Budgets and Collapse of Public Authority
Education is a Right
Organize Today to be Decision Makers
The majority of people across the country are anti-war. They want to see U.S. wars ended and all U.S. troops home now. They want government to reflect the will of the majority on these matters. Instead, the federal government just passed a budget that provides more than half of all funds to the Pentagon, more than $572 billion, including more than $85 billion for war in Afghanistan. Overall, the $1.1 trillion budget includes more than $649.7 billion for war and repression and only $122.8 billion for education, housing, jobs and the environment combined. That is more than five times more public funds for war at a time when there is a broad and repeated demand to Stop Funding War and Fund Our Rights!
People have also been fighting to defend the right to education and to protect the environment by demanding a ban on fracking, the dangerous and toxic method for drilling for natural gas and oil. January saw a demonstration in Albany, for example to Ban Fracking Now! Protesters demanded that Governor Cuomo reflect the will of the majority, not the oil monopolies, by supporting a ban. As signs brought out: Democracy Means New Yorkers Decide, Not Cuomo!
January also saw rallies in Albany and elsewhere calling for full funding now for education. In New York and elsewhere meetings and actions are taking place, uniting parents and teachers in the struggle to oppose the Common Core and fight for a system of public education that serves the public good. No one is satisfied with the current state of the public schools but the Common Core and its testing regime is serving to humiliate youth and teachers and force them to engage in activities they know are wrong and harmful. As signs at New York actions brought out, Common Core Harms Children, Education Yes, Common Core No!
Across the country, on all these fronts, what stands out is that government, whether at the federal or state level, is not submitting to the will of the majority. On the contrary, it is acting directly against that will. And this in the face of repeated actions and demands of all kinds expressing the anti-war, pro-social will of the people.
This reality raises the necessity for the people themselves to be the decision makers. The existing political set up needs to be changed to reflect this necessity. And that change is in our hands and is one for today. This means, for example, that when it comes to education, we cannot limit our fight to appealing to those in power and relying on them to decide. We cannot limit ourselves to reacting to those decisions. We cannot accept a position of humiliation, of begging those now in power. Ours is a fight for political power and decision making by us and for us. It is a pro-active stand that advances our fight for our rights independent of what legislators may or may not do.
Concretely this means giving priority to organizing among ourselves to strengthen our unity, fighting organization and common thinking. Such work of learning and working together is in our hands, not those of the politicians. It means organizing collectives that together deliberate on problems and make decisions concerning what actions to take and how to take them. It means rejecting the notion that one or two people decide and the rest simply follow. Or that matters of content — of the stand, the demands, the justifications, the information and elaboration needed — are left to chance and not a central matter for decision making by all.
It takes conscious collective work together in the fight for our rights to ourselves become decision makers. Voice of Revolution urges all to think about this necessity to Organize Today to be Decision Makers. And we will be stepping up our efforts to join with all those fighting and assist in building fighting collectives of conscious decision makers.
Undemocratic Passing of an Anti-People Budget
Within the space of a few days, Congress passed a single massive $1.1 trillion budget appropriations bill and President Obama signed it into law January 17. More than half, $572 billion, went directly to the Pentagon, including $85.2 billion for continued war in Afghanistan. In addition there is $11.2 billion for nuclear weapons, $874 million more than the previous level imposed by the sequester cuts.
The bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, HR 3547, is one of the most important for the people, detailing funding for government agencies through September 30, 2014 (the end of the 2014 fiscal year, which runs October 1, 2013-September 30, 2014). While restoring previous cuts to the Pentagon, it made more cuts to funding for education, housing, and the environment. Funding for these areas is already far below what is needed.
Education received $70.6 billion, a cut of $739 million from 2013 enacted levels. Housing got $32.8 billion, $687 million below 2013. The bill also specifically blocked funding for new sustainable or “green” community development programs. In conditions of 80 percent unemployment for urban youth and increasing long-term unemployment, the Labor Department got $12 billion, $449 million below the 2013 enacted level. The bill specifically decreases funding for both the Employment Training Administration and the Office of Job Corps, which runs a free education and training program for youth. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) got $8.2 billion, which is $143 million below the 2013 enacted level, but does partially restore cuts from the sequester. (Note: the enacted level is that passed by Congress for fiscal year 2013, after which sequester spending cuts were imposed. This means current 2014 funding may reflect an increase from sequester level cuts but still a decrease from 2013 funding levels).
Undemocratic Passing of Budget
The one bill, 1,582 pages long, was put forward for debate in the full House January 13. It passed the House January 15, with only one hour of debate. The vote was 359-67. It passed the Senate January 16 with a vote of 72-26. No amendments were allowed in either the House or the Senate. As well, in the Senate, the usual 30-hour period given after debate on a bill is closed but before a vote is taken — in part to give those voting a chance to actually read the final bill — was eliminated and instead the vote was immediately taken. Given both the significance of the bill and its length, such a waiting period is the minimum required. Eliminating it, blocking amendments, limiting public debate, are all indications that Congress, as a public authority where the rights of the public are at least acknowledged, has collapsed.
This was further indicated by the fact that there was only a single massive bill. Normally there are 12 separate appropriations bills covering the various areas of government, with public hearings and debate in Congress for each. These include appropriations for:
• Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and related agencies;
• Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies;
• Energy and Water Development, and related agencies;
• Financial Services and General Government;
• Homeland Security;
• Interior, Environment, and related Agencies;
• Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and related agencies;
• Legislative Branch;
• Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and related agencies;
• State, Foreign Operations, and related programs; and
• Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and related agencies.
Instead of the usual public hearings and debate for each bill and its specific funding, the massive single appropriations bill was negotiated mainly in private by the heads of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, House Republican Hal Rogers and Democrat Barbara Mikulski of the Senate. Their negotiations, which included other heads of congressional committees, was done mostly behind closed doors over a six week period. In part to keep negotiations out of the public eye, even the usual rooms for such negotiations were not used. The public portion lasted only four days and occurred with almost no debate. Key portions of the bill, such as those dealing with drone warfare and the role of the CIA and Pentagon in it, were kept completely secret, even from Congresspeople. All of this is indicative of the current reality, where the public and its rights are completely blocked and Congress no longer functions as a public authority. It is a body that has been taken over by private interests that see public debate and the public good as obstacles to securing the entire public treasury for their own private narrow interests.
Anti-Social, Pro-War Character of Funding
The full content of the appropriations bill, which lists hundreds of specific appropriations, was only recently made available to the public. But highlights make clear its anti-people character. Funding for war takes more than half. The main social problems that people are demanding be addressed and fully funded, like education, housing, jobs and the environment have all been cut.
As well, despite broad and repeated opposition to detentions of undocumented workers, there is $2.8 billion for detention programs operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That funding enables private prison monopolies to secure public funds for 34,000 beds daily, the highest detention capacity in history. There is also $114 million to continue fund ing the E-Verify program, which likely means it will be expanded. It is being used to regiment the entire workforce and will eventually require every worker to have federally issued identification. And there is $10.6 billion for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), about $220 million more than 2013, to further militarize the border. These agencies are part of the Department of Homeland Security, which got a total of $39.3 billion.
The Justice Department got $27.4 billion, which is $338 million above the 2013 enacted level. Funding for various policing agencies include: $8.3 billion for the FBI, $2.4 billion for the Drug Enforcement Agency, $1.18 billion for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and $2.7 billion for the Federal Prison System. All of those are increases over last year’s pre-sequestration levels.
Taken together funding for education, housing, jobs and environment is $122.8 billion while that for war and repression is more than $649.7 billion — more than five times more. And that almost $650 billion does not include funding for the CIA and other intelligence agencies, which is kept secret.
Budget Bill Includes Secret Content
The budget appropriations bill signed into law January 17 includes secret content on use of drones by the military. According to reports, the secret section of the bill, which includes funding, does not restrict drone use. Instead, it favors use of drones by the CIA rather than the Pentagon. The content reportedly restricts the use of any funding to transfer unmanned aircraft or the authority to carry out drone strikes from the CIA to the Pentagon. President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, has been working to give the Pentagon more authority for use of drones. Evidently, as part of the budget deal, the heads of the Congressional Appropriations Committees are instead favoring authority by the CIA.
The secrecy used to include the content — which was part of the already classified section of appropriations for the CIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies — was opposed in the Senate. Senator John McCain, for example, speaking on the Senate floor, condemned the secrecy and use of authority by the Appropriation Committee heads to make such an important decision without formally and publicly consulting the Congressional authorizing committees for the CIA and Defense Department.
“The Appropriations Committee has no business making these decisions,” he said. “The job of the Armed Services Committee and the job of the Intelligence Committee is to authorize these things. There was no hearing on the Intelligence Committee. There was no hearing on the Armed Services Committee.” He added later, “The appropriations have gotten into the business of the authorizing committees.” He emphasized, “That is a violation of every procedure and process that this Senate is supposed to be pursuing.”
The “violation of every procedure and process that this Senate is supposed to be pursuing,” was characteristic of the entire undemocratic method used to pass the appropriations bill (see article page 1). It is also consistent with the character of drone warfare, which itself is a violation and major attack on U.S. and international rule of law. Drones violate sovereignty, massacre civilians and are instruments of war crimes. Reflective of this attack on rule of law, their funding and functioning — such as who controls them and who decides targets — are also kept secret.
At present, the CIA has the largest number of drones and satellites necessary for their use. However, the Pentagon, particularly its Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that conducts secret and illegal operations in more than 134 countries worldwide, also has drones. It is JSOC drones, for example, that were responsible for recent massacres in Yemen of a wedding party.
President Obama, as part of concentrating power in the hands of the executive and Commander-in-Chief in particular, is working to give more authority to the Pentagon. The CIA, while under the executive, is known for its autonomy and its contention and competition with the Pentagon. This is particularly true now, when the CIA operates more as a para-military force than an intelligence-gathering agency. Its main role in drone warfare is reflective of this.
While the main contention appears to be between the CIA and Pentagon, the fight more reflects the increasing conflicts within the ruling circles and the elimination of Congress as an arena to sort these conflicts out. Commonly the passing of appropriations bills — usually 12 of them, with hearings and debate for each — are a main space for resolving such conflicts. Authority by various committees also plays a role. But with one bill, passed within days with little debate and basically decided by the appropriations committees alone, this has been eliminated. Further, with the secret negotiations and usurping of authority by heads of committees and those monopoly interests behind them, one can see that conflicts will heighten among and between these armed agencies, the president, and the various monopolies seeking more power for themselves. It shows that current governance can no longer provide for security and is in fact an instrument contributing to the possibility of violent civil war at home and world war abroad.
They operate in the green glow of night vision in Southwest Asia and stalk through the jungles of South America. They snatch men from their homes in the Maghreb and shoot it out with heavily armed militants in the Horn of Africa. They feel the salty spray while skimming over the tops of waves from the turquoise Caribbean to the deep blue Pacific. They conduct missions in the oppressive heat of Middle Eastern deserts and the deep freeze of Scandinavia. All over the planet, the Obama administration is waging a secret war whose full extent has never been fully revealed — until now.
Since September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Operations forces have grown in every conceivable way, from their numbers to their budget. Most telling, however, has been the exponential rise in special ops deployments globally. This presence — now, in nearly 70 percent of the world’s nations — provides new evidence of the size and scope of a secret war being waged from Latin America to Afghanistan, from training missions with African allies to information operations launched in cyberspace.
In the waning days of the Bush presidency, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed in about 60 countries around the world. By 2010, that number had swelled to 75, according to Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post. In 2011, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told TomDispatch that the total would reach 120. Today, that figure has risen higher still.
In 2013, elite U.S. forces were deployed in 134 countries around the globe, according to Major Matthew Robert Bockholt of SOCOM Public Affairs. […]
Formally established in 1987, Special Operations Command has grown steadily in the post-9/11 era. SOCOM is reportedly on track to reach 72,000 personnel in 2014, up from 33,000 in 2001. Funding for the command has also jumped exponentially as its baseline budget, $2.3 billion in 2001, hit $6.9 billion in 2013 ($10.4 billion, if you add in supplemental funding). Personnel deployments abroad have skyrocketed, too, from 4,900 “man-years” in 2001 to 11,500 in 2013.
A recent investigation by TomDispatch, using open source government documents and news releases as well as press reports, found evidence that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in or involved with the militaries of 106 countries around the world in 2012-2013. […]
Globalized Special Ops
Last year, Special Operations Command chief Admiral William McRaven explained his vision for special ops globalization. In a statement to the House Armed Services Committee, he said:
“USSOCOM is enhancing its global network of SOF to support our interagency and international partners in order to gain expanded situational awareness of emerging threats and opportunities. The network enables small, persistent presence in critical locations, and facilitates engagement where necessary or appropriate...”
While that “presence” may be small, the reach and influence of those Special Operations forces are another matter. The 12 percent jump in deployments [abroad] — from 120 to 134 — during McRaven’s tenure reflects his desire to put boots on the ground just about everywhere on Earth. SOCOM will not name the nations involved, citing host nation sensitivities and the safety of American personnel, but the deployments we do know about shed at least some light on the full range of missions being carried out by America’s secret military.
Last April and May, for instance, Special Ops personnel took part in training exercises in Djibouti, Malawi, and the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. In June, U.S. Navy SEALs joined Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese, and other allied Mideast forces for irregular warfare simulations in Aqaba, Jordan. The next month, Green Berets traveled to Trinidad and Tobago to carry out small unit tactical exercises with local forces. In August, Green Berets conducted explosives training with Honduran sailors. In September, according to media reports, U.S. Special Operations forces joined elite troops from the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia — as well as their counterparts from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China, India, and Russia for a US-Indonesian joint-funded counter-terrorism exercise held at a training center in Sentul, West Java.
In October, elite U.S. troops carried out commando raids in Libya and Somalia, kidnapping a suspect in the former nation while SEALs killed at least one militant in the latter before being driven off under fire. In November, Special Ops troops conducted humanitarian operations in the Philippines to aid survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. The next month, members of the 352nd Special Operations Group conducted a training exercise involving approximately 130 airmen and six aircraft at an airbase in England and Navy SEALs were wounded while undertaking an evacuation mission in South Sudan. Green Berets then rang in the new year with a January 1st combat mission alongside elite Afghan troops in Bahlozi village in Kandahar province.
Deployments in 134 countries, however, turn out not to be expansive enough for SOCOM. In November 2013, the command announced that it was seeking to identify industry partners who could, under SOCOM’s Trans Regional Web Initiative, potentially “develop new websites tailored to foreign audiences.” These would join an existing global network of 10 propaganda websites, run by various combatant commands and made to look like legitimate news outlets, including CentralAsiaOnline.com, Sabahi which targets the Horn of Africa; an effort aimed at the Middle East known as Al-Shorfa. com; and another targeting Latin America called Infosurhoy.com.
SOCOM’s push into cyberspace is mirrored by a concerted effort of the command to embed itself ever more deeply inside the Beltway. “I have folks in every agency here in Washington, D.C. — from the CIA, to the FBI, to the National Security Agency, to the National Geospatial Agency, to the Defense Intelligence Agency,” SOCOM chief Admiral McRaven said during a panel discussion at Washington’s Wilson Center last year. Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Library in November, he put the number of departments and agencies where SOCOM is now entrenched at 38. […]
The White House has overseen an exponential expansion of America’s drone war. While President Bush launched 51 such strikes, President Obama has presided over 330, according to research by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Last year, alone, the U.S. also engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Recent revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have demonstrated the tremendous breadth and global reach of U.S. electronic surveillance during the Obama years. And deep in the shadows, Special Operations forces are now annually deployed to more than double the number of nations as at the end of Bush’s tenure. […]
Full Funding for Education Now!
The action in Albany January 14.began with an assembly that brought the hundreds of protesters from across the state together for lunch and speeches from organizers and various legislators. It was announced that about 75 percent of those participating were youth of all ages, from elementary to high school and university and young workers. Three busloads of people from Buffalo, for example, including mostly African American youth, organized to participate.
The action bought to the fore the need for full funding for public education now. The minimum funding being demanded is $1.9 billion for this year. As well protesters called for New York State to fully pay the $5.5 billion won in the lawsuit demanding more equal funding for all schools. Only a portion was paid in 2007-2008 and billions are still owed. As the slogans emphasized, the state has responsibility to Educate Every Student! No More Excuses!
A spoken word performance by a group of students brought the greatest applause. It emphasized that the youth are not satisfied with just a few “pretty good” schools and want public schools that meet their needs and their striving to contribute to advancing society. They want the best and they want it for all and will not accept anything less.
The assembly was followed by various activities, including group meetings with legislators, letter writing and making videos expressing concerns and demands to fully fund education. Some were participating for the first time and others had experience talking with and writing to legislators. Some of those who have done such activity before brought out that legislators often talk like they are supportive, but their deeds are to concede on budget matters and say there “is no money.” As one of the signs emphasized, one solution is to Stop Funding War and Fund Education! As part of preparing to see legislators there was also discussion among some on the importance of taking a strong stand. We were not going to beg the legislators to do what is needed. We were going to present our demands, speak to our experience on their necessity, and call on legislators to join that stand.
On the ride home people expressed their readiness to continue demonstrating and organizing to defend the right to education, in Buffalo and Albany. Youth made clear they are not going to sit and wait for the legislators — they are going to organize among themselves and strengthen their unity as vital to winning their rights.
The action was organized by Citizen Action New York and the Alliance for Quality Education.