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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 November 2011

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A Stunning Victory

November 22, 2011 ·

Near the end of George Bush’s eight years in the White House, the president and his Iraqi counterpart, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, shared a big problem. Both of them wanted U.S. troops to stay in Iraq, but both faced widespread domestic opposition to the U.S. occupation.

Obama is bringing the troops home, but will he leave behind the military contractors? Photo by U.S. Army.

Feeling the heat, they settled on a “status of forces agreement” (SOFA) calling for full withdrawal of all 150,000 or so U.S. troops and all Pentagon-paid contractors by Dec. 31. In his first 18 months in office, President Obama did significantly reduce the numbers of troops in Iraq, down to about 50,000 by August 2010. But there it stuck. A year later, more than 40,000 U.S. troops were still occupying Iraq. The number of Pentagon-paid contractors still there was even higher—as of March, more than 64,000.

Even worse, the Obama administration continued to pressure the weak and corrupt Iraqi government to renegotiate the SOFA and “invite” the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future: a permanent occupation in all but name.

At the end of the day, none of those efforts worked. The official reason for not agreeing to keep 5,000 to 10,000 troops in Iraq was the refusal of the Iraqi government to guarantee U.S. soldiers immunity from criminal prosecution, but the real reason was that anti-war public opinion in Iraq and the U.S. was simply too strong. Al-Maliki certainly hoped some U.S. troops would remain, to help his unpopular government stay in power; Obama was under pressure from some in the Pentagon determined not to “lose” the supposed “gains” the occupation had achieved. But neither Iraq’s parliament nor the American people were prepared to allow thousands of U.S. soldiers to continue occupying Iraq. It was a stunning victory for those who have fought for peace all these years.

But. We’re not out of the woods entirely. Remember those contractors? Turns out the SOFA drafters were cleverer than anyone knew. The agreement said all Pentagon-paid military contractors had to leave by the end of this year, but didn’t mention those paid by the State Department. So guess which U.S. government agency is taking over the check-writing to pay thousands of U.S.-hired mercenaries to stay in Iraq for the long haul?

President Obama campaigned on a promise to end the war in Iraq, calling it a “dumb war.” So why did his administration try so hard to continue the occupation? It seems the strategic reasons that began during the Bush administration—the real causes underneath the fallacious claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or responsibility for 9/11—didn’t go away. Control of oil contracts, strategic reach in a vital region, access to bases, surrounding Iran: All remain operative, whoever is in the White House.

The war cost way too much in Iraqi and U.S. deaths and in our tax dollars. We paid almost $50 billion just this year for this war. That’s enough to provide health care for 24 million children for a year, or to create and fund new, green jobs for a million workers—maybe including those thousands of soldiers supposed to be on their way home.

The U.S. role in the Iraq war has gotten smaller, but it sure isn’t over. We need to bring home all U.S. personnel and dollars. It’s really “dumb” if we don’t. And we still can’t afford dumb wars.

“Reprinted with permission from Sojourners, (800)714-7474, www.sojo.net." 

Sequestering Military Spending

November 21, 2011 ·

In its final stages, debate over the supercommittee has boiled down to squeezing new revenues out of millionaires vs. cutting the social safety net. The largest portion of the discretionary budget, however, funds the military — and that fact has been mostly obscured in this equation. With the panel in its final death throes, military spending is emerging from the shadows in the form of “defense sequestration.” This is the requirement that failure would trigger $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, half of which would come from the Pentagon's coffers.

Thirteen straight years of military spending increases have more than doubled the Pentagon's base budget. Photo by expertinfantry.Scare tactics don’t tend to produce entirely sensible legislation, and this one is no exception. Yet can these cuts be made with no sacrifice to our security? Emphatically, yes.

The Pentagon and its allies in industry and Congress are warning us over and over that this “doomsday” scenario will leave us weakened and vulnerable. They're ignoring several pretty important facts. The “sequestration” cuts, added to those already planned, would bring our military spending, in inflation-adjusted terms, to its 2007 level. Was anyone talking about doomsday then?

