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Weapons in Yemen – Let Congress Have a Say

Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced a resolution in the Senate that corresponds with the House version (cosponsored by both Rep. Speier and Eshoo) – “Directing the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.” With the Biden administration considering resuming sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, we need to get Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla on board.

With over 400,000 dead and millions still at risk of famine and disease, Yemen can’t wait for peace. The current truce continues – but it needs to be extended further, and include expanded comprehensive peace talks. The U.S. should support a peace initiative wholeheartedly, not hedge its bets by considering selling more weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Congress needs to assert its authority over matters of war and peace. It never approved U.S. participation in the Yemen Civil War, which has continued through three administrations. The War Powers Resolutions to end all U.S. support for the Saudi/UAE-led war on Yemen need to pass in both chambers, as they did when Trump was president, and Congress failed to override his veto.

Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and Padilla and tell them to co-sponsor S.J. Res. 56, the War Powers Resolution meant to end the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe. We can also thank both Speier and Eshoo for supporting the House version.

Act for Shireen

Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist, was a deeply respected expert in Middle Eastern affairs. On May 11, she had gathered with a number of other journalists near the entrance of the Jenin Refugee Camp – reporting about near-daily raids by the Israeli Defense Forces, and wearing her distinctive blue protective vest and helmet emblazoned with the word “PRESS”. At 6:30 AM shots rang out, coming from the direction of an Israeli military convoy.

Shireen slumped over immediately, and her colleagues couldn’t get a response from her. When they tried to get her to safety they were repelled by more shots. Losing her created an incalculable void for her family…but the loss also touched the thousands that counted on her work as well as for the many Arabs, particularly women, hoping to work in the journalism field and saw her as a trailblazing role model.

Representative André Carson (D-IN) recently introduced the Justice for Shireen Act, which would have the U.S. government push for accountability and an independent investigation.

Peace activists know we can’t trust military spokespeople. We also know how important journalists are in covering war and oppression. Israeli officials have dodged and weaved and repeatedly changed their stories. They even tried to pin the blame on journalists, saying they were “armed with cameras”. Israeli internal investigations have avoided holding anyone accountable, but media outlets and human rights organizations have done investigations showing that Shireen was shot dead by the IDF in an attack that targeted the journalists and perhaps even the high-profile Shireen. It is time for the U.S., Israel’s biggest benefactor, to do its own investigation.  

The Justice for Shireen Act is simple but potentially groundbreaking. It requires the Biden administration to report to Congress about the individuals and units responsible for the killing of Shireen, as well as if U.S. weapons were used. A long-term goal for Peace Action has been to restrict U.S. aid so that it can't be used to support Israel’s brutal oppression and apartheid policies. There are U.S. laws on the books that are supposed to block U.S. support to military units that engage in human rights violations…this is a time to enforce such laws.

In mid-November, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its own investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. This is a positive step that, if it results in concrete action, would be an unprecedented demand for accountability within the U.S. relationship with Israel. But we need Congress, using Rep. Carson’s legislation, to keep the pressure on to ensure there is real accountability and real consequences. Then we’ll need to build on that to start to truly dismantle the whole system of oppression under which the Palestinians suffer.

Shireen’s family has led an impressive grassroots movement for justice. Momentum is growing in Congress. We need to turn that into concrete results. There needs to be grassroots pressure to ensure that the U.S. takes decisive action.

Action: Contact Rep. Jackie Speier, Anna Eshoo or whomever represents you, and tell them to co-sponsor HR 9291, the Justice for Shireen Act. Suggest that they need to stand up for justice and against more needless violence…especially when it is targeted against someone like a Palestinian-American journalist.

[1] “They were shooting directly at the journalists”: New evidence suggests Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in targeted attack by Israeli forces, CNN, May, 26, 2022.

People Over Pentagon – The Fight Continues

During the summer, East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee and Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to cut $100 billion from the proposed Pentagon budget. Despite the $850 billion-plus proposed amount and the “low-hanging fruit” of wasteful and in some cases unusable (hello F-35 fighter jet!) items that could be easily removed from military spending, the Lee-Pocan amendment was stripped from the not-yet-passed bill. We can’t blame Rep. Jackie Speier, who voted in favor of that amendment.

Rather than give up the effort, Lee and Pocan continue to press with H.R. 8040, the People Over Pentagon Act – an independent bill that would also cut military spending by $100 billion. That number wasn’t picked out of a hat: The Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the Pentagon budget could be cut by $100 billion each year over the next decade without compromising U.S. military readiness.

