Bernie, Amendments, and Moving the Money

Senator Bernie Sanders has finally done something that some of us thought would give his presidential campaign a big boost four years ago, and again this past year. He’s proposed to introduce legislation to move a significant amount of money from militarism to human and environmental needs (or at least human needs; the details aren’t clear, but moving money out of militarism is an environmental need).

Better late than never! Let’s make it happen with an overwhelming show of public support! And let’s make it a first step!

Technically, back in February, Bernie buried in a fact-sheet about how he would pay for everything he wanted to do, an $81 billion annual cut to military spending. While his current proposal is even smaller at $74 billion, it is a straightforward proposal to move the money; it’s not buried in a long document seeking to pay for transformative change almost entirely by taxing the wealthy; it’s already been covered at least by progressive media; it connects with a current burst of extraordinary activism, and Sanders has tweeted this:

“Instead of spending $740 billion on the Dept. of Defense, let’s rebuild communities at home devastated by poverty and incarceration. I’ll be filing an amendment to cut the DoD by 10% and reinvest that money in cities and towns that we’ve neglected and abandoned for far too long.”

And this:

“Instead of spending more money on weapons of mass destruction designed to kill as many people as possible, maybe—just maybe—we should invest in improving lives right here in the United States of America. That’s what my amendment is all about.”

One reason for this move by Sanders is almost certainly the current activism demanding that resources be moved from armed policing to useful expenses. The grotesque diversion of local budgets into militarized police and prisons is of course far outstripped in absolute numbers, in proportions, and in the suffering and death created, by Congress’s diversion of the federal discretionary budget into war and preparations for more war — which is of course where the weaponry and warrior training and a lot of the destructive attitudes and the troubled misguided veterans in local policing come from.

Trump’s 2021 budget request varies little from past years. It includes 55% of discretionary spending for militarism. That leaves 45% of the money Congress votes on for everything else: environmental protections, energy, education, transportation, diplomacy, housing, agriculture, science, disease pandemics, parks, foreign (non-weapons) aid, etc., etc.

The priorities of the U.S. government have been wildly out of touch with both morality and public opinion for decades, and have been moving in the wrong direction even as awareness of the crises facing us has inched upward. It would cost less than 3% of U.S. military spending, according to UN figures, to end starvation on earth, and about 1% to provide the world with clean drinking water. Less than 7% of military spending would wipe out poverty in the United States.

Another reason for Sanders making his proposal now could possibly be that Sanders is no longer running for president. I don’t know that to be the case, but it would fit the odd relationship that peace has long had with politicians and with the corporate media.

Of the many extraordinary things about the current explosion of activism around racism and police brutality, perhaps the most extraordinary has been the corporate media response. The New York Times editorial page and Twitter have both suddenly announced that there are limits to how evil they should be. It’s suddenly become unacceptable to claim that patriotic flag worship outweighs anti-racism. Media outlets and corporations are falling all over themselves to declare their allegiance to opposing racism, if not to opposing police murders. And local governments and state governments are taking actions. All of this builds pressure on Congress to at least make some minor gestures in the right direction.

We can now read in the most corporate of corporate journalism about things that a month ago were called “officer involved deaths” but now are sometimes called “murders.” This is staggering. We are witnessing the often-denied power of activism, and the interlocking nature of supposedly symbolic steps like removing statues, supposedly rhetorical steps like calling murder murder, and supposedly more substantive steps like getting the police out of schools.

But, compare this to the response we’ve seen when antiwar activism has flourished. Even when the streets were relatively full in 2002 – 2003, the corporate media never went along, never changed its tune, never let antiwar voices exceed 5 percent of broadcast media guests, never employed antiwar voices, and never switched over to calling “humanitarian military operations” murder. One problem is that local governments don’t vote on war. And yet, they repeatedly have done just that. Before, during, and ever since that highpoint of activism, local U.S. governments have passed resolutions opposing particular wars and demanding that money be moved from militarism to human needs. The corporate media has never found a single damn it could give. And politicians who knew better have run away from an extremely popular, and longterm consistently popular position.

As Politico reported in 2016 on Sanders, “In 1995, he introduced a bill to terminate America’s nuclear weapons program. As late as 2002, he supported a 50 percent cut for the Pentagon.” What changed? Moving the money out of militarism only became more popular. The money in militarism only mushroomed higher. But Bernie ran for president.

In 2018, many of us signed an open letter to Bernie Sanders asking him to do better. Some of us met with some of his top staff. They claimed to agree. They said they’d do better. And to some degree they certainly did. Bernie sporadically included the Military Industrial Complex in his list of targets. He stopped talking so much about war as a public service. He sometimes talked about moving the money our of weaponry, although sometimes implying that the problem was largely in other countries, despite the U.S. titles of top spender and top dealer in weapons. But he never released a budget proposal. (As far as I have been able to find out, no U.S. presidential candidate of any sort ever has. [Please, folks, don’t keep claiming that’s impossible without producing a single example.]) And he never made ending wars or moving the money a focus of his campaign.

