Today, Brave New Foundation released a short video documenting religious leaders coming out against the use of Just War Theory to defend President Obama’s drone policy.
Franciscan Friar Joe Nangle said it well:
“How can we hold our heads high when remote-controlled, killer aircraft like drones are raining death and destruction on populations half a world away from our borders, on women, men and children who pose no threat to our safety and well-being.”
Rev. Dr. Paul F.M. Zahl said “The use of remote-controlled drones to assassinate targeted persons without charge, trial, or even at least the chance to surrender is about as un-Christian a maneuver as I can imagine.”
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Rev. Graylan, Bishop Gumbleton, Franciscan Friar Joe Nangle, Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, and Rev. Dr. Paul F. M. Zahl come together to explain that Just War Theory cannot be used to justify the use of drones.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Professor of Theology at the Chicago Theological Seminary said:
“There are too many questions concerning the continuing authority for a ‘War on Terror,’ to the protection of civilians, to the lack of transparency about the program, to call this Just War. Drones are particularly dangerous as they tempt us, as well as other nations, to consider war ‘easy’ and ‘cheap.’ The age of drones, unless checked, will be an age of permanent war.”
During this time of rebirth and renewal, these religious leaders remind us that we must strongly consider how our government conducts itself on behalf of our nation at home and abroad.
Sean Dunagan went to Monterrey, Mexico, to crack down on drugs. As an intelligence analyst for the Drug Enforcement Administration, he wanted to bring down the cartels and other trafficking organizations. He brought his family with him because Monterrey seemed like a peaceful, vibrant place to live. But things changed.
Sean saw that the drug war he was fighting was actually fueling more and more violence, creating the same kind of nasty black market that existed under Prohibition. Monterrey got overrun. Beheadings, extortion, kidnappings—they became part of daily life due to drugs being illegal instead of regulated and controlled. Today, Sean knows that the solution to the violence lies in ending, not escalating, the War on Drugs.
If the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee – and a member of Congress – claims unfamiliarity with possibly the major plank of U.S. drone policy, as Debbie Wasserman-Schultz did last week when asked about President Obama’s “kill list” of those open for assassination based on U.S. intelligence, then what makes anyone believe the average American voter has a grasp on the killing done in their name in the likes of Pakistan and Yemen?
This is the question Bob Schieffer, longtime journalist and host of CBS’s Face the Nation, must ask himself ahead of the foreign policy (and final) presidential debate he will moderate Monday evening. He has an opportunity – and, arguably, a duty – to pose serious questions about a secretive, life-and-death U.S. government policy in front of tens of millions watching the two presidential candidates weeks before they go to the polls. The first two presidential debates had 67.2 million and 65.6 million viewers, respectively, meaning Monday’s debate would likely be the largest American audience to all at once pay attention to the subject of U.S. drones strikes that are done in their name. That is, if Schieffer dares press the candidates on what may very well be the most ominous power a president has: choosing who to kill.
The numerous legal, ethical and tactical questions about America’s use of drone strikes overseas – which the Obama administration justifies by pointing to the 2001 authorization of military force against perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks – are enough to warrant the candidates’ full views on how they would use drones in the next four years and how they view said litany of concerns over the policy. (Just Foreign Policy’s Robert Naiman has summarized the issues well.) The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has counted as many as 884 civilian deaths – including 176 children – in Pakistan alone as a result of U.S. drone use, which counters the government’s claims that drones are a precise tool that allows for minimum “collateral damage.” And a recent report by researchers at Stanford and NYU found strong evidence of “double tapping,” or drones firing on civilian rescuers following an initial strike on certain targets, in Pakistan.
That President Obama has a “kill list,” revealed by the New York Times earlier this year, is one of the most shocking, revealing parts of the drone policy. The “kill list,” sans due process or any real judicial or congressional oversight, is comprised of individuals the Obama administration has deemed terrorists worthy of assassination, usually by way of a CIA drone strike. Needless to say, this “kill list” has been the subject of much debate, though the U.S. government does not officially acknowledge the CIA’s drone program, much less share results of its strikes with the public.
So what about a top government official like Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee? One would assume she’s heard of the “kill list” at the very least. She may not speak ill of her party’s leader and president that uses such power, but she has to have heard of this controversial policy, right? Independent journalist Luke Rudkowski recently asked the chairwoman about the prospect of Mitt Romney, if elected president, using this authority Obama has claimed. Wasserman-Schultz, who is presumably an expert at deflecting reporters’ questions given she’s the DNC chair, treats the question as if it were a far-flung conspiracy theory, claiming she’s never heard of any “kill list.”
Others have commented on how remarkable this admission – or arrogance — was coming from a top official. Whether she truly does not know what the “kill list” is or she believes she can get away with lying about not knowing, either way it signals an overall lack of broad, nationwide familiarity with America’s drones strikes and the deep questions and implications that linger.
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) reports the topics for Monday’s debate include “America’s Role in the World,” “The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism,” and “Our Longest War—Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Drone use falls into all three categories. CPD claims part of its mission is to offer “the best possible information to viewers and listeners.”
For his part, surely Schieffer, as a reporter like Rudkowski, aims to inform the public on what they need to know to make such an important decision. Schieffer told TV Guide in one of his few comments about the debate he will moderate that being picked for such important role is “one of those things that makes me say, ‘Boy, I’m glad I’m a reporter.’”
Mr. Schieffer, what better way to live up to a high journalistic standard than to press Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on how they will or will not wield the power of judge, jury and executioner the next four years?
For more on drones, watch War Costs’ video accompaniment of the Stanford/NYU report, “Living Under Drones,” below. Visit War Costs on Facebook and Twitter.
In the wake of Mitt Romney’s griping that 47% of the country is mooching off rich folks like him, Charles and David Koch are now suggesting that they, too, are victims.
The billionaire Koch brothers and their aptly-named political strategist Rich Fink spoke publicly about the family’s agenda in the The Wichita Eagle this weekend. They insist that they’re the ones under attack in America. Sure, the Kochs have $62 billion and seven homes. And yes, their combined wealth has just about doubled under Obama. And there are now reports of intimidation at Koch Industries for employees who dare speak out against the brothers’ politics.
No matter: the world is lined up against these unfortunate souls. The corruption and machinations detailed in our film Koch Brothers Exposed are, apparently, child’s play compared to the nerve-wracking obstacles these guys face.
Here’s Charles Koch, lamenting that Obama consultant David Axelrod called out the brothers’ massive investment in policies that promote themselves:
When you have Axelrod, one of [Obama's] top campaign officials, saying we are contract killers—I mean, I don’t know how somebody in the administration can say that about a private citizen. It’s frightening because you don’t know what they’re going to do. They have tremendous power. They can destroy just about anybody, whether you are totally innocent or not.
And here’s David Koch:
[Obama's] criticism can stimulate a lot of anger and dislike toward us. So there’s a huge security concern.
We’re just besieged day and night with attacks and the more visible we are, and the more we’ve done, the more attacks we get.
Not that he expected anything less; he had warned the brothers from the outset that if they became major political players, “You guys will possibly risk the businesses that you have built and your family legacy, and there’s going to be a lot of fallback [sic] from this.”
Yes, the Kochs have so risked their livelihoods that their wealth has ballooned by tens of billions of dollars in the last couple of years.
Indeed, Fink goes so far as to say the the brothers are “just like the…American revolutionaries” in that they believe they need to “stand up and fight to save the country.” “Otherwise,” he says, “we have lost it.”
Not that America should be the Kochs’ to lose. Although they have thrown around truly massive sums to influence this election, the power in a democracy is supposed to reside in organized people, not organized money. The fact that the Kochs are able to wield such outsized influence is itself a reflection of how far this nation has strayed from its founding ideal of equal opportunity. The case we make in Koch Brothers Exposed is that Americans need to organize, organize, and organize some more to bring that ideal back.
Even if it hurts the Koch brothers’ feelings.
Correction: Originally, this post incorrectly attributed the Koch and Fink quotations to the Kansas City Star. The story actually appeared in The Wichita Eagle. This post has been updated accordingly.
