Tuesday, July 05, 2011

NY Times Op-Ed by Senators Tom Udall, Jeff Merkley, Rand Paul: Let's Not Linger in Afghanistan


Udall outlines Afghanistan position in May YouTube Town Hall

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) has been one of the most outspoken members of the Senate advocating for a genuine and timely troop departure from Afghanistan that fulfills President Obama's promise to the American people for a meaningful July 2011 start to the transition. Last month, he joined a group of 24 members of the Senate who sent a letter to Obama urging an end to US military involvement in Afghanistan, arguing that the primary objectives of “destroying al-Qaida’s safe haven and removing the Taliban government” have been accomplished. “The costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan,” the letter said.

Op-Ed: Remove All Combat Troops by 2012
Sen. Udall continued that advocacy this weekend with a July 4th op-ed in the New York Times entitled "Let's Not Linger in Afghanistan" that was jointly written with Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY). Udall and the other Senators tell it like it is:

"LAST month President Obama announced plans for withdrawing by next summer the approximately 30,000 American troops sent to Afghanistan as part of the 2009 surge.

"We commend the president for sticking to the July date he had outlined for beginning the withdrawal. However, his plan would not remove all regular combat troops until 2014. We believe the United States is capable of achieving this goal by the end of 2012. America would be more secure and stronger economically if we recognized that we have largely achieved our objectives in Afghanistan and moved aggressively to bring our troops and tax dollars home. [emphasis added]

"After Al Qaeda attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, we rightly sought to bring to justice those who attacked us, to eliminate Al Qaeda’s safe havens and training camps in Afghanistan, and to remove the terrorist-allied Taliban government. With hard work and sacrifice, our troops, intelligence personnel and diplomatic corps have skillfully achieved these objectives, culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden.

"But over the past 10 years, our mission expanded to include a fourth goal: nation-building. That is what we are bogged down in now: a prolonged effort to create a strong central government, a national police force and an army, and civic institutions in a nation that never had any to begin with. Let’s not forget that Afghanistan has been a tribal society for millenniums.

"Nineteen months ago the president announced the surge strategy in hopes of stabilizing Afghanistan and strengthening its military and police forces. Today, despite vast investment in training and equipping Afghan forces, the country’s deep-seated instability, rampant corruption and, in some cases, compromised loyalties endure. Extending our commitment of combat troops will not remedy that situation.

"Sometimes our national security warrants extreme sacrifices, and our troops are prepared to make them when asked. In this case, however, there is little reason to believe that the continuing commitment of tens of thousands of troops on a sprawling nation-building mission in Afghanistan will make America safer.

"National security experts, including the former C.I.A. director Leon E. Panetta, have noted that Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan has been greatly diminished. Today there are probably fewer than 100 low-level Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda has a much larger presence in a number of other nations.

"Our focus shouldn’t be establishing new institutions in Afghanistan, but concentrating on terrorist organizations with global reach. And our military and intelligence organizations have proved repeatedly that they can take the fight to the terrorists without a huge military footprint.

"We have urgent needs at home: high unemployment and a flood of foreclosures, a record deficit and a debt that is over $14 trillion and growing. We are spending $10 billion a month in Afghanistan. We need to change course.

"A week before the president’s speech, 24 of our Senate colleagues joined us by signing onto a bipartisan letter urging the president to announce a sustained and sizable drawdown from Afghanistan with the goal of removing regular combat troops. This group includes progressives, moderates and conservatives united behind one conclusion: we’ve accomplished what we set out to accomplish in Afghanistan, and we can no longer afford the lives and money it is taking to pursue an ambitious open-ended nation-building mission.

"It is not too late to change course in what has become the longest American war in history. In light of our considerable national needs, both security and domestic, we urge the president to bring our troops home at last."

Well said, Senators. Keep the pressure on for a much-needed end to the longest war in American history!

July 5, 2011 at 09:43 AM in Afghanistan, Economy, Populism, Military Affairs, Sen. Tom Udall | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

NM Congressional Delegation Responds to Obama's Speech on Afghanistan

Afghanistanwithdrawal
Click image for larger version

In a prime-time, 12-minute, televised speech (see transcript and video) to the nation tonight, President Obama outlined a plan for beginning troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. The President said he intends to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and that the remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 “surge” would leave by next summer. This would amount to a reduction of about one-third of the 100,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan. Obama also said the troop reductions would continue “at a steady pace,” bringing to an end America’s longest war.

The conflict has so far resulted in the loss of 1,500 American lives, as well as countless others, and the cost to U.S. taxpayers has been astronomical.

Obama also said that, “Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource: our people.” It's about time he is at least saying these words.

