Shortening the war in Afghanistan by two years could easily pay half of the costs of an extension and expansion of the payroll tax holiday, the centerpiece of President Obama's jobs bill. Thus, the amendment put forward by Senator Merkley calling on the President to accelerate the drawdown in Afghanistan - which the Senate may vote on today - could make a significant contribution to creating more than half a million American jobs next year.
On Monday, Senate Democrats introduced legislation to extend the payroll tax cut. According to Majority Leader Reid, under the bill the average working family would have close to $1,500 a year more to spend. As the New York Times noted, "lower- and middle-income workers are the greatest beneficiaries of the tax cut."
Unfortunately, press reports indicate that Senate Republicans are very unlikely to support the bill, because to pay for the payroll tax holiday - which also would reduce the tax paid by employers - Democrats propose a 3.25 percent tax on gross income over $1 million.
From the point of view of the 99%, the appeal of paying for the payroll tax holiday with a tax on the very rich is obvious. As Paul Krugman has noted, the economic case for increasing taxes on the very rich is compelling.
However, if - as expected - the current Senate bill goes down to defeat due to Republican opposition, the question of how to pay for the extension of the payroll tax holiday will remain, so it makes sense to get some other good ideas for debt reduction which could pay for the tax holiday on the table.
If Senator Jeff Merkley's "expedite the drawdown from Afghanistan" amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act makes a strong showing, that could tip the Obama Administration towards a faster drawdown.
That would likely save hundreds of American and Afghan lives - not to mention all the people who wouldn't be physically and psychologically maimed - and could easily save the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars, at a time when the alleged need for fiscal austerity is being touted as a reason to cut Social Security benefits and raise the Medicare retirement age.
Everyone knows the Hippocratic Oath: "First, do no harm." It's a great motto to try to live by. But unfortunately, in this life on Earth, "Do no harm" isn't always on the menu at the restaurant. Sometimes, you're already doing harm, and there's no feasible immediate path to zero harm. Sometimes the best you can do in the short run is to reduce the harm as much as possible. And if that's the best you can do, then that is what you must do.
It's not politically feasible, unfortunately, to end the war tomorrow. But we could take a big bite out of it in the next week. And that would save many lives and real money. [You can ask your Senators to co-sponsor the Merkley amendment here.]
Merkley's amendment (#1174) says:
1) the President should expedite the transition of security responsibility to the government of Afghanistan;
2) the President shall devise a plan for expediting the drawdown of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan and accelerating the transfer of security authority to Afghan authorities prior to December 2014; and
After ten years of war, now is a perfect time to act to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has set up a toll-free number for us to call Congress: 1-877-429-0678. A Congressional "Supercommittee" is charged with coming up with $1.5 trillion in reduced debt over ten years, and the wars and the bloated Pentagon budget dangle before the Supercommittee like overripe fruit.
So what else is new, you may say. The Pentagon wants to stay everywhere forever.
Ordinarily, I think of myself as a card-carrying liberal. But lately, I'm getting the feeling that Liberal America had a meeting to decide on our current priorities and peace advocates weren't invited. I open my email and it's full of rallying cries about the urgency of taxing the rich. When was it decided that taxing the rich was the marquee demand of Liberal America at this juncture? Were peace advocates invited to this meeting? I see no evidence that we were.
In a different political juncture, I would be happy to march behind the banner of taxing the rich. But at this political juncture, when the war budget is half of federal discretionary spending, and when because of the Budget Control Act and the Supercommittee, we have a historic opportunity to cut the war budget - a much better prospect, at present, than our prospects for raising tax rates on rich people - I ain't marching for this dogwhistle anymore.
Suppose there were a massive government program to dump truckloads of dioxin in Lake Michigan. And suppose that - in addition to the direct effects of poisoning a major source of drinking water - this program were tremendously expensive in blood and treasure. Suppose that since October 7, 2001, more than five thousand American workers had been killed carrying out the Lake Michigan-poisoning project, with tens of thousands of American workers counted as wounded, and the real toll of wounded American workers many times higher. And suppose that the budgeted cost so far of the massive government program to dump poison in Lake Michigan were over a trillion dollars so far, with the real financial cost to society, when you count things like the future health costs of the poisoned American workers, much higher.
Would the marquee demand of Liberal America be to make Warren Buffett pay his fair share for the Lake Michigan-poisoning program? Or would the marquee demand of Liberal America be to stop dumping poison in Lake Michigan?
On October 7, 2011, the United States will have been at war for ten years.
Let's mark the occasion by making a national clamor for peace so loud that Congress, the President, and big media will have to pay attention.
October 7 happens to fall on a Friday this year. If you get to choose, Friday is not necessarily the most strategic day to make a national clamor for peace, because 1) Congress will likely not be in session 2) Friday is, in general, a crummy day to try to get media attention and 3) even if these two things weren't true or relevant, Friday is not a great day to try to hold public attention. People's thoughts are turning to the weekend, and then the weekend erases the chalkboard.
Moreover, the press has to cover the anniversary of the war, but these stories are going to be largely written and produced before Friday. The default media narrative will be: America has lost interest in the wars, because of the economy and unemployment, because "the wars are already winding down," or some other story that journalists or editors will make up. We have to beat this default media narrative. To beat it, we need to get in front of it.
