IPS Blog

European Victory on Taxing Speculation

Cross-Posted with the Huffington Post

European campaigners for a financial transaction tax have done some awfully goofy things over the past three years.

Global Day of Action FTT-Robin Hood Tax/Flickr

Global Day of Action FTT-Robin Hood Tax/Flickr

At one French demonstration, they stripped down to their skivvies to emphasize the small size of the tax (0.1% on trade of stocks and bonds and 0.02% on derivatives under the European Commission’s proposal). In Germany, they rented a limo and crashed the Berlinale film festival, dressed as Robin Hood characters. In many countries, they’ve gotten elected officials to pose with silly hats and fake bows and arrows.

But after this week, the opponents of the financial transaction tax (aka Robin Hood Tax) will no longer snicker at such antics. At a meeting of European finance ministers on October 9, 11 governments committed to implementing the tax. This is two more than the minimum number needed for an official EU agreement. And it is a huge victory for those of us — not just in Europe but also in the United States and around the world — who’ve been pushing for such taxes as a way to curb short-term speculation and generate massive revenue for job creation, global health, climate, and other pressing needs.

Of course the goofy stunts weren’t the only game-changers. Campaigners have also built up strong technical arguments about the feasibility of such taxes. And a growing number of financial professionals have come out in support, blunting the industry backlash.

The broader European crisis has also been a major factor. In fact, there are rumors that Italy and Spain may have sold their support in exchange for some debt concessions from Germany. The additional eight governments in the new coalition of the willing are France, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Portugal, Slovakia, and Slovenia. More may join in the coming months.

There are still a few hurdles ahead. There will be a round of negotiations that could result in the European Commission’s proposal being watered down by lowering the rates or narrowing the base to only cover securities. There will be a fight to make sure revenues help people and the planet instead of the big banks. And EU heads of state will have to vote by a qualified majority to give the initiative the green light. This means some countries that don’t plan to implement the tax themselves will still need to sign off on it. The biggest opponent, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, may have some obstructionist tricks up his sleeve.

But according to Peter Wahl of WEED, one of the key forces behind the German campaign, “there is now quite a strong political will behind the project, so that we can expect definitive implementation rather soon, perhaps already during 2013.”

Europe’s dramatic step forward can only boost the growing U.S. grassroots efforts for a Robin Hood Tax. Our current Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, has been a naysayer, sometimes even chastising European leaders for considering the idea. But with Geithner heading out the door after the election and Europe moving towards raising revenue off the tax, we may get a blast of fresh thinking.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Anderson_IPS

Join Us October 17 at the Letelier-Moffitt Awards

We’d love to see you Wednesday, October 17, at the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards reception and ceremony at the Carnegie Institution. It will be an uplifting evening, with generations of social justice activists on hand to enjoy the artistry of DC’s most powerful and visionary youth poets and the music of Patricio Zamorano and his band as we celebrate national and international voices for justice.

Tickets may sell out soon, so purchase yours now or support this important event even if you can’t attend.

Student leaders Noam Titelman, Camila Vallejo and Boris Gabriel participate in a demonstration in downtown Santiago

Student leaders Noam Titelman, Camila Vallejo and Boris Gabriel participate in a demonstration in downtown Santiago

We are thrilled to honor two amazing organizations in 2012 with much in common. Just as the Chilean Students Movement is challenging Augusto Pinochet’s legacy and free-market ideology, City Life/Vida Urbana is standing up to Ronald Reagan’s legacy and ideology. These struggles are also united in building a better world rooted in the rights to education, housing, and other core needs. And they are planting the seeds of transformative change.

Both groups remind us of what so many of you know so well: Powerful social movements equipped with bold ideas are the catalysts for positive social change. IPS is proud to belong to dynamic coalitions forging powerful new approaches that are making a difference.

The great actor and activist Danny Glover will present the City Life/Vida Urbana award to Curdina Hill and Steve Meacham. Tiffany Loftin, president of the United States Student Association, will present the award to the Chilean student leaders Camila Vallejo and Noam Titelman.

City Life action

City Life action

Fun fact: Readers of the UK’s Guardian newspaper chose Vallejo as “the person of the year.”

If you’ve attended in recent years, please take note of our new venue, located at 1530 P Street, NW in Washington, DC. The reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. and the ceremony will get underway at 7 p.m.

The Institute for Policy Studies has honored human rights heroes for 36 years in the names of our colleagues Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt, who were assassinated in 1976 by agents of the Chilean dictatorship. John Cavanagh is the Institute’s director and Joy Zarembka is its associate director. IPS-dc.org

On the Margins in Serbia

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and surveying its transformations since 1989.

By Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin.

By Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin.

All eyes were on Serbia again this last week with the multiple controversies over the events of Gay Pride week. First came Ecce Homo, the exhibition of Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin, which depicted Jesus integrated into the gay community. Christ cross-dresses at the Last Supper; he ministers to a flock of leather-clad men. The Orthodox Church called for a ban, which the Islamic community signed onto as well. The police turned out in force to separate exhibition-goers from protestors.

I’m sorry I missed the excitement. By the time I made it to the Center for Cultural Decontamination, where the exhibition had a one-day showing, the exhibit was gone. There were plenty of police still hanging around the center’s courtyard with nothing to do, as if to ensure that the place was truly “decontaminated.” Since its founding in 1994, this center has been one of the most courageous pockets of resistance to nationalism, xenophobia, and intolerance in Serbia, and I’ll go back to interview the director, Borka Pavicevic.

The bigger controversy, however, was the decision of the Serbian interior ministry to cancel the Pride march on Saturday. There have been Pride marches and Queer Parades throughout the region, and many have attracted violent responses from neo-Nazis and skinheads. Violent demonstrators confronted marchers and the police at the Pride marches in Belgrade in 2001 and 2010, turning what should have been opportunities for the display of tolerance into ugly riots. The city authorities cancelled the march here in Belgrade last year as well, ostensibly to prevent violence but just as likely in response to pressure from religious and other groups.

The European Union has reacted strongly to the cancellation, basically telling the Serbian authorities to rein in the extremist elements and guarantee LGBT rights or risk further delays in accession. The current government of Tomislav Nikolic, of the rather conservative Serbian Progressive Party (an offshoot of the Serbian Radical party), has already expressed some reservations about fast-track membership in the EU, particularly if it requires recognition of an independent Kosovo. So, the EU’s stern response might not cause any sleepless nights for Nikolic and crew.

I was politically but also personally disappointed by the cancellation of the march because I had structured my itinerary so that I could be back in Belgrade to attend it. The events around Pride week are indeed a major test of how open Serbian society is becoming. I was struck by the superficial comparisons of the Ecce Homo exhibition to the recent controversy of the video, Innocence of Muslims. The latter was designed with the sole purpose of defaming Islam. The former draws on the teachings of Jesus who consistently stood with the marginalized. One preaches hate, the other love.

The message of standing with the marginalized should have particular resonance in Serbia these days, where the margins can often seem rather crowded. The EU focuses on ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. But even though the Orthodox Church is overwhelmingly the dominant faith, only a fraction of the population actually goes to church regularly, leaving the truly faithful feeling beleaguered. And many ethnic Serbians themselves feel as if they are on the margins of Europe, forced by more powerful countries to give up historic Kosovo and pushed nearly to the end of the line for EU membership.

Marginality is, of course, relative. My interpreter in Bulgaria spoke wistfully of how much better things were for Serbia.

“Really?” I asked. “After all that Serbia has gone through over the last 20 years? War, sanctions, refugees – ”

“Yes,” she said. “But they have Novak Djokovic, one of the top tennis players in the world. Don’t underestimate the importance of having a winner like that for the national psyche.”

And then there are all the Serbians who don’t live in Belgrade. According to a recent study of the news media by the National Coalition for Decentralization (NKD), only 17 seconds of the national TV news report is devoted to events outside the capital. Talk about marginalization! Milos, my interpreter in the lovely city of Nis, told me that 1,500 people a day move to Belgrade (other cited figures are lower, 300-500, but still sobering). The countryside is emptying out. The young and the talented, if they aren’t leaving Serbia altogether, gravitate to the capital.

It’s a shame, since Nis should be a thriving center of southern Serbia. The city is dominated by an enormous Ottoman-era fortress built on the foundations of a Roman outpost. Inside this well-preserved structure are cafes, an art gallery in a former mosque, a lapidarium of exquisite Roman fragments. Nis is an historic crossroads, the former Naissus where the Roman emperor Constantine was born in 272 AD. During the second Crusade, Serbian leader Stefan Nemanja had a historic meeting in Nis with Frederick Barbarossa. Stefan ate with a fork, according to a story dear to the heart of all Serbians, while Frederick ate with his hands (this symbol of Serbian civilization is immortalized in the powerful anti-war film Pretty Village, Pretty Flames). The city continues to be a crossroads, a busy bus portal halfway between Belgrade and Skopje and on the way from Sofia to Sarajevo.

The downtown is full of cafes, which are in turn full of people. This gives Nis a festive air, though my interpreter explained that unemployment means that people have lots of time on their hands to sit around and drink coffees. With Belgrade the artistic center of the country, the provinces are starved of culture. For a ten-year period until recently, Nis didn’t even have a movie theater.

My guide to Nis was Mladen Jovanovic, who runs NKD and is passionately devoted to decentralization. Distributing power more equitably around the country is essential to providing Serbians with a voice in their public affairs. The municipalities don’t even own the public facilities – the airport, the public buildings – because these remain in the hands of the national authorities. Investment is highly centralized. Politics is controlled through Belgrade, and the MPs from the regions are more likely to represent their parties than their constituents.

The issue of decentralization is critical to Serbia’s future. The regions of Vojvodina and Sandzak have pushed for greater autonomy. The European Union requires a measure of decentralization as part of the membership process. The conservatives in Belgrade raise the specter of disintegration. But Mladen points out that a refusal to decentralize responsibly will only produce greater resistance and provoke an increase in separatist sentiment.