Here's a sampling of opinions of politicos on the speech. So far, members of New Mexico's congressional delegation responded this way:

U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "I commend President Obama for sticking to the July 2011 timeline he outlined in 2009 to begin transitioning security responsibility to the Afghans. Our military, intelligence and diplomatic corps have made tremendous strides in the effort to eradicate al Qaeda and prevent Taliban safe havens in Afghanistan, culminating with the killing of Osama bin Laden. 

 "In the face of urgent needs at home, American families continue to sacrifice precious lives and $10 billion a month in Afghanistan. Our nation's longest war has evolved into a prolonged counterinsurgency operation, combined with an attempt to install civic institutions and a central government into a tribal society that has never had any. While the president is making good on a promise to begin the transition of combat troops, I would urge him to institute a 12 to 18 month flexible timeline for the Afghans to take control of their own security.

It should be noted that Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman joined a group of 24 members of the Senate who sent a letter to Obama last week urging an end to US military involvement in Afghanistan, arguing that the primary objectives of “destroying al-Qaida’s safe haven and removing the Taliban government” have been accomplished. “The costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan,” the letter said.

Representative Martin Heinrich (NM-01): “I commend the President for honoring our men and women in uniform and acknowledging their bravery and sacrifice over the last decade. A nation at war comes at a great cost to its people. “While I’m encouraged that President Obama is keeping his word to bring our troops home, I believe the time is right for a more accelerated drawdown. We must have a fundamental change in mission in Afghanistan focused on counter terrorism just like what we saw work with the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.”

Rep. Heinrich sent a letter to President Obama this past April expressed his "strong support" for starting the drawdown of American military forces in July 2011 ... challenges remain that no amount of American blood or treasure will completely solve. Indeed, we must be realistic about what is achievable and what is not." Heinrich added, "I also request that the reduction of forces not be limited to support forces such as logistics specialists but also include combat troops."

Congressman Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03): “With the death of Osama bin Laden and the weakening of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, it is time to prepare to bring our young men and women home and bring an end to a war that is costing our country $10 billion a month. I believe that we need to take more significant steps than the President announced tonight in order to wind down this war and send a clear signal to the people of Afghanistan that the future of their country rests in their own hands. Those who bravely wear the uniform have served heroically in harm’s way, making great strides under difficult conditions, and I look forward to welcoming our returning troops home in the coming months.”

I will add more responses when I receive them.

Update: State Auditor Hector Balderas, a Democratic primary candidate for U.S. Senate has released this statement:

"I commend our Commander in Chief for his order to withdraw 10,000 U.S. troops this year and another 23,000 by the end of September 2012 from Afghanistan. I'm confident that President Obama and General Petraeus, along with the rest of the national security team, have determined that a reduction in American troops benefits the United States, Afghanistan and the entire region. The President's steadfast commitment to defeating al-Qaeda and ensuring that Afghanistan does not turn back into a safe-haven for terrorists has been critical to keeping our country safe.

While this reduction is a positive step, we must remember that close to 70,000 troops will remain in harm's way in Afghanistan and our commitment to supporting them and our mission must not waver. The sooner all of our troops are out of Afghanistan the better. But it cannot be done at the expense of our country's safety. As President Obama made clear tonight, we still have a tough road ahead. Tonight my thoughts are with our brave men and women in uniform, and their parents, spouses and children."

June 22, 2011 at 07:51 PM in Afghanistan, Military Affairs, Obama Administration, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03), Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01), Sen. Tom Udall | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Udall Again Warns Against Escalation of Military Force in Libya

Last Friday, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) called on Congress to exercise its War Powers authority to approve or disapprove the use of American troops in Libya –- saying that we’re “heading down a slippery path towards an escalation of military force” in the country. Yesterday, Senator Udall again stressed that message in even more strongly worded language, this time on the Senate floor (see video above). Excerpt:

“Now, it’s been over 60 days since the President notified the Congress that he intended to use military force in Libya. We are adrift. Without direction. We are in danger of fighting an expanded war – a war that was originally justified as a limited military operation – a no fly zone – to prevent civilian casualties and an imminent catastrophe. 

 “This war has now been slowly expanded to one that is pushing for regime change. Mr. President: We have been down this path before.

The floor speech comes ahead of Thursday’s mark-up of a Kerry-McCain resolution on U.S. involvement in Libya by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Udall is a member. Sen. Udall had proposed the following amendment to S. Res. 194 -- titled ‘Expressing the sense of the Senate on United States military operations in Libya,’ and he is urging that similar language be included in any authorization of military force:

‘That the President is not authorized to deploy ground forces, including special operations forces, in pursuance of any goals related to United States policy in Libya, unless expressly authorized by Congress or as determined necessary by the President to protect member of the United States Armed Forces currently deployed in the region.’

