N95s not F-35s
Here is a message and action from Peace Action Executive Director Jon Rainwater:
We have some urgent news. Congress is putting together additional and much needed stimulus packages in response to COVID-19. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the Pentagon is trying to weasel billions of dollars out of these stimulus bills! The military sees it as a way to keep the mega-profits rolling for weapons dealers and the military-industrial complex.
As people here at home and around the world watch loved ones grow sick – or worse, lose them altogether to COVID-19 – the Pentagon wants to take the money we need for pandemic security to buy new nuclear weapons, fancy new weapon systems, and of all things, the border wall!
So it’s imperative that we put our foot down and throw a wrench in such despicable efforts.
Going up against the lobbying armies of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, and the likes will take a massive, concerted effort. We’re going to need hundreds of thousands of voices speaking out.
That’s why Peace Action has joined forces with over 60 other national organizations to go toe to toe with the arms dealers, and demand Congress not give the Pentagon a PENNY MORE in the next coronavirus relief package.
Now more than ever, it’s imperative that we remind Congress that they are accountable to us, the people, and not Trump, not the Pentagon, and certainly not to arms dealers. There is a real and immediate need out there for things that will actually make us safer and more secure. We need more N95 masks, not more F-35 jet fighters – which are useless against the tremendous threat to our security we find ourselves in. We need more masks, more ventilators, and more nurses. We need assistance for the sixty-plus million people that have lost their jobs. We need aid for communities that were already struggling before the pandemic. And we need it all now.
That’s why we need you to join us today in demanding your members of Congress do everything they can to make sure all stimulus monies go to the people in need, and none for Pentagon greed.
Sign here to tell Congress to bail out the American people, not the Pentagon and the arms dealers. You will become part of a nationwide lobbying effort to write to your House member and Senators.
Pandemic and Sanctions – an Even Worse Mix
The global COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a wide variety of connections between nations, from the potential for cooperation at best, to the inhumane consequences of economic sanctions among the worst. Nothing demonstrates the latter like the U.S. sanctions on Iran while Iran suffers one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks. Human Rights Watch reported the country is unable to finance needed equipment and medicines, the result being a further overwhelming of its hospitals where space and supplies are needed to care for patients.
As with any sanctions – regarded functionally as an act of war – the main victims are a country’s citizens, not its leaders or its military. And this story is currently repeated in Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and over 25 other countries. But now the potential circumstances are far worse. Nevertheless, Donald Trump increased sanctions on Iran in March.
To address the situation in Iran, 34 Congressional signers sent a letter to the White House at the end of March, calling for at least a temporary easing of sanctions on Iran. A few days later two moderate Democrats, Representative Eliot Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Senator Bob Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, released a statement calling for an easing of the sanctions. While they claimed that Iran “has continued to sponsor terrorists around the world” and leveled many other criticisms, they did present a case for temporary relief.
To address the question of crippling sanctions and their possible limits, Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar back in February introduced H.R. 5879, the Congressional Oversight of Sanctions Act, giving Congress the power “to impose certain limits” on the leveling of sanctions and other “national security authorities” by the President. Under this measure, Congress would be able to review sanctions after 60 days in order to see if they are valid. Considering the humanitarian disasters that sanctions have caused in this unique time, a little humanity from its members seems in order.
Action: Contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to speak out for easing the sanctions on Iran at least while the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the world. (Eshoo’s constituents can thank her for signing the letter to the White House calling for helping Iran this way.) Also ask them to support H.R. 5879 in order to give Congress a say in whether such sanctions are necessary. Likewise ask Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris to call for easing the Iran sanctions during this time. Perhaps remind them that Iran’s caseload is over 23,000 and its death toll has surpassed 1800, and our government has played a sad part.
Put a Stamp on Fair Voting
In recent weeks we have seen a number of primary elections postponed due to the possibility of exposure by voters to the COVID-19 virus. Both they and poll workers share a justifiable caution against taking an election-day risk of infection. The possible effect on turnout has moved primary-election dates back – and it jeopardizes the efficacy of a properly-conducted and meaningful election day this November.
Roadblocks to an effective and accessible voting system were already considerable: Inconvenient polling locations with limited hours and long lines, difficulties getting time off from work, electronic voting machines vulnerable to hacking, transportation challenges, and voter suppression and intimidation have all been documented for years. Now the pandemic threatens to further exacerbate the situation.
