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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 December 2010

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'Tis The Season For Gay Rights

December 22, 2010 ·

Let's celebrate this day, Dec 22 2010. It is the day President Barak Obama signs into the law the repeal of the onerous policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in which a person can be expelled from the U.S. military based on his or her sexual orientation. This policy was egregiously discriminatory and should never have been implemented. That the Senate was able to garner significant bipartisan support for its eleventh hour repeal this 111th Congress is remarkable and reason for celebrating indeed.

Finally, a victory.
Finally, a campaign promise fulfilled.
Finally, a long-overdue step forward for civil rights achieved.

Now, I don't want to diminish the victory nor dilute the champagne and I won't. But I do simply want also to point out that as a nation, and certainly as a human society globally, we have a long way to go toward advancing equal rights and equal protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth and adults. And, as a nation and a global human society, we have a long way to go to transform from a militaristic, war-torn world into one in which governments and their militaries- gay, straight or otherwise- end war crimes and imperialistic ventures for profit, power and greed.

Its Christmas. Whatever your religion or lack thereof, its a good time to contemplate Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All. In that vein, celebrate the repeal of the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and rededicate yourselves to continuing the struggle for peace and equality at home and abroad.

Tis the Season.

Cultures of War

December 22, 2010 ·

From 1989-1995, I worked at IPS as a diplomatic and military historian assisting former IPS Fellow Gar Alperovitz with a research project that culminated in the book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (New York: Knopf, 1995). Recently, C-SPAN asked me to interview John Dower, MIT Professor Emeritus of History about his new book Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq which was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

Sahno Tree interviews John DowerNot only does his book explore the parallels between the bombing of Hiroshima and the attacks of 9/11, but he also finds striking similarities between Japan's reckless decision to attack the United States and George W. Bush's disastrous decision to invade Iraq. Analyzing conflicts that claimed so many lives and caused such immense suffering, Dower finds similar mistakes and assumptions repeated just decades apart. His book distills those hard won lessons in the hope that they will not be repeated again. Cultures of War should be mandatory reading in our military academies and in government.

You can watch the C-SPAN interview here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Dower

South Korea: Seeking Reunification by Live Fire?

December 20, 2010 ·

If you look closely at the AP photograph of the South Korean marines conducting a drill on Yeonpyoeong island, you can see that their yellow headbands read tongil. That's the Korean word for reunification. With the South Korean government conducting another round of live-fire artillery drills in contested waters near North Korea, the message of the headband is unambiguous. Rather than waiting patiently for reunification to take place through negotiations, the Lee Myoung-bak administration wants to accelerate the process, by force if necessary.

When South Korea conducted live-fire drills in the area last month, North Korea responded by shelling Yeonpyeong island, killing two soldiers and two civilians. The South shelled back. This time around, the South disregarded pleas by China and Russia to postpone its military exercise. On Monday, it conducted 90 minutes of artillery shelling from Yeonpyeong island as South Korean jet fighters flew overhead. Despite initial threats to retaliate, North Korea has so far refrained from responding to what it has called a "despicable military provocation." 

South Korea's resolve to go through with the test was simply a refusal to be bullied, argued many analysts, including former South Korean foreign minister Han Sung-Joo. “If each North Korean threat tied our hands, we would become hostage to their threats,” he commented.

As the yellow headbands indicate, however, the current South Korean government is not just sending a message of deterrence. The Lee Myung-bak government, like its recent predecessors, sees an opportunity to break the stalemate on the peninsula. But unlike either the Kim Dae-Jung or Roh Moo-Hyun administration, Lee doesn't see a long, slow process of negotiating reunification.

When Lee looks north, he sees an ailing dictator, a struggling economy, and a desperate national-security apparatus. The Wikileaks documents, meanwhile, suggested that China was losing patience with its North Korean ally. All of this contributed to last week's statement by the South Korean president that "unification is drawing near." The South Korean government is putting money into preparing for regime collapse in the north in much the way the Kim and Roh governments put money into engaging the North economically and politically.

The U.S. government has generally backed the South Korean government's more aggressive posture. Twenty U.S. soldiers participated in the recent live-fire drill. Joint South Korean-U.S. military exercises in these contested wars have ratcheted up the tensions. And at the United Nations, the United States has pushed for a condemnation of North Korea's November 23 artillery attack to be included in a statement otherwise designed to calm the waters. China has blocked consensus, sensibly pointing out that such a statement would only roil the waters more.  