Let's hope that the rest of the Committee, as well as other Senators and House members, truly hear what Sen. Udall has been saying -- and take action appropriate to their war power responsibilities with a clear recognition of how another open-ended armed conflict would damage the nation at this time. It would be incredibly irresponsible to allow President Obama to make all the calls and lazily allow the nation to drift into another expensive and endless conflict with no clear goal or exit strategy.

Below are Udall’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

“I rise today because I believe that the United States is heading down a slippery path towards an escalation of military force in Libya. I also believe that if the United States military is to be involved in such an escalation, then the United States Congress must exercise its Constitutional authority and approve or disapprove of the President’s proposal.

“I supported President Obama’s initial decision to engage in a limited military operation to prevent an imminent humanitarian catastrophe. President Obama and the international community were clear – that the targeting of civilians by Muammar Gaddafi would not be tolerated.

“Now, it’s been over 60 days since the President notified the Congress that he intended to use military force in Libya. We are adrift. Without direction. We are in danger of fighting an expanded war – a war that was originally justified as a limited military operation – a no fly zone – to prevent civilian casualties and an imminent catastrophe. 

 “This war has now been slowly expanded to one that is pushing for regime change. Mr. President: We have been down this path before.

“In Libya, we are now receiving reports that helicopter gunships are being used to target ground forces, something that was never originally intended under the premise of a no-fly zone. In fact, it seems that the no-fly zone has slowly evolved into what some call a ‘no-drive zone.’ The Congress has not approved this action. I do not believe that the UN Security Council approved such an action in the UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

“We also hear that it is now the policy to support regime change and that there are some plans to arm rebel groups. Some outside groups and members of Congress are clamoring to escalate the war in Libya. They believe air power will never dislodge Muammar Gaddafi and his family. To clarify, the U.S. Congress has not approved the use of military force to achieve regime change.

“Flooding the region with small arms is also being proposed. This would be a major mistake and could lead to a host of unintended consequences. We do not know enough about rebels fighting Gaddafi, but we do know that there are plenty of mercenaries, as well as members of Al Qaeda, waiting to exploit any such chaos. If arms are flooded into the region, there is no guarantee that we will be able to account for those arms. And, in my opinion, there’s a high likelihood that those arms could end up in the hands of some very unsavory and dangerous individuals.

 “The bottom line is this: the Congress has not had the opportunity to weigh in. Like my colleagues, I deplore Muammar Gaddafi. I support a democratic transition and his departure from power, but the military goal should be defined and limited as a matter of policy. It should not include regime change.  That is a dangerous escalation.

“As many of you know, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was planning a mark-up last week of S. Res. 194 - titled ‘Expressing the sense of the Senate on United States military operations in Libya.’  I had strong concerns about the resolution we were scheduled to consider for several reasons.

“A sense of the Senate is clearly not an authorization for use of military force.

“A sense of the Senate does not meet the requirements in the War Powers Act.

“And a Sense of the Senate falls short of meeting our Constitutional requirements to declare war.

“I drafted an amendment to S.Res. 194, and I ask Unanimous Consent that the text of this amendment be included in the record at the conclusion of my remarks. My amendment stated:

‘That the President is not authorized to deploy ground forces, including special operations forces, in pursuance of any goals related to United States policy in Libya, unless expressly authorized by Congress or as determined necessary by the President to protect member of the United States Armed Forces currently deployed in the region.’

“I believe that any authorization of military force should contain similar language. I understand that Senator Webb and Senator Corker have introduced a resolution with these prohibitions and exceptions to protect our troops, and I support these efforts to limit the mission in Libya. It is important that we do not escalate military actions in Libya. The results would be dangerous and costly to the region and our country.

“While last week's mark-up was postponed, it is my understanding that Senator Kerry and others are working on language that would fulfill our Constitutional obligations and the War Powers act. I look forward to consideration of this in the Foreign Relations Committee and strongly believe that it should include language similar to the amendment I was going to offer.

“I have been proud to serve in the United States Congress for more than a decade. I have served in the body during two wars. I have seen the impacts on our military, on their families, and on our national deficit. Before the United States escalates its involvement in another oversees conflict, this body must weigh in. It’s our constitutional duty to our country and our constituents.”

June 15, 2011 at 07:00 AM in Military Affairs, Obama Administration, Sen. Tom Udall | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Udall: U.S. Headed Down “Slippery Path” Towards Escalation of Military Force in Libya

U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) yesterday called on the Congress to exercise its War Powers authority to approve or disapprove the use of American troops in Libya –- saying that we’re “heading down a slippery path towards an escalation of military force” in the country.

