MILITARY AID IN SYRIA? MAKE CONGRESS VOTE
The U.S. has responded to the situations in Iraq and Syria in typical fashion: with airstrikes to flex our military muscle. While the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has caused a great deal of concern in the region, many Americans remain equally concerned about the possibility of another seemingly endless war. In the Senate, Democrats Tom Udall of New Mexico and Chris Murphy of Connecticut have joined with Republican Mike Lee of Utah to bring a measure that would restrict funds to support such military action by other nations or groups, unless Congress specifically authorizes it.
S.2239 is the “Protecting Americans from the Proliferation of Weapons to Terrorists Act of 2015”. The title certainly speaks to the unintended consequences of “blowback” from U.S. military assistance that has resulted in our opponents’ knack for attaining our weapons – though they be meant for a different destination. The purpose here is to restrict anything military from the conflict in Syria. The Department of Defense, CIA and NSA and other entities would all be cut off. The bill does make an exception for non-lethal humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people, provided through nongovernmental organizations and contractors, or other governments.
Under S.2239, the catch for actual U.S. military assistance would be that Congress must vote on it. Nobody in either chamber seems inclined to take that step, but rather would be content to let President Obama act on his own – and perhaps just blame him if things don’t go well. This is a way for Congress to properly weigh in.
ACTION: Contact Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and tell them to co-sponsor S.2239, which could hopefully not only keep weapons out of the hands of ISIS and facilitate humanitarian aid in Syria, it could also make them and their colleagues vote, if necessary, whether to support military action, and be accountable as to who the U.S. is promoting and why.
WAR WITH ISIS? MAKE CONGRESS VOTE
In addition, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine is also continuing to call for a vote on military action against ISIS. Here again is a case of Congress putting aside its duty and letting the Obama Administration take any responsibility for the results.
A couple of issues are in play…neither appealing to peace advocates. One is whether a ground war should be added to the strategy of airstrikes; another is whether any U.S. military action should be open-ended. Arizona Sen. John McCain is in favor of these kinds of measures, as are a number of Republican Presidential candidates. In either case, there are both a U.S. Constitution and a War Powers Act to follow, and Congress is so far not doing that.
“The British Parliament, the French National Assembly, the German Bundesrat and even the Duma in Russia…are having a debate and having a vote,” Sen. Kaine said. “The spotlight is getting bigger and bigger on Congressional inaction and indifference.”
Obama himself has asked for a vote, so far to no avail. Now it may be up to us to challenge members of Congress to at least go on record with their opinions about military involvement. The same kind of push for a vote possibly kept us from attacking Syria in 2013; perhaps both S.2239 and Kaine’s initiative for a vote on military action would have similar results. In any case such a vote might compel some members of Congress to explain to their war-weary constituents what they are in favor of and why.
ACTION: Contact Sens. Boxer and Feinstein and ask them to align with Sen. Kaine’s call for something like an authorization for use of military force, rather than simply rely on the 2001 resolution. Also contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and urge them to push for the same kind of vote in the House. Tell them also how you feel about U.S. participation in another endless war in the Middle East.
ANOTHER WEAPON WE DON’T NEED
The Pentagon has added more to its nuclear wish list. Now they are planning for the “Long Range Standoff” (LRSO) weapon, which is a nuclear-armed cruise missile. At $20 million per missile, the price tag for the 1,000 requested is $20 billion (assuming no cost overruns, of course). And the LRSO would take its place alongside more missiles – nuclear and non-nuclear – on bomber planes, submarines and land.
The fact of adding a nuclear element to our already-deadly cruise missile arsenal could be destabilizing in a military crisis: The two kinds of missiles would be indistinguishable, and human error could lead to a launch of the wrong one. To be sure, an attack under any circumstances would put the lives and health of millions in jeopardy. Even former Defense Secretary William Perry, among other military experts, has called for a cancellation of the LRSO.
President Obama has the option to cancel this dangerous and expensive weapon. Eight members of the Senate – including both Senators Boxer and Feinstein – recently sent him a letter requesting he do so. It would certainly be consistent with his 2009 call for the elimination of nuclear weapons, about which we should remind him.
