IPS Blog

Moral Obscenities in Syria

This blog was cross-posted from The Nation.

Reuters/Nour Fourat

Reuters/Nour Fourat

The threat of a reckless, dangerous, and illegal US or US-led assault on Syria is looking closer than ever.

The US government has been divided over the Syria crisis since it began. Some, especially in the Pentagon and some of the intelligence agencies, said direct military intervention would be dangerous and would accomplish nothing. Others, especially in Congress and some in the State Department, have demanded military attacks, even regime change, against the Syrian leadership, even before anyone made allegations of chemical weapons. The Obama administration has been divided too, with President Obama seemingly opposed to any US escalation. The American people are not divided—60 percent are against intervening in Syria’s civil war even if chemical weapons were involved.

But the situation is changing rapidly, and the Obama administration appears to be moving closer to direct military intervention. That would make the dire situation in Syria inestimably worse.

The attack that killed so many civilians, including many children, last Wednesday may well have been from a chemical weapon. Doctors Without Borders, in touch with local hospitals they support, said that while the symptoms “strongly indicate” that thousands of patients were exposed to a neurotoxic agent, they “can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack.” The United Nations chemical weapons inspection team already in Syria to investigate earlier claims was granted permission by the government to visit the new site today; they have not yet reported any findings.

No one knows yet what actually happened, other than a horrific attack on civilians, many of whom died. No one has yet made public any evidence of what killed them, or who may be responsible.

Read more at The Nation.

Stop the CEO March on Washington

1963 March on Washington

In these closing days of summer, a growing number of news stories have interrupted our final days at the beach and asked us to pause and remember the 50th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington that occurred on August 28, 1963.

Dr. Martin Luther King and the quarter of a million others who marched with him to our nation’s capital turned the tide toward greater equality through persistent organizing and tireless action.

In the decades that have followed, those struggling for justice are not the only ones who have rallied in Washington. CEOs from Wall Street and large corporations have of course been a powerful presence. They don’t march to Washington but instead fly in corporate jets. They don’t come with millions by their side, but rather with millions in their pockets. And they don’t come to demand greater inclusion and opportunity for all, but for more tax breaks for their businesses, to be paid for by cuts to services provided to ordinary families.

One such group is Fix the Debt, a group of powerful CEOs lobbying for permanent tax cuts for the trillions of dollars they’ve stashed offshore, and for cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security.

Thankfully, these CEOs are not the only ones on the move this August. National People’s Action (NPA), a powerful grassroots action group, has been calling attention to four powerful corporations in their Summer of the CEO Campaign. NPA has targeted the leaders of Bank of America, General Electric, Macy’s and Verizon – all of whom are members of the Fix the Debt campaign.

These CEOs have nothing to lose by calling for a roll-back of Social Security benefits. They all have multi-million dollar corporate pensions to rely on when they retire. Take General Electric’s CEO Jeffrey Immelt, whose $59.3 million GE retirement account could be converted into an annuity that would deliver him a $346,964 monthly retirement check starting at age 65.

Immelt is not alone in putting the gold in the golden years. With nearly $20 million in his corporate retirement plan, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren will not need to rely on Social Security (or those Macy’s discount coupons) when he retires.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam won’t care about the price increases in his cell phone plan. He’s got $9.8 million in his Verizon retirement account. And Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan has no worries about his mortgage payment, with $8.4 million in his retirement stash.

Washington policymakers have become too focused on the millions of dollars brought by CEOs. They should pay more attention to groups like National People’s Action. This year, as the Institute for Policy Studies celebrates our own 50th anniversary, we have named them as one of our “Top 50 Allies.” We are proud to work with NPA and other social justice groups who remind us of this nation’s proud history of people power overcoming the power of money.

Millions of people acting together can still beat millions of dollars.

This Week in OtherWords: August 21, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Fredric Rolando describes how letter carriers often serve their customers across the country in unexpected ways and Sam Pizzigati discusses how Utah’s distinction as one of the most economically equal states is fading.

Do you want to make sure you don’t miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today to keep this valuable service running.

