IPS Blog

Pentagon Plans $100 Billion in Spending Cuts

It finally looks like the Pentagon isn’t immune to Washington’s deficit-reduction fever. The U.S. military intends to trim up to $100 billion over the next five years on weapons purchases and spending on contractors, the Washington Post reported. That’s only a dent in the approximately $750 billion in our annual military spending, and it’s well below the $1 trillion over the next decade the panel commissioned by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) called for, but it could be a sign that a sacred cow isn’t off-limits any more. The government should channel money saved by scrapping bad contracts and unnecessary weapons systems into non-military security work, such as diplomacy, argued Miriam Pemberton, in her recent OtherWords op-ed. “Every year we spend about $14 on our military forces for every dollar we spend to engage the world by non-military means,” she wrote. Today, she said: “It is important to note: this in NOT what Gates has in mind for the savings. He means to plow them back into other war fighting accounts.” This New York Times article explains that point. Pemberton, together with Lawrence Korb, chairs the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget for the United States.

Tough Times; Troubling Trends

logo-mr-monopolyAlthough 2007, the most recent year for which this new data is available, preceded the financial meltdown, similar recessions have proven but small stumbling blocks for the super-rich. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports in its analysis of recent CBO data, history show us that the awesome gap between rich and rest of us in 2007 may likely survive and thrive in the near future.

This new CBO data on after-tax income show that the cavernous divide between the richest 1 percent and the middle and poorest fifths in the U.S. became Grand Canyonesque between 1979 and 2007. The uber-rich more than tripled their security perimeter from the rest of us untouchables in the last three decades. By 2007, these fat cats gobbled up almost 24% in after-tax income than the middle fifth of Americans, and nearly 75 percent more than the poorest fifth.

The Center’s analysis of this new CBO data explains that though the country as a whole enjoyed an after-tax household income increase of 55 percent over this time period, the already super-rich luxuriated in an increased share of this increase while the rest of us saw our share of the increase shrink.

IPS’ own Chuck Collins and Sam Pizzigati cast more light on this troubling trend as they report in their April 2010 piece that middle-income Americans came into 2001 paying a higher share of their incomes into federal taxes that 50 years prior, while wealthy Americans ushered in the 21st century paying far less in federal taxes then in prior decades.

They report:

The tax shift we have witnessed since the 1950s has been enormous. From 1950 through 1963, the federal tax rate on ordinary personal income over $400,000 never dropped below 91 percent. Between 1936 and 1980, that same top rate never dropped below 70 percent.

But today, the top personal income tax rate, after the 2001 tax cut, is 35 percent (If allowed to expire at the end of 2010, this rate will return to the 39.6 percent level in place during the Clinton years).

Tough times; troubling trends.

Petroleum and Silly Putty on the Menu

Chicken McNuggets sold in the United States contain more fat and have more calories than the same item that McDonald’s sells in the U.K., CNN reports. Even more alarming, American McNugget consumers ingest “the chemical preservative tBHQ, tertiary butylhydroquinone, a petroleum-based product” and “dimethylpolysiloxane, ‘an anti-foaming agent’ also used in Silly Putty,” according to this report. This is yet another reason to be concerned about the large number of low-income people who live in “food deserts”—areas that lack healthy food options. Read more about these deserts in this OtherWords op-ed by Marian Wright Edelman.

Afghanistan by the Book — THE Book, That Is

It’s no secret that the Obama administration has struggled from the beginning to find a coherent narrative to support the Afghan war it inherited. Or to craft an even remotely coherent strategy. (Other than how to shift the blame when the whole thing implodes.)

But now that General David Petraeus is assuming command, hearts seem suddenly light. There is a sense – or at least a claim – that new leadership in the field will somehow transform an otherwise bleak and worsening situation. This sense is shared across party lines, and it appears likely that Petraeus will be unanimously confirmed in his new role by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

It seems appropriate, therefore, to reread Gen. Petraeus’ seminal work, Field Manual 3-24, to get a sense of how he might undertake this transformation. (FM 3-24 is the counterinsurgency guide for the US military. Along with FM 3-24.2, Tactics In Counterinsurgency, it details what every US soldier, from private to four-star is supposed to know about COIN.)

If Afghanistan is, in fact, a COIN engagement – and we must assume POTUS believes it is, since he has nominated a man perceived to be America’s foremost COIN expert to lead it – then he should be using the best available COIN guidelines to assess it. Presumably that would be FM 3-24, so I’ve taken the liberty of extracting key points to use as metrics. The number and italicized sections below are lifted directly from FM 3-24. The snarky (excuse me, I mean insightful) commentary is mine.

