IPS Blog

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.

Nuclear Modernization Making a Mockery of Disarmament

Last summer, the Economist published a letter from hawkish Arizona Senator John Kyl (currently neck deep in the springtime of his state’s immigrant shame). Cole Harvey of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies reports that Kyl wrote: “Every nuclear weapons power — with the exception of the US — is currently modernising its nuclear weapons and weapons delivery systems…Yet the US continues to permit its nuclear forces to atrophy and decline.”

Harvey continued [emphasis added]: “Later in 2009, all 40 Republican senators at the time. … wrote that the further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal would be acceptable only if accompanied by…’funding for a modern warhead…involving replacement, or possibly, component reuse.'” Since President Obama would need some of their votes to ratify the new START treaty, an increase in nuclear funding for the administration’s proposed 2011 budget was apparently perceived as necessary. [See below for how much. — RW]

Meanwhile, what’s italicized above provides a glimpse into how confusing the concept of nuclear modernization can be, as well as the degree to which it can be manipulated. According to an Arms Control Association (ACA) Fact Sheet, “This distinction between ‘rebuilt’ and ‘new’ has led some to reach the mistaken conclusion that the U.S. strategic weapon systems are not being ‘modernized.’ …These systems are in many cases being completely rebuilt with essentially all new parts, although they are not technically ‘new’ systems.”

The questions this raises might be familiar to those who restore classic cars. At what point does the identity of the car on which you’re working run the risk of being lost and metamorphosing into a new one? For example, can the power train be replaced?

The author is scarcely equipped to answer that question. Still, it might prove helpful to acquaint ourselves with these three nuclear programs: Stockpile Stewardship, the Reliable Replacement Warhead, and Life Extension. You’re right to be suspicious if they sound a little too reassuring — “stewardship, “reliable,” “life extension.”

The Stockpile Stewardship Program, reports the ACA, “monitors weapons for signs of aging . . . conducts computer simulations [to verify they’ll still detonate] . . . replaces aging components of weapons [and] adheres as closely as possible to the original design specifications of tested weapons.”

Life Extension (LEP), Harvey writes, is the program in which, “Weapon refurbishment is carried out . . . for individual systems.” For example LEP for one warhead is expected to extend its “life” [the span of time it’s capable of dealing death, that is — RW] for 30 years. The process includes “refurbishing the nuclear explosive package, the arming, firing, and fusing system . . . associated cables . . . valves, pads.” You know — the same way they keep airplanes flying for 50 years.

When it comes to the Reliable Replacement Warhead, though, Harvey explains: “Rather than rely exclusively on long-term life extension for existing warheads, the program called for the design and production of a new nuclear warhead” though “without the resumption of underground testing.”

In a show of rare good sense, Congress terminated that program. But the current senior White House coordinator for WMD counterterrorism and arms control, Gary Samore, was recently quoted by Martin Matishak at GSN: “From what I understand … refurbishment and reuse will be perfectly fine for the foreseeable future. But if I’m wrong, and replacement becomes necessary, the president has the option to do that.” Matishak continues: “The approach to renovation of each warhead type will be determined [as it] comes up for its periodic overhaul, and will be ‘consistent with the congressionally mandated Stockpile Management Program,’ according to” the new Nuclear Posture Review.

Wait a minute — Stockpile Management Program? What’s the difference between that and the Stockpile Stewardship Program?

According to Matishak, the former replaced the Reliable Replacement Warhead program. “The stockpile management program [enables] modernizing the U.S. nuclear stockpile along a spectrum of options ranging from…refurbishment to the manufacture of ‘new’ weapons. [But any new design should] adhere to well known designs and components, and be undertaken only in support of further reductions in the stockpile and the continued moratorium on nuclear tests. [Emphasis added.] In other words, we’re supposedly pursuing these programs to advance our progress on the path to disarmament. But, for 2011, “the Obama administration is requesting $7 billion, a 10 percent increase, in funding for weapons activities in the…National Nuclear Security Administration.”

Besides the Life Extension Program, this money would help fund, among other things:

[L]arge increases for the. . . plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M., which would see its budget increased from $97 million [in 2010] to $225 million in [2011] … complete rebuilds of the Minuteman III ICBM and Trident II [submarine]. … Additionally, a new submarine, the SSBN-X, is undergoing development in an effort that is expected to cost $85 billion. The B-2 strategic bomber, a relatively new system, is being upgraded, as is the B-52H bomber.

Disarmament in Name Only

You can be forgiven for wondering if these programs don’t cancel out the token reductions in the START treaty and then some. In fact, it’s hard to deny that START and the Nuclear Posture Review give every appearance of functioning as covers for the perpetuation of what’s been called the nuclear-industrial complex. As disarmament authors Darwin Bond-Graham, Nicholas Robinson, and Will Parrish made abundantly clear at ZComm:

Rather than allowing a neat policy process carried out at the executive level to determine the future of the nuclear weapons complex, forces with financial . . . stakes in nuclear weaponry, working through think tanks like [the Hoover Institute], or corporate entities like Bechtel and the University of California [which together manage Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratories], are actively attempting to lock in a de-facto set of policies by building a new research, design, and production infrastructure that will ensure nuclear weapons are a centerpiece of the US military empire far into the future. [Emphasis added.]