It is important to also keep in mind that a Data for Progress poll in the Spring found that 63% of voters oppose the kind of increase in military spending that is now on the table for FY ’23. Some of them may or may not know that the Pentagon has failed four audits in a row, one per year. And it may certainly have occurred to them that such a monstrous military budget can leads to a lack of adequate funding of health care, infrastructure, clean energy and many other needed priorities.

H.R. 8040 currently has just 21 co-sponsors, not including Speier, who could be typically loaded down with bills as well as the input that a retiring member of Congress surely gets. A reminder and a push may be timely.

Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, to ask them again to add their name to H.R. 8040, the People Over Pentagon Act. Those calling Speier can thank her for voting for the identical amendment to the NDAA that didn’t pass, and ask that she repeat the gesture.

Protect Palestinian Civil Society

Early on the morning of August 18, the Israeli army attacked the offices of seven prominent Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations, stole client files about victims of Israeli violence, including children detained by the Israeli military, and welded the doors shut with iron plates.

This violent act of repression is a transparent effort to silence, repress, and intimidate Palestinian human rights defenders and disrupt their work to expose the war crimes and human rights violations of the Israeli government.   

It’s time to act. Last October, Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum introduced H. Res.751 – “Condemning the repressive designation by the Government of Israel of six prominent Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations, and for other purposes.”

The Israeli government is openly and blatantly working to erase documentation and exposure of its violent apartheid regime, which the U.S. funds with $3.8 billion every year.

The organizations under attack include Defense for Children International Palestine, Al-Haq, Addameer, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees – all groups doing critical work to support and defend Palestinians. For decades, Israel has attempted to shut down the work of these organizations documenting Israel’s human rights violations and fighting for the basic rights and freedoms for Palestinians. 

The Israeli government is trying to keep Palestinians from documenting and exposing their daily experiences of Israeli oppression with the world. As we all know, time and again, the Israeli government has faced virtually no accountability for its violations of international law. We need to show Congress we are watching and are organized to pressure them to stop supporting this apartheid regime. We urgently need our electeds to start speaking out right away.

Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to become cosponsors of Rep. McCollum’s H. Res. 751 – condemning Israel for calling Palestinian human rights organizations “terrorists” – also tell them to immediately condemn these latest attacks. Those with Twitter can use #StandWithThe6 (even though it’s now up to 7).

Taiwan Complication

Advocates for arms control and diplomacy agree the situation with China regarding Taiwan has shown the potential to escalate into another dangerous scenario. It was always going to be tense as long as we were receptive to the Chinese anathema of Taiwan independence. “Strategic ambiguity”, in which the U.S. avoids explicitly stating its intentions for the breakaway province, seems like a term whose validity goes only as far as we allow it.

But now both Congress and President Biden are taking steps near the line where strategic ambiguity ends and brinkmanship begins. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey brought delegations to Taiwan. Biden has said from time to time, including on television network news, that the U.S. would intervene militarily to “defend” Taiwan should China attack. And in the Senate over the summer, NJ Democrat Bob Menendez and SC Republican Lindsey Graham introduced S.4428, the Taiwan Policy Act, which would facilitate $4.5 billion in arms sales to Taiwan – along with another $2 billion in other military financing – over a 5-year period.

We have seen a form of this story – of propping up other countries militarily and watching conflict escalate – quite recently. Taiwan is not a sovereign nation (notwithstanding its ambitions), but the similarities to the Ukraine situation aside from that are conspicuous, to the point of our treating it as sovereign. The passage of the Taiwan Policy Act would make a tense situation ever more so with China, with whom we have delicate relations both militarily and economically (with $1 trillion in U.S. debt). And it would seem to relieve the “strategic ambiguity” concept of much of its credibility.

The bill recently passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (with Markey voting no), and it’s hard to say how far it will go…but Senators everywhere should be discouraged from supporting it, and Biden, who reportedly is iffy about signing it if it passes, would do well to steer clear.

Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and Padilla, and tell them to vote no on S.4428, the Taiwan Policy Act, if it comes to a vote. Also encourage President Biden to veto the bill should it come to his desk. Suggest that we need to do whatever we can to reduce tensions with China, but sending $6.8 billion in military aid to Taiwan would do the opposite.

More About “Keeping our Republic”

The hearings about the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol are revealing the extent to which Donald Trump was ready to go to turn our government into something other than that “of…by…and…for the people”. As the hearings continue, we wait to see if they will result in consequences befitting a person who grabs onto power he or she has not earned.