Udall’s comments come as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prepares to consider a resolution next week titled, “Expressing the sense of the Senate on United States military operations in Libya.” The committee was originally expected to consider the resolution this week, but that meeting was postponed.

“I have been proud to serve in the U.S. Congress for more than a decade. I have served in the body during two wars. I have seen the impacts on our military, on their families, and on our national deficit,” Udall said. “I’m concerned that we’re heading down a slippery path towards an escalation of military force in Libya. Before the United States escalates its involvement in another overseas conflict, this body must weigh in. It’s our constitutional duty to our country and our constituents.”

The War Powers Act requires the President to “terminate any use of United States Armed Forces” after a period of 60 days unless Congress “has declared war or has enacted a specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces” or “has extended by law such 60-day period” or if Congress is not able to meet as a result of an armed attack on the United States.

Udall, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, supported President Obama’s initial decision to engage in a limited military operation in Libya to prevent an imminent humanitarian catastrophe. But more than 60 days after the President notified Congress of his intent to use military force, Udall believes the mission is now adrift and lacking direction.

“We are in danger of fighting an expanded war, a war that was originally justified as a limited military operation -– a no fly zone –- to prevent civilian casualties and an imminent catastrophe.  This war has now been slowly expanded to one that is pushing for regime change,” Udall said. “Like my colleagues, I deplore Muammar Gaddafi. I support a democratic transition and his departure from power. But the military goal should be defined and limited as a matter of policy. It should not include regime change. That is a dangerous escalation.”

Concerned that this week’s resolution didn’t go far enough in restricting the use of military force, Udall drafted the following amendment to limit U.S. involvement in Libya and prevent the introduction of ground troops:

“The President is not authorized to deploy ground forces, including special operations forces, in pursuance of any goals related to United States policy in Libya, unless expressly authorized by Congress or as determined necessary by the President to protect members of the United States Armed Forces currently deployed in the region.”

Because this week’s meeting was postponed, the amendment was not introduced –- but Udall will consider submitting it next week if he believes language in the revised resolution remains too weak.

“The current ‘sense of the Senate’ is clearly not an authorization for use of military force. It does not meet the requirements of the War Powers Act, and falls short of meeting our Constitutional requirements to declare war,” Udall said. “I look forward to consideration of next week’s resolution, and strongly believe that it should include language similar to the amendment I drafted earlier this week.”

June 11, 2011 at 07:00 AM in Military Affairs, Obama Administration, Sen. Tom Udall | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 13, 2011

ACLU Seeks Justice for Gay and Lesbian Veterans

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Mexico, which seeks full separation pay for service members who were honorably discharged but had their separation pay cut in half because of “homosexuality.” In the past six years, 142 honorably discharged veterans had their separation pay cut in half because of the discriminatory policy. The total amount of separation pay withheld from those veterans is approximately $2.1 million.

The lawsuit was filed in November 2010, before Congress repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that barred gay or lesbian service members from the military. The lead plaintiff in the case is Richard Collins, a former staff sergeant in the Air Force who served for nine years until he was discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Collins was stationed at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico. In its response, the DOJ states that the half-separation pay policy applies not only to those who engage in “Homosexual Conduct,” but also those discharged from the military for drug and alcohol abuse or being deemed a national security risk.

“The government’s decision to contest these claims is baffling," said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. "These honorably discharged veterans were forced out of the military under the unconstitutional and discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, which is in the process of being repealed. All that these veterans are asking for is to receive the same separation pay that any other honorably discharged veteran would have received. It is outrageous to equate these service members with those who were discharged for threats to national security and drug abuse. The government’s treatment of these veterans is shameful and adds insult to injury.”

“The Department of Justice’s action today is profoundly disappointing," said Laura Ives, staff attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico. "The government must treat our veterans with the fairness and dignity they deserve, especially if those veterans were discharged from the armed forces under a policy that is in the process of being dismantled for being unconstitutional.”

Click for more information on the ACLU’s case.

May 13, 2011 at 12:15 AM in Civil Liberties, GLBT Rights, Legal Issues, Military Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

05/19-05/22: National Gathering in ABQ of GI Rights Hotline Network

From the GI Rights Hotline:
The GI Rights Hotline -- including the local branch here in NM that many of you helped to launch -- provides information, referrals and support to members of the military, veterans, military-aged youth and their families. This year, the local group in Albuquerque will host the annual national conference, and you are invited to take part!

