Resolution about US military spending, for Rep. Adam Smith

WHEREAS the United States spends more on its military — about $700 billion in 2018 — than the next 11 countries combined;

WHEREAS over 50% of federal discretionary spending goes to the military;

WHEREAS the 2018 attempt to audit the Pentagon was unsuccessful: the Pentagon could not account for $21 trillion in budget items, with Senator Charles Grassley (R) saying that the Pentagon’s “resistance to auditing the books runs deep”;

WHEREAS “the ridiculously huge plugs [fabrications] in the Defense Department’s budgets are never even questioned at Armed Services or Budget Committee hearings” (ibid);

WHEREAS the Pentagon buried evidence of about $125 billion in waste;

WHEREAS there is a revolving door between the Pentagon and defense contractors;

WHEREAS according to Politico, the United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad ;

WHEREAS U.S. wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia, Libya, Syria, South America and elsewhere killed millions of people, wasted trillions of dollars, created enemies, emboldened terrorists, and caused massive suffering, migration and consequent destabilization of societies;

WHEREAS President Trump plans to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and to upgrade U.S. nuclear weapons capability;

WHEREAS President Trump has slashed staff and funding for non-Pentagon federal agencies, including the State Department, which was already seriously under-staffed even before he took office and has gotten much worse since then;

WHEREAS a 2014 Gallup poll of 65 nations found that the United States was far and away the country considered the largest threat to peace in the world, and a Pew poll in 2017 found majorities in most countries polled viewing the United States as a threat;

WHEREAS Rep. Adam Smith (WA, 9th CD) is the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee;

WHEREAS Rep. Smith is coming under tremendous pressure from his campaign donors and from what Dwight Eisenhower called the “military industrial complex,” to increase military spending and to overlook accounting fraud and obsessive secrecy;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that we Democrats of the _____ call on Rep. Adam Smith to oppose increases in the Defense Department budget and to aggressively hold hearings about Pentagon accounting practices.


Contact me ThinkerFeeler@gmail.com for a pdf or word version of the resolution, with hyperlinks as footnotes.

My taxes pay for Pentagon waste Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, by James Risen.

This issue is central for Democrats, progressives and all Americans. The fight against Trump must not be an excuse for neglecting the fight against permanent war. This is where the rubber meets the road. If we don’t act, who will?

It might be reasonable to edit the THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED to call for a decrease in defense spending.

“Those of us who love peace must organize as effectively as the war hawks. As they spread the propaganda of war, we must spread the propaganda of peace.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Relevant links

Rep. Adam Smith is called a progressive, and a great hope for pacifists, in this Politico article Democrats going nuclear to rein in Trumps arms buildup.

Adam Smith wrote an article in Defense One decrying Pentagon secrecy: The Pentagons Getting More Secretive and Its Hurting National Security.

The Risks of Permanent War by the RAND Corporation

Book review: How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything

New watchdog report decries revolving door between the Pentagon and defense contractors (from http://defensenews.com)

Americas Permanent-War Complex, from the American Conservative.
“Eisenhower’s worst nightmare has come true, as defense mega-contractors climb into the cockpit to ensure we stay overextended.”

Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, by James Risen.

See this related resolution by World Without War.

This article in The Atlantic, The Democrats Keep Capitulating on Defense Spending, discusses how Congressional Democrats agreed to increase defense spending in early 2018:

In the run-up to the deal, Nancy Pelosis office fired off an email to House Democrats proclaiming that, In our negotiations, Congressional Democrats have been fighting for increases in funding for defense. Chuck Schumers office announced that, We fully support President Trumps Defense Departments request. Not all congressional Democrats voted for the budget agreement: Thirty-eight percent of Democrats backed it in the House [Adam Smith opposed it.] and 76 percent did in the Senate. But even those who voted no mostly did so because they were upset about its lack of protection for immigrant dreamersnot because they oppose a higher defense budget. Last year, in fact, when Democrats were offered a standalone vote on big increases in military spendingin the form of House and Senate defense authorization billslarge majorities in both bodies voted yes.

What makes this so remarkable is that the arguments for a large increase in defense spending are extraordinarily weak.


Earlier, there were additional WHEREASs:

WHEREAS the $21 trillion in federal debt is being used as justification for calls to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare, despite our having paid for those programs out of our paychecks;

WHEREAS the debt was caused largely by tax cuts for rich people, bailouts for corporations, a for-profit health care system, and fraudulent, disastrous wars;

WHEREAS 121 retired U.S. generals have written a letter opposing cuts to foreign aid;

Lobbying Adam Smith for a sane military budget

According to OpenSecrets, in the 2017 – 2018 campaign cycle, Rep. Adam Smith (D – WA, 9th CD) received contributions of $111,950 from Defense Aerospace corporations, $97,200 from Defense Electronics, and $74,000 from Miscellaneous Defense, for a total of $283,150 from defense related industries. This number includes both direct campaign contributions and PAC contributions.

Top contributors were Microsoft ($50,700), Northrop Grumman ($37,700), Boeing ($29,750), General Dynamics ($22,200) and SpaceX ($20,400).

Adam Smith won his bid for re-election against progressive challenger Sarah Smith, with 67.9% of the votes.

Smith will almost certainly be the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee next year, since he is the ranking Democrat on the committee.

According to The Intercept,

Sensing an opportunity to influence the race and the potential future committee chair, major weapons contractors have given the lawmaker last-minute campaign support. Lobbyists and executives associated with General Dynamics, one of the largest weapons makers in the world, have given over $10,000 in recent weeks, in addition to the $9,500 from the company over the last quarter.

In just the last week of October, Teresa Carlson, an Amazon industry executive overseeing the company’s bid for a $10 billion military IT contract, gave $1,000; Bechtel, which managed Iraq reconstruction contracts, gave $1,000; Rolls-Royce, which manufactures parts for a variety of military jets, including a model of the controversial F-35, gave $3,500; and Phebe Novakovic, the chief executive of General Dynamics, gave $2,700.

Wikipedia reports that, “Smith co-sponsored, with Republican congressman Mac Thornberry [outgoing chair of the House Armed Services Committee], an amendment to the fiscal 2013 defense spending bill reversing previous bans on disseminating Defense and State Department propaganda in the United States, reversing the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1987, designed to protect U.S. audiences from government misinformation campaigns.[18] The bill passed on May 18, 2012, 299 to 120.”

In town hall appearances and in personal conversations, Adam Smith has spoken with guarded optimism about the proposed audit of the Pentagon budget. But the audit was a failure: the Pentagon couldn’t account for a mind-boggling $21 trillion in spending. See Exclusive: The Pentagon’s Massive Accounting Fraud Exposed: How US military spending keeps rising even as the Pentagon flunks its audit.

The military receives over 50% of discretionary federal spending. According to wikipedia, the U.S.  military is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world. Politico saysDespite recently closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad—from giant “Little Americas” to small radar facilities.” 

See the excellent book How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon by Rosa Brooks for more information about the bloated military, its secrecy, the changing nature of war, and the under-funding of other parts of the government such as the State Department.

We all know the disastrous results of military adventures in the Middle East and Afghanistan: hundreds of thousands dead, trillions of dollars wasted, the Middle East in chaos, and refugees flooding Europe and disrupting politics.

As chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Smith will have great influence to move the needle on military spending, adventurism, waste, and secrecy.

As constituents in the progressive Pacific Northwest, what should we ask Adam Smith to do to fix these problems?

Calling on him to refuse contributions from military contractors would help for future elections.  But I’d also like him to take concrete action to pass legislation to reduce the Pentagon budget and hold it accountable for fraud and waste.   Perhaps passing resolutions in Legislative District organizations would influence him.  Or holding town hall forums on military waste.

Smith wrote an article in Defense One decrying Pentagon secrecy: The Pentagon’s Getting More Secretive — and It’s Hurting National Security. And in person and at town hall meetings, he talks about the military waste. He joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus and is called a progressive, and a great hope for pacifists, in this Politico article Democrats going nuclear to rein in Trump’s arms buildup.  So, I think he “gets it” and is amenable to reason.

Let us do our part to hold him accountable.

For a related articles, see Can Rep. Adam Smith move the needle on military spending, secrecy, and adventurism?

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma says the US wasted trillions on warfare instead of investing in infrastructure

Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste

Trump discretionary budget request, 2019

Sign held by small child says 'Dear world: Stop destroying our houses, stop bombing our countries, stop killing our people, before you tell us to stop being refugees.'

Worldwide military spending 2015

Can Rep. Adam Smith move the needle on military spending, secrecy, and adventurism?

Starting in January, Rep. Adam Smith (WA, D, 9th CD) will be the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Adam Smith is called a progressive, and a great hope for pacifists, in this Politico article Democrats going nuclear to rein in Trump’s arms buildup. (The title they chose for the article is rather unfortunate.)

Adam Smith also wrote an article in Defense One decrying Pentagon secrecy: The Pentagon’s Getting More Secretive — and It’s Hurting National Security.

Though Adam Smith is not as progressive as his opponent Sarah Smith, he is a smart, reasonable guy who “gets it” about military waste, secrecy, and adventurism.

Adam Smith is mentioned, more critically, in this Counterpunch article Will the new House Dems take on the War Lobby?. The article points out that Adam Smith received $261,450 in campaign cash from the arms industry in the 2018 election cycle.

Given the power of the Blob (military industrial complex) reining it in is a formidable task. But Smith gets it. He has been moving to the left with his district.

This is an issue where we can move the needle.  Of course, we need to do this responsibly!

I know Smith personally.  I often ask questions at his town hall meetings, and he must know about this website. I told him many times that the country needs to rein in military spending and close some of the 800 military bases in more than 70 countries. The majority of military interventions in the last 75 years have had negative outcomes for the U.S. and the world — aside from the outrageous cost in lives, suffering, and money.

Smith phoned me during the campaign to solicit my support, so this issue is something I care deeply about.  I would even consider quitting my job to work on this full time if I knew I can make progress.

BTW, Trump ran to the left of Hillary on both the economy and military affairs.

U.S. Has Spent Six Trillion Dollars on Wars That Killed Half a Million People Since 9/11, Report Says “In sum, high costs in war and war-related spending pose a national security concern because they are unsustainable,” the report concluded. “The public would be better served by increased transparency and by the development of a comprehensive strategy to end the wars and deal with other urgent national security priorities.”

Should a progressive vote for Adam Smith or for Sarah Smith in the 9th CD?

I’m on the fence about whether to vote for Adam Smith or Sarah Smith for Congress this year.

In short, Adam Smith has more experience, will have more power if elected,  has a decent but mixed voting record, and has moved left as his district has become more progressive. Sarah Smith would more strongly work to rein in military spending and to enact progressive change.  Sarah, however, has no experience in elected office. Moreover, she is a dues paying member of the Democratic Socialists — a party that is significantly to the left of where I’m comfortable.

Adam Smith is a 21 year old veteran of Congress, where he is the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Service Committee.

His voting record is mixed.  He voted to approve the invasion of Iraq, for the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, and against an amendment to restrict the NSA from collecting phone records of Americans even in the absense of suspected crimes.    He voted against the Protect America Act of 2007 but for the 2001 Patriot Act and for extending the George W. Bush administrations warrantless wiretapping program. (source)

Earlier this month, Smith spoke at the Defense News Conference in Arlington, VA, and said that the defense budget is unsustainable (source: Democratic control of House could mean more ‘rational’ defense budget).

An expert or military official testifies at hearings and “scares the hell out of us by saying there’s this huge massive threat … We are hopelessly outgunned, outmanned, everything is falling apart we’re all going to die, basically,” Smith said. “All part of an effort to get us to spend a massive amount of money on any one of a thousand different things.”

Smith said Democrats will look at how they can, within a reasonable budget, manage risk while also prioritizing other factors that make a country “safe, secure and prosperous” like paying down debt and fixing infrastructure.

“The biggest problem I feel that we’ve had is, because we get this ‘Oh my God we have to cover everything [mindset],’ we wind up covering nothing well and that leaves the men and women who serve us in a position where they are not properly trained, properly equipped to meet all the missions we want them to meet,” he said. “It’s a complete impossibility to meet all the missions that we dream up.”

Smith’s congressional district used to be further south, encompassing the Lewis-McChord military bases near Olympia.  Now it has moved north to include areas of Seattle and south-eastern suburbs.  These areas are more liberal, and Smith has moved to the left to accommodate his changed district.

He is the chair of the political action committee of the centrist New Democratic Coalition, but he recently joined the Progressive Caucus.

I’ve attended many of Adam Smith’s town halls and debates. He speaks forcefully and eloquently for progressive taxation, environmentalism, women’s rights, immigrant rights, and various other progressive concerns. He strongly opposes Trump.

I heard Adam and Sarah debate last month at an event in Bellevue. Sarah spoke well and seems qualified, despite her lack of political experience.

In the primary, Adam Smith led with 48.4% of the votes. Progressive Democrat Sarah Smith (26.9%) edged out Republican Doug Basler (24.7%).  This is an indication of how strongly Democratic the district is, and, perhaps, of the coming blue wave in November.

A large number of Democratic organizations and politicians, as well as womens’,  environmental, and labor groups have endorsed Adam Smith.  See this list.  The Washington State Progressive Caucus endorsed Sarah Smith, as did Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress, The Stranger, and various incarnations of Our Revolution.

Adam Smith is taking no chances and is actively campaigning.

Sarah Smith, who has no experience in elected office, calls herself a democratic socialist. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez call themselves democratic socialists as well. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Sarah Smith.

Sarah Smith is a Justice Democrat and a dues paying member of the Democratic Socialists. Here are some quotations from this interview in The Stranger:

Justice Democrats are Democrats who have pledged not to take corporate money.

If you look at the Democratic Socialists of America platform, it’s really not far off from the Washington State Democratic Party platform. But one of the key differences is Democratic Socialists believe in both a social and an economic democracy, not just a social democracy.

I’m not sure what that means, but the website of the Democratic Socialists of America, says, in What is Democratic Socialism?:

Democratic socialists do not want to create an all-powerful government bureaucracy. But we do not want big corporate bureaucracies to control our society either. Rather, we believe that social and economic decisions should be made by those whom they most affect.

Today, corporate executives who answer only to themselves and a few wealthy stockholders make basic economic decisions affecting millions of people. Resources are used to make money for capitalists rather than to meet human needs. We believe that the workers and consumers who are affected by economic institutions should own and control them.

Social ownership could take many forms, such as worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives. Democratic socialists favor as much decentralization as possible. While the large concentrations of capital in industries such as energy and steel may necessitate some form of state ownership, many consumer-goods industries might be best run as cooperatives.

Democratic socialists have long rejected the belief that the whole economy should be centrally planned. While we believe that democratic planning can shape major social investments like mass transit, housing, and energy, market mechanisms are needed to determine the demand for many consumer goods.

This is further to the left than most progressives, because it does propose social ownership of wealth (worker control).  Democratic socialism is socialism.

As I say write in Socialism, even democratic socialism, is quite different from progressivism, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are probably incorrect to call themselves democratic socialists. They are, in fact, social democrats (i.e., New Deal liberals). They are OK with private corporations, provided they’re adequately taxed, regulated, and balanced by an activist government. Think Denmark and Norway, not Venezuela.

I emailed Sarah Smith to ask her whether she’s really a Democratic Socialist. I haven’t heard from her yet. I presume she is a real socialist.

As reported in this article in the Bellevue Reporter:

Her specific criticisms of Rep. Smith have largely consisted of his willingness to take campaign donations from big corporations — especially firms in the defense industry — and several of his foreign-policy related votes, such as his vote for the invasion of Iraq in 2001 and a more recent vote against an amendment that would have banned the U.S. from selling cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia.

Rep. Smith has vigorously contested the narrative that he’s a faux-progressive. While he has said that his vote for the Iraq war was a mistake, Smith points to his sponsorship of a bill that would ban mandatory detention for undocumented immigrants and another that would nationalize health insurance across the country.

Rep. Smith also notes his early endorsement of the successful $15 minimum wage ballot initiative in SeaTac, and his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as evidence of both his lefty credentials and ability to bring home the bacon for his district. His endorsement list reads like a who’s who of regional progressive heavyweights and influential interest groups, such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, and a slew of assorted labor unions and Democratic organizations.

Yesterday I got a text message from one of Adam Smith’s campaign aides asking me whether I wanted to volunteer for his campaign. I responded that I’m leaning towards voting for Sarah Smith because she would be more likely to vote against Pentagon waste, corruption and war-mongering. The aide asked me if I would want to speak to Adam Smith. I didn’t respond, but an hour later I got a phone call from Adam Smith.

Adam (who knows me from town hall events, debates, and my writing) said that if the Democrats take over control of the House, he will be chair of the House Committee on Armed Services, where he will have a lot of power to enact reform. If Sarah Smith wins, she will have much less power, though she can vote against military budgets.

I quoted to him from a sheet “Adam Smith on the Issues” that was distributed to the 41st LD Democrats yesterday.  In the section on National Security, it says:

As the highest-ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, Adam knows that having a strong military is paramount to out national security. He is committed to ensuring that the men and women serving in the military have the resources that they need to respond to threats quickly and effectively. [So far, this sounds quite pro-military.]  At the same time, Adam recognizes that any military resources devoted to dealing with the range of global threats must be paired with strong civil and diplomatic efforts. Adam is also dedicated to ensuring that all veterans get the care they need and deserve, from health services to job opportunities once they leave the service.

The section of Adam Smith’s website on National Security says similar things.

I told Adam that the blurb makes no mention of the tremendous waste, secrecy and fraud in the military budget, or about the destruction wrought by military adventurism.

Adam acknowledged that the budget is too high (“unsustainable”).   He still believes that soldiers should have the resources they need to respond to threats, but thinks that the military is spread too thin and needs to be more selective about threats it engages.  He says this year, finally, if all things go well, the military budget will be audited. (He has said that at several town halls and debates.) He also suggested that he’d edit the blurb on National Security.

He said he spoke two weeks ago at the Defense News Conference (where he apparently spoke for 20 minutes with a Defense News reporter at a fireside chat) and also at the Reagan Defense Forum (page removed). He told them that the defense budget is too high. Republicans then pounced on his words to say that if Democrats gain control of the House, the military budget would be threatened.

He wanted to make clear that he is not in favor of drastic (e.g., 50%) cuts in the military budget, as some people propose. There are real threats: ISIS, for example, and Yemen. And we don’t want China blocking shipping traffic in the South China Sea. Of course, we don’t need a 350 destroyer (?) navy to defend against that, he said.

He also pointed to the threat of Russia invading Estonia and Ukraine.

When I suggested that the U.S. and NATO should not have surrounded and threatened Russia, he agreed. He mentioned the late University of Washington professor Brewster Denny, who said the U.S. made a mistake by antagonizing Russia, leading to the rise of Putin.

I said that the U.S. created many of the threats we’re facing (e.g., anti-Americanism in the Middle East, the mujahedin in Afghanistan — I should have added Sadaam Hussein and radical Iran) by our meddling in foreign affairs, he agreed.  And I pointed to Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians and the U.S. backing of Israel.

He said he works with progressives including Barbara Lee and Jim McGovern on military issues.

He said that there’s one thing he agrees with Donald Trump on: it’s better if the U.S, has peaceful, cooperative relations with Russia.  But, he said, Trump’s reasons are wrong: he’s in Putin’s pocket. I agreed with him about Trump’s reasons being and wrong and said that it’s a shame that Fox News and the GOP are now the ones attacking the Deep State, even if they’re doing so for the wrong reasons. He said that Trump is attacking the FBI more than the Pentagon. We agreed that things are a disastrous mess in D.C.

I am still on the fence and expect, in any case, that Adam Smith will win easily.

 

Adam Smith Town Hall of July 8, 2018

U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D, 9th CD, Washington) spoke for two hours today to constituents on Mercer Island.

During most of the two hours Smith bashed Trump, in response to constituents’ questions. The audience seemed supportive of that. There were no conservatives offering a forceful alternative view.

Smith said that as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, he was able to view some of the evidence about Russian meddling in the election. Smith said: yes, the Trump campaign colluded with Russians (Manafort, etc), and, yes, Trump tried to squash the investigations, obstructing justice. But he says that it will be very hard to get 67 senators to agree to impeachment. And with Trump appointing Supreme Court justices, we can’t expect the Supreme Court to come to the rescue.

Smith spoke eloquently of Trump’s danger to America.

Smith said that he speaks often with Defense Secretary James Mattis, who is one of the few remaining voices of sanity and realism left in the White House. Every morning Mattis asks his driver if he’s been fired yet. If not, he goes to work.

In the video below Smith criticizes Trump for phoning Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on passing a constitutional amendment that stripped his opposition of basic rights.  “All around the world you see this creeping towards authoritarianism in our foreign policy.” We are backing away from international treaties and cooperation.  Some people say we should laugh at some of Trump’s more ridiculous pronouncements (such that we people should stand up straight when Trump talks). Smith sarcastically responded:  “You know fascism just never stops being funny.”

Smith said Americans want lower taxes, a balanced budget, and no cuts to spending.  (Impossible!) The Republicans’ simple, oft-repeated message is:  government and taxes are bad.  Since they can’t directly cut government spending, they just keep cutting taxes and raising the deficits. When no money is left, they will demand cuts to Social Security and Medicare (even though we have pre-paid for these programs out of our paychecks). Smith has sponsored bills to raise the cap on Social Security, so that the rich pay their fair share and so that Social Security can remain solvent for the long term.

If you want to see life without government, said Smith, go to Honduras, where there are no taxes and no functioning government. There is lots of crime, little education, and little productive economic activity.

Smith called for reversal of the Bush and Trump/Ryan tax cuts.

Smith spent a long time criticizing Trump’s racist immigration policies.  He said that crime rates among immigrants are lower than among U.S. citizens, and economic studies show that they help the economy.  Trump’s racist and divisive rhetoric is based on lies.    Yes, we need secure borders. No, we needn’t treat all immigrants like criminals, especially ones who have lived here for most of their lives.

Immigration from the south has mostly come to a halt — another reason Trump’s anti-immigration policies are amiss.

One rude constituent, who was reading the Financial Times while Smith was speaking, blamed inequality on over-population. He claimed that he could prove mathematically that inequality arises when there is over-population — which is why immigration is bad.  That theory was so outlandish that nobody seemed to take it seriously.

Smith spoke a lot about our overly permissive gun laws.  Republicans think that more guns would make us safer.  It’s simply not true. He told several stories of guns being used to kill people in families, And  he told of a certain politician who came to a town hall and placed his gun on the table to make a point (“See. I can defend myself.”) Smith pointed out that someone in the audience could have quickly drawn a gun and shot the politician dead before he’d have been able to grab the gun.   The Second Amendment mentions “well-regulated militia.”   We don’t allow individuals to own nuclear weapons, tanks, or machine guns. Nor should they be able to own rapid-fire, high capacity weapons.

Smith said that many gun-rights advocates say that citizens need weapons to defend themselves against the government.  I laughed out loud.  Smith said, “Don’t laugh.”  There are people who really believe that, despite the fact that the U.S. Army would easily destroy any individuals.

Smith said that the GOP health care plan can be summarized in two words:  stop Obamacare.  Trump is dismantling Obamacare by allowing insurance companies to stop covering pre-existing conditions.     Smith says we need universal health care, whether based on single-payer (like Medicare) or on some other system. Every other major industrial nation in the world has been able to do this, at lower cost than us.

Several times Smith said that to reverse inequality a first step is to get guaranteed health care for all.

Smith criticized the private prison industry, which are guaranteed occupants and which encourage detention.

A woman made an impassioned speech asking Smith to support a House bill in defense of Palestinians children allegedly being mistreated by Israel. During the speech, another woman held up  a banner and turned around, and another person videotaped.  Smith listened politely and said this is the first time he’d heard of the bill and he would ask some others and consider it.

When it was my turn to ask a question, I started by saying I agree with most everything Smith said, and I thanked him for becoming more progressive over the years. (Smith is now a member of the Progressive Caucus. I would like to imagine that I was instrumental in his joining the caucus.  At a fund-raiser for Smith in Bellevue a couple of years ago, he gave a speech in which he mentioned the word “progressive” several times. When it was time for questions, I shot up my hand and said, “You kept saying ‘progressive.’ Will you join the Progressive Caucus?”)  But, I said, I support his progressive opponent, Sarah Smith, on one issue:  he should have voted against the obscenely expensive defense bill, which will cost the U.S. between $610 billion and $719 billion (depending on how you measure it). I said that the U.S. has troops in 150 countries and military bases in 70  countries.  We spend more than the next 20 or 30 countries combined. The military sucks up over half of the discretionary budget. There’s too much secrecy, and it’s a major cause of deficits. I mentioned Eisenhower’s phrase “military-industrial complex.”

Smith defended his vote for the budget by saying that he needs to be bipartisan. He’s the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Thanks to that  position, he was able to insert some progressive measures in the bill (on LGBT rights and on the risks of climate change, about which the military is cognizant).  He said that the GOP has enough votes to pass a budget without Dems’ help, but the Republicans realize they might not always be in the majority, and it’s best to work together when they can.

Smith also said that the Defense Department will finally be audited, though he joked that he’ll believe it when he sees it.

“If I were chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, the defense bill would be a lot more progressive.”

He said that he thinks the defense budget was $50 billion too high.

[Another attendee says that what Smith said was that if were Chair the defense budget would be 50 billion less. That’s not my recollection, but the message is almost the same.]

Someone asked Smith which of his opponents he’d run against in November: his anti-war opponent from the left, Sarah Smith, or his Republican challenger? Adam Smith said that he really doesn’t care; he’s confident enough that he’s the better candidate.

But I sense that he’d prefer the Republican, and that he is more scared of the rising tide of anti-war progressivism and socialism than by the Republicans. After the town hall, as we walked out, Smith looked pretty tired. Can’t blame him.

Adam Smith won the endorsement of a huge number of Democratic organizations and lefty advocacy groups.  Sarah Smith, who is young and inexperienced, has gotten the endorsement of very few groups.

At one point in the town hall, Smith said that when he was knocking on doors as a campaigner, he got more flack (criticism) from angry progressive than from angry conservatives. Progressives can be dogmatic ideologues, he implied. They were dissatisfied with the partial accomplishments of Obama (ACA, regulation of Wall Street, saving the economy, LGBT rights) and were angry about unmet hopes.

A Democrat will beat Trump in 2020 only if the left can unite, he said.

Each time the Democrats had gotten control of Congress, in 2010 and once before in the 1990s, the Democrats blew their chances by becoming a circular firing squad, and the Republicans roared back stronger than before.   Smith called for pragmatism, saying politics is a numbers game.  Often politicians need to compromise on their principles to remain in power.

Lobbying Adam Smith on war and the TPP

This afternoon I attended Rep. Adam Smith’s salmon bake in Bellevue. I mentioned problems with our military: ex-military generals whose punditry is corrupted by connections to military contractors; cost over-runs and design flaws in the F-35; and our history of supporting the wrong side in conflicts.  As always, Smith acknowledges the existence of the problems.  He pointed out, too, that the Saudis are funding ISIS.   Still, he voted to fund the training of opposition groups, since ISIS is a real threat. (Only Jim McDermott in Washington State voted against it.)  I asked if Congress approved of the current bombing. Smith said that he thinks Obama should get approval from Congress before bombing. After recalling the trillions of dollars wasted in disastrous wars, I asked him to err on the side of pacifism in future votes.

In his speech to the assembled people, he repeatedly used the word “progressive” and so when it was time for questions, I asked him why he doesn’t join the Progressive Caucus. He responded that he cares about issues not labels, so he’ll stick with New Democrats he’s been a member of.

When moderate Democrats speak to the Democratic base, they often repeat the “p” word (progressive). Do they really mean it?

Someone asked about the TPP. He explained that whenever you trade with another nation you need independent rules and tribunals to deal with conflicts. He concurs that any agreement must have worker and environmental protections. Afterwards,  I mentioned to him that the state Dems’ platform includes opposition to TPP, and I pointed out the widespread opposition of the Left to TPP, which is regarded as a corporate giveaway.   Yes, parts of it are still secret; but the parts that have been leaked suggest it is bad.  Smith said it won’t be coming up for a vote soon.

He said that nothing will get accomplished in D.C. because Congress is under control of Tea Party people who don’t want Congress to work.

His seat in the 9th CD was gerrymandered after the 2010 census to make it safe for a Democrat, just as the 8th CD was made safe for Dave Reichert, whose Democratic opponent Jason Ritchie attended the event.

For a related story, see Adam Smith’s appearance on Face the Nation and CNN.

Adam Smith's appearances on Face the Nation and CNN

US Representative, Adam Smith (D, 9th CD WA) appeared on Meet the Press in late August with Republican Peter King from NY State.

Smith said that the US must find worthy allies in Iraq and Syria. Otherwise the bombing will be ineffective.    Smith said he supports stronger sanctions against Russia and more support for the Ukrainians fighting Russia.

Rep. King said that he generally agrees with Rep. Smith’s positions. (It’s disturbing that Smith agrees with King.)

Smith speaks well.

I’ve heard a rumor that Adam Smith is being positioned to be Secretary of Defense in a future Hillary presidency. (Maybe a rumor should not be included on an article like this!)

On Smith’s facebook page I expressed disappointment with his hawkish stance.

Here’s another video of Adam Smith, from Sept 24 appearance on CNN.  Smith supports action against ISIS and wants Congress to authorize military force. “I’m working with colleague on both sides of the aisle to support that.”

Congressman Adam Smith’s Annual Salmon Bake, 28 September, Sunday, 5pm-6:30pm, 4908 136th Place SE, Bellevue 98006. Please RSVP to Rebecca Bryant, 253.572.6125 or via email at Rebecca@electadamsmith.com

Good opportunity to talk with the congressman, but they probably expect a donation.

All our reps but McDermott voted to fund the Syrian rebels

Reps DelBene, Kilmer, Larsen, Heck and Smith voted Yea on the McKeon Amendment that funds the arming of Syrian rebels. “The amendment would authorize the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups or individuals.” (source). Only Rep. McDermott voted Nay.    All Washington State’s Republican reps voted Yea as well.

Sounds like another dangerous waste of money.

Progressives are generally opposing the war-mongering. Dennis Kucinich gives 8 Reasons Why Congress Should Vote No on Training and Funding Syrian Rebels.  Also: PDA’s statement against the war.

Please phone our Senators and ask them to reject funding for the Syrian rebels: Murray [ 202-224-2621, (206) 553-5545] and Cantwell [ 202-224-3441 (206) 220-6400]

Rep. Jim McDermott on Pres. Obama’s strategy.

Report on Adam Smith's Town Hall at Mercer Island

A mere twenty people or so showed up at Congressman Adam Smith’s Town Hall meeting on Mercer Island on April 23, 2014.

I arrived five minutes beforehand and found myself standing alone with Rep. Smith. I asked him why he didn’t support the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ Better Off Budget. He said he voted against the Ryan budget, for the Black Caucus budget, for the Democrat’s Alternative Budget and against one other budget, which he wasn’t sure about, but which he and I surmised must have been the Progressive Caucus Budget. In other words, I don’t think he had the chance to investigate the CPC budget closely. In his defense, I point out that House and Senate members have to deal with hundreds of bills a year and, for many bills, must depend on their aides, leaders, and colleagues to decide what to support.

Smith is a member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, along with Denny Heck, Derek Kilmer, and Suzan DelBene, not the Progressive Caucus.

Next I asked him about the F-35 fighter jet, which I said was ridiculously expensive and which, I heard, didn’t work so well. He said, “Oh, it works” but he agreed it was far too expensive. I mentioned how the supporters made sure to place contracts related to the jet in numerous House districts (pork). He said that there’s no way to cancel the program because it’s the only jet we have for the future. Donald Rumsfeld set things up so that we put all our eggs in one basket: the F-35. I said that I heard that they built jets prematurely, before they were ready to fly. He agreed with that. Smith is the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Service Committee, so he has significant power in these matters.

At this point it was time to enter the Town Hall meeting hall. Someone asked about the possibility of conflict with Russia over Ukraine. I mentioned what I had read in an article by Stephen F. Cohen, an emeritus professor of politics from Princeton University, in the Nation: the U.S. and NATO were putting unreasonable pressure on Russia, by expanding to former Eastern block nations and instigating rebellion in various surrounding nations. Would the U.S. like it if Russian-friendly troops were in Canada and Mexico?

Adam Smith agreed that to some extent that analysis is true — NATO is boxing Russia in — but Putin runs a kleptocrcacy and is using the threat of war to distract his people from a bad economy. In other words, in the end he seemed to blame mostly Putin.

Smith agreed the US can’t afford to be the policeman of the world. He said he spoke with refugees in Jordan who asked why the U.S. allowed Assad to do bad things in Syria. Smith explained to the refugees that it’s a misconception to think the US has that much power to stop Assad.

Questions shifted to the budget. Smith said there’s $1 trillion in discretionary spending (infrastructure, R&D, defense), plus $2.9 trillion in mandatory spending (Social Security, Medicare, Veterans, interest).

Smith spoke a lot about concentration of wealth and the shrinking middle class.  95% of the Bush tax cuts were made permanent.  Boeing and Apple and other companies pay little or no taxes.  Soon after WWII, in contrast, capital had nowhere to flee, because other countries were largely destitute. But now the companies send money to places like Ireland. (Smith could have mentioned the Cayman Islands as well.)

He mentioned two things out of many things he could mention to help fix the shrinking middle class:

  1. Education & jobs training; and
  2. Investment in infrastructure.

A lot of our infrastructure was built soon after WWII and is in bad shape. Compared to China’s trains and Hong Kong’s modern airport, JFK Airport in NYC looks like something from a third world country, he said.

One should be wary when politicians blame our economic troubles on uneducated workers. Yes, we are investing too little in education, but lots of problems are due to policies that weaken unions, open tax loopholes and benefits for rich people, and burden the middle class with medical and education debt. Besides, conservatives seem eager to destroy public education, though our competitors almost universally have public education systems. See Public Schools Win Internationally.

Smith mentioned that he sent his kids (10 and 12) to Tacoma public schools and now to the excellent Issaquah public schools.

A conservative guy complained about  how high tax rates discourage work and innovation.  Rep. Smith said that, yes, if tax rates are too high it’s no good, and if they’re too low it’s no good either.  Some people say that if we lower tax rates, we’ll bring in more revenue. That’s just not true.  Smith tried to get the conservative guy to agree with that and he discussed the changing tax rates over the years. Now taxes are probably too low.

Here Rep. Smith discusses our unfair tax system and how to fix it by eliminating loopholes:

A conservative lady in the audience complained about how her health care premiums almost doubling under ACA/Obamacare.   She thought that government wastes money on things like the Department of Education and the Department of Justice (!).  She said the government spends too much on things not mentioned in the Constitution. Adam Smith mentioned “The General Welfare” phrase. She said that was in the Preamble and so didn’t count.  Smith mentioned that the Supreme Court ruled that the ACA was constitutional. She said, it’s still wrong.

Someone (the same woman?) asked Smith about his government health care plan.  Was he exempted from the ACA requirements. He said, no, it’s a myth. He in fact was forced to switch to a plan that is worse than what he had had. He pays more, but he’s OK with that; he’s fine with contributing to a pool to help poorer people get insurance.  Yes, he was lied to about the ACA — and he said he once warned Pres. Obama to  be careful how he markets the program. In any major policy initiative, there will be winners and losers.

Smith said that in countries in Europe, people have more a sense of community and don’t mind helping others. Americans are more individualistic [I say that’s a euphemism for “selfish”].  Also, other countries aggressively regulate health care costs, especially end-of-life care [which eats  up a huge proportion of costs, and which ACA tried to control with a mechanism that conservatives called “death panels”].  In the US, health care providers are paid “WAY more” than providers are paid overseas. In Europe fees are regulated, and medical students can go to medical school for free. In the US, patients have too many medical tests.

He said we pay 17% of our GDP on health care; the average for the rest of the world is 8%.  And we consistently rank somewhere between 30th and 40th in the quality.  He said these facts will make conservatives angry.  Yes, we have very advanced health care, available for people with good insurance or for people who can afford it. But we leave a lot of people without health care.

Smith told the true story of a woman who died several because she couldn’t afford treatment for Lupus.  With ACA, she could have lived.

(I have a video of Smith’s comments about health care, if you want to see and hear him.) He said:  “I submit that the system we had before the ACA was really, really bad.”

I got a chance to speak again. I said, “It seems that conservatives and liberals often live in entirely different worlds, with different facts. Often they hate each other.   Government-run health care in Europe and Canada are far cheaper than the US’s market-based system and they have better outcomes (better health care). ”  Several people tried to shout out comments but it was my turn so they shut up.

I continued:

Furthermore, Republicans complain about government waste, but when they ran the government, they wasted trillions of dollars — trillions, not billions — on disastrous, corrupt wars.  The war in Iraq was a complete disaster.

Furthermore, the Affordable Care Act was designed by the Heritage Institute and tested by Mitt Romney. It’s a very conservative plan that helps the insurance companies. I and many Democrats preferred single-payer or at last a plan with a bigger public option.

Finally I mentioned that in the 1950s and 1960s, when tax rates were high, the economy boomed and the middle class thrived.   Adam Smith had said similar things earlier, but not this precise point.

After I spoke, the conservative woman said she agreed with me on Iraq.  The conservative guy in the back who complained about high taxes was dumb.

I was glad that nobody complained about immigrants. At the last Adam Smith Town Hall I attended, several conservatives spoke vehemently against immigration reform (granting a path to citizen to “illegal aliens”). There was no shouting and acrimony at this Town Hall meeting.  People were polite.

Adam Smith speaks well and eloquently. He’s a likable guy, even though I think he’s too centrist on military issues and not aggressive enough on economic justice and taxation. He said clearly that he welcomes people to contact him and visit his office to discuss issues. He’s very approachable but was firm about not letting interruptions during questioning.

The food stamp cuts hit WA State especially hard

*Number of U.S. households with food stamps cut $90/MO under farm bill: 850,000

*Number of those households in WA: 200,000 (23% of national total)

*WA Congressional Democrats supporting cut: 6 of the 8 [all but Adam Smith and Jim McDermott]

*WA Post Editorial: “[T]his legislative grotesquerie gives to the rich and takes from the poor. . . . President Obama can stand up for his declared principles by vetoing it.”