When these bills move through the Congress, they are so enormous and yet so routine that almost all attention is drawn to one or more peculiarly putrid or pretentiously benevolent little attachments. Either the bill simply must be passed because it contains hurricane relief or veterans aid or unemployment insurance or because it finally allows GLBT Americans to join in our crusades of mass murder. Or, alternatively, the bill desperately needs amending because it sanctions torture or lawless imprisonment or expands an especially hated war or an especially transparent investment in unwanted weaponry manufactured by some campaign donor. But the underlying insanity of the bill itself never makes it into the corporate conversation.
In the case of this latest National Defense Authorization Act, there has been a toothless rhetorical amendment passed asking the president to end his warmaking in Afghanistan in something less than three years if it’s not too much trouble. But that positive measure has been absolutely overwhelmed in what little discussion of the bill exists by a section of the bill giving presidents and the military the power to lock you away without any of the process guaranteed you by the U.S. Constitution. Now, President Obama may veto the bill because he would prefer that section to be even worse than it is. He has expressed concern that it limits, rather than expands, his options. He should veto it because it rips out the heart of our Bill of Rights and grinds it into the dirt.
But a bill like this should not be passed simply because the latest erosion of our civil liberties is removed and the even worse un-codified understanding and practice is left to continue. A bill like this one should be rejected in its entirety. This bill kills human beings in large numbers, endangers us all through encouragement of foreign hostility, contributes to the development and proliferation of genocidal weaponry, creates massive environmental destruction, advances a foreign policy built around an unsurvivable energy policy, funds both sides of an unending Afghan occupation, funds prisons where we already hold many hundreds of men behind bars without charge or trial, and gives presidents de facto power to ignore our rights for the duration of a global war that has no end. And this bill destroys our economy through unfathomable wasteful spending in the midst of a manufactured deficit crisis and an actual humanitarian crisis at home and abroad.
Military spending is worse for job creation and retention than any other kind of spending or even tax cuts. Jobs is not the silver lining in militarism. There is a choice that confronts us between militarism or jobs, militarism or human services, militarism or a safety net for the ill and the elderly and the impoverished. We’re dumping over a trillion dollars a year into “security” spending in “defense” and other bills combined, well over half of discretionary spending. The deficit “crisis” is not the creation of sick people getting old and multiplying without having had the decency to bribe their way into major government contracts or bailouts from the Federal Reserve. Single-payer health coverage, not cuts to Medicare, is the solution there. The deficit is not purely the result of the Obama tax cuts (sorry, Bush is gone now) or of the bad economy. There is a way to improve the actual economy by spending existing public dollars in different ways.
In 1963, Senator George McGovern and House members F. Bradford Morse and William Fitts Ryan introduced a bill that gained significant support and hearings and would have begun a process of economic conversion from a war economy to a peace economy, retraining and re-employing anyone thrown out of work in the process. Meanwhile, the military was secretly beginning a war in Vietnam, and certain elements were plotting to blow President Kennedy’s brains out of the back of his head. We took a turn for the worse, and economic conversion has never seriously begun. Yet, for decades members of Congress had the decency to at least propose it.
Here’s a bill introduced 20 years ago, in 1991. Do some of the names on the bill look familiar? Waters, Pelosi, Schumer, Slaughter, McDermott, Markey, Panetta (yes, Panetta), Lewis, Pallone, Towns, Berman, Payne, Waxman, Boxer, Wyden, etc. Here’s a solution backed by these people 20 years ago, more desperately needed now, and not under consideration. That’s not their fault. They are cogs in a money-marinated machine. It’s our fault.
In the absence of an overall conversion-to-sanity-and-sustainability bill, there is a related bill that has been introduced in the current Congress: “The Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act of 2011” introduced by Eleanor Holmes Norton. This bill is a concise thing of beauty which says:
“(a) In General- The United States Government shall–
(1) by the date that is three years after the date of the enactment of this Act, provide leadership to negotiate a multilateral treaty or other international agreement that provides for–
(A) the dismantlement and elimination of all nuclear weapons in every country by not later than 2020; and
(B) strict and effective international control of such dismantlement and elimination;
(2) redirect resources that are being used for nuclear weapons programs to use–
(A) in converting all nuclear weapons industry employees, processes, plants, and programs smoothly to constructive, ecologically beneficial peacetime activities, including strict control of all fissile material and radioactive waste, during the period in which nuclear weapons must be dismantled and eliminated pursuant to the treaty or other international agreement described in paragraph (1); and
(B) in addressing human and infrastructure needs, including development and deployment of sustainable carbon-free and nuclear-free energy sources, health care, housing, education, agriculture, and environmental restoration, including long-term radioactive waste monitoring;
(3) undertake vigorous, good-faith efforts to eliminate war, armed conflict, and all military operations; and
(4) actively promote policies to induce all other countries to join in the commitments described in this subsection to create a more peaceful and secure world.
(b) Effective Date- Subsection (a)(2) shall take effect on the date on which the President certifies to Congress that all countries possessing nuclear weapons have–
(1) eliminated such weapons; or
(2) begun such elimination under established legal requirements comparable to those described in subsection (a).”
If you’re going to begin conversion with one sector, why not start with the worst? The answer does not ultimately lie in backing a particular bill so much as in educating, mobilizing, changing the public discourse, and applying nonviolent pressure. But there are bills that exist or could easily be made to exist that merit our unqualified support.
Either we will move the money from where it destroys to where is sustains life, or our civilization will meet the fate Kennedy met in Dallas.