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A Soaring Military Budget

In late March, President Biden submitted his request for the FY 2023 Pentagon budget. It was a staggering $813 billion request – a $31 billion increase over last year. You might recall that Congress has already added $25 billion over what Biden’s 2022 request. They are simply shoveling money hand over fist to the Pentagon – the same outfit that continually cannot account for how it spends its enormous budget and has never passed an audit.

Such a budget request hardly reflects the security challenges we face right now. The increase alone is twice the amount that Congress recently failed to pass for ongoing COVID aid for antivirals, vaccines, and tests, even after nearly a million Americans have died of the virus. A strong case can be made that over-investment in the military is part of what left the U.S. so vulnerable to the pandemic in the first place.

This Pentagon request is being sold to us as a need to keep pace with China…though China’s military budget is $252 billion, 69% smaller than the U.S. Actually, the U.S. now spends more on its military than the next 11 highest-spending countries combined.

And it turns out that half of this spending would make its way to arms manufacturers. The situation in Ukraine, which adds further fuel to the proposed increase, is being exploited by defense firms to justify even more spending. In the build-up to the war, U.S. military contractors perversely characterized the Russian invasion as a business opportunity, with Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes going so far as to proclaim “I fully expect we're going to see some benefit from it.” Mr. Hayes, you’ll see a lot more benefit from this war than will Ukrainian, Russian and U.S. citizens. Of course the lobbyists for Raytheon and other arms manufacturers will be in the ears of Congress, so our voices need to be heard as well.

Action: Contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and demand they support cuts to Biden’s outrageous top-line Pentagon budget request. Likewise contact Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, and tell them $813 billion is far too much. Suggest that instead of preparation for warfighting, we should be investing in better public health care and disease control, affordable housing, and crucial infrastructure. We also need to start making serious strides in the fight against catastrophic climate change. Biden's budget spends 18 times more on the military than it does on the climate emergency. This is by no means the real security we desperately need.

A “New” Iran Nuclear Deal

While negotiations are currently on pause, we remain optimistic that a new agreement could be struck with Iran (and the 5 other countries involved) this Spring. A new deal represents our best chance at avoiding a war with Iran over its nuclear program, and for pumping the brakes on an arms race that is making the world much less safe.

Sadly, on April 6th, 18 Democratic Members of the House signed a letter and organized a press conference to undermine the President’s ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran to try and prevent the U.S. from returning to the Iran nuclear deal.

If a deal is announced, President Biden will most likely submit it to Congress, which would then have a 30-day window in which they could vote in disapproval of it. If both the Senate and House pass disapprovals, the deal is dead with no agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program and no clear path to peace between the U.S. and Iran. Thus it is imperative that members of Congress speak out in favor of successful negotiations.

Donald Trump’s pullout of the agreement, followed by his “maximum pressure” approach of sanctions, failed miserably: Iran’s nuclear program expanded, tensions outside of the nuclear realm worsened, and the Iranian people were crushed between repression, pandemic, and ever-escalating sanctions. And the U.S. and Iran nearly went into a full-blown war in both 2019 and 2020.

As we witness military conflicts around the world, we are further reminded of the high costs of failed diplomacy. A return to the nuclear deal with Iran – also called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) would go a long way toward easing tensions with Iran and restoring long-lasting restraints to its nuclear program.

Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo to urge their support for entering a new version of the JCPOA with Iran. Contact Sens. Feinstein and Padilla with the same request. (And urge Sen. Padilla to co-sponsor S. 434, the Iran Diplomacy Act, of which Feinstein is already a supporter.) Tell them this is a time to step forward with real and essential diplomacy, rather than replicate Trump’s dangerous policies.

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.

Not “Terrorists”

Over the years, being designated a “terrorist” organization has carried serious consequences – including an inability to get adequate funding for actual valuable human rights-related work. Such has been the case for six respected Palestinian human rights-related non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who in October were called terrorist organizations by the Israeli government. Besides facing fundraising issues, some of their members could face individual or mass arrest.

These groups are renowned for their work documenting violations of international law (Al-Haq), protecting the rights of Palestinian political prisoners (Addameer), supporting marginalized Palestinian communities (Bisan), documenting Israel’s targeted attacks on Palestinian children (DCI-P), supporting Palestinian farmers (UAWC) and empowering Palestinian women to defend their socio-political and economic rights (UPWC). All have played an important role in protecting the lives, lands and rights of Palestinians in occupied territories, and Israel has chosen an authoritarian path to try to suppress them.

Hundreds of individuals and organizations – including Peace Action – recently signed a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging him to condemn Israel’s “terrorist” designation of the six organizations. For Congress’s part, later in October Minnesota Democratic Rep and frequent champion for Palestinians 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.” This is a time to push back against Israel’s (and any) loose definition of “terrorism”, which not only might persecute those undeserving of the label, but potentially makes the term less meaningful when confronting actual terrorists.

Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and ask for their co-sponsorship of H. Res. 751, condemning Israel for calling Palestinian human rights organizations “terrorists”. Suggest that such an action needs to be opposed, and Congress needs to weigh in. (Those with Twitter can click #StandWithThe6.)

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.

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

(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