Thursday, June 10, 2010

Odds and Ends from Around the World

Streamlining The Pentagon

In the last 10 years, the defense budget has nearly doubled to $549 billion, an increase of $252 billion, or 85 percent. Even controlled for inflation, the real growth amounts to nearly 50 percent -- about 5 percent a year in real terms. Although in real terms baseline defense spending is now higher than at the height of the Reagan buildup, and total defense spending now exceeds what we spent any time since World War II, the Obama administration projects continuing real increases in the baseline defense budget (although smaller than the past 13 years). Recognizing that the faltering national economy and surging U.S. debt will mean smaller increases in the defense budget going forward, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has led an effort since President Obama took office to cut expensive and unnecessary weapons programs designed to fight bygone enemies and rein in the bloated Pentagon bureaucracy. "The gusher has been turned off," Gates said last month at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. "And it will stay off for a good period of time." Gates has proposed much-needed cuts that would help reduce the deficit, make the military operate more efficiently, and better prioritize America's national security needs for the 21st century. But as the Washington Post noted, "Gates is hardly the first defense secretary" to try to overhaul the Pentagon, only to have his agenda stymied by federal lawmakers who want to keep defense pork in their districts. For example, the House passed its $567 billion defense authorization bill last month, which included a second engine for the F-35 that the Pentagon doesn't want. Gates has decided to stay on at the Pentagon until the end of this calendar year to pursue this efficiency campaign, but he now will need the resolve to follow through. To accomplish this, the Center for American Progress (CAP) has proposed a "unified national security budget encompassing defense, diplomacy, and development." The unified budget would compile funding across various federal departments so that priorities could better be compared and resources better allocated by taking funds from the Department of Defense budget and putting them into under-funded services like the Coast Guard and agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development. Gates' ability to rein in spending is being tested now as the full Senate prepares to take up its own version of the defense authorization bill.

CUTTING THE WASTE: Last year, Gates proposed "the most sweeping changes in military spending priorities in decades," calling for cuts to several over-budget and unnecessary weapons programs to free up funds for counterinsurgency operations, an effort which he and Obama have continued fighting for. Gates called to end to production of the F-22, saying that any more than the Air Force's current fleet of 187 planes was "unnecessary." He also took an axe to the Army's Future Combat System (FCS), a multisystem modernization program. "[I]t turns out, just about every assumption the Army had about its future was wrong," the Danger Room reported of the FCS. The program was designed to fight other super powers, not counterinsurgencies like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates also took aim at missile defense, calling for an end to the Airborne Laser (ABL) program, which uses 747s mounted with giant laser beams to supposedly shoot down missiles, but has only been successfully tested once. "I don't know anybody at the Department of Defense who thinks that this program should, or would, ever be operationally deployed," Gates told Congress last year referring to the ABL. More recently, Gates has taken on the Pentagon's bloated, "barnacled, byzantine" bureaucracy, aiming to save $15 billion in wasteful spending. "Under Gates's plan, the billions taken from the Pentagon's vast administrative bureaucracy would be used to pay for weapons modernization programs and the overall fighting force in Iraq and Afghanistan," the Washington Post noted. Gates has also set his sights on the Navy, saying, "Do we really need eleven [aircraft] carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?"

DEFENDERS OF WASTE: One would think that during a time of soaring deficits and anemic tax revenues, Congress would happily cut any programs federal agencies say they don't need. And as the Lexington Institute's Loren Thompsen and CAP's Lawrence Korb have pointed out, the Pentagon's opposition to the F-35's second engine is absolutely on target. Gates has opposed the program since 2006, spoken out against it on numerous occasions, and even called on Obama to veto the entire defense authorization bill if it includes the $485 million that some congressmen want to fund the engine for the next year alone. Gates has warned "every dollar additional to the budget that we have to put into the F-35 is a dollar taken from something else that the troops may need." Nonetheless, the House Armed Services Committee and the full House "overruled the Pentagon" last month for the fourth time since 2006 and voted to continue funding the extra engine. An amendment stripping the engine funding from the defense authorization bill failed in the House by a 193-231 vote. Even lawmakers who fancy themselves to be fiscal conservatives, such as Reps. Mike Pence (R-IN) and Eric Cantor (R-VA), support the "costly and unnecessary" extra engine. Rolls Royce, which would manufacture the extra engine, is headquartered in Cantor's state of Virginia and is the second-largest employer in Pence's Indiana. To its credit, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to cut funding for the extra engine, but now 75 lobbyists from no fewer than 13 different firms, plus "each contractor's in-house lobbyists," are engaged in the battle to save the engine before the full Senate vote. Unfortunately, the F-35 extra engine is only one, though perhaps the most egregious, example of congressmen putting their parochial and personal interests over what is best for the entire country and the military. The Pentagon's FY2011 request for missile defense amounted to $ 9.9 billion -- already up several hundred million dollars over 2010 -- but the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to give the agency $10.2 billion, while the House voted to give it $10.3 billion. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has said they have more than enough C-17 cargo planes, yet the House voted to procure more. Gates has explicitly called new C-17s unnecessary and recommended that Obama veto a bill that contains funding for new ones. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), however, apparently knows better than the Secretary of Defense, saying, "The additional C-17 transports we're procuring will greatly improve our strategic mobility." Meanwhile, the Airborne Laser program that Gates intended to cut was awarded a $40 million contract.