This is exemplified by the “Four Horsemen,” as Henry Kissinger, former Senator Sam Nunn, former Secretary of Defense William Perry (now a senior fellow at Hoover), George Schultz (president of Bechtel for eight years before he became Secretary of State; also now a senior fellow at Hoover) became known after they wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in 2008 calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. They solidified their position — newfound for Kissinger and Perry — with another such WSJ piece a year later.

Their third op-ed in the series, though, published earlier this year, was titled “How to Protect Our Nuclear Deterrent.” The phrase “nuclear deterrent” is a tell that its user seeks to keep disarmament relegated to the slow lane, if not stalled out on the shoulder of the road. As the ZComm trio cited above (as opposed to the Four Horsemen…the Three Musketeers?) explained: “The Four Horsemen endorse the view…that ‘investments are urgently needed…in the laboratories’ budgets for the science, technology, and engineering programs that support and underwrite the nation’s nuclear deterrent.'”

In fact, the three maintained: “With their direct links to the corporations that manage the weapons labs…the Four Horsemen are the chief negotiators working through public forums to limit the extent of arms control treaties and extract the biggest pro-nuclear lab concessions.” The Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, they wrote, “have long been known as powerful bulwarks against international treaties that limit nuclear arms development.”

In other words, “statements of politicians and elder statesmen about a world free of nuclear weapons…has served to fix the attention of disarmament and antiwar activists on ‘policy making,’ which has ‘blinded them to the political deal-making process at hand.'”

Or as disarmament sage Jonathan Schell, less than thrilled by the new START, wrote in the Nation:

If this trend continues, it is entirely possible that the ultimate mockery will occur: nuclear arsenals will march forward into the future under a banner that reads Ban the Bomb.

First posted at the Faster Times.

From the Frontlines: May 11th, 2010

Sen. Benigno “NoyNoy” Aquino won the Philippine elections with about 75 percent of the vote, despite a communist rebel skirmish in the Mindinao region. He vowed to tamp down corruption (although FPIF columnist Walden Bello wonders if that’s the real cause of poverty).

On Democracy Now!, Glenn Greenwald and Jamin Raskin debate the progressive reaction to Elena Kagan.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is a comprehensive source for the latest citizen reports on what’s happening in the Gulf, as a result of the BP oil spill. Oil is now washing up on the shores of the Mississippi Delta.

As Daphne Wysham reports, this isn’t the first time BP has hurt people in the Gulf—but thanks to lax regulation, they were hardly punished for it. Representatives from BP, Halliburton, and Transocean will appear before a Senate committee investigating the spill today.

How can cultural boycott help the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement against Israel? Cathy Gulkin of Point of View magazine explains (via IMEU).

Two AlterNet reporters ask: Why do we let economically essential banks gamble with our money? Our own Sarah Anderson says that taxing financial speculation is key to halting the casino. OpenLeft has a great roundup of developments in financial reform.

Reader Challenge: Can Moderates Make Charges That Suicide Bombers Are Infidels Stick?

Reports Christian Caryl at Foreign Policy, Pakistani newspapers recently learned that jihadists have “just added a new target to one of their death lists. His name is Tahir ul-Qadri, and he’s no government official. He’s one of Pakistan’s leading Islamic scholars, an authority on the Quran and Islamic religious law.”

More from Sheikh to Terrorists: Go to Hell:

It’s no wonder the terrorists want to see Qadri dead. Last month he promulgated a 600-page . . . fatwa, that condemns terrorism as un-Islamic. … Many Muslim scholars before Qadri, of course, have denounced terrorism. What makes him significant is the uncompromising rigor of his vision. [Qadri’s fatwa] makes the case that terrorist acts run completely counter to Islamic teaching. While quite a few scholars before have condemned terrorism as haram (forbidden), the new fatwa categorically declares it to be no less than kufr (acts of disbelief). “There was a need,” says Qadri [to make Jihadis] “realize that…they’re going to hellfire. …and they’re not going to have 72 virgins in heaven.”


Ahmed Quraishi, a conservative Pakistani commentator based in Islamabad [says] “Suicide is outlawed in Islam…if it means killing the innocent. But it is not if it means attacking invaders or occupiers.”…Yet one of the things that makes Qadri’s fatwa so compelling is precisely that it sweeps aside such logic. The claim that terror is a legitimate or excusable response to oppression is, according to Qadri’s finding, an “awful syllogism” because “evil cannot become good under any circumstances.”

Qadri’s fatwa, writes Christian, is additional evidence

that the so-called “war on terror” pales beside the war within Islam itself, the continuing, subtle, and utterly vital struggle for the soul of the faith. So it will be worth keeping an eye on the impact these 600 pages will have on Islam’s restless minds in the years to come.

Do Focal Point readers think that Qadri’s tome of a fatwa will help stem the tide of young Muslims to terror? Or will they buy into jihadis’ specious “fighting and dying in self-defense” justification of suicide bombing?

Europe’s Sick of U.S. Nukes

Europe wants the United States to remove the nuclear weapons it stockpiled across the continent during the Cold War, the Associated Press reports. “The presence of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, from a military point of view, no longer makes any sense” is how former NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes (a Belgian) puts it. The article illustrates several points Mary Slosson made in her April 12 OtherWords op-ed “Nuclear Weapons: A Dangerous Relic.”

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