With such thoughts in mind, the notion of a widespread – if not universal – vote-by-mail system is gaining momentum around the country. Along with the circulation of on-line petitions, a letter from 158 organizations of various ideological stripes (including Peace Action) was sent to Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell. The letter called for the implementation of such a vote-by-mail initiative in the next stimulus bill meant to get our country through the pandemic. The letter called for policies that expand voter registration, in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee voting by mail, voter education, and safe and fair in-person voting that doesn’t undermine vulnerable populations such as the elderly, handicapped, and people of color. The price tag for this piece of the bill – as estimated in efforts to add it to the previous stimulus package – would be around $2 billion.
Meanwhile, corresponding bills have emerged in both the House and Senate: The Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act of 2020 was introduced by Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer in the House (H.R. 6202) and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden in the Senate (S.3440). Both measures focus on Election Day in November, in case of disruptions from COVID-19, or any other cases of pandemic or natural disaster in future elections. They require states and voting jurisdictions to come up with plans for vote-by-mail and absentee-voting plans that are flexible and provide for everyone to cast a ballot.
California and the other states using a mail system of voting report a 15% increase in voter participation. Regardless of Republicans’ resistance to such an idea and Trump’s concern that “you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again” with vote-by-mail and other safeguards (did he really think only Republicans would hear him say that on Fox News?), it would be a far better sign of a functioning democracy.
Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo and tell them the next pandemic-related stimulus package ought not get their vote if it doesn’t include at least $2 billion for a system of vote-by-mail and other voter protections. Share your feelings on such stimulus measures with Sens. Feinstein and Harris. Also urge Speier and Eshoo’s co-sponsorship of H.R. 6202, as well as Feinstein and Harris’ support for S.3440. Suggest that fair elections with maximum turnout is a bedrock principle of our country, and no amount of grandstanding by McConnell, McCarthy, Trump, et al can deny that.
Protect Civil Liberties from COVID-1
Thanks to Democracy for America for some of the text in this alert.
MSNBC, Rolling Stone and Politico are reporting that Trump’s Department of Justice is using the Coronavirus as a rationale for asking Congress to approve extraordinary powers to indefinitely detain people and suspend habeas corpus during times of natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation. This would be applicable to “any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil processes and proceedings.” Which is to say that if someone has only been arrested, the DOJ wants to reserve the right for a judge to detain them indefinitely.
The Executive Director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Norman Reimer, called the request “terrifying,” saying that it “means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over.”
Right now, people who have been arrested are being held in detention centers at great risk – in close contact and provided with less-than-adequate supplies of soap, sanitizer, and protective equipment. This is hardly the time to be thinking about ways to lock more people up, especially for an indefinite amount of time, and especially under the “watchful eye” of Trump, his administration and his DOJ.
If Congress weighs in as asked, it needs to respond by protecting the constitutionally-protected rights of all Americans always and reject this dangerous demand by Trump’s DOJ immediately. It would otherwise be one more step toward an authoritarian state, and Trump and his braintrust would seem just the people to implement it.
Action: Contact Reps. Speier or Eshoo, as well as Feinstein and Harris, to insist they speak up for the rights of every American by rejecting the DOJ’s request for the extraordinary power to detain people indefinitely and suspend habeas corpus during the extenuating times such as the present. Suggest this is a dangerous step toward an authoritarian system – on the resistance to which our country was (at least in part) founded.
Let Congress Weigh in on Disarmament
Since 1970, when the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force at the United Nations, the nuclear weapons states – led by the U.S. and then-Soviet Union, now Russia – have largely dragged their feet on any real progress toward disarmament. Accords between the two countries such as SALT I and II, ABM, INF and new START have signaled at least a willingness to address the nuclear threat, but all have either gone by the wayside or, thanks to the Trump administration, are on the way out.
Now with 191 signatories, NPT will have its five-year review conference in 2020, with the usual minimal expected results. With an eye on such results up to that time, in July 2017 122 of those nations, also under the auspices of the UN but not including the nuclear weapons states, signed an alternative document – the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which, as stated on its web site, “includes a comprehensive set of prohibitions on participating in any nuclear weapon activities. These include undertakings not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.”
Addressing our country’s inertia toward TPNW and such accords in general, in April 2019 Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern introduced H. Res.302, “Embracing the goals and provisions of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”. More specifically the bill also takes on previous hallmarks of disarmament, including removing the sole ability to launch a nuclear strike from the president; taking missiles off “hair-trigger alert”, and scrapping nuclear weapons modernization efforts going back to the Obama era and beyond.
Here is a chance for Congress to make a statement on the need to disarm, and to join the international community. While H. Res 302 is a long way from serious consideration, every bit of support from the House can be its own statement.
