IPS Blog

This is Your Brain on Pesticides

Researchers found links between organophosphate pesticides and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children in a study the medical journal Pediatrics published. The study identified correlation “at levels common among U.S. children,” possibly boosting the market for organic blueberries, strawberries, and celery. Kathleen Schuler’s February 22 OtherWords op-ed, Warning: Consumer Products May Be Harmful to Your Health, called for reforming “the outdated, ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act to protect the most vulnerable, especially children and pregnant women, phase out the worst chemicals, and require basic safety data for all chemicals before they are put into products.”

From the Frontlines: May 18th, 2010

The bill for Afghanistan could run into the trillions, as another suicide bomber hits another U.S. convoy. IPS fellow Miriam Pemberton, who studies the military budget, wrote that the era of Bush-style spending isn’t quite over.

Noam Chomsky has to settle for talking to Birzeit University by teleconference in Amman, after he’s denied entry into Israel.

The racial wealth gap has “more than quadrupled over the course of a generation,” according to a new study. Dedrick Muhammad has been studying this for awhile and has said that we need a huge shift in focus if we’re going to narrow this gap.

Undocumented students stage a sit-in at John McCain’s office, calling on him to support the DREAM Act so they can obtain scholarships and work their way through college while going through the process of legal residency.

The Dept. of the Interior, despite the BP oil mess, still continues to approve offshore drilling plans in the Gulf of Mexico without environmental review. The Center for Biological Diversity is suing Sec. Salazar to stop this.

CBPP says that the growing budget shouldn’t be an obstacle to passing the jobs bill: “Most of the provisions in this bill, which is now in the final stages of development, are strictly temporary measures that will stimulate additional demand for goods and services and create jobs while the recovery is still struggling to gain traction; they are not permanent measures that add to the long-term budget deficit.”

Trillion-Dollar War Tab

The National Priorities Project’s Cost of War counter, which measures the flow of money Congress appropriates for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, will reach the $1 trillion mark on May 30, the organization predicts. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to OK another estimated $37 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. After that happens, NPP will update both its Cost of War amounts as well as the war-spending amounts found in its Trade Offs tool. If you haven’t seen this before, be sure to check it out. NPP makes it possible to know in an instant how much money a state or city has spent on military expenditures. For example, Des Moines taxpayers have paid $523.4 million for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001. That money, would have covered the cost of building 6,513 affordable housing units.

You can also read this OtherWords op-ed by NPP’s Chris Hellman about government spending.

Reader Challenge: Is the Middle-East Peace Process an Artifact of Another Age?

National Security Network’s Erica Mandell at Democracy Arsenal in Carpe Diem on Middle East Peace writes:

Dear Mr. President, it’s time for Middle East peace. To use your own words, you gotta “keep on at it.” Don’t let this be a case of simply going through the motions either, like your predecessor, who waited until his last year office to get serious . . . . To sit back and watch efforts fizzle would squander a unique opportunity to have a lasting impact on a global issue.


As William Quandt, who was actively involved in the negotiations of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, explains, the time has lapsed when we can stand back and hide behind the notion that “we can’t want it more than they do.” As it turns out, we can, especially when our own interests are at stake.

On the other hand, writes Aaron David Miller in a Foreign Policy article, The False Religion of Mideast Peace:

. . . since the October 1973 war gave birth to serious U.S. diplomacy and the phrase “peace process”. . . . the U.S. approach has come to rest [on] a sort of peace-process religion, a reverential logic chain that compelled most U.S. presidents to involve themselves seriously in the Arab-Israeli issue. Barack Obama is the latest convert, and by all accounts he too became a zealous believer, vowing within days of his inauguration “to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors.”

The “dogmatic creed, with immutable first principles” includes:

First, pursuit of a comprehensive peace was a core, if not the core, U.S. interest in the region, and achieving it offered the only sure way to protect U.S. interests; second, peace could be achieved, but only through a serious negotiating process based on trading land for peace; and third, only America could help the Arabs and Israelis bring that peace to fruition.

The peace-process creed has endured so long because to a large degree it has made sense and accorded with U.S. interests. The question is, does it still? . . . Is the Arab-Israeli conflict still the core issue?

Sadly, the answers to these questions seem to be all too obvious these days . . . The notion that . . . Arab-Israeli peace would, like some magic potion, bullet, or elixir, make it all better, is just flat wrong. In a broken, angry region with so many problems . . . it stretches the bounds of credulity to the breaking point to argue that settling the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most critical issue, or that its resolution would somehow guarantee Middle East stability.

