Bad News appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Oscar Reyes is an associate fellow for the Institute for Policy Studies.


Stories of positive change – an interview with Fairfood’s new director Sander de Jong

Sander de Jong became the new director of Fairfood in September 2016. He obtained a degree in Business Administration, before initially working in marketing and consulting. However, he later harnessed this commercial expertise to move into the world of entrepreneurial start-ups focusing on social and environmental issues. In 2012, for example, he co-founded the Dutch Weed Burger, a company selling a sustainable plant-based alternative to the hamburger. In this interview with Richard Glass, he talks about the need to inspire consumers and companies with stories of positive change, his plans for Fairfood and how he would change our unsustainable food system.

Could you tell me a little about your background?

That story goes back to when I was a child living on a farm in the north of Friesland. I grew up among animals; we had chickens, horses and even 2 squirrels. At the age of 6, I decided to become a vegetarian. When I grew older, I realised that was the right choice. I was already conscious at that age of my actions, in that case towards animals. More generally, I am very aware of my personal actions in relation to my environment and the planet we live on. I studied Business and I entered the advertising, marketing and consulting industry. The more I learned there, the more I thought that I could use that knowledge for my personal ideal, which is helping to create a better world. So, that’s what I tried to do: use the knowledge I gained from advertising, consultancy and marketing, and working as a start-up entrepreneur, to create a better world. Once I started to do that with the Dutch Weed Burger, the floodgates opened. I had found my mission. It’s all about making an impact. Trying to reach people with a positive story of change. The Dutch Weed Burger is an example of a positive story of change; how you can help, for example, by eating a hamburger made out of seaweed and soy.

So how does the Weedburger do that? By rejecting intensive farming and meat consumption?

In essence, it was about the huge issues we face with our meat consumption and the meat industry: the ethical issues, the social issues and the animal welfare issues. It’s also about the ecological issues, as almost 20% of our worldwide CO2 emissions come from the meat industry. So, we can actually make a huge impact by changing our food habits and out diets. But, instead of saying you should not eat meat, you can also say ‘Why don’t you try something else?’ What we did was to open a new door, a door that wasn’t there yet. We showed the public that they could actually be part of a positive change. The idea was not to tell people what they shouldn’t do, but tell them what they should do instead.

But there seem to be new hip burger bars popping up every week. Will consumers ever change their eating patterns willingly or will the government have to intervene?

I believe in the power of people. I also believe in the supportive powers of governments. But in essence, it should come from the behaviour of people. I feel as consumers, we are still very much an untapped resource in terms of pushing positive change. What you see with the Dutch Weed Burger, for example, is that people actually like it and buy it, even people who are a bit more cynical. They don’t see it as a substitute, but just as something different. So, we just placed something positive next to the negative, if you will. That helps and that works.

Obviously, it would also help if the government would be willing to stop the subsidies on dairy, meat and agriculture in general. There are defects in our food system on multiple levels: subsidies, the purchasing power of a few corporations and the lack of transparency. So, there are a lot of levels where we have to intervene and find a way to stop those forces and transform it into something positive.

A lot of people in our previous interviews have said that the current food system is unsustainable. Do you agree with that? And how do we change that? Do we need to buy local? Do we need to sacrifice certain comforts?

I think it all starts with awareness and care. What I see around me is that people don’t care for food anymore. We are so used to having food as soon as we want it. We treat it as something that is of little value to us. If you know a little more about the food, you will probably care about the food and then you will start to appreciate it much more, and then you will be willing to change your behaviour and habits. There’s a lack of awareness, and even if people do know about it they say ‘Yeah, but what can I do about it?’ A lot can be done to inspire people to act.

You have advocated an ‘inclusive economy in which people live and work in dignity’ and there is ‘social and economic value for all’. How can economic value for large corporations, for example, not be at the expense of workers lower down in the chain and the environment?

Almost 1.5 billion people work in the agri-food sector. If we can give these people a proper income that will affect almost half of the world’s population. Fairfood is trying to raise the awareness of the inequality in the food system, and the exploitation of people and the environment at the other end of the food chain. By raising that awareness, showing people how they can be part of the change and showing companies how they can change their buying habits, for example through initiatives like the IMVO covenant for sustainable food, we will find coalitions of the willing and work together to find practices. We will learn how to reinvent the value chains, because we have to reinvent them. There is no choice.

What are your main goals for Fairfood and what is your added value as director?

I believe that Fairfood has a great legacy and has done great work here and in the countries where the issues are greatest. I have background in business and marketing, starting and growing social enterprises, but also helping companies and NGOs transform their businesses in order to make more impact. I hope I can contribute to that and strengthen the Fairfood cause every year, so more people are connected and more people know about food and the true story behind their food. I want more people to be part of that positive change and help create a sustainable, fair food system.

You have talked in your video about wanting to harness the power of the consumer. There are already obviously consumer movements like Foodwatch, the Consumentenbond and Question Mark. What do you plan to do differently?

