New Military Spending Bill Expands America’s Empire

On Friday, the House passed a massive National Defense Authorization for 2016 that will guarantee U.S. involvement in more wars and overseas interventions for years to come. The Republican majority resorted to trickery to evade the meager spending limitations imposed by the 2011 budget control act — limitations that did not, as often reported, cut military spending but only slowed its growth.

But not even slower growth is enough when you have an empire to maintain worldwide, so the House majority slipped into the military spending bill an extra $89 billion for an emergency war fund. Such “emergency” spending is not addressed in the growth caps placed on the military under the 2011 budget control act. It is a loophole filled by Congress with Fed-printed money.

Ironically, a good deal of this “emergency” money will go to President Obama’s war on ISIS, even though neither the House nor the Senate has debated — let alone authorized — that war! Although House leadership allowed 135 amendments to the defense bill — with many on minor issues like regulations on fire hoses — an effort by a small group of Representatives to introduce an amendment to debate the current U.S. war in Iraq and Syria was rejected.

While squashing debate on ongoing but unauthorized wars, the bill also pushed the administration toward new conflicts. Despite the president’s unwise decision to send hundreds of U.S. military trainers to Ukraine, a move that threatens the current shaky ceasefire, Congress wants even more U.S. involvement in Ukraine’s internal affairs. The military spending bill included $300 million to directly arm the Ukrainian government even as Ukrainian leaders threaten to again attack the breakaway regions in the east. Does Congress really think U.S.-supplied weapons killing ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine is a good idea?

The defense authorization bill also seeks to send yet more weapons into Iraq. This time, the House wants to send weapons directly to the Kurds in northern Iraq without the approval of the Iraqi government. Although these weapons are supposed to be used to fight ISIS, we know from too many prior examples that they often find their way into the hands of the very people we are fighting. Also, arming an ethnic group seeking to break away from Baghdad and form a new state is an unwise infringement of the sovereignty of Iraq. It is one thing to endorse the idea of secession as a way to reduce the possibility of violence, but it is quite something else to arm one side and implicitly back its demands.

While the neocons keep pushing the lie that the military budget is shrinking under the Obama Administration, the opposite is true. As the CATO Institute pointed out recently, President George W. Bush’s average defense budget was $601 billion, while during the Obama administration the average has been $687 billion. This bill is just another example of this unhealthy trend.

Next year’s military spending plan keeps the U.S. on track toward destruction of its economy at home while provoking new resentment over U.S. interventionism overseas. It is a recipe for disaster. Let’s hope for either a presidential veto, or that on final passage Congress rejects this bad bill.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Will Congress Shut Down Illegal NSA Spying Program?

Last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA’s metadata collection program was not authorized in U.S. law. The PATRIOT Act, under which the program began, was too vague, the court found. But the truth is the Act was intended to be vague so that the government could interpret it in the broadest possible way.

But this is really more of a technicality because illegality and unconstitutionality are really two very different things. Even if Congress had explicitly authorized the government to collect our phone records, that law would still be unconstitutional because the Constitution does not grant government the power to access our personal information without a valid search warrant.

Even though the court found the NSA program illegal, it did not demand that the government stop collecting our information in this manner. Instead, the court kicked the ball back in Congress’ court, as these provisions of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire at the end of the month and the Appeals Court decided to let Congress decide how to re-authorize this spying program.

Unfortunately, this is where there is not much to cheer. If past practice is any lesson, Congress will wait until the spying program is about to expire and then in a panic try to frighten Americans into accepting more intrusions on their privacy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already put forth a new bill as a stop-gap measure to allow time for a fuller debate on the issue. His stop-gap? A five year re-authorization with no changes to the current program!

The main reform bill being floated, the FREEDOM Act, is little better. Pretending to be a step in the right direction, the FREEDOM Act may actually be worse for our privacy and liberties than the PATRIOT Act!

One silver lining in the court decision is that it should exonerate Ed Snowden, who risked it all to expose what the courts have now found was illegal U.S. government activity. That is the definition of a whistleblower. Shouldn’t he be welcomed back home as a hero instead of being threatened with treason charges? We shouldn’t hold our breath!

This week, Snowden addressed a conference in Melbourne, Australia, informing citizens that the Australian government watches all its citizens “all the time.” Australia’s program allows the government to “collect everyone’s communications in advance of criminal suspicion,” he told the conference. That means the government is no longer in the business of prosecuting crimes, but instead is collecting information in case crimes someday occur.

How is it that the Australian government can collect and track “pre-crime” information on its citizens? Last month, Australia passed a law requiring telecommunications companies to retain metadata information on their customers for two years.