Focal Points readers are urged to read the Miller article in full. Then let us know whether you think, like Ms. Mandell and the Obama administration, that we need to carpe diem the Middle-East peace process. Or, as Mr. Miller writes, is it over-rated, unobtainable, and no longer the key that unlocks the door to Middle-East stability?

Main Street Protests Wall Street and K Street

Protesters on K Street. Credit: IPSA steady rain fell on the large crowd of protesters who gathered at McPherson Square, on K Street. I juggled my umbrella, a camera, and a soggy sign that said “MAKE FINANCE PAY,” wishing another pair of arms would magically appear.

Despite the chilly, wet weather, thousands of people – representing groups like the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFT (link to an article about their Pink Hearts, not Pink Slips campaign), Jobs with Justice, National People’s Action, the Other 98%, and many others I didn’t catch – chanted, banged drums, and held up banners protesting the K Street lobbyists who’ve hijacked our democracy.

AFL-CIO sign. Credit: IPS“K Street is Washington’s counterpart to Wall Street,” writes our director, John Cavanagh, “and powerful men on both streets have been working hard, in tandem, to preserve our casino economy, our plunder economy, and our military economy.”

We marched around a few blocks of K Street closed off for the protest. At the end of the closed-off area there was a giant evil-looking banker, holding a marionette of the Senate building. Boo hiss!

Wall St Banker. Credit: IPSAll in all, it was great to see so many people brave the weather to civilly demand their rights. Brian, our friendly neighborhood tech guy, filmed the protest and interviewed a few people about why they were here today. I saw a few news camera crews there too, so hopefully we’ll get some key footage up soon. You can see the rest of our photos on Flickr.

Were you at the protest? Tell us about it.

From the Frontlines: May 17th, 2010

We’re headed to the Showdown on K Street! Update on the rally later this afternoon. We’ll also be showing the film Plunder: The Crime of Our Time, tonight at Busboys.

Another Gitmo detainee is set free, making the tally 35-13 for freed detainees vs. those held indefinitely.

The financial reform bill is a start, but it looks like there’s a few glaring loopholes.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is heading to the UK this week, as British troops face the most violent assault since the start of the war nine years ago. A report mentioned in the article says opium trade is behind the increase in violence. IPSer Phyllis Bennis says it’ll take more players and less soldiers if we want peace there.

The Gulf Coast’s Vietnamese and Cambodian fishing communities are some of the hardest hit in the wake of the BP oil crisis.

In related news, BP chose a more toxic, less effective oil dispersant because it hates the Earth is produced by a company with close ties to the oil giant. Jim Hightower’s convinced we’ve been slicked by Big Oil.

Local DC group Save Our Safety Net is headed to City Council on Wednesday to call for progressive tax rates.

Fragrances Can Really Stink

A loophole left by the 1973 Fair Packaging and Labeling Act means the FDA doesn’t require manufacturers to list all the ingredients in “fragrances” as is required for other cosmetics. As a result, the Environmental Working Group’s Enviroblog published on May 12, “Millions of American consumers participate every day as unwitting human lab rats in one of the biggest experiments ever conducted.” In Kathleen Schuler’s February 22 OtherWords op-ed, she warned the growing amounts of chemicals used in every phase of modern life, from children’s toys to jewelry, are cause for concern. “More than 100 chemicals that adversely affect the brain and nervous system have also been implicated,” she wrote, “as playing a role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.”

Angry about Arizona

Arizona’s harsh new immigration law is creating blowback, Christine Ahn and Linda Burnham assert in a Foreign Policy In Focus column. A growing number of cities, including Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, have passed city council resolutions mandating boycotts of city business with companies in Arizona, including any official travel, to protest the law. Ahn and Burnham say Arizona has given local authorities “license to racially profile any individual.” Meanwhile, Arizona is taking additional measures, such as outlawing the pursuit of ethnic studies, which are drawing additional criticism. “Mexican Americans are inevitably going to feel proud of who they are and where they came from–even if acknowledging and encouraging such pride in the classroom are against the law,” Eugene Robinson writes in his Washington Post column. OtherWords cartoonist Khalil Bendib depicts some of the irony in Arizona’s immigration law in this cartoon.

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.

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