Action: Contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to co-sponsor H. Res 302 and honor the notion of ending the specter of nuclear weapons.
Help on the Global Stage
In today’s world we continue to face the threat of terrorism and other violence, either from state- or non-state-sponsored entities. Whether over religious persecution, natural resources or wealth inequity (to name a few sources of conflict), the human race seems compelled to watch its collective back in a desperate posture of readiness.
At the same time, the U.S. devotes a minute amount of funding toward violence prevention, which is consistent with figures worldwide. For instance, a group of humanitarian aid organizations found that in 2016 just 2% of U.S. funding for conflict-affected and fragile states went to reduction of violence, and 0.9% to development and peacebuilding; the rest was for “containment”.
Congress has begun to address this situation with bipartisan legislation. Last July, Delaware Sen. Christopher Coons introduced S.727, the Global Fragility Act of 2019, which “directs the President to devise and implement a 10-year plan (for starters) to combat global fragility” as well as provide the funding for such a plan. Along with trying to identify and stabilize conflict areas, S. 727 focuses on reducing causes of violence and resulting fragility of some nations.
In this way, the U.S. can add an element of prevention to conflict-ridden counties, depending on the conditions at hand. The bill, whose companion in the House has already passed, now has 26 co-sponsors, not including Senators Dianne Feinstein or Kamala Harris.
Action: Contact both Senator Feinstein and Harris to ask for their support for S.727, the Global Fragility Act. Suggest that an ounce (or more) of prevention of conflicts around the world could prevent U.S. military actions, as well as contribute to stability and peace if used correctly.
SANE Act Redux
There is a new version of legislation designed to curb our country’s nuclear weapons arsenal. Donald Trump has plans to spend nearly $2 trillion over the next 30 years on unneeded and unnecessary nuclear weapons and delivery systems. This makes no sense…in fact this is insane.
We’re talking about nearly $100 million wasted every day for 30 years on weapons we are supposed to be getting rid of. To put that amount in perspective, you could instead spend that money to send nearly 9 million people to a 4-year university or hire 18 million teachers for a year!
Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer have re-introduced the SANE Act, companion versions of a bill in the Senate and House, which would save taxpayers approximately $100 billion over ten years by scaling down, delaying, or canceling a variety of obsolete nuclear weapons programs. By helping to focus our resources on the real threats of the 21st century instead of on Cold War relics, the SANE Act would help bolster our economic and national security.
Some of the targeted cuts include:
Cut the current fleet of nuclear submarines from 12 operational at sea to eight operational at sea ($3 billion savings)
Delay the purchase of new nuclear submarines ($17 billion savings)
Reduce the number of ICBMs ($6 billion savings)
End the nuclear missions of air bombers (up to $17 billion savings)
Delay the new bomber program ($18 billion savings)
Cancel new, wasteful nuclear weapons facilities ($15 billion savings)
Action: Contact Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris and tell them to support S.2727, the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures (SANE) Act from Senator Markey. Likewise tell Rep. Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, to co-sponsor HR 4904, the same bill from Rep. Blumenauer in the House. Suggest to them that the cold war is long over, and we have never needed enough firepower to destroy the world several times over.
Not First, Hopefully Not Ever
The thought of a nuclear war is just about at the top of occurrences that we all dread (and try our best not to think about). The degree to which the current resident of the White House has implied the possibility of such a war (“fire and fury”, anyone?) is just one reason we wait and hope for a different administration, whether by election or by the American legal system. In the meantime, there are now two different companion bills in the House and Senate regarding first-use of nuclear weapons by the U.S.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has introduced S. 272, which would “establish the policy of the United States regarding the no-first-use of nuclear weapons”. To be exact, in simple and clear language, it makes no-first-use the policy. Likewise does H.R. 921, introduced by Washington Rep. Adam Smith. These both follow up on the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Acts, both re-introduced from the last Congress by Rep. Ted Lieu of California and Sen. Ed Markey, also of Massachusetts, respectively. Each of those would require approval by Congress for a “first strike”.
While Americans are certainly overwhelmingly opposed to any use of nuclear weapons, let alone initiating it, and it is reasonable to assume nobody in their right mind in Congress would favor such a deployment, a strong show of support for these various no-first-use bills would be a good look…especially considering the person whose “finger is on the button”.
