IPS Blog

Banks Put on Notice

The Senate has passed an amendment to the Wall Street reform bill to prevent lenders from earning money by deliberately steering homeowners to risky loans and mortgages they can’t afford. The amendment from senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) “will ban mortgage lenders and loan originators from accepting payments based on the interest rate or other terms of the loans,” Merkley’s office said. The amendment, which passed on May 12, “will require lenders to document income and other underwriting standards to ensure that borrowers’ can repay their loans.” In February, OtherWords distributed an op-ed by Mike Prokosch, who wrote about the economic crisis, and how those “[b]anks whose irresponsible behavior led to the meltdown” need to be held accountable. The Merkley-Klobuchar amendment would mark a step in that direction.

Shahzad: A Pretext, Not a Man

Shortly after the failed Times Square attack, Gen. David Petreaus characterized the lone suspect, Faisal Shahzad, as a “lone wolf.” A day later, U.S. attorney general Eric Holder offered a sharply divergent view, describing the suspect as “intimately involved” with the Pakistani Taliban.

The competing assertions about Shahzad’s links relationship with Pakistani Taliban reflects a broader debate both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and Pakistan over how to handle Taliban elements in Waziristan province.

The Pakistanis, who have been rounding up militants and conducting their own interrogations, fumed at Holder’s assessment. They questioned the only real lead thus far, a friend of Shahzad and quasi-active member of the banned Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammad named Muhammad Rehan, and concluded that Rehan did not introduce Shahzad to the Pakistani Taliban.

“There are no roots to this case, so how can we trace something back?” an anonymous Pakistani security official said.

FBI agents also questioned those detained by Pakistani authorities; they have not produced any evidence or made any statements that contradict Pakistani findings—at least not publicly.

Pakistani officials believe the U.S. is trying to use the Shahzad case to pressure the country to launch a ground offensive against the militant hornets’ nest in Waziristan province.

“There is a disconnect between the Pentagon and the [Obama] administration,” a senior Pakistani government official said of the wide gap between Petreaus’ and Holder’s assessments. “The Pentagon gets it that more open pressure on Pakistan is not helpful.”

It may not be helpful, but is it true? On Tuesday, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kit Bond, cast doubt on the Holder version of events.

“I am not convinced by the information that I’ve seen so far that there was adequate, confirmable intelligence to corroborate the statements that were made on Sunday television shows,” Bond said a classified briefing.

Another possible reason for the administration’s eagerness to push a Shahzad-Taliban connection is that it would vindicate Obama’s drone-heavy strategy.

“[B]ecause of our success in degrading the capabilities of these terrorist groups overseas…they now are relegated to trying to do these unsophisticated attacks, showing that they have inept capabilities in training,” said John Brennan, a White House counter-terrorism official.

Can anyone else hear in that rationale the faint echoes of a certain conservative? It seems to me that the expanding reach of terrorist violence is proof of the drone program’s success in the same way that the growing violence of the Iraqi insurgency was proof that it was in its “last throes.”

And the crux of Brennan’s theory—that drone strikes have so harried the world’s experts in blowing people up that they can no longer properly train people in explosives—strikes me as wishful thinking.

His view is certainly a more reassuring one for the administration than the alternative, which is that the drone attacks’ collateral damage actually inspired the radicalism of Shahzad, a seemingly integrated American citizen.

The truth may be a combination of both, or something else altogether. It’ll be hard to know until—if—the fog of competing political agendas lifts.

A Final Survey of Nuclear Posture Perspectives

Once and for all, is the Obama administration nuclear posture review slumped or standing up straight? Here’s a sample of commentators whose insights — from fresh to just plain strange — jumped out at us. (The new START treaty is remarked upon as well.)

The Options Are on the Table

We’ll begin with the dependable Fred Kaplan at Slate:

Disarmament activists had hoped for more. But, like the single-payer advocates in the health care debate, they were fooling themselves if they expected it. [Still] Obama’s strategy carves out a novel, and very intriguing, chunk of middle ground. It rejects “no-first-use” … However, it does declare that the United States will not fire nuclear weapons first at any country that has signed, and is in compliance with, the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The distinction may seem semantic, but in fact it’s substantial. Throughout the Cold War and in the two decades since, presidents have. … commonly invoked [the phrase] “all options are on the table,” … Obama is now saying that in conflicts with countries that don’t have nuclear weapons and aren’t cheating on the Non-Proliferation Treaty, all options are not on the table. [Emphasis added.]

