Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ from Corporate Tax Cuts

Dollar bill being cut up

(Photo: Tax Credits/Flickr)

Republicans are pushing a huge corporate tax cut bill through Congress. You might’ve seen a lot of coverage trying to sort out “who wins” and “who loses.”

All that misses the point.

The driving motivation behind this bill, rhetoric and packaging aside, is to deliver a whopping $ 1 trillion tax cut for a few hundred badly behaved global corporations — and another half a trillion to expand tax breaks and loopholes for multi-millionaires and billionaires.

All the other features of proposed tax legislation are either bribes (“sweeteners”) to help pass the bill or “pay fors” to offset their cost.

The news media has been talking about “winners and losers” like this were some sort of high-minded tax reform process with legitimate trade-offs, as in 1986.

But this isn’t tax reform. This is a money grab by powerful corporate interests.

The key question isn’t who wins and loses, but whether we should undertake any of these trade-offs to give massive tax breaks to companies like Apple, Nike, Pfizer, and General Electric — companies whose loyalty to U.S. communities and workers is historically abysmal.

These companies have been dodging their taxes for decades while small businesses and ordinary taxpayers pick up their slack to care for our veterans, maintain our infrastructure, and educate the next generation.

Apple alone is holding $ 250 billion in offshore subsidiaries to reduce their taxes.

For wealthy individuals, the proposed House tax bill eliminates the federal estate tax, which is paid exclusively by families with over $ 11 million, mostly residing in coastal states.

It eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax, a provision that ensures that wealthy taxpayers chip in at least a few dollars after gaming all their possible deductions.

And while the top tax rate on high earners remains roughly the same, Congress is proposing to open up a “pass through loophole” that will enable wealthy people and their tax accountants to convert their income to be taxed at a lower tax rate.

We should avoid distracting debates over whether to reform one provision or another, such as the home mortgage interest deduction. The real estate industry understands the score. “These corporations are getting a major tax cut, and it’s getting paid for by the equity in American homes,” said Jerry Howard, chief executive of the National Association of Home Builders.

Reforming the home mortgage interest deduction makes a lot of sense — the current tax break mostly benefits the already wealthy and fails to expand homeownership. But we shouldn’t restructure housing tax incentives to pay for a massive tax cut for billionaires and badly behaved global corporations.

Nor should we eliminate the deductibility of student debt, eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes, or require families with catastrophic health expenses to pay more to reduce taxes on big drug companies and Jeff Bezos of Amazon. This tax bill would do all of those things.

The good news is people aren’t falling for the marketing baloney that this tax cut will help the middle class. Fewer than 30 percent of voters support these tax cuts, and solid majorities believe that the wealthy and global corporations should pay more taxes, not less.

But this won’t stop Republicans who care more about their campaign contributors than they do about voters.

If the GOP majority in Congress were responsive to voters, they’d invest in updating our aging infrastructure and in skills-based education, as we did after World War Two. Instead of saddling the next generation with tens of thousands in student debt, real leaders would be figuring out how to lift up tomorrow’s workers and entrepreneurs, just as we did in previous generations.

Under this tax plan, small business and ordinary taxpayers will be the big losers. That’s the only score that matters.

The post Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ from Corporate Tax Cuts appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


Figuring Out Your Role: Talking Resilience with Sarah Byrnes

Sarah: I’m Sarah. I work at the Institute for Policy Studies, where I support a local initiative called Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition. We’re working on community resilience here in Jamaica Plain, which is a neighborhood of Boston. And I also support a regional network of grassroots groups around New England.
Ken: And because you mentioned community resilience, the obvious question: How do you define community resilience?
Sarah: That’s a good one. I think we’ve been defining it as the ability for a community to thrive and for people to have well-being no matter what the circumstances. Given coming challenges, and given current challenges, in many communities, it’s the ability to deal with all of that, and have some sense of well-being and happiness.
Ken: How is “community” defined in the case of Jamaica Plain?
Sarah: [T]hat’s another question that I can answer in a lot of different ways…. I think there’s a real movement in community resilience for people to reconnect with each other as neighbors, so it has lot to do with getting to know the people who are physically very close to you, like your neighbors upstairs or across the street.
There’s also a broad understanding that community that…we have to identify with our larger community as well. We have to understand we’re interconnected with people all over the globe….  There’s both a broad sense of the word “community,” and then a very concrete return to a local focus on relationships and the economic side, as well with a local focus on providing for the community in a more sustainable way.
Ken: Jamaica Plain has a fairly accepted definition…of what the boundaries are, and who’s included, is that right?
Sarah: Oh yeah. Jamaica Plain is an officially designated neighborhood of Boston (there are 16 of them). [W]e have our own Zip Code.
Ken: Can you tell us a little bit about the neighborhood?
Sarah: JP is a diverse neighborhood, and it’s facing gentrification and displacement, which is the core challenge to [the work] we’re doing. But we’ve got a lot of folks from all around the world, a lot of immigrant communities, a large Dominican population, Spanish-speaking population. I think we’re still technically majority white, slightly over 50%.
We’re very diverse economically, we have a lot of people living below the poverty line, I think it’s about 22%. Then we also have some humongous million-dollar homes. There’s the beautiful pond, Jamaica Pond, and the real estate around there is quite, quite valuable so we have some very wealthy families as well. And then a bunch of folks in the middle.
Ken: What are the big issues? You mentioned gentrification….
Sarah: We’re part of the Transition movement, and part of the broader movement for economic justice, so we bring awareness of climate change, of resource depletion, those sort of traditional Transition kind of issues. But being rooted here in the neighborhood, we want to respond to what neighbors are thinking about and we [are] committed to bridging what’s called the “Two JPs.” Often, that means connecting folks of color with white folks, or low-income folks with higher-income folks. We want to be a bridge. You can’t be resilient if you’re not creating relationships, and if you’re not creating them across some of these historic divides.
We believe that equity is an intrinsic part of resilience, and that’s deeply important to everything we’re doing. What we’ve done to help with that disconnect is [to] have a community organizer on our staff who’s bilingual and bicultural. That’s Carlos, of course you know him.
Ken: I do.
Sarah: What he’s been able to do over the last couple years is host a lot different events in Spanish, in particular where we’re been hearing directly from community members what they’re concerned about. And gentrification and affordable housing are top of the list. People are being displaced as real estate prices go up, as rents go up. And it’s not just the people of color, a lot of white people have been displaced as well. And a lot of the time, those are the people who made JP really what it is, a fun, funky, special place and it has a lot of community festivals and a lot of community celebrations and institutions. And the people who built the community are being forced to leave, and there’s this sort of sadness about that. And, of course, a sense of unfairness.
We have to work on that, we have to address that. We can’t just have this abstract conception of resilience; we have to actually address what people are concerned about.
Ken: One of the questions that we like to ask people is, “What’s the relationship between community resilience and justice?”
Sarah: For us I think they ultimately mean the same thing. This is something we talk a lot about in our New England network. If you…build sort of a little enclave of resilience where [you have] solar panels, and you are feeding yourself a lot of your own food, that’s really lovely—but chances are, there’s a community close to you where things are not so pretty, or not so easy.
If you accomplish a gated version of resilience, for me that’s not really resilience. You have to be thinking more broadly, and this gets back to the broader sense of community. You have to be thinking about the next community over because as things deteriorate [there], it’s going to impact here.
So there’s this sort of pragmatic piece to it, and then there’s of course the moral piece to it. You have to be doing this work well, to be doing it authentically. We have to be thinking about everyone who is part of this struggle. And that means acknowledging deep historical issues that plague all of our communities in terms of race and class divide.
So for us it all comes together. There is no resilience without justice actually.
Ken: It’s really interesting you used the word pragmatic, and then you used the world moral. Those aren’t words that come up [that often] in Transition and resilience [conversations], which tend to be more around aspirational, fun, and vibrant, or dire and urgent. I wonder if you want to explore those two words?
Sarah: I don’t want people to think that we’re not about being vibrant and fun!
Ken: Oh yeah! [Laughter.]
Sarah: Because…we want to be vibrant, and we do think we’re kind of fun actually. I guess it’s one the reasons why resilience has to be broader than just the enclave, kind of what I was getting at before.
I think those things really resonate with people, and even teasing them apart feels a little bit cynical. We’re not pragmatic, ultimately, because otherwise we’d probably be just having regular lives.
Ken: [Chuckles.] Right.
Sarah: Most of us who do this work are very aspirational, and we’re thinking outside the box. So it’s all in there.
Ken: When you think about community resilience, how do you know when you see it? What does it look like?
Sarah: I think that’s a really good question….. I feel it at certain community events that are diverse, where you have a cross-section of the community coming together, and where you can tell that people are actually connection with each other.
We actually call those holy moments.
Ken: [Chuckles.]
Sarah: We have a lot of people who have come up to faith-based organizing traditions around here, so maybe we use words like “holy” and “moral” sometimes. Sometimes at a community event you can just feel that people are like, “Ah-hah! Yeah!”
Like [it] made some now new [connection] with them, or made [it] clear. People are just really connecting with each other, they’re kind of breaking through old myths or through old stereotypes.
I think that’s a huge part of what community resilience looks like to me, because if we can have more of those moments, and have more of these relationships, then…actual concrete, tangible work flows from there. And we’ve seen that time and again. It’s really the bedrock of the work of helping people inter-connect and inspire each other.
Ken: If I were a visitor from another city or another neighborhood in Boston and I were walking through JP, how would I see, “Oh this is what community resilience looks like”? Relationships are sort of difficult to quantify, and difficult to see on a cold Wednesday afternoon, when hardly anybody is out in the street.
Sarah: I think there a lot of tangible signs or visible signs. And JP has a good leg up on that because we’ve been valuing things like green space for a long time….
We have a lot community gardens, we have wait lists for our community garden; people are dying to garden more. We have the first-ever garden in a state park here. The neighborhood got together and [said], “Let’s just grow some food here and see if the state will let us.” And eventually [the state] did come around. We have people taking the initiative to grow food in unusual places…food is a big part of it.
Obviously there are resilient forms of energy, you can look around and see solar panels, you can look around and see different kinds of housing. We need to have very well-insulated housing….
Ken: Well, it actually is visible if a house is well-insulated in the winter, because you can see the snow is still on the roof, it hasn’t melted away.
Sarah: True. That’s another sort of tangible sign of resilience.
I think these things in terms of food and energy and transportation, of course—you see a lot of people on the biking and using the T [subway/streetcar system]. Again we have some of that infrastructure, but we need a lot more of it.
Ken: I’ve been captivated by a question that your group put out, I guess it was about a year and a half ago, as a focusing question for some of your work, “What would it take to have cancer-free JP by, what was it, 2030?”
I’ve…shared that with people who work in the public health field, and people who work in childhood obesity, and other realms that connect with that, and they’ve all been struck by how powerful it is…as a way of imagining all sorts of things that ripple out into different areas.
Sarah: [T]hat’s another way we’re thinking outside the box and connecting these long-standing issues with this idea of resilience. Of course the new economy should be a cancer-free economy, right? What we can bring to that is kind of flipping the traditional focus on treatment into a focus on prevention.
That’s what we’ve done here…is focus on getting rid of these chemicals that we know are causing cancer.
As you know, we’ve helped a dry cleaner here in the neighborhood to switch from using the chemical dry cleaning [process], and now they use the cancer-free wet cleaning process.
So the community sort of rallied together to support that transition and raise money, we did a Kickstarter, we raised $ 17,000. I think a resilient community is also going to look a lot different in terms of the businesses that we have, and the practices of those businesses. And there are tons of them that use chemicals that we know cause cancer, and it’s just absolutely mind-boggling that we let that go on.
It really [remarkable] how broken our regulatory system is…. [W]e know these things cause cancer, we just let them go on. [At] the community level there’s energy and innovation and some ability to actually address these issues.
Ken: How has that focusing question been able to connect up with…the things that people tend to focus on in the Transition movement around community, food, climate change, peak oil, and things like that?
Sarah: I think the cancer-free work is always a little bit of an] “Ah huh!” with people. People tend to really silo these things but then when they think about it they see that they’re actually quite interconnected because if we’re all sick then we can’t all be working on these new systems that we need to build.
If we can prevent things like cancer and obesity, then we have that much more vibrancy in our communities, right? And I think the solution is really—as I was saying before—similar to the kinds of solutions that we have around food and energy, it’s engaging people and inspiring people and working at the community level….Building it up, starting small and building up a base of support….
And I think that applies in all the other areas as well, when we do this community based work, we’re also building a movement, and it helps when we explicitly think of it that way.
Ken: [So], what is the long-term community goal for JP?
Sarah: Another great question. JP is part of the city, so it has to be interconnected with all the neighborhoods as we’re doing it. [A]long these lines of resilience, we want the softer indicators that I was talking about before, we want people to be less isolated, we want there to be sort of a vibrant cultural things that people are inter-connecting around, especially across race and class.
And we have more tangible goals too, we want more renewable energy. There’s a pipeline that’s going to be built right through Boston. We want to keep that out. We want no more fossil fuel infrastructure in Boston. We want more food. We’re building a Boston food forest. We want that to be growing and thriving, and growing food in vacant lots around the city.
Those are some of our goals. We want more of the traditional forms of resilience that we were talking about before.
Ken: How responsive has the neighborhood been to the larger picture, versus the immediacy of something like getting rid of Perc [perchloroethelyne], a toxic chemical used in dry cleaning] in the neighborhood, or building a food forest?
Sarah: I think it’s different for different people and one of the challenges is actually finding the right stage to convey the larger vision and convey what we sometimes might call the meta-story, like. “What is the bigger shift that we need, what you might call a system shift?”
So the challenge is figuring out how and when to talk about that. First is how I’m going to talk more about a discrete issue—food or Perc, or something tangible and visible. And I think for some folks, their comfort zone is probably always going to be more on the tangible growing food side, and that’s actually great, because we need a lot of people doing that tangible, visible work.
Other people want to see about the big picture and how it all interconnects. So it’s important to have a clear answer about that, and [as] a community resilience movement and transition movement and new economy movement, we’re still really articulating that vision or story about how it all interconnects, and that’s something that’s still in process.
It’s important to have that, because people are going to be like, “Wait, why are you working on Perc and also food?”
Ken: Right.
Sarah: And then you have to explain, “Well it’s all part of a broken system, that’s based on a broken form of energy, and these are just some of the manifestations of it.”
Ken: And that must be a lot to try and juggle.
Sarah: [Laughs.] It’s a lot, and it’s also…there’s a million ways to intervene in this system. So that’s positive. You can fix this broken thing in a thousand different ways, and we need people working on all of those thousand different ways. The challenge is always what’s the particular role of an individual person or of an individual organization. The discernment process is something that everyone is working on, figuring out my role in this systems change.
Ken: That’s a really beautiful way to think about it, that [there are so many challenges], but that means there’s a million different ways to intervene, or a million different opportunities to intervene. That’s actually quite compelling.
Sarah: Good. Glad you think so.
Ken: And how does that play out in the work? [Do] you try and bring the doers and the thinkers together, or do you try and get the thinkers to hang out with the doers on occasions?
Sarah: I have to answer with two things. One is the events that we’re always doing. We have events on a range of topics and sometimes it’s a systems thinker like Charles Eisenstein was the big one we had last year. Or a big political name, like Ralph Nader. So we have opportunities for people to come together and think about the big system. And then we have a bunch of events as well on very concrete things like community solar projects. You offer all the spaces for different kinds of intervention, kinds of ways of thinking about it.
The second thing we’re doing, I wanted to mention, is the Community Leaders Fellowship, where we’re explicitly working with six individuals right now, on helping them discern that place, their in systems change. And it’s something that we’re co-creating with them as we go. We’ve been doing this for about a year and a half now. Folks come and work with us for four or five months…on a lot of our projects, and in return we provide professional coaching for them, and also some support sessions where they get together and talk the work and figure out how is this working, and what am I learning, and where will I go from here.
I really think the key intervention right now for the movement is to tap into all the underemployed people or all of the people who don’t want to just work for The Man you know?
So many people out there who want meaningful work, and they’re dropping out of the mainstream economy, or they’re forced out of the mainstream economy, and they are our best resource right now.
So this CLF fellowship…is a chance to for six of them to come in with us and try to discern it together like “OK, what are you going to do to intervene in this system, and meanwhile how are going to pay your bills?”
So that’s a way where we’re trying to really bring it together for just a couple of people, thinking about ways that that could be brought to bigger scale.
Ken: Do you find that the young people that you’re talking with, are they receptive both to the immediate, pragmatic stuff and also to the big picture?
The second question is, “How are they making those connections? Are you giving them opportunities to make those connections? Are you explicitly drawing them? Are they making them themselves?”
Sarah: I think that people that people are very receptive. Obviously they’re self-selecting into this fellowship. [T]here’s a general sense of their general knowledge that the system is broken. People don’t exactly know how to articulate it. But I think you guys have the term, “Walking Worried,” right?
Ken: Mmm-hmmm.
Sarah: Everyone worries about something, and it’s kind of a relief to actually put it in a large context and say, “Oh yeah, the economy is terrible, and federal government is utterly broken. Oh, that’s why I’m feeling all this anxiety. That’s part of why.”
Then people want to put their story in that larger context, and they have some of the pieces. So it’s really not so hard to actually connect the dots, and provide a supportive environment for people to connect their own dots. That’s actually really fun to see that happen.
And then the second question was how to actually draw that out.  I think that’s similar, it’s just providing space for them to talk to each other, and think through their own experiences and hear a little bit about the trends in terms of inequality and unemployment and just locate their own story in those trends.
Ken: And …working with specifically young people, and also first-generation immigrants, or close to first-generation immigrants, do you find that there’s difference in how people respond to these larger systemic questions? In the sense that the system’s broken, or that the future might be very different from what they’re hearing in the mainstream?
Sarah: Yeah and I think Carlos would be good to talk to. In general the folks who are [first-generation] Americans have a lot more hope. We have a lot of folks in fellowship who are of color and are generally the children of immigrants or they moved here when they were very young. Their parents are incredibly innovative and motivated people, and they have high expectations of their kids. They still have a more intact version of the American dream, and they’re moving up the ladder, they’re being successful and getting an education.
And it actually reminds me of what’s not entirely broken in our system. There are pockets still of really wonderful things happening. And that’s important to always keep in mind too, the chance for young people to get a really good education and to find meaningful work. It’s great to work with them and think about how can we bring a more positive view of this. And not just try to say, “Oh by the way, it’s all going to Hell in a handbasket.”
How can we combine that viewpoint with some of the realities around the energy stuff and climate change stuff, which is a little bit harder to discuss with a positive view of things.
Ken: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. I believe it’s actually Chuck Collins [from your organization] who might have used this phraseology. Richard Heinberg from Post Carbon Institute wrote a book called “The Party’s Over.” And Chuck’s question is, “What about the people who were never invited to the party to begin with?”
Their expectation, based on the mainstream view, is that sooner or later…everybody will get an invitation to the party. And yet the message that we’re conveying, both Post Carbon Institute and your organization is, “Well maybe the party actually is kind of coming to an end, we can’t expect to have this continuing burgeoning economic growth.” How do you approach that issue with the people you’re working with?
Sarah: Yeah, I’m thinking of a couple individuals in particular and I feel like my role is to sort of introduce this information, and…let it bounce around in their mind. Everyone is on a bit of a journey in terms of processing this information in terms of energy and climate change especially.
We’re meeting some people at the very beginning of their [awareness] about it. So it’s sort of a matter of, “OK, now I’m more aware of that.”
I didn’t know much about it either, to be honest, until I got this job four and half years ago, and it’s taken me four and half years to get to where I am which is…I’m certainly not done.
You just have to help people expand their awareness, and then provide support as they try to process some of the more intense aspects of say climate change for example. One of the ways I do that with Chuck is actually in a book club that we have every few weeks where we read something depressing and then try to support each other to process it. [Laughs.]
I think for the Fellows it’s similar. When you’re at the very beginning of it it’s like any idea, it just takes a little bit longer to let it sink in. So I guess that’s one answer.
Ken: You’re doing outreach in the community, and Jamaica Plain is pretty diverse place. There are a lot of first- and second-generation immigrants, and people arrive in this country with expectations of whatever they have in their mind as the American dream, or at least escape from someplace that’s not very hospitable to them, or their political views, or whatever.
And the message that you’re bringing—how are you couching it for those people, and how are you having those conversations?
Sarah: We’re just pretty clear. [For example], we do some of the work of Joanna Macy to help people work through it.
We use stuff from Post Carbon Institute, we use the Next Systems video that’s just gotten out. Just different educational tools about, “Oh yeah, so here’s how we’ve been using energy thus far. And here’s this likely future scenario.”
It’s the same sort of educational approach that you would take with anyone. We oftentimes call to try to stay connected very tangible things like all the storms over the winter. That wasn’t normal, was it?
Or back a couple of years ago when had really high gas prices, and correspondingly high food prices, we tried to have conversations around that. There’s entrées when there’s something very visible about the system that is broken, like the T [subway] hasn’t been working for a month. That gives you a entrée to talk about the bigger picture, and we always try to take advantage of those opportunities because often people can make a connection with the more concrete stuff, and then move into the larger analysis.
Ken: We’ve talked about Transition as sort of a backdrop for your work, is that the framework you’re using, or are there other conceptual frameworks…around community resilience that you’re using?
Sarah: Yeah, we kind of bring in a lot of things. The new economy framework is also very important to us of course. We are JP New Economy Transition, of course. Also the thinking of people of the New Economy Working Group, which is based at IPS in DC, from folks like David Korten and Gar Alperovitz and of course Chuck’s own work. A lot of us are familiar with Charles Eisenstein and Joanna Macy, who bring a whole piece about processing the work, and being in touch with your pain, and things like that. That’s a big piece of it too, this sort of human side.
Ken: Are there resources that you’ve found particularly useful…things that you’d want to point people to?
Sarah: I should mention the Resilience Circle Curriculum (www. because that’s one of our resources, which groups of ten people can use to learn about the economy and then start about thinking about mutual aid and social action together. That’s a resource that’s freely available. And Annie Lenoard’s “Story of Stuff” videos, which people across the board tend to find helpful as an introduction.
Ken: If you just want to play the “What if?” game for a second…. Obviously money would be the first thing that people would call to mind but, “What’s the one form of support that would most help with your efforts?”
Sarah: Yes, money comes to mind. [Laughter.]
The interconnection, the networking, and the coalitions that we’re part of are really helpful. I think it would be particularly helpful to talk with some more Transition initiatives that are rooted in diverse communities. I think there are a lot of really great resources out there,…and the challenge is finding the time to read them [chuckles].
Sarah: It’s a little bit tricky because of the time issue, but more opportunities to connect with people doing this work really helpful.
Ken: How would you want to connect up with them?
Sarah: It’d be good to just chat over the phone once in a while.
And we are providing a similar kind of support to grassroots groups here in New England through the New England Resilience & Transition network – or NERT for short (). It’s a newly forming network for grassroots groups to learn from each other and consider the resilience of our whole region.
Ken: You mentioned policy—and I know you’re working on at least one initiative—but if there was one policy change or even a political cultural change that would most help your efforts, what would it be?
Sarah: Oh my gosh, I don’t feel at all prepared to answer that question. There are so many! Two things come to mind right away, and one of them is the corruption piece, somehow getting money out of politics, and probably a constitutional amendment. Which would help with many, many different kinds of policies.
Ken: Right.
Sarah: Also anything that could reverse economic inequality. The impact of that is really, really profound on our happiness and on our attitudes and it just affects us so profoundly. You know, the work that Chuck is doing on straightening that out I think is really a key intervention as well.
Ken: Thanks, and thanks for helping people to come together, and make unexpected connections.
Sarah: Thank you.