We saw the signs during his administration. We watched as Trump abused the power of the presidency to enrich himself, how he shielded associates and family members from accountability, and how he attacked his opponents both in the press and in the political arena. In 2021, with the Protecting Our Democracy Act, Congress made an effort to curb such behavior with provisions designed to avoid future abuses.

The bill would, among other things:

Restore the balance of power between the federal government’s legislative and executive branches; prevent abuse of presidential pardons; make sure presidents and vice presidents can be held accountable for criminal conduct; strengthen enforcement of congressional subpoenas; and shield federal whistleblowers who uncover misconduct. The idea that codification of such provisions could even be necessary helps illustrate the bleak period we all went through when Trump was in the White House.

The Protecting Our Democracy Act, which passed the House in December (with exactly one Republican vote – Adam Kinzinger who was later named to the 1/6 committee), is now languishing in the Senate (as S.2921) and in need of a push. Since Sen. Feinstein is one of just 10 co-sponsors, that push from us would be toward Sen. Alex Padilla.

Action: Contact Sen. Padilla to urge his co-sponsorship of S.2921, to make sure future presidents play by set rules and do not jeopardize our system of government, with its necessary checks and balances. Suggest we do not want to go through an “imperial presidency” again. We can also thank Sen, Feinstein for her support for the bill – and ask her to also support getting rid of the filibuster to help facilitate its passage.

Stop Nukes Here Too

While we’re minding Iran’s nuclear future, we continue to focus on that of our own country. And if nuclear war has been on your mind recently, you’re not alone: A recent poll found that 88% of U.S. adults are concerned about a nuclear conflict between the U.S., Europe, and Russia. The consequences would be horrific: instant death for thousands, if not millions of people (“the lucky ones”, as anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott says), followed by environmental destruction, famine, and more death in the fallout.

What you may not know is that President Biden is pushing us closer toward the possibility. In March he proposed spending an enormous sum – $50.9 billion – on nukes alone. These expenditures would cover weapons labs, plutonium pits, and the production and testing of warheads and bombs.

We can attribute such a proposal to the failed logic of deterrence – an argument that has done little to make us, or anyone else, safe. Obviously our nuclear stockpile didn’t stop Putin (following in the footsteps of long-ago Soviet leaders) from building his own. And it hasn’t stopped him from threatening to use these devastating weapons as he wages a horrific war in Ukraine.

Biden’s proposed budget doubles down on a failed strategy, now in an even more unpredictable environment. Luckily a fight is brewing in Congress over whether to approve these funds, and it’s time to seize the moment to pressure Congress, as Peace Action and its allies are doing behind the scenes to draw a line in the sand and avoid a nightmare nuclear scenario.

As a candidate, Biden said the United States “does not need new nuclear weapons”, and while tensions are high right now, those words remain true. Meanwhile, pouring over $50 billion in completely unnecessary, apocalyptically dangerous weapons is a windfall for the weapons industry, but devastating for people and the planet.

One of the biggest risks with nuclear weapons isn’t even international conflict. It’s a simple mistake. In February PASMC screened a documentary film, “The Man Who Saved the World”, about a Soviet official who refused to launch nuclear weapons after a warning during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And in March, Cole Smith, a former U.S. air force nuclear missile operator wrote that “there have been more near-misses than the world knows." For instance, in 2018 an emergency alert system told everyone in Hawaii there was an incoming ballistic missile threat, and that people should take shelter immediately. The message said it was not a test.

So we’ve escaped disaster time and again not because of deterrence, but because of luck. But as the U.S. sets a course to ramp up their nuclear weapons development, other countries will follow – greatly increasing the risk of technological error and human miscalculation, as well as mutually assured destruction. Unless, of course, we set a new example for the world to follow of de-emphasizing nuclear weapons. Spending another $50 billion next year will not take us there.

Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, as well as Sens. Feinstein and Padilla, and let them know how you feel about spending so much on a program that could destroy our world and our children’s future. Perhaps reiterate the importance of more health care (including COVID) funding, education and infrastructure to counter climate change.

...And Achieve a Better Nuclear Posture

President Biden's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which lays out the nation's nuclear weapons policy priorities, is currently underway. On the campaign trail Biden promised to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons, advance nuclear arms control, and declare that “the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack.” This would be similar to a no-first-use pledge. And such a pledge would be timely on all sides of the war on Ukraine.

