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Credibility of RI Senate and House Armed Service Committee members suffers yet another mortal blow

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We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan – we didn’t know what we were doing…”


In recent weeks, there has been a steady stream of bad political news for the environment. The AFL-CIO joined with the Democrats to help push through the Trump administration’s toxic replacement of NAFTA, aka USMCA. At the same time, in the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a bill passed designed to weaponize the fossil fuel infrastructure in the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). United States Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat, Connecticut) drafted the bill “to combat Russia’s attempts to curry favor in the region with its oil and gas.” Hurray for Russiagate! BP, Chevron, Shell Oil and ExxonMobil love it.

On the climate science front, disastrous news pours out in torrents. The Amazon, the Greenland Ice Sheet, and Arctic permafrost teeter on the brink of irreversible collapse. Climate scientists have systematically underestimated the rate of these developments. “That’s partly because we cannot really capture them well in our models,” as Stefan Rahmstorf, a highly regarded German climate scientist, put it.

Of course, none of this is new, but, seemingly oblivious to existential threats to life on earth, only weeks ago, Senator Jack Reed and Congressman Jim Langevin applauded the bipartisan conference report in which the parties reached agreement on the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Despite burgeoning poverty, student debt, the global climate crisis, … the act authorizes the waste of almost $738 billion by the Department of War. By now, both Congressmen, Langevin and Cicilline, have voted yea on agreeing to the conference report.

Also in recent weeks, the Washington Post released a report, At War With the Truth, documenting the lies used to sell the never-ending war in Afghanistan. The New York Times summed matters up as follows:


Can we please ask a favor?

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“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Douglas Lute, a retired three-star Army general who helped the White House oversee the war in Afghanistan in both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Continues the Times: “What are we trying to do here?” he told government interviewers in 2015. “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

If our congressional delegation knew, they are part of the lies; if they didn’t know, they are incompetent, but as West Point graduate and writer Danny Sjursen says, “there probably won’t be any accountability.”

As to the FY2020 NDAA, all that has survived from Senator Reed’s push for United States pullback from Yemen is this: “the conference report prohibits aerial refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft participating in the civil war in Yemen, codifying current DOD policy in statue, and requires additional reporting on harm to Yemeni civilians resulting from military action by the Houthis and Saudi-led coalition.”

In their executive summary, released when the on May 22, 2019, the US Senate Armed Services Committee voted the FY202 NDAA out of committee, Senators Jim Inhofe and Jack Reed complained that “underfunding, and budgetary instability have harmed our military readiness and dulled our combat edge.” It takes considerable mental gymnastics to reconcile this oft-repeated charge with the actual, ever-increasing war spending over the last seven decades.

Over the last two decades, war spending has added up to about $18 trillion. It’s instructive to compare this number to the $5 trillion it would take to replace the old, dirty, creaky US electric grid.

Verifying this $5 trillion estimate is easy. The United States uses about 100 Quads of energy per year. That corresponds to an average power consumption of about 3500 gigawatts. A gigawatt power plant costs roughly $1 billion. There’s $3.5 trillion with $1.5 trillion left in change for “cost overruns.”

Sadly, Congressman David Cicilline is the only member of the Rhode Island congressional delegation who seems to understand the danger of the mushrooming climate catastrophe. He’s the only one who signed on to the #GreenNewDeal.

Congressman David Cicilline’s #GreenNewDeal statement

There is a lot more to be said, in particular about the establishment of the United States Space Force. Are we on our way back to the 1950s insanity of Freeman Dyson’s Project Orion to blast a  space ship the size of the Empire State building into space propelled by nuclear explosions? Maybe Edward Teller’s “geographical engineering” proposal, aka Project Plowshare, with its natural gas stimulation is something Senator Sheldon Whitehouse should take a serious look at for bipartisan resurrection.

Peter Nightingale is a theoretical physicist and teaches at the University of Rhode Island. He strives to leave behind a more just, peaceful, and sustainable post-capitalist world for future generations, and for his children and grandchildren in particular.