NEEDED INVESTMENT: As CAP pointed out in "Building a Military for the 21st Century," while there is certainly plenty of necessary savings to be found in American defense spending, there are some areas that need investment as well. One example that stands out in light of the Gulf oil spill is the Coast Guard. The Guard -- which is housed in the Department of Homeland Security, not Defense, and thus has to compete with 22 other agencies for funding -- has a FY2011 budget of only only $10.1 billion. That's less than the proposed amount of spending on missile defense in next year, and is dwarfed by the Navy's $160 billion budget. Former commandant Adm. Thad Allen, who is now heading the BP spill response, said the Coast Guard's outdated fleet is "putting our crews at risk, jeopardizing the ability to do our job." As CAP's Korb and Sean Duggan wrote in the New York Times, "The solution is simple: we need a unified national security budget. That would let lawmakers see that, for example, the F-35 Joint Strike projected to consume more money than the entire Coast Guard in 2011." "Such inefficiencies and disparities are obvious when compared directly," they continued, "but they get blurred when the Coast Guard and the other services are considered under different budgets and by different sets of Congressional committees."

Four SOA Watch Activists Incarcerated:
You can jail the resister, but you can't jail the resistance!

While our friends Nancy, Ken, Louis and Michael - the 'SOAW 4' - are spending their days in prison for speaking out against the SOA, those responsible for the training of human rights abusers and for the use of torture manuals at the SOA have never even been investigated.

Letters of support written to Nancy, Ken, Louis and Michael would be much appreciated and can be sent to the following addresses:

Nancy GwinNancy Gwin #94046-020
FCI Danbury
Federal Correctional Institution
Route 37
Danbury, CT 06811

Kenneth Wayne Hayes #94045-020Ken Hayes
FCI Fort Worth
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 15330
Fort Worth, TX 76119

Louis VitaleLouis Vitale #25803-048 FCI Lompoc
Federal Correctional Institution
3600 Guard Road
Lompoc, CA 93436

Mike WalliMichael Walli
c/o SOA Watch
PO Box 4566
Washington, DC 20017

The 'SOAW 4' were arrested by the military during the 2009 November Vigil, when they crossed onto Fort Benning to carry our message that the School of the Americas must be closed onto the base.

Ken, Louis and Nancy were sentenced to six months in prison - the maximum allowed for the charge of tresspass. The extremely harsh sentences are intended to deter others from following the example of the 'SOAW 4.' Michael, who resisted the judges orders to voluntarily return to Columbus for the court date in January, was arrested by federal marshals and is awaiting his June 14, 2010 trial (9am, at the federal courthouse in Columbus, Georgia) while in jail in Georgia.
They are in there for us, we are out here for them! Write to the Prisoners of Conscience!

Consider engaging in nonviolent direct action:
Keep the pressure on! People who put their bodies on the line to speak in solidarity with the people of Latin America are crucial in the struggle to close the SOA/ WHINSEC.

Stand up for justice at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia in November:


With the world's attention on the blockade of Gaza, more and more people are finally starting to understand the extent of the suffering there – but for ANERA, this human tragedy is not new. We have been with the families as they suffered since the blockade was started three years ago today.

Having visited thirteen times since 2007, I can tell you that families are struggling more and more in Gaza every day and that includes ANERA's Gaza staff.

They are 17 dedicated people, born and raised in Gaza, who we rely on to deliver support to their community. Today, I'd like to introduce you to one of them.

Rania joined ANERA's staff after graduating from the University of Colorado Journalism Department. She put together a brief video this past Tuesday, June 8, to give a glimpse of Gaza now.

Click here to watch Rania's video report.

Three years of blockade have deprived 1.5 million men, women and children of the tools they need to rebuild and survive. It has caused suffering, sickness and death for innocent families. We are one of the few organizations able to deliver donated medicine and other supplies into Gaza, but our work needs to touch more lives.

Whenever I return from the Middle East, I wish that people everywhere could see with their own eyes the dilemma of innocent families there. I hope that Rania's video helps you and your friends see the importance of our work.

Please watch the video and share it with friends and family.

Your kindness and dedication have helped us change lives. I'm very thankful for your ongoing support for families in Gaza and throughout the Middle East. Together we are making a difference.



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