The current NPR, as outlined by two previous administrations, called for spending upwards of $1.5 trillion over a 30-year period; some figures put it at closer to $1.7 trillion. Such numbers fly in the face of President Obama’s 2009 speech in Prague calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. They also lack the same pushback we’ve seen lately to the Build Back Better Act, as all Republicans and a couple of annoying Democrats ask how we will pay for infrastructure-related programs that we truly can use – as opposed to weaponry that for clear reasons we hope and pray we will never use.

As to nuclear weapons, the public agrees. A July 2020 Chicago Council Survey poll found that 66% of Americans believe that no country should be allowed to have nuclear weapons, including majorities of Republicans (54%), Democrats (78%), and Independents (64%). In April 2019, a ReThink Media poll found that 80% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans support bipartisan cooperation to “reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world.” There appears a general feeling that nuclear weapons won’t protect us from COVID, global warming or economic inequality. Now it’s time to tell Biden and Congress to weigh in on our priorities, as well as the idea of a no-first-use policy. There are in fact two bills in both the House and Senate addressing that policy.

Action: Contact the White House and remind Biden of his pledge to reduce nuclear weapons, and of the need for his Nuclear Posture Review to move our country’s priorities away from such destructive budget items. Also contact Senator Padilla and ask for his co-sponsorship of S.1219 and S.1148 (Feinstein’s name is on both of these), calling for a no-first-use policy from the U.S. for nuclear weapons. Likewise contact Reps. Speier or Eshoo, and tell them to co-sponsor HR 669 and HR 2603, the House’s no-first-use companion bills. Our electeds should also advise Biden of the need for a new nuclear weapons policy that moves us toward their elimination.

Space Without Force

One of Donald Trump’s flights of fancy (so to speak) was the establishment, in 2019, of the U.S. Space Force. Part of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, approval of the Space Force codified the notion of space as a theatre of war. It runs counter to our commitment to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which restricts the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space and banned military maneuvers on celestial bodies. It also added an initial $15.5 billion to our military budget (with the promise of much more), for a program that creates more military bureaucracy, duplicates much of the existing work within the Air Force, and poses a threat to national and world security.

In late September, North Bay Rep. Jared Huffman introduced the No Militarization of Space Act (HR 5335), which would abolish the Space Force and return what is left of its mission to the Air Force. It would leave the military budget with one less line item and one less unnecessary footprint in space.

Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel for Demand Progress, put it as well as anyone: “Militarizing space is an unconscionable waste of billions of tax dollars, and it risks extending the worst mistakes of history to the final frontier by inviting conflict and escalation”. Rep. Huffman said, “It’s time we turn our attention back to where it belongs: addressing urgent domestic and international priorities like battling COVID-19, climate change, and growing economic inequality.”

Action: Contact Reps. Speier or Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and urge their co-sponsorship of HR 5335, the No Militarization of Space Act. Suggest that we have far larger domestic priorities than this redundant branch of the military, which could take another step toward destabilizing our planet from thousands of miles above it.

How Much More for Israel’s Military?

In late September, the House of Representatives voted 420-9 to send an additional $1 billion to Israel, ostensibly for its “Iron Dome” anti-missile system. The U.S. line is that Iron Dome is a “purely defensive” program.

One problem is that we already help fund it as part of our $3.8 billion-per-year unconditional support for the Israeli military, which raises the question of how much more they need in their ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. Another problem is that “purely defensive” is a dubious term considering the money that could be thus freed up for more “offensive” plans such as Israel’s continuing deadly bombardment of Gaza. Surely there was virtually no mention in the House of what the people there are going through, nor of the fact that Israel is under investigation by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Gaza.

Neither Rep. Jackie Speier nor Anna Eshoo were among the 9 “no” votes for the additional $1 billion. And it’s very possible that both Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla will vote for Ted Cruz’s companion bill in the Senate. But Congress should hear from anyone who opposes this funding – toward changing its members’ minds as well as being a counterweight to the many pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian voices they are hearing.

Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them how you feel about the extra $1 billion for the Israeli military. Likewise contact Sens. Feinstein and Padilla and urge their “no” vote on S.2839, the Senate version to send Israel the $1 billion. Suggest that we send more than enough to their military and their “defense”, especially in light of our own country’s health and safety needs. Or those of Gaza.