The post Figuring Out Your Role: Talking Resilience with Sarah Byrnes appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sarah Byrnes is the Co-Director of the New England Regional Transition, a program of the Institute for Policy Studies. She also supports the local Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition pilot program in Boston.


Welcome to the Future: Talking Resilience with Chuck Collins

Ken: How do you define community resilience?
Chuck: I think of it as the qualities that allow a community to respond to change, and to transition. Seems like we’re in a period of permanent transition, both economic and ecological, so how is it that we can live? How will we be able to live in the future, assuming a certain amount of ecological and economic change?
And in the case of community resilience, it’s not just how do we prepare ourselves individually, psychologically, but how as a community do we get ourselves in shape for the transition?
Ken: Sounds like physical fitness for communities.
Chuck: I think so, yeah. It’s like [there’s] an atrophying of mutual aid muscles and relationships and institutions. We have religious congregations, but they tend to not be places where people come together and talk about their economic lives. We have neighborhood organizations that are engaged around the development of issues in the neighborhood. We have neighborhood associations and blocks, but…[most] people don’t know their neighbors. People don’t know who’s vulnerable, and who’s got capacity and resources. So some of it is just taking stock of what we already have. And most people are just kind of living [day-to-day], and so don’t have a lot of slack to think about the present and the future.
Ken: You mentioned different future and transition, so transition to what?
Chuck: Well, I think of it as a transition to a new economy that lives within ecological limits, that is equitable, meaning that we don’t have these grotesque inequalities based on distortions in the economy. So: a healthy, more equal, ecologically viable existence.
Ken: I know you’re doing some great work here in Jamaica Plain and throughout New England, what does it look like on the ground, to see community resilience?
Chuck: Well, we’ve just lived through a pretty extraordinary winter. To put that in context: starting in the middle of January, we had four snowstorms where a total of over 80-90 inches of snow fell. So if you think about weird weather, strained infrastructure, fights over austerity and the role of government, neighbors helping neighbors but also a certain amount of stress and anger and scapegoating that also happened, well,…welcome to the future.
I mean, this is where we are heading. We are heading to weird weather incidents. We are heading towards strained infrastructure. [During the snowstorms,] our transit system literally shut down.
So people had this experience of things grinding to almost a halt, and our community and government being incapable of response, so people began to ask system questions about preparedness and readiness.
When we think about in practice, [question arise like]: How much are people in relationship? How much are people able to know their neighbors and help them? How much preparedness have we done? What is the civic infrastructure there? How do we support one another and keep our spirits up?
There was a huge number of people who couldn’t get to work. People with salaries got a paycheck whether they got to work or not, but a huge number of people—if they didn’t show up at their job, they weren’t paid. People estimate several billion dollars of lost wages, lost business revenue. So that’s going to ripple through the economy in the coming months. People behind in rent, behind in mortgages, defaulting on loans etc. How do we help one another in that situation?
We were lucky in some respects because we had light snow without a lot of freezing rain, but there was one weekend where, the forecast was for 5 inches of freezing rain, and if that had come to pass, we could have started to see the electric grid go down. We would have started to see roofs and buildings collapse, so we would have gone from very inconvenient to very dangerous in a very short time. I for one was extremely aware of how ill-prepared we were. If this was the emergency resilience test, we’re not ready.
So, we can now build on this event, this regional event, to have conversations with people about just that. You would enjoy this: We were having a community forum, an educational events about cooperative business. Well, it got snowed out, the speakers couldn’t get there, etc. But we decided to go ahead and have an event in the back room of Doyle’s Pub, we called it “Burning Snow Man,” and it was a meetup for anybody who could get there to come together and share stories of how we were faring: How are you managing in this storm? We put it out as a little “story slam”: Come with your one- to two-minute story on the good, the bad, the ugly about this storm.
Fifty people came out on one day’s notice. They had to walk there because the roads weren’t plowed and trains weren’t running. People came, they loved being together, the restaurant loved that we were there because it was empty. Fifteen people got up and told fabulous one- to two-minute stories about neighbors helping neighbors, neighbors mad at their neighbors—just how people were faring, and it was a morale boost. And it was a reminder that in times like that, we need to come together. We had this idea that if this [weather] keeps going, we’re going to do this at local neighborhood restaurants. Call for these meetups, little Burning Snow Man meetups at neighborhood restaurants, and encourage people.
[More] programmatically, Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition is looking at the regional food system. We helped start a farmers’ market, we have a food forest project, and…community gardening [projects]. We are interested in community energy, partnering with Co-op Power, and groups like that. We are interested in the bartering and gift economy, and strengthening that because it has the positive effect of strengthening the neighborhood. So we’ve created our own Local Time Exchange. We’ve experimented with alternative currencies. We have monthly potlucks for participants just to make it face-to-face and more robust. We’re interested in emergency preparedness, and we’ve been doing these kind of block parties—we call them “Preparedness Pie Parties”—where people get together and have a pizza pie or an apple pie, just to look at how prepared are we as a neighborhood, and how do we map that. So those are just a couple of examples, maybe just half the examples, of the work we are doing in this space.
Ken: Is there any video of Burning Snow Man online?
Chuck: No. Turns out though that on March 20th, the last day of winter, is when in some communities, people actually do burn snowmen. I only found that out by Googling it, looking for graphic images.
Ken: [Laughing] Is there a connection between the work you’ve been doing so far, and how people responded to this recent weird weather?
Chuck: I think we tried to do that in a couple ways. We actually had a remarkable event with Toby Hemenway doing a talk about permaculture and agriculture, and we had 120 people come out…it just happened to be a night that there wasn’t a blizzard, so people could come. They took their sleds and sled dogs and skied over to the meeting place, and it was a great gathering. I think we tried to connect the dots as much as possible that these are weird weather events that are testing us, that this is what the future will look like, and these are the reasons why we want to do regional and permaculture agriculture, and kind of really look at our food systems.
The other interesting thing is Boston is a finalist [to host] the 2024 Olympics. There’s a big debate about the Olympics and a lot of people are [saying], the Olympics could be helpful in marketing the city and building the city. And a lot of people are opposed to it, thinking it is a misplacement of priorities. I think it would be an interesting exercise to say, “Let’s develop a regional and city plan for equitable and resilient development. What would be the investments we’d like to make over the next 15 years to make our city prepared for rising sea levels, prepared for increased precipitation which is New England’s future forecast, prepare our aging infrastructure, prepare for economic disruptions and how we live in those situations?”
Let’s put that plan together and then let’s look at: “Is there any way that the resources that would come to the community around the Olympics could actually support that plan?” And there are some ways it could support it. There’s a lot of ways it could undermine [the plan], so that to me would be the criteria if we’re going to go through the spectacle of hosting a global Olympics. Let’s make sure it adds to the transition process.
Ken: You’ve talked a lot about different elements that go into your work. Is there a framework that you’re using, is there an overarching, “Here’s how this all fits together”?
Chuck: Well, I would say the framework in part comes from the work of the Post Carbon Institute and others, who help us to understand the potential disruption that may come as we transition from a fossil fuel economy to a post carbon economy. So that’s one framework.
The other framework I would [say] is class and racial equity. How do we reduce inequality in a steady state economy? It’s a very different playbook than say, after World War II, when we reduced inequality through expanding a middle class, expanding middle class consumption, driving the economic engine to expand essentially the white middle class. So we are trying to think about what does it mean if you don’t have the same playbook, if you don’t have the same toolbox to grow the economy. We believe we are in a transition to a post-carbon, low-growth economy.
[Another] framework [I’d add] is to really think about what matters. [Traditional] economics isn’t really helping us in that discussion. What really matters in terms of the quality of life in community, what is real wealth? Real wealth being the health of the ecological commons and the vibrancy of the social commons, not this sort of financial paper wealth that’s being advertised as the Holy Grail of human existence. There’s other measures, so let’s create our own index for the quality of life and the vibrancy of our communities and meaningful livelihoods, and measure ourselves against those.
Ken: You’ve got an interesting metric that you’ve used here in JP, an aspirational goal that you’re putting out.
Chuck: Well, we actually tried to do some resilience indicator work. You know, you can kind of go down the list and say: What percentage of calories are produced within our neighborhood, and within our region? What/how many people draw their livelihoods not from commuting downtown to work in the paper wealth economy, but are actually tied into the real economy of goods and services? How robust are the exchange networks? But there’s a lot of people trying to think about that, as well as other new indicators, and we want to learn from that too.
Ken: You’ve talked about making JP cancer free by 2030 as one way of measuring progress. Do you want to speak about that?
Chuck: It was really the people from the public health community that said to us, well, wouldn’t a transition to a new economy also include a transition away from the toxic and carcinogenic byproducts? How can we become healthier? Jamaica Plain has a higher than statewide incidence of certain kinds of cancer. We also have higher exposure to certain toxic chemicals, and unfortunately some of those chemicals are in use in neighborhood businesses that we want to thrive and stay around. So they are in beauty parlors and beauty salons, cleaning and dry cleaning and automotive shops, and in cleaning substances that restaurants and businesses use. They are all using things that make their employees sick, that make customers sick, so how do we help them make that transition without going out of business?
So one of our projects has been to help those businesses figure out how to use safe alternatives, and how to drive more customers to support those businesses. We had a dry cleaner that, like most of them, used to use perchloroethylene, a known carcinogen. This is an immigrant-owned dry cleaner, so we worked with them to both get grants from the state, and also crowd source capital from the neighborhood—from 150 individuals who contributed to the financing of their transition to becoming the area’s first wet cleaner, [using a] completely green, nontoxic alternative.
We’re inspired by California, which has banned Perc by 2023. We want to do a similar thing in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, sort of phase out and ban Perc, but we don’t want to just drive these [people] out of business. We want them to make the transition to the new economy and flourish. Now we’re working with automotive and auto body shops, beauty salons and dry cleaners, artists in the community…. There’s a lot of artists, a lot of home studios that use unhealthy toxic chemicals, and we want our artists to be healthy. So all of those are points of intervention that we think are part of this transition.
Ken: And do you find that helps broaden the conversation—both in terms of getting beyond just talking about financing small business to what kind of small business, and why, and what kind of economy—as well as making the transition to talking about issues of class and race and public health and all the other things that go into [your work]?
Chuck: Yeah, I’m excited by the way it does just as you described. There are these fundraising walks for various cancer research efforts, and actually the walkers come through our neighborhood [Jamaica Plain has lovely pedestrian/bike paths that circle the pond, go through the parks, and connect up with paths in other neighborhoods]. People are walking, raising money for the cure, and [we’re asking]: “You know what, we don’t want to be walking for the cure, we want to march to deal with the cause of the cancer. Let’s look upstream at the cause of the cancer.”
That engages a lot of people, because people have really been touched by cancer, they’ve been touched by environmental illness, and it’s a place where you can have a wider conversation. Don’t we want an economy that makes us healthy? Certainly our economy shouldn’t be making us sick. So it’s a way to…you know, what’s more personal than your physical health?
And I think there is a certain recognition, “Oh yeah, we can raise millions of dollars,” [and we also] have the very, very, best of treatment in the world [here in Boston], and yet we have these known carcinogen chemicals in our environment. Shouldn’t our hospitals be involved in this? Why are they using these toxic cleaning products and cleaning substances? Why don’t they bring their business to our neighborhood wet cleaner? So we’re engaging the hospitals to go outside their walls and ask, “How do you support community health? Support our local food system? Support our local producers? Support our farmers’ markets? If you want people to be healthy, make sure they have access to healthy food.” So I think it’s a way to enlarge that conversation.
Ken: You mentioned about sourcing locally, you and I were talking earlier about the importance of having commitment to local sourcing from place-based institutions.
Chuck: Yeah, we are surrounded by hospitals and universities. Boston has a couple of hundred institutions of higher learning. We know one college—Hampshire College in the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts—made a commitment over the next five years to source as much food as possible, I think 100% of their food (not including seafood and coffee or something like that) from within 50-100 miles in the Pioneer Valley. So all of a sudden, you have a demand. You’ve created a huge demand and that gives local producers the ability to enter into long-term contracts with the institution to provide eggs and vegetables and milk and whatever. This allows them to grow and increase their capacity and add jobs in the local economy.
We have some examples of that in Boston. We have a local bakery that is now the source of chocolate chip cookies for two of the major education institutions. Turns out college students eat an incredible number of chocolate chip cookies, usually between the hours of midnight and 2AM! [Editor: Who knew?] The Haley House Bakery & Kitchen, which trains people coming out of [homelessness and] the criminal justice system how to be bakers and business leaders, is the source now.
So why couldn’t we replicate that with other food products, with other institutions? These institutions derive a tremendous benefit from being based in our community, and often don’t pay any property taxes. The least we can do is ask them to direct some of their supply chain to the neighborhoods, to the new economy enterprises.
Ken: I want to wrap back to something you were talking about earlier, the relationship between community resilience and justice.
Chuck: It’s illusory to think that we can have resilience without equity, with high levels of extreme inequality. The more we pull apart, the more unequal we become as a society, the more unstable it is, and the more suffering and pain and fear and disconnection there is. And community resilience is a function of connection. People being in a relationship with one another, being able to attend to each other’s needs, to not build walls and fences and gated communities, whether they are with actual gates, or whether they’re just using the police power of the state to enforce divisions. The housing market divides people.
It’s really not in anybody’s long-term interest to kind of move in this direction. We can ask people, “Do you want to become Rio de Janeiro, or do you want to be Stockholm?” Because we are heading towards Rio de Janeiro; we’re heading towards extreme, grotesque inequality, that’s the autopilot of this economic engine—to move us further apart. Or we can intervene in that, and become a sustainable Stockholm.
Ken: Just pushing on that a little bit, how do you incorporate equity into community resilience building?
Chuck: Well, I think it is partly in the tables that we’re building. We do a big event every year called the “State of the Neighborhood Forum,” which is our big gathering. 300-400 neighbors come together we have our elected officials there, we have very specific working groups that have been thinking about public policy demands. This year, we focused on housing as an issue because…we’re just seeing extraordinary escalating housing costs.
So, attending to the fundamentals of cost of housing, cost of food, cost of access to transportation, the ability of people to start rooted businesses and earn a livelihood and a decent living wage—all those are pretty core to community resilience. It’s really, essentially part of our definition of resilience.
[We] particularly pay attention to younger people, who are really feeling the brunt of these inequalities. People over 35 really don’t understand it’s a whole new ball game for younger people in terms of many of them are carrying huge amounts of personal debt, credit card debt, and college loans (if they went to college), or other forms of indebtedness. They don’t have the earnings to pay those debts. So we see that play out very, very concretely.
Some of our Jamaica Plain New Economy Fellows—young people who are trying to learn to participate in this economy—are doubled up and tripled up in apartments with curtains down the middle of the living room so that they can have half a room of privacy. It’s not your parents’ economy.
And then even low-wage workers are victims of this “Just In Time” scheduling regime, where you go to work at a restaurant and after four hours they let you off for two hours and tell you to come back [later]. They punch you out, off the clock [for a couple of hours], and then you work three more hours. You were hoping to earn enough money from a nine-hour shift, and you’ve been paying childcare for nine hours, but you’re only getting paid for six or seven hours. This is a new development in a lot of economic sectors, where we’re shifting all the risk onto workers and [off] the businesses.
So there’s a couple of examples.
Ken: Could you say a little bit more about the difference [you observe] between the viewpoint and the experience of people over 35, and those under 35?
Chuck: I think that people, say over 40—middle class, upper middle class, white professionals, the Boomers—are thinking that the economy is very similar to the economy they grew up in. That you grow up, graduate from high school, some people go to college, you learn skills, you graduate, you get a job in the area of your study, you have retirement security, you have access to healthcare, you are able to afford housing based on that salary, you might not be able to own a house, but you’re able to rent in the economy.
What we are actually seeing as part of the growing inequality is that it cuts generationally very hard. Unemployment rates are high and wages are low for graduates of high school, graduates of college, people are holding debt. And that debt is not like your parents’ school loan, where people laughed about student debt, to the extent they had it in the 70s and 80s, “Yeah, I have my student loan; I’ll pay that someday.”
Now they can garnish your wages, they can take away your professional certificate, they’re exempted from bankruptcy laws. They might as well create debtor farms for young people.
The inequalities are just growing out. There’s a segment of young people who, thanks to family wealth, are sort of propelled fast, and so they have accumulating advantages. And then there’s a larger segment of people who I would characterize as having accumulating, or compounding, disadvantages: growing debt, low wages,…just essentially being trapped. So all the indicators show that these inequalities are really are substantially different for people under 35.
Ken: One question we like to ask people is: What’s one form of support—other than money—that would most help your efforts around community resilience building?
Chuck: I think that it’s helpful to know what other communities are doing; it’s helpful to have a sense of imagination and best practices. In New England, we’ve built a regional network, the New England New Economy Network, and we have gatherings and meetings and ways of sharing information. Money would be helpful in the sense that some of these projects could use a little bit of light staffing, but we also have these underemployed and unemployed people, who might be able to barter time and talent. So we are trying to figure out, outside the monetary economy, how do we tap into that energy, and ways to do that would be helpful.
Good storytelling, across communities, I think would be helpful, and having a sense that we are part of something bigger, and even something global, to help us learn across national boundaries as well. We’ve learned a lot from what people are doing in the UK, and now more and more from the Global South.
Having roving troubadours come through our town with stories and lessons and songs from other regions is part of that sense of a movement that we would like to be part of and would benefit from.
Ken: This is an incredibly unfair question to ask someone who works at the Institute for Policy Studies, but if you had to pick one policy or social/political change, what would it be?
Chuck: Well, I’m going to answer that probably a little bit differently…I think because we are in a period of unprecedented concentrated wealth and we have an ecological crises, I would make the case for a wealth tax/carbon tax.
So, taxing concentrated wealth, estate tax, inheritance taxes, and taxing carbon consumption—I guess that’s two policies—but dedicating the revenue to something that expands opportunity and community resilience. Whether it’s debt-free access to education, early childhood education, or just puts income in people’s pockets. We have to do something to slow the concentration of wealth at the top, and I would argue that it probably really should be a tax policy, and that that revenue should be dedicated to something that expands opportunity. Or creates green infrastructure. Drives some of the public investments we need to make to have a green transition.
If I could put one little intervention in place, it would be put a price on carbon and break up concentrations of wealth, and dedicate that revenue to things that address infrastructure and inequality of opportunity.
Ken: In your work, what resources have been particularly helpful, whether it’s ideas or books or information or videos or examples…what do you recommend for people?
Chuck: Even before we started Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition we sort of had a film and lecture series that we benefited from films, documentaries, speakers Richard Heinberg and David Korten, Annie Leonard talking about “The Story of Stuff,” and Francis Moore Lappe, Van Jones, and Rob Hopkins from England. All these people have come through and sort of given us stories, and helped educate our wider community. I told you we had Toby Hemenway, who wrote Gaia’s Garden permaculture book.
We’ve had six-seven years of community conversations about these issues, and that’s led to a really good base of a couple of thousand people who’ve been touched in some way by those educational programs. And that’s really the base for the work that we’ve done. [And we] keep it coming.
We had Marjorie Kelly come and talk about owning the future, the difference between extractive capitalism and generative capitalism. We had Gar Alperovitz come and talk about “America Beyond Capitalism,” what would that look like? Francis Moore Lappe talking about “Eco Mind,” how to we change how we think about these things. So, all those have been gifts to our own ability to imagine the future differently, and actually be very, very, practical and concrete in terms of what are some things we could do.
Ken: You mentioned community conversations, can we end with that?
Chuck: That’s where we have the Jamaica Plain Forum, we probably do three or four events a month. Tomorrow night we are actually having a forum on gentrification with an attorney who worked in San Francisco in the Mission around the polarization in that neighborhood. We have some experience of that—we don’t have Google moving in next-door—but we have other forces that are driving up costs in our community. So she’s coming to talk about the San Francisco experience. We have a fracked gas pipeline proposed to come through our region, so we’re having a big “teach-in” about the pipelines. We design those to be both provocative and informative, but also as a place where neighbors can meet one another. We encourage people to pair up and talk to one another, and get to know your neighbors as well as get some new ideas.
Ken: And do you find that you preach beyond the proverbial choir?
Chuck: You know, it depends on the topic and the framing. Some events tend to pull in older people, some pull in younger people. Having done it for a while, we’ve learned something about how to connect and market them. So yeah, we’ve definitely reached beyond the choir.
Ken: Any other recommendations on books, film, speakers, resources, websites?
Chuck: We have a good partnership with Yes! magazine, we’ve put a lot of Yes! magazines into peoples hands. One project people may not have heard of is an organization called Class Action, that has a website called They do a lot of training on thinking about social class, and how class is the missing link in a lot of movements.
Obviously we’ve been talking a lot about race and #BlackLivesMatter, looking at the interaction between race and class and how that affects community and how we think about it.
I think people should definitely check out the Labor Network for Sustainability, because they are talking about both the ecological crisis and the concerns of workers — and bridging the labor and environmental gap, and the work of Joe Uehlein and the Labor Network for Sustainability is absolutely key to moving us forward. So those are a few resources.
Ken: Thanks so much, Chuck, and thanks for all your good work.

The post Welcome to the Future: Talking Resilience with Chuck Collins appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Chuck Collins is a  senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies where he directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good.


Talking Points: Iraq under assault, Gaza in ruins

This has been a really bad summer so far. Israel’s assault on Gaza has already killed almost 2,000 Palestinians, overwhelmingly civilians. Thousands more are injured, a quarter of the entire population has been forced out of their homes, the power-generating and water treatment plants have been destroyed, and Gaza lies in ruins. The war in Syria continues, largely ignored in the mainstream press. And President Obama has just re-launched his own version of what is still a really “dumb war” in Iraq.


Earlier this summer, I was in Tokyo for a UN conference on Palestine. Afterwards, I traveled to Hiroshima for a brief visit, and there I had the privilege of spending hours at the Peace Memorial Museum with several of the remarkable people there whose work and lives are shaped by their commitment to keep alive the memory of the nuclear bomb’s horror, and to use that memory as a tool in the struggle for nuclear abolition. They work tirelessly on that task. But what I found extraordinary was that somehow their 24/7 focus on abolishing nuclear weapons still allowed – even required – them to keep up with other wars, other threats, other struggles.

They wanted to know what was going on in Palestine and about developments in the global BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaigns. We talked about the civil, regional, and global wars raging in Syria. It was while I was in Hiroshima that we first started getting word of moves toward new U.S. military reengagement in Iraq – and we talked about that too. I talked with one of the Peace Museum staff who functions as a kind of international liaison with global peace movements about what the U.S. could do to end the Syria crisis, and agreed that what was needed in Syria would be the same in Iraq.

Last week marked the 69th anniversary of the U.S. nuclear attacks on Japan. And the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs – the hibakusha – and their descendants understand perhaps better than most of us just how important those linkages are.

I came home to new reports that conditions in Gaza – already horrific because of the siege Israel has imposed since 2006 – were getting significantly worse. It was partly because of the military government in Egypt cutting off support for Gaza, and Cairo’s destruction of the tunnels used to bring in vitally needed supplies to Gaza from Egypt. But mainly it was because Israel was tightening the siege. Things were looking worse than ever.

And then all hell exploded for the people of Gaza.


Air strikes on Gaza

History is determined by when we start the clock. Did the current Gaza crisis really begin when someone kidnapped and killed three young Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank on June 12, or did it start on June 11 when Israeli airstrikes in Gaza killed one Palestinian and injured two, one of them a child? Did it start when Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinian teenagers four weeks before that? When do we start the clock?

Sixty-four Israeli troops and three civilians have died during the current assault on Gaza. Israeli forces have killed almost 2,000 Palestinians, 80% of them civilians including hundreds of women and kids. Those deaths take place among a population in Gaza –43% of which is comprised of children under 14 – already suffering eight years of profound deprivation and isolation, surrounded by a wall backed by Israeli troops, Israeli naval ships off their coasts, and Israeli fighter-jets and attack helicopters in their skies.

Even before the most recent attacks, the UN had reported 90% of the water in Gaza – and there is very little available – is not fit for human consumption. So when do we start the clock?

The siege of Gaza began in 2007, 40 years after Israel first occupied the Strip – should we begin there? Two years after the siege began, Operation Cast Lead was launched, resulting in more than 1,400 Palestinians killed in Gaza, of whom 926 were civilians and 313 were children – perhaps we should start there?  Or maybe four years after that, when eight days of Israeli air attacks killed 158 Palestinians, of whom 102 were civilians, including 30 kids.

Okay, let’s start the clock there, in November 2012. The common calculation in the U.S. press was that it started when Palestinians fired a rocket at an Israeli jeep patrol on the Gaza border, ending a ceasefire. In response, Israel assassinated a Hamas leader. That’s one timeline. But what was going on before that rocket was fired?

It turns out that just a few hours earlier, Israeli troops had killed a 13-year-old Gaza boy who was playing soccer. Two days before that, Israeli soldiers had killed a young man walking in one of their “no-go” zones inside Gaza.  Israeli officials said, “We called out to him not to go there, and he didn’t listen.” Turns out the young man was mentally disabled, maybe didn’t hear, maybe didn’t understand, continued to walk, and was shot dead.  What would history look like if
we started the clock then?

This time, less than two years later, there’s that timeline question again. Most mainstream voices say the current escalation began on June 12 when three young Israelis were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank.  No evidence was shown, and by July 25 Israeli police chief Mickey Rosenfeld had said publicly that a lone cell affiliated with Hamas, but not under its leadership, had been responsible.

But the Israeli government immediately blamed Hamas, and launched an almost three-week long series of raids across the West Bank. Israeli troops killed eight and arrested more than 500 Palestinians, including children and a dozen elected members of the Palestinian parliament.  Six nights of airstrikes against Gaza began on June 13th.

Even before the teenagers’ bodies were found – and egged on by ultra-right-wing elements within the Israeli parliament and government – racist cries of “death to the Arabs” exploded across Israel. One casualty was 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Kheidr, kidnapped and tortured to a horrific death on July 2nd by a group of young Israelis.

But why start the clock with the kidnapping of the three young Israelis?  What about the violence that preceded it? Ultimately the only relevant timeline is that of occupation.  If we are serious

about “ending the violence,” the only way to do it is to end the occupation – the traditional occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the siege form of occupation in Gaza.

Military occupation is inherently violent.  But too often we identify violence only when it comes from those living under occupation. Or when that “ordinary” violence of occupation escalates to visibly inhuman heights. The everyday violence – the military siege that seals 1.8 million Gazans into an open-air prison, the arrests of children, targeted assassinations – rarely results in international outrage.

There is an urgent need for a ceasefire that guarantees protection and some modicum of human rights for the besieged population of Gaza. We can’t look only at this current eruption of violence. History – and justice – are determined by when we start the clock. (I published a longer analysis on this subject on Telesur’s new English-language website.)

The attack on Gaza, the third major one in less than six years, is still underway, although a tenuous ceasefire is holding for the moment. The destruction in Gaza – of lives, homes, schools, hospitals, infrastructure and more – is far worse even than the horrifying results of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. And the attack was launched against a population that had already been suffering under six years of a stifling siege. There’s been a lot to talk about.


Key of course is the role of the U.S. The good news is that public opinion is shifting – with far fewer people uncritically supporting Israeli positions (and significantly, the one demographic left in Israel’s corner is older white Republican men; young people, women, people of color all are much less likely to believe Israel’s actions are justified).

Ayman Mohyeldin

U.S. press coverage hasn’t caught up to the significant discourse shift underway among the public, but it’s underway. I wrote about NBC’s outrageous decision to pull their top Middle East reporter, Ayman Mohyeldin, out of Gaza following the brilliant, heartbreaking story he broke of the four little boys killed by Israeli gunboats while playing on the Gaza beach. He had been playing soccer with them just minutes earlier, and his powerful social media descriptions brought the horror of Gaza’s reality home for people around the world. (Evidence of the media shifts – however slow – is that following two days of a huge global “Let Ayman Report” campaign, NBC caved and allowed him back into Gaza on the air.)

But in the U.S. policy arena such shifts are still virtually non-existent. I wrote in The Nation about how it’s no longer political suicide to criticize Israel, and in the congressionally-focused magazine The Hill about how out of touch Congress is with public opinion. On Al Jazeera’s blog I wrote about the consequences of all 100 senators voting for (or at least standing silent and allowing the appearance of unanimity) an outrageously biased, falsehood-filled resolution supporting Israel’s attack on Gaza. And in Common Dreams I talked about the House version of that same set of anachronistic pro-Israel assumptions that still shape DC politics.

Some Israeli officials tried to distance themselves and their country from one of the most horrific, up-close-and-personal murders, the torturing to death of young Mohammed Khdeir in the West Bank by right-wing Jewish Israelis, supposedly in retaliation for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli settler students. But the reality is that Israeli racism is rampant and rising, there is overwhelming (90+ percent in some polls) opposition to a ceasefire in Gaza, and incitement to murder comes from the highest levels of Israeli power, including members of the government and the Knesset. I talked about that, and U.S. complicity, on The Real News.

And on some of the broader Gaza questions, I talked about the continuation of Israeli violence despite growing international condemnation, and on Al Jazeera about why the U.S. is not putting real pressure on Israel to stop the violence. That discussion included the issue of possible U.S. fears about escalating Israeli threats to scuttle the U.S.-Iran talks (one of the only potential foreign policy victories President Obama might have a chance to achieve). On Rev. Jesse Jackson’s “Keep Hope Alive Radio” show we discussed the range of the crisis in Gaza, and the potential for a ceasefire.


U.S. soldier

The Israeli assault on Gaza has raised, once again, the question of international law. Understanding Israel’s violations of international law has to begin with the recognition that Gaza is an occupied territory, and that therefore Israel, as the occupying power, has the obligation to protect the occupied population.

As the occupying power, Israel has obligations to protect the occupied population – and it does NOT have the right to conduct air strikes or ground troop invasions of the occupied territory for any reason, including punishment for the actions of armed actors resisting the occupation.
(And in response to those claiming Gaza is not occupied because Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers in 2005, the answer is once again rooted in international law – which defines occupation as “effective control,” regardless of the number of soldiers or whether they are inside the territory or surrounding the territory, controlling its borders, skies and coastal waters as the Israeli military does in Gaza.)

It’s also true that the internationally-guaranteed right of an occupied population to resist occupation, including to resist militarily, does not include the right to target civilians. So while the attacks on military posts, patrols, soldiers (including from the tunnels) are legal, the primitive rockets fired into Israel are not. In an important move recognizing the significance of Israeli violations of international law through its use of disproportionate force, Amnesty International issued a call for an international arms embargo on Israel, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups. Significantly, Amnesty acknowledged the particular role of the United States, calling on Washington to “do its part and stop giving munitions, weapons, crowd control devices, and military training to Israel.”

In a discussion with Common Dreams I talked about the role of the U.S. in protecting Israel from being held accountable for war crimes – Washington cast the only “no” vote in the UN Human Rights Council effort to create a commission of inquiry to investigate all possible war crimes, on all sides. (It didn’t stop the effort – the Commission was just announced.)

International law – along with human rights and equality for all – is at the core of what peace and justice in the Middle East, including Palestine-Israel, must be based on. And that means it’s at the core of what we here in the U.S. need to fight for as the basis of a different U.S. policy. I’ve been talking about it a lot. On CCTV early in the crisis I discussed why the Palestine-Israel conflict, between occupied and occupier, is not the same as a border dispute between, say, Ecuador and Peru. With Tavis Smiley I focused on the international law violations (though his follow-up guest, noted neo-con Elliott Abrams, presumably did not). And at IPS we organized a webinar to talk about Gaza in the context of international law.

In print, I wrote an op-ed for the Detroit News that focused on Israel’s use of disproportionate force, and other favorite violations of the Geneva Conventions. In an op-ed for OtherWords, that was published in a bunch of newspapers as well as on-line, I talked about the range of international law violations Israel was committing in Gaza. And in a piece for Foreign Policy in Focus I described how the continuing violations make a real ceasefire almost impossible.

There is some hope – the ceasefire right now is holding, and perhaps international understanding, that for any serious ceasefire will require opening the Gaza borders, is rising. In the meantime work continues here in the U.S. Jewish Voice for Peace organized a terrific briefing on the Hill a few weeks ago, with key congressional staffers engaging with ideas about cutting U.S. military aid to Israel. You can see my part of it here. The BDS, or boycott, divestment and sanctions, movement is rising not only in the U.S. but around the world, bringing non-violent economic pressure to bear on Israel to end its violations. And discussion continues, including at the Palestine Center last week, on potential engagement of the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and other global institutions, in protecting Palestinian rights.


U.S. soldier

It’s less than two months since it began, the direct military re-engagement of U.S. forces in Iraq is now underway. President Obama continues to say it’s only limited involvement, that no ground troops will be involved, that the U.S. is not there to be the air force of the Kurds or of the Shi’a-led government in Baghdad. That may be a true indication of his hopes and intentions. But the problem is, once you’re in, the realities of war take over. If a plane gets shot down or crashes, does anyone doubt there will be boots (or perhaps more Special Forces sneakers) on the ground to rescue the pilot? And of course there are already close to 1,000 troops, mainly special forces, on the ground in Iraq, not to mention some thousands of military contractors as well as U.S. military forces in the Green Zone.

And as to what is the U.S. role, Washington is now directly arming the Kurdish pesh merga forces, and bombing in support of both the Kurds and [sort of] the Shi’a-led Iraqi government. So like it or not, the U.S. is playing a military role on one or two sides in a three or four-sided Iraqi civil war. Much of that civil war is rooted in the U.S. invasion and occupation – specifically the imposition of a sectarian-based political system by Washington’s “Coalition Provisional Authority.” So that means we owe a huge debt to the people of Iraq. But we don’t owe bombs, we don’t owe military involvement in an internal sectarian fight.

In the early stages of this new Iraq crisis, I joined the Diane Rehm Show to talk about the stakes and the regional implications of the U.S. returning to Iraq. On Democracy Now!, and in an op-ed I wrote for the McClatchy News Service, I discussed the urgency of the U.S. engaging directly with Iran to deal with the new crisis – seeing this as a Nixon-to-China moment, when Obama should go to Tehran.

I wrote an overview plea to “Don’t Go Back to Iraq!” and helped organize a bunch of briefings and teach-ins for peace movement activists on how to think about Iraq, ISIS, and the new challenges. And I talked on RT about the link between the Syrian civil war and the latest Iraq crisis. Many of us wrote to the public editor of the New York Times, reminding the paper of its shameful history of buying into Bush administration lies in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2002-03 and beyond, and urging it to stop doing the same thing now. I focused specifically on the Times’ insistence on limiting its too-few critical voices to those former supporters of the war who might have slightly changed their minds, while ignoring those whose longstanding criticism proved right. And the public editor responded – we’ll see whether she has any impact.


President Obama announces Iraq air strikes

As I told The New York Times, this is a slippery slope if ever there was one.

The need for some help in getting emergency supplies to the beleaguered community, mainly Yazidis, stuck on top of the mountain, is urgent. But even before President Obama’s announcement, there were reports that some humanitarian support, including an evacuation corridor, had been created by Peshmerga forces who broke through IS lines. If accurate, that’s great. If not, the U.S. should support and move urgently to demand that Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki accept the United Nations offer of technical help on implementing a humanitarian air drop campaign.

But the US should NOT send its air force to re-engage in the skies over Iraq.  It’s much safer to have the UN provide assistance. I talked with Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales about why U.S. bombings were likely to make things worse. (The transcript of that show has some possibly useful background on ISIS, or IS, who they are, and why they appear to be so powerful. Hint: they’re not operating alone.)

Relying on the UN is safer partly because of the slippery slope, and partly because the U.S. record on dropping emergency food in the middle of hostilities is nothing to brag about. We shouldn’t forget the November 2001 debacle of Washington’s last massive “humanitarian” war-time airdrop. The U.S. was bombing Afghanistan’s cities, and desperate Afghans were fleeing to the mountains to escape. They faced the cold with nothing, and the U.S. insisted (against the advice of experienced humanitarian organizations) that an air drop was the best solution. (Of course the made-for-CNN visuals of U.S. planes dropping food to beleaguered refugees had nothing to do with it.)

But it got worse. It turned out that the Pentagon’s yellow-plastic-wrapped food packets looked identical to the yellow-wrapped cluster bombs they were dropping nearby, and so many kids were killed running for what they thought was food. When journalists pressed the Pentagon, asking aren’t you going to stop dropping those yellow cluster bombs, Gen. Richard Myers said the U.S. had no intention of stopping the use of cluster bombs, and that changing the color, “obviously will take some time, because there are many in the pipeline.”

Dropping food and water isn’t always the same as dropping bombs – but when it’s the U.S. Air Force, with cargo planes full of food and water accompanied by fighter jets and bombers, it’s way too easy for one to segue right into the other.

In the region, a return to direct U.S. military involvement in Iraq would inevitably be understood by Iraqis and others as an escalating effort to shore up the discredited Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Long supported by the U.S. despite a legacy of corruption and wide-ranging sectarian exclusion and repression of Sunnis and other non-Shi’a in Iraq, al-Maliki is widely blamed for the recent rise in sectarianism originally imposed by the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The parliamentary deadline for Maliki’s party to decide whether or not to replace him is only hours away, and the need for a new government, while supported in principle by the Obama administration, will be even more difficult if the U.S. rejoins its longstanding partner with military support. With Obama crediting Maliki’s request as the basis for the Air Force moves, it is virtually certain Maliki will see even less reason to step down from his position.

In the region and around the world this will also be seen in the context of double standards because of the Israeli assault on Gaza. There are 1.8 million “innocent people facing violence on a massive scale” – in President Obama’s words. Why isn’t the U.S. concerned about them, sending an airlift to overcome Israel’s siege, to force open Gaza’s border crossings and let the people breathe in safety? Obama said that “ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide.” Exactly right. And Israeli Knesset Member Ayelet Shaked posted a call to kill Palestinian mothers so they don’t give birth to more “little snakes.” Would that not constitute genocide as well?

In Washington, any – even small-scale – military action would almost certainly be answered with a demand from President Obama’s political opponents on the right to “go further,” to “finish the job.” The claim that bombing Iraq was necessary to “protect American lives” was clearly designed to justify the complete lack of consultation with Congress or any reference to the War Powers Act.  (If the 40 or so U.S. diplomats and 200 or so US military “advisers” in Erbil were in fact in jeopardy, they are certainly a small enough number to be loaded onto a couple of transport helicopters and moved out.)

Codepink Iraq protest

And whatever else we may have learned from the President’s “dumb war,” it should be eminently clear that we cannot defeat Islamist extremists with bombs and airstrikes. Every bomb recruits more supporters. As President Obama himself said, there is no U.S. military solution in Iraq. So why is he authorizing U.S. military action? Public opinion is against it – we talked on MSNBC’s “Up With Steve” show about how progressives are mobilizing against it. And blowback will soon be coming.

The post Talking Points: Iraq under assault, Gaza in ruins appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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


Talking Points: Obama’s Foreign Policy Speech vs. Obama’s Foreign Policy

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama’s West Point graduation speech outlining his foreign policy had some pretty good stuff in it. Leadership doesn’t mean only military force. Just because you have a big hammer doesn’t mean everything is a nail. “A world of greater freedom and tolerance is not only a moral imperative; it also helps keep us safe.” It all sounded great. Just an hour or so later I discussed the speech on Al-Jazeera.

It was a pretty great speech that challenged much of the militarization of post-9/11 U.S. foreign policy—the problem is, like too many great speeches before, it has far too little to do with what the Obama administration actually does.

No question Ben Rhodes is a terrific speechwriter (though don’t get me started on what he doesn’t know as deputy national security adviser,) and Obama knows how to talk the talk. The problem isn’t the speech. The problem is the policy.

Obama was right to criticize the isolationism of “self-described realists” whose interest in the world starts and ends with what is useful for traditionally-defined U.S. interests — that is, mainly military and corporate ones. And he was right to criticize and address the “interventionists from the left and right” who believe that “America’s willingness to apply force around the world is the ultimate safeguard against chaos” — essentially, those who want to use force even more than he does.

But once again Obama didn’t answer his critics — also from the right and left, though most especially from the left — who are outraged at how much he and his administration are using military force, in far too many places, against far too many people, far too often, and far out of public sight.

The mainstream media was full of post-speech carping about Obama setting up a straw man when he accused others of wanting to send ground troops to Syria (or Ukraine, or Nigeria, or Thailand.) The real problem is not that he’s refusing to send ground troops — it’s that he is escalating the military conflicts by involving the U.S. military: providing weapons, supplies, planes and pilots, training, CIA counter-terrorism troops (the CIA now has its own fleet of armed planes, special forces in all but name), and looking for military solutions all over the world.

Obama was right to push back against critics who complain that the U.S. has lost its global leadership role because it hasn’t sent troops everywhere the warmongers wanted. He was right when he said that leadership doesn’t only mean military force. The problem is, though, U.S. leadership and credibility have been dramatically weakened because of too much, not too little military force. The direct U.S. military interventions that failed (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya); the U.S. search for military solutions even when they claim there are none (Syria); the continuing U.S. reliance on might-makes-right arguments (Guantanamo, the drone war); and the U.S. refusal to get out of the way to let other, more legitimate global institutions lead (Israel-Palestine) have all weakened U.S. global leadership.

Obama’s repeated statement that “there is no military solution” in Syria is belied by the CIA training rebel forces in Jordan, by U.S. allies being allowed to provide U.S.-produced weapons to the rebels, and by apparently imminent efforts to send U.S. shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. If the president believed there is no military solution in Syria, then he should stop supporting one side of this brutal civil war, call for an immediate ceasefire and immediate international arms embargo on all sides, and re-engage with Russia to figure out a diplomatic solution. The current progress in negotiations with Iran should lead to new engagement with Iran on the Syria crisis as well.

When Obama extols American exceptionalism and says, “What makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions,” he is simply wrong. It is precisely Washington’s ability — and willingness — “to flout international norms and the rule of law” that shows its exceptional military and economic power.

What other country could get away with violating sovereignty by using drone missiles to kill citizens of other countries — within those countries’ borders — because it claims the target of those drone strikes were “bad guys?” What if some other government decided that certain Americans in the U.S. were the bad guys and sent missiles to kill them? Affirming international norms and the rule of law means ending drone strikes and illegal invasions and bombing campaigns, not simply claiming they’re legal because it’s Washington that does it instead of Moscow or Beijing.

The president said he would “continue to push to close Gitmo” because U.S. values and legal traditions “do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.” The problem is, that “indefinite detention” is now precisely what defines the values and legal traditions of our country. Like his predecessor, Obama has relied on memos drafted by his own lawyers, without oversight by any court, to reinterpret U.S. law by simply declaring things like assassination of American citizens “legal.” That’s the new American legal tradition.

It’s great to hear that the president describes his most important lesson in foreign affairs being “don’t do stupid shit,” meaning, don’t go to war like we did in Iraq. How does he not recognize, even ignoring the morality of the issue, that killing over 3,000 people by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia — and antagonizing whole populations of restive countries by doing so — qualifies as “stupid shit?” If Congress balks at closing down Guantanamo, it sure sounds pretty stupid not to at least begin to show some leadership by freeing those long-term prisoners already cleared for release.

It’s not completely off-base to say that with Al-Qaeda’s leadership largely decimated, the U.S. (and many other countries) face danger from scattered bands of terrorists across the Middle East, South Asia, and parts of Africa. But what is completely wrong is the notion that somehow going to war can stop terrorism. For any who doubt it, 13 years of responding to the crime of September 11 with a limitless global war has unequivocally proved the point: Terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy, and it’s not possible to conquer terrorism with war. It doesn’t work — it hasn’t worked in Afghanistan (and won’t, with two and a half more years of U.S. war) or in Iraq, and it isn’t working in Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia either. The U.S. never went to war against “terrorism” — it went to war against the land, people, economy, and environment of the countries it invaded. And still, terrorism has thrived.

President Obama reminded the world that, “As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.” It might have been more powerful if he acknowledged that many of those extremists first gained their battle-hardening experience in Iraq — fighting against the U.S. occupation and its Iraqi partners.

If Obama really believed that “respect for human rights is an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror,” wouldn’t he move to do something differently, something like renouncing — without waiting for Congress — the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that followed September 11? Wouldn’t he move to do something to show respect for human rights and international law, like joining the International Criminal Court or working to strengthen, instead of undermine, the United Nations?

The Afghanistan War Continues

Instead we now hear that the U.S. war in Afghanistan will go on for another two and a half years. How many more Afghans will die, be grievously wounded, be made refugees, by this occupation? How many more U.S. troops will come home with grave physical and psychological wounds? On the Real News I discussed why keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan won’t solve the problems that country faces after almost three decades of war and occupation: If 100,000 U.S. troops and 30,000 NATO troops didn’t bring peace, stability, democracy, development, or any of the other things we promised, keeping 10,000 troops there won’t do it either.

And we should not forget that the special forces troops who remain will have only one military job: to kill those the U.S. (based on who-knows-what intelligence) identifies as bad guys. That’s why we’re almost certainly going to see access to military bases as part of the agreement with Afghanistan — to keep the drone war going, to kill more bad guys. No pretense that “protecting Afghans” is somehow on the U.S. agenda, just straight-up counter-terrorism, plus training the Afghan military to do the same thing. Not such a great prospect for Afghan civilians.

The Afghan elections — the final round of voting is scheduled very soon — are not likely to have much impact on the war, except that both of the leading candidates have indicated their willingness to sign off on a Bilateral Security Agreement allowing U.S. troops to remain. We’ll see whether they can convince their parliament to guarantee full immunity for U.S. troops for any war crimes they might commit — the refusal of which was what led to the full troop withdrawal from Iraq. Both candidates have also recruited notorious warlords as running mates in the interest of winning various ethnic votes. I’ve been talking about that, and what has and hasn’t changed in Afghanistan — you can watch The Real News interview or listen to my discussion on FAIR’s Counterspin show.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a Washington event where I joined Iraq Veterans Against the War and veterans’ families to call for “the right to heal” — challenging the Pentagon’s longstanding habit of sending back to active duty soldiers diagnosed with PTSD or other traumatic brain injuries. But they went beyond the demand for better health care for veterans — an issue that remains at the top of the political agenda despite the dismissal of Eric Shinseki as head of Veteran’s Affairs — to include the call for real accountability and support for health care as well as more for the victims of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As our great congressional heroine Barbara Lee said last week, in response to President Obama’s announcement about keeping troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2016, “There is no military solution in Afghanistan.” That’s true now, and it will still be true in 2016. This just means 30 more months of U.S. war.

Syria: The War Still Expands

Syria’s multi-faceted civil war continues to expand, and conditions for Syrian civilians continue to deteriorate. In early May, the UN opened a new refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan with space for 130,000 people — 6,500 arrived just in the first month. When it reaches capacity — and unfortunately, it seems certain that it will — it will surpass the Zaatari camp in Jordan, already the second largest refugee camp in the world.

Reports of bombings, sieges, and killings continue. By May 29, the BBC reports that almost 3 million people have fled across Syria’s borders, one of the largest forced migrations since World War II. I talked about this humanitarian crisis and Syria’s six wars in the Real News. And after UN and Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi resigned in mid-May — in frustration with the world’s failure to do enough to stop the killing — I discussed the consequences of this decision for Syria on Al Jazeera.

So What Do We Do about Syria?

Of course it’s not enough to say the U.S. shouldn’t send missile strikes or arm one side of the civil war: We need a serious campaign to change U.S. policy towards Syria. Over the last several weeks, many of the leaders of national anti-war and peace and justice organizations have been meeting to figure out what our “ask” should be — what should we be demanding of our government? Out of these discussions, I wrote “5 Concrete Steps the US Can Take to End the Syria Crisis” for last week’s issue of The Nation.

Read it, add to it, use it as talking points for meeting with members of Congress, as the basis for letters to the editor, or as the beginning of new campaigns. We can’t allow Syria to slip away from our attention.

Good News with the Bad: Iran and Palestine

There is some good news, weirdly enough, on a couple of fronts not known for good tidings. On Iran, there are serious indications that the talks underway between Iran and the U.S. with its allies (known as the P-5 + 1, for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) are going reasonably well. The fact that we’re not hearing a lot of debate and opposition in the Congress is actually a good sign.

Following last February’s interim agreement, the talks are shaped around Iran’s nuclear power program on one side and ending sanctions and Iran being taken seriously as a regional power on the other. The current deadline is July 20, but the interim agreement allows for a six-month extension — and both sides have an interest in making an effort. President Obama is desperate for some kind of foreign policy success, and a bargain with Iran — grand or not — would give a huge boost to his claimed commitment to diplomacy over force (even if he still falsely claims that only sanctions brought Iran to the table.) President Rouhani is under significant public pressure to get U.S. and United Nations sanctions lifted, and he still faces political challenges from other factions of Iran’s powerful ruling circles.

(It must be mentioned, but it’s not all good news: the Washington Post, rarely supportive of diplomacy with Iran, took their usual editorial position warning that a deal was unlikely — but then went further, reassuring readers that if a deal were somehow reached there would be “a strong check on any concessions made by the Obama administration. If Congress or Israel are dissatisfied, they may be able to scuttle the deal.” Really? If another country — Israel is not part of the P-5 + 1 — is “dissatisfied,” it might have equal status with the U.S. Congress to “scuttle the deal?” I’m torn between being pleased that the Post felt compelled finally to admit that possibility, or outraged that as usual they appear to think it’s a good thing.)

In Palestine, the Pope Replaces the Peace Process

The other good news has to do, first, with the collapse of the U.S.-orchestrated “peace process” between Israel and Palestine. After 23 years of failed diplomacy and nine months of intensive John Kerry-led talks with and between Palestinians and Israelis, the latest “Einstein Round” ended unceremoniously. (I’ve been calling this the “Einstein Round” based on the great scientist’s definition of crazy: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.)

The talks ended after Israel reneged on its earlier promise to release the last 29 of 104 prisoners, following that up with announcing its plans to build hundreds of new illegal settlement apartments. That’s all business-as-usual for Israeli occupation. The good news included the Palestinian response, which was to sign on to 15 human rights and other treaties and covenants, bringing Palestine into compliance with a wide range of international norms. What a contrast: Israel violates more agreements and more international laws, Palestinians respond with claiming international law as their own. And the U.S. responds that both sides have done unhelpful things. Great.

But, for a change, there was some good news when the White House and State Department made clear their view that, in fact, Israel was responsible for the talks’ collapse.

Kerry even used the term “apartheid” — and while he used it only in the sense of warning Israel that it could face a future as an apartheid state if it didn’t manage a two-state solution, rather than recognizing Israel today as an apartheid state — his very mention of the word reflected the change in U.S. discourse on the issue. As CNN reported it, “John Kerry wasn’t the first to use the A-word — apartheid — when talking about Israel, and he likely won’t be the last.” Of course his statement led to attacks and calls for Kerry’s resignation from Israel supporters in the U.S. and beyond, but there were no serious political consequences.

Discourse shifts are never enough, though. On the ground things have not changed for most Palestinians. Two young boys, 15-year-old Muhammad Abu Thahr and 17-year-old Nadim Nuwara, were killed by Israeli soldiers firing live ammunition at a protest outside Israel’s Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank on May 15, Nakba Day, the day Palestinians commemorate their massive dispossession that accompanied the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. They were only the latest casualties of the occupation.

There is some cause for optimism regarding the Palestinian unity process that may result in a new technocratic government of national unity for the Palestinian Authority supported by both main factions, Fatah (that controls the PA in the West Bank) and Hamas (running the authority in Gaza.) It isn’t yet a full unity process — it remains unclear how Palestinians living inside Israel and the millions of Palestinian refugees scattered in far-flung exile will be included — but if it succeeds it represents a major step forward.

And then, finally, we had the Pope. Pope Francis went to Palestine and Israel, and — as we’ve seen so many times already in his shifting the church’s focus to the poor and dispossessed — here he made clear that he was not, as his predecessors have been, interested only in strengthening the Vatican’s ties to Israel. This time, it was all about the visuals — and that meant the extraordinary photograph of the Pope praying and leaning his head against the Apartheid Wall in Bethlehem splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the world.

I talked about it on The Real News and wrote about it for FPIF and The Nation last week — and since the Pope went to lay a wreath at his tomb, I got to include my favorite quote from Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. It’s the one from his letter to the infamous Cecil Rhodes (who conquered much of Africa for the British Crown) in which Herzl begs Rhodes to join his project for a European Jewish state in Palestine because it is “something colonial.”

He should know.

The post Talking Points: Obama’s Foreign Policy Speech vs. Obama’s Foreign Policy appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


FitzGerald loses economic talking point with federal data revision – WKSU News

FitzGerald loses economic talking point with federal data revision
LEEDCo is nonprofit, and says it wants to use local labor and local parts to create a new wind-energy industry in Northeast Ohio. The Nature The Columbus Dispatch reports that the registry was created when the Ohio House stripped the bill of a one

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