Action: Sen. Dianne Feinstein is a co-sponsor of both S. 272 and Markey’s S. 200, and we can thank her for her support. However Sen. Kamala Harris has not signed on to either bill. With hope that this is just something she missed, contact Sen. Harris and urge her support for both bills preventing a first-use of nuclear weapons. On the House side, Rep. Anna Eshoo has co-sponsored both H.R. 921 and Lieu’s H.R. 669, and her constituents can also thank her. Rep. Jackie Speier is on Lieu’s bill, but has yet to co-sponsor H.R. 921, thus her people can contact her tell her to add her name. Suggest this is about common sense and perhaps survival.
End a War – Begin a Peace
Not everyone is aware that the Korean War never formally ended; rather, the bombing and the killing stopped only when the two sides signed an armistice agreement, in place “until a final peaceful settlement is achieved”. That has never happened, and the tension between the U.S. and North Korea has surely been exacerbated by this continuing state of war. Indeed, signing a formal peace treaty has been one of North Korea’s conditions toward achieving peace. It seems a small step, but many activists feel its significance would lift one cloud that hangs over U.S./DPRK relations…and pave the way for more progress.
In this spirit, South Bay Rep. Ro Khanna has introduced H. Res. 152, “Calling for a formal end of the Korean war.” Following up on a similar resolution introduced in 2014, this measure also supports efforts by South Korean President Moon Jae-in – jointly with his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un – as they look for paths to cooperation and security. An important overall goal is eventual denuclearization by North Korea, and the resolution does not affect that goal.
President Moon will be in Washington this week to meet with Donald Trump about how peace can be achieved. While H. Res. 152 will not come to the House floor that soon, strong support for it among its members will make it a part of the mix of calming tensions – which seemed to increase when the latest talks between Trump and Kim failed.
Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo and tell them to become a co-sponsor of H. Res. 152, toward formally ending the Korean war. Suggest that this early step is not just a symbol but an end to a war…and can potentially lead to a more significant peace.
Save a Nuclear Weapons Treaty
In 2010, the Obama administration and Russia negotiated the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Compared to most of our readers’ disarmament aspirations, this was a relatively modest accord…but it reduced the U.S. and Russian strategic arsenals to 1,500 apiece, and delivery vehicles to 700 apiece. New START also established the most extensive verification and monitoring process ever agreed upon by both nations, including 18 on-site inspections per side per year, and direct inspections of the weapons themselves.
But Donald Trump’s seeming lack of regard for any such measure that is not his, coupled with then-National Security Advisor John Bolton’s seeming lack of regard for any disarmament treaty at all, combined earlier in the year to put New START in jeopardy. It is set to expire in 2021, and while Trump and Vladimir Putin can extend it for five years at any time, Bolton, who had Trump’s ear on such matters, called that “unlikely”, and it seems to remain so.
Members of Congress from both parties have shown their concern about preserving New START, and in fact there is a bipartisan bill in the House calling on Trump to do just that. H.R. 2529, the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” seems to take an arguably antagonistic tone toward Russia, but its goal of keeping both sides’ arsenals at relative bay – until 2026, as called for in the measure – is its most important element. The extension would last until either Russia (or presumably the U.S.) violates the treaty, or an equivalent or more stringent disarmament regime can be settled upon – not likely with the current administration, but a hopeful provision nonetheless.
In the Senate, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey introduced S.1285 – the “Save Arms Control and Verification Efforts Act of 2019” aka the “SAVE Act”. This bill, as its description says, would “require certifications and reporting in an unclassified form related to the national security implications of the New START Treaty, and to provide for arms limitations in the event of the treaty’s non-renewal.”
S.1285 would also encourage the president to extend New START, or explain why he or she has not taken such steps; In addition, it would require the arms limitations for the treaty to stay at the current level. Senator Dianne Feinstein is a co-sponsor of the SAVE Act, but Kamala Harris is so far not.
Action: Contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 2529 in its hope of keeping the New START agreement alive and kicking until at least 2026. Also contact Sen. Harris and urge her support for S.1285, the SAVE Act. Perhaps add that we need to aim for even more stringent disarmament agreements, but to abandon this one would be more than a step backwards.
Protect Palestinian Children
When human rights becomes an issue, it seems we are most likely to think first of what the children of a victimized people are going through. While this has come up recently at our borders, it has for some time been the case for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. A passage on the subject from the web site of Jewish Voice For Peace conveys it thusly:
“Since the year 2000, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 have been detained, prosecuted and incarcerated by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank. Often dragged from their homes in the middle of the night by armed soldiers, they suffer physical and emotional violence and frequently face verbal abuse, humiliation and/or intimidation. These children are interrogated without family or lawyers present, in an effort to generate forced confessions justifying their detention for months on end – often in solitary confinement. This is unacceptable.”
