Don’t Believe the Trump Administration: MS-13 is Not Ravaging the United States.

Flickr: Mara Salvatrucha

Immigration rates are slowing, and violent crime is at historic record lows, yet the rhetoric about both could not be more heated. The number of new legal immigrants leveled off starting with the Great Recession, while the absolute number of unauthorized immigrants has been falling since 2007. Crime rates have been dropping sharply for far longer, especially for violent crimes, which are just half as common as in 1993, according to FBI statistics.

Yet if you didn’t know better, you might think we’re living in a crime-ravaged dystopia out of “RoboCop,” where foreign gangs prey on fearful citizens in lawless sanctuary cities. That’s certainly the impression one gets from President Trump, who spoke of “American carnage” in his inauguration speech and has proposed a federal agency to track crimes by immigrants, even though research has shown immigrants commit less crime than U.S.-born citizens. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been leading a crusade against sanctuary cities — cities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities to encourage immigrant cooperation with local police — claiming that these cities have higher rates of violent crime than other cities. The report he cited, however, actually showed this is not true.

The latest boogeyman is MS-13, a gang network that is playing a larger-than-life role in the Virginia gubernatorial election, with encouragement from Trump. Last week, he tweeted that Democratic candidate Ralph Northam “is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities.” The tweet echoed television ads that Northam’s Republican opponent Ed Gillespie has been airing throughout the commonwealth, which state Northam “voted in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13,” while flashing the words “Kill, Rape, Control.”

Read the full article at The Washington Post.

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States and Local Advocates Lead the Way for Criminal Justice Reform

Stealing From The Mouth of Public Education to Feed the Prison Industrial Complex

It can be easy to overlook the role of our deeply broken criminal justice system in perpetuating the cycle of poverty and rising inequality.

While Congress stalls on any semblance of progress on criminal justice reform, a number of states are taking matters into their own hands.  Kimberly Hart, a life-long New Haven, Connecticut resident is using her own personal story to bring about change in her home state.

Hart is a community advocate and mother of a 15-year-old son. She was convicted of a felony 30 years ago, but the sentence has carried on long after she exited prison. She knows first hand the economic disadvantages placed on the formerly incarcerated and has dedicated her life to helping others like her navigate in an economy tilted against them.

The United States has the largest criminal justice system in the world spending over $ 80 billion annually. The Sentencing Project found that U.S. incarceration rates have increased by more than 500 percent in the last 4 decades, despite a decrease in crime rates across the country. The incarcerated population today is 2.2 million people.

According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, 600,000 individuals are released from prison every year, with very few access to programs that could ensure a smooth transition back into society, leading them to face barriers in getting a job, securing stable housing and much more. They are often shut out of government provided opportunities that would lead to stability such as employment, housing, and education.

“Because my felonies are all larcenies, I can’t get a living wage job. I can’t get a job at a retail store.” Hart goes on to explain how she can’t even get trained to become a Certified Nursing Assistant because potential employers are too afraid to let her into clients’ homes. “I told myself, I don’t do those things anymore. Why am I still being held accountable for it? I’ve already paid my dues, why do I have to pay for the rest of my life?”

Shutting out formerly incarcerated people from these essential programs creates massive economic problems not limited to this population but for the nation as a whole. The Center for Economic Policy Research estimated that excluding people with criminal records out of the job market results in “a loss of as many as 1.9 million workers and costs the U.S. economy up to a whopping $ 87 billion each year in lost gross domestic product.” With people of color occupying 60 percent of the current prison and jail population, they face the brunt of these economic burdens.

Having been exposed to advocacy at a young age thanks to her parents, Hart became involved with the organization Mothers For Justice, a grassroots women’s advocacy group that focuses on welfare reform, prison re-entry, and affordable housing. “In order to affect change, you have to affect policy. I join advocacy groups that address the problems that I’m going through because I know that I’m a part of the solution. That’s when I learned that legislators work for me and I have the power to hire and fire,” Hart says.

In 2016, she worked with Mothers For Justice to push the Connecticut state legislature to pass the “ban-the-box” law that prohibits employers from requesting past criminal history on initial employment applications. While this law is a step in the right direction, it chips a small piece away at the large wall that stands between those with felony records and financial security.

For the past few years, Hart’s best chance at employment has been with a telemarketing company that doesn’t do background checks, where she has to deal with the harsh reality of receiving no benefits, no paid holidays, or paid sick time. “I get paid off of commission and I have to work hard because if I don’t make a sale, my fifteen-year-old son and I can’t eat.” Because of this, Hart still has to rely on government safety net programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Hart is concerned over the future of SNAP as the program faces funding cuts under the Trump Administration’s proposed 2018 budget. She explains how food is a basic necessity that people need to build better lives for themselves. “If you cut SNAP that means my child will go hungry. When you’re hungry you can’t sleep or learn. In order for my child to become self-sufficient and not have to rely on social services, he’s going have to get a decent education, go to college, and land a decent job so he can be a productive member of society. You can’t do any of that hungry.”

Kimberly Hart now works with the organization Witnesses to Hunger where she sits on the New Haven Food Policy Council working to eradicate hunger in New Haven. Among other issues related to poverty, Hart ensures that her voice remains one that represents people like her who are victims of the criminal justice system.

“If the state of CT looked at me as Kimberly Hart who happens to have a 30-year-old felony conviction instead of looking at me as a convicted felon whose name is Kimberly Hart then they could be more humane about this,” Hart said. “All we want is a second chance, life happens but it definitely doesn’t define who I am today.”

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Regions from Catalonia to Kurdistan are Clamoring for Their Own States

catalonia-state-independence

(Photo: Joan Campderrós-i-Canas / Flickr)

Democracy can be messy. In the northeast corner of Spain this week, democracy was downright chaotic.

Catalans went to the polls on Sunday to vote in a referendum on whether to stay in Spain or go their separate way. The Spanish authorities, however, declared the vote illegitimate and sent in the national police to disrupt the referendum.

In many locales, as the police swept into the polling station to seize the ballots, the Catalans merely hid all the voting paraphernalia. When the police left, the Catalans set up again to register voter preferences, and lines reformed outside.

Such Keystone Kops scenarios would have been amusing if not for the outright violence of the Spanish police, which beat voters with batons and fired rubber bullets into crowds. In The Independent, Hannah Strange and James Badcock write:

Video footage showed officers from Spain’s national police — 4,000 of whom had been brought in by the government to help quash the ballot — fighting with elderly voters, some of whom were left bleeding, and dragging young women away from polling stations by their hair.

The Spanish government has been monumentally stupid. Its case for unity is much stronger than Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont’s case for independence. The Spanish constitution of 1978 speaks of the country’s “indissoluble unity,” while also according Catalonia considerable autonomy. “The Catalan government claims the right to self-determination,” The Economistpoints out. “But international law recognizes this only in cases of colonialism, foreign invasion, or gross discrimination and abuse of human rights.” None of those conditions applies to Catalonia.

Sure, the relatively wealthy Catalans are aggrieved that a portion of their economic success is redistributed elsewhere in Spain. But that’s a fundamental element of the modern state. New Yorkers subsidize New Mexicans, London subsidizes Leeds, Germans subsidize Greeks. Catalans can certainly challenge the terms of the economic arrangement — after all, the poorer Basque region doesn’t share much of its tax revenues with Madrid — but neither Spanish law nor international law allows them to gather up all their marbles and go home.

Meanwhile, the very process by which Puigdemont rammed through the referendum doesn’t reflect well on his democratic credentials. Writes Yascha Mounk in Slate:

The government rushed the necessary legislation for the referendum through the Catalan Parliament without giving deputies adequate time to discuss it. It passed the legislation in a late-night session even though the opposition was absent. It vowed to secede from Spain even if a majority of the population stayed away from the polls. And, taking a page from Trump’s playbook, it has been smearing everybody from opponents of secession to judges doing their jobs as enemies of the people.

With only a 42 percent turnout for the referendum, the Catalan authorities have no authoritative mandate for a declaration of independence. Many people who opposed secession simply refused to vote. On the other hand, the Spanish government’s reaction may well have pushed more people into the independence camp. On Monday, thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Barcelona to protest the Spanish government’s actions and assert their popular sovereignty. On Tuesday, unions called a general strike for the same purpose.

Ultimately the Catalan crisis boils down to consent — whether the Catalans continue to agree to be part of the larger Spanish nation. In an 1882 essay on nations and nationalism, the French philologist Ernest Renan famously wrote that the nation is a “daily referendum.” He meant that the nation is a matter not of inviolate borders or ancient history. Renan continued:

A nation is therefore a great solidarity constituted by the feeling of sacrifices made and those that one is still disposed to make. It presupposes a past but is reiterated in the present by a tangible fact: consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life.

If a majority of Catalans no longer consent to be part of the larger Spanish nation, then the specifics of the Spanish constitution are largely irrelevant. The people will force a change. Given that the younger generation favors independence, demography is on the side of the secessionists. The more polarized the situation becomes in Spain, the less room there will be for the sensible middle option of greater autonomy for Catalonia.

In the past, secessionist movements represented not a challenge to the nation-state system, but its ultimate expression. After all, rebellious provinces or peoples want nothing more than to become nation-states themselves. If every nation deserves a state, then how can the international community deny the Slovaks, the Slovenes, and the East Timorese? Secessionist movements were simply the continuation of a process interrupted by historical anomalies like the Soviet, Yugoslav, or Czechoslovak federations, or the often arbitrary border delineations of colonial administrators.

But the Catalan case suggests a different kind of future. In this future, economics, geopolitics, and technology all point toward what I’ve called in my latest book: the splinterlands.

Catalonia and the EU

The architects of the European Union imagined that their new entity would solve the challenge of endless division on the continent.

Europe has always been a patchwork of different peoples, all striving for sovereignty over their own territory. People of varying histories, cultures, languages, and religions have been mixed together in a way that has defied any easy drawing of borders. Order has usually come over the centuries by force of arms. In the last century, two world wars were fought to upend those orders, and a third war beckoned.

The EU was supposed to change all that by pointing toward something beyond the nation-state.

Not only did the EU weaken the powers of the state by appealing to the benefits of something larger — economies of scale, a unified foreign policy voice, greater individual freedoms to travel and work — it also appealed to a “Europe of regions.” According to this project, regions could deal directly with Brussels, bypassing their national governments, and also cooperate horizontally with one another: Provence with Basque country, Bavaria with Lombardy, and so on. Secession would be rendered moot, for Catalans could get what they wanted if not from Spain then from Brussels or other European entities.

Alas, it was not to be. Writes Anwen Elias back in 2008, “Regionalist or autonomist parties who saw in the EU an opportunity for organizing political authority on a post-sovereigntist basis were also forced to recognize that, in practice, Europe was still dominated by sovereign states and sovereignty-based understandings of politics.” Even in Europe, the nation-state held onto its privileged position. Attempts to revive the “Europe of regions” to accommodate pressures from below, particularly after the last Catalan referendum in 2014, came up hard against the growing Euroskeptical movements, the continued problems in the Eurozone, and ultimately Brexit.

The problem of consent, in other words, has infected the EU as well. Many citizens of wealthier European countries don’t want to subsidize the citizens of less-well-off countries. Europe-firsters have been unenthusiastic about the influx of immigrants that the EU as a whole embraced. Though others threatened to do so, the British have been the first to withdraw their consent entirely.

If the Catalans withdraw from Spain, they are also withdrawing from the EU, which would amount to a second defection in so many years. The decision could prove even more costly for Catalonia than Brexit is proving for the UK, since it doesn’t have an economy the size of England’s, hasn’t preserved a separate financial system (and currency), and doesn’t have the same international profile (for instance, Catalonia is not a member of the World Trade Organization).

Of course, would-be countries are often prepared to take an economic hit for the sake of independence.

But the Catalans have perhaps not factored in just how big a hit they’re going to take, naively thinking that the small bump up in revenues not turned over to Madrid will make the difference. They’re also disgusted, and rightly so, with the economic austerity measures that the EU has imposed on Spain. But little Catalonia will have even less power to resist these forces after independence.

Now that the “Europe of regions” has faded into irrelevance, Europe faces more fracture points. As a result of the Brexit vote, Scotland is once again reconsidering its commitment to the United Kingdom, though public opinion polls suggest that a second referendum on independence would fail by a narrow margin just like the first. In Belgium, the largest political force is a nationalist party, the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), which supports Flemish independence. Of course, the Flemish are the majority in Belgium, and Flanders is doing much better economically these days than Wallonia, but Belgian unity remains a fragile thing. Other regions of Europe are also restive — Basque country, northern Italy, Corsica.

Although the Catalan vote isn’t likely to unravel the tapestry of Europe quite yet, other forces are at work in Europe — and not just Europe.

Kurdistan, Finally?

Kurds have wanted their own states for centuries. They’ve attempted to carve out autonomous regions in Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Last week, the Kurdish territory in Iraq held a non-binding referendum on independence, which garnered overwhelming support.

Surrounding states all took measures against the would-be new state of Kurdistan. Iran declared a fuel embargo, as did Turkey. Both countries moved troops to their borders for joint military exercises with Iraq. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the referendum “illegitimate.”

Baghdad, too, rejected the non-binding vote. But unlike Madrid, the Iraqi authorities did not attempt to stop the vote from happening. Iraq banned flights to Kurdistan airports and imposed sanctions on Kurdish banks. But it didn’t send in troops. The Kurdish government has announced new elections for November 1, and Baghdad seems to be waiting to see what the Kurds’ next move will be. Neither side wants war.

As in Catalonia, the referendum wasn’t simply a transparent bid for independence. Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani used the vote as a way to boost his own popularity and that of his party, as well as to make a stronger bid for Kirkuk, a disputed oil-rich area that Baghdad also claims. Regardless of Barzani’s motives, however, independence is clearly popular in Kurdistan.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the Kurds dialing back their ambitions in Iraq. They’ve been running a de facto state of sorts for years. They thought, not unreasonably, that they could trade their extraordinary efforts against the Islamic State for a shot at real, de jure sovereignty. They’ve even embraced a rather ruthless realpolitik to their ethnic brethren across the borders. Kurdistan has maintained strong ties toward Turkey — despite President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on Turkey’s own Kurdish population — and have been cool toward the de facto Kurdish state of Rojava in northern Syria.

But there’s still a huge difference between de facto and de jure. Just as Catalonia can be the string that unravels the European tapestry, Kurdistan can be the string that unravels the Middle East tapestry. Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq all fiercely defend the unitary nature of their states, and the Kurds represent a strong threat to that structure.

Moreover, the region is as much of a patchwork as Europe. Yemen and Libya have already effectively fallen apart. Palestinians have been thwarted for decades from having their own state. Turkmen, Shia (in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain), and others might lobby as well for a piece of their own pie.

But what if they get their slice just when the pie has become stale and inedible?

Slouching toward Splinterlands

What’s happening in Europe and the Middle East is part of a larger pattern.

The global market has been eroding the power of the nation-state for several decades, as transnational corporations flit around the world to get the best tax deals and the cheapest labor, international trade deals remove key points of leverage that national governments once had over various economic actors, and global financial authorities impose conditions on all but the largest economies that governments must meet or face default.

The global market has delegitimized states. No wonder, then, that subnational units are taking advantage of this weakness.

Technology has amplified this trend. Communications advances make this global market possible, and the transfer in microseconds of huge amounts of capital in and out of nation-states renders national economic policy increasingly illusory. The Internet and social media have broken the monopoly on national media, providing civic movements (along with global disrupters like the United States and Russia) the means to challenge the once authoritative narratives of the nation-state. What happened in the Arab Spring to authoritarian governments is now happening to democratic governments as well (witness the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory).

Finally, in the world of geopolitics, the overarching reasons for ideological unity are gone. The West no longer faces a “Communist threat,” while the East no longer huddles together against the “Yankee threat.” Sure, there’s the Islamic State and its ilk to worry about. But all nation-states see these non-state actors as a threat. The “war on terrorism” hasn’t forced states to give up a portion of their sovereignty for the cause — only citizens to give up a portion of their civil liberties.

In the 1950s and 1960s, utopians dreamed of a world government even as dystopians feared a global Big Brother. Today, when the international community can’t even come together to stop climate change, the prospect of world federalism seems impossibly quaint. A much grimmer reality presents itself in places like Libya and Somalia and Yemen: failed states and the war of all against all.

Today the world faces a crisis of the intermediate structure. The EU is under siege. The power of nation-states is eroding. If this trend continues, with the world continuing to splinter, the only entities left with any global power will be corporations and religious organizations, a world where frightened people pray to Facebook and the gods of Google that the fierce winds of nationalism and the rising waters of climate change and the random fire of lone gunmen will stay away for one more day.

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Cities and States Can Lead the Way Towards a Clean Energy Transition

The Trump administration has continuously claimed that the presence of fossil fuel industries are needed for job growth. But new data released from the Department of Energy doesn’t back that claim up, IPS Climate Policy director Basav Sen told Rising Up with Sonali.

“It shows that renewable energy provides disproportionately more jobs than fossil fuels. So what the administration really wants is to preserve the profits of fossil fuel industries and their CEOs,” he explained.

What we’re seeing as federal climate policy becomes more irresponsible is that the states are picking up the slack.

IPS recently released a report on states’ roles in accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy, mainly through a strategy of implementing and expanding Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). RPS is legislation at the state level that mandates utilities to increase the share of energy that they get from renewables, while decreasing the share of electrical power coming from fossil fuels, Sen explained. Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. currently have existing RPS, with the potential to expand their plans and raise targets, Sen explained, setting up a good example for grassroots people to enact RPS in states that are less friendly to renewable energy.

“The key to creating RPS legislation is to build a multi-issue and multi-sector coalition that brings together low income communities, people of color, small businesses, and rural communities,” Sen said. “The idea is to impress upon state legislators that there is a very broad base of support, which can counteract the influence of big businesses and fossil fuel industries.”

The states that have been most successful ensured that they were adopting clean energy in fair and equitable ways, where low-income communities could reap the benefits of renewable energy, such as solar energy, too.

“Most low income communities are made up of renters, who can’t install solar panels if they rent or live in multiple family apartments. But there is a growing trend of sharing renewables in the form of offsite solar panels, collectively owned by people living in communities, located on the roofs public buildings,” Sen explained.

Furthermore, Sen’s report found that solar energy already accounts for nearly 43 percent of direct U.S. employment in electric power generation even thought it only makes up a tiny fraction of the energy we use to power our country.

“So you can imagine how many more jobs will be created if instead of investing in obsolete technologies like coal, we put our money and public investment in expanding wind and solar energy,” Sen concluded.

Watch the full interview on Rising up with Sonali. 

The post Cities and States Can Lead the Way Towards a Clean Energy Transition appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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Report: How States Can Boost Renewables With Benefits for All

Given the current assault on responsible climate policy at the federal level, innovative state and local actions will be critical if we are to achieve a just transition to a sustainable economy. IPS is surveying the array of measures that can accelerate the rapid transition from fossil fuels to clean and efficient alternatives in an equitable fashion. In this study, we focus in on one strategy: Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).  RPS require utilities to provide a growing share of electricity from solar and wind energy, and are a particularly promising policy option — especially if they increase the benefits of a clean energy transition for low-income families.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia already have RPS requirements, and eight other states have voluntary renewable energy goals. Building on this progress — by enacting RPS in additional states, tightening current standards, and making voluntary programs binding — would have significant environmental, economic, and social benefits:

KEY FINDINGS:

  • RPS expansion can significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The electric power generation sector accounts for nearly 30% of total U.S. GHG emissions. Since residential electricity usage currently makes up more than 37% of national utilities sales, RPS success will depend on dramatically expanding home-based solar energy options — especially for low-income households.
  • RPS expansion creates good jobs. Solar energy already accounts for nearly 43% of direct U.S. employment in electric power generation, even though it only makes up a tiny fraction of the energy we use to power our country.
  • Renewable energy wages are comparable to those in the fossil fuel industry. A typical wind turbine technician, for example, earns $ 25.50 an hour, significantly more than many fossil fuel occupations.
  • Expanding shared solar access advances justice and equity. Low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to live in poorly insulated homes with higher heating and cooling costs, which means they spend more of their income on electricity. A typical set of residential solar panels would meet more than half of an average low-income household’s electricity needs — which means cutting their electricity bill drastically.
  • Shared renewables can allow families and small businesses a stake in the renewable energy market. The U.S. electricity market was worth $ 391 billion in 2015. RPS can help keep more of this money in communities.

Drawing from successful state models, the report identifies the following key “best practice” elements of RPS and low-income solar access policies:

  1.      A sufficiently ambitious timetable.
  2.      No non-renewable or dirty power (nuclear energy, trash incineration, or biofuels) included in “renewables” definition.
  3.      A system of tradable renewable energy credits (RECs) to facilitate tracking.
  4.      Meaningful penalties for noncompliance.
  5.      Requirement to fund solar access for low-income households.
  6.      Incorporating a “green jobs” component into the low-income solar program.
  7.      Legislative provision for shared solar, which also incorporates funding for solar access for low-income communities (#5) and its related targeted hiring and training component (#6).

Read the full executive summary and report here [PDF].
Find sharable graphics and social media kit here.

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New IPS Report Provides a Blueprint for States to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Trump Era

(Washington, D.C.) – Given the current assault on responsible climate policy at the federal level by the Trump administration, now more than ever, innovative state and local actions are needed to combat our climate crisis. Many states are already well on their way.

The new IPS report How States Can Boost Renewables With Benefits for All documents how increasing and expanding Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and distributed solar access to low-income households in states can help substantially reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The report also compiles existing state models for RPS expansion to create best practices blueprint for RPS legislation with dedicated funding for increased distributed solar access for low-income households.

“States and local governments can and must pick up the federal government’s slack in advancing an ambitious people’s climate agenda,” report author and IPS Climate Policy Director Basav Sen said. “Expanding access to solar to low-income communities and renters through programs like shared-solar is crucial since electric power generation is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and the residential and commercial sectors are the two largest end-users of electricity sales by utilities. If we obtained all of our electricity from renewables, that would have a greater emissions impact than taking every single car in the U.S. off the road.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • RPS expansion creates good jobs. Solar energy already accounts for nearly 43% of direct U.S. employment in electric power generation, even though it only makes up a tiny fraction of the energy we use to power our country.
  • Renewable energy wages are comparable to those in the fossil fuel industry. A typical wind turbine technician, for example, earns $ 25.50 an hour, significantly more than many fossil fuel occupations.
  • Expanding shared solar access advances justice and equity. Low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to live in poorly insulated homes with higher heating and cooling costs, which means they spend more of their income on electricity. A typical set of residential solar panels would meet more than half of an average low-income household’s electricity needs — which means cutting their electricity bill drastically.
  • Shared renewables can allow families and small businesses a stake in the renewable energy market. The U.S. electricity market was worth $ 391 billion in 2015. RPS can help keep more of this money in communities.

Read more key findings and the full report at http://www.ips-dc.org/report-how-states-can-boost-renewables-with-benefits-for-all/.

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As the White House Drops the Ball on Climate, Expect the States to Pick Up the Slack

climate-change-policy

(Photo: Flickr/ Takver)

“The consequences of these budget cuts would be vast,” IPS fellow and U.S. policy director at Oil Change International Janet Redman told the Marc Steiner Show, regarding Trump’s proposed budget cuts to federal environmental programs.

Trump’s assault on the climate doesn’t stop with his proposed  cuts to the EPA. It also seeks to cut 28 percent of the State Department budget, which is how the U.S. relates internationally to climate change and energy policy,

IPS Climate Policy director Basav Sen said racism and white supremacy and crony capitalism are the underlying sources of the White House’s climate policy.

“People of color and poor people have paid a disproportionate price for the polluting ways of corporate America,” Sen explained. “This led to the creation of environmental justice programs at the EPA which have provided support and data to these communities.”

By trying to get rid of these programs and moving forward with other bad environmental policies like  with the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the administration’s message is that they “don’t care about the environment, the future of humanity, or people of color,” Sen argued.

Sen went on to discuss the effects of large fossil fuel companies that have a lot of clout with the current administration. The issue is not about being pro-business, Sen said, it’s about crony capitalism.

These policies  “favor certain large and politically influential sectors of business, the ones who have partially bank rolled political careers of people like EPA head Scott Pruitt and Energy Department head Rick Perry,” Sen said.

The budget cuts also target clean energy research and take away funding for climate action initiatives at the state level.  Services that help people are being shifted to state agencies instead of operated on the federal level, which means less enforcement and implementation of provisions such as the Clean Air Act and Water Act, which targets already vulnerable communities, Redman argued.

“If the federal government not only refuses to act, but intends on taking America backwards, there’s a lot that cities and states can do and have done,” Sen said. “Hawaii will be 100 percent renewal energy for their electricity by 2045, Oregon will completely eliminate coal from their electricity supply by 2030, and Washington, D.C. will be 50 percent renewable for electricity by 2032 and simultaneously solarize 100,000 low income homes by then.”

Speaking to the power of organized popular resistance, Sen argued that “every time people have made advances in this country or anywhere else in the world, it’s because of pressure from below working across sectors.”