Take Russia’s Pronouncements With a Grain of Salt

From an Arms Control Association briefing, first Linton Brooks, former administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, on START:

The primary benefits of the treaty are two. One is transparency. Transparency leads to predictability; predictability leads to stability…The other benefit is, at a time when we and the Russians don’t have a track record of working as well together as we’d like, something that was reasonably difficult to do got done. [Furthermore the] Russians may issue a statement saying that they have the right to withdraw if we deploy defenses to threaten the strategic balance…It would be tragic if we allowed Russian statements made for domestic purposes to derail it.

A Promise, Not a Threat

Back to the NPR with Mort Halperin, well-known for working on nuclear policy and disarmament inside the government and out, from the same briefing:

It says that…our primary interest is to prevent anybody from using nuclear weapons rather than. . . that our purpose of nuclear weapons is to enable us to meet our own security threats…Now, there’s been some suggestions that this is somehow a threat against North Korea and Iran. I think that’s fundamentally wrong. … For the first time this is a promise to those two countries…If you come back into full compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty, you will have a commitment from the United States not to threaten or use nuclear weapons against you, period, full stop.

Nuke Useless Against Bio-terror if We Don’t Know Whodunit

At Foreign Policy, David Hoffman, author of last year’s acclaimed Deadhand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy, writes of the NPR:

The document is filled with laudable goals [which] may help advance his dream of a world without nukes. But flying at high altitude also has certain advantages; you can avoid the rough terrain below. And down on the ground, the president stopped short of changing the status quo on critical issues that have lingered since the Cold War, such as tactical nuclear weapons and keeping missiles on alert. [Also the NPR] says that. . . the United States “reserves the right” to use nuclear weapons “that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons.” … The suggestion is that nuclear weapons are still a possible deterrent against an adversary contemplating the use of dangerous pathogens. This leaves unspoken the very real problem of attribution: in a pandemic or outbreak of disease it may not be at all clear, at least right away, to whom the nuclear missile should be addressed.

Star Billing for Missile Defense

Also at Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin writes:

For an Obama team that has been skeptical of the past U.S. administrations’ efforts to rapidly deploy ballistic missile-defense systems around the world, missile defense sure does get star billing in the [NPR, which] even features a photo of a missile being shot from an Aegis destroyer. [Though, it] was careful to mention missile defense as only one of several capabilities needed to counter non-nuclear attacks. But Secretary Clinton was less careful. “It’s no secret that countries around the world remained concerned about our missile-defense program,” Clinton said [before proceeding to defend] the role missile defense “can and should play in deterring proliferation and nuclear terrorism.”

Holding Itself Accountable

At Phronesisaical, Cheryl Rofer expands on Linton Brooks’s comment on the NPR’s transparency:

The entire document is unclassified and on the Web. There will be no smirking of “all options are on the table.” The options are there and readable by everyone. If the administration strays too far from what it has said, we can point that out. It means that within the bureaucracy there will be no excuses that they had the wrong classified annex when they made that decision or that they couldn’t find page 273 of their copy. It is a message that this administration thinks that accountability is important and intends to stand by its words.

All-in-All, Status Quo?

At the American Federation of Scientists Strategic Security Blog, Hans Kristensen writes:

The truly new in this NPR is that a good portion of it has very little to do with the U.S. nuclear posture and more to do with policies intended to curtail the spread of nuclear weapons to others. [But] it soon becomes clear that the actual reduction in the nuclear mission — at least for now — is rather modest, if anything at all. In fact, it’s difficult to see why under the language used in this NPR, U.S. nuclear planning would not continue pretty much the way it is now. [When] it comes to Russia and China. . . the NPR appears to continue the Bush administration’s policies.

