Tag Archives: nuclear weapons

Thank You Senator Corker

Hmm, never thought I’d begin a post on a liberal blog with “Thank you, Senator Corker.” But, here it is.  The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued his now famous Tweet about properly staffing the Pennsylvania Adult Day Care Center, and followed up with a serious conversation including:

“The senator, who is close to Mr. Tillerson, invoked comments that the president made on Twitter last weekend in which he appeared to undercut Mr. Tillerson’s negotiations with North Korea.

“A lot of people think that there is some kind of ‘good cop, bad cop’ act underway, but that’s just not true,” Mr. Corker said.

Without offering specifics, he said Mr. Trump had repeatedly undermined diplomacy with his Twitter fingers. “I know he has hurt, in several instances, he’s hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway by tweeting things out,” Mr. Corker said.”

Simply airing these views is an act of civic responsibility, and if the Senator’s comments are accurate then there are more Republican Senators who hold these views; it would behoove them to chime in, even if only on the last few lines of the chorus.  We can imagine why we’ve not heard more voices.

The Republicans may now be victims of their own gerrymandered monster.  Those who break with the President may feel at risk of facing primary challengers.  However, a president with a 32% approval rating is not necessarily a creature to be feared.   That said, there are states in which the local politics could require senatorial and congressional candidates to pose close to the president, or at least could encourage it. Senators should recall that a Trump endorsement doesn’t insure election — ask Luther Strange in Alabama.

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) has drawn a challenger who is (thus far) playing unabashed sycophant in the Trump parade, perpetual candidate for almost anything Danny Tarkanian.  (See also: Nevada Independent)

“I have so many people that are contacting me over the past couple months saying ‘you gotta run against Dean Heller,’ ” Tarkanian said. “They understand, as I do, that we’re never going to make America great again unless we have senators in office that fully support President Trump and his America first agenda.”

There are a few problems with that agenda.  If America first means America alone, then the President’s doing a fine job of that.  Right off the bat members of NATO got the message that Trump didn’t think all that much of Article 5, at least not enough to even mention it during a meeting concerning that important mutual defense clause.  Paris Accords — not even a treaty, but a mutual decision to follow voluntary self imposed guidance on climate change mitigation — and the US backs out.  When the President said he wouldn’t mind renegotiating the agreement the rest of the world’s nations said, thank you but NO we’re not interested.

We’re now in Round 4 of talks to renegotiate the NAFTA and the US Chamber of Commerce isn’t pleased with the administration’s demands, which border on protectionism (if they don’t ramble right into it).  As of two days ago the administration appeared poised to insert “deal breaking demands” into the bargaining process, some of which would seriously upset supply chains for the auto industry.  While there are certainly NAFTA provisions which might be improved, the current administration has proposed items which sound very much like the TPP provisions Trump opposed when he pulled the US out of those talks. [WaPo]

And then there’s North Korea.  While the remnants of the State Department (there are still a massive number of unfilled positions, many of which have NO nominees) try to tackle this problem, the President issues saber rattling tweets and undercuts his own Secretary of State.  [NPR]  It isn’t the least bit reassuring to hear informed comments like this when discussing the delicate and significant relations with the North Koreans:

“Without political appointments in place, governments in Asia and around the world are canvassing the Trump administration, trying to open lines to various advisors in the White House. And they’re getting mixed messages that are often hard to sort out.”

Oh, but wait there’s even more.  In addition to leaving our allies scrambling around at least since last August trying to find definitive answers to a chaotic foreign policy, they may also question whether our word means much of anything.  We need to recall that whatever Trump says, there are 6 nations involved in the Iran nuclear development containment deal and two of them aren’t happy: the Iranians and the Russians.  The Chinese government went on record in late September in support of the containment plan treaty, and three days ago the United Kingdom made its position clear in a medium Trump would understand (Twitter) “The Iran Deal is Working.”  The French foreign minister made a longer, but similar comment:

“It’s essential to maintain it to prevent a spiral of proliferation that would encourage hardliners in Iran to pursue nuclear weapons,” the minister told journalists in New York on the sidelines of this week’s UN general assembly.

French President Macron has also made his support for the agreement clear.  The German government has stated its support for a continuation of the agreement.   The P5+1 that signed the treaty could end up being the Chinese, French, Germans, Russians, and British vs. the US.  America “first” literally becoming America alone.

Senator Corker has a reputation for speaking carefully — all the more reason to listen to his warning.

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Filed under Economy, Foreign Policy, Heller, Iran, NAFTA, Nevada politics, Politics, Tarkanian

Amodei and Heck Go Nuke

Nuclear missileHere’s what we get when things are reduced to “either/or” status in the deliberations of  the House of Representatives: Do we fund cleaning up toxic sites formerly used by the Department of Defense, or do we put the $3.4 million in Air Force research and development? There was a vote on an amendment to H.R. 4870:

“An amendment numbered 4 printed in the Congressional Record to increase funding for Environmental Restoration, Formerly Used Defense Sites, by $3,400,000 and reduce funds for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation, Air Force, by the same amount.”