Why do Australia’s oppressive laws matter to us? Because the NSA “reform” legislation before Congress, the FREEDOM Act, does exactly what the Australian law does: it mandates that U.S. telecommunications companies retain their customers’ metadata information so that the NSA can access the information as it wishes.

Some argue that this metadata information is harmless and that civil libertarians are overreacting. But, as Ed Snowden told the Melbourne conference, “under these mandatory metadata laws, you can immediately see who journalists are contacting, from which you can derive who their sources are.”

This one example of what happens when the government forces corporations to assist it in spying on the people should be a red flag. How can an independent media exist in the U.S. if the government knows exactly whom journalists contact for information? It would be the end of any future whistleblowers.

The only reform of the PATRIOT Act is a total repeal. Accept nothing less.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

USA FREEDOM Act: Just Another Word For Lost Liberty

Apologists for the National Security Agency (NSA) point to the arrest of David Coleman Headley as an example of how warrantless mass surveillance is necessary to catch terrorists. Headley played a major role in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack that killed 166 people.

While few would argue that bringing someone like Headley to justice is not a good thing, Headley’s case in no way justifies mass surveillance. For one thing, there is no “terrorist” exception in the Fourth Amendment. Saying a good end (capturing terrorists) justifies a bad means (mass surveillance) gives the government a blank check to violate our liberties.

Even if the Headley case somehow justified overturning the Fourth Amendment, it still would not justify mass surveillance and bulk data collection. This is because, according to an investigation by ProPublica, NSA surveillance played an insignificant role in catching Headley. One former counter-terrorism official said when he heard that NSA surveillance was responsible for Headley’s capture, he “was trying to figure out how NSA played a role.”

The Headley case is not the only evidence that the PATRIOT Act and other post-9/11 sacrifices of our liberty have not increased our security. For example, the NSA’s claim that its surveillance programs thwarted 54 terrorist attacks has been widely discredited. Even the president’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies found that mass surveillance and bulk data collection was “not essential to preventing attacks.”

According to the congressional Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 and the 9/11 Commission, the powers granted the NSA by the PATRIOT Act would not have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Many intelligence experts have pointed out that, by increasing the size of the haystack government agencies must look through, mass surveillance makes it harder to find the needle of legitimate threats.

Even though mass surveillance threatens our liberty, violates the Constitution, and does nothing to protect us from terrorism, many in Congress still cling to the fiction that the only way to ensure security is to give the government virtually unlimited spying powers. These supporters of the surveillance state are desperate to extend the provisions of the PATRIOT Act that are set to expire at the end of the month. They are particularly eager to preserve Section 215, which authorizes many of the most egregious violations of our liberties, including the NSA’s “metadata” program.

However, Edward Snowden’s revelations have galvanized opposition to the NSA’s ongoing violations of our liberties. This is why Congress will soon vote on the USA FREEDOM Act. This bill extends the expiring surveillance laws. It also contains some “reforms” that supposedly address all the legitimate concerns regarding mass surveillance.

However, a look at the USA FREEDOM Act’s details, as opposed to the press releases of its supporters, shows that the act leaves the government’s mass surveillance powers virtually untouched.

The USA FREEDOM Act has about as much to do with freedom as the PATRIOT Act had to do with patriotism. If Congress truly wanted to protect our liberties, it would pass the Surveillance State Repeal Act, which repeals the PATRIOT Act. Congress should also reverse the interventionist foreign policy that increases the risk of terrorism by fostering resentment and hatred of Americans.

Fourteen years after the PATRIOT Act was rushed into law, it is clear that sacrificing liberty does little or nothing to preserve security. Instead of trying to fool the American people with phony reforms, Congress should repeal all laws that violate the Fourth Amendment, starting with the PATRIOT Act.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

American Double Standards On Display In Ukraine

Last week, two prominent Ukrainian opposition figures were gunned down in broad daylight. They join as many as ten others who have been killed or committed suicide under suspicious circumstances just this year. These individuals have one important thing in common: they were either part of or friendly with the Yanukovych government, which a US-backed coup overthrew last year. They include members of the Ukrainian parliament and former chief editors of major opposition newspapers.

While some journalists here in the U.S. have started to notice the strange series of opposition killings in Ukraine, the U.S. government has yet to say a word.

Compare this to the U.S. reaction when a single opposition figure was killed in Russia earlier this year. Boris Nemtsov was a member of a minor political party that was not even represented in the Russian parliament. Nevertheless, the U.S. government immediately demanded that Russia conduct a thorough investigation of his murder, suggesting the killers had a political motive.

