IPS Blog

Dogwhistling Past Libya

Cross-posted from IPS Special Project Right Web‘s Militarist Monitor.

The deadly attack on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Libya raises a host of uncomfortable questions about the long-term ramifications of U.S. overseas interventions, the impact of Islamophobic media on U.S. international relations, and the ability of the United States to defend its diplomats in unstable or hostile environs.

It also calls into the question the efficacy of the NATO intervention in Libya, which left behind a weak central state and a fractious, violent political order susceptible to penetration by radical groups like the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades, the al-Qaeda-aligned Libyan organization suspected of using protests at the U.S. mission as a pretext for carrying out the attacks.

The Mitt Romney campaign, however, has raised none of these issues. Instead—in language reportedly approved by the candidate himself—Romney fumed that it was “disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” Despite withering bipartisan criticism of both the timing and the substance of the statement, the Romney campaign has refused to disavow it.

The remark was an apparent reference to a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, where boisterous crowds had gathered to protest a bizarre anti-Islamic U.S. film that had been leaked to the Egyptian media. In language not vetted by Washington, the embassy staff condemned efforts to “hurt the religious feelings” of Muslims, which the Romney campaign construed as “an apology for our values.” Not only was the statement made in Cairo—not Benghazi, where the actual violence occurred amid similar protests—but it was issued hours before the U.S. personnel in Libya had been attacked.

Although some Republicans condemned the Romney campaign’s response as “craven” and “irresponsible,” a number of campaign surrogates and supporters took to the airwaves to double down. After repeatedly dodging a reporter’s questions about the timeline of the events (how could the administration be faulted, after all, for a statement issued before the violence had occurred?), Romney adviser Richard Williamson mused inanely that the occasion called for the president to “stand up for our values and [be] willing to lead from the front.” On Twitter, Donald Rumsfeld attributed the attacks to “perceived American weakness,” although presumably Twitter’s 140-character format left him no space to address the 12 embassy attacks that occurred during the last Bush administration.

But beyond a sordid new occasion for old “no apology” talking points, some observers have read baser motives into the Republican response. Romney’s remarks, wrote Adam Serwer, “don’t merely assign responsibility for the incident to, say, poor leadership or a failed foreign policy. Instead, Romney’s remarks suggest that Obama has very specific personal motivations: When violent religious radicals slaughter Americans, Obama is on the side of the radicals.” Serwer lumped the implications in with “a very well-developed narrative, popular on the fever swamps of the right where questions about Obama’s citizenship or faith linger” and likened them to attacks leveled by the conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza.

But if Romney kept such implications to a dog whistle, other Republicans raised them to a fever pitch. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, for example, tweeted that it was “sad and pathetic” that “Obama sympathizes with [the] attackers in Egypt.” Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican notorious for his insistence that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” concluded simply that President Obama was “just apologizing because he doesn’t like America.” And after Obama called Libyan president Yusuf al-Magariaf to thank him for the Libyan government’s assistance in tracking down the perpetrators of the attack, FoxNews.com ran a story headlined “Obama Calls Libyan President to Thank Him after U.S. Ambassador Murdered.”

Amid the Beltway chatter, a new group of Libyans assembled outside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi holding signs condemning extremism and expressing remorse for the previous day’s violence. In an episode fraught with missed opportunities and debased rhetoric, they may be the only ones actually apologizing.



U.S.-Israeli Differences Not Likely Lost on Iran

At the Daily Beast, Ali Gharib quotes from a letter that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) addressed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I am stunned by the remarks that you made this week regarding U.S. support for Israel. Are you suggesting that the United States is not Israel’s closest ally and does not stand by Israel? Are you saying that Israel, under President Obama, has not received more in annual security assistance from the United States than at any time in its history, including for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System.

As other Israelis have said, it appears that you have injected politics into one of the most profound security challenges of our time—Iran’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Yet, writing about prospective Iranian retaliation by means of terrorism to an Israeli attack, should it occur, Daniel Byman at Foreign Policy suggests that Iran still sees little difference between the policies toward it of Israel and the United States.