1-4. Long-term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government’s rule.

Er . . . then actually having a functioning ‘Host Nation’ government is a necessary precondition for success?

1-10. For the reasons just mentioned, maintaining security in an unstable environment requires vast resources, whether host nation, U.S., or multinational.

You mean vast, as in hundreds of thousands of troops, similar numbers of development personnel and the cash to fund it all?

1-30. Protracted conflicts favor insurgents, and no approach makes better use of that asymmetry than the protracted popular war.

Nine years and counting. Might be a good time to ask which team has the deeper bench.

1-113. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.

Oh. Whoops.

1-116. Six possible indicators of legitimacy that can be used to analyze threats to stability include the following:

  • The ability to provide security for the populace (including protection from internal and external threats).
  • Selection of leaders at a frequency and in a manner considered just and fair by a substantial majority of the populace.
  • A high level of popular participation in or support for political processes.
  • A culturally acceptable level of corruption.
  • A culturally acceptable level and rate of political, economic, and social development.
  • A high level of regime acceptance by major social institutions.

How many points do you get for ‘none of the above’?

1-121. Unity of effort must be present at every echelon of a COIN operation.

Ah, man, even the VP, those weenies over at State and the National Security Advisor?

1-131. The cornerstone of any COIN effort is establishing security for the civilian populace.

Right. Remind me how many of those provinces were rated as ‘fully secure’ in the April 2010 review? As I recall, the exact number was, umm . . . is zero a number?

1-134. Insurgencies are protracted by nature. Thus, COIN operations always demand considerable expenditures of time and resources.

Roger that. Just so long as the pull date is before the next election.

Well, shucks. Color me cynical.

In the wildland fire biz we used a quick and dirty little algorithm called TREAT to decide whether to fight or flee. I think it might apply here, too.

  • Time
  • Resources
  • Experience
  • Attitude
  • Training

The rule was, if you had any three or more, it was a good decision to stand and fight. Any fewer, and it was time to remove your crews from danger.

Using that for AfPak, I’d give the US about 1.2. Pretty good on attitude, fair on training (for that specific environment), way short of time, resources and experience.

The US cannot commit to the 10 to 20 year time frame (starting today!) that is likely necessary to actually succeed. Nor can it come close to putting the necessary number of troops in the field. (Estimated at over 1.4 million with the classic troop density of 20 counterinsurgents per 1,000 population. Yeah, you can count the locals, but at this point, the ANA and ANP are so bad they would have to be subtracted from the total, not added.) And – key point – in terms of experience, the US has yet to win a classical counterinsurgency fight. (Sorry, Iraq doesn’t count. It wasn’t true COIN, and the US did not win. For an explanation, see Fourth Generation Warfare in a Fifth Generation Conflict.)

Bottom line? Time to run.

Excuse me. I mean ‘strategically redeploy’.

Supreme Court Rules Against Crime-Fighting

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that defined the Second Amendment as the right to keep handguns in homes is ironic. This case, McDonald vs. Chicago, comes from the city with one of the highest gun crime and murder rates in the country, driven by a growing gang violence problem. Coming on the tail of a week in which nine Chicago residents were murdered and 20 injured in gang-related shootouts, broader access to handguns seems injurious, if not downright diabolical. Chicago police recovered or confiscated 7,234 guns in the first 10 months of last year when the ban was effective, a number they estimate accounts for one gun per every 14 of the estimated active gang members in the Chicago metropolitan area. Police no longer have the right to confiscate any of those that are legally attained handguns. As a Chicago native, I know I feel safer already.

As William A. Collins notes in his recent OtherWords column “Gotta Get Me a Gun,” handguns are particularly devastating to families, where children can and do stumble upon Daddy’s “hidden” cabinet, or where caustic marital flare-ups become lethal. Mayor Daley has promised more laws making the purchase of guns more difficult in their jurisdiction. Best of luck to him and the Chicago PD. It’s a tough task to fight escalating violence in already crime-ridden cities when our federal government shoots our local governments in the foot.

From the Frontlines: June 28, 2010

SCOTUS is on a roll today, between its significantly harmful gun ban ruling and a rejection of a lower-court ruling that tobacco companies violated racketeering laws by selling a product they knew was harmful.

