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US Senate Backs $708 Billion Military Authorization, 41 War Mongering Democrats Approve

The US Senate approved the National Defense Authorization Act, a blueprint for $708 billion in Pentagon spending, voting Wednesday by a margin of 87-10. Forty-six Republicans were joined by 41 Democrats in approving the bill, which now goes to the White House for President Trump's signature.

The 41-8 split in the Democratic Party caucus in the Senate was determined partly by political positioning. Those Democrats who are testing the waters for a presidential run and aim to strike a "left" posture for the 2020 primary campaign opposed the military spending bill: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Jeff Merkley.

All the Democratic senators seeking reelection this year in states carried by Trump in 2016 voted in favor of the military spending bill, and will undoubtedly feature it in their election campaign ads as proof of their desire to "work with the president." These include Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Jon Tester of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Bill Nelson of Florida.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and virtually every other Democrat in the Senate voted for the record military spending without electoral calculations playing any role. They are just as ardent supporters of American imperialism as the Republicans, and demonstrated that in their votes. In this they were following the example of House Democrats, who backed the Pentagon authorization bill by a landslide margin, 139-49.
 http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/08/03/mili-a03.html

US Senate backs $708 billion military authorization

By Patrick Martin
3 August 2018

The US Senate approved the National Defense Authorization Act, a blueprint for $708 billion in Pentagon spending, voting Wednesday by a margin of 87-10. Forty-six Republicans were joined by 41 Democrats in approving the bill, which now goes to the White House for President Trump's signature.

The bill sets policy for the Department of Defense, approving weapons programs, a sizable troop build-up and a 2.6 percent across-the-board raise for uniformed personnel, but a separate appropriations bill must still be passed to actually approve the funding.

The 41-8 split in the Democratic Party caucus in the Senate was determined partly by political positioning. Those Democrats who are testing the waters for a presidential run and aim to strike a "left" posture for the 2020 primary campaign opposed the military spending bill: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Jeff Merkley.

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The budget includes funding for the construction of a new Gerald R Ford-class aircraft Carrier
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All the Democratic senators seeking reelection this year in states carried by Trump in 2016 voted in favor of the military spending bill, and will undoubtedly feature it in their election campaign ads as proof of their desire to "work with the president." These include Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Jon Tester of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Bill Nelson of Florida.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and virtually every other Democrat in the Senate voted for the record military spending without electoral calculations playing any role. They are just as ardent supporters of American imperialism as the Republicans, and demonstrated that in their votes. In this they were following the example of House Democrats, who backed the Pentagon authorization bill by a landslide margin, 139-49.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell declared, "This NDAA builds on the progress we made earlier this year in the bipartisan budget agreement, which provided for the largest year-on-year increase in funding for American armed forces in 15 years."

Secretary of Defense James Mattis likewise hailed the vote, saying the bill's quick passage "demonstrated the deep and abiding bipartisan support our military enjoys." He could have noted, but did not bother, that the House-Senate conference version of the NDAA actually set prospective spending levels $30 billion above those requested by the White House and Pentagon.

Despite incessant efforts by the media to portray Congress as an institution where nothing can be done because of supposedly intractable differences between the Democrats and Republicans, the passage of the NDAA marked the 58th consecutive year that a Pentagon authorization was passed before the beginning of the new fiscal year on October 1.

When it comes to the vital interests of US imperialism, the two capitalist parties can move expeditiously. It is only when working people face an emergency—as with the hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth affected by the termination of DACA, or the victims of forest fires in California or crumbling infrastructure in Flint, Michigan and other old industrial centers—that the leaders of the two parties throw up their hands and proclaim nothing can be done.

The WSWS has already analyzed some of the provisions of this bill, particularly its ominous authorization of cyberwarfare attacks on Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, in a previous report on the House vote.

It is worth examining the final legislation, however, from the standpoint of what it says about the priorities of the US ruling elite.

The $708 billion authorization is the largest in dollar terms since 2010, the last year of full-scale military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It maintains the new baseline for the Pentagon established after the 9/11 attacks. Since 2001, the regular Pentagon budget has roughly doubled, from $300 billion a year in the 1990s to more than $600 billion a year for the past decade. This does not count funding for what are described as Overseas Contingency Operations, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and later against ISIS.

The figures in fiscal 2019 will be $617 billion for regular Pentagon operations, plus $69 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations and $22 billion for nuclear weapons operations of the Department of Energy, which oversees the construction of atomic warheads.

It is instructive to compare the provisions of this legislation with the funding requirements to meet urgent social needs, for which no such resources are being mobilized.

The $617 billion in regular Pentagon spending is as much as the United States spends on public education, combining local, state and federal governments ($620 billion in 2016). It is also 10 times what Russia spends on its military ($61 billion).