The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and it was defeated 179 to 24 [roll call 319] Nevada Representatives Titus (D-NV1) and Horsford (D-NV4) voted in favor of the amendment, Representatives Amodei (R-NV2) and Heck (R-NV3) voted against it.

In the grand scheme of federal budgeting a $3.4 million allocation isn’t all that much, but this issue does illustrate a problem for the Department of Defense, as specified in GAO reporting.

 “DOD is obligated to ensure that former defense sites are cleaned up to a level that is protective of human health and the environment. DOD has identified over 4,000 formerly used defense sites, which were closed before October 2006, and over 5,000 sites identified by several Base Realignment and Closure commissions that require cleanup.”

The Department implemented the GAO recommendations, and provides an annual report on its environmental clean up and restoration programs.  As with all things military there is an acronym for former sites, FUDS (formerly used Defense sites), and IRP (installation restoration program) and these are useful terms when reviewing the funding for these operations.

Funding for FUDS was $277.2 million in FY 2013, $287.4 million in FY 2014, and is projected to drop to $208.4 in FY 2014.  These funds would be allocated toward the restoration of 3.022 FUDS properties, and 8331 BRAC properties. [DENIX pp]  The system and the evaluation matrix are in place to implement the clean up and restoration projects.  However, only the Department of Defense could craft the following sentence explaining its goal:

Achieve RC at 90% of IRP sites, MRSs, and BD/DR sites at Active and BRAC installations, and IRP and BD/DR sites at FUDS properties, by the end of FY2018.” *Translation: RC = response complete; IRP = installation restoration program;  MRS = munition response sites; BD/DR = building demolition, debris removal; FUDS = formerly used defense sites.  BRAC = base realignment and closure.

The Department of Defense estimates that it is currently on target to meet this objective at a rate of 79%. Its projected rate is 92%.  The current FUDS rate is 78%, projected to 90%, and the BRAC rate is currently 83%, projected to 90%.  [DENIX pp]  In short, given the level of funding available, the Department of Defense is close to achieving its goal regarding the completion of restoration programs but doesn’t project a 100% “RC” in time for FY 2018.

There are two issues here, large and small.  Taking the smaller chunk first, the Department of Defense is close to meeting its targets for restoration projects, and appears at the ‘every little bit helps’ stage; meaning that the $3.4 million allocation could materially assist the Department in meeting its objectives.

By contrast, the comptroller of the Defense Department reports that the total allocated for Air Force research, development, evaluation, and testing appropriated for FY 2014 is $23,580,637,000 and the base figure for the same category in FY 2015 is $23,739,892,000. [ComptDoD pdf]  A bit of play with the plastic brains yields the information that the Blumenauer’s amendment would cost the Air Force research, development, testing and evaluation some 0.000143 of its budget.

At the heart of the floor debate, such as it was, is ‘seed’ money for a new cruise missile described by Representative Blumenauer as follows, ” The new ALCM does not yet have an official pricetag, but the research we have done suggests it is in the range of 20 to $30 billion. And a rebuilt nuclear warhead to go on it would cost another $12 billion, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration.” [ConRec]

Representative Freylinghusen responded:

“This program will provide a new air-launched cruise missile to replace a rapidly aging AGM-86. This is essential to our strategic deterrent and our ability to hold enemy targets at risk from standoff distances.

The Air Force requested $4.9 million for the program in fiscal year 2015 to continue studies and analysis in preparation for a formal acquisition program. This bill already takes a fiscally responsible $1.5 million cut from that amount.” [ConRec]

What have we learned?  That the new ALCM hasn’t gotten far enough off the drawing table to have a projected cost for the weapon.  We can estimate that the project will have the $800 million (or more) price tag discussed back in 2010. [GSN] We also know that the ALCM is a nuclear weapon, but the Pentagon hadn’t decided just what warhead would be fitted to the weapon. [GSN]

At this point the issue raised in a vote on a small amendment to a very large Defense appropriations bill takes on more meaning.

Two of Nevada’s representatives to Congress voted to provide the seed funds for the construction of a new nuclear weapon, one the Air Force considers essential to its “nuclear capacity,” and two did not.  There are some questions which were not raised during the brief discussion of the Blumenauer amendment on the House floor —

What is being said about Congressional priorities if funding for a new nuclear weapon is more essential than cleaning up and restoring formerly used military and defense installation sites?

If the new weapon is essential to the nuclear capacity of the USAF, then under what conditions and circumstances will it be used?  Or to put it rather more bluntly — whom do we intend to nuke and when? Perhaps, the two members of the Nevada congressional delegation who voted against the amendment would care to explain?

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Filed under Amodei, Defense Department, Defense spending, Heck, Politics