Our conversation takes place over several hours at a mehana, or tavern, where we eat grilled rib meat and skewers of chicken livers wrapped in bacon, along with roasted lamb and potatoes and three different salads. This mehana, close to the wall of the fortress and next to a tennis club, brews its own brandy, and we sip from little flagons of their quince rakia. The mayor is sitting several tables away, conferring with his associates. The weather is perfect. The thwack of tennis balls hitting racquets fills the air.

Nis seems, at this moment, like such a sensible place to live, far from the bruising politics of Belgrade. All it needs, perhaps, is what Richard Florida has called the “creative class,” young software engineers and artists and, yes, gay people. Someday, in some not-too-distant future, rainbow flags will appear on the streets of Nis, and the margins in Serbia will be the new center.

How Much of Romney’s Bellicosity Toward Iran Is Just Campaign Theatrics?

Cross-posted from OtherWords, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.

The war of words over Iran’s nuclear program keeps expanding.

It’s now a multi-sided melee pitting Iran against the West and Israel, Israel against the Obama administration, Mitt Romney against Barack Obama, and neo-conservatives like William Kristol against the rest of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

The rhetoric is more heated, too. President Obama swears that his administration “will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” It’s his clearest indication to date that he would, if he deemed it necessary, order military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Robert Gates, Obama’s former defense secretary and a Republican, thinks such an attack would be “catastrophic, haunting us for generations in that part of the world.” Yet Romney and his hawkish advisers are accusing Obama of coddling the Islamic Republic, which the GOP challenger claims “has never posed a greater danger to our friends, our allies, and to us.” But neither he nor Obama will draw the “red line” for war that Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu demands.

A great deal of this bellicosity is mere campaign theatrics. Netanyahu is shamelessly interfering in U.S. politics, trying to paint Obama as a betrayer of Israel in the eyes of swing-state Jewish and evangelical Christian voters. We know he’s bluffing when he suggests Israel might attack Iran by itself because Meir Dagan, the former Israeli intelligence chief and no dove, called this threat “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”

Romney is playing the same cynical game as Netanyahu. In his October 8 foreign policy speech, he didn’t offer a single idea about Iran that differs from what Obama is already doing.

And here’s the deadly serious part: Amid the hullabaloo, Washington has indeed been “tightening the noose” (the White House’s phrase) on the Iranian economy with ever more stringent sanctions. The rial, the Iranian currency, went into freefall over two days in early October — losing 40 percent or more of its value. Even Iran’s smugly self-confident president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been forced to acknowledge that the sanctions are stinging.

Sanctions punish entire nations for the misdeeds of their leaders. In theory, if the general population suffers enough, it will get rid of those leaders and replace them with a more congenial elite.

There’s more to this dubious logic in Iran than there was in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where the people were powerless over the fearsome dictatorship. While hardly fully democratic, the Islamic Republic does hold regular elections that have meaning. There are real policy differences between Ahmadinejad, whose two terms in office are almost up, and the more mainstream conservatives who are working to anoint his successor as president next June. Iranian elections are unpredictable. If enough voters blame the hardliners for economic woes, a maverick candidate might emerge.

Ahmadinejad is already signaling a renewed interest in talks about the nuclear program. Obama might calculate that, after the twin presidential contests are over, Washington will be in a good position to get what it wants at the negotiating table. Romney may be thinking the same way.

The problem, as it always has been, is that the technology for generating peaceful nuclear power and building a bomb is the same. The United States and Israel have insisted that Iran can’t have atomic energy capacity, because the same highly enriched uranium could be fashioned into a warhead.

Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, however, Iran has the right to produce nuclear power — and the whole Iranian political spectrum believes in that right. To persuade Tehran to halt enrichment, Washington will have to offer a lot more than the prospect of more coercion.

In 2013, the U.S. president will need to accept this reality or inch down the path to another war in contravention of international law.

Chris Toensing is editor of Middle East Report, published by the Middle East Research and Information Project.


What Went Unmentioned in the Vice Presidential Debate

Biden and Ryan discuss Israel but ignore Palestine.

What remains missing on in the v-p debate is what Israel has gained from the debate — just the debate! — over Iran. That is, as long as Israel maintains its spurious claim that Iran represents an “existential threat” to Israel, no one — no one — especially in the United States, is willing to say a word, let alone exert real pressure, on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands and its apartheid policies towards Palestinian people. No one’s talking about that.

On the substance of Iran, we once again saw an actual disagreement on Iran policy. We’re still hearing about “red lines” for the use of force against Iran, but the red lines are in two different places. To his credit, Biden didn’t reference a military strike or red lines directly, although he did say the Obama administration would not allow Iran “to get” a nuclear weapon. He went on to say that war should always be the last resort.

Ryan was different. He reinforced Romney’s on-again-off-again red line, threatening force to prevent Iran from obtaining “nuclear capability” — which could mean today.