Even if the most provocative measures against Iran’s nuclear program are taken by Israel alone, the United States should expect to find itself the target of attacks, particularly abroad. Although the two countries do not march in lockstep, the subtle distinctions in Iran policy that divide Washington and Jerusalem are often lost in Tehran. U.S. support for aggressive sanctions and Israel’s covert campaign are considered part of a shared effort to undermine the Islamic Republic, and reportedly joint operations like the computer virus that targeted Iran’s nuclear program further blur differences.

Though, as the Guardian reported, at the end of August about Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey:

Distancing himself from any Israeli plan to bomb Iran, Dempsey said such an attack would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear programme”.

He added: “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.”

As if to highlight those distinctions, the Wilson Center just issued a report titled Weighing Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran signed and endorsed by many American national security figures such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Sam Nunn, William Fallon, Chuck Hagel, and Anthony Zinni. The Associated Press summed it up:

U.S. military strikes on Iran would shake the regime’s political control and damage its ability to launch counterstrikes, but the Iranians probably would manage to retaliate, directly and through surrogates, in ways that risked igniting all-out war in the Middle East, according to an assessment of an attack’s costs and benefits. … It says achieving more than a temporary setback in Iran’s nuclear program would require a military operation — including a land occupation — more taxing than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

Suggesting that Tehran doesn’t draw much distinction between the policies towards it of the United States and Israel doesn’t give Tehran much credit. At Haaretz, Daniel Kurtzer (behind a pay wall) maintains that it’s time to, in essence, blur those distinctions again.

The United States and Israel do many things well together. … The one thing we are not doing well together these days is quiet diplomacy. … Put bluntly, there’s too much noise about critical security issues. … The language used by officials – again, primarily Israeli, but sometimes American – is highly charged and quite unusual in the discourse between allies.

In fact, writes Kurtzer:

It is actually a crisis of significant dimensions, for the hyperbolic accusations, chatter, leaks, and distortions that increasingly mark our public discourse toward each other actually undermine our mutual security and undercut the possibility of accomplishing important national security objectives.

You can be sure that Tehran not only gets it, but is no doubt watching the all-too-public diplomacy between the United States and Israel with some amusement.

USA and Mexico: Best Democracies Money Can Buy

This post originally appeared in Progreso Weekly.

Some friends look nostalgically at U.S. history, as if our current situation means that a once-great and deeply principled America has eroded and collapsed.

Is this the America founded on slavery? The Constitution, which tried to mute every aspect of direct democracy?

Rope breaksThe Tea Party rhetoric claims to represent the values of the Founding Fathers, who did not believe in democracy, religion, or free market nonsense. Democracy, to the wealthy elite then and now, meant that the property-less masses (the poor) would some day rule – if they learned to use the vote. To the oligarchs, the majority are inferior people unfit to make decisions for the educated and financially well endowed. For the 1%, billionaires, and their families, the idea of poorer people making decisions impacting on their wealth resonates sourly, or as they call it “class war.”

The oligarchs decided, long ago, that they were to permanently rule. The most recent development gained the Supreme Court’s help (Citizens United) so that the super-rich could “own” the 2012 election. The reactionary high court opened the door for super corporate donations to political campaigns. Compare gambling casino mogul Sheldon Adelson‘s pledge of $100 million to the modest amount a working person could afford to contribute.

Republicans have also tried to limit participation in voting by numerous means, including pushing so-called Voter ID laws that would demand photo identification of all voters. The less the masses vote, the better for the oligarchs. In Ohio, the GOP controls both houses of the Legislature, the governorship, the secretary of state’s office, and the state Supreme Court. Soon after the 2008 election, it imposed a draconian photo ID law designed to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of suspected Democrats, as is being done in other states around the U.S. Since 2009, the Ohio GOP has purged roughly a million citizens from the state’s voter rolls. This accounts for some 15% of the roughly 5.2 million votes counted for president in the state in 2008. The purge focuses on counties that are predominantly urban and Democratic. In addition, electronic voting machines have been installed throughout the state, which are owned, operated, programmed and maintained – and will be tallied – by Republican-connected firms.

Ironically, Mexico’s wealthy elite may have begun to copy us. Or did our billionaires take lessons from their Mexican counterparts? A transnational army of election entrepreneurs has emerged that hires itself to the highest bidder on both sides of the border.

Before this year’s July election, the Institutionalized Revolutionary Party (PRI) that governed Mexico for half a century until 2000 bought pre-paid gift cards and phone money cards for shoppers at a Mexican grocery store chain in return for their votes for PRI candidate Peña Nieto. A Congressional Research Service report issued on September 4, 2012, acknowledged that some independent domestic observation groups “found that vote-buying, intimidation, and other irregularities marred the electoral process.” (Clare Ribando Seelke, Mexico’s 2012 Elections, Congressional Research Service, September 4, 2012, p. 9)

Associated Press and British Guardian reporters interviewed shoppers who crowded one Soriana grocery store two days after the elections to redeem the cards. The shoppers told the journalists that PRI officials had given them the food or telephone money-cards, in return for their votes for PRI’s candidate.

On July 4th, the Guardian reported that at least 28% of the voters interviewed acknowledged that they encountered vote buying as well as coercive tactics on behalf of PRI candidates. President Obama nevertheless immediately called the PRI presidential candidate to congratulate him and praise the democratic process of the country and its institutions.

PRI, like the U.S. Republican Party, bought the cooperation of the TV giants, Televisa and Tv Azteca, and launched a massive propaganda campaign. On the print stage, PRI backers invested heavily in Excelsior, El Universal, and El Sol de Mexico newspapers and got favorable stories. In Laredo, for example, the program “Buen Dia Laredo” reported positively on PRI and/or PAN and always negatively on the PRD candidate, or simply did not mention him or his campaign.

This barrage included stories of bogus opinion polls declaring PRI the clear favorite by just making the numbers up. Several PRI governors even used the budget from their respective state governments to finance the PRI campaign, not exactly a legal procedure. That was the case of the state of Mexico whose governor was also the PRI presidential candidate.

Mexico’s so-called independent Instituto Federal Electoral and Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial set up to monitor elections and ensure fairness did nothing to stop the electoral fraud, or show that votes for PRD did not get counted, or that PAN and PRI votes got over counted. Instead of recognizing obvious illegalities, these institutions neither looked at the evidence nor sought it, and refused to even consider any of the charges. The Tribunal was even mandated to study, analyze and investigate the charges submitted, but the judges certified the election as legal and proper.

The Mexican Tribunal Electoral denied the petition filed by PRD candidate Manuel Lopez Obrador who demanded a reversal of the election results and called for a new election. But the presiding electoral judge announced that “there is no proof of vote-buying.” The judges did not interview any card recipients and ignored video evidence lending credibility to these claims.

The Mexican high court asserted there was no proof of electoral crime. Yet, the PRD and a citizens’ movement had delivered to the judges a 638-page document with thousands of examples of illegal activities affecting the election. The judges didn’t open the document but nevertheless declared: “It has not been demonstrated that they (the cards) were given to citizens, or if that occurred, that it was done on condition they vote for a given candidate.” The presiding judge later modified the remarks, saying that the people who received the free food cards were already committed PRI voters and workers anyway.

Eduardo Huchim of Alianza Civica, a UN funded organization, described the 2012 election as “neither clean nor fair.” This was not Mexico’s first election theft. The great Mexican revolution in 1910 began under the banner of “effective suffrage, no reelections.” Yet, electoral thefts continued in 1939, 1987 and 2006. Viva la democracia.

Mexico’s elite still attempts to hide its political hands because their Supreme Court has not yet informed their people that corporate wealth is a form of freedom of expression as Citizens United did for the American public.

So there is plenty of proof that U.S. and Mexican super elites have modernized election theft. The old days of stuffed ballot boxes and dead people voting now appear as primitive larceny techniques.

The piety of both elites about how they cherish democracy has become downright offensive.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP screens in Portland Oregon’s Clinton Theater, Sept. 13. Nelson Valdes is professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.

Separated at Birth: Salafi Extremists and Pastor Terry Jones

The cold, dead hand of Salafi extremism was once again on display in Benghazi.

