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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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Entries since October 2010

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Obama's Trip to India: Don't Rush into a Bilateral Investment Treaty

October 26, 2010 ·

After what’s expected to be a grim election for his party, President Barack Obama will fly to the other side of the planet next week.  In the lead-up to his first visit to India, there have been calls from many quarters for the two countries to sign a bilateral investment treaty.

Corporate lobbyists seeking increased market access have been pushing for such a deal for years.  Recently, top foreign policy officials from the Bush administration also weighed in. 

In a report published by the Center for a New American Security, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage and former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns wrote that “The United States and India should prioritize the need to advance the multilateral trading system. They can accomplish this by adopting bilateral trade and investment measures that they would like to see other countries emulate.  This should begin with the launch of serious negotiations toward the long-delayed Bilateral Investment Treaty that would, in light of the tremendous domestic Indian market and increasing bilateral investment flows, create a more stable environment for growth.”

Armitage and Burns provided no details of what’s actually in bilateral investment treaties (BITs).  Many analysts who’ve taken a closer look argue that the current U.S. model for such treaties would be likely to lead to less economic stability – not more. 

Treaty provisions that should be of serious concern to India are those that prohibit the use of capital controls, a policy tool that India has applied effectively to escape the worst impacts of global financial crises.   

In a New York Times article, former IMF chief economist Kenneth Rogoff reported that Indian policymakers were the most cheerful attendees at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, largely because that government’s stringent capital controls were helping to insulate the country from the economic crisis.

A February 2010 IMF report of a larger group of nations found that those which deployed controls on inflows before the current crisis were among the least hard hit. The IMF study concluded that capital controls are a legitimate policy tool for preventing and mitigating crises.

What happens if a government violates the capital controls provisions in a U.S. trade or investment treaty?  Private foreign investors affected by the policy have the right to sue the government for compensation in supra-national tribunals that have no public accountability, no standard judicial ethics rules, and no appeals process.

In response to criticism, a handful of recent U.S. trade agreements have included a special dispute settlement procedure for investor-state claims related to capital transfers. The U.S.-Peru free trade agreement, for example, limits damages arising from certain restrictive measures on capital inflows to the reduction in value of the transfers. Investors may not demand compensation for the loss of profits or business. In addition, there is an extended “cooling off” period before investors may file claims.

While a step in the right direction, these provisions still place undue restrictions on the authority to use capital controls. If they were included in any possible U.S.-India treaty, the government of India would still face the prospect of expensive investor-state damages claims.  They could be tied up in legal proceedings for years, defending a legitimate policy that has proved effective in reducing financial instability.

The negotiations over a U.S.-India treaty were begun by the Bush administration.  Obama officials have said they won’t complete the deal until they finish up a review of the U.S. model BIT.

Let’s hope U.S. and Indian leaders won’t get carried away by the pressures of the upcoming Obama visit to produce a treaty that may serve the short-term interests of large corporations and investors but would undermine the authority of governments to protect their people from financial crisis. 

Military vs. Climate Security: The 2011 Budgets Compared

October 26, 2010 ·

Report CoverSince 2008 the Institute for Policy Studies has been measuring the balance of federal spending on the military and on climate change.  Here are the results for FY 2011:

Spending on climate change has more than doubled, from $7 billion in 2008 to $18 billion for 2011.  Military spending has increased more, though at a slower rate, climbing from $696 billion in 2008 to $739 for 2011.

The result: the gap between spending on the military and on climate has been cut in half.  In 2008 the U.S. spent $94 on the military for every dollar spent on climate.  In 2011 the ratio will be $41 to $1.

This is progress, but the gap is still unacceptably large, for these reasons:

  • The hottest decade on record.  The rate of climate change is accelerating, and legislative action to curb emissions is at a standstill.  $18 billion in federal spending will make barely a dent in a huge problem.
  • Security.  The U.S. military has begun to talk about “climate security,” realizing that land and resource conflicts caused by climate change will create security problems unlike any it has ever faced.
  • Economic competitiveness.  China is on track to lead the world in the growth industries of solar and wind power by next year.  It spends twice as much on clean energy technology as does the U.S., and about one-sixth as much on its military, or between $2 and $3 on the military for each dollar on climate.
  • Jobs. A 2009 study conducted at the University of Massachusetts found that each $1 billion invested in clean energy technology will generate approximately 17,100 well-paying jobs, as compared to 11,600 jobs generated by the same amount invested in military technology.

The full report is at: 
http://www.ips-dc.org/reports/military_vs_climate_security_the_2011_budgets_compared

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Mark Doty's "Charlie Howard's Descent"

October 25, 2010 ·

Split This Rock mourns the gay and lesbian young people who committed suicide in the past weeks: Justin Aaberg, Asher Brown, Raymond Chase, Tyler Clementi, Aiyisha Hassan, Billy Lucas, and Seth Walsh. Their deaths demonstrate again the power of words. Words can destroy.

But they can also restore, give hope, remind us of our common humanity. We are privileged to be able to share with you this week Mark Doty's poem "Charlie Howard's Descent," which he read so movingly at the inaugural Split This Rock Poetry Festival in 2008. Charlie Howard's murder took place in 1984. Sadly, we still need this poem now more than ever. Please send it to everyone you know as a call for an end to hate, an end to bullying, a call for a full and rich life for every precious young person. 

Charlie Howard’s Descent

Between the bridge and the river
he falls through
a huge portion of night;
it is not as if falling

is something new. Over and over
he slipped into the gulf
between what he knew and how
he was known. What others wanted

opened like an abyss: the laughing
stock-clerks at the grocery, women
at the luncheonette amused by his gestures.
What could he do, live

with one hand tied
behind his back? So he began to fall
into the star-faced section
of night between the trestle

and the water because he could not meet
a little town's demands,
and his earrings shone and his wrists
were as limp as they were.

I imagine he took the insults in
and made of them a place to live;
we learn to use the names
because they are there,

familiar furniture: faggot
was the bed he slept in, hard
and white, but simple somehow,
queer something sharp

but finally useful, a tool,
all the jokes a chair,
stiff-backed to keep the spine straight,
a table, a lamp. And because

he's fallen for twenty-three years,
despite whatever awkwardness
his flailing arms and legs assume
he is beautiful

and like any good diver
has only an edge of fear
he transforms into grace.
Or else he is not afraid,

and in this way climbs back
up the ladder of his fall,
out of the river into the arms
of the three teenage boys

who hurled him from the edge -
really boys now, afraid,
their fathers' cars shivering behind them,
headlights on - and tells them 

it's all right, that he knows
they didn't believe him
when he said he couldn't swim,
and blesses his killers

in the way that only the dead
can afford to forgive.

- Mark Doty

Used by permission.

Mark Doty's FIRE TO FIRE: New and Selected Poems won the National Book Award for poetry. He teaches at Rutgers University, and lives in New York City.

Doty was featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2008, when he read "Charlie Howard's Descent." You can watch video of that reading here.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem-of-the-Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

Pentagon Papers 2.1 - Wikileaks Iraq War Logs Make Accountability Harder to Deny

October 25, 2010 ·

The Iraq war logs released by Wikileaks over the weekend do not, as far as we can tell so far, contain much evidence of things we didn’t already know.  The revelations are not surprising – but they are shocking nonetheless. Partly because of the scale – 15,000 more civilian casualties than we had known about before. (And remember, this is the very narrow definition of war casualties – including only those killed directly by weapons of war, not the hundreds of thousands more killed by the effects of the war – those unable to find treatment because hospitals had been destroyed, those children dying of once-vanquished diseases because the water treatment systems had been destroyed, and so much more.)

This latest trove of Wikileaks war documents is important not because it holds any new revelations of how the U.S. has and continued to wage war against Iraq, but rather because it reminds us of exactly how that war was and is being waged, and crucially, who is responsible. The significance has everything to do with accountability. 

It is unlikely that this latest exposé will have much impact in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East – the brutality, illegality, immorality and inhumanity of the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq are already all too well known there.  (Despite fevered Washington outrage, the “revelation” that Iran is paying huge amounts of money to buy influence in Baghdad should come as no surprise – isn’t that what the U.S. has been doing since 2003? Except Iran isn’t also militarily occupying and bombing its neighbor.)  The impact of the documents will be much more important here in the U.S., where economic crisis and intractable joblessness have, however understandably, diverted public attention from the horrors of war.  It is much more important here because despite a partial reduction of troops, there are still 50,000 re-named combat troops and 75,000 U.S.-paid military contractors occupying Iraq.  The war continues.

The actions recounted in the Wikileaks seemingly endless list of documents – attacks on civilians, airstrikes ordered by Pentagon legal advisers on Iraqis trying to surrender, attacks at checkpoints against Iraqi families who had no reason to understand the language or handmotions of occupying soldiers – represent war crimes.  And as long as there is no accountability – at the highest levels – for the policies that put these potential war crimes in motion, there is no reason to believe they will stop.  These documents do not tell us anything we didn’t already know – except for the details of who did what, who died, and crucially, who gave the orders.

It will not be enough to hold accountable those individuals at the end of the chain of command who pulled the trigger. First we must hold accountable all of those – in the Pentagon, the White House, the Justice Department and beyond – who gave the orders, who wrote the policies, who approved the airstrikes.  Then, and only then, we might be in a position to claim that we are trying to end the war.

What the Chilean Miners Taught Me

October 25, 2010 ·

I’ve spent much time of late wondering about the connections between progressive movements and art.  I recognize how grand a statement this is, combining, as it does, an ill-defined political perspective with a term that encompasses the sum of creative expression.  Still, there is a long history of art-infused political action on the left in America; I’m thinking especially of the civil rights movement which, in some ways, represented the apotheosis of the arts and politics mixture.   Who can forget the images of luminaries like James Baldwin and Harry Belafonte participating in civil rights marches across the country, or the sounds of movement leaders singing We Shall Overcome?  In this decade, many of us spent hours staring at Shepard Fairey’s once iconic (and now, inevitably, oft-parodied) depiction of then Senator Obama as a heroic figure swathed in red, white and blue. 

Yet something occurred to me as I watched the Chilean miners ascend from their temporary prison below the earth to their families and throngs of waiting press above.  I realized that the most salient connection between progressive politics and art is imagination.

This was surely an odd time to be struck by such a revelation.  First, the rescue itself was an apolitical affair, carried out by people of various political beliefs (one would assume) who’d descended on Chile from locations around the world.  Second, although we occasionally heard singing in the background as reporters described the rescue in minute detail, there wasn’t much art.  However, each time I read an update about the progress of the workers who were attempting to rescue the miners, or saw pictures of the families waiting and hoping, and then, last week, when I saw the miners ascend one after another from the ground, I realized that the trajectory of this particular story approximated, in micro, the popular movements that I grew up reading about in school.  I reveled in the miners’ victory because it represented the triumph of imagination over the seemingly unalterable rules of reality. 

I became fixated on the power of imagination as I watched the story unfold, and the way imagination can sustain a vision of brighter possibilities, even when such possibilities seem, well, impossible.  The same type of imagination that sustains art – that enables someone to, say, shape a new reality on a blank page, canvas, building wall, from a piece of clay – sustains progressive movements.  This link is important for many reasons, not least of which because contemporary progressive movements all struggle to sustain a kind of prophetic vision about a future that could happen, not the kind of future that probably will happen if things remain the same.  As I saw the miners celebrating with their families, I couldn’t help but think how heartening it was to see a group of people work towards a common goal, understanding that they could fail, and imagining, all the same, that they wouldn’t.

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