But once again — Israel’s occupation, apartheid, settlements expansion, the siege of Gaza, Palestinian prisoners, violations of international law and human rights — not a word. We heard from Biden that “the last thing America needs is to get into another ground war in the Middle East.” But he sticks to the Obama plan — endorsed by Ryan as well — for maintaining the war through at least the end of 2014, when a “transition” to Afghan security would take place, with training, special ops, and other forces remaining in Afghanistan. No evidence of what might be different after another year and a half of war, instead of ending it right now, but nonetheless both parties agree on continuing a failed and devastating war.

And once again the drone war, militarization of U.S. policy in Africa… and Palestine, all remain unmentioned. The unspoken, indiscernable, invisible questions. And Palestine at the center.

R2P Strikes a Chord: Sovereignty Alone Is Not Enough

Former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy.

Former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy.

While it is no consolation for beleaguered Syrians, the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has moved to general acceptance much more rapidly than many of those who steered the 2005 World Summit declaration expected at the time. They saw it as a first, almost tentative, step on a Long March to global acceptance. In 2009, for example, only four manifestly expediently motivated states (Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan, and Nicaragua) expressed any wish to rescind the 2005 decision—despite the latter’s foreign minister pushing that view in his capacity as President of the General Assembly.

In the recent UN General Assembly debate on R2P, few delegates questioned the principle itself. Indeed, the Assembly, representing mostly the smaller states which are supposedly so concerned about their sovereignty, had already overwhelmingly supported action in Syria and were clearly as unhappy with the Russian and Chinese abuse of veto power as they often are with Washington’s. Countries like Brazil and other “middle powers” have been actively working out methods of ensuring that R2P can be implemented over expedient superpower objections – while making sure those powers do not abuse the principle as, for example, some of them tried in Iraq.

Former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, now President of the University of Winnipeg, comments, “In 10 years [R2P] has moved from a concept to a principle to a basis for some action. It has had a very fast track, going from being accepted as a concept, on to being enshrined in the 2005 resolution to being cited in the Libya Security Council resolution. If you think about the ways the world runs, the present nation states have been around for about 250 years, while R2P has only been around for ten—and it has made huge inroads. It clearly struck a response: people really understand that sovereignty is not enough.”

However, on Syria, Axworthy sees “A perfect storm of self interest. Putin coming back to the presidency in Russia, [President Obama] coming up for reelection reluctant for stronger action, the EU financial crisis where the Europeans got cold feet. My own country now has a very conservative government that does not recognize R2P. The major players needed to make R2P work have been absent.”

Axworthy also admits that the current form of R2P suffers from the compromises that were needed to pass the concept initially.

The concept of humanitarian intervention flew in the face of the founding principle of the United Nations. Despite the reference in the preamble of the Charter to “We the Peoples,” the UN has always stood for national sovereignty, as well as the somewhat idealistic notion of equality that gives China the same vote as Nauru in the General Assembly, even if the pragmatism of the veto for the larger powers tempered that metaphysical concept.

In that respect, the UN has been more successful than people give it credit. There might have been annexations, but with few exceptions those have yet to be accepted as legitimate by the world community—whether Kuwait or East Timor. Mired in exegesis about sovereignty, however, the organization failed in Rwanda and the Balkans, just as it had failed the Kurds and Shi’a in Iraq.

The two principles intersected with the second Iraq War in 2003, which, as Kofi Annan admitted, had no UN legitimacy whatsoever, and which terminally polluted the concept of humanitarian intervention when British PM Tony Blair expediently added it to the list of dodgy excuses for the war.

Just as “ethnic cleansing” became a near synonym for genocide, so “humanitarian intervention” was transformed to signify Western neocolonialism under camouflage of do-gooding. That made the achievement of Annan, Axworthy, and the others so much more creditable when they shepherded R2P through the GA. For those who scorn the weaselly language of diplomacy, the evolution of R2P is instructive not least for the way it neatly replaced the degraded phrase of humanitarian intervention.

The failings of the 2005 Declaration are part of the price it took to get the concept accepted. Axworthy points out that the delicate negotiations had to stroke susceptibilities about expedient use of the concept, so “every sentence in the crucial paragraph 139 of the Outcome Document repeats verbatim the formula that prescribes the only four events agreed to trigger rise to R2P’s application: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.”

That, he points out, narrows the scope. “Simply measure the elements of risk. … Disasters, environmental disasters, changes, refugees, desertification in Sahel or hurricanes in Caribbean,” and of course, shortly afterwards, we had governments refusing international aid for populations devastated by storms and floods. What does that mean for R2P, if your life is threatened? It doesn’t matter if it’s a new epidemic virus or environmental disaster or an AK47 transcending boundaries, if you can’t feed your kids.” Within three years in 2008, the world looked on horrified as the government of Burma decided its sovereignty was more important than rescuing typhoon victims.

Even so, he considers that “It’s very healthy that it is now a basis for discussion. But there has to be a better balance between those who lean to the Old Westphalian system, and establishing an international framework, ensuring that it is used positively for a practical function and not for fairly narrow purposes. Safeguards issues should be built on exit issues, early warning issues, some form of constabulary.”