The conference dates are Thursday evening, May 19 (arrival, welcome), through Sunday afternoon, May 22, with the conference workshops beginning on Friday. For a full schedule, please contact Maria Santelli: 505-410-7657 or mjs1126@hotmail.com. Events will take place on the UNM Campus and at the Peace and Justice Center in Albuquerque.

You can learn more about the work of the hotline, meet network members and fellow peace workers from all around the country and hear about the work of incredible local and national organizations, including:

  • Civilian Medical Resources Network (CMRN), a group founded and based here in 'Burque that connects military members with civilian medical professionals who can provide objective evaluations of physical and psychological health;
  • Local and National Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), who will share information about their latest campaign, Operation Recovery, which works to end the deployment of traumatized troops;
  • Courage to Resist, a national organization dedicated to supporting war resisters including Lt. Ehren Watada, will lead a workshop on ways we can support war resisters and whistleblowers like Pfc. Bradley Manning;
  • the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) (invited--not confirmed), founded and based here in NM, working to protect religious freedom in the US Military; and
  • *Franciscan Father Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC), located in Albuquerque's South Valley.  Father Rohr, who has counseled Military Chaplains, will be speaking on War and the Soul.

Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits will be available by special arrangement. Contact Maria at the number or email above for details. If you would like to join us for meals or if you will attend from out of town and need housing, please register by contacting Maria at the number or email above.

As always, your generous donations of time, money, or other goodies are welcome, too!

If senators won't stop the wars, maybe soldiers will--but they need our support! Thank you!

May 10, 2011 at 01:17 AM in Afghanistan, Events, Military Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rep. Martin Heinrich Urges President Obama to Keep Pledge on Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal

Official_Rep._Martin_Heinrich_Photo_thumb I'm very pleased to report that Congressman Martin Heinrich has personally urged President Obama to keep his pledge to begin substantial withdrawals of troops from Afghanistan this summer. In a strongly worded letter (pdf) dated April 25, 2011, Rep. Heinrich expressed his "strong support" for starting the drawdown of American military forces in July 2011. He noted that:

The gains achieved over the past year are notable, and having been among the first Members of Congress to in May 2010 to visit Kandahar City -- the birthplace of the Taliban movement -- I have seen firsthand that progress is being made.

However, challenges remain that no amount of American blood or treasure will completely solve. Indeed, we must be realistic about what is achievable and what is not. I remain deeply concerned about Afghan governance since President Karzai continues to underperform and corruption is widespread. Meanwhile, Pakistan remains reluctant to take aggressive action against extremist groups operating within its own borders. I fear the inability and unwillingness of these two partners are elements that even the heroic service of our troops and diplomats cannot overcome.

Rep. Heinrich assured the President that he realizes the drawdown will be "a complex process" like the one in Iraq, and that he will continue to support "our nation's efforts to ensure South Asia does not become a safe haven for violent terrorism." However, the Congressman reiterated that the drawdown needs to start this summer, and added,

I also request that the reduction of forces not be limited to support forces such as logistics specialists but also include combat troops.

In arguing for the troop withdrawal, Rep. Heinrich mentioned two powerful points:

We have spent over $450 billion in Afghanistan since the start of this war. Our youngest soldiers now serving in some of the most dangerous places on earth were just eight years old when our nation was attacked on September 11, 2001. It is time we start bringing out troops home.

Clearly, Rep. Heinrich is with us in pushing for an end, at last, to the conflict that has lasted longer than any war in the history of our nation. And given his seat on the House Armed Services Committee and his first-hand experience with our troops, military and diplomatic leaders and humanitarian workers in the region during his visit, his views will no doubt be taken very seriously by President Obama. I think Rep. Heinrich deserves a thank you for being pro-active on this issue and urging the President to do the same.

At a time when so many Americans are suffering from economic problems -- and important decisions are being made regarding what our government can afford to spend on health care, education and Social Security -- we need our President and members of Congress to face facts in Afghanistan. We need them to stop pouring billions of dollars per month into an almost decade-long war when it's become clear to most reputable experts that the battles there cannot be won by never-ending military action, despite the heroic efforts of our troops.

April 28, 2011 at 01:04 PM in 2012 NM Senate Race, Afghanistan, Military Affairs, Obama Administration, Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01) | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Albuquerque Marchers Demand End to US Wars: Photos and Video


Click for larger version or photo album

Note: The sad news is that Rep. Martin Heinrich (D, NM-01) and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D, NM-03) both voted AGAINST a recent resolution (non-binding) urging President Obama to keep his word and get the troops out of Afghanistan. Congressman Lujan, however, did at least sign onto a letter urging the President to do so.