According to Robert Worth of the New York Times, “the attack on the American Embassy in Cairo — unlike the one that killed [Ambassador to Libya Christopher] Stevens — appears to have been spontaneous, led by Egyptians genuinely angered by news of the film clip, distributed on YouTube, which portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a confused, bloodthirsty pedophile of uncertain parentage.”

As for the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, it

… might have less to do with any intrinsic Muslim intolerance than with the ideological chaos that reigns in the Arab world, where extremists routinely exploit popular anger and invoke Islam to draw attention to fundamentally political and even internecine goals. … Bernard Haykel, a professor of Middle East studies at Princeton University, said, “It’s true that there are sanctions against insulting the Prophet, but this is really about political or symbolic opportunists, who use religious symbols to advance their own power or prestige against other groups.”

In other words, Salafi extremists exploit Middle-Eastern anger against the United States just like Pastor Terry Jones, thanks to whom the offending film went viral, exploits American anger against Islam.

Meanwhile, from the Department of Silver Linings

… there were outpourings of rage across Libya on Wednesday against the killers and against the Salafis more generally. In addition to demonstrations in Tripoli and Benghazi, Twitter was inundated with pro-American messages by young Libyans; several of them pleaded for the United States Marines to come and crush the Salafis.

Likewise, it behooves Americans to remember that Salafism, especially at its most extreme, such as al Qaeda, does not define Islam.

More Than 46 Million Americans Still in Poverty

This blogpost originally appeared on Truthout.

Homeless families line up for dinner at the Valley Resort Shelter in Hemet, California, April 5, 2012. (Photo: Monica Almeida / The New York Times)

Homeless families line up for dinner at the Valley Resort Shelter in Hemet, California, April 5, 2012. (Photo: Monica Almeida / The New York Times)

According to Census Bureau figures released today, 15 percent of the US population lives in poverty. In 2011, more than 46 million Americans lived below a poverty line that was set more than four decades ago, in 1969.

The poverty rate for children remains more than 20 percent for the third year in a row. More than one-third of black children and Hispanic children live in poverty.

In the words of Rep. Mike Honda (D-California), co-chair of the Congressional Out-of-Poverty Caucus, these figures are “a stark reminder that, although we are the wealthiest nation the world has ever known, far too many children are going to bed hungry.”

In fact, the USDA reports that more than 16 million American children are “food insecure.”

Today’s census report also contained bad news on incomes.

Median household income (adjusted for inflation) was down an additional 1.5 percent from the already-low levels of 2010. Median income is now 8.9 percent lower than it was in 1999.

Income inequality, as measured by the Gini index – the degree of income inequality, with 0 representing total equality and 100 representing total inequality – reached a new record high of 47.7 percent. A Gini index of 50 would be equivalent to half of the population receiving all of the country’s income, while the other half got nothing.

All this bad news comes against a backdrop of extraordinarily low employment rates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over 58 percent of the adult population has any kind of job at all (full or part time), the lowest figure in 30 years.

Only 64 percent of adult men have a job of any kind, the lowest figure ever.

Today’s official poverty rate of 15 percent is among the highest of the past 40 years. When the poverty line was first adopted in 1969, the poverty rate was just 12.1 percent.

The poverty line we use today was officially set on August 29, 1969. It represented a 1969 consensus of the basic minimum standard of living for American families in 1969. Other than adjusting for inflation, it has not been updated since.

In the technical discussions that preceded the official determination of the poverty line, experts considered a methodology that “would have resulted in poverty thresholds that were 25 percent to 30 percent higher than the existing thresholds,” according to research published in the Social Security Bulletin.

In essence, 15 percent of Americans today live in what would have been considered poverty in 1969, more than 40 years ago. Had our standards gone up over the past 43 years, even more Americans would now be identified as poor.

In many ways, poor Americans are even worse off than they have been in the past. For example, a record low 69.3 percent of Americans are now covered by private health insurance. Nearly 10 percent of children have no health insurance coverage at all.

And state anti-poverty programs around the country are facing severe budget cuts.

According to figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, America’s total economic output per person is now more than twice as high as it was in 1969 (adjusted for inflation).

With twice the resources, today’s America is much better placed to end poverty than was the America of 43 years ago.