The $69 billion for wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and drone warfare across North Africa and the Middle East is more than twice the amount of money required to feed all 862 million malnourished people in the world ($30 billion).

The bill authorizes $24.1 billion for shipbuilding, including the building of 13 new warships, among them a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and two nuclear-powered submarines armed with nuclear weapons.

The same amount of money, $24.1 billion, would provide decent housing for every homeless person in the United States ($20 billion), with enough left over to replace the toxic water infrastructure of Flint, Michigan ($1.5 billion).

The bill provides $12 billion for new aircraft, including $7.6 billion for 77 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, $2.3 billion for 20 short takeoff and vertical landing F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (the Marine Corps version), and $1.1 billion for nine F-35C fighters, used by the Navy.

The same amount of money would provide free maternal and prenatal care for every mother in the developing world ($13 billion). It would be twice the sum required to provide treatment and vaccination to prevent 4 million malaria deaths ($6 billion).

The working class must oppose squandering vast sums on the military not only because it represents a colossal waste of resources that could meet urgent social needs, but because the build-up of this vast military-intelligence apparatus is a deadly threat to both the democratic rights and the physical survival of the entire human race.

The most urgent task facing working people, both in the United States and internationally, is the building of a mass, international movement against militarism and war, and for a socialist alternative.




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 link to www.counterpunch.org

August 7, 2018

Senate Democrats, with Few Exceptions, are a Gang of War-Mongers

by Dave Lindorff

Democrats in the US Senate showed themselves to be just another war party this week, with 40 of their number out of 47 voting to pass a record $717-billion military budget for FY 2019. Only seven Democrats (Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, D-MA, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-OR, Kamala Harris, D-CA, Dick Durbin, D-IL, and Kirstin Gillibrand, D-NY) and independent Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democratic Party, voted against the bill (Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who also caucuses with the Democrats, neutralized Sanders' vote by voting for the measure).

For those who may have hoped that perhaps the growing number of self-described "democratic socialist" candidartes running for seats in Congress might call out this war-mongering by the Democratic Party establishment, there was just silence.

Sen. Sanders, to be sure, said he would vote against the bill, but he didn't say he was doing that because he thought it was an outrageous amount of money to spend on war and preparations for war. In fact, he prefaced his opposition by saying, "I support a strong US military." Rather, as he always does, Sanders decried the "waste, fraud and mismanagement" in the Pentagon budget, instead of the reality that virtually the entire budget, representing two-thirds of all federal discretionary spending, is a waste.

The sad truth is that when it comes to Democratic candidates running openly wearing a "democratic socialist" label, including Sanders, the standard-bearer for this newly popular identity, there is a sort of fraud being perpetrated on the public. Most such candidates, including Sanders, simply won't talk about US imperialism, hegemonism and about the need to slash the grossly outsized US military budget, which surpasses the budgets of nations with the next ten largest militaries.

Why does this matter? Because when progressive Democrats, and especially those who call themselves "democratic socialists" (implying that somehow straight-up "socialists" might not be sufficiently democratic!), espouse popular socialist programs like Medicare for All, expanded and enhanced Social Security benefits, free public college for anyone who wants to get a higher degree beyond high school, a guaranteed job for all, paid maternity/paternity leave, etc. — all worthy and popular ideas — they open themselves up immediately to charges by Republicans and by conservative and establishment liberal Democrats that they won't be able to pay for those programs, or that they'd have to rise taxes to pay for them.

And those charges are justified, because most of those so-called progressive, and even "democratic socialist" candidates, tacitly or, in Sen. Sanders' case even overtly support, fundamentally, the US military and most of America's militaristic foreign policies and actions abroad — the majority of which are in flagrant violation of international law and have nothing to do with national defense.

Sanders, in fact, supports the F-35, an epic turkey of a jet fighter-bomber that at a program cost of $1.5 trillion and counting and a unit-price that already exceeds $100 million per plane even before it is operational, is the most expensive weapon in the history of mankind. Sanders supports this wet kiss for the US arms industry because the Pentagon was thoughtful enough to base a wing of the planes at an airbase in Vermont, Sen. Sanders' home state.

If democratic socialist Sanders cannot stand up to that kind of blatant Pentagon manipulation, how can any elected representative?

$1.5 trillion would be enough money to guarantee Social Security benefits into the indefinite future as far as anyone can see, and could even allow for an increase in benefits from the current starvation level of a program that is the sole source of retirement income for half of all retired Americans and the major source of support for 90% of them.

