Defense Budget Not ‘Sacrosanct’ – Superb op-ed by NJ Peace Action’s Madelyn Hoffman in the Bloomfield Life

November 29, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

BY MADELYN HOFFMAN
GUEST COLUMNIST
Bloomfield Life

As the calendar propels us toward the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, there is no issue the U.S. Congress and President Obama will address more important for our states and our communities than the federal budget. If our elected officials can’t agree on a restructured budget before the end of 2012, an agreement reached under the Budget Control Act of 2011 will kick in:

* tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans initiated under George W. Bush will expire,

* tax rates on virtually everyone will increase, and

* automatic budget cuts will occur to hundreds of programs, including the military and Medicare

While some Congressional leaders fear this “fiscal cliff,” New Jersey Peace Action and our allies in Congress demand a fiscal showdown. We agree with retired Gen. Colin Powell. There is no rational reason why we can’t deal with the deficit if we cut the Pentagon budget saying “I don’t think the defense budget should be made sacrosanct.”

On a recent CNN State of the Union, Powell noted that when he was the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Dick Cheney was the Secretary of Defense, they presided over a 25 percent cut in the Pentagon budget. And still, today, the United States spends as much on war and weapons as the rest of the world combined.

We call on our elected officials to reject the agenda of “austerity” whose proponents consider the Pentagon budget and the taxes of the top 1 percent untouchable. Implementing this agenda will force most of us to pay the cost for an economic meltdown caused by Wall Street and the banks and by nearly $1.4 trillion in runaway military spending, including the expense of two lengthy wars. More jobs are created per dollar spent in almost any other sector except the military, so redirecting our spending from the military will put the country on a road to creating jobs while protecting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. None of these programs contributed a dime toward the deficit. Many low-to-moderate Americans paid into these programs and depend upon them for survival.

In addition, at a time when our need for fiscal responsibility has never been greater, we can also cut our nuclear weapons budget.

In mid-November, U.S. Rep. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Congressional leadership on the issue of nuclear weapons and the fiscal cliff. He writes:

…Unchecked spending on nuclear weapons threatens to push us over the fiscal cliff.  It imperils both our national and economic security. It makes us less safe by preventing investment in the systems that our soldiers need most. It jeopardizes our future by forcing cuts to programs that fund life-saving medical research, train teachers, and ensure seniors and the most vulnerable receive essential healthcare.

The Ploughshares Fund estimates that the U.S. is projected to spend more than $640 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next 10 years…

Cuts to nuclear weapons programs upwards of $100 billion over the next ten years are possible…Cut Minuteman missiles. Do not cut Medicare and Medicaid. Cut nuclear-armed B-52 and B-2 bombers. Do not cut Social Security. Invest in the research and education that will drive our future prosperity, not in weapons for a war [Cold War] we already won.

Congress must ensure that corporations and the super-rich pay their fair share of taxes. Congress can and must end the war and occupation of Afghanistan. Ending the war in Afghanistan and cutting funding for weapons even the military says it no longer needs would release enough money to eliminate all the states’ budget deficits, thus protecting the jobs of teachers, firefighters, police and other public employees.

Our elected officials need to restructure our economy so it is no longer dependent on wars and weapons and, instead, supports prosperous communities. Why not invest in renewable energy programs that both conserve resources and help slow down global warming? If we divert at least 25 percent of the military budget to community programs we can meet the growing demand for quality health care, housing and transportation as well as address the need for adequate supplies of food and clean water.

Join New Jersey Peace Action in contacting our U.S. senators and U.S. representatives about our priorities. It is important to raise our voices now as budget negotiations during this lame duck session continue. Congress last approved a budget in 1997. Every year since, our elected representatives have avoided confrontation around differing budget priorities by passing continuing resolutions and approving debt ceiling increases.

This year, let’s tell Congress to negotiate a fair deal that truly protects our communities without sending us over the fiscal cliff. The re-election of President Obama indicates that many Americans would support our approach and priorities.

Call U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg at 973-639-8700, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez at 973-645-3030, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell at 973-523-5152 and incoming U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. at 973-645-3213.

The writer is executive director of New Jersey Peace Action, based in Bloomfield.


Cut the Military Budget First

November 28, 2012

Let’s push the Pentagon off the fiscal cliff!

Well maybe that’s not a good metaphor. Regardless, in the nonsense about the “fiscal cliff” here in your nation’s capital, not enough scrutiny has been given to the gargantuan Pentagon budget, which is 57% of discretionary spending, has ballooned over the last decade, and is equal to the next 16 largest military budgets combined.