I think there are a lot of allies in the field. One of the areas where I see much potential is working together. What Fairfood can contribute is being the voice of the unheard and the face of those who are hidden. We can tell the untold stories of the workers and farmers in the middle and low-income countries.

So what do you want consumers to do?

We need to engage people and connect them with the food. But we don’t want to point a finger. We actually want to say ‘Hey, do you actually know what is going on and that you can actually do something about it?’ So, we’re thinking about starting an eerlijke supermarket wijzer (fair supermarket indicator): an app on your phone that explains how fair and sustainable your supermarket is, and which offers advice on what products to buy.

We also want to be a platform for storytelling and to showcase best practices. There are a lot of companies that are already doing very good. There’s the Fair Trade initiative and other companies like Tony Chocolonely and Moyee coffee. There are many of these examples of best practices; companies that are willing to be part of change and are trying to find new ways of innovating their supply chains. So we also want to push that.

Which figures or companies in the food system inspire you or provide an example in your opinion?

A great example if Tony Chocolonely, a company that is relatively young. Last year, they celebrated their 10th anniversary. Within 10 years they have grown to be the second biggest chocolate maker in the Netherlands. That’s a huge success story. That is based on the fighting the unfairness in the chocolate sector and fighting slavery. They combine it with great consumer marketing and branding. What they do is use the tactics and strategies from the corporates and top brands for the better good.

Could other NGOs do with using the entrepreneurial marketing skills of these kinds of companies?

There’s a lot to learn from them yes. I hope the NGO sector can reinvent itself and innovate its business model. What surprises me is that commerce often leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, while commerce can actually be part of the solution. People have to eat, and they have to buy. But let’s make good food that is fair and sustainable, so that our children can live without exploitation of our environment and our resources. Ultimately, we have to fight to for the lives of the unborn. We are not passing our planet on; we are borrowing it from the unborn. We have to be more considerate because our children’s lives are at stake.




Hillary Clinton Channels Her Inner Teddy Roosevelt

(Photo: Marc Nozell/Flickr)

(Photo: Marc Nozell/Flickr)

Hillary Clinton’s proposal to strengthen the federal estate tax is the best idea yet to reverse our national drift toward extreme wealth inequality.

Clinton proposes an expansion of the federal estate tax, our nation’s only levy on the transfer of accumulated wealth of multimillionaires and billionaires. The tax falls on fewer than two out of 1,000 estates, yet puts a brake on concentrated wealth, encourages charitable giving, and raises substantial revenue from those most able to pay.

Her plan would generate $ 260 billion over ten years, exclusively from multimillionaires and billionaires, that she plans to use for investments in expanding opportunity, such as reducing college debt, simplifying small business taxes and expanding the child tax credit.

The estate tax, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this month, was viewed at its inception as a way to address the excesses of the first Gilded Age. The impetus to pass a tax on inherited wealth came from rural populists and enlightened industrialists. In his 1889 essay, Wealth, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie observed about that estate tax “of all forms of taxation, this seems the wisest.”

President Theodore Roosevelt advocated for “a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes” that should be “properly safeguarded against evasion” and must increase “rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.” Estate taxes, Roosevelt argued, were required “to preserve a measurable equality of opportunity.”

Clinton’s proposal adopts the Roosevelt principle by including a progressive rate structure — the greater the wealth, the higher the rate.


The post Hillary Clinton Channels Her Inner Teddy Roosevelt appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Chuck Collins is the director of the Inequality and the Common Good Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


We’ve Used Up Our One-Time-Only Economic Boost From Fossil Fuels


(Photo: Garry Knight / Flickr)

The economy, we have been taught, is a cat with considerably more than nine lives. The bottom might drop out of the stock market, but it will rebound — again and again. The Chinese were on top of the world, economically, for a thousand years or more, but then the colonial powers cut the country down to size — and now China has regained its former glory. Laptops, which once boosted productivity, no longer do so, but don’t worry: another innovation will soon come along to revolutionize the workplace.

Growth is the sine qua non of every modern economy, from North Dakota to North Korea. Not everyone agrees, of course. Even before global warming appeared on the horizon, environmentalists came up with a persuasive argument about the limits of growth. The earth only has so many resources. There’s just not enough for everybody to own multiple SUVs, indulge in all-you-can-eat sushi buffets, and go on back-to-back cruise vacations. Climate change is just the final warning for a voracious race that ignored all previous recommendations of restraint.

For the last couple decades, however, growth in the industrialized world has slowed down. Europe and Japan have entered a long period of stagnation. The United States has seen various ups and downs, but the purchasing power of your wages really hasn’t budged since 1973. On top of that, U.S. productivity has slumped since 2010, with the most recent decline being the longest since 1979. Where growth has occurred, it has been unevenly distributed. Between 1947 and 1970, the bottom fifth of the U.S. population enjoyed a 3 percent growth increase in real personal disposable income. From 2000 to 2015, it was only .1 percent. The top 1 percent, meanwhile saw a 1.4 percent increase between 1947 and 1970 that swelled to 2.3 percent between 2000 and 2015.