Supreme Leader on the NPR: “Very Strange”

At Race for Iran, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett write:

More liberal Democrats and the professional arms control/nonproliferation community have been inclined to see the Obama Administration’s nuclear weapons policy as a “glass half full” rather than a “glass half empty”. … they depict the Iranian/North Korean exception as an unfortunate byproduct of interagency compromise which can be “worked on in the future.” This is regrettable [in part because] Iranian reaction to the Nuclear Posture Review has focused on highlighting the illegitimacy of U.S. threats to use nuclear weapons against Iran and other non-nuclear-weapons states. … Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told senior military commanders on Sunday that President Obama’s threats to use nuclear arms against Iran “are very strange and the world should not ignore them because in [a] century of claiming to advocate human rights and fight terrorism, the head of a country has threatened a nuclear attack.” [He added that] “these remarks show that the U.S. government is a wicked an unreliable government.”

Hawk Fears Mongolia Has Final Say on U.S. Nuclear Policy

At the Washington Times, Bill Gertz solicited an opinion from Keith Payne, director of the National Institute of Public Policy, a think tank that devotes much of its energy to advocating for missile defense. Payne zeroed in on an element of the NPR not often commented upon:

[He] said an alarming feature of the Nuclear Posture Review. . . is that the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the foreign powers that are represented in it will be able to indirectly set U.S. nuclear weapons policy. “The new NPR appears to place the UN’s IAEA and its Board of Governors at the heart of determining U.S. nuclear deterrence strategy options,” e-mailed Mr. Payne. … According to the new strategy, the U.S. will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear members that sign [and comply with the NPT.] Who will determine whether a state is complying with the treaty? “This question becomes central to U.S. nuclear deterrence policy,” Mr. Payne said. … “A quick check will reveal that NPT compliance is determined by the IAEA’s Board of Governors a board made up of 35 states, including Russia, China, Venezuela, Mongolia and Cuba.”

Waving a Cape at Terrorists

When it comes to conservatives, leave us not overlook the redoubtable Ralph Peters, writing in the New York Post:

Of all [the NPR's] malignant provisions. . . the most worrisome is the public declaration that, if the US suffers a biological, chemical or massive cyber attack, we will not respond with nukes. … The new policy guarantees that [our enemies will] intensify their pursuit of bugs, gas and weaponized computers. … Will [it] be the inspiration for an engineered plague that someday scythes through humankind?

But It Can Be a Glass Half Full to Conservatives, Too

Hudson Institute fellow and Former Bush administration NPT negotiator Christopher Ford writes:

Make no mistake: There are things in the Obama administration’s just-released 2010 Nuclear Posture Review that will make conservatives uncomfortable. … But on the whole, the most shocking thing about the document is how bad it isn’t. By contrast, for President Barack Obama’s supporters on the left and in the disarmament community, this Nuclear Posture Review is surely nothing short of a catastrophe. [It] turns out to be replete with things that are sure to drive the disarmers positively nuts [such as continuing] many key policies from the Bush administration, not least by stressing the importance of modernizing our nuclear weapons production infrastructure — on which Obama actually proposes to spend more than George W. Bush.

Are Conservatives Who Support the NPR Traitors to Their Cause?

At Think Progress’s Wonk Room, Max Bergmann writes:

In an interesting twist, the Wall Street Journal oped page today chose to highlight the split between moderates and extremists within the Republican foreign policy establishment. [It] published the thoughts of six former senior Nixon, Reagan, and Bush W. national security officials on Obama’s nuclear agenda. The result. . . clearly demonstrates that opposition to Obama’s nuclear agenda is only really coming from the far-right neoconservatives. Half the authors were firmly in support (George Schultz, Richard Burt, and Fred C. Iklé), one was lukewarm (James Schlesinger), and two were negative (Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle). Collectively, these pieces expose a conservative national security movement that is completely cracking.

Will the NPR Turbocharge the NPT Conference?

At the Guardian, Paul Ingram of BASIC (the British American Security Information Council) writes:

In less than a month, nations gather in New York to review the [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]. To reach agreement. . . require[s] clear signals that the United States — and other nuclear weapon states — [are] prepared genuinely to start the process of giving up their attachment to. . . nuclear weapons. Does this NPR do it? The simple answer is no. … But it. . . acknowledges the need for further movement. Whether this is enough for success next month remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, William C. Potter, Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, writes:

This document, combined with the New START accord, will have an impact on the NPT review conference. … But it is an open question at this stage whether the changes it outlines will be sufficient to convince the majority of non-nuclear weapons states that sufficient progress toward disarmament. . . is being made.

How Historians Will See It

We’ll give Arms Control Wonk’s Jeffrey Lewis of the New America Foundation the final word:

[About the details] none of that will matter a year from now. I suspect we will look back at this period — the release of the Nuclear Posture Review, the signing of the Prague Treaty [his name for START -- Ed.], the Nuclear Security Summit and the NPT Review conference — and say that this was a pivot point, the moment when we began talking about nuclear weapons on terms that are different from those of the Cold War.

Okinawa and Obama’s Base-Based Addiction

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been going back and forth on the Okinawa base issue. As a candidate he pledged to close the Futenma air base and not relocate any of its personnel within Okinawa prefecture. But then, after Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan won the elections last year, the U.S. pressure campaign began. And Hatoyama moved further and further toward Washington in a vain effort to curry favor with the Obama administration.

In the latest episode, Hatoyama visited Okinawa last week to try to sell the island on his new idea: a modified base relocation plan that would put the replacement facility on a pier jutting into the waters off Henoko in the northern part of the island and also establish a new facility on Tokunoshima island (which is technically not part of Okinawa prefecture even though it has traditionally been part of larger Okinawan culture). Hatoyama’s proposal doesn’t please anyone. No one on Tokunoshima, which the United States occupied until 1953, wants a base. The people of Henoko – and Okinawa in general – reject the pier compromise, which would pose the same environmental risks to the marine ecosystem as the original plan. And the United States will probably not be thrilled about giving up on the full-blown Henoko base outlined in the 2006 agreement with Japan.

Nearly 100,000 Okinawans protested the original base plan back on April 25. They are planning to form a human chain around the Futenma base on May 16. Organizers expect 30,000 people to form the 13-kilometer chain. Latest polls show that 90 percent of Okinawans oppose relocation of Futenma within the prefecture.

So, what’s the likely outcome? The United States, which has pledged not to go forward with basing without local consent, will not get a new base any time soon. Hatoyama may well lose his position. And the Okinawans will have to put up with the dangerous Futenma base in the meantime.

Of course, the Obama administration could just decide that, with the Cold War over for 20 years, it can close one of its 90 military facilities in Japan. But alas, it seems that like most of his recent predecessors in the office, Obama has an incorrigible addiction to bases…

From the Frontlines: May 13th, 2010

The forgotten men and women of America, via Firedoglake and The New York Times. Just more evidence that we need a new social safety net.

Salon: Arizona bans ethnic studies courses in schools, which “relies on is the assumption that white people’s history is history, and everyone else’s is ‘ethnic studies,’ or worse, ‘teaching hate.’”

The Boston Globe has horrible, striking photos from the Gulf.

Senators Jeff Merkley (OR) and Carl Levin (MI) have introduced an amendment to the financial reform bill that would “rein in proprietary trading (i.e. subprime securities, derivatives) by ‘regular’ banks; impose capital requirements on ‘systemically important’ nonbanks (think Goldman, AIG, Morgan Stanley) so when their crappy bets don’t pan out we don’t have to pick up the tab; and prevent investment banks from betting against the very securities they peddle to their clients.”

Labor unions may have to abandon Obama to fight corporate power.

The New America Foundation has mapped areas of known drone strikes in Pakistan.

American Power Act

In introducing the American Power Act, one would think that Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) would be mindful of the various public relations disasters the industries favored in their bill had suffered in recent weeks. In short order, we had an explosion at a Massey coal mine in West Virginia, in which 29 workers were killed; the BP oil disaster, where 11 workers were killed in what may prove to be the worst spill in U.S. history in the Gulf of Mexico; and the contamination of the groundwater supply of most of southern New Jersey by a tritium leak from the aging Oyster Creek nuclear power plant. Unabashed, the two senators took to the podium accompanied by nuclear and coal industry titans (though nary an oil exec in sight) on May 12, to introduce a bill that subsidizes nuclear power, “clean” coal, and offshore oil drilling, while gutting the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Read Daphne Wysham’s OtherWords op-ed on the BP oil disaster.