A few very good articles today aim to remedy that, and we’ll have more news soon on coalition efforts to cut Pentagon spending and actions you can take in support. Randy Schutt of Cleveland Peace Action posted the diary Cut Military Spending First on Daily Kos. David Rosman weighs in with Fiscal Cliff Debate Should Include Military and Social Spending in the Columbia Missourian. And Micah Zenko hoists Secretary of “Defense” Leon Panetta on his own petard with Offensive Maneuver: Why Does Leon Panetta hate Democracy in Foreign Policy.

Also, we’ll soon have a link for the Unified Security Budget which outlines specific Pentagon budget cuts.

We need a serious drumbeat here, since many in DC would love to use the phony “fiscal cliff” to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social spending while keeping the $1 trillion per year “national security” budget largely untouched. Please post other articles on cutting military spending and demand Pentagon cuts.


ACTION ALERT – SPEED U.S. WITHDRAWAL FROM AFGHANISTAN

November 27, 2012

According to Michael Gordon in the New York Times the Obama Administration is currently considering whether to keep anywhere from under 1,000 to over 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan past the end of 2014, which is supposed to mark the end of the U.S. war in that country. (Recent speculation had centered on as many as 25,000 troops, so these numbers are substantially lower.)

I’m sure you’ll agree the number should be as low as possible, but also that the 68,000 troops currently there should come home to the warm embrace of their families and friends much sooner than two years from now. The public is solidly in favor of ending this war as soon as possible, and more in Congress are finally getting the message, but more need to hear from us!

Please contact your Congressperson in support of a bipartisan letter to the president, initiated by longtime peace champions U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Walter Jones (R-NC), calling for “an accelerated withdrawal to bring to an end the decade-long war as soon as can safely and responsibly be accomplished.”

Forty-five Congressmembers have already signed on. If one of them is yours, please thank them and encourage them to lobby other members to support the Lee-Jones Bipartisan Letter to President Obama Urging an Accelerated End to the War in Afghanistan. Here are the 45:

Lee, Jones, McGovern, Adam Smith, Conyers, Grijalva, Kucinich, Woolsey, Holt, Rangel, Slaughter, DeFazio, Olver, Watt, Hanabusa, Rick Larsen, Campbell, Velazquez, Serrano, Sires, Honda, Rush, Loebsack, Lujan, Tsongas, Ellison, Barney Frank, Welch, Schakowsky, Blumenauer, Chu, Quigley, Christensen, John Lewis, Chris Murphy, Mike Thompson, Sarbanes, Markey, Towns, Richardson, Cohen, Farr, Waters, Nadler.

If your Member is not on this list, please call him or her now and encourage friends, family and colleagues to do the same by utilizing the tell-a-friend function on this action alert. You can call your Member via the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Please do it now, as the deadline for Members to sign on is the end of this week.

Here is the text of the letter to President Obama:

Dear President Obama:

Your military advisors will soon be providing you with a set of military options in Afghanistan.  We are writing to urge you to pursue a strategy in Afghanistan that best serves the interests of the American people and our brave troops on the ground.  That strategy is simple: an accelerated withdrawal to bring to an end the decade-long war as soon as can safely and responsibly be accomplished.

After 10 years and almost $600 billion, over 2,000 American lives, and 18,000 wounded – it is time to accelerate the transition to full Afghan control.  While NATO and Afghan National Security Forces have made considerable strides, no military strategy exists and morale has been undermined by the proliferation of “Green on Blue” attacks.  Sixty coalition soldiers have been killed this year alone by their Afghan allies. To quote a former Commandant of the Marine Corps, “when our friends turn out to be our enemy, it is time to pull the plug.”

This is one issue that overwhelmingly unifies Americans: the desire to bring the war in Afghanistan to an accelerated close.  Polls show over two-thirds of Americans, on a bipartisan basis, believe it is past time to end our combat role and bring the troops home.

We write to request that you respond to the consensus amongst military experts, diplomats, and the American people.  It is time to announce an accelerated transition of security responsibility to the Afghan government and to bring our troops home as soon as can be safely and responsibly accomplished.

Al Qaeda’s presence has been greatly diminished and Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to the United States.  There can be no military solution in Afghanistan.  It is past time for the United States to allow the Afghanistan government to assume responsibility for its own security.

While many of us would prefer an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan starting today, there is broad recognition that the primary objectives have been completed.  We also would like to remind you that any long term security agreement committing U.S. troops to the defense of Afghanistan must have congressional approval to be binding.  In addition, we would like to request a meeting to discuss these issues directly with you and your staff.

We look forward to working with you.


It’s Not About Obama, It’s About Us!

November 26, 2012

–Kevin Martin

I was asked by our colleagues at the French Peace Movement (Mouvement de la Paix) to write an article a couple of weeks ago for their excellent magazine Planete Paix on the outcome of the presidential election and what it will mean for our work in the next few years. Here it is, and it may appear in longer form somewhere else soon. I’d be interested in your comments!

Relief, rather than elation, was the emotion most U.S. peace activists felt November 6 when President Obama won re-election. While President Obama has been very disappointing on most peace issues (and right now most peace activists are furious at him for drone strikes killing civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and maybe other countries), Mitt Romney would have been awful as president. So what now to expect from a second Obama term?

Most likely, more of the same policies of the first term. Anyone expecting Obama to be decidedly more pro-peace than in his first term is likely to be sorely dispirited. However, there is a diverse, growing peoples’ movement in the U.S. linking human and environmental needs with a demand to end our wars and liberate the vast resources they consume. This, combined with difficult budgetary pressures (which should dictate at least modest cuts in the gargantuan Pentagon budget) could lead to serious restraints on possible militaristic policies such as an attack on Iran, “modernization” of the entire U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise at a cost of over $200 billion, a permanent U.S. force of 25,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 and an absurd military “pivot” toward the Asia-Pacific aimed at isolating Russia and especially China.

We in the peace movement need to be able to think, and act, with both a short- and long-term perspective. In the near term, swiftly ending the war in Afghanistan and ensuring no long-term U.S./NATO troop presence, ending drone strikes, preventing a war with Iran and building support for a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East, pushing for serious cuts to the Pentagon and advocating progress toward nuclear disarmament (including building new boycott/divestment campaigns utilizing the excellent International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons  “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” report) will consume most of our energies. Also, peace activists will build alliances with and lend solidarity to efforts to those working to save social programs and address climate chaos.

In the longer term (and looking through a broader lens), the U.S. is hopefully heading toward, in the analysis of Johann Galtung, “The Decline of the U.S. Empire and the Flowering of the U.S. Republic.” We need to understand and hasten that process as much as we can. We have an opportunity in opposing the outrageous “Asia-Pacific Pivot” (which the military-industrial complex has concocted, without asking the American people if we support or want to pay for it, as an obvious attempt the justify its continuing rasion d’etre), building solidarity with the peoples of Okinawa, Jeju Island, Guam, Hawaii and other nations in the region opposing the spread of U.S. militarism there and advocating peaceful relations with China and all in the region. Surely that is a better idea than trying to isolate China militarily, politically, economically and geo-strategically.

Contrary to the hopes many around the world invested in him (which he didn’t deserve and frankly he never asked for), it’s never been about Obama. It’s about the entrenched power of the U.S. war machine, and about how we the peoples of this country and around the world can work together to demand and create more peaceful and just policies.

 


Chicago Area Peace Action on Huffington Post yesterday on Do the Math Climate Crisis Tour

November 21, 2012

Great piece by Roxane Assaf of Chicago Area Peace Action on Huffington Post yesterday.

Fossile Fuel Fury: Climate change Activist Barnstorms Through 21 Towns Inciting Fiscal Revolution

If Noam Chomsky is right that there’s no way the ordinary citizen could possibly understand the threat of climate change by getting their news from mainstream media, no worries.  350.org‘s revered enviro-guru Bill McKibben makes housecalls.  Assuming McKibben gets his point across the way he hopes to, his sold-out barnstorming tour through 21 U.S. cities will come to be regarded as the historic beginning of a divestment campaign like the one that buckled apartheid South Africa.

2012-11-18-McKibbenDotheMathNYCNaomiKlein.jpgDo the Math New York City

On opening night of his “Do the Math” tour, one day after President Obama’s victory speech got its loudest applause at the mention of global warming, McKibben said backstage, “We’ve got to reduce the power of the fossil fuel industry.”  Do the Math was designed to “spark the movement that will begin to cut the power of this industry before they raise the temperature of the earth just too high for any of us to deal with.”

Writing for the Huffington Post, Tom Zeller lays out the terms of the impending crisis, but he notes that Washington isn’t doing much.  McKibben blames fossil fuels. “They’ve been able to block every significant piece of legislation in Washington for decades,” he said. “The fossil fuel industry has bought one party, and they’ve scared the other one.”

So local groups like Chicago Area Peace Action (CAPA), host of the Chicago engagement of Do the Math, is poised to carry the torch to its constituency. “The fossil fuel industry and its attendant power elite will not go quietly into the night,” said CAPA Board President David Borris.  “But a broad-based global social movement that we can and will be a part of has the power to move public policy and lead to a more just and sane energy policy that can sustain us far into the future.”

Taking their cues not only from McKibben’s acclaimed Rolling Stone article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” but also from author/activist Naomi Klein’s piece in the Nation “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” CAPA members are prepared for a battle to win minds.  CAPA’s Michael Lynn said he wants to be “a prophet of the social transformation necessary to move from a consumer society to a sustainable one.”

But is anybody listening?

Chomsky asserts that as long as the news is framed in such a way that climate-change denialists like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin get equal time with climate scientists, the public is fed an illusion that there’s an authentic argument pro and con.  Such news-crafting shields people from the vast scientific consensus proving that the course we’re on does indeed spell the end of life on earth as we know it.

Nevertheless, HuffPost’s Alana Horowitz reported the November 2012 results of a Rasmussen poll finding that 68% of likely voters in the US do believe global warming to be a serious problem.  Furthermore, McKibben’s focus on student activism using the apartheid model has already proven well placed, as the trustees of Unity College in Maine have voted to divest that school’s endowment of all stock in the fossil fuel industry.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu would be proud.  And he is.  He appears on the 350.org site as a boisterous endorser, as do Naomi Klein, Josh Fox and Rev. Lennox Yearwood.  Other notables keeping the drumbeat steady are Obama’s former specialist on green jobs Van Jones and actor/activist John Cusack who both use Twitter to combat climate skeptics and raise awareness.

Does Obama care?

“The real first test for the president is going to come when he decides whether or not to approve the Keystone pipeline,” McKibben said of the plan to complete a crude oil delivery system between Canada and U.S. destinations from Illinois to Texas.  “He put it off for a year, and that year has seen the warmest year in American history.  It has seen the catastrophic melt of the Arctic.  It’s seen epic drought across the Midwest.  And it saw a storm so powerful that it flooded our greatest city.”

In light of all that, McKibben said he couldn’t imagine the president agreeing to “a giant straw stuck into that toxic milkshake up there.”


Stop the Israel/Gaza Violence

November 20, 2012

Once again, our tax dollars are at work as Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza escalates, including a potential ground invasion. The violence on both sides must end, including the rocket launches from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilians. We mourn the dead on both sides (MSNBC reports this morning 95 dead in Gaza, including 24 children, with three Israelis also dead.)

As U.S. taxpayers, we must speak out against the asymmetrical attack by Israel enabled by the annual $4 billion in U.S. military aid. As is the norm in these situations, U.S. weaponry is almost surely being used illegally by Israel (in violation of the Arms Export Control Act as well as international humanitarian law) against civilians living under a de facto blockade in Gaza.

Please take action:

Call the White House at 202-456-1111 and the State Department at 202-647-6575.

·     Demand that the U.S. exert immediate pressure on Israel to end its violent aggression;

·     Demand that Israel immediately lift its illegal blockade and siege of Gaza

·     Demand the U.S. exert diplomatic pressure on Israel for an immediate cease-fire and initiate an investigation into Israel’s misuse of U.S. weapons to commit human rights abuses of Palestinians.

If you voted for President Obama, I don’t think it would hurt to note that in your call.

Sen. John McCain has called for former President Bill Clinton to be appointed as a peace envoy to help end this conflict, which is not a bad idea in terms of bringing someone with prestige into the picture (former President Jimmy Carter might even be better but we won’t quibble).

This is surely a terrible humanitarian crisis, but also perhaps an opportunity to seek not just a cease fire, but an end to the blockade of Gaza and a way forward toward a just and lasting peace for both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.

Other resources from colleagues of Peace Action:

Statement by American Friends Service Committee (Quakers)http://afsc.org/story/afsc-calls-immediate-end-violence-gaza-and-israel

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Commiteehttp://www.adc.org/media/press-releases/2012/november-2012/take-action-help-gaza/

U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupationhttp://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=2948

Jewish Voice for Peacehttp://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/campaigns/take-action-for-gaza

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action


Thanks to Veterans Who Struggle for Peace – Please Add Your Favorite Veterans to This List

November 9, 2012

 

Veterans Day, also Remembrance Day and Armistice Day, is this Sunday, with the Monday holiday observance. The mainstream message we usually hear is thanks to veterans and to troops serving now for “protecting our freedoms” or something along those lines, which as a peace activist gives me pause. Of course I respect and honor the sacrifice of those who serve in the military, but “protecting our freedoms” is, and has often been, more honestly “projecting U.S. power abroad” or “overthrowing governments we don’t like in favor of corporate interests” or “killing an awful lot of people for absolutely no good reason.”

 

So, when I think of the veterans I cherish and respect, it is mostly those who have dedicated themselves to the struggle for peace and social justice because they’ve seen firsthand the horror, futility, waste and stupidity of war. Here are some of my favorite vets, please add yours to the list:

 

My Dad, Paul Martin (Air Force, radio technician, lucky for him and for me, he served in between the Korean and Vietnam Wars)

 

My Uncle, Randall Quinn, who just passed away two weeks ago. His time as a pilot in the Air Force led to his career as a commercial airline pilot and a lifelong love of flying. Neither my Dad nor my Uncle ever romanticized their time in the service, and they never tried to recruit my brothers or me to the military, for which I was and am grateful.

 

My Cousin, Ted Lyon, US Army (luckily he never saw combat)

 

Howard Zinn, WW II

 

Kurt Vonnegut, WW II

 

Lester Schlossberg, WW II, decorated in the European theater and devout opponent of war thereafter

 

Bob Cleland, WW II, decorated in Pacific theater. Bob was on a troop ship to Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He didn’t take the position that “the A-Bomb saved his life,” he dedicated his life to peace and nuclear disarmament.

 

Lane Evans, former US Congress Member from Illinois and one of the most pro-peace members of Congress when he served from 1983-2007. Vietnam era vet (never saw combat, was a Marine supply sergeant in the Pacific)

 

David Cortright, Vietnam era vet and rabble rouser – his book, Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance in the Vietnam War is a must read regarding the anti-war movement of soldiers in the ‘60s, which he helped lead

 

Barry Romo, Vietnam vet and leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a smart and tireless advocate for peace and for veterans, and an awfully sweet man

 

Ray Parrish, Vietnam vet who dedicated himself to “counter-recruitment” and counseling vets and prospective recruits on conscientious objection and other issues

 

Admiral Eugene Carroll, one of the nicest men one could ever hope to meet, and a terrific analyst of US military policy

 

General Robert Gard, one of the best retired military leaders we have today in terms of advocating more peaceful and sane policies

 

Eric Swanson, our Database Manager here at Peace Action since the mid-90’s

 

Gregory McDonald, Iraq vet (Marine) who volunteered at Peace Action in 2002 before the war started. He was against the war but thought he had to go, that he couldn’t let down the others in his unit. He wanted to learn Arabic, gain some experience in the region, and help bring peace to the Middle East. I and others tried to counsel him to declare conscientious objector status, but he couldn’t see his way clear to do that. He died in Iraq in a vehicle accident.

 

Michael McPhearson, first Iraq War, formerly of Veterans for Peace, now with United for Peace and Justice, a steadfast, patient, wise and gentle leader, a healer, a builder

 

Erik Gustafson, first Iraq War, tireless advocate for peace and reconciliation with and for the people of Iraq

 

Will Hopkins, Iraq vet, Director of New Hampshire Peace Action, who speaks so clearly and convincingly of the horrors he saw and participated in in Fallujah, Iraq, and how peace activism became his calling and his home

 

John Heuer of North Carolina Peace Action, a great movement builder

 

Maggie Martin, Iraq vet, a leader of Veterans for Peace and for the movement on the right to heal for returning soldiers

 

Aaron Hughes, Iraq vet, a strong leader in Iraq Veterans Against the War, one of the main organizers of the moving and powerful veterans demonstration at last May’s NATO Summit in Chicago, where dozens of veterans of the “Global War on Terror” threw away their service medals

 

Ellen Barfield, a veteran with a tireless commitment to nonviolence and alliance building

 

Matt Southworth, Iraq vet, now with the Friends Committee on National Legislation

 

Bradley Manning, in prison for trying to help tell the truth about our awful wars

 

And lastly, a non-veteran but someone who works to help heal veterans, my brother, Kris Martin, a psychologist at the VA hospital in the Bronx (meaning unfortunately he has a job for life, with all of the psychological trauma we’ve inflicted on our veterans from our endless war-making)

 

I’m sure I’ve left some folks out, for which I’m sorry.

 

Who are your favorite veterans you are thankful for? We’ll need to do another list of those who went to jail to resist war, won’t we? They deserve our thanks every bit as much.


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