Cost of War
IRAN: DIPLOMACY OVER SANCTIONS
Thanks to the Peace Action national office for the text of this alert:
The U.S. and its international allies are within reach of a peaceful resolution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiations to ensure Iran’s nuclear facilities remain dedicated to energy and medical purposes only, not to developing nuclear weapons, look very promising, with a framework agreement likely by March and a final deal possible by a June deadline. You may have seen promising media reports in the last day or two about negotiations in Geneva between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, which is very good news.
However, conservative senators and even some supposed liberals are dead set on imposing new economic sanctions on Iran, which will risk scuttling the talks and putting us on a reckless path toward yet another Middle East war.
We stopped sanctions last year, and intend to do it again, but our senators need to hear from us now. The new sanctions bill is scheduled to move through the Senate Banking Committee starting next week, with a full Senate vote expected in February or March. That may sound like we have a bit of time, but unfortunately pro-sanctions forces are lobbying hard, and senators may well decide their positions on this issue very soon, so this alert is extremely urgent.
ACTION: Contact Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein today and tell them diplomacy is the only answer, not more sanctions and threats of war.
STAY OUT OF IRAQ, BOOTS AND ALL
In last fall’s Update, we called for Congress to gather and debate the bombing that was already happening on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. It took until December for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to finally weigh in – authorizing military force against ISIS, but barring the use of ground troops for three years with the exception of “special circumstances”. The measure would require the Obama (or whosever) administration to report back to Congress every 60 days.
Clearly the committee’s action will see the floor of neither the Senate nor the House before the next Congress is sworn in (and maybe not at all), but it offers an idea of what some in Washington are thinking. The administration also tipped its hand a bit when Secretary of State John Kerry urged the committee to not rule out the option of boots on the ground. Kerry also advocated extending the three-year deadline.
Thus we enter 2015 with a war footing on a slippery slope. The U.S. might be limited in its military action, it might not; it might be involved for a few years, it might stick around for a very long time. What we are pretty sure of is that the effort we are spearheading will kill civilians and inflame tensions in the region; what we fear is that our enemies will as a result recruit more people for their efforts, and the war will become that much more difficult. In Congress, this is all best not assumed a foregone conclusion, and a few lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, after listening to their war-weary constituents, have said as much. With the new year, perhaps we’ll hear from some more.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to oppose U.S. participation in this new war in Iraq and Syria. Also reach out to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer with a similar message. Suggest that humanitarian aid will save more lives among citizens of both those countries and our country – and that we should focus on strengthening the Iraqi and Syrian government by bringing its various adversaries together to talk more.
THE REST OF THE WAY WITH CUBA
President Obama punctuated his move to normalize relations with Cuba by calling on Congress to completely end the 50-year embargo, which he termed a “failure”. While a few vociferous members of Congress (such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio) and some older members of the Cuban-American community in south Florida have expressed outrage, others have showed signs of concurring with the idea – and not just peace activists concerned with economic equality undermined by U.S. hegemony…to say nothing of outdated cold-war politics.
The business and farm communities know an opportunity when they see it, and are hoping for the chance at another new market. No less than Thomas J. Donohue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Obama’s actions “will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish.” And a slight majority of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County actually opposes continuing the embargo, with that number rising to over 60% of those in that community aged 18-29, and about 58% for those who came to the U.S. since 1995.
As for peace and justice advocates, there is a longtime feeling that the embargo has done virtually nothing to improve the lives of Cubans or Cuban-Americans; rather it has – in the name of “fighting communism” and so depriving Cuba of an honest chance to succeed – imposed unjust hardships on these populations. Whether Obama sees his initiative in that light, it makes sense for Congress to move in a new direction.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, as well as Sen. Feinstein and Boxer, and urge them to support an end to the economic embargo on Cuba. Tell them that with our relationship with Cuba about to change, their people need no longer suffer economically because of previous U.S. business considerations or the illusion of a “red scare”.
A PENTAGON “SLUSH FUND”
There is more “reining in” of Pentagon spending to do, and it involves the cessation of hostilities in which our country robustly has taken part over the last several years. The wars in Iraq (presumed finished until recently) and Afghanistan (presumably winding down) have been funded with a special item called Overseas Contingency Operations funds. It has amounted to over $1 trillion since 2001; $79 billion is proposed for the FY ’15 budget, in addition to the $500 billion in the military base budget.
While the Budget Control Act of 2011 – the same legislation that gave us the sequester – nominally set a cap on Pentagon spending, Overseas Contingency Operations funds were exempted. And the Pentagon – with the blessing of folks in Congress in charge of defense appropriations – has simply shifted tens of billions in spending from its base budget, which is subject to the spending caps, to the Overseas Contingency Operations budget, which is not. This item is also low on accountability and transparency – a hallmark of many military budget items – and in many peace advocates’ eyes it amounts to a “slush fund” for the Pentagon to keep on spending.
If the U.S. is not conducting “overseas operations”, we would hope to spend that money for more peace-related priorities such as health research, food stamps and education that are otherwise shorted due to the sequester…or that we are told we just can’t afford with our huge Federal deficit. It also seems that if hundreds of billions in Pentagon spending are meant to prepare for war, the question arises of why we would then need extra money to actually fight said war. Kind of like “having your cake and eating it too”.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier (a member of the House Armed Services Committee) or Eshoo if she is your rep, and tell them to do what they can to stop Congress from transferring funds that could otherwise be cut over to the Overseas Contingency Operations budget. Likewise tell Sens. Boxer and Feinstein to make the same case in the Senate. Suggest that the Pentagon needs to share the pain of budget cuts that are already happening to social programs, and certainly should not be entitled to a budget loophole that includes a lack of accountability.
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?”
SUPPORT THE PRESIDENT’S PLAN TO CUT NUKES
Right now the Obama administration is making the decision to cut back on nuclear weapons we don’t need. This could be the beginning of a major step to nuclear disarmament. In fact, the President reinforced his commitment to disarmament in the State of the Union Address on Tuesday, saying, “…we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals…”.
Whatever size this step winds up amounting to, Obama will need the support of the Senate to keep moving it forward, and of course some senators will do anything they can to stop any cuts to our massive nuclear arsenals. Those who support further nuclear weapons cuts need to speak up, thus they need to hear from people who feel the same way.
ACTION: Contact Senator Feinstein and Boxer and tell them to actively support nuclear weapons cuts by making public statements of that support. Suggest this is an important window for them to step forward on behalf of nuclear disarmament, in order to make the world truly more secure. Perhaps add that we have a chance to set an example for Iran and North Korea that nuclear weapons are unnecessary and obsolete as a foreign policy option.
Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121
Senator Dianne Feinstein
One Post St., Ste 2450 San Francisco, CA 94104
(202) 224-3841 FAX: (202) 228-3954
(415) 393-0707 FAX: (415)393-0710
Senator Barbara Boxer
70 Washington St. suite #203 Oakland CA 94607
(510) 286-8537 FAX: (202) 224-0454
Representative Jackie Speier
155 Bovet Rd., Ste 780 San Mateo, CA 94402
(202) 225-3531 FAX: (202) 226-4183
(650) 342-0300 FAX: (650) 375-8270
Representative Anna Eshoo
698 Emerson Street Palo Alto, CA 94301
(202) 225-8104 FAX: (202) 225-8890
(650) 323-2984 FAX: (650) 323-3498
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20500
(202)456-1111: FAX: (202)456-2461
Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Department of State:
(202)647-6607 FAX: (202)647-2283