  1. The False Choice between Security and Liberty / Aimee Thomson
    How much of our privacy and how many of our constitutional rights are we willing to give up to protect this country from violent attack?
  2. When Postal Workers Double as First Responders / Fredric Rolando
    They’re often the only watchful eyes in a neighborhood when most residents are at work or school.
  3. The Un-American Way / Wenonah Hauter
    The Trans-Pacific Partnership deal threatens food safety and public health.
  4. Et Tu, Buddhist? / Donald Kaul
    In every war, both sides claim that God’s on their side.
  5. In America’s West, Equality Takes a Hit / Sam Pizzigati
    Utah may be losing its egalitarian advantage.
  6. The Fake Thing / Jill Richardson
    With a newfound exercise obsession, Coca-Cola and other companies are trying to shift the blame for what they’re doing to our health.
  7. Wall Street’s Fix for Homelessness / Jim Hightower
    A former hedge fund manager believes that charity causes poverty.
  8. The Medical-Industrial Complex / William A. Collins
    Our health industry’s big players focus on making as much money as possible.
  9. Patients vs Profits / Khalil BendibEmily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org
Patients vs Profits, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Patients vs Profits, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Talking Outside the Bounds: “Strumpets,” History, and White Privilege

Tess Taylor Split This RockThe email called me “whorish” and the “strumpet of a carpetbagger.” It called my recent editorial about my grandfather “revolting.”

Hot damn. Really? I had just published a New York Times editorial about a painful incident during the Civil Rights movement in Danville, Virginia. My grandfather wrote a letter of protest to a judge who had doled out stiff sentences to Civil Rights protestors. Arrested for writing the letter, my grandfather served a bench warrant and was ridiculed and publicly humiliated in his small mill town.

In my article, I retraced the events. I meditated on some of what had been at stake for my grandfather, a white man, to speak out against the brutal violence and stark injustices faced by black protesters (and black people). I meditated about how my grandfather’s action both was and was not adequate protest to the era’s injustice. And I’d interviewed the minister who organized the protests, Lawrence Campbell, to see how he looked back on that time now.

My piece mostly got a warm reception. What surprised me was that this virulently sour note, in my inbox, had the power to make me feel—at least briefly— ill, angry, defensive, hurt, small. I felt singled out, threatened. Eventually I called some friends and laughed off the hurt. After all: The man was accusing me of tying Danville to this violent and unsavory history—yet he was the one calling me a carpbetbagger. Oh please. Dear sir, I regret to inform: It’s hard to escape history if you go around calling people strumpets.

As I thought about it more, however, it seemed to me that this reprimand – its unpleasantness, its rotten smell – was one of the mechanisms by which racism is maintained and one of the reasons white people stay quiet about racism. If we talk outside the bounds, we might get dinged.

Read the full post on Split This Rock’s blog.


Tess Taylor currently reviews poetry for NPR’s All Things Considered and teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley. Her first book of poems, The Forage House, was released this month by Red Hen Press. She lives in El Cerrito, California. Tess will be reading from The Forage House at Sunday Kind of Love, Split This Rock‘s series in collaboration with Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, January 19, 2014.

This Week in OtherWords: August 14, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Ryan Alexander weighs in on the price we’re paying for our do-nothing Congress and Jill Richardson notes that good food must come with at least a pinch of humility.

Do you want to make sure you don’t miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please make a tax-deductible donation todayto keep this valuable service running.

  1. Dud Congress Breaks with a Thud / Ryan Alexander
    Our nation needs — and deserves — a legislature that works.
  2. How to Move Millions into the Middle Class / Richard Kirsch
    President Obama should issue an executive order to guarantee a living wage for millions of workers employed by federal contractors.
  3. Kiss of Death / Tracy Fernandez Rysavy
    Why is lead in lipstick?
  4. How I Exposed an Undercover Cop / Lacy MacAuley
    Spying on protestors is the worst violation of our freedom.
  5. The Devil Is in the Taxes / Donald Kaul
    My foolproof plan will rescue our society from the sleazy grasp of special-interest politics.
  6. The Bezillionaire Times / Sam Pizzigati
    Amazon’s take-no-prisoners business model made founder Jeff Bezos staggeringly rich while stranding thousands of warehouse workers on the borderline of poverty.
  7. Hold the Pomposity / Jill Richardson
    You can’t produce good food without some humility.
  8. Get Radio-Active / Jim Hightower
    Thousands of low-power radio broadcast licenses will be up for grabs by non-profit, community groups this October.
  9. As the World Drowns / William A. Collins
    Let’s do something before it’s too late.
  10. Climate Change We Can Believe In / Khalil Bendib Cartoon
Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org
Climate Change We Can Believe In, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Climate Change We Can Believe In, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Why Would James Woolsey Back Solar Energy?



