Rick Santorum on Nuclear Weapons Modernization

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Olivia Zink and I attended WMUR’s “Conversation with the Candidate” with Rick Santorum on Monday, August 3.

Following the taped portion of the show, Olivia questioned Senator Santorum about the influence of the for-profit nuclear weapons labs. Using the example of Lockheed’s illegal lobbying to extend its contract to run Sandia National Labs, Olivia said that the labs have used their influence to advocate for the $1 trillion nuclear weapons modernization program.

Senator Santorum asserted that we need to modernize nuclear weapons because, since we stopped nuclear testing, there is no assurance that they will work. Apparently he feels that this makes them ineffective as a deterrent. He said he was unhappy that the US stopped testing nuclear weapons. I countered that we don’t need to upgrade nuclear weapons to make sure they work. Rather, they can be maintained by replacing aging parts with similar parts, rather than upgrading the weapons.

I said, “[US nuclear weapons] are reliable if they can just be maintained, but what the nuclear weapons labs and some of the weapons manufacturers are doing, which is very profitable for them, is to use the maintenance of those weapons as a guise to design and build new nuclear weapons. Same with the submarines, the bombers, and the missiles. It is a trillion dollar program, it’s going to cost the tax payers a lot of money, and we don’t need it.”

At that point host Josh McElveen intervened and said that Senator Santorum had to leave. Too bad, it’s very difficult to actually engage candidates on this issue.

The issue is important. Life Extension Programs (LEPs) originally intended to replace aging parts on nuclear weapons are now being used to upgrade those weapons, in effect creating new nuclear weapons. This violates commitments in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

If you’d like an in-depth look at these issues, see “Transforming the US Strategic Posture & Weapons Complex for a Transition to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World,” especially Chapter 5. Primary author was Dr. Robert Civiak of Lebanon, NH.

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George Pataki (and John Sununu ) on Nuclear Weapons

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I asked presidential candidate and former New York Gov. George Pataki a couple of questions at Robie’s Country Store in Hooksett on June 24. Here is a summary of the substance of our exchange, though the words are not exact.

Question (1-on-1): Do you agree with the program to rebuild U.S. nuclear weapons and delivery systems?

Gov. Pataki: I’m more concerned about Iran and keeping them from getting nuclear weapons.

Question: But do you support the $1 trillion plan to build a new generation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems?

Gov. Pataki: I believe we need to spend what’s required to keep us safe. (Turns away.)

Question (asked later, when Pataki is talking with the small group gathered at the event): I asked you earlier about nuclear weapons. Our nuclear weapons labs are privately run now. The corporations that run them – Bechtel, Battelle, & so on – are making immense profits and the budgets are escalating. How do we diminish the control of corporations over federal policy? [Oops… I was reminded later that Battelle is a lab, not a contractor.]

Gov. Pataki: First, I’m not surprised about the huge amount of waste. That happens with everything the government is involved in. We need to eliminate government waste. Second, we need to change the ability of private interests to influence government. There are over 400 former members of Congress who are registered lobbyists. Also the tax code is incomprehensible. If I’m President, I’ll propose a law with a life-time ban on anyone who has served a term in Congress becoming a registered lobbyist.

More of Governor Pataki’s comments on international relations, military spending and security policy:

· We should strengthen our military, not so that we use it but so that we don’t have to use it. A strong America is a safe America.

· Obama is too weak and needs to follow through on his threats. Allies don’t trust us, enemies don’t fear us.

· The Iranian nuclear deal is too weak.

· We should support the Egyptian regime that cracked down on the Islamic Brotherhood.

· We shouldn’t cut back on military training funds to save money.

My comments

Gov. Pataki doesn’t seem at all phased by the idea of the $1 trillion nuclear weapons spending plan. A bit of a contrast to Chris Christie who suggested the money might be better spent on other parts of the military budget, and Bernie Sanders who said the money would be better spent on human services.

It was curious that when questioned about the huge profits and cost overruns created by the private contractors who run our nuclear weapons labs, Pataki blamed the problem on “big government.” Come again???

Incidentally, on the way to the Pataki event I stopped by at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord to hear John Sununu talk about his new book on George H. W. Bush. Though I’ve never agreed with his viewpoints, I thought he might have something interesting to say about the progress on disarmament made at the time the Cold War ended. But I didn’t hear much that was new. He did say that Bush was a skilled diplomat and avoided the triumphalism that might have made progress with the Soviets impossible, which was interesting. But Sununu’s overall viewpoint seemed to be that that progress towards disarmament under the first George Bush was possible because Ronald Reagan had “strengthened” the economy and made it impossible for the USSR to compete. By contrast, Sununu sees Obama as weak in foreign policy. Like Pataki, Sununu said that Obama had lost the trust of allies and that adversaries no longer fear the US. He also said that the proposed Iran deal was too weak and would never win approval, but that it might have done so if Obama been strong enough to stick to the original criteria.  But he said he’d rather talk about George H.W. Bush.  Sounded like an interesting book.

In any case, Pataki and Sununu both seem to hew to the “peace through strength” line. I think it’s worth considering this narrative and being able to talk about it. A couple of questions:

· Has NATO been anything but aggressive towards Russia since the end of the Cold War? Why do we characterize the US stance towards Russia as “weak?”

· Suppose that the “peace through strength” advocates are right that the US nuclear stockpile has deterred nuclear attack by Russia for several decades. Will this always work? What about accidents, insane leaders, etc? Do we really think that the “balance of terror” will protect us from nuclear annihilation indefinitely? Is it ever morally defensible to maintain a stockpile of weapons that can destroy life on earth?

· How does maintaining a huge nuclear stockpile deter other nations and terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons? Doesn’t the lack of progress on disarmament actually make proliferation more likely?

Martin O’Malley Discusses Nuclear Weapons

Martin O'Malley by J Elliott 5-31-15Former Maryland Governer Martin O’Malley, a Democratic candidate for president, did a house party in Gilford, NH on May 31st. During the question period, I was able to ask him about the $1 trillion nuclear weapons modernization plan. Although I appreciated his support for reducing the number of nuclear warheads, it’s not enough. Nuclear weapons abolition must be our goal. And I wonder if someone has sold him a bill of goods on modernization. He said that “we could improve the capacity that we have … and … we could even save dollars by reducing the number of warheads at our disposal.” In fact, the modernization project won’t save money or reduce the size of the nuclear arsenal. It will cost $1 trillion, gobbling up money that is urgently needed for education, healthcare, and infrastructure. And the rebuilt nuclear arsenal threatens to be destabilizing, increasing the likelihood that the weapons will be used.

Here’s a transcript of our exchange.

Judy: Yeah, what I worry about is the fact that this country still has thousands of nuclear weapons in its military arsenal and many of those are still on hair-trigger alert. Now there is a plan, a one trillion dollar plan, to completely rebuild our nuclear arsenal. A complete [re]design of the warheads, a brand new fleet of nuclear submarines, a new fleet of nuclear-capable bombers, an air-launched cruise missile that has first-strike capability. Many people think these new weapons will be very destabilizing. The Administration, the Obama Administration apparently supports this plan and I want to know what you think of it.

Martin O’Malley: I would like to see us reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world, not increase the number of nuclear weapons in the world. [Applause] And I believe that there is an alternative school of thought that believes that we could improve the capacity that we have without expanding the capacity that we have and that we could even save dollars by reducing the number of warheads at our disposal. I think we have more than enough to destroy the world several times over. And I think that we’re best and have the most credibility in the world when we lead according to our principles and I would like to see us reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world and in our arsenal.

Sanders: Nuclear Weapons Vs. Human Needs

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Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders recently declared his candidacy for President.  On May 27, I joined hundreds of people at the South Church in Portsmouth NH for a town hall meeting with the Senator.  He answered a number of questions from the audience, and I was able to ask the last one, about whether he supported the $1 trillion dollar build-up of US nuclear forces.  Here’s the exchange.

Judy: “Senator Sanders, I’m Judy from Canterbury NH. The United States already has thousands of nuclear weapons in its active military stockpiles, many of them on hair-trigger alert. And yet there is a plan, which the Administration apparently buys into, for a massive rebuilding of our nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles. A new fleet of submarines, heavy bombers, cruise missiles. It’ll cost a trillion dollars. Big profits for the corporations, but what do you think of this plan?”

Bernie Sanders: “Well, I’ll tell you what I think of it. It takes us right back to Carol’s question [previous question about a disabled child]. How does it happen that we have a trillion dollars available to expand our nuclear arsenal, but we don’t have the money to take care of the children in this country?  What that’s about … What all of this is about is our national priorities. Who are we as a people? Does Congress listen to the military-industrial complex who has never seen a war that they didn’t like? Or do we listen to the people of this country who are hurting? And that’s what, in a sense, this campaign is about.”

Evaluating this exchange, I was gratified to have raised the issue of the nation’s outrageously dangerous, expensive nuclear weapons modernization plan. Too few people worry about nuclear weapons nowadays, although we are still in great danger of a nuclear holocaust.

I liked Senator Sanders’ strong criticism of prioritizing nuclear weapons over human needs. I loved the audience’s super-enthusiastic response.

In another setting, I would like to have gotten a more specific, detailed answer.  It didn’t seem possible last night.  Maybe next time.

I’ll continue raising this issue with candidates in the New Hampshire primary.

John Kasich on Defense Spending

(Posting this almost two months after the fact, but here’s what happened.)

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On March 23, Ohio Governor John Kasich spoke at the Snowshoe Club in Concord. The event was sponsored by the Concord Republican Committee and open to Republicans and Independents. (I am an Independent.) I asked him about the budget impact of government contractors’ political spending, using as an example President Obama’s huge budget for modernization of nuclear weapons. Gov. Kasich said, among other things, “If we’re going to reform welfare for poor people we should … reform welfare for rich people and we shouldn’t be giving out contracts just to make somebody happy.” He said that watching procurements is important in order to maintain U.S. military strength, and cited his record as a Congressman to expose inflated spare parts spending and to limit production of the B-2 nuclear bomber.

Regarding money in politics, he described how contractors spread spend procurement projects among many states and give PAC money to members of Congress. But he said he didn’t have a problem with special interests making campaign contributions and that he himself is never influenced by contributions. He said the ultimate solution is for elected officials to be of good character and not be influenced by contributions. He said he didn’t have any other solutions for the problem of money in politics. This was disappointing.

Reflections on my bird dog experience

I was happy with several things, such as being recognized for the first question and managing to ask it clearly. The AFSC bird dog training helped prepare me for this by teaching me the importance of several things:

It helped me formulate a clear question linking military contractors’ political spending, the federal budget, and nuclear weapons. My question also informed the audience about President Obama’s huge nuclear weapons modernization budget. There were many other questions I could have asked, but I’m especially concerned about nuclear weapons. Most people seem to have forgotten that there are still thousands of nuclear weapons deployed. They threaten horrible damage to hundreds of millions of human beings and the ecosystem if ever used, whether deliberately or by accident. (For information about current organizing, go to peaceandplanet.org which describes events in NYC at the end of April.)

As recommended by the trainers, I practiced my question out loud many times before the event. This gave me confidence. As a counter example, last summer I attended an event and asked a question I had not rehearsed. I thought it would be easy, but I choked on it. Now it’s practice, practice, practice.

To be called on, I sat near the front and raised my hand immediately after Governor Kasich finished speaking. But I did wait till he finished. I did not sit in a group with the people I came with.

Another person, using a tape recorder, recorded the Governor’s response while I listened. Written notes would also have been fine. Without this help, being nervous about asking the question, I would have forgotten the details of the response.

There were a few things that were difficult. I was satisfied with my question, but I did find it challenging to cover all the issues I was concerned about. It was a fairly long question and would not have worked in a more hurried situation, such as an encounter on the street or in a coffee shop. There are some quicker questions that could be asked, such as one about Lockheed’s use of taxpayer money to lobby for continuing its contract to run Sandia National Labs.