Today’s Census Bureau report offers little cause for hope. After 43 years with no progress, poverty is now endemic in America. But we do have the financial means to reverse it, should we ever garner the political will.

Record Poverty Persists While Gap Between Rich and Rest of Us Increases

We can’t seem to stop having record numbers of people living in poverty in the United States. The richest continue to get richer and the rest of us continue to see our incomes get lower and lower.

New census figures show more than 15 percent of Americans live in poverty. Photo by US Census / Flickr.

New census figures show more than 15 percent of Americans live in poverty. Photo by US Census / Flickr.

New Census Bureau figures released today, show that 15 percent of the U.S. population lived in poverty in 2011. Over 46 million Americans lived at or below the poverty threshold of a household income of $23,201 per year for a family of four. One in five of our children live in poverty and over one-third of black and Latino children are struggling through impoverishment.

In 2011, we saw the first one-year increase in income inequality since 1993. The top 5 percent gained 5.3 percent in income in 2011 over 2010. The lowest quintile saw little change, but the second-lowest, middle, and fourth-lowest quintiles all experienced a decline in income over the year. Sadly, those who “occupied” Wall Street and city squares across the country in 2011, were right: All of the income gains have concentrated at the top, while the rest of us saw a deterioration or stagnation in our wages and income.

This data also confirms that safety programs work. According to the Census Bureau, unemployment benefits kept 2.3 million of us out of poverty in 2011, Social Security benefits kept over 21 million people out of poverty and, if we count the nutrition aid of the Food Stamps program as income, it would show that 3.9 million people were lifted above the poverty line in 2011.

Increasingly, all of the boost in wealth is concentrated at the top and record numbers of poverty persist, while the middle and lower-economic classes are losing ground. Now is not the time to lower taxes on the wealthiest by cutting proven, effective anti-poverty measures such as Unemployment Insurance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Social Security, and new coverage benefits gained from the health care reform law.

The rich shouldn’t be rewarded while the rest of struggle.

Deaths of Amb. Stevens and Staff Stretch Meaning of Free Speech to the Breaking Point

The death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three staff persons, apparently by a grenade launcher attack, came hot on the heels of an attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The Daily Beast reports:

At least 2,000 demonstrators, enraged over Innocence of Muslims, a little-known film produced in the United States that allegedly insults the Prophet Muhammad, shouted, “We will sacrifice ourselves for you, Allah’s messenger!” A group of men managed to mount the embassy’s walls.

… Al-Azhar [University in Cairo], one of the Arab world’s most elite centers for higher Islamic learning, reportedly condemned the film on Tuesday, citing a scene in which a character based on the Prophet Muhammad goes on trial. The Wall Street Journal reported that Innocence of Muslims’ writer, editor, and producer is a 52-year-old American, Sam Bacile. [Pastor Terry] Jones is promoting the film, whose new 14-minute Arabic-dubbed trailer on YouTube depicts the Prophet as a deranged womanizer calling for massacres.

You may remember Jones, the pastor of a Gainesville, Florida congregation called the Dove World Outreach Center, from his threat to burn the Koran in 2010. It resulted in the deaths of five protesters and seven UN employees in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan and nine in Kandahar.

Rev. Jones has also been active in spreading the myth to gullible Americans that the Islamic world seeks to impose shariah law in the United States. (Under the category of FWIW, Jones was a member of the same high-school graduating class in Missouri as Rush Limbaugh.) As for Al-Azhar University — founded in the tenth century! — one could argue that it should know better than to treat Jones as representative of Americans. In fact, though, many Americans share Jones’s belief and the Al-Azhar administration, no doubt aware of that, can hardly be blamed for defending Islam.

Meanwhile AlJazeera reports:

Abdel Moneim al-Yasser, a member of the interim committee monitoring security in Libya, told Al Jazeera: “A handful of renegades of people who are attacking the national interests of Libya are behind this issue. We are still investigating on their identity [...] we will track them and bring them to justice.”

… Two other staff were injured, El-Dressi reported. The deaths were confirmed by Wanis al-Sharif, the Libyan deputy interior minister, to the AFP news agency.

Addressing a press conference, Sharif blamed loyalists of former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi for the attack, while stressing that the US should have removed its personnel from the country when news of the film’s release broke.