He cites Libya, as “a case in which political will (largely inspired by strong regional calls for action) combined with R2P’s principles to produce effective action to stop a threatened atrocity. The Security Council’s steadily escalating responses included sanctions, referral to the ICC, an arms embargo and then the imposition of a ‘no fly zone.’ These culminated in the Council’s authorization of ‘whatever steps may be necessary’ to protect the Libyan population.”

It is sad but true that often in the court of world public opinion actions that are entirely justifiable in themselves can be damned as expedient because opponents can point to other cases that implied impunity. Why is it so insufferable to allow the Libyan or Syrian governments to murder—but not Bahrain? Why should the world unite to stop the shelling of Homs, but nod understandingly when Gaza comes under fire? So, although the Russians and Chinese did not directly veto the action, they used it to mitigate effective action.

They might not have been that attached to Gaddafi’s survival but they used the exigencies that the compromise resolutions forced on NATO and the Arab League first to hamper effective action and then to decry it as going too far. It gave them the traditional prerogatives of the harlot: power without responsibility. As a result, Axworthy points out, “Part of the problem is that the way the Libyan thing ended up, since it did end up looking like the white guys in suits running the world.” That perception obviously plays to the pro-Assad gallery at the UN — although his friends are noted more for their obduracy and power than the number. But one of the reasons the P5 still have a real veto is that they are among the few powers that could threaten a force projection that would be effective in R2P.”

The veto will stay for the foreseeable future, although, just like R2P itself, that should not stop the small and medium powers waging a campaign of attrition against it. Somewhat naively the original Axworthy Commission looked to the GA and “the Uniting for Peace Resolution” as a means of bypassing the veto if the P5 refused to accept limits. But the US, which had originated the bypass mechanism to bypass unreasonable Soviet vetoes has since denied it when the Palestinians brought into play to bypass what most of the world sees as equally unreasonable vetoes on behalf Israel.

“What we are missing is a voice around the issue that can contend with these things, that can raise issues,” concludes Axworthy—even as he points out that the Harper government in Ottawa has effectively abandoned the high moral ground Canada once had.

Although Susan Rice is a strong supporter of the concept, the US and even President Obama are hamstrung by domestic politics in relation to Israel and the veto. Looking around the world, there is a distinct shortage of the presence that could once have shamed Moscow and Beijing, let alone the financial clout to make them listen.

It is fortunate that SG Ban Ki Moon is a strong supporter of R2P, but his diplomatic work-style is built on strong talking in private but less ostentatious, albeit firm, statements in public. He lacks that concentration of global influence that Annan could call upon — and he has surely been trying.

R2P as a concept might have arrived sooner than expected — but who would have expected such an almost complete absence of ethics and charisma in world capitals. Almost, with Syria, the endgame might depend on the Ba’athist regime doing something silly to provoke Turkey to invoke the traditional right of self-defense, as did for example Vietnam, Tanzania and India to halt atrocities in neighboring countries. It would not be the best outcome for international law, the UN or R2P—or for that matter, the Syrians.

More realistically, those Middle Powers could put their efforts together with those of Ban Ki Moon and his new Deputy Jan Eliasson to press the recalcitrant superpowers to show them that there is a price, diplomatic or financial, for covering for mass murder.

Ian Williams has written for newspapers and magazines around the world. He is currently writing a book on the Americans who blame the United Nations for all the ills of the United States. For more by Ian Williams visit Deadline Pundit.

Attacking Iran Is Like Setting Off Nuclear Bombs on the Ground

As you can tell by the title, this 61-page paper, The Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble, is not Tehran-friendly. The report, released in September, is the product of Khosrow B. Semnani, an Iranian-American industrialist and philanthropist with, according to his bio, “extensive experience in the industrial management of nuclear waste and chemicals.” I’m in the midst of reading it in its entirety.

In the meantime, an excerpt from the executive summary (also available to those non-executives just as time-pressed as executives!) provides a good indication of exactly where Omid for Iran, Semnani’s organization, which released the report along with the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the University of Utah, is coming from.

The best long-term strategy would be a democratic, transparent, and accountable government in Iran. In such a scenario, political leaders would quickly understand that their people want jobs, dignity, opportunity, and political freedoms, not the false promise of nuclear weapons bought at a heavy, even existential, cost. A military strike would not only kill thousands of civilians and expose tens and possibly hundreds of thousands to highly toxic chemicals, it would also have a devastating effect on those who dream of democracy in Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei has proven that he cares little for the Iranian people. It is up to us in the international community, including the Iranian-American diaspora to demonstrate that we do.