Sunday, October 7, marks the 11th anniversary of the Afghanistan war, now the longest war in U.S. history. This date provides an opportunity to take stock of what a tragic calamity this war is over a decade after its start, and to examine, once again, why military solutions are not effective in solving deep, systemic complexities of a country like Afghanistan.
Most immediately, the conditions look more dire than ever. The failed troop surge that started in 2009 is over. America officials are giving up hope for reconciliation with the Taliban. More Americans and NATO soldiers are dying from rising insider attacks at the hands of Afghan soldiers, leading to talk of a possible early NATO withdrawal. The arbitrary exit date from Afghanistan is still set for the end of 2014, though no one in Washington can explain the plan for a gradual drawdown or really any strategy for ending the war at this point.
Long term, the numbers of dead, wounded and dollars allocated as a result of this war are staggering:
- At least $55 billion in estimated veteran health care costs ahead, as thousands of vets continue to wait for benefits to materialize
President Obama, members of Congress and Pentagon officials can posture about the sacrifices of troops in this war and how we all must support them now more than ever. Such declarations are an insult to anyone who was sent to this quagmire and now must deal with what is too often the shattered wreckage that is post-war life. What do veterans get when they come back from war? The backend of a 800,000-plus backlog of other veterans waiting for disability benefits; the average wait for a response to a disability claim is about 260 days. In addition, the rates of military suicides, homelessness and unemployment are all at or near record highs. It’s tragic what many veterans face upon return. If government officials put as much effort into caring for troops’ well-being after returning from wars as they do for exploiting them before and during combat, these problems may not be so monumental.
As Americans, now is the time to drive home the point with our elected and military officials that throwing troops and cash at historically complicated, troubled areas of the world, like Afghanistan, is not the answer. It has failed time and again.
This goes without mentioning the trillions spent in the last decade on this war and another failed military adventure, the Iraq war. As America’s economy, infrastructure and general welfare of its citizens rapidly declines, how can we not point to flippant war making and profligate Pentagon spending as primary culprits? What about needs at home? Instead of more overseas exploits, officials need to realize our own country is in desperate need of the attention and resources they have squandered this past decade.
Poll after poll signals a complete loss of appetite among the American public for much more of this war. Long ago, American officials decided they need not heed the will of the electorate when it comes to sustained, reckless use of military force.
So what now as we wait for 2014? Those in the halls of power who desperately seek a camera and microphone to offer more empty platitudes will get their way. Afghan civilians will go about their lives, as they’ve seen invading empires come and go, unable to control the region, for centuries. Troops will continue to follow aimless orders. More anger and frustration in Afghanistan will build, meaning more civilians and troops will die.
We as the American public have a choice beyond voicing our disapproval to pollsters. We can elect candidates who have learned lessons from the last decade and are not so quick to try and solve complex international problems with invasions, occupations and drone strikes. We can realize that if we want to bring this thing to an end, we have speak up and mobilize. This is unacceptable, for the Afghan people, for all troops asked to die so a few can control the world, to the families of those who won’t come home, to all Americans that feel the effects of a country more dedicated to war than its people.
The Koch brothers have surprised many of us with a newfound penchant for the public spotlight, yet one can’t help but wonder whether it’s all just a public relations effort to soften the perception of their political machinations. Perhaps in an ongoing effort to appear less…evil?…the Koch brothers have just given us two statements of staggering hypocrisy.
David Koch (Image: Donkey Hotey / Flickr)
Charles Koch, a poster boy for crony capitalism, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday entitled “Corporate Cronyism Harms America.” The piece contains the following sentence, among many other doozies: “To end cronyism we must end government’s ability to dole out favors and rig the market.” Um, a Koch brother is saying government needs to stop rigging the rules of the game for powerful corporations? A billionaire industrialist whose network is spending $400 million in this election and who has used his influence to weaken environmental regulations, Social Security, and voting rights? If you don’t already get the absurdity, my film Koch Brothers Exposedhas the goods.
