I’m a Jewish American Who Wanted to Visit Israel. I Got as Far as the Airport.

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Members of the interfaith delegation denied transit to Israel for supporting the BDS movement. (Photo courtesy of Noah Habeeb, second from left.)

A few days ago I prepared to take my first trip to Israel-Palestine as part of an interfaith delegation of human rights activists. I got as far as Dulles Airport.

Four other faith leaders and I — three of us Jewish, one Christian, and one Muslim — were prohibited from checking into our Lufthansa flight at the demand of the Israeli government.

Offered no documentation or explanation by Lufthansa officials, we could only presume this was punishment for our support of Palestinian human rights. This was confirmed when the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs told Haaretz that the travel ban was due to our support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

In my Jewish American family, I learned to engage critically with Israel, and after many years, I was ready to go and see with my own eyes the good and the bad: the land and sites that are holy to many, as well as the realities of Israeli occupation and institutional discrimination.

Unfortunately, the Israeli government wouldn’t let me.

Banned in TLV

I am heartbroken and angry that we’ve been denied this opportunity to travel. But this is far from the first instance of denial of entry, and it comes as no shock to me.

Israel has long enacted travel bans, mostly against Palestinians. Many Palestinian refugees and their descendants, displaced from their homes during the Nakba in 1948 — when over 750,000 Palestinians were made refugees — are not allowed to return. Many of those displaced during the 1967 War are also unable to return, despite the rights of refugees in international law.

Israel has also denied entry to international observers and human rights organizations.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Makarim Wibisono, was denied entry in 2015. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both been denied access to Gaza — where, according to Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, “the ‘unlivability threshold’ has already been passed.” Gazans currently receive between two to four hours of electricity daily and lack clean drinking water, while living under Israeli occupation and siege.

Like the denial of entry to international observers, the activist ban is part of a “see no evil” strategy to deny access to the reality on the ground, and in doing so chill human rights activism.

Suppression of BDS Activism

The activist ban targets supporters of the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led movement for justice and freedom calling on Israel to end the 1967 occupation, end the institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel, and uphold the right of refugees to return. Like all boycott movements — from the American South to South Africa — the goal of BDS is to become obsolete: When Israel stops infringing on Palestinian rights, BDS will end.

Today, the BDS movement counts 200 successes in the United States alone.

Campaigns have successfully targeted corporations like Veolia, G4S, and Sodastream for their complicity in Israeli occupation and apartheid; passed over 50 resolutions at universities and colleges, as well as academic associations like the American Studies Association, Women’s Studies Association, and Peace and Justice Studies Association; and led divestment efforts in faith communities, including major U.S. churches like the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.

The success of the BDS movement is also evident in the repression faced by activists. In many states, legislation has been passed that punishes or suppresses BDS activism. And pending legislation in the U.S. Congress would criminalize BDS, with penalties as severe as 20 years imprisonment and $ 1 million in fines, which the ACLU deems “civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies.”

In Israel, an anti-boycott law allows for civil suits to be filed against anybody who supports boycotts, even those that only target illegal settlements. And in March, the Knesset passed a bill forbidding entry or residency to those who advocate for BDS — that’s the law which purportedly prohibits my entry.

Next Year in Jerusalem?

As my fellow delegate Shakeel Sayed said, “The holy land does not belong to any one group of people. All people belong to the holy land.”

My denial of entry makes even clearer what I already knew: Israel is not a democratic state where true dissent is allowed. Of course, a true democracy doesn’t keep millions of people under military occupation for decades or discriminate against them under apartheid either.

But perhaps just as significant is what my denial says about Israel as a Jewish state.

There’s no denying that barring Jews, including a rabbi, from the “Jewish state” is significant. As many have documented, Israel has always been for some Jews at the expense of Palestinians and other Jews. For example, many Mizrahim, or “Oriental” Jews, were settled in ma’abarot — transit camps consisting mostly of Mizrahim like themselves, who were expected to assimilate to European Jewish customs before becoming a part of Israel. A few resisted by demanding resettlement in the countries they’d come from.

Once again, as one Israeli minister warned recently, the “rules of the game have changed.” Israel is now only for Jews who don’t dissent.

“I promise that my activism to restore the dignity and honor of the people in Palestine will not stop, but will double down,” Shakeel vowed. And I promise that, too — so that if not next year, some day soon, all people will have access to justice and peace in Israel-Palestine.

Follow along with our #JustFaith17 delegation here to see what Israel was so afraid for the #interfaith5 see.

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Making American Mediocre Again

Breaking Up U.S. Flag

The first signs of decline are physical. Citizens don’t grow as tall. They don’t live as long. They start killing each other in large numbers.

Sounds like the post-mortem for a society that disappeared long ago, a conclusion that archaeologists deliver after sifting through bone fragments and pottery shards. Why, the puzzled scholars ask, did such a vibrant society, which produced beautiful art and remarkable scientific advances, fall apart so rapidly and leave so little behind in the unforgiving rainforest?

This time, however, the diagnosis is being provided in real time. And the society in decline is the most powerful country in the world.

According to the most recent global health surveys, the United States is witnessing a decline in life expectancy for the first time in nearly a quarter century. America is also the first high-income country to see its adults, on average, no longer growing taller. Writes Lenny Bernstein in The Washington Post:

The reasons for the United States’ lag are well known. It has the highest infant and maternal mortality rates of any of the countries in the study, and the highest obesity rate. It is the only one without universal health insurance coverage and has the “largest share of unmet health-care needs due to financial costs,” the researchers wrote.

I’d like to pin this one on Donald Trump. But U.S. decline has been ongoing for some time.

For instance, the United States ranked 16th in the 2014 Social Progress Index developed by Michael Porter at the Harvard Business School. Two years later, the United States slipped to 19th place, with particularly mediocre scores in environmental quality (#36), nutrition and basic medical care (#37), and access to basic knowledge (#40).

Let’s compare that to Canada, which sat near the top of the rankings at number two in the SPI. Canada was a little better on environmental quality (#32), quite a bit better on basic medical care (#26), and a whole lot better on access to basic knowledge (#2).

Even though Trump can’t be blamed for these mediocre social indicators, his party’s steadfast opposition to spending on social welfare and the environment certainly contributed to the problem. And Trump’s promise to “replace” Obamacare, cut social spending even further, and roll back regulatory oversight — all while boosting the Pentagon budget by an extraordinary 10 percent — will send the United States into free fall. The violent crime rate, which dropped was  halved over the last 20 years, despite what Trump claims, may well start to edge up as our pro-gun president makes firearms even more widely available and the economy takes a turn for the worse.

After what Donald Trump does to the United States, Americans won’t be able to stand tall and proud. That’s because we’ll either be short, sick, or dead.

What Goes Up…

Predictions of the eclipse of American power have been around since Donald Trump was a 30-something playboy.

It’s not just the overall health of the population and the toxicity of the environment. The United States has been hobbled by an enormous federal debt, an overextended global military presence, our failing infrastructure, and a paralyzed political system. It’s no wonder that so many Americans were sufficiently fed up in November to vote for anyone who promised to shake up the status quo.

Many Trump supporters are already having second thoughts after witnessing their leader’s first weeks in office. The new administration has given every indication that it’s exchanging the status quo for something incomparably worse.

Much of the problem lies with Trump himself. He has been erratic, often incoherent, and so disconnected from reality that he might be the first president to tweet himself out of office (if the investigation into his campaign’s connections to Moscow doesn’t get him first).

Say what you will about the early Roman emperors, they at least knew something about governance. Then, in the 1st century AD, the imperial stock started to run thin and the empire ran into serious trouble under the deranged progeny of Augustus. Donald Trump is the Caligula of our times: lascivious, incurious, and power-drunk. At what point will our American Caligula, running out of willing and even marginally suitable candidates, try to appoint a horse to his cabinet?

It’s bad enough from a domestic standpoint to have a laughing-stock for a president. The international implications are even worse. As Patrick Cockburn writes in The Independent, “It will be difficult for the U.S. to remain a super-power under a leader who is an international figure of fun and is often visibly detached from reality. His battle cry of ‘Fake News’ simply means an inability to cope with criticism or accept facts or views that contradict his own. World leaders who have met him say they are astonished by his ignorance of events at home and abroad.”

It’s no surprise that other countries are rushing to take advantage of the Trump administration’s early missteps. “It’s not just that Trump seems to have abandoned the larger geopolitical playing field to America’s principal rivals,” writes analyst Michael Klare. “He appears to be doing everything in his power to facilitate their advance at the expense of the United States. In just the first few weeks of his presidency, he has already taken numerous steps that have put the wind in both China’s and Russia’s sails, while leaving the U.S. adrift.”

China sees an enormous opportunity to cast itself as the responsible global leader on trade and climate change. Russia is angling for more influence in its near abroad, the eastern parts of Europe, and the Middle East. Germany and the European Union more generally have sought to replace the United States as a moral leader on diplomacy, human rights, and intercultural engagement.

It’s as if the empire has already fallen apart and the rivals are carving up the corpse. Except that it’s not territory that they’re grabbing, but chunks of America’s political and economic capital.

Those who believe that the United States has had only a malign influence on the world will cheer this downgrade in status. But so far only America’s soft power has taken a hit. The Pentagon remains on the ascendant. The world will continue to suffer the consequences of U.S. military force but without the mitigating influences of U.S. foreign aid and diplomacy.

What about the Stock Market?

So, if everything is doom and gloom, why is the stock market so bullish right now?

The S & P 500 rose to record highs this week. So did the Dow Jones industrial average, establishing the longest stretch of gains in 30 years. Naturally, Trump has claimed credit for all this even as he has complained of inheriting “a mess” from Barack Obama. Kellyanne Conway rushed to judgment as well, attributing the market expansion to “the Trump effect.”

The stock market responds to short-term trends and signals, and it’s focused largely on the health of the business sector. Trump has promised tax cuts, a helping hand to military contractors and energy companies, and a big infrastructure development plan. What’s not to like if you’re a CEO or a large corporation?

But beware irrational exuberance. Much of what Trump is doing is setting up Wall Street for a very unpleasant fall. The administration’s trade policies, particularly with Mexico, will hit producers hard. The infrastructure bill may not come until 2018. The impact of simultaneously adding $ 54 billion to the Pentagon budget and cutting taxes will throw the economy seriously out of whack.

Ultimately, however, the health of Wall Street is not the issue — it’s the health of Main Street that matters most. When the Obama dividend runs out and economic indicators start to turn south, when the coal mines and steel plants fail to magically return to their glory days of the 1950s, when farmers and blue-collar workers see how much their livelihoods depend on good relations with the world beyond U.S. borders, Trump will have a full-blown revolt on his hands. Then we’ll finally understand the real reason for the boost in Pentagon spending.

Martial law, anyone?

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

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One Hundred CEOs Have as Much Retirement Wealth as 41 Percent of American Families

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As President Obama prepares to ride off into the sunset, among the perks he can look forward to is a presidential pension. Every month for the rest of his life, he’ll receive a retirement check for about $ 17,142 — not bad for a guy with at least a few black hairs remaining on his head.

And yet this sum is paltry compared to the retirement assets enjoyed by most big company CEOs, including some whose nest eggs were feathered by taxpayer dollars.

Take, for example, Michael Neidorff, the CEO of Centene, which manages health plans for Medicaid recipients and other poor Americans. Since Obamacare began expanding health coverage in 2010, Neidorff’s company retirement account has grown 658 percent, to nearly $ 140 million. That’s enough to generate a monthly check of $ 744,000—43 times as much as Obama’s.

If you think that’s a big gap, consider the retirement divide between top business leaders and working families. A new report I co-authored for the Institute for Policy Studies finds that in 2015, the 100 CEOs with the largest nest eggs had $ 4.7 billion in their combined company accounts. That’s as much as the entire retirement savings of the 41 percent of American families with the smallest nest eggs.

Compared to African Americans and Latinos, the gap is even wider. These 100 CEOs’ retirement savings are equal to those of 59 percent of African-American families and a whopping 75 percent of Latino families.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, 39 percent of workers nearing retirement age (56 to 61 years old) have no retirement account savings whatsoever. That means they’re likely to be entirely dependent on Social Security, which currently pays an average benefit of just $ 1,239 per month.

This grim picture will become even grimmer if Republicans manage to push through their new plan to overhaul Social Security. Introduced last week, the plan would cut benefits for all but the lowest earners by 17 percent to 43 percent by the year 2080, and hike the retirement age to 69 by 2030.

In the richest country in the world, why do so many millions of working people have to worry about paying their bills in their golden years?

One major factor is the demise of the traditional pension. While feathering their own nests, CEOs have stripped employees of plans that guarantee a monthly check. Instead, if ordinary workers get any retirement benefits at all, they tend to be the much less generous and riskier 401(k)-type plans. As of 2013, only about half of private sector workers had a 401(k) and the average account balance was just $ 18,433.

The drug wholesaler McKesson is one example of this trend. In 1997, it froze its employee pension fund, but continued to offer executives lavish benefits. CEO John Hammergren has amassed $ 147 million in his own company retirement funds over the past 20 years. General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt closed the employee pension in 2010 and replaced it with a 401(k) scheme. Meanwhile, his company retirement account has ballooned to $ 92 million.

CEOs actually have a powerful personal incentive for reducing worker retirement benefits. More than half of executive compensation is now tied to the company’s stock price, so boosting short-term profits through cost-cutting is a way to pad their own pockets.

Rather than pushing a reform that will only increase retirement inequality, policymakers should be focused on ensuring a dignified life for all seniors. And to achieve that, CEOs and other wealthy Americans will need to pay their fair share.

One way to generate some revenue to expand Social Security would be to ban the special tax-deferred retirement accounts most Fortune 500 companies set up for their top executives. While ordinary workers have strict limits on how much they can put in 401(k) plans every year ($ 24,000 max for older workers), CEOs are allowed to shelter unlimited amounts from the IRS in these accounts. Our report finds that Fortune 500 CEOs have nearly $ 3 billion stashed in such deferred plans.

Much larger sums could be raised by lifting the cap on Social Security payroll contributions, which is currently set at $ 118,500 per year. Almost all other American workers have to chip in a share of all of their earned income. Why should it be any different for CEOs?

We’ve heard a great deal this election year about rising economic anxiety in communities that have lost jobs which were once a source of decent pay and retirement benefits. Now it’s time to do something about it. Everyone should be able to enjoy their golden years—not just former CEOs and presidents.

The post One Hundred CEOs Have as Much Retirement Wealth as 41 Percent of American Families appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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

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Neocons Have Flocked to Hillary Clinton. Does This Signal a Cataclysm in American Politics?

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Photo collage by Salon.com

Much has been made of the swing in political allegiances of neoconservatives in favor of Hillary Clinton.

As a group, Washington’s neocons are generally terrified of Trump’s unpredictability and his flirtation with the alt-right. They also support Clinton’s more assertive foreign policy (not to mention her closer relationship to Israel). Perhaps, too, after eight long years in the wilderness, they’re daydreaming of an appointment or two in a Clinton administration.

This group of previously staunch Republicans, who believe in using American military power to promote democracy, build nations, and secure U.S. interests abroad, have defected in surprising numbers. Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, the Wall Sctreet Journal’s Bret Stephens, and the Foreign Policy Initiative’s James Kirchick have all endorsed Clinton. Other prominent neocons like The National Review’s William Kristol, the Wall Street Journal’s Max Boot, and SAIS’s Eliot Cohen have rejected Trump but not quite taken the leap to supporting Clinton.

A not particularly large or well-defined group, neoconservatives have attracted a disproportionate amount of attention in this election. For the Trump camp, these Republican defectors merely prove that the elite is out to get their candidate, thus reinforcing his outsider credentials (never mind that Trump initially wooed neocons like Kristol). For the left, the neocons are flocking to support a bird of their feather, at least when it comes to foreign policy, which reflects badly on Clinton. The mainstream media, meanwhile, are attracted to the man-bites-dog aspect of the story (news flash: members of the vast right-wing conspiracy support Clinton!).

As we come to the end of the election campaign, which has been more a clash of personalities than of ideologies, the neocon defections offer a much more interesting story line. As the Republican Party potentially coalesces around a more populist center, the neocons are the canary in the coalmine. Their squawking suggests that the American political scene is about to suffer a cataclysm. What will that mean for U.S. foreign policy?

A History of Defection

The neoconservative movement began within the Democratic Party. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a Democrat from Washington State, carved out a new position in the party with his liberal domestic policies and hardline Cold War stance. He was a strong booster of civil rights and environmental legislation. At the same time, he favored military build-up and a stronger relationship with Israel. He was also dismayed with the Nixon administration’s détente with the Soviet Union.

Prioritizing foreign over domestic policy, Jackson’s former aides Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and Elliott Abrams — along with some fellow travelers like Paul Wolfowitz — eventually shifted their allegiance to the right-wing Republican Ronald Reagan. They formed an important pro-Israel, “peace through strength” nucleus within the new president’s foreign policy team.

At the end of the Reagan era, their commitment to such policies as regime change in the Middle East, confrontation with Russia, and opposition to multilateral institutions like the United Nations brought them into conflict with realists in the George H.W. Bush administration. So, many of them defected once again to support Bill Clinton. Writes Jim Lobe:

A small but not insignificant number of them, repelled by George H.W. Bush’s realpolitik, and more specifically his Middle East policy and pressure on then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to join the Madrid peace conference after the first Gulf War, deserted the party in 1992 and publicly endorsed Bill Clinton. Richard Schifter, Morris Amitay of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Angier Biddle Duke, Rita Freedman of the Social Democrats USA, neocon union leaders John Joyce and Al Shanker, Penn Kemble of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, James Woolsey, Marty Peretz of The New Republic, and Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute all signed a much-noted ad in The New York Times in August 1992 endorsing Clinton’s candidacy. Their hopes of thus being rewarded with top positions in a Clinton administration were crushed.

The flirtation with Clinton’s Democratic Party was short-lived. Woolsey, Schifter, and Kemble received appointments in the Clinton administration, but the neocons in general were unhappy with their limited influence, Clinton’s (albeit inconsistent) multilateralism, and the administration’s reluctance to intervene militarily in Rwanda, Somalia, and Bosnia. Disenchantment turned to anger and then to organizing. In 1997, many of the same people who worked for Scoop Jackson and embraced Ronald Reagan put together the Project for the New American Century in an effort to preserve and expand America’s post-Cold War unilateral power.

A handful of votes in Florida in 2000 and the attacks on September 11 the following year combined to give the neocons a second chance at transforming U.S. foreign policy. Dick Cheney became perhaps the most powerful vice president in modern American history, with Scooter Libby as his national security adviser. Donald Rumsfeld became secretary of defense, with Paul Wolfowitz as his deputy and Feith as head of the policy office. Elliott Abrams joined the National Security Council, and so on. Under their guidance, George W. Bush abandoned all pretense of charting a more modest foreign policy and went on a militarist bender.

The foreign policy disasters of the Bush era should have killed the careers of everyone involved. Unfortunately, there are plenty of think tanks and universities that value access over intelligence (or ethics) — and even the most incompetent and craven administration officials after leaving office retain their contacts (and their arrogance).

Those who worry that the neocons will be rewarded for their third major defection — to Reagan, to Bill Clinton, and now to Hillary Clinton — should probably focus elsewhere. After all, the Democratic nominee this year doesn’t have to go all the way over to the far right for advice on how to construct a more muscular foreign policy. Plenty of mainstream think tanks — from the Center for a New American Security on the center-right to the leftish Center for American Progress — are offering their advice on how to “restore balance” in how the United States relates to the world. Many of these positions — how to push back against Russia, take a harder line against Iran, and ratchet up pressure on Assad in Syria — are not very different from neocon talking points.

But the defections do herald a possible sea change in party alignment. And that will influence the trajectory of U.S. foreign policy.

The Walking Dead

The Republican Party has been hemorrhaging for nearly a decade. The Tea Party dispatched many party centrists — Jim Leach, Richard Lugar — who once could achieve a measure of bipartisanship in Congress. The overwhelming whiteness of the party, even before the ascendance of Trump, made it very difficult to recruit African Americans and Latinos in large numbers. And now Trump has driven away many of the professionals who have served in past Republican administrations, including the small clique of neoconservatives.

What remains is enough to win state and local elections in certain areas of the country. But it’s not enough to win nationally. Going forward, with the further demographic shift away from white voters, this Republican base will get older and smaller. Moreover, on foreign policy, the Trumpistas are leading the party in a nationalist, apocalyptic direction that challenges the party leadership (in emphasis if not in content).

It’s enough to throw dedicated Republicans into despair. Avik Roy, who was an advisor to the presidential campaigns of Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry, told This American Life:

I think the Republican Party is a lost cause. I don’t think the Republican Party is capable of fixing itself, because the people who are most passionate about voting Republican today are the Trump voters. And what politician is going to want to throw those voters away to attract some unknown coalition of the future?

One of his Republican compatriots, Rob Long, had this to say on the podcast about how anti-Trump survivors who stick with the party will navigate the post-election landscape:

It’ll be like The Walking Dead, right? We’re going to try to come up with bands of people and walk across the country. And let’s not get ourselves killed or eaten and hook up with people we think are not insane or horrible or in some way murderous. 

Coming out of next week’s elections, here’s my guess of what will happen. The Republican Party will continue to be torn apart by three factions: a dwindling number of moderates like Susan Collins (R-ME), right-wing fiscal conservatives like Paul Ryan (R-WI), and burn-the-house-down Trumpsters like Jeff Sessions (R-AL). Foreign policy won’t be much of an issue for the party because it will be shut out of the White House for 12 years running and will focus instead on primarily domestic questions. Perhaps the latter two categories will find a way to repair their breach; perhaps the party will split in two; perhaps Trump supporters will engineer a hostile takeover.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, may suffer as a result of its success. After all, how can a single party play host to both Bernie Sanders and Robert Kagan? How can the party promote both guns and butter? How can Hillary Clinton preserve Obama’s diplomatic successes — the Iran deal, the Cuba détente, the efforts to contain climate change — and be more assertive militarily? Whatever unity the party managed during the elections will quickly fall apart when it comes to governing.

In one sense, Clinton may well resurrect the neocon legacy by embracing a more or less progressive domestic policy (which would satisfy the Sanderistas) and a more hawkish foreign policy (which would satisfy all the foreign policy mandarins from both parties who supported her candidacy).

At the same time, a new political axis is emerging: internationalists versus insularists, with the former gathering together in the Democratic Party and the latter seeking shelter in a leaky Republican Party. But this categorization conceals the tensions within each project. Internationalists include both fans of the UN and proponents of unilateral U.S. military engagement overseas. Insularists, who have not turned their back on the world quite as thoroughly as isolationists, include both xenophobic nationalists and those who want to spend war dollars at home.

The trick of it for progressives is to somehow steal back the Democratic Party from the aggressive globalists and recapture those Trump voters who are tired of supporting war and wealthy transnational corporations. Or, perhaps in the wake of the Republican Party’s collapse, progressives could create a new party that challenges Clinton and the neocons.

One thing is for certain, however. With a highly unpopular president about to take office and one of the major political parties on life support, the current political moment is highly unstable. Something truly remarkable could emerge. Or voters in 2020 might face something even more monstrous than what has haunted this election cycle.

The post Neocons Have Flocked to Hillary Clinton. Does This Signal a Cataclysm in American Politics? 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 American Dream Moved to Canada

canada-social-mobility

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Does your family aspire to the American Dream of a decent paying job, a few weeks of paid vacation, a home of your own, and the hope of retiring before you die?

Maybe try Canada.

Our country has historically prided itself on being a socially mobile society, where your ability is more important than the race or class you’re born into. Indeed, during the three decades after World War II, social mobility increased — particularly for the white working class.

That mobility became part of our self-identity, especially when juxtaposed with the old “caste societies” of Europe and their static class systems. Today, however, that story has been turned on its head.

If you forgot to be born into a wealthy family, you’re better off today living in Northern Europe or Canada, where social safety nets and investments in early childhood education have paid big dividends for ordinary citizens. In fact, Canada now has three times the social mobility of the U.S.

Young people in the U.S. face huge inequalities of opportunity, in large part based on the wealth — or lack of wealth — of their parents. Researchers call this the “intergenerational transmission of advantage,” referring to the dozens of ways that affluent families boost their children’s prospects starting at birth.

Affluent families make investments that give their kids a leg up through childhood enrichment activities, including travel, music lessons, museum visits, and summer camp.

As they grow older, wealthier kids have better access to college guidance, test preparation, financial literacy skills, and debt-free or low-debt educations.

Then, as they enter the workforce, wealthy young adults have access to their parents’ social networks and are able to take unpaid internships to help them develop job skills. Meanwhile, children in families unable to make these investments fall further behind.

Combined with the 2008 economic meltdown and budget cuts in public programs that foster opportunity for middle and low-income families, we’re witnessing accelerating advantages for the affluent and compounding disadvantages for everyone else. And once inequalities open up, research says, they rarely decrease over time.

The U.S. could rise to this challenge, as we did in the years after World War II and in the early 1960s, by resolving to make robust public investments in policies that include everyone.

But in our increasingly plutocratic political system, the very wealthy — who have oversized political influence along with oversized bank accounts — have less stake in expanding opportunities for the rest of us, as their own children and grandchildren advance through privatized systems.

We can’t stop well-off families from passing advantages to their children, but we can give everyone else a fair shot.

High-quality early childhood education, universal access to health care and nutrition, resources for those with learning disabilities and special needs, and tuition-free higher education for first-generation college students are key initiatives that would help level the playing field.

We could make this possible by taxing wealth. Revenue from a steeply progressive estate or inheritance tax could capitalize an education opportunity trust fund.

If we don’t take action, the United States will further drift toward a caste society fractured along class lines, where opportunity, occupation, and social status are determined by inherited advantage.

By then, our presidential race won’t be the only thing tempting people to move to Canada. 

The post The American Dream Moved to Canada 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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Quantifying the drivers of South American deforestation – Forests News, Center for International Forestry Research (blog)


Forests News, Center for International Forestry Research (blog)
Quantifying the drivers of South American deforestation
Forests News, Center for International Forestry Research (blog)
That's exactly what Veronique De Sy, a scientist at Wageningen University and at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), did for her latest study by using satellite imagery to quantify the drivers of deforestation for South America

and more »

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American Schools Are Criminalizing Black Girls

(Photo: Flickr / Daniel Arauz)

(Photo: Flickr / Daniel Arauz)

A recent video from a school in Texas showcased a brutal assault by a school police officer on 12-year-old student Janissa Valdez. Quite appropriately, it sparked an outcry over the state of school discipline.

These images, while shocking, are nothing new. From the handcuffing of 6-year-old kindergartener Salecia Johnson for unruly behaviour in Georgia to the violent body-slamming of a 16-year-old student in South Carolina who refused to put away her phone, oppressive school discipline techniques are increasingly becoming the norm.

According to Monique Morris — the author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools — these highly publicized cases represent a mere fraction of the wider systemic discrimination experienced by girls of color in the U.S. education system. These practices are turning kids out of school and towards contact with the juvenile justice system — a phenomenon known as “pushout,” from which Morris’s book takes its title. The egregious criminalization of children in the classroom is a grim reality for students caught up in what’s been termed the school-to-prison pipeline.

While the impact of discriminatory school discipline on boys has been better documented, there’s a growing recognition of the unique vulnerability of black girls to this school pushout as well.

Indeed, black girls are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system and face discriminatory school discipline at a starker level than even black boys. Black girls receive suspensions at a rate of 6 times that of white girls. They account for 16 percent of students but 34 percent of girls arrested on campus, and they’re far more likely than their white counterparts to be disciplined for subjective behaviors such as “defiance” and “disrespect,” particularly when the teacher involved is white.

A popular racist caricature of black girls as loud and unruly forces girls of color to adapt their behavior to conform with notions of white femininity. In order to succeed in the classroom and avoid negative perception by teachers, these girls are continuously asked to suppress their identity as black women.

That’s no exaggeration: There’s been a recent spate of disciplinary procedures instigated against black girls choosing to wear their natural hair to school. This saw a 12-year-old Florida student facing expulsion in 2013 and just this year gave rise to the #SupportthePuff movement after a similar case in the Bahamas.

White teachers in predominantly minority schools have reported a perceived “racial threat” which can and does lead to the escalation of disciplinary matters. Teachers’ biases and the cultural gap between white teachers and black students are important factors in understanding the growth of this problem, which is exacerbated tremendously by the presence of police officers in schools.

Immediate recourse to punitive measures is serving to further victimize these girls, many of whom have already been subjected to trauma in their lives. Black girls of school age experience a disproportionate rate of interpersonal violence.

Restorative models of discipline are gaining increasing support among advocates in this area who note their unique value in the case of girls. As part of a wider policy and practice, these practices are essential to stem the flow of black girls from school into the juvenile justice system.

 

The post American Schools Are Criminalizing Black Girls appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Katie Jones interned on the Criminalization of Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Something You Can’t Live Without – Oxford American


Oxford American
Something You Can't Live Without
Oxford American
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Something You Can’t Live Without – Oxford American


Oxford American
Something You Can't Live Without
Oxford American
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Scott Aaronson Answers Every Ridiculously Big Question I Throw at Him – Scientific American (blog)

Scott Aaronson Answers Every Ridiculously Big Question I Throw at Him
Scientific American (blog)
When I was a kid, I wanted to be the founder and ruler of a rationalist space colony, who also wrote video games and invented the first human-level AI and led a children's liberation movement and discovered the mathematical laws underlying society. On

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