How the World Remembers Marc Raskin (1934-2017)


Marc Raskin at IPS, 1981 (Photo: George Tames / The New York Times)

Marcus Raskin, the co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies, passed away shortly before the New Year. He was 83.

Marc touched all of our lives, not least by creating the institution we call home — the first uncompromisingly progressive think tank of its kind. The memories and obituaries trickling in from all over are a tribute to Marc’s legacy in the wider world, too — as a brilliant intellect, a lifelong activist, and a kind, caring human being.

Below are just a few of these recollections.

IPS Staff:Raskin was an intellectual pillar of the movements for progressive social change for more than a half century.”

Richard Sandomir | New York Times: “Mr. Raskin and Richard J. Barnet started the institute in 1963, fiercely devoted to maintaining its independence by refusing to accept government funding. ‘We also had an extraordinary conceit,’ Mr. Raskin told The New York Times in 1983. ‘We were going to speak truth to power.’”

Matt Schudel | Washington Post: “From civil rights marches to antiwar protests to the Pentagon Papers, Mr. Raskin was a persistent and ubiquitous intellectual provocateur of the left. He and his fellow founder of the Institute for Policy Studies, Richard J. Barnet, were on President Richard M. Nixon’s enemies list in the early 1970s. ‘What we’re playing for,’ Mr. Raskin told The Washington Post in 1986, ‘is the spirit of the time.’”

Katrina Vanden Huevel | Washington Post: “Raskin was the disruptive genius… He embraced the movements — civil rights, antiwar, women’s, environmental, consumer — that made America better.”

Marc Raskin at IPS’ 50th anniversary celebration, 2013

John Nichols | The Nation: “Raskin advanced a resurgent and expansive citizenship as a preeminent advocate for peace and for economic and social justice. He argued, on Capitol Hill and university campuses, from union halls to the parks where mass rallies were held, that voters should have a far greater say with regard to foreign and domestic policy. His was a clear-eyed vision that recognized how an ‘endless war’ footing cost Americans physically, economically, and morally, and it helped to shape the understanding of generations of activists, academics, and elected officials from city halls to the White House.”

Norman Birnbaum | The Nation: “Marc’s reading of the book of the world was profoundly Jewish in his sense of paradox, his expectation of a final settlement of moral accounts — and above all in his deep reservoir of empathy and sympathy for ordinary humans confronting a fate that was often unjust.”

Phyllis Bennis | Common Dreams: “Here was a former music prodigy, philosopher, lawyer, and government wonk, jumping into what would eventually be called the New Left before anything had that name. … In the context of the United States of the late 1950s and early ’60s, it’s all the more extraordinary. … Go well, Marc. We’ll keep working in your name — challenging the new threats, stopping the next wars, transforming the new world, finding the new leaders.”

Ralph Nader | “Through his versatile talents and dedications, Marcus Raskin stretched the meaning of ‘Renaissance Man.’ In a narcissistic, trivialized Internet Age, imperiling the future of truth and empiricism, Raskin’s life work is exemplified by one of his many books  — Being and Doing. He took the description of ‘a life well lived’ to spectacular heights as a parent, piano prodigy, civic advocate, counselor to public officials, lawyer, philosopher, author, petitioner to all branches of government, convener and builder of a lasting democratic institution suffused with vision, while attending to current urgencies global in scope.”

Sarah Anderson | “While progressive activists have tended to treat these issues separately, Raskin consistently connected the dots between America’s military adventures overseas and economic and racial injustice at home.”

A memorial service and celebration of Marcus Raskin and his work will be held on February 12. Find more information here.

The post How the World Remembers Marc Raskin (1934-2017) appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


If Asia Leads on Climate, the World Will Follow


(Photo: Kathleen Tyler Conklin / Flickr)

There’s been precious little good news from Asia these days. Washington and Pyongyang continue to trade threats of war. Right-wing nationalist Shinzo Abe won reelection as prime minister in Japan last month. Major storms have hammered several countries in the region, most recently Typhoon Damrey in Vietnam.

And now, in the wake of those typhoons comes a mighty wind from the United States. Donald Trump, in the longest foreign trip of his presidency, is currently visiting South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The silver lining on this Ugly American Tour: Trump probably won’t start a war in a region where he’s currently traveling.

Lost among all this bad news has been some very good news out of Asia. It hasn’t received much media attention here, probably because it only peripherally involves the United States.

Last week, South Korea and China ended a yearlong spat over the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). China, believing the system to be designed to eliminate its nuclear deterrent, punished South Korea economically for welcoming THAAD. Now a new government in Seoul, led by liberal president Moon Jae-in, has announced that it would not add to the existing THAAD system or participate in the proposed regional missile defense that Washington wants to set up. That was enough for China to reengage economically.

It’s a delicate balance for South Korea — to maintain its alliance with the United States and yet repair relations with China. The Trump administration is much happier with the passive-aggressive attitude of Tokyo — passively accepting U.S. hegemony while aggressively pursuing an offensive military posture — than with Seoul’s somewhat more independent position. Witness the time Trump lavished on Abe on this current trip including a round of golf. South Korea, meanwhile, had to make due with a brief stopover and a strident lecture by the president before the National Assembly.

Here’s a radical idea for China and South Korea: Forget Donald Trump, forget the United States, and forget the Cold War divide in Northeast Asia.

The two countries ought to build on their newly repaired relationship. They can make like Germany and France after World War II. But instead of a new regional order based on coal and steel, Beijing and Seoul should establish something completely new: an Asian Environmental Community that promotes renewable energy and sustainable growth.

A New Geopolitical Moment

Much has been made of Trump’s reeling in of American influence around the world, at least on the soft-power side of things, and China’s eager efforts to capitalize on the new global opportunities. Perhaps future historians will look back at this moment as the time when China began to replace the United States as the anchor of the international community. Or perhaps they will identify this era as the moment when everything began to unravel, from the EU to the UN.

But let’s imagine a different scenario in which the threat of climate change plays the same integrative function as alien invaders in Hollywood films. The planet is at risk: let’s all fight the common enemy together!

True, the world so far hasn’t gotten the message. This week the latest round of meetings began in Germany to discuss the commitments made in the Paris climate agreement of two years ago. The Trump administration, aside from a few token representatives, has been conspicuously absent. Also absent was any real hope that the agreement would achieve its goal of keeping the rise in global temperature from hitting a 2 degree Celsius increase above pre-industrial levels.

Reports The New York Times: “No major industrialized country is currently on track to fulfill its pledge, according to new data from the Climate Action Tracker. Not the European Union. Not Canada. Not Japan.” Even if they do meet their commitments, it still won’t be enough. According to a recent Nature study, even if humans stopped all use of fossil fuels immediately, the planet would still register a 2 degree Celsius increase by 2100.

Not even the announcements that both Syria and Nicaragua will join the Paris agreement, leaving Trump’s America as the only outlier, can alleviate this grim news. The Maldives, Mumbai, and Miami are sinking: It’s time to make plans to move to Mongolia.

Room for Improvement

Enter South Korea and Japan. Here are two economic powerhouses — in the most economically dynamic region of the world — with great PR on climate change.

“Tackling climate change is a shared mission for mankind,” Chinese Premier Xi Jinping said at the launch of the Paris agreement. “Let us join hands to contribute to the establishment of an equitable and effective global mechanism on climate change, work for global sustainable development at a high level, and bring about new international relations featuring win-win cooperation.”

Sounds good. And China has pushed forward with impressive investments into renewable energy — $ 360 billion by the end of the decade — along with stopping the construction of over 100 new coal-fired power plants. Although China is set to reach peak emissions a decade or more before its 2030 goal, the country remains the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, having surpassed the United States in 2007. In 2015, it released nearly twice as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as did the United States, and coal still supplies two-thirds of its energy needs. In other words, China has a long way to go before it can claim substantive leadership in stopping global warming.

South Korea has also talked a good game. Former president Lee Myung Bak created the Global Green Growth Initiative, now a multilateral body based in Seoul, to promote sustainability. In 2009, Lee told the UN, “To proactively respond to climate change, Korea adopted ‘Low Carbon Green Growth’ as a guiding vision for our nation and a strategy for further development. We are currently working to enact a

Framework Law on Green Growth and establish a Five-Year Plan for Green Growth. Thereby, we will not only transform our economic and industrial structures, but also change our very lifestyles to become more future-oriented.”

In reality, however, South Korea backtracked from the pledges made during the Lee era. Under his successor Park Geun Hye, now detained on charges of corruption, Korea made a U-turn on greenhouse gas emissions and decided to rely even more heavily on coal for energy generation. As a result of this change of policy, the Institute for Climate Change Action declared South Korea one of four global “climate villains” at the end of 2016.

In other words, both China and South Korea have made impressive commitments to lower the global thermometer even as they continue to be a big part of the problem. But let’s focus on the future. There’s a new government in Seoul. And China has a chance to replace the United States as the global leader on this issue.

So, let’s take it to the next level.

Asian Environmental Community

When France and Germany formed a new partnership in 1950, the architects had much grander ambitions than simply coordinating the production of coal and steel. They wanted to ensure a peaceful Europe.

In his famous declaration that year, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman made the case for cooperation with former enemy Germany:

Five years, almost to the day, after the unconditional surrender of Germany, France is accomplishing the first decisive act for European construction and is associating Germany with this. Conditions in Europe are going to be entirely changed because of it. This transformation will facilitate other action which has been impossible until this day.

Europe will be born from this, a Europe which is solidly united and constructed around a strong framework. It will be a Europe where the standard of living will rise by grouping together production and expanding markets, thus encouraging the lowering of prices.

Up to now, East Asia has been divided ideologically, by territorial disputes, and by different economic visions. The Korean peninsula is a potent representation of all these conflicts. With its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) program, China has offered one way of uniting the region through massive infrastructure development. For many countries in the region, it’s a deal they can’t refuse. The aforementioned GGGI is working to “green” OBOR and even draw China, South Korea, and Japan into trilateral coordination.

There are good arguments for including Japan in a new Asian Environmental Community from the very beginning. Particularly at the municipal level, Japan has made great strides in reducing its carbon footprint. However, there’s considerable resistance in Korea to greater foreign policy coordination with Japan. Japan has outstanding territorial disputes with both China and South Korea. And the Abe administration is focused on breaking out of its constitutional restraints on fielding an offensive military. For all those reasons, it would be best to focus first on achieving consensus between Seoul and Beijing.

So, what would this new Asian Environmental Community do?

Both South Korea and China set rather unambitious targets under the Paris agreement. Their first task would be to establish a more ambitious agenda for cuts in carbon emissions. There’s no reason why both countries can’t follow the example of Uruguay, which has managed to wean itself almost entirely from oil imports over the last two decades. The economic benefits should be attractive to both Seoul and Beijing: The cost of electricity has dropped considerably in Uruguay, the sustainable energy sector generates more jobs than the oil sector, and the country now exports its (clean) energy to its neighbors. Both China and South Korea have traditionally relied on imported oil and gas: This kind of import substitution should appeal to both liberals and conservatives.

Next, the two countries could partner on a much more thoroughgoing greening of OBOR, not just incorporating some sustainable elements but ensuring that the new transportation lines, ports, and power plants are carbon neutral. Yes, the massive undertaking has already started, with nearly 1,700 projects over the last three years. But it’s still at the beginning stages, with plenty of future investment to green.

But a new Asian Environmental Community could be more ambitious still.

Just as Robert Schuman imagined that the coal and steel agreement between France and Germany would bring a broken Europe back together, at least the western half of it, the partnership of China and South Korea could offer a way for Asia to sidestep its myriad disagreements and come together around the one thing that all countries can support. As with early European cooperation, the environmental partnership would be mutually beneficial. Coordinated production of renewable energy — solar panels, wind turbines — could take advantage of economies of scale to bring down prices even more. Generation of clean energy for export could help energy-poor countries go beyond their Paris commitments.

And all this cooperation might just spill over into other realms, making resolution of territorial disputes, economic disagreements, and even North Korea’s nuclear program that much more likely. Never has Northeast Asia been more in need of a virtuous circle of engagement.

Asia set the standard for electronics, for Internet connectivity, and for mind-blowingly telescoped economic development. Now it’s time for China and South Korea to establish a new global green benchmark. The world is desperate for mind-blowingly telescoped environmental development. Let Asia lead the way again.

The post If Asia Leads on Climate, the World Will Follow appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


How Bush’s ‘New World Order’ Became Trump’s ‘No World Order’


(Photo: UNHCR Photo Unit / Flickr

George H.W. Bush made a bold pronouncement on September 11, 1990.

Even though Iraq had recently invaded Kuwait and the collapse of the Soviet Union was still more than a year away, Bush proclaimed the imminent dawn of a “new world order” that would be “freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace.”

Despite the lofty sentiments, Bush’s “new world order” has dead-ended in the “no world order” of 2017.

What went wrong? For starters, it’s worth looking back at the term’s origins.

In early September 1990, the United States was pulling together a coalition of the willing, with the tacit approval of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to repel Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Confident that he could face down Saddam Hussein, Bush anticipated not only military victory but a different kind of international community. To describe it, Bush borrowed the “new world order” concept from Gorbachev, who two years earlier had used it to support a stronger role for the United Nations and a reduced role for violence in the international arena.

Yet Bush was less interested in the United Nations and more focused on insisting that “there is no substitute for American leadership.”

Indeed, Bush devoted nearly half his 1990 speech to strengthening U.S. power by setting “America’s economic house in order” — cutting taxes, debt, energy dependency and even (prudently) Pentagon spending. In this way, Bush aimed to provide a stronger underpinning for American leadership in the emerging post-Cold War era.

Bush may have talked of “a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle,” but the thrust of U.S. policy in the wake of Bush’s speech suggested a different world order altogether.

Bush’s decision to go to war against Iraq in early 1991 demonstrated the cold geopolitical calculations behind the “new world order.” The administration, despite considerable congressional and popular opposition, decided to pursue the military option against Saddam rather than wait to see if diplomacy or economic sanctions would achieve the same result.

America’s overwhelming use of force turned the first Gulf War into a “turkey shoot” that killed more than 20,000 Iraqi soldiers and 3,000 civilians. Rather than herald a new order for the Middle East, the war aggravated the existing Arab/Israeli, Saudi/Iranian, Shia/Sunni, and nationalist/Islamist divides.

Bush’s new world order turned out to be the Cold War warmed over. Instead of just containing the Soviet Union, the United States shouldered the burdens of the sole superpower — responsible for countering threats to peace everywhere, primarily by military means.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, Washington set about consolidating its unipolar status. The cooperative vision of Gorbachev and (to a lesser extent) Bush Sr. hardened into a post-Cold War U.S. triumphalism that would eventually expand NATO to the borders of Russia.

The prospect of a stronger United Nations became instead the a la carte multilateralism of the Bill Clinton years, when the U.S. acted with others only on a selective basis — and on Washington’s terms. U.S. meddling in the Middle East, particularly the U.S. support for (and military presence in) Saudi Arabia, helped grow radical Sunni groups like al-Qaeda, which would later attack the “new world order” on the anniversary of Bush’s speech in 2001.

A bipartisan fear of global anarchy pushed a succession of U.S. leaders to attempt to maintain American dominance. While that might have been possible for a brief moment in the early 1990s, it was inherently unsustainable. The failed efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere testify to the impossibility of imposing a new world order by force.

Donald Trump, despite his calls as presidential candidate to focus on rebuilding the U.S. economy, is just the latest adherent to the U.S. unipolarism that the “new world order” ultimately fostered. He sends more troops to Afghanistan, threatens North Korea with “fire and fury,” and continues the worldwide war without end against terrorism.

The United States could have helped build a truly cooperative world order in 1990. Because it didn’t, the world now faces the twin challenges to the international rule of law: the Islamic State and Donald Trump. The anarchy that many feared is now just around the corner.


The Racism Heard Round the World


(Photo: kcox5342 / Flickr)

On race relations, the United States has slipped into the same category as Burundi and Iraq.

After the violence in Charlottesville earlier this month — and the outrage generated by President Trump’s response — the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued an “early warning.”

As the chair of the committee, Anastasia Crickley, put it: “We are alarmed by the racist demonstrations, with overtly racist slogans, chants, and salutes by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan, promoting white supremacy and inciting racial discrimination and hatred.”

The committee published such early warnings in the past to call attention to the potential for genocidal violence in Burundi and sectarian strife in Iraq.

In its recent statement, the UN also called on “the government of the United States of America, as well as high-level politicians and public officials, to unequivocally and unconditionally reject and condemn racist hate speech and crimes in Charlottesville and throughout the country.”

The statement didn’t mention Trump, but it clearly targeted the equivocator in chief. The president’s first impulse was to condemn the violence “on many sides.” A more measured denunciation of the Ku Klu Klan and white nationalism followed, which the “adults” in the administration had clearly spoon-fed the president. Only a couple days later, Trump was back praising some “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rallied around Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s statue in Charlottesville.

Condemning racism and Nazism would seem to be a no-brainer. But then, this is a president who refused to distance himself during the 2016 presidential campaign from neo-Nazi David Duke.

Trump’s response to the events in Charlottesville has further clarified that the president has no intention of moving to the political center. His stance has driven a deeper wedge between his extremist supporters and mainstream Republicans. Bob Corker (R-TN), who’d been in the running for Trump’s vice president and then his secretary of state, took the opportunity to question the president’s competence.

Even some members of the Trump administration, like top economic advisor Gary Cohn, have condemned the president’s refusal to take an unequivocal stand against racism and anti-Semitism. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson effectively separated the entire State Department from Trump’s utterances when he said that the president “speaks for himself.”

It’s bad enough the effect Trump is having on the state of race relations in the United States. But his attempt to turn back the clock to antebellum America is also having a powerful impact internationally, as the UN early warning suggests. The launch of the American Revolution in Lexington and Concord in 1775 was the shot heard round the world. Trump and the radical right want to launch a different revolution. They hope that the racist demonstration in Charlottesville is a salvo that changes not only America, but what America stands for in the world.

Selling America

An East Timor activist once recounted to me his experience at a democracy seminar that the United States sponsored in his country. The American presenter was lecturing the activist and his colleagues about how American democracy works and why other countries should follow the U.S. model. The audience listened politely, but a ripple of frustration gradually made its way through the assembled activists.

Finally, one of them stood up in the question-and-answer period and said, bluntly, “Pardon me, but why should we take what you are saying seriously considering what’s going on in Florida?”

The seminar, you see, was taking place in December 2000 while the Supreme Court was in the process of helping George W. Bush steal the presidential election.

No amount of detailed explanation of checks and balances could make up for the quite obvious deformation of democracy that was taking place that year. No amount of “do as we say not as we do” rationalization could disguise the fact that the United States had failed to correct the malign influence of wealth on our political system even as we were attempting to export that system overseas.

The East Timorese were wise to take what Americans said about democracy with a grain of salt. Eight subsequent years of even more disastrous democracy promotion followed.

Then came Barack Obama, and many breathed a sigh of relief that American democracy could work. The election of the first African American president was a sign for many around the world that even a country born in racism and genocide could transcend its origins, that Americans could indeed achieve a more perfect union, that progress was something attainable by all.

Few were naïve enough to believe that the Obama presidency signaled the end of racism in American society. But the election of Obama promoted American democracy far more effectively than seminars in East Timor or U.S. tanks in Iraq.

Now, the world is suffering from the whiplash effect of Trump. It is one thing to come to terms with the fact that so many Americans had voted for Trump. Now, after Charlottesville, the international community must somehow wrap its mind around the fact that nearly 30 million Americans think it’s “acceptable” to hold neo-Nazi views. In other words, inside the United States is a community larger than North Korea that endorses extreme racist viewpoints. Let’s hope that this community of American ideologues never gets its hands on weapons of mass destruction any more powerful than Fox News.

Given these numbers — which are a reminder that it’s not just a handful of protesters and an unhinged president who flirt with white supremacy — it’s not surprising that the international reaction to Charlottesville borders on the apocalyptic.

Canadian columnists look south at the events in Charlottesville and see a real potential for a second civil war to break out. Turkish journalists see in these events the inexorable decline of America. Gideon Rachman, the Financial Times columnist, worries that Trump will stoke war overseas to distract from domestic woes like the aftermath of the Charlottesville events. “Under Donald Trump,” he asserts, “America looks like a dangerous nation.” Iraq, Libya, and many other tragic misadventures in recent years apparently didn’t disturb the sleep of the otherwise staid journalist as much as the current U.S. president now does.

But not everyone was upset with Trump’s swing-and-a-miss on Charlottesville. The U.S. president is not just about promoting divisions within America. He aspires to polarize the world.

On his side are some usual suspects, like the neo-fascist Golden Dawn movement in Greece, which called the right-wing protest a “dynamic demonstration against illegal immigration” by “American patriots.” Trump could also count on some surprising allies like Benjamin Netanyahu, who might ordinarily condemn the anti-Semitism of the right-wing protestors, but who feels it’s more important to line up with his friend in the White House. Also noticeably absent from expressions of outrage have been Trump’s erstwhile allies Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, all of whom are in the midst of their own homegrown manipulations of nationalism.

But in a sign that perhaps Trump has moved so far to the right that he is isolated even from the European far right, Florian Phillipot of France’s National Front declared after Charlottesville, “These were white supremacists and racists. They need to be condemned in very clear terms.”

When the neo-fascist National Front is more progressive than the president of the United States, then, yes, Washington, we have a problem.

The Real Face of America?

African Americans, particularly of the older generation, were not particularly surprised by the result of the 2016 presidential election. They remembered how openly racist America had been for most of its history, and they knew that these sentiments still lay close to the surface of public life. Obama was an exception, not the rule. Donald Trump, meanwhile, was the manifestation of all the ugliness that some white people continued to voice in the safety of their all-white enclaves and all the intolerance that other white people kept bottled up to maintain appearances in their more multicultural environments.

“I was mostly irritated every time people would say ‘Oh God, we can’t have a racist be the American president,’ because I kept wondering, since when?” African American journalist Melissa Harris-Perry said after the election. “For most of American history, racism has been a prerequisite to win the American presidency. One had to actually demonstrate one’s racism to become the American president.”

I have traveled to many countries where the American example of civil rights organizing and multicultural education are an inspiration. I sat in on a strategy session in 1995 for Roma eager to apply the lessons of the civil rights movement to their own struggle in Eastern Europe. I put together a conflict resolution training program in South Korea in 2000 that drew on decades of multicultural education in the United States.

The people I talked to overseas are not blind to the sordid history of the United States. But they also know that all countries have sordid histories. They prefer to extract from the American experience that which is most usable.

The election of Donald Trump doesn’t erase these inspirational examples. In fact, it may generate even more inspirational tales of resistance.

But when the White House now stands for the worst elements of human nature, it becomes all too easy to dismiss everything about the U.S. experience — just as the Supreme Court decision in the 2000 election could be seen as negating everything about the U.S. political tradition. America becomes Amerikkka, and all that is good is at risk of getting thrown out with the racist bathwater.

The radical right in Charlottesville doesn’t just want to maintain a particular statue or set of statues. It doesn’t just want to use the Trump presidency as the springboard for a more thoroughgoing transformation of U.S. society. It wants to eclipse on a global scale everything worthwhile in the American tradition.

With Charlottesville, the United States seemed to forfeit its right to participate in the effort to move the world ever so incrementally along the arc of justice. It’s now up to our social movements to rescue our reputation and bring us back into the fight for human rights globally. As the radical right pushes for disunion, we must keep our eyes on the prize of an ever more perfect union.


The World Won’t Wait for the U.S. to Take Climate Action

In pulling out of the Paris Accord, Trump is putting his own interests and the interests of his fellow billionaires first, IPS associate fellow Daphne Wysham told the Real News Network, noting his many investments in oil and gas projects.

“As a result, we are squandering what little trust and reputation and international standing we have with the international community,” she said.

Trump is also working to pull the U.S. out of the Green Climate Fund, which acknowledges that the world’s largest polluters, including the U.S., are responsible for the shifts in the climate. The GCF is designed so that developed countries provide funds to developing countries to help them meet their Climate Accord goals.

“The U.S. is responsible for 30 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions that are causing significant climate changes,” Wysham explained. “For the U.S. to acknowledge that it created a good share of this problem, but to decide to put itself first and turn its back on countries that are currently suffering extreme weather conditions, is morally and ethically bankrupt.”

While Trump’s announcement is a blow to the reputation of the U.S. on climate change,  it does not undo the work U.S. climate activists have been pushing towards, Wysham said.

“The solution has always been at the local level,” Wysham explained. “State and local officials have a lot of power and they’re showing it out here in the Pacific Northwest.”

Portland currently has a target for 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035, with activists trying to push that even faster, Wysham explained. The city also has an ordinance for no new fossil fuel export infrastructure. She said that elected officials in both the West and East coast are eager to follow Portland’s lead.

Wysham also explained that the global community will continue to push towards a cleaner energy transition, “whether it’s the European Union joining up with China and pushing forward with plans to address the needs of the Green Development Bank for developing countries, or countries around the world that are moving forward with their plans to pursue renewable energy.”

“The global community is going to push forward regardless of what the U.S. does,” Wysham said. “It is no longer an option to sit around and wait for the one country that has over and over again attempted to disrupt meaningful climate action.”

Watch the full interview on the Real News Network.


How Progressive Cities Can Reshape the World — And Democracy


(Photo: Mandeep Flora / Flickr)

“We’re living in extraordinary times that demand brave and creative solutions. If we’re able to imagine a different city, we’ll have the power to transform it.” – Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona.

On 24 May 2015, the citizen platform Barcelona en Comú was elected as the minority government of the city of Barcelona. Along with a number of other cities across Spain, this election was the result of a wave of progressive municipal politics across the country, offering an alternative to neoliberalism and corruption.

With Ada Colau — a housing rights activist — catapulted into the position of mayor, and with a wave of citizens with no previous experience of formal politics finding themselves in charge of their city, BComú is an experiment in progressive change that we can’t afford to ignore.

After 20 months in charge of the city, we try to draw some of the main lessons that can help inspire and inform a radical new municipal politics that moves us beyond borders and nations — and towards a post-capitalist world based on dignity, respect, and justice.

  1. The best way to oppose nationalist anti-immigrant sentiment is to confront the real reasons life is shit.

There is no question that life is getting harder, more precarious, more stressful, and less certain for the majority of people.

In the U.S. and across Europe, racist reactionaries and nationalist politicians are blaming this on two things — immigrants and “outside forces” that challenge national sovereignty. While Trump and Brexit are the most obvious cases, we can see the same phenomenon across Europe, in the rise of far-right parties like Alternative für Deutschland in Germany and the Front National in France.

In Barcelona, there is a relative absence of public discourse that blames the social crisis on immigrants, and most attempts to do so have fallen flat. On the contrary, on February 18 of this year, over 160,000 people flooded the streets of Barcelona to demand that Spain take in more refugees. While this demonstration was also caught up with complexities of Catalan nationalism and controversy over police repression of migrant street vendors, it highlighted the support for a politics that cares for migrants and refugees.

The main reason for this is simple: There is a widespread and successful politics that provides real explanations of why people are suffering, and that fights for real solutions.

The reason you can’t afford your rent is because of predatory tourism, unscrupulous landlords, a lack of social housing, and property being purchased as overseas investments. The reason social services are being cut is because the central government transferred huge amounts of public funds into the private banks, propping up a financial elite, and because of a political system riddled with corruption.

While Barcelona played a leading role in initiating a network of “cities of refuge,” simply condemning anti-immigrant nationalism isn’t enough. In a climate where popular municipal movements are providing a strong narrative as to what they see as the problem — and identifying what they’re going to do about it — it’s incredibly difficult for racist and nationalist narratives based on lies and hatred to take root.

  1. Politics doesn’t have to be the preserve of rich old white men.

Ada Colau is the first female mayor of Barcelona. She is a co-founder of BComú, and was formerly the spokesperson of the Mortgage Victims Platform, a grassroots campaign challenging evictions and Spain’s unjust property laws. Colau leads a group of 11 district council members, seven of whom are women, whose average age is 40.