At the same time, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson just returned from Pyongyang with the outlines of a possible deal that could bring the disputing parties back to the negotiating table. North Korea is willing to allow back UN nuclear inspectors, send fuel rods out of the country, and establish a hotline between the two Koreas and the United States. While in Pyongyang, Richardson urged the North Korean leadership to show "maximum restraint" in dealing with South Korea's drills.

Today North Korea followed Richardson's advice. Now it's the South Korean and U.S. turn to show maximum restraint. By following up on the offer on the table, all sides can step away from the precipice and go back to pursuing reunification the old-fashioned way: by talking, not fighting.


Yes, There is An Alternative

December 20, 2010 ·

It makes us angry when we hear—time and again—mainstream pundits and policy makers claim that there is no alternative to the past 30 years’ path of gearing economies toward the global market. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Currently, as financial markets stagnate and food prices swing wildly and the environment is under siege, more and more people, communities, and nations are taking steps to reduce their vulnerability to a volatile global economy. Many are proceeding to build what we like to call more “rooted” alternatives.

In the Philippines, for instance, we find a refreshing openness to new directions from the halls of the new Congress to the rice fields of the southern island of Mindanao. Many people have come to understand that the dominant approach to the economy since the final years of the Marcos dictatorship, building on 400 years of colonialism, has failed: This more vulnerable approach geared the economy toward the plunder of fish, forests, and minerals that enriched the few and impoverished workers, farmers, and fishers. It created an agriculture sector that is dependent upon unreliable imports rather than geared to feeding the people.

Industrialization occurred in export enclaves, mainly of electronics, that profited corporations but remains dependent upon unreliable overseas markets. And, the model depends upon the export of Filipino workers to other countries to send home money to relatives, since the economy is not providing for their needs. The result is a plundered environment and an economy that is vulnerable to the shocks of a shaky world economy.

We will tell you more about what we find in the Philippines in subsequent blogs, but today we want to deal head-on with the “there is no alternative” myth.

So, what is the alternative?

How about an economy that encourages the stewardship of forests, fisheries and land for community needs? One that encourages agriculture that is good for the soil, feeds everyone an adequate diet, and reorients industry for people’s needs? How about a finance system that helps small enterprises, and an economy that creates enough good jobs and livelihoods so that youth see a future at home?

Community rice farm, photo by Robin Broad

There is in fact an upsurge of efforts in this direction in the United States, in Europe, and in a number of poorer countries—including many parts of the Philippines. In the United States, the Institute for Policy Studies, YES! Magazine, and several other groups have come together to form a “New Economy Working Group.” They have proposed that in order to transform economies to meet the crises, economic life should be organized around three principles.

The first is “ecological balance"—ecosystems should be managed sustainably. This is best done when communities control the natural resources on which they depend. The second is “equitable distribution.” A growing body of evidence suggests that societies that share wealth more equitably enjoy greater health, less violence, and stronger communities. A final principal is “living democracy” (in the words of both Vandana Shiva and Frances Moore Lappé) which involves daily practices of civic engagement in decision making as well as broad participation in the ownership of community assets. People around the world are proposing alternatives and rebuilding parts of economic life based on these principles. Here are four key areas:

  • New indicators: What you measure is vital. The emphasis of most governments on measuring growth does not reveal much about the health of a society. So, a number of institutions, from the United Nations Development Program to a French government commission led by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, have developed new indicators that measure health, welfare, and different aspects of the three principals above. When governments around the world start paying more attention to such indicators and less to growth, there will be more incentives and even more popular demand for policies that enhance community and human welfare.
  • Close the financial casino: For two decades, there was competition in the financial centers of most countries to develop elaborate new-fangled financial instruments that enriched a new financial elite. This casino activity is what triggered the Wall Street collapse of 2008. Today, more and more economists, business people, and citizens are pressing for regulations that would ban such purely speculative financial activities. The U.S. government, for one, is now giving some incentives to boost local financial institutions offering credit to community enterprises and to individuals in need.
  • Sustainable agriculture: Around the world, millions of farmers are shifting from chemical-intensive agriculture to organic and sustainable agriculture. We find a frenzy of such activity on the ground in the Philippines, and in future blogs we’ll introduce you to farmers whose shift to organics has lowered costs, improved health, cleaned up the environment, and empowered individuals and families.
  • Global rules and institutions that support a new economy: Vibrant local communities depend upon governments to make rules at the national and global levels supporting such activity. Our governments should replace the World Trade Organization, which sets global trade and investment rules in ways that inhibit local and national governments from favoring local firms over global ones. In the Philippines’ case, the WTO has been central to the ripping open of agricultural markets, making the nation dependent on rice and food imports that led to the food price crisis of 2008. The alternative? Building global institutions and rules that support more rooted economies. For example, several governments and many citizen groups in the West are now pressing richer countries to place a small “speculation tax” on the sale of stock, currency and derivatives, and to steer the revenues toward jobs and climate finance in poorer countries like the Philippines.