ACTION: Contact the White House and tell Obama to drop the dangerous Long Range Standoff nuclear-tipped cruise missile from this year’s federal budget and any future budgets. Suggest that the $20 billion that would be allotted for this program would be much better spent on highways, health care, schools, etc. Add that he should keep to his stated goal of getting rid of nuclear weapons.
FEDERAL CONTRACTORS AND “DARK MONEY”
Organizations all around the country concerned about campaign finance are pushing for President Obama to issue an Executive Order to require federal contractors to disclose all election spending. In 2011, Obama released the Draft Executive Order entitled “Disclosure of Political Spending by Government Contractors”, but has yet to actually issue the order.
The work of such organizations as Public Citizen and People For the American Way have finally led to sign-on letters in both the House and the Senate, asking the President to take that step. This potentially could help get “dark money” out of our campaign system – starting with potential influence in Washington. The effort is signified by the fact that among these Federal contractors are 70 of the 100 largest corporations in the U.S., and documentation of their level of support for certain candidates would be quite welcome in these days of runaway campaign spending.
The Senate letter was begun by Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse; it was delivered with 26 signatures, including Senator Feinstein, but not Sen. Boxer. The House version came from our own Rep. Eshoo, and Rep. Speier’s signature was among the 104 Representatives who added their name.
Now it's Obama's turn to act.
ACTION: Contact President Obama to tell him to heed the two Congressional letters and issue the Executive Order he drafted 4 years ago, mandating federal contractors disclose their campaign contributions. Suggest that this is an important step toward finding out who is influencing our political system.
STOP PROTECTING ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR WEAPONS MONOPOLY
(Thanks to the Peace Action national office for much of the text in this message.)
Disappointingly but not surprisingly, the month-long Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (NPT RevCon) at the United Nations ended on May 22 in failure. The U. S. and other nuclear powers continue to blow off their Article VI treaty obligation to negotiate the elimination of their arsenals, “preaching abstinence from a barstool” to the non-nuclear states while indulging in an outrageous binge of “modernization” of their nuclear weapons enterprises (the U.S. is the worst, planning to spend up to $1 trillion of our tax dollars over the next 30 years to upgrade all parts of the nuclear weapons complex).
There was no consensus reached at the NPT RevCon to strengthen and extend nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation measures as the U. S. (joined by the United Kingdom and Canada) blocked a proposal by Egypt to convene a conference to create a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone. This isn’t the first time the U.S. put Israel’s desire to pretend it doesn’t have nuclear weapons above the humanity’s interest in abolishing these doomsday weapons before it’s too late.
The failure to agree to proceed toward a WMD-Free Zone conference, something advocated by all states in the region other than Israel, is particularly short-sighted. With the U.S. and its P5+1 negotiating partners having completed successful negotiations that would close off Iran’s potential paths to a bomb (see above), Israel’s nuclear weapons monopoly needs to be acknowledged and addressed or it will remain a stumbling block to regional peace and world security.
ACTION: Contact Secretary of State John Kerry to protest the U.S.’s intervention to protect Israel’s nuclear arms monopoly in the region, and demand he reverse course and work to convene the Middle East WMD-Free Zone conference. Remind him that this conference was first agreed to at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, and was to have been held in 2012 – but was never convened, due to Israeli and U.S. opposition. Suggest that in a region so volatile as the Middle East, now is the time for the region to get rid of its WMD’s.
END FUNDS FOR ENDLESS WAR
The Senate and House have begun work on the FY 2016 budget resolution. The tens of billions of dollars in increases for military spending (projected to reach nearly $500 billion) coupled with proposed decreases in Medicaid, Medicare and other assistance programs is maddening enough; but that military increase also again includes an Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) line item, which specifically covers war-related operations. Next year OCO would get $40 billion more, to a total of some $90 billion.
This is basically a “slush fund” that the Pentagon can use for getting around military budget caps that were installed in the name of deficit reduction. It is separate and lacking any oversight – Congress approves it and the Pentagon can do with it what it likes. And the Pentagon’s inability to pass a simple audit regarding what it spends on weapons, spare parts, military contractors and other expenditures suggests such funding is going into the wrong hands. They want to make sure we’re ready for war? Obama’s request to fight ISIS is $5.3 billion – a ridiculous amount of money by our standards, but a drop in the bucket compared to the proposed OCO budget.