“Distributed generation with solar looks better and better to me all the time.” -James Woolsey, former director of the CIA.

What is a man with Woolsey’s credentials doing issuing a powerful endorsement of home solar panels? National security and sustainability, at face value, certainly make for an unlikely overlap of interests.

In his talk—delivered to a crowd of several hundred people at the Johns Hopkins Institute for International Studies—Woolsey advocated distributed solar energy in the form of solar panels on businesses and homes as one viable solution to the security challenges faced by America’s electricity grid.

The grid—the network of power plants, electrical substations, and transmission lines that deliver electricity around the country—is only one of 18 critical infrastructures in the U.S. However, all depend on electricity to function, making the stability of the grid vital to the running of each of these infrastructures.

Cyber threats are a particular threat to the national grid, in part because the control systems for the grid are all available online. Electrical infrastructure can also be severely damaged or disabled by large electromagnetic pulses, such as those caused by spontaneous electromagnetic bursts from the sun or by a nuclear attack. Woolsey noted that the grid is also vulnerable to attacks from, for instance, heavy artillery or ordinary gunfire.

Woolsey’s solutions to these threats are twofold. First, he suggested that individual shields should be constructed around every vital point on the energy grid to help protect these electrical hubs from attack—however, this would be undeniably resource-intensive and provide few benefits. Woolsey’s second—and more realistic—solution endorsed the idea of distributed generation and storage of renewable energy at the local level.

The logic behind the security argument for distributed solar is simple. When the energy needed to power each household and business is “coming from your roof… and being stored in the basement,” as Woolsey quipped, Americans are less vulnerable to disruptions in the production and transport system. The more energy produced locally on roofs and in yards, the less impact an extreme weather event or attack can have on the regular functioning of American society. Such resilience to external disruptions is key in an increasingly unpredictable energy, climate, and national security landscape.

There remain significant barriers to distributed solar energy, however. Although much of the technology for affordable distributed solar is “here or almost here,” according to Woolsey, funding for research and development is often uncertain. Further, it takes time for any new technology to be integrated into society. Attention must be given to state and national incentives for solar installation, integration with existing infrastructure, and other barriers to access if the market for distributed solar is to flourish across the United States.

Yet Woolsey’s endorsement of distributed solar energy as a security investment suggests the potential for more promising, creative national defense solutions—solutions that create resilient, productive domestic systems while working towards a more sustainable, renewable future.

This Week in OtherWords: August 7, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Sanjay Jolly describes the promising opportunities that a new wave of low-power FM stations will soon create, Jill Stein explains why she gave Bradley Manning a “presidential pardon,” and William A. Collins and I put the rash of newspaper purchases by billionaires into perspective.

Do you want to make sure you don’t miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today to keep this valuable service running.

  1. A Chance to Start Listening Locally / Sanjay Jolly
    Low-power FM radio levels the playing field of ideas and culture.
  2. Higher Education’s Complicity in the Trayvon Martin Tragedy / William B. Harvey
    Universities need to lead the way toward the national conversation on race we clearly need.
  3. Why I Granted Bradley Manning a Presidential Pardon / Jill Stein
    He was defending the highest principles of democracy by exposing U.S. war crimes and State Department deception.
  4. By George, You Don’t Get It / Donald Kaul
    Detroit was a one-industry company town run by executives who forgot how to make cars people wanted to buy.
  5. Blowing the Whistle on Philanthropy / Sam Pizzigati
    A scion of one of America’s top fortunes has just exposed our “charitable-industrial complex.”
  6. Coke’s Green Lipstick / Jill Richardson
    The only truly green thing about a new kind of Coke is the color of its label.
  7. The Border-Industrial Complex / Jim Hightower
    War profiteers have spied a new place they can militarize with their high-tech, high-cost weaponry.
  8. Unfit to Print / Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
    Suddenly, all self-respecting billionaires need to own at least one newspaper.
  9. Aiding the Enemy / Khalil Bendib cartoonEmily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org
    Aiding the Enemy, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib