Cost of War
YET ANOTHER PUSH FOR WAR WITH IRAN
It seems some folks in Congress just can’t stand the idea of a peaceful resolution to conflict. On the heels of a cessation of hostile words over Syria, and on the heels of new diplomatic overtures with Iran, Republicans in both Congressional chambers have signaled their intent to introduce new legislation authorizing the use of force against Iran.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) will be the respective authors, and they are even using the Syria outcome (so far) as a motivation, rationalizing that the U.S. should put a scare into Iran in order to push them to abandon their alleged nuclear weapons program. It comes as no surprise from this corner that they seem not to have considered that raised voices in opposition here and around the world helped put a damper on U.S. plans for military action against Syria. And it has occurred to a few people that a recent trip to the U.S. by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – ostensibly meant to lobby against diplomacy and for military action – may play a part in this pending legislation.
So while Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama have both spoken to their Iranian counterparts – who themselves risk alienation from hard-liners in their country – we have an attempt from Graham and Franks to figuratively (and maybe literally) blow up the progress being made. It calls forth the expression “when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. The UN General Assembly, the occasion for Kerry’s and Obama’s conversations, has shown in the past and now that other tools are possible. The time to stop the momentum of this Republican-sponsored warlike initiative in its tracks is now, rather than when the bill has a growing number of co-sponsors (including a number of democrats).
ACTION: Contact Representatives Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them not to co-sponsor any bill from Rep. Trent Franks to authorize military force against Iran. Likewise contact Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein to refrain from any similar measure introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham. Suggest that the timing would be even worse than usual, and that diplomacy must be given a chance.
DRONE VICTIMS SILENCED
Robert Greenwald of Brave new Films is the source of this alert, which concerns the family of a U.S. aerial drone strike victim and the abortive effort to tell a tragic story. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) scheduled hearings in late September to air the story of a Pakistani schoolteacher named Rafiq whose 67-year-old mother was killed in 2012 during a strike, and whose children were injured in the strike even as they witnessed their grandmother’s death.
However, Rafiq’s family will need the presence of their lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, in order to get to Washington for the hearings…and the U.S. State Department refused to allow Akbar to come to the hearing. The result, of course, is no hearing, therefore no tale publicly told about what drone strikes are doing to civilian families, therefore no justice for these civilians.
And it can’t be good for our country’s own security, given the chance that anger generated by the strikes can lead to the desire for revenge and the potential recruitment of terrorists. If the U.S. State Department would at least allow stories such as Rafiq’s to be heard, it may begin to take us in the direction of a change in policy. At least it would make a few more people aware of what our Air Force is doing in our name.
ACTION: Contact Secretary of State Kerry and tell him the State Department should allow attorney Shahzad Akbar to help Rafiq and his family testify in Rep. Grayson’s hearings about what happened in the 2012 drone strike that killed his mother. Suggest that we need to shed light on the human – not just military – effects of aerial drone warfare.
FUKUSHIMA FUEL POOL AT UNIT 4: “THIS IS AN ISSUE OF HUMAN SURVIVAL.”
The world community must now take charge at Fukushima
The following is excerpted from an article by author and activist Harvey Wasserman for Global Research, September 20.
We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The owner of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), does not have the resources to handle 1,300 spent fuel rods now sitting in a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air, with the potential to spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima. The situation demands a coordinated worldwide effort of the best scientists and engineers our species can muster.
Chernobyl’s first 1986 fallout reached California within ten days. Fukushima's in 2011 arrived in less than a week. A new fuel fire at Unit 4 would pour out a continuous stream of lethal radioactive poisons for centuries.
Former Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata says of full-scale releases from Fukushima, “This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”
This crisis comes just as the Obama Administration is trying to provide a $8.3 billion loan to build the first new nuclear plants in the U.S. in almost 30 years. We should tell President Obama to loan that $8.3 billion to a Fukushima emergency clean-up instead.
For now, we are petitioning the United Nations and President Obama to mobilize the global scientific and engineering community to take charge at Fukushima and the job of moving these fuel rods to safety.
Sign the petition here.
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?”
WHO ARE WE ARMING NOW?
The civil war in Syria looks as futile as it does deadly, killing over 90,000 people and displacing millions (by United Nations estimates) since its beginning in 2011. It is difficult to root for anyone here, save perhaps some factions of the Syrian rebels whose action began as a result of the severe brutality of the Assad regime. But other factions include the al-Nusra Front, a Syrian arm of Al Qaeda, who according to Amnesty International and similar groups have committed their own share of human-rights violations in places they have occupied – and of course have an antagonistic history with the U.S.
Nonetheless, perhaps having something to do with the “red line” President Obama established regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee weighed in with a measure to send arms and other lethal aid to the Syrian rebels. After the results of our support for Afghan rebels in the early 80’s, and Libyan rebels more recently, some in the U.S. seem not to have learned anything from its experience of military intervention in the Middle East.
But perhaps some have, because both chambers of Congress have introduced identical bipartisan bills that limit the power of the Obama Administration to intervene in Syria – either directly with troops or a no-fly zone, or indirectly with lethal aid to the fractious Syrian opposition. HR 2494 is a House bill from New York Rep. Chris Gibson, “to restrict funds related to escalating United States military involvement in Syria”.
On the Senate side, New Mexico Sen. Mark Udall brought S 1201, the “Protecting Americans from the Proliferation of Weapons to Terrorists Act of 2013”. (That title obviously addresses the Al Qaeda angle.)
