Both Candidates Are Bad on Climate, and You Can Thank Campaign Finance Rules For That

Trump doesn’t take climate change seriously, doesn’t understand the science, and doesn’t have a grasp on how the energy markets work in the U.S., Janet Redman told The Real News when asked about the candidate’s remarks during the second presidential debate.

She also dispelled his claim that there’s such a thing as clean coal.

Redman critiqued both the Democratic and Republican parties for receiving considerable amounts of money from fossil fuel industries. “What we’re seeing is the result of the way campaign finance rules operate,” she said, “So it’s not surprising to me that both sides talk about fracking (the process of using pressure and water to extract gas from rocks) as a solution.”

Building new pipelines and subsidizing fossil fuels with taxpayer dollars will not get us to stay below the 2 degrees that countries agreed on in ratifying the Paris climate deal, she said.

Redman concluded that the American public, particularly millenials, are saying climate change is one of the most critical issues they face today.

“We’ve got to shift public funding to a clean energy economy. It’s what we have to do,” Redman said.

Educator, author, and activist Chris Williams added that “If we’re are really serious about urgently addressing the scale and scope of this problem of climate change, then neither of the candidates offer any solutions that anyone should be voting for.”

Watch the full interview on The Real News’ website.

The post Both Candidates Are Bad on Climate, and You Can Thank Campaign Finance Rules For That appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Janet Redman is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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The Best and Worst Presidents on Taxes

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(Photo: Shutterstock)

With all the debate over Donald Trump’s tax-dodging, I’ve been wondering how taxes have played into presidential politics in the past.

For some answers, I turned to Bob McIntyre, head of the nonpartisan research and advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice. For 40 years, McIntyre has been on the frontlines of efforts to make our tax code fairer.

When asked what American president he considers the worst on tax fairness, his initial response was “Yipes, there are so many.”

After some consideration, he bestowed that honor on Ronald Reagan, whose 1981 tax act slashed taxes on the rich.

The top marginal tax rate dropped from 70 percent to 50 percent (before being cut even further to 28 percent in 1986). And, even more harmful, according to McIntyre, was the bill’s vast expansion of corporate tax loopholes.

Ironically, though, when I asked what president has done the most to advance tax fairness, Reagan’s name came up again — not as number 1, but as the runner-up.

While Reagan is a big hero of anti-tax Tea Partiers, later in his presidency, he agreed to raise taxes several times to address mounting budget deficits.

McIntyre was particularly involved in the fight over Reagan’s 1986 reform, after cranking out reports for a decade that documented rampant tax-dodging among America’s largest corporations and wealthiest individuals.

The loophole-closing 1986 reform was still not enough to solve the problem of insufficient revenue to pay for federal spending. But by creating a broader tax base, Reagan set the stage for President Bill Clinton’s increases in the tax rates on the highest earners.

The top marginal rate rose to 39.6 percent in 1993, where it stands today.

The combination of the 1986 and 1993 reforms was essential to the balanced federal budgets that occurred in the late 1990s, according to McIntyre.

But of course, then President George W. Bush blasted a cruise missile-sized hole through all that fiscal responsibility with a new round of tax cuts and a spike in war spending.

So who was the best president for the cause of tax fairness?

Again, the answer was surprising: Teddy Roosevelt, but not because he was a strong advocate of progressive taxes (which indeed he was). Instead, McIntyre says TR deserves the honor because of the unintended consequences of his pettiness.

To understand his argument requires a bit of a history refresher.

In 1912, Roosevelt, who’d held the nation’s highest office from 1901 to 1909, decided to throw his hat back in the ring because he was dissatisfied with the presidential performance of his former protégé, William Taft.

When TR failed to beat Taft for the nomination, he founded his own party — the progressive, so-called “Bull Moose” Party — and while he didn’t win the election, he succeeded in splitting up the Republican Party.

This, McIntyre points out, led to Democratic takeovers of previously Republican state legislatures, which was critical to delivering the three-quarters of states necessary to ratify the 16th Amendment.

“Without Teddy’s petulance,” McIntyre told me, “the amendment authorizing a federal income tax would almost certainly have failed to be adopted.”

So how does one stay motivated to keep fighting for fair taxation for 40 years? “Perhaps I have Sisyphus as my hero,” McIntyre said.

Trying to stop big corporations and billionaires from rigging the system does indeed seem like pushing a rock up a hill over and over. But until we elect public servants willing to stand up to these powerful forces, we have no choice but to keep pushing.