Don’t worry, the optimists coo. Growth will return. It always does.

So, for instance, in data released by the Census Bureau that made headlines this week, the incomes of middle-class Americans rose by a little over 5 percent in 2015, the kind of increase not seen since the 1960s. “There, you see, we told you so!” trumpet the optimists. The economy has finally recovered from the economic crisis of the late 2000s.

Ah, but if you read the fine print, you find out that, adjusted for inflation, median incomes have not yet recovered to the levels of just before the recent recession. Nor have they returned to the levels of 1999. Our paychecks are bigger, but they don’t go any farther.

The forecast is even gloomier. Economic growth, when it does return, has been anemic, doesn’t create a lot of jobs, and has increased rather than reduced inequality. That’s the argument of economist Robert Gordon’s compelling new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, which builds on a lifetime of research into technology and productivity. Say goodbye to the American dream, Gordon tells us. If you think it’s possible to make America great again — to re-experience the growth rates of the 1950s and 1960s — think again. The enormous growth the United States enjoyed after World War II will never recur. It was a one-time-only occurrence.

This is not anti-Americanism. This is not pessimism or Malthusianism or neo-Marxist millenarianism. It is, simply, data.

And it’s not just a problem for the United States.

Only Once

In an era of the “next big thing,” it’s hard to swallow the idea that we are no longer living in an exceptional period of economic prosperity.

I have an amazing computer in my pocket that can tell me the best Chinese restaurant nearby, record and edit a video, and produce a veritable library of e-books and audio books at a touch of the finger. Oh, and I can use it to make calls and send emails and post updates to thousands of friends and colleagues around the globe. My father would have been amazed by this phone; my grandfather would have been freaked out; go back any further and the owner of such an object would probably have been burned at the stake. How can we not be living in the best of all possible worlds?

In his review of Robert Gordon’s new book, William Nordhaus provides the following startling statistics:

For most of human history, economic progress moved at a crawl. According to the economic historian Bradford DeLong, from the first rock tools used by humanoids three million years ago, to the earliest cities ten thousand years ago, through the Middle Ages, to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution around 1800, living standards doubled (with a growth of 0.00002 percent per year). Another doubling took place over the subsequent period to 1870. Then, according to standard calculations, the world economy took off.

Yes, you read that correctly. For a stretch of three million years, humans experienced a growth rate of .00002 percent per year. That includes the first four decades or so of the Industrial Revolution, which started around 1760. In other words, the contemporaries of Mozart enjoyed an average standard of living virtually indistinguishable from those laboring at the time of King Solomon.

The hundred years between 1870 and 1970, however, was truly a time of miracles. “Manual outdoor jobs were replaced by work in air-conditioned environments, housework was increasingly performed by electric appliances, darkness was replaced by light, and isolation was replaced not just by travel, but also by color television images bringing the world into the living room,” writes Gordon. “The economic revolution of 1870 to 1970 was unique in human history, unrepeatable because so many of its achievements could happen only once.”

Very few people dispute that that was a very special century of human progress, particularly since it lifted an enormous tide of people out of poverty and into a swelling middle class. Much more controversial are Gordon’s assertions that the revolution ended in 1970 and will never be repeated.

Gordon’s argument revolves around the relationship between innovation and productivity. There were, of course, inventions before 1870. But they didn’t prove transformative in terms of human productivity, not like the telegraph, running water, the light bulb or the automobile. These inventions enabled us to make more things, make them more efficiently, and get them into the hands of more people. The information revolution was the latest in this series of transformations. “As the impact of the late-19th-century inventions faded away around 1970, the computer revolution took over and allowed the economy to remain on our historic path of 2% annual growth,” Gordon writes.

Eventually, however, the IT revolution stopped boosting productivity so dramatically and, arguably, started to detract from it through such time sucks as Facebook and Angry Birds. Gordon estimates that the productivity turning point came around 2004 (coincidentally when Facebook was launched) and the real slowdown began in 2010 (shortly after Angry Birds launched).

So, what does Gordon mean by “only once”? After all, the automobile is still around. So are running water, the light bulb, and the computer. They continue to contribute value to the economy. But they no longer provide a quantum leap in growth. New baselines are established for productivity. Technology diffuses, and other countries or regions begin to take competitive advantage of the same improvements.

Gordon identifies six “headwinds” that make future growth less likely, at least for the United States. We’re no longer able to take advantage of the baby boomer bump or women entering the workforce in large numbers. We already benefited from the explosion of higher education, and now students face a huge debt load. Then there’s rising inequality, climate change, globalization and the erosion of the manufacturing sector, and the huge amount of debt held at both the household and governmental level. Combine these six ingredients and you have a recipe for Japanese-style stagnation.

Now let’s take a look at how this “only once” insight affects other countries and geopolitics more generally.

Beyond Innovation

Western Europe experienced enormous growth in the post-World War II era, and it too took advantage of a number of “only once” boosts on top of those Gordon identified for the United States. The first, of course, was the Marshall Plan, which injected a one-time sum into the war-ravaged region that could rebuild what had been destroyed. The second was the European integration process, which created economies of scale for the region, linked supply and demand across borders, and also provided resources for economic laggards to catch up.

After 1989, East-Central Europe did not receive anything like a Marshall Plan. Indeed, the governments that emerged from the collapse of communism still had to pay the debts incurred by the previous regimes. But they did have two “only once” options they could access. The privatization of state-owned enterprises provided an enormous dividend for the new governments, which they either used to modernize their economies or lost in the swamp of corruption. The second option that nearly all the countries have pursued has been membership in the EU, which provided access to EU stabilization funds. Although East-Central Europe made important gains since it experienced its own downturn in the 1990s, the use of these “only once” options has not resulted in the closure of the economic gap with the West.

Following the lead of Japan and then South Korea, China experienced double-digit economic growth in the 1990s and into the 2000s. Virtually all of the “only once” factors converged at one time: agricultural modernization, transportation revolution, and computerization. The state was able to deploy resources in a way to encourage these transformations. It could also take advantage of another “only once” factor: cheap labor. China leveraged its enormous, literate workforce to carve out a competitive position in the global economy, and then work its way up the value chain. India is attempting to do the same now.

The challenge remains: can Europe break out of its rut and China regain its earlier growth figures? Not likely: and that will have important political ramifications.

After all, the global economy faces certain headwinds as well. The industrialized world is struggling with a debt overload, faces a demographic crunch, hasn’t figured out a way to address growing income polarization, and comes up against resource depletion and global warming. The traditional answer to these problems has been: we need to grow our way out of it. Prime the pump! Innovate!

If Robert Gordon is right, however, that option no longer exists. Some developing countries will still be able to take advantage of some “once only” options, if it doesn’t push them over their carbon allowances. But the rest of the world must come to grips with modest growth from here on out. Yes, of course, inventions on the horizon like artificial intelligence could prove to be transformative. AlphaGo recently beat the world’s best Go player with an entirely new approach called “reinforcement learning” where the computer begins to develop a form of intuition about how to play the game. But the evidence so far suggests that such innovations will produce jobless growth — think: automation — and not provide the same lift for the poor and middle class as earlier industrial revolutions.

Economic stagnation, polarization of wealth, anger at an ineffectual and/or corrupt elite: here is the prescription for the rise of Trump-style populism. The global economy has failed us because it hasn’t delivered the growth it once did between 1870 and 1970. Trump and his friends imagine that we can go backward and revive the golden age. The data says: no.

Fairy Tale Growth

Robert Gordon discusses the innovations of the late 19th-century but spends less time on the substances that made those transformations possible. Here, too, we encounter the iron rule of “only once,” and it has an almost fairytale quality to it.

Back in the 19th century, we scraped at the earth and released a magic genie from his prisonhouse. In gratitude, the genie granted humanity one wish. We asked to be rich and powerful. And voila: the genie of fossil fuels did just that, making capitalism possible on a global scale, creating a class of the super-rich, and pulling an unprecedented number of people out of poverty and into a swelling middle class.

Ah, but there’s more than one story in The Thousand and One Nights about genies granting wishes. The happier one centers around Alladin, who indeed becomes rich and powerful after rubbing the magic lamp. A perhaps more realistic tale involves a fisherman who releases an evil genie who grants only one very specific wish: the poor fisherman can specify how he wants to be killed.

It’s not yet clear which genie we released when we rubbed the earth and out came coal and natural gas and oil. All those fossil fuels certainly have made us rich and powerful. But ultimately, they may simply grant humanity a single wish: to choose the way we die.

As importantly, the genie comes out of the bottle only once. We are not currently busy burying dinosaurs and massive ferns to create another cache of fossil fuels for some future generation. What we have — whenever it does run out — is all we have. Perhaps if we use them wisely, these fossil fuels will serve as a bridge to a technology, such as solar or fusion, that can provide comparable amounts of energy. Perhaps we can curtail the use of these fuels quickly enough to prevent the earth from becoming a ball of fire.

Either way, the enormous benefits that have accrued from fossil fuels provide a one-time boost in economic growth.

In response to Gordon’s “once-only” rule, we should take develop a YOLO economics. I’m not talking about the individuals who declare that “you only live once” (YOLO) before they splurgeon the latest Harley-Davidson. I’m thinking more of the environmentalist take on YOLO, interpreting the “you” collectively: we, the human race, also only live once, and therefore this generation should take care to pass on the planet to the next generation in better shape than we received it.

“Sustainable growth” just won’t cut it. We have to come up with something that redefines growth, emphasizes the importance of equity and dignity, and ensures that innovation works for us all. In the end, coming up with this new economic model should be on everyone’s bucket list.