Both bills would require Congressional approval, through a joint resolution, for U.S. military action or aid in Syria. The bills specifically do not apply to funds for nonlethal and humanitarian aid. In a press conference about the legislation, co-sponsor Vermont Rep. Peter Welch said of U.S. intervention, “If America walks down this path, Congress and the American people should first be part of a vigorous debate. Congress has the constitutional responsibility to authorize any action and it should do its job.”
Both bills clearly give war-making authority back to Congress, where many feel it belongs. It is worth noting here that Rep. Barbara Lee has also introduced a bill repealing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, enacted right after the 9/11 attack and against which she was the only legislator to vote. Meanwhile the Syria-specific bills deal with an immediate issue, about which a war-weary (in its own distant way) American public might feel strongly.
ACTION: Contact Sens. Boxer and Feinstein to urge their support for S 1201, the Senate bill to require Congressional approval for military intervention in Syria. Likewise contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo and ask them to co-sponsor HR 2494, the identical bill in the House. Suggest that we should instead focus on taking care of the victims of the civil war with humanitarian aid, as well as pushing harder for dialogue to end the conflict.
A WAY OUT OF ANOTHER WAR
While the Senate rolls up co-sponsors for a “nonbinding” resolution expressing support for military action against Iran (see below), East Bay Representative Barbara Lee has countered in the House by re-introducing a measure she brought to the last Congress. HR 783 is the new number for Lee’s “Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act”, designed to advance the idea of diplomacy over what many in and out of the Pentagon feel would be a disastrous war.
HR 783 would, as Rep. Lee has said, “require President Obama to appoint a high level Special Envoy to Iran to engage in sustained, comprehensive negotiations to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.” This would be a focused effort to overcome the diplomatic roadblocks brought on by the Iranian revolution 30 years ago.
The bill gives a nod to the idea that Iran may in fact be pursuing nuclear weapons, but calls for talking instead of fighting. It allows funding for combat only under the most extreme cases related to actual defense – rather than for a “preventive” war. It also contains language referring to the pursuit of “opportunities to build mutual trust and to foster sustained negotiations in good faith”, as well as exploring solutions for stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the heavily-supported resolution in the Senate and a fair share of bellicose language coming from the House, this is a time for Rep. Lee’s bill to get as much support as possible. If Congress seems not to have learned anything from the past 11-plus years of war, we need to tell them what we have learned.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to co-sponsor HR 783, the “Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act”. Suggest we and our military veterans don’t need and (probably can’t afford) another war; also that this bill provides for avenues of diplomacy that we still can and should pursue.
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.
SPIES IN YOUR COMPUTER
U.S. citizens are already subject to different versions of warrantless wiretapping by the federal government through the National Security Agency. Now they want to take such gathering of information to another level, and there is a new bill in the House to help them. HR 624, the “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act” (CISPA), would give the NSA a new mandate to read, watch and listen to everything we do on the Internet.
The bill would allow companies and the agency to bypass privacy protections in order to look at emails and text messages, as well as filter online content and block access to certain web sites. It would also permit companies to give the government people’s Facebook data, Twitter history and cell phone contacts.
The NSA and supporters of CISPA talk about the possibility of cyber attacks, and will surely invoke “national security” to justify this level of surveillance. But the bill's language is so vague and overreaching that there is no level of control over what is done or allowed to be seen by internet users. And there is little oversight regarding repercussions when people are using certain language or otherwise speaking freely on the internet or their cell phones. The concepts of privacy and free speech would be threatened. This kind of national security would lead to a fair degree of insecurity among Americans.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo and tell them to oppose HR 624, the “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act”. Suggest that we should be able to protect our national interests from cyber attacks, but we also need methods that don’t compromise our online freedom of speech and right to privacy.
START WATCHING THE PENTAGON
One of the lesser-challenged and examined budgets in the federal government is the one submitted every year by the Department of Defense. With its huge and unwieldy morass of weapons systems marked by cost overruns; classified programs that aren’t identified and thus aren’t scrutinized; and procurement practices that would drive most businesses into a sea of red, the U.S. military budget has become a monster that a number of people in and out of Congress feel needs to be reined in. The fact that some legislators – often under the rubric of jobs (and votes) in their district – are inclined to give the Pentagon not only as much as it wants but, (again) frequently more than it asks for seems to reinforce the military budget’s aura of unassailability in our country’s political landscape.
East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee will no longer tolerate that, and in early February introduced a bill meant to shed light on our country’s military budget largesse. HR 559, the “Audit the Pentagon Act of 2013” mandates a 5% cut in any Federal agency that does not have an independent audit for the previous year. Veterans’ benefits, military personnel accounts and the Defense Health Program would all be exempt from such cuts.
In bringing forth this bipartisan bill, Lee said, “The American people want some basic measure of accountability in the way the Pentagon spends tax dollars…the Department of Defense’s refusal to provide an audit is a recipe for financial disaster. As the daughter of a veteran, I grew up believing in the power and patriotism of the U.S. military, but being patriotic does not mean blindly accepting bloated Pentagon spending.”
A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that auditing the Pentagon was just about impossible, and that the Pentagon is not consistently able to “control costs; ensure basic accountability; anticipate future costs; measure performance, maintain funds control; and prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse.” Conservative legislators and candidates have often called for running government agencies more like a business. This is a bill that calls such folks on that idea on behalf of a military that seems to particularly need it.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo and urge their co-sponsorship of HR 559, the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2013. Suggest that if Congress is really serious about deficit reduction, finding and eliminating waste in the military budget would be an important (and often overlooked) step.
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
400 S. El Camino Real, Ste 410 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 Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Department of State:
(202)647-6607 FAX: (202)647-2283