The post The Best and Worst Presidents on Taxes appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sarah Anderson is the director of the Global Economy project for the Institute of Policy Studies

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After Seven Years and Millions of Dollars, Decision Announced in Pac Rim Mining Company vs. El Salvador

International Allies against Mining in El SalvadorFor Release October 14, 2016

Cabañas, El Salvador / Washington DC / Ottawa / Melbourne – Civil society groups worldwide that have allied with Salvadoran communities and organizations working on mining and environmental issues reacted to today’s decision by the controversial International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) on the seven-year old case of Pac Rim Cayman vs. El Salvador, stating that “there are no winners” in this case.  On Friday, October 14, the tribunal announced their decision that Pac Rim’s lawsuit was without merit and hence that El Salvador will not have to pay the company the $ 250 million that it sought.

In 2009, Pac Rim Cayman LLC brought an “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) case against El Salvador at the World Bank Group’s arbitration venue, ICSID.  The company, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Canadian-Australian company OceanaGold, sued El Salvador for alleged losses of potential profits as a result of not being granted a mining concession for a gold project. The government of El Salvador did not issue the concession because the company failed to meet key regulatory requirements.

“The fact that Pac Rim – now OceanaGold – could sue El Salvador when it has never had a license to operate, is an abuse of process,” says Manuel Pérez-Rocha of the Institute for Policy Studies. “That these suits take place far from any transparent, independent court system demonstrates why we are opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other so called free trade agreements.”

This case is part of what led the Government of El Salvador to decide not to issue new mining permits.  That decision has widespread support in El Salvador; a recent poll of the University of Central America (UCA) indicates that 79.5% of Salvadorans are against any gold mining.

The civil society groups from the four countries, which came together in 2009 as International Allies, praised the communities in El Salvador that have opposed the mining company and have rallied the Salvadoran public and government to oppose new mining projects despite heavy pressure from the mining company.  They expressed disgust that El Salvador had to pay over $ 12 million to fund its defense in a case where the mining company never fulfilled all the legal or environmental requirements for a mining license.

“Irrevocable damage has already been done to communities in El Salvador,” says the Salvadoran Roundtable against Metallic Mining (La Mesa).  “Pac Rim’s presence in El Salvador has fomented local conflict, which has led to threats, attacks, and assassinations. We want OceanaGold, and all the misery it has caused, out of El Salvador, and for the government to enact a prohibition on any metal mining.”

“By allowing transnational companies to blackmail governments to try to force them to adopt policies that favor corporations, investor-state arbitration undermines democracy in El Salvador and around the world,” says Marcos Orellana of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “Regardless of the outcome, the arbitration has had a chilling effect on the development and implementation of public policy necessary to protect the environment and the human right to water.”

“This is one of now far too many examples of Canadian mining companies making use of international arbitration to bully governments when their mine projects lack community consent and have not met legal or regulatory requirements. In contrast, communities have no effective means to hold these same companies to account for the systematic and serious harms resulting from their operations”, says Jen Moore of MiningWatch Canada.

“What we have now is a clear example of what is wrong with investor-state-dispute-settlement clauses, whether they are inserted in domestic laws or bilateral or multilateral investment agreements. El Salvador’s experience confirms the threats to human rights and the environment that occur when corporations bring a suit to tribunals like ICSID,” explained Robin Broad, professor at the American University.

“A mining company that calls itself responsible should not be using mechanisms like ICSID to force governments to do its bidding.  Countries like El Salvador have a right to say no to mining without fear of a massive lawsuit”, said Keith Slack of Oxfam America.

“At a time of water scarcity, it is unconscionable for the global trade and investment regime to deny governments of water-stressed countries like El Salvador the policy space to protect local watersheds and ensure the realization of the human right to water,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

“It was morally reprehensible for Oceana Gold to demand $ 250 million USD from the Salvadoran people. This is a staggering amount for a cash-strapped country that could be much better used for education, health care, or other social services. This amount would fund the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources of El Salvador for more than one decade. The legal costs alone are enough to pay for over 2 years of adult literacy classes for 140,000 people,” says Emeritus Catholic Bishop Hilton Deakin of Melbourne, Australia.

