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Rein In Military Spending

The Coronavirus pandemic revealed that the U.S. must reevaluate how it prioritizes spending to keeping us all safe. The country spends more on its military than the next 11 countries combined, yet President Biden’s FY 2022 budget request included $753 billion in Pentagon spending – for the Pentagon through the Department of “Defense” and for nuclear weapons through the Department of Energy. Soon Congress will begin work on the National Defense Authorization Act. Though there are few details right now, there will surely be amendments designed to reject the increase to the Pentagon’s already-bloated budget, plus make cuts to top-line Pentagon spending.

For decades, consistently massive military budgets have funded wars and overseas operations that disproportionately target and harm people of color around the world, while leaving far too little for critical programs here at home. That overwhelmingly takes a greater toll on many of us, including our own communities of color. While we face a historic pandemic, another racial reckoning, another economic crisis, and a growing climate crisis, only 50.5% of this administration's requested FY ‘22 budget is allocated to non-military programs. Now more than ever, we need a budget that represents people’s priorities, not those of the defense industry.

Among the many opportunities for cuts that exist are the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) Program, for which plans to upgrade the entire land-based leg of the nuclear triad have been called “destabilizing and completely unnecessary.” With a lifetime estimated cost of $264 billion and sure to go up, there are certainly more pressing needs in our country. There is also the Space Force, which is asking for $17.4 Billion for FY ‘22. This additional structure runs the risk of increased bureaucracy and redundancy among the armed forces. Over $2 billion will be spent simply building this new stand-alone military service. And let us not forget Lockheed Martin’s disastrous F-35 Fighter Jet. The FY ‘22 budget request includes 85 more of these, starting at around $100 million per plane. Numerous malfunctions over the years have ballooned costs to an estimated $1.7 trillion for this program’s life cycle. This plane has received a reputation as notoriously flawed and carries dangers for those flying it. Earlier this year, the Air Force essentially admitted this jet is not what they need. It’s just one more example of misplaced priorities elevated in Congress.

Action: Contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whomever represents you, and tell them to oppose any version of the NDAA that does not cut Pentagon spending. On the same order, they should support amendments to the NDAA – and any Defense Appropriations bills – that would cut unnecessary and wasteful weapons. Contact Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla with the same requests in the Senate version of the NDAA. Suggest that we need the resources that might go to wasteful weapons systems and programs to go to human-based needs that benefit true security and general welfare.

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.

Question Arms Sales to Israel

Israel's recent airstrikes in Gaza killed at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children. United Nations human rights experts wrote: “The firing by Israel of missiles and shells into heavily populated areas of Gaza – particularly with the rising civilian toll and property destruction – constitute indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians and civilian property. These attacks likely violate the laws of war and constitute a war crime.” Hamas also launched rockets indiscriminately killing at least 12. As a matter of law, all military forces involved have engaged in war crimes. As a matter of policy and moral culpability, U.S. military support enabled the Israeli military’s violence.

Israel is historically by far the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, with $3.8 billion yearly going to its military. U.S. foreign military financing grants to Israel total more than those to every other country in the world combined. Biden’s national security strategy calls for the U.S. to prioritize human rights, toward restoring a foreign policy that respects international law. After the violence in Gaza, other nations are looking to see if the President lives up to his pledge here.

Just before the recent violence, the Biden administration approved a $735 million sale of weapons systems and munitions to Israel. The proposed sale included Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMS), which are believed to have been used in the recent violence, as well as in the past. A resolution of disapproval came too late to prevent the sale. But majorities of Democratic, Independent and Republican voters all support restricting aid to human rights violators. Indeed, U.S. law already makes clear that all countries receiving U.S. aid need to meet human rights standards, the violation of which can lead to the curtailment of aid. Specifically, recent polling shows a growing skepticism regarding U.S. arms sales to Israel, especially with Democratic and Independent voters. Congress should listen to those sentiments.

Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, as well as Sens. Feinstein and Padlla, and tell them to publicly call on the Biden administration to question weapons sales such as the recent one to the Israeli government. Suggest they should support efforts to ensure that our weapons are not used anywhere in violation of international humanitarian law and U.S. laws on weapons transfers.

Keep a Promise: Return to the Iran Nuclear Deal

We recently passed the 100-day mark of Joe Biden's presidency and 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 100 days 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