The post We’ve Used Up Our One-Time-Only Economic Boost From Fossil Fuels appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy in Focus, a project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Another For-Profit College Folds


(Photo: Jonathan Weiss /

Picking the right college isn’t a fun process.

Whether you’re a high school student eyeing your next step or a bit older looking to improve your career, the cycle of researching dozens of schools, preparing lengthy applications, waiting to hear back, and then figuring out if you can even afford it seems endless.

But now, prospective students have one less option to choose from. And in this case, that’s a good thing.

ITT Technical Institute, the national chain of for-profit colleges, has shuttered its doors. The private company will shut down its 130 locations in 39 states, promptly ending education services for over 40,000 students.

The move comes after the Department of Education blocked ITT from accessing federal student aid programs, citing the school’s failure to meet the standards of accreditation for providing a quality education.

ITT is the second major for-profit college chain to close down, following Corinthian Colleges, which closed under similar circumstances in 2015. While this change will be tough for current students and recent graduates to sort out, the schools probably should’ve shut down a lot sooner.

As U.S. Senator Dick Durbin recounted in a recent Frontline special, “This is the most heavily subsidized private business sector in America. No one compares. Defense industry, agriculture don’t hold a candle to these boys.”

The problem lies in the company’s business model. ITT received nearly all of its revenuefrom taxpayer funded federal student aid programs. It uses this revenue to recruit students, the overwhelming majority of which never finish their course of study.

The quality of education and well-being of their students takes a back seat to their marketing efforts.

If this sounds a bit like a scam, the Department of Education agrees with you. As do the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Securities and Exchange Commission, and more than a dozen state attorneys general who’ve all investigated ITT.

The school’s closing comes as cold comfort to the current and former ITT students, many of whom face tens of thousands in debt without much to show for it. One group of former students are refusing to pay their loans, calling for a debt strike against the school, following in the footsteps of a similar effort led by Corinthian Colleges graduates.

Their campaign for debt forgiveness may be less idealistic than it sounds.

A provision in the laws governing student loans provides for “borrower’s defense to repayment” if a school engaged in fraud. This process is slow and far from guaranteed, but it may be the best hope for many former ITT students.

For-profit colleges were once seen as an innovative advancement in education — the private sector filling a need the public was failing to provide. In recent years, this myth has been largely debunked as for-profit schools are shown to charge more money for worse outcomes than their public equivalents.

Many high-profile politicians have endorsed for-profit education over the years, including presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

Donald Trump went one step further by creating his own for-profit school, the now defunct Trump University, which has seen its own share of controversy and fraud allegations.

Students need to be protected from fraudulent schools that don’t provide the quality education they claim.

Closing ITT Tech after years of infractions and mismanagement should be a warning to any other institution that might consider profiting from higher education at the expense of students’ wellbeing.

The post Another For-Profit College Folds appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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


When States Dream, Is Syria Their Nightmare?

National Catholic Reporter Interviews Phyllis Bennis

Photo by Goran Tomasevic.

The war in Syria is a nightmare. It’s a nightmare for all the civilians who suffer from constant aerial bombardment, who are trapped without food and medical assistance inside crumbling cities, who experience the retribution of either the Islamic State or the regime in Damascus. It’s a nightmare for those who try to escape and face the prospect of death in transit or limbo in refugee camps.

Syria is a nightmare for individuals, millions of them. But it’s not just that. If states could dream, then Syria would be their nightmare as well.

Syria was once a sovereign state like any other. It had a central government and fixed boundaries. The Syrian state enjoyed a monopoly on violence and, on several occasions, deployed that violence against its citizenry to devastating effect. The economy functioned, more or less, with considerable revenue coming from the oil sector. In 2009, tourism accounted for 12 percent of the economy. Not that long ago and despite its many problems, Syria attracted a large number of eager travelers.

In perhaps the most ironic twist, the Syrian state once had delusions of grandeur. It wanted to abolish the old colonial boundaries and unify the entire Arab world. Under Hafez al-Assad, its authoritarian ruler from 1970 until 2000, Syria attempted to absorb Lebanon, unite with Egypt and Libya in a short-lived Federation of Arab Republics, displace Iraq as the undisputed ideological leader in the region, and even take charge of the Palestinian cause.

How quickly dreams can segue into nightmares. Syria has fallen in upon itself, fracturing into four distinct pieces. The government in Damascus controls a gerrymandered slice of territory around the capital and the coast. The Kurds have carved out an autonomous region along the Turkish border in the northeast. The Islamic State still claims a large expanse in the heart of the country. And various rebel factions have secured a patchwork of land in all four corners of what had once been a unified Syria.

The government in Damascus, needless to say, no longer enjoys its monopoly on violence. It can’t control the borders of the country. The economy shrank by 19 percent in 2015 and will probably contract another 8 percent this year. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died in the current conflict. Out of a pre-war population of 23 million, nearly half have fled their homes 4.8 million leaving the country and 6.6 million displaced internally. The war, according to one estimate, has cost over $ 250 billion.

Much like the Balkans before it, Syria is emerging as a metaphor for the fragmentation and chaos that the modern world barely contains. Many states are held together by little more than surface tension, like the meniscus of liquid that rises above the sides of a glass. Nationalism has reached a boiling point in many places, as has religious extremism. Armaments are everywhere, militias are proliferating, and violence has become pervasive. After scoring a number of impressive victories  in Northern Ireland, in East Timor, most recently in Colombia international diplomats are stymied by the breakdown of order in places like Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Somalia.

The countries jockeying for influence in Syria today face many of the same divisive forces that have torn apart that benighted country. The dream of these intervening powers: to turn the current war to their advantage. Their nightmare: that whatever is tearing apart Syria is contagious.

The Illusion of Totalitarianism

There is no such thing as a totalitarian state.

Some dictators, of course, imagine that they can create just such a state, in which the government is a mere extension of the leader’s will and no significant opposition challenges this central authority. Such a society is a pyramid with one person at the top, every block serving to support that uppermost platform. Mere authoritarian societies tolerate potential rival sources of power, such as an intelligentsia or a business sector. In the ideal totalitarian system, all is for one and one is for all.

Even North Korea under the Kim dynasty Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Eun fails to achieve this kind of totalitarian control. True, the government has managed to suppress virtually every sign of political dissent, indigenous NGOs are practically non-existent, and all culture is subordinate to the state. However, private markets have sprung up beyond the state’s compete control (though, as a sign of grudging acceptance, the state taxes the sellers). Citizens watch contraband movies and listen to taboo music thanks to flash drives smuggled in from China. There have even been signs of disagreement at the highest levels of governance (or so the execution of Kim Jong Eun’s uncle Jang Song Thaek suggests).

Once upon a time, the leader of Syria also hoped to create a totalitarian dynasty in the heart of the Middle East. Hafez al-Assad embraced a version of Baathism, the anti-colonial, nationalist, pan-Arabist, and nominally socialist hybrid that emerged from the ideological tumult of the 1940s. As in North Korea, Assad created a one-party state with an extensive secret police, the Mukhabarat. He ruthlessly eliminated opposition, as in 1982 when the state brutally suppressed an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood. After a brief excursion into reform, the designated successor, Assad’s son Bashar, followed in his father’s footsteps. He attempted to extinguish the Arab Spring uprising just as his father had dealt with the Islamists. The current war is the result of Bashar al-Assad’s failure to perceive the declining power of his unitary state.

As much as the younger Assad would have liked to maintain a firm grip on power, Syria 2012 was a much different place from Syria 1982. During those 30 years, the bonds that had kept the country together had weakened. Popular organizations had begun to demand democracy. Groups defined by their ethnicity saw the potential for greater autonomy. Religious organizations sensed an opportunity to dislodge what had once been a distinctly secular regime. Other centers of power had appeared in Syrian society, and the Baathist regime was ill equipped to deal with this kind of pluralism.

This scenario might seem unique. It isn’t. Disharmonious pluralism has become the new global standard. Other countries Turkey, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the EU, even the United States gaze upon the Syrian example and tremble.

It Can Happen Here

Stripped of its magic sovereignty, Syria has been turned into a piñata whose hidden treasures are now available for all to see and seize. Even as they continue to wield their bats, the intervening powers can’t help but perceive how quickly sovereignty can disappear and how little prevents them from becoming piñatas in turn.

Turkish leaders, for instance, must be quite aware of the structural features their country shares with Syria. The glue that has traditionally held together modern Turkey Kemalism, named for the father of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk has a somewhat Baathist flavor. It, too, is anti-colonial, nationalist, and secular. Kemalism, like Baathism, has unified an extraordinarily diverse country. Where ideology has proven insufficient, the central government, as in Syria, has used considerable firepower to suppress any movement but particularly the Kurds in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – that challenges the territorial integrity of the country.

Turkey’s current leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wants to consolidate power internally and project Turkish influence throughout the Middle East (and beyond). Syria has long been integral to this dual project. The two countries mended fences in the early 2000s when Syria figured prominently in Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy. Once Assad’s position became tenuous during the Arab Spring, however, Erdogan saw an opportunity to switch horses. As the conflict deepened, and no horse emerged as a clear winner, Erdogan decided to use the cover of war to bomb the PKK and their supporters over the border. He hoped to identify a “responsible” Kurdish faction with which to do business – as Ankara has done with Kurdistan in Iraq. More recently, by creating a “safe zone” in northern Syria, Turkey plans to resettle Syrian refugees now in Turkish camps and use that as a base of operations for promoting Turkish business in post-war reconstruction.

That’s the dream, anyway. The nightmare is not far away. The failed coup in July was a rather inept demonstration of the latent anxiety in certain sectors about Erdogan’s consolidation of domestic power. The rekindled war with the Kurds in the southeast reveals the continued ethnic divide in the country. So far, Erdogan has cleverly combined the secularist Kemalism and the soft-pedaled Islamism of his Justice and Development Party into a Turkey-first nationalism. But blowback from Syria from Kurds, from Islamic State supporters, from a disgruntled Turkish army could open up a rift in Erdogan’s coalition, and Turkey would then be on the verge of turning into a Syria.

Even though it follows a very different operating system, Iran, too, looks on Syria as a cautionary example. The government in Tehran is currently split between reformers under President Hassan Rouhani and the religious hardliners who constantly fret over theological deviations. The Green Movement that emerged around the 2009 elections revealed strong opposition to the theocrats within the urban middle class. If Rouhani and his cohort are not able to take full advantage of the nuclear deal and Iran’s reentry into the global economy, Iran could slide backward economically and then, after the next elections, politically to the days of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Disenchanted with formal politics, the next iteration of the Green Movement might give up on peaceful demonstrations and plunge Iran into its own civil war.

Saudi Arabia seems like a solid enough entity at the moment. But it too faces a religious challenge from its Wahhabist fringes and a potential territorial challenge from minority Shia in the Eastern Province. The House of Saud rules with an iron fist, and its Committee for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice intrudes into the private lives of the citizens. The collapse of oil prices has put a squeeze on the kingdom’s finances, which will inevitably open up cleavages within Saudi society. In the absence of a strong national identity, Saudi Arabia could fracture along tribal lines, much like Somalia.

These challenges are not limited to the Middle East. The European Union faces multiple centrifugal forces Brexit, defaulting economies, a restive Russia. Euroskeptics decry the undemocratic power wielded by political institutions in Brussels. The crisis in Syria is by no means abstract for European countries. The influx of Syrian refugees has driven a huge wedge between countries that want nothing to do with them (particularly Eastern Europe) and countries that want to share the burden equally. The disintegration of Syria is now integrally linked to the disintegration of Europe, which might seem fitting to those who believe in the vengeful ghosts of colonialism.

The United States is far away from the Syrian conflict, and so far the Obama administration has limited the number of incoming refugees to 10,000 (compared to more than a million that Europe has accepted). The issue of immigrants has certainly divided the two major presidential candidates, and there is no consensus at the top on Syria policy the recent ceasefire agreement exposed a serious fault line between the State Department (let’s work with the Russians) and the Pentagon (really, the Russians?!). But Syria won’t set Americans against Americans as it has pitted Europeans against themselves. Moreover, despite considerable disagreement in the highest reaches of American power on a range of other issues between Congress and the president, within the Supreme Court, between states and the federal authority these conflicts have been paralyzing rather than fissiparous.

The more serious concern is the sheer number of guns in the United States over 300 million and their greater public visibility. You can now carry around your gun openly in 45 states, and more than 14 million people have permits to do so. The number of anti-government militia groups has been rising steadily since the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Trust in the federal government has fallen to record lows. Approximately one in four Americans want their states to secede from the union. Divisions between rich and poor, white and black, native born and immigrants, have widened.

Ordinarily, all this roiling discontent could be contained by a well-functioning economy or by a set of foreign enemies to focus American enmity. But the election of a much-disliked president next year take your pick may well prove to be a tipping point. It doesn’t take much to turn a well-armed population into a mob.

And that, of course, is the ultimate nightmare for Turkey and Iran and Saudi Arabia and the United States when Syria ceases to be a gloomy metaphor for what is happening outside its borders and becomes instead a grim reality.

The post When States Dream, Is Syria Their Nightmare? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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


Candidates Need to Fall in Line With Queerer, Browner Electorate


(Photo: Hans Christiansson /

Where candidates stand on issues of gender and sexuality, and the ways in which that’ll play out in the voting booth this November will be very different than in past presidential campaigns.

The days of the either/or binary are over. The idea that both sexual orientation and gender identity exist on a spectrum is more widely accepted now than it has ever been before. That means our next president must also have an expanded understanding of civil and human rights in order to appeal to a broader population of voters.

Both Hillary Clinton and the Green Party’s Jill Stein have pretty good records on gender and sexual identity equality, although Clinton came late to the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual) platform.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson has come out in favor of marriage equality and against North Caroline’s transphobic “bathroom bill.” And there’s talk that Johnson’s 9 percent approval rating could hold in some key states and have a spoiler effect on election outcomes (though a recent major gaffe may deflate his numbers).

Of course, traditional issues of equal pay, glass ceilings and reproductive freedom are still important and on the table. But the electorate is changing, along with their priority issues. And though they have voted in much smaller percentages, millennials comprise as much of the electorate as do Baby Boomers.

So the strength of the youth vote is still sorting itself out, but millennials lean left and overwhelmingly supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primaries. People under age 35 are more diverse racially, ethnically and identify as queer in far greater numbers than older generations.