Energy Disaster

Reader Challenge: Is Jerusalem ‘crumbling under the weight of its own idealization’?

In a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal last week, Eli Wiesel described Jerusalem as “the world’s Jewish spiritual capital” and “the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.” The Sheikh Jarrah [Just Jerusalem] activists who, unlike Wiesel, actually live in Jerusalem, say: “We cannot recognize our city in the sentimental abstraction you call by its name.” They describe the city they call home as “crumbling under the weight of its own idealization.” . . . writes Paul Woodward at War in Context…Jerusalem is crumbling under the weight of its own idealization.

From their letter:

Our Jerusalem is concrete…its streets lined with synagogues, mosques and churches…populated with people, young and old, women and men, who wish their city to be a symbol of dignity…Your Jerusalem is an ideal, an object of prayers and a bearer of the collective memory of a people…The tortuous municipal boundaries of today’s Jerusalem were drawn by Israeli generals and politicians shortly after the 1967 war. … encircling dozens of Palestinian villages which were never part of Jerusalem…we cannot stand by and watch our beloved city [with its] gross inequality in allocation of municipal resources and services between east and west…being used as a springboard for crafty politicians and sentimental populists who claim Jerusalem is above politics and negotiation…We, the people of Jerusalem, can no longer be sacrificed for the fantasies of those who love our city from afar.

Jerusalem is a microcosm of the idealization of Israel in general. Since it only seems to facilitate further marginalization and oppression of Palestinians, do readers think there is any way to disabuse those, especially outside Israel, of the notion that Jerusalem is the repository of all things spiritual?

Baseball Boycott

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the nation’s only Latino senator, is calling on the Major League Baseball Players Association to boycott baseball’s 2011 all-star game in Phoenix. “The Arizona law is offensive to Hispanics and all Americans because it codifies racial profiling into law by requiring police to question anyone who appears to be in the country illegally,” he wrote to the association’s executive director. At least 20 labor and civil rights organizations, including the National Council of La Raza, are “pulling money and meetings out of the state,” The Washington Post has reported. Today, Phoenix lost its bid to host the 2012 Republican National Convention, which is slated for Tampa. “This new immigration law violates due process, civil rights, and federal sovereignty over immigration policy,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva wrote in a recent OtherWords op-ed.

Senate Introduces Climate Bill

A Coast Guard crew skims oil on the Gulf. CC license: Wikimedia commonsJohn Kerry and Joe Lieberman managed to introduce the climate bill today, despite both the growing off shore oil disaster in the Gulf (now with dying dolphins) and the recent coal mine tragedy. John Kerry believes the bill has a good chance of passing by the end of the year, despite Republicans throwing oil and gas industry fundraisers for some of their candidates. Lieberman said it “represents a market-driven partnership between the public and private sectors, to reduce carbon pollution and lessen the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.”

How does this bill compare with the House bill and the clean energy bill? There’s a great chart, via ClimateProgress, that compares the three.

But this legislation, in whatever form the sausage-makers spit out, is far from perfect. Our own Daphne Wysham, who heads our environmental project (SEEN), is concerned that the bill does far too little. And in light of the BP oil disaster, it’s clear that there needs to be much more regulation and oversight of corporations like oil companies that are involved with toxic substances. And Jeff Biggers wonders about the merits of “ensuring coal’s future,” as outlined in the bill.

We need to hold up the BP and Massey incidents as evidence that we need to move beyond petroleum and get serious about alternative energy and curbing emissions. Especially since, according to The Onion, the stupid environment isn’t even willing to meet us halfway.

CEOs Tip the Pay Scale

The CEO of TJ Max more than doubled his compensation to $14.8 million. The CEO of Gillette took home $16.5 million in stock and salary last year. The chief executive of Affiliated Managers Group Inc. was rewarded with $18 million. And Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz earned $47.2 million in total compensation. Sam Pizzigati writes, in his OtherWords op-ed, about the income gulf between management and labor, and how the absurd wage gaps between CEOs and…everyone else, might finally be exposed. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has introduced a measure to shed some light on the discrepancies that are now commonplace. “Menendez’s amendment would require all U.S. companies to disclose, for the first time, the gap between what they pay their CEOs on an annual basis and what they pay their average workers,” Pizzigati said.

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