Cost of War
WAR(S) WITHOUT END
We are back at it. The U.S. is conducting airstrikes in Iraq and now Syria, with the idea of stopping the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS is a fearsome entity without which the Middle East and the world would be better off. But the question remains whether more war is the correct response. We saw what it led to in the Iraq war of 2003-2011, as well as the war in Afghanistan where the Taliban is still strong, and yet our current response is much the same. In fact, there are reports from our military of having even less capability than before of knowing the effectiveness of our airstrikes on ISIS. And reports of civilian casualties have already begun to surface, a condition sure to plant the seeds for more terrorists.
Saying “no” to more war is not enough. We and our representatives in Washington need to push for alternatives: discussions over humanitarian aid, international cooperation to address the instability in the region, how to better run a country. Regarding Syria, there seems no military solution at all, which of course would leave a diplomatic solution. Thus it is incredibly counter-productive to arm rebels – even “moderate” ones.
But first we need those folks to convene in Washington to put their stamp (and hopefully ours) on what actions this country takes. In authorizing airstrikes, President Obama is acting independently of proper checks and balances, and continuing a trend that is best replaced by a more active Congress that, rather than wait until after the elections to take up the issue, at least debates and votes on it.
WAR ZONE AT HOME
News coverage of the protests in Ferguson, MO revealed the degree to which police forces there and around the country are now equipped. At times (and in this case), they have weapons better suited to fighting a military battle than to deal with typical crime or even a street protest. This is from the Pentagon’s 1033 program meant to supply, free of charge, things such as high caliber automatic weapons, armored vehicles, armed drones, aircraft, and stun grenades. Not only does the presence of such weaponry have the potential to make a volatile situation worse, there is documentation that it results in abuse by police – including losing them, auctioning them off (perhaps demonstrating just how necessary or desirable they are), and in at least one case lending them to unauthorized users.
In September, Georgia Representative Hank Johnson introduced H.R.5478, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which addresses the trend of more advanced weaponry for police. Johnson’s bill would prohibit the transfer to police departments of the kinds of weapons specified above. H.R.5478 now has 33 co-sponsors, including Rep. Speier but not including Eshoo. Arms dealers probably won’t like it very much, but civic-minded people who would like to see fewer tense situations in towns across the country would welcome it.
ACTION: Contact Rep. Eshoo if you are in her district and tell her to sign on to H.R.5478. Suggest that such military-grade weapons in the hands of local police does not make us feel safer, and we need to stop these transfers lest they be used in the wrong way or even by the wrong people. Perhaps add that militarization at home could legitimize the same abroad that much more. Rep. Speier’s constituents can contact her to thank her for co-sponsoring, and encourage her to spread the word about it “around the House”.
JOIN IN TO STOP NUCLEAR WEAPONS
The next Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) conference will take place in the Spring of 2015, and NGO’s look to it with the usual anticipation. As something of a “warm-up”, this December will see the third Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons Conference, in Vienna, Austria. The first of these took place in March 2013, the second this past February. Sadly, the U.S. did not send a delegation to either.
There seems no more appropriate way to address nuclear weapons than to examine their humanitarian consequences and impacts, which this series of conferences has endeavored to do. When such knowledge and facts become mainstream, ideally there may be no turning back from the pursuit of nuclear weapons abolition. Plus President Obama’s 2009 speech in Prague calling for “a world without nuclear weapons” cannot be taken back, and U.S. participation in this conference is one way to promote the concept.
ACTION: Contact Secretary of State John Kerry as well as Obama and urge them to send a delegation to the Vienna conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Suggest that as the largest nuclear power, it is time for the U.S. to be part of this effort after declining twice – especially if we expect a country like Iran to back away from whatever plans it may have to build a nuclear weapon.
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