So let's mark the occasion on Thursday, October 6. Let's have a national, "ecumenical" day of action for peace: to end the wars and cut the military budget.
By Thanksgiving, the Congressional "Super Committee" is supposed to come up with $1.2 trillion in debt reduction over the next ten years. The Super Committee can include anything it wants in its package - short-term economic stimulus (like extending unemployment benefits and the payroll tax holiday), revenue increases from curtailing tax breaks, cuts in military or domestic spending, subject only to two constraints. To avoid automatic cuts, the package has to add to $1.2 trillion in debt reduction over ten years. Also, to avoid automatic cuts, the package has to pass both houses of Congress in December, so the package has to have the property that it can pass the House and Senate.
A plausible and reasonable option would be to curtail future spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, consistent with keeping existing agreements and commitments to withdraw our troops, rather than replacing these agreements and commitments with agreements to establish permanent military garrisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under plausible and moderate assumptions, this would save at least $200 billion over ten years, 1/6 of the Super Committee's debt reduction goal.
Voting on amendments on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the House of Representatives took action to hasten the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Libya.
By a 204-215 vote [roll call] - six switchers would have passed the amendment - the House narrowly failed to adopt a bipartisan amendment from Reps. Jim McGovern [D-MA] and Justin Amash [R-MI] that would have required the Department of Defense to develop a plan for an "accelerated transition of military operations to Afghan authorities."
It may seem counter-intuitive to count narrowly failing to adopt an amendment as "taking an action," but in terms of consequences, it is taking action. Getting more than 200 votes sends a signal to the White House: if you don't move - for example, by announcing a significant drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer - you could lose the next vote in the House. And if the Administration lost a vote in the House on the Afghanistan war, you can bet that would be front-page news in Europe, weakening the Administration's case to the Europeans for continuing the status quo. It seems likely that the Administration will want to stay one step ahead of the House, rather than face a public defeat. That points toward an accelerated drawdown this year.
If 204 Members were willing to vote yes, it seems extremely likely that 6 House Members who voted no gave a yes vote serious consideration. Indeed, The Hill reports:
Following the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the floodgates opened in Washington this week for reconsideration of U.S. plans to continue the open-ended war in Afghanistan.
Now Representatives Jim McGovern and Walter Jones have introduced the "Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act," bipartisan legislation that would require the President present to Congress a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and a clear end date for the war. It would require the President to submit quarterly reports to Congress on the progress of troop withdrawal, as well as the human and financial costs of continuing the war. The President would also have to report how much money U.S. taxpayers would save if the war were brought to an end in six months, instead of five, ten, or twenty years.
Other Members of Congress have spoken out this week against indefinite continuation of the war, including Senators Dick Durbin , Richard Lugar, and Robert Menendez; (jointly) Representatives Lee, Ellison, Grijalva, Woolsey, and Waters; Representative Barney Frank; and Representative Cliff Stearns.
We got our man. Wave the flag, kiss a nurse, and start packing the equipment. It's time to plan to bring all our boys and girls home from Afghanistan. When the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks rolls around, let the world see that we are on a clear path to bringing home our troops from Afghanistan and handing back sovereignty to the Afghan people.
With more Sherlock Holmes than Rambo, and judging from press accounts, not much role for the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence tracked Osama bin Laden to a safe house in a well-appointed suburb of Pakistan's capital and a small U.S. force raided the compound. Press reports say Osama bin Laden was killed in a firefight in the compound and that his body has been buried at sea, in accordance with Islamic tradition that expects a burial within 24 hours.
Success typically has many authors, and I don't doubt the ability of some to argue that our occupation of Afghanistan has contributed to this result. Perhaps it will turn out that some prisoner captured in Afghanistan by U.S. forces contributed a key piece of information that helped investigators find bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
And of course it will be argued, correctly, that Osama bin Laden's death is not necessarily the end of al Qaeda nor of groups inspired by al Qaeda; indeed, that there will be an incentive now for al Qaeda and al Qaeda-inspired groups to retaliate and to prove that they can still carry out actions against the United States.
Last week, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson announced his candidacy for President of the United States.
This was a historic event, because 1) Gary Johnson wants to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and 2) Gary Johnson is a Republican. He also wants to slash the military budget.
Last year, he teamed up with singer Melissa Etheridge and actor Danny Glover for a Hollywood rally in favor of Proposition 19 -- an initiative that would have legalized marijuana in California.
This suggests that Gary Johnson can play well with others around issues of common concern.
It is tremendously important that there be at least one Republican candidate for President who is against the war in Afghanistan.
Polls show that Republican voters have turned against the war. But the majority of Republican voters who want US troops out of Afghanistan are so far almost totally unrepresented by Republican officials in Washington. Gary Johnson's campaign could break through the national Republican wall, because as a candidate for president, Gary Johnson will be able to get into the media, and the national Republican party leadership - "the party's ruling class," as The Hill put it - won't be able to silence him. Even if he doesn't get a dime from Lockheed or Raytheon, they won't be able to keep him off the stage in the early Republican debates, and that will change the discussion.