According to Brown University's recent Watson Institute Study on the 'Costs of War', the US has spent some $5.6 trillion on its policy of endless war launched in the wake of the 9-11 attacks in 2001. Those wars have done nothing to reduce the threat of terrorism. In fact they've caused terrorism attacks to spread and to multiply dramatically over the intervening years. Iraq is a disaster zone, with millions of its middle class population gone to other lands, and millions more internally displaced, while terror bombs are practically daily events in the shattered society that remains. Afghanistan is, perhaps, even worse. One of the poorest countries in the world, its people have been bombed and shot by US troops, its cities destroyed, opium production has soared under US protection, and the Taliban have only grown stronger over 17 years of US invasion, war and occupation. Libya was destroyed completely as a country by US and NATO bombing, and now the US is in Syria backing the very terrorists it supposedly went into Afghanistan to destroy: Al Qaeda. It's doing this to try and overthrow the internationally recognized government of Syria. Again and again the US engages in SUCH "regime change" efforts at great cost in money and blood, usually only making things worse while spending a fortune on arms and manpower. The only beneficiaries of these wars are the nation's arms industry, the professional soldiers who get paid to plan them, and the politicians, Republican and Democrat, who are lavished with the arms peddlers' campaign contributions (bribes).

Think what that $5.6 trillion could do in the US! New schools, rebuilt cities, repaired infrastructure, modern high-speed trains, a well-funded and secure retirement program, a national health care program and a massive R&D program to develop alternative non-carbon-based energy systems to seriously tackle climate change (how about subsidized solar panels on every home's roof in America?). It would all be possible if we weren't locked into a hyper-expensive war economy.

Anastasia Ocasio-Cortez, the dynamic young Puerto Rican woman who stunned the supposed experts by trouncing a 10-term Democratic House leader, Joseph Crowley, in a Bronx/Queens congressional district primary, is one of the few such avowed socialist Democrats to actually say she wants the US to have a "peace budget," which one has to assume would mean one with a much smaller military. Yet when asked how she would pay for the programs she advocates, instead of saying, "by drastically cutting military spending," even she instead talked about fairer tax policies, as though just ending corporate welfare and taxing the rich more would do the trick. She had the opportunity to attack the Pentagon budget, which she knows is where the real money is, but she whiffed.

Why?

If so-called socialists in the Democratic Party cannot openly and with righteous self-assurance make the case for shifting the US away from a permanent war economy to a peace economy and for slashing military spending by, oh let's say 75% (which would still leave it the biggest spender on arms in the world!) how can we call them socialist? Or democratic? How can we call them progressive for that matter?

When Bernie Sanders is asked how he can expect the US to pay for Medicare for All and free college tuition for anyone who wants to attend public college, he typically points to the Nordic countries which all have both such programs, and also much more lucrative versions of social security that let people retire without taking a hit in their standard of living. But he doesn't ever point out that the reason those countries can have such progressive socialist-style programs is that unlike the US, they spend only a pittance of their budgets and taxes on their military forces.

It's not rocket science. A country that spends two-thirds of all the taxes it collects on war and arms will rot from the inside. Just check out the fate of the Roman Empire.

I just returned from "socialist" Europe. In Italy, a taxi driver told me of his desire to visit America and of his plan to tour our beautiful land on a motor scooter. I had to warn him not to rent a Vespa, but rather to rent big motorcycle with large wheels. "If you try to tour America's highways on a scooter, you're likely to a deep pothole with those small wheels and end up dead or in a hospital," I told him.

He looked at me incredulously. "How can America allow its highways to be so bad?" he asked.

"Nobody wants to pay taxes in America," I said. "And all the taxes they do pay end up paying for war, not for highway maintenance or anything else useful."

And it's true. Italy, often called the "sick man" of Europe, has much better roads than the US I discovered (better coffee too!). In fact its roads — both highways and urban streets — make the US look like a third-world country... which increasingly, particularly in its cities and its rural regions, it really is.

Polls show that Americans are sick of all the wars, and that they want programs like Medicare for All, guaranteed jobs, paid maternity leave, and affordable college for their kids, but Congress won't vote for these things that the public wants. Clutching their corporate campaign lucre, they say America "can't afford it," and then turn around and pass a record $717-billion Pentagon funding bill for 2019, while warning that Social Security and Medicare may need to be cut.

It's time for real progressive Democrats, and especially the ones calling themselves "democratic socialists," to speak out against this scandal, and to openly call for slashing Pentagon spending — not to "eliminate waste," but because the entire Pentagon budget is a murderous, society-destroying, freedom-undermining, budget-sucking, politics-corrupting waste.

We need them to act on this, because the Democratic Party's elected officials in Washington are almost as pro-war as are the Republicans (the Republicans voted 46 for passage, two against, with three abstentions vs. Democrats who, counting their two independent allies, voted 41 for and 8 against). Consider the below list of shame of those 40 Democratic Senators who just voted in favor of the latest Pentagon funding bill (they were joined by Sen. King, the Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats).

That's no "revolution," and it's not even an "opposition" worthy of the name. It's craven collusion and gutlessness, and by not speaking out against it, those calling themselves democratic socialists are perpetrating a fraud on the voters.