IPS Blog

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.

Dodd-Frank’s Cardin-Lugar Amendment Undermined by Weak SEC

Two years after becoming law, Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank bill, also known as the Cardin-Lugar Amendment, will finally come into effect. The Amendment, hailed as a transformative step towards establishing transparency in developing countries by groups such as the State Department, Oxfam and Jubilee USA, requires that companies listed on the American stock exchange involved in extractive industries “disclose payments they make at the country and project level to the United States and foreign governments.” Over 1,000 companies involved in oil, gas, and mining will be covered under this bill, including an estimated 90% of internationally operating oil companies. Senator Ben Cardin (R-MD), for whom the Amendment is partially named, has billed it as a necessary step to end the abuse of power rampant in developing countries with significant oil, mineral, and natural gas deposits. Cardin has stated that the implementation of the Amendment will allow the European Union to adopt complementary measures.

Given the positive response the Amendment received within the governmental and non-profit spheres and the gravity of the situation in many resource-rich developing countries, one wonders why the Securities and Exchange Commission issued the final rules for the implementation of the Cardin-Lugar Amendment 16 months behind schedule. Even more distressing is the fact that Oxfam felt compelled to file suit against the SEC after the Commission missed its original April 2011 deadlines for issuing rules. Unfortunately, the agency that is entrusted with the responsibility of reviewing the companies’ reports and investigating any discrepancies is the very agency that has delayed the implementation of the Cardin-Lugar Amendment.

This failure raises the question of whether or not the SEC is capable of overseeing such crucial legislation. Questions about the agency’s competency have been rampant since the Bernie Madoff scandal was brought to light. Though Congress and the Project on Government Oversight have called for the SEC to implement reforms to reduce errors and outright corruption in the agency, there has yet to be significant, systematic reform in the agency. The Project on Government Oversight reported that two years after the Senate released a statement calling for reforms, the SEC had made no progress on 27 of the 52 reforms recommended by the Inspector General. It has become ever more obvious that the SEC is unable to fulfill its role as an adversarial regulator; unfortunately, this incompetency means that the importance of the Cardin-Lugar Amendment has been squandered on an agency that cannot fulfill its mandate.

While the Cardin-Lugar Amendment has the potential to reduce corruption in both resource-rich countries and powerful international corporations, without an enthusiastic and competent regulatory body enforcing its tenets it will represent nothing more than the formalization of good intentions.

Hilary Matfess is an Institute for Policy Studies intern and a Johns Hopkins University student.

The Futility of Seeking “Strategic Clarity” on Iran

"Gulp." (Netanyahu gets word that attack on Iran is underway.)

“Gulp.” (Netanyahu gets word that attack on Iran is underway.)

Three recent reports highlight the appeal (and folly) of demanding greater clarity in the case of Iran’s nuclear capabilities in the hopes that an equally obvious US/Israeli policy response can be devised. Seeking such clarity in inherently ambiguous situations has a tremendous emotional and political appeal. Decision-makers contemplating foreign policies ranging from negotiations to war instinctively strive to uncover the final bit of conclusive evidence that will demonstrate a clear opportunity or threat requiring an equally firm and compelling policy response.

However, the real-world ambiguities and uncertainties of policy and strategy rarely accommodate this understandable desire. George Tenet’s assertive claim to President George W. Bush preceding 2003 American invasion of Iraq that Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction was a ‘slam-dunk’ case did not make it necessarily so. The CIA director’s confident assertions were conclusively proven wrong. In hindsight, this false sense of certainty rested on a flimsy case of largely circumstantial evidence underpinned by the unquestioned logic that Saddam had to be guilty of developing WMD because he hadn’t proven himself innocent through total unconditional cooperation with international inspectors.

The parallels with present-day Iran are striking. The international community is essentially requiring Iran to prove the negative case that it doesn’t have a covert nuclear weapons program. As I’ve suggested elsewhere (here and here), no international inspection regime can guarantee success although a rigorous regime can be an effective deterrent to developing a nuclear weapons capability.

The most recent IAEA report does not definitively clarify the status of Iran’s nuclear program, although it largely confirms the assessment of the US intelligence community that Iran has not yet made a decision to go forward with a nuclear weapons program. For instance, the report notes that “the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities…declared by Iran.” This is a clear statement that there is no concrete evidence indicating Iran is diverting its nuclear fuels for military purposes. This conclusion is consistent with repeated claims by Iranian political and religious leaders that Iran has no intent of producing nuclear weapons. Indeed the highest religious authority in Iran – a country whose identity is grounded in Shi’a Islamic theology — has declared the pursuit of nuclear weapons a ‘big and unforgiveable sin’. Eternal damnation can be a powerful incentive for good behavior.

However, the IAEA report goes on to say in the very same summary concluding paragraph that without unrestricted cooperation with the IAEA (something no sovereign government would tolerate from an outside international body), “the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.” In other words, Iran – like Saddam – has to prove its innocence. Clearly, this latest IAEA assessment on Iran falls far short of George Tenet’s ‘slam dunk’ standard of proof for Iraq. Nonetheless, there remains sufficient ambiguity in the report’s language providing alarmists both here and in Israel with sufficient fodder to protest about the continued possibility that Iran could have a covert nuclear weapons program hidden from view of international inspectors. The likelihood is that future IAEA reports will continue to offer similarly ambiguous and qualified assessments. Thus informational clarity will continue to elude policymakers as the IAEA hedges its bets.

Of course, some policymakers will strive to compensate for this inherent ambiguity by creating a sense of policy certainty. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is only the most recent example as he pushes the international community (read the United States) to remove any uncertainty in Iranian calculations by setting a “clear red line” for military action against Iranian nuclear facilities. This demand for clarity is especially ironic given Israel’s long-standing policy of strategic ambiguity regarding its own nuclear weapons capabilities. Apparently, it is uncertainty and ambiguity in the case of Israel’s nuclear capabilities that has its apparent strategic advantages.

PM Netanyahu’s essential argument is that the chances of Iranian miscalculation are reduced if leaders in Tehran are convinced that overwhelming military action will be taken if certain ‘red lines’ are crossed. The problem, however, is in determining where the appropriate ‘red line’ is to be drawn. PM Netanyahu, as well as some American politicians, would seek to make the mere possession of a “nuclear-weapons capability” by Iran a red line; others suggest drawing the line before Iran has reached a suspected ‘zone of immunity’ – a point at which when military action becomes ineffective at eliminating an Iranian nuclear weapons program. However, these are themselves ambiguous thresholds that defy clear definition. Is this line crossed when Iran has produced sufficient nuclear fuel for a bomb? When Iranian underground enrichment facilities are in theory capable of producing highly enriched uranium? When Iran actually produces weapons-grade fuel? When Iran has acquired the scientific knowledge needed to design a nuclear weapon; to actually produce a nuclear weapon? When Iran has successfully tested a nuclear weapon? When Iran has successfully mated a nuclear warhead to a missile capable of hitting targets in Tel Aviv, Madrid, or New York? And the list goes on. The search for clearly identifiable ‘red lines’ in Iran’s case is illusory.

Moreover, there is also the alternative prospect that strategic clarity itself could be counterproductive — especially if the goal is to reach a diplomatic resolution of this problem. Most analysts recognize that the minimum acceptable deal from an Iranian perspective is an agreement that will allow some level of domestic nuclear fuel enrichment by Iran in exchange for intrusive inspections that verify the non-diversion of technologies and fuels to military purposes. Such an agreement would be consistent with the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which confers on Iran (as with any signatory to the treaty) the “inalienable right…to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.” However, permitting these activities would necessarily enhance Iranian nuclear know-how, expand Tehran’s access to advanced nuclear technologies (even if only civilian), and thus likely shorten the timeline to nuclear weaponization if that were the intent of leaders in Tehran. In this case, the strategic ‘clarity’ demanded by PM Netanyahu could well undermine the achievement of his basic strategic objectives – limiting Iran’s access to nuclear technologies in order to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state. Of course, this is exactly why the ‘red lines’ envisaged by Prime Minister Netanyahu are likely to abridge the basic rights entailed within the NPT (to which Israel is not a signatory) and thus serve to simultaneously undermine prospects for a diplomatic resolution – raising an entirely different set of strategic complications and challenges for decision-makers in Washington and Tel Aviv.

Finally, the Christian Science Monitor recently echoed these calls for certainty by making an empty plea for “more information, not less…for decisions of peace and war”; by critiquing President Obama for not having a clear “red line” for military action; and by calling for the President to ‘clarify’ his position at the upcoming Democratic National Convention. As we’ve already discussed, the latest IAEA report is evidence enough that no definitive evidence in Iran’s case is likely to be forthcoming. Moreover, echoing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s desire for specific triggers for military action also has its practical downsides, as we’ve already explored. Additionally, clear ‘red lines’ now would obligate the actors – whether the international community, the United States, or Israel — to specific actions down the road. Those ‘red lines’ made explicit now will necessarily narrow the future flexibility of the decision-makers at a time when nuance and sophistication may be required to avert a crisis. These ‘red lines’ could also limit the ability of policymakers to adopt a more favorable course of action that is not readily apparent in the present. Unfortunately, President Obama has already unwisely fallen victim to this trap by publicly dismissing the viability of a strategy of containment in his AIPAC speech earlier this year. Finally, these premature pledges to action ultimately risk the credibility of these actors should they fail to make good on these commitments whatever the subsequent justification.

The nature of the strategic environment is one of volatility, uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity (VUCA). To be successful, policies and strategies must admit to these realities. To pretend there is certainty where there is none, to create a false sense of assurances about the present or future actions of states, or to overly simplify a complex problem is to court disaster.

Christopher J. Bolan, Ph.D., Col. (R), U.S. Army, is a Professor of National Security Studies at the U.S. Army War College. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the U.S. government.

7 Ways to End the Deficit (without Throwing Grandma under the Bus)

This post originally appeared on Yes! Magazine’s New Economy blog.

This fall, the U.S. Congress is going to wage a pitched, dragged-out battle over cutting roughly $120 billion a year to solve the so-called deficit crisis. Vital things like teachers’ jobs and Medicare could well get cut.

The Right is already launching new coalitions to push for an austerity budget, calling for cuts in “wasteful government spending,” including key safety-net programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and food stamps. America has overspent, they say. America is broke. But at the same time, they are calling for an extension of the Bush tax cuts and ruling out cuts in military spending—both policies that will increase the deficit.

It doesn’t have to be this way. My colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) have identified seven steps that, together, more than eliminate the deficit while making the country more equitable, green, and secure.

America is not brokeThese proposals, from the IPS study called “America is Not Broke,” would also address the two deficits that author David Korten says do more to erode our society than the fiscal deficit does: our social deficits (rising poverty and inequality) and environmental deficits (starting with the climate crisis).

More Fairness, Less Deficit

Our first three proposals could bring in $329 billion a year; this alone would solve the deficit problem while helping to close the yawning inequality gap.

  • 1. Tax Wall Street: $150 billion per year. A tiny tax on stock and derivatives transactions, which several European countries are on track to adopt, would discourage Wall Street speculation, fill the hole in the deficit left by the Bush tax cuts, and leave plenty left over to fund lots of programs. The National Nurses Union and many other allies are fighting hard for this.
  • 2. Tax Corporations and Stop Tax Haven Abuse: $100 billion per year. The Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency coalition has pointed out that one of the main ways that corporations avoid paying taxes is by declaring their profits in overseas tax havens like the Cayman Islands.
  • 3. Tax the Wealthy Fairly: $79 billion per year. Our rigged tax code lets CEOs pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries do (as Warren Buffett keeps pointing out). The proposed Fairness in Taxation Act (HR 1124) would address this by adding five additional tax brackets for incomes over $1 million.

These three policy changes would go a long way toward making our society more equal, and that means better health, too. There is a terrific body of global evidence, a lot of it compiled by British researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, that more equal societies are much healthier. People at all income levels live longer; they are more fulfilled; and there is less violence. The United States, a relatively equal society as recently as the 1970s, is now off the charts in terms of wealth and income inequality. It doesn’t have to be that way. Just as we created a more just and vibrant economy and a strong middle class through fair taxes between 1940 and 1980, we can do it again through progressive taxation.

More Green, Less Pollution

The second source of revenue would make the economy more green, a key imperative in a world where the environmental crisis is now as deep as the economic one. We found two simple ways to raise revenues and help save the environment.

  • 4. Tax Pollution: $75 billion per year. A tax on the carbon content of fossil fuels would reduce our dependence on oil while cutting air pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases. And, as economist Robert Frank pointed out on August 25 in The New York Times, “News that a carbon tax was coming would create a stampede to develop energy-saving technologies.”
  • 5. End Fossil Fuel Subsidies: $12 billion per year. This call should unite left and right. Why would anyone want to maintain a giant government subsidy to an industry that is the world’s major contributor to fossil-fuel emissions? 350.org has made this a centerpiece of their work. We should be able to win this.

More Savings, Less War

Finally, there are simple ways to cut the military while making the country and the world more secure. More than half of government discretionary spending now goes to the military. Congress has long avoided cuts, in part because they equate military spending with jobs, but IPS has pointed out that almost every other industry employs more workers per dollar than the military. Plus, there is now bipartisan support for two sets of significant cuts.

  • 6. End Military Waste: $109 billion per year. A broad spectrum of experts has found over $100 billion a year in waste that could be eliminated with no sacrifice in security. Three recent commissions, two of them bi-partisan, have recommended roughly $1 trillion in military cuts over 10 years.
  • 7. Close a third of our overseas bases and our Iraq operations: $21 billion per year. Over two decades after the Cold War ended, the United States still maintains roughly 1,000 military installations in other countries. A majority of the President’s own deficit commission, which includes three Republican senators—the National Commission on Financial Responsibility and Reform—backed a proposal to close one third of our overseas military bases.

These seven simple steps would raise close to $550 billion a year. They would quickly erase the fiscal deficit and return the country to a healthy budget surplus. There would be hundreds of billions left to invest in key sectors that could make the country more secure, more green, and more equitable: care jobs, green jobs, infrastructure jobs.

In other words, this plan could help erase the nation’s dangerous social and environmental deficits.

Many groups—from Jobs with Justice to National People’s Action to the AFL-CIO—are organizing to counter a push by the Right to use the deficit crisis to shred social programs and our nation’s safety net. Let’s up the ante and spread the message. America is not broke. We have plenty of resources to rebuild shared prosperity in the U.S.

What Will Excluded Workers Celebrate Next Labor Day?

While the Labor Day holiday is meant to give us time to reflect on the victories in human progress that were hard-fought by the Union movement, it is also a great time to check in on the “excluded workers” movement — workers who, because of policy or practice, fall outside the traditional labor protections offered to other workers in the US.

On August 29th, domestic workers all over the US celebrated the California Assembly’s passage of AB889, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. A coalition of domestic workers, employers, and allies have come together in an unprecedented way to organize fellow Californians in support. Even actress and comedian Amy Poehler produced a PSA urging action. The bill is now awaiting signature by Governor Jerry Brown, and organizers are hopeful that he will act quickly, allowing California to become the second state to pass legislation that specifically addresses the needs of domestic workers who are largely excluded from protection under current labor laws.

Direct care workers in Florida are using their stories to fight their exclusion from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Photo by Direct Care Alliance.

Direct care workers in Florida are using their stories to fight their exclusion from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Photo by Direct Care Alliance.

Meanwhile, direct care workers (those who provide vital in-home assistance to seniors and people with disabilities) are organizing for action from the Obama Administration to close the “companionship exemption” — which has kept direct care workers from receiving guaranteed minimum wage and overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act since 1974. Earlier this year, the Department of Labor finally issued a proposed rule to close this loophole, and during the public comment period more than 26,000 Americans weighed on the regulation. The vast majority of them were in favor of extending basic protections to these workers.

With baby boomers turning 65 (one every eight seconds) and advances in medicine and public policy allowing people with disabilities to live in their homes and communities instead of institutions, the need for direct care workers and attendants is expected to grow. Yet because the job quality is so low (nearly half of direct care workers rely on public assistance to make ends meet), turnover is high and there may not be enough trained, dedicated workers to provide the kind of quality care that our families will need. Closing this loophole is one of the first steps we can take as a country to ensure that this workforce is ready for the change in demographics that has already begun. On September 21st, the Direct Care Alliance is putting together a day of action for direct care workers, you can learn more about it at www.directcarealliance.org.

Here in DC, after news broke that a group of students on J-1 “summer work travel” visas had been exploited at a Hershey Company packing plant in Pennsylvania, the National Guestworker Alliance successfully pushed for changes in the State Department-monitored visa program to reduce participants’ vulnerability to abuse. Earlier this summer NGA joined forces with other worker and immigrant advocacy groups, including my project at the Institute for Policy Studies, to examine the full range of temporary work visa programs and recommend changes in policy that could help prevent human trafficking and exploitation. Another organization in this new coalition, the Global Worker Justice Alliance, released a report in May called Visas, Inc., which digs deeply into the world of foreign temporary work visas: in particular how unscrupulous corporations have found ways to exploit the regulatory weaknesses in these programs to undermine US workers’ employment, and exploit foreign guestworkers for profit.

The traditional labor union movement brought enormous gains in working conditions for our country, and led the way for other civil rights breakthroughs throughout history, but it is important to remember how far we still have to go. Not only are these gains being threatened every day, there are still workers who remain excluded from even the most basic protections like minimum wage and health and safety regulations, and workers who are tricked into exploitative visa programs rigged by corporate interests. But there is hope: workers have earned many victories over the past century, and with more people joining us in organizing and advocacy for excluded workers, next Labor Day I am sure we will have even more to celebrate.

Can the Consciousnesses of Chinese Nouveau Riche Be Raised About Ivory?

Would that the Chinese rich were addicted to designer drugs instead of ivory.

Elephants seem to be evolving smaller tusks.

Elephants seem to be evolving smaller tusks.

“Africa is in the midst of an epic elephant slaughter,” wrote Jeffrey Gettleman in the New York Times on September 3. Sounds like a headline from another era, doesn’t it? Sadly, it’s not. “Conservation groups say poachers are wiping out tens of thousands of elephants a year, more than at any time in the previous two decades.” Who exactly are the poachers? Gettleman explains.

Some of Africa’s most notorious armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Shabab and Darfur’s janjaweed, are hunting down elephants and using the tusks to buy weapons and sustain their mayhem. … But it is not just outlaws cashing in. Members of some of the African armies that the American government trains and supports with millions of taxpayer dollars — like the Ugandan military, the Congolese Army and newly independent South Sudan’s military — have been implicated in poaching elephants and dealing in ivory.

The principal market, as is widely known, is China, with its confluence of “old customs and traditions with new money.” Many Chinese, of course, including one of its more affluent, see the cruelty involved. Yahoo Sports reported in August:

Retired NBA star Yao Ming is using his international renown and domestic status as one of China’s most recognizable public figures to try to convince his fellow Chinese citizens to stop seeking products made from elephant ivory and rhino horn, hoping to curb the demand that fuels poaching in Africa and is helping bring Kenyan elephants and rhinos perilously close to extinction. [He] arrived in Kenya on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012 — his first-ever visit to the African nation — to meet with local scientists and conservationists, to begin filming and to see the animals first-hand.

In the interim wouldn’t common sense dictate that to ensure a continued supply of ivory, poachers, instead of killing elephants, tranquilize elephants and just trim the ivory, which would then grow back? But they probably just assume that some other poacher will just kill the elephants and extract the whole tusk, from which elephants, even if not killed by the poachers, can’t recover.

Meanwhile elephants seem like they may actually be evolving smaller tusks in the last 150 years presumably in response to poaching. They’re thus left at a disadvantage because fully-grown tusks are critical for digging and defense, not to mention establishing social dominance. But growing smaller tusk may be further counterproductive because, conceivably, it only incites poachers to fill their quota of ivory. In any event, evolution can’t outrace poachers.

Washington Post Breaks Lockstep on Israel and Iran

LockstepThe United States seems to devote less energy to developing a constructive solution to what’s been called the Iran nuclear standoff than it does to convincing Israel it will attack Iran if push (however imagined) comes to shove. At the New York Times, David Sanger and Eric Schmitt wrote on Monday (Sept. 3):

“One other proposal circulating in Washington, advocated by some former senior national security officials, is a ‘clandestine’ military strike, akin to the one Israel launched against Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007. It took weeks for it to become clear that site had been hit by Israeli jets, and perhaps because the strike was never officially acknowledged by Israel, and because its success was so embarrassing to Syria, there was no retaliation.”

Yeah, as if Iran, unlike Syria, won’t officially acknowledge an attack by Israel and be too embarrassed to retaliate. That’s wishful thinking a la the Neocon mind. More important, it’s sad day when a major power such as the United States is reduced to appeasing — yes, appeasing — a smaller state such as Israel. Especially when Israel is not only dependent on it for defense aid, but for assistance in the event it attacks Iran. Of course, Israeli supporters’ disproportionate influence on American elected officials precludes the United States informing Israel it will be left to hang out and dry if it attacks Iran. Or, in a sane world, should that come to pass, that the United States will sharply reduce its defense aid to Israel.

The United States though continues to overlook the sophistry of not only Israel’s, but its own policy, toward Iran. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors are present in Iran every day of the years and sometimes show up for inspections with only two-hours notice. Israel, on the other hand, has never publicly acknowledged its nuclear-weapons program. In other words, it never signed the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, as Iran did, and thus isn’t subject to inspections.

The unstated assumption on the West’s part is that Israel doesn’t pose a nuclear threat because it’s “rational.” But what demonstrates irrationality more than threatening to attack Iran, a state with an accredited nuclear-energy program replete with invasive inspections?

I’m usually loath to praise the Washington Post, which has drifted rightward since the Woodward and Bernstein years when conservatives famously called it “Pravda on the Potomac.” But on August 31, its ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, actually dared to invoke the specter of Israel’s nuclear-weapons program in a piece titled What about Israel’s nuclear weapons?

Readers periodically ask me some variation on this question: “Why does the press follow every jot and tittle of Iran’s nuclear program, but we never see any stories about Israel’s nuclear weapons capability?”

It’s a fair question. Going back 10 years into Post archives, I could not find any in-depth reporting on Israeli nuclear capabilities, although national security writer Walter Pincus has touched on it many times in his articles and columns.

He reminds us of Israel’s preposterous

… official position, as reiterated by Aaron Sagui, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy here, is that “Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Israel supports a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction following the attainment of peace.”

After reviewing reasons why Israel’s nuclear-weapons program isn’t reported, Pexton writes (emphasis added):

I don’t think many people fault Israel for having nuclear weapons. If I were a child of the Holocaust, I, too, would want such a deterrent to annihilation. But that doesn’t mean the media shouldn’t write about how Israel’s doomsday weapons affect the Middle East equation. Just because a story is hard to do doesn’t mean The Post, and the U.S. press more generally, shouldn’t do it.

