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Cost of War
THE CRACKS WIDEN
The December bipartisan budget compromise bill hammered out and approved in Congress and then the White House is especially compromising to the 1.3 million long-term unemployed who officially lost their federal benefits on December 28. If the benefit cutoff lasts through 2014, those unfortunate folks who haven’t found work will be joined by another 3.6 million.
The logic is that the debt must be brought down, and lower unemployment figures suggest the economy is improving. But the long-term unemployment rate is still double its historical level for when federal emergency benefits were allowed to lapse; somehow the bar got higher. Moreover, taking away benefits from the unemployed who will naturally spend it seems like a sure way to cause the economy to slide backward and tax revenues to decrease. This is as opposed to (relatively untouched) huge tax breaks and subsidies for wealthy corporations and individuals, who are likely to squirrel away at least some of that extra money rather than pump it all back into our still-ailing economy. We hope those at the top of our economic ladder are ready to start hiring in earnest, but even so the economic turnaround would be far slower than the descent into poverty faced by over a million of us.
Especially galling in this corner is the $22 billion increase that the military will enjoy under the budget deal. This will include funding for questionable and over-budget weapons systems and war planes (such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter), to the benefit of companies such as Raytheon, Lockheed and Northrop who pull down huge profits with each new – and renewed – contract. That is quite a contrast to reduced pensions for military veterans (support the troops until their finished fighting?) and base closures that also threaten local economies.
Congress has a chance to revisit the emergency unemployment benefits when its members return from holiday recess. It remains to be seen how much outrage over the issue will greet them in the new year.
ACTION: Contact either Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to push for a reinstatement of emergency unemployment benefits that were removed in the December budget deal. Tell Sens. Boxer and Feinstein to do likewise. Suggest that, along with the tragedy of more folks facing poverty and hunger, our economy will be much slower getting to its expected level if they can’t contribute to it.
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?”
WATCHING THE NSA
Since the revelations in June about vacuuming up metadata by National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden, many citizens of the U.S. and elsewhere have been on their guard wondering how much the NSA knows about them. District courts have rendered “dueling rulings” that say NSA spying is unconstitutional or not, and the program looks likely to have its day in the Supreme Court. But in Congress there is also conflicting legislation, giving us a few ways to pay attention to this story from a lobbying standpoint.
Conservatives and progressives alike have signed on to HR 3361, the USA Freedom (Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring) Act. On the Senate side is the identical S 1599. Both are a relatively modest measure that would end the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records; they would also provide some needed transparency to the use of National Security Letters and other forms of warrantless wiretapping, by allowing communications companies to disclose government requests for private information. Both Speier and Eshoo have co-sponsored the House bill; neither Feinstein nor Boxer have signed on to the Senate version.
To the contrary, Feinstein has introduced the FISA Improvements Act, which seems misnamed and perhaps misleading from a civil liberties and privacy standpoint. S1631 would actually codify the sweeping surveillance of citizens without adding any protections. It promises to prohibit the collection of bulk communication records “except,” says Feinstein, “under specific procedures and restrictions set forth in the bill” – procedures which actually define what the FISA Court has already approved for bulk record collection. This bill has no co-sponsors.
ACTION: Contact Sens. Boxer and Feinstein to ask for their support of S1599, the Senate’s version of the USA Freedom Act, which would take us in the right direction in reining in the NSA’s bulk data collection. Ask Boxer to oppose Feinstein’s FISA Improvements Act, which mostly legitimizes such NSA capabilities. Contact the White House and tell Obama to support the USA Freedom Act and withdraw any support he has given to Feinstein’s bill. And if you have time, thank Speier and Eshoo for adding their names to the USA Freedom Act. With these actions we can emphasize the need for protection from government overreach.
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.
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.
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
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