About three hundred demonstrators against the U.S. wars/occupations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere turned out on Saturday to march from Central and University in Nob Hill to Albuquerque's Civic Plaza downtown. The protest, one of hundreds held around the country on the 8th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, was organized by the Answer Coalition, Stop the War Machine and the March 19 Coalition.

The main theme: bring the troops home now. Start using the $2 BILLION a week and more we spend on the wars to create jobs and support community and human needs. The American economy is still suffering from high unemployment rates, sagging worker paychecks and rising food and energy prices. Start dealing with our needs instead of shoveling money to defense contractors, mercenaries and corrupt Afghani and Iraqi officials. 


Chanting: occupation has got to go!

Many signs at the march and rally also criticized the U.S. military's severe treatment of 23-year-old Pvt. Bradley Manning, who has been held in solitary confinement at Quantico military prison in Virginia for nearly eight months. Manning is accused of leaking classified military and State Department documents to the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks. Others pressed for unity with union workers in Wisconsin and other states who are being attacked by right-wing governors and legislators.

In Washington DC, more than 100 people were arrested in front of the White House amidst a crowd of about a thousand demanding that President Obama "stop the war, expose the lies and free Bradley Manning." Among those arrested was Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon official whose unprecedented leak of thousands of classified documents -- dubbed the Pentagon Papers -- revealed that top American officials were actively concealing the unwinnable reality of the Vietnam War from the public.

Ironically, the protests took place on the same day U.S. forces working with NATO nations and authorized by the United Nations started bombing Libya's air defenses and other targets. The stated objective is to create a no-fly zone to protect assaults on Libyan rebels who are seeking to oust long-time strongman Moammar Kadafi. According to the LA Times, an official, "who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Washington and its allies also were committed to using nonmilitary means to force Kadafi out, including steps intended to cripple the Libyan economy and isolate him diplomatically."

Photos and video by M.E. Broderick.

March 20, 2011 at 05:17 PM in Afghanistan, Economy, Populism, Events, Iraq War, Military Affairs, Peace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 18, 2011

3/19 at 11AM in Albuquerque: March and Rally to Stop the Wars

174862_193063817385351_3889731_nFrom ANSWER Coalition: Join veterans, students, activists, union members and thousands of others here and across the country to protest against the U.S. war machine. March and Rally in Albuquerque to Stop the Wars on Saturday, March 19, from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM.

Meet at Central and University and march to Lockheed Martin and a Rally at the Albuquerque Civic Plaza. Sponsored by the March 19 Coalition. Contact Stop the War Machine at 505-268-9557 or the ANSWER Coalition at 505-268-2488 for more information.

March 19 is the 8th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It will be a national day of action against the war machine.

  • End Occupation: Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine & Everywhere! 
  • Fund Jobs, Healthcare & Education, Not Militarism! 
  • Stop Budget Cuts, Tuition Hikes & Attacks on Working Families!

Iraq today remains occupied by 50,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries. The war in Afghanistan is raging. The U.S. is invading and bombing Pakistan. The wars abroad are directly connected to the war on working people at home. While the United States will spend $1 trillion for war, occupation and weapons in 2011, 30 million people in the U.S. remain unemployed or severely underemployed, and cuts in education, housing and healthcare are imposing a huge toll on the people. Now, new rounds of cutbacks in vital public services and jobs are underway at every level. The most affected are working and poor people -- especially people of color -- students and veterans.

Racism and immigrant bashing are on the rise, and civil rights and civil liberties are under attack. Now is the time to step up the struggle against U.S. wars and to demand money for people’s needs at home.

Join us. Protest and resistance actions will take place in cities and towns across the United States. Demonstrations are scheduled for Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and more.

March 18, 2011 at 02:57 PM in Afghanistan, Economy, Populism, Events, Iraq War, Military Affairs, Peace | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Congressman Ben Ray Luján Urges Obama to Stick to Afghanistan Withdrawal Timetable

Congressman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico’s Third District joined with 80 of his colleagues yesterday to send a letter to President Obama urging him to stick to his plan to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan no later than July of this year. On October 7, 2010, the Afghanistan War entered its 10th year, becoming the longest war in American history. Click to read the the letter (pdf) and the complete list of signatories.

Given all the billions still being dumped into the hands of contractors and thieves in Afghanistan while Americans continue to suffer from joblessness and eternally escalating budget cuts, you'd think every single member of Congress who claims to be a Democrat would sign on to this letter. Unfortunately, way too many Dems have apparently vowed to stick with the President and the Pentagon on this one, regardless of the consequences here at home. As the letter notes:

Our nation’s economic and national security interests are not served by a policy of open-ended war in Afghanistan. At a time of severe economic distress, the war in Afghanistan is costing the United States more than $100 billion per year, excluding the long-term costs of care for returning military servicemembers. At the same time, military and intelligence officials agree that Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is diminished and that there will not be a military solution to resolve the current situation. It is simply unsustainable for our nation to maintain a costly, military-first strategy in Afghanistan.

