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"Defense" Authorization--The Senate's Turn and Our Turn

We still have one more opportunity to slow the billions of additional dollars being thrown at the military.

The Senate will soon be taking up its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which funds the Pentagon, and our senators need to hear from us!

While Congress bickers about how much we can afford in President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, some of its members are proposing a Pentagon budget that is twice as large as Build Back Better over the same ten years: $768 billion! The hypocrisy is palpable. The Senate Armed Services Committee added $25 billion more for the Pentagon than Biden requested, with minimal debate. Members of Congress across both aisles have pockets awash with cash from “defense” lobbyists…this is a blatant ploy to get what they want in return. We’re never going to match the dollars from those lobbyists, so if we’re going to win, we need the people that actually put these politicians into office to turn up the pressure.

Any member of Congress that claims to care about national security should oppose this Pentagon increase and demand instead that the funds be used to address our real security threats: catastrophic climate change, the global COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing racial injustices, economic inequality, and many more.

Action: Contact Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla and demand they support cuts to Pentagon bloat. Suggest that Congress needs to fund true security instead of the military-industrial complex.

Urgent: Help the Yemeni People--Again 

Many of us were happy to hear President Biden, in his first foreign policy speech, announce the end of support for the Saudi-led coalition in its disastrous war in Yemen. But we always knew our work wasn’t over.

Ever since then we’ve been pressing to make sure the U.S. really ends ALL its support – including the enabling of a “food war” in Yemen in which U.S. weapons are used against farms, fishing boats, livestock, and food storage.

As this ongoing tragedy drags on, the Biden administration is proposing a HUGE $500 million arms maintenance package for Saudi armed forces; Congress has just a few more days to block the sale.

There’s no other way to say it. Biden is breaking his promise on Yemen.

The administration has been coy about what support we continue to provide the Saudis…but they’ve acknowledged they are helping the Saudi air force keep warplanes flying. These same planes are carrying out airstrikes on Yemeni civilians and critical healthcare, food, and water infrastructure.

Now there’s a new proposal for 350 U.S. contractor technicians to work alongside U.S. officials involved in training, management support, maintenance, technical support and repair for the Saudi armed forces’ fleet of helicopters – including Apache and Black Hawk attack helicopters. The Saudis fly these helicopters into Yemen from their military bases to conduct the war, and they are reliant on U.S. support.

Some of these helicopters have been engaged in rocket attacks that have killed dozens of civilians in other conflicts. Now the Saudi-coalition helicopters also attack fishing boats in an apparently intentional use of hunger as a weapon in the coalition’s “food war”.

This is a war crime. As one article put it: “Yemen’s fishermen fear being blown out of the water by coalition helicopters. But a greater fear keeps sending them back – hunger.”

Thus we are still complicit in the deaths of innocent Yemenis. U.S. law gives Congress the power to block military support and arms sales contracts such as these. But the time period for doing that is running out.

Action: Write or call Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you – as well as both Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla – and tell them to end U.S. complicity in the war in Yemen by blocking the $500 million arms maintenance package to Saudi Arabia. Suggest that we have contributed more than enough to this humanitarian disaster.

Rescuing Afghans

Thanks very much to Win Without War for much of the text for the action alert below.

In August, the Taliban entered Kabul and quickly took control of the presidential palace. A disaster is unfolding as tens of thousands of people attempt to flee in fear of a return to life under a violent, repressive regime.

We still need to help get as many people to safety as possible.

People in Afghanistan are facing a humanitarian catastrophe, with women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and children at greater risk of violence and forced displacement. After four decades of U.S. intervention and military occupation, the U.S. government’s top priority now must be to do everything it peacefully can to save as many Afghan lives as possible.

Peace and justice organizations around the country are calling out an urgent ask to President Biden, and with your help, we aim to join them – because the louder we get, the more power we have.

Action: Contact the Biden administration to ensure humanitarian aid will be delivered to Afghans, and tell the President to remove the refugee cap for Afghan refugees accepted into the United States.

The rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces and government is tragic proof that 20 years of endless war was never going to build a lasting peace. And the situation on the ground reflects this reality.

Prior to the U.S. withdrawal, Afghanistan had the second-highest number of people facing emergency food insecurity, and 50% of the population faced humanitarian need. Since May, nearly 250,000 people (80% of which are women and children) have been forced from their homes. With only 2% of the population vaccinated, the Delta variant is likely to exacerbate an already tragic situation.

The U.S. had previously pledged to help evacuate over 80,000 Afghan civilians who risk retribution from the Taliban because of their past work with the United States or international organizations.

It turns out that is woefully insufficient: more than 300,000 Afghan civilians have been affiliated with the U.S. military mission during the two-decade-long occupation – and every one of them deserves our support and help now.

We’re seeing encouraging signs that President Biden is willing to act: authorizing millions of dollars to support resettlement, ramping up efforts to process visa applications, and securing flights out of Kabul. But we need him to go even further, and take an immediate, all-hands-on-deck approach to addressing the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Call on President Biden to provide humanitarian aid and ensure safe, accessible refuge for any Afghan who needs it.

The pullout from Afganistan is a long-overdue and welcome development, but ending an “endless war” goes beyond troop deployments and withdrawals.

We owe far more to the Afghan people than simply no longer using their country as a battlefield. That’s why we believe President Biden must do everything in his power to help evacuate and accept every Afghan seeking refuge that we can.