In response to such conditions, Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum introduced H.R. 2407, the “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act.” Along with what its title states, this bill also forbids U.S. military aid for Israel – currently totaling $3.8 billion – from supporting “military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children”. This is a common-sense measure that would take steps toward keeping the U.S. within the bounds of international law.
Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, to tell them to co-sponsor H.R. 2407 and stand up for the rights of Palestinian children. Suggest that, as with the migrant children on our border that recently-passed legislation are trying to protect, our tax dollars should also not be used to keep these children detained and mistreated.
No Help for the Saudis
The frustration among peace advocates over U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia grew in May when Trump vetoed a bill to cut off aid to Saudi Arabia in the latter’s brutal participation in the civil war in Yemen. Both chambers have stayed busy over the issue.
In June, the Senate passed S.J.Res. 36 and S.J.Res. 38, bipartisan bills intended to together block 22 separate arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries. On the House side, H.R. 643, “…to prohibit the provision of United States security assistance (meaning intelligence and arms sales) to the Government of Saudi Arabia”, has been on the docket since January, with Rep. Eshoo an original co-sponsor. Ted Lieu, another California Rep, introduced H.R. 910, the Yemen Refueling Prohibition Act, which prohibits the U.S. practice of in-flight refueling of Saudi jets as they conduct their bombings.
Public opinion polls have shown that 75% of Americans oppose U.S. intervention in the Saudi war on Yemen. If Trump wants to defend his wealthy allies in the Middle East with vetoes of measures aimed at saving civilian lives, his aims should be exposed for all to see.
Action: Contact Reps. Speier and Eshoo to urge their support for H.R.910, to keep our planes from helping the Saudis wage war in Yemen. Also tell Speier to co-sponsor H.R. 643, prohibiting security assistance to Saudi Arabia. Suggest Congress should not go along with the Trump administration by playing a part in Yemeni civilian suffering.
None but the most ill-informed doubts the civilization-ending destructive potential of nuclear weapons; as a result there is a lot of talk and advocacy in recent years about “low-yield” nuclear warheads. The Department of Energy, nuclear weapons contractors such as Lockheed and Boeing, and certain members of Congress who see the nuclear weapons industry as a way to create jobs in their district or state all push the “low-yield” concept in order to make nuclear weapons more palatable to the American public (and perhaps other publics).
Another insidious label for such warheads would be “more usable”, which implies not only an ability to control the results in terms of the destruction they would cause, but also a degree of acceptability for actually using them under certain circumstances. It says here those circumstances do not exist, because of the potential for mass destruction of cities and lives. Avoiding nuclear winter (for instance) and the possible end of most life forms on earth is not enough; a “smaller” amount of destruction and murder is also a dreadful notion, with the distinct possibility of escalation to the worst possible scenario.
Surely with such thoughts in mind, in February Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and California Rep. Ted Lieu re-introduced S. 401 and HR 1086 respectively, the “Hold the LYNE (Low Yield Nuclear Explosives) Act”, which would prohibit research, development, production and deployment of such a nuclear warhead for the Trident D-5 missile. The D-5 would be just one application for such “low-yield” warheads, but would be a start for more progress to call out the idea as obsolete.
HR 1086 co-sponsor Oregon Rep. Ed Blumenauer, said, “Despite their misleading name, so-called ‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons are highly destabilizing and increase the likelihood of nuclear war. We should abandon our focus on outdated Cold War tactics and focus on the strategic challenges we face today, including accounting for the irresponsible spending on weapons we can’t afford to build and the world can’t afford for us to use.”
Action: Sen. Feinstein is a co-sponsor but Sen. Harris is not yet. Contact Harris and tell her to co-sponsor S.401, the “Hold the LYNE Act”. On the House side, Rep. Speir is a co-sponsor but Eshoo is not, and her constituents should contact her to urge her support for HR 1086. Suggest that nuclear war is unacceptable at any level, there is no such thing as a “more usable” nuclear weapon, and we should spend the money saved not building these warheads on constructive (where our money would surely go farther and create more jobs) rather than destructive budget items.
Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121
Senator Kamala Harris
333 Bush Street, Ste. 3225 San Francisco, CA 94104
(202) 224-3553 FAX: (202) 224-2200
(415)981-9369 FAX: (202) 224-0454
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (202) 225-4965
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (202) 224-6542
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. Department of State:
(202)647-6575 FAX: (202)647-2283