Out-of-Control Military and War Spending
More than $100 billion a year means we are still pouring about $2 BILLION A WEEK into the corrupt sinkhole that Afghanistan has become. For what return? And this doesn't even take into account the hundreds of billions still being spent in Iraq and on our regular military budget. The President's FY 2012 base budget request for military spending is $553 BILLION, not counting the war spending. With the spending for Iraq and Afghanistan added in, the total is $671 BILLION.

In the meantime, the President and way too many Dems in DC are suggesting that we need to cut spending on things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, funding to states in budgetary peril and more to reduce the deficit. The vast majority of Americans, however, believe that enough is enough:

The majority of the American people overwhelmingly support a rapid shift toward withdrawal in Afghanistan. In fact, a Gallup Poll released on February 2, 2011 indicated that 72% of Americans favor action this year to "speed up the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.” Let us be clear. The redeployment of a minimal number of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July will not meet the expectations of Congress or the American people.

Contact the NM Delegation
Let's thank Rep. Lujan for his courage and common sense on this issue, and urge Rep. Martin Heinrich (D, NM-01) and Rep. Steve Pearce (R, NM-02) to show some backbone on this issue and insist on the President keeping his word on our withdrawal from Afghanistan. As the letter says,

Mr. President, as you work to finally bring an end to the war in Iraq by the end of this year, we must commit ourselves to ensuring that our nation’s military engagement in Afghanistan does not become the status quo. It is time to focus on securing a future of economic opportunity and prosperity for the American people and move swiftly to end America’s longest war in Afghanistan.

Resolution Calls for Troop Removal
Today, the U.S. House will debate H. Con. Res. 28, a resolution proposed by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) that calls for President Obama to remove troops from Afghanistan within 30 days of adoption, or if the president determines such a rapid withdrawal would be jeopardize the safety of U.S. troops, then delay the withdrawal to no later than the end of the year. As Rep. Kucinich has noted

... while Congress "pulls unemployment benefits from suffering Ohio families and proposes slashing health care benefits, vital children's programmes and veterans' services all because we're 'broke,' it continues to fund a war that has cost us more than $455 billion (£282bn).

"The Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost the average US family of four almost $13,000 (£8,050) last year."

For more on the true costs and futility of continuing operations in Afghanistan, visit Rethink Afghanistan

March 17, 2011 at 11:35 AM in Afghanistan, Economy, Populism, Iraq War, Military Affairs, Obama Administration, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03), Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01), Steve Pearce | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rep. Martin Heinrich's TRICARE and Microgrid Bills Included in Final Defense Authorization Act

Heinrich The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011, finally passed by both the House and Senate, is expected to be signed by President Obama in the next few weeks. The legislation includes two important bills Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01) introduced earlier this year -- the TRICARE Dependent Coverage Extension Act and the Military Energy Security Act (MESA).

The details of the provisions secured by Rep. Heinrich in H.R. 6523 include:

  • Increasing the maximum age to 26 at which our troops and military retirees are allowed to provide health coverage to their dependent children. This language is based on a piece of legislation Rep. Heinrich introduced earlier this year, H.R. 4923, the TRICARE Dependent Coverage Extension Act, which has attracted 106 cosponsors and is endorsed by several veterans service organizations including the Military Officers Association of America, the National Guard Association of the United States, the Air Force Association, and the Air Force Sergeants Association.
  • Propelling our nation’s quest for energy security and independence. This language is based on legislation that Rep. Heinrich introduced, H.R. 5230, the Military Energy Security Act (MESA), which would create an energy security pilot program that utilizes partnerships between military bases and national laboratories to develop secure microgrid systems that could be implemented throughout our communities.

Although the House passed its version of the authorization bill (HR 5136) in May, the Senate twice voted against bringing its bill to the floor, largely because of Republican opposition. 

“Supporting our troops and their families is a top priority of mine,” said Rep. Heinrich in a written statement. “Our service men and women make tremendous sacrifices—risking their lives to keep the American people safe. It is our duty, and moral obligation, to make sure they have the resources they need to protect our nation during this time of conflict and for generations to come.”