And while I appreciated the Governor’s response on controlling military procurement and ending welfare for the wealthy, his answer did not go far enough for me. In particular, I think it’s important to abolish nuclear weapons completely. But I’m glad to have raised the issue and gotten his views. We have to be out talking about these issues.

Transcript of Question and Response

Question by J. Elliott:

I’m really glad to hear that you have had an interest in military reform and in the budget. One of the things that I worry about is government contractors and the undue political influence that they have on our budget, whether it’s from huge lobbying budgets or election expenditures. Case in point, President Obama’s modernization plan for nuclear weapons is going to be way more expensive than he ever told us. We have some corporations… I have no problem with an honest profit, but some of the military contractors – Lockheed, Boeing, Grumman – are going to make huge profits off of this program. So how do we make sure that our budget is spent for the people and not for the corporations?

Response by Gov. John Kasich:

We should not have the Uniform Public Works Committee be running the Pentagon. You get what I’m saying? The Pentagon should be there and military expenditures should be there to meet the threat. That’s what it should be.

I didn’t tell you earlier, but well, my first experience was … remember the $500 hammer, screwdrivers and all that? I took that to Washington. There were a couple other people that found out about it, but I drove the spare parts investigation in the United States House of Representatives. I had a Democrat who had his leg blown off in a mine field in World War II. His name was Bill Nichols and he was the head of the investigations subcommittee, and he was a great guy. In fact, I delivered one of the eulogies at his funeral. And I went to see Mr. Nichols with a collection of the hammers and screwdrivers and all this. And he was a guy who just saluted the Pentagon, and when I walked in and I showed him all these items and I told him the colonel who gave them to me, he looked at me over his glasses, and he stared at me sitting out [there] and he said, “Your mama don’t have any more like you at home, does she?” The point of it was, he had never seen this before.

And I went to work on Pentagon procurement and it’s something we always have to do, because if we’re going to reform welfare for poor people we should also reform welfare for rich people and we shouldn’t be giving out contracts just to make somebody happy.

Now the other issue that I took on (beyond a bunch of other issues) was limiting the production of the B-2 bomber. They wanted to build 132 of these planes at a billion dollars apiece, and its job was to fly into the middle of the Soviet Union in the middle of a nuclear war and drop more nuclear weapons. And I thought to myself, I mean, just a couple of them would make for a very bad day, and why would we spend a billion dollars to buy a plane that’s going to drop more nuclear weapons? So I said, “Here’s what we ought to do. We ought to have a baker’s dozen.” John Sununu supported me in this, I think Judd [Gregg] did as well, and I said “You limit the number to thirteen.” Now when they build these airplanes, they put the windshield in one state, the wipers in another state, the wheels in another state. And this effort of mine took ten years long. Chris Shays is back here, my buddy, the former congressman from Connecticut. You were helping me on that and so what did we face? So here’s what happened. They would fly people out to California and show them the plane and they would give them PAC checks and all I would give them was a cold cup of coffee. And I was working with a Democrat on this who was very, very liberal and they called us “the odd couple” but we grew and grew and grew because it made good military strategy. At the end of the day when I left Congress instead of producing 132, I made a deal with Dick Cheney, the Secretary of Defense, that we would only produce 20. And that’s exactly where we ended up. And what I wanted to do was to take the money and use it to build stand-off weapons so pilots didn’t have to fly into harm’s way and they could shoot this stuff off at a long distance. Remember the Gulf War? That’s kind of what we saw.

Then we reorganized the Pentagon and I was involved in that to make sure that the services cooperated together. We can’t afford to squander precious resources because I have to tell you our defense budget is important, our military strength. We’re the leader of the world. We’ve been shrinking from our involvement. It has created doubt in the minds of our friends, and in some ways it has empowered our enemies, so we have to have a strong defense, but we can’t waste money.