In other words, it’s possible that, it wasn’t Islamist extremists, but Gaddafi supporters who may have taken advantage over outrage over the film to engender hostility in Washington towards the new Libyan government. In any event, were it not for Jones, it’s safe to say that Ambassador Stevens and his staff would still be alive.

Like the threats to burn the Quran, Jones once again pushes the boundaries of free speech just short — or past — inciting a riot. After the 2010 incidents, Brad Knickerbocker of the Christian Science Monitor wrote:

The controversial Westboro Baptist Church [in Topeka, Kansas, is] best known for its anti-gay protests, often held at the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. While such activities held by the Westboro Baptist Church and the Dove World Outreach Center may be highly offensive to most Americans – and may, in fact, incite others to violence – they are generally protected as free speech.

[In March, 2010] the US Supreme Court upheld the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to hold its protests at military funerals.

“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and – as it did here – inflict great pain,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion for a case brought by the father of a Marine killed in Iraq. “On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”

That provides scant solace to the families of Ambassador Stevens and his staff or the protesters who were killed in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, if U.S. law protects those who make wild allegations against Islam, it’s easy to understand why some Muslims assume it’s up to them to protect their religion.

You’ve Heard of Friendly Fire, Now Meet Friendly Deterrence

Yesterday we posted about the little brother of The Bomb (strategic nuclear weapons): tactical, or lower yield, nukes. We cited a number of reasons that tactical pose as much of a threat as strategic. Among them are the exorbitant cost — modernizing the B61 tactical nukes in the U.S. stockpile will cost $10 billion. Another: they blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional weapons, as can be seen in the instance of Pakistan, which may be developing them for use against India.

On August 27, at Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Kingston Reif outlined issues that tactical nukes raise with extended or umbrella deterrence (stationing nuclear weapons on the soil of our allies, ostensibly to provide them with the same deterrence that Americans “enjoy”).

… the 2009 final report of the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States … highlighted the importance of nonstrategic (or “tactical”) nuclear weapons. … It noted that the continued deployment of approximately 200 US nonstrategic B61 gravity bombs in Europe and the maintenance of nuclear-armed Tomahawk cruise missiles … in the Pacific are essential to extending deterrence on behalf [of] US partners in Eastern Europe and East Asia. Without these capabilities, the commission hinted, some US allies might just choose to develop their own nuclear weapons.

In other words extended deterrence, intended to protects our allies from enemies, also deters those allies from seeking nuclear weapons of their own — friendly deterrence, if you will.

As far as the United States protecting our allies, Reif concludes:

The real lifeblood of extended deterrence lies in an ally’s confidence in the strength of its political relationship with the United States. If relations fray, then extended deterrence will be perceived to be weak — no matter how many or what kinds of nuclear weapons the United States possesses.

Or, as Reif wrote in a postscript to the article at Nukes of Hazard, the blog of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation (for which he serves as Director of Nuclear Non-Proliferation):

The more US interests are intertwined with allies, the more likely the United States is to come to their defense.

This Week in OtherWords: September 10-16, 2012

This week, OtherWords is running a debut column by Katie Halper, our new guest columnist. Katie, a young writer who is also a stand-up comedian, has shared an “unedited” (that is, a painfully honest and entertaining) draft of Ann Romney’s speech with our readers.

Thanks to all the newspaper editors who are now running Sam Pizzigati’s column — this week he unpacks the shortcomings of the growing business of teaching K-12 public school kids online through for-profit enterprises. As always, I encourage you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and visit our blog. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. A Glimmer of Military Budget Sanity / Miriam Pemberton and Gabriel I. Rossman
    Even House Republicans can’t stomach spending $17,000 on a helicopter drip pan.
  2. Illegal Interns / Eric Glatt
    Unpaid internships have metastasized into a labor market scourge.
  3. We Won the War on Poverty, then Lost the Peace / Salvatore Babones
    If America could eliminate most serious poverty in the United States in the 1960s, surely we could do the same today.
  4. The Drought Lottery / Ryan Alexander
    Our lawmakers should spend the next month figuring out how to reduce our $16 trillion debt instead of showering special interests with even more wasteful subsidies that have nothing to do with the drought.
  5. Virtually, Anything Goes with Online Education / Sam Pizzigati
    State officials are allowing tax dollars to underwrite K-12 virtual disasters.
  6. Ann Romney’s Unedited Convention Speech Leaked / Katie Halper
    Sometimes the elevator for our cars takes an inordinate amount of time.
  7. Radioactive Ties / Jim Hightower
    Whether corporate political money shouts or whispers, it still corrupts.
  8. Just Another Corporate Profit Center / William A. Collins
    Americans who want to know what caused Haiti’s devastation need to look in the mirror.
  9. Military Pork Shield / Khalil Bendib (Cartoon)
Military Pork Shield, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Military Pork Shield, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Smaller Nukes May Present the Larger Risk

When we think of a nuclear weapon, we picture a city wiped out — in the plural, the entire world. But nuclear weapons come in different shapes and sizes. The larger versions are called “strategic,” apparently because the overarching strategy of a war is fashioned around their use. Those smaller in yield are called “tactical.” That is, using them is a tactic in a war smaller than all-out nuclear. Also, while both can be delivered by bombers, strategic are delivered, as well, by long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles while tactical are confined to short-range missiles or bombers.

The nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, though of a yield that would count them as tactical today, were considered strategic because they were intended to wipe out entire cities, which tactical aren’t. Nor have tactical, to the best of our knowledge, been used. But they constitute as much of a nuclear threat as strategic.

Tactical weapons tend to blur the distinctions between nuclear and conventional weapons, thus acting — overused-term alert! — as a gateway drug to strategic nukes.. In addition, they’re expensive, and they’re a sticking point between the United States and Europe, and between the United States and Russia.

Regarding the expense, in a Foreign Policy piece titled A Steal at $10 Billion, Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies writes about the aircraft-delivered tactical weapon the B-61.

There is now a furious debate about whether the United States needs to modernize the B61, which dates to Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, making it the oldest design left in the stockpile. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, recently revealed that the cost of the program to extend the bomb’s life has more than doubled: Modernizing the approximately 400 B61 gravity bombs in the stockpile will cost $10 billion. That is billions with a “B.”

Regarding the divisiveness they incur between the United State and Europe, he writes:

Look, America’s European allies don’t value U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. Yes, some of them, especially in a few defense ministries, say they do, but actions speak louder than words. The United States’ NATO allies value nuclear weapons so much that they aren’t willing to properly fund the mission. [On their security] No matter what some European officials say, the actions of European hosts say they don’t care.

As for abolishing them, in May of this year Amy F. Woolf of the Congressional Research Service wrote:

In contrast with the longer-range “strategic” nuclear weapons, these weapons had a lower profile in policy debates and arms control negotiations, possibly because they did not pose a direct threat to the continental United States. … In 1991, both the United States and Soviet Union announced that they would withdraw from deployment most and eliminate from their arsenals many of their nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

The United States now has approximately 1,100 nonstrategic nuclear weapons … but experts believe Russia still has between 2,000 and 6,000 warheads for nonstrategic nuclear weapons in its arsenal. … Many analysts argue that the United States and Russia should, at a minimum, provide each other with information about their numbers of nonstrategic nuclear weapons and the status. … Russia, in particular, has seemed unwilling to provide even basic information about its stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Some in the United States have resisted as well, arguing, in particular, that public discussions about the numbers and locations of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe could increase pressure on the United States to withdraw these weapons.

Worse, other states, such as Pakistan, have developed tactical nukes, too. Also at Foreign Policy, in a piece titled Race to the End Tom Hundley writes:

This April, Pakistan tested a short-range ballistic missile, the Hatf IX, a so-called “shoot and scoot” battlefield nuclear weapon aimed at deterring an invasion by India’s conventional forces. This development carries two disturbing implications. First, Pakistan now has the know-how to build nuclear warheads compact enough to fit on the tip of a small missile or inside a suitcase (handy for terrorists). Second, Pakistan has adopted a war-fighting doctrine that does not preclude nuking its own territory in the event of an Indian incursion — a dubious first in the annals of deterrence theory.

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