If Congress is serious about reducing the deficit and balancing the budget, it needs to close the OCO budget and make the Pentagon tell us and Congress how it will spend our money.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to support closing the Overseas Contingency Operations account. Convey the same message to Sens. Boxer and Feinstein. Suggest that unless the military accounts for its war spending, it will have no incentive to end its wars and we will never have enough for real human needs.
THE SANE ACT IS BACK
Senator Ed Markey in the Senate and Rep. Earl Blumenauer in the House have re-introduced corresponding bills meant to rein in excessive wasteful spending on cold war-era or just overly destructive and destabilizing nuclear weapons programs. Nicknamed the SANE (Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures) Act, this legislation would save upwards of $100 billion over the next 10 years by reducing or eliminating such programs.
S. 831 in the Senate and H. 1534 in the House would do a number of things: Reduce the ballistic missile submarine fleet from 14 to 8 and reduce the purchase of replacement submarines from 12 to 8, saving $21 billion; cancel nuclear weapons-making facilities and the missile defense program, saving $21 billion; defer development of new land-based missiles and cut warhead life extension programs, saving $16 billion; delay the new long-range bomber and remove the nuclear mission from the F-35 fighter-bomber, saving more than $34 billion; and reduce the B61 nuclear gravity bomb life extension program as well as cancel the development of a new air-launched cruise missile, saving $7 billion.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the U.S. plans to spend roughly $348 billion over the next 10 years on modernizing and maintaining our nuclear arsenal. These weapons would pose devastating humanitarian consequences if used, and they fail to address the real risks we face such as climate change, terrorism, and cyber security. At this point, investing billions to improve these weapons makes no sense.
The Senate’s version has just three co-sponsors, not including either Sen. Boxer or Feinstein. The House version’s 11 co-sponsors include Rep. Speier but not Eshoo.
ACTION: Contact both Feinstein and Boxer and tell them to sign on to S. 831, and help move us toward a less destabilizing world situation as well as the kind of truly practical Federal deficit reduction for which Republicans (and other hawks) have been calling. Rep. Eshoo’s constituents should contact her with the same message regarding H. 1534. Suggest these billions of dollars should be better spent on programs that help our communities and health. Rep. Speier’s people can thank her for getting on board this legislation early.
TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP – OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Recent U.S. history has seen a series of dubious international trade agreements that seem meant to help wealthy corporations at the expense of working people around the world. A significant hallmark of such agreements is the element of skirting U.S. laws by turning damaging policies into international agreements that become “the law of the land”. The latest such accord in the (mostly alternative) news is the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We turn to the organization RootsAction for a few details about this dangerous agreement:
“The TPP would provide special benefits to, and eliminate risks for, companies that offshore jobs (and) would push wages downward. The TPP would impose limits on labeling food to let you know where it comes from or how it was produced; the only way to know may be if you grow it or buy it from a neighbor who grew it. But the odds will be stacked even more heavily against the small farmer if the TPP is enacted.
“Corporations would be able to overturn domestic patent and drug-pricing laws. The big drug companies would be able to raise prices with extended monopolies over drugs and over surgical procedures. Internet censorship, defeated in Congress, would be snuck through within the TPP. Serious bank regulation or a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions would be forbidden.”
There is more: “Under the TPP, foreign or domestic corporations could force governments to change their laws on healthcare, the environment, banking, or other public policies – by appealing to a special tribunal of three corporate lawyers accountable to no voters, no precedents, and no appeals process.”
None of the 600 corporate lawyers writing this accord want the public to see it. They would prefer that Congress put it on a “fast track” to ratification without amendments or even a proper vetting. A brave whistleblower (who as far as we know has not had “war” made upon him or her) did help get these particular details into public view. And there are many more details of TPP to see, if only Congress would insist they be seen. As with 16 other questionable trade agreements that did not survive public opposition, how Congress deals with TPP may be up to us.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, as well as Sens. Boxer and Feinstein, to tell them to oppose fast-tracking of the TPP and instead make the entire agreement public. Contact the White House with the same request. Suggest, as has RootsAction, that “If it’s as good as (you) seem to think, what have (we) got to lose?”
Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Department of State:
(202)647-6575 FAX: (202)647-2283