Answering the Cycle of Violence in Israel and Palestine

Sadly, tragically, we’ve been here before. The grinding decades-long oppression of Palestinians is once again spiraling into a full-blown air war and mob violence across Israel and the Palestinian territories. First, there were the recent scenes of violent attacks by settler mobs and Israeli security forces on Palestinians who were protesting Israeli home demolition policies or simply praying in houses of worship. Now, tit-for-tat between Hamas and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has escalated into indiscriminate IDF bombing of densely populated areas in Gaza. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, the death toll caused by Israeli airstrikes is at least 227, including 64 children. At least 12 Israelis including 2 children were killed in rocket attacks. We finally--for now--have a ceasefire, but we really need an end to the occupation, not more airstrikes and lives lost in the future.

The unconditional support of Israel by the United States, which includes $3.8 billion of our taxpayer dollars, reinforces a militaristic policy that includes annexation, evictions, home demolitions, and the detention and torture of Palestinians – even young children.

In the face of continued repression of Palestinians by the Israeli government and its authorities, Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum in mid-April introduced the Palestinian Children and Families Act. H.R. 2590 has three main curbs on U.S. policy, bringing together individual pieces of legislation from McCollum in the previous Congress: It would stop U.S. support for Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestinian land, demolitions of Palestinian homes, and incarceration of Palestinian children in Israeli military jails. Under this bill, our tax dollars would no longer pay for these human rights violations.

Children in the territories would perhaps be the biggest beneficiaries of H.R. 2590. Of the roughly 2.9 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, about 45 % are under 18 years of age. Like adults, they are at risk of arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment under an Israeli military detention system that denies them basic rights.

UNICEF reports that children in an Israeli military detention system face harsh treatment that is “widespread, systematic, and institutionalized throughout the process.” This includes interrogation, verbal abuse and physical and psychological violence – sometimes meant to extract confessions.

Congress is not known for staking out bold positions on Palestinian rights. The fact that this bill has even been introduced is a step forward politically. Given the strong support for the Israeli military in Congress, increasing support for this legislation can put real pressure on Israeli policy. At the same time, slowly but surely, we are building greater support for Palestinian rights in Congress.

Action: Rep. Jackie Speier is a co-sponsor of HR 2590...her constituents can contact her to express appreciation. If your Representative is Anna Eshoo, (or someone else), urge her co-sponsorship for the bill, which defends the human rights of Palestinian children as well as allows Palestinians to keep their property as communities and as individuals. Suggest that the Palestinians deserve to live with dignity, and our tax dollars should be used to invest in their future, not their harm.

Biden’s Saudi and UAE weapons sales

Sadly, President Biden recently gave the green light to continue selling Saudi Arabia and the UAE billions of dollars worth of fighter jets, armed drones, bombs, and missiles. This is a follow-up to a policy endorsed and pursued by his predecessor and by no means becoming of a new President whose policy seemed to be to stop such arms sales.

The Biden administration, in response to the horrors of the Saudi war in Yemen, had in its first days stated its intention to halt “offensive” weapons to these countries. But, as the New York Times reported earlier in April, “it will allow the sale of other matériel that can be construed to have a defensive purpose…”. In a region considered the site of perhaps the world’s worst human rights crisis, giving such nuance to the idea of weapons sales to countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE looks like throwing human rights to the winds.

On the campaign trail, Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” and promised to end U.S. complicity in the moral and strategic catastrophe in Yemen. It now appears he and his administration team may not hold Saudi Arabia and the UAE accountable without some extra pressure. That is where we need to come in.

Action: Contact President Biden and tell him to cancel any weapons sales – defensive or otherwise – to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Perhaps suggest anything less would amount to a broken promise, as well as demonstrate acquiescence in a deadly military intention – with war crimes and mass famine of Yemeni civilians.

Directory                                                                                                                            

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 Alex Padilla

333 Bush Street, Ste. 3225 San Francisco, CA 94104
(202) 224-3553                   fax: (202) 224-2200

(415) 981-9369                             

Representative Jackie Speier                            

155 Bovet Rd., Ste 780          San Mateo, CA 94402

(202) 225-3531                fax: (202) 226-4183

(650) 342-0300                       (650) 375-8270

Representative Anna Eshoo                                                                                                 

698 Emerson Street               Palo Alto, CA 94301    

(202) 225-8104                    fax: (202) 225-8890  

(650) 323-2984                           (650) 323-3498

President Joe Biden

The White House 

(202)456-1111:              fax: (202)456-2461

(The comment line is open Tuesday-Thursday from 8 AM - Noon PST.)

www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Find out who your Representative is: www.house.gov 

If you are not in California, identify your senators here: www.senate.gov