Oil can’t rain from the sky, finds MoJo’s Kate Sheppard, addressing a viral video that’s been making the rounds in the last week. But “there’s a bigger concern than oil visibly raining from the sky; it’s the toxins you can’t see.”

Our Global Economy director, Sarah Anderson, spoke at the US Social Forum about how street heat can continue to strengthen Wall Street reform.

The Tides blog has a great post about how media misinformation impacts the entire progressive agenda, and how you can cut through the noise and stay responsibly informed.

Will the BP oil disaster lead to a new economy in the Gulf? The Institute for Southern Studies, writing from the area, explores the possibilities.

The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss writes that Israel’s weakening of the Gaza blockade is an important first step, although he remains skeptical about how far it will help peace talks. Our own Phyllis Bennis agrees, applauding Turkey and civil society for providing an example to other international actors.

Supreme Court Misfires on Second Amendment Ruling

US Supreme Court buildingCongratulations, NRA voters, you may now hunt from the safety of your living room window with your handgun anywhere in America. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling today that defined the Second Amendment as the right to keep handguns in homes is a dangerous misinterpretation.

The irony of this case, McDonald vs. Chicago, is that it comes from the city with one of the highest gun crime and murder rates in the country, driven by a growing gang violence problem. Coming on the tail of a week in which nine Chicago residents were murdered and 20 injured in gang-related shootouts, broader access to handguns seems injurious, if not downright diabolical. Chicago police recovered or confiscated 7,234 guns in the first 10 months of last year when the ban was effective, a number they estimate accounts for one gun per every 14 of the estimated active gang members in the Chicago metropolitan area. After today, police no longer have the right to confiscate any of those that are legally attained handguns. As a Chicago native, I know I feel safer already.

I am not going to argue the less handguns equals less gun crime equation; Fox News has trumpeted that the numbers tell the opposite story since the repeal of the DC gun ban two years ago. It is true that DC’s crime rate dropped by 25 percent initially after handguns were legalized. But that figure has since crept back up as people have realized a proliferation of guns doesn’t mean more security.

As William Collins notes in his column “Gotta Get Me a Gun,” handguns are particularly devastating to families, where children can and do stumble upon Daddy’s “hidden” cabinet, or where caustic marital flare-ups become lethal. Someone should tell Justice Alito that with this increase in “self-defense” we’re also going to need an increase in child-safety regulations, marital protection laws, and neighborhood watch programs for the local 10 year-old trigger-happy video-gamers who now have broader handgun access.

In the meantime, Daley and the Chicago political machine have promised more laws making the purchase of guns more difficult in their jurisdiction. Best of luck to him and the Chicago PD. It is a tough task to fight escalating violence in already crime-ridden cities when our federal government shoots our local governments in the foot.

Would You Trust a Country That Named Its First Nuke Test ‘Smiling Buddha’?

Smiling BuddhaOne sure route for a state to be slapped with the label “rogue ” is to develop nuclear weapons but shun the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Pakistan refused to sign while North Korea signed but withdrew. Israel dodged the NPT by refusing to acknowledge it even developed nuclear weapons. We’ll leave Iran out of the equation because, despite constantly testing the International Atomic Energy Agency’s limits, it doesn’t seem to have completed the process.

But, like Israel, another state developed nuclear weapons before the NPT (though without refusing to acknowledging them), and refrained from signing the treaty. In fact, the case could be made that it’s more of a rogue than any of the other states. Oddly, it’s the state with a reputation for being the most spiritual in the world since it’s the birthplace of both Hinduism and Buddhism — India, of course. Yet it (or its rulers and policymakers at the time) were seemingly out of touch with said spiritualism to such an extent that in 1974 they code-named India’s first nuclear test the Smiling Buddha. They even scheduled it for the day on which the Buddha’s birth is celebrated in India. This was only the start.

The founder of the Military Space Transparency Project, Matthew Hoey writes:

In 1998 U.S. sanctions were placed upon the country in response to more nuclear tests. When the Bush Administration lifted the aforementioned sanctions against India in the wake of . . . September 11, 2001, and then progressively loosened export and commerce laws against India, it ignored [India’s refusal to sign not only the NPT, but] the Proliferation Security Initiative . . . the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty . . . or the Missile Technology Control Regime.

