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DRONE WATCH: The Drone Caucus

Members of Congress with common interests often create a caucus to advocate for that interest. Some have become permanent institutions – think the Congressional Black Caucus – others are more short-term. One of the more recent, reported by Arizona Public Radio, is the Unmanned Systems Caucus. Its role?

“Primarily, the caucus advocates for drones — those pilot-less planes infamous for their role targeting insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’re used as a spy tool in Iran, a drug-fighting tool in Mexico and an anti-smuggling tool along the U.S.-Mexico border. …

The drone caucus — like the technology it promotes — is becoming increasingly important in the nation’s capitol as the government looks to unmanned vehicles to help save money on defense, better patrol the country’s borders and provide a new tool to U.S. law enforcement agencies and civilians.”

And that advocacy is being rewarded. The report cites Alex Bronstein-Moffly, an analyst with First Street Research Group, a D.C.-based company that analyzes lobbying data:

“Many of the drone caucus members are well supported by the industry they endorse. According to Bronstein-Moffly’s data, the 58 drone caucus members received a total of $2.3 million in contributions from political action committees affiliated with drone manufacturers since 2011.”

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DRONE WATCH: Sea Drones

Over the past several weeks, the U.S. has been expanding its military presence in the Persian Gulf, increasing its capability to act if hostilities begin with Iran. Minesweepers are intended to keep the Strait of Hormuz open, and additional fighter jets increase the ability to launch strikes into Iran.

The latest development, reported by the Los Angeles Times, sea drones.

“The Navy is rushing tiny underwater drones to the Persian Gulf to help find and destroy sea mines as part of an American military buildup aimed at stopping Iran from closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the event of a crisis, U.S. officials said.

Only 88 pounds and 4 feet long, the unmanned, remotely guided submersibles carry a TV camera, homing sonar and an explosive charge for what amounts to a kamikaze mission: When it detects a mine, the undersea craft obliterates itself as well as the mine.

The Navy bought dozens of the little-known German-made devices, known as the SeaFox, in February after an urgent request by Marine Gen. James Mattis, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, for more minesweeping capabilities in the region.”

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Reports: More Than 200 Dead in Syrian Attacks

According to Reuters, opposition forces in Syria are reporting that 220—mostly civilians—were killed by Syrian forces in the bloodiest day so far. 

"According to a detailed account by activists before news of the massacre, a convoy of 25 vehicles with army and security forces headed west after dawn on Thursday, with three armoured vehicles and five trucks towing artillery, passing through the town of Muharda in the direction of the village of Tremseh.

"They blockaded the village from all four sides and began violently and randomly firing on houses as a helicopter flew overhead. As the attack happened the electricity and telephone lines were cut. Residents gathered in the streets in a state of fear and panic. They were unable to flee because of the blockade from every side," the report posted on activist Web sites said."

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DRONE WATCH: Protecting Privacy From Drones

Unpiloted drone aircraft are already being used for some purposes in the United States, and plans are being made for greatly expanded use. Alongside these plans, efforts to control and regulate this use are also growing, bringing together libertarians and civil liberties organizations.

One of the most conservative state legislators in Virginia, Delegate Todd Gilbert,  and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are working together to pass legislation that would regulate the use of drones. The Associated Press reported:

"The increasing use of drones as a surveillance tool by police and government agencies has prompted privacy concerns nationwide. A trade group for drone manufacturers recently unveiled its first code of conduct to reassure a public leery of the possibility of drones monitoring them in their homes.

However, Gilbert said he and the ACLU believe drones should be strictly regulated to protect Virginians’ privacy and civil rights. …

Gilbert said his bill would require police to get a warrant before using drones. It also would impose public monitoring and accountability standards and require the destruction of any pictures acquired by drones unless they are part of an authorized investigation."

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Is the Robin Hood Tax the Answer?

Politicians, pundits, concerned citizens alike are all looking for the magic bullet to generate revenue without alienating an entire voting bloc or causing the American people more angst. Celebrities, pastors, and community leaders think the Robin Hood tax—taxing less than half of 1 pecent on Wall Street transactions— is the answer. 

What say you?