“Let us be clear: El Salvador has lost a lot during all this arbitration. El Salvador had to pay more than $ 12 million, just to defend itself. These legal costs are enough to pay for over 2 years of adult literacy classes for 140,000 people. At a minimum, OceanaGold should reimburse El Salvador for the costs of this suit, which never should have taken place. And it should also be responsible for the social and environmental damage left in its wake,” says Alexis Stoumbelis of CISPES.

“This is a yet another case of corporate power being exercised against a democratic Government decision. If Australia ratifies the TTP there will be more of this to come” said Ged Kearney President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

“ISDS is part of a trade model that puts the needs of corporations before the needs of workers and the planet. The Salvadoran government did what a responsive democratic system is supposed to do: it listened to the desires and priorities of its constituents and acted accordingly” said Cathy Feingold, International Director of the AFL-CIO.

Media Contacts:
Manuel Perez Rocha, IPS – manuel@ips-dc.org, + 1 240 838 6623
John Cavanagh, IPS – johnc@ips-dc.org, +1 202 234 9382
Amanda Kistler, CIEL – akistler@ciel.org, +1 202 742-5832
Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada – jen@miningwatch.ca, +1 613 569 3439
Laura Rusu, Oxfam America – laura.rusu@oxfam.org, +1 202 459 3739
Robin Broad, American University – rbroad@american.edu, + 1 202 885 1478
Kevin Bracken, Maritime Union of Australia – kevin.bracken57@gmail.com
Sean Cleary, Edmund Rice Centre – sendwine@gmail.com, +  07-3376-8448

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The International Allies against Mining in El Salvador are made up of organizations from Australia, Canada and the United States that support the Salvadoran people as they demand sovereignty, the right to water, healthy communities and a clean environment. Each of the organizations that make up the Allies has a history of solidarity work with El Salvador. More information is available at: www.stopesmining.org

The post After Seven Years and Millions of Dollars, Decision Announced in Pac Rim Mining Company vs. El Salvador appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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The Crusade Against Press Freedom

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Journalists marched from Galatasaray Square to Taksim Square, demanding the release of arrested colleagues and better protection for press freedom, March 13,2011 in Istanbul,Turkey. (Photo: fulya atalay / Shutterstock.com)

Imagine that Donald Trump wins the presidency. Then, as he has done throughout his career, he goes after his enemies. He purges the Republican Party of everyone who refused to support him. He initiates criminal proceedings against Hillary Clinton.

And he shuts down The New York Times and The Washington Post.

It sounds like an unlikely scenario. Even if he does somehow manage to pull his campaign out of hospice to win in November, Trump wouldn’t be able to just close the leading newspapers in the United States, however much he might despise the liberal media.

But that’s exactly what’s happening elsewhere in the world. In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s government this week pulled some strings behind the scenes that led to the shuttering of the leading daily newspaper, Nepszabadsag. Earlier this year, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan closed one of the top Turkish papers, Zaman. In Russia back in 2008, someone —perhaps a 400-pound guy sitting on his bed — pulled the plug on Moskowski Korrespondentafter it reported on an affair between Russian President Vladimir Putin and a 24-year-old gymnast.

Welcome to the brave new world of censorship. Today’s illiberal democrats pretend to respect press freedom. But they don’t tolerate any criticism that threatens their political and economic position. They’ll throw individual journalists in jail. But they’re also not above muzzling an entire paper. At a time when corporate pressures threaten press diversity and reporters in many countries risk their lives to pursue leads, the latest attacks on the media by corrupt populists are contributing to a global rollback of fundamental rights.

Attacking the Press

Every year Reporters Without Borders puts out a survey of press freedom. Its 2016 report, issued in April, was the grimmest yet. Last year showed nearly a 4 percent decline in freedom of the press globally, according to their metric, and a 13 percent deterioration since 2013.

The many reasons for this decline in freedom of information include the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of governments in countries such as Turkey and Egypt, tighter government control of state-owned media, even in some European countries such as Poland, and security situations that have become more and more fraught, in Libya and Burundi, for example, or that are completely disastrous, as in Yemen.

One key statistic for measuring press freedom is the number of journalists in jail, whichdropped very modestly last year (from 221 in 2014 to 199 in 2015). But 2016 looks as though it will easily exceed the record. Turkey alone has 120 journalists in jail, 70 of them on charges related to the failed coup in July. China, which had the dubious distinction of leading the world in throwing reporters behind bars in 2015, began to crack down harder on journalists and editors in Hong Kong this year. Egypt, Iran, Israel, and Azerbaijan have all been turning the screws on reporters. Even here in the United States, the police have arrested or harassed citizen reporters trying to document police brutality, and Georgia is attempting to prosecute a woman who did nothing more than record a public rally put on by the state Republican Party.

