The financial reform bill that has finally cleared the Senate would help stabilize commodities markets, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), an OtherWords partner. “The Senate bill helps make the market function like a market should–in an open and transparent way, instead of like a casino where only five big financial firms know what is going on,” said IATP analyst Steve Suppan. “Excessive speculation has hurt U.S. agriculture by undermining the original purpose of commodity exchanges–to help commodity sellers and buyers manage price risk. We don’t want a repeat of 2008, when prices were so volatile that U.S. grain elevators couldn’t hedge their own risks on commodity exchanges. Some elevators refused to contract to buy farmers’ grain in advance, leading to a cash flow crisis on many farms.” That volatility hammered American agriculture, and exacerbated hunger in developing countries that import much of their food.
Conservative criticism of Kagan’s nomination might be getting more ink, but plenty of people on the left don’t want Elena Kagan to serve on the Supreme Court either. For years, Republican presidents have reliably appointed strongly conservative justices, while Democratic presidents kept nominating centrists. As progressive writer Mark Engler puts it: “Kagan is a needless concession to conservatives.” Next week OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul will discuss his problem with Kagan: her alma mater.
There couldn’t have been a better conclusion for the Showdown on K Street than with the evening’s DC premiere screening and discussion at Busboys & Poets and organized by IPS. The new documentary, PLUNDER; The Crime of Our Time, by Danny Schechter “looks at the financial crisis, not as a business or a political story, but as a crime story”. And Mr. Schechter (a.k.a. the News Dissector) was in town for the post screening discussion.
The purpose of the event was for us to arm ourselves with what I like to call information ammunition. Building a progressive movement necessarily includes those with arsenals of information and analysis. Because acting thoughtfully is just as important as action oriented thinking. The two are not the same nor does one presuppose the other.
Before the event that night Danny did a short radio interview with Dr. Jared Ball, host of Jazz & Justice on WPFW 89.3 FM, which proved to be a very interesting. Check it out and fortify yourself with that.
After a rainy day and people having protested and marched all day we had no idea what kind of turn out to expect for the 9pm event. To our surprise and satisfaction the post Showdown screening was a success. Plunder was a timely and perfect culmination for everything that had taken place. While the film did simplify a lot, it also showed just how complex the crime(s) that had been committed were and how slippery it makes the work of anyone trying to prosecute the criminals. James Early mc’d the event superbly and moderated the post panel discussion in a packed Langston Room. There was also a surprise cameo appearance by Ralph Nader who opened the film with remarks about Danny and the issue of news media integrity.
The panel that followed was energized by Erica Smiley, Southern Regional Organizer for Jobs with Justice and involved in the organizing of the K Street Showdown. IPS fellow and director of the Cities for Progress and Cities for Peace projects, Karen Dolan also spiced up the panel. And, of course there was Danny Schechter, independent filmmaker and TV producer with the award-winning independent company, Globalvision.
This funky little mix was put together to give you a feel for the evening. Take a listen (MP3) at some highlights and enjoy.
The South Korean government has released its report on the sinking of the Cheonan, the ship that went down in March in the Yellow Sea near the maritime border with North Korea. Not surprisingly, Seoul has fingered Pyongyang as the culprit. The evidence is rather strong.
First, the South Koreans have produced a fragment from a torpedo propeller. Second, there’s Korean lettering that matches the font used in another North Korean torpedo the South Koreans have. Third, the South Koreans have matched traces of propellant to an earlier North Korean torpedo.
There are some reports of other possible culprits, including friendly fire from either South Korea or the United States. While such speculation is interesting, it seems rather far-fetched. In this age of wiklleaks, it’s hard to imagine a cover-up of such friendly fire succeeding. And the evidence implicating other actors is circumstantial to say the least.
More germane is the backstory that Mike Chinoy provides over at Forbes. When South Korean president Lee Myung Bak took office, he backtracked on his predecessor’s pledge to work with North Korea to build confidence around the disputed maritime boundary.
The North was infuriated by what it saw as a deliberate belittling of accords signed by its all-powerful leader–what one western analyst described as “sticking a finger in Kim Jong Il’s eye.” So Pyongyang responded in a predictably belligerent fashion–by ratcheting up tensions in the disputed waters.
Fortunately, no one is calling for military retaliation against North Korea. Even the Heritage Foundation is going only so far as to recommend an economic cut-off, further isolation of North Korea, and a clear condemnation in the Security Council.