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Churches Can't Be the Primary Social Safety Net

Religion reporter Amy Sullivan has an interesting piece in The New Republic today on the politics surround the deep cuts to government food programs being proposed by the House Agriculture Committee.

As she notes:

"Some conservatives have argued that government shouldn’t even be in the business of feeding people—that the job should be handled by local congregations and other community organizations. Paul Ryan has sparred with Catholic bishops who oppose cuts to SNAP, quipping that 'a preferential option for the poor does not mean a preferential option for big government.'”

The article goes on to note that, while churches were the only social safety net the country had for many years, it was the Great Depression which ended this role. Quoting from an article by Alison Collis Greene:

“'The Depression crippled churches’ finances, and the economic downturn forced them to slash services when people needed help most. Religious leaders and local church members alike recognized the crisis, and many demanded that the federal government intervene.'”

Sullivan argues that we find ourselves in a situation not so different to that of the 1930s today:

"We are watching a similar situation play out now. Many religious traditions and individual churches were struggling when the recession began. The Catholic church was dealing with the fallout from the priest sex abuse scandals. It and other traditions are still embroiled in debates over homosexuality that have led to splits or caused members to leave altogether. Congregational membership levels are down in almost every religious tradition. And as a result, their resource pools have shrunk."

Yes, smarter and more effective government programs are vital when budgets are being cut across the board. But indiscriminate cuts to vital services like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and calls for churches to pick up the pieces are simply immoral and ultimately impossible.

The cuts being proposed by the Committee will have a devastating impact on poor Americans. It’s time to stand up for the poorest and more vulnerable. You can help. Tell Congress to oppose cuts to nutrition programs in the Farm Bill today.

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College Student on Millennial Values

Zeenia Framroze, a student at Harvard University, spoke in April at Georgetown University Berkley Center's Millennial Values Symposium. She speaks in this clip on how the Millennial generation faces its challenges for the future in light of diverse value systems.

"If we stop listening to each other, if we try to impose our values on another group, we lose the noteworthiness of our values itself. We need to have some faith in democracy and some faith in the marketplace of ideas and values," Framroze said. "We'll bicker and fight, but ultimately we'll have a far more worthwhile discussion."

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DRONE WATCH: Medals for Drone Pilots?

The Washington Post reports:

The Pentagon is considering awarding a Distinguished Warfare Medal to drone pilots who work on military bases often far removed from the battlefield.”

If the medals are approved, that makes killing people from a computer in the U.S., thousands of miles from a combat zone, “distinguished warfare.”  Will hazardous duty pay come next?

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Olympic Security: Londoners Lose Battle to Keep Missile Systems Off Their Roof

With the Olympics just a few weeks away, Time reports on the fight that has broken out over security for the Games:

"Policing the world’s biggest peacetime logistics operation is a herculean task, and Britain’s intelligence and military officials are preparing for every eventuality — even if it means festooning a few apartment buildings with Rapier missiles.

Back in May, after residents learned about the plans through leaflets from the MoD, they launched the Stop the Olympic Missiles campaign. Residents staged a protest march on June 30 against government plans, which were approved by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Defence Secretary. In one of the most reproduced images of the protest, an elderly woman holds a sign that says “No missiles on homes! No snipers on schools! No guns on streets!” Other signs simply read, “No missiles in our community” and “This is not a war zone.”
 
But on July 10 a high-court judge rejected those claims, giving the government the all-clear to proceed. While delivering his verdict, Justice Charles Haddon-Cave suggested that the residents were not at risk and instead were “under something of a misapprehension” about the equipment. He also said the government was acting within the law. A day later lawyers representing the residents said they have decided to drop their case: the tenants simply cannot afford to appeal the court’s decision."
 
Read more here
 
 

 

 

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A Backward Step for Democracy in Britain

Nicholas Watt writes for The Guardian

"Nick Clegg's hopes of reforming the House of Lords, completing a journey begun a century ago by his Liberal predecessors, ran into severe trouble on Tuesday when 91 Tory MPs defied a three line whip to vote against the measure in the largest rebellion of the parliament. A furious David Cameron confronted the leader of the Tory rebellion just outside the House of Commons division lobbies late on Tuesday night as it became clear that normally loyal Tory MPs were determined to register their opposition to House of Lords reform."

Learn more here

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