[In 2008] the United States approached the Nuclear Suppliers Group . . . to grant a waiver to India to commence civilian nuclear trade. … The implementation of this waiver makes India the only known country with nuclear weapons which is not a party to the Non Proliferation Treaty . . . but is still allowed to carry out nuclear commerce with the rest of the world. [Emphasis added.]

It’s bad enough that the United States and the Nuclear Suppliers Group made India their pet rogue. But, Hoey writes, “It is also highly unlikely that India will subscribe to the treaty to Prevent an Arms Race in Outer Space.” Even worse, “Indian military officials have set a target date to deploy an ambitious anti-satellite system. … for electronic or physical destruction of satellites . . . by 2015.”

In conclusion, Hoey writes, “At a time when the international spotlight seems trained on North Korea and Iran, a growing tolerance for India’s belligerence in building its nuclear and missile capabilities appears to shield it from similar scrutiny.”

Why the tolerance? As Andrew Lichterman and M.V. Ramana write in Beyond Arms Control (2010, Critical Will), “. . . the nuclear deal is part of a broader set of [U.S.-Indian] agreements [which] US-based multinationals are . . . hoping to use . . . as a wedge to further open India to foreign investment and sales.”

In the end, just more reasons that the Non-Aligned Nation movement (to which India supposedly belongs) can’t take the nuclear powers seriously about disarmament.

The Lineup: Week of June 28-July 4, 2010

Here’s what you’ll find in this week’s OtherWords editorial package, which features a Donald Kaul column on Rep. Joe Barton’s foot-in-mouth problem and a Martha Burk op-ed about a potential threat to Social Security. The cartoon accompanies the op-ed by Philip Mattera about BP’s weak corporate ethics. You can get it all in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. Who Should Pay for the Crisis? / Sarah Anderson
  2. It’s Time for Israel to End the Gaza Siege / Bayann Hamid
  3. Leaving Granny Behind / Martha Burk
  4. Corporate Social Irresponsibility / Philip Mattera
  5. Joe Barton’s Honest Mistake / Donald Kaul
  6. GM Crashes Chevy / Jim Hightower
  7. Want a Job? Good Luck / William A. Collins
  8. BP’s Ethics / Khalil Bendib

Are Nuclear Weapons ‘Realists’ Afraid to Confront Reality?

It’s notoriously difficult to win a debate with nuclear realists over disarmament. Just try pulling the rug of reasoning out from under deterrence or the argument that the smaller the U.S. arsenal becomes, the easier it would make smaller nations to become the military equal of the United States. But in a Washington Post op-ed Sunday, Barry Blechman and Alex Bollfrass of the Stimson Center present a case for the abolition of nuclear weapons strong enough to stop realists — if not hawks — in their tracks.

In the 5 myths about getting rid of the bomb, the author’s list realist objections to nuclear disarmament.

  1. We can’t eliminate nukes because countries would cheat and build them in secret.
  2. Nuclear weapons are a guarantee of security.
  3. As long as there is nuclear energy, there will be nuclear weapons.
  4. If all nations dismantled their nuclear arsenals, a cheater with just a few weapons could rule the world.
  5. Nuclear weapons are the only way to become a global power.

To give you an example of the authors’ logic, read their answer to number four:

We’ve all seen James Bond villains threaten to gain world domination with a single nuclear weapon. But even if an evil despot could secretly build a few bombs, what would he gain? He couldn’t use them to win a war. It would take hundreds of weapons to destroy dispersed armies, as Cold War-era NATO and Soviet plans for nuclear conflict in Europe recognized.

The cheater could try to coerce the rest of the world by threatening a nuclear attack, but even that wouldn’t lead to lasting domination. Other nations could try to destroy the nuclear arsenal preemptively with conventionally armed long-range strikes. If that failed, they could invade with conventional forces, under the protection of air and missile defenses. In a worst-case scenario, the former nuclear powers could rebuild their arsenals in less than a year. The world would be no worse off than it was before disarming.

Today, James Bond-style villains have been replaced by terrorists. If terrorists acquired a nuclear bomb, the results could be catastrophic — but terrorists can’t be deterred with nuclear weapons. This brings us full circle: The only real solution to the threat of nuclear terrorism is to eliminate nuclear weapons, thereby ensuring that they will stay out of the hands of terrorists.

Focal Points readers are urged to read the rest of Bollfrass and Blechman’s op-ed and venture a guess in our comments section as to whether “realists” can be made to understand that, when it comes to nuclear weapons, there may be a reality more real than realism.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062502157.html

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