BComú’s vision of a “feminized politics” represents a significant break with the existing political order. “You can be in politics without being a strong, arrogant male, who’s ultra-confident, who knows the answer to everything,” Colau explains. Instead, she offers a political style that openly expresses doubts and contradictions. This is backed by a values-based politics that emphasizes the role of community and the common good — as well as policies designed to build on that vision.

The Barcelona City Council’s new Department of Life Cycles, Feminisms, and LGBTI is the institutional expression of these values. It has significantly increased the budget for campaigns against sexist violence, as well as leading a council working group that looks to identify and tackle the feminization of poverty.

The changing face of the city council is reinforced by BComú’s strict ethics policy, Governing by Obeying, which includes a €2,200 monthly limit on payments to its elected officials. Colau takes home less than a quarter of the amount claimed by her predecessor Xavier Trias. By February 2017, €216,000 in unclaimed salaries had been paid into a new fund that will support social projects in the city.

  1. A politics that works begins by listening.

BComú started life with an extensive process of listening, responding to ordinary peoples’ concerns, and crowd-sourcing ideas — as summarized in its guide to building a citizen municipal platform.

Drawing on proposals gathered at meetings in public squares across the city, BComú created a program reflecting immediate issues in local neighborhoods, city-wide problems, and broader discontent with the political system. Local meetings were complemented by technical and policy committees, and an extensive process of online consultation.

This process resulted in a political platform that stressed the need to tackle the “social emergency” — problems such as home evictions on a huge scale, or the effect of uncontrolled mass tourism. These priorities came from listening to citizens across the city rather than an echo chamber of business and political elites. BComú’s election results reflected this broader appeal: It won its highest share of the vote in Barcelona’s poorest neighborhoods, in part through increasing turnout in those areas.

On entering government, BComú then began to implement an Emergency Plan that included measures to halt evictions, hand out fines to banks leaving multiple properties empty, and subsidize energy and transport costs for the unemployed and those earning under the minimum wage.

  1. A politics that works never stops listening.

Politics doesn’t happen every four years — it is the everyday process of shaping the conditions in which we live our lives. This means that one of the central tasks of a politics that works is to forge a new relationship between citizens and the institutions that we use to govern our societies.

For BComú, the everyday basis of politics means citizens and civil society organizations directly shaping the strategic plan of their city. It means not just consultation, but active empowerment in helping move citizens from being “recipients” of a politics that is done to them, to active political agents that shape the everyday life of their city.

In the first months of occupying the institutions, BComú introduced an open-source platform, Decidim Barcelona, for citizens to co-create the municipal action plan for the city. Over 10,000 proposals were registered by the site’s 25,000 registered users. While that’s a small share of the city’s population, the online process was complemented by over 400 in-person meetings.

The Decidim platform is now being adapted to run participatory budgetary pilot-schemes in two districts, as well as being used in the ongoing development of new infrastructure, pedestrian-friendly spaces, and transport schemes. Meanwhile, the municipal Department of Participation is undertaking a systematic rethinking of the meaning of participation, looking to move away from meaningless “consultations” and towards methods for active empowerment.

This is an imperfect process, and BComú have gotten things wrong at times — such as the failure to properly engage when introducing a SuperBlock in the Poblenou district — but the principle is simple. To govern well, you must create new processes for obeying citizens’ demands.

At the same time, the structures that built BComú remain in place, with 15 neighborhood groups and 15 thematic working groups providing an ongoing link between activists and institutions. No structure is perfect, and it remains unclear if these working groups can help BComú avoid institutionalization and remain connected to social movements, but the hope is that this model provides a basis for remaining in touch with grassroots concerns.

  1. Politics doesn’t begin with the party.

BComú isn’t a local arm of a bigger political party, nor does it exist merely as a branch of a broader strategy to control the central political institutions of the nation-state. Rather, BComú is one in a series of independent citizen platforms that have looked to occupy municipal institutions in an effort to bring about progressive social change.

From A Coruña to Valencia, Madrid and Zaragoza, these municipal movements are the direct efforts of citizens rejecting the old mode of doing politics, and starting to effect change where they live. Instead of a national party structure, they coordinate through a network of rebel cities across Spain. Most immediately, this means coordinating press releases and actively learning from how one another engage with urban problems.

That doesn’t mean that BComú can reject political parties entirely. While the initiative arose from social movements, it ended up incorporating several existing political parties in its platform. These include Podemos — another child of Spain’s Occupy-style indignados movement — and the Catalan Greens-United Left party, which had consistently been a junior coalition partner in city councils headed by the center-left Socialist Party of Catalonia from 1979 until 2011.

These parties continue alongside BComú, with their own completely separate organizational and funding structures. But entering BComú has forced existing parties to significantly change how they operate. Coalition negotiations encouraged the selection of new council members (only two of the elected candidates have previously held office), and they are subject to a tough ethics code that considerably increases their accountability.

The fluid relationship between the new coalitions and political parties allows for multiple levels of coordination, without having to pass through a rigid central leadership. It may also be replicated in regional government, where the recently formed Un Pais En Comú seeks to replicate the city government coalition across Catalonia.

On a terrain that contains a different set of politics — not least a strong national-separatist sentiment — it remains to be seen whether this latest initiative will be successful.

  1. Power is the capacity to act.

BComú doesn’t subscribe to traditional notions of power, whereby if you hold public office, you somehow “have” power. On the contrary, power is the capacity to bring about change, and the “occupation of the institutions” is only one part of what makes change possible.

BComú emerged after almost a decade of major street-protests, anti-eviction campaigns, squatting movements, anti-corruption campaigns, and youth movements — the most visible form being the indignados protests that began in 2011. After years of being at a high level of mobilization, many within these movements made a strategic wager: We’ve learned how to occupy the squares, but what happens if we try to occupy the institutions?

Frustrated by the limits of what could be achieved by being mobilized only outside of institutions, the decision to form BComú was to try to occupy the institutions as part of the same movement that occupied the squares. In practice, this isn’t so simple.

Politics is a messy game, full of compromises forced by working in a world of contradictions.

In the most practical sense, BComú may be leading the council, but it holds only 11 of the 41 available seats. Six other political parties are also represented on the council, mostly seeking to block, slow down, or weaken its initiatives. Frustrated by these moves — and overwhelmed by the demands of the institutions — BComú formed a governing coalition with the PSC, a move supported by around two-thirds of its registered supporters.

But it remains a minority government, and two left parties that refused a similar pact responded by stepping up their block on almost all legislative initiatives. The resulting political crisis delayed the passing of the city’s 2017 budget, which was eventually forced through on a confidence motion when BComú challenged the opposition to unite around another plan — which it failed to do.

While this experience has shown the resilience of BComú in the confrontational confines of the council chamber, the key lesson here is that occupying the institutions isn’t enough. An electoral strategy is not sufficient alone to create change.

The power to act comes from a combination of occupying both the institutions and the squares, of social movements organizing and exercising leverage, providing social force that can be coupled with the potential of the occupied institutions. The power to change comes when these work in tandem.

It’s been a bumpy ride, but BComú has been able to justify its budget on the grounds that it prioritizes social measures (such as building new nurseries, combatting energy poverty, and focusing resources on the poorest neighborhoods) with reference to the extensive and ongoing process of participation that it has encouraged.

One of the biggest dangers in looking to build radical municipalist movements in other cities is to mistake electoral victory with real victory — to sit back and think that now we’ve got “our guys” in the institutions, so we can sit back and let change occur.

  1. Transnational politics begins in your city.

In a time where reactionary political movements are building walls and retreating to national boundaries, BComú is illustrating that a new transnational political movement begins in our cities.

To this end, BComú has established an international committee tasked with promoting and sharing its experiences abroad, while learning from other rebel cities such as Naples and Messina. Barcelona has been active in international forums, promoting the “right to the city” at the recent UN Habitat III conference, and taking a leadership role in the Global Network of Cities, Local, and Regional Governments.

These moves look to bypass the national scale where possible, prefiguring post-national networks of urban solidarity and cooperation. Recent visits of the first deputy mayor to the Colombian cities of Medellin and Bogotá also suggest that links are being made on a supranational scale.

One of the most tangible outcomes of this level of supranational urban organizing was the strong role played by cities in the rejection of the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, or TTIP — a massive proposed trade pact between the U.S. and Europe. As hosts of a meeting entitled “Local Authorities and the New Generation of Free Trade Agreements” in April 2016, BComú led on the agreement of the Barcelona Declaration, with more than 40 cities committing to the rejection of TTIP. As of the time of writing, TTIP now looks dead in the water.

At this early stage, it remains unclear how this supranational network of radical municipalism may develop. Perhaps the most important step for BComú is to share their experience and support those in other cities that are looking to reclaim politics, helping to build citizens platforms across Europe and beyond.

But the idea of a post-national network of citizens also allows us to dare to dream — of shared resources, shared politics, and shared infrastructure — where it’s not where you were born but where you live that determines your right to live.

  1. Essential services can be run in our common interest.

The clue to BComú’s strategy for essential services is hidden in its name: The plan is to run them in common.

At the end of 2016, and faced with a crisis in the funeral sector in which only two companies controlled the sector and charged prices almost twice the national average, the Barcelona council intervened to establish a municipal funeral company that is forecasted to reduce costs by 30 percent. Around the same time, the council voted in favor of the re-municipalization of water, paving the way for water to be taken out of the private sector at some point this year.

In February 2017, Barcelona amended the terms and conditions for electricity supply, preventing energy firms from cutting off supply to vulnerable people. The two major energy firms — Endesa and Gas Natural — protested this by not bidding for the €65-million municipal energy contracts, hoping this would force the council to overturn the policy.

Instead, a raft of small and medium size energy companies were happy to comply with the new directive to tackle energy poverty, and stand to be awarded the contracts if a court challenge from the large firms proves unsuccessful. BComú is also actively planning to introduce a municipal energy company within the next two years.

However, it’s important to recognize the major difference between the public and the common. As Michael Hardt argues, our choices are not limited to businesses controlled privately (private property) or by the state (public property). The third option is to hold things in common — where resources and services are controlled, produced, and distributed democratically and equitably according to peoples need.

A simple example of what this could look like was the proposal — which narrowly failed only due to voter turnout — for Berlin to establish an energy company that would put citizens on the board of the company.

This difference underpins the Barcelona experience. This isn’t a traditional socialist government that thinks it can run things better on behalf of the people. This is a movement that believes the people can run things better on their own behalf, combining citizen wisdom with expert knowledge to solve the everyday problems that people face.

Oscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Bertie Russell is a research fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Urban Institute and a member of Plan C.


The Trade Debate Isn’t About the U.S. vs. the World, It’s Corporations vs. the Rest of Us

Media Contacts:
John Cavanagh,, 202 297 4823
Domenica Ghanem,, 202 787 5205

In an executive order yesterday, Donald Trump scrapped the Trans Pacific Partnership under the guise of bringing jobs back on American soil and promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

This is the response of Institute for Policy Studies Director John Cavanagh, who has been analyzing U.S. trade policies since the 1994 launch of NAFTA:

“IPS has worked for many years with the broad array of labor, environmental, consumer, and other civil society groups in many countries that are primarily responsible for the death of the TPP agreement. The pact was designed in the interest of large corporations – circumventing labor and environmental standards, offshoring jobs, and granting excessive investor rights that would let tribunals sue governments against the public interest.

But we cannot allow the trade policies that replace it to put the interests of multinational corporations first, as the renegotiation of NAFTA under a Trump administration teeming with corporate interests is positioned to do. Trump has promised that the NAFTA renegotiation will create jobs in the United States, but if corporate elites are allowed to dictate the renegotiation, Trump’s false economic populism will result in Americans facing job loss, wage stagnation, and eroding working conditions, especially for low-income workers and workers of color.

We need an internationalist approach to trade that lifts up labor rights, environmental standards, and human rights for people in all of the nations involved in the agreement, and provides good jobs for workers in the U.S. Trump wants to allow corporations to pit American workers against other working communities in a global race to the bottom. IPS will fight with broad civil society networks for a trade policy that lifts up all working families and the environment.

We support the recent trinational declaration that brings together Canada, Mexico, and the United States to make a transparent, internationalist approach to trade a reality.”

For more information:

John Cavanagh,, 202 297 4823

The post The Trade Debate Isn’t About the U.S. vs. the World, It’s Corporations vs. the Rest of Us appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Cavanagh is the director of the Institute for Policy Studies.


While Trump Tries to Return to Coal, the Rest of the World Market is Turning To Renewables

While Trump may be trying to take the U.S. backwards by returning to fossil fuels as an economic driver, the rest of the world market is moving forward toward renewable energy, Janet Redman told the Real News Network, “We’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Trump has also promised millions of jobs will be gained in the fossil fuel energy sector, a number that Redman guesses he had to “pull out of thin air to make a big splash, as he often does.”

Jobs have been lost in coal country, Redman said, and rural communities in Pennsylvania and Ohio are certainly feeling a crunch as the sector shrinks. But the problem is not overregulation, as Trump says, instead it’s a global decrease in demand for coal.

Trump claims he wants to cater to people who have lost their jobs in the coal sector, but he has rejected the kind of just transition policies that would help them, Redman said, like the 30 billion dollars that could be used to retrain these folks to learn skills in producing renewable energy.

Lately, Trump has pulled back from saying that he’s going to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and instead would “give it a fair shake.”

“Saying he’ll ‘consider’ the agreement isn’t a victory,” Redman said. “It’s him pulling back from the edge of ridiculousness and we should be careful not to consider that a compromise.”

Redman said Trump’s list of advisers reads like the list of invites to an American Petroleum Institute Ceremony. It includes names such as Forrest Lucas, an oil executive, Sarah Palin, infamous for ‘drill, baby, drill,’ Harold Hamm, a fracking mogul and billionaire, and Rick Perry, who’s invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Trump ran on a campaign that appealed to people who were sick of a corrupt government and sick of feeling like the people on the inside were colluding with one another to rig the rules. But meanwhile, he is appointing people who are “deeply embedded in the fossil fuel industry,” Redman said. On the pipeline, for example, Redman said he is benefiting from it commercially.

“I think he’s going to alienate some of his own voters, some of the people in those middle states who said ‘we’re really sick of government officials making money off of the decisions that are hurting us,’ ” Redman said. “And pipelines will certainly hurt people in rural America.”

There is hope at the state and local level, Redman said, though the national scene will be mired at least for the next four years. Even as the clean power plan has been locked up in court battles, many states are moving forward with their own plans to reduce emissions from power generation, Redman said.

To defeat Trump’s plan to return to fossil fuels, “individual direct action on the streets, local municipal action, and state action is going to be increasingly important,” Redman said.

Watch the full interview here.

The post While Trump Tries to Return to Coal, the Rest of the World Market is Turning To Renewables appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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


Kids Won’t Want to Protect the World If They Never Get to Explore It

(Photo: IberianExplorer/Flickr)

(Photo: IberianExplorer/Flickr)

Let kids be kids — that’s some of the most common parenting advice you’ll hear. But when it comes to letting them be kids outdoors, many parents take pause. According to one U.K. study, in fact, most kids spend less time outside than incarcerated adults. What a loss.

Every other summer when I was growing up, my family visited my great-grandmother’s ranch in the hills of northern California. A bounty of interesting and abandoned structures stood decrepit on this once bustling cattle farm, and it was all mine to discover.

I still remember searching for barn owls in the rafters of the old hay barn and relishing in the capture of the pudgiest bullfrog tadpoles from the dredger ponds. For what seemed like hours, I’d kneel on muddy knees as I earnestly tried to lure feral kittens out from under the front stoop of the farmhouse. Traveling through the fields alone, I was aware of the risk of startling rattlesnakes as I walked through thigh-high wildflowers, or the chance of meeting of an aggressive Angus bull. And the incessant buzz of wasps and hornets was never far away. Yet I was having the time of my life.

It was this faint whiff of danger that cemented my appreciation of nature and ultimately resulted in my choosing conservation education as my profession. Teetering on the edge of risk around the dangers of the ranch increased my attention to the world around me and elevated my respect for animals.

Read the full article on the Baltimore Sun’s website.



The post Kids Won’t Want to Protect the World If They Never Get to Explore It appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Heather Doggett is a New Economy Maryland fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Ahead of World Day, two UN agencies launch course to end child labour in agriculture – UN News Centre

UN News Centre
Ahead of World Day, two UN agencies launch course to end child labour in agriculture
UN News Centre
The End Child Labour in Agriculture e-course covers the sectors of crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture. Specifically, it consists of 15 lessons, ranging from about 30 to 65 minutes each, grouped into seven units: introduction to child
FAO, ILO Working To Stamp Out Child Labour In AgricultureLeadership Newspapers

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