December 23, 2010 at 01:50 PM in Energy, Healthcare, Military Affairs, Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01), Veterans | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Former Lt. Dan Choi Gets His West Point Ring Back from Sen. Harry Reid

Choiring
Lt. Dan Choi gets West Point ring back from Sen. Reid today

One of the names President Obama didn't mention at today's historic signing of the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal bill was that of former Lt. Dan Choi, who was discharged from the service when he publicly revealed he was gay on the Rachel Maddow Show in March of 2009. Lt. Choi was instrumental in getting the powers to be to act on the repeal, making the political very personal and applying unrelenting pressure on the president and the Congress to do it now, not later. With his brave, passionate, articulate and demanding presence, he became one of the very public faces of DADT discrimination, inspiring others to reveal themselves as gay or lesbians soldiers and vets in the public eye. Of course his work was a part of an effort by hundreds of thousands of activists -- like those featured at a recent " Healing the Damages" DADT panel discussion in Albuquerque -- but I think Choi deserves some special recognition.

When Choi felt the movement for DADT repeal was double crossed by the long-running inaction of Obama and Congress, he said so in no uncertain terms. He frequently appeared on TV, traveled around the country pushing for change, helped rally others punished by a policy that requires gay and lesbian service members to lie about who they are and even chained himself to the White House gates with other gay and lesbian service members several times, getting arrested in the process. Just recently, after the DADT repeal was defeated in the Senate as part of the defense spending bill obstructed by Republicans, Choi was hospitalized briefly for a "mental breakdown" at a VA Hospital -- worn down, agitated and depressed by the frustrating process of trying to help right a long-standing wrong by putting his own career and even his health and life on the line.

Back in July, at the Netroots Nation convention, Choi gave Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid his West Point graduation ring and his discharge papers, pushing Reid to follow through on his pledge to repeal DADT. He said he'd take back his ring and papers if and when Reid successfully secured the repeal.

Time has come today. Hours after President Obama signed the DADT repeal, Sen. Reid returned the ring to Lt. Choi in his Senate office (see photo at top). Well done! The video above shows Sen. Reid getting Choi's ring this summer, and returning it to Choi today, mission accomplished. The circle is closed.

Moving on to Full Equality
Meanwhile, Choi had this to say about the bill's passage, and the still unfinished business of LGBT citizens being granted their full legal rights in the US -- including full marriage equality -- just like everybody else. It's an incredible accomplishment to get DADT repealed, and that victory will help immensely in the continuing movement to gain full legal rights under civil law for LGBT citizens and couples. However, until there is true marriage equality at the federal level and in every state, we will still be second class citizens in the eyes of the law. 

On that point, President Obama gave a lot of couples -- like Mary Ellen and I -- a glimmer of hope that he will be doing more to get it done, despite the challenges of a Republican-dominated House for the next two years. In an interview yesterday with The Advocate, President Obama talked about the DADT repeal and other topics including the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA):

On the question of marriage equality, the president said his “attitudes are evolving.”

“Like a lot of people, I'm wrestling with this,” he said. "I've wrestled with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different connotation. But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian couples.”

The president also signaled that he and his lawyers are reviewing “a range of options” when it comes to the administration’s responsibility to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts, especially since repealing it over the next two years will be a nonstarter with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. 

“I have a whole bunch of really smart lawyers who are looking at a whole range of options. My preference wherever possible is to get things done legislatively,” Obama said, drawing a comparison with repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” 

“That may not be possible in DOMA’s case,” he added. “That’s something that I think we have to strategize on over the next several months.”

More Thank Yous
There are, of course, many people to thank for our victory today -- including New Mexico's Senators and House members, ALL of whom supported the repeal. However, I wanted to give a shout out to one legislator in particular -- Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA). A straight-as-an-arrow Iraq War veteran, Rep. Murphy -- who represents a fairly conservative blue-collar district -- was a tireless and very public supporter of DADT repeal in the Congress, and sponsored the final DADT repeal bill.

Unfortunately, Rep. Murphy was defeated in this year's midterm election, with his support for the repeal being one of the factors that figured into his loss. I'm especially proud of Rep. Murphy and very appreciative of his doing what is right, even though it may well have helped to cost him his job. More of this, please, in Congress and the White House.

Murphy
Rep. Patrick Murphy hugs former USMC Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, who was discharged under DADA, at today's signing ceremony

As Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said when the stand-alone bill was signed in the House yesterday:

"We are very, very proud of a person who served our country on the battlefield and served our country in the Congress, the author of the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' in the House, [Rep.] Patrick Murphy [(D-Pa.)]."

The mention was the first of three standing ovations for the lawmaker, who led the charge for repeal in the House.

Consider this another standing O for the departing Rep. Patrick Murphy -- and for everyone who worked tirelessly for this long sought repeal.

December 22, 2010 at 06:03 PM in Civil Liberties, GLBT Rights, Military Affairs, NM Congressional Delegation, Obama Administration | Permalink | Comments (0)