But why go after single reporters when you can shut down an entire newspaper? That’s certainly been the approach of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose evolution from reformer to reactionary has been dramatically accelerated by his heavy-handed approach to the press. His move against Zaman in March, however, represented a new front in the battle.

Zaman was Turkey’s largest-circulation newspaper. After initially supporting the Turkish leader and his Justice and Development Party, the daily reversed gears and began to launch investigative probes of Erdogan’s political circle. Like two other previously state-appropriated periodicals, Bugun and Millet, Zaman was also linked to the Fethullah Gulen movement (which Erdogan claims was behind the coup). The closure looked like an anti-terrorist operation. Using tear gas and a water cannon, the police stormed the building and escorted the editor and his colleagues out of the building. Shortly thereafter, a new pro-government edition ofZaman appeared. In the wake of the attempted coup in July, Erdogan closed the paper for good, along with a slew of Gulen-linked media outlets, including 45 newspapers, 16 television stations, 23 radio stations, and 15 magazines. Last month, the government closed another 20 radio and TV stations, many of them connected to ethnic Kurds.

Though he claimed that Zaman supported the “terrorist” Gulen faction, Erdogan was also angered by the paper’s 2013 investigation of high-level corruption that involved money-laundering and fraud associated with an oil deal with Iran. The Turkish state went after Zaman not only to prevent it from publishing news about current affairs but also to eliminate its version of history. The authorities wiped clean the newspaper’s archives, consigning all 27 years of articles to the dustbin. The government that controls the past can control the future.

Just this week, Viktor Orban achieved the same goal in Hungary but through different means. He didn’t send police into the offices of Nepszabadsag. But the Hungarian government managed to use its political influence behind the scenes to silence a paper that in its final editions exposed the corrupt dealings of the governor of the Central Bank, a major embarrassment for Orban’s Fidesz government. The ruling party then had the gall to pretend in its official announcement that it was respecting, not undermining the rule of law: “The suspension was a reasonable business decision rather than a political one. It would be in violation of the freedom of the press if we interfered with a decision of a media owner.”

Nepszabadsag, once the official newspaper of the Communist party and then relaunched under the ownership of the Socialist Party, was Hungary’s largest daily. So, the economic argument rings hollow. Even the far-right-wing party Jobbik, which has found common cause with Fidesz on a number of issues, didn’t fall for Orban’s ploy. “The total undermining of Népszabadság is the latest example of Viktor’s Orbán’s megalomania,” a Jobbik spokesperson said. “The only aim of Fidesz is to either gain 100% control over Hungarian media or to obstruct it.”

Until relatively recently, Hungary had one of the most vibrant and interesting media landscapes in the region. Yet in a mere six years, since the beginning of his first term in office, Orban has bulldozed that landscape, leaving behind only monuments to himself and his party. The EU is not likely to do anything — its past condemnations of Orban’s illiberal policies maywell have increased his stature inside the country. It’s up to Hungarians themselves to reclaim their country.

Hungary and Turkey are not alone. The year has been full of newspaper seizures. South Sudanshut down a newspaper for reporting on the corruption of government officials. Oman did the same thing in August to a newspaper reporting on corruption in the judiciary. The state of Jammu and Kashmir in India banned the local paper, Kashmir Reader, for “disturbing the peace,” but really because it was reporting on the growing unrest in the province.

It’s striking that corruption is the common denominator behind many of these newspaper closures. Despite their appeals to nationalism or religion or some political ideology, the new illiberal leaders have been singularly focused on using the apparatus of the state to enrich themselves and their followers. Since their political opposition has often indulged in the same illicit activities, only the press and a few organizations devoted to transparency stand in the way of what political scientists call “state capture.”

Corporate Concentration

Newspapers are closing in the United States all the time, though for different reasons. The latest casualty is the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, leaving the western Pennsylvania city with only one daily. Last spring, The Tampa Tribune bit the dust. There are now fewer than a dozentwo-paper towns in the United States. As many publications move online, the age of daily print journalism is winding down.

At the same time, the media landscape has become ever more concentrated. In 1983, 50 corporations controlled 90 percent of U.S. media. Now that number has dwindled to a mere six corporations.

Sure, you can find on the web a few islands of investigative journalism and provocative alternative opinion (in an ocean of outlandish conspiracy theories). But what Orban and Erdogan are doing consciously in Hungary and Turkey is happening as a result of market calculations here in America.

Of course I’m a big fan of online media. And I’ve indulged over the years in plenty of critiques of mainstream media. But independent journals of record, with budgets for investigative journalists and fact-checkers, are indispensible in holding elected leaders accountable. These are the bloodhounds who can really follow the money. But substantial news outfits are in a losing battle for readers with clickbait operations like BuzzFeed.

In mid-August, Donald Trump showed both his ignorance of and contempt for the press whenhe tweeted: “It is not ‘freedom of the press’ when newspapers and others are allowed to say and write whatever they want even if it is completely false!”

Actually, that’s exactly what freedom of the press is. It’s not up to Trump or Orban or Erdogan to decide what is “completely false.” That is up to the fact-checkers, the courts, and ultimately, the dwindling group of citizens around the world who care passionately about politics and truth, those two often incommensurate categories that are, rather than the “elite,” the real target of Donald Trump’s crusade.

The post The Crusade Against Press Freedom appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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

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The Bad News about Good Census Numbers

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(Photo: Unarmed Civilian / flickr)

Poverty is down, median income is up and health coverage expanded last year. These gains are felt across all racial, ethnic, gender and age groups in the U.S. The gender pay gap, income inequality, unemployment rates – all decreasing. Both the poor and those with middle incomes saw economic gains in 2015, according to new U.S. Census data. And the economy even added more than 2.6 million jobs last year.

Sounds like cause for celebration, doesn’t it? But don’t break out the bubbly just yet. Although these figures are heartening, especially after so many years of increasing hardship in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, the news appears much better than it really is.

Forty-three million people still live in poverty in the U.S., including 14.5 million children.According to an analysis of the U.S. Census data, black women still take home just 63 cents compared to a white man’s dollar, and Latinas make a measly 54 cents per dollar.

In 2015, according to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute, the gap in hourly wage pay between white and black workers widened to nearly 27 percent, the widest racial pay gap in 40 years. Further, the racial wealth gap is the highest it’s been in 30 years. Meanwhile, the richest Americans’ wealth has grown by an average of 736 percent. That’s 10 times the rate of wealth growth for the Latinos, and nearly 30 times the rate of growth for the black population, says a report by the Institute for Policy Studies. IPS’ analysis further finds that by the year 2043, that huge chasm in wealth between white people and black and Latino people will double if we don’t do something to change it. And to squeeze the last bit of helium out of that quickly deflating balloon celebrating new census data – median income for all but the richest 5 percent of Americans is still below pre-recession rates.

 …

The post The Bad News about Good Census Numbers appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Karen Dolan is the director of the Criminalization of Poverty project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Fairfood nominated for best innovation 2016

In October 2016, Fairfood was nominated for best innovation in the Spindle Innovation Awards 2016, an initiative organized by Partos.

Fairfood’s innovation, ‘The Value Chain Approach’ was short listed out of 39 ideas, which included contributions from Action Aid, Hivos and Plan Nederland, and presented at the Partos Innovatie Festival.

The public had the opportunity to leave comments and tips in order to make innovations even more successful. Fairfood’s team was honored to be there and to share its learning points with other innovators. See the video of the Spindle Challenge Innovation Session here.

The value chain approach for winter’s tomatoes

Based on its work with Moroccan tomatoes, Fairfood´s innovation tackles power imbalances by working on both ends of the food supply chain. Since 2013, Fairfood has worked closely with the Fédération Nationale du Secteur Agricole (FNSA), a local Moroccan labor Union and the Ford Foundation to improve the livelihoods of female tomato pickers.

The tomatoes we enjoy year-round in Dutch and European supermarkets are sourced from Morocco. Moroccan tomato pickers and packers earn between €5 and €8 a day, although the cost of living is around €15 a day.  The majority of them are women who work long hours and under unsafe conditions, without contracts or social protection. Despite their hard work, they do not earn enough to make ends meet.

In many global food sectors workers do not earn a living wage. This means that food workers earn wages that are too low to fulfill their needs and the needs of their family. This includes basic necessities, such as sufficient nutritious food, healthcare, clothes and a decent roof over their head.

Fairfood International wants food workers all over the world to earn a living wage: a wage that is high enough to take care of themselves and their families.

For more information on our work in Morocco click here.

 

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In Second Debate, Clinton Escalates Her Call for a Military Solution in Syria

In the second presidential debate, Phyllis Bennis told the Real News Network, Trump gave no insight into how he’d proceed in U.S. dealings with Syria beyond vaguely stating that he would “get” ISIS.  Hillary Clinton, on the other hand actually escalated what’s been her already highly-militarized set of proposals for the region.

Clinton added to her plan for a so-called no-fly-zone: the assassination of the leader of ISIS and additional arms to the Kurds. Killing the leader of ISIS will only leave the role easily-filled by other ISIS leaders, Bennis said, and when talking of arming the Kurds, Clinton made no mention of how that would impact the U.S.’ relationship with NATO ally Turkey.

As for establishing a no-fly-zone, Bennis said that failing to explain how we’d do so without evoking war with Russia is “thoroughly irresponsible.”

Bennis also challenged the U.S. on insisting that Russia and Iran stop arming the Assad regime, when the U.S. is guilty of supplying weapons to the opposition.

“As long as the U.S. is arming everybody and their brother on the other side, they’ve got no credibility to ask the Russians to stop arming the Syrian regime,” Bennis said.

The same goes for Secretary of State John Kerry calling on nations to be accountable for war crimes. “There should be accountability for war crimes,” Bennis said. “But it’s not going to happen as a result of the one-off political posturing of U.S. diplomats” when the U.S. itself is bombing in Syria and enabling war crimes like the most recent Saudi-attack on a funeral home in Yemen.

Bennis later challenged the U.S. on insisting that Russia and Iran stop arming the Assad regime, when the U.S. is guilty of the same, in that they directly, and through allies, supply weapons to the opposition.

“As long as the U.S. is arming everybody and their brother on the other side, they’ve got no credibility to ask the Russians to stop arming the Syrian regime.”

Listen to the full interview on The Real News Network’s website.

The post In Second Debate, Clinton Escalates Her Call for a Military Solution in Syria appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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U.S. Military Names Climate Change an Urgent Threat, But Where’s the Money?

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(Photo: Tobin / Flickr)

Our military calls climate change “an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water.”

And this month the Obama administration announced a comprehensive strategy to incorporate climate change into our national security strategy. But there was no mention of money: how much this would cost or where the money would come from.

Next month, we’ll know whether we’ll have a climate denier or an advocate for climate action in the White House, and a Congress either continuing to resist or ready to tackle this threat. They’ll need to know what we’re currently spending as a baseline for debate over what we need to spend. Next to regulation, money is the key tool government has to spur CO2 reductions in the atmosphere.

But the federal government hasn’t produced a climate change budget since 2013. Meanwhile, we’re at the white-hot center of the refugee crisis in Syria. And though the conditions leading to this tragedy were laid by geopolitics and internal politics, one of the worst long-term droughts in history that gripped the country from 2006 to 2010 also played a major role.

Read full article on U.S. News & World Report’s website.

The post U.S. Military Names Climate Change an Urgent Threat, But Where’s the Money? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Miriam Pemberton directs the Peace Economy Transitions program at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Trump Benefits From a Broken Tax System

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(Photo: Michael Fleshman / Flickr)

As we heard at the first presidential debate last week, Donald Trump is among the legions of wealthy investors and transnational corporations that lobby for special tax breaks and then declare they have “broken no laws.” Meanwhile, the bottom 99 percent of taxpayers and small-business owners are left to pick up the tab.

We now have a tax system where billionaires and global corporations such as General Electric and Boeing pay little or nothing toward the infrastructure, defense, national parks, and education. From the offshore tax havens, such as those disclosed by the Panama Papers, to complex trusts, loopholes, and a myriad of energy industry and real-estate tax breaks, the current rules benefit the already-haves.

The United States effectively has a two-tier federal tax system with one set of rules for the wealthy and another set for everyone else. The vast majority of people and small businesses pay taxes on wage income that is often withheld in advance. But the greater one’s income and wealth, the more opportunities there are to reclassify income and dodge taxes.

Trump declared his tax minimization makes him “smart.” In reality Trump is no genius, but he is rich enough to hire professionals in the wealth defense industry. Wealthy individuals like Trump deploy an army of trust lawyers, estate tax planners, charity advisers, accountants, specialty bankers, and tax attorneys (some of whom previously worked for the IRS), to slide past tax rules and create barriers to transparency, accountability and taxation.

In a three-page 1995 tax return obtained by The New York Times, Trump reported a $ 916 million loss on his business ventures. This net operating loss, which could be spread over the previous two years and subsequent 15 years, probably eliminated all his income-tax obligations in those years, according to David Cay Johnston, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his tax reporting at The New York Times, and prominent tax experts Edward Kleinbard of the University of Southern California and Martin J. McMahon Jr. of the University of Florida. Without more information, tax analysts cannot determine if these were legitimate losses or fabrications. Trump should disclose his complete tax returns if he has nothing to hide on this front.

Read the full article on the Nation’s website.

The post Trump Benefits From a Broken Tax System appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Free Trade’s Regulatory Chilling Effects

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(Photo: Backbone Campaign / Flickr)

Since 2009, the year the United States government officially decided to participate in the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, have gone out of their way to tout the trade pact as “the most progressive trade deal in history.” Few claims, however, could be further from the truth. In fact, the TPP’s chapter on investment protection and its dispute settlement mechanism—by which foreign investors can sue sovereign states in closed-door, international courts—demonstrate that the TPP shares a great deal in common with recent free trade agreements, and not in a good way.

More specifically, the TPP is a free trade pact that is firmly rooted in one of the most notorious provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), its Chapter 11 on investment. Designed to protect foreign investors and give corporations the capacity to operate in ways that ensure their profits are maximized and risks minimized, the TPP now threatens to extend that corporate impunity on an unprecedented scale.

Until a few years ago, the legal framework enumerated in Chapter 11 existed in comfortable darkness. Thanks to the dedicated organizing of civil society organizations around the globe and advocacy of a small group of responsible government officials and parliamentarians, this is no longer the case. In the last decade, three Latin American countries (Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador) have publicized their frustrations with the power that corporate entities have amassed through the inclusion of what are known as “InvestorState Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) clauses by withdrawing from the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the most common tribunal in which countries that are parties to such pacts can be sued by private corporations.

Spurred on by civil society, it is no longer abnormal for countries that are parties to a given Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) to denounce the inclusion of ISDS provisions in those agreements. Ecuador, for example, recently began a comprehensive process of auditing all of the BITs to which it is a party, as well as the suits it is involved with at the ICSID. This review process is now being emulated in other countries, like Poland, while governments in places like South Africa, Indonesia, and India have pledged to cancel many of their BITs.

A changed political environment has helped to push the problems of the ISDS system to the forefront of the civil society debate about the TPP and other largescale free trade negotiations, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Although many believe the time has come to radically change and rebalance the international legal regime on investment by annulling or renegotiating international investment agreements, the 12 countries that are parties to the TPP, most notably the United States, have continued to ignore such criticisms. This fact alone is reason enough to oppose the ratification of the TPP.

The free trade model that the TPP today embodies goes back at least to the early 1990s, when NAFTA was negotiated and approved by Canada, Mexico, and the United States. [For more on the relationship of NAFTA to the TPP, see Alejandro Álvarez’s piece in this issue of the Report.] Advocates of that pact contended that it would bring prosperity to Mexico by increasing employment opportunities and living standards across the board.

However, the opposite has happened.

By removing trade barriers, NAFTA took away protections enjoyed by Mexico’s domestic food producers, precipitating greater food insecurity, widespread loss of agricultural livelihoods, and migration, both internally and abroad. Moreover, by removing investment barriers, the deal made it even more profi table for large corporations to set up factories along the U.S.-Mexico border, and then re-export finished goods back to the United States at a lower price. Because the portions of NAFTA dealing with labor protections were extremely weak, the jobs created in Mexico’s maquiladoras have remained low-paying ones over the last two decades and basic labor rights, like the right to form a union, often go ignored.

What’s more, since under the terms of NAFTA national governments cannot impose conditions on foreign investors to use domestic suppliers, the value chains forged between other sectors of the Mexican national economy and new foreign investment have been minimal. (NAFTA’s investment chapter contains a little known clause, known as the “Prohibition of Performance Requirement,” by which governments are not allowed to actively promote connections between foreign investment and national production chains in order to boost national employment.) The result of this all has been a boom in exports from Mexico’s manufacturing and maquiladora sectors that have had very few positive ripple effects in other parts of the Mexican economy.

Read the full article on Taylor and Francis Online’s website.

The post Free Trade’s Regulatory Chilling Effects appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Manuel Pérez Rocha is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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