Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Black Holes of Federal Spending

The elephant in the room that most seem blind to is our utter acceptance of a bloated and constantly expanding and UNAUDITED military budget. Even our Nobel Peace laureate President is not beyond offering up another increase in the current budget for our supposed ”defense.”
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The Project on Government Oversight called his budget a “Mardi Gras for Defense Contractors.” As President Eisenhower warned, the military-industrial complex has its tentacles wrapped tightly around the American psyche. They have managed to deploy a system where each state has some defense industry ties that every Senator feels obligated to support when threats of possible cuts are raised. Bringing home the bacon ensures a budget with plenty of fat.
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Perhaps nowhere is that needless fat more unhealthy than our nuclear weapons program. A 
2011 study estimates that the nine nuclear nations--U.S., Russia, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, China, Israel, and North Korea--collectively spend more than $100 million a year on nuclear weapons, with the U.S. alone accounting for more than half of that. The President’s budget proposal anticipates $1 trillion on nuclear weapons over the next 30 years.
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That's $1 trillion not spent on development, clean energy, health care, or education. It is hard to imagine effectively addressing other issues when such huge drains on our wealth are funneled towards such wasteful production, as the 
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has noted. Emeritus Professor of history Dr. Lawrence Wittner recently wrote on the History News Network, "Isn’t it rather odd that America’s largest single public expenditure scheduled for the coming decades has received no attention in the 2015-2016 presidential debates?"

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Prof. of International Law Dan Joyner recently discussed on the 
Arms Control Wonk blog the legal gaps that some argue allow the first use of nuclear weapons; only India and China have declared no first use. The hollowness of those arguments coupled with the costs of developing and maintaining these weapons of mass destruction make even holding them challengeable. The Union of Concerned Scientists has called for a renewed stigmatization of nuclear weapons.

Greg Foster, National Defense University professor, West Point graduate and decorated veteran of the Vietnam wrote a powerful critique of not only our 
nuclear weapons black hole but how civilian control of the military has become a fantasy and a crisis. 

   "The military remains the permanent keeper and executor of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal: an estimated 4,700 nuclear warheads on some 800 delivery systems, as well as another 2,340 ’retired’ but still intact and presumably usable warheads. A three-decade, trillion-dollar upgrade of this already monstrous arsenal is now underway. The Economist has called this Washington’s ’unkicked addiction.’ It should be clear, but apparently isn’t, that these are weapons of disuse. Other than for destroying the planet if used, their only value is as a measure of muscularity against mirror-image peers. They deter nothing at other levels of muscle-flexing but do feed an insatiable thirst for emulation among jealous non-possessors of such weaponry."

Even the pro-business Forbes highlights the ten Pentagon budget busters that could be eliminated or at least reduced. S.327 and H.R.942 the Audit the Pentagon Act would require the Pentagon to be audited like every other federal department.
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William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy adds much more fule to this concern in a recent posting "How Not to Audit the Pentagon: Five Decades Later the MIlitary Waste Machine is Running Full Speed Ahead.. This is a synopsis of a recent study he did that found $33 billion in waste from just 27 examples.

This should be a non-partisan concern – conservatives and liberals both voice support for cutting waste. Senators Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders are among the cosponsors. Rep. John Conyers is the only member of the Michigan Congressional delegation to cosponsor. Let’s let Senators Stabenow and Peters and our other supposedly thrifty representatives know it’s time to audit and cut the fat

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Time for a Leap?

Time for a leap, that was the message last night from Naomi Klein as she spoke at Michigan State University. 

In addressing both the seeming conflicting euphoria and dismay that followed the recent Paris Climate Agreement she summarized it as: on the Euphoria side that the world had agreed to a plan to keep climate change below 2 degrees Celsius, while aiming for 1.5 degrees, the figure that many scientists believe we could still adjust to. On the Dismay side of the equation is the simple fact that if you added up all the VOLUNTARY pledges of the nations at Paris to reduce their emissions, we won't make the 2.0 degree target, but rather will likely see a 4.0 degree rise. One might see this is an improvement over the 6.0 degree rise we could expect if we just keep on 'business as usual.' 

In last week's The Nation, Bill McKibben wrote about  Global Warming’s Terrifying New Chemistry where recent research from Harvard published in February found that the U.S.

     "is  leaking methane in massive quantities. Between 2002 and 2014, the data showed that US emissions increased by more than 30 percent, accounting for 30 to 60 percent of an enormous spike in methane in the entire planet's atmosphere."

McKibben also points out that recent research now suggests that EPA's old assumption that methane had 28 to 36 times more heating value than carbon dioxide looks woefully low, with the figure now looking between 86 to 105 times the potency over the next decade or two. Oh shit!!

In another recent review of the Paris Climate Agreement “Paris: Optimism, Pessimism, and Realism” from a British think tank they paint a dark picture and argue adding more emphasis on developing adaptations in a globally just way to survive the oncoming destabilized climate.

Driving home after the event last night and listening to the NPR show, On Point,  scientists were remarking on the newly released estimates for global sea rise - instead of 3 feet by 2100, we're now looking at 6 feet!!

After showing the trailer from the movie based on her  most recent book: This Changes Everything: Climate vs. Capitalism  Klein gave a brief flowing summary of  how she came to research and write it. The book shows how our current economic system is driving us towards the abyss. She interwove stories from places she visited around the world from the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, to the Tar Sands of Alberta, to the halls in Paris where activists from around globe came on the heals of the Paris terrorist attack to push governments to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But while she certainly didn't paint a rosy picture of our prospects, she is clearly moved by the global movement of people everywhere to make change. She concluded with a glimmer of hope she found most recently in efforts in her own home in Toronto.

Activists came together from across different segments of the community to raise and discuss a multitude of concerns. Over two days of difficult discussions emerged a consensus around some common ground. What emerged is the LEAP Manifesto. The name comes from both the fact that they were meeting in a leap year, and that what was required to steer clear of the abyss would require great leaps forward, not baby steps. And they must be made together. The need for face to face discussions to surface the fears and develop the alternatives.
 The LEAP Manifesto calls "for town hall meetings across the country where residents can gather to democratically define what a genuine leap to the next economy means in their communities."
The evidence is piling up that we'll need to make some big leaps soon.  I'm hoping people will grab a copy of Christian Felber's Change Everything: Creating an Economy for the Common Good. I gave my copy to Naomi Klein after dinner last night.