David Koch, however, has a hypocrisy that needs some unpacking. For his part, he is the latest to pretend to be for gay marriage. I say “pretend” because even though he has told a reporter that he disagrees with Republicans on the issue, he is, in practice, doing what he’s always done: supporting politicians and groups that have worked to stymie gay rights at every turn.
Take, for instance, the donations that David and Charles have given to anti-gay politicians. In 2006 and 2012, they donated nearly $20,000 to Rick Santorum, the archetypal culture warrior of the Right. Recently they’ve given large amounts to Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, George Allen, Orrin Hatch, Jim DeMint, and even Michelle Bachmann — a who’s who in the pantheon of anti-gay officials. In bankrolling the Right, the Kochs are supporting politicians fighting to prevent gay equality from being reflected in the law.
Such support extends to anti-gay organizations. The Koch brothers gave $4.5 million to the anti-gay Heritage Foundation between 1997 and 2010. This is a group that once backed out of participating in the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in part because LGBT Republicans were co-sponsoring it. Heritage has also opposed minimal legal protections for LGBT individuals from discrimination or violence on the grounds that these are just slippery slopes toward marriage equality. One Distinguished Fellow at Heritage wrote that conservatives who would “appease” gays and lesbians by allowing them the freedom to enter into contracts such as civil unions and domestic partnerships are the “Neville Chamberlains of the cultural wars.”
Why would David Koch support such politicians and organizations if he’s for gay rights? Because what he and his brother really want out of political giving are personal enrichment and power in the long run. In a Politico interview, Koch responded to a question about money in politics by saying, “Well, it’s a free society. And people can invest what they want.”
Yes, to the Kochs, political donations are an investment. They can try to pinkwash their record by claiming to be for gay rights or (wow) all about eliminating crony capitalism. But the reality is that they’re perfectly fine with propping up those who are stepping on the LGBT community and bending politicians to their will. The Kochs just need to know they’ll get a good return on their investment down the road.
When will the United States start thinking beyond bars?
This nation is now spending over $200 billion a year on a justice system that locks up more people than any country on earth. We have more prisoners than China. More than Russia. More than anyone. This colossal system is hitting our communities with staggering financial and human costs — gobbling resources that should be going to strengthening communities.
That’s why we’re teaming up with a slew of great organizations and launching a major new campaign at Brave New Foundation. The campaign is called Beyond Bars. It aims to change Americans’ thinking and inspire action through short videos and shareable graphics exposing the U.S. system of mass incarceration.
Our new video shows the prison system as the giant beast that it is. Watch it here:
This video was done in partnership with a host of groups, showing the widespread hunger to create a sense of public urgency around mass incarceration:
• United Methodist Church
• Justice Fellowship
• Drug Policy Alliance
• Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
• Families Against Mandatory Minimums
• Equal Justice Initiative
• Justice Policy Institute
• National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
• All of Us or None
• A New Way of Life
• Partnership for Safety & Justice
What these groups know is that rising incarceration has had devastating consequences. Not only has it left millions of children without fathers and burdened mostly nonviolent Americans with lifelong obstacles to employment and social integration — it has also busted state budgets with increasing costs while doing little to improve public safety. And that’s not even to mention the racialbias inherent in a system that ensnares people of color at a rate that’s vastly disproportionate to the number of crimes committed, with African American males bearing the brunt of the crackdown.
In short, the United States is paying top dollar for an incarceration system that’s unfair and doesn’t work.
Fortunately, there are alternative approaches to public safety. Policies involving crime prevention, rehabilitation, and job opportunity would let the United States save untoldbillions of dollars every year while making communities safer.
Take, for instance, the Fortune Society in New York, which gives people services like drug treatment, housing, and job training as an alternative to incarceration. Or Project HOPE in Hawaii, which gives people days in jail when they might otherwise be sentenced to years — and gets far better results. Or look across the Atlantic Ocean to the Portugal, which has had tremendous success decriminalizing drugs altogether.
No matter what paths are taken, something has to give in a nation that has 5% of the world’s population but about 25% of the world’s prisoners. The stale rhetoric of “tough on crime” rings hollow when study after study confirms that incarceration shouldn’t be the first resort to every problem. And now that budget crunches at the state and federal level are forcing difficult cuts, there’s a real opportunity for reforms that reduce the cost of the justice system.
The Beyond Bars campaign will be looking to seize this opportunity. Check out our content in the coming months and years as we make the case that another way is possible.
Recent commentators have rightly called out Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s obvious hypocrisy on cuts to Pentagon spending. This strikes us as a good time to step back and take a broader look at Pentagon spending, and deconstruct the spin coming from the Washington elites.
Historically, the United States has made cuts to the Pentagon budget once its major wars come to an end. It happened after the Korean War, Vietnam and the Cold War. And after a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, now is the time to seriously consider significant cuts to a bloated, wasteful Pentagon spending machine. Yet those within the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex have been working hard to convince the American public that their perceived right to profit off of Pentagon spending is sacrosanct.
To fight the war profiteers, Brave New Foundation’s War Costs campaign is producing several investigative films that will expose the financial and human costs of an ongoing war mentality in the U.S. Currently, we are pleased to release a series of short videos that examine key players in the lobbying effort to keep Pentagon spending high. Our first two videos include Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
The rhetoric about cuts to the Pentagon’s budget — which is five times larger than the next biggest defense spender, China, and about $100 billion more than then next ten nations combined — has been excessive and hardly anything but fearmongering. Panetta, defense industry darling Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and others call it “doomsday,” “catastrophic,” a hollowing of the force, akin to a “brigade without bullets.” Mitt Romney said these level of cuts “is like putting a gun to our head.”
What about fiscal responsibility, Mr. Romney? What about all the waste, like marching bands or NASCAR sponsorships or the $50 billion in cancelled weapons programs – caused by industry business practices – that contractors get to keep? The Romney-Ryan proposed budget adds more money to an already-massive Pentagon reserve. Worries of more recessionary pressure on the American economy are mounting — Pew now reports one in five Americans go without enough food in a time of record food stamp enrollment. Yet, the Romney ticket pledged this week to “retroactively” reverse any sequestration cuts to the Pentagon –- and push for the House budget that slashed funding for social programs, like food stamps -– all in an effort to protect profits for their war-profiteering friends.
And is sequestration a doomsday mechanism, as Panetta has claimed? Hardly.
In reality, sequestration cuts — $55 billion reduction in defense spending in FY 2013 — would return defense spending to 2006 levels, by all measures a healthy time for the Pentagon budget. This reduction in spending would mean the U.S. would still outspend the next ten top defense-spending nations combined by $45 billion.
Now is the time to urge your member of Congress, your friends, family and neighbors to call for substantial cuts to the Pentagon budget. The profiteering and waste must stop. Cuts have widespead support, regardless of party politics. It’s our money, and we have the power to demand accountability in how it’s used. These videos are the first in a series to explore these hysterical statements made by officials that want to keep the status quo. It’s time to expose the unnecessary items the Pentagon acquires that hardly make us safer or go to servicemembers. It’s wasteful, it’s harmful, and we must speak up.
The Koch brothers don’t just have a gazillion luxury homes and boats. They’ve been using their wealth to shut out the voices of the 99% — pledging to spend at least $100 million on the 2012 elections. The pro-corporate policies they favor are, of course, antithetical to the public interest. But the TV ads they’re airing so far in this election make it seem like they’re on the side of regular Americans. “Maybe your family is like most, struggling to make it by…The private sector is not doing fine,” says Americans for Prosperity, an organization the Kochs founded and fund. Watch the video:
Let’s forget for a moment that the expression is “get by” or “make ends meet,” not “make it by.” What the Kochs want is to use their vast fortune to influence the political beliefs of people with a millionth their net worth, getting the middle class to buy into the notion that what’s good for the rich is good for everyone. But if the financial crisis and recession have taught us anything, it’s that the interests of the extremely-well-to-do are not the same as those of the general public. Feeding the top doesn’t translate into food for the middle and bottom.
Do we really think the Kochs are chiefly concerned about working families making five figures rather than expanding their own wealth? To ask the question is to answer it.
You know it’s a big moment for defenders of the United States’ bloated military budget when some of the all-time superstars of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex descend on Capitol Hill to fight for their perceived right to profit.
The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to address the 2013 Defense Appropriations bill beginning Wednesday, which will go a long way in framing the later debate on automatic cuts to defense set to happen on January 2, 2013. The “sequester” was set into law — via the Budget Control Act — last year in an effort to compel Congress to reach a deficit-reduction plan. The automatic cuts would take the Pentagon’s requested FY 2013 budget of $526 billion to $469 billion, reducing Department of Defense spending by around $1 trillion over the next decade. The Congressional Budget Office says that amount is “larger than it was in 2006 (in 2013 dollars) and larger than the average base budget during the 1980s.” If you recall, 2006 wasn’t such a bad year to be a defense contractor.
Ahead of that floor debate, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) — the top benefactor of defense-industry contributions in Washington as Brave New Foundation’s War Costs campaign has pointed out before — will allow the likes of Lockheed Martin CEO Robert Stevens yet another platform — after weeks crying foul over potential jobs cuts a reduced defense budget would mean — to inject further panic and hype in front of a committee hearing Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill.
Stevens has called the planned cuts “blunt force trauma” to the defense industry’s economic well-being. Lockheed has also threatened to send layoff notices to employees ahead of Election Day, a craven attempt to scare workers and members of Congress with industry jobs in their districts. This is not to mention the$25.4 million Stevens made in 2011, the second consecutive year of record revenue and profit for the defense industry. Maybe Stevens could find money for his employees by cutting lobby expenditures? Lockheed spent $15 million on lobbying in 2011, up 19 percent from 2010. Lobbying by all defense contractors went up 11.5 percent in the first quarter of 2012, to $15.9 million. The idea that the likes of Lockheed Martin taking a cataclysmic tumble following the needed cuts to defense is about as unbelievable as how much taxpayer money that went to defense contractors in 2011, $373 billion, the second-highest yearly total ever. Here, Stevens and his ilk are at it again, pushing for more profits at the risk of further death and destruction, as War Costs has examined in the past.
By the way, this is an industry that, from 2008 to 2010, paid an average annual tax rate of 17.5 percent, making it among the least-taxed sectors in the country. Boeing itself paid a rate of -1.8 percent, according to the Citizens for Tax Justice.
On Tuesday, the Aerospace Industries Association unveiled an update to their 2011 study on the economic impact of such cuts. True to an industry attempting to protect their bottom line, the studies predict excessive job loss next year, around 1.09 million, if the cuts occur. Economists and academics have had a field day debunking this study, partly because, according to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, defense spending creates fewer jobs compared to other forms of government spending — on sectors like health care and education — and even some tax cuts. (See more on these numbers at WarCosts.com.)
Industry shilling is only part of the onslaught. Also on Tuesday, former Vice President Dick Cheney — a scion of wasteful defense spending, profiteering and all that is the revolving door between government and industry in Washington — was on Capitol Hill rallying Republicans to the cause. According to Politico, Senate Republicans described the meeting with Cheney as short on policy replacements for cuts and big on stressing the investments in place amid the defense industry. What a surprise.
The defense industry has seen record profits this past decade marked by consistent warfare and little accountability, as a final report on the amount lost during the $51.4 billion Iraq war reconstruction program concludes. Enough of the propaganda. More defense money does not make the United States safer, as we’ve been told, and cutting a fraction of that money does not mean “doomsday” for the country as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has claimed. It’s simply common sense that folks across the political spectrum agree on, even those in areas heavy on defense manufacturing, according to a new comprehensive study.
Tell your members of Congress to support amendments in the bill that aim to reduce the defense budget, halt the war in Afghanistan and remove troops permanently stationed in Europe.
It’s time elected officials hear our voice. Stop the spending that bankrupts us at home and encourages violence and war abroad.
Visit Brave New Foundation’s WarCosts.com for more as the defense industry’s cynical efforts unfold in the coming months.
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