Nuclear Weapons Threat and Debt

It goes without saying that if nuclear weapons are ever used again, a dangerous escalation is likely to follow, with the definite possibility of billions of casualties, nuclear winter and a global environmental crisis. The Biden administration and its allies in Congress need to recommit to the vision of a nuclear weapons free world that President Obama articulated early in his presidency (though could have done more to bring about). Such a commitment would be boosted by a dramatic reduction in both nuclear weapons spending and the salience of nuclear weapons in U.S. security policy.

Both are borne out in the $1.7 trillion 30-year price tag for modernization of the arsenal as laid out in the Nuclear Posture Review. There is also the GBSD (which we like to call the “Money Pit Missile”) mentioned above; a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) which candidate Biden opposed but President Biden is backing; and low yield nuclear weapons, which are “only” about the size of the bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and whose use could lead to a world-ending escalation.

To once again address the U.S. nuclear weapons buildup and its costs, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer have re-introduced respective versions of the SANE (Smarter Approaches to Nuclear Expenditures) Act. These bills are meant to cancel or reduce nuclear weapons programs over the next 10 years, generating at least $73 billion in savings. They would cut redundant and destabilizing nuclear programs, and include an affordability analysis component as recommended by the Government Accountability Office. And they would, again, allow for more and smarter spending on programs we can all use – while cutting back on weapons we pray will never be used.

Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and Padilla, to urge their support for Markey’s version of the SANE Act (S.1862). Also contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo and tell them to co-sponsor the House version (HR 3653). Remind them that if we can avoid a new nuclear arms race and the wild spending it requires, we can also spend more smartly on such programs as needed health care, education and the fight against global warming.

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.

Keep a Promise: Return to the Iran Nuclear Deal

After 8 months of Joe Biden's presidency, the U.S. has still not returned to the Iran Nuclear Deal. Though the American and Iranian negotiating teams have just begun a third round of talks in Vienna, they still aren't talking to each other directly. There is no time for this kind of childishness.

Meanwhile, reactionary forces in Iran, here in the U.S. and in Israel are working to kill the deal. Every day that goes by provides an opportunity for these bad faith actors to scuttle the JCPOA – or for an accident to start up a conflict. On April 27 CNN reported that Iranian Naval vessels have been harassing US Coast Guard ships in the Persian Gulf. (It certainly makes sense to ask what the U.S. Coast Guard is doing in the Persian Gulf.) The next day AP reported that the U.S. Navy fired warning shots at more Iranian ships in the gulf. Israel is strongly suspected of sabotaging an Iranian nuclear facility in Natanz and attacking an Iranian ship off the coast of Yemen – moves that are likely attempts to provoke Iran and hinder the Vienna negotiations. The president needs to resist these attempts to undermine his agenda.

Candidate Biden promised to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal, save one of Barack Obama’s most important foreign policy achievements, and take us back from the brink of war with Iran – a place where Donald Trump put us when he recklessly left the JCPOA. Biden is already taking more than 8 months to do something he should have done on Day 1! He and the Congress need all the encouragement to do the right thing that we can give them.

Action: Tell President Biden to take greater control of the situation regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and keep his campaign promise: a return to the agreement, as negotiated, and without preconditions. This needs to include the lifting of Trump-era sanctions. Also contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you – as well as Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla – and tell them to express support for returning to the JCPOA. Suggest that Biden needs to keep his word and get the deal re-done.

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.

Vaccine, yes – nuclear missiles, no

The first step this year in an unfathomable $1.7 trillion nuclear weapons modernization effort is the proposal for an initial $100 billion, for the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) – projected to cost a total of $264 billion by the time it’s completed. The program’s goal is an upgrade of missile systems in silos around the U.S., mostly in the northern Midwest.

The systems and silos mostly exist to be a vulnerable “nuclear sponge” in case of an enemy attack, to which we might respond with air- and sea- based nuclear weapons. In short, the ground-based silos exist to help “win” a nuclear war – a relative term considering the resulting destruction likely done to the earth and much of its population. The possibility of a false attack warning, which has already happened more times than publicly known, would make GBSD a typically dangerous and expensive part of the nuclear “triad”. It also makes populations subject to sacrifice in areas where the silos exist.

Enter once again Sen. Markey, along with South Bay Rep. Ro Khanna, who at the end of March introduced respective versions of the “Investing in Cures Before Missiles” (ICBM) Act. The bill numbers are S. 982 in the Senate, H.R. 2227 in the House. The measure first diverts $1 billion from the proposed program to funding for a universal COVID vaccine…“a vaccine of mass prevention before another new land-based weapon of mass destruction on” as Markey put it. It redirects additional GBSD funding to prevention of future bio-threats. And it would launch an independent study to “explore viable technical solutions to extend the Minuteman III” intercontinental ballistic missile to 2050. While we would prefer no such missiles exist, that provision would stop extra money for anything new like them.

Overall, the ICBM Act takes steps to redirect funding from arms-contractors’ needs to human needs. “With all of the global challenges we face,” said Khanna, “the last thing we should be doing is giving billions to defense contractors to build missiles we don’t need to keep as a strong nuclear deterrence.”

Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and Padilla and urge their co-sponsorship of the Senate version of the Investing in Cures Before Missiles Act. Likewise tell Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, to co-sponsor the House version. Suggest that getting rid of COVID and other possible diseases would be far better for our national security than a new $100 billion missile system.

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

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