As news of the Russian killing broke, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-CA) did not wait for evidence to blame the killing on Russian president Vladimir Putin. On the very day of Nemtsov’s murder, Royce told the US media that, “this shocking murder is the latest assault on those who dare to oppose the Putin regime.”

Neither Royce, nor Secretary of State John Kerry, nor President Obama, nor any U.S. government figure has said a word about the series of apparently political murders in Ukraine.

On the contrary, instead of questioning the state of democracy in what looks like a lawless Ukraine, the Administration is sending in the U.S. military to help train Ukrainian troops!

Last week, just as the two political murders were taking place, the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade landed in Ukraine to begin training Ukrainian national guard forces — and to leave behind some useful military equipment. Though the civil unrest continues in Ukraine, the U.S. military is assisting one side in the conflict — even as the U.S. slaps sanctions on Russia over accusations it is helping out the other side!

As the ceasefire continues to hold, though shakily, what kind of message does it send to the US-backed government in Kiev to have U.S. troops arrive with training and equipment and an authorization to gift Kiev with some $350 million in weapons? Might they not take this as a green light to begin new hostilities against the breakaway regions in the east?

The Obama administration is so inconsistent in its foreign policy. In some places, particularly Cuba and Iran, the administration is pursuing a policy that looks to diplomacy and compromise to help improve decades of bad relations. In these two cases, the administration realizes that the path of confrontation has led nowhere. When the president announced his desire to see the end of Cuba sanctions, he stated very correctly that, “…we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date. When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new.”

So while Obama is correctly talking about sanctions relief for Iran and Cuba, he is adding more sanctions on Russia, backing Saudi Arabia’s brutal attack on Yemen, and pushing ever harder for regime change in Syria. Does he really believe the rest of the world does not see these double standards? A wise consistency of non-interventionism in all foreign affairs would be the correct course for this and future US administrations. Let us hope they will eventually follow Obama’s observation that, “it’s time to try something new.”

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Who Really Profits From The West’s Warmongering?

aradaphotography / Shutterstock.com  aradaphotography / Shutterstock.com

Militarism and military spending are everywhere and on the rise, as the new Cold War propaganda seems to be paying off. The new “threats” that are being hyped bring big profits to military contractors and the network of think tanks they pay to produce pro-war propaganda.

Here are just a few examples:

The German government announced last week that it would purchase 100 more “Leopard” tanks — a 45 percent increase in the country’s inventory. Germany had greatly reduced its inventory of tanks, as the end of the Cold War meant the end of any threat of a Soviet ground invasion of Europe. The German government now claims that these 100 new tanks, which may cost nearly half a billion dollars, are necessary to respond to the new Russian ‘assertiveness’ in the region. Never mind that Russia has neither invaded nor threatened any country in the region, much less a NATO member country.

The U.S. Cold War-era nuclear bunker under Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, which was all but shut down in the 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, is being brought back to life. The Pentagon has committed nearly a billion dollars to upgrading the facility to its previous Cold War-level of operations. U.S. defense contractor Raytheon will be the prime beneficiary of this contract. Raytheon is a major financial sponsor of think tanks like the Institute for the Study of War, which continuously churn out pro-war propaganda. I am sure these big contracts are a good return on that investment.

NATO, which I believe should have been shut down after the Cold War ended, is also getting its own massively expensive upgrade. The Alliance commissioned a new headquarters building in Brussels, Belgium, in 2010, which is supposed to be completed in 2016. The building looks like a hideous claw, and the final cost — if it is ever finished — will be well over $1 billion. That is more than twice what was originally budgeted. What a boondoggle! Is it any surprise that NATO bureaucrats and generals continuously try to terrify us with tales of the new Russian threat? They need to justify their expansion plans!

So who is the real enemy? The Russians?

No, the real enemy is the taxpayer. The real enemy is the middle class and the productive sectors of the economy. We are the victims of this new runaway military spending. Every dollar or euro spent on a contrived threat is a dollar or euro taken out of the real economy and wasted on military Keynesianism. It is a dollar stolen from a small business owner that will not be invested in innovation, spent on research to combat disease, or even donated to charities that help the needy.

One of the most pervasive and dangerous myths of our time is that military spending benefits an economy. This could not be further from the truth. Such spending benefits a thin layer of well-connected and well-paid elites. It diverts scarce resources from meeting the needs and desires of a population and channels them into manufacturing tools of destruction. The costs may be hidden by the money-printing of the central banks, but they are eventually realized in the steady destruction of a currency.

The elites are terrified that peace may finally break out, which will be bad for their profits. That is why they are trying to scuttle the Iran deal, nix the Cuba thaw, and drum up a new “Red Scare” coming from Moscow. We must not be fooled into believing their lies.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom