Iran’s Protests Take Place Against a Backdrop of Inequality


Hamed Saber / Flickr

As 2017 came to a close, a groundswell of Iranian protesters captured international attention. The demonstrators’ slogans questioned everything from the price of eggs to the legitimacy of the highest levels of government, as viewers from around the world sought to pin down the precise motivations for their displeasure. At this time, the protesters may offer more questions than answers. Reports are building conflicting narratives as to who the protesters are, what brought them into the streets, and what they hope to accomplish.

Though there may be cacophony of analyses — many of them surely to be discredited in coming days and weeks — some facts still remain undisputed. Primarily among them: the protests are taking place against a backdrop of economic frustration and inequality within Iran.

Economic concerns have been simmering for some time. As Iranian writer Amir Ahmadi Arian noted in the New York Times, inequality has become front and center as the wealthy display their opulence with luxury cars in city streets, while the rest of the country struggles. The economy was a focal point in the country’s May 2017 elections. President Hassan Rouhani campaigned on the nuclear deal, promising it would bring more money into the country. But while Iran’s economy grew — by 13.4 percent in 2016 — it didn’t necessarily translate into prospects for Iranians. Unemployment rose to 12.6 percent that same year, a number that’s even higher for Iranian youth.

The discrepancy between the promise and reality of the nuclear deal hasn’t been lost on the country’s residents. In May of 2015, when hopes for the agreement were high, more than half of Iranians felt the economy was at least somewhat good. But by 2017, nearly two thirds called the country’s economic situation bad, one poll found. And they’re not optimistic about the future — fifty percent of people said they thought the economy was getting even worse.

Just as with the protests, analysts will point fingers in a variety of directions as to the cause of the country’s economic ills. Certainly, years of crippling international sanctions have played a role. And while the nuclear deal left the door open for more economic opportunities, constant uncertainty over the future of the agreement has left banks and businesses skeptical.

But regardless of the causes, the protests signal that Iran’s citizens may disagree with the government on next steps. One spark behind the recent demonstrations? President Rouhani’s conservative 2018 budget, released even as minor protests took place around the country over lost jobs and missing wages.

One particular point of ire is the budget cut to the country’s popular cash transfer program. As economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani notes in one analysis, the program — which gave Iranians a small monthly stipend — played a role in stemming poverty rates, especially in the country’s rural areas, helping to bridge inequality between Tehran and the rest of the country. Salehi-Isfahani also points out that high inflation already cut the value of the transfers to less than a third of their original value. To top off that indignity, the government has decided to limit the number of people eligible for the program.

While the international community buzzes about the meaning behind the protests, at least one group is standing behind Rouhani’s austerity budget. The IMF released a consultation report on Iran in December, shortly before the protests took off, in which they said revisions to the cash transfer program, among other measures, would lead to “much needed fiscal space.” In a memo, Peter Bakvis, who directs the Washington, D.C. office of the International Trade Union Confederation, questioned this move. “It is safe to assume that no one among those participating in the recent mass protests in Iran was consulted by the IMF’s mission before it endorsed the 2018/19 budget and issued recommendations for the country’s economic and social policies.” Though the IMF does not lend to Iran, their recommendation still carries a good deal of weight.

The question to be asked: will Iran listen to groups like the IMF or the voice of its people? The government says the demonstrations have died down. But no matter the face of Iran’s protesters or the future of their movement, this much is clear: the country needs to deal with inequality, or the frustration will continue to simmer.

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A Private-Sector Case Against Exploitation


(Photo: Stuart Monk / Shutterstock)

Over a decade ago, I met with a group of small business leaders to talk about the perils of rising income and wealth inequality, and its destabilizing impact on the economy. This was years before the 2008 economic meltdown, the Occupy movement, Thomas Piketty’s Capital, and the electrifying presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders.

“Where are the business voices?” one small business leader asked me. “Where are the enlightened capitalists who understand that stagnant wages and rising wealth inequities are the real threats to the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg?”

I knew from experience that such business leaders were there. One was Jim Sinegal, the now-retired CEO of Costco, who fended off Wall Street pressure to cut wages and eloquently made the moral and business case for a higher federal minimum wage. “The more people make, the better lives they’re going to have and the better consumers they’re going to be,” Sinegal told The Washington Post. “It’s going to provide better jobs and better wages.”

Unfortunately, such voices are outliers.

Read the full article on The Nation.


Building a New Movement Against Militarism


(Photo: Flickr/ Alisdare Hickson)

Donald Trump bombed a Syrian government airbase just a couple of weeks after releasing his budget plan for next year. The budget—with its call for a massive escalation in Pentagon spending, to be paid for with funds stolen from programs that fulfill urgent human needs—was met with outrage. But Trump’s illegal cruise-missile strike, ostensibly in response to a chemical-weapons attack on a Syrian town in Idlib Province, largely knocked the budget outrage off the agenda.

That’s a huge problem. As the saying goes, budgets are moral documents, and Trump showed us precisely where his morals lay when he unveiled his blueprint for federal spending. We must ask ourselves, what do our morals tell us, and how can we put those values into action?

With that mission in mind, a number of us gathered last month to discuss how we might jointly respond to Trump’s budget.

While the majority of us in the room were veterans of the U.S. antiwar movement, our meeting was designed to break out of the silos that have isolated progressive activists and weakened our movements for far too long. As Daniel May recently noted in The Nation, a modern movement to challenge US militarism must recognize and operate from the understanding that we are all in this together, that opposing war is one component of the multifaceted movement for social justice. Thus we were joined in our discussions by key leaders of many of the social movements now rising—the Movement for Black Lives, mobilizations fighting for women’s and LGBTQ rights, environmental justice, anti-Islamophobia, economic equality, immigrant and refugee rights, and more.

We met only a couple of weeks before we would mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s essential 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” where he laid out his vision for an interconnected movement against the connected “giant triplets” of racism, materialism, and militarism. And so, with his words ringing in our ears, we embarked on a mission to do something different—not simply to denounce one part of the president’s budget, but to challenge together the deep immorality of that entire document.

Read the full article on The Nation’s website. 


The Crusade Against Press Freedom


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 /

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.


Understanding Why Colombians Voted Against Peace


(Photo: AlCortés / Flickr)

The Iran deal would have been dead in the water if it required two-thirds or even majority support in the Senate since every Republican — and a couple Democrats —opposed the initiative. It’s hard to know what a referendum would have produced. A majority of Americans wanted the Republican-controlled Congress to oppose the settlement, according to a CNN poll in late July 2015. Another poll from Public Policy Polling at roughly the same time, however, found that 54 percent of Americans supported the deal and only 38 percent opposed it. A referendum could have gone either way.

The public, after all, is fickle, as it recently proved once again in Colombia.

This weekend, voters in that country went to the polls to decide the fate of a peace treaty to end half a century of conflict with leftist guerrillas in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos gambled his political career on the latest round of peace negotiations, which took nearly six years. In a deft political move, he decided to make sure that the Colombian public accepted this important step forward for the country. According to polls in September, voters favored the deal by a comfortably wide margin of two to one.

But on Sunday, the “no” vote received 50.21 percent, just edging out the 49.78 percent who voted “yes.”

It’s not the first time that voters have weighed in on foreign policy matters in recent months in ways that have confounded pollsters and experts alike. Back in June, British voters decided, against all expectations, to pull the country out of the European Union. Shortly before that, Dutch voters rejected an EU trade deal with Ukraine.

And this weekend, Hungarian voters overwhelmingly said no to an EU plan to resettle refugees more equitably across the continent. Although 98 percent of those who voted in fact rejected the EU initiative, the referendum failed to attract sufficient numbers to make it valid. Rather than signal their pro-EU or pro-immigrant sentiments, many people simply stayed home.

It’s both principled and pragmatic to argue that people should be allowed to vote on matters that directly affect them. In the case of the Colombian peace deal, significant opposition to a deal pushed through from above could reawaken the underlying conflicts that sustained the civil war for so long. After all, that’s what happened with earlier attempts, such as the 1985 deal to bring the guerrillas into the political system.

On the other hand, the UK, Hungary, and Colombia are representative democracies, not direct democracies. Because the tasks of government are many and varied, we elect people to represent our views as they carry out the duties of their office. The referendum, at least in the United States, serves as a check on our representatives if they shirk their responsibility.

But in the cases of Brexit, the Colombian peace deal, and Hungarian immigration, the governments sponsored the referenda. They were not checks on power, but appeals for legitimacy.

In all three cases, the negotiations that produced the deals in question were long and complicated. They required careful compromise and a full understanding of the risks of failure. Putting them up for referenda was the political equivalent of asking readers to give War and Peace a simple thumb’s up or down based on reading the blurb on the back cover or, worse, the ratings on Amazon. “Voters must make their decisions with relatively little information, forcing them to rely on political messaging — which puts power in the hands of political elites rather than those of voters,” write Amanda Taub and Max Fisher in The New York Times.

Given the outcome of these three referenda, should we rethink the way voters weigh in directly on matters of national security and international relations?

Peace v. Justice

The deal worked out between the Colombian government and the FARC was so detailed that it even spelled out what would happen to all the guns that the guerrillas were slated to hand in within 180 days of the accord’s signing. According to the plan, they would be melted down and turned into three monuments to be placed in Colombia, in New York at the UN headquarters, and in Cuba where the negotiations took place.

These monuments of metal were the least controversial element of a document that has generated fierce partisan debate in Colombia. Opposition to the agreement, led by former president Alvaro Uribe, focused on three major components: transitional justice, political representation, and rural development. In the demobilization process, the vast majority of guerrillas would be amnestied and eligible for payments to help them transition to civilian life. The FARC would become a political party with a guaranteed bloc of five seats in both the Senate and House of Representatives in the next two elections in 2018 and 2022. Investment would flow to farmers to persuade them to stop growing lucrative narcotics. Compensation would also be available for those forced from their land by the insurgents.

The deal is not just about moving on. It’s about reintegrating a country that has long been divided between an urban elite and the rural poor. According to an astute piece in The New York Times:

Rodrigo Uprimny, a professor at the National University and member of Dejusticia, a legal research institute, said Colombia lacked a national identity because of geography, strong regional identities and the absence of a modern foundational myth.

“We need a myth that is not aggressive but democratic,” he said. “And nothing is better than a peace agreement reached not through military triumph but as a result of dialogue and negotiation.”

Of course, a national myth can only function in this way if the population subscribes to it. The results of the recent referendum reveal that the country remains too divided even to agree to disagree.

For a fighting force that didn’t suffer a clear-cut defeat on the battlefield, the terms of the deal were hard for the FARC to swallow. It was getting nothing out of the peace agreement that could constitute a clear win on any of the issues that propelled the struggle in the first place. There would be no power-sharing arrangement, much less a revolutionary transformation of system. The FARC would not control any territory or head up any institutions. Nor would there be any radical land reform to redistribute the holdings of large landowners to the poor and landless. True, the agreement would create a land fund, which the landless could access. But the fund would only contain unclaimed properties and those acquired illegally.

On the issue of transitional justice, however, FARC fighters could at least avoid imprisonment. Commentaries have zeroed in on this issue as the sticking point in the agreement. A slender majority of Colombian voters simply did not want to forgive a guerrilla force responsible for so much murder and mayhem over the years.

Yet most analyses of the agreement fail to point out that the same lenient terms would apply to both the guerrillas and the right-wing paramilitaries and the government who were responsible for a fair share of atrocities. As Human Rights Watch points out:

The agreement states categorically that perpetrators who confess to atrocities will be exempt not only from prison or jail, but also from any “equivalent” form of detention. They will instead be subject to “sanctions” that have a “restorative and reparative function” as opposed to a punitive one and entail carrying out “projects” to assist victims of the conflict.

There is no “war crimes” exemption in the agreement (though perpetrators who don’t confess and are found guilty could face significant jail time). For the many victims on both sides of the conflict, the price of peace was a high one. But the representatives of victims’ groups in the negotiations were willing to pay that price. Notes the Christian Science Monitor:

During the talks, victims’ groups were at the table and were key to setting a tone of contrition on both sides, and then advocating for a method of justice. To the surprise of the government, the victims were more interested in ending the war, learning the truth about their lost family members, and obtaining reparations than in imposing harsh penalties on those involved in violence.

Uribe, whose father had died at the hands of the FARC, was having none of this. He used the issue of criminal justice to rally the public against the agreement, but ultimately he was more interested in defending entrenched interests. The oligarchs whose interests Uribe so passionately represented while in office don’t want to see even modest land reform. Nor do they want to see the ranks of the parliamentary left swelled by an influx of ex-guerrilla voters. The oligarchs don’t want integration. They want elimination.

“The personification of the ‘hard line approach’ to guerrillas, Uribe’s ideal tableau would be the total elimination of the leftist guerrillas, without being heard or considered in the fabrication of a new country” writes Juan Sebastian Chavarro of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. “A true ally of Washington, and a representative of wealthy landowners, his radical approach and obvious discomfort with inclusive social reforms should not be surprising.”

No one is quite clear what happens next in Colombia. Both President Santos and the leader of the FARC, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, have pledged to keep the ceasefire and continue working toward a peaceful resolution. The guerrillas have already embarked on the gradual process of reintegration, holding family reunions and scheduling unprecedented interviews with the press. Santos has a parliamentary majority, and there is still much good will associated with the negotiations process. Perhaps all that is needed to save the agreement are a much better get-out-the-vote campaign and a few tweaks of the accord to gain the support of the more reasonable elements of the opposition.

The Hungarians, with their referendum process, had the good sense to require a 50 percent turnout to make the decision valid (though the government has decided to change the constitution to buck the EU). In Colombia, the turnout was about 38 percent, and yet that was enough to unravel the carefully constructed set of compromises. No doubt there are tens of thousands of pro-deal Colombians who are deeply upset with themselves for not bothering to go to the polls.

The Failures of Democracy

In general, I’m not thrilled with the idea that “experts” determine all matters of national security simply because the average person is ignorant of the details, the stakes, and the consequences of the pertinent policies. Look at the war in Iraq. The political elite, with a few exceptions, backed the U.S. intervention. They were obviously wrong.

But so were the majority of Americans, over 60 percent of whom supported the war just prior to the intervention in 2003. Wisdom is a rare commodity among both leaders and led.

Democracy is a political system. It is not a fail-safe method to produce the best results in terms of international peace and security, optimal economic performance, or ethical conduct. The decisions made in plebiscites are only as informed as the voters themselves. The same holds true for representative democracy. We truly get the politicians we deserve.

Some matters, however, are simply too important for full transparency or full democracy. In the case of peace negotiations, secrecy can be an indispensible method of building trust among the negotiating parties and making incremental progress without journalists undermining the process by leaking the details. The same holds true of democracy. The Iran deal prevented what would have been a devastating war. It was simply too important an issue to put to a plebiscite (or even to a full Senate vote on a treaty).

In Colombia, the peace deal was designed to heal a divided country. So far, it has only further entrenched that division. The best part of democracy, however, is its capacity for change. The proponents of progress simply have to make a more persuasive case — and fast. It’s a lesson that Americans would be wise to heed as we ourselves prepare to go to the polls next month.

The post Understanding Why Colombians Voted Against Peace appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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


California’s Cap and Trade Policy is Actually Working Against its Climate Action Targets


(Photo: Gerald Simmons / flickr)

California’s cap-and-trade scheme is in trouble. The latest carbon auction announced Aug. 23 failed to sell two-thirds of the available pollution permits, a third successive flop. That could leave a significant funding gap for other climate measures, such as weatherizing old homes, which are supposed to be paid for by revenue from these state-run auctions.

Tying the fate of important climate actions to the sale of carbon permits has snatched defeat from the jaws of a broader victory in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And in a further blow to the credibility of cap and trade, it is regulations such as fuel-emission standards rather than the carbon market that is helping California meet its climate targets. In fact, perversely those same regulations are undermining the cap-and-trade market as they reduce the price of carbon by suppressing demand for the permits. California is bizarrely confronting the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced with policies that work against each other.

Read the full article on The Sacramento Bee’s website.

The post California’s Cap and Trade Policy is Actually Working Against its Climate Action Targets appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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


Statement on Texas Judge’s Ruling Against Trans-inclusive Obama Directive

Statement from Karen Dolan, IPS expert on disparate treatment of transgender youth in public schools and juvenile justice systems:

“I am sickened and saddened by the discriminatory ruling by Texas federal judge Reed O’Connor granting a temporary injunction against the implementation of the landmark guidance issued by the Obama Administration this spring. This guidance called on U.S. public schools to recognize the civil and human rights of their transgender students.

As I wrote in an earlier piece, the Obama administration got it right on transgender rights, and the discriminatory ignorance driving today’s ruling attempting to turn back progress, gets it absolutely wrong.

I have a family member who is a student that falls under the LGBTQ umbrella. She has experienced both an unwelcoming school environment and a welcoming school environment. She thrives in the latter and the school itself appears to benefit from the diversity.

For the sake of our children born with a gender identity that doesn’t exactly match the gender assigned to them at birth, a halting of the implementation of guidelines that facilitate respect for their humanity and human rights is abusive and dangerous.   A policy that forbids governmental discrimination based on gender is affirming and necessary.

Transgender people who don’t experience support and acceptance have staggering suicide attempt rates, but match the general population when support is present. And not only do the children themselves benefit from the support and acceptance, but studies show that schools which support LGBTQ students see benefits for all students in those schools.

Speak up against discrimination in your own school districts. Demand that the Obama directive to respect the dignity and human rights of transgender students is implemented. We are all better off for it.”

Karen Dolan is the director of the Criminaliztion of Race and Poverty project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Read her recent article Gender Explained: How the Obama Administration is Getting It Right on Gender Identity.

Media Contact:

Karen Dolan,, 202.234.9382 x 5228

The post Statement on Texas Judge’s Ruling Against Trans-inclusive Obama Directive appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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


U.S. Announces New Front Against ISIS in Libya

The two U.S. military airstrikes that were carried out in Libya against ISIS fighters this Monday are the latest in escalating U.S. military involvement in the country, Phyllis Bennis told Democracy Now. Libya has been in “absolute military chaos” since the U.S. government-backed ousting of Muammar Qaddafi’s dictatorship in 2011.

This is a significant escalation. The city of Sirte is a city of now about 80,000 people,” Bennis said, referencing the Libyan city that was targeted for these attacks. “We’ve had no reports of who else might have been injured or killed in those strikes, or what’s happened to the civilian population.” The Pentagon reports that the campaign would continue until ISIS has been driven from the city, which it took over last year.

“This kind of attack on territory controlled by ISIS simply does not destroy ISIS,” Bennis argued.  Taking away ISIS territory control merely creates a “global whack-a-mole,” where ISIS is compelled to “re-emerge as a more traditional terrorist operation, attacking people whether in Brussels, or in Nice, or in Baghdad, or in Kabul, or somewhere else,” she said.

Another key issue in the situation, Bennis explains, is that President Obama authorized these military strikes without any Congressional authorization. In fact, it “continues to rely on the 2001 authorization, which called for military force to be used against the forces who had carried out the attacks of September 11,” even though ISIS did not yet exist at the time the 9/11 attacks occurred. “The administration continues to rely on an outdated, inappropriate authorization, which does not in fact authorize the escalation that they are now calling for,” Bennis said.

“There is no military response to terrorism. President Obama says that over and over again. It’s time we held him accountable to his own words, to say there is no military response, therefore we shouldn’t use military methods against terrorism. It doesn’t work,” Bennis said.

The post U.S. Announces New Front Against ISIS in Libya appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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


Case Against Obama Administration for War on ISIS Raises More Political Questions than Legal Ones

A U.S. army officer is suing the Obama administration, claiming the U.S. war against the Islamic State is illegal because it was not authorized by Congress.

“This is a political question much more than a legal question,” IPS Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis told RT America.

The administration has had two responses to the claim argued by Captain Nathan Smith, according to Bennis. For one, they maintain that the War Powers Act refers to hostilities and that troops are not being sent into hostilities. At the same time, they claim that the original authorization for the use of military force that was signed by President George W. Bush after 9/11 has language that authorizes the use of force against those responsible for the attacks of Sep. 11, which they say applies in this case.

“The problem of course,” Bennis said, is that ISIS didn’t exist at that time, and “the precursor to ISIS, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), wasn’t part of Al-Qaeda at that time and also didn’t exist, but because it used the name later, somehow that makes it all okay.”

While Congress has not authorized the war against ISIS, it has passed military appropriations bills that fund those combat operations.

Bennis said that Republicans don’t want to pass a resolution because “they don’t want to acknowledge the fact that President Obama is doing exactly what they want—escalating the so-called Global War on Terror.” Meanwhile, Bennis explained, the Democrats don’t want to vote in favor of a war that’s unpopular with their base, but they also don’t want to vote against their president.

“The problem that the administration has is that Obama says ‘please vote for an authorization, but if you don’t, I think I have enough authorization from the old one, so you don’t really have to.’ So it’s a very ambiguous, politically driven position.” Bennis said.

Smith is using the question of lack of authorization as the basis for his challenge, but there is a chance that he could also raise issues of illegality in how the war is being carried out, Bennis said.

“Questions of the use of torture in interrogation; questions of the attacks on civilians; questions of the drone wars that target individuals that are, in the view of many around the world, extrajudicial assassinations—all of these could be brought into this case.” Bennis said.

The post Case Against Obama Administration for War on ISIS Raises More Political Questions than Legal Ones appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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


Government Must Lead Fight Against Child Labour – GhanaWeb

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Government Must Lead Fight Against Child Labour
Child labour and trafficking has gained prominence ever since fishing became an economic activity along the coastal belt of Ghana. According to the United States Department of Labor (USDL) in 2010, it is estimated that there are over 2.7 million child …
Child labour, trafficking gained prominence in GhanaNews Ghana

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