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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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Baltimore Nonviolence Center
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IPS Blog

Entries since June 2010

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Obama's Speech on the BP Oil Disaster

June 16, 2010 ·

Obama BP speechObama addressed the nation in primetime last night from the Oval Office to placate fear and anger about the BP oil spill. The president’s somber, seated address was a firm reassurance of a forthcoming solution and continued governmental assistance. He listed ongoing clean-up efforts and successes, forthcoming projects, and federal oversight efforts through the Coast Guard and National Guard.

But it was also a rallying cry. Using provocative language in attempts to galvanize the American public around his new “battle plan,” Obama characterized the challenge of the oil spill clean-up as a “battle” against the oil “assaulting our shores.” This tactic certainly oversimplifies the issue into a black and white, good vs. evil duality, but judgment should be withheld until we see how effectively the administration leverages this duality for progress.

To his credit, Obama acknowledged that mistakes had been made and that imperfections would continue to arise, but asked for feedback and critique to be channeled to a newly created commission. This commission, in charge of retroactively determining the cause of the Deepwater Horizon rig’s explosion and enforcing new regulations on the oil industry, is undeniably one of Obama’s strongest reactions to the irresponsibility of the corporate world thus far. He clarified in a sharp tone that the federal commission would, “act as the oil industry’s watchdog, not its partner.”

In addition, Obama placed considerable financial pressure on BP to compensate gulf coast residents and businesses damaged by the spill, channeling money through a third-party escrow fund. Only 16 hours after the national address, BP executives announced they would offer $20 billion over the course of several years into a private escrow fund for spill claims.

 $20 billion will only be a drop in the bucket for the true cost of this disaster. The federal, state and local governments will end up shouldering considerable costs as well. Obama pronounced that we will “fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes…we will offer whatever additional resources our coastal states may need.” 

While this may be reassuring rhetoric, Obama needs to take precautions to ensure his bold promises are not a blank check that will damage the Treasury even worse than the Gulf Coast.

Ultimately, a long-term solution will involve the input and resources of the private sector and all levels of government to clean-up and restore the gulf coast. To accomplish this, Obama truly needs to rally the country onto their feet to contribute to his battle plan. He drew the analogy between the enormity of breaking America’s fossil fuel dependency with Kennedy’s space race ambitions to land an American on the moon first. Yes, we succeeded then. But how feasible is landing on the moon during a recession while fighting two wars and facing a debt crisis? 

Obama said that it can be done.  He has set the stage for an energy transition of monumental proportions, and turned the spotlight on himself for the first act. He needs to act quickly to harness the nation’s outrage/progressive spirit in order to set the wheels in motion for real change in Act Two.

The Afghan Opium War

June 15, 2010 ·

The Russian government recently convened an international conference in Moscow to call for a dramatic escalation of the drug war in Afghanistan.  I went on RTTV (the Russia's English language news channel, above) to explain why such measures would be ineffective and counterproductive.  Indeed, even Patrick Ward (the head of supply reduction for the US drug czar's office) agrees that forced eradication of opium poppies would push some of the world's poorest farmers into the arms of the arms of the Taliban.

The Russian government has been urging the U.S. to adopt aerial fumigation on the grounds that it has been such a "success" in Colombia.  Apparently, they took press releases of US drug warriors at face value! 

Last fall, I had an exchange with Russian drug czar Viktor Ivanov at the Nixon Center about the difficulties of eradicating drug production.

Obama BP Speech Should Signal Shift in Energy Future

June 15, 2010 ·

This blog post was originally posted on Grist.

Tonight President Obama addresses the nation to talk about how his administration will hold BP accountable for the damages incurred by what has become the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and how he plans to reregulate the oil industry. The American public will be looking for bold action.

Obama has a golden opportunity to show the growing ranks of disappointed progressives and moderates that his administration is about changing politics as usual - if he and his advisors have the political courage to seize the moment. Obama must harness the public outrage at BP and momentum toward economic revitalization to make concrete steps toward U.S. leadership in the global transition away from dirty fuel to clean, renewable energy.

In less than two weeks, leaders from the 20 wealthiest countries (the G20) will meet in Toronto to discuss global economic recovery and closely related matters such as climate change. Outstanding on their agenda – as proposed by Obama last September – is the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies.

Worldwide, developed countries spend up to $100 billion a year making oil, coal and gas cheaper for energy companies through tax breaks, subsidized loans, price controls and other giveaways. Estimates of federal handouts to the U.S. oil industry range as high as $39 billion a year.  

The idea behind fossil fuel subsidies is to keep the cost of producing energy low so that company profits are high enough to incentivize continued production. That might have made sense when oil, coal and gas were the only feasible sources of power to run the American economy. You could have even argued for oil company handouts or when the price of a barrel of oil was only $18 – as it was in 1995 when Congress established a royalty waiver program for deepwater drilling. But today the price of oil is more than $70 a barrel. BP just posted a $6.1 billion profit in the first quarter. And scientists, governments and schoolchildren around the world understand that burning fossil fuels is putting the future at risk from climate change. Enough is enough.

Obama should return to his commitment tonight, outlining not only how to regulate the out of control oil industry, but how to shift the tens of billions of taxpayer dollars going to dirty energy each year into safer, cleaner and more secure energy sources in the U.S. and abroad.

But he’s got to get the cuts right. The OECD – a group of 31 industrialized countries – have their eye on consumer subsidies in the developing world. Eliminating tax exemptions that make energy accessible in impoverished countries and communities should be off the table until government handouts to oil, coal and gas companies raking in billions have ended.

And we should make sure that these incentives go to the right place – to deployment of proven technologies like wind and solar, research and development of innovative ideas, and to small and medium sized energy companies that can help decentralize and localize the energy sector, making energy companies accountable to the communities in which they operate.

In his speech to an anxious country, Obama should lay out how federal support for a vibrant clean energy economy will usher in a new era of environmental and economic security.

Getting the right laws on the books, and then enforcing them, is clearly critical to avoiding another environmental and economic disaster like BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion. No question. But until we collectively kick our oil addiction – and dependence on other dirty energy like coal, gas and nuclear power – we can expect to continue reading headlines like Deadly Coal Mining Disaster in West Virginia, Radioactive Waste from Nation’s Oldest Nuclear Power Plant Reaches Aquifer in New Jersey, and Massive Oil Slick Hits Battered Gulf Coast. Obama can help us start tonight.

New Thinking on Cutting the Deficit

June 14, 2010 ·

The Hill reported Friday on a congressional panel, commissioned by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), which proposed a new mindset toward defense:

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, a commission of scholars from a broad ideological spectrum…laid out actions the government could take that could save as much as $960 billion between 2011 and 2020.

Measures presented by the task force include making significant reductions to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which has strong support from Defense Secretary Robert Gates; delaying the procurement of a new midair refueling tanker the Air Force has identified as one of its top acquisition priorities; and reducing the Navy’s fleet to 230 ships instead of the 313 eyed by the service.

The taskforce also "recommended cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal, a reduction of 200,000 military personnel, smaller U.S. military presence in Asia and Europe and fewer tactical Air Force fighter wings. Other savings would come from shrinking the Navy to 230 ships from 287 currently, spending less on research, cuts or delays in big weapons programs, and higher health care premiums for the military," according to Reuters.

Even Frank admitted that getting Congress on board with many of these recommendations would be an uphill battle. The acceptance of the recommendations would depend on a “philosophical change" and a “redefinition of the strategy,” Frank said at press conference on Capitol Hill.

But it's time for such a change. The vast amounts of money spent on faulty or deteriorating weapons systems and unused nuclear weapons are sorely needed for jobs, infrastructure, and green technology research. And a good place to start consolidating existing defense funds would be through a unified security budget.  Writes IPS research fellow Miriam Pemberton (who was also on the taskforce):

The budgets they draw up for the Pentagon keep on growing, and the cuts in military programs they support are almost exclusively designed to be plowed back in to other military programs.

As our nation continues to struggle with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, it's even more important that every penny of our tax dollars is spent wisely. It's encouraging to hear Obama administration officials taking a fresh look at more balanced and efficient national security budgeting.

You can read the Sustainable Defense Task Force's full report here.

Immigrants Head to the Hill

June 11, 2010 ·

Immigration protest in ChicagoIPS social worker Tiffany Williams, program manager of our Break the Chain Campaign, went to the Dept. of Labor and then an ad-hoc hearing chaired by Rep. Raul Grijalva (link to his OtherWords op-ed) and co-chaired by several other Representatives about Arizona's new law, SB1070, and its devastating effects on women and children. Here's Tiffany's story:

"We started at the DOL, plus reps from the white house and homeland security. They were incredibly moved by the stories and updated us on their planned response (e.g., Obama has 25 lawyers looking into whether the law can be stopped). We then moved on to a meeting w/national women's orgs, where we shared strategies and actions (letters, demonstrations, etc).

Then on to the hearing. It was so packed that people were sitting on the floor, standing in aisles, craning in to see from the hallway...Even hearing the testimony for the third time had me in tears, and there were few people who were not crying. Even Rep. Polis had to take off his glasses to wipe away tears after hearing the little girl — only 10 years old — talk about her parents, and another young woman describe the abuse she suffered in the jail. Grijalva was composed, but so kind to them, and expressed his urgency that we fix this situation.

It was an emotionally taxing day — a lot of heavy sadness and trauma, juxtaposed with the joy you feel when you finally get to speak that truth to power."

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