JFP 8/4: The Pentagon Strikes Back: Cut Social Security and Raise Taxes
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August 4, 2011
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1) The Pentagon pushed back aggressively against the prospect of $1 trillion in military budget cuts, the New York Times reports. A senior Pentagon official said that a bipartisan Congressional committee assigned to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in government budget cuts should take none of that from the Pentagon. "I would expect them to focus on entitlements and taxes," the official said.
2) An April analysis from the Stimson Center argued that a $400 billion defense cut from the baseline over 10 years would essentially mean letting the Pentagon's budget grow with inflation starting in 2011, writes Brad Plumer in the Washington Post. A $1 trillion cut in the next decade would represent a 15 percent decline. By comparison, between 1985 and 1996, with the end of the Cold War, military spending declined 36 percent.
3) Pentagon officials may have to eliminate $28 billion from the pending fiscal 2012 defense budget in the first installment of the Defense Department's contribution to the new debt-ceiling agreement, Bloomberg reports. The savings targets based on the military's current planning for ten years is about $400 billion, about 7 percent of planned spending.
4) In August, the Obama administration is expected to announce whether it will keep the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an exiled Iranian group that killed American civilians and officials in the 1970s, on its foreign terrorist organisations (FTO) list, Al Jazeera reports. Known for its cult-like behavior, the MEK fought alongside Saddam Hussein's regime against its own country during the Iran-Iraq war. This is one reason why it has almost no Iranian support. It does, however, enjoy the backing of several former US officials: Michael Mukasey, General James L. Jones, Tom Ridge, Wesley Clark, and Rudy Giuliani. Delisting the MEK would not only further harm US-Iran relations, it would also hurt Iran's internal opposition, Jasmin Ramsey writes.
5) Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Palestinians are determined to go ahead with their UN membership bid as an Arab League committee endorsed a final draft of the request to be presented to the UN General Assembly, AFP reports. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has insisted the plan does not rule out the possibility of new peace talks, but said he will not negotiate without a settlement freeze and a clear set of parameters for any new talks.
6) The US has now spent about as much on "missile defense" - $150 billion - as it spent on the Apollo space program, Bloomberg reports. But the program remains exempted from normal Pentagon oversight and so far has been spared the cuts Congress is demanding in other areas of federal spending."Our missile defense program is an expensive, ineffective defense against an implausible threat," says Steven Weinberg, a University of Texas professor who won the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics.
7) Let the guillotine fall on the military budget, writes Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post. Over the past decade, when we had no serious national adversaries, U.S. defense spending has gone from about a third of total worldwide defense spending to 50 percent. After the Korean War, Eisenhower cut defense spending 27 percent. Nixon cut it 29 percent after Vietnam. Given the enormous run-up in spending under George W. Bush, even if Obama made comparable cuts to that of those presidents today, defense spending would remain substantially above the levels under those presidents.
8) Some U.S. officials say the CIA rejected a request from the US Ambassador to Pakistan to stop a planned drone strike on diplomatic grounds shortly after the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis because the CIA wanted revenge for Davis' detention, AP reports. The deadly March 17 attack, which the Pakistanis claim killed 38 civilians, helped send the U.S.-Pakistan relationship into a tailspin from which it has not recovered.
9) Several Western officials said the Taliban have begun to send signals that they are interested in a negotiated settlement, the New York Times reports. "The Taliban's public position has undergone an evolution," said Staffan de Mistura, the UN special representative to Afghanistan. A UN analysis says recent Taliban statements indicate a willingness to negotiate over the withdrawal of foreign forces. "This is their response to Hillary," de Mistura said, referring to Secretary of State Clinton's speech in February in which she made clear that a laying down of arms on the part of the Taliban was no longer a precondition for talks, but a "necessary outcome."
10) Human rights abuses have continued in Honduras since the return of deposed President Zelaya and Honduras' return to the OAS, writes Kathy Kern for the Mennonite Weekly Review. In June, paramilitaries murdered three peasant leaders and kidnapped two, who remain missing. In July, two Honduran journalists were gunned down.
1) Pentagon Sounds Alarm On Threat Of Budget Cuts
Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, August 3, 2011
Washington - The Pentagon pushed back aggressively on Wednesday against what senior officials warned was the prospect of $1 trillion in military budget cuts and thousands of layoffs, furloughs and reductions in military programs over the next decade.
Less than 24 hours after President Obama signed a debt-ceiling bill calling for trillions of dollars in reduced government spending, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and top Pentagon officials said that large cuts to the Pentagon budget - which has more than doubled since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - would imperil the nation's security.
In a letter to Defense Department personnel posted Wednesday morning on the Pentagon's Web site, Mr. Panetta warned that if a Congressional panel could not reach agreement on cuts to the nation's deficit, "it could trigger a round of dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation."
Mr. Panetta's letter was followed by a briefing to reporters by a senior Pentagon official who said that while he did not want to alarm people in the Defense Department, he saw the possibility of involuntary separations - or the laying off of military personnel - as well as layoffs and furloughs of civilians who work for the Pentagon.
Wednesday's sound of alarm from the Defense Department was its opening salvo in what are certain to be many months of battles over military spending and how much the Pentagon should have to give up in a new era of austerity. No one in the building disputes that the huge military buildup since the Sept. 11 attacks is coming to an end, but the Pentagon is already drawing a line about how far it is willing to go.
On Wednesday, that line was $400 billion in military cuts over the next decade - and no more.
Although White House officials estimate that an immediate $1 trillion in cuts called for in the debt-ceiling bill will take $350 billion from the Pentagon over the next decade, the Pentagon official said that as he measured it, the cuts amounted to $400 billion.
(The difference is the starting point: the White House is measuring the cuts against $529 billion a year, the amount the Pentagon is spending in 2011. The Pentagon is measuring the cuts against $553 billion, the amount Mr. Obama requested for the Pentagon in the 2012 fiscal year.)
On Wednesday, the senior Pentagon official said that cutting $400 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade would be "hard but manageable." Beyond that, he said that a bipartisan Congressional committee assigned to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in government budget cuts should take none of that from the Pentagon.
"I would expect them to focus on entitlements and taxes," the official said.
2) Will the defense cuts stick?
Brad Plumer, Washington Post, 8/02/2011
An April analysis from the Stimson Center, on the other hand, argued that a $400 billion defense cut from the baseline over 10 years would essentially mean letting the Pentagon's budget grow with inflation starting in 2011 - and that's not much of a cut at all, given the massive run-up in defense spending over the past decade. To put that in perspective, says Center for American Progress defense analyst Larry Korb, "We're already spending more in adjusted dollars than we have at any point during World War II - more than when we were in Vietnam and had 500,000 people on the ground."
Of course, there's still the potential for deeper cuts. Under the debt deal, if the new "super committee" fails to pass its deficit plan, then $1.2 trillion of cuts come down, of which roughly half fall on security - though, again, the details would be left to Congress. That would bring us into the world contemplated by Tom Coburn, in which defense faces nearly $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade. That would certainly garner hostility from defense hawks. But it would also put us squarely in the historical norm.
[Gordon] Adams provides some context. The United States has had three military "build-downs" since World War II - after Korea, after Vietnam and after the Cold War. "With Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, we're in another build-down," he says. He notes that between 1985 and 1996, with the end of the Cold War, military spending declined 36 percent. By comparison, a $1 trillion cut in the next decade would represent a 15 percent decline. "Compared with a $350 billion cut, that's harder labor, definitely," Adams says. "Is it impossible? No."
3) Pentagon's First Installment on Cutting Debt May Be $28 Billion
Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg, Aug 3, 2011 11:01 PM CT
Pentagon officials may have to eliminate as much as $28 billion from the pending fiscal 2012 defense budget in the first installment of the Defense Department's contribution to the new debt-ceiling agreement, administration officials and congressional aides say.
Under the deficit-trimming measure President Barack Obama signed into law yesterday, an initial $350 billion will be cut from defense spending over 10 years, with about $325 billion coming from the Pentagon, according to an administration official.
The savings targets based on the military's current planning are closer to $400 billion, about 7 percent of planned spending over 10 years, and are achievable, a defense official told reporters at the Pentagon today, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Most immediately, the reductions take effect with the $553 billion defense budget for the 2012 fiscal year; $539 billion is basic defense spending controlled by the defense appropriations subcommittees, while the remainder is in military construction accounts.
The Standard & Poor's Supercomposite Aerospace & Defense Index fell less than 1 percent in New York trading today. L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. and Raytheon Co. (RTN) were among the 29 member stocks that declined.
4) Iranian terrorist group has close US allies
The Mujahedin-e Khalq, which the US designates a terrorist group, has the backing of prominent American conservatives.
Jasmin Ramsey, Al Jazeera, 04 Aug 2011 15:00
Something strange is happening in Washington. In August, the Obama administration is expected to announce whether it will keep the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an exiled Iranian group that killed American civilians and officials in the 1970s, on its foreign terrorist organisations (FTO) list.
Known for its cult-like behavior, the MEK (also known as the People's Mujahedin of Iran, PMOI or MKO) fought alongside Saddam Hussein's regime against its own country during the bloody Iran-Iraq war. This is one reason why it has almost no Iranian support, even if it refers to itself as the "most popular resistance group inside Iran" on its official website. It does, however, enjoy the backing of several US heavyweights with high national security credentials.
George W. Bush's attorney general Michael Mukasey has described MEK members as "courageous freedom fighters". President Barack Obama's former national security advisor, General James L. Jones, gave a speech at a MEK conference dominated by non-Iranians. Their events have also been attended by former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, former NATO supreme commander Wesley Clark and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The president does not want to be accused of being soft on Iran while it is pounding its chest in Iraq, but succumbing to the MEK's well-organixed lobbying effort will not only further harm US-Iran relations, it will also negatively affect Iran's internal opposition. Since the FTO list is seen as a diplomatic weapon rather than a national security tool, the delisting of the MEK will be read in Iran as an escalation in hostilities and force President Obama into a position that is not his own.
Banisadr, 57 years old, has written a memoir about his life in the MEK until his departure in 1996 - an event he attributes to "luck". He said mind control was a normal occurrence at Camp Ashraf: "I remember being forced to attend a speaking session lasting for 3 days. In total I think we got around 2 hours of sleep a night." He was also forced to leave his family. "They told us to imagine sleeping with the corpses of our spouses. Not to think that they had been dead for a long time, but just long enough so that the body was still warm."
Camp Ashraf is closed to most outsiders, but in 2005 Human Rights Watch released a report describing the "mass divorce" that was imposed on Banisadr and all other members and "abuses ranging from detention and persecution of ordinary members wishing to leave" to "lengthy solitary confinements, severe beatings, and torture of dissident members". The former MEK members interviewed also reported "two cases of deaths under interrogation".
5) Palestinians 'moving ahead' with UN bid: Erakat
AFP, August 4, 2011
Palestinians are determined to go ahead with their UN membership bid as an Arab League follow-up committee endorsed a final draft of the request to be presented to the UN General Assembly, a top official said.
Saeb Erakat brushed off as a public relations stunt Israeli attempts to lure the Palestinians back into peace talks based on the 1967 borders if they abandon the UN membership campaign.
"The Palestinian train is now heading towards New York," Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told AFP during the committee's meeting in Doha, Qatar, late on Wednesday.
After the meeting, Erakat said the members of the committee "have reached a final agreement to request the full support for a Palestinians state within the 1967 borders with its capital Jerusalem."
The request "will be ready to present before the next UN General Assembly session" in September, said Erakat.
The committee members had also agreed to "double their efforts to garner support from members of the UN Security Council," he added.
Erakat played down statements by an Israeli government official who said Tuesday his country was willing to begin new peace talks based on the 1967 lines if the Palestinians drop their UN membership bid.
He said the statements were "leaked" from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin, dismissing them as a PR exercise.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has insisted the plan does not rule out the possibility of new peace talks, but said he will not negotiate without a settlement freeze and a clear set of parameters for any new talks.
6) Missile Defense Costing $35 Billion Misses Bullets With Bullets
Elliot Blair Smith and Gopal Ratnam, Bloomberg, Aug 3, 2011
In tunnels under Fort Greely, Alaska, workers wearing hazmat suits and respirators are fighting to keep America safe from missile attack.
They are battling mold in corridors leading to six underground silos that house rockets for shooting down enemy warheads. The mold and leaking pipes mean the installation must be replaced this year as part of a $1.16 billion fix for the national missile defense shield, senior defense officials told Congress.
No one knows whether the $35 billion program would work. It has never been tested under conditions simulating a real attack by an intercontinental ballistic missile deploying sophisticated decoys and countermeasures. The system has flunked 7 of 15 more limited trials, yet remains exempted from normal Pentagon oversight and so far has been spared the cuts Congress is demanding in other areas of federal spending.
"Our missile defense program is an expensive, ineffective defense against an implausible threat," says Steven Weinberg, a University of Texas professor who won the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics. He was one of 50 Nobel laureates to sign a 2001 letter to Congress voicing skepticism about "hitting a bullet with a bullet" outside of laboratory conditions.
The financial costs and technical shortcomings of America's missile shield demonstrate how unproven multibillion-dollar defense programs get budget support in the face of shifting military threats and developmental setbacks. Two decades after the Soviet Union's collapse eliminated the enemy that inspired it, missile defense is getting more money in a time of federal belt-tightening and military spending reductions.
Before Congress voted to cut $2.4 trillion from government expenses over the next decade, lawmakers budgeted a 1.2 percent increase, to $8.6 billion, for all missile defense programs in fiscal 2012. That would raise total costs to about $150 billion, or roughly the inflation-adjusted amount poured into the Apollo program sending men to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s.
7) Why defense spending should be cut
Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, August 3
The scary aspect of the debt deal meant to force all of Washington to its senses is the threatened cut to defense spending. If the congressional "super-committee" cannot agree on cutbacks of $1.5 trillion, the guillotine will fall and half of those cuts will have to come from expenditures on national security. As with so much Washington accounting, there is lots of ambiguity in baselines and terms (for instance, what is covered under "national security"?). Most experts estimate that the defense budget would lose $600 billion to $700 billion over the next 10 years. If so, let the guillotine fall. It would be a much-needed adjustment to an out-of-control military-industrial complex.
First, some history. The Pentagon's budget has risen for 13 years, which is unprecedented. Between 2001 and 2009, overall spending on defense rose from $412 billion to $699 billion, a 70 percent increase, which is larger than in any comparable period since the Korean War. Including the supplementary spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, we spent $250 billion more than average U.S. defense expenditures during the Cold War - a time when the Soviet, Chinese and Eastern European militaries were arrayed against the United States and its allies. Over the past decade, when we had no serious national adversaries, U.S. defense spending has gone from about a third of total worldwide defense spending to 50 percent. In other words, we spend more on defense than the planet's remaining countries put together.
It is not unprecedented for defense spending to fall substantially as we scale back or end military actions. After the Korean War, President Dwight Eisenhower cut defense spending 27 percent. Richard Nixon cut it 29 percent after Vietnam. As tensions declined in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan began scaling back his military spending, a process accelerated under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Given the enormous run-up in spending under George W. Bush, even if President Obama made comparable cuts to that of those presidents today, defense spending would remain substantially above the levels under all those presidents. The Bowles-Simpson commission's plan proposed $750 billion in defense cuts over 10 years. Lawrence Korb, who worked at the Pentagon for Ronald Reagan, believes that a $1 trillion cut over 10 to 12 years is feasible without compromising national security.
Serious conservatives should examine the defense budget, which contains tons of evidence of liberalism run amok that they usually decry. Most talk of waste, fraud and abuse in government is vastly exaggerated; there simply isn't enough money in discretionary spending. Most of the federal government's spending is transfer payments and tax expenditures, which are - whatever their merits - highly efficient at funneling money to their beneficiaries. The exception is defense, a cradle-to-grave system of housing, subsidies, cost-plus procurement, early retirement and lifetime pension and health-care guarantees. There is so much overlap among the military services, so much duplication and so much waste that no one bothers to defend it anymore. Today, the U.S. defense establishment is the world's largest socialist economy.
8) An Urgent Phone Call Highlights Diplomatic Cost Of US Drones Strikes In Pakistan
Associated Press, August 2
Islamabad - The American ambassador to Islamabad phoned Washington with an urgent plea: Stop an imminent CIA drone strike against militants on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border.
He feared the timing of the attack would further damage ties with Islamabad, coming only a day after the government grudgingly freed a CIA contractor held for weeks for killing two Pakistanis.
Ambassador Cameron Munter's rare request - disclosed to The Associated Press by several U.S. officials - was forwarded to the head of the CIA, who dismissed it. Some U.S. officials said Leon Panetta's decision was driven by a belief that the militants being targeted were too important to pass up, but others suspected that anger at Pakistan for imprisoning Raymond Davis for so long played a role.
The deadly March 17 attack, which the Pakistanis claim killed 38 civilians, helped send the U.S.-Pakistan relationship into a tailspin from which it has not recovered. The timing of the strike - and others that followed - outraged Pakistani officials, complicating U.S. efforts to win Pakistani cooperation on the Afghan war and retain support for the drone program.
Newly revealed details of the drone strikes were provided by U.S. and Pakistani officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the program.
Among them were attacks that followed an April visit by Pakistan's spy chief to Washington as well as trips here by Sen. John Kerry and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton after the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani military town in May.
The latest strike occurred Tuesday while the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Marc Grossman, was visiting Islamabad.
Seven years into a secret program that has killed scores of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, there are increasing questions over whether it is worth the diplomatic backlash in Pakistan. President Barack Obama has dramatically ramped up the program, unleashing more than 200 strikes since he took office compared to fewer than 50 during the Bush administration.
The attacks have also strained the relationship between the U.S. State Department and the CIA, where officials argue that killing militants who threaten U.S. interests should take priority over political considerations, said U.S. officials.
That tension was clearly visible between Ambassador Munter and the CIA station chief in Islamabad, who recently left his post because of illness, said a senior Western official in the region. "When the doors are closed they are shouting at each other, but once the doors are open they are congenial in front of the embassy staff," said the official.
Munter's request went to the State Department and was forwarded to then-CIA director Panetta, now secretary of defense, who insisted on going ahead, said the officials. It is unclear whether Clinton was involved in the decision.
The former aide said the strike reflected the CIA's anger at the ISI, which it blamed for keeping Davis in prison for seven weeks. "It was in retaliation for Davis," the aide said. "The CIA was angry."
9) Taliban Hint At Interest In Negotiated Settlement
Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, August 3, 2011
Kabul, Afghanistan - The Taliban have begun to send signals that they are interested in a negotiated settlement, potentially offering an opening for the West and the Afghan government, several Western officials said.
While there have been some meetings between the Afghan government, NATO officials and some Taliban figures - and even with someone who turned out to be a Taliban imposter - the Taliban have always insisted that NATO troops would have to leave Afghanistan before any meaningful negotiations could take place. Now two recent statements suggest instead that they would be willing to engage in talks even with foreigners in the country. The Taliban are also speaking in less inflammatory terms.
The Taliban shift comes even as Afghan public opinion has grown increasingly skeptical about the viability of peace talks in recent weeks, Western officials said. Under the best of circumstances, it will likely take years for a deal to be reached, but many Afghans and Westerners believe that the parties need to start talks before the United States begins to draw down substantial numbers of troops.
"The Taliban's public position has undergone an evolution," said Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special representative to Afghanistan, citing a United Nations analysis of Taliban statements since January, including one on July 28 posted on the Taliban's Alemarah Web site. "They are becoming politically engaged." The analysis was shared Wednesday with senior diplomats in Kabul.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, confirmed that the article had been posted, and while he said it did not represent the official position, he reiterated several of the article's points. Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban higher education minister who is now a member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, said he believed that the posting by the Taliban was part of an effort to show an interest in talks.
"I am pretty certain that the Taliban are showing a little bit of flexibility recently, and as far as I have information there is a keenness and willingness from Taliban and among the Taliban ranks for peace," he said.
The Taliban statement, which describes how to bring an end to the war and how the Taliban will behave, includes this sentence: "The Americans and all foreign invading forces should seek a face-saving exit from Afghanistan in understanding with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."
The United Nations analysis notes that "this envisages talks specifically about foreign troop withdrawal."
Another statement promises that the Taliban "will abide by its commitments to the stability of the region following the withdrawal of foreign forces."
Many in southern Afghanistan, who would likely have to live most closely with the Taliban, worry not only about potential abuses but also about sharing power and spoils. Sway over local tribes would have to be divided with them along with the local income producers - the poppy crop, the customs duties and the rich agricultural land.
"This government consists of warlordism so they are all power hungry," said Mohammed Omar Satai, 62, a elder from Kandahar who is working to form the local peace commission. "They fear that if the Taliban come they would want shares of power."
Nonetheless as diplomats search for a way forward, they see a shift that should not be ignored, they say. "The tone of this statement differs from previous statements," said Mr. de Mistura.
"This is their response to Hillary," he said, referring to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech in February at the Asia Society in which she made clear that a laying down of arms on the part of the Taliban was no longer a precondition for talks, but a "necessary outcome."
10) Abuses in Honduras
Kathleen Kern, Mennonite Weekly Review, Aug. 8
In 2009 I wrote about the coup in Honduras that deposed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya and about the human rights abuses that followed. At the end of May, Zelaya returned to Honduras. Between 500,000 to 1.5 million Hondurans in red T-shirts came to the Tegucigalpa airport to welcome him.
The occasion was a triumph of sorts. At least symbolically, it represented the return of a leader most Hondurans voted for. However, his return will not result in his reclamation of the presidency, nor will it guarantee that those who committed human rights violations during the coup regime be held accountable.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos merely brokered a deal with de facto President Porfirio Lobo that would drop legal charges against Zelaya, including treason, corruption, usurpation and abuse of authority.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton immediately announced after Zelaya's return that the Organization of American States should readmit Honduras. The OAS swiftly complied, with only Ecuador dissenting, even though the OAS had said Honduras could not rejoin unless it prosecuted those charged with human rights abuses, among other conditions.
These abuses are ongoing. In June, paramilitaries murdered three peasant leaders and kidnapped two, who remain missing. In July, two Honduran journalists were gunned down.
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