Military Budget – Misplaced Priorities
Very soon, perhaps even this Thursday, Congress will be voting on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA is a massive spending authorization of nearly $700 billion, authorizing funding for a broad swath of the U.S. military. Every year there are dozens of amendments introduced to it the NDAA. This year, there are a number of important ones related to the bloated size of the Pentagon and reigning in U.S. military actions abroad. Here are a few that are particularly important and need our help to pass.
1) Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) has introduced an amendment to cut the Pentagon’s bloated budget by roughly $6 billion.
2) Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (N-NC) have introduced an amendment which gives Congress the opportunity to block any increase of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.
3) Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) has introduced an amendment to curb U.S. involvement in Saudi Arabia’s devastating war with Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition relies on the U.S. for mid-air refueling of its aircraft, and this amendment ends that support.
With so much to dislike about these spending priorities, it behooves activists to weigh in on the NDAA.
Action: Contact Reps. Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo, and tell them to support the three amendments above to the NDAA. Suggest that wasteful and excessive military spending, unwinnable wars and supporting aggression in areas like the Middle East should not be a priority, compared with education, alternative energy, real infrastructure repair and other day-to-day needs.
An End to Endless War?
“Congress may finally be getting fed up with war on autopilot.” Thus began a recent article in Politico describing the somewhat surprising adoption last month, by a voice vote by the House Appropriations Committee, of East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee’s amendment to repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Having cast the lone vote against that authorization shortly after 9/11, Lee had made a crusade out of reversing it and giving the power to declare war back to Congress as constitutionally mandated.
In the hands of the Executive branch, the effects of the AUMF have been dubious. “The 2001 AUMF is the reason the U.S. has been involved in military campaigns in at least seven countries,” wrote Peace Action Executive Director Jon Rainwater. “It’s the reason we’ve allowed the war in Afghanistan to become America’s longest war. It’s the reason a whole generation has grown up not knowing a time without war.” Indeed, its continuation could pave the way for even more military action in Syria.
Eventually there could be a welcome debate on the Defense Appropriations bill, of which this amendment is now a part, and it could even wind up in the Defense Authorization bill (see above). Some close to the proceedings think that during the 240-day period before it goes into effect, Congress could hammer out another AUMF more tailored to the present. But for now the best news is the chance for this repeal to become law.
Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo, as well as both Sens. Feinstein and Harris, and tell them to speak in favor of repealing the 2001 AUMF, and making that amendment part of both the Defense Appropriations and Authorization bills. Suggest that it is time for Congress to assume its proper role in deciding to wage war…especially with the person now in the White House to whom such decisions are now available to make.
Stop Spying On Us
An important provision of the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments Act is scheduled to sunset at the end of the year. Section 702 of this law authorizes intelligence agencies such as the FBI and NSA to scan in bulk phone calls, text messages and emails traveling across the internet. While this information sweep is supposedly meant just for people outside the U.S., Americans’ communications become part of the data – without a warrant or any particular suspicion of wrongdoing.
Members of Congress from both major parties have shown interest in removing Section 702…a big reason may be that they are also targets of such surveillance as well as everyday people. In fact, it’s conceivable that, under this section, internet communication data from every American has been collected.
But Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton is not so phased, and introduced a bill that would prevent the sunset of Section 702 and permanently reauthorize this provision of invasive surveillance. This would allow companies like Booz Allen (the former employer of Edward Snowden, who first told us about Section 702), Lockheed Martin and Leidos to reap government contracts for the surveillance.
On the other hand, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard introduced H.R.2588, the Preventing Unconstitutional Collection Act, which targets Section702. Thus the House has a chance to accomplish in a different way what the Senate is also attempting.
Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and Harris, and tell them to oppose Sen. Cotton’s bill to perpetuate Section 702 as part of the FISA Amendments Act. Likewise reach out to Reps. Speier or Eshoo, and urge their support for H.R. 2588. Suggest that we don’t need or want the FBI and NSA sweeping up all of our personal online information; to do so is a violation of the 4th Amendment protecting us from unreasonable searches.
Whose Finger on the Button?
The current U.S. policy that threatens the first use of nuclear weapons has always been controversial; in these times it’s a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Even military leaders who have been in charge of our nuclear forces, such as General James E. Cartwright, argue that there is no need for such a policy that cannot be addressed by economic, diplomatic and conventional tools. And of course, should the United States ever launch a nuclear first strike, the risks of catastrophic escalation would be great. If one nuclear attack led to others, a nuclear winter could ensue, risking billions of casualties and any number of global crises.
Maintaining this first-use policy, especially when the decision of whether to carry it out is left in the hands of one person – in our case, the President – encourages other nations to pursue advanced nuclear weapons in order to deter a potential U.S. first strike…which in turn increases the chance of an unintended nuclear war. The current resident of the White House, and the manner in which he has so far done his job, brings new significance to the notion that no president should be able to unilaterally launch a nuclear first strike.
In January California Rep. Ted Lieu and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey introduced corresponding bills in the House and Senate, entitled the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. This legislation – H.R. 669 in the House and S. 200 in the Senate – would prohibit a President from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. In a government that thrives under a system of checks and balances, the bills would seem to be the ultimate “check” in favor of our survival. While nuclear weapons should never be used under any circumstances, the bills are a move in the right direction to prevent what amounts to what has been called a “thermonuclear monarchy”.
Action: Contact Rep. Jackie Speier to thank her for co-sponsoring H.R. 669, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. Rep. Anna Eshoo has not yet co-sponsored, so her constituents can tell her to sign on. Likewise contact Sen. Kamala Harris and tell her to add her name to the corresponding S. 200. Suggest this is a long-overdue bill, but especially timely during the present administration. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has signed on in the Senate, so feel free to also thank her.
Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121
Senator Kamala Harris
50 United Nations Plaza, Ste 5584 San Francisco, CA 94102
(916) 448-2787 FAX: (202) 228-3865
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. Department of State:
(202)647-6575 FAX: (202)647-2283