Other than express legitimate outrage, what would these stepped-up containment efforts achieve? About as much as Lee Myung Bak’s initial hard-line posture. The North Korean government doesn’t apologize when pushed up against the wall. And the North Korean people have not risen up against their rulers when pushed into starvation.
Joel Wit points out that diplomacy remains our most viable strategy: “In the aftermath of the Cheonan sinking, the United States and South Korea must recognize that a return to dialogue would serve our interests. It is the only realistic way to rein in North Korea’s objectionable activities.”
This is not a particularly palatable message right now in Seoul. And it probably won’t go down very well here in Washington. But after a couple months of denunciations and attempted arm-twisting, it would be best if the countries involved in the Six Party talks take this advice to heart. If we want to prevent any future Cheonans, we need to sit down with North Korea. The last thing we want is a country with nothing to lose and plenty of weapons to go out in a blaze of juche.*
*Juche: North Korea’s state ideology of self-reliance.
No reporter is closer to the action in Bangkok than Mark MacKinnon of the Toronto Globe and Mail. In fact, his reporting mate from the Independent, Andrew Buncombe, was struck down by an army shotgun blast. MacKinnon writes:
The day had begun in dramatic fashion. After nine weeks of crippling protests and six days of deadly clashes with Red Shirts around Bangkok, the army had begun a final assault on the main protest camp in the city centre. Armoured personnel carriers crashed through the crude bamboo-and-tire fortress the anti-government demonstrators had built to defend themselves. . . .
. . . we pressed on to the Rajprasong [Red Shirt] stage area. There, life was continuing much as it had for the past month, even with soldiers and armoured personnel carriers now just a few blocks south – but with one ominous difference: the Red leadership was nowhere to be found. The men who had encouraged tens of thousands to risk their lives in the name of “democracy” – paralyzing the commercial heart of Bangkok in the process – had disappeared and left their followers to fend for themselves.
[Leaderless] protesters could be seen lighting the Chit Lom station of Bangkok’s SkyTrain system ablaze [and] broke into the 45-storey Central World shopping mall, looting and then torching. … Suddenly, the gunfire . . . came to a halt. … the military had declared a temporary pause in its operations. It was an opportunity . . . to see if anyone remained. … At the Red stage, a lone woman remained. . . . “I keep my promises,” was the simple answer given by 45-year-old Pusdee Ngamcam, a retired nurse. “I promised not to leave until [the government] dissolved parliament. They haven’t dissolved parliament, so I’m still here. I don’t know where everyone else is gone.”
Damning testimony, isn’t it? Simple question for Focal Point readers: President Vejjajiva, seemingly under no pressure to hold a reelection now, is nevertheless tarnished by the 82 dead. But do the somewhat, uh, discredited Red Shirts have a future?
Do yourself a favor and check out this amazing 8-minute interview with poet, architect, activist and director of Friends of the Earth International Nnimmo Bassey. It sums up the mood of the Cochabamba indigenous moment and the climate crisis — as a love story — better than anything I’ve seen.
Many of us who have become dependent on drink or drugs turn for help to support groups; others, to psychotherapy. If we persevere with either, before long we’re likely to discover that, while active, we may have been approaching a cul de sac. But once there, we find it opens to a path to a higher ground hitherto unbeknownst to us. In other words, the humanity and usefulness to society that we enjoy today might never have come to pass if substance abuse hadn’t demanded that we reinvent ourselves. We need, as they say in support groups, to reach our bottom.
You’d think that humanity had reached its collective bottom in the 20th century with World Wars I and II. What more havoc had to be wreaked before we got the message that wholesale conflict would lead to the end of civilization? But, instead of “letting go and letting God,” to borrow from AA lingo, states remained in a defensive crouch, none more so than the victors. As well, the United States and the Soviet Union sought to solidify their newfound dominance by building up their nuclear arsenals as if they we were still on a war-time basis cranking out munitions.
Viewed from the perspective of one who’s suffered from substance abuse, it was as if two winos had dragged themselves from the gutter and stopped drinking. But, hedging their bets on sobriety, they carried around pints of Everclear 190 proof grain alcohol in their pockets in case they really needed a drink, even though they knew it would kill him.
Meanwhile, however much those of us who advocate for disarmament question whether nuclear deterrence was critical to averting another world war, one has yet to occur. But nuclear weapons’ arguable status as the last word in national security wasn’t what I had in mind when I described nuclear weapons as a gift from above.
The true gift granted by the existence of nuclear weapons is that, as weapons, they’re essentially too big for the planet to contain. They’re more suitable to lighting off in outer space. In other words, they demand that, once and for all, we step back and look at the whole subject to which nuclear weapons are a sub-category — mass warfare.
We’ve failed to take the cue, however. Since nuclear weapons were developed, the bulk of the reflection by the national-security world has been over the unique strategy adaptations called for by the possession of a weapon that essentially can’t be used. Meanwhile, about the best example of deliberation that disarmament advocates can come up with is that the abolition of nuclear weapons will lead to demilitarization and the redistribution of military expenditures toward human needs and the environment.
We’re just too emotionally invested in them — as well as economically. The 13-percent funding hike that the National Nuclear Security Administration is due to receive next year — a greater percentage increase than for any other government agency — is a tribute to the power of pork: its allure to Congress persons and its perceived importance to their constituents. Besides, writes Bruno Tertrais, a “realist” about nuclear weapons, in the April Washington Quarterly:
The intellectual and political movement in favor of abolition suffers from unconvincing rationales, inherent contradictions, and unrealistic expectations. A nuclear-weapons-free world is an illogical goal.
In fact, winning the abolition debate is well night impossible, especially when it arguments such as this by Tertrais need to be refuted:
All three Asian nuclear countries — China, India, and Pakistan — are steadily building up their capabilities and show absolutely no sign in being interested in abolition, other than in purely rhetorical terms. [As well as this] Smaller countries that seek to balance Western power may actually feel encouraged to develop nuclear weapons or a “breakout” option if they believed that the West is on its way to getting rid of them.
You can be forgiven for wondering how we’ll ever talk ourselves off the ledge. It turns out that the existence of nuclear weapons has done little to induce us to reexamine the tendency of our species to resort to mass warfare. Quite the contrary, the prevalence of nuclear weapons, as well as their immensity, seem to have created a mental block, or placed a governor, on our minds. It’s as if we’re prohibited from cycling our thoughts up to a frequency at which we might see our way of clear of nuclear weapons.
Bless the little children. For they shall lead us to a nuclear-free world.
However crucial the disarmament movement — in all its manifestations from policy adepts to peace workers to radicals — is, it’s time to recognize the truth. The most it can hope for is to keep disarmament near the forefront of the national debate and to win minor policy points. In other words, in and of itself, the disarmament movement is incapable of precipitating nuclear abolition.
Sweeping change can only come from the bottom up — from, in fact, the depths of the human heart. Apologies if you’ve heard this from me before, but, except for a few enlightened pockets, child-rearing practices around the world need a significant upgrade. Otherwise, the planet will never produce a critical mass of humans to whom a national-security policy that puts the lives of tens of millions of people at risk is no longer tolerable.
IR (international relations) types may argue that the human psyche comes in a distant second to political considerations as a cause of war. But the influential and recently deceased Swiss psychotherapist and author Alice Miller wrote (emphasis added): “The total neglect or trivialization of the childhood factor operative in the context of violence . . . sometimes leads to explanations that are not only unconvincing and abortive but actively deflect attention away from the genuine roots of violence.” In other words — surprise, surprise — abusing a child predisposes him or her toward violence and, arguably, an inclination to advocate or support violent solutions to international conflict.
How do we turn that ocean liner around? Measures such as these have already been implemented: laws banning corporal punishment, community centers to teach parenting skills, and programs that teach high-school students childrearing; others provide children with empathy training. The more they’re implemented, the more children will grow up unmarked by abuse. In short order, fewer individuals in positions of authority will find that strategies that put enormous numbers of individuals in harm’s way make sense.
At the end of the day (let’s hope not — that cliché is infused with frightening new meaning when applied to nuclear weapons), there’s still time to accept the gift of the message that nuclear weapons is trying to impart to us and stare mass — and all war — down. As Jonathan Schell writes in the Nation:
The bomb is waiting for us to hear the message.
From Sydney, Australia to Vancouver, Canada, activists are taking to the streets in cities around the world this week to hold the financial sector accountable for the costs of the global crisis.
A key demand: tiny levies on trades of stock, derivatives and currency that could help curb speculation and generate big money for good things, like job creation and fighting poverty.
In Washington, DC, thousands rallied on May 17, calling for such a “financial speculation tax” – as part of a broader financial reform agenda. Organized by the AFL-CIO, SEIU, National People’s Action, and Jobs with Justice, the rally took place on K Street, the office building corridor notorious for its high concentration of corporate and financial industry lobbyists. Under a steady cold rain, protestors in plastic ponchos struggled to juggle umbrellas in one hand and soggy placards in the other.
Their determination reflected the high level of anger over Wall Street’s continued excesses at a time when ordinary working families are still suffering from the crisis. Our video captures diverse perspectives on why financial speculation taxes are one piece of the solution.
Since the pending financial reform bill does not include financial speculation taxes, this will be a key piece of “unfinished business” after Congress concludes the current debate on Wall Street regulation.
In many of countries, coalitions have adopted Robin Hood imagery to emphasize how even miniscule levies on financial transactions could generate massive revenues for to fight poverty and other urgent needs. As you’ll see in the photos and videos below, this has kicked up good business for Robin Hood costume and horse rental businesses.
Dressed as Robin Hood, campaigners on May 19 marched across the Westminster Bridge in London to deliver giant mosaics of pictures of more than 3,400 supporters to new members of Parliament, urging them to make a Robin Hood Tax one of their top legislative priorities. New Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is already a supporter. Let’s hope he can persuade his Conservative Party coalition partners. Activists in Scotland, carried out a similar action in Glasgow.
Fired up by recent supportive statements from their government leaders, Berlin activists performed a stunt in front of the Brandenburger Tor on May 19, aimed at a meeting in the city of several G-20 heads of state and finance ministers. In the video on their campaign site, Campaigners dressed as Robin Hood and merry people attacked a bankers’ carriage with big bags of money. An activist playing Robin Hood boarded the carriage and reloaded small bags of money out of the big ones and placed them into a bucket labelled Fight poverty, Finance development and protect the climate.
The Canadian campaign carried out events on May 19 in major cities, including Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Saskatoon, Ottawa and St. John’s. In Ottawa, activists staged a tug-of-war in front of the Parliament building that pitted bankers against “the people” (plus one polar bear), with G-20 leaders looking on. The activist team carried signs suggesting how revenues from the tax could contribute to financing different issues, including maternal health initiatives. The Canadian coalition has a big challenge ahead, as conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vowed to block progress on bank taxation at the G-20 leaders summit, which he will be hosting in Toronto in June.
On May 18, a new coalition of labor, environmental, and development groups received widespread media coverage when they launched a petition to G-20 leaders, asking for support of financial speculation taxes. The petition is available in multiple languages (including English) and citizens of the world are invited to lend their endorsements. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been one of the most vocal supporters of the global campaign.
The Australian coalition is planning a film/photo stunt with campaigners dressed as Robin Hood, shooting arrows at the campaign target in the Central Business District of Sydney today. More photos from the DC rally and actions in other countries are being pooled on this flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/groups/1381757@N25/
Today’s action: Join our allies in urging Congress to support the Feingold-McGovern Bill for a military withdrawal timetable.
To that end, the U.S. is investigating allegations that its soldiers were responsible for the unlawful death of Afghan civilians.
Dennis Kucinich introduces legislation to prohibit killing U.S. citizens without due process, presumably to remind some government organizations they’re not above the Constitution.
Elvis Costello is the latest artist to cancel performances in Israel, in solidarity with the Palestinians. “I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security,” he wrote in an open letter.
Montgomery County, MD passed the nation’s first carbon tax.
Your moment of Zen: Blog This Rock’s poem of the week.
Conditions at the Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, Johnson & Johnson factory that produced now recalled children’s medicines including children’s Tylenol, Motrin, and Benadryl were apparently appalling. “This inspection report is pretty close to being the worst I’ve seen. It suggests that basically the FDA found an issue with almost every system at the plant,” said Temple University professor of pharmaceutical manufacturing, and former Johnson & Johnson employee David Lebo, according to CNN. Fortunately, the FDA report and subsequent recall preceded any reported incidents of sickness among children. That investigation is one big reason why we should value government regulation and involvement. There are too many vested interests at play in modern medicine, William A. Collins observed in his Getting Sick Can Be Darned Risky OtherWords column on April 19.