Now, I will say one other thing to you. You know, I don’t have any problem with people who represent special interests. That’s fine, that’s part of the system. But if you give me something, that’s not going to make a determination about what I’m going to do. You go check me out. This is not a theory. You check my record. As governor, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, and you’ve got to … you don’t even have to explain to them, “Look, I’ve got a purpose here, I’m going to carry it out, can you help me? That’s great, but it doesn’t get you anything.” My friend, a Democrat, had a fundraiser for me in Cleveland. We raised a lot of money. And he got up at the event and he said (this is last year) “I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The good news is we raised a lot of money. The bad news is, whatever you did for John, you’re getting nothing in return.” And that’s the way we ought to run Washington, not just Ohio. It’s the way we ought to run everything.

Other notable things John Kasich Said at this event:

In response to a question by Republican Jim Rubens on money in politics, Gov. Kasich said he didn’t have any solutions. He said that the ultimate solution was to have public officials of good character who wouldn’t be influenced by campaign contributions they received.

Gov. Kasich advocated sending lethal aid to the Ukraine.

Is Scott Brown a Climate Opportunist?

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Scott Brown can’t seem to make up his mind on climate change. As a US Senator for Massachusetts, fighting for re-election against Elizabeth Warren in 2012 (she eventually beat him), Brown acknowledged that climate change was partly due to human activity. Once defeated, he crossed the border to New Hampshire to try for Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s seat and changed his mind. At a Republican primary debate in August, Brown denied that climate change had human causes. Was he trying to appeal to conservative Republican primary voters? After winning that party’s nomination, Brown switched once more. Debating Shaheen on October 6, he went back to his earlier position that human activities contribute to climate change.

What Brown appears to stand for in the climate debate is his own political career. Worse, according to the Huffington Post,  he’s willing to obstruct progress to enhance that career. Brown called Republican Senators last May asking them to keep the bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy bill from coming to a Senate vote. (To her credit, NH Senator Kelly Ayotte voted to end the filibuster against Shaheen-Porter.)

The bill encourages commercial and residential energy efficiency and would create thousands of jobs. It has both Republican and Democratic sponsors. This is a moderate bill supported by the US Chamber of Commerce. But according to Huffington, Brown wanted the bill to fail in order to deny Shaheen an accomplishment that could matter in the campaign. Brown was not the only Republican to play politics with the bill, but if the Huffington article is correct, he’s partly responsible for keeping it bottled up without a vote.

Shaheen-Portman is an important bill and deserves our support.  New Hampshire voters should be too smart to put up with Brown’s games.

Ask NH Candidates Where They Stand on Energy

Whether you worry more about the environment or the economy, reducing fossil use here in New Hampshire matters a lot. It’s time to ask local political candidates what they plan to do about it.

Most people now recognize that build-up of CO2 from fossil fuels in the atmosphere disrupts our seasons, endangers wildlife, threatens farm crops, and increases dangerous storms.

But excessive fossil fuel use is a drag on our economy, too. No longer does feisty little New Hampshire put Massachusetts to shame by sprinting out ahead. In recovery from the Great Recession, it’s our flatland neighbor to the south that leads the way. New Hampshire has yet to regain all the jobs lost since 2008, compared to Massachusetts which has surged 3% ahead of 2008.

Does fossil fuel use play a role? Think about it. In its latest state rankings, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy ranked New Hampshire behind every other New England state in energy efficiency policy. Massachusetts? Number One in the nation. In a region where energy prices are a real burden, reducing fossil fuel expenses really matters.

Fortunately, the NH Office of Energy and Planning has just released a new state energy strategy. It is full of policy recommendations for encouraging energy efficiency as well renewable energy, grid modernization, and transportation upgrades. The plan is the product of a year of efforts by many stakeholders. A few of recommendations are troubling, including increased use of CO2-emitting natural gas. (Look what that switch is doing to projected electric rates this winter.) But on the whole the plan is an important roadmap for state policy makers.

So when you talk to state and local candidates this election season, ask them if they support the state’s new energy plan. Now, if they’d just get the 2009 state climate plan off the shelf, too.