Despite the presumptuousness of what’s italicized, Pexton acquitted himself admirably. The second time in a week, in fact, on the subject of Iran and Israel that the Washington Post did so. Nuclear activist Alice Slater wrote about the 2012 session of The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which is now under the chairmanship of Iran.

Significantly, an Associated Press story in the Washington Post headlined, “Iran opens nonaligned summit with calls for nuclear arms ban”, reported that “Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi opened the gathering by noting commitment to a previous goal from the nonaligned group. … ‘We believe that the timetable for ultimate removal of nuclear weapons by 2025, which was proposed by NAM, will only be realized if we follow it up decisively,’ he told delegates.”

By contrast (emphasis added)

… the New York Times, which has been beating the drums for war with Iran, just as it played a disgraceful role in the deceptive reporting during the lead-up to the Iraq War, never mentioned Iran’s proposal for nuclear abolition. The Times carried the bland headline on its front page, At Summit Meeting, Iran Has a Message for the World”, and then went on to state, “the message is clear. As Iran plays host to the biggest international conference …it wants to tell its side of the long standoff with the Western powers which are increasingly convinced that Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons”, without ever reporting Iran’s offer to support the NAM proposal for the abolition of nuclear weapons by 2025.

Note the condescending tone of what’s italicized. This is consistent with Times reporting on Iran’s nuclear-energy program in general — as if anybody with any sense knows that Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons, that Israel’s desire to attack Iran is justified if a little overzealous, and that, again, Israel, unlike Iran, is too rational to ever use its nuclear weapons for anything more than deterrence. (Though, of course, in February, New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane wrote about a Times article that stated: “the IAEA moved much closer with this report toward stating absolutely that Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb. Yet the fact that the agency has stopped short of such a finding remains significant. Readers complaining about the Jan. 5 article believe The Times should avoid closing the gap with a shorthand phrase that says the IAEA thinks Iran’s program ‘has a military objective.’ I think the readers are correct on this.” Pexton, too, expressed similar sentiments in the Washington Post in December of 2011.)

Maybe — facetiousness alert! — the United States should call Israel’s bluff: we’ll bomb Iran for you if you make your nuclear-weapons program public, sign the NPT, and open your program to IAEA inspections.

This Week in OtherWords: September 3-9, 2012

This week, OtherWords addresses the dangers posed by the resounding lack of competition among the companies that control the smartphone market. Craig Aaron warns that AT&T is about to charge consumers more for less service and Sam Pizzigati explains that the windfalls extracted from Apple’s patenting bonanza will pad its top executives’ pockets. 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. The Six Stages of Climate Grief / Daphne Wysham
    I have discovered a new sixth stage, beyond acceptance of the truly depressing climate science: doing The Work.
  2. AT&T’s Upside-Down World / Craig Aaron
    If we had actual competition for mobile phone services in America, AT&T’s decision to charge you more for less would never fly.
  3. Indefensible: The Truth about Pentagon Spending / Suzie Dershowitz
    A mountain of misleading rhetoric from big Pentagon contractors has buried the facts.
  4. Losing Latino Votes / Raul A. Reyes
    The more we know about Ryan, the more obvious it becomes that he and Romney aren’t a winning combination for America.
  5. Who’s Really Winning the Smartphone Wars? / Sam Pizzigati
    We’re letting top executives of giant corporations expropriate public “property” for private gain.
  6. The Koch Brothers’ Moonshine / Jim Hightower
    The paper industry’s titans have teamed up with practitioners of the legislative black arts to turn their sludge into a slick tax loophole.
  7. Sorry, You Can’t Get There From Here / William A. Collins
    The United States has invested big time in roads, but not rails.
  8. Ryan at the Trough / Khalil Bendib (cartoon)
    Ryan at the Trough, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    Ryan at the Trough, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

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