Thirteen straight years of military increases, moreover, have more than doubled the Pentagon's base budget (excluding war spending), bringing it to its highest level since World War II. And these increases have actually expanded the gap between U.S. military spending and the rest of the world. At the beginning of this period, we were spending about a third of the world’s total. Now we're spending about half.

Even if sequestration cuts across all military programs, this sort of ham-handed approach is safely doable. Our blank-check approach to military spending in this century has created waste in every program, waiting to be trimmed. Even as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta works to protect his budget at the expense of all others, his Pentagon remains the only federal department that can't pass an audit of its books.

The Project On Government Oversight has calculated that simply cutting back by 15 percent on the privatization of military functions that has occurred in this period would save $300 billion over 10 years.

Is sequestration the best way to manage a defense drawdown? No. For one thing, the best way would make choices based on how much we need to spend, on what, to keep us safe. A new security strategy could allow us to question, for example, the need for our current “forward presence,” which has between 105 and 125 ships cruising around three oceans nearly all the time, and target savings accordingly in the naval budget. Sequestration bypasses this kind of thinking.

Nor would the sequestration “haircut” do anything good for our enduring unemployment crisis. Military cuts, it is true, will have a smaller impact on jobs than other cuts in the domestic discretionary budget. A study by economists at the University of Massachusetts found that $1 billion in military spending sustains about 11,000 jobs as compared to about 17,000 from an equivalent amount of spending on clean energy. Let's cut spending on military programs we don’t need and invest those savings in job creation by making things we do need.

This is the kind of vision laid out in a new report from my organization, the Institute for Policy Studies. It outlines a set of cuts to those military programs we don’t need, and combines that with fiscal reforms and pollution taxes. The result would be more than $800 billion we can invest in building the kind of country we all deserve.

Since the Super Committee Failed, Now The Rest Of Us Can Succeed

November 21, 2011 ·

Thank you to Super-Committee Republicans who remained intransigent in their insistence of governing by and for the 1%, protecting their self-interest and the interests of the Super-Rich and Wall Street Bankers.

The Super Committee was a short-lived political show. IPS has prescriptions for real budget solutions. Photo by DonkeyHotey.

Thank you to the Super-Committee Democrats who, though they revealed their  willingness, if reluctant, to do  the same by putting drastic cuts to vital domestic  and earned benefits programs on the table next to revenue-raisers, stood up against a bad deal.  The Democrats on the Super-Committee were responsive to the 99% in the end.

The undemocratic, appointed Joint Select committee of six Democrats and six Republicans, a.k.a. the “Super-Committee,” failed to reach an agreement that would have unnecessarily imposed untold hardship on the vast majority of those of us already struggling in a bad economy.  If this inability to reach a terrible deal is “failure”, can you imagine what “success,” defined by this crowd would have looked like?

Here’s what success for America’s short- and long-term fiscal health should look like; and thanks to the Super-Committee fail, we might just have the time and political space to achieve some of it:

My colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies  have a newly released Report: America Is Not Broke: How to Fix the Crisis While Making the Country More Equitable, Green, and Secure.

The report asserts that the current economic crisis presents us all with the opportunity and challenge to use our nation’s vast wealth to create a sustainable economy which functions well for all of us.

The Institute for Policy Studies comes up with seven times the total $1.2 trillion over ten years savings that the Super-Committee was charged with finding.  Not only would this be success in correcting national priorities and positively affecting the long-term debt, these tax and spending reforms would create a society that works for 99% of us.

If we had the political will to actually achieve success, we could achieve at least $824 billion per year by doing the following:

1)      Generate revenue equitably: Going beyond rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The report proposes reforms would generate $375 billion per year. These proposals ensure that Wall Street and the wealthy pay their fair share and  also call for a small tax on trades of stocks, bonds, and derivatives as a way to both generate revenue and discourage high-risk, high-frequency trading.

2)      Ensure that security spending actually makes our country more secure: A total of $252 billion per year could be raised from smart reductions in the military budget by reducing the enormous number of overseas U.S. military bases; eliminating obsolete and wasteful defense programs; ending the war in Afghanistan as we end the war in Iraq

3)      Create a clean, sustainable environment: Eliminating corporate welfare for the oil industry and taxing could generate nearly $200 billion per year in revenue, while creating incentives to adopt green technologies and reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil.

 Finally, though not outlined in the report and admittedly more difficult to achieve, its important to note we need true health care reform so that escalating health costs do not overtake even the most responsible debt-reduction steps.  The Center on Economic Policy Research reports that with the current health system, CBO projections show devastating consequences for our budget deficits going forward. But, for instance, if we had universal access to health care and the same per person costs as Canada, we would save $1.2 trillion a year, with $600 of the savings going to the government.

Taken together, this formula for success would put us squarely and strongly on the path to both fiscal sustainability and toward a more equitable and flourishing society.

The Lineup: Week of Nov. 21-27, 2011

November 21, 2011 ·

In this week's OtherWords editorial package, Sarah Anderson suggests concrete steps toward a more balanced budget that would make the U.S. economy healthier, more equitable, and sustainable and rein in runaway military spending. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.


  1. Occupy the Budget / Sarah Anderson
  2. Is Iran Iraq All Over Again? / Peter Hart
  3. Misrepresenting Occupy Wall Street / Mark Potok
  4. Occupy Your Bank / Samuel J. Vance
  5. Vegan Misgivings / Donald Kaul
  6. Border War Rumors / Jim Hightower
  7. Big Banks are Doing Just Fine, Thank You / William A. Collins
  8. Thanksgiving on Wall Street / Khalil Bendib

Thanksgiving on Wall Street, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

If the Super-Committee Fails, America Wins

November 18, 2011 ·

The deal passed this summer in order to get Republican support for the necessary raising of our national debt ceiling was a bad deal. The creation of the 12-member bi-partisan “Super-Committee” charged with enacting that deal’s mandate of removing $1.2 trillion from our national debt over the next ten years was a bad idea. And, any agreement which might emerge from this bad idea born of a bad deal is destined to be a bad agreement.  The cuts resulting from the trigger to be pulled in the absence of a Super-Committee agreement is the best of bad options for the American people.

We all stand to lose if the Super-Committee reaches a deal. Photo by sunlightfoundation.

Called a “sequestration,” this process would protect earned benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, thus protecting the vast majority of Americans who rely on them.  Further, the Pentagon budget, which has doubled in the past ten years, would see a small reduction which would bring it back to 2007 funding level. Draconian and painful cuts in the order of a devastating $600 Billion to already slashed and strained social programs would begin to be enacted, but not until 2013. All of the sequestration-required cuts could potentially be refigured and re-legislated, and at a later time when the economy may have rebounded enough to better stand the ravage.

Both the Democratic and Republican proposals to the Super-Committee contain not only drastic cuts to crucial anti-poverty entitlement programs, they also lower taxes on the super-rich, or raise too little to matter much. These cuts would begin to go into effect immediately upon passage at a time when our economy is far too weak to do anything but spiral downward in the face of such austerity measures.

It is increasingly looking as though there will, mercifully, be no Super-Committee deal. This is not failure. This is hope for the American people, for our suffering and shrinking middle class, for our unemployed suffering the ravages of poverty, for 99% of us. The failure of the Super-Committee is a victory for the American people.

Lawmakers, and the public, need to understand this. Democrats on the Super-Committee need to understand this. Super-Committee Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts needs to see the error and danger of his alarmist proclamation that the markets will react badly to the absence of a deal from the SuperCommittee. As John Irons of The Economic Policy Institute explains:

Does the market believe that Democrats and Republicans will come together in a Kumbaya moment to pass $3 trillion in tax increases and/or cuts to spending? I wouldn’t bet on it. Goldman Sachs noted in a recent Q&A on the supercommittee that, “a ‘grand bargain’ to resolve this imbalance appears to be a low probability this year. Instead, the politically realistic outcomes range from no agreement to a deal reaching $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.” They also note that just “32% of economists polled in the November Blue Chip financial survey expected a super committee agreement to become law.” Thus a failure would merely confirm market expectations, and there should be little reaction in the markets.

We will see backpedaling on both sides. We will see the Republicans trying to “lockbox” defense spending. We will hear cries that the sky is falling for all kinds of reasons.  Don’t listen. Stand firm.

Undertand: No Deal is better than a Bad Deal; and a Bad Deal is all we would get from the Super-Committee.

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