Redman agreed, adding “We don’t want to lose sight of the fact that we have to hold elected officials accountable when they side with big oil, gas, and coal industries.”

“We must fight in every forum available to us: in the courts, in legislatures, in policy spaces, on the streets, in the media, and in international forums,” Sen concluded.

Listen to the full interview on The Marc Steiner Show. 

Basav Sen is the director of the Climate Justice Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Janet Redman is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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When States Dream, Is Syria Their Nightmare?

National Catholic Reporter Interviews Phyllis Bennis

Photo by Goran Tomasevic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Illusion of Totalitarianism

There is no such thing as a totalitarian state.

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

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

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

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

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

It Can Happen Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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These States are Taking Tax Reform into Their Own Hands

raise-up-ma-tax-fairness

(Photo: SEIU Local 509)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Massachusetts

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

California

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

Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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US Labor Department awards $112M in grants for reemployment services, eligibility assessments in 50 states, territories

US Labor Department awards $ 112M in grants for reemployment services, eligibility assessments in 50 states, territories
Funds improve job searches, maintain integrity of unemployment insurance programs

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor today awarded $ 112 million to 50 state and territorial workforce agencies, including those in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia, to operate reemployment services and eligibility assessments programs for those receiving unemployment insurance benefits. Estimates based on the budgets in the past 10 years show that the program has reduced individual use of UI services by approximately one-and-a-half weeks, saving on average $ 3 for every dollar spent in costs.

This is the 12th year that the department has awarded grants through this initiative. Recipients prioritize RESEA services to transitioning, honorably discharged veterans and individuals likely to exhaust their UI benefits. 

“As our nation continues to enjoy a period of sustained economic growth, with 14.4 million jobs added in the past 73 months, the U.S. Department of Labor remains focused on modernizing and improving the UI system, and helping those who are still looking for jobs to support themselves and their families,” said Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training Portia Wu. “Today’s grant awards will ensure unemployed individuals have a wide array of workforce services available and can continue to be eligible for UI services.”      

The funds will be used to connect participants with in-person assessments and re-employment services  through their local their local American Job Centers including developing an individual re-employment plan; providing relevant and timely labor market information, identifying job skills and employment prospects; and reviewing claimant’s continued eligibility for UI benefits.

2016 Re-employment Services and Eligibility Assessment Grants

State

Funds Awarded

State

Funds Awarded

Alabama

$ 250,444

Missouri

$ 769,758

Alaska

$ 130,293

Montana

$ 702,997

Arizona

$ 648,946

Nebraska

$ 441,477

Arkansas

$ 143,429

Nevada

$ 2,070,137

California

$ 12,698,079

New Hampshire

$ 1,295,354

Colorado

$ 364,416

New Jersey

$ 1,917,219

Connecticut

$ 913,219

New Mexico

$ 635,048

Delaware

$ 564,658

New York

$ 20,270,329

District of Columbia

$ 525,182

North Carolina

$ 4,438,192

Florida

$ 5,714,020

Ohio

$ 3,002,253

Georgia

$ 202,171

Oklahoma

$ 1,054,169

Hawaii

$ 1,075,361

Oregon

$ 5,221,196

Idaho

$ 749,790

Pennsylvania

$ 1,290,160

Illinois

$ 1,245,566

Puerto Rico

$ 302,442

Indiana

$ 4,404,403

Rhode Island

$ 1,249,242

Iowa

$ 1,613,534

South Carolina

$ 1,144,308

Kansas

$ 748,455

South Dakota

$ 305,187

Kentucky

$ 561,932

Tennessee

$ 2,963,132

Louisiana

$ 1,800,284

Utah

$ 1,889,591

Maine

$ 772,659

Vermont

$ 100,000

Maryland

$ 1,325,350

Virgin Islands

$ 264,643

Massachusetts

$ 6,251,469

Virginia

$ 1,766,845

Michigan

$ 1,550,610

Washington

$ 9,192,063

Minnesota

$ 1,646,396

West Virginia

$ 358,083

Mississippi

$ 998,544

Wisconsin

$ 2,456,965

For more information on the effectiveness of these services, visit http://1.usa.gov/1XWiNsu.

Release Date: 
04/27/2016
Media Contact Name: 

Ammar Campa-Najjar

Phone Number: 
Release Number: 
16-0874-NAT
Override with PDF?: 

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