The youth vote seems destined to support the candidate who favors same-sex marriage, protections for transgender youth in schools, equality in access to public bathrooms and medical care, non-discrimination in housing, employment, higher education, and freedom from criminalization. But that doesn’t mean candidates should discount the rest of the voters.

Although many people, especially older people, feel more comfortable with the traditional gender assignment that matches their reproductive organs — the term for this is cis-gender — we are becoming a more informed culture. It’s becoming less of a taboo to talk openly about how innumerable variations in both gender and sexual identities exist. People are pushing back against the power and privilege afforded exclusively to wealthy, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, heterosexual men.

If current liberal views of gender and sex play out in the ballot box the way they do in studies and polling, they’re not likely to be impressed by Trump’s record.

He is opposed to same-sex marriage, legal protections for LGBTQIA+ people, and reproductive rights. His running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has a long record of hostility toward gay and transgender people, and is also opposed to reproductive freedom. Trump uses misogynistic slurs in his rhetoric. It is clear that he and Pence are significantly out of step with the majority of the American people on these issues.

The ground has shifted with regard to gender and sexual identities. Same-sex marriage is now legal. Understanding and acceptance of transgender people is at record high levels. New numbers show that three-quarters of Americans want transgender people to have special protections under the law. A majority of youth born since 2000 — Generation Z — identify as “queer” in a recent study. By 2020 a majority of Generation Z will also be some shade of brown or black.

So if the candidates want to have a shot at landing in the Oval Office, they’ll need to fall in line with the next generation of people fighting for the civil rights of all humans.

The post Candidates Need to Fall in Line With Queerer, Browner Electorate appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Race and Poverty project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


The Black History of the New Economy


(Photo: Joe Brusky / Flickr)

These are snapshots of the struggles and successes for a so-called new economy — the fight for a people- and planet-first world that is more equitable, sustainable and democratic. And this shift is being pioneered by the black community. In other words, the Movement for Black Lives is the new economy movement and has been for decades.

Take farmer cooperatives, for example. After being barred from the Southern Farmers’ Alliance, southern black farmers founded the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union in 1886. Their purpose was to “elevate the colored people of the United States, by teaching them to love their countries and their homes; to care more for their helpless, sick and destitute” and “become … less wasteful in their methods of living.” The union peaked at about 1 million members in 20 states, and it was a key force in the populist movement, the formation of independent parties and the fight for voting rights in the 19th century.

This is just one sound bite from the profound history of the people- and planet-first agenda. So the new economy movement is, in many ways, not new and has deep roots in black community organizing.

Yet black liberation continues to be sidelined in its thinking and action. Today’s new economy movement has predominately white leadership, overemphasizes class without race and has offered solutions that disproportionately disrupt black communities.

The post The Black History of the New Economy appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Mandisa Routheni is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


New Mural Commemorates a Tragedy Turned Legacy of Activism in Chile, and Beyond

(Photo by Kaz Sasahara /

(Photo by Kaz Sasahara /

Francisco Letelier gazes up at the bigger-than-life portrait he has just painted of his late father, Orlando, who, in turn, is depicted also gazing up, searchingly, toward something unseen. What is the man in the mural yearning for? The defeat of the dictator? Justice for the torturers? Mercy for the disappeared?

Three days after a then-17-year-old Francisco took the original Polaroid snapshot upon which this new portrait is based, Orlando was dead — assassinated, blown up by a remote-control bomb planted in his Chevrolet. It exploded on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 1976, in Sheridan Circle, on Washington’s Embassy Row, as the exiled former Chilean ambassador was driving to work at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank. He was giving a lift to his American colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, who also was killed. Moffitt’s husband, Michael Moffitt, survived the blast.

It was a shocking case of foreign state-sponsored terrorism on U.S. soil. In the two decades that followed, members of the Chilean secret police and military and their hired hit men were prosecuted in the United States and Chile. More recently, declassified documents suggested that Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet personally ordered the murder of Letelier. Pinochet, who died in 2006, was never prosecuted for the killings.

The portrait of Orlando Letelier is part of a five-panel mural, 10 feet by 40 feet, that was recently unveiled in the sculpture garden of the American University Museum. Now, as the artist contemplates his work, it’s clear that his ambition is broader than simply invoking the memory of two martyrs frozen forever in the prime of life. The mural, titled “Todas las Manos” — “All the Hands” — is Francisco Letelier’s way of seeking to redeem the tragedy by telling the story of the idealism it has inspired in the decades since.

“We’re commemorating not just the tragic events that happened on the 21st of September 1976,” he says. “This project celebrates the way that tragedy was turned into a legacy of activism, of landmark cases in global justice, of continuing to build a world in which justice and international cooperation are real and felt. … Many campaigns toward a better world … spring from difficult moments, and it’s up to us to overcome those moments and to make them have meaning.”

See full article on The Washington Post’s website.


The post New Mural Commemorates a Tragedy Turned Legacy of Activism in Chile, and Beyond appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

David Montgomery is a reporter for The Washington Post.