Semnani et al state that while (all emphases theirs)

… there has been considerable debate about the timing and targets of military strikes against Iran’s nuclear program, the costs and consequences of such strikes have not received sufficient atten­tion. Military planners at the Pentagon do provide policymakers with estimates of civilian casualties; these estimates are typically for operational purposes and not made available to the general public. Virtually no one has presented a scientific assessment of the conse­quences of military strikes on operational nuclear facilities. What is certain is the gravity of the risk to civilians: The IAEA has verified an inventory of at least 371 metric tons of highly toxic uranium hexafluoride stored at Iran’s nuclear facilities. The release of this material at sites that are only a few miles from major population centers such as Isfahan warrants a thorough and comprehensive assessment of the potential risks to thousands of civilians living in the vicinity of Iran’s nuclear sites.

Nor have Iran’s leaders shown any inclination to present such an assessment.

[They] have had no interest in making the risks of their reckless nuclear policies obvious to its citizens even though the resulting economic toll—inflation, unem­ployment, and the loss of international credit—has devastated the Iranian people. The Iranian military has not provided the Iranian people with any description of potential casualties resulting from attacks on these nuclear facilities. Nor has the parliament encouraged an open assessment of the grave implications of the government’s policies for Iranian scientists, soldiers and civilians working at or living within the vicinity of Iran’s nuclear facilities. This study seeks to address this deficit.

In regards to the Western and IAEA view that Iran is developing nuclear capacity, they write:

While no smoking gun has emerged to prove that Iran is pursuing a weapon. … Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, is making a deadly nuclear gamble.

Whether or not Iran is pursuing a weapon

… the political reality is this: Israel continues to threaten military strikes, should diplomacy fail. In a post-election United States, either a newly re-elected President Barack Obama or an incoming President Mitt Romney will face a ticking clock that will add an element of urgency to their decisions on Iran’s nuclear program. The risks to the Iranian people of military strikes have never been greater.

Holding all parties liable, they write:

By quantifying the costs of military strikes, we have sought to make the scale of the Ayatollah’s reckless gamble and the gamble of possible U.S. and/or Israeli strikes apparent not only to the Iranian people but also to the international community, including policymakers in the United States and Israel.

That the West isn’t contemplating nuclear strikes provides scant solace.

Conventional strikes involving the systematic bombing of nuclear installations can be far more devastating than nuclear and industrial accidents such as Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island or Bhopal. The damage from strategic aerial bombardment is planned to be total and irreversible. It leaves no time for intervention, no chance for evacuation and no possibility for containment.

Exactly what do Semnani et al see as the targets?

Beyond the sites, some military planners have suggested that any strike against Iran could extend to more than 400 targets, or “aim points.” The goal of the strikes would be to permanently cripple Iran’s ability to revive its nuclear program by targeting site personnel as well as the auxiliary and support infrastructure.

For the purposes of this study, we have assumed a conservative strike scenario and analyzed the impact of conventional military strike against four targets: Isfahan, Natanz, Arak and Bushehr. … We have not included the deeply buried Fordow site near Qom in our analysis due to the incomplete nature of information about this site. However, it is almost certain that Fordow would be targeted with powerful bunker busters. … We have restricted our estimates of casualties to those injured or killed as a direct result of strikes at the four nuclear facilities and the immediate vicinities only.

What kind of numbers are we talking about?

Based on the best information available as well as discussions with Iranian and Western nuclear experts, we have estimated the total number of people—scientists, workers, soldiers and support staff—at Iran’s four nuclear facilities to be between 7,000 and 11,000. … However, unlike traditional targets, the risks to civilians extend well beyond those killed from exposure to thermal and blast injuries at the nuclear sites. Tens, and quite possibly, hundreds of thousands of civilians could be exposed to highly toxic chemical plumes and, in the case of operational reactors, radioactive fallout. … Additionally, the environmental deg­radation due to the spread of airborne uranium compounds, and their entry into water, soil and the food chain would introduce long-term, chronic health risks such as a spike in cancer rates and birth defect

You get the idea. Beyond that, the attack and radiation will work its synergistic black magic in conjunction with Iran’s meager disaster management and emergency preparation capabilities. In other words, bombing Iranian nuclear facilities is like setting off nuclear weapons on the ground.

Semnani et al eloquently summarize (and remember this is just the executive summary):

Rather than dismiss them as collateral damage, it is time to factor the Iranian people into any equation involving military strikes. There is a strong moral, strategic, political and military argument for counting the Iranian people’s interests as a key factor in the nuclear dispute.

Compared to the interests of Jerusalem, Tehran, and Washington, those of the Iranian people come in a distant last.

This Week in OtherWords: A Genetically Engineered Food Special Edition

This week, OtherWords is running three commentaries and a cartoon regarding the growing number of genetically modified foods that land on our plate whether we realize it or not.

In her debut guest column, Jill Richardson challenges big food companies to boast about their penchant for these modified crops if they’re so wonderful. Wenonah Hauter introduces readers to the latest newfangled food making a stir: an apple that doesn’t brown when it’s sliced long before it’s eaten. Jim Hightower discusses the ruse maintained by General Mills, Kellogg, and other huge food companies that have bought out tiny organic outfits and tried to not let consumers know.

Any of these commentaries could accompany Khalil Bendib’s Snow White cartoon, which depicts a witch handing her a new kind of poisoned apple. And all three address California’s upcoming referendum on a new state rule that would require the labeling of genetically modified food. Known as Proposition 37, this requirement would have national ramifications for the industry because of California’s huge market.

As always, I encourage you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. Consumer Choice: As American as Apple Pie / Wenonah Hauter
    The creation of a new genetically modified apple highlights once again the need for clear labeling of this kind of food.
  2. Iran in the Campaign’s Crosshairs / Chris Toensing
    Mitt Romney is playing the same cynical game as Benjamin Netanyahu.
  3. The Problem with Craig Romney and his Padre / Jason Salzman
    Mitt’s Latino “ambassador” may speak Spanish, but he can’t talk about real policies.
  4. The Corporate Court’s War on Women / Martha Burk
    So far, not so good.
  5. Apparently, Suite Crime Does Pay / Sam Pizzigati
    The executives responsible for the financial industry’s pervasive fraud are paying no personal price.
  6. Big Food Fight / Jill Richardson
    If the products they sell us are as great as they say, what are General Mills, Kraft, and other processed food behemoths hiding?
  7. Big Food Behemoths Embarrass their Organic Offshoots / Jim Hightower
    Big Food’s mobilization against California’s right-to-know law is making more green-minded consumers aware of the companies that own their favorite brands.
  8. Just Don’t Let the Other Side Vote / William A. Collins
    Texas won’t accept your student ID for voting, but your gun permit will do just fine.
  9. Poisoned Apple, 2012 / Khalil Bendib (Cartoon)
Poisoned Apple, 2012, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Poisoned Apple, 2012, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Civil Society to World Bank President Dr. Jim Kim: Add Your Voice to the Choir of Support for a Financial Transactions Tax

Civil society to World Bank president Dr. Jim Kim, “add your voice to the choir of support for an FTT”

Today, the Institute for Policy Studies sent the newly appointed World Bank president Dr. Jim Kim a letter signed by 58 organizations from around the world urging him to champion financial transaction taxes (FTT) – a tiny tax on stocks, bonds, currency and other derivatives trades – as an innovative way to raise much-needed money to address climate change, health and other development priorities in poorer countries. The groups – including WWF, Greenpeace, Oxfam, AFL-CIO, World AIDS Campaign, United Methodist Church, and the Main Street Alliance – come from a broad cross-section of civil society and show a growing consensus that it’s time for developed countries to get serious about meeting their promises on climate and development finance.

The letter was sent in anticipation of the World Bank’s annual meeting in Tokyo later this week, where high-level finance ministry officials from developed and developing countries will assemble to discuss poverty eradication, sustainable development and the world economic outlook.

In the letter, groups urged Dr. Kim to “[p]romote FTT as a source of innovative finance for developing countries’ efforts to address climate change. Such revenues are needed for the Green Climate Fund and … it would be helpful to promote FTT as a source of climate finance in the context of studies and reports mandated by international bodies such as the G20 and the UN.”

In conjunction with the Bank meetings the Leading Group on Innovative Financing for Development will hold a symposium highlighting the role of FTT on meeting the funding gap for climate and development left by the global economic crisis. Two of the countries featured in the event – France and Germany – are part of an eleven-country ‘coalition of the willing’ that announced their commitment to implement an FTT today at the European Union Finance Ministers Meeting (ECOFIN). The letter to Kim emphasized that “[a]t this key moment in their decision-making, it is particularly important to urge European leaders to allocate part of FTT revenue to development and climate.”

Now that countries have taken this leap forward, the World Bank’s leader should make his own bold move and support an FTT.

Note: Besides the four biggest economies in the Eurozone – France, Germany, Italy and Spain – Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Portugal, Slovakia and Slovenia have pledged to implement a financial transaction tax at ECOFIN. This “coalition of the willing” approach will still need to be given the green light by EU heads of state, but the political momentum is clearly strong.

—–

Dr. Jim Yong Kim
President
The World Bank
1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433

October 9, 2012

Re: Financial transaction taxes as a source of innovative finance

Dear Dr. Kim:

We, the undersigned 58 organizations, congratulate you on your position as World Bank President. We are hopeful that with your impressive track record, you will bring fresh thinking to this important financial institution.

We are writing now to encourage you to use your prominent position of influence to become a vocal champion of innovative ways to ensure sufficient resources are available to tackle the most pressing problems faced by the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

Given the budget constraints facing many of the largest donor countries, it is widely accepted that new sources of financing are needed. Our organizations are part of a growing international campaign to promote one of the most promising forms of innovative finance – small taxes on trades of stock, derivatives, currencies, and other financial instruments.

We have long advocated that such financial transaction taxes (FTTs) are a practical way to generate revenue to fill domestic and international financing gaps, discourage the type of short- term financial speculation that has little social value but poses high risks to the economy, and serve as a predictable and sustainable source financing for health, climate, development, education, and job creation. In a recent paper, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs concluded that “financial and currency transaction taxes are technically feasible and economically sensible. They could readily provide the means of meeting global development financing needs.”

Over the past two years, we have been encouraged by significant shifts in the debate, with influential leaders such as Bill Gates, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, and Pope Benedict XVI coming out in support. Now is a critical time to add your voice to the call.

A group of at least 11 European governments appears on track to forge an EU agreement to implement a FTT by the end of 2012. However, with the exception of France, they have made no clear commitment yet on how the resources would be allocated. Your support could help ensure that a substantial portion of the revenue goes to meet the needs of the world’s poorest people, rather than simply paying down deficits.

Recommendations:

1. Raise FTT in the context of your work to publicize the new World Development Report focusing on jobs. As governments look for sources of financing for job-creation strategies, FTT should be promoted as one potential source.

2. Promote the FTT as part of a plan to achieve internationally agreed global health, education and other development goals. For example, with the prospect of ending AIDS closer than ever, FTT revenues could help achieve Millennium Development Goal #6, aimed at reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and ensuring universal access to treatment and help fully fund implementation of the 2011 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS.

3. Promote FTT as a source of innovative finance for developing countries’ efforts to address climate change. Such revenues are needed for the Green Climate Fund and other funds of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, including the Adaptation Fund, Least Developed Countries Fund, and the Special Climate Change Fund. Further, it would be helpful to promote FTT as a source of climate finance in the context of studies and reports mandated by international bodies such as the G20 and the UN.

4. Bring these messages to the general public and world leaders. At this key moment in their decision-making, it is particularly important to urge European leaders to allocate part of FTT revenue to development and climate. We also recommend that you publish an open letter on this theme in major newspapers.

5. Meet with civil society and independent experts on this timely issue. We would be very pleased to organize a briefing that would include participation by leading experts in the field. Over the past several years, many of our organizations have been involved in similar briefings with the International Monetary Fund, the Gates Foundation, the European Commission, and national governments. We would appreciate the opportunity to share research and analysis of the feasibility and potential benefits of this means of generating additional finance.

We look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely,

AFL-CIO, USA
Alliance for a Just Society,
USA
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)
Balance Promoción para el Desarrollo y Juventud,
Mexico
Campaign for the Welfare State,
Norway
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
Center for Economic and Social Rights,
USA
Chicago Political Economy Group,
USA
Coalition 15%,
Cameroon
Comisiones Obreras (CCOO),
Spain
Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro
(Ialian Geneneral Confederation on Labour)
CPATH (Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health),
USA
Ecologistas en Acción,
Spain
Education International
Europeans for Financial Reform
Friends of the Earth U.S. Gender Action,
USA
Global Health Advocates France
Global South Initiative, Nepal
Greenpeace
Halifax Initiative,
Canada
Health GAP,
USA
IG Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt (Trade Union for Building, Forestry, Agriculture and the Environment),
Germany
INPUD (International Network of People who Use Drugs),
United Kingdom
Institute for Policy Studies, Global Economy Project,
USA
Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD),
Canada
International Civil Society Support International HIV/AIDS Alliance
International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID)
International Trade Union Confederation
Kampagne: Steuer gegen Armut (Tax Against Poverty Campaign),
Germany
KOO-Koordinierungsstelle der Österreichischen Bischofskonferenz f.internationale Entwicklung und Mission,
Austria
Main Street Alliance,
USA
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns,
USA
National Union of Public and General Employees,
Canada
NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association
, Australia
Oxfam International
Positive-Generation,
Cameroon
Public Services International
Réseau Accès aux Médicaments Essentiels (RAME),
Burkina Faso
Robin Hood Tax Campaign,
United Kingdom
Salamander Trust
Stamp Out Poverty,
United Kingdom
TAW AFRICA
TAW-BURKINA
TAW-CAMEROON
Trades Union Congress,
Great Britain
Treatment Action Group,
USA
UBUNTU – World Forum of Civil Society Networks
Unión Sindical Obrera
(USO), Spain
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society,
USA
VOCAL-NY,
USA
Wealth for the Common Good,
USA
Women in Europe and Central Asia Regions plus (WECARe+),
Germany
World AIDS Campaign International,
South Africa and Kenya
World Democratic Governance project Association
World Federalist Movement Japan
WWF International

Thanks Due Netanyahu for Forcing Obama’s Hand on Iran

“The rest of the world can stop worrying about Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s supposed threat to bomb Iran,” writes Gareth Porter at AlJazeera. “Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly last week appears to mark the end of his long campaign to convince the world that he might launch a unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear programme.

“The reason for Netanyahu’s retreat is the demonstration of unexpectedly strong pushback against Netanyahu’s antics by President Barack Obama. And that could be the best news on the Iran nuclear issue in many years.”

I suppose we owe Netanyahu a debt of gratitude for his unrelenting pressure on the Obama administration to back him up in his threats to attack Iran. Were it not for that, as Porter reports, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey might not have said: “I don’t want to be complicit if they [the Israelis] choose to do it.” [and] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [might not have] declared, “We’re not setting deadlines” [and Leon Panetta might not have said] “Red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to put people in a corner.”

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