So, in the spirit of the holiday season: Yes, Virginia, there are a multitude of rooted alternatives.

John Cavanagh and Robin BroadRobin Broad and John Cavanagh wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Robin is a Professor of International Development at American University in Washington, D.C. and has worked as an international economist in the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Congress. John is on leave from directing the Institute for Policy Studies, and is co-chair (with David Korten) of the New Economy Working Group. They are co-authors of three books on the global economy, and are currently traveling the country and the world to write a book entitled Local Dreams: Finding Rootedness in the Age of Vulnerability.

Recklessness with Nuclear Waste

December 16, 2010 ·

President Obama is holding a meeting today with the leaders of indigenous people in the U.S. One important issue is the fact that tribal people, because of their subsistence lifestyle, are the most vulnerable group of humans to environmental contaminants.

In 2002, researchers with the Centers for Disease Control reported that tribal people eating fish from the stretch of the Columbia River flowing through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hanford nuclear weapon production site in eastern Washington had a 1 in 50 risk of dying from radiation-induced cancer between the 1940's and late 1960's – the highest of any group living near this nuclear bomb plant. Along the near-shore, nine nuclear reactors used the river to cool their radioactive cores in order to make plutonium for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. During the production period, this stretch of the Columbia, known as the Hanford Reach, was considered the most radioactive stream in the world. Radioactive contaminants were found to migrate to the mouth of the Columbia in Portland OR and as far as the Baja in Mexico. Since then, most of radioactivity has decayed away.

The same year that CDC released its report, the Environmental Protection Agency also came out with a study that found that indigenous people eating fish at the present time from the same stretch of the Columbia have a 1 in 50 risk of dying from cancer due to pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyl’s (PCBs) and heavy metals. For several decades, the Columbia River has been a disposal medium for huge amounts of farming chemicals and toxic dumping by the mining industry. It’s extremely difficult to determine how much of these contaminants are coming from the Hanford site. Normally, the EPA is supposed to take action when a human health risk exceeds 1 in 10,000.

Production at Hanford ended twenty years ago, and left behind one of the most contaminated zones in the western Hemisphere. Some 400 billion gallons of liquid wastes were dumped into the soil-- enough to create a poisonous lake the size of Manhattan Island -- 80 feet deep. Enormous groundwater plumes containing radioactive and other hazardous wastes are migrating into the river. The most immediate threat is from hexavalent chromium, a potent carcinogen, made famous by the movie, Erin Brokovich. Large amounts were used in Hanford’s reactors, and are now creeping into the Chinook salmon spawning beds. Tribal people are extremely dependent on the salmon for subsistence and their economic well being. The Chinook also make up a large portion of the total Pacific salmon harvest.

In 2000, a study by the U.S, Geological Survey found that juvenile salmon in the Hanford Reach are being seriously harmed by the chromium entering the river. It was heavily criticized by the DOE and effectively squelched. Further research was thwarted after a refrigerator that held samples of salmon tissue at DOE’s Pacific National Laboratory was mysteriously unplugged.

The Yakama Tribe, whose land is occupied by the Hanford site, has repeatedly tried to get the U.S. government to acknowledge this problem. At a meeting in 2003, with EPA Region 10 officials, tribal members were told EPA had no money to reduce their risks and that they should be more concerned about pesticide residues on Mexican strawberries. In exchange for relinquishing their land, the Federal government has a legal trust responsibility to ensure that tribal treaty resources are protected and that the health of tribal people is not being harmed. Violation of this trust responsibility has a long, well-documented and tragic history. So far, no attempt by the U.S. government has been made to correct this injustice on the Hanford Reach.

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