Now Sanders is no longer running. To their credit, some are still working hard to get him more votes (whether he wants them or not) in hopes of influencing the Democratic Party (and perhaps of making sure that Sanders is the nominee should the Biden train wreck ever entirely derail). But Sanders himself is focused on claiming that Biden is open to moving left, even as Biden proposes to increase police funding and rehabilitate his fellow Iraq-era war criminals.

This moment of not running might be an ideal one for an outburst of honesty, and of the level of public support for it that politicians never seem to have been convinced of. If we want decent things instead of mass murder, we have to seize this opportunity to show that we really mean it, and that we don’t care who acts on it or what they are or are not running for. We want Mitt Romney marching for Black Lives Matter not because we plan to put up a Mitt Romney Statue, not because we agree with Mitt Romney on a single other thing, not because the balance of Mitt Romney’s life appears to be anything other than a catastrophe, not because we think he “means it in his heart of hearts,” but because we want black lives to matter. We also want the money moved from militarism to decent things, no matter who is part of that process (and whether we love, admire, despise, or feel any way whatsoever about Bernie Sanders), because:

Last month, 29 Congress Members proposed moving money from militarism to human needs. We could add to that number if we all make our voices heard. And even that number could possibly be enough if they were to actually take a stand when it comes to voting on the next big military bill (the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021).

According to Common Dreams:

“The United States is projected to spend close to $660 billion on non-defense discretionary programs in fiscal year 2021—around $80 billion less than the defense budget proposed by the Senate NDAA. If Sanders’ amendment is added to the bill, the U.S. would instead spend more on non-defense discretionary programs—which encompass education, the environment, housing, healthcare, and other areas—than on defense.”

Of course militarism has nothing to do with “defense” outside of propaganda as absurd and damaging as the notion of putting police in children’s schools, and the discretionary-and-otherwise total U.S. military budget is over $1.25 trillion a year. And, of course, Sanders’ talk of “right here in the United States” (see his tweet above) still seems to echo the notion that war is a public service for its distant victims, and certainly misses the size of the military budget, which we would have a hard time spending on the entire globe if we took a large enough chunk away from it. We don’t need to play into the old standby pretense that the alternative to war is “isolationism.” Any major cut to military spending should allow significant benefits to people within the U.S. and without.

The U.S. currently arms and trains and funds brutal dictators around the globe. The U.S. currently maintains military bases all over the globe. The U.S. is building and stockpiling vast quantities of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. These and many similar policies are not in the same category as actual humanitarian aid, or diplomacy. And the latter wouldn’t cost much to significantly increase.

Christian Sorensen writes in Understanding the War Industry, “The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that 5.7 million very poor families with children would need, on average, $11,400 more to live above the poverty line (as of 2016). The total money needed . . . would be roughly $69.4 billion/year.” Why not eliminate poverty in the United States for $69.4 billion and take the other $4.6 billion in your $74 billion amendment and provide no-strings-attached actual-humanitarian aid to the world based on severity of need rather than ulterior military motives?

Of course it is not true, as Senator Sanders endlessly claims, that the United States is the richest country in the history of the world. It’s not even the richest right now, per capita, which is the relevant measure in all of the Senator’s tweets and Facebook posts. Whether it’s the richest in absolute total depends on how you measure it, but is hardly relevant to addressing education, poverty, etc. We do need eventually to move politicians away from even the most benign sorts of U.S. exceptionalism. And we need to move them to recognizing that moving money out of war is just as important as moving money into good projects.

Even if you could fix everything by taxing the wealthy and leaving war spending in place, you couldn’t reduce the risk of nuclear apocalypse that way. You couldn’t decrease wars, slow the environmental destruction of the most environmentally destructive institution we have, curtail the impacts on civil liberties and morality, or put a stop to the mass slaughter of human beings without moving money out of militarism. The money needs to be moved out, which as a side-benefit produces jobs, whether the money is moved to humane spending or to tax cuts for working people. A program of economic conversion needs to transition to decent employment those engaged in supplying weaponry to governments around the world. A program of cultural conversion needs to replace racism and bigotry and violence-dependence with wisdom and humanism.

For many years now, the Congressional Delegate from Colonized Washington D.C., Eleanor Holmes Norton, has introduced a resolution to move funding from nuclear weapons to useful projects. At some point, bills like that one need to rise to the top of our agenda. But Sanders’ amendment is a current priority, because it can be attached this month to a bill that the supposedly partisan and divided and gridlocked U.S. Congress has consistently and harmoniously passed with overwhelming majorities every